HL Deb 20 March 1923 vol 53 cc440-9

LORD STRATHSPEY had placed the following Notice on the Paper:—

To ask His Majesty's Government to take immediate steps to consult the Dominions with the object of bringing forward definite proposals for the consolidation of the Empire and keeping the right spirit uppermost in future years.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I am very glad and proud to bring forward the question of the consolidation of the Empire at the present moment, for no one can look upon the crisis through which we are passing without feeling very anxious about the future. I am very pleased to be able to do so because, as a New Zealander, I belong to one of your youngest and most distant Dominions, and yet am the thirty-first in my line as Chieftain of one of our oldest clans—in a word, I am one of them and one of you.

I may say with pride that we in these great overseas lands are a great breed and an absolutely loyal race of people. I do not think that the world has ever seen a grander or a more magnificently loyal brotherhood of nations than we displayed when our manhood flocked to the colours. The whole world acknowledged they were as brave and physically as fine as anything that the world had ever looked upon since the days of Adam. Your great ladies of this dear old land opened up their houses and their clubs. They gathered in all these magnificent lads as they landed and gave them friendship, true warmth of spirit, and a mother-land love. I say that this spirit had a great influence in winning the war, and, I am convinced, it could prevent more wars. But is this spirit to die out because England does not help to keep the home fires of brotherhood burning? If so, the next generation will look upon it as a forgotten tradition, and it will disappear.

I am speaking to-day on behalf of the Dominions as a whole and not for any one part. We possess an Empire unrivalled in its opportunities for trade and commerce, an Empire which, you would surely think, could not fail to inspire a statesman with great ideas. But have our various Governments taken advantage of all this? I say emphatically, "No," because we see going on before our eyes the disintegration of the Empire; and this not because the Colonies do not trust England, but because England does not trust the Colonies. The case of Ireland to-day may be the case of every Dominion to-morrow, and I want to echo my warning before it is too late.

This country is called Great Britain, and we call it "home" or the "motherland," but geographically and physically it is "Little" Britain; it is too small for us, and, in all the most elementary natural products, too poor to sustain, unaided, forty or fifty millions of people. It cannot feed or clothe itself; it does not supply food from its fields and farms for more than, shall we say, a third of its population. It has the best textile factories in the world, but does not produce enough wool to keep the machines busy. Other nations might set up an economic blockade against us, but if our affairs are properly managed then this need not worry us. The Empire can stand alone and face the whole world.

Great Britain is not self-supporting, but Greater Britain could easily be so, as our Empire contains everything that our people may want. There is scarcely anything that mankind wants for subsistence, comfort or luxury, which could not be produced in our Empire. Those magnificant lands of Australia and New Zealand could supply the wool, wheat, and meat that may be necessary, and still have plenty for themselves. One could grow in Queensland, sugar, cotton, jute, coffee, tea, maize, rice, and rubber, without spending a penny in a foreign country. South Africa could supply the fruit, precious stones, sugar, etc., that are necessary. Canada could easily be the timber and paper market of the Empire, and also supply the grain required. Australia has millions of acres of manless lands, while England has millions of landless men. England has about 640 people to the square mile, while the English speaking Dominions as a whole have about two and a half. I wish to point out that what I am saying is not put forward as a grievance; it is a pure statement of fact.

Let mo in "City" terms call what I advocate a pure business proposition. A great commercial enterprise cannot be run from a country-house. There must be unity between the centre and each department, not once a year, but each day and every day. Every home question, in other words, is an Empire question; every Umpire question is a home question. That is why I want to see the English Houses of Parliament in reality Imperial Chambers just as our race is Imperial in blood and ideals. Nay, more—to blot out the hideous blunder that broke up the Anglo-Saxon race when America was expelled, I would rather see a couple of courtesy seats given to some of the American senators than see the Empire run without the representation of the Dominions, who are merely informed that a war has taken place and then are expected to contribute a blood tax. We were very near the same old blunder the other day in the Turkish question, and the Colonies were pretty emphatic about what they thought. They told you that they would fight like partners if you consulted them as such, but they would not be treated as mere possessions.

In the words of the Prime Minister of Australia, what is needed is: A greater understanding to weld the Empire in a common bond of self-interest and Imperial advantage. New markets must be found and the, only way out of the difficulty was reciprocal trade within the Empire, mutually benefiting every part. You will agree that the Dominions did remarkably well in the war. I have not all the figures to hand, but as an instance, I quote that New Zealand had 125,000 men, one in ten of the population, either in the field or training, and Australia approximately 500,000, while all the Colonies paid the full costs of their entry into the great war. We appreciate very much and are very grateful for all that England has done, but it must be remembered that we in turn have done something also. I simply mention this because I have heard it said that we are not sufficiently grateful; but need I comment on that?

We want trade developed in the Empire, and foreigners to be given secondary consideration. At the end of 1922 New Zealand was buying goods from England at the rate of £10 per head of the population, Australia at the rate of £8 8s. per head, and America 8s. per head. But how can we keep in touch on these intricate matters unless it is in your everyday counsels, in your so-called "Imperial" Parliament. How well Germany understood this before the war, working hand in glove with her third-rate colonies. Why, if she had had our Colonies she could have ruled the world. Why does the Englishman look upon emigration as exile? It is because you have lost touch in daily life with the Colonies, and you can only bring that touch back, not by Colonial Conferences in ten years, but by the camaraderie of the lobby every ten minutes.

There might be a keener insight into the requirements of the Empire if the principal permanent officials were men who had an intimate knowledge of those overseas lands. You do not allow any but the best brains to enter the Indian Civil Service; and then men must make it their life-work. They must pass examinations in their knowledge of India, its language, its products. Why not study the Colonies, and evolve a breed of experts likewise? What is India to the Empire compared with the Dominions? The Dominions were ready to shed their last drop of blood for us here to save the old home. What do you think they will think when they read that even the Prelates of the Church admit that the war has left no trace upon England save possibly for the worse? No, my Lords. Just as the Colonial troops were the saving of England so Colonial members permanently living here, and representing the great Colonies, can save England's Empire from the inevitable catastrophe of misunderstanding. It is not out of mere sentiment that I plead for this. It is for the sake of common sense, to save you from the consequences of your own blunders.

Talking of sentiment, however, I suppose your Lordships will all agree with me that it has had a great influence on at least a part of the history of this clear old country, and on our Empire in general. Who amongst us does not honour and revere the name of that little old ship "Victory"? That feeling is strong in New Zealand, a Dominion now only about 75 years old. Ten years ago, when it had approximately a million people, it presented through the then Prime Minister, Sir Joseph Ward, a magnificent battle cruiser of 18,800 tons. It did great work during the war. And now the edict goes forth that England must scrap some of her warships. Is it true that this vessel is one of those chosen for the scrap heap? Can this really be a fact? If it is, then I can only look upon it as another indication of that lack of common sense which is the result of that lack of common life for which I plead in the establishment of a truly Imperial Parliament, and not merely an English Parliament.

Candidly,my Lords,I should have liked to introduce a concrete plan for such an alteration of our Constitution, but I realise that this should come from the Government; moreover, there are countless difficulties. I therefore throw out the suggestion as a whole as a step in the right direction. There are, however, some alterations that might be well worth considering. For instance, each Dominion ought to be represented in some manner in your Lordships' House. That might be done by giving the High Commissioners seats in this House, and allowing each to use an official title while acting as his country's representative; such as, for instance, Lord Quebec or Lord Capetown. So far as the Church is concerned, Dr. Julius (Archbishop and Primate of New Zealand) is reported in the newspapers to have said recently that he objected to being addressed as "Your Grace" as such a title is meaningless in Archbishops who have not seats in the House of Lords.

The adoption of my proposal, I think, would help to maintain the ethical unity of the Empire in such important matters as the divorce laws.

I further suggest that the powers of the High Commissioners should be increased to the extent that the British Government should invite them to be present at certain Cabinet meetings; for instance, those dealing with foreign policy which might have an effect or a bearing on the Dominions for trade or war. I ask the Government to confer with the various Prime Ministers when they are here in the near future, and in the meantime get the opinions of the various overseas representatives now in London. I am looking forward to the future. We must legislate now for that, otherwise some of those who follow us may be in for a rough time. If nothing is done to strengthen the situation, indeed, I think it becomes an open question whether, two generations hence, there will be any Empire at all.

Meanwhile, I can only repeat that the Empire, as our fathers knew it, is breaking up visibly before our eyes. Something must be done at once, and this to my mind is the one thing that needs doing most. Why? I will tell your Lordships. It appears to be a principle here that no Colonial-born man should represent the Colonies as Governor; and whenever a Colonial comes over he is made to feel that he is a sort of inferior subject rather than an equal partner in the Empire. That spirit will have to go, or the Empire will go. It is not playing the game. It is neither good patriotism nor sound business. You do not seem to realise what Dominions mean, and you are eager only for domination. That is because no Colonials are in your councils to guide you here. Do you realise that since the great war over £1,000,000,000 have been poured into the desert wastes of Russia, Mesopotamia, Palestine, Ireland, and everywhere except the Colonies?

What will be your harvest? So sure as corn seed will produce corn, so sure will you reap a heritage of hate, and, when the time is ripe, expulsion as aliens, because you are out there for domination. Yet all this while you are starving Australia of men and Canada of capital. Do you realise that instead of squandering nearly twice your pre-war National Debt you could have settled a whole million of demobilised men with £1,000 each of capital, and reaped a heritage of gratitude and strength from your Colonies? It is in the Colonies peopled by men of your own flesh and blood that your real strength lies. Mesopotamia, Palestine, Russia—these are your weaknesses.

That which Rhodes tried to do for the mother universities of England, I should like to see done for the Parliament of Britain. If you do that I think I am not exaggerating when I say that it will lead to a sort of permanent Peace Conference of the world for cur generation at least. You admit the principle of Colonial representation in moments of crisis, and a picturesque Rajah or two are imported for the pictorial effect, but where were the Colonial representatives in the every day councils, who, with their advice, might have helped you to avoid those crises? It will be too late to call an Imperial Congress when the Colonies are "fed to the teeth" or when you have angered them or neglected them until they are sick to death of you. A few Colonial representatives in this House and the other House before the War of American Independence would have saved the great English-speaking race as one unit, and I believe that the same fault of lack of understanding will even in our day send each Colony the way of America. Do you think for one moment that the Zionists, the Mesopotamians, the Indians, the Americans and the Greeks will then win the Colonies back for you and gratefully finance you in your hour of need?

Your Lordships know what the clan spirit has done for Scotland, and Scotland knows what her chieftains have done. I say to you, as the thirty-first Chief of my line, that what the clans were to Scotland, so are the Dominions to England. Be true to us and we will be true to you. But mix yourselves with all the niggers, dagoes, and all the riff-raff of the world rather than with your clans, and the clans, when they are in trouble, will look elsewhere for help. Every day I want to see the papers speak of Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa, instead of Mesopotamia, Palestine, and so forth. What are these last-mentioned countries to us, after all? They are not our flesh and blood. I do not for a minute suppose that I alone speak for the Colonies. Your Lordships need have no fear. We shall get on all right. We have the right stuff, and the goods. Possibly we may go under, but if we do, remember that you will go under also. In this matter I speak for your own starving, workless population, who will have nowhere to go. The Empire question is a labour question; nay more, it is a labour solution, and we stand or fall together. Our problems are your problems. That is why I say without any hesitation that it would be better to withdraw every titled Ambassador from Spain, Tokio, Paris, and Constantinople than to go on running your Empire without that intimate touch which I maintain only the continued presence of Colonial Members in both Houses of Parliament can bring to the Empire. My warning may seem strange, fantastic, absurd. I will tell your Lordships why. It is because your heads are crammed with Palestine, Mesopotamia, the Far East, the Far West, the Far North, anywhere but your Colonies. But the historian may some day point to my Question as the last warning that might have saved the Empire of the world for the Anglo-Saxon race.


My Lords, while I am quite prepared to associate myself to the full with the tribute which the noble Lord paid to the services rendered by Dominion troops and troops from all portions of the Empire during the war, I regret that I am unable to agree with him in the other conclusions at which he has arrived. Possibly I have greater opportunities than the noble Lord of hearing from day to day and seeing from hour to hour the efforts which are being made, not merely in the old country but throughout the Empire, to discover to what extent it is possible still further to cement those bonds which bind us so closely together.

The noble Lord may be interested to know—or rather to remember, for I am sure he knows it already—that, though he referred to the impossibility of anyone from the Dominions taking an active and a prominent part in our national life here, it so happens that the Prime Minister of England to-day is Canadian-born. Perhaps we have in the present Government stronger representation than in almost any preceding Government of those who have had the privilege of taking part in the affairs of our great Dominions overseas, and I can assure the noble Lord that, regarding the words of his own Notice, we are keeping, and we intend to keep, these considerations uppermost in our minds.

The noble Lord may also recall, as I know your Lordships will recall, that one of the first acts of the present Government was to state publicly that at the earliest possible date we proposed to summon or notify representatives from the Dominions to attend not merely a Conference of Prime Ministers but an Economic Conference as well. I hope that in the course of a very few days a public announcement can be made as to the date upon which this Conference can meet. I should also like to inform the noble Lord that the Government are considering very far-reaching proposals by which we may materially improve trade conditions in this country, and at the same time lead to what I believe will be a very considerable development of those great natural resources of our Dominions, our Crown Colonies, and our Protectorates.

The noble Lord suggested various constitutional reforms, which, so far as I am aware, have at any rate the distinction of being novel, though whether they would provide an efficacious manner of attaining the object which he and, I believe, all your Lordships desire to attain, that of bringing this Empire closer together, I am a little inclined to doubt. Certainly before taking any such step as he contemplates, we should, at any rate, like to have the full views of the Dominions themselves. This question of representation has, I know, occupied much time and consideration in the past. No doubt with the added experience which we gained during the war, with the closer ties which bind us, at the Conference it will be the earliest duty not only of the Government at home but of those responsible for the conduct of business in the Dominions to devise still further means by which those ties can be strengthened.

The noble Lord also made reference to a particular item, of which he kindly gave me notice. It is as to the scrapping of the "New Zealand." I am sure the noble Lord will be relieved to hear that before that ship was scrapped we entered into correspondence with the Government of New Zealand, and that we are in the process of handing over some mementoes of that ship, which I hope will perpetuate for all time the history of the gallant part which she played in the war. We are now handing these relics and mementoes over to the New Zealand Government, and I am pretty confident that if the New Zealand Government had expressed any such desire the ship would have been handed over. We have further settled that any sum which may be realised as a result of the breaking up of that ship will be placed at the disposal of the New Zealand Government for such purposes as they may think fit.

I have only to remind your Lordships that within, I hope, a relatively few months we may have the opportunity of welcoming to these shores the representatives of the Dominions. A large and comprehensive programme will be placed before them, and I am confident that that Conference will have beneficial effects, not only to us but to the Empire as a whole. I hope that with that answer, that a Conference will be held, my noble friend will be able to relieve himself of some of those evil prognostications which he has expressed this afternoon.