HL Deb 08 December 1926 vol 65 cc1315-38

LORD PARMOOR rose to call attention to the work of the Imperial Conference, and to move for Papers. The noble and learned Lord said: My Lords, I have indicated to the noble Earl who will answer me on behalf of the Government that I intend to refer only to a certain portion of the Report of the Conference, and also only to particular matters in that portion of the Report of the Conference upon which I wish to ask him questions or to have information from him. There are comparatively few matters, though to my mind they are of great importance, to which I shall direct my observations.

I should like to say at the outset that I believe all persons and all Parties in this country rejoice in the friendly spirit which was present apparently at all the meetings of the Imperial Conference and rejoice, too, that there was a ring of sincerity, quite outside the mere formal stage of conference, in the expressions of gratitude on both sides for the assistance which the Premiers from abroad and the Government of this country had given upon the very serious matters which came under the consideration of the Conference. In the long run I think everyone must agree—at any rate I have heard no substantial opposition of any kind—that anything in the nature of coercion in these matters is quite out of the question, and if we are to have a combination of loyalty and unity, unity must be founded on loyalty. Then we go a very long way, at any rate, towards what is called in the Report autonomy and independence. I want to make it quite clear that what are called the underlying principles as regards these two matters are not intended to be in any way questioned as the ultimate goal for the solution of the inter-Imperial relations.

I want on the two points to which I have told the noble Earl I intend to call his attention to point out certain matters which appear to me to be not stated with great accuracy and on which, so far from any ultimate solution being indicated, the whole matter is really put off to some subsequent occasion. So, although I am entirely in favour of the principles laid down, I doubt whether much advance has really been made in any direction beyond what has already been acted upon and what had already been accepted really at the Imperial Conference in 1923. Now, on page 14 of the Report I find the statement that the relationship between the self-governing communities and Great Britain—that is the Dominions and Great Britain—"may be readily defined." I doubt very much the accuracy of this definition. Then the Report goes on: They are autonomous communities within the British Empire. I think it is quite clear as matters now stand, that whatever may be the aim in the future, the Dominions are not "autonomous communities within the British Empire," and they are not for two reasons.

First of all, their own powers are circumscribed and restricted under their own Constitutions granted by this country, under the operation of the Colonial Laws Validity Act, 1865, and under the well-known principle, which is not only true in theory but has been acted upon frequently, that as regards matters essentially affecting the Mother Country the British Parliament at Westminster has a supreme authority over all Dominions and Colonial Possessions. I will come in a moment to the particular point on which I want to ask the attention of the noble Earl opposite, but surely no one can say that this statement is accurate and no one can say that the Dominions, for instance, are in no way subordinate to the British Parliament in any aspect of their domestic or external affairs. They are subordinate, not only in theory but in practice, in constitutional practice, in many directions both as regards their domestic and their external affairs.

It is true, and one welcomes it, that they are all united by a common allegiance to the Crown and are freely associated as members of the British Commonwealth of Nations; but I should like to ask the noble Earl whether freedom of association means freedom of separation. I hope it does not in one sense, but I want to know, granted that you have the principle of autonomy, granted that you have the principle of independence, granted that you have freedom of association, does he also say that without any protection either of time or opportunity or conditions, simply of their own free will, any one of these Dominions might be separated from and no longer be a part of the commonwealth of nations of which the Empire will no doubt in the future consist? I am all in favour of autonomy and independence, but as I see the noble Viscount in his place opposite, I should like to take the analogy of the League of Nations. There you have a free association of nations, but a country cannot dissociate itself in a less period than two years. I think a much longer period would be required in the case of the British Empire, because possibly if you had that longer period it might be found that the desire for dissociation might be a passing phase, and with the chance of conference and conciliation it is more than probable that any difficulty or friction would be overcome and that the free association would be continued—I hope permanently continued—in all cases of the future relationships of these two bodies.

Upon this point I will not read from the Colonial Laws Validity Act, 1865, but I will quote one passage from the leading decision which for a long time has decided what is the relationship under that Act between Colonial jurisdiction and legislation. It has been authoritatively laid down that the obvious purpose and meaning of the Colonial Laws Validity Act are to reserve the right of the Imperial Legislature to legislate for the Colonies to which a Local Legislature has been given and to make it impossible for the Colonial Legislature to enact anything repugnant to the Imperial Legislature, but not otherwise to derogate from its general legislative authority. As a matter of fact, under the Colonial Laws Validity Act and what is known as the principle of reservation, a series of matters has been reserved or kept under the jurisdiction of the British Parliament at Westminster. For this reason: although you may lay down a principle of this kind in very wide language, yet when you come to its operation you will find that in a considerable number of cases what may appear to be a mere act of the Local Legislature of a Dominion is of a character that may substantially—I use that word purposely because it is a word which has been applied in legal language—affect the interests of the Mother Country.

Surely in a case of that kind you will have to have reservations, you will have to have special provisions, and just as on the one hand I would have the general principle in the widest possible terms, yet on the other it is only just and right, in order to preserve a system in which all Englishmen take a pride, that separation should not be possible without the lapse of a certain period of time and a chance for conciliation and arrangement as between the parties. It is not that I am insisting on these points any more than the Report itself insists upon them, but the Report gives no solution except suggesting that in the future a Commission or Committee might be appointed in order to deal with these difficulties. Let me read a passage from page 15 of the Report. They say: Existing administrative, legislative and judicial forms are admittedly not wholly in accord with the position as described in Section II of this Report. That is the position that I have quoted. That is a very strong statement. The Report goes on to say that, as regards those matters, there should be some form of Committee appointed in the future in order that they might be determined and considered. I do not object to that in the least, but what I do object to is the stating of a general principle which is untrue as it stands, and can only be brought into conformity with the facts after these difficult questions, as they are called, have been settled and considered. I do not know that I can put my hand upon the place, but I recollect a statement that these matters to which I have called attention are matters of real difficulty which require real consideration, and cannot be settled in an off-hand manner or merely by the statement of a general formula.

If the noble Earl will look at page 18, he will see three matters of crucial importance, as they appear to me, upon which no immediate solution is possible. It is said in the body of the Report that the difficulties are such that it is unwise to make any immediate pronouncement. I agree with that, but you do not solve these difficulties merely by putting them off, and I should have hoped that it would be thought, before any general statement in the wide terms that I have quoted was made, either that these matters should have been themselves considered or, if they were not considered, that the statement itself should have been postponed until it could be made in a more complete form. There are two or three well-known points that I think we have to consider. I regard this question, I will not call it of the future Constitution, because the noble Earl does not like that word, but, to use his own word, of the future flexible connection between the Dominions and the Motherland, as one which ought not to be left in its present indeterminate condition. If progress is to be made it ought to be determined and considered as a primary condition, and a most important condition, as regards the future connection between the Dominions and Great Britain.

Let me give two illustrations. Take the question of the Prerogative. That goes very deeply into the question of the relations between the Dominions and the Mother Country and, indeed, not only is it laid down in the Report that the King, in relation to the Dominions, is to be advised by the Legislature of the Dominions, but it is stated negatively that he is not to be advised by the Government of Great Britain itself. What position the King will be in I am sure I do not know, if he is to decide matters of that kind without advice and, more than that, matters which in their essence may be important not only to the Dominion concerned but to great Britain as well. I do not want to go further into the details of a point of this kind—it would be quite out of place in a discussion here—but every word of this Report has to be discussed and considered. It is a most important State document. It suggests conclusions of a most drastic character, but surely, at the same time that these statements are made, it would have been wise to consider with much greater detail and accuracy what the difficulties are instead of merely acknowledging that they exist and suggesting that they will be solved in some way or other in the future. I hope so, but I think that their importance is so great as regards the whole future of this country and of the Empire that we ought to have had a statement concerning these underlying difficulties.

The next point upon which I want to say a word concerns relations with foreign countries. Hitherto I have merely dealt with the relations of the various Dominions to one another and to Great Britain. I do not propose to go into the point in any detail because the matter seems to me to be summarised on page 26 of the Report. I am quite aware that you can deal with this matter only by communication and that, so far as the system laid down in 1923 is concerned, it has not been laid down with sufficient precision or adaptability to be really capable of being used in matters of foreign policy where, admittedly, you often have to take a decision quickly and where it is very difficult indeed to enter into effective communication with any of the Dominions that may be specially concerned. On page 26 this statement is made—I entirely agree with it and I will make my criticism upon it a little later— We felt that the governing consideration underlying all discussions of this problem must be that neither Great Britain nor the Dominions could be committed to the acceptance of active obligations except with the definite assent of their own Governments. That is a matter for regulation.

There is a far more difficult point which, as the noble Earl knows, has arisen and been discussed particularly in connection with the Locarno Treaty, and which, I presume, must have been discussed and considered at the meeting of the Imperial Conference. The point is that although, as between Great Britain and a Dominion, you may have regulations or legislation making the position that of autonomy and independence, yet you do not make the Dominion or Great Britain, as the case may be, a sovereign unit within the understanding of International Law. It is the understanding of International Law that a sovereignty cannot be divided in the sense that part of it should be at peace while the other part should be at war, and the point requires most careful consideration.

Would the noble Earl, for instance, suggest that a Dominion, in its independent and autonomous position but still under the King as a unit, should be able against our will to place Great Britain in the position of a belligerent? If that is in fact the position—of course the question arose in the case of Locarno as regards what are called "active obligations"—it is quite easy as between two Dominions, or between Great Britain and any Dominion, to provide that a Dominion not immediately interested should not be called upon to perform active obligations. That is the very basis of the Locarno Treaty, but you cannot in that way prevent Dominions becoming belligerents. You cannot prevent their being liable for all the chances and risks of a belligerent position, because under International Law it is impossible, as every jurist will admit, you have a sovereignty—the sovereignty of the King in this case—that you can allow the sovereign power to select, as it were, portions of the whole sovereignty which would be at war while other portions of it would be maintained in a condition of peace.

I want to ask the noble Earl this. I assume that that matter was present to the minds of the members of the Imperial Conference. More than once in this House I have asked that we should have the Papers which have passed, on this head, between the Dominions and Great Britain. The noble Earl, Lord Clarendon, has answered more than once on that question, and therefore it was a living issue. So far as the Report is concerned, however, I can find no reference to it whatever. It is, however, one of the most important matters which can come up for consideration, on the question of Imperial unity combined with Imperial independence, and I want to know, if the noble Earl will tell me, whether this matter came up for consideration, whether, the matter having come up for consideration, any determination was reached, and whether on this most important factor the Imperial Conference came to any common conclusion. It is so important that in my view, at any rate, the question of the relationship between the Dominions and foreign countries cannot be settled until this matter is finally considered and determined.

That is the chief point which I want to raise as regards foreign relations. I do not say that the point is not capable of settlement. It is not my desire to create difficulties, but we have to face difficulties in order to arrive at a satisfactory conclusion. No doubt as regards communications and so forth there will be difficulties, but they can be overcome and ought to be overcome, and I for one, so far as that point is concerned, welcome the view that nothing should be done which would put active obligations upon a Dominion without its full assent, and indeed, constitutionally, you cannot do that effectively unless the Government of that Dominion is supported in the policy by its own Parliament and people.

The next point arises on page 28, under the heading of "Compulsory Arbitration in International Disputes." I do not know exactly what is meant by compulsory arbitration in international disputes. There are no compulsory arbitrations under the provisions of the Covenant of the League, for this reason, that no one becomes subject to the provisions of the League except freely, and of his own voluntary choice. If any one enters into arbitration under the terms of the League he only does so because he has freely joined the League and has therefore voluntarily agreed to be subject to the arbitration principles of the League. I do not know of any case, though I have been interested in some of the most extended forms, in which it has ever been suggested that as between nations, and as regards international arbitrations, there should be anything in the form of what is called "compulsory arbitration in international disputes." What has been dealt with is entirely a different matter. What has been dealt with is how far the arbitration principle should be extended; in other words, should there be what is known as "all-inclusive arbitration."

Having made that statement, let me see what is said on page 28, because it is the most important issue at the present time in international matters: ….whilst the members of the Committee were unanimous in favouring the widest possible extension of the method of arbitration for the settlement of international disputes"— I will come to the proviso afterwards. What is the widest possible extension of the method of arbitration? It is the all-inclusive method. That is the only question in dispute at the present time; the question of whether all matters in dispute should be referred to arbitration or not. I do not want to take any advantage of words, but I do want to know what this means. Does it really mean what it says: that the Committee favour the widest possible extension of the method of arbitration for the settlement of international disputes? If that is the meaning it is an extremely important pronouncement.

I know that in the same section the question is dealt with of Article 36 of the Statute of the Permanent Court, but there again there is no question of compulsion but a question of voluntary action. Section 36 places compulsion an no nation, but only leaves it to nations voluntarily to adopt its terms, in order that certain closely specified matters should be referred to the International Court for its decision, and I regret, I admit, that the opinion of the Conference appears to have been against signing what is known as the optional clause of the International Court. Let me read the words to see if I appreciate what they mean: ….the feeling was that it was at present premature to accept the obligations under the Article in question. There, again, it is not a very strong statement against the principle of getting a judicial decision upon these points. Therefore, from reading this I should gather, first of all, that the Conference was prepared to let arbitration have the widest possible extension, and that as regards the Court the Conference thought it was premature, at the present time, to accept the obligations under the Article in question.

We know that more than twenty of the nations have now accepted that arbitration, amongst them France, and if that is the real meaning—I do not want in the least to suggest any meaning, or read any meaning into the words—but if the real meaning is that acceptance of the Court is premature, but so far as arbitration is concerned it should have the widest possible extension of the method, then I personally should not find much objection to the statement as made. But I think it has been quoted as though it were opposed to the principle not only of the signing of the Article in question, but of what is well known to be the real point in dispute—an all-inclusive arbitration treaty.

Surely light is thrown upon the passage that I have read by the reference to the policy of Locarno. I rejoice to see that the Imperial Conference recognised the value of Locarno and forecast to some extent the future results which it was hoped to secure:— It then became clear that, from the standpoint of all the Dominions and of India, there was complete approval of the manner in which the negotiations had been conducted and brought to so successful a conclusion. Locarno is a case of all-inclusive arbitration, and that is the basis on which Locarno has been so effective—that all disputes are referred to friendly decision. That, of course, is right if you really desire to apply the principles of the League of Nations. All questions of right are referred to judicial decision. "Questions of right"—they are wider terms really than we find in the particular article of the International Court. That is absolutely right in principle. If you really want peace, which we all want—I know that the noble Earl (Lord Balfour) is in the foremost rank in the desire to stabilise peace under the œgis of the League of Nations: I recognise that and the splendid work which he has done—if you really want peace, follow the principle of Locarno and send all mattes to arbitration. As regards outstanding questions of right, refer them to the best judicial decision that you can obtain. I have no doubt myself that the best decision obtainable now is that of the International Court at The Hague, where we are represented by the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Finlay.

There is one other matter, as regards the League of Nations, which I must say is very unsatisfactory—namely, questions connected with the work of the Permanent Mandates Commission of the League. What is the effect of this? It is to say to the Mandates Commission: "You are wrong in seeking to obtain the information you require, either under the form of the questionnaire, which you are suggesting should be circulated, or in the form of examining a particular petition." Surely, a body of this kind, which is appointed under the terms of the Covenant itself, of which the only object is to see, by reporting to the Council, that the principle of trusteeship in these mandated territories, as against the principle of sovereignty, is carried out, and which consists of men the majority, is not all, of whom are skilled in Colonial administration, such as, for instance, our representative, Sir Frederick Lugardsurely in a case of that kind, which requires delicate handling and an infinite amount of trouble, the Commission ought to be encouraged by all reasonable means to obtain the information without which they cannot perform the duties they have undertaken.

I will not go back to the feeling aroused at Geneva by the attack on the Mandates Commission. But what I do regret is that all the persons who have signed the Memorandum referred to on page 33 are themselves persons whose treatment of the mandated countries is to be supervised by the advice of the Permanent Mandates Commission. It is a very difficult position. The Permanent Mandates Commission have to report to the Council. The Council consists largely of mandatory countries, and if there is one condition in which we ought to insist on the most judicial attitude possible it is the condition in which we are in a double position, partly as Mandatories and partly as Members of the Council; and it is upon us that these obligations fall which, to use the words of the Covenant itself, are undertaken as a sacred trust to civilisation. I think it is deeply to be regretted that this matter really was dealt with at the Imperial Conference at all, because we know quite well that at Geneva our Dominions have an independent position equal to our own, and it should not be sought to settle these difficulties at what is, after all, a secret conclave in London. They should be settled at an open meeting before the Council and the Assembly at Geneva.

There are two other points. One is the question of defence. If I understand the recommendation aright it is that so far as defence is concerned it is left to each Dominion really to regulate its own conduct in its own way, because the conditions are infinitely different as between Canada, for instance, and Australia and New Zealand. But I hope that the passage I am going to read really represents the opinion of the Conference. It is quoted from the recommendations of the Imperial Conference of 1923, but is again adopted:— The Conference, while deeply concerned for the paramount importance of providing for the safety and integrity of all parts of the Empire— on that I feel as strongly as anyone— earnestly desires, so far as is consistent with this consideration, the further limitation of armaments, and trusts that no opportunity may be lost to promote this object. I know I shall have the sympathy of the noble Viscount [Lord Cecil] in saying that I rejoice to find a statement of that kind, which it is most important to make effective and to carry through at the present time, when the whole question of disarmament is being considered by various Commissions and Committees.

May I also refer to the speech which was made the other day by the Prime Minister of Australia? He said:— While I have dwelt at some length on the defence expenditure we are making— that is, in Australia— I want it to be clearly understood that Australia still subscribes to the principle that every effort should be made to bring about a limitation of armaments, and we will be prepared to support every effort which will assist to bring about the removal of the terrific burden which falls upon all countries, and so on. It is a terrific burden.

I do not think I need refer to it, but the last passage I have a note of is also a statement made by Mr. Bruce, the Prime Minister of Australia, in which he points out his disappointment that we are not a larger market for the growing products of the Dominion of Australia. He also points out that, in spite of some statistics which I think have been unduly used to the contrary, he regrets to find that proportionately we are losing our position as regards Australian trade in the face of other countries. That brings me back again to the same point. Quite apart from any moral feeling or anything of the kind, we have to face the fact that we cannot maintain our industrial position in the world if we are to remain under the terrific burden of taxation which we carry at the present moment, and that there is really no other practical direction in which that terrific burden can be eased than that of reducing our expenditure on armaments.

To follow that a little further, it is for that purpose all-important that other countries should pursue the same policy. Individual disarmament is really not possible, and I am glad to hear what the noble Viscount says about that. No one has worked more splendidly than he in this cause. There are enormous difficulties in the way. I have always put the chief means of providing against war as being the extension of arbitration. The noble Viscount has not held the same view, but I do not want to argue it. At any rate, we are both agreed upon this—that industrialism and militarism are inconsistent and that the burden which now lies upon the industries of this country cannot be borne permanently without loss, unemployment, industrial unrest and all those troubles to which we have been subject in this country since the period of the War. I say now, as I have said before, that we want settlement and peace all round and that to obtain settlement and peace in this country we must get rid of unemployment. I have always attributed the troubles in the mining industry not so much to the fault of the mine owners and miners, as to the unfortunate conditions and the heavy burden of taxation we have had to submit to since the close of the War.

Those are all the Questions I desire to put to the noble Earl. I do not profess that they are exhaustive. It would take an enormous amount of time to deal exhaustively with a Report of this character. I propose to move formally for Papers not because I am really wanting them but in order, if necessary, that I might say a final word to the noble Earl.


My Lords, the speech to which we have just listened falls into two parts. The first part, with which I shall deal last, really had a very close reference to some of the most important work done by the Conference. The last part, on which I shall make a few brief comments, had really nothing to do with the Conference except that it dealt with subjects on which some opinion was expressed by the Conference. The noble Lord was desirous of giving vent to his own in many respects admirable views upon an International Court, upon—


I said, "No compulsory arbitration."


—the Mandates Commission and so forth—the Mandates Commission, I admit, was more closely connected with the Report—and upon unemployment and taxation. In fact, towards the end of his speech, he made the Report a peg on which to hang a general survey of all our industrial troubles at home and our international relations abroad. I cannot believe that that was a very useful or convenient way of discussing the Report of the Conference. I imagine it was in order.


It is all referred to in the Report.


It is all referred to, and I have not the least doubt that had the noble Lord desired it he would have made—in fact, he half contemplated it and was surprised at his own moderation, if I may judge by the last sentence of his speech, because he wholly apologised to himself and half apologised to your Lordships' House for not having made—an even wider survey of all that is going on in this globe than he did in the last part of his speech. He really must not expect me to follow him in these vast and complicated subjects. I have nothing to say on this occasion with regard to taxation; I have nothing whatever to say with regard to industrial unrest. I feel that all those things are outside anything that could with advantage be discussed in your Lordships' House when the subject before us is the Imperial Conference. In such observations as I have to make to your Lordships I shall try to keep to the Conference itself.

I admitted just now that when the noble Lord discussed the question of Mandates and the Mandates Commission he was more strictly within what I should venture respectfully to say was the proper subject of his Motion, and although I bad no idea that he was going to discuss it I will just say this. He seems to think that this is a proper opportunity for suggesting blame to anybody who ventures to say that the questionnaire, the paper embodying the questions by the Mandates Commission might, perhaps, be simplified, shortened and made more convenient for those who have to answer the questions. I have no opinion upon that point; but as I understand it no Power, none of the Powers who are Mandatory Powers and whose action in their Mandated Territory has been the subject of criticism or commentary by the Mandates Commission, makes any serious complaint of that Commission. I understand that they answered all the questions they were required to answer. That is so, is it not?


Hear, hear.


My noble friend knows much more than I do about this matter and he tells me I am right and that the Powers concerned answered all the questions put to them by the Commission and expressed great confidence in the ability and procedure of the Mandates Commission. What more could be asked than that they should admire the procedure of the Commission even when they thought it should be simplified and improved without in any way impairing the usefulness of that Commission? And to drag into a speech nominally devoted to the Imperial Conference a topic so very alien to the essence of the Motion as the one to which I refer—


There is a misunderstanding. The reference that I read to the Mandates is in the Report of the Conference itself. The matter was before the Conference and in the Report and the letter of approval, as I should call it, is also published as part of the Conference proceedings.


I do not dissent from that. But exactly what the noble Lord's ground of complaint was either against the Conference or against His Majesty's Government or against the rights of the Mandatory Powers—what his ground of criticism or commentary was I do not really at this moment understand. I do not know why he brought it in and I do not know what moral he desires to point.


I am sorry to interrupt the noble Earl. What the Conference dealt with and what His Majesty's Government did was to express their views that the right of petition asked for and the questionnaire sent up by the Mandates Commission are of themselves improper and wrong. That is what has been done.


My noble friend [Viscount Cecil of Chelwood] informs me that it was not asked for, but that is a small matter. I do not know whether the noble Lord differs. Does he want every complainant in each of the mandated territories to have the right of coming before the Conference?


There is no question of that. It was said there were race cases in which the Mandates Commission would have the right, if they thought it necessary in their duty, to see the particular petitioner.


In very rare cases I should imagine no one would deny them the right, but I am quite clear that if the noble Lord is of opinion that it should be a regular part of the procedure of the Mandates Commission, except in the rarest of cases, themselves to see the witnesses, I venture to think he has formed an erroneous judgment of what is best for the mandated territories. It is not a subject with which I am intimately acquainted, and I do not think I can instruct the House upon it.

I come to the more fundamental parts of the noble Lord's speech. I must honestly say that to this part of the speech I have the most fundamental objection. He seems to me to have approached the subject entirely in the wrong spirit. I do not think I ever heard a speech from any member of your Lordships' House which seemed to me to approach a very important, a very difficult and in some respects a very complicated question so precisely from the wrong point of view. What is the noble Lord's point of view? He says: "You have made declarations with regard to the status of the Dominions." He does not deny that he sympathises with those; declarations; he does not deny that that is the sort of idea that he himself cherishes; but he says: "What folly to lay down the general principles on which this Empire is now constructed. I think you should first settle all the preliminary details, and smooth away all the technical difficulties which have their origin in the long history of our oversea Dominions."

I cannot imagine any policy from which I more profoundly differ. You are to set yourself every kind of problem, every sort of difficulty which may conceivably arise in the course of applying the broad principles of equality of status before you dare to announce that equality of status exists. Can anything be more legal or less statesmanlike? I cannot even put myself in the frame of mind of the noble Lord on that subject. He asks, for instance, if the Dominions want to separate from us what exactly would happen then, what sort of notice ought to be given, by what procedure would it be done. You might as well consider all the causes of divorce before you decide upon the problems of matrimony.

Does not the noble Lord see that it would be impracticable for the Conference of the Dominions and the Mother Country to meet at Westminster to say: "Well, on the whole we are inclined to think the idea of Empire is one to which we may all look forward and which will embody equality of status, but just think of how many questions we must decide before we get to that point. Here is this difficulty and there is another difficulty arising out of the Act of 1865. There are all these problems with regard to the Merchant Shipping Act. We must settle all those before we decide on what principle this collection of self-governing States is to work together." I boldly say to your Lordships' House that that is from beginning to end the wrong way of going to work. We have gone on exactly the opposite way. I believe we have done nothing new.

I was reminded to-day of a speech which, frankly, I had quite forgotten, that I myself made in your Lordships' House on the subject earlier in the Session, and which appears to me to put the whole case. I do not know whether it would bore your Lordships but it does put the whole case. I said in reference to the relations between the Mother Country and the Dominions: My own personal view is that the relations are those necessarily of equality. None of us conceive that of this conglomeration of free States one is above the other. One may have more responsibility than another, one may be in more dangers than another, one may be closer to the centre of international complications than another, but all are on an equality. That is the very essence, as I understand it, of the British Empire. As to exactly what that equality involves, as to exactly what degree of responsibility each has for the other, on that I personally think very little is gained by refining, discussing, or defining. May I read what follows, because it deals with another point about which the noble Lord spoke: I should say that so far as this country is concerned we are bound to go to war to defend any part of this Empire which is in danger. Personally I think the duties of all the other members of the Empire to us are not less than our duties to them, but, as to the particular conditions under which that great duty is to be exercised, I do not believe anything is gained by inventing hard cases beforehand. That is what I said a month before the Conference met. It is what, equally strongly, at the moment I believe. Nothing is gained and much may be lost by the kind of argumentation in which the noble Lord has indulged this evening.

Remember exactly what the position is. In this country we are all familiar with the idea of equality between the self-governing portions of the Empire. I will not give the quotations, but it has been stated by various high authorities for the last quarter of a century and has never, I think, been formally contradicted within these shores. But that is not the position in all the Dominions. In many of the Dominions there is a minority—in most cases, I dare say, a very small minority—who are always following the train of thought which recommends itself so much to the noble Lord. They are always looking at these survivals of an earlier past and saying: "How can you consider that we in this or in that Dominion are on an equality with the Mother Country when we find still unrepealed this or that Statute?" If you are to allow that kind of statement to go uncontradicted, unqualified by the broad considerations of equality with which you ought to begin, of course you can get in an audience mixed up in local controversy a certain amount of opinion in favour of the assertion that, whatever talk may go on in England, in this or that Dominion things are far otherwise and the boasted equality between the various self-governing parts of our Empire does not, in fact, exist. It does, in fact, exist.

What is contrary to the fact are these survivals of a previous condition of things, survivals which have no practical effect, which have no practical interference with that equality which each part of the self-governing parts of the Empire may justly claim for itself, but which no doubt can be set out in a formal document which, if you choose to treat the whole thing as purely a question of law, might have an effect, and as I believe has had an effect, in local controversies overseas. There is but one way of getting rid of that difficulty, and getting rid of it for ever, and that is to take advantage of the presence within our shores of the Prime Ministers, who are representative each of his own Dominion, meeting round a table discussing this question in all its aspects and coming unanimously to the conclusion which I have ventured to Say represents British opinion, and to agree that it may be desirable to consider this or that difficulty in the future, but that the broad principle—never interfered with on any important point—stands, that no control is exercised by any single one of the self-governing parts of the Empire over any other part of the Empire.

We stand on an equality, and if some foreign critics are disposed to say that standing on an equality means that we are bound to separate in a short time my view is precisely the contrary. My view most strongly is that the British Empire is now a more united organism than it has ever been before, that that organism is held together far more effectually by the broad loyalties, by the common feelings and interests—in many cases, of history—and by devotion to great world ideals of peace and freedom. A common interest in loyalty, in freedom, in ideals—that is the bond of Empire. If that is not enough, nothing else is enough. If that is not enough, what is the use of this shadowy pre-eminence to which the noble Lord referred in the earlier part of his speech and which he seemed to think ought to be considered by a Commission and dealt with according to its desires? That is not the way you are going to have unanimity, that is not the way you are going to have a solid bond of Empire.

I can perfectly understand any political theorist saving ten years ago I that the British Empire was of all political fabrics the feeblest and the least efficient for any purpose of offence or defence or mutual support. But how anybody can think that after the War seems to me perfectly amazing. It may well be that after the War people may have said to themselves here and there: "Well one result of the War is that a great many communities have been dragged into it who might have been kept out of it." But that is not the prevailing feeling that has been left. Nothing, as I believe, can increase the feeling of solidarity more than the sense that that solidarity depends on the complete sense of free equality. There cannot be, of course, equality of function in this Empire. That must depend on the circumstances of the moment. At the moment and for many years to come—many, many years to come—the main burden of defence must necessarily fall upon this country. For many years to come—perhaps for an indefinite period—owing to our geographical position the leading part, and at present by far the most important part, of the conduct of our foreign affairs must also fall on this country. But these are questions of function varying with the conditions of the time, varying with the actual practical necessities that have to be met. They in no way conflict, at least in my view, and I am sure in the view of those who took part in the Imperial Conference, with that fundamental equality of status which can be the only permanent bond between these self-governing portions of the Empire.

I am sure that the procedure suggested by the noble Lord, the procedure of having a committee of lawyers to look into the exact relations which now exist between the Mother Country and the Dominions, to see exactly what degree of pre-eminence the letter of the law gives to the Mother Country, to see exactly what difficulties might in conceivable circumstances arise if International Law put its fingers in our domestic affairs, can only end in disaster. The course that has actually been pursued by the representatives of the Dominions here, among whom absolute unanimity prevailed, the friendliest feelings were manifested, the sense of unity and co-operation grew day by day as the discussion went on—that is the true course of statesmanship, and I hope that your Lordships will never be diverted, from pursuing that course with inflexible resolution by any number of hard cases and ingenious riddles which the most accomplished lawyer can bring to your notice, but which, in fact, have never arisen in any definite or effective form, need never arise in any definite or effective form, and certainly would not be limited by any amount of discussion or any amount of refining or defining. I do not, of course, deny that the position of the Dominions in relation, for example, to the League of Nations carries with it anomalies. That had nothing to do with the Conference. That had to do with the obvious facts of the case, with the War, with the Peace, with the signing of the Treaty, with all those great events which have hastened the movement that reached a culmination in the Resolutions of the Conference that has just separated. But the Conference did not create those difficulties, the laws of England did not create them and, if International Law has not the sense to get over them, we must manage as best we can.

The fact remains and will, I hope, always remain that these self-governing States of which the Empire is composed have each a separate identity which, I think could not but be recognised after the events of 1918, and that the difficulties of that separate identity, in which we are all equal, in which this country has no superiority over any one of the Dominions, will be got over in practice. It is got over at every meeting in Geneva. I am sure that my noble friend and I could have invented any number of hard cases when we had these co-equal, self-governing communities all represented on the League of Nations and all able by their separate veto to stop the League of Nations doing anything. You would say a priori that this was a system that would not work at all. I am not prepared to say that it will never produce a difficulty, but I do say that it has worked perfectly up to the present moment and that my belief is that the common sense of other nations and the patriotism and the feeling of unity of the separate members of the Empire will enable it to work successfully in the future as it has so far successfully worked in the past.

In these circumstances I fear that I have to admit that I have not done much to answer the particular difficulties which the noble and learned Lord has placed before your Lordships, but I hope that I have done something to convince your Lordships that those difficulties, as they arise and if they arise, can be got over by the statesmanship of ourselves or our children, and that meanwhile to approach the problem of the British Empire from the point of view of these small points is entirely to misunderstand both the greatness of the opportunity and the proper way in which that opportunity should be taken advantage of.


My Lords, I am so much in agreement with a great deal that the noble Earl has said that I regret that he entirely misunderstood—it must have been my fault—a great part of my argument. Also he seems to have forgotten a great part of his own Report. On page 18 the Report speaks of these matters in detail and gives the recommendation to which I have referred. The Report speaks of "general principles which will require detailed examination," and it goes on to say:— .… and we accordingly recommend that steps should be taken by Great Britain and the Dominions to set up a Committee with terms of reference on the following lines.…


Quite so. If the noble Lord will forgive me—I do not want to interrupt him—the question is that, of the order of events. We say: "Have this declaration of equality before the Commission"; the noble Lord says: "Have the Commission before the declaration of equality."


What I said was that the declaration should be accurate in reference to conditions as they stand. No one is more anxious than I am—probably I should go beyond almost everything that the noble Earl has said—to secure that the Constitution, if I may use that word, of the Empire should be autonomous and equal as between the Dominions and Great Britain. I entirely agree with the noble Earl that you cannot have any greater safeguard for mutual loyalty, which is what you want, than the system of equality and independence. But I must say that I do not think that the noble Earl ought to attack me for calling the attention of the House to this matter and asking how it was to be operated. The Report actually contains in terms a reference to the point with which I was dealing. I did not suggest the Committee; it was suggested by the Report. I only called attention to some of the difficulties with which that Committee would have to contend and I suggested then, as I suggest now, that it is not wise to make a wide general statement unless you make it accurately, because if you make it inaccurately you give an opportunity to these minor groups to which the noble Earl has referred. There is not a, word in that which I have said that would suggest anything regarding a detailed inquiry that is not suggested in more than one passage in the Report of the Imperial Conference itself.

There is one other matter which I do not think the noble Earl ought to have treated quite as he did, if I may put it in that way. I do not in any way wish to attack him upon the point. The matters to which I refer as regards foreign policy and the League of Nations are matters comprised in terms within the Report of the Committee of which the noble Earl was Chairman. These are questions which are actually referred to, and referred to, as I think, unfortunately. Nevertheless, they have been referred to, and I presume that we may take it that what we find in the Report accurately represents the fact. Whatever opinion may be held as regards questions of Mandates, of arbitration and so on, I quoted textually from the Report itself. I did not introduce any outside consideration at all, but I stated quite frankly where I agreed with them and where I did not.

Let me say on behalf of myself and those with whom I act, in the frankest manner, that we were delighted to hear the admirable way in which the noble Earl laid down, as he has done before, his conception of the true understanding between the Dominions themselves and between the Dominions and Great Britain. I am entirely in accord with him, and I agree with the admirable way in which he expressed it. I go further, and I think that any other view is not only unwise but would lead to the breaking up of this organisation, this community, which I regard as one of the great safeguards for peace and quiet in the future of the world.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.