HL Deb 23 December 1919 vol 38 cc538-44

And afterwards His Majesty's most gracious speech was delivered to both Houses of Parliament by the Lord Chancellor (in pursuance of His Majesty's Command) as followeth—

My Lords and Members of the House of Commons,

After many months of arduous deliberation in Paris, the efforts of time Plenipotentiaries of the Allied and Associated Powers have been crowned with success, and Treaties of Peace with Germany, Austria and Bulgaria have been concluded. In the negotiations the Prime Ministers of all My Dominions and Representatives of India took an influential part. I have signified My approval of the Treaty of Peace with Germany and have ratified it. Peace still remains to be concluded with the Ottoman Empire and the Republic of Hungary, and I earnestly trust that the necessary negotiations for this purpose will shortly be brought to a satisfactory conclusion.

I regret that there is no improvement in the unhappy conditions prevailing in Russia, and that there is no immediate prospect in that country of the establishment of Constitutional Government, which alone can conduce to its permanent prosperity.

My relations with My Allies and Associates in the Great War remain of the most friendly character, and I have every expectation that the close and intimate co-operation which led to victory will be long continued to the benefit of all.

In August last My Government concluded with the Persian Government an Agreement tending to cement the ties of friendship between the two countries, which have so many interests in common, and to promote the welfare and progress of Persia. I have since had the pleasure of entertaining the Shah on his first visit to Europe.

The signal success which has attended the visit of the Prince of Wales to Canada and Newfoundland has filled My heart with feelings of pride and satisfaction. The overwhelming enthusiasm with which My Son was everywhere welcomed affords a fresh proof of the affectionate loyalty which animates all My Peoples, and I rejoice that his visit has strengthened the ties of comradeship which unite the various countries of the Empire. He subsequently visited the United States of America, where he was greeted with a warmth and kindliness which will, I am confident, have the happiest effect on the relations between the British Empire and that great Republic.

The whole Empire mourns the death of General Botha, one of the greatest and wisest of its Statesmen. The sagacity and far-sightedness which made him the trusted leader of the people of the Dominion of South Africa, and which contributed so much to the success of the Allies, won universal recognition at the recent deliberations in Paris.

A measure which marks the first stage in the development of responsible government in India has become law, and I rely on all My Subjects to work together for its success. In a Proclamation which I am addressing to My Viceroy and to the Princes and People of India, I am expressing My Hope that harmonious political life will be steadily built up on the foundations thus laid, and I am announcing My intention of sending My Son, the Prince of Wales, to India to inaugurate the new Constitution.

Members of the House of Commons,

I thank you for the provision that you have made for the service of a year in which public expenditure has necessarily continued on an abnormal scale largely exceeding both the permanent and temporary revenue. I trust that next year, with the return to more normal conditions, you will be able to take the first steps in the reduction of the National Debt. The condition of our finances and the state of our credit continue to occupy the serious attention of My Ministers. Only by strict economy in both public and private expenditure and by sustained increase of production can the country maintain its historic position in commerce and finance.

My Lords and Members of the House of Commons,

I cannot view without concern the grave economic position of a large part of Europe. The task of restoring credit and restarting industry in the countries whose economic life has been destroyed by five years of war is one of the first conditions of a return to settled peace, but it is too large a task for any nation to undertake unaided. I was enabled by the liberality of Parliament to place a large sum at the disposal of the Supreme Economic Council for the relief of immediate necessities, but that sum is now nearly exhausted. Further measures of relief and reconstruction can only be undertaken as the result of joint action by all nations interested in the restoration of international com- merce. My Government would gladly co-operate with the Governments of other countries to this end if a suitable plan can be devised.

Great progress has been made during the past year in the gigantic task of demobilising My Navy, Army and Air Force, impeded as it has been by the uncertainties of the situation in large parts of Europe and Asia.

The lot of the men who have served in My Forces during the War, and especially of those who are disabled, has been the subject of anxious consideration. It is a source of great satisfaction to Me that it has been possible to increase the scales of pension paid to war veterans and to the dependants of those who gave their lives in the War. I am glad to know that very large numbers of men have been re-absorbed in peaceful industries, but it is important that employment should be within the reach of all who are able to take advantage of it. To this end I have made an appeal to the employers of the country which has received a large response. But more remains to be done, and I am hopeful that the measures which have been and are being taken for giving them training in skilled occupations and for placing them in employment will have the ready support of all My People.

Measures have also been passed to facilitate the settlement on the land of ex-service men who have fought in the War, and for providing them with the necessary assistance in establishing themselves in agriculture.

The continued high cost of living, with all its evil consequences, has caused distress throughout the world, though it is lower in the British Isles than elsewhere. The problem of reducing it has received your constant consideration, and measures have been taken which it is hoped may prevent the charging of unreasonable prices for necessary articles.

In the sphere of domestic legislation the Session has been marked by the passage of an unprecedented number of Bills dealing with reconstruction in all its aspects.

Important measures have been passed affecting the conditions of labour. There is no doubt that public opinion throughout the world is deeply interested in the manner in which Great Britain is dealing with its labour and industrial problem, and I am confident that though the difficult times are not yet past our course is set fair towards a renewal of national strength and prosperity. I am glad to think that there has been a steady improvement in industrial conditions. Unemployment, which in the earlier part of the year was unexampled in extent, stands to-day at a figure which compares favourably with the years prior to the War. This is all the more remarkable considering the immense numbers of men and women discharged from the services and from munition works at home. The Acts for restoring privileges surrendered during the War and for stabilising the conditions of employment have done much to avoid friction in the industrial life of the country. The establishment of an Industrial Court has provided the machinery for securing the peaceful settlement of disputes and promoting harmony among those engaged in industry. These measures form part of a programme which it has not been found possible to complete in the present Session. Proposals have been formulated for fixing a maximum number of hours of employment, for instituting a minimum wage, and for making increased provision against unemployment. I trust that at an early date they may receive the assent of Parliament.

I have given My assent to an Act constituting a Ministry of Agriculture, Agricultural Councils for England and Wales, an Advisors, Committee to assist the Minister, and providing for the decentralisation of Agricultural Administration to Committees of the County Councils.

I have also assented to Bills for the establishment of the Ministry of Health in England, and a Board of Health in Scotland, and a Council of Health in Ireland. I anticipate that when they are in full working order they will prove invaluable in co-ordinating and improving the service of the health of the people.

The Housing and Town Planning Acts which were passed in July, and the Housing (Additional Powers) Act to which I have just given assent, mark a new departure in housing legislation; and it is My sincere hope that these measures will facilitate the solution of the housing problem in the United Kingdom by providing increased and better accommodation and leading to the progressive elimination of insanitary dwellings.

I view with satisfaction the passing of the Act to establish a Ministry of Transport. The creation of an effective system of transport will greatly contribute to agricultural and industrial development, to the solution of the housing problem and to the reparation of the immense losses inflicted on the country by the War.

Upon these measures the future prosperity of the country very largely depends.

The pressure on the time of Parliament has made it impossible to enact in its entirety the Electricity Supply Bill as passed by the House of Commons. Provision has, however, been made which enables the necessary Commissioners to be established and the preliminary steps to be taken in the reorganisation of this vital industry. A portion of this Bill was temporarily postponed with the object of giving adequate time to Parliament to deliberate fully upon its terms. It is greatly hoped, however, that upon the re-assembly of Parliament consideration of the remaining portion will be resumed.

In addition to these Bills a number of other Acts, relating to the Acquisition of Land, Patents and Designs, Trademarks, Wireless Telegraphy and other matters of importance in the practical work of reconstruction, have received My assent.

Then a Commission for proroguing the Parliament was read.

After which the LORD CHANCELLOR said:

MY LORDS, AND MEMBERS OF THE HOUSE OF COMMONS,—By virtue of His Majesty's Commission, under the Great Seal, to us and other Lords directed, and now read, we do, in His Majesty's Name and in obedience to His Commands, prorogue this Parliament to Tuesday, the tenth day of February, One thousand nine hundred and twenty, to be then here holden; and this Parliament is accordingly prorogued to Tuesday, the tenth day of February, One thousand nine hundred and twenty.

End of the First Session of the Thirty-first Parliament of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, in the tenth year of the Reign of His Majesty King George V.