THE EARL OF PEMBROKE AND MONTGOMERY
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 would crave the indulgence which your Lordships invariably give to one who is entrusted with this duty on these occasions, 5 more especially as I have the honour to address your Lordships for the first time. Though it is some three and a half years since the cessation of hostilities between the Entente and the Central Powers, we still find the world in an unsettled and uncertain state. Therefore, I feel that it will be all the more gratifying to your Lordships to have heard of the Treaties which have been signed at the Washington Conference—the first, which we all hope will settle once and for all those long-standing differences in the Pacific and in the Far East, and the second, relating to disarmament, which, I think, we may say is a definite step on the path of perpetual peace and returning prosperity.
You have heard that discussions have been initiated between His Majesty's Government and the Governments of France and Belgium with a view to concerted action being taken by those three Powers in the event of an unwarranted and unprovoked attack by Germany. This, I feel, entails no further obligation on this country than that which we so willingly and promptly undertook in 1914. I feel also that it is an obligation which our great Ally, France, would equally and willingly undertake if such an unprovoked and unwarranted attack were made on the shores of these Islands. A proposal of a similar nature was made just after the cessation of hostilities, and the only difference between that and the present proposal is that Belgium should be included. That, I think you will agree, is sound and logical as the Belgo-German frontier is, after all, but a continuation of the Franco-German frontier, and, as we know by experience, it was the Belgian frontier, and not the French, which was most vulnerable in 1914. If these discussions, as I sincerely hope, lead to a decision I think they will be acceptable both to Parliament and the public of this country.
We have heard, with regret on all sides, that the situation in the Near East is still unsettled. We are told in the gracious Speech that it is hoped that the forthcoming Allied discussions in Paris will result in an early solution. I venture to say that unless the Powers concerned—Great Britain, France and Italy—come to some definite agreement among themselves, these troubles will continue for a considerable time, and I think not only that it is of the greatest importance that this unfortunate war between Turkey and Greece 6 should be brought to a conclusion but also that the continued delay in signing a Treaty of Peace with Turkey is putting a good deal of strain on the feelings of our 100,000,000—so far loyal—Mahomedan fellow subjects.
To turn to the next paragraph of the gracious Speech, we are informed, as we all know, that the Provisional Government of the South of Ireland is now taking over the administration of that country. I feel some diffidence in approaching this Irish question at the present moment when everything is in a state of transition, and especially as I myself am very much affected by the welfare of Ireland. As we are told in the words of the gracious Speech, the assent of both Houses of Parliament and of the Irish 'Delegations has already been signified to the Agreement, which is now in operation, and I think that every encouragement, and every assistance that is possible from this side, should be given to the men who are endeavouring to set up a Government in the South of Ireland.
We are told that the world is anxiously awaiting the result of this Agreement. This Empire has many enemies in the world, and I hope that those enemies will never be afforded an opportunity of saying that the Irish Free State was not given fair play and a free opportunity of forming its own Government. We regret that the boundary dispute between the North and the South has not yet been settled. I feel sure, however, that eventually the common sense of the best elements in the North and the South will prevail, and that some arrangement will be found which will cause this long strife between the two portions of this country to be ended, and that Ireland will eventually realise the advantages of being a free partner in the great Commonwealth of Nations which constitutes the British Empire.
There is one other matter in the gracious Speech to which I refer with some trepidation, and that is the reform of your Lordships' House. We are told that proposals will be laid before your Lordships relating to that subject. These proposals are merely the fulfilment of an obligation which has been acknowledged by at least two successive Governments, and I know that in the opinion of ninny of your Lordships its fulfilment has been somewhat unduly delayed. But the question is one which is fraught with great difficulties. There are not only very great differences of opinion between the various political 7 Parties of the State, but also among the individual members of each Party as to what measure would be best. I feel that this measure, to be a permanent one, must be essentially of a non-Party description, and in my opinion it is best that a Government which is not a Party Government—which is composed of members of different Parties—should be the Government to introduce it.
Supposing that a strong Conservative Administration were in power and amended the constitution of your Lordships' House to their liking, it is almost inevitable that the first strong Liberal, or the first strong Labour Administration which came into power would re-amend your Lordships' House to their liking. Your Lordships would then be in the unenviable position of being reformed with the greatest regularity by every successive Government. I do not know what are the proposals which His Majesty's Government will lay before you, but I trust they will be proposals which will be in a great degree acceptable to every Party in the State, and which will leave your Lordships' House in the position, which it holds now, of inspiring the respect, not only of this country, but of the whole world. I thank you for the courtesy and patience with which you have listened to my speech, and I beg to move.
§ Moved, That an humble Address be presented to His Majesty as followeth—
§ "Most Gracious Sovereign—We, Your Majesty's most dutiful and loyal subjects, the Lords Spiritual and Temporal of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland in Parliament assembled, beg leave to thank Your Majesty for the most gracious Speech which Your Majesty has addressed to both Houses of Parliament."—(The Earl of Pembroke and Montgomery.)
§ LORD CLWYD
My Lords, in rising to second the Address that has been so ably moved by my noble friend, I also must ask the indulgence of the House in seeking to discharge a duty which is always one of responsibility and which has special difficulties at the present time. I think every one will agree that His Majesty's gracious Speech upon this occasion is one of the most important ever addressed to Parliament. It records two momentous events making for contentment within our own boundaries and for peace throughout the world.
8 I should like to refer very briefly to two points in the sphere of foreign politics mentioned in the gracious Speech. The noble Earl who preceded me has already referred to the Washington Conference. May I, however, make this preliminary observation. It seems to me that foreign affairs have to-day a far more direct bearing upon the situation at home than has ever been the case before. As a consequence of the war, changes in the material, the economic and the social conditions of Europe and of the world have brought about practically a subversion of the old order of things and any movement in the sphere of foreign politics is bound to be of vital moment in the life of our people at home.
Referring for one moment to the Washington Conference, it is, I concur with my noble friend in thinking, an event of momentous importance. The conclusions reached at that Conference, I think, can be classed under three principal heads. First, there is the Treaty, referred to in the first paragraph of the gracious Speech, dealing with points of possible danger in the Pacific, a Treaty which has taken the place, as has already been pointed out, of the Anglo-Japanese Alliance. This Treaty is bound to have widespread and important results in the history of the future. If I may say so, I think it is due to Japan that we should express our appreciation of the conciliatory and helpful attitude of her representatives at the Conference in Washington and of their readiness to replace the previous arrangement by the general arrangement to which the four great Powers are pledged. It is also a source of unqualified satisfaction to us all that this new arrangement has been and will be the means of strengthening still further the bond of friendship between this country and the United States. The second Agreement relates to the limitation of naval armaments. As the House is well aware, we should have liked to have gone further; that was our wish; but in the present circumstances it was impossible. Nevertheless the Agreement is one of great financial consequence. The third Agreement is designed to strengthen and to safeguard the legitimate rights and interests of China, and we hope that useful results will flow from this arrangement.
I wish it were possible, not for me but for this House and for all who are responsible for the public life of this country, to pourtray to the minds of the people 9 the potential benefits of these Agreements. In the first place they mean a very substantial reduction, amounting, I suppose, to scores of millions of pounds per annum, in the way of war preparations. But they mean a great deal more. They mean the creation of an atmosphere of confidence and good will throughout the world. Before I leave this question of the Washington Conference, I should like to express my deep appreciation of the service rendered by the British Delegation at the Conference and particularly by the principal representative of the Delegation—Mr. Balfour. It is to his statesmanship, to his almost unique experience and knowledge of public affairs, to his great intellectual gifts, and to the rare charm of his personality that the success of this Conference is in large measure due, and not only this country but the world is under a debt of gratitude to him for the part which he has played in this great event.
May I say a word as to the coming International Conference at Genoa? I am a believer in these Conferences. Of course, owing to inevitable antagonisms, it is sometimes impossible to reach immediate success, but I venture to say that with every Conference of this kind a step forward is taken upon the road of international understanding. This particular Conference at Genoa will have one new Feature of essential importance—namely, the attendance of the representatives of Germany and Russia; and I think I shall carry the House with me when I express the view that it is obvious that it would be impossible to expect any general improvement in the condition of Europe unless we have the co-operation of those two Powers.
My noble friend has already referred to the Irish settlement and I will only say this in reference to it. I feel that the submission of measures necessary to ratify the Articles of Agreement and to make provision for the Constitution of the Irish Free State will be a Parliamentary event of capital importance, and I have no doubt this Rouse will deal with the further stages of the Irish settlement in the same spirit as that in which it received and approved the original Agreement. I fully recognise the uncertainty, the danger, of the present situation, and particularly the difficulties which have arisen in connection with the boundary question; but I think that every day that passes at all events enhances the 10 chances of success. The door has been opened, and opened wide, for the possibility of concord, of good faith, and of good relations between Ireland and this country, and I draw encouragement from the fact that this is a question not only of importance to us but of importance from an Imperial standpoint, and that in this matter, so far as the free people of the British Empire are concerned, the 1.Tnited States and, indeed, all the great foreign Powers of Europe, we are encompassed, so to speak, by a sympathetic cloud of witnesses.
Next, I would say one word upon the paragraphs in the Address which relate to finance and unemployment. We are, as a nation, in a financial position to-day rarely, if ever, paralleled in previous experience. Gigantic sums have been lost during the last year or so, and the spectacle of nearly two millions of unemployed is a daily reminder of the seriousness, indeed the tragedy, of the present situation in regard to our industrial life. But what I would like to say is that this industrial depression in our country is the inevitable result of the war, of the expenditure, of the dislocation, and of the destruction of war. We must realise that, and face it as one of the stern necessities of the day.
The essential point for us to emphasise, I think, is that trade dominates the situation, and until to some material extent trade can be restored to Europe and the world, we cannot expect substantial improvement. I am not going into the many ways in which this can and must be done, but I will content myself with stating my view that everything depends upon our succeeding in this country in reducing the cost of production; and in order that this may be brought about I think that it will be necessary for us strenuously to develop further understanding and co-operation as between employers and employed. I am very glad to note during the last few months a greater disposition displayed in many spheres of industry to reach a settlement upon questions of wages through the medium of friendly conference.
Before I sit down I would remind the House that I have been all my life associated with the Liberalism of Wales—a Liberalism, as your Lordships know, of a robust and definite type—but I have never wavered in my conviction that, as a consequence of the upheaval of the war, the gravity and the complexity of the problems to be solved demand the best resources 11 of all Parties. I think it is plain that the great achievements which have been won during the last year or two, and which are in process of being won, would have been impossible under conditions of Party warfare. In my view, the united action of all sections of the population is the imperative necessity of the hour, and that Government which most fully and effectively is a symbol and instrument of such unity in our national life will best serve to grapple with the conditions of to-day.
In conclusion, I would repeat that we are surrounded to-day with many dangers and difficulties, and there are some amongst us who predict serious, if not fatal, developments in the near future. I do not share these fears. The issue of the future happily depends not upon the unprecedented and, as I believe, temporary conditions of the present time, but, in the main, upon the history and the achievements of the past. More than one hundred years ago some memorable lines were written about the influence of Britain at that time in the life of the world, and many of your Lordships will doubtless recall the expression "the flood of British freedom." The British Empire then was little more than a far-off dream.It is not to be thought ofThat this most famous stream in bogs and sandsShould perish, and to evil and to good Be lost for ever.If that was true one hundred years ago of the power of our country in the life of the world, how much more true must it be to-day. It is because of this consciousness of our great past that I, at all events, venture to look forward beyond our present distresses to a still greater future. I beg to second.
THE MARQUESS OF CREWE
My Lords, according to a long-standing custom it is again my privilege to thank, on behalf of your Lordships, the two noble Lords who have moved and seconded the Address in answer to the gracious Speech. I can do so on this occasion with perfect candour and congratulate both noble Lords, who, being men of very different experience, have, each in his own way, performed the task of setting before your Lordships the main features of the gracious Speech I am sure to the satisfaction of your Lordships.
The noble Earl who moved the Address is not an accomplished Parliamentarian. 12 He has been a soldier ever since he grew up, but he has inherited many historical traditions, not least in the last two generations. All your Lordships know the fame of his distinguished grandfather who, at a time of great stress and difficulty, filled the Office of Secretary of State for War, and I am sure it is safe to say that among all the statesmen of the nineteenth century there was no one who left a more gracious memory than did Sidney Herbert. The noble Earl's father was a friend of many of your Lordships. He sat for a long time in another place, was well-known there as one of the Conservative Whips, and earned to the utmost extent that personal popularity which, by a curious paradox, often falls to the lot of the holders of that peremptory and sometimes punitive Office.
The noble Lord who seconded the Address is, on the other hand, a Parliamentarian of long experience. I think for more than twenty-five years he sat for a constituency in North Wales, and those of us who have had to do with the Government of India recollect him also as being deeply interested in some aspects of Indian progress and the advancement of the people there.
The gracious Speech, in the first instance, deals with the great Conference held at Washington, and I am sure that everybody here will regard with agreement what is said concerning the part taken by the President of the United States in summoning that Conference. The bold initiative which distinguished the action of the President had perhaps more than anything to do with the ultimate success which the Conference achieved. In saying that I desire also to join most heartily with the tribute which is paid to the English Delegation, and particularly to the part played by Mr. Balfour. Mr. Balfour has achieved an astonishing position of popularity and appreciation in the United States. Indeed, I think it would be safe to say that since the loss of one of whom I shall say a word in a moment there is no public man who stands so high in the estimation of the United States for his personal qualities as does Mr. Balfour, and I regard it as most fortunate that it fell to his lot to present the British case during the whole period of the Conference.
It would be to no purpose for me to dwell at any length on what was done at Washington. The substitution of the Pact of four Nations for the Anglo-Japanese 13 Alliance is, in itself, a great fact; and that it should have been brought about with the free concurrence of Japan justifies Lord Clwyd in saying what he did in praise of the part played by Japanese statesmen at. Washington. There is one result regarding China upon which, I am sure, we ought to congratulate ourselves and everybody else; that is, the practical disappearance of "spheres of influence" in China. Spheres of influence have, as a rule, been applied to a country in a backward stage of civilisation. The civilisation of China differs in many respects from ours; it is more ancient than our own or any existing European civilisation, and it must be an advantage that that great country should have a chance of developing itself in its own way, with, of course, all the assistance of European capital and Japanese assistance and capital that may be needed, but without the suspicion of patronage which attaches to the use of such a phrase as "spheres of influence."
The second part of the work of the Washington Conference dealt with disarmament. When the Conference opened, no doubt higher hopes were held than events have justified on what might be done in the direction of disarmament, and in some quarters there may be a feeling of disappointment that more was not achieved. The reduction in the number of capital ships, although itself not altogether what was at first hoped, is a fact of the first moment. That other classes of ships should not have been diminished in like degree must be a matter of regret, and the future must be looked to for bringing about improvement in that respect. The future also must be looked to for something being done in the infinitely more difficult question of the reduction of land forces. No one can pretend that international disarmament has reached even a hopeful stage unless some form of agreement is arrived at on the Continent of Europe for the reduction of land forces. And when I say the Continent of Europe, I, of course, include ourselves, although the question is not one which can be taken as of special concern to the United States.
The noble Lord who seconded the Reply to the gracious Speech spoke about the forthcoming (I hope it is a forthcoming) International Conference to be held at Genoa. For some reason which I do not apprehend this Conference has been dragged out of what appears to be its proper place 14 in the context of the gracious Speech and mentioned later as though it simply related to the question of unemployment in this country and other countries of Europe. My impression, derived from what one has heard of the subjects for discussion, was that it was to be a more far-reaching affair than that. We were told that the objects of the Conference at Genoa were, in the first place, to confirm what took place at Cannes, the need for international co-operation in the restoration of Europe, and the establishment of European peace on a common basis. That was to be done by restoring confidence—I think that was the phrase—in the different countries of Europe without doing violence to existing Treaties. That means, I take it, that the Treaty of Versailles was to be regarded with extreme respect.
That surely is a much larger programme than one would have supposed from the rather jejune allusion to the International Conference which appears in the gracious Speech, and I have no doubt the noble Marquess the Leader of the House will be able to explain what appears to me a singular arrangement and a rather depreciatory treatment of this Conference in comparison with other statements relating to foreign affairs. The sentence regarding an unprovoked attack by Germany on Belgium or France will probably produce some further explanation from the noble Marquess. So far as Belgium is concerned, it is, of course, simply a renewal of our obligation towards Belgium which was shared by other Powers, including Germany, through the gross breach of which by Germany we were in the first instance, and inevitably, brought into the war on the side of Belgium and France. So far as France is concerned, it is agreed from the moment of the Armistice that in the event—one would hope a very remote event so far as immediate possibilities are concerned—of an unprovoked attack by the broken power of Germany upon what is now unquestionably the first army in the world—namely, the French Army—we should take the part we did in 1914.
I come next to the sentence relating to the war between Greece and Turkey, upon which we know only what has appeared in the public Press. I hope that the noble Marquess may be able to tell us something about the condition of that most unhappy struggle, and also that he will be able to promise us some publication of Papers on 15 the subject. On the matter of the publication of Papers I may interpose here with the observation that there are a good many subjects upon which we should be very glad of more printed information than has been vouchsafed to us.
The gracious Speech is altogether silent on the two subjects outside these islands which are, I think, exciting the public mind more than any others at this moment. There is not a word about Egypt. We see it stated that His Majesty's Government have summoned Lord Allenby home in the hope of arriving at a conclusion of our relations with Egypt upon which, so far as we can judge from the very meagre information that we have, His Majesty's Government have more than once exhibited a change of front, and upon which they do not even now seem to have made up their minds. I sincerely hope that it will not be long before we receive some definite information of a full and complete sort about Egypt. So far as India is concerned, I do not propose to raise the subject now, but the noble Marquess must know very well—because there is hardly a day in which we do not see some disagreeable news in the papers—that the condition of affairs in India is causing acute anxiety in this country. There again, I hope that we shall be furnished with some more information.
On the subject of retrenchment, concerning which His Majesty's Government have displayed what I cannot help calling a somewhat belated anxiety, we all know that for the first two or three years after the conclusion of the peace there was a great measure both of public and of private demoralisation in the expenditure of money. The custom that had grown up during the war of regarding all expenditure which might be serviceable to the war as a matter of pure indifference—and, so far as expenditure could help to win the war, it certainly was a matter of pure indifference—that habit, I am afraid, persisted in the minds of many people long after the actual necessity for such reckless expenditure had come to an end. I am not going to attempt now to discuss the question of retrenchment, but as we are told that large reductions are to be made in many of the public Services, His Majesty's Government will, of course, realise that the specific proposals, when we see them, will be subjected to the closest scrutiny, both in Parliament and in the country, that can possibly be applied to them.
16 The question of unemployment is of course closely related to this question of public expenditure. It is true, as the gracious Speech points out, that it is not only a national question; it is an international question as well. But it is also, of course, in essence a domestic question, one which is not to be disposed of or even palliated by indiscriminate gifts to various classes of persons, and one which must be taken in hand in the broadest possible spirit.
I feel, as I think both the noble Lords did, that as regards Ireland the less said in public in England the better. I have no wish to enter into a discussion of the difficulties which have unfortunately arisen, and which one feels were almost bound to arise, in the determination of certain questions between the Northern and Southern Governments of Ireland. One can only hope, with Lord Pembroke, that the common sense of Irishmen, which is a quality for which they are far more distinguished than it is our British custom sometimes to pretend, will find a way out of the difficulty. It. clearly must mean a certain degree of give and take on both sides, and the personality of those who are engaged in the negotiations on behalf both of the North and of the South gives one hope that a favourable conclusion may be reached.
The next matter mentioned in the gracious Speech is the reform of your Lordships' House. His Majesty's Government have donned the ancient Liberal mantle of "Peace, Retrenchment and Reform." Peace is dealt with in the first few paragraphs of the Speech, retrenchment later on, and now we come to reform. I do not know that the garment fits them very well, but they have chosen to assume it, and we have to make the best of it. In mentioning this subject of the reform of your Lordships' House I should like to express my own deep sorrow, and that, I am sure, of all your Lordships, at the loss of Lord Bryce, who presided with so much dignity and with such singular capacity over the conference of two Houses which, during the progress of a whole session, sat to consider this question, and which issued a Report which is no doubt fresh in the minds of many of your Lordships.
Lord Bryce's remarkable qualities were indeed well known to your Lordships. It might be said of him, in the words which Sydney Smith used of a public man of his 17 own time whose loss he was lamenting, that he had read so much and so well that he was a contemporary of all men and a citizen of all States. Nobody ever seemed to have such wide knowledge, ranging over the whole world and over countless subjects, as Lord Bryce had, and nobody ever carried it as so slight a burden to himself or to those with whom he was conversing. His personal qualities endeared him to all his friends, and I think your Lordships must feel that in losing Lord Bryce the House has, lost one of its most distinguished members, and one whose place can be filled, or even partially filled, with great difficulty by anybody else.
The noble and learned Lord Chancellor anticipated in some degree the possible proposals of His Majesty's Government with regard to the reform of your Lordships' House. At least, it was not quite clear, from what he said, whether he was merely stating his own personal views or whether he desired to foreshadow what is about to be produced as a sequel to the Committee on the subject presided over by the noble Marquess who leads the House. Nobody can exaggerate the extreme complexity of this question, and I am certain that the noble Marquess, who has been looking into it, will not dispute that conclusion. In Greek philosophy there was a theory that all institutions and things were represented by an idea or pattern stored somewhere, from which the concrete objects were copied. All I can say is t hat if there exists anywhere the idea or pattern of the best possible Second Chamber, nobody has ever succeeded in discovering it or even realising what form it might, take.
The fact is, there is no such thing as an ideal Second Chamber. In every country it has to be accommodated to the special circumstances, traditions and history of the country. In this country the powers, and probably also the composition, of the Second Chamber must be largely governed by the old traditions and history of the House of Commons, and that is one of the facts which has to be borne in mind in approaching the consideration of changes which may be made in your Lordships' House as it now exists. Of one thing, however, I am quite sure—namely, that it would be worse than useless to attempt to set up a Second Chamber as a solid bulwark of property against attacks which may be made upon property, whether property in land, or in money, or in any 18 thing else, by some Party at some future date. If the institution of property is to be safeguarded from attacks by those who hold what we call wild views on the subject, it can only be by convincing the majority of the people that those wild views are wrong. You will never do it by setting up a privileged body of persons, whether you call that body the House of Lords or anything else, with the idea that you can arrest the onrush of the flood by a breakwater of that sort; and I am certain that when the time comes when the reorganisation of tins House as a reformed Second Chamber has to be considered, this is a consideration which your Lordships will have to bear in mind.
At the end the gracious Speech alludes to certain Bills which His Majesty's Government propose to bring in. Two at least are Bills which have been before the House before, and there are others which are new. Then comes a separate paragraph, which must be presumed to contain an announcement of very great importanceThere will also be laid before you a Bill substituting yearly audit for half-yearly audit in the case of Rural District Councils and Boards of Guardians—and other measures framed to give effect to the policy of retrenchment.…That is indeed a most overpowering announcement with which to wind up the Speech. One does feel, indeed, that the introduction of such a vast and sweeping measure as that justifies the existence of His Majesty's Government in its present form, if nothing else can. It is, indeed, a most inspiring announcement, and I do not wonder that it is given such extreme prominence in a paragraph all to itself, in order to wind up and conclude the gracious Speech. I suppose it is prospects of that kind which explain the astonishing complacency of the public speeches which have lately been made in various parts of the country by members of His Majesty's Government.
I have recently read, as no doubt all of you have, four speeches made by eminent members of His Majesty's Government—by the Prime Minister, the noble and learned Viscount who is not at the moment on the Woolsack, the Secretary of State for the Colonies, and the Lord Privy Seal—all of them with a note of delightful self-satisfaction and complete contentment with themselves and with all the world, and all of them, I think, pointing out that they have 19 always done right, and that it has always been done absolutely in the right way and at the only possible moment. That being so, I am rather a little disappointed to find that the speeches at the same time contained a certain degree of acerbity in the face of some criticism which had been directed at the Government in the course of the last few weeks, and that they also contained a certain number of rather laboured personalities, based on single episodes in a long chain of events in the past.
That is rather a weary game, and I feel sure that it will not be pursued in this House—it is quite contrary to the traditions and practice of our debates—but I hope that later on we shall have some formal and regular discussions both on certain topics outside this country and also on domestic questions. Such discussions will, I am certain, not be unwelcome to the noble Marquess and his friends who represent the Government, and they can often, I think, be carried on with more effect when dealing with separate subjects of discussion than in the course of the debate on the Address in answer to the gracious Speech. There are, as I have endeavoured to point out, many subjects on which we are in a very considerable degree of darkness, and upon which we desire further information, and I cannot help thinking that His Majesty's Government must agree that at a critical time like this—critical for them and for the country—it is necessary to satisfy public opinion by giving the fullest information in their power.
§ THE SECRETARY OF STATE FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS (THE MARQUESS CURZON OF KEDLESTON)
My Lords, my first words, although they do not arise directly out of the gracious Speech, must be those of respectful congratulation to His Majesty the King and Her Majesty the Queen on the happy event that is about to take place in the Royal Family. The marriage of a Royal Princess, a daughter of the Sovereign, is a matter which can never be indifferent to this nation. Closely identified as our Royal Family has always been with the life of the nation, their sorrows are our sorrows, and their joys are our joys. But I think there are special circumstances in the present case which tend to enhance this feeling. When a young Princess, the only daughter of her parents, who has already endeared herself to the people by the simplicity of her 20 character and her high sense of public duty, makes her choice for life and enters into an alliance which all know to be one not of convention but of attachment with one of His Majesty's subjects, an Englishman, one of ourselves, we can readily understand that the heart of the nation is touched by such a spectacle, and that all our hopes and wishes attend the union that is about to take place. I am sure I express the feelings of your Lordships if I apply to them the concluding words of the gracious Speech, and add the prayer that the blessing of Providence may sanctify this union.
My second duty—following in this some remarks that fell from the noble Marquess opposite—must be the offer of a tribute to the memory of that eminent man, Lord Bryce, who has recently passed from our midst. The opening days of the session always saw that noble Viscount in his place below the gangway, and seldom found him silent. There was scarcely a subject, as the noble Marquess remarked, on which he was not qualified to address us with authority, and few which he did not adorn. The range of his knowledge, the inexhaustible fertility of his mind were such that the words of the poet in their best connotation leap to our lips—A man so various, that he seem'd to beNot one, but all mankind's epitome.Whether we regard Lord Bryce as a scholar, a jurist, a historian, a traveller, a diplomatist, or a statesman, his career was one of unique distinction. As the noble Marquess said, perhaps the most considerable service that he rendered to his country was when in America, perhaps more than any other British representative for many years, he succeeded in laying the foundations of that close friendship, that intimate harmony between our two peoples which has blossomed into such a rich flowering under the skilful and sympathetic hands of Mr. Balfour.
But there was another aspect of Lord Bryce's character to which I should like to allude before passing away from the subject. He was distinguished for his passionate attachment to small nations and struggling or persecuted peoples. He often pleaded their cause in this House. And, although it may be true that Lord Bryce did not climb to the highest rung of the political ladder in this country, yet his career was an illustration of the distinction 21 lent to public life when a man of the highest character and the most profound learning transfers his activities from the lecture room or the study to the forum, and places his abilities at the service of the State. Such a life is a great example and a great encouragement, and the loss of such a man creates a gap which it is difficult to fill.
I pass from that subject to the two speeches delivered by the noble Lords who moved and seconded the Address. As Lord Crewe remarked, my noble friend Lord Pembroke is the inheritor of a great name. The noble Marquess alluded to two previous holders of that title who have filed a conspicuous place in the public life of the country. He did not mention a third, known to both of us, the uncle of the noble Lord, whose abilities justified hopes which his health did not allow him to realise. My noble friend Lord Pembroke told us this afternoon that he was a novice. I do Lot know whether his novitiate may be said to have commenced or terminated this afternoon. Let us hope, in any case, that. he will continue to place at our disposal the abilities which he showed to-day, and which mark out for him, if he chooses to continue to take part in our proceedings, a future that will certainly be meritorious and, w e all hope, will be distinguished.
The noble Lord who seconded the Address, Lord Clwyd, was an old Parliamentary friend and colleague of my own in the House of Commons many years ago. I cannot say that in those days we often found ourselves in the same Lobby, but when, in the latter part of his speech this afternoon, he preached the virtues and advantages of a Coalition I felt indeed in the warmest sympathy with him. The noble Lord in the old days, as Lord Crewe remarked, always identified himself with good causes, and his career has been an example of unpretentious but useful public service. As regards his speech to-night, I can truthfully say that among the many speeches made in moving or seconding an Address in reply to the gracious Speech from the Throne, I have seldom heard one delivered in a more clear or persuasive form, or more generally in accord with what I believe to have been the sentiments the audience whom the noble Lord was addressing.
I will take the paragraphs in the Speech in the same order as the noble Marquess did, beginning with the Washington Con- 22 ference. I may, perhaps, add one or two observations to the remarks that fell from Lord Clwyd, who justly summed up the achievements of that Conference as having assumed a triple shape. It is to be noted that the Treaty for the Limitation of Naval Armaments is a Treaty which has been signed by as many as five great Powers. When the proposal was first put forward at Washington it was contemplated that only three should be signatories. But when France and Italy joined, all the great Powers of the world possessing navies of any size are involved. Now surely this constitutes a great achievement. It is the first time in history that anything resembling it or approaching it has been attempted and, much more, carried out by Great Powers. I agree with the noble Lords who have said that credit attaches to the President of the United States, Mr. Harding, and to the Secretary of State, Mr. Hughes, for the bold and wise initiative on the first day of the Conference which took the world almost by storm. And I cordially echo the tribute which has been paid to Mr. Balfour for the quick and generous response which came from his lips on that occasion and which set the tone to the whole proceedings of the Conference that followed.
I need not go here into the details of the exact tonnage of ships that may be built or maintained under this new arrangement. The broad results are that a halt has been called to the ruinous competition in naval armaments which before prevailed; that there will be a great reduction in expenditure on these objects in all the countries concerned; and that there is a final disappearance, as I think, of all fear of aggression in the Pacific. It was Lord Clwyd, I think, who said that we should have liked to go further. That is quite true. We should gladly have welcomed the complete abolition of submarine warfare, or, if not that, a substantial reduction of the number of submarines permitted. We failed to prevail in that attempt. But your Lordships will remember that resolutions were passed restricting the power to use submarines against merchant ships in the future.
The second feature of the Washington Conference is a substitution for the Anglo-Japanese Alliance of the quadruple Pact ensuring the peace of the Pacific. The Anglo-Japanese Alliance was an arrangement that had existed for many years. 23 Both Parties had at different stages been responsible for it. If I remember rightly, the noble Viscount, Lord Grey, whom we are glad to see again taking part in our proceedings, was again responsible for one of the extensions of that Agreement. It had great advantages. It established close relations between the two most powerful nations in the East. It had, in my judgment, a steadying and stabilising influence upon the political atmosphere in those countries. No one can say that Japan was any less loyal to the Agreement while it subsisted than we were ourselves, and in the war it was of substantial assistance to the Allied cause.
Nevertheless, it was felt in many quarters, with force, that the Alliance had served its purpose. The conditions which called it into being originally had ceased to exist and, undoubtedly, its continuance set up a formidable barrier to friendship between the United States and Japan, just as also, in an indirect sense, it was a barrier to complete harmony between the United States and ourselves. That barrier has now been removed by the good sense and the public spirit of all the parties concerned. Here I join cordially with the compliments paid by two previous speakers to the Japanese Delegation who appear to me to have conducted their case at Washington with unfailing good temper, with a good deal of sagacity, and with a sincere desire by conciliation to arrive at good results. The result is an Agreement which ought to render war in the Pacific absolutely impossible in future, and which ought to make that great area of the world's surface pacific in reality as well as in name.
The third feature of the Washington Conference is the Agreement, in this case signed by nine Powers, relating to China and embodying in its compass the principles relating to the assurance of the independence and integrity of China, the maintenance of the "open door" and so on, which have for years lain ostensibly at the bottom of European policy towards that country, though I am far from being able to assert that they have always been faithfully observed in fact.
Some people of weight and importance deny the value of these Conferences of which the Washington Conference is the last. I am certain that China herself would be the last to subscribe to any such doctrine, because just see what she has gained. At a time when nobody can contend that 24 China presents a spectacle either of a strong Government or of a united people, she has been admitted, in the first place, to the Conference table on a par with the great Powers of the world; she has obtained from Japan the retrocession of Kiaochow and Shantung; we have given back to her the naval station of Wei-hai-wei; France, I believe, intends similarly to give back to her the naval station of Kwang-chow-wang; and numerous other advantages have accrued to her. Had the processes of the old diplomacy been pursued China would not have got those advantages in twenty years or, perhaps, not. in half a century, and it only remains for her, now that this great opportunity has been afforded her, to embrace the chance that is given and show that she is worthy of a destiny comparable with the great natural strength of her resources and the place that is numerically filled by her population in the Eastern world;
I turn next to the contemplated Agreements between this country and France and Belgium, about which the noble Marquess who leads the Opposition asked me to say a few words. My Lords, comradeship in war and common interests in peace have convinced every thoughtful man in both countries—and I believe in this case the thoughtful men are in a great majority—that our fortunes, that the fortunes of France and Great Britain are inextricably interwoven, and that differences of bygone history, or mentality, or political outlook ought never to sever us one from the other. That is a basic principle, as I see it, not only of the continuance of the Entente, but of European welfare and of the peace of the world. There could be no greater misfortune conceivable than that, after the manner in which we have been thrown together and the alliance cemented in the agony and suffering of the war, we should now fly asunder because we disagree upon this or that minor point.
I ask your Lordships to look at this question for a moment from the point of view of France. I do not think that there can be any doubt that France has some legitimate cause for anxiety. She is anxious for the recovery of the reparations to enable her to restore her devastated areas. That is a perfectly intelligible feeling. She is anxious also about her own safety. When you remember that she has been invaded across the Eastern frontier four times in one hundred and 25 twenty years, that great as are the natural powers of her people, her population is by many degrees less than that of Germany, and that, although Germany has been disarmed as effectively as could be done, she yet has a great reserve of manhood disciplined and trained to arms, you can tinder stand the ever-present feeling of anxiety that presses upon the French mind. Your Lordships will remember that early in 1919, or at the end of 1918, after die conclusion of the Armistice, both Houses of Parliament gave without a dissentient voice, and this House, if I remember aright, without debate, their consent to a Bill which embodied the Treaty of guarantee that it was proposed to give by the Government of this country in conjunction with that of America against unprovoked German aggression upon the Eastern frontier of France. Circumstances with which we are all familiar in the political life of America rendered the fulfilment of that undertaking impossible, but ever since then we have remained under a certain unfulfilled moral obligation to France.
Of course it is true, as one of the noble Lords who preceded me said, that we should do again at a future date, in similar circumstances, what we did in 1914, but if we should do it why should not we say that we will do it? The advantage of saying it is this. Let me give a retrospective illustration. Had such a form of guarantee existed in 1914, and, still more, had it been known to the Germans, I think the noble Viscount, Lord Grey of Fallodon, will not dispute with me when I say it might have exercised a very appreciable effect upon the situation, and might conceivably have prevented Germany from rushing into the war. Accordingly His Majesty's Government are prepared to repeat to France the engagement to which this House assented in 1919, both as a proof of our friendship and as an addition to her security.
Lord Crewe, in discussing the question of naval armaments, said with truth that the question of military armaments had not yet been touched or approached, and that it remained in the international offing to be dealt with at a future date. May it not be that by giving an engagement of this sort to France, we may, through lessening the fears she entertains, very materially reduce the military burdens which she feats compelled to accept? And may there not be this further advantage 26 in it, that it will lead the wilder spirits in Germany, of whom there is still an abundance, to see that in no conceivable circumstances would they gain anything from a war of revenge? It is true that there are some people who would like to see the engagement in the form which I have described expanded into an offensive and defensive Alliance between the two countries. I think that would be a great mistake. I doubt if any Government proposing it would be supported by public opinion in this country. We shall be supported, I think, if we renew and record our unwritten moral obligations, but we should not be supported if we were to invite the people of this country to a policy of military enterprise, or to a revival of the old phase of policy that existed in Europe before the war.
The whole tendency of the day since the war is to get away from the stage of military alliances under which Europe was turned into great armed camps, the frontiers bristling with arms and guns, gazing suspiciously at each other and threatening rather than securing the peace of the world. We ought to be careful not to do anything to justify or to encourage such suspicions. Of course, the arrangement, when it is proposed to conclude it, will be submitted to Parliament for approval. As regards Belgium, I need add nothing to what was said by one noble Lord, I think it was Lord Clwyd. As he pointed out, the frontier of Belgium is a prolongation of the frontier of France, and, if such an act ever again took place in the future, it would probably again be across the frontier of Belgium, as in 1914, that the act of aggression would take place.
We regard these two Agreements, if they are concluded, as substantial and solid contributions to the Peace of Europe. Meanwhile, the study of these questions with the French Government is affording us an opportunity of clearing the ground of some other causes of difference, actual or potential, between them and ourselves. We hope that if they are removed as a result of this examination we may proceed to the conclusion of this Agreement in the confident hope that the two nations will go forward hand in hand to the execution of the great mission that is placed upon them by their geographical position in relation to each other, by the traditions and memories of the last seven years, and by the prodigious power which, in combination, if 27 wisely directed, they are capable of exercising upon the peace of Europe.
The next point to which the noble Marquess referred, and about which he asked me for some information, was in regard to Genoa. Here he complained, not I thought without some force, that mention of the Genoa Conference in the King's Speech had been thrown somewhat out of perspective by being relegated to a lower place in the programme, instead of being accorded a prominence which we certainly desired to give it in connection with its political aspect. The noble Marquess need be under no fear that we intended to do anything to depreciate the chances of that Conference. Perhaps your Lordships will allow me, in a few words, to state what the objects of His Majesty's Government are in endeavouring to call it into being. I was saying just now that the position of France was one containing many elements of anxiety. Precisely the same is true of every European country without exception. We ourselves are not free from symptoms of very alarming dislocation and unrest. We have great economic and industrial disorganisation in this country. You have merely to look at the papers to see a list of nearly 2,000,000 unemployed, involving us in a cost of something like £2,000,000 per week. The whole country is groaning under a burden of taxation so heavy that it is materially diminishing our chance of recovery.
If you look at the Continent you will see, in varying degrees and in different manifestations, exactly the same symptoms. You see industry dislocated, unemployment rife and peoples impoverished. In the distant parts of Europe millions are on the verge of starvation. You see the cost of living raised to an exorbitant pitch; people in some parts alternating between fictitious prosperity and profound despair; the exchange pursuing the most incredible and unparalleled gyrations. You see Russia, once a great reservoir of food and raw material for the rest of Europe, in the grip of famine and moving towards complete social and economic catastrophe. These conditions can only be changed by combined effort. No one of these countries, and certainly none of the smaller countries, can possibly right itself by its own exertions. It has neither the wealth nor the resiliency to enable it to do so, and that is the reason why the Conference at Genoa was proposed to which all, great or small, should be invited.
28 You could not possibly exclude Germany because of her geographical position in the heart of Europe, her great resources, and the particular aptitude of her people. You could not exclude Russia because while Eastern Europe is in collapse Central Europe cannot possibly recover. While the East is in this state of misery and starvation the West loses its markets for goods and unemployment becomes endemic among the peoples. Therefore, Genoa was proposed, and I trust will take place, as a (Treat constructive effort for the economic reconstruction of Europe.
But I hope, and the noble Marquess Lord Crewe hinted it, that something more may result, because it is intended—I think the agenda has been published—to invite all those Powers who take part in the Conference to undertake as a condition of the relief that may be afforded to them to refrain from propaganda subversive of order and the established political systems in other countries; and to refrain from aggression upon their neighbours. It may well be, if the Conference succeeds, that it may be attended with consequences in Europe not altogether unlike those which have resulted over the Far Eastern world from the Conference at Washington.
The next passage about which the noble Marquess asked me to say something related to the impending Conference about the Near East. It is over three years now since the Armistice with Turkey was signed. It is over a year and a half since the Treaty of Sevres was signed, though it has never been ratified. Since then two attempts have been made to close down this unfortunate and disastrous struggle. The first was in this country in March of last year when a Conference was held here to which both Greece and Turkey were invited. Terms were suggested to them which were either refused by both or accepted by one party in one particular and refused by the other in another. The second attempt was in Paris in June of last year when I went over for a Conference with M. Briand and the Italian representative. We then offered the intervention of the Powers to Greece. She declined our offer at that date. The fact is that both parties, Greece and Turkey, were resolved to put the matter again to the test of war. Each was confident of victory. Each was wrong. The result has been severe loss to both parties, no decisive point has been 29 reached, and a sort of stalemate prevails. Meanwhile, heavy financial burdens are being imposed on both conbatants and we seem to get no nearer to a pacific solution of our difficulties.
It was in these conditions that I offered to go over to Paris for a meeting between the Foreign Al Misters of the three. Powers principally concerned—namely, France, Italy and ourselves. The first condition of any agreement seemed to me to be that the Powers should agree amongst themselves as to the terms they should suggest and that they should then present an allied front when the terms were presented to the combatants. This Conference in which I was to have been engaged last week has, for the moment, been postponed for the exchange of certain views with the French Government tending to remove the possibility of any hindrance to a complete understanding and also because the fall of the Italian Government a few days ago has, for the moment, incapacitated that country from being represented.
You may ask me with fairness what are the conditions that seem to His Majesty's Government to be essential to success in this difficult endeavour. They are, I think, these. In the first place, all the Powers must enter the Conference with the sole object of procuring a fair and equitable solution. By that I mean that we do not want one party or nation to take the side of Turkey and the other party or nation to take the side of Greece. We must try to construct fair conditions for both. Secondly, we want to establish conditions which will enable Turkey, shorn of the provinces which she showed herself so incapable of ruling, nevertheless to create a compact national existence, with Constantinople as her capital and with her main sources of prosperity and strength in the Asiatic lands from which she originally came.
Great Britain, as a Mahomedan Power, is profoundly interested in a solution, and the repercussion which these lamentable events have had upon the position of India, if there were no other cause, would lead us to regard the matter as one of the deepest importance to ourselves. But we are also a great Christian Power and we must see that justice is done to Greece. Whatever may have been done by the people—or rather, it was by the Sovereign and the Government of Greece—in the 30 earlier stages of the war they were our Allies and rendered substantial service to the Allied cause in the later stages of the war; and whether the invitation to Smyrna was wise or unwise it was an invitation to them deliberately tendered by the Allied Powers in Paris in 1919. We must endeavour to arrive at some result which will compensate Greece for the great sacrifices she has undergone.
I need mention only one other object that we must keep in view, and that is that Turkey must never be allowed again to shut and bang the doors of the Straits. It was her ability to do so, and the manner in which she did it, in 1914 that prolonged the war by at least two years, if not more, imposed upon our peoples almost immeasurable sacrifices of money and men, and exposed Europe to dangers which we can never allow her to repeat. These are the objects of the projected Conference in which I am to take part in Paris. I admit that it is a task of profound delicacy and difficulty, and I hope that all of us who are to take part in it will do so with a due sense of the responsibility devolving upon us and with a desire this time, and finally, to arrive at sonic definite issue.
I am afraid I am being rather long, but I think that the noble Marquess said quite fairly that no opportunity had existed for some time of eliciting the views of the Government on many of these important questions, and although it is true that opportunities will arise when individual subjects will be brought to our attention by noble Lords who are interested in them, it seems to me only fair, at the opening of the session, in view of the long time that has elapsed since last we had a discussion of these matters, that I should, on the important issues mentioned by him, give some indication of the views and policy of His Majesty's Government. The noble Marquess has said that there is no mention of Egypt or of India in the King's Speech. Certainly they were not omitted from any lack of appreciation of their importance. Both are immensely important, and, indeed, the position in both cases is anxious. We did not include any mention of Egypt because, until we had seen Lord Allenby, who is now on the seas, it was impossible for us to put any definite announcement in the lips of His Majesty. But I should like with your Lordships' leave to say a few words—they shall be as brief as possible—about the Egyptian situation.
31 We are not hostile to Egyptian aspirations. We do not want a hostile Egypt, and ever since I have been in public life I have seen successive Governments doing their best not to increase but to diminish our responsibilities in Egypt. Why is it that those attempts, begun by Lord Salisbury thirty and more years ago, have consistently failed? Because in the background there were certain great interests, arising partly out of the geographical position of Egypt, partly out of our Imperial connections, which have retarded at different stages the execution of the policy of withdrawal. Those interests have to be safeguarded to-day just as much as at any time in the past. What are they? In the first place, there is our Imperial position in Egypt. By that I do not, of course, mean that Egypt is part of the Empire; what I mean is the importance of Egypt in its bearing upon the communications between the different parts of the British Empire. Secondly, there is our responsibility to the foreign communities in Egypt, who look to us in times of disturbance, and can look to us alone because there is no other guarantee, for the protection of their nationals. In the third place, there is the interest of Egypt herself, which we cannot allow to relapse into the conditions from which we recovered her.
May I put it in this way? What would be the good of our marching out of Egypt if either, as a consequence, somebody else were to march in, or if, having marched out, we were ourselves compelled to march back again a few years hence? Further, there is, of course, this acknowledged principle to be observed, that nothing must be done in Egypt, and no great change will be contemplated there, without the approval and consent of Parliament. In our negotiations with the Egyptian Ministers we have gone a great distance without, of course, committing Parliament. We have offered to ask Parliament to agree to the abolition of the Protectorate and the recognition of Egypt as a Sovereign State with a Treaty of perpetual friendship and alliance concluded with ourselves. We have offered to agree to the summoning of an Egyptian Parliament, to which the Egyptian Ministers will be responsible; to the re-creation of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which they enjoyed in the old days of Lord Cromer; to the abolition of Martial Law; and to the substitution, wherever possible, of Egyptian for British officials in the Service.
32 These record a great advance. They go much further than any offer which any British Government has ever made to Egypt before. Would any other foreign nation in a similar position have been willing to concede a tithe of the same? All we ask in return is that these privileges shall not be turned against us, and that we shall obtain satisfactory guarantees for the security of those fundamental principles to which I have referred. Our record in Egypt is a very great and proud one. As everybody knows, we have recovered that country from chaos and bankruptcy to order and prosperity, and if anyone—
§ LORD ISLINGTON
May I interrupt. the noble Marquess for one moment to ask him if, in addition to those provisions to which he has alluded, he can give any information as to the proposed disposal of the British troops of occupation in Egypt under this scheme?
§ THE MARQUESS CURZON OF KEDLESTON
I do not think I can say anything about that now, because obviously the one guarantee for safeguarding the principles to which I have referred is the continued existence of British forces in Egypt. The question of the allocation of those forces is a matter for discussion between the Egyptian Ministers or between Lord Allenby and ourselves. But I never heard anybody take up the position—it is inconceivable to me that it could be taken up by anybody—that we can afford to dispense altogether with British troops in Egypt. It seems to me incredible. Look at what might happen. You have only to see what did happen at Alexandria in June last year, when the most disastrous riots broke out between different sections of the native communities. The Egyptian police and other forces were absolutely useless, and it was not until British soldiers were sent for and appeared upon the scene that anything like order was restored. Believe me, if British soldiers had not been brought to do it, Italian ships, foreign ships, would have been there to protect their communities, and we should have had a revival of all the unhappy disputes and dissensions of the past. Lord Allenby is coming home. He will be here this week, and we shall discuss with him the conditions under which it may be possible, if indeed it be possible, to obtain an Egyptian Ministry. We will gladly secure it, 33 but we cannot accept the responsibility of jeopardising or sacrificing the important interests to which I have referred.
I pass to India. The situation in India, as die noble Marquess, Lord Crewe, remarked, is anxious and menacing, and the House is entitled to full information on the subject. The Viceroy is sending home an appreciation of the general position in India, which will be laid before Parliament when it has arrived. To what is this ferment, with its recent explosions—one of which was mentioned this afternoon—in the main due? it is due, as it seems to me, in the first place, to the reflex influence of the war, which expresses itself in India, as it does in Western countries, in increased prices, in stifled trade, in high taxation. It is due, to some extent, to the unobliterated memories of what happened in 1919. It is due in part, perhaps largely, to the Islamic agitation which is being pursued in India not exclusively or even mainly on its own merits but often on seditious grounds. And it is due to that feeling, spreading everywhere throughout the Eastern world, and enormously exaggerated by the preachings of the war—that feeling for self-determination and self-government, whatever is the phrase you like to employ, which is surging in the minds of all Eastern peoples.
Now, His Majesty's Government, in respect of self-government in India, feel that they went as far as they reasonably and safely could, for the present at any rate, in the proposals of August, 1917. We cannot allow this policy to be rattled or jeopardised or defeated by clamour or agitation or revolution. There is no intention on the part of the Government of India, or the Government here, of being intimidated in the prosecution of their task. Systematic terrorism of loyal citizens in India, the formation and drilling of volunteers in opposition to the Government, and the preaching and practice of disobedience to the law, cannot be tolerated. If organisations exist for promoting these things they must be suppressed. If individuals preach these mischievous doctrines, as they are doing, they must be prosecuted. If newspapers spread, as they are spreading, this peculiarly dangerous form of poison, they must be disallowed. The time has certainly arrived, and ought never to be absent, when, making every concession to popular feeling, respect for the law must be enforced. Those, in a 34 few sentences, are the general conditions which we see in India, and represent the view taken of them by His Majesty's Government, and we on this bench will welcome any opportunity that may present itself of asking the opinion of Parliament about the situation, and of obtaining from this House the valuable assistance of its authority and its information with regard to that great Dependency.
One portion of the noble Marquess's speech was devoted to the question of economy. Here I am struck not so much by what he said as by what I read in the papers almost every day—by the theory in which our critics seem to indulge, that they are the sole repositories of financial virtue, and that reckless extravagance is the particular characteristic and natural taste of His Majesty's advisers. Neither this Government nor any other Govern-merit has any interest in or wish for expense. The economists are not always outside the Government or outside the Cabinet chamber. Believe me, our critics have not a monopoly of financial orthodoxy nor we of financial depravity. I would like to submit that we are all interested in economy, and that we would much rather discuss the steps we should take than bandy epithets or charges in this or that direction.
What is being done? Your Lordships know well that a very powerful and independent Committee, with Sir Eric Geddes as Chairman, and comprising two very authoritative members of this House, Lord Inchcape and Lord Faringdon, have for many months been investigating various Departments of the Government, with a view to making suggestions for rigid and far-reaching economies. We are very grateful indeed for their labours, and so will the public be when they see the result. Two Interim Reports have been already received, and the third is due in the latter part of the present month. Now, I think it might have been possible, and I am not certain it would not have been in accordance with precedent, to say that the investigations of this Committee ought not to be laid before Parliament before they have been carefully sifted in the Cabinet, or by Committees of the Cabinet, and before the views of the Departments involved had been heard and sifted. That process is going on. Committees are sitting taking the views of the Departments upon, I will not say the charges 35 brought against them, but the changes which are proposed.
We feel that the interests of the country in the early publication of these Reports is so great, and so legitimate, that we propose to publish them without delay. The two already received will be published about the end of this week, and I will only add this word of caution: In the first place, as I observed just now, you will expect the Government carefully on their own responsibility to examine each change proposed, and to hear those involved. In some cases it will be found that legal obligations are entailed which we cannot escape, and it is, moreover, the duty of the Cabinet to co-ordinate any proposal for financial reduction or economy, however attractive it may be, with the safety of the country and the State. The responsibility in the last resort is, of course, that of the Government, or, indeed, that of Parliament, and in this case we look to Parliament to encourage the Government amid the many difficulties that will block the path in the practice of what will be most certainly very wide and far-reaching reductions in the various public Services.
There are only two other subjects that I need allude to and that in the briefest possible way. The noble Marquess, Lord Crewe, spoke with a reserve for which I am grateful about the position in Ireland, and I shall therefore not say one word about the difficulties of the situation or the manner in which we hope they will be solved, but I think your Lordships are entitled to know exactly what is being done and in what form proposals arising out of the Agreement which was concluded last year will be or may be laid before you.
Your Lordships will recall that it was in the short session of December last that von gave, as did the House of Commons, your approval to the Articles of Agreement that had been concluded. That Treaty was subsequently approved in the month of January, though by a very small majority, by the members of Dail Eireann sitting in Dublin. It was also unanimously approved by the members elected to sit in the Parliament of Southern Ireland. The next move was that one of the Irish majority, Mr. Collins, accepted office as head of a Provisional Government. In these circumstances, if we can sum it up in a sentence, the duty of the British Government is simply to honour our 36 signature—to be true to the Treaty that we have signed, and as far as possible and as soon as possible, and in the most legal manner, to give legal authority and sanction to the Provisional Government that we are setting up. Accordingly, a Bill will be introduced for that purpose which is to give statutory force to the Treaty and to enable the Government to carry out the provisions of Article 17. The transference of powers is, of course, urgently required in order to enable the Provisional Government to have legal and moral authority. Having grave responsibilities it must also have the fullest powers.
The Provisional Government may think it advisable to seek from the people of Ireland an endorsement of the attitude of its representatives who supported the Treaty. Naturally, it is desirable in this connection that the approval already given by Parliament should be completed by formal endorsement, so that the Provisional Government may be in a position to present to their people for acceptance a concluded Treaty. If such an Election is held in Ireland it will be held, as a matter of convenience, in the constituencies and with the general machinery of the 1920 Act, it being understood that the Election would proceed, not under the authority of that Act but by virtue of the Treaty.
It will be the duty of the Assembly so elected to proceed to frame and pass a Constitution for Ireland in accordance with the Treaty. No doubt, when the question comes of drawing up a Constitution, it will be done in consultation with all sections of the community—in consultation with the Unionists as well as with others. Then, when that has been done, will come our next stage of interference and of action: we shall have to see how far a Constitution so drawn is in accordance with the terms of the Treaty, and if, after examination, we are satisfied with this, then the assent of Parliament will be asked to a Bill to give it statutory force. That is the present and prospective position as regards the Government of Ireland.
There only remains the subject about which one or two questions were asked me—namely, the reform of the House of Lords. The noble Marquess, Lord Crewe, indulged in some general reflections upon this matter, and Lord Clwyd laid stress on what is only too well known to me and to all who have investigated the matter—that it is one of extreme and almost in- 37 soluble complexity. I should like to say this, however. Difficult as it is to produce any measure that wins anything like common assent, it is not in this House that unwillingness to consider the matter has ever been betrayed. It is not here that retrograde policies are heard. On the contrary, if you look back to the history of this House during the last twenty or thirty years, it is from these benches that proposals for reform have consistently emanated; it is here that Bills have been introduced; it is here that in 1910, under the influence of Lord Rosebery and Lord Lansdowne and others, a series of Resolutions of a most significant and far-reaching character was adopted, in many cases unanimously, in some by enormous majorities, by your Lordships' House.
Therefore, we are a body skilled in the history, and familiar with all difficulties, of reform, and, as the noble Earl, Lord Midleton, knows, he, Lord Selborne, and I and some others have spent a great deal of our public lives in the attempt to elucidate this question. As is very well known, it is not one question; it is two. There is first the reconstitution of the existing Chamber on some more popular, or, at any rate, upon some different, basis; and there is, secondly, the question, alluded to in the King's Speech, of the relations between the two Houses. This double obligation was stated in the Preamble of the Parliament, Act as far back as 1911. A provisional attempt—as I think, an unwise attempt—was made to solve the second of these questions by the passing of the Parliament Act. The other question, that is to say the reconstitution of the House itself, although we were told it was an obligation of honour the satisfaction of which could not be delayed, remains unfulfilled to the present day. Therefore, we have to take both matters in hand. I had hoped that we might be able to do so last session, but, for reasons which I explained at this Table, the Government were unable to act at that time. We have been busily employed since then in our examination of the matter.
I have always taken and urged the view myself, not merely that any measure for the reform of the House of Lords should be introduced in this House—that, I think, is a self-evident proposition—but that, in the framing of the measure, it is very desirable indeed that we should have the advantage of the different currents of 38 opinion that prevail in this place. And therefore, what we propose to do is to embody in the form of Resolutions the propositions which will carry with them the approval of the Government. I shall hope before very long to place these Resolutions on the Paper, and to ask the consideration by the House of Lords of those Resolutions, and to take your Lordships' opinion upon them. When we have passed through those stages we shall be able, I think, with much greater advantage and with better hopes of success, to embody our policy in the form of a Bill, and then the Bill, if we are happy enough to reach that stage, will be introduced, of course, in your Lordships' House. I do not think that I need, at the present moment, to go into an examination of the details of the proposals. Your Lordships will be willing to wait until the Resolutions themselves are in a position to be laid.
I have endeavoured to cover—I am afraid at considerable strain upon your patience—all the subjects contained in the King's Speech to which my attention was asked. It certainly means that we have a strenuous session before us.
THE MARQUESS OF CREWE
May I remind the noble Marquess that I asked whether he would be in a position to offer some Papers on a good many subjects, more particularly those relating to foreign affairs. He has not, I think, mentioned anything except the Paper of Lord Reading's on India, which is to be laid on the Table of your Lordships' House. Perhaps the noble Marquess could give us some information.
§ THE MARQUESS CURZON OF KEDLESTON
I should not like to give a definite engagement about that, because, although I agree with the general proposition that Parliament is entitled to know what its Ministers are doing, and that such has been the traditional practice of Parliament—and it is the right practice—I would not like at a stage when any particular issue—take, for instance, the issue of the Near East—is still unsettled, to lay Papers that might enhance the difficulties of the situation. The noble Marquess is preaching to one who agrees with him in these matters, and he must accept may assurance, so far as the Foreign Office is concerned, that I am anxious to lay Papers on all the important subjects to which reference has been made as soon as it can be done with safety.
39 The noble Marquess, in the concluding portions of his speech, said that Ministers in their speeches—he alluded to some who have spoken recently—appeared to be very contented with themselves. Certainly that cannot be said of those speakers who assail us. They are far from being, contented with us, and their language has lately assumed a form hardly distinguishable from the vituperation with which we used to be familiar in the old days. I do, not know whether we are going to have a revival of old Party conflict, with the slinging to and fro of the old Party epithets, and the formulation of charges in which even the man who makes them does not altogether believe, and which the man who is the victim from long experience rates at their proper value. That may lie before us.
I do not think it lies before us in this House, and I do not think so for these reasons. In the first place, the temperature of this House does not lend itself very easily to that form of denunciation; in the second place, your Lordships have never had recourse to it; and, in the third place, although I am willing to take up any challenge that may be made, and although the Lord Chancellor is even better able to perform that duty than I am myself, yet at the same time I shall not myself provoke those issues. But, in any case, in the session that lies before us, which is going to be troubled and anxious, and in which great issues are coming up to be examined here, I express a confident hope that your Lordships again, as you have always done in the past, will approach and examine those questions—and if I can give any assistance I will gladly do so—with that even temper, that detachment from public strife, and that single regard for the interests of the State which has always animated your proceedings, which has rendered you so influential in the past, and which, I believe, puts you in a position to exercise a powerful, and in some respects perhaps even a decisive, influence upon the solution of many of the problems to which I have referred in my remarks to-night.
§ THE EARL OF MIDLETON
My Lords, I am sure that we should all wish to join in the hope expressed by the noble Marquess in the concluding words of his speech; but I would point out to him that it would enormously assist that impartial and public-spirited action on the part of this House if we were subjected in the ordinary way to rather different treatment from that 40 which we have had lately to undergo. Take the speech which the noble Marquess has just delivered. Nobody will quarrel with the admirable and comprehensive review which he has given us of the foreign affairs of the country. I should be the last person to attempt to follow him through the whole of that review, not merely because I might feel myself incompetent to touch upon all these subjects, but also for a reason which affects every member of your Lordships' House—that is, that we are absolutely without information on most of these subjects.
Anybody who recalls the gracious Speeches of Her late Majesty, Queen Victoria, will remember that after an important foreign question was touched upon we were told almost invariably that Papers would be laid before us. We have had the whole world surveyed by the noble Marquess this evening—Washington, Cannes, Russia, India, Egypt, Ireland—and I think, with the single exception of some Papers which Lord Reading is sending over, we have not been promised, as far as I know, any information on any one of those subjects upon which we can form a judgment as to the policy of the Government. The new diplomacy consists in giving to the papers certain conclusions. So far as Parliament is concerned it is a re-assertion of the old autocracy. The whole of the work lies with the Ministers. Decisions are arrived at in Conference which are binding on the country, but the manner in which those decisions have been reached is not brought before us. We have a right to ask. I think, in a number of these cases, that Parliament shall be given an opportunity of judging of the deeds of the Government.
The noble Marquess has spoken very grave words with regard to India. I think some of your Lordships, when he was speaking, will have remembered equally grave words which have been used sometimes from the Woolsack with regard to other portions of His Majesty's Dominions; but those grave words were not always a prelude to determined action. I have no doubt they were so intended. I do not think you can do a greater disservice to the cause of good government in any part of the world than to lay down a policy of severity and sternness upon which you are not going to insist. We have, I think, an immediate recollection of cases in which such errors of conduct on the part of the 41 Government have been made only too manifest, and I would most earnestly ask the noble Marquess, than whom no man alive knows more of the necessity of continuity of Indian Government, that there may be no question of doubt or hesitation in the determination to assert against the disloyal and disaffected the full meed of superiority and of power which is necessary for the proper government of those vast peoples.
I would like to suggest to the noble Marquess that in keeping us so much in the dark he does expose the Government at all events to the imputation of not being as warm-hearted in the pursuit of some of these points on which this House is most insistent as they profess. Take the question of economy. The noble Marquess gave a roost admirable justification for keeping back the Geddes Report. He claimed incidentally the right to be considered a fellow worker and fellow sympathiser. Looking back upon the debates in this House for the last seven years I fear that we can only say that the Government have been fertile in profession but singularly barren in performance. Take this Geddes Report. The noble Marquess made a most admirable defence. All that he said as to time for examination by the Government, for examination by the Departments and the rest of it, is indisputable; but look at the actual effect which has been produced.
At a time when the other House was voting money broadcast for services which it is most anxious to scrap, this House time after time, under the influence of the noble and learned Lord behind me (Lord Buck-master), of the noble Lords, Lord Inchcape and Lord Faringdon, protested that the country could not bear all these impositions. They invited the co-operation of the Government. They did everything they could by precept and I hope by example to arrest this most unfortunate, and what is likely to prove most disastrous, course of action. With what result? The Government seized hold of Lord Inchcape and Lord Faringdon and put them on the Committee; better appointments, I think, could not have been made, but the Report of that Committee is being kept back until a period when it will be quite impossible for your Lordships to influence its acceptance by any debate which we might have. It is being kept back until the Government have made up their minds what to do. I 42 am only too glad if it is open to us, but the Estimates are being drawn, the House of Commons will vote them, and your Lordships will not he able to do anything. It is no use our raising debates when we cannot influence the matter at all. I believe that the noble Marquess the Leader of the House genuinely desires the usefulness of this House, and I ask him to consider that in all these cases the withholding of information, the publication of it too late for us to take any action, is gravely affecting the utility of this House in our Constitution.
There is one other point on which I should like to say a word. The noble Marquess gave us what I may venture to term a great amplification of the somewhat perfunctory reference to the reform of the House of Lords in His Majesty's gracious Speech. The noble Marquess foreshadowed the early introduction of Resolutions to deal with the matter. When we take that in connection with the statement made in a somewhat controversial speech the other day by the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack, we have from the two most important members of this House an absolute pledge, if I may use the term, that His Majesty's Government mean business in this matter.
There is one sentence in that speech of the noble and learned Viscount to which perhaps my noble friend opposite will allow me to call particular attention. He said that in his view it was quite intolerable that the ipse dixit of the Speaker of the House of Commons should determine whether or not a Bill is a Money Bill, and he added—what many of us felt—that he regarded himself as being as good a judge as any Speaker of the House of Commons on that subject. In that I think your Lordships will agree. The noble and learned Viscount further said: "This of course must go." I welcome that assertion. I believe there is nothing which has so prejudiced good government and the efficiency of this House as the power of the Speaker to declare, in respect of any Bill of high policy, that it is a Money Bill, and so withdraw it from the criticism of this House.
I incurred grave censure from my noble friend opposite for introducing points of this kind into a discussion at the close of the first session of last year on a Certificate given by the Speaker which, I think, could be challenged from every point of view. I have now the authority of his distinguished 43 colleague on my side. I have not the least doubt, when we come to the question, that my noble friend will take the opportunity of withdrawing the hasty observations which he then made, and of thanking us on this side of the House for having vindicated rights which are not merely rights of the House of Lords, but which are the rights of the country and of the Constitution, that questions of policy, apart from the mere voting of money, should be brought under the review of this House.
The noble Marquess asked for our concurrence in all matters in which we can help the Government. I have brought forward the question of giving us more information. Since I came down to-day three or four Peers have expressed to me their intention of bringing up questions connected with foreign affairs of great importance because of the necessity which they feel of eliciting more information from the Government. I believe that in many of the delicate questions we could avoid discussion if we only had information. I desire to say nothing about Ireland at this moment. The noble Lord told us that with regard to Ireland certain steps would be taken. I hope that before we close this debate we shall be told whether it is hoped that the whole of the numerous steps which he foreshadowed will be taken this session. I think that to keep this question waiting from month to month is highly undesirable, and I say further that the continuance of the Government in that country—if it be a Government—without any authority from Parliament is really impossible, and cannot go on. The Government now set up might have been a Government under the Act of 1920, but it is not a Government under the Act of 1920, and its action has no Parliamentary sanction at all.
§ THE EARL OF MIDLETON
I believe that is bad for those who have to govern, and for the Government, and I think the allocation of powers or the Act of Indemnity which is necessary cannot be introduced too soon. I have brought forward these matters not to embarrass in any way the new Government in Ireland, but I am certain that all these questions of legislation and agreement by pourparlers between Ministers, of which Parliament has no official knowledge and to which it has given no sanction, ought to be brought to a close.
§ LORD BUCKMASTER
My Lords, if this Speech be looked at with a careless glance it will be found closely to resemble a very large number of other gracious Speeches which have opened the successive sessions of Parliament. There is the maximum of things to be hoped for; there is the minimum of things to be achieved. But in truth this document is to me far more interesting than any of the gracious Speeches to which it has been my privilege to listen in this House, because in my opinion no chemistry is required for the purpose of making plain the invisible writing that lies between every line of this Speech, and announces that it is the Speech of a Government for whom dissolution is near. I admit that that prospect gives me the greatest possible pleasure. I do not believe that politics in this country can ever be conducted upon the bases that commended themselves to the noble Lord, the Seconder of this Address. I believe the sacrifice of principles by one Party or the other means a permanent impairment of their sense of national obligations according to the best of their light, and that the sooner they resort to honest Party warfare the better it will be for this country. By honest Party warfare I do not mean, and I never have meant, such a travesty of Party warfare as that which suggested itself to the noble Marquess who has just sat down.
I do not intend to occupy your Lordships at any length in the few observations I wish to make upon this subject, and I certainly do not desire to refer to the greater part of the speech of the noble Marquess the Leader of the House, except to say that his announcements upon foreign policy are events in this House which I, at least, always thoroughly enjoy, and from which I always feel that I derive great benefit and instruction. I do not propose to refer to these questions at all, because to my mind there are matters much nearer home which it is essential that we should consider if we desire to maintain our power and our prestige abroad.
Your Lordships will believe that the matter to which I am referring is the economic administration of our national finances. I felt a little surprised when I heard the noble Marquess refer in the manner that he did to the action of the Government, and his wonder why it was that people were so inconsiderate as to doubt the sincerity of the Government's 45 economic views. Surely we on this side of the House have every reason for such doubt. During the last three years from time to time debates have taken place in this House, instituted by Peers of such eminence as the noble Lords, Lord Faring-don, Lord Inchcape and Lord d'Abernon, in which the danger of the position to which the Government was steering was pointed out again and again, and they paid no heed or attention to anything that was said. Indeed, the noble Viscount (Viscount Peel), who is sitting by the side of the noble Marquess, I remember, in one of these debates, pointed out that Lord Faringdon would be so disappointed at the growth of the prosperity of the country that he would probably turn his face to the wall and, I suppose, die of disappointment.
It is not surprising that we on this side of the House feel a little strongly upon this matter. Both here and outside we have realised, that unless economy is undertaken upon a scale which has not been dreamed of the financial position of this country is insecure, and the trouble and horror that will be associated with the overthrow of our financial stability is something that can only be believed by considering what has taken place in Russia. And what was the result? These arguments were described as epileptic nonsense, economic rant, and gloomy pessimism, according to the tone and taste of the speaker, all of whom were members of the Government, or the temper of the audience to whom the observations were addressed. With these recollections still ringing in our ears it is a little hard to hear the noble Marquess asking us to abstain from ill-natured comments about them and expressing his inability to understand why we feel a little bitter and sore upon this matter.
I do, however, agree with the noble Marquess that the matter has passed the personal stage altogether. It has become a matter of first-class national importance. If we cannot make our revenue pay our expenses what is the future of this country going to be? It is no use calling attention to other countries in Europe, or to any other country in the world, because I do not believe there is any country that stands in the same position of insecurity that we occupy here. It is common knowledge that we can produce only enough food in this country to feed a quarter of our people, and we can feed our entire population only by maintaining our credit overseas. If any- 46 thing happens at home which shakes the stability of that credit we cannot get our food. And what will happen then is exactly what is happening in Russia to-day, and happening there for exactly the same reasons. Russia to-day is not producing the food to maintain its people and has not the credit to buy it abroad. It is perfectly true that the reasons why she has not the food and the credit are not the same that will affect us, but directly you bring this country to such a pitch that it is unable to produce sufficient Taxes to clear its Revenue and redeem sonic part of its Debt then the end must come. There must come a time when it will be perfectly impossible to pay our way, and from that moment the end of this country, however much it may be prolonged, is certain.
I think the Government ought to consider much more gravely than they have hitherto considered the actual position of the figures. The sums £760,000,000, £808,000,000, £860,000,000 and £1,000,000,000, have been brought forward at various times by no less a person than the Chancellor of the Exchequer as the figures representing the normal expenses of this country in a normal year. They must all have been made on reports he has received. I should like to see those reports, and no doubt other noble Lords would like to see them, too. How is it that these amounts vary so? If you take the minimum amount—and no one assumes that it is possible—I ask how you are going to produce Revenue to meet it? When your trade begins to flag and your Excise and Customs begin to drop, how will you produce your £760,000,000?
We have to bear a very heavy burden in this country for the cost of the war, but no one regrets that. It was the price of freedom; no one complains that it should be paid. But we have had to bear a very heavy burden of expenditure owing to what has happened since the war ceased; amid that to my mind is the price of folly. There is the money spent in Mesopotamia, the money spent in Russia, the money spent in Ireland, and the money spent on one Department after another, built up and then broken down by the Government, in spite of warnings repeated again and again as to what must be the inevitable result. All this the taxpayer has to pay in the way of a permanent burden on this country. I am quite unable to understand from what source the money is coming by which the burden may be discharged.
47 I wish the Government bad been more definite as to what they propose in economy. I will give your Lordships a statement of the kind which I think ought at once to be accepted by the Government as the aim they have in view. There should be a reduction of Ministers and Ministries, apart from Pensions and Labour, to the pre-war standard. There should be an evacuation of all territory we are not under absolute compulsion to hold; and I suggest Mesopotamia, Palestine, and Constantinople as places that fall within that description. There should be drastic reduction of all Government expenditure, a review of recent measures increasing local taxation for the purpose of seeing whether it is possible to grant relief there, and a reduction of the cost of armaments to not more than pre-war standards. That should have been the object before the Government for the last three years. We know perfectly well that nothing of the sort can ever have been before their eyes.
Let me give two figures in connection with the Admiralty and the War Office. In 1913–14 the salaries at the Admiralty were £38,000. In 1921, they were £115,000; bonuses, £48,000—and the German Fleet at the bottom of the sea! What can be the explanation of that? In 1914 salaries at the War Office were £36,000. In 1921, they were £103,000, and bonuses £45,000. It is no use for the noble Marquess to come here and with his great authority beg us to believe that the Government are really determined to obtain economy in administration when figures like that confront us. In 1919 notices were sent round to all the Departments pointing out the necessity of reduction, but when the pressure re-axed nothing whatever was done, and therefore we may be pardoned if we think that their zeal for economy has come rather late.
I should like to touch upon one or two smaller matters mentioned in the gracious Speech. It refers to the reform of this House. One reason why it has always seemed to me that reform of this House is urgent is this. It surely must be the object of all statesmanship so to adapt the structure of the Constitution that it may be capable of serving any Government that may be properly elected to take charge of this country, and no one can doubt that this House, as it is constituted to-day, would be quite incapable of even discharging the duties it would be called upon to discharge supposing a Labour 48 were called to power. It seems to me, therefore, that it is very-urgent and important that we should be able to get an instrument which would be more flexible and more readily adaptable to the public needs, and possibly less indefensible than the constitution of the present House.
Having said so much, let me add that all these quotations that are constantly being read from Preambles to Acts of Parliament—and I do not believe that any Preamble to any Act of Parliament ever had the honour of being read so frequently as the Preamble to the Parliament Act—do not really touch me; and for this reason. I am convinced that the position of this House with regard to the country has changed materially in the last few years. The Chief Whip of what I should describe as the lamer limb of the Coalition, the Liberal Party, said the other day that the country did not care anything at all about it. I suppose he was announcing the view of the Liberal section of the Government. I think he is profoundly wrong. I think that the country has realised during the last few years that there is in this House an opportunity for speech upon all subjects which is denied in another place, and that a man here, if he believes what he says and observes what might be described as the decencies of debate, can be quite sure of being heard patiently from the first word to the last, even though his views are in complete antagonism with those of every single noble Lord to whom he speaks. I believe the country has realised that this is a very important part of our public liberties, and I do not think that people are nearly so anxious to have it taken away as they were before. I do, therefore, agree to this extent, that I do not. believe the demand for reform is anything like what it was, although, for the reasons I have given, I think its urgency still remains.
I am bound to say that I regard with some uneasiness the statement made by the noble Marquess that the obvious intention was to introduce the Bill in this House first. I have a reason for regarding that with uneasiness. He must forgive me if I remember that the Prime Minister is a man who has himself boasted that he is a complete master of political strategy, and it is not surprising that some of his opponents look for a strategical movement in the policy that from time to time he adopts. Supposing that this Bill is introduced into your Lordships' House, that this 49 House alters it in the way that you think fit, and that the Government then says: "Now the House of Lords has made this thing into something perfectly ridiculous; we, decline to go on with it, and we are going to the country once more upon the issue of whether it is the House of Lords or the House of Commons that is to be supreme." I do not regard this as in the least remote. I am quite satisfied in my own mind that if it could be foreseen that such a quarrel would emerge, and that in that quarrel advantage would accrue to the position that the Prime Minister held, the thing would take place. The noble Marquess will therefore forgive me if I say that I do not like this proposal at all, and that the right way for this reform to be effected will be for the other House to say what it is that they want—because they are proposing a Bill to reform this House—and then send it up to this House for consideration. I do not believe that the other proposal will result in any reform, and I do believe that it may result in one of these opportunities which, to my mind, do not reflect the best method by which the Government of this country can be carried on.
If your Lordships will forgive me, I should like to say one word about something that is omitted from the gracious Speech. There are many things that are not in that Speech, but this particular thing is one in which, as your Lordships all know. I have been very closely interested. I believe there is nobody in this House, except just a few people who sincerely think that every form of divorce is wrong, who does not realise that our present Marriage Laws are indefensible. I speak in this strong language because last session a Bill was introduced into this House in the nature of an agreed Bill, to give effect to the Minority Report of the Royal Commission upon which the most rev. Prelate, the Archbishop of York, sat. I was unable to accept his view that that Bill should go through unamended, and, with the support of a very large majority of your Lordships, that Bill was amended and put back into a form which made it a very much stronger measure. Of the Bill as amended a substantial majority of your Lordships twice expressed approval; from the Bill as amended there are only a mere handful of your Lordships' House who differ. I say that that expression of opinion upon a great social question like the regulation of our Marriage Laws is 50 not a matter that the Government ought to pass by in complete contempt.
They disregard the labours of your Lordships' House in one session that stretched from March until June, and they have completely ignored the effect of the debate of last year. Both of those debates proceeded upon the result of the labours of a Commission that lasted three years and was set up at the instance of the Government. I think that that is a matter upon which everybody has a right to complain. If the Government think that the Bill to which, for the sake of simplicity, I refer as the agreed Bill is right, let them introduce that. If they think the other Bill is right, then let them introduce the more extended measure. But they have no right to exclude from the possibility of relief that either of those measures will bring the unhappy people who suffer to-day under the harshness and iniquity of our Divorce Laws. It certainly is a bitter satire upon their regard for the happiness of the people whom they govern to find that a Bill substituting a yearly audit for a half-yearly audit of Guardians' accounts requires special mention in the gracious Speech, while the whole question of divorce need not be referred to at all.
Finally, is this really all that may be said in the gracious Speech about the position in which we stand, when it is remembered that there are eleven millions of men, or of women and children rather than men, dying of hunger within Europe at the present moment? Is no reference to be made to the fact that these helpless creatures, who, after all, are the wives and children of the men who put their unarmed bodies against the German armies, are to-day dying under conditions of horror and misery that I believe pass all speech? This Government does not think that that fact is worthy of even the briefest reference in the most gracious Speech from the Throne. I cannot help saying that I deeply regret it. I cannot believe that the bonds that tic human beings one to the other can be so lightly disregarded as that, and that the people of this country can be told by the Government to pursue their way, considering only whether the Guardians are to audit their accounts half-yearly or yearly, and not to give their attention to the existence of the indescribable horrors, the inconceivable sufferings which perfectly helpless, innocent and offenceless women and children are under- 51 going only just a few days' railway travel from this House.
Those are the observations I have to make upon this Speech, and I trust your Lordships will forgive me if I conclude by stating quite simply why it is that, as I regard this speech as the prelude to the end of this Government, I rejoice at the prospect, because I believe you can only sacrifice principle to opportunity at the cost of honour. I do not believe that the real division between political Parties in the past has been a mere question of nomenclature, nor a question of quarrel, nor a question of calling names that you do not believe in against people who do not heed. I believe that deep vital principles underlay the two Parties, and that there were honourable men on both sides who sincerely advocated them. I want to get back to that. I do not want to have people pooling their convictions as if they were shares in some gigantic company undertaking; I want to have men standing by them; and I do not believe in the danger of faction which is so often referred 52 to. I believe there is more danger to come from a system of Government which sacrifices everything that up to this time Englishmen have held most dear.
§ On Question, Motion agreed to, and debate adjourned accordingly.