§ VISCOUNT HAILSHAM had the following Notice on the Paper—To call attention to the Report of the Imperial Conference; and to move the following Resolution: That this House deplores the refusal of His Majesty's Government to respond to the advances made by the Prime Ministers of the Dominions towards closer fiscal relations, and condemns their failure to grasp the opportunity of strengthening the ties which link together the several parts of the British Empire.
§ The noble Viscount said: My Lords, in bringing before the House a subject which was matter of debate in another place only five or six days ago I make no apology whatever. In the first place there are in your Lordships' House members qualified by long experience in Imperial affairs to express an opinion which shall carry weight in the country; and, in the second place, it will not, I think, be quite so easy in the atmosphere of this House for the Government to ride off on the cheap personalities of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, or on the wilful perversion of the subject matter of the Motion which characterised the speech of the Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs I shall endeavour to formulate the complaint which I make against His Majesty's Government in terms which even they will be able to understand. I ask your 371 Lordships to say that His Majesty's Government, by their mismanagement of the recent Imperial Conference, have, in the first place, thrown aside in time of deep industrial depression, a golden opportunity of improving the markets for British manufactures beyond the seas. And I ask your Lordships, secondly, to say that, in so doing, they have at the same time failed to grasp the opportunity of cementing the Empire with the Imperial bonds of closer economic association at the very moment when, by resolutions on the constitutional side, those bonds were most in need of reinforcement and of strengthening.
§ The Resolution refers to the advances made by the Prime Ministers of the Dominions towards closer fiscal relations, and I hope your Lordships will forgive me if, for a few moments, I remind the House of what those advances were. I am not suggesting that His Majesty's Government were to blame because they did not instantly accept in terms the specific suggestion which Mr. Bennett put forward with regard to Preference between Canada and this country. Mr. Bennett himself made it clear that it was a matter which would require adjustment, that it was not a final and rigid proposal, and that it would want some months of careful examination to put it into final shape. What I am asking your Lordships to condemn is the failure to accept the advances which were made by every one of the Dominions towards the great principle of Empire Preference, which, as each and all of them took pains to affirm, could be done effectively only in one way—namely, by creating a Preference in favour of Empire goods.
§ Those words I find in the speech which was made by Mr. Bennett, which appears as an annex to the only Official Report which so far has been published of the proceedings of the Conference. Your Lordships will remember that in this Report there appears as an annex verbatim statements of each and every one of the Prime Ministers of the Dominions at what was called the second plenary session, but which was in fact the first business session of the Conference. It is a remarkable and significant fact that one speech only is omitted from that. annex, and that is the speech of the right hon. gentleman the Secretary of State for the 372 Dominions, on behalf of His Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom. I shall hope, in the course of a few moments, to indicate to your Lordships some reasons why that speech was omitted, with great discretion, from this document.
Mr. Bennett, as I have said, pro-posed—
that we of the British Empire, in our joint and several interests, do subscribe to the principle of an Empire Preference, and that we take, without delay, the steps necessary to put it into effective operation.
To that invitation, Mr. Scullin, who spoke next, on behalf of the Commonwealth of Australia, gave his unqualified adherence:—
I entirely agree with Mr. Bennett"—
said Mr. Scullin—
that we must come to some decision on that principle "—
the principle of Preference—
…it is our duty at this Conference first of all to affirm the maintenance of that principle and the extension of its operation.
A little later on in his speech he said:—
I must definitely declare that tariff Preference is, in our opinion, much the most satisfactory form of help.
He was followed by Mr. Forbes, of New Zealand, and Mr. Forbes, after a careful and interesting analysis of Empire trade, went on to say:—
in my opinion, the most important and effective method of increasing inter-Imperial trade is by means of tariff Preferences.
Then followed Mr. Havenga, of South Africa, who, in these terms, expressed his opinion—
As our Prime Minister has already stated, South Africa would welcome the extension of trade relations in the Commonwealth by agreements providing for reciprocal tariff benefits, and let me add that it will be necessary, if these agreements are arrived at, that they be for sufficiently lengthy periods to give confidence and to ensure stability. I hope, Sir"—
said Mr. Havenga—
that this will be considered as a definite. Suggestion…
Sir Richard Squires, Prime Minister of Newfoundland—I think the only Dominion beyond the seas which has not in fact accorded a Preference to British goods—said:—
I join with him"—
that is, with Mr. Bennett—
and the other distinguished Empire leaders who have preceded me in their view that now is the time for action; that this is the body to which not only the entire Empire, but the whole world, is looking for constructive thought; not merely thought expressed in polislied periods, but thought expressed in action. The policy of imperial Preference, so ably indicated by Mr. Bennett, will certainly have the enthusiastic support of Newfoundland.
§ It is not necessary for me, in view of those quotations, to reiterate that every one of the Prime Ministers of the Dominions overseas united in saying that they had come to this country, not for the discussion of abstract propositions, but for action; that they had come with one common end in view and with one common opinion, whatever else they might differ about—that the policy of Imperial Preference was essential for the closer economic association of the Empire and that by means of tariffs that Imperial Preference could be best brought about.
§ I have said that there was a remarkable omission. We find in the document no trace of any speech on behalf of His Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom. Fortunately, memories are not quite so short as the Socialist Government might sometimes hope, and it is easy, by referring to the newspapers of pot many weeks ago, to remind ourselves of what it was that Mr. Thomas had said before these speeches were made. Mr. Thomas had explained that the 1926 Conference had been mainly occupied with constitutional problems. He went on to explain, in my judgment rightly to explain, that in his opinion it is best —I think I must try to find the exact phrase, if I can—at any rate it is fitting (these are very nearly his words) that we should not only stress, but frankly realise, that it is in the economic field that our constituents are looking for guidance. He did not stop there. He went on to an analysis of the trade of this country and of the Empire both with foreign countries and between the various parts of the Empire. He pointed out that to-day there are being imported into our Dominions beyond the seas not less than £235,000,000 worth of manufactured goods from foreign countries and, Mr. Thomas added, there was no reason why a great part of those £235,000,000 worth of goods should not be 374 produced in and imported from this country. On the other side, he pointed out that we in this country imported not less than £467,000,000 worth of food and raw materials from foreign countries, and that there was, in his opinion, no reason why a great part of that £467,000,000 worth should not be produced in and exported from our own Dominions beyond the seas.
Having brought those striking figures to the attention of the Conference, he went on to say:—
…we are faced this morning with one short question—that is…how far can we devise ways and means at this Conference which will enable us to say that practical steps have been taken to increase this volume of trade to the mutual advantage of us all?
He went on—
The world outside, and especially our people, Sir—
that meant the people of this country—
are looking to this Conference for guidance, for help, for a lead. There are people in Canada, in Australia, in New Zealand, in South Africa, in every Dominion, who are suffering to-day and who are building up hopes that something will emerge from this Conference. We must not let them down.
The indictment which I bring against His Majesty's Government is that, thanks to their obstinacy and mismanagement, nothing emerged from the Conference, and that the failure which Mr. Thomas said must not happen has, in fact, occurred, and that, in his own words, the Government have "let down" the people of this country and the people of the Dominions.
§ It was on the 8th of October that that meeting took place. What happened is recorded in the Report of the Imperial Conference after that date. On the 9th October another meeting was held, at which the sinister figure of the Chancellor of the Exchequer appeared. Matters were adjourned till the following Monday, 13th October, and on the 13th October we read in the summary of proceedings that His Majesty's Government suggested that there were other methods—that is, other methods beyond taxes in this country—worthy of examination by which the common object of increasing inter-Imperial trade might be attained. In this connection mention was made of quotas, import boards, bulk 375 purchase, direct exchange of commodities, the promotion of agreements between industrialists, and improved machinery for inter-Commonwealth wellbeing in economic matters.
The Report leads one to believe that at that time, or about that time, His Majesty's Government had intimated a refusal of the policy of tariff Preference for which the Dominions had all asked. I cannot think that that is a correct deduction from the subsequent history of events, and I say that because I find that two days after the 13th October, on the 15th October, Mr. Bennett, the Prime Minister of Canada, was broadcasting to the people of this country, and he said that in the near future his proposals would either be accepted or rejected. He added:—
We can only await the decision, which will be a momentous one, for I believe that if the opportunity of closer Empire economic relations is not seized, it may not occur again.
It is plain that on the 15th October, at any rate, Mr. Bennett had no idea that any intimation had been given of the decision of His Majesty's Government. On the 22nd October, a week later, General Hertzog, the Prime Minister of South Africa, was broadcasting, and he said:—
While it must be clear to everybody that once more the conflict between Free Trade and Protection for Great Britain has to be decided on, and that upon this decision must to a large extent depend the economic policy which in future will obtain within the Commonwealth, we, in the Dominions, whatever that decision may be, and however much we may thereby eventually feel ourselves disappointed in our hopes, will have no quarrel with anybody.
§ Obviously, General Hertzog, on the 22nd October, did not think that a decision had been reached. But we have more authoritative and more recent information that I am correct in that view, because only this morning, in the very remarkable statement published by Mr. Bennett, we find that he says that Mr. Thomas has condemned his proposals and the principles which he put forward, despite the fact that during the whole period of the Conference there was seriously discussed neither the principle of tariff Preferences nor his (Mr. Bennett's) plans to make them operative. In fact, we see from the Conference Report itself that when mention was 376 made of these other alternatives, an Economic Committee was set up under the Chairmanship of Mr. William Graham to examine into these alternatives, but not, my Lords, to be allowed to examine into the one method which every Dominion had said was the one effective method—namely, the question of tariff Preference. That was excluded from the consideration of the Economic Committee altogether.
§ If I may pause there I say that up to that point His Majesty's Government stand self-condemned. They knew six months ago that this Conference was going to take place. They knew that the Dominions were coming to discuss practical measures, and that the Dominions at least desired a tariff Preference. They had declared in the House of Commons that when the Conference met nothing would be excluded from discussion, that everything should be open for examination and inquiry, and yet, when these Prime Ministers make the one proposal which the Government knew they were going to put forward and press, that proposal is never even examined or discussed in the Conference, and the Government had made up their mind in advance apparently to shut their ears to all entreaty, to refuse to allow all argument on this, the one thing about which the Dominions were agreed, and they had not thought it worth while to prepare any alternative scheme to be considered by the Conference. What they did was to set up an Economic Committee, which was to examine the various measures of which mention was made, to run a kind of debating society or study circle in order to investigate these matters, but with the assurance that whatever result was reached by the Committee His Majesty's Government were going to be very careful to see that nothing was arranged, and that nothing practical emerged.
§ I say that. because we find that the Committee, in fact, did report that there were possibilities in the quota scheme, which had long been under examination by the Party to which I have the honour to belong, and that as soon as they reported to that effect, instead of finding the Government of the United Kingdom, which had mentioned the quota scheme, ready to embrace it and go forward with it, they found that it had only been 377 mentioned as a hypothetical and contingent matter, which might be the subject of examination, but which must on no account be a matter of decision. These Dominion Premiers had come thousands of miles to attend this Conference. They had left their own countries for periods in some cases of more than half a year. They had travelled for thousands of miles at a time when, in many cases, conditions were critical for themselves and for their countries at home, and they had done so, not in the hope of having an interesting abstract discussion with Mr. Graham, but in the hope of carrying forward some practical step for the closer economic association of the Empire. That they were baulked in that hope, that they went back disappointed and disillusioned, is due to one thing only—that is, to the obstinacy, to the lack of vision and to the lack of preparation by the Government whose misconduct I am indicting before your Lordships this evening.
§ Let us see what happened after the 8th of October. I have said that no official intimation seems to have been given to the Dominions that their proposals were either to be accepted or rejected. They were left outside the pale of discussion. But unofficial intimations were not lacking. On the 9th of October—the day after the proposals had been made—the Daily Herald, the official organ of the Socialist, Party, treated these proposals in its own language as the "very bankruptcy of statesmanship." I thank the Daily Herald for that phrase. On the 13th of October, four days afterwards, Mr. Graham, the very man who had been chosen to be Chairman of this Economic Committee, made a speech, not to the Dominion Prime Ministers, but away up in Edinburgh, on a platform, where he was careful to announce that he was satisfied that there was no remedy what-ever in tariffs. A week later Mr. Snowden was on the war path, and on the 20th of October Mr. Snowden made a speech at Manchester, in which he said that in his experience and his knowledge any attempt to introduce Protection or tariffs was not a genuine effort to improve economic conditions, but could only be regarded as a sinister attack on wages. And he said that if such a system were introduced into this 378 country, then, he spoke of what he knew of his own experience and knowledge, it would reduce Parliament, in his own elegant phrase, to a "sink of corruption."
§ It must have been very gratifying to the Labour Prime Minister of Australia, Mr. Scullin, to be told that when he advocated Protection he was really embarking upon a sinister attack on the wages of his constituents. It must have been a great gratification to Mr. Bennett, fresh from his Election victory in the Dominion of Canada, to be told that the Canadian Parliament must be regarded as a sink of corruption, and that the only real purity of statesmanship was to be found in a country where the Socialist Government got into power by using public money to bribe the electors with promises which they knew they could not fulfil. I should add that on the 21st October Mr. Snowden made another speech, in which he sneered at the value of Dominion trade, because, he said, after all the Dominions were thinly populated. They could not do much good to out manufacturers. They are not really worth troubling about. What you have really got to do is to cultivate such nations as China with a population of 400,000,000, or some of those European nations who have many millions and who can consume our goods.
Is it surprising that on the 22nd of October The Times came out with a statement that, after Mr. Snowden's speeches, any idea of Imperial Preference must be regarded as definitely ruled out? Is it surprising that four days afterwards, Mr. Forbes, the Prime Minister of New Zealand, speaking at Oxford, said of the Conference:—
We simply seem to be drifting and not setting anywhere. Instead of food taxes, the Government is suggesting theoretical problems. We are practical people in the Antipodes. We know things which will work and have worked, but we look upon theoretical things with some suspicion. The attitude of the Government, therefore, leaves little hope of unanimity. In adopting Mr. Snowden's view of Preferential tariffs the Government has, in my opinion, precluded any hope of real progress.
§ Mr. Forbes' prophecy, gloomy as it sounded, has been amply justified by the event. In fact, as we now know, the Government never intended to consider any question of Imperial Preference seriously at all. We know from the 379 elegant phraseology of the Secretary of State for the Dominions in another place, that they regarded the proposal which Mr. Bennett put forward as "humbug"—an offensive and a wholly unjustified phrase.
§ But it is not surprising that Mr. Thomas twice repeated that phrase in that debate. It was still less surprising that he was defended by Mr. Snowden in the use of that phrase, because we have only to look back a few more months—to April of last year—to find Mr. Snowden, not in the heat of debate, but in the course of an article, writing: "All this talk about Imperial Preference is the merest bunkum." Between "humbug" and "bunkum" there is not very much to choose. What hope had the Dominion Prime Ministers of any serious consideration of the proposal they had come all this way to discuss, when we find that before they had ever arrived the Chancellor of the Exchequer—whose iron will apparently dominated his colleagues in the Cabinet—had already made up his mind that all this talk of Imperial Preference was mere bunkum and was not worthy of any serious consideration?
§ If one looks, not from the prejudiced view of a Socialist Party leader, but dispassionately, on the merits of his proposal, I think one would arrive at a very different conclusion from that which Mr. Thomas so easily reached. I do not want to embark on a prolonged fiscal controversy this afternoon, but just for a few moments let us look at the fiscal aspect. We know—this at least is common ground on both sides—that on our export trade we as an industrial nation depend for our very existence. We cannot pay for the food we eat, for the clothes we wear, for the raw materials which we consume, unless we are able to maintain our export trade. We know—statistics prove it—that for years our export trade has been dropping, not only absolutely but relatively, compared to the rest of the world. Before the War, in 1913, our volume of the world's trade was about 14 per cent. In 1928 it had fallen to 10½ per cent. If we look at the days of economic depression through which we are now passing, we find that within the first nine months of this year our exports—exported manufactures—have fallen by some £87,000,000. Imports of raw material, which are perhaps the best 380 gauge of what our future manufactures are likely to be, have fallen by £55,000,000. Our imports of foreign manufactured goods have fallen only by £16,000,000, which probably is mainly represented by the fall in values which has taken place. We find that, for the first time in history, the second place, to which we had been relegated a few years ago by the United States, has been taken from us by Germany, and that Germany now out-tops our exports of manufactured goods.
§ These are signs which no responsible statesman can afford to ignore. We must find some means of increasing our markets overseas. Where is the best chance of increasing those markets? Mr. Snowden says: "Do not trouble about the Dominions; they are a sparsely populated part of the world. Go to China or India or some of the more densely populated parts." But there is no sign in the people of China of any anxiety to give Preference to British goods, there is no sign from any of our immediate neighbours in Europe that their tariff walls are being lowered in order to enable British manufactures to find free entrance within their markets. There is one part of the world, and only one, which shows itself not only ready but anxious to extend our trade with their people and to open their markets to our goods, and that part is the Dominions overseas. True it is, as Mr. Snowden has said, that they are thinly populated, but in that very fact, if Mr. Snowden had a little less bigotry and a little more vision, he would see the greatest hope for expansion, rather than a reason for the contemptuous rejection of their offer.
If Mr. Snowden had read—I suppose he has read it, but if he had studied and considered the Report of this very Imperial Conference, he would have found that a Committee was set up to deal with the problem of overseas settlement, and that the Committee made a Report which the Conference unanimously adopted, and which may therefore be regarded as expressing the considered view of His Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom. The resolution of the Conference ran in these terms:—
The Conference is of opinion that the problem of the better distribution of the white population of the British Common-
wealth continues to be a question of paramount importance for the British Commonwealth as a whole.
What does that mean? It means that, in the considered opinion of all the Dominions and of this country, the prospect of encouraging migration from these over-densely populated islands to the great open spaces of the Dominions is a matter of paramount importance both for them and for us. The resolution goes on to say:—
its successful solution depends upon the availability of adequate markets for the products of the Empire and of sufficient capital for the development of its resources.
On their own view, therefore, the one way of encouraging migration, of populating the Dominions and relieving the congestion at home, is by the provision of adequate markets for the products of the Empire.
§ The very object of the proposals which the Dominions brought forward—and 'which, after all, they may be allowed to know something about, because it depends upon finding a market for their own products—the very purpose of their proposals was that, in this vast market in the United Kingdom, adequate provision might be made for consuming the products of the Empire, and that those adequate markets of which this resolution speaks might be found. Do the Government mean what they say when they say that this problem is one of paramount importance for this country I If they had just a little vision, must they not have seen that, as Mr. Thomas has said, with this £460,000,000 worth of goods, food and raw materials pouring into this country, which might largely be produced in the Dominions, the right way of securing the population of the Dominions, and consequently of securing markets for our goods in the Dominions is to encourage the Dominions to produce this food and these raw materials by assuring them of a market within the United Kingdom when the goods were produced?
I have said that, for Mr. Snowden and for Mr. Thomas, this matter of Imperial Preference is "bunkum" and "humbug," but I would remind your Lordships that this at least is not the view either of the Dominion Prime Ministers on the one hand or, on the other hand, of the commercial community at home.
Mr. Scullin, in the same speech, pointed out that in Australia alone some £28,000,000 worth of British goods were received which, if they had been foreign, would have had to pay over £7,000,000 worth of duty, and that this £28,000,000 represents nearly half the total exports from this country to Australia. The Balfour Committee, which was set up to inquire into problems of trade and industry, unanimously reported in these terms:—
The figures of Empire trade, supported as they are by the testimony of the trade witnesses who appeared before us, are amply sufficient to show the great value and importance to British traders of the preferential access which they enjoy to certain Empire markets. In view of the facts, it cannot admit of doubt that the preservation and development of these advantages must he one of the cardinal objects of British commercial policy.
And, in face of that Report, His Majesty's Government, which professes to be concerned with the unemployment in this country, turns down without examination the only practical proposal put forward for that development and the maintenance of that Preference! On the economic and fiscal ground alone I venture to submit that I have made out my case.
§ I pass to another consideration. I find that I am taking up rather more time than I had hoped, and I apologise to your Lordships, but I take leave to add that, to my mind, the matter on which we are engaged is a matter of paramount importance to this country and to the Empire as a whole. I pass to the second Imperial aspect. Again I have to remind your Lordships of one or two elementary facts. In 1926, as Mr. Thomas told us, the constitutional aspect of relationship between the various parts of the Empire occupied a great part of the time of the Conference. Decisions were reached which were embodied in a series of resolutions, which established beyond all doubt the entire equality of status of all parts of the Empire and the Mother Country. In 1929 an expert Committee was set up in order to consider the reduction into Statute form of the resolutions that had then been passed, and this year the Conference, on its constitutional side, was largely occupied with considering and giving effect to those resolutions.
§ I do not desire to discuss whether or not those steps were altogether wise or prudent. I confess to feeling some mis- 383 giving, which I gather that the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack has also felt, to judge from the speech that he made last week, as to the wisdom of trying to put into Statute form all these great constitutional relations between this country and the other parts of the Empire. I think there is a real danger in attempting to reduce into a permanent and crystallised form what is necessarily a matter of organic and consistent growth. But, however that may be, the thing was done, the Statute of Westminster was framed and was agreed to by all the Dominions, and henceforth, from the passage into law of that Statute, whenever it comes forward, there will remain no trace of any legal bond between the Dominions and ourselves other than the fact of our common allegiance to His Majesty the King.
§ This being established, it became essential, in my judgment, to find something to take the place of those legal bonds which would cement and secure the Empire against the risk of distintegration and absolute dissolution. The Prime Minister, in an eloquent period, the other day spoke of the bonds which united us as being the "magnificence of human co-operation and human sympathy." Whether or not the language used by the Secretary of State for the Dominions is exactly what I should regard as an expression of human sympathy for the Dominions, is open to question. Whether or not the best way of securing human co-operation is to close the door to any form of economic association may even more be open to question; but at least we have this fact, that the legal bonds having disappeared, it was an act, not of supreme wisdom but of elementary common-sense, to try to find some other material bonds to take their place, and we found in the language of Mr. Bennett appreciation of that fact, and, in the acceptance of the proposal by the Prime Ministers of the other Dominions, evidence that they too saw the importance of what ought to be done.
I know, and it has often been mentioned before, that the great high priest of the Free Trade covenant desired to see the Empire destroyed. One of his avowed purposes in bringing forward Free Trade was because it was bound, as he told us, to loosen the bonds of Empire and
separate us, sooner or later, inevitably and gradually from the Colonies. He regarded that as a desirable thing. The present Government adopt his policy of Free Trade. Have we not a right to ask of them: Yes or No, do they also adopt his ideal of the disintegration of the Empire? If they do, then the country has a right to be told this. If they do not, how comes it that they are advocating and practising a proposal which, in the opinion of their great high priest and Messiah, is bound to lead to a result which, on that hypothesis, they do not desire? Sometimes it seems as if the Party opposite imagined that by a policy of drift they could in some way find safety. They seem to think that our existing Preferences can go on for ever. They are living in a fool's paradise if they think anything of the kind. The German Treaty with South Africa indicated that the Dominions will not wait for ever. Mr. Bennett, in his speech, referred to this and said:—
The time is now at hand when the doctrine of closer Empire economic association must be embraced, if we would not have it slip for ever beyond our power of recall.
§ The true conception of the British Empire is that it is not static, but that it is developing and growing always. It can develop in the direction of closer fiscal union until the old legal bonds are replaced by stronger material bonds of economic association. It can, on the other hand, develop, as Cobden foresaw it would, on the lines of loosening those bonds until the Empire is wholly disintegrated, until the chances we have let slide are, in Mr. Bennett's words, gone beyond recall. Does anybody suppose that if any foreign country had been offered the terms which the Dominions pressed upon us, they would have hesitated for twenty-four hours, or even twenty-four minutes? Why is it that we alone are unwilling to accept offers made with such generosity and good will by our own friends beyond the seas, which any other nation would give great advantages to possess? If we will not accept them, if we are adamant in our refusal, and if in our blindness we cling to the outworn shibboleths of Free Trade; if we prefer to the possibilities of a united Empire the chances of an Election Party cry that 385 "your food will cost you more," then indeed the disintegration of the Empire must inevitably follow.
It is not true, of course, that your food will cost you more. They even report in their own Committee, to which Mr. Graham, that orthodox champion, was a party, that:—
…provided there is free competition in the United Kingdom market among Dominion exporters, the price of Dominion wheat in the United Kingdom could not be raised appreciably above the world price since, as the United Kingdom price tended to shipments to 'Continental ports would be diverted to ports in the United Kingdom.
The truth is that already your food is costing you more, thanks to Free Trade and the extravagances of Socialistic administration. The last time that wheat was at the present price the loaf cost 2½d. less. The reason that it costs more to-day is not that the bakers and the middlemen are making greater profit, but that the burden which legislation has placed upon everybody connected with the process of turning the wheat into the loaf has so raised the cost that your food is costing you more, thanks to Socialism and Free Trade. Imperial Preference will reduce and not raise the price. At any rate it is sufficient for my purpose to say that Socialists admit that if cap-not raise the price. Whatever be the merits of this question, at least this may be said with some certainty, that the question of refusing the offer of the Dominions is not one which was before the people of this country at the last Election.
§ We know that out of the wrecks of this Conference this scanty salvage has been made by our Dominion brethren. First of all, for three years to conic a possible and contingent offer of a continuance of the existing Preferences has been given, and secondly, arrangements have been made that a Conference on the economic status should he resumed at Ottawa some time towards the end of the next year. What good, however, is the renewal of the Conference at Ottawa If the Socialist Government go there to conduct the negotiations? What is the point of a meeting between the Dominions, who expressly in the closing resolution say that they have not departed from the attitude that tariff Preference is the one effective method of closer economic 386 association, and a United Kingdom deputation, which equally has not departed from its view that Imperial Preference is "humbug" and "bunkum," and injurious to the trade and burdensome to the people of this country? Such a Conference can reach no more profitable conclusion than the barren discussions of the last few weeks. There is one chance only of a more fruitful result, and that is if the people of this country are given a chance of redressing the mistake which the Government of this country have perpetrated on their behalf.
§ I hear a laugh from noble Lords opposite. At least the only constituency which has had a chance to express an opinion since their action has shown no doubt as to what the verdict would he. I believe that if the people are given an opportunity of expressing their views they will condemn, with no uncertain voice, the narrow-minded bigotry and pedantry of noble Lords opposite. I believe that they will say, if they are given the chance, that the Empire is worth saving even at the cost of a little risk; and that they will not be content with this policy of negation, of doing nothing, this contemptuous rejection of offers which are made by our kith and kin beyond the seas. But, however that may be, at least your Lordships' House is given this opportunity of registering your verdict. You can pronounce to-day, I ask you to pronounce to-day, on the question of whether or not you regard the mismanagement, the lack of preparation, the blindness which have characterised every act of the Government in relation to this economic conference as worthy of condemnation, as to whether or not you are willing to embrace the opportunity which the Dominions offer of building up that closer economic association which they and I at least most ardently desire; and it is in order to give your Lordships that opportunity that I have the honour to move this Resolution this afternoon.
§ Moved, That this House deplores the refusal of His Majesty's Government to respond to the advances made by the Prime Ministers of the Dominions towards closer fiscal relations, and condemns their failure to grasp the opportunity of strengthening the ties which link together the several parts of the British Empire.—387
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR (LORD SANKEY)
My Lords, "Nothing," said the noble and learned Viscount who has just resumed his seat, "nothing emerged from the Conference." Is that quite correct? It is not my province, and I do not desire personally, to offer any remark upon the economic issues which were debated at the Conference, and I should not have ventured to occupy your time had it not been drat my noble and learned friend Lord Hailsham, in calling attention to the Report, made certain remarks upon the political questions which were also involved. The fact that it fell to my lot to be the Chairman of the Inter-Imperial Relations Committee will, I trust, be sufficient justification for asking your Lordships to hear with me for a few minutes while I draw your attention very briefly to some of the constitutional decisions which may affect the future structure of our Empire.
The Conference of 1926 was fortunate in having as the Chairman of that Committee the late Lord Balfour—a statesman of great political experience and great political sagacity, and, beyond that, a well-known and trusted member in both Houses of Parliament, who was responsible for the famous declaration concerning the equality of status of the great Dominions. May I be permitted, for the first and last time as far as I am concerned, to place that declaration upon the records of this House? It is as follows:—There is, however, one most important element which, from a strictly constitutional point of view, has now, as regards all vital matters, reached its full development—we refer to the group of self-governing communities composed of Great Britain and the Dominions. Their position and mutual relation may be readily defined. They are autonomous communities within the British Empire, equal in status, in no way subordinate one to another in any respect of their domestic or external affairs, though united by a common allegiance to the Crown, and freely associated as members of the British Commonwealth of Nations.Forgive me one more quotation. Lord Balfour said:—The rapid evolution of the oversea Dominions during the last fifty years has involved many complicated adjustments of old political machinery to changing conditions. The tendency towards equality of status was both right and inevitable. Geographical and other conditions made it impossible of attainment by the way of federation. The only alternative was by the way of autonomy; and along this road it 388 has been steadily sought. Every self-governing member of the Empire is now master of its destiny. In fact, if not always in form, it is subject to no compulsion whatever.In order to allay any anxiety which may be felt in the Dominions, let me at once say, speaking as Lord Chancellor and, as I trust, with the approval of this House, that the United Kingdom will not go back upon that declaration. There is no desire to alter a single word in it, or a single implication to be derived from it.
Let me also add, to allay any anxiety which may be felt at home, that, as far as I know, nothing was done at the late Conference to extend or to go beyond that declaration to the prejudice of the United Kingdom. Our problem has been to translate general phrases into concrete practice, and to harmonise equality of status with unity of Empire. The politician, quite rightly no doubt, invents formulas: the trouble is that, although they sound all right at the time, when the lawyer has to translate them into concrete practice at once people are found differing as to their meaning. It is difficult to define the meaning of vague political phrases when applying them to particular conditions and particular situations. While we hope that the work we have done will secure your approval. at any rate I am sure that we shall have your sympathy in our endeavour to discharge the task entrusted to us. Nothing was done at the Conference which was not the legal and logical result of the application of Lord Balfour's declaration. But in my view we ought not to attempt to crystallise our relationship in too many formal documents. Laws and logic are both admirable, but too many laws and too much logic make life impossible.
The Empire will not be maintained merely by Acts of Parliament passed at Westminster or any other great capital city, nor will it be maintained by appeals to national or Imperial selfishness. Everyone of our nations is entitled to preserve its own identity, to develop and to realise its own characteristics and ambitions, while joining in the great common cause—namely, the united wellbeing of our peoples. Even if, therefore, there are some of the younger Dominions who, as a result of the 1926 Declaration, are of opinion that past methods want altering, they ought not to compel any 389 of the older Dominions who are, it may be, content with such methods, to accept any change. Obstructions and hindrances to the development of free national institutions must be removed, and your Lordships will be asked at a later period to repeal the Colonial Laws Validity Act of 1865, which prevents a Colonial Legislature from passing laws which are repugnant to any Act of Parliament passed by the United Kingdom and extending to each Colony. I will not degrade my argument by asking what sanction exists behind that Act to-day, nor will I weary your Lordships with other technical legal matters. It must be remembered that most of our problems were concerned with setting up the machinery for carrying into effect Lord Balfour's declaration. It is not to be expected that this machinery will run smoothly at first: but time and experience will enable us to make the necessary adjustments.
Your Lordships are well aware that I am a late corner into this House, and that politics have to be learned just as any other science has to be. One thing I will say and that is that at my initiation I was taught to be cautious. It is better to be criticised for expressing doubts—thereby gaining time for further discussion and further deliberation at some future Conference—than to persist in convictions hastily arrived at during a few strenuous weeks, which may result in decisions to be contemplated later with unavailing regrets. Differing as I do from my noble and learned friend Lord Hailsham on many questions, there is one at any rate, if he will allow me to say so, upon which we are agreed. That is our pride in the great past of our Empire and our belief in its still greater future. But I am not prepared, by taking hasty decisions, to gamble with the British Empire. It is too precious an inheritance.
Who are we that we should despair or be despondent when difficulties arise and face us? Nothing has happened to us but what has happened to all nations who have had extensive Empires. Questions as to nationality, as to an Empire tribunal, as to the form of treaties, as to the applicability of inter-Governmental agreements, as to channels of communication, and many another, cannot be settled in a moment. Other Empires destined to last through the 390 ages were built up by the patient work and thought of generations of statesmen. "Tantae molis erat Romanam condere gentem." If our Empire were to end tonight, we have no cause to be ashamed of it. We should leave behind us the legacy of our laws, our language and our literature; the impress of our commerce and our civilisation, and a perpetual memory of our achievements both in peace and war. The Empire is not going to end to-night. It will continue as long as we remain true to our trust and faithful to our mission of seeing that justice is done between man and mean, of securing the peace and happiness of millions of cur fellow subjects and of being the guardians and protectors of the poor and the oppressed.
§ LORD BUCKMASTER
My Lords, we have just listened to an address from the Lord Chancellor which, no doubt, had many merits, but one it conspicuously lacked. It was no attempt whatever to answer the speech that was made by the noble Viscount, Lord Hailsham. So far as I could gather from the speech, which, the noble and learned Lord upon the Woolsack will permit me to say, expressed a great number of noble and irrelevant sentiments, its purpose was to show that the statement made by the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Hailsham, that nothing has been accomplished at the Conference, was not in accordance with the facts. What I understand was accomplished was that an attempt has been made to put into statutory form a declaration made by the noble Earl, Lord Balfour, in 1926, with which nobody disagreed. We are encouraged to pursue that idea by the promise that when it is done it will not work very well at first. I never in all my life heard such a malediction performed upon the infancy of an Act of Parliament. This Bill, which is to do nothing except to put into the form of a Statute something upon which we are all in agreement, is not going to work well; but in the end something may happen to it. I suppose it may be destroyed. Things which begin ill frequently come to a violent end.
I protest utterly against the theory that you have accomplished anything by putting what is a common understanding into an Act of Parliament. You have done the one thing that you ought not to do. 391 You have attempted to make rigid and difficult of change, relationships which ought to be fluid and capable of being adapted from time to time to the ever-changing circumstances of life. The reason why the Constitution of this country has stood storm after storm is the very fact that it never was in writing. Had it been in writing we should have had, I imagine, revolution after revolution, and I am quite satisfied that we never could have got through the difficult times of the early part of the nineteenth century. The same thing is true of our Common Law. When people refer to the Common Law of England as being what in fact it is, the greatest basis of law that has ever been known to mankind, it is due to its never having been put into an Act of Parliament. Directly you attempt to put into an Act of Parliament any of these provisions it is exactly like cutting a hard sear through a living tissue. The scar can never change. The tissue may grow round it, but the scar remains immovable until you are dead.
I have not heard a single word from the noble and learned Lord upon the Woolsack to suggest that there was any reason at all why we should have put an understanding which everybody accepted—an understanding which, after all, was strong enough to bring the men from overseas when we needed them—into the formality, and, I add with knowledge and experience, the obscurity of an Act of Parliament. So far as the speech of the noble and learned Lord upon the Woolsack is concerned, that was all he dealt with, but the noble Viscount, Lord Hailsham, dealt with ninny other totally different matters. If I disagree with him, as I do, I do not disagree with him as vehemently as I do with the noble Lord on the Woolsack. The truth is that the noble Viscount, Lord Hailsham, has been, as I think, rather unnecessarily excited by the unguarded utterances of members of the Government.
§ LORD BUCKMASTER
I think by this time he ought to have known that the members of the Government do not always use the same measured language in expressing their opinions that we think desirable, and I am bound to say I think it is rather a pity that too much 392 emphasis has been given to what may have been a casual word—which was certainly an unwise word—used by the Secretary of State for the Dominions. In truth, you have to consider two different things. You have to consider an abstract question and a concrete proposal, and unless you keep the two things quite separate in your minds, grave confusion and misunderstanding are likely to arise. If you come to the abstract principle, there is nothing which can be said in support of it with which I would not agree. The idea that we should seek by every means in our power to establish closer and more intimate commercial relations with all our Dominions and all our Colonies is an ideal which every one of us, I believe, whole-heartedly accepts, and to be just to the Government—because, though it is hard, it is well to be just—I do not think they disagree with it.
§ LORD BUCKMASTER
What has happened that has caused all this trouble has been the definite practical proposal that was put forward—a proposal that I do not suppose a single person here would have accepted, because it was a proposal by which you should have an additional 3 per cent. on the preferential tariff of our goods going into the Dominion of Canada in exchange for a tax on food. That was the definite proposal. What I think has been the unfortunate part about all this is the fact that the definite practical proposal and the abstract scheme have got confused. I should have said: "We are perfectly willing to discuss every means that can possibly be devised for the purpose of establishing closer, more intimate, more enduring commercial relationships; we take the statement that you make as a suggestion of the road along which we may travel, and along that road we are prepared to go, but to ask us to give up to you what is by far the most important bargaining counter we have in our hands for a 3 per cent, increase of the duty on our goods is to ask us to sacrifice a thing of great value for something ad libitum."
That is the way I think it should have been approached, because I do think this is a thing which must be borne in mind. The tax on food, in order to give effect to any system of Imperial Prefer- 393 ence, must be something of substance. It must be a tax that will exclude, or at any rate must prejudicially hinder, the import of other foreign commodities. That cannot be denied, for otherwise it is valueless. The noble Viscount, I cannot help thinking, gave rein more to his wishes than to his reason when he said that no such tax is going to affect the price of food over here. I say that is a very dangerous possibility on which to base your case. We know that a shilling Preferential Duty on wheat was removed by a Conservative Chancellor of the Exchequer because he thought it did affect the price of food here, but that was a mere triviality compared with the tax wanted now.
There is something more to it than that. I am not prepared myself to say that in no circumstances and for no end ought; you to consent to put a tax on food. I can conceive a situation in which it might be of great advantage. For example, if it were possible to secure by a tax on food that you could place our manufactured goods in the Dominion markets, notably in the Dominion of Canada, in the place which is now filled by goods from the United States of America, I would say that the bargain might be worth striking, and for this reason, that you would then he able to offer to your industrial centres something that would be a definite compensation for the haunting fear, which all possess, that your tax on food is going to raise the price of the first necessity of life without giving them anything in exchange. But it is only on those conditions, to my mind, that the thing should be done, and that is the reason why I say that the rejection of the actual definite offer is not a thing for which the Government ought to be reproved, because I cannot believe that we should bargain away our greatest asset for a thing which, in itself, intrinsically, as it stood, was of such small value. None the less I should like to add that I do not for a moment believe that that was the end of what Mr. Bennett wanted to offer. I believe it was an illustration, a proposal, something definite on which we could proceed to bargain, and I very deeply regret that it should have suffered such severe treatment at the hands of the Government.
394 I have only one or two further remarks to make. I do not think it is wise to suggest that Mr. Cobden, who, I suppose, was the gentleman referred to by the noble Viscount, Lord Hailsham, as the Messiah—I do not suppose Mr. Cobden would recognise himself under that name—
§ VISCOUNT HAILSHAM
The noble and learned Lord misunderstood me. I referred to him as the person whom the followers of Free Trade doctrines regarded as their Messiah.
§ LORD BUCKMASTER
Let us put it that way—that he was claimed as the Messiah by his followers. Even then, I think he would have found himself in an extremely awkward position to have been so received. But I do not think that that was at the basis of Mr. Cobden's doctrine. I am not going to argue it again, nor do I think it is wise to take what may have been a statement which had that meaning, and use it as the expression of his considered policy. You must remember, if you do that, you could take statements from the Earl of Beaconsfield which were just as tremendous the other way, and from the other Party. Let the dead politicians, and their dead views in these matters, rest in peace, and let us keep our minds on the thing we have to do. It is said that to continue our present policy is to alienate the Dominions. Is that so clear, and if so, why is it more likely to alienate them than a policy by which our relations a-re defined in terms of commerce which must change and can never be made permanent, which must be constantly needing adjustment, and in the adjustment of which endless causes for differences of feeling and opinion may well arise? It is all hypothesis, but why should you make the hypothesis that pursuit of the present system would lead to the dissolution of the Empire, and the pursuit of another system to its re-integration?
There is only one thing further I have to add, and that I must add in justification of my Free Trade faith. I was literally amazed when I heard the noble and learned Viscount complaining that there is a drop—as there undoubtedly is—in the imports of the things we need for our manufactures and our food, and in the same breath suggesting that you 395 would increase imports by making goods more costly. It seems to me to be the most astonishing proposition I have ever heard. Whatever may have led to the diminution of our imports it certainly is not the fact that they are coming in cheap. I cannot possibly see how you can hope to increase food and raw material by adding to their price at the Custom House. That small excursus into what is now the unpopular region of Free Trade may perhaps be forgiven me, because, in spite of what I have said with regard to relations between ourselves and Canada, I still am essentially a Free Trader, and the only reason why I suggest that there should be any modification of that system is that by reason of that modification you may be able to get something which, under the present system, you cannot obtain.
My Lords, after the eloquent speeches from the three noble and learned Lords who have spoken I rise with considerable diffidence, especially having regard to the fact that one of them is the noble and learned Lord who sits on the Woolsack and that the other two noble and learned Lords who have spoken have occupied that dignified and important position in former times. I would not have ventured to take part in this debate to-day if it had not been for the fact that this is a subject in which I have taken particular interest and of which I have made a very special study. As late as the 17th July in your Lordships' House, in a speech which I made on the subject of the Imperial Conference, I expressed my grave anxiety at the attitude adopted at that time by His Majesty's Government in regard to that Conference. On that occasion, from this side of the House, we discussed the whole position in which that Conference should be called. We asserted that when that Conference assembled it must be a tied Conference. In ending that debate I ventured to suggest that if, owing to the attitude of His Majesty's Government, it was going to be a tied Conference, it would be better that the Conference should be put off for six months or a year, until the Government in this country were prepared to go into the Conference absolutely untied and ready to discuss every side of the economic problems that would arise.
396 The noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack reproached the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Hailsham, for saying that the Conference had accomplished nothing. I venture to suggest that when that Conference assembled, those who came from overseas, the Dominion Premiers and other representatives, came here with their hearts full of hope and with a desire to discuss, not those questions of which the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack has told us, but particularly to discuss economic problems. To-day the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack said: "I am not going to deal with those questions, with economic questions, I am going to tell you about the others." It is rather like asking a man to think about his clothes when he is starving. I do not wish to traverse all the steps through which the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Hailsham, has led us and through which he has informed us of the result of that Conference. But I cannot help referring to one or two points.
First of all His Majesty's Government stated in unequivocal terms before the Conference that they were willing to discuss every issue connected with the economic problem. What happened at the Conference? At the very beginning of the Conference the Canadian Prime Minister made a proposal on the lines of Imperial Preference. All the other Prime Ministers supported that proposal. The Conference continued, and His Majesty's Government gave no word of what they thought of that particular proposal. They did not consider it at all. Three weeks afterwards, about the 17th October, they suddenly informed the Conference that they would have nothing to do with any proposal which involved the taxation of foodstuffs or raw materials. In the meantime the Canadian Prime Minister, Mr. Bennett, much against his will, as we have been led to believe, informed the Conference that he was prepared to consider the question of a quota for wheat. Now, that question, together with import boards, bulk purchase and so on, was referred to the Economic Committee, and I find on reference to the summary of the proceedings which has been issued, that that Committee considered practically nothing else but that question of the quota. That was stated quite categorically in the sum- 397 mary of proceedings. Not only that; they made definite proposals with regard to the quota in two or three pages of this summary, ending up with an outline of a plan for the institution of the quota.
They practically recommended—and I have read this very carefully two or three times—the institution of the quota system, whilst in no way abandoning their position so far as Preference was concerned. They made that recommendation with regard to wheat—and to wheat only, I admit—but still the proposal originated in the first instance from His Majesty's Government. What did His Majesty's Government do after that recommendation was made? They said: "We will refer this subject to another Conference." A debate took place last week in another Place to which reference has already been made. The right hon. gentleman, the Secretary of State for the Dominions, described the proposals made by the Prime Minister of Canada in terms which, I think, everyone in this House will regard as self-condemned, and I feel certain that no fair-minded man or woman in this country will in any way resent the statement that was issued by Mr. Bennett this morning in response to the expressions which were used in the House of Commons last week.
I listened to the speech of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Buckmaster, whom I am sorry not to see in his place, and I was in the first instance pleased to think that, speaking as he did from the Liberal Benches, he was seeing the light of salvation in this matter of Empire policy. In fact, I was amazed to hear the noble and learned Lord say that, in the event of this country receiving certain considerations in return for a tax on food, he would be prepared to accept that situation; and he went on to say—to be perfectly just to him—that he was influenced by the possibility of what might occur in Canada think he had that Dominion particularly in mind) in case that principle were not accepted. I agree with him entirely. Mr. Bennett, in the statement that he issued to-day, hints in the last few lines at what might happen. We know that to the south of Canada there are the great thriving United States of America, which are seeking to advance their trade interests daily and hourly in Canada. How is 398 Canada going to resist those advances unless she has a counter-action? The only counter-action she can find is in this country, and that is why Mr. Bennett has come to this country and has put forward these proposals, in the hope that he might find that counter-action.
But the noble and learned Lord, who, as I said, I regret is not now in his place, referred to the proposal which Mr. Bennett made at the Conference as a definite proposal, and he said that he could quite understand the Government's feelings in rejecting that proposal when it only meant an addition of 3 per cent. of duty on goods imported into Canada. I should like to read an extract from Mr. Bennett's statement, published this morning, from which your Lordships will observe that the proposal was not a definite proposal, but was put forward as a basis for negotiation and might he modified or increased according to the circumstances. He used these words:—To crystallise the terms of my proposal, and to provide a basis for discussion, I made a concrete offer of reciprocal and what believe to be mutually advantageous tariff Preferences. At the time I was careful to point out"—it is this that I wish to emphasise—the need of ensuring a certain flexibility in the tariff, and I said that the unit of preference suggested would necessarily be modified or increased in relation to different classes of commodities. On many other occasions I have made clear my views on this point.I hope therefore that the point is not going to be emphasised over and over again in a wrong sense, as has already been done in this debate.
What is going to happen if a Conference assembles in Ottawa next year, and His Majesty's present Government are in office then and attend that Conference? We have had from Mr. Bennett, in that statement, an intimation that, in any event, Canada is prepared to negotiate with the other Dominions for inter-Imperial trade upon a preferential basis. We have further a cabled report of a statement made by General Hertzog to the Cape Times yesterday to the effect that the Union had been negotiating for special trade agreements with Canada and Australia, and was prepared to negotiate with any of the Dominions. Canada might offer a good market for South African wines, maize and sugar, and Australia for tobacco, Australia be- 399 ing anxious to develop her wheat exports to this country. His Majesty's Government have definitely told the Imperial Conference that they will not accept any extension of preferential duties on foodstuffs and raw materials. They have—and I want to give them every credit for what they have done—agreed to maintain the present range of Imperial Preferences for three years, subject to Parliament's control. They will arrive in Ottawa absolutely hand-tied again, with a policy which is quite negative, so far as the interests of the Ottawa Conference are concerned, and with a policy which will lead them nowhere at all.
What will happen then? The other Dominions will get together and will form trade agreements between themselves: they will form an economic unity as between the other parts of the Empire, leaving the United Kingdom out and leaving her in the humiliating position of having no interest in the matter whatsoever. When did Great Britain give up leading the Empire? Great Britain gave up leading the Empire when His Majesty's Government came into office, and I venture to suggest to His Majesty's Government that the time has come when they should ask the electors of this country to decide whether this country desires to consider and to adopt proposals of the nature of those put forward by the Dominion Premiers at this great Conference. There are absolutely clear-cut principles that emerge from this Conference. The Dominions say definitely, and they know what they want, that the only thing that is going to help them is Imperial Preference. It is no good going to Ottawa unless you accept that principle, and will accept the extension of that principle.
I venture to believe that in these days when unemployment is still leaping up, when in spite of apparent prosperity owing to the "dole," and because of the general spirit of determination which pervades the character of our people—I venture to think that the time has arrived when we must get together with the Empire. If you look at the Empire, at Canada, Australia, Tasmania and Newfoundland, with their great resources and their growing populations—populations which are only in their infancy—then, as the noble Viscount has said, I 400 cannot imagine any country in the world, whether France, or Germany, or any other country, who would push away the chances that we have to-day of developing our Empire. This is a matter which cannot wait. The Dominions are determined that they themselves are at the parting of the way. If they are at the parting of the way, then we are at the parting of the way, and unless we enter to-day into ties, commercial as well as sentimental, I can see nothing but disaster for this country and disintegration for the Empire. Personally, I shall have the greatest pleasure in going into the Lobby in support of my noble friend Lord Hailsham, if he presses his Motion to a Division.
§ THE SECRETARY OF STATE FOR THE COLONIES (LORD PASSFIELD)
My Lords, I think it is my duty, if I can, to try to bring the debate back to the point at which it started, because, without wishing to reflect upon the speech which we have just heard, or upon other speeches, the debate which has taken place seems to me to be a little apart from the particular indictment brought by the noble Viscount, Lord Hailsham. I do not say that in any sense the debate has been out of order, but I am going to try to follow the noble Viscount, Lord Hailsham, a little more closely, although at this hour I shall have considerably to telescope what I have to say.
If he will allow me I would say that I was amazed at the skill and success with which he framed his indictment. I know, of course, that the noble Viscount is a past master at that sort of thing, but I venture to point, out to your Lordships that the success was achieved by a constant assuming of the facts which were a basis of the indictment. We are in a difficulty about those facts, because most of the proceedings of the Imperial Conference took place in the meetings of the heads of delegations. There, we were constantly having the most frank and open discussions, but those meetings are confidential. The plan of the Conference, as it has been at previous Conferences, is to confine the plenary Conferences more or less to the oration side of the proceedings, and for the real discussions to go into Committee and to confine the Committee to the heads of delegations and others brought over to deal with special points.
401 Those proceedings are confidential, and it would be wrong for me actually to quote anything that happened there. Consequently the noble Viscount had no means of knowing what took place in those Committees, but it has been open to him to assume the facts upon which he indicted us. For instance, one of the long criticisms of the Government which he made was that they did not give any proper or serious discussion to the proposals of the Dominion Premiers, especially to Mr. Bennett's proposal; that the Economic Committee, for instance, was not allowed to examine tariff Preference; that the Government were determined not to allow discussion of this; and that no answer was given to the Premiers as to the decision of the Government for a very long time, although His Majesty's Ministers were speaking in the country. The noble Viscount assumed—I do not say without any justification—that no answer had been given to the Dominion Premiers, and when he finds in a summary of the proceedings the statement which the Government had put in at a very late day, he assumes that it had not been put in before, or mentioned before. We were always discussing, and although that statement was not in a written form put in until a late day, it is not open to the noble Viscount to assume that no answer was given. How can I, under the conditions governing confidential proceedings, explain to the noble Viscount or convince him that his assumptions were not warranted? At any rate he has no evidence in support of them.
Let me endeavour to do what I can within the limits of what is permissible. The main proposal, which is summed up in the proposal that Mr. Bennett made, at what is called the second plenary session, was the principle of Preference, which he then and there asked the Conference, including the United Kingdom representatives, to subscribe to in principle. It has always been treated as if it was a question of Preference, but we quickly found it was not question of Preference as ordinarily understood. It was a question, not of this country or the Dominions allowing a preference off Customs Duties which were in existence, or put on for their own sake, or to meet the needs of the Government, but we were asked to subscribe to putting a duty on foodstuffs coming into this country, 402 and especially wheat coming into this country, not because a Customs Duty was required, or there was any reason for a Customs Duty in this country, but deliberately in order that we might allow a substantial preference off that Duty to Empire wheat.
That was a proposition to which, mind you, His Majesty's Government were invited to subscribe before it was examined in its details. Mr. Bennett, in his opening speech, said that of course it would take a long time to examine it in its details, and suggested that the Conference would not have time to go into the details, and that it would have to be adjourned to a subsequent meeting at Ottawa, to which he invited the Conference. And so far from the Ottawa Conference being a belated device of His Majesty's Government to get rid of this Imperial Conference without coming to any conclusions, it had been from the first proposed by Mr. Bennett that there should be an adjournment for economic questions to Ottawa, and that, had been borne in mind all through. As a matter of fact, His Majesty's Government, following the desire of some of the Dominions, had endeavoured to arrange for a separate Economic Conference before the Imperial Conference, suggesting that it might be at Ottawa, but unfortunately the convenience of the Dominion Ministers made that quite impossible.
Consequently His Majesty's Government from the first accepted the proposal of Mr. Bennett made in his first speech, in which he put his proposition that that and all other economic questions should be adjourned after discussion at the Imperial Conference to the special Economic Conference which is to be held at Ottawa next year. Therefore, misconception Number One, which has run through the debate, is that the Ottawa Conference was a belated device of His Majesty's Government in order to escape a decision at this Conference. I think I have convinced your Lordships that it was a proposal of Mr. Bennett himself made at the very outset, and accepted at the very outset for the obvious reason that there was no adequate time to go into this question now.
Mr. Bennett's statement, which appears in to-day's newspapers, has been quoted, that during the whole period of the 403 Conference neither the principle of tariff Preferences nor his plans to make them operative was seriously discussed. Undoubtedly Mr. Bennett has said that, but he has not said what the noble and learned Viscount said as an inference from that, and as a gloss upon it, that it was His Majesty's Government which prevented them from being seriously discussed. The noble and learned Viscount said that the Economic Committee was not allowed to examine tariff Preference, that His Majesty's Government determined not to allow discussion. It is quite true that in the sense in which Mr. Bennett was speaking these propositions were not referred to the Economic Committee to which the other cognate propositions were referred. But is the inference from that to be made that it was His Majesty's Government which would not allow them to be so referred? What warrant is there for that assumption? I must not say what happened, but I can perhaps go so far as to say that nothing was referred to any Committee during that Imperial Conference except by the unanimous consent of the delegations. And if what Mr. Bennett called the principle of Preferences, including a duty on foodstuffs, especially wheat, was not referred to the Economic Committee, I will go so far as to say that it was not at the dictation of His Majesty's Government that it was not so referred; it was because it was impossible to get the unanimous assent of the delegations to its being so referred.
As a matter of fact, it is known that the plan of procedure for this Conference, which was necessarily arranged by the Government of this country, was that after the plenary sessions and the discussions of the heads of delegations, all the propositions should stand referred to suitable Committees in order to be reported on and brought back to the heads of delegations. I think the noble and learned Viscount will see that he was perhaps rash in saying that, because His Majesty's Government determined not to allow discussions, the Economic Committee was not allowed to examine tariff Preferences at all. In the result Mr. Bennett is able to say that they were not seriously discussed. But again it is not a fact that they were not discussed, and, I think, seriously discussed, in the meetings of the heads of delegations. I am 404 revealing no secret; the Press knew a great deal about it. Your Lordships will find in the Press reports day by day a good deal of evidence that it was discussed at the meetings of heads of delegations. And I myself was present day after day when these things were discussed. But it is quite true they were only discussed as a sort of Second Reading discussion because, as Mr. Bennett had said in his speech at the second plenary meeting, he wanted the Conference to subscribe to the principle before any more minute examination took place. We never did manage to subscribe to the principle.
I wonder whether the noble and learned Viscount, if he had been there, or the noble Marquess, the Leader of his Party, would have subscribed to the principle. Because, remember what Mr. Bennett's principle was. It was not the principle of Preference that many guileless people have supposed. It was not even the principle of extending that Preference to every Customs Duty that was in existence, or might be brought into existence. It was that a new Customs Duty should be put upon foodstuffs imported into this country, and this country only, or that this country only should be required to put a substantial Customs Duty upon foodstuffs, and especially upon wheat in order to give a substantial Preference to the Dominions in respect of all those things. All that was included in Mr. Bennett's principle, and the noble and learned Viscount will find it all as part of his principle in the opening speech, which has been reported verbatim and published. I may go so far as to say, as Mr. Bennett said it publicly, that Mr. Bennett said it privately at the meetings of heads of delegations. Now, would the noble and learned Viscount have subscribed to that principle? We know, as a matter of fact, that at any rate up to to-day the Conservative Party has declared against a Customs tariff upon foodstuffs.
§ LORD PASSFIELD
Oh, yes. Of course, the noble Viscount may have a Party of his own, but I am talking about Mr. Baldwin's letter to Mr. Neville Chamberlain of October 16. At any rate, I can take my view about it. In that letter Mr. Baldwin explained why it was not practical or convenient to put a duty 405 upon wheat; but instead of that he proposed to subsidise wheat out of the proceeds of a duty on manufactures. Surely, that is so. If that is not declaring to the ears of the electors against a duty on food, what does it mean? I repeat that the declared policy of the Conservative Party, at any rate on October 16—because I will not venture upon prediction—was definitely that a duty on wheat is not the way to deal with the import of wheat, but the right way is a subsidy to the wheat farmer, to be paid for out of the proceeds of a duty on foreign manufactures. Well, that is the policy of the Conservative Party; at least that is the policy which they have proclaimed to the electorate. What subtle meanings there may be behind it I do not venture to assume. I am dealing only with facts. That is the declared policy of the Conservative Party to-day. On half of it I can congratulate them; that is, in not putting a duty on wheat. As to the other half, the giving of a subsidy to the wheat farmer I am not at all sure, though I will go so far as to say that a subsidy is much more economically sound than a Customs Duty, if you are going to do anything of that kind.
I have been concerned to show that the statement of the noble and learned Viscount, that His Majesty's Government refused to discuss these things, is incorrect. They were discussed; but if it is meant that they were not referred to a Committee to be gone into seriously by experts, it is true that they were not, as is shown by the published proceedings of the Economic Committee; and I think I have indicated that it was not His Majesty's Government which refused to have them sent to the Economic Committee. They were not sent to the Economic Committee because the Conference of the heads of delegations was not unanimous about allowing them to go until they had been accepted in principle. I am bound to admit that the delegates of the Government refused to accept them in principle, and I am not ashamed of our refusal. As I say, noble Lords also would have refused to subscribe to the imposition of a duty upon wheat coming into this country deliberately for the purpose of giving away a large part of the pro- 406 ceeds for the sake of an Empire Preference.
That is not the policy of the Labour Party. That is not the policy of the Liberal Party. That is not the policy, up to date, of the Conservative Party. I would challenge the noble Viscount to say whether he would have done what he blames the Government for not having done, whether he would have subscribed in advance, before an examination of the details, to what Mr. Bennett required, the principle of imposing this duty on wheat and other foodstuffs, in order to give a Preference to the Dominions. Would the noble Viscount have subscribed to it? Would the noble Marquess by his side have subscribed to it? Would Mr. Baldwin have subscribed to it? I challenge them again to say that they would have done what we are accused of having failed to do—that is to say, that we failed to subscribe in principle to this proposition of Mr. Bennett's, not because the one-tenth was not worth very much, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Buckmaster, said (because, of course, that was only the beginning of possible bargaining) but because in principle we were not prepared to adopt or to subscribe to the proposal of putting a duty on imported wheat in order to give away a Preference.
I would like to go a little further with regard to this point of Preference. The policy of Preference is as old as the century. Hitherto the term has been understood as meaning that a preference, a reduction, a rebate should be made from Customs Duties in favour of some particular country. We have done the same. On practically all our Customs Duties we have given preferential terms to the Dominions. Even the present Chancellor of the Exchequer, as noble Lords know, long ago gave publicly an undertaking that so long as the Duties remained so long would the Preferences remain. We have, therefore, subscribed to the policy of Preference, and of course at the Conference, in order to give stability, we went a little further and talked about a three years term. No doubt the Dominions have done the same thing. We have never disputed the right of the Dominions to take off a Duty or to impose a Duty, according as they thought fit, and they have done that according to their own needs and their own policy, 407 and most of them have given this country a Preference which, I am glad to say, they have continued. I appreciate that Preference. The Government appreciate that Preference. We believe that it has been of great value to our trade on the whole. But there are differences. In some cases we do not think it has been of much value; in other cases we think it has. At any rate on the whole, we appreciate it as being of value. I want to say that I appreciate it even more than for any consideration of its value, just because it was voluntarily granted in what they believed to be the interests of the Empire.
Do the Dominions come now and ask us to do the same No. They ask us to do something entirely different. As I said, we have already done the corresponding thing to what they have done. We have already given them a Preference on practically all our Import Duties. We have told them that it will continue for as long as the Duties continue, that is to say indefinitely as regards most articles. They come now and ask us to do something entirely different—to change our whole fiscal policy. They did not change their fiscal policy. They merely adjusted it in little details. But they ask us to change our whole fiscal policy at a cardinal point for which the people of this country have never yet voted, and when they have had an opportunity of voting they have voted against it by a majority. Obviously we could not agree to that, and, as I say, no other Party could agree to it. It was an altogether new principle of taxation that they asked us to adopt.
The noble Viscount said we never gave an answer to the Colonial Premiers. He blamed us for inconsistency, lack of preparation and so on. How does he know? Has he any idea of the preparation that was made for this Conference? Of course he has not. However, he blamed us for not giving any official answer to the Colonial Premiers although Ministers went about the country speaking. How does he know what answer was made? Was he there at the meetings of the heads of delegations? There was no plenary session until the end, so how does the noble Viscount know that we gave no answer? Surely, he might presume from his knowledge of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, that the Chancellor of the Exchequer would not sit at 408 those meetings and give no answer. I only draw attention to that to show how the noble Viscount's argument has been made up. It has been made up by assuming the facts upon which he based his charges. I am prevented from absolutely telling him what has happened, but I think he can see that his charge, that we never gave any answer to the Dominion Prime Ministers on that point, is hardly one which he will venture to repeat. The Government never intended, he said, to consider any proposal of Imperial Preference at all, but on the other hand, we appointed the Economic Committee to go to work. I have explained how it was that Imperial Preference was not referred to that Economic Committee. Will the noble Viscount again say that the Government determined not to allow it to be discussed?
§ LORD PASSFIELD
Then I think I must go a step further and say that as a matter of fact several of the Dominion Premiers objected to the matter being referred for examination to an expert Committee at all until the principle had been subscribed to by the heads of the delegations.
§ LORD PASSFIELD
If the noble Viscount thinks that had he been there he would have subscribed to the principle of a tax on wheat and then have sent it to be considered as to whether it was practicable, whether it was injurious or what the effect of it would be—after he had subscribed to it—I do not think his conduct would have been commended. In any case, I am not going to be ashamed of what we did. But when it is said that the Government were determined to allow no discussion of Imperial Preference, that is going a little far. In the first place, there was discussion; in the second place, there was a considerable amount of discussion; and, in the end, it was found impracticable, not by us, to refer it to a Committee at all for expert examination. Fundamentally, of course, whatever the noble Viscount may say in detail, he is attempting to make out to the public that, owing to the blundering and all the other gross wickednesses which he alleged, the Imperial Conference of 1930 has been a failure.
§ LORD PASSFIELD
That is only made out by concentrating on one point; that is to say, on the refusal of the British Government to subscribe to the principle of putting a duty on foodstuffs. After all, the Conference followed in succession from the Conference of 1926, and its primary purpose and absolute duty was to carry out the policy laid down by the Conference of 1926. May I remind your Lordships that the Conference of 1926 was held in a state of extreme economic depression all over the world, especially in this country, and that at the Conference of 1926 the representatives of the British Government do not seem to have brought forward these economic proposals which are supposed to be so important. The Conference of 1926 met at that time and occupied itself with other things—occupied itself with dealing with the constitutional position of the British Empire, which the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack has explained, and directed a Committee of legal experts to sit in order to bring up to the next Imperial Conference—namely, this one of 1930—how that declaration of the constitutional position could be worked out in the Statute Law. That Committee of legal experts sat in the autumn of 1929. It was my hard fate to have to preside over their deliberations. I must, of course, tell your Lordships that the Attorney-General did the work, but I never in all my life found anything so difficult as to work out these complicated problems which had been left by the Conference of 1926 to be worked out and adopted by this Conference of 1930.
The Report of that Committee came up necessarily as the principal business of this Conference of 1930. The noble Viscount, Lord Elibank, said that it did not matter, and that it ought not to have been the principal business. But it had to be the principal business. The Conference gave to that Report and the questions which arose out of it no less than eighteen and a half days out of the twenty-seven working days which the Conference lasted, and more than two-thirds of its time had to be given to these constitutional questions. I am glad to say that, whilst two or three minor things have been left over as they were not urgent, substantially speaking, agree- 410 ment was obtained among all these Dominions to the whole of these complicated constitutional relations. May I be allowed to say that it is due very largely to the patience, skill, and work of the noble Lord on the Woolsack that that result was arrived at.
I should like to draw your Lordships' attention to the fact that, important as no doubt that Conference of 1926 was, there was no discussion upon it in the House of Commons. The Report was never specifically brought into discussion in the House of Commons, and, similarly, the Report of the Committee of Last autumn for putting it into practice was never discussed by the House of Commons. But I think that the future historian, if he comes to say what was done at the Imperial Conferences, will say that the Imperial Conference of 1926 was noteworthy for a memorable declaration as to the status of the component parts of the British Commonwealth of Nations, and he will say that the Conference of 1930 was noteworthy For having produced the Bill, which we propose to call the Statute of Westminster, which for the first time sets free the Dominions from the fetters—the half worn out and obsolescent fetters—of the Westminster Statutes from which they desired to be set free, and from which the Imperial Conference of 1926 declared that they were to he set free.
The noble Lord, Lord Buckmaster, said we have done a wrong thing in doing that, that we ought never to have done it, that there is danger in putting into law these intangible constitutional relations. It may be that there is danger in doing it, but it would not be fair if you did not realise that it had to be done. The declaration of 1926 compelled it, and the declaration of 1926—I was not conversant with matters at the time—was not quite a spontaneous declaration on the part of the representatives of the United Kingdom. The noble Viscount (Viscount Hailsham) probably knows something about that, knows that the Dominions insisted on their equality of status; and now, similarly, the Dominions came to the Conference and to the Committee last autumn insisting that what had been given to them in 1926 should be meticulously put into statute form. It may 411 have been a mistake, as the noble Lord, Lord Buckmaster, suggested; but it had to be done. We have managed to do it at the Imperial Conference which has just concluded, and I say that that will stand as a great landmark, at any rate, in the constitutional evolution of the British Empire. It took eighteen and a half days' discussion out of the twenty-seven working days, which was all the Conference was allowed.
I have a concluding remark to make. I say that that alone will stand out as a landmark in British constitutional history, and as marking out this Conference of 1930 as a success, long after the temporary quarrels about Preferences have been forgotten. What is the general inference from this? I think we all see to-day that we cannot keep the British Empire together by any form of coercion of the component parts. Instead of missing the chance of binding the Empire together by Imperial links in the form of Customs Duties, I submit to your Lordships that by our refusal to impose a tax on wheat in this country, in connection with the demand of the Dominions, we have averted a danger from the continuance of the Empire. In my judgment, possible peril to the British Empire lies in just such attempts at binding the Empire together. I want to suggest that what is fatal, and what will be fatal at any time, is an attempt to maintain the British Empire by the coercion of the will of any one of the component parts of the Empire.
A century and half ago we learned by experience that it was fatal to attempt to maintain an Empire by military force. I do not think any one of your Lordships to-day would assert that we could or ought to maintain the Empire by military force against a component part which determined to be out of it. No one would maintain that to-day, but there may be legal coercion without military coercion. You may have Acts of Parliament which extend to the Dominions which would fetter and bind them, or, at any rate, hurt them, and I think we have learned now that we must not, with regard to these Dominions, attempt to fetter them by Acts of Parliament passed here.
§ LORD BUCKMASTER
Will the noble Lord give us an instance of such an Act of Parliament as he refers to?
§ LORD PASSFIELD
Yes. The Colonial Laws Validity Act of 1865, which says that any law passed by any British Colony which is in contravention of a Statute passed at Westminster applicable to that Colony shall be invalid. That is what we have to repeal.
§ LORD PASSFIELD
This is a surviving Statute, and it is still law, and it is even more silly to attempt to bind the Dominions by obsolescent laws of sixty years ago. That is what we have done in this Committee on the Operation of Dominion Legislation of last autumn. I cannot say that its Report is amusing literature, but it is worthy of being read. I can also say that it leads to most interesting and far-reaching conclusions that I had no idea of until I had to go into this matter. We have gone through the subject at this Imperial Conference for eighteen days, and we have done it. When that Statute is passed, just as we have turned down the idea of coercion by military force we shall have turned down the idea of coercion by law.
There is another peril, not perhaps of to-day, but a peril I do see the possibility of arising for the next generation with regard to the British Empire, and that is the attempt to coerce each other's economic opinions, to put pressure on one or other part of the British Commonwealth of Nations in order to coerce that part of the Commonwealth to adopt some particular economic policy because the others think it desirable. Remember, there is such a thing as a minority. If you imagine a duty on wheat, carried possibly at a tremendous General Election owing to the influence of the newspapers, amid the wild passion of misunderstanding and misstatements made at a General Election, carried against a determined minority connected with British industry and connected in the minds of men with the maintenance of the British Empire, would not that be a danger to the continuance of the Empire? Minorities have a way of becoming majorities. It seems to me that to bind the British Empire with an electoral policy on one of these questions, carried at the Election against a big minority whether in this country or in another country—nothing could be 413 more fatal to the continuance of the Empire than that sort of economic coercion. When that is done in combination or collusion with one or another political Party, and with the support of one or other of the great newspaper trusts, I suggest there is a danger.
But there is a better way, and I believe in that better way. Just as we abandoned a long time ago any idea of maintaining the British Empire by force of arms, just as we are now in this very Session, I assume, going to abandon the idea of attempting to bind the British Empire by Acts of Parliament made here in West-minster, so I think we have got to give up the idea of putting pressure on any part of the British Empire, even on the United Kingdom as part of the British Empire, to adopt by a mere majority vote any economic policy which can be reversed and would be reversed. I think that would be really calculated to be a danger to the Empire. The better way is surely along the line we have gone—namely, that the motto of the British Empire, the British Commonwealth of Nations, as it exists to-day, is "Voluntary co-operation in unfettered freedom."
§ VISCOUNT HAILSHAM
My Lords, you listened so patiently to me in opening this debate that I do not wish to take up more than five or six minutes of your time before the Division which I hope will register your Lordships' opinion. I began by saying that I thought this time I had been able to frame my indictment in terms which not even the Government could misunderstand. I regret to inform your Lordships that I was entirely mistaken. The noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack, in the thesis which he read to your Lordships on the topic of the Balfour declaration, began by saying that he was not going to deal with the economic side of the problem. Of course, he had only to read my Resolution to see that it dealt with nothing else. Therefore his contribution, valuable as it may he as a contribution to a law quarterly or some similar magazine, is really not relevant to the subject we are debating.
The noble and learned Lord, Lord Buckmaster, told us that he thought the right way of dealing with this problem would have been not to have accepted Mr. Bennett's specific proposal, which he said is not good enough, but to have said: "We are prepared to consider 414 everything. We would go even along the road of tariff Preference, but only if we could thereby increase the trade of the country." I entirely agree with the noble and learned Lord. I would only add this qualification to what he said, that he criticised Mr. Bennett's proposal as only an addition of 3 per cent. to our Preference. He forgets, I think, that we are already enjoying a voluntary Preference of 10 per cent. from Canada, and that the continuance of that Preference is by no means a thing upon which we can base our calculations, unless we come to some arrangement with that country. It is not, therefore, 3 per cent. but 13 per cent. that Mr. Bennett offered.
I turn to the noble Lord, Lord Pass-field. The noble Lord said that I assumed facts of which I had no evidence, that I had assumed that there had been no serious discussion and that the answer of His Majesty's Government had not been given till a comparatively late date. The noble Lord will forgive my saying that he has a very convenient, memory, because I gave your Lordships the evidence. I read out to your Lordships the statement made by Mr. Bennett on October 15 and the statement made by General Hertzog on October 25, in which they said that at those dates they were still waiting the decision of His Majesty's Government. Therefore, obviously, they had not received an intimation or they could not have said that. I go further. We had this morning—again I read it to your Lordships—a new statement by Mr. Bennett who was at all the meetings of the heads of delegations. What Mr. Bennett said about the discussion of the proposal is this—.…during the whole period of the Conference, there was, seriously discussed neither the principle of tariff Preferences nor my plans to make them operative.What is the good of the noble Lord saying I have no evidence and that I am making assumptions on which to base my charge? I have the evidence of someone on whose word I am content to rely.
The noble Lord went on to say that I was mistaken in thinking that the Ottawa adjournment was a dilatory device arranged in order that His Majesty's Government in this country might get rid of the Conference. I am sorry if I conveyed that impression. I never had that view. I regard the Ottawa Confer- 415 ence, not as a device of His Majesty's Government to get rid of the Conference, but as a device of the Conference in the hope that before Ottawa they might get rid of His Majesty s Government.
The noble Lord told us that we were making a great mistake in supposing that the economic questions were really the important ones, and that really it was the constitutional decisions which rendered this Conference important. Again the noble Lord will forgive me for criticising his memory as somewhat convenient, because your Lordships will remember that I quoted from a speech of Mr. Thomas, his colleague, who presumably had some idea of what were His Majesty's Government's views about the Conference, in which he said expressly they must frankly realise that it was on the economic side that his constituents and the constituents of the various Dominion Premiers were looking for guidance on this occasion. The constitutional questions were dealt with in 1926. Which am I to believe? I believe that Mr. Thomas before the fact is more likely to be accurate than the Secretary of State for the Colonies after the economic side had proved such a disastrous failure. The truth is that their absence of preparation, their refusal to discuss the proposals which the Dominions brought before us, rendered the failure of the Conference on the economic side, which was the important side, a necessary consequence of their own mistake.
There is one other point with which I want to deal, and then I have finished. The noble Lord said that the proposal which they were invited to accept was the principle of a tax on wheat, and he asked would the Conservative Party accept such a proposal? Mr. Baldwin, he said, had refused it. Nothing of the kind. Again I prefer the record issued by His Majesty's Government. This is the proposal of Mr. Bennett:And so I propose that we of the British Empire, in our joint and several interests, do subscribe to the principle of an Empire Preference, and that we take, without delay, the steps necessary to put it into effective operation.
§ VISCOUNT HAILSHAM
The noble Lord says a tax on wheat. Undoubtedly, 416 Mr. Bennett contemplated a tax on wheat as probably the most effective way of carrying it out, but the noble Lord will not forget at least, I hope, that Mr. Bennett repeated this morning, what I think he said at the final meeting, that he was not prepared to reject the quota system as possibly a competitive substitute for the tax. That offer to subscribe to the principle of Imperial Preference was accepted on behalf of the Conservative Party. Mr. Baldwin said:—The striking offer made by the Prime Minister of Canada cannot fail to create a profound impression throughout this country and the Empire, and, speaking on behalf of the Conservative Party, I say, without hesitation, that the great principle of Imperial Preference embodied in that offer is one to which we must and do subscribe, and I heartily endorse Mr. Scullin's statement that it is our duty to affirm not only the maintenance of that principle but also the extension of its operation.What is the good of saying that the Conservative Party has not accepted the principle of Mr. Bennett's offer?
It is true that we think the quota system a more effective method of carrying out Empire Preference in the case of wheat. It is true that Mr. Bennett thinks that very likely we may be right in the case of wheat; but, whether one method is better than another for carrying it through, we commit ourselves to the principle, believing that once the principle is accepted two parties loyally working together for the same end will arrive at a practical means of achieving their desire. The Socialist Government, on the other hand, refuse to consider the principle they decline seriously to discuss it, and they send their Ministers up and down the country to say that there is no benefit whatever in tariffs, that they are a sinister design to break wages, that they produce a sink of corruption in Parliament and that in no circumstances will they even be considered by His Majesty's Government. In the face of those declarations, it is idle for the noble Lord opposite to say that the Government were really seriously considering them all the time and that, while they were saying in the country that they would not look at them, they were really behind the scenes, as he suggests, having serious discussions with heads of delegations, not one of whom 417 seems to have had the slightest idea that such movements were going on. I say that the whole conduct of His Majesty's Government has shown, in the words of their official organ, a "bankruptcy of statesmanship," and I ask your Lord-
§ Resolved in the affirmative, and Motion agreed to accordingly.418
§ ships by your votes this afternoon to show that you think so too.
§ On Question, Whether the Motion shall be agreed to?—
§ Their Lordships divided: Contents, 74; Not-Contents, 10.417
|Norfolk, D. (E. Marshal.)||Allenby of Megiddo, V.||Ebbisham, L.|
|Bertie of Thame, V.||Ernle, L.|
|Camden, M.||Brentford, V.||Fairfax of Cameron, L.|
|Salisbury, M.||Burnham, V.||Gage, L. (V. Gage.) [Teller.]|
|Zetland, M.||Elibank, V.||Hampton, L.|
|Falmouth, V.||Hothfield, L.|
|Albemarle, E.||FitzAlan of Derwent, V.||Howard of Glossop, L.|
|Balfour, E.||Goschen, V.||Islington, L.|
|Denbigh, E.||Hailsham, V.||Jessel, L.|
|Halsbury, E.||Hereford, V.||Kinnaird, L.|
|Howe, E.||Hood, V.||Lawrence, L.|
|Iveagh, E.||Novar, V.||Lovat, L.|
|Lauderdale, E.||Luke, L.|
|Lindsey, E.||Aberdare, L.||Oriel, L. (V. Massereene.)|
|Lovelace, E.||Alvingham, L.||Ormonde, L. (M. Ormonde.)|
|Lucan, E. [Teller.]||Ampthill, L.||Ponsonby, L. (E. Bess-borough.)|
|Malmesbury, E.||Annaly, L.|
|Midleton, E.||Auckland, L.||Queenborough, L.|
|Munster, E.||Banbury of Southam, L.||Ruthven of Gowrie, L.|
|Onslow, E.||Clanwilliam, L. (E. Clanwilliam.)||Saltoun, L.|
|Peel, E.||Sempill, L.|
|Plymouth, E.||Cottesloe, L.||Somerleyton, L.|
|Roden, E.||Cushendun, L.||Stonehaven, L.|
|Scarbrough, E.||Danesfort, L.||Strathcona and Mount Royal, L.|
|Stanhope, E.||Darling, L.|
|Vane, E. (M. Londonderry.)||Daryngton, L.||Sudeley, L.|
|Desart, L. (E. Desart.)||Sydenham of Combe, L.|
|Sankey, L. (L. Chancellor.)||Amulree, L.||Marley, L. [Teller.]|
|Dickinson, L,||Passfield, L.|
|Parmoor, L. (L. President.)||Hay, L. (E. Kinnoull.)||Ponsonby of Shulbrede, L.|
|Marks, L. [Teller.]||Sanderson, L.|
§ House adjourned at seven o'clock.