HL Deb 24 July 1922 vol 51 cc759-62

LORD CHARNWOOD had given Notice to call attention to the opposing views publicly expressed by Cabinet Ministers upon the question of the embargo on Canadian cattle; and to ask His Majesty's Government whether they do not regard this question as one of Imperial importance upon which it is imperative that the country should have the guidance of an united Government.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I did not perceive when I put down this Question that I should be keeping two or three of your Lordships so late, while I was making a few remarks to the Editor of our debates. But this controversy about Canadian cattle has raised quite a definite issue which I thought required special notice. That issue lies in the fact that this very day two Cabinet Ministers, I understand, are leading opposite sides on this question in the House of Commons. My Question has nothing to do with the merits of the embargo. I feel profoundly the importance of the Imperial question, so forcibly stated by Lord Long of Wraxall, that I could hope that some answer to him has been agreed upon. I think the whole business of shipping cattle overseas is a cruel business.

My only point is that the Government are not entitled to indulge in a neutral mind on a question like this. I do not want to speak too strongly, but, as the noble Lords representing the Government know, there are numbers of people, like myself, who have come to assume that a Coalition Government was a natural form of Government. Now we are, day by day, being driven from that position by remarking that on numbers of questions the Government has alternating minds in alternating months, and on numbers of questions it shows an immense resolution in facing both ways at the same time. I do not know whether this is the result of Coalition, or whether it is part of the illustrious qualities of the Prime Minister, but it is at any rate an instance of that of which so many of us complain.

Is there any real precedent for the action the Government are taking in this matter? I understand there was the case concerning Canadian cattle in which, under Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman, the Government left it as an open question to the House of Commons, and different Ministers took different sides. That was a question of Canadian cattle, no doubt, like this, but was it any real precedent? There was no question of a pledge then; no question of the honour of the country; no question of the subtle foundation on which the stability of this Empire rests. It is not a question like Woman Suffrage, that has been left open in the same way. A question on which a Cabinet has no better means of judgment than I have, or the 'bus conductor has, was quite rightly left open.

But it seems to me that this is a question of a totally different kind. What is the position? On one side there is a pledge, given or allowed to be understood to have been given, by one country within the Empire to another country within the Empire. That is the case on one side, and the possible case on the other side—I should like to think that there is a possible case—is that, in all the circumstances, the circumstances in which the pledge was given, the present circumstances of agriculture on both sides, the present state of feeling on both sides, and so forth, the pledge is not one of which instant and literal fulfilment is due, as between one self-respecting country in the Empire and another.

If that is a fair statement of the case, surely it seems to follow that no one else can have the knowledge of the matter and means of judgment that the Government are bound to possess, and that it is emphatically a question of a kind on which, after the right usage of our Constitution, the Government must give us a decided lead. I shall be very glad indeed if my noble friend who answers me has a case which will enable him to crush me, and I shall accept, on public grounds, that uncomfortable process with some relief. But I think your Lordships will perhaps pardon me for having thought that this is a point to which some one ought to have called attention in this House.


My Lords, my noble friend is very pessimistic if he thinks that I am going to crush him. Far from it; I shall do nothing of the kind. The views of Cabinet Ministers upon this point are conflicting. There is no concealment of that fact. The difficulty arose at a moment when post-war problems, problems which did not necessarily arise out of the war, did not receive the attention, in the spring of 1917, which immediate war problems did receive, and, as Lord Charnwood has observed, the result is that Cabinet Ministers take different views on this particular subject.

It is, of course, a subject of great importance, and Lord Charnwood claims that he is entitled to the guidance of an united Government. If the Government is not united, he cannot get its united guidance, and I suppose he argues from that—quite a legitimate argument—that the Government ought to retire forthwith. But the Liberal Party is not united, and, if Lord Crewe, Lord Charnwood and their friends came into office to-morrow, the same fissure would appear between members of that Government. I believe that the Labour Party is not united. England, as a country, and Scotland as a country, are disunited on this problem.

When Lord Charnwood said that neutrality is unjustifiable, he immediately quoted a very obvious and very well-known precedent, where, on this very point of Canadian cattle, neutrality was justified, not by this Government, but by Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman. At that time the Liberal Party was so much divided that, since this was not a Party question in the least, it was not considered necessary to put on the Party Whips. I do not think Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman ought to have been blamed for refraining from bringing Party pressure to bear upon his supporters when no Party problem was at issue. Not only then, but on the Deceased Wife's Sister Bill, on Woman Suffrage, and, I dare say, on many other important, subjects, it has been recognised that, where great divisions of opinion exist, apart from legitimate divisions of opinion on ordinary Party questions, matters are left to the judgment of Parliament as such; and this is a case, for right or for wrong, where that precedent has been and will be followed.

[From Minutes of July 20.]

The LORD CHANCELLOR acquainted the House, That the Clerk of the Parliaments had laid upon the Table the Certificates from the Examiners that the further Standing Orders applicable to the following Bills have been complied with:

The same were ordered to lie on the Table.