HL Deb 02 March 1926 vol 63 cc383-6

My Lords, I wish to ask His Majesty's Government the question of which I have given Notice—namely, if serious thought and consideration are being given to the Imperial Conference this year, and the presence in England of our oversea Prime Ministers. Since I last had the honour of speaking in your Lordship's House the position of affairs has somewhat changed in this country, but in the main it is still the same. We still have unemployment and we still have certain other issues which only time itself can obliterate. I often wonder whether we seriously consider the future and look to the consolidation of our Empire in years to come, say, fifty years ahead. Are we working towards that end? The old order of things has passed away. The people of Great Britain and of our Oversea Dominions will for many years have to bear a very heavy burden of War taxation and that burden must greatly change the financial and economic life of every part of the Empire. We cannot yet discern the dull nature of these changes, but it is evident that, in the future far more than in the past, every one of us in all parts of the Empire must work for the benefit and the mutual good of all.

To ensure the restoration of this country to its old prosperity two things are necessary: one is a secure food supply, and the other the development of our markets to enable our industries to absorb the whole of our population in employment. The three essential conditions of our food supply are security, continuity and cheapness. Security is needed in case of war and against certain operations of foreign trusts, and it is only to he found in our own Empire. Continuity can be developed only from sources with which we are intimately in touch and which are not subject to foreign control; particularly can it be secured from those countries that are our best customers in all branches—namely, the Oversea Dominions. Real cheapness depends both on security and on continuity. I hope that a lot of these points may honestly be cleared up at the coming Imperial Conference.

Speaking the other day in Wellington, New Zealand, Mr. Coates, the present Prime Minister of New Zealand, is reported to have said that all must stand by the Motherland, not merely giving her lip-service but absorbing her trade and her surplus population. He said that nowhere in the Empire was there greater opportunity for the full development of British trade than in New Zealand, and pointed out that all that was necessary was for British manufacturers to supply the right class of goods. New Zealand, for her size, took more British goods than any other portion of the world. The Government and the people of New Zealand, he added, were ready and willing not only to give Britain a fair chance but also to make contracts and increase the preference for British goods. Mr. Coates's reference to manufacturers supplying the right class of goods is important. I am afraid that manufacturers here do not always consider that the requirements of their oversea customers may possibly be different from those of their English customers, and sometimes the Dominions cannot get what they require from this country and have to go to other countries instead. I know by experience that our Dominions are anxious to stand by the Motherland and give of their best.

I quite agree with Mr. Amery's observation that England had no right to push out to her Dominions people who, under the industrial conditions here, were stranded. But there ought to be no question of pushing people out, for they go of their own free will and, if people, perhaps a. whole village, cannot get work here and wish to go overseas, and if they think that any other country in the Empire has reasonable prospects and is willing to take them, why should they not go? It is totally wrong to make any suggestion that they are pushed out. We have in England all sorts of people, some of a very good type and others who have not been educated sufficiently. It is wrong to give them the impression that they are being pushed out, because it is instilling false ideas of the Dominions. My contention is that, given suitable work and a fair wage, there are very few men in this country who would be willing to remain on the "dole" and in idleness. Human nature is the same wherever we go, all over the world. There are always a few people who may be lazy from birth, and they will continue so to the end, but these are only a handful.

Unemployment, however, might be considerably helped if, along with other matters, it were approached in the proper light and thrashed out at the Imperial Conference. Our Empire has now reached that stage when we want not only words but deeds and actions. When our oversea Prime Ministers are in England I hope that Empire matters will be discussed at that Conference as a first consideration and that until our Imperial matters are threshed out and finished, no outside matters may be touched upon at all. We have heard a lot for several years about the reform of your Lordships' House. I hope that when it does come there will be no drastic changes, for that may do more harm than good, bat there is one reform which might be of value, and that is that this might be made more of an Empire House. Towards this end I think the opinions of the oversea Prime Ministers might be taken while they are here. The other day I read in the daily newspapers that within the next few months England would welcome about 400 well-known Americans, and would show them lavish hospitality—they would not even have to pay for a penny postage stamp. This year all our oversea Prime Ministers will be in England. I know they receive great hospitality here, but are they to receive the same liberal treatment that reports tell us will be given to the Americans? Many people have asked me for information on the matter, but I could not tell them anything. I think that it would be only fair to the people of this country if they were given fuller and more candid information about various subjects from time to time.


My Lords, the noble Lord has evidently given a great deal of care to the preparation of the remarks he has delivered to your Lordships, but I think we have some reason to criticise the form in which the Question is placed upon the Paper, because it seems to imply that there was a possibility that the Government would not have given serious thought and consideration to the coming Imperial Conference. I am bound to say that I think the noble Lord very much misjudges the strong conviction of His Majesty's Government that nothing is more important than to consider these questions of world-wide importance. I should be sorry if any one drew the inference from what the noble Lord has said that we failed, in any respect, in valuing the opportunity which these Conferences every few years give us of personal contact with the Prime Ministers of the great Dominions and of learning at first hand their views on matters of Imperial importance.

In reply to the definite form of the noble Lord's Question, I have to say that on February 25 the Prime Minister, in another place, announced that he hoped there would be an Imperial Conference in October of the present year, and at that Conference he had every reason to expect that the Dominion Prime Ministers and representatives of India would be present. There is also a question which is to be answered in another place this afternoon by my right hon. friend the Dominion Secretary, as to the agenda at that Conference. I can just repeat for your Lordships' benefit the effect of that answer—namely, that not only is it hoped that matters relating to foreign affairs and Imperial defence will been considered, but also economic questions, such as were considered at the Economic Conference of two years ago. I think that is a practically complete answer to the noble Lord's Question. I am quite certain that the occasion will be treated with all the seriousness that even he would demand, and we anticipate from the discussions at that Conference, and the conclusions which may be come to, very great benefit to this country and to the Empire at large.