§ Bill, pro forma, read 1a.
§ ADDRESS IN REPLY TO HIS MAJESTY'S MOST GRACIOUS SPEECH.
§ *LORD ABERCONWAY
My Lords, in rising to move that an humble Address be presented to His Majesty thanking His Majesty for his gracious Speech from the Throne, I trust that I may receive that consideration which this House habitually accords to an inexperienced member in the performance of a task which must necessarily he one of difficulty. This day is remarkable for the fact, which his gracious Majesty has been pleased to emphasise, that it is the fiftieth anniversary of the marriage of his parents, and no language could be more touching than that in the passage in which His Majesty calls the attention of Parliament to this event. May I be permitted to say that while the thought of this anniversary is and must be uppermost in the minds of the people at this moment, no words could give that thought better expression than those which His Majesty has been pleased to use. The memory of the late King Edward VII will never fade in this generation, and in generations to come he will hold the highest place among the Sovereigns of this kingdom as a Monarch of wide-reaching influence 6 which he always used for the good of the people over whom he reigned. Happily for us the Queen Mother is still in our midst, and ready, as in the past, to adorn by her gracious presence and to help by her enthusiasm every movement for the moral and physical uplifting of the people. The interests of the sick and the afflicted she has always taken under her charge, and the great medical charities of this country owe more to her than perhaps to any individual in past and present times. Her life has always been in harmony with the instincts of our race, and the people of this country have always regarded her as their own. They have rejoiced in her joys; they have grieved over her sorrows. Fifty years ago she came to this country as a young Princess to share the life of the Heir Apparent. The occasion touched the nation's sentiment. Her arrival created a surging wave of enthusiasm which many of us can even now remember, and that wave has never receded. Queen Alexandra is held now in the same respect and affection as on the day when she first landed on our shores. The passage in His Majesty's Speech to which I refer will touch a chord of sympathy in the hearts of the people, but it is not too much to say that their feelings of respect and affection have already been spontaneously expressed by all classes and in all the organs of public opinion irrespective of party or of creed.
The Speech from the Throne emphasises the friendly relations which exist between this country and other Powers, and I venture to think that the space which has been given in His Majesty's Speech to this subject and the tone in which the statement is made will create the greatest possible satisfaction, not only in this country, but throughout Europe. Our policy in regard to European affairs has always in recent times been a disinterested one, and we are glad to note that this fact has been recognised by the belligerent States in the Balkans and that during the armistice they chose London as the place where the negotiations for peace were to proceed. His Majesty gave the delegates a cordial welcome, and if he is obliged to express disappointment at the failure of the negotiations, which led to a temporary renewal of the war, we are to-day perhaps in a position to hope that what has happened in the last few days may lead to further negotiations and ultimately a final peace. His Majesty refers to the 7 fact that a change in the map of Europe must take place and to the developments to which this war must necessarily give rise. But we all feel satisfaction in thinking that the Powers remain neutral in this controversy. We are told that the Treaty of Berlin is still in force, and though some doubts have recently been cast upon the effective existence of that Treaty we are led to believe that there is in that Treaty a living and firm basis for combined action, and we rejoice to learn from the Speech that there is a unanimous desire for the termination of the war. Some emphasis has been given to the fact that the Ambassadors of the Powers met in London, and that fact alone, I venture to say, has given to Europe a confidence which perhaps might not have been otherwise felt; and now that we are told that this confidence has led up to certain action and that the great Powers are agreed on all questions of principle, we need not have many misgivings as to differences which may still exist in regard to details. The large measure of success that has been already assured leads us to hope that these matters of detail will not present many difficulties, and that the hideous nightmare of a European war, which has overshadowed the nations of the world for the last two years, may finally melt away in the sense of a common agreement amongst the great nations of Europe to settle these Near Eastern questions in a friendly way.
I ought to say how deeply many of us in this country appreciate the conciliatory attitude of Germany during these recent months; and when one considers the feeling that has existed among certain sections of the people of this country and perhaps among certain sections of persons in the German Empire, one cannot but recognise that the Emperor William has shown a friendliness to this country which ought to remove all grounds of jealousy. I believe that the relations between the German Government and the British Government never were on a better footing than they are to-day; and knowing, as I happen to do, both France and Germany well, I know how distasteful to the great mass of the inhabitants of those great countries is the idea of war. Defensive forces do not necessarily mean war; the great increase in our Navy does not mean war; and considering the views expressed in His Majesty's Speech on foreign affairs I think we may rest assured 8 that these great increases of armaments are more for defensive than for offensive purposes.
I think we are entitled to congratulate Sir Edward Grey, our Foreign Secretary, on the success which he has achieved. He is, I suppose, the doyen of the Foreign Ministers of Europe; a man of great experience, of calm judgment, and, as events have shown, a man enjoying the confidence of the European Powers. The fact that London was chosen for the meetings of the Ambassadors is proof enough of that, and when we think of the long years in which he has conducted our foreign policy, quietly, unobtrusively, with unswerving honesty, with ability, and with success, I feel that the time has come when a few words of congratulation might be offered to him. And at the same time I-should like to express my sense of the value to this country of the attitude of His Majesty's Opposition in foreign affairs. For many years past, although they have been opposed to His Majesty's Government on many vital points of principle, the Opposition have given an unswerving support to the policy of the Foreign Office. When we look back upon what used to happen twenty-five, thirty, and forty years ago, when foreign affairs formed the battleground of Parties in the House of Commons and also in this House, we cannot but congratulate ourselves that this change has come over public feeling, and that in future we may believe that national defence and national policy will be regarded as outside the limits of Party discussion.
The gracious Speech from the Throne has afforded us some indication of the policy of His Majesty's Government with regard to Colonial affairs. Reference has been made to the visit of the Canadian Premier to this country and to the visit of the Prime Minister of New Zealand, and it has been pointed out with great force that these visits have inaugurated, so to speak, or taken part in the inauguration of, a great common defensive policy between the Mother Country and the Colonies. It is Imperial unity in the most concrete form. For fifty years past in our Colonial Empire we have been sowing the seed which is now fructifying, and we are going to reap the harvest. Fifty years ago our fathers were rather averse to our Colonies; they were not valued then. Our Colonies have asked for our sons; they have asked for our 9 money, invested in commercial undertakings; and with those two conditions generously supplied by this country they have developed into nations which have great and dominant future before them. They have asked for nothing more from us. On the contrary, they are giving out of their taxes large units for our national defence; and students of politics must recognise that they show, in their relations to the Mother Country the very highest type of democratic statecraft. They are free and independent States in all but name; yet they are animated by the strongest devotion to the King, to the Flag, and to the central authority of Parliament. When your Lordships, recollect that there are no less than twenty-eight Colonial Parliaments, free and independent Legislatures, bound to this great Parliament by nothing but the tie of loyalty and affection, you will agree, I think, that we have a spectacle such as the world has never seen before, and one which must add enormously to the prestige of this Empire both in commerce and in matters of defence.
The Speech from the Throne refers to Indian affairs. On that subject I will only say that I am sure this House most heartily reciprocates the expression of regret that a native miscreant should have made the attack upon the Viceroy which we all deplore. But we are assured that that attack does not in any way represent a general feeling of sedition in India, and that the Princes and the peoples of India still continue loyal to the Imperial Raj, perhaps even more so than they were many years ago.
I turn to another paragraph in the Speech which is of the highest importance—the paragraph referring to the sustained prosperity of this country as reflected in the statistics of trade and employment. When one embarks on the subject of trade and employment one is apt to think of lists of figures which, however interesting in themselves, are not in any sense of general interest. Your Lordships are, of course, aware that the foreign trade of this country during the past twelve months has exceeded anything that the world has ever known. We have a colossal foreign exchange in manufactured articles, in raw materials, and in finance; and owing to the unrestricted facilities of our foreign trade our 10 Colonies are able to take the fullest advantage of all we have to offer them, and they give to us markets in which we are easily first. During the last two or three years we have had another most interesting set of figures presented to us—I refer to the figures under the Census of Production Act, which we have never had before. We used to know about our foreign trade, but now we know how much is consumed in this country, and that appears to me one of the most valuable indications of our social strength. The census of production for last year shows an immense development in our leading industries—in coal-mining, iron-making, steel-making, shipbuilding, cotton, and worsted; in fact, in every trade on which the people of this country depend. Owing to the enormous demand that there now is for manufactured articles it is almost impossible to get delivery of the materials necessary for the developments which are being undertaken by some of our great corporations. The magnitude of the figures is so great that they can hardly be realised. It is computed that the total manufactures of this country amount to something like £2,000,000,000 per annum. This is an almost incredible sum. It means about £6,000,000 per day, of which, as your Lordships are aware, we export about one-fifth to the Colonies and to foreign countries.
The result of all this is that employment was never better than it is at this moment. The fact is, you cannot get sufficient workmen in the skilled trades. There are noble Lords in this House who are owners of collieries, of steel works, and of shipyards who could employ thousands and thousands of highly paid workmen to-day if those workmen could be found. Collieries are working short time, not because there is less demand for coal, but because there are insufficient miners. It is the same with the shipbuilding yards, and there is no doubt that His Majesty's ships are delayed in their construction simply because, whatever wages you offer, you cannot get enough skilled men to carry out these contracts. That, I venture to think, is a very satisfactory state of things for the working classes, but I hope the day will come when the whole question of wages will be considered from a national point of view, and that there will be a levelling up of wages instead of a levelling down, and that many of the underpaid trades will receive greater consideration. Women's wages are 11 far too low economically, and the wages of agricultural labourers are far too low. I heard with interest a debate which took place in this House some months ago on a Bill introduced by the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, dealing with labourers' cottages, in which some very forcible remarks were made on this point, leading me to hope that this House would not be averse, perhaps, to taking the lead one of these days in doing something to ameliorate the lot of the agricultural labourer.
The fact is that with higher prices labour troubles are sure to come. The cost of living is getting greater every day for the poor. Labour cannot rest content. The working classes demand better conditions of living. Rents are higher because municipal regulations, many of them very absurd, increase the cost of house-building, and make it impossible to build houses economically for the poor. Then there are the amusements which the working classes demand, and the little luxuries which are at their hand. Then you have the standard set by the richer classes. I do not speak of the disgusting displays of wealth in other parts of the world, of which we read in the newspapers, but there is daily brought before the poorer classes of this country a standard of living in which they naturally desire to share. They have better education; they read newspapers, and take a pride in their homes; all these are facts which must lead to a demand for higher pay. Indeed, there is little chance of the price of raw materials and food stuffs going down. But I venture to think that, like all other economic questions, the equilibrium of wages and prices will assert itself provided Parliament does not arbitrarily interfere, but at the same time by legislation affords such conditions as would enable the poorer classes to reap their fair share of the prosperity of the country.
Reference has been made to the Home Rule Bill and to the Welsh Disestablishment Bill. All I desire to say regarding those measures is that when this House again is invited to deal with these subjects I hope for a more pacific understanding between the two branches of the Legislature. I know that noble Lords opposite hold very strong views which I am the last man in the world to wish to criticise on an 12 occasion of this kind, but, as one sees in the tone of the recent debates, they do recognise the right of the Party on this side of the House to the realisation of their legislative ideals, and while modifications may very justly be required by this House, and may possibly be accepted by the other House, there seems to be no reason why there should not be restored to this country that legislative co-operation which, after all, must be the ideal of all statesmen. A feeling of injustice on either side cannot promote a nation's welfare, and that is, perhaps, one reason why there has been recently fresh demands for an extension of the franchise. I observe that His Majesty's Government do not propose to extend the franchise. They propose merely to pass a Bill for abolishing plural voting, which, after all, is a moderate measure however much it may be disliked in some quarters. Our present franchise is a peculiar one. It is not logical. Whatever may be said for a franchise based upon wealth or education, the forty-shilling freehold franchise certainly does not base itself on any logical theory. A man with £1,000 can buy ten forty-shilling qualifications in ten different counties, while a man who is worth £1,000,000 and has a big place in one county, owning perhaps half the land there, has only one vote. Experience has shown that the basis of the franchise does not assist one Party materially more than the other. At one time one Party gets the upper hand, and at another time the other Party does. I look upon this measure rather as one affecting particular constituencies in redressing what many people in those constituencies feel to be the injustice of importing a large number of voters who have very little connection with the constituency in which they cast their votes.
Reference is made in the Speech to legislation on education. We know that the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack has been recently expressing very fully considered opinions on this subject. Personally I should hope that the time is coming when we might lift education out of sectarian controversy and devote ourselves to establishing some great national system of co-ordinate education, by which there might be erected a ladder, so to speak, upon which a boy could ascend from the elementary school to the University. We are in this country behind Scotland and Wales in education. Here elementary school 13 education ends at the age of fourteen; in Scotland it does not end until the age of sixteen. Why should not boys in England be able to climb the ladder a little higher and qualify themselves for secondary schools, of which there is a great dearth in England? In the matter of secondary education we are probably behind all other countries, and I rejoice to think that His Majesty's Government are going to turn their attention to this great question. We want to do away with the idea of caste in education—that a boy because he has been educated at a public elementary school is not to be considered fit for the higher employment in the Civil Service, or that education is to be a matter of social importance rather than of intellectual importance. I venture to hope, whether or not legislation will be proceeded with during this session, that we shall at all events see laid on the Table of Parliament some proposals of His Majesty's Government which will lead to a better state of things.
It is obvious that we are not to have very much legislation this session, and I think we all feel thankful for that prospect. We have had a great strain in Parliamentary work for the last two or three years, and I doubt whether the country can digest too many legislative projects at one time. I feel, and I believe everybody feels, that full consideration should be given to all changes, but that when those changes have been considered in the Press and in Parliament for years, perhaps for half a generation, they should then be promptly given effect to by legislation. We cannot say that the Government have been laggards in this respect. They have worked up to a final point a great many questions which have been simmering, so to speak, for the last twenty-five years, and when as we hope this session some great Constitutional matters will be disposed of, it will then be time for both Parties to co-operate in social reforms. We have had fine examples of that co-operation of late years. In the Old Age Pensions Act and in the Insurance Act both Parties to a large extent cooperated, and I feel that, while Party government is probably the most successful form of government, it ought to be the aim of each House of the Legislature and of every statesman to prove that the higher interests of the people are above mere Party consideration. I beg to move.
§ LORD ASHTON OF HYDE
My Lords, in rising to second the Address I should like to associate myself with all that has fallen from my noble friend with regard to Her Majesty Queen Alexandra, and I should like to add, on my own account, a hope that Her Majesty may long be spared to grace her great position and to continue that beneficent work for the happiness of the people with which she has been associated for so many years for the benefit of all alike, whether of high or low degree. I do not propose to follow my noble friend in his discourse either about foreign or Colonial politics. I associate myself with almost all that he said in these respects. Further, I should like to associate myself with him in what he has said about the dastardly attack that was made upon Lord Hardinge in India. It would almost seem—it is a melancholy fact—that the privilege of Western civilisation carries with it also its penalties; but at the same time it is a satisfaction to feel that the horror that was experienced in this country in regard to that attack upon the Viceroy was voiced also in India by those great ruling Chiefs upon whose loyalty the stability of our rule in India so largely rests, and that the sympathy of the people of that country was extended in full measure to Lord Hardinge.
It may be said by some that this act was the result of our over-educating the natives of India in Western civilisation, but I think we must all feel that we have to justify our rule of India, and that that rule can only be justified by our doing what we can towards the enlightenment and the progress of the people of that country. We passed only a short time ago a great measure, which will always redound to the credit of the noble Viscount the President of the Council, which gave a greater share in self-government in India to the natives of that country, and we are glad to see in the gracious Speech from the Throne to-day that a Royal Commission has been appointed to investigate the whole question of the Civil Service in India. We are aware that there has been considerable discontent among native Civil servants of that country with their position. They have felt that they have not had so large a share as they thought was their due in the possibility of rising to greater position in that Service; and if now this Commission can show any way by which their natural aspirations can be met; while at the same time maintaining 15 the predominance of Europeans in the greatest positions, which is requisite to our rule, the whole of this country as well as of India will be pleased at such a result.
I turn to another part of our great Dominions—to the Soudan. Coming as I do from the North, and being interested largely in those great industrial centres which would benefit, I congratulate the Government most heartily on the grant that it proposes to guarantee for the development of the Soudan in general, and in particular for the development of the growth of cotton. The growth of cotton in the Soudan is not in an experimental stage; it has passed far beyond that. We know that there are vast fields there, millions of acres, which are capable of growing crops of very high class cotton. That we should find new sources of supply is of the greatest interest to Lancashire and the surrounding districts, which are interested directly or indirectly in the cotton trade. The great source of the world's supply has been America, but that supply is being utilised so much more freely in other parts besides England that Lancashire has long felt that new supplies of cotton were essential to the welfare of that industry, and we welcome this attempt on the part of His Majesty's Government to help Lancashire in this respect. At the same time I personally should not feel justified in giving my support to a measure which guaranteed this money at the expense of the British taxpayer were it not that I felt that in greater measure still this will be an act of the greatest benefit to the Soudan itself. Any one who has read, as I have read for some years past, the annual reports that are sent home by our Civil Servants on the position of the Soudan must have been greatly struck by the growth of that country. We all know in what a terrible state of devastation it was left after the time of the Mahdi and those who succeeded him; but the great improvement that has taken place and the remarkable growth of the population of the country since it has again come under civilised rule must cause astonishment to the rest of the world. There are many who have felt, and perhaps still feel, that we were largely responsible for the devastation which fell upon that country in the past. To such I am sure it will be a source of great satisfaction to feel that we are now doing all we can to restore peace and plenty to that unhappy country.
16 Coming to home affairs, I think there can be no question that the most popular sentence in the gracious Speech will be that which tells us that in view of our arduous labours during the past year the further legislation which Parliament will be invited to consider will necessarily be restricted within narrow limits. But in spite of that there are some measures of considerable importance to come first before the House of Commons and then before your Lordships' House. You will not be surprised to hear that those measures to which my noble friend has alluded, the Home Rule Bill and the Welsh Disestablishment Bill, are to occupy again some time. I do not propose to discuss those Bills. They are of a very controversial character, and this is not the occasion for a controversial speech. But I would say this, that the great majority of the representatives of those two countries in the House of Commons were in favour of those measures, and we have no reason to believe that since the rejection of those two Bills by your Lordships' House they have altered their views in the smallest degree. For myself I regret that the Bills were thrown out last session on Second Reading. If a compromise had been desired, it does appear to me that a discussion of those measures in Committee would have been of the greatest value. My Lords, some of you say that this House is powerless now. I think I have heard it said by some noble Lords opposite that this House is now of little use. I am not surprised at the chagrin which some of you feel that you no longer occupy that commanding position as against the House of Commons that you used to hold; but it must be remembered that this House itself, by making suggestions for reform, has shown that that state of things could not continue, and you have recognised with the other House that this House must occupy more than it has done in the past the position of a revising Chamber.
If I am right in believing that this House must occupy more the position of a revising Chamber such as exists in most other countries, I should like to observe—and I do it with all respect to your Lordships—that it does appear to me that the time has come for altering the principle of rejecting a Bill on Second Reading if you object to it. If you do that, under present conditions it is impossible that the Bill can be discussed in all its details and suggestions 17 made for improving it. It seems to me—and I say it with all deference—that instead of dealing with the principle on Second Reading, it would be far more satisfactory in the case of these great Bills in future if they were allowed a Second Reading and were then considered in Committee in all their details. Then if the House was not satisfied with the Bill after it had passed through Committee it could be rejected on Third Reading. Even as the House is now, I cannot help feeling that it has great influence in the country, both by discussion and by its power to delay. I deplore that we lost the whole of last session for the purposes of discussion of the details of those two Bills by the fact that they were thrown out on Second Reading. For instance, there is undoubtedly some division of opinion on the amount of the endowments of the Church that were to be left to the Church in the Welsh Disestablishment Bill. In the case of the Home Rule Bill there were noble Lords who expressed doubts as to whether the North-East part of Ulster ought not to be dealt with differently under that Bill. It would have been of the greatest value, in my opinion, if those questions had been thoroughly discussed and suggestions made as to how they were to be dealt with, and if those suggestions had gone before the country; because, if suggestions of that sort went before the country and the country backed the House of Lords in the line it had taken, any one who has been in the House of Commons knows that that House would very readily come round to the view of the country as expressed in the House of Lords.
I am sure that noble Lords from Ireland will have been delighted to hear that there is to be an extension of land purchase in Ireland. The more owners there are in that country the greater will be the stability of the State. I am sure there has been no indisposition on the part of the Government to deal with this question. The real difficulty has been that the rate of interest on money has risen so greatly. That is a difficulty which was not foreseen at the time of the passing of the Wyndham Act. The rising of the rate of interest on money has coincided with the great drop in the value of Consols, and until now I believe the Irish Government have not seen their way to go further with land purchase without putting a tax upon the taxpayers of this country greater than they thought 18 they were justified in doing. If the Government can now facilitate in any way the conclusion of land purchase, all parties—the landowner, the tenant, and the State—will be benefited. We have heard that we are to have a measure for the prevention of plural voting. I will not pretend that I think that measure will be popular in your Lordships' House. It is very controversial, and I do not say anything about it further than this, that it does appear to me, if you have once given up the position that a man is to have votes according to the amount of his property, that the only logical conclusion you can come to is that each man should have one vote and one vote only.
We are to have a measure dealing with that terrible question of the feeble minded. This is a measure which is long overdue. Any one who has assisted in the administration of justice or in the administration of the Poor-law in this country is well aware how many cases both of poverty and of crime arise among these unfortunate victims of ill-health. Presumably the Bill will follow somewhat on the lines of the Bill of last session, amended, no doubt, in the light of the criticisms in Grand Committee in the House of Commons. This problem is of two kinds. You have, first of all, to deal with the living, and you also have to deal, if you can, with the limitation of the reproduction of this species. You can do a great deal to cultivate the intellect of these people, possibly even in some cases to cure them. You can do a good deal by placing these poor wretches amongst better surroundings. But, after all, the greatest problem is that of limiting the reproduction of the unfit. Much can be done, no doubt, by segregation. When one reflects that this is an evil which is unfortunately increasing in this country and is sapping the vitality of the race, I am not sure that even stronger measures would not be justified; but I fully recognise that the sentiment of the country is not sufficiently advanced for that, and that it would be difficult to go far ahead of public sentiment in this matter. That being so, I should be grateful, as I am sure everybody would, for any measure which would help to solve this difficult problem.
A few words on the subject of education. The announcement that the Government are to deal with education is a momentous one. The noble and learned Viscount on 19 the Woolsack told us, in the interesting speech which he delivered at Manchester about two months ago, that the most urgent of the great social problems to be taken up was this question of education. It is a common-place that education in this country is chaotic. We all know the want of co-ordination that exists in elementary, secondary, and advanced education. The fact is that education has not sufficiently interested the people, and therefore it has not sufficiently interested the leaders of the people. It is undoubtedly, as the Lord Chancellor said, a colossal undertaking. It will require all the force of the nation behind it to get adequate results. But, my Lords, the competition of nations grows, and it rests with us in those circumstances to appeal to all to raise the intellectual level of our people. It will be costly, but it will be to a large extent a productive expenditure. We have only to look at the wonderful growth and prosperity of Germany in the last twenty years, which is largely owing, I believe, to their much more perfect system of education, to see what can be done by educating a nation. It will to a certain extent also be economical, for it has always been found that the more you educate a people the less crime, the less poverty, the less drunkenness there is, I am sure it will be satisfactory to a large part of the population to know, as we have heard from the Lord Chancellor, that the cost of these changes is not to come out of the pockets of the ratepayers. That, I am sure, will be the gilding of the pill. And if it is also possible for the Government to find a solution of the religious difficulty, which I am sure they desire to do and we hope they will be able to do, one of the very greatest difficulties will be removed from the course of education in this country, and the nation will rejoice and be glad. In conclusion I would thank your Lordships for the great courtesy you have extended to me in the somewhat too lengthy remarks that I have made to you, and I would express the hope that the legislative and administrative work of this session, foretold in His Majesty's gracious Speech, may add to the prosperity and the welfare of His Majesty and of his people both in this country and in his Dominions beyond the seas.
§ Moved, That an humble Address be presented to His Majesty in reply to the gracious Speech from the Throne.—(Lord Aberconway.)20
§ THE MARQUESS OF LANSDOWNE
My Lords, it is usual upon these occasions for the Leader of the Opposition, in tones indicative of various degrees of conviction, to offer, on behalf of those who sit around him, his congratulations to the noble Lords to whom has been entrusted the extremely delicate task of moving and seconding the Address. I fancy the practice dates back to a period when that duty habitually fell to the lot of comparatively junior and inexperienced members of this House, and I feel that upon this occasion I should be guilty of something like an impertinence if I were to offer our congratulations or any words of encouragement to noble Lords whose experience of public affairs has been as long and as varied as that of the two noble Lords who addressed us just now. Both of them have sat in the House of Commons, and both have had other and various experiences of public life, but I am sure they will permit me to say that we listened to their speeches with much interest and with the hope that they will find it convenient to take a frequent part in our debates. One thought crossed my mind as I listened to them. Both of them owe their promotion to this House to distinguished services rendered to the public and to their Party. I wonder whether, after their recent experience of the way in which this House is now treated, they would maintain that their reward was really worth its face value. I wonder whether it may not sometimes have occurred to them that they have, like the hero of a well-known story, strayed into "the wrong paradise."
My Lords, I come to the gracious Speech from the Throne. In the first paragraph His Majesty reminds us that tins is the anniversary of a day ever memorable in the annals of our history—the day upon which his late Majesty was united to a Princess who for half a century, first as Princess of Wales, then as Queen Consort, and more lately as Queen Mother, has occupied a unique place in the hearts of the British people. There has been no joy and no sorrow of ours in which Queen Alexandra has not taken a sympathetic part, and it is something that His Majesty should be able to tell us that in her great sorrow she has found some support and some consolation from the devoted affection of our people.
We heard with more than usual satisfaction the announcement that His Majesty's relations with other Powers are of a 21 friendly description. The condition of affairs in many parts of the world is so critical that it is indeed matter for congratulation that his Majesty should be able to use these words. It is, however, impossible to read the sentences which follow without realising that there may still be cause for anxiety. We find it stated that time war still continues. There is a reference to "possible developments." There is the intimation that there are some points which are still unsettled. My Lords, in these circumstances it is most satisfactory that we should also be told that a large measure of success has already been achieved, and that His Majesty is hopeful of a complete understanding between the Great Powers. I venture to associate myself with what was said just now by the noble Lord who moved in reference to the part which has been taken by His Majesty's Minister for Foreign Affairs, and I was also glad to hear his admission that, so far as these questions of foreign policy were concerned, His Majesty's Government had no reason to complain of the manner in which they had been treated by the Opposition.
When I venture to offer my congratulations to His Majesty's Government upon the measure of success which has attended them, I do so, of course, with certain reservations, because we are indeed very much in the dark as to what His Majesty's Government have been about during the last few months in connection with these most important international issues. They have not been over-generous to us in the matter of laying Papers on the Table. That is, perhaps, to some extent inevitable, but the fact remains that we have been told very little. And yet, my Lords, how greatly these events move us! We cannot be indifferent to what is happening in the Balkan Peninsula. Many feelings rise in our minds. We are witnessing a complete transformation of South-Eastern Europe. We see the wrecking of a fabric in the maintenance of which we have ourselves been largely concerned. We hope that from these events may emerge a happier state of things for these long-suffering regions. We also, I think many of us, have a certain feeling of sympathy for an old ally who has fallen upon evil days—an ally whose troops have in their day, under good leadership, fought with a gallantry and devotion for which no praise could be too strong, and who are the co-religionists of a great body of His Majesty's loyal subjects in India. And last of all, there is I am 22 sure in all our minds a feeling of intense compassion for dm millions of blameless people to whom these events have brought countless sufferings not only from war, but from pestilence, famine, and the loss of house and home.
And yet so far as our information in regard to the policy of His Majesty's Government is concerned, I do not believe that we have officially been told anything since the memorable occasion upon which they associated themselves with the other Great Powers in intimating to the belligerents that they would view with disfavour any attempt at a modification of the territorial status quo. That warning has become a little obsolete. I have no desire to press for information where information cannot with propriety be given. But are there not some chapters of recent political history which are now more or less closed and about which we might be told a little more than we have been told yet? I am under the impression, for example, that we have never been given any Papers about the annexation of Bosnia and Herzegovina. That was a transaction which affected the obligations of those who were signatories of the Berlin Treaty, to which reference is made in the Speech, and I cannot conceive why Papers should not have been laid on the Table on that subject. Then there is the case of Tripoli, which is another chapter that one may, I suppose, regard as more or less concluded. We have, however, had no Papers about Tripoli.
But there is another country about which I must express a hope that we shall be vouchsafed some further information—I mean Persia. We have had no Papers for nearly a year—I think since the month of April last year. But events have been moving very fast in Persia since that time. We have had some conversations in this House, but we have been quite unable to elicit from His Majesty's Government anything like a full and complete account of the policy which they are following. I am well aware of the inherent difficulties of the Persian case. We are led in conflicting directions by different sets of considerations. On the one hand there is our feeling with regard to our interests in the Persian Gulf, for which we have made great sacrifices in the past, and in Southern Persia. On the other hand, I quite understand the reluctance of His Majesty's Government to involve themselves in what might be 23 described as an adventurous policy in any part of Persia; but my fear is that between these two sets of considerations we shall end by having no policy at all. There are two Persian questions as to which we should like further information. Both of them have already been referred to in this House. There is the question of railways in Southern Persia. When pressed the other day on the subject of a railway from Mohammeral to Khoramabad the noble Viscount told us that His Majesty's Government took a lively interest in that project and that "active negotiations" were in progress. I rather hope that we may be told, if not to-night at any rate on an early occasion, something as to the result of those active negotiations. The other matter to which I refer is the episode of Shiraz. A noble friend of mine who is in the House this evening pointed out some time ago that a well-known Indian regiment was virtually imprisoned in Shiraz. Then came the deplorable murder of Captain Eckford, and, by the way, it has been announced within the last few hours that the wife of the Belgian Consul at Bushire has been murdered, which shows what a state Persia is getting into.
When we raised this question the noble Marquess who leads the House admitted the great gravity of the murder of Captain Eckford, and the representative of the Foreign Office in the House of Commons went even further, because he announced that the case was one in which it was essential that punishment should be meted out. He went on to say that the season of the year was unfavourable, but he indicated that what was hoped was that in the spring the Persian Government would take the punitive measures which the circumstances required. I do not know whether the noble Marquess will be able to tell us whether that matter has advanced any further. I trust, however, that the noble Marquess will allow me to explain that I raise this question not because I wish to press His Majesty's Government to entangle themselves in a policy of adventure in Southern Persia, but because my fear is that if an Indian regiment is allowed to remain virtually imprisoned in a Persian town and if the murder of an English officer remains unpunished, we may find ourselves, in spite of ourselves, committed to a policy involving sacrifices which we would all of us very much sooner avoid.
Now, my Lords, I pass to the paragraphs of the Speech in which His Majesty deals 24 with the visit of the Colonial Ministers to London and the conferences which took place with regard to naval defence. Those are paragraphs which we all read with pride and satisfaction. These conferences will help to knit the Empire together, and the sacrifices which the Dominions are ready to make with the object of sharing the burden of naval defence with us, will bring a valuable accession of strength to the Empire at a moment when such an accession seems to me to be greatly needed. But may I in passing express my surprise that when these references are made to the efforts which are being made by the great Dominions in the interests of the safety of the Empire, not one word is said as to any efforts which His Majesty's Government may be making for the purpose of securing the safety of the Empire and rendering it easier for them to meet their international obligations. We never open a newspaper without reading of portentous increases in the armaments and navies of the Great Powers and of the new perils which the discovery of aerial navigation is likely to bring to this country. Considering the amount of public attention which is being concentrated upon these matters, I must say that I should have thought that some word of reference to them might have found a place in His Majesty's Speech.
Then, my Lords, I come to the paragraph in which reference is made to the abominable attempt upon the life of the Viceroy of India. I am sure that every member of this House shares the admiration which His Majesty is pleased to express at the conduct of the Viceroy and Lady Hardinge upon that occasion. One can scarcely conceive a more terrible ordeal; nor I think can one conceive that any man or any woman could have stood the test with greater courage and dignity than the Viceroy of India and the lady whom His Majesty has honoured by special mention in the Speech from the Throne.
I pass on to that part of the Speech which deals with the present Parliamentary situation. We have now had some experience of public life under the Parliament Act, and I should like to ask whether any one, even on the other side of the House, can lay his hand on his heart and say that he is really satisfied with that experience. Parliament has now sat for seventeen out of 25 twenty-six months, and the result, I take upon myself to say, is heart-breaking fur any one who believes in free institutions and in representative government. Can any of us recall a time when public opinion in this country was more completely wearied, confused, and demoralised than it is at the present time? This atmosphere of despair and indifference may suit the Whips and the wirepullers of the Party opposite, but it is a national misfortune when the calculations of the Government of the day are based, as they are now, on the prevalence of these feelings. I venture to contrast the expectations which were held out to us and the realities with which we have had to cope. What was the promise? That we should have full discussions extending over three sessions of Parliament and over two years, with full interchanges of views between the two Parties, each side contributing what it could to the solution of great difficulties—interchanges from which would emerge some conclusion, in which, no doubt, the views of the stronger Party would prevail, but which nevertheless would take into account also the views of the weaker Party. That was the promise. What has been the performance so far as this House is concerned? Inside of six weeks, at the fag end of a session prolonged far into the second year, we have been called upon to deal with two Bills of vital importance—the Bill dealing with home Rule for Ireland and the Bill dealing with the Establishment of part of the Church of England. And but for a mere accident we should have had a third Bill of almost equal importance revolutionising the franchise, and perhaps doubling or more than doubling the number of persons entitled to a vote.
We have had other measures which are fresh in your Lordships' recollection and on which I need not dwell. What room has there been in these circumstances for that give and take to which we were bidden to look forward, for that consultation which was to be so frequent, for the exercise of that revision which we were told was to be the special attribute of this House? The noble Lord who spoke second suggested to us that it would have been much better if we had gone into Committee on the Home Rule Bill and on the Welsh Bill. Supposing we had done so, what room would there have been within these narrow limits of time for the detailed examination of Bills containing hundreds of clauses and innumerable details of importance? The attempt 26 would have broken down entirely under the present dispensation. And do not let us forget—for that is the touch of irony with which the whole thing concludes—that at the end of the session which has just concluded the House of Commons adjourned on February 14 and came together one day only before prorogation to consider the whole of our Amendments, while this House was called together at an unusual hour on the very day of prorogation to bring the matter to a conclusion at a moment when the myrmidons of the noble Earl (the First Commissioner of Works) were waiting at the door for permission to come in and rearrange the furniture of the House for to-day's ceremony.
And what about the prospect of next session? Is any consolation to be derived from the contents of the Speech? We are to have, of course, the two great Bills with regard to which the two Houses of Parliament disagreed, and the Scottish Temperance Bill, which is included, I think most wrongly, in the same category. Remember that none of these Bills can be altered. They must, under the Parliament Act, come up to us as the same Bills, and therefore without any material change, as if no imperfections had been disclosed in those measures during their public discussion, as if there were no second thoughts to be taken into consideration, as if there were no signs of uneasiness and misgiving even among the supporters of the noble Marquess opposite.
Then we are promised new legislation. I need not take up your Lordships' time for long in discussing it. There is to be a Land Purchase Bill, which we shall await with hopeful feelings and with the conviction, shared we know by the Irish Secretary, that the settlement of this land purchase question is really of greater importance than Home Rule itself.
Then there is to be a measure for promoting the cotton-growing industry in the Soudan. I have no doubt that that is a very admirable and useful proposal, but I warn the noble Marquess that he will very likely hear something from persons interested, let us say, in the sugar beet industry in this country, or in the hop industry of Kent, who will ask why a few of the crumbs that are spread upon the 27 Soudanese table should not be allowed to reach them also. Of the Bill with regard to the care of the feeble-minded, I will only say that most of us greatly regretted that owing to Parliamentary exigencies that Bill had to be dropped in the session which has just concluded. With regard to plural voting, we are all of us fully prepared to discuss with noble Lords opposite the anomalies of the present electoral system, but we are inclined to take exception to the selection of this particular anomaly if it is to be dealt with without touching the even more important question of redistribution, which the Prime Minister quite lately admitted equally requires the consideration of Parliament.
Then I come to the last item in the list—"Proposals will be submitted for the development of a national system of education." That sentence is a somewhat enigmatical one. Perhaps the noble Marquess will tell us presently whether the word "proposals" has any significance. Does it mean a Bill or something other than a Bill? For information on this point we naturally turn to the memorable speech delivered by the Lord Chancellor in the city of Manchester in January last. That speech attracted a great deal of attention. Until the noble and learned Viscount delivered it most people were under the impression that His Majesty's Government had it in view to introduce this session land legislation of a very drastic character. The noble and learned Viscount came along and, so to speak, dethroned the land measure from its place in the Ministerial shop window, and put in its place the promise of a Bill dealing with education. The noble and learned Viscount on that occasion took the public into his confidence and told them what his idea of an Education Bill was. It was a bold and striking conception. He told us that the whole of our educational system, elementary, secondary, and higher, was in a chaotic condition, and that the scope of the necessary legislation would go even further than dealing with these three stages—that it would have to start from earliest childhood, from the cradle to the University. And he said, I think with great truth, that this was "a tremendous question," a "colossal undertaking," a task of "supreme importance." I agree with every word the noble and learned Viscount said on that occasion. And I trust he will not suppose that I desire in any sense to throw cold water upon any scheme which he 28 may have in his mind for what I think is usually called co-ordinating our educational system, the imperfection of which we all admit.
But what I want to call the attention of the House to is this. Where are you going to find room for a measure of that magnitude in the programme of this session? Remember that the Speech announces—and the sentiment was warmly applauded by both the noble Lords opposite—that the session is to be restricted within the narrowest limits. What I think His Majesty's Ministers meant when they put those words into the Sovereign's mouth was not so much that the session was to be restricted within the narrowest limits but that Parliamentary discussion and the opportunities given to this House should be restricted within the narrowest limits. The common interpretation placed upon this sentence in the Speech is that His Majesty's Government have it in view that the session should end some time in the month of August. At that rate we should be entitled to receive these Bills, I suppose, some time in the month of July at latest. Is it not evident that if you are to deal with the arrears that we are taking over from last year and also with this long string of measures, including a Plural Voting Bill, and a colossal Education Bill—is it not quite evident that, so far as this House is concerned, if we get these Bills at all we shall have the same undignified scramble that we have had in the last few days, and on a very much larger scale?
I have now said all that I desire to say with regard to what I find in the text of the Speech, but I wish to add half-a-dozen words with regard to one or two matters which are not mentioned in it. I am not going to take up your Lordships' time by dealing with omissions of second-rate importance. For example, I think I could find something to say as to the omission of any reference to the necessity of amending the Insurance Act. I thought it was universally conceded that our experience of the Insurance Act had disclosed very serious imperfections in that measure. I even think that the Prime Minister himself said with reference to a grant of money for which the House of Commons was asked in connection with Insurance that a Bill would be necessary in order to regularise the transaction. But I will not press that point further, There are, however, three 29 omissions which seem to me to be of first-rate importance. In the first place, there is no reference whatever in the Speech to the question of labour disputes. That question seems to me, of all the domestic problems which engage our attention at the present time, by far the most important. I will not again quote the words used by the noble and learned Viscount not long ago as to the danger to the public welfare of what I think he called "arterial" strikes. But since the noble and learned Viscount used those memorable words we have been within an ace of a labour dispute by the side of which other labour disputes would have paled into insignificance, a dispute which was only averted by the good sense exhibited by both sides, to which I gladly pay my tribute of respect. But remember that that dispute arose, not out of any great conflict between a large body of men asking for improved wages, or improved conditions, or shorter hours, and their employers, but our, of a personal dispute between a single individual and the directors of a single company; and yet if a strike had followed from that dispute it would have involved every railway in the country—even those whose sympathies were probably favourable to the dismissed guard—and it would have involved the whole community which would have suffered untold inconvenience and incalculable loses by the interruption of the usual facilities for travel. My Lords, is it not deplorable and scandalous that from such a cause the country should be threatened with such a calamity? The Lord Chancellor told us the other day that these questions were being considered by the Industrial Council, and he added, "We shall before long be in a position to say more." I hope, even if the noble Marquess the Leader of the House is not able to tell us anything this evening, he will at least be able to assure us that this matter is not being lost sight of. And permit me to add this. I observe that all those who have made these questions the object of their particular study are deeply convinced that if you are to have a reasonable settlement of them you should try to have it now while trade is, as we were told by the noble Lord who moved, extremely good and when, consequently, there is every desire to avoid a rupture between Capital and Labour.
I pass to the second omission on which I touched a moment ago—the absence of any proposals with regard to land legis- 30 lation. And that in spite of the somewhat flamboyant statements to which we have lately listened as to the demerits of the feudal system and the hard lot of those who are affected by it. His Majesty's Government were probably wise in their generation when they determined to let this question alone for the moment. But then I make, if I may, two observations. In the first place, if they have not yet been able to formulate a land policy of their own, would it not be better to avoid holding out extravagant expectations to those who are interested in the land question? Would it not be better to avoid the use of immoderate language? Would it not be better to abstain from threatening the existing agricultural system until you have at any rate some idea of the kind of system that you want to put in its place? The second observation which I desire to make is of a different kind. While I realise that it would be impossible for His Majesty's Government to bring in a large and controversial measure dealing with the land question this year, I would ask them whether it would not really be worth while for them to try to make a beginning, perhaps in consultation with those who do not as a rule agree with them with regard to political matters. The particular question which I think they might endeavour to look at from that point of view is the housing question, which all of us admit to be an urgent question at the present time. His Majesty's Government have their own Act—the Housing and Town Planning Act, which I think is doing some good, although it is operating very slowly so far as the agricultural districts are concerned. Then there are at least two Bills in the House of Commons, and there is another Bill which was introduced not long ago by my noble friend Lord Salisbury in this House. These represent different schools of thought, but they are not schools of thought which seem to me to he by any means irreconcilable. The object proposed is the same object, and it may be reached by more roads than one. This I can say with confidence, that if His Majesty's Government desire to approach this housing question in the spirit which I have indicated, far from experiencing obstruction on this side of the House, they would find a great deal of willing cooperation, and that inure especially in regard to the question of the provision Of sites for houses—a matter which many noble Lords on both sides of the Mouse may 31 be expected to know a good deal about. Such a scheme, if it were framed at all, could surely be framed without prejudice to any more ambitious projects which His Majesty's Ministers may have at the back of their minds. What we want is to get the houses, and if we are to do that we must think a little more about getting houses and a little less about getting votes.
I come to the third omission to which I wish to call attention. I feel sure that most of your Lordships must have noticed it. The gracious Speech contains no single word of reference to the most urgent problem of all—the question of constitutional reform. Of course, it must be obvious to us that the tactics which find favour on the Government side of the House render it impossible for them to undertake so serious a question. But my Lords, we have a right to remind you that you are pledged to the hilt to deal with this question. We have not forgotten your statement that the question of the constitution of the House of Lords is indissoluble from the question of its powers. We have not forgotten your references to that twin Bill which has never seen the light, or your statements that you desire "a complete settlement" of this matter, that it would not brook delay, and that you hoped to effect it within the lifetime of the present Parliament. You are, however, in no hurry to amend the Parliamentary machine because it suits your hook that it should remain out of gear. Once repaired, no Radical Government will be able to tamper, as you have tampered, with the Union, the Church, or the franchise. You desire—perhaps it is natural—to make hay while the sun shines. But when the crop is gathered, remember that the lifetime of the present Parliament within which you are pledged to deal with this matter will not be worth many months' purchase. I conclude that your prospects of paying the "debt of honour" are not good. I make no imputation against the noble Marquess opposite. I feel quite sure that he would like to pay the debt, and to pay it honourably, but circumstances are going to be too strong for him. His supporters know quite well that a reformed House of Lords means a strong House of Lords. That is the last thing which they desire. And that, my Lords; is the explanation of that last and most important omission to which I have ventured to call your Lordships' attention.
THE LORD PRIVY SEAL AND SECRETARY OF STATE FOR INDIA (THE MARQUESS OF CREWE)
My Lords, I can most cheerfully and candidly join with the noble Marquess opposite in what he said about my two noble friends who moved and seconded the Address in reply to the gracious Speech from the Throne, and to whose speeches we all listened with deep interest. As the noble Marquess pointed out, the mover and seconder of the Address on this occasion do not belong to the class of those who have sometimes been called upon to perform this duty, those who are complete novices to Parliamentary life and of small general experience. Both noble Lords have sat long in the House of Commons, have represented divisions of counties—Arcades ambo—and both of them are deeply interested in some of the great staple trades of the country. I also re-echo the hope of the noble Marquess that both will from time to time contribute to our discussions, though I certainly do not forget that my noble friend who spoke first took part, in forcible speeches, in both of the principal debates of the session which has just closed.
The first paragraph of the gracious Speech was heard by us all with sympathy. It is fifty years since Princess Alexandra of Denmark passed through the cheering streets of London on her first arrival in this country. Now Queen Alexandra can read her history in the nation's eyes, and to her in her irreparable loss has been extended by the whole country that sympathy which during her whole life here she has been so ready to extend to all those who have been in any kind of sorrow or suffering.
The noble Marquess opposite naturally said something on the subject of the war and of the relations of this country with foreign Powers. He realised, of course, that it would be quite impossible on an occasion like this to discuss in any form whatever what may be called the historical rights or wrongs of the war, or, indeed, at the present stage to say anything of its probable outcome. This country, indeed, has been able to entertain something like a general neutrality of sentiment as well as of attitude in the course of this struggle. Many, of course, maintain an historical sympathy with the small Christian nationalities of South-East Europe and remember the trials which in past years they have undergone. On the other hand, this country has never 33 been slow to recognise the particular virtues of the Turkish people, virtues which would be a lesson to many of the most advanced and civilised nations further West. Nor do we forget the vast body of the subjects of His Majesty who are bound to one of the combatants by the bond of Islam, constituting as it does an almost closer tie than any which exist elsewhere either of blood or of a common history. But, my Lords, when we look at the position of affairs as it now exists—and, as the noble Marquess very truly pointed out, we cannot speak of it in detail because the war is not yet over and certain points still remain unsettled between the parties concerned—we are able to rejoice that the Concert of Europe has not merely sprung into renewed life, but has proved genuinely active in the determination to maintain the peace of Europe. All the Great Powers throughout the discussions have been animated—there has never been any mistaking it—by the desire that peace should be fully maintained; and it is, I think, a matter of pride, as has been stated by one of my noble friends behind me, that this country should have been selected as the meeting place both of the delegates and of the Ambassadors chosen to represent the Great Powers on points of particular concern to them, feeling as we do that that involves the recognition that this country has maintained throughout an impartial attitude with no axe whatever to grind of its own, if I may use a common phrase, and also that the Powers of Europe and their representatives feel confidence in the intentions and the character of my right hon. friend the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs.
The noble Marquess made it a matter of some complaint that the Foreign Office had been a little backward in laying Papers on the Table in relation to foreign affairs, and he implied that nothing whatever had been announced as to the views of His Majesty's Government for almost a year past. The noble Marquess will not have forgotten that, so far as the war is concerned, some observations were made by my right hon. friend the Prime Minister at the Guildhall. But it is quite true, of course, that no Papers have been laid, and the noble Marquess will, I am sure, agree that none could very well have been laid in relation to a contest which is not yet closed. I note, however, that the noble Marquess mentioned the annexation of Bosnia and Herzegovina and also the Italian war in 34 Tripoli as two subjects on which no Papers have been laid. I will, of course, bring his observations to the notice of the Foreign Office.
Then the noble Marquess turned aside to say a word on the question of Persia. As regards Persia, I am able to say that before long we shall be able to lay further Papers which are now in hand; but, as the noble Marquess knows, and nobody better, the subject of Persia is one which involves many people besides ourselves, and therefore it is not always possible to lay Papers with that speed which may take place when it is a matter of simple inter-communication between two Powers. Therefore I shall say nothing at present on the question of Persian railways, although they have been occupying a great deal of our attention of late, attention which is not confined to the Foreign Office but also affects to some extent the Office over which I have the honour to preside. As regards the case of the Central India Horse at Shiraz, I am in great hopes that it will be possible to move that force from Shiraz in quite the immediate future. We are taking steps to bring that about. But as regards the question of a punitive expedition, I would simply say two things. In the first place, it has been our object to encourage and help the Persian Government in the matter of money to enable her to restore order on the Southern roads herself rather than to take the whole business out of her hands and endeavour to do it ourselves. The second point on which I wish to lay emphasis is this. It is quite true, when a murder such as that of Captain Eckford is committed, and apparently committed with complete impunity, that the credit or prestige, or whatever you wish to call it, of the British Government must suffer, or, at any rate, appear to suffer; but the disadvantages attaching to the sending of a great punitive expedition, which you may send but which it is not easy to remove, are so great that we have staved off as long as we can, and I hope in the long run we may succeed in staving off altogether, the sending of an expedition of that kind, because the possible outcome of a military expedition—which, speak of it how you may, involves something like a military occupation of the country—is so obscure and may be so dangerous that we desire to avoid it if we possibly can.
I need say little of the paragraph in the Speech which deals with the visits of the 35 Dominion Ministers and the steps that are being taken in the various parts of the Empire for naval co-operation. As the House knows, it is now some time past, it is the best part of four years, since communications have been taking place with a view to systematising the naval defence of the Empire. In the discussions which have taken place from time to time we have found that, while all the Dominions are animated by a similar spirit, they have taken different views, in some cases even opposite views, as to the methods by which that co-operation should be brought about. Some have been disposed to lay more stress than others upon the necessity of maintaining national control in the local sense over the contribution to the common Navy; but in every case, even among those with whom that view has been most paramount, there has been I am certain a full recognition of the fact that, however independent a Dominion Navy may be in its control and management, yet it is and must be, if the time ever comes when the Navies have to work side by side, on a different footing from the Navy of an allied Power, however close and intimate such an alliance might be.
The noble Marquess spoke in terms with which we all cordially agree of the outrage committed on the Viceroy and Lady Hardinge at Delhi, and of the splendid intrepidity which was shown both by them and by others who were immediately concerned. It certainly seemed to us all at the time that the steady completion of the day's work and the holding of the Durbar just as it was mapped out on the programme was an incident worthy of the courage and constancy of those who govern India, and was an index of the whole spirit in which the government of India is and ought to be carried on. The outburst of sympathy all over India was very striking. People of all classes and of every creed united in deploring the event, and the tribute which the women of India have combined in paying to Lady Hardinge, whose conduct on that dreadful occasion moved their admiration, has been almost universal. Literally from the first moment the Viceroy determined, and he has held to that determination ever since, that this event ought to show and need show no necessity whatever for any modification in the spirit or in the methods by which Britain governs India. While, of course, such crime must be put down if necessary with peculiar severity, there is no reason why its existence 36 should cause any pause or change in the hopes which we all entertain of the advance of India, either morally or materially, or, so far as may be, politically. One is struck almost more, I think, by the insensate stupidity of an outrage of this kind than by its actual criminality. Even if such an attempt had been successful, even if the unhappily successful attempts on the lives of minor officials, of which, as we know, there have been several in past years, were multiplied to any extent, how is it possible that those who inspire and those who commit such crimes, some of them people of education and of experience, should suppose that the Government of India would be affected in its essence by anything that they could do? How is it possible that they can imagine that outrages of that kind could bring about the revolution which they profess to desire?
The gracious Speech also alludes to the Royal Commission on the Indian Public Services which is now doing a part of its work in India. Upon that I desire to say a word, because there has been some misapprehension or misinterpretation in the public Press of the manner in which that Commission has been conducting its work. I have seen notices and articles in the newspapers which would cause a casual observer to suppose that the greater part of the time of the Commission had been taken up in a mere racial wrangle between those who, on the one side, desire to see the Indian Public Services almost monopolised by Englishmen, and, on the other hand, by those who desire to see them almost entirely manned by Indians. It was almost inevitable in a public inquiry of this kind that some discussion of the sort should take place, particularly in the preliminary stages of the inquiry; but, as so often happens, a quite undue prominence has been given in the Press to this particular side of the discussions, just as we notice in the report of a case in a Court of Law here that a jocular observation from the Bench or a wrangle between two learned counsel sometimes fills a column of the newspapers to the complete exclusion of an important discussion on a point of law which is of less general excitement to the public. The effect in this particular case has been that valuable facts and opinions elicited in the course of the inquiry have been far less reported than some of these discussions on the respective merits of Englishmen and of Indians when holding certain public offices in India. As regards 37 the inquiry as a whole, everybody will agree that the maintenance of the standard of that splendid service, the Indian Civil Service, and the question of the employment of Indians in different branches of the Service are two subjects demanding the closest scrutiny and deserving of the greatest care, in order not only that public opinion may be satisfied but also that the best possible results may be obtained. My noble friends behind me spoke in a highly informed manner of the prosperity which happily now attends almost every class of industry in this country. I need not dwell upon that.
I pass to the matter which was, I think, twice mentioned by the noble Marquess opposite—namely, the disagreement which took place between the two Houses in relation to some of our principal measures, and the intention which we have announced of introducing them once more during this session. It is, of course, our intention that those measures should be once more subjected, if the House wills it, to examination and discussion here. The extent to which that examination will take place and the length of the discussion rests, not with the Government, but with the majority in your Lordships' House. I confess I should have thought that any member of the Opposition, however much he may resent or regret the Parliament Act, would hesitate to imply, as the noble Marquess seemed to me very near implying, that in reality the power which this House has always had and which it has not got now, the sole power which was of value to it, was the power of rejecting off-hand measures, whatever they might be, passed through the House of Commons, but unpalatable, for one reason or another, to this House, leaving to the Government of the day the choice either of dropping them or of asking His Majesty to dissolve Parliament. It seems to me a strange commentary on the past history of this House that the loss of that power is spoken of as though it were the only thing that mattered, as the one thing which leaves this House helpless, defenceless, and useless, and without which it can hardly claim to be a Second Chamber at all.
Noble Lords opposite seem to forget that the Parliament Act, while it was, it is true, the beginning of a period, also came at the end of a period. It was the climax to a 38 long series of actions on the part of your Lordships' House which, in the opinion of the Government, supported by a majority in the House of Commons and by the country, had made the Parliamentary situation impossible. The noble Marquess speaks now of the political world, I suppose both in and out of Parliament, as being demoralised, and he asks what has become of all the promises we uttered when the Parliament Act was under discussion. It was the express intention of the Parliament Act that revision and delay should be the two powers left to this House. The length of the possible delay seems to have been overstated or wrongly estimated in some cases. It is, of course, open to any noble Lord to say, if he thinks so, that the delay provided by the Parliament Act is not enough; but so far as discussion and revision are concerned there is no reason whatever why the forecasts which were indicated at the time of the passing of the Parliament Act should not be completely fulfilled.
The noble Marquess held, I think, that it would have been of no use to go into Committee on either of the principal Bills which your Lordships rejected the other day on Second Reading. That, as I ventured to say at the time, was a matter for the majority of your Lordships' House to decide, for it was for you to say how you could best put your case before the country. But so far as the future is concerned, it is, I think, relevant to call attention to the fact that, although those Bills in coming up from another place in this session and next session must be in the same form, it is, of course, always possible for them to be amended here, and for the kind of discussion between the two Houses to take place which has taken place before when the two Houses have not at first agreed over Amendments of detail. In addition to that there is the power which, as noble Lords very well know, is to be found in subsection (4) of Section 2 of the Parliament Act by which the House of Commons, without inserting Amendments so as to make the Bill a different Bill, can place Amendments on the Paper, can suggest Amendments, which this House, if it thinks fit, may consider and add or not to the Bill as it desires. That, I think, is all that at this moment I need say on the question of the reappearance of the two great measures of last session.
39 The noble Marquess noted that we propose to bring in a measure, the importance of which he will no doubt realise as much as anybody, on the difficult question of Irish land purchase. It seems to me unavoidable that if we are to pass a measure for the further facilitation of land purchase it must be a measure, generally speaking, of an agreed kind. It would be vain, I think, for the Government to attempt to force through a controversial measure on such a matter, and I therefore hope that we shall be able to come together. If we can secure the final completion of Irish land purchase in the not very distant future the satisfaction will no doubt be equal on both sides of the House. The Bill, of course, must be partly, indeed largely, financial, but it cannot be wholly financial, because there are other respects in which the completion of the work must be dealt with. The fact is—and I think when the question comes to be examined you will all be disposed to recognise it—that the time has come when, if land purchase is to be actually completed, in conjunction with the fresh financial terms which the Bill will, of course, provide, there will have to be a measure of general compulsion put forward for the consideration of Parliament, and I sincerely hope that it will appear in a form in which both Houses and both Parties will agree that it ought to pass.
I need not dwell on, the question of cotton growing in the Soudan, of which my noble friend Lord Ashton spoke. The noble Marquess rather ominously reminded us that those who are interested in the growth of sugar-beet in this country might regard with a somewhat jealous eye the provision of large sums of money, even by way of loan, for the purpose of growing cotton in a part of the world which cannot even be described as an actual dependency of the British Empire. The noble Marquess would surely admit that there is nothing which concerns us more than the regular maintenance and development of the supply of cotton, and if we have not hitherto been able to exhibit similar enthusiasm about the cultivation of beetroot in this country that is mainly, if not solely, due to the fact that the cultivation of beetroot has been from time to time set before us as a simple and easy method of introducing a protective system on behalf of sugar growers in this country, and therefore the care, we cannot help feeling, has been less for beet- 40 root than for the possibility of somehow or other introducing what is known as Tariff Reform. The noble Marquess was accurate in thinking that the measure which was proposed last session with regard to the mentally deficient will be reintroduced in the light of the discussions which have taken place in Parliament during the past session and of the further inquiries which have been made.
The allusion to the industrial employment of children which the Speech contains and the restrictions which that should undergo refer to a side of the subject which your Lordships may be aware was touched upon in a Bill introduced in another place by Mr. Beck dealing with street trading and founded upon the Report of a Committee which was printed, I think, early in the year 1910. The subject is a rather more delicate and difficult one than might appear, because the earnings of the children of the very poor are, of course, liable to be affected by it, and it may seem hard to interfere in cases of great poverty with those small earnings. But of two things we feel certain—that so far as street trading can be shown to be actually demoralising to the children themselves, and so far as it can be proved to close the avenues to further employment when the children are grown up, street trading ought to be most carefully limited and safeguarded.
The noble Marquess mentioned the plural voting measure. We all remember the fate which the Plural Voting Bill which was associated with my right hon. friend the present Colonial Secretary met with in this House in the year 1906. The question has always been an interesting one, and we look forward almost with excitement to know what the fate of the plural voting measure will be when it comes in the course of the ensuing session before this House, because it has always been the boast of this House that when a measure once rejected here has received the imprimatur of a subsequent. General Election this House is not merely willing, but positively eager to pass it. It is quite true that neither of the two General Elections which have taken place since 1906 can be said to have turned mainly on the question of plural voting.
THE MARQUESS OF CREWE
It would not be easy to conceive a General Election which was exclusively confined to this single question and therefore I do not know whether noble Lords, when it appears, will argue that the Plural Voting Bill has not received the approval of the country. I do not know whether the noble Earl who cheered just now, who, as we know, is one of the great evangelists of the referendum, would like to submit this question to a popular referendum. I am no friend of plural voting or of the referendum, but if I were both I should be inclined to think that the measure would be one upon which a referendum might perhaps be hardly fair. I am, as I say, no friend of plural voting, but I think it would get harder measure under a referendum than it would under an ordinary system of Parliamentary election. However that may be, we shall await with some interest and even excitement the attitude of noble Lords opposite when the plural voting measure puts in its appearance in the course of this session. The noble Marquess seemed almost to taunt us with an indifference to redistribution in this connection. It is quite clear that no general system of electoral reform could possibly be adopted in this country without a practically concurrent measure of redistribution. That we fully and frankly admit. If no Reform Bill were intended, in our view plural voting ought ever to be abolished; but so far as redistribution is concerned, we certainly in no way deny that as soon as the whole question is touched that must form part of it.
Then I come to the sentence in the Speech relating to the development of a national system of education. The noble Marquess asked what was the precise meaning of the word "proposals" in this connection. I can tell the noble Marquess that it is certainly not our intention to endeavour to force through Parliament in this session a vast measure dealing with national education. But in view of what has fallen from the Prime Minister, and also in view of the observations made by my noble and learned friend on the Woolsack at Manchester in the beginning of January, which were the sequel to a close inquiry into the subject, it is, as we think, right for us to place the country in possession of the general lines of our intentions during the current session, although I do not suppose that we shall be able to proceed very far 42 towards making them part of the law of the country. Your Lordships are all familiar with the various attempts which we have made since we came into office at the end of 1905 to deal with the machinery—which operated, as we thought, in some respects unfairly—created by the Act passed by the Party opposite in 1902. Now we feel that if we are to tackle the question again we must begin to paint with a somewhat bolder brush on a larger canvas than we could attempt to do before. Administration, of course, can do a great deal. I venture to think that it has been doing much more than is realised by most of those who do not follow what is happening all over the country. For instance, in the matter of rural schools, some of your Lordships I have no doubt have seen the reports of the education committees of the counties in which you live, which show whit a marked progress has been made in many parts of England in more nearly fitting rural schools to the needs of the children and to the prospects of the life which at any rate a great many of them will probably lead when they grow up.
But if we are to paint on a larger canvas, it is, of course, true that there will be a heavy cost which will have to be met, and that is one of the considerations which we shall have to bear in mind throughout. But, we have not embarked on the consideration of the question without counting the cost or without realising that it will be necessary to provide from national funds more than is provided at present towards the cost of education. My noble friend who moved the Address used the familiar phrase of the ladder of education up the rungs of which the individual boy or girl ought to be helped to pass from the ground to the highest story. I have always myself thought that the metaphor of the ladder erred somewhat in discriminating between those different rungs—that is to say, between the different classes of schools, primary, or secondary, on the way up to the college or the University—and that a somewhat better metaphor would be found in the expression of an inclined plane rather than a ladder, which seems to connote abrupt changes. I have always felt that we have somewhat suffered in this country from the belief that the separate schools—elementary schools, secondary schools, and colleges—were quite different and almost watertight things, 43 whereas the one kind of education ought Lither to merge into the other by almost imperceptible gradients.
For there is not only the case of the brilliant boy of small beginnings who is to be helped to climb from rung to rung of the ladder until he has reached the top. Ever since there has been history at all the most brilliant boys, and girls too, in some cases, have risen from the humblest beginnings to the highest positions. All through the Middle Ages and in modern history you can find cases where some of them have sat on Thrones or have climbed the whole pathway up to the Chair of St. Peter. Therefore the really brilliant child of genius will always, I believe, however defective your general system of education may be, take care of himself or of herself. But the object of a great national system of education is surely to fit each individual, so far as it can, for the apt place of that individual, which need not necessarily be a high place, and which need not involve the very highest forms of education. If you send a ploughboy to a University, you do not perform a kind of conjuring trick and turn him into something quite different. Some ploughboys always have found their way to the Universities. What you want is a system which, without fuss and without special efforts of selection, will enable a certain proportion of all classes to rise to the very top, and all the other members of those classes to obtain that kind of education, which may not be a very advanced one, for which they individually are fitted. Then we have also to think of the physical needs of the children. Physical education of children from one point of view, as we had occasion to notice the other day, may be a subject of controversy, though I think it is a thousand pities that it should be; but we shall all agree that the physical education of children, not merely of children at elementary schools but of the young generally, is one of the objects which we certainly must bear in mind.
Then there is the question of the supply, selection, and payment of teachers, one of the most important sides, as I think your Lordships will agree, of the whole matter. If we are to construct anything in the nature of a general system of education we must bear all these things in mind. We must not allow any one side of the subject 44 to assume an importance out of its real proportion; in fact, we must engage in the task of co-ordination—an expression which has become almost a slang word and is therefore looked upon with suspicion by some, but it represents in a general way what we desire to bring about. We are not without hope that if we can look thus at the question as a whole, the religious controversies which have attached to our education, and which, though, as we in this House have every reason to know, they are most real and most deeply held, yet have bulked too large in the consideration of the whole question, may find a better chance of accommodation by being considered as part of a great whole than if they are taken, as we have hitherto tried to take them, in connection with a single branch of the subject. I think we may venture to hope that the larger survey will lead us to put these questions into their proper proportion and their real place, and if we can do that we shall be, I am sure, nearer to a settlement of them than we ever yet have been.
That, my Lords, concludes all I have to say about the Speech itself; but the noble Marquess before he sat down mentioned one or two subjects which he considered, like the Roman busts, conspicuous by their absence. He was disposed at first to blame us for not having said something about labour disputes. I can assure him that the Departments specially concerned with these matters have them perpetually before their minds, and, of course, they are a subject, if not of perpetual preoccupation and anxiety, at least of continual and serious thought to His Majesty's Government as a whole. But the forecasts in the Speech deal as a rule with forthcoming legislation, and we certainly have not been of the opinion that it is possible to deal with labour disputes, or the possibility of them, by any heroic kind of legislation. We have looked more to the maintenance of rational administration than to anything which can be done by passing Acts of Parliament, and that, I think, must be the excuse, and whether the noble Marquess would admit it or not must be our reason, for not having mentioned the subject in His Majesty's Speech today.
Then the noble Marquess pointed out that we were holding out no hope of any land 45 legislation. He seemed to wonder, after what he had read, that no announcement was forthcoming in His Majesty's Speech of any Bill on the subject. I am afraid that the noble Marquess and his friends have been paying too much attention to what has been said in some of the newspapers on the supposed land programme of His Majesty's Government. I have myself read with great interest some of the statements that have been made, but I cannot say they have been confirmed in all instances by the previous knowledge of our acts or intentions which I may happen to possess. It is, of course, true that our English land system, capable as I think it is from many points of view of a tolerably complete defence, yet does possess its defects, and it possesses not merely theoretical defects but also the possibility of the existence of serious abuses, in certain cases. Those of us who are acquainted with its working know that it is a delicate and a difficult matter to touch the English land system, because it might not be difficult, in endeavouring to patch here or to repair there, to bring the whole structure down with a run, to the loss and inconvenience of a great many people not all of them owners of land themselves.
The rural housing question is one, no doubt, of great difficulty. All I can say is that I shall not be surprised if, when the various inquiries that have been made by different people on the subject are systematised and known, it is found to be a more urgent question than some of us have hitherto been aware of. What the remedy may be is a large question. Whether it will be found expedient to proceed in any way on the lines of the Irish Labourers Acts, the success of which we know has been marked in certain respects but which may not be altogether fitted to our quite different English land system, is a subject upon which I will not express an opinion. But I note the observation made by the noble Marquess to the effect that if those representing the Government who are specially concerned with the matter would confer with or consult members of the Party of the noble Marquess opposite, such consultation would be gladly given from the opposite side of the House, and that in the opinion of noble Lords opposite it might be useful. I am quite certain that I may say on behalf of the Government that we should welcome any contributions made with a knowledge of the subject by people of experience, 46 whether in the form of the introduction of Bills such as that brought in the other day by the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, or in any other more private manner. I do not know that I can usefully say any more than that I shall be very glad if the noble Marquess's suggestion leads to any result.
The last point raised by the noble Marquess was with regard to constitutional reform and the reform of this House. I can assure the noble Marquess that we are not at all unmindful of the pledge which we gave that this matter would have to be dealt with during the lifetime of the present Parliament, and we have been and are, some of us who have had most experience of these particular topics, giving the closest possible attention and the fullest consideration that we can to the subject. Noble Lords opposite know from their own experience and from the remarkable differences of opinion—I do not at all say this by way of taunt, but merely as a statement of fact—which emerged during the discussions that took place on the reform of this House during the last two or three years, the great difficulty and complexity of the question; but I can assure the noble Marquess in all seriousness that we are giving close attention to it, and that we are using such brains as we have to the best of our ability in endeavouring to set before the country what we consider to be a reasonable and possible reform to constitute a Second Chamber which shall be a permanent element Of stability in our Constitution. I think I have now dealt with the various points raised by the noble Marquess, and I have nothing further to add, except to express the hope that the noble Marquess will not prove to be quite accurate when he seems to expect that the coming session may be a crowded and a hurried one. On the contrary, I hope that there will be time, in the spirit of what my noble friend who seconded the Address said, to consider the details here of some of the great measures which we shall once more set before your Lordships, and I do not think it will be found that time will be wanting if your Lordships desire so to consider them.
§ On Question, Motion agreed to, nemine dissentiente, and ordered to be presented to His Majesty by the Lords with White Staves.