§ The King's Speech reported by the LORD CHANCELLOR.
§ THE EARL OF PLYMOUTH
My Lords, I beg to move that an humble Address be presented to His Majesty in reply to the gracious Speech from the Throne. I am very conscious of the great honour that has been conferred upon me in having been asked to move this Address, and I can assure your Lordships that I am in no way ignorant of my own shortcomings and of the fact that my qualifications for performing this task are very slender. Although I have had an opportunity of addressing your Lordships' House already I would, nevertheless, again beg your Lordships to accord me the sympathy and the indulgence which you are always so ready to give in such circumstances to those whose spirit is very willing but whose capabilities are weak.
Before I touch upon any specific subject which is mentioned in the gracious Speech I would like to say that although the Speech indicates very clearly the vast problems and difficulties with which His Majesty's Government are faced, at the same time a tone of courage and determination pervades it which I think justifies us in looking to the future with hopefulness, and bears witness to the fact that His Majesty's Government have not lost sight of the realities of the present time in any haze of misleading sentimentality. The first subject which is mentioned in the gracious Speech is that of Egypt. The murder of the Sirdar, Sir Lee Stack, sent a wave of horror throughout the civilised world. It was, however, almost the logical conclusion of the attitude which had been adopted by the late Egyptian Government towards this country. Instead of discouraging and suppressing propaganda against the United Kingdom, that Government had to all intents and purposes fostered it. It had been trying to teach the people of Egypt to look upon this country rather as their oppressor than as their friend. Yet it is to this country alone that the prosperity and the development of Egypt are due.
The situation called for firm and immediate action and I am glad to say that this action was taken. It was necessary in the interests of our own country, of its 13 prestige abroad, of Egypt itself, and especially in the interest of the security of that vitally important part of the world. I should like to emphasise that the action which His Majesty's Government have taken is in no way a breach of faith with the Egyptian people or an encroachment upon their independence. The Agreement of February, 1922, contains certain specific reservations with regard to such matters as the Sudan, the Nile, the Suez Canal and the defences of Egypt. Those matters were purposely left over for further examination and discussion at a later date. I maintain that the policy of His Majesty's Government has, to a very large extent, been justified by its success. A new Prime Minister has been found in Egypt to carry on the government of the country. He has accepted our demands and he appears to recognise the true position in which Egypt has been placed owing to the recent events there. I think we can congratulate ourselves upon having in Egypt such a man as Lord Allenby, whose courage, determination and judgment are a source of so much inspiration to us.
With regard to the Sudan I would merely like to say this. The late Government, just as the present Government, were entirely convinced of the absolute necessity of maintaining our position in the Sudan. The mutiny which took place there recently shows the extent to which Egyptian propaganda can go, and it demonstrates even more clearly than before that the Egyptian people must learn to govern themselves before they attempt to impose their rule upon others. I am sure that His Majesty's Government will have the support of the whole nation in refusing to give way in any degree to the preposterous demands of the late Egyptian Government with regard to the Sudan.
I now pass to the paragraph in the gracious Speech which refers to the proposed Treaties with the Government of Soviet Russia. I strongly support the action of His Majesty's Government in refusing to recommend those Treaties to the consideration of Parliament. Not only were those Treaties repudiated by almost every chamber of commerce throughout the country, but they were also inconsistent with the pledges which had been given by the late Government that no Treaty with Russia should contain proposals for a Government guaranteed 14 loan—a loan which might quite possibly have cost the taxpayer of this country anything up to £50,000,000. Finally, these Treaties have been condemned by the great mass of popular opinion in the country. The extraordinary letter which is known as the Zinoviev letter, which was calculated and intended to cause disaffection and mutiny amongst His Majesty's Forces and to subvert social order generally, made it perfectly impossible for any further steps to be taken in the direction of confirming these Treaties. The Soviet Government have, time and again, undertaken to put a stop to the constant propaganda against this country which is being carried on here and, in fact, in all parts of the world. They have fulfilled that undertaking neither in the letter nor in the spirit, and the people of Great Britain have shown, once and for all, that they wish for no closer relationship with the Soviet Government until that Government complies with the generally accepted forms of international intercourse, which demand the observance of the most elementary principles of honour. In the meantime, the Trade Agreement of 1921 does afford a very necessary channel for the fostering and development so far as possible of trade between this country and Russia.
I doubt whether there is any part of the gracious Speech which has afforded greater satisfaction to many of your Lordships than the paragraphs which refer to the intention of the Government to act in the closest possible co-operation with the Governments of the Dominions and of India. I think I may go so far as to say that this is the keynote of the whole Government policy. Its importance from very many points of view cannot be exaggerated. I am extremely glad to see the reference which is made to Empire settlement, and I strongly feel that a comprehensive and progressive scheme of Empire settlement, worked out in conjunction with our Dominions, cannot fail to be of inestimable advantage to all those who are concerned. Overseas there are vast tracts of territory which are, as yet, unexploited owing to lack of man power, but which are capable of development to an almost unlimited extent. Here, on the other hand, we still have over a million unemployed men, women and children in our midst, and I am convinced that some method could be devised by which a considerable portion of those unemployed 15 could be found employment by means of a scheme such as this; so I do sincerely hope that His Majesty's Government will see their way in time to give support on a larger scale than heretofore to any accredited organisation which has this object in view.
Then we see that proposals based on the decisions of last year's Imperial Economic Conference will be submitted in order to give further preference to goods imported into this country from the Empire. I welcome this assurance on the part of His Majesty's Government most warmly, because I feel that, after all, this is only an act of reciprocity, and it will be calculated to do something at least to foster our Empire trade, which is of such paramount importance, and to relieve at the same time the industrial situation here. The Dominions have invariably accorded preferential treatment to goods imported from the Mother Country, and it is not asking very much that we should in return accord preferential treatment to goods from the Empire, wherever it is possible, under our present fiscal system. The opponents of this policy argue that the loyalty of our Dominions does not depend upon such material ties as these. Whether that be true or not, I protest most emphatically against the suggestion that for this reason we should not treat the Dominions fairly, and that we should take advantage of their loyalty.
In the last paragraph on the first page of the gracious Speech your Lordships will notice that His Majesty's Government express their intention of proceeding with the plans already made for enlarging the naval base at Singapore. I am sure that this decision will be received with the greatest satisfaction throughout the Empire, and especially in Australia and New Zealand, where this matter is considered of such vital importance to the very existence of those Dominions themselves. The suggestion is made that in building this base His Majesty's Government are committing an act of aggression which constitutes a breach of the spirit of the Washington Agreement. I contend that there is absolutely no foundation for that point of view whatever. We know that this question was a matter of common discussion at the time that the Washington Agreement was signed, and I maintain 16 that in proceeding with these plans His Majesty's Government are merely fulfilling, in a perfectly legitimate and peaceful manner, their responsibility in connection with the defence of our Empire.
I understand that my noble friend Lord Spencer, who is to follow me, will deal with the domestic policy of the Government outlined in the gracious Speech from the Throne, but in a general review of the situation I think I should make a passing reference to some of the subjects alluded to. It is the intention of the Government to exercise the strictest economy in our public administration consistent with the security of the State, whereby they hope to reduce the heavy burden of taxation which, after all, is at the root of almost all our difficulties. Then, again, the unemployment problem is to be tackled with renewed energy by means of the safeguarding of industries and the measures of relief which are already in existence. The housing problem is to be approached with a view to encouraging private enterprise and discovering new and cheaper methods of construction. And finally, the agricultural position is to be reviewed with the object of arriving at a stable policy without which it is impossible to restore any measures of prosperity to the industry—a stable policy which is agreed to by all parties and by all classes throughout the country. These and other schemes of social reform foreshadowed in the gracious Speech from the Throne will, I feel, mean much to our people, and I firmly believe that the workers of this country may confidently look forward to the dawn of a better day in which they will see the gradual fulfilment of their just and legitimate aspirations. 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 Plymouth.)
§ EARL SPENCER
My Lords, after the able manner in which the noble Earl has proposed the Motion that a loyal Address be presented to His Majesty for his 17 gracious Speech from, the Throne it is with the very greatest diffidence that I rise to second it. I am exceedingly honoured at being invited to perform this task, and I crave your Lordships' indulgence for the many shortcomings of which I shall be guilty, because I have had very little experience in making speeches and I come from a family which has never produced a good speaker in your Lordships' House.
The country and the Empire as a whole will view with the highest gratification the forthcoming visit of the Prince of Wales to South Africa—a visit which was postponed last year owing to the General Election there. His Royal Highness has clone more than any one to cement the ties between the Mother Country and the Dominions, and his visit to South Africa is sure to be a further triumph of his popularity. It will also afford further evidence of the excellent impression he creates wherever he goes and of the loyalty and love that are shown to the Royal Family. He is sure of a warm welcome in South Africa, and also in West Africa and St. Helena, where he is to go in the course of his journey. The desire of His Royal Highness to visit the small portions of the Empire as well as the large is highly commendable, especially as the Heir-Apparent has never before set foot in either of these two last-mentioned Colonies.
Another Mission to which His Royal Highness will devote some time next year will be the visit, at the invitation of the President of the Republic, to the Argentine, a very rich and powerful State where much British capital is invested and where British interests are very strong. We wish His Royal Highness God speed on these undertakings, and we are sure that these visits will be attended by the great success which has characterised his previous visits.
Your Lordships will view with the greatest satisfaction the paragraph in the gracious Speech which relates to economy in public expenditure. Although it is obvious that no great reduction can be immediately effected by a stroke of the pen, yet, owing to the present Administration having every prospect of a long tenure of office, it is to be hoped that they will be able to decrease our financial burden by practising the most careful economy and by a revival of trade. 18 Economy is always most difficult in private life. I suppose it is the same in public life, too, though it is probably more difficult to economise with someone else's money than with one's own money. Nevertheless, though recovery is slow, it is to be hoped that your Lordships will see the present heavy taxation gradually diminished and trade, industry and prosperity advanced.
I now come to the great social and domestic question of the day. Your Lordships will understand that I am referring to unemployment. It is much to be regretted that there is no immediate way of curing it, though there are a great many schemes which alleviate the position. It is satisfactory to know that the new roads and bridges which we see all over the country do help to a certain extent, but while there is suspicion between various classes of the community there will never be a real cure for unemployment. Class warfare hinders the discovery of any real solution. We have heard too much lately about class hatred, and whilst this is being spread abroad it is bound to cause suspicion and unrest. The best way of relieving unemployment is to produce confidence—confidence between employer and employed and between all classes.
Unemployment has many far-reaching consequences not only in this country but also abroad, and the Imperial aspect should not be ignored. The more markets there are abroad the less unemployment there will be at home. Development within the Empire must be encouraged so that a gradual revival of trade may set in, and the slight decrease in the unemployment figures already noted maintained and improved. This grave problem is not a Party one. Although the large majority which the present Government possess can secure a continuous policy, nevertheless it is the duty of everybody and every Party to do their utmost to back up the Government in all their undertakings with reference to this question.
It is with the greatest satisfaction that we witness the return of Mr. Neville Chamberlain to the Ministry of Health. The very successful measure which he brought in when he held that office in the last Conservative Administration has had a very beneficial effect on the housing problem. A considerable number of 19 houses have already been built under his scheme and a greater number are now being built. Not only does this alleviate the great shortage of housing accommodation, but it gives work to many of the unemployed. The paragraph in the gracious Speech from the Throne on the experiment of constructing houses of materials hitherto not used for building is of very great interest, and it is hoped that satisfactory new methods will be devised whereby well-designed houses may be built cheaply and quickly. The building of these houses would also bring down the price of building brick houses. While thousands of new houses are so urgently required, there are many old ones which, though they are totally unfit for habitation, are still occupied. It is a deplorable fact that slums still exist in a great many parts of this country where conditions do not differ from those of a century ago, where overcrowding is rife, and where there is little or no sanitation. Your Lordships will be glad to know that the Government mean to alter these ghastly conditions as much as they possibly can.
The shortage of cottages in rural districts is just as bad as in the towns. It is very important to keep the agricultural population from drifting townwards. Country landowners could find tenants for many more cottages if they could only afford to build them, but they cannot do so whilst, in many cases, every spare penny of capital has to go to pay off taxes and Death Duties. With the latter at their present exorbitant percentage and with a high Income Tax and even higher Super-Tax it is impossible for the country landowner to spend anything on building.
The remark which I ventured to make to your Lordships about unemployment being a non-Party problem applies equally to agriculture. This most important industry is a national one and should have a national policy. There is a general impression that agriculture is the business only of those who have to do with if directly. That is a great fallacy, and the sooner townspeople recognise the importance of agriculture to themselves the better. The great difficulties which beset agriculture can be solved only by agreement between all parties concerned. Consequently, by inviting a Conference of landowners, farmers and workers to meet, the Government is doing its best and is fulfilling the promise contained in His 20 Majesty's Speech at the beginning of the present year.
It is much to be hoped that all three partners in the agricultural business will see their way to send representatives to this Conference and, if possible, to obtain an agreement. The interests of all three parties, although they might appear to diverge, are in reality the same, and no one of them can flourish unless the other two are flourishing also. Even if they were to fail to obtain an agreement, which it is to be hoped will not be the case, the Conference would do untold good in meeting, in consulting and in hearing the different views of the various parties.
There is really no reason why this Conference should fail, although in the past agreement has not been found to be possible. I dare say that your Lordships will remember that a Conference composed of all sections of the agricultural community was held on rating, and that this body came to a unanimous decision which resulted in the Agricultural Rates Act. May I again say how much it is to be hoped that when the Conference meets it will be composed of its full complement of landowners, farmers and workers? The necessity for the greatest possible production of home grown foodstuffs is so obvious and so important that the proposal of the Government to increase the present acreage under the plough by an addition of at least one million acres will be welcomed by all, and especially by those who remember the difficulties of obtaining wheat during the war.
While I am on the subject, perhaps your Lordships will not mind my mentioning the continual outbreaks of foot-and-mouth disease, which are a great trial not only to farmers but to everyone else. It seems that the present regulations have been tried and found wanting. After all, to slaughter a diseased animal is a very primitive method of dealing with a scourge of this kind. May we hope that the Committee appointed by the Board of Agriculture will soon discover some means by which this scourge can be stamped out.
If the Government succeed in a small portion of their objects by partially curing unemployment, by raising agriculture from its present low state, by further contributing to the housing question, and by bringing down the heavy cost of living, we shall have good cause 21 to bless their advent to power. I wish to thank your Lordships for the kindness and patience with which you have listened to one who has never before had the honour of addressing you. I beg to second the Motion.
§ VISCOUNT HALDANE
My Lords, I have risen, in the first place, to express the pleasure, with which we on this side have listened to the speeches of the two noble Earls who have moved and seconded the Address. Those of is who had the privilege of knowing the late Lord Plymouth remember the charm of his personality and of that quality which, when you know it, you can never mistake. His son, if he will allow me to say so, has inherited something from his father, for he spoke to-day with a sincerity and directness which reminded one of him from whom he is descended. The noble Earl who moved the Address spoke with great courage and some fulness about the programme contained in the gracious Speech. To that I will advert in a moment, but before I go further I wish to say also that we listened with great pleasure to the noble Earl who seconded the Address. He spoke of himself as having come of a family which had not produced great speakers. But if they did not produce great speakers, they produced something else; they produced statesmen of character. Those who know the history of this country will not forget the part played by Lord Althorp in the Reform Act days and by the Lord Spencer, who was a near relation of the noble Earl, when he was Viceroy of Ireland in the most difficult and perilous times. The noble Earl himself showed something of a dry quality of humour which will make some of us wish to hear him again, and I trust that both of the noble Earls who have addressed us tonight will frequently take part in our debates.
I now pass, for a moment or two at any rate, to the gracious Speech itself. By a tradition which has now lasted for a good deal more than a century, the words of the gracious Speech, although the words of the Sovereign, are known to be really the words of his Ministers. They are the expression of the policy of the King's advisers for the time being. Before I proceed to make a few observations upon the Ministerial programme so expressed, I wish to say something of 22 the point of view from which I approach it. I stand here representing very few of your Lordships numerically—a small handful; hardly a dozen. But, after all, we who sit on this Bench did represent a Government, a Government which came in by consent and not by any independent majority which it had attained for itself; a Government which came in by consent only because the country thought that it was required that it should come in and that it was better that it should assume responsibility at least for a period.
Considerations of arithmetic are very apt to be misleading. We are very few here, we are not very many in the other House, but those of your Lordships who watched the Election and its results know that there is a very different sate of, things in the country, of which account has to be taken. I am not questioning for a moment the completeness of the victory which His Majesty's present Ministers obtained at the recent Election. They got a large majority, and an emphatic endorsement of the appeal that they made to the country. They may also say, with truth, that they were supported by a large section of the working classes, but, my Lords, that notwithstanding, five and a half millions voted for the Labour Party as against seven and a half millions who, I think, voted for the Conservative Party, and in addition there were between three and four million Liberals, who were a detached element, who might have gone' on either side, and who did go, I think, on both sides.
In that condition of things the strength of the position of the Government lies in the number of its supporters in the other House. So long as these keep together, and do something more than keep together, the position of the Government is one of great strength. It is a position to start with of great strength, and I have no reason to doubt that the Government's tenure of office will be a long one. Whether it will be an effective one depends, as it must always depend, upon how far they continue to represent public opinion. If they go on without continuing to represent public opinion, then there comes a reaction, and a reaction which is the more violent the longer the continuance in office of the Party which no longer expresses what the public think.
23 No one who watched closely the proceedings at the last Election could fail to be aware that a great change had taken place. The meetings I saw showed an enthusiasm and a determination such as I have not seen before—of a minority perhaps, but a minority amounting to the five and a half millions of which I have spoken. The explanation of that is twofold. First of all, they could express themselves, because the Representation of the People Act had been passed in 1918 increasing the electorate to something like twenty-one millions, and giving to an enormous number of men and women votes which they did not possess before. Well, there was the machinery for a very powerful Party if one was available, and, beyond that, the people themslves who exercised that large mass of votes. They exercised their votes with the keenness that they did exercise them for what, I think, is a very definite reason. We are very apt here to think that you can debate political questions on abstract principles. Political life is not conducted on abstractions. It is not on the principles of political economy that you either build up or put down Parties. You do that upon concrete facts and cases, and in the attitude of the new electorate, at the last Election, there was an abundance of evidence that concrete facts and cases were what they had in mind. The contrast between rich and poor, even in this country, is a terrible contrast. It is expressed in the gracious Speech. The allusion to the slums brings it in. It is a terrible question and has been a terrible question, and there is now the difference that those who suffer can express themselves at the ballot under the Act that has now been in operation for two General Elections.
I am not saying these things in any alarmist tone, and still less in a tone of menace. I am only drawing your Lordships' attention to what is necessary to be borne in mind if we are to weigh any political programme in the days in which we live. I have no doubt you can reach the people, and reach them effectively, if you only do it with energy, and steadily. Our democracy is not a revolutionary democracy. It does not like Communism or Bolshevism, or anything very extreme, but on the whole it is a progressive democracy. With increasing education, with increasing political activity, it is becoming a democracy very 24 keenly alive to these tremendous problems of the contrast between the fortunate and the unfortunate, to which I have alluded, and if a Government is to hold its own in the face of that movement then there is one thing which it must do. It must not merely talk about things, but it must do them. The gracious Speech embodies a number of proposals and some of them seem to be really good. The gracious Speech will be a very valuable speech if it is followed up by sustained and anxious efforts to put these propositions into operation. I am not doubting for a moment that the Government mean to do that. I am not questioning, for instance, their sincerity. I am only saying that it is not by the words of the gracious Speech but by the deeds that they must portend that the Government will be judged in connection with this Speech.
I have never thought that the business of an Opposition was to oppose. I have always held that the business of an Opposition is to criticise; to examine and study and to get what good it can out of the Party in power; to be ready to criticise severely if there is any deviation from what it thinks ought to be, and to bring to the fore points of view which are apt to be neglected. It is in that spirit that I turn to the gracious Speech. First of all I will allude, to foreign affairs. The Speech begins with a reference to Egypt, and Egypt was one of the subjects in the speech of the noble Earl who moved the Address. I entirely agree that when the wicked assassination of one of the most respected and gallant officers in the British Army took place, there was no other course open than for the Government to act promptly. It is one of the paradoxes of international affairs that while you can generally get your rights looked to and respected by nations who have reached the highest point in international civilisation—generally, although not always—this is not so when you are dealing with semi-Oriental nations.
In 1922, in February of that year, we entered into an Agreement with the Egyptian Government, and that Agreement was a definite one. We recognised Egypt as a free and independent State, but we said, "There are certain paramount points on which we must insist, and in which we have interests which we 25 reserve." These interests were to be made the subject of Treaties. The Treaties were never fashioned, and never executed, and I myself do not altogether blame the Egyptians for this. The juridical conception of a free and independent State, which is to bind itself by Treaties not yet denned but so important in their subject-matter as were the agreements in question on four reserved points, is a difficult one. What a nation can make of its situation which has to provide for the interests of the Sudan as we conceive them; for the Canal as conceived not only by us, but by other nations; for the preservation of security among its own inhabitants; and for such garrisoning as may preclude foreign nations from coming in, raises questions which are puzzling. Such a nation is only in a sense an independent nation.
I bear that in mind, and the position of the Egyptian Prime Ministers has been a very difficult one. I think there is an expression of almost unnecessary reproach on the unfortunate Zaghlul Pasha. It may be that Zaghlul wished to meet us, wished to carry out what he knew ho had to carry out, but he represented a people who did not mean to do it, and did not wish to do it. That was the justification for using force and for sending troops and ships, and I myself think it was necessary, in order to get the people of Egypt to recognise that they had entered into binding and definite obligations. These Treaties must be fashioned and carried out, and these rights must be respected. But that is not the whole of the truth about this matter. We do not, I believe, want to add one single acre to the British Dominions. It is not necessary for us to annex the Sudan, nor do we want to annex the Sudan, so far as my interpretation of the matter goes. Speaking for myself, I should be well content to see us there as mandatories under the League of Nations, so long as we were mandatories for the people of the Sudan and not for the people of Egypt. That, I think, would at once make assured our real and true position, without raising questions of annexation of territory, such as come into the minds of the Egyptian people.
Then, as regards the Canal, I do not know whether the other Powers who are interested in the Canal would assent to our being mandatories for the care of the 26 Canal. But if ever there was a part of the globe that lent itself to being made the subject of a definite Mandate in the interests of the world the Suez Canal is that part. I have said that, not for the purpose of pressing the Government for any information, or of asking them to commit themselves, but for the purpose of insisting that the mere success that you have had so far in getting Ziwar Pasha, the new Prime Minister, to take the difficult step of assenting to what you have asked from him in the name of his people, is only the beginning of wisdom, and you will have to do a good deal more. You will have to clear up the juridical relation with Egypt. You will have to put yourselves right with the world. I do not think there is any need to go into the extravagant, things which are said about us elsewhere; on the other hand, there is a silence in this Speech which was no doubt inevitable, but, at the same time, the reference made to this subject, I think, requires to be supplemented.
About the German Treaty, which is referred to here, obviously I can say nothing, because the result of the Elections in Germany requires to be ascertained before one can say anything. It is all to the good that the negotiation should have gone as far as it has, which promises the opening up of commercial relations between us and Germany in a fuller degree than at present.
About the Geneva Protocol I will only say this, that it is a very important document, the terms of which have to be very carefully examined. The condition of things in this Empire is such that we depend very much on the freedom of movement of the Fleet as a police force, and we have to see that that is not interfered with in any international document that we enter into; on the other hand, the Protocol is a document of immense importance, embodying as it does an idea which has now been brought within sight by the agreement, and its main terms. The Government have the problem to work out, and I hope that they will keep the second consideration as well as the first before their minds.
Then I come to a more dubious paragraph—the intimation that proposals, based on the recommendations of the Imperial Economic Conference last year, will be submitted for granting further preferences on goods imported into this 27 country. What do "further preferences" mean? I have studied the meaning of preferences as closely as I can, and I find in them nothing but Protection. They are Protection, no doubt for the benefit of the Dominions concerned and against third parts of the world, such as South America, and other places from which competing goods come to us. Do what you will with them, the element of Protection enters into them, and I cannot forget that Mr. Joseph Chamberlain, who, after all, had given to this subject the most concentrated attention of any man, said that it is idle to think you can do anything with Preference unless you put your preference on foodstuffs. All I have to say is that, if that is the meaning of these somewhat ambiguous and mystic words in the gracious Speech, there will be room for a very sharp demonstration of the duty of an Opposition.
Next there is Singapore. I had already spoken about Singapore long before I was in the last Government, and I have always said this—not, as the mover of the Address said, that Singapore is a mode of aggression; it is certainly not a mode of aggression. It is true, as he said, that the matter was considered at the Washington Conference, and I may add that it was agreed by the Japanese representatives that the fortifying of Singapore would not come within the terms of the Washington Agreement. It is not that. Nor is it that Singapore would not be a good thing from the point of view of the British Navy, if that was all that we had to consider. It would. It would enormously strengthen that Navy, and I think it would probably, after a little, lead to the building of more ships which would be available for the new base. But that is not the point. The point is that the Singapore policy is not one which harmonises with another policy in foreign affairs, which has been before the world very prominently for some months past, and associated with the name of this country.
I am not going into it again. I only put in that warning, that the reason why we feel Singapore to be a difficult question is, first of al1, because it is not merely a naval question, and, secondly, because it is not a case of aggression in any ordinary sense. It is a case in which you are strengthening yourselves so much in the East as to constitute a new menace. 28 Perhaps you do not mean anything menacing—I am sure you do not—but it is not what we mean, it is what other people take us to mean, the natural consequences of our act. And therefore I leave the subject of Singapore with this comfort, that I am pretty sure, when the difficulties are looked into, it will turn out that it will take a very long time before the Singapore base is set up, and it may be converted into something more innocent before the end comes.
What is the meaning of the Bill which is under consideration "for safeguarding employment in efficient industries where, after inquiry, the need for such exceptional action is established"? That, again, looks like Protection in some form, and I would remind His Majesty's Ministers that it is barely a year since the country, by a very emphatic vote, declared that it would have nothing to do with such departures from the principle of Free Trade. Well, we shall hear in due course what is meant by the safeguarding of employment in efficient industries if it does not mean what I am afraid that it does mean.
Then there is the reference to housing. I am very glad that the Government have taken up that question so promptly. I am very glad to see that they have in mind the question of the slums, those congested areas to which reference is made in the gracious Speech. But so far as the Speech itself goes, or so far as its words go, the means indicated do not seem to be adequate. In order to get rid of the slums and of the horrors which obtain in the poorer parts of our crowded cities vigorous action, action which is almost violent, is required. The only people who can get rid of those areas and who can substitute proper houses for the hovels in them are the local authorities. They are the only people who have the power and the length of arm. The private builder cannot do it. The private citizen can do only a little. But the local authority can do it, and that was why, in Mr. Wheatley's Bill which became an Act of Parliament, stress was laid on the local authorities and they were encouraged to proceed to deal with this question. The Government have not said anything about repealing Mr. Wheatley's Act, and I do not know that they intend to do so. He capitalised the previous Act passed by Mr. Neville Chamberlain in 1923, and it may be that the Government mean to 29 use the two together. If so, they have an instrument with which they can deal with the slum question. But I am quite sure that if we did not go beyond the words of the gracious Speech we should not have any instrument which could deal with it effectively.
Then the questions of insurance, of old age pensions, of widows' pensions, and so on, are mentioned. All that, I think, is very important. The question of widows' pensions is a difficult one. It the Government can work it out I shall feel very grateful to thorn and shall be glad to work with them. In reference to agriculture, I confess that I should have liked to see some light given by the Government. During the period of their meditation while in opposition I should have thought they would have found something to offer on the subject. However, they commend it to a Conference, which may be able to throw light on what is, undoubtedly, a very difficult question. There is a reference in the gracious Speech to the great Bills relating to the law of property, with which the Lord Chancellor will deal. I can only say that I think these Bills, with their history, show the value in great measures of law reform of the co-operation of successive Chancellors. Lord Birkenhead, Lord Buckmaster, my noble and learned friend on the Woolsack and myself have co-operated in the preparation of these Bills, and so far as I am concerned, I need not tell them that I shall gladly assist in getting the Bills through. There is another Bill in which I feel the deepest interest, and if it is brought up in the same form as it had before it will have the warm support of the Church of Scotland.
Now I have done. The list of measures is a formidable one, but I do not think it is too formidable. Great work lies in front of the Government. The duty of the Opposition will be to help them whenever it thinks that the work is good and to criticise them whenever it thinks it is defective. But at this stage, and so early in the history of the new Administration, one is not entitled to do more than to say that they ought to have every chance, and ought to have that benevolent consideration which the country and Parliament always unite in giving to a new Govern- 30 ment.
§ THE LORD PRESIDENT OF THE COUNCIL (THE MARQUESS CURZON OF KEDLESTON)
My Lords, this is the second time during the past twelve months that I have risen from this Bench to explain to your Lordships' House, and to answer questions upon, a Speech from the Throne. On the first occasion, in January of the present year, the gracious Speech, owing to the circumstances of the case, could not be more than a catalogue of intentions rather than a programme of policy; because it was well known at that moment that Mr. Baldwin's Administration was doomed and, as a matter of fact, only a few days later the execution was carried out in another place.
Then there ensued the nine months' tenure of office of the Labour or Socialist Party. I must confess that I thought the noble and learned Viscount's history on that point was open to grave exception. He said just now that his Party was placed in power in the early portion of the present year with the consent of the nation, because the nation desired the experiment to be made. I am quite certain it did nothing of the sort. No consent was met with from the Party for which I am speaking at the moment, and the consent which was rather reluctantly given by the Party now represented above the gangway is one of which I am sure they have heartily repented ever since. Well, the experiment was made and it lasted for nine months. I must confess that, viewing the composition and the acts of the then Government in your Lordships' House, I often wondered whether it was fair to describe it either as a Labour or a Socialist Government. The numbers which were led by the noble and learned Viscount when sitting upon these Benches were far from numerous, as he remarked just now. But I may be permitted to say in passing that we congratulate them upon the gallantry with which they kept up a fight against numbers which were considerable and an Opposition that might be described as formidable.
That experiment is now at an end. The curious thing is that it was brought to an end by the act of Ministers themselves. It really was an act of suicide, for, in despite of the warnings that were given to them not merely in this House but by every section of public opinion about their Russian policy, they persisted not 31 merely in entering into relations with the Soviet Government, but in pledging the credit and sacrificing the interests of the people of this country for the favours of a Government and a nation some of whose leading representatives were at the very moment engaged in a foul conspiracy against tin interests of this country. When they did so in the face of every warning that could be given to them they really passed the razor across their own throat, and that verdict was presently endorsed by an enormous majority in the country. Now we see the noble and learned Viscount, and what he called his handful of supporters, seated upon that Bench. They were not numerous before; I am not certain that the numbers have not diminished already. I do not see upon that Bench the courtly presence of the late First Lord of the Admiralty, Viscount Chelmsford, but whatever may be the explanation of his absence, I am sure that as long as the noble and learned Viscount's hands are upheld not only by his late Ministerial colleagues but by the mature experience of Lord Muir Mackenzie at one end of the Bench, and—I am sorry not to see him here now—by the promise, the already half-achieved promise, of Lord De La Warr on the other end of the Bench, he will make as good a fight in Opposition as he did when he represented the Government on these Benches.
Meanwhile, we have another Opposition seated above the gangway, led by the noble Earl, Lord Beauchamp. I am not quite certain, to tell the truth, what their position is. I am not clear whether they oppose His Majesty's Government, or whether they oppose His Majesty's Opposition. I notice that they have decided to place the convenient interlude of a gangway between themselves and their fellow Privy Councillors upon that Bench, and, if I may judge from my recollection of the last Parliament, they were much more often in opposition to them than they were to us. After all, at the recent Election many of their colleagues owed their seats to Conservative votes, and I expect, as time passes, we shall see that my noble friend and his followers will be much more likely to direct a raking fire upon those Benches than they will be to direct a frontal attack upon us. Anyhow, of one thing I am sure, and that is that 32 they will not kill us in order to make Mr. Ramsay MacDonald king. We shall all, therefore, await the developments of the situation on that side with great interest.
I come now to the gracious Speech, and to the comments that have been made upon it. Most heartily do I endorse the praise that was bestowed by the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Haldane, upon the mover and seconder of the Address. I doubt if any of us in this House, even those whose experience is much longer than my own, ever heard two speeches more carefully composed, better delivered, or fuller of sound common sense. As regards the noble Earl, Lord Plymouth, who was the mover, many of us indeed do remember his father, a man greatly honoured in every circle in which he moved. The late Lord Plymouth was a man who utilised a great position, considerable means, and a refined and cultivated taste not for any personal advantage but for the good of the community and of the State as a whole. I think we may infer not only from the speech to which we listened this afternoon, but from all that we know of the noble Earl who has succeeded him, and who addressed us to-night, that he is the inheritor not merely of the traditions but also of the ideals of his father, and that we may expect from him, both in his public capacity in the country and in the part he takes in our House, service as useful as that which was so often rendered by his father.
Then I turn to the noble Earl, Lord Spencer. I am old enough to remember in this House the last Earl Spencer but one a man who was, as Lord Haldane in his speech told us, a fine type of the English gentleman, a great sportsman, and a fearless servant of the State. I do not recollect that deficiency in powers of speech on his part to which his descendant confessed to-day; in fact, I remember often hearing the then Lord Spencer from this Bench—and I think for a time he acted as Leader of this House—speak to your Lordships in accents of great authority, simplicity and power. Many of us also recollect with affection the father of the noble Earl, a man who endeared himself to us by qualities of character quite exceptional in their nature, and who was as popular as he was ornamental in both Houses of Par- 33 liament. The fact that I persuaded my noble friend Lord Spencer to second the Address this afternoon is, I think, a proof that, enlightened as were his forebears, he is more enlightened still, that he is not content merely to rest upon the family laurels, but is prepared to strike out a line of his own; and assuredly, if ho was right in saying that any rhetorical reproach rests upon those who have previously taken his name, he showed every intention of removing it by the promise that he exhibited to-night.
I am grateful to the noble Viscount for not having taunted us with the length of the King's Speech. It is long; it is not longer than some that have preceded it, but unquestionably it is open, if you choose to make it, to that criticism. If it be made, I should like to say this in reply. I think the Speech covers the situation as a whole, and as long as our relations with the world, with our great Dominions, with foreign States, with every part of the habitable globe are so complex and universal as they are, and so long as at home Governments are required to deal with the every-day industrial, economical and social needs of a population, now in these islands numbering nearly fifty millions of persons, of whom for the first time within the last few years as many as twenty-two millions are upon the register and vote for Members of Parliament, so long you cannot expect, and you will not receive, short King's Speeches. Year by year the demands that will be made by those who return you to power will increase. Year by year you will have to show your willingness—in this case a most sincere willingness—to meet them. The test, after all, of a King's Speech is not its length in words, but the nature of its contents, and that was recognised very fairly by the noble and learned Viscount when he spoke just now. In my judgment there is in this King's Speech, if I may say so without reflection on any previous Governments, less window-dressing than in any King's Speech I remember. It does represent a sincere intention on the part of His Majesty's Government to take in hand a programme of definite domestic reform.
But before I come to that part of the Speech, may I say a word or two upon those aspects of it that deal with foreign affairs? I endorse what was so well observed by my two noble friends behind 34 me about the impending tours of His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales. They will be the latest but, we all hope, not the last of his many contributions to the service of the State. The tours of the Prince of Wales have made him, in fact, the most travelled Prince that has existed, I believe, since the Emperor Hadrian, but they present him also as a great consolidator of Empire, and as a true apostle of peace and of unity in every section of the community that owns the sovereignty of the King. I am particularly glad that His Royal Highness is going to visit these outlying portions of His Majesty's Dominions on the coast and in the seas off the coast of Africa, as they are often apt to think themselves neglected because they see and hear so little from home. His visit will be a great encouragement to them. I am glad to confirm what has been said by one of my noble friends behind me about the prudence and desirability of the visit to the South American Continent and the Argentine Republic, which owes so much to British expenditure and British influence, and where he will receive so warm a welcome.
I now pass to the observations which have been made upon foreign affairs. My noble friend Lord Plymouth dealt with the Egyptian situation in a very circumspect and, I thought, a very successful way. I join with him, and with the noble and learned Viscount opposite, in deploring the lamentable murder of Sir Lee Stack. That officer was well known to me; he always called upon me at the Foreign Office every year he visited England. And it is notable that in his case, as has sometimes happened before, the assassins' weapon was directed against a man conspicuous for his attachment to the native population of the country where his duty lay. Such was the position and reputation of Sir Lee Stack, and that he should have been stricken down at the hour when he was rendering the greatest service both to this country and to Egypt is one of the most lamentable and inexcusable events that could have occurred. I was glad to hear from the noble and learned Viscount that in his opinion the Government and Lord Allenby acted with the necessary promptitude and decision. And there is this to be observed on that point—that their action has been endorsed not merely by public opinion in this country but by all sections 35 of the foreign community in Egypt itself and, I think I can say with truth, by every foreign Government that has expressed any views to us about the matter at all.
May I take advantage of the occasion to add a comment upon one aspect of the case about which a good deal has been said in the Press? It was hinted at by one of my noble friends behind me. It is the idea that advantage was taken of this deplorable event by His Majesty's Government to make demands upon, or to extort concessions from, the Egyptian Government which were not strictly relevant to the situation produced by the murder of Sir Lee Stack or were inconsistent with the constitutional privileges we have granted to Egypt. There is no foundation whatever for that suspicion. We adhere now, as we have done during the last two years, to the Declaration of 1922, and, as Lord Plymouth remarked, the four reserved subjects will remain reserved subjects and cannot be disposed of until an agreement has been reached with the Egyptian Government about them. That position, as I have said, has lasted since February. 1922, and nothing, or at any rate little had occurred to disturb the even tenour of our way until Zaghlul Pasha, a little more than a year ago, assumed office.
The noble and learned Viscount seemed to think that there had been some unfairness in the criticisms or the aspersions passed upon Zaghlul Pasha. I do not think that that is the case. Let me tell your Lordships exactly what has passed since he became head of the Egyptian Government. During that time a deliberate attempt has been made to undermine, the power and authority of the Financial and Judicial Advisers of the Egyptian Government, who were specially created to protect foreign interests, who were provided for in the Milner Agreement and who were accepted by the Egyptian Government. There has been a steady and growing persecution of British officials in that country. There was the refusal of the Egyptian Government to continue their contribution to the cost of the British Army, which is maintained there, in part, for the defence of Egypt itself. There was the decision of the Egyptian Government to discontinue the payments made by them in the service of certain international loans. 36 There was the campaign, so properly stigmatised by the noble Lord behind me, of daily insistent and increasing vilification and vituperation directed against British interests, British rulers, and every Briton serving in the country. And when the noble and learned Viscount claims special exemption for Zaghlul Pasha it is open to me to remind him that one of the first acts of that Minister was to take an Egyptian conspirator, who had been condemned to death for participation in plots to assassinate British officers, but whose sentence had been commuted to fifteen years penal servitude, from prison and make him a Deputy and one of his followers in the Egyptian Parliament. That act is sufficient to prove the degree of friendliness exhibited to us by the Minister in question.
Meanwhile, the same sort of thing was going on in the Sudan. There a campaign of constant and sinister intrigue was directed against British authority and influence, and this was not merely the action of the Egyptian officers or soldiers serving there. A deliberate attempt was made to sap the loyalty of the Sudanese troops. I need not repeat what is our position with regard to the Sudan. It was defined in admirable language by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Parmoor, when he spoke from this Bench only a few months ago. We accepted his words on that occasion and I need not repeat them. The Sudan is to us of special interest. We conquered it, we rescued it from chaos and misery, and we owe a duty to its people which we have not the slightest intention of abandoning.
These were the events which culminated in the assassination of Sir Lee Stack. That murder was not an isolated incident. It was not merely, as one of my noble friends behind me phrased it, the direct and logical outcome of the kind of agitation of which I have been speaking. It was the last of many of a series of similar incidents and attempted murders that had been going on for a long time. It was obviously necessary, it was essential, when this event took place to deal with the situation as a whole, and when I speak of dealing with it as a whole I mean dealing with it both in Egypt and in the Sudan. We had to make it, clear to the Egyptian Government that this sort of situation could not continue 37 in either of those countries; we had to see that British and foreign officials were protected from persecution and outrage; we had to see that disloyal elements, whether in the Egyptian Ministry or elsewhere, were not allowed to pursue their plots against Great Britain, in that country; and we had to see that the arbitrary restrictions which the Egyptian Government were seeking to place upon the extension of irrigation in the Sudan were not maintained.
Here let me say that the idea that in dealing with that point there was any intention on the part of the Government to make Egypt pay the penalty in water, or to deprive her of any of those water rights which are her due, is quite fantastic. The whole question of the partition of water rights in the Nile between the Sudan and Egypt is one which is at the present moment under the closest examination. Egypt is certain of getting her rights and more than her rights from us, and there, need be no difficulty, in my judgment, in arriving at a fair solution of that disputed matter.
And now I come to my point. You can see very well that all these cases of unfriendly action on the part of the Egyptian Government must have led, and were leading even while the late Government, were in power, to a series of protests, of disputes, of squabbles with that Government. Was it not better, instead of diffusing this area of trouble and difference, to concentrate the whole of these issues into a, single pronouncement and require a solution of them all? That is the justification of the policy that was pursued by Lord Allen by at Cairo, and, as has been admitted, it has been attended so far with considerable success. We have in power an Egyptian Government which is endeavouring loyally to perform its functions, and our one desire is to support it by every means in out-power, not to usurp its authority or take out of its hands any portion of that influence which properly belongs to it. But let us be clear about this: we have no intention of abandoning our position in Egypt, where we are the trustees not only for British interests and Imperial interests, but for the interests of all foreign countries as well. We have no desire to magnify or extend our claims, but, on the other hand, we have no inten- 38 tion of attenuating or surrendering them in any degree.
The noble Earl behind me alluded to the four conditions which were attached to the pronouncement of February, 1922, and the noble Viscount, Lord Haldane, raised the question—a question of considerable juridical interest—as to the precise degree of independence which is enjoyed by Egypt. I am not a lawyer and I should not presume to enter into that thorny question, but it is, of course, perfectly clear that the measure of independence, whatever it be, is not an unqualified independence. It is an independence which is qualified by the four conditions which were recited by my noble friend behind me, and until agreement is reached upon those points we cannot possibly recede from the control which we exercise. We are not making any new encroachment upon the independence of Egypt. All we are doing is to insist upon her respecting the conditions under which that independence was granted. That is, I think, the explanation of the situation as it now stands.
The next point which was alluded to by my noble friends behind me was our relations with Russia. I was rather surprised not to hear more about that point from the noble and. learned Viscount. I am speaking of our denunciation of the contemplated Treaties with the Soviet Government, of the Zinoviev letter, and so on. I do not think it necessary to argue the case at any length, because I believe there is common consent about it. The Election turned very largely upon the Russian Treaties and upon the Zinoviev letter. Our attitude upon both those points was clear and unmistakable on every platform in the country. We regarded the proposed Treaties as an uncalled-for and unwarrantable sacrifice of British interests; and, as regards the Zinoviev letter, we thought it an intolerable thing that, at the time when a British Government, for whatever reasons, was endeavouring to enter into friendly relations with a Russian Government, one of the principal authorities in Russia should be preaching in this country that policy which was so well described by the noble Earl, Lord Plymouth, who sits behind me.
One word as to the Zinoviev letter. When we came into power we found that an examination of some kind had been 39 made into the authenticity of that letter by a Committee, of which I believe the noble and learned Viscount was a member. The present Government appointed a special Cabinet Committee to look into the question and to examine not merely the whole of the evidence that had been before the Committee presided over by the noble and learned Viscount but some additional evidence that had accrued since. That Committee consisted of the Lord Chancellor, Lord Birkenhead, Lord Cecil, the Foreign Secretary, Mr. Chamberlain, and myself. We devoted a considerable time to a careful scrutiny of the case. There was no paper concerned with it that was not before us. We followed every chain of the evidence from the issue of this paper at Petrograd down to its arrival and publication in this country, and the Committee arrived at the unanimous conclusion that there was no doubt whatsoever as to the authenticity of that document.
Let it not be supposed that this finding was the work of politicians only, who might, or might not, be supposed to be affected by political sympathies or prejudices. It was equally, or even more, the finding of the three great lawyers who sat upon that Committee, trained by their experience to weigh and to examine evidence and confident—as confident as the rest of us; nay, even more confident—that the statement which I have made as to the authenticity of that document could not possibly be disputed. I desire to say nothing more about the matter, but I think that your Lordships will agree that I have been justified in making the brief statement which I have just placed before your Lordships' House.
I turn to other passages connected with Imperial and foreign affairs to which the noble and learned Viscount alluded. The first of these concerns Singapore. It is quite unnecessary for me to argue the case of Singapore here. I recall certainly two occasions—I am not certain there were not more—on which the case for the construction of this naval dockyard at Singapore was argued in this House, and we all probably recall the convincing speech made by Lord Balfour on one of those occasions. We also remember very well the defence of their attitude that was offered then by Lord Haldane and repeated by him to-night, but really, if 40 I may say so, I cannot understand it. Here is a measure, a movement, an act which, as everybody admits, has been recommended for years by the Committee of Imperial Defence, which was known and accepted at Washington, which has been twice endorsed by Imperial Conferences of our Dominions in London, which has been openly put forward by three successive Administrations and which, until the point was raised, excited so far as I know no suspicion elsewhere, but which the noble and learned Lord persists in regarding as a menace. As a menace to whom?
He failed to tell us and I am utterly unable to understand why, because we have a Fleet existing under modern conditions, because we seek to provide for the mobility of that Fleet and endeavour to give it dockyards and means of repair—because, indeed, in this way we attempt to defend the communications with our distant Dominions and at the same time to add to their security—we should be supposed to be menacing anybody else. I know that the noble and learned Viscount is always using phrases about gestures—about gestures of peace. I am very suspicious about these gestures. I find that they generally mean the surrender of national or Imperial interests, and if it comes to a question of gestures the one thing which has struck me very much in the contemplation of foreign affairs is that, somehow, the gestures always come from us and never from anybody else, and that in response to this gesture from the late Government I am not aware that any reciprocal gestures have been received from any other power in the world.
The next point to which I think the noble and learned Viscount referred, and to which he alluded in terms of interrogation, was the statement about the Resolutions that were passed at the Imperial Conference and the manner and degree in which we propose to carry them out. We are committed to act in this matter both because the Resolutions were passed with our consent at the Conference and because of the pledges which were given by the whole of us at the recent Election. Of course, the precise method of giving advantage to the Dominions and Colonies by the preferential treatment of certain commodities is a matter that has to be very carefully examined. The noble and learned Viscount is quite right about that. That examination has already been 41 instituted, but it is impossible to state the result now because the examination has not been completed and, indeed, has barely been begun. The noble and learned Viscount may look forward to the Budget which, after all, we are not prevented from discussing in this House, although we may not amend it, and he will then find the exact method by which we propose to carry out our pledges.
Just a word or two, and they shall be brief, about the two other topics which attracted the attention of all the previous speakers. I allude to unemployment and housing. I think it was Lord Plymouth who said that the numbers of the unemployed had perceptibly fallen during the last few months. I am not going to make the absurd mistake of saying that that has anything to do with one Government rather than with another. It is due to a slight but definite improvement in trade. There has been improvement in the coalmining industry and in the cotton trade. The iron and steel trade and the engineering trade are also slightly better and orders are more frequent. In shipbuilding stagnation still occurs, but the amount of effective tonnage laid up in this country is now only one half of last year's figure and it is hoped that the time will soon come when orders for new ships will begin again. Other trades, such as electrical engineering, are doing well. At the same time, the general state of unemployment is such that nobody can look at the question without the gravest apprehension and alarm.
With regard to the policy pursued in dealing with it, the House probably knows the lines on which we proceed—and the grants which we make to local authorities for works of various kinds. There are also the very great sums which are being provided for the improvement of big roads and bridges. As time passes we shall, of course, report from time to time to the House how the measures which are being taken succeed. The Ministry of Agriculture is also giving assistance to schemes of land drainage, and the Forestry Commission is extending the operations of afforestation. Under the Trade Facilities Act, export credits are also being made available. Altogether this question is one which has no Party aspect at all, and it is one with which noble Lords opposite endeavoured to deal when in power. It is a question 42 on which we have no absolute dissension from them and to which we must all bend our shoulders in order to produce the results which we all desire.
As regards housing, this question also is making slow but substantial progress. Let me state the case in a sentence or two. During the last two years over 126,000 houses have been erected by private enterprise without State assistance in the way of subsidy. Of this number nearly 93,000 were of a rate-able value not exceeding £26 (£35 in London) and are really a working-class type of house. A further 37,650 non-assisted houses were in course of construction on November 1 last. During the last two years, in addition, 22,000 houses were built under assisted schemes and on the 1st October last a further 71,857 were under construction. The policy of housing is being encouraged by loans from all the various quarters with which the House is familiar—loans under the Small Dwellings Acquisition Act and Mr. Chamberlain's Act of 1923. Since January 1, 1923, under the former of those two Acts, loans of £3,900,000 to local authorities have been sanctioned. Under the second Act loans of £3,000,000 have been sanctioned. As we all know, the main difficulty has been the finding of skilled labourers—the requisite bricklayers and plasterers—and there was a Committee set up by Mr. Wheatley, the Building Industries Committee I think it was called, for the object of augmenting the supply of skilled labour. Of course, we shall continue the operations of that Committee. Local organisations are also being instituted and a system of apprenticeship is being set up. A Committee has also been appointed to report upon the possibilities of new methods of construction.
One noble Lord alluded, I believe, in a sentence, to slum clearings. The great difficulty about clearing out slums is that there is no place to which to send the people you naturally have to evict from these insanitary and unsatisfactory dwellings. Rut a great deal is being done, as the House is probably aware, by inspection, by remedy and repair, and I have figures, which I need do no more than mention in a word or two, showing that during the past year no fewer than a million houses have been inspected, and that, in over half a million, repairs and 43 improvements have taken place. I need net at this hour further pursue this question.
It will, I think, have been evident from this debate, and from a perusal of the King's Speech, that the greater part of it is really directed to internal domestic reform. There is nothing sensational about these pronouncements. If anybody likes to say that the programme which is sketched in the King's Speech is a commonplace, matter-of-fact, rather humdrum programme, I, for one, shall certainly not object. But, when you remember that the subjects to which I am alluding, and which are mentioned in this Speech, relate to rates, rents, prices, food supplies, agriculture, housing, employment, communications, insurance, and children, you will realise how vast an area we are endeavouring to cover, and that the whole of this programme is really a sort of microcosm of the social and industrial needs of our people at the present time.
The Speech ends with a sentence which I hope you will allow me, in terminating, to quote:—My Government are" hopeful that, with the support of the community at large, they may be able, on the lines here indicated and to be developed as time proceeds, to expedite the solution, in a spirit of unity, of many of the problems that are weighing heavily on the national life, and in this way to remove some of the obstacles that have not ceased, since the termination of the war, to retard the industrial and economic recovery of My people.That is not a mere rhetorical phrase. It is not a mere pious aspiration; it is the expression of a hope which I trust will be justified as time goes on.
The noble and learned Viscount concluded his own remarks by two observations with which I was in warm sympathy. Ho said, in the first place, that we, like all other Governments, must be judged not by our words, but by our deeds; and, in the second place, that, so long as we pursue this programme of satisfying national interests, we might rely, though he would not spare us criticism where criticism was deserved, on the assistance and support of those whom he leads in your Lordships' House. I confidently rely on that assurance myself. I realise, and so do we all, that a great majority, such as that which we have received, is not a mere Party triumph, is not a mere 44 opening of opportunities which a Government might like to enjoy, but it does impose upon those who have received it great responsibilities. We fully recognise that. We are very anxious indeed, in the face of all these problems that are sketched in the King's Speech, to find, if we can, national solutions of national and international problems; and, if that be our object, it is, I am sure, one which will receive the consistent encouragement and support of your Lordships' House.
§ EARL BEAUCHAMP
My Lords, the tendency of the speeches to which your Lordships have listened to-night has been in the direction of considerable brevity, and I will do my best to conform to that example. But I cannot omit, in the first place, to add my congratulations to those that have already been expressed to the two noble Earls who moved and seconded the Address. I suppose that among all the tasks which are undertaken in this House there is only one which is more difficult than that of moving the Address, and that is the task of seconding the Address; and I congratulate the noble Earls upon the success with which they have carried out their duties. The noble Earl who moved it will, I hope, allow me to offer him my congratulations, particularly as a neighbour of mine, coming from the same County, who has added to the high reputation of Worcestershire—that high reputation which it deserves since it had the honour of returning the Prime Minister as one of its Members of Parliament. The noble Earl who seconded will, I hope, forgive me if I express some regret that a name, which has been so long and so honourably associated with the Liberal Party should no longer be associated with it to-day. I had the honour of serving under his uncle for some years in this House, and of being an intimate colleague of his father for still more, years. My regret at the connection of his name with that of the Conservative Party is very largely increased when I recollect the wit and the success with which he has just made his maiden speech in this House.
On this occasion it is not only the King's Speech which we are considering, but also the fact that a new Government has come into power. New Governments come into power owing to more than one influence. Sometimes it is due to their 45 own merits, sometimes it is due to the faults committed by their predecessors. I will not venture, however, to make any exact estimate of the causes which have brought His Majesty's present Government into power. I should probably find myself in direct opposition to the noble Marquess the Leader of the House, and quite certainly to the noble and learned Viscount the Leader of the Opposition. But I am bound to remind your Lordships that the Government, with its large majority, has secured that position only with a minority of votes. The voters in this country found themselves confronted with considerable difficulty. There were three Parties, there were a number of three-cornered contests, and there were no fewer than 1,200 candidates. The only thing which one can say with some comfort to the unfortunate voter who found himself in a difficulty is to remind him that in Germany at their recent General Election there were no fewer than 51 Parties and 4,638 candidates, and that there was no possibility of any one of the Parties securing a majority as a result of the Election.
Your Lordships will perhaps allow me to make one or two personal remarks with regard to His Majesty's Government. I notice a great difference between this Conservative Administration and the last Conservative Administration. We are not treated nearly so generously in the matter of the high offices of State which are represented in this House in this Administration as we were upon the last occasion. The last Conservative Government had no fewer than four Secretaries of State in this House; we have now only one—namely, the noble and learned Earl, Lord Birkenhead. Though he is not in the House at this moment I would like to say that many of us remember with gratitude the speeches which he made in this House in connection with the administration of India some years ago. We feel that if he administers the troubled and difficult affairs of India in the sympathetic spirit in which he then spoke in this House, contrary to the opinion of most noble Lords who sit on the other side of the Chamber, he will probably meet with a very large measure of success.
Yet another personal remark I would venture to make and that is to express a hope—and I think I may take it that it 46 will certainly be carried out—in regard to the administration of the law. During the last Administration the noble and learned Viscount who then sat upon the Woolsack neglected the full discharge of his high duties in order that he might carry out the duties connected with other Departments. The law is one of the, greatest institutions of this country and I regretted that the head of the law should have seen fit to delegate to others the duty of administering the law. But I hope I may take it for granted that the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack will look upon his administration of the law as his first and chief duty. I rejoice to think that the change from usual custom which was instituted by the noble and learned Viscount beside me will probably be departed from.
There is one other thing in this connection to which I should like to refer. In the last Administration the noble and learned Lord, the Lord President of the Council, had, if I remember rightly, a room in the Foreign Office in order that he might, deal more effectually with questions concerning the Foreign Office and the League of Nations. Unfortunately, there is no direct representation of the Foreign Office in your Lordships' House to-day, and I should be glad to learn what arrangements are being made by His Majesty's Government to keep your Lordships thoroughly abreast of the development of foreign affairs.
The noble Marquess invited me to say exactly what was the position of those noble Lords with whom I have the honour to act. There is no difficulty, no doubt and no hesitation in our minds. We are out to oppose His Majesty's Government, and on every appropriate occasion we shall not hesitate to oppose their actions, in so far as we think them wrong, with all the forces in our power. I confess it was with some surprise that I gathered that the noble Marquess opposite did not view with entire disapprobation the idea of opposition by the noble and learned Viscount and his small following. I begin to understand why. It is because the noble and learned Viscount does not think that the duty of an Opposition is to oppose but that its duty is to help. I wholly dissent from that proposition, and I have no doubt that the noble Marquess will find that he will get a great deal more opposition from these Benches than from 47 the Bench immediately opposite him. In those circumstances I may regard it as complimentary on his part that he preferred an Opposition so much weaker than that which will come from these Benches.
I think very real difficulty is likely to be encountered in the Opposition of the noble and learned Viscount and his friends. Not only are they very few in number, but I do not know quite what form of opinion they propose to represent. Less than twelve months ago four of his colleagues were not members of the Labour Party. I do not know what is the trade union to which the noble and learned Viscount himself belongs. I do not think he has ever communicated it to your Lordships' House. I do not think that my noble friend Lord Muir Mackenzie belongs to any trade union, nor is he affiliated to the Independent Labour Party. There is the very real difficulty that the point of view which is likely to be put in your Lordships' House will not be the point of view of the real Labour Opposition in another place. Throughout the course of the last Administration many of us felt that when it came to a crisis it was not the moderate Labour opinion which gained the day; it was always the opinion of the extremists. To take only two examples, that was particularly so in the case of Mr. Campbell and in the case of the Russian Treaties. It was the extremists who won the day.
Where are the extremists in this House? I look at that Bench and I fail to see them, and I think it is a matter of some regret that we shall not have the real moving power of Labour represented in this House when we discuss the important questions of the day. I do not suppose that the class war is advocated by the noble and learned Viscount as it is advocated by some of his late colleagues to-day, nor that he would be anxious to see the complete overthrow of the capitalist system in the way in which Mr. Wheatley has been recommending it to the voters of this country. In those circumstances, I confess that I think your Lordships will be at considerable loss in not being able to depend upon representative Labour opinion being voiced in this House. For ourselves the duty of the Liberal Party in this House is clear. We shall certainly oppose and, having regard to the King's Speech, I 48 have no doubt we shall feel it our duty to put our views before your Lordships on a number of occasions during the coming Session.
I do not propose to say much to-night on foreign affairs because I understand there will be a discussion on foreign affairs next week, when the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs has returned from Rome and when I hope that my noble friend Lord Gray of Fallodon will be present in this House to speak with an unrivalled authority upon these matters. But there are two things I should like to say about Egypt. First of all, I should like to express our abhorrence of the murder of Sir Lee Stack and our deep sympathy with his relatives. In the second place, I think it is useful to point out that British policy will never be changed by murder and assassination, but that it will remain exactly the same. The idea that our aim is likely to be changed by the murder and the assassination of high officials is a wholly mistaken one, and those who advocate such a policy ought to know that they will gain nothing at all by doing so.
There is only one paragraph in the gracious Speech to which no reference has yet been made. It is the paragraph which deals with the German Commercial Treaty which has just been concluded by His Majesty's Government. It is an interesting Treaty. We have always been told by Protectionists that it is very difficult for us as a Free Trade country to enter into negotiations because we have nothing to bargain with. I hope your Lordships will notice exactly what has happened in this case. We have just concluded a Commercial Treaty with Germany which, according to the President of the Board of Trade, himself an advanced Protectionist, gives us the most favourable terms ever accorded to any country, while France and Belgium, although they started negotiations before we did, are still negotiating on the subject and have not obtained the favourable terms which we have here. That, I think, is a remarkable testimony to the advantages of our Free Trade system.
The noble Marquess opposite referred to Singapore. On that subject I hope that we may have a separate discussion in the course of next year. The matter is important enough to warrant it. I would only express the difficulty I feel 49 in reconciling the paragraph which deals with Singapore with the paragraph which immediately succeeds it which talks of strict economy in the management of our public affairs. I cannot feel that we are likely to gain any commensurate advantage for the expenditure of the large sums of money which will be necessary to make Singapore the fortified base of which we have heard so much.
Then I naturally turn to what is perhaps one of the most important features of the King's Speech—the reference to the institution of Imperial Preference. Again I find some difficulty in reconciling what is said in the gracious Speech with what has been said, in various speeches outside your Lordships' House. We have been told, and I accepted it, that there were to be no taxes on food in the policy of the Conservative Party. At the lime of the General Election it was emphasised that there were to be no taxes on food. Yet we are told in the gracious Speech that His Majesty's Government, propose to recommend the Imperial Preference Resolutions which were agreed to at the Conference last year. Let us see exactly what these Resolutions are? There are four of them which deal with the reduction of duties upon existing tariffs. Naturally I do not lay emphasis upon those at the present time. Their value has been very largely decreased since the passing of Mr. Snowden's Free Trade Budget last year. But I take the last six of the Resolutions. We are told that there is to be no tax on food. I compare that statement with those six Resolutions, and I ask, Is a duty not a tax, or are these articles not food? There is, to begin with, the imposition of a duty of 10s. 6d. a cwt. upon dried apples, pears and peaches, but such dried fruits of the Empire are to be admitted free. Those are food, surely, and a duty of 10s. 6d. Per cwt. is quite obviously a tax. Then there is to be a duty of 5s. Per cwt. On preserved fruits, and a duty of 5s. Per cwt. on raw apples, such, articles imported from the Empire to be admitted free. Surely this duty of 5s. is a tax on apples which are food? Then there is to be a duty of 10s. Per cwt. on honey, lime and lemon juices, and fruit juices, and, finally, a duty of 10s. per cwt. is to be imposed on foreign canned salmon, canned lobster and crayfish and crabs, but goods of that 50 kind to be admitted free from within the Empire. I ask again, what is exactly the meaning to be attached to the words tax and food? I ask if this duty is not a tax, and if these articles are not food.
There are two kinds of duties about which I think there is a great deal of confusion—the reduction of duties upon existing taxes, and the imposition of fresh duties in order that a preference may be given. I can quite understand the policy which is recommended by a number of noble Lords, amongst them colleagues of my own, who are ready and anxious to agree to the reduction on Imperial goods of duties which already exist, but are wholly opposed to the imposition of fresh duties in order that a preference may be given. I have no doubt we shall hear a great deal upon this subject in the course of the coming Session.
I pass to that paragraph, somewhat curiously worded as it seems to me, which deals with the safeguarding of employment. A Mill is to be submitted "for safeguarding employment in efficient industries where, after inquiry, the need for such exceptional action is established." Surely, if the statistics of trade show anything at all it is this, that we always have most employment when there are most imports. Employment is best in this country at the same time as the imports are largest. Therefore it is difficult to resist the conclusion that if you do anything which will restrict imports your employment will at the same time also get worse. And, indeed, you will always find, if you examine the Trade Returns, that as imports are reduced so also unemployment gets worse. Therefore I find it difficult to understand how a Bill, the object of which is to restrict imports, can possibly do anything to safeguard employment here. Imports and employment have always increased together. I have no doubt that when this Bill reaches this House we shall have considerable discussion upon the exact meaning of the words "efficient industries."
Whether we shall be told that motor cars are no longer efficiently manufactured I do not know, but certainly the loud lamentations which preceded the rejection of the McKenna Duties by Mr. Snowden have proved to be singularly fallacious. We were promised greater unemployment in those trades, instead of which, as far 51 as I can ascertain, the motor car trade is an exceedingly prosperous one at the present moment. This is just a repetition of the argument that we heard in the old days when we were always told these various industries were going, going, and gone. With a kind of gloomy joy we used to be told that they were gradually going to die out, and we always found that in the course of the next year or two the Trade Returns went up and up, and things were a great deal better than they had been in the past. A little delay in these matters is not a bad thing, and I have very little doubt that in most of them, as in regard to motor ears, we shall find that with a little patience there will be a very real improvement.
The experience that we have had with regard to the Safeguarding of Industries Act surely is enough to teach us a little patience in this matter. There were the Anti-dumping Orders which expired in the course of last summer which were imposed under the third part of the Safeguarding of Industries Act. They were largely recommended in this country on the ground of the depreciated currency giving a facility to exporting countries. Surely, the facts have proved that to be a complete fallacy. If a depreciated currency gives a country any advantage surely Germany would have swept the markets of the world, for her currency has depreciated so much, but as a matter of fact we have found that the reverse has been the case, and that she has exported far less than before the war to this country, that she has exported less than one-third of her pre-war trade to the whole of the world, and that, in spite of the depreciated currency which at first sight might seem to give her an advantage and allow her to capture the markets, the result has been exactly in the opposite direction. I do not think His Majesty's Government will find any precautions of that kind any cure for unemployment.
I hope that they will see their way to combine the two questions of housing and unemployment. We have on the one hand numbers of men unemployed and on the other hand numbers of houses which are required to be built. It surely ought not to be beyond the resources of our statesmen to bring the two ends of this dreadful problem together, and set the unemployed to do something to mitigate the lack of housing from which we 52 are suffering at the present time. I join with any criticism which was made by the noble Marquess on the failure of the late Government to deal with this question, a failure which was all the more lamentable owing to the great promises which they made at the time of the General Election of 1923. I hope that in the course of the coming Session we may be able to examine the late Government upon some of the remedies which they have put before the country to cure the various ills from which we are suffering. It is a curious thing that in the course of last Session we did not have recommended to your Lordships' House the various cures which have been recommended to the country by the members of the Labour Party. They kept silence on such matters as the Capital Levy and the nationalisation of industry. I have thought that during the course of this Session we may have an exact explanation from the members of the Labour Party of what their proposals are, so that when next we have a General Election the people of this country shall not be deceived by vague words, but that they may have the concrete plans before them, and may know exactly what it is that is proposed by the Labour and Socialist Party.
The remarks by the noble Marquess have disarmed any criticism upon the length of the King's Speech. I would only, in conclusion, say this about it. It contains, so far as I can count, no fewer-than thirty measures which are to be introduced to Parliament in the course of this Session. I shall expect to see a good many of those thirty measures in the King's Speech of next year, and in the King's Speech of the year after, and perhaps even in the King's Speech of the year after that.
§ LORD STRACHIE
My Lords, I desire to intervene for a few moments only in order to ask the Government a question upon a matter which is very much exercising the minds of the agricultural community. In the gracious Speech from the Throne a reference is made to an invitation to a Conference upon a national agricultural policy. From what one has seen lately in the newspapers it would appear that there is no Conference at present in existence. The paragraph in the gracious Speech from the Throne says: 53A Conference of representatives of landowners, farmers and workers has already been invited to consider whether an agreement can be arrived at by these different interests which might provide the stable basis of a national agricultural policy.When I saw that statement I naturally thought that the Conference was actually in being, but we see in the Press that the Government has not been successful in getting the acceptance of one-third of the parties. There is no Conference in existence at the moment, and only the Central Landowners' Association has accepted the invitation. I believe the Agricultural Labourers' Union is holding its hand and has not appointed any representatives. Then a very important body, the National Fanners' Union, are making every sort of objection, and, apparently, are not ready to come in until they have things their own way. These are the statements that I have seen in the. Press and I should like my noble friend the representative, of the Ministry of Agriculture to give me some information with regard to the position. I congratulate my noble friend on the office he now occupies. We are delighted to find that agriculture has a representative who is not only a landowner but a great agriculturist, and one who farms his estate with great efficiency. I hope he will be able to explain the difference between the statement in the, gracious Speech and the reports that have appeared in the Press. I hope the reports in the Press are entirely wrong.
I have always welcomed the idea of such a Conference, and it is an excellent move on the part of the Government to see if they cannot constitute a national agricultural policy which will be acceptable to the country as a whole. But supposing the, National Farmers' Union and the Agricultural Labourers' Union do not nominate representatives, what are the Government going to do? Suppose one of them refuses, suppose the National Farmers' Union refuses, will the Government then ask some other representative body of farmers to nominate a representative? And if the Agricultural Labourers' Union refuse, will they ask the Land Workers' Union, a large and powerful body, to appoint a representative? Another, question which has excited the greatest interest in agricultural circles is this. If this Conference matures, must the policy be accepted by all the three parties, must it be unanimous, before the 54 Government agree to bring it before the three political Parties? That may be a doctrine of perfection. I do not think you will get the three agricultural classes to agree, and it will be even more difficult to get the three political Parties to agree, because the policy of one of them, as far as I can make out, is confiscation.
One other word more. Does the Government really intend before we adjourn for the Christmas Recess to press through the War Charges (Validity) Bill? It is stated in the Press that this is their intention. I hope it is not the case. In the last Parliament your Lordships threw out this Bill, and whether it is thrown out on this occasion or not there is bound to be a great deal of discussion upon it in this House and. in the other. I hope the Government will not introduce it so early in the Session but leave it until early in the New Year.
§ THE PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY OF THE MINISTRY OF AGRICULTURE AND FISHERIES (LORD BLEDISLOE)
My Lords, I think I can reassure my noble friend Lord Strachie, and also your Lordships, in regard to the, main question he has addressed to the Government. I am glad to be able to tell your Lordships that as a result of the conversations which have passed between the Minister of Agriculture and the executive of the National Fanners' Union the National Farmers' Union have expressed their willingness to come into the Conference and all the objections which they appear to have made have been withdrawn. I am not in a position to say what action the two agricultural workers' unions are going to take. Both have been invited, and we have no reason to suppose that they, similarly, will not come into the Conference. I do not know where my noble friend has derived the idea that there must necessarily be unanimity on the part of the Conference before the Government are prepared to consider any recommendations they may make. At any rate, I can assure the noble Lord that so far as we are concerned we have not made unanimity a condition precedent to consideration by the Government of any proposals which may emanate from the Conference. I am not in a position to say anything with regard to the War Charges (Validity) Bill at the present time.
§ On Question, Motion agreed to nemine dissentiente, and Address to be presented to His Majesty by the Lords with White Staves.