§ VISCOUNT ELIBANK had the following Notice on the Paper—To ask His Majesty's Government—
- 1, Whether they have further considered in consultation with the Governments of the Dominions the terms of reference to be arranged for the Imperial Economic Conference;
- 2, Whether they are now prepared to agree to that Conference considering every aspect of closer trade relationship between this country and the Dominions and Colonies; and if so
- 3, Whether they will now agree to submit to that Conference for the fullest possible discussion, the policy
541 of Empire Free Trade including the imposition in this country of duties on foreign foodstuffs;
§ The noble Viscount said: My Lords, I rise to ask the Questions and to make the Motion standing in my name. His Majesty's Government may ask why, in view of the debate that took place in the House of Commons yesterday, I have thought it necessary to proceed to-day with the Motion standing in my name. In reply to that I may say in the first place that the debate yesterday did not raise the same issues as are contained in my Notice, and, secondly, that this House has always recognised the right to independent information on any question of major importance. I further submit that the Questions asked in my Notice were not fully discussed or answered in that debate in another place. On the contrary, the speeches made by the representatives of the Government there evaded the specific points which I have raised in my Questions.
§ We have heard several times recently from the lips of the Prime Minister and Mr. Thomas declarations that the imperial Economic Conference will be unfettered and free in all its discussions and will be able to discuss every aspect of Imperial trade relationships. But what we have now learned from the debate which took place last night is that the question of the taxation of foreign foodstuffs will not be admitted to those discussions nor will the subject of Empire Free Trade. I listened to the speech made by the Chancellor of the Exchequer in another place last night and came away with the feeling that so long as Mr. Snowden remains Chancellor of the Exchequer there is no possible hope for this country to emerge from the morass in which it is struggling. In very definite terms, in a speech which I admit was one of great power and eloquence, Mr. Snowden finally shut and barred the door so far as he was concerned upon any form of reciprocal trade arrangements between this country and the Dominions. He declared himself as strong a Cobdenite Free Trader as ever he was, and he stated that he would have nothing to do with any scheme which involved the taxation of foreign foodstuffs or of raw materials, or protection of any nature whatever. Very 542 reluctantly and hesitatingly he agreed that the policy of import boards, which was advocated by certain of the younger members of his Party at a later stage in the debate, might be considered and discussed; but he showed no liking for this policy any more than for the policy of the Conservatives and Unionists on the opposite Benches.
§ In my opinion that speech was a tragedy. It was a speech of the old timer, who has his feet firmly entrenched in the ditch and will neither move backward nor forward, and who intends to die in the same faith in which he was born and for which he has lived. Whilst individuals can proceed in that manner, countries cannot afford to do so. Younger men grow up who express the spirit of the new age and who, in spite of the scorn which is poured upon them and the tribulations which they suffer, give vent to their views and to the needs of the more modern and newer era. It is interesting to note that in the debate in question two young and prominent members of the Labour Party, Sir Oswald Mosley and Mr. Wise, crossed swords with Mr. Snowden and refuted the larger part of his arguments. I do not propose to go into those arguments, but I suggest to noble Lords, if they have not read that debate, that for those who believe in the policy which we put forward the speech of Mr. Wise, especially, contains all the arguments in a nutshell which we have been advocating during the past few months in this country. These two members expressed themselves in favour of Empire economic unity by means of import boards and also, be it noted, of the abandonment of the policy of free imports into this country. Apparently as a result of representations made by those two members the Prime Minister, when he came to speak later on in the debate, accepted their suggestion that this method of achieving Empire economic unity—namely, by means of import boards—might be discussed and introduced into the deliberations of the Imperial Economic Conference.
§ What is the result of this? At this moment we have in this country two definite policies for achieving the end we have in view. One policy is represented by Empire Free Trade, including the taxation of foreign foodstuffs. The other policy is represented by import boards, 543 and let it again be noted that both policies agree with the abandonment of the policy of free imports into this country. We have indeed arrived at a stage when we have a common end in view without having found the common denominator which will achieve it. With the imperial Economic Conference looming so shortly ahead, with the difficulties which there would be in re-assembling such a Conference from all parts of the Empire, with the deplorable economic conditions which exist in this country, in parts of the Empire, in parts of the Dominions and in parts of the Colonies, I for one would be glad to see whether it was possible to find a policy which knitted together the two methods I have described, for the purpose of ensuring definite, tangible and advantageous results from that important Conference which will sit in September. I believe that there are many members in all three political Parties to-day who would welcome this. I do not venture to suggest how this could be brought about, but if it could transpire I feel sure it would be to the lasting benefit of this country, of the Dominions, of the Colonies and of the Empire at large.
§ We cannot afford to wait. Unemployment is leaping up. Economic conditions are growing worse every day. I suggest that the time for words is getting past and that what we want now is action. I venture, therefore, as part of such a proposal to ask His Majesty's Government whether they would be prepared to recommend the Imperial Economic Conference to receive a small deputation on the subject of Empire Free Trade. I, personally, would be glad to organise such a deputation in company with my noble friend and others who are interested in this matter, and I make that suggestion to His Majesty's Government and ask for their earnest consideration of it.
§ In this country we have recently had two by-elections at which Empire Free Trade and taxation of foreign foodstuffs were the main issues. In the one case West Fulham was won by a majority of 340, whilst in the Other North Norfolk was lost by 179, but showing in both cases a greatly increased poll. Taking the figures together of a typical urban constituency and a typical rural constituency, we find that 30,865 voters were in favour of the policy, and 30,804 against 544 it, a majority of 61 in favour of Empire Free Trade. It may be remarked, especially for the Front Bench opposite, that this is in spite of the fact that both those elections were fought straight out on the policy not only of Empire Free Trade but of the taxation of foreign foodstuffs. I submit to your Lordships that His Majesty's Government cannot afford to ignore these figures and these indications of the hardening of public opinion in favour of this policy, nor can His Majesty's Government afford to ignore the galloping ascent of unemployment, and the continuously declining figures of both our exports and imports.
§ I do not wish this afternoon to go over those figures again. They have been given in this House on many occasions, and the only result would be to arouse once more a debate purely on the question of figures, a debate treated in the purely arithmetical way. That is not my object. I wish rather to place the issue on a much broader basis than that. The noble Lord, Lord Arnold, I feel sure, when he rises to speak will still be self-strangled in the folds of Cobdenism which surround him and several members of his Cabinet, and he, like other members, will go on fiddling whilst Rome is burning. I venture to suggest to him and those other members that a nemesis will overtake them if they decline to recognise modern conditions, and to formulate remedies consonant with present-day experience and present-day requirements. That is all I have to say this afternoon, but I do appeal to the noble Lord, Lord Arnold, representing as he does His Majesty's Government this afternoon, to take this matter into his very earnest consideration, and His Majesty's Government to take it into earnest consideration, because times are bad, they are growing worse, and, whereas formerly we were at war, we are to-day in peace, but we are still at war with the economic conditions which are surrounding us. I beg to move.
§ LORD ERNLE
My Lords, I should like to support the noble Lord who has just spoken in his appeal to the Government to entertain such Questions as those appearing on the Paper before the House. I personally am in favour of treating the question of what we may call the protection of foodstuffs by means of import boards. I believe that through them you will find the most effective and the 545 cheapest mode of regulating the imports from abroad, and more particularly from the Dominions who are chiefly interested. I believe it to be the best method, and, therefore, I hope that it is going to be discussed at the Imperial Conference. But the main issue surely is: Are the Government going to insist upon the full rigid principle of the old Free Trade policy? Nobody disputes the great benefits derived from Free Trade during the expansion of our industries. Free Trade created for us a commercial supremacy which, till the first decade of the present century, has never been seriously challenged. It provided us with the men, the munitions, the money and the shipping with which we passed successfully through the Great War. But those conditions have failed in the last ten years, and for the new conditions I believe that we want something less rigid than the old Free Trade principles.
We want some system which will give us elasticity, and I believe that if we can modify, suspend, or even abandon Free Trade, it will be for the interests of the British Empire and for its greater prosperity. You may think I speak entirely as an agriculturist. I do not think I do. I believe I wrote an extremely long book, which was published in 1912, on English farming, and that you will not find within its 500 pages one word in favour of Protection. The reason of that is this. In those days other nations were too undeveloped industrially to manufacture goods for themselves. They were willing to take our manufactured goods and services in payment for their foodstuffs, and with all the fervour of self-interest Free Traders prayed God to speed the plough in every country other than our own. And the more the prayer was realised, the greater grew the volume of our exports, employment became greater, wages higher, the standard of living better, and the greater became the accumulated sum of national wealth. But those conditions have passed away. Of course agriculture suffered, and paid a heavy price for industrial progress, but as long as those conditions lasted I, for one, felt that we were bound to balance the agricultural loss against the general national gain.
But Free Trade to-day has succeeded in establishing the dependence of this country on foreign foodstuffs though it has 546 not succeeded in establishing the dependence of foreign nations on our manufactures. The bargain has become wholly one-sided. Foreign nations have asserted their independence of our manufactured goods. They make goods for themselves, and they under-sell us in our own market and in the markets of our Dominions. The industrial gain is gone, but the agricultural loss continues, and still with unabated fervour Free Traders pray God speed the plough in every country but our own. To-day out of every 4 lb. loaf consumed by the British people only 8 ozs. is grown on British soil. We may have a rude awakening. The system of unified selling abroad is making great strides, and it is a system which is contrary to all the principles of free play in supply and demand on which Free Trade is based. The Federal Board of the United States and the Wheat Pool of Canada control the whole exportable surplus of wheat in those two countries, and in Argentina a syndicate has been established which controls, I am told, 60 per cent. of the supply. What is to prevent a combination between these three bodies? In old days when producers were numerous and scattered and independent it was impossible to corner wheat. To-day nothing hinders these three bodies from combining to their mutual advantage to exploit our necessities to the very uttermost farthing.
I have always held, and I hold still, that you can never expect to reverse our economic policy until the demand for it comes from the industrial population themselves under the pressure of unemployment. That is an unpopular lesson which I have often urged upon farmers in times past, and I adhere to it. But that demand is being made. The economic resolutions of the Trade Union Congress make it, and I believe the instinct of the workers is right and that Free Trade is one of the root causes of unemployment. Of course, it is not the only cause; there are others. Foreign nations who have different economic systems from our own suffer from the same malady. But may I remind your Lordships that we alone among the nations of the world have had since 1921 a uniform figure of upwards of a million unemployed in this country, and that within the last thirteen months, as we all know, that figure has risen to alarming proportions until it is nearing 547 two millions? That unemployment is not going to be reduced if we sit still. It is going to increase, for foreign competition is not lessening, it is growing, and as yet we only know it in its infancy.
Let me quote to your Lordships the case of iron and steel, the most vital of industries for our national existence. France, since the War, has acquired 80 per cent. of the metallurgical wealth which was formerly the property of Germany. She has created an iron and steel industry which is at present still in its infancy but is capable of enormous development. It has already doubled its output of pig iron and steel ingots and castings, and it has increased its exports seven fold. Belgium, though its progress is less remarkable, is advancing almost as rapidly. Now wages in France, taking the whole wages of the skilled, the unskilled and the semi-skilled workers in the iron industry, are only 37s. a week. The hours which they work are 49 and a fraction over. The Belgian workman is content with an average weekly earning of 35s. 5d. and he works 50 hours. Now, with these figures before us and realising the effect they must have on the cost of production, how can we hope to hold our own home markets? How can we much less hope to gain new markets or recapture lost ones? Is iron and steel to go the same way as bread? Are we to be dependent upon foreigners for our bread-stuffs and utterly incapable of resisting the most humiliating attacks from our foreign rivals? I believe the only remedy is safeguarding our industries and such a precious industry as iron and steel above all. Free Trade may shelter from its failures under unemployment benefit to something like 1,900,000 workers, but instead of protecting an economic theory at a prodigious unproductive cost is it not worth while trying to protect our own industries?
There are two other points which, unless I am wearying you, I should like to deal with. One is another economic point. For ninny years it flattered our national vanity to believe, or to say we believed, that all foreign nations would see the error of their ways and embrace Free Trade. That was an innocent delusion, mischievous, if it was mischievous at all, only to ourselves. But I venture to say with very great conviction that 548 our rigid adherence to Free Trade today has become a real menace to the trade of the world, that it encourages the exaggerated nationalism that prevails to-day to the still further strangling of the international exchange of commodities. I do not believe that the United States of America would have added another tier to the height of their Chinese wall of tariffs if they did not know that at their very doors they had our huge unrestricted market open for their exportable surpluses. I do not believe that the foreign nations in Europe would be tumbling over one another in their eagerness to put up barriers against foreign competition in every direction if they did not know that they again had our markets as their outlet. I believe that the relaxation or the abandonment of Free Trade would mean the first step towards the restoration of the commercial sanity of the world.
The second point is a political one and has a bearing on present politics. I take it that the remedy which noble Lords opposite have for unemployment is Nationalisation. We have had it from the noble and learned Lord the Leader of the House in regard to agriculture. We have heard from the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack that it is the case with coal. We heard from Mr. Snowden last night in another place, if he is correctly reported, that capitalism is the root of the present unemployment. Their remedy is Nationalisation, and I think they are fairly entitled to say that they cannot be blamed for failing to redeem their promises to relieve unemployment because they have not been returned in sufficient power to put their remedy into operation. Now Karl Marx, the apostle of Socialism, told us that the easiest way to secure the transfer of private enterprise to the State was by two methods. One was to force up the cost of production, especially wages, and the other was to force down the price so that there was no margin of profit left. I think, although most of our time is spent in this House on niggling Amendments to Bills that are brought before us, we do not know and appreciate what progress in the first of these directions the Government have made during their tenure of office. We have seen how the cost of pro- 549 duction has been raised in Bills already presented, but we have not yet seen the Bills which have been suspended. For the other part, the part which forces down prices, they rely upon Free Trade. They rely on it because Free Trade forces down prices to the level at which a great country can afford to dispose of its exportable surplus when it has already made its profit at home, or to the level of other nations whose standards of life are inferior to our own.
It comes to this, that Free Trade, which was once the bulwark of individualism, is to-day the most effective weapon of Socialism. I think that the strange union between those who value Free Trade for its own sake and the Socialist Party, who value it for an ulterior motive, is a precarious one. To the Liberal Party Free Trade is a religion, to the Socialist Party it is a stepping stone to Nationalisation, and I believe, and I fancy that everybody in this House believes, that, if once that goal is reached, the workers of this country will apply to their own industry the same protective principles that they apply to their trade unions, and that we shall become, with nationalised industry, one of the most Protectionist countries in the world.
I have tried to put before you very shortly—for I am not one of your habitual speakers, nor can I indulge in a speech of an hour's length—the reasons why I support the policy that has been put forward to-day by the noble Viscount. I do not agree with all of his policy—indeed I differ from it in many points—but it seems to me to be the one effective weapon with which we can fight the necessary and inevitable consequences of Free Trade in this country in driving down the profits of private enterprise until it falls into the hands of the State. It is because I feel that the noble Lords opposite stand for the very antithesis of all that I value and aspire to in the development of national life that I give my whole-hearted support, in spite of many detailed differences, to the economic policy brought forward by the noble Viscount.
THE DUKE OF MONTROSE
My Lords, in interposing a few remarks on this question I think I may say that it is a question which deserves to be considered seriously and which the country as a whole is indebted to the noble Lord, 550 Lord Beaverbrook, for raising at this Lime by way of the Press. What I feel is that, if we examine this question solely from the point of view of Empire, whether you call it Empire economic unity or Imperial Free Trade, we are perhaps on rather dangerous ground. I would far rather keep the idea of Empire in the back of my mind and look at this question solely from the point of view of protecting and safeguarding our labour interests in this country. It is admitted on all hands that we have unlimited and unrestricted imports of food products. Many of these goods are produced in countries with a lower standard of wage and lower social conditions than exist here. There can be no doubt that this unlimited and unrestricted importation is injurious to the labour interest in this country. There can be no doubt that, while our trade unions are doing everything in their power to maintain a high standard of living and a high wage, you are injuring them if you admit unlimited and unrestricted sweated imports from abroad.
Accordingly I say that we should examine this question from the point of view of safeguarding and protecting our labour interests. It is known that in this country we have a higher social standard and higher wages than exist in almost any other country. If we give our standard the index number of 100, there are other countries, like Austria, Italy and Spain, which have a very much lower index number, even as low as 45. What I say is that we should tax the goods which come from those countries on a scale which will put their labour on the same footing as our own. There are other countries, like Australia and Canada, which have an index number of 120 or 125. By all means let their goods in free, unlimited and unrestricted, because their labour conditions are equal to our own. As regards the United States, they have there as good social conditions as we have, but so long as we are being called upon to pay large sums of money every year to the United States I say that we should tax their goods.
The tariffs should apply to the food as well as to manufactures. We are told that if we have a tariff of this kind the cost of living will rise. Almost in the same breath noble Lords opposite, representing the Labour Party, say that bad 551 trade to-day is due to over-production and world causes. I venture to remark that, if there is over-production, there will be no rise in the cost of food. You cannot have a rise in the cost of anything if there is over-production. I should like to know if the Government of the day have taken any steps whatever to get the International Labour Office in Geneva to move in the direction of raising the standard of living and of wages in foreign countries to a par with our own. Have they taken any steps whatever to make the International Labour Office an instrument for putting world conditions on a par with British conditions? Until that is done I think it is a mistake to continue to allow unrestricted and unlimited free imports from abroad if they are injurious to our own trade.
§ THE LORD PRESIDENT OF THE COUNCIL (LORD PARMOOR)
My Lords, I do not intend to reply at any length to the arguments that have been brought forward. My noble friend Lord Arnold intends to speak when all the arguments on the other side have been put, and accordingly he has asked me to say a word or two now regarding the speeches that we have already heard. The noble Duke who spoke last—I sympathise with him entirely in this—spoke of the necessity of bringing the general conditions of the workers in countries in competition with ourselves up to the same height that the workers in this country enjoy. That has always been the policy of everyone really interested in the international question at Geneva, but I think that, if you will look at what has passed at Geneva—not recently, but during a long period whilst another Government was in power, though I do not want to make a mere political point—you will find that, instead of the Government pressing on such matters as the 8-hour day and bringing to completion that which was started at Washington in 1919, there has always been a tendency to prevent further advances in what I regard as an extremely important point in this whole trade question—namely, international equality, so far as international equality can be brought about, in the conditions of the workers in the various competing countries. I myself agree with that. It is what is being done, and what I wish could have been carried forward much 552 further, and I think it will be to the advantage not only of this country—that is a selfish way of putting it—but of all industrial countries, that the workers should be put upon a common level with regard to wages and hours, so as to have the full advantage of the principle of free and fair competition.
I gladly welcome the authority in this debate of the noble Lord, Lord Ernle. We have competed on various points since our common life at Oxford, and I regard his speeches with great attention, but I could not follow his argument in this respect. I understood him to say—he will tell me if I am wrong—that his objection, or one of his objections, to Free Trade—and he quoted Karl Marx—was that it would tend in the direction of Nationalisation, and therefore, as I understood him further, he appealed to the workers of this country, and to the Trade Union Congress, to resist Free Trade, or rather not to promote Free Trade, on that account.
§ LORD ERNLE
I beg the noble and learned Lord's pardon. I did not say that. I said that Karl Marx had suggested that one of the easiest ways to bring about the transfer of private enterprises to the State was by forcing down prices, and that the forcing down of prices in this country was the work of Free Trade, and therefore he was as a Socialist a champion of Free Trade. That is rather different.
§ LORD PARMOOR
It may be rather different, but according to the way the argument appeals to me it comes to very much the same result. However, I do not want to follow what may be a mere debating matter between the noble Lord and myself, but I would like to ask him this: Other things being equal, suppose we had the international advantages to which the noble Duke referred, does he regard it as a matter of advantage to the workers in the country that they should be able to obtain their food on the cheapest possible terms? That is, to my mind, putting the issue in the most critical way. I say that every time you artificially put up the price of food to the workers in a great industrial country like this, you take the very worst step in their interest that can possibly be suggested. Not only does it throw the taxation off the well-to-do on to the 553 poorest class, but at the same time, particularly under existing conditions, it might bring within the level of starvation those workers who are very nearly at that level at the present moment. I am bound to admit that I can see no argument whatever for the proposition which Lord Ernle has put forward in that respect.
I will not go further into the arguments, because I did not rise to answer the arguments generally, but only to say one or two words as to the point which had arisen. Let me say one word in answer to Lord Elibank. He very kindly warned us, no doubt as a philanthropic sympathiser with us, as to the evil result which might follow if we accepted the advice given by the Chancellor of the Exchequer last night in another place. I will say quite frankly that I am wholly in accord with what the Chancellor of the Exchequer said in the other place, and so far as I know with every portion of his extremely important speech. Of course one cannot say that one agrees with every word in every speech, unless one has the document before one, but I regard his statement, and especially his statement against any tax on the food supply of this country, as one of the most important and simple declarations of policy which every person who cares for the welfare of our huge industrial population ought to take to heart and carry out.
I make no apologies and I feel none. I am entirely with the Chancellor of the Exchequer in every word he used. I cannot make my own position clearer than that, because every one who read his speech must know what his views were, because they were expressed in the clearest possible manner. I do not propose to address your Lordships further to-night. I had not intended to address you, but as Lord Arnold desired to speak at the end of the debate I thought it was only fair that I should say a word or two on the views already expressed.
My Lords, may I venture to intervene? I was very much struck in the course of the debate with the fact that I had not, heard a single word on the subject of the production of the British workman. We are told that he receives in wages what may be put at the figure of 100 per cent., and that the workmen in other countries only receive the equivalent of 45 per cent.; but 554 it would appear in that case that if the British workman, Protection or no Protection, wants to sell his wares, he must produce 100 where the low-paid workman produces 45. I hope that Lord Arnold will address himself to this question and let us know what His Majesty's Government think about it when he replies.
§ THE PAYMASTER-GENERAL (LORD ARNOLD)
My Lords, the debate in the House has taken a somewhat unexpected course, as frequently happens. I make no complaint of that at all, but there have been in the course of the last few months several debates in this House upon Empire Free Trade, and upon the fiscal question generally, most of them initiated by the noble Viscount, and he had intimated that he did not desire on this occasion to have any lengthy discussion at all. The wide rules of order in this House, however, have given scope for speeches which, however interesting they may be, have no immediate relation to the Questions upon the Paper. Nevertheless, these speeches have been made and with your Lordships' permission I will, before I sit down, say a few words in regard to them.
My first duty is to reply specifically to the Questions of the noble Viscount. The first Question is whether His Majesty's Government have considered in consultation with the Governments of the Dominions the terms of reference to be arranged for the Imperial Economic Conference. The reply to that is that there is no separate Imperial Economic Conference, but it has been arranged that the economic side should be part of the work of a single Imperial Conference, though the economic subjects will be kept together as a separate section of the agenda. There are no "terms of reference" for an Imperial Conference, but a broad outline of the subjects to be discussed has naturally to be drawn up in the form of an agenda which is settled in consultation between His Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom and His Majesty's Governments in the Dominions. The agenda on the economic side suggested by His Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom has already been communicated to all the Dominion Governments. The replies are not entirely complete, but already in some cases suggestions for additional subjects for discussion have been made. It may be said that the consideration of the agenda by 555 the various Governments is approaching completion, but its final form has not yet been settled and it is not possible at this stage to make any detailed announcement concerning it. The Prime Minister, however, quite recently, on June 30, promised to give the House of Commons an outline of the agenda both on the political and economic side before the end of the Session.
That is the reply to the first of the noble Viscount's Questions. The second Question is whether His Majesty's Government are now prepared to agree to that Conference considering every aspect of closer trade relationship between this country and the Dominions and Colonies. The reply to that is as follows: The agenda for the Conference will permit the consideration of any proposals which may be put forward for the purpose of fostering inter-Imperial trade, but it will be made clear from the outset that His Majesty's Government are opposed to any new or increased taxation of foodstuffs imported into Great Britain and to any system of tariffs in Great Britain.
The third Question is whether His Majesty's Government will now agree to submit to that Conference for the fullest possible consideration the policy of Empire Free Trade including the imposition in this country of duties on foreign foodstuffs. It follows from what I have said in reply to the second Question that the answer to the third Question is in the negative. Those are the definite replies to the Questions which the noble Viscount asks.
§ VISCOUNT BRENTFORD
That rather seems to me to be at variance with what the Chancellor of the Exchequer said yesterday. Do I gather definitely that he will not allow the policy of Empire Free Trade to be discussed at all at that Conference?
§ LORD ARNOLD
Certainly not. If the noble Viscount will listen closely to my reply, he will see there is nothing at variance. The Question was whether His Majesty's Government will agree to submit to the Conference proposals for the policy of Empire Free Trade, including the imposition in this country of duties on foreign foodstuffs. To that the reply is in the negative.
§ VISCOUNT BRENTFORD
May I ask still further whether, if any Dominion 556 desires that question to be discussed, His Majesty's Government will raise any objection to the discussion?
§ LORD ARNOLD
I have already said that any proposals for increasing inter-Imperial trade—and if that view be taken of this proposal, it will come under that category—can be brought up for consideration. There is no difference whatever between what I have said and what the Chancellor of the Exchequer said. They are absolutely in harmony.
Do I understand that in the event of a Dominion bringing up this subject His Majesty's Government will decline to discuss it and give a reply in the negative?
§ LORD ARNOLD
Certainly not. His Majesty's Government state that the matter is open for discussion, and they will state their view upon it.
§ LORD ARNOLD
I have already stated what the view of His Majesty's Government is. But there has never been any doubt about it. It was perfectly clear at the last General Election. Before the last General Election we had always made our position clear in regard to the taxation of foodstuffs, and in regard to tariffs generally. We have never wavered in the smallest degree from that position, and, as a matter of fact, that ought to be the position of the Conservative Party also, because they, too, until very recently have taken up an attitude in regard to food taxes very similar to that which I have been adumbrating on behalf of His Majesty's Government.
For instance, Mr. Baldwin, in the letter which he sent to the Conservative candidate at Twickenham shortly after the General Election, said:—When proposals involving taxation of foodstuffs are put forward, I feel bound to point out that such a policy is contrary, not only to your own election address, but also to the declared policy of our Party.That is what Mr. Baldwin said a few months ago. And before the General Election Mr. Baldwin said this:—My words must not be taken to mean that I contemplate a tax on imported wheat. The time has changed since a policy of that sort was practical politics.And at Drury Lane on the eve of the Election, when he was laying before the 557 country the policy of the Conservative Party in regard to these matters, Mr. Baldwin said:—We are pledged, and shall continue to be pledged, not to introduce Protection. We are pledged, and shall continue to be pledged, not to impose any taxes on food.Therefore, if the Conservative Party were true to the definite statements which were made only a short time ago on these matters they would take up precisely the position in reference to food taxes that I have outlined as being the position of His Majesty's Government.
For the moment I pass from that, and comes to one or two of the details of the speech of the noble Viscount who initiated the discussion. He spoke again, as he did on the last occasion, about the deplorable conditions in regard to unemployment and trade in this country. I pointed out on that occasion, and must again remind your Lordships, that those conditions, unsatisfactory though they are admittedly, are not confined to this country, and that unhappily world trade depression is now so severe and so universal that in some of the Protectionist countries conditions are even worse than they are in this country. Unemployment is extremely rampant in certain Protectionist countries. Therefore it really will not do for the noble Viscount to suggest that conditions here are exceptional, or that they are due to Free Trade. Again, what was said about unemployment in the United States, Canada, Australia and so forth—
May I intervene to say that on this occasion I was able to quote the statement of two members of the noble Lord's own Party made yesterday in the House of Commons.
§ LORD ARNOLD
If I may very respectfully say so, I scarcely think it was worth while making that interruption. It really has no relevance to what I was saying. I was dealing with the general position, about which there can be no dispute, because so far as statistics can be brought to prove anything, they can be brought to prove broadly speaking what I am saying. The noble Viscount puts up a picture of things being very bad in this country and then says: "Why don't you do something?" The answer is that we think his proposals would make things worse. 558 We have argued this matter out at considerable length, and we certainly have not been shaken in our view at all.
The noble Lord, Lord Ernle (I am sorry he is not now in his place), made an interesting speech, as he always does, but I confess that I found myself a little bit astonished at the position he took up. He said he was very glad that the noble Viscount had brought forward this policy of Empire Free Trade. At one moment I thought that he agreed with it all. It is true I gathered that there were certain things in which he did not entirely concur, and I am not surprised, because, after all, what did Mr. Baldwin say about this policy quite recently? In February he said:—As a practical policy, however, Empire Free Trade is impossible, and no responsible statesman will go to the country and tell the electorate that it will be introduced if he is returned to power. It cannot be done. The Dominions will not have it, and they have said so in the clearest terms. In the face of such declarations from the Dominions, declarations in which they are in complete unanimity, no political Party in this country can honestly adopt Empire Free Trade as a platform on which to fight the next General Election.I am a little surprised in view of that that the noble Lord, Lord Ernle, should have spoken as warmly of this policy as he did.
It may be said, and no doubt it is true, that Mr. Baldwin was hinting at complete and literal Empire Free Trade, but one of my quarrels with the noble Viscount and the noble Lord sitting next to him (Lord Beaverbrook) is that their whole campaign is deceiving the country. It gives people who do not understand these things the impression that they are standing for Empire Free Trade. As a matter of fact they are standing for nothing of the sort. I have pointed out before—I know the noble Lord, Lord Beaverbrook, does not like to be reminded of this, he is a little sensitive on the point—that his policy has constantly fluctuated. Last July he said that there was to be freedom of entry, without Customs Tax, into the Dominions and Colonies for our manufactures. That would mean that practically every industry they have would have Protection. Then the noble Viscount, Lord Elibank, last May, in the debate in your Lordships' House, agreed that as regards the Colonies you could not remove the duties from them. I pointed out then, and I 559 think very properly, that he did not stand for Empire Free Trade. It is most clear that this campaign does not stand for Empire Free Trade. It is really a campaign which, as a matter of fact, would make the Empire very much more Protectionist than it is at the present time. That would be the effect of it if ever, unfortunately, it was carried into operation.
The noble Lord, Lord Ernle, again caused me some surprise because, when the debate took place in your Lordships' House on December 9, 1929, he used these words—There is a question, of course, of the effect upon British agriculture."—He was then considering this matter—It does not matter to the British consumer whether his food comes from Argentina or Canada or the United States. It matters very little to the British producer whether his industry is impoverished and almost ruined by either Argentina or Canada or the United States. I do not see that the British farmer can either benefit or lose by Imperial Preference, supposing it was adopted. …In those circumstances I confess that I do not quite understand the measure of support which he appeared to give to the proposals of the noble Viscount opposite.
Then, to-day, the noble Lord, Lord Ernle, took up the point, and so did the noble Duke, the Duke of Montrose, and the noble Lord sitting on the Cross Benches, that on the Continent the wages of the workers are lower than they are here and that their hours of labour are longer, and how, therefore, is it possible for us to compete with them and to go on trading at all? That is almost what it seems to come to. This is an old, old subject. There is nothing new about wages on the Continent being lower than wages here. By the by, it is interesting, in passing, to observe that the Continent has gone entirely Protectionist and, therefore, it proves that wages are lower than here. But I let that pass.
As I say, there is nothing new about wages on the Continent being lower and hours longer than here. In the years from 1900 to 1914, years on the whole of great prosperity for this country, you had to a very large extent the same condition of things obtaining as you have to-day. You had then what is now derided as an unrestricted system of free imports, and on the whole there was great prosperity 560 and at one time unemployment was down under those conditions to 2 per cent. Therefore, I think it is perfectly clear that the matter of wages and hours on the Continent is by no means so conclusive as those who bring these points forward appear to think. Indeed, if I might respectfully do so, I would commend to the attention of noble Lords and certainly of the noble Lord on the Cross Benches, certain paragraphs which appear in the Balfour Report dealing with this very point. If the noble Lord will be good enough to look at those paragraphs he will see that wages are only one element in the cost of production and by no means so important an element as the noble Lord appears to think.
I would like to put this point to the noble Lord, Lord Ernle, who unfortunately is not in his place. I would put it to the noble Duke, the Duke of Montrose, but he is not here.
§ LORD ARNOLD
Very well, I will put it to noble Lords on the Front Opposition Bench. I do not say that they are committing themselves to these somewhat wild and extravagant questions which have been asked; if they were I would like to ask them this: What about the relative positions of ourselves and United States? Wages are higher in the United States than in this country.
§ LORD ARNOLD
Perhaps the noble Lord will allow me to make my own case. He has made his speech. I say that the fact that wages are higher in the United States, as has often been stated in your Lordships' House, has nothing to do with Free Trade or Protection. It is inherent in the different Character of the country, in its bigger industrial development and its great natural resources and so on. If the argument of the noble Duke is to be carried to its logical conclusion you would get to this position. The United States must take measures to stop our goods going into their territories—
§ LORD ARNOLD
But they are not taking steps because of the relative difference in wages. They are taking steps so far as they have taken them because they are a Protectionist country. But the logical conclusion of the speech of the noble Duke would be that, so far as the United States is concerned, they ought to take steps almost to prohibit our goods going in at all.
§ LORD ARNOLD
That is an impossible position to take up. I would like to put this question to noble Lords opposite. The noble Earl, Lord Peel, has again and again supported duties on motors in this country. He knows as well as I do that the chief competition of the motor industry in this country comes from the United States of America. But wages are higher there than they are here. Is not that in itself a reply to the suggestion that wages are a determining factor in this matter of trade competition between the countries?
§ LORD ARNOLD
The noble Lord will allow me to continue my speech. I am making the point perfectly clear that, as regards the United States, wages particularly in the motor industry are very high and yet they have been able to compete and still to some extent compete despite the fact that we have now a duty of 33⅓ per cent. on motors, which is a very high duty indeed as these things go. Therefore, I think that you have to look further in these matters and not to run to conclusions on a few deductions drawn from suggestions which, as a matter of fact, will not stand close analysis.
Before I sit down I should like to say one or two more words in reference to the proposals of the noble Viscount. He asked a question as to whether His Majesty's Government would receive a deputation on Empire Free Trade and, of course, he is entitled to a reply on that. But there is nothing in his Questions about a deputation. That is something which he has now brought forward. All I can say is that I should like to know a little more about that.
May I say that I think there is a mistake? What I asked was whether the Imperial Economic Conference would receive a deputation on the recommendation of His Majesty's Government. I did not ask whether His Majesty's Government would receive a deputation.
§ LORD ARNOLD
I am sorry if I misunderstood the noble Viscount. I certainly thought the words he used were whether His Majesty's Government would receive a deputation.
§ LORD ARNOLD
I think it is a very unusual suggestion that the noble Viscount has brought forward—that the Conference itself should be allowed to receive a deputation.
I am afraid that I cannot agree with the noble Lord; I do not think it is unusual. I agree that it has not been done in the past, but there are many things that may be done in the future, owing to the necessities of the times, which may be extremely useful and necessary. I am putting forward this suggestion, as it may be put forward from other quarters in regard to other matters.
§ LORD ARNOLD
The noble Viscount has a very large experience of public affairs. He has admitted that it is not only unusual but unprecedented. So far as I am concerned, speaking for His Majesty's Government, I am bound to say that I see very great difficulties in carrying out any such proposal. If the noble Viscount will frame his proposal a little more carefully and put it forward to the Government the matter will be considered; but I am bound to say that I see very great difficulties in the way. I cannot go beyond that at the moment.
I have on previous occasions discussed this question of Empire Free Trade in considerable detail and I do not think your Lordships would wish that I should go over the ground again. But I do feel obliged to say that in our opinion the proposals, so far as we understand them, and they vary very much and are extremely vague and indefinite in many respects, are contradictory and mutually destructive. The proposals are based upon a series of assumptions which are not 563 proved and which, indeed, are entirely unproved. The difficulty for the noble Viscount and the noble Lord sitting by his side is that the facts are against them. Whatever else they have—
§ LORD ARNOLD
That is another matter. By-elections sometimes are decided by one cause and sometimes by another. Anybody can read into any by-election the result he or she wants. There is no law so far as I know to stop that. I say the facts are against them. But I do not think, after the debate which has taken place already, that I should take up more time in going through the various points, although it is a very tempting thing for me, because rarely has such a target been presented as that which the noble Viscount and the noble Lord sitting by his side present for criticism and question and reply. I will let the opportunity pass. No doubt we shall be having other debates as time goes on. I think so far as His Majesty's Government are concerned the position has been made quite clear. The definite replies which I gave admit, I think, of no possible misconstruction. They were quite removed from any ambiguity or equivocation. We look forward to this Conference and we believe that good will come of it, that beneficial results will emerge both in trade matters and in other matters. A great many things can be done that ought to be done to foster trade, and I hope, and I believe, they will be done, quite apart from the noble Viscount and the noble Lord, and quite apart from the taxation of foodstuffs or any system of tariffs in Great Britain. So far as His Majesty's Government are concerned, in regard to those particular matters they are quite opposed to them.
§ EARL PEEL
My Lords, I do not rise in order to enter into the general discussion which has branched off from the Questions asked by my noble friend, and for this reason. I have already in this House on many occasions discussed the problems of Free Trade and Protection 564 with the noble Lord opposite (Lord Arnold), and I am bound to say that if I have failed on half a dozen occasions to convince Lord Arnold that our old industrial system has changed in remarkable ways during the past five, ten or twenty years, and is still changing—if I have failed on half a dozen occasions to do that, I do not think I am likely to be able to persuade him now. But I will make one answer, because he challenged me on the specific point. We have discussed on many occasions the question of this Import Duty on motor cars. He was indignant that I suggested here that this Duty was in the nature of a Safeguarding Duty, and said it was not a Safeguarding Duty Of course it was a definite Import and Protective Duty. If he asks me the question, how have the United States been able to send so many motor cars into this country, I answer him rapidly and easily. The reason is that they have got a protective system, and behind that protective system they have been able to build up mass production on such a great scale that they have been able to sell motor cars all over the world at a price which makes it almost impossible for anybody to compete with them unless they also have their market protected.
Again, we have had no sign from the noble Lord opposite that he has even read the decisions and discussions that have taken place during the last few months. I remember a year or two ago he was always saying: "Ah, but look at the people who take commissions; look at the people who lend money; look at the bankers and people of that kind—why they are always in favour of Free Trade. You will never shake their views." Only recently we have had very remarkable proposals made by very well known bankers in this country, one of whom was a great champion of Free Trade on the Liberal side for many years, and was actually Chancellor of the Exchequer. He recognises, unlike the noble Lord opposite, that things have changed, and he now advocates strongly a change in the fiscal system of this country. And it is not only the bankers, who, I suppose, we shall now be told are rather ignorant City men who have no knowledge at all of business.
Unfortunately, part of the reason, I think, that has converted the bankers is 565 that it is so very difficult now to get money invested in industrial enterprises, because investors know they are likely to lose it. The result is that much of the duty of financing and assisting business has fallen upon the bankers, who, therefore, have come very closely in touch, indeed closer perhaps than they did before, with industrial conditions, and have come to realise how difficult it is under present conditions to make business and manufacturing pay. Does the noble Lord ever go to Manchester nowadays? Has he entirely forgotten the Resolution passed by the Manchester Chamber of Commerce? Manchester, was the great home of laissez faire and the Free Trade system, but the noble Lord would find himself extremely uncomfortable if he went into that great City and discussed these matters with the business men there to-day. I believe the noble Lord was at one time connected with business in Manchester. I am afraid he will not be able to go back to business in Manchester under these circumstances.
May I take another instance? We have had the remarkable proposals of the Management Committee of the trade unions on this subject. Though the noble Lord remains theoretically immovable on this subject, if you look at the great movement that is taking place among the trade unions you will see that they are not so blind. The noble Lord has this tremendous array of people against his views, all of them, unlike himself, sensitive to the changes that are taking place in our trade and business to-day. The fact is the noble Lord still stands for the old policy of doles as against our policy of work. I do not think this is an occasion upon which to enter into a full discussion, though I confess I should like to do so, because I think the arguments on each side are most fascinating. The noble Lord himself, indeed, has not put forward on this occasion the full Free Trade case.
But I rose really to get a little more clear in my mind what is the actual attitude of the Government towards this coming Conference. The noble Lord made one statement, and I think the statement made by the Chancellor of the Exchequer in the other House was slightly different from it. What is going to happen? Apparently any repre- 566 sentatives of the Dominions who like to bring forward proposals which involve either taxation of foreign foodstuffs or duties on manufactured articles of a protective nature are to be allowed to do so if they like, but the Government have announced beforehand: "We will not agree to any proposal that you bring forward which involves either of those two propositions." I have had some dealings both with the Dominions and their representatives, and I do not think they will be very fond of indulging in academic discussion and merely bringing forward, for the sake of making a speech, proposals which they know beforehand the Government are going to refuse. This Conference, so far as I know, is called a Free Conference, but apparently it is an entirely a tied Conference. It is announced beforehand that such propositions are to be met, not only not with sympathy but with a direct negative from the Government itself. It seems to me hardly worth while holding a Conference at all if you announce beforehand that the Government will not agree to any of the proposals that you know perfectly well will be brought forward by representatives of the Dominions.
I am not so sure that the Chancellor of the Exchequer takes so rigid a view as the noble Lord opposite does, and I want to know what is his view upon the statement made last night by the Chancellor of the Exchequer in what I may call a regular Free Trade speech. He beat the Free Trade drum, no doubt for the satisfaction of his following, but when he came to the Imperial Conference he said:—We shall enter the Imperial Conference barring no question from discussion, but it will be made abundantly clear, as I have said just now, that we shall approve no final conclusion which involves this country in a food taxation policy or a general Protectionist policy.Now, although that seems to be certainly a possible way to accept those words, one does not like ambiguity in these matters. Although the Government will take no final conclusion about food taxes, they might take some provisional conclusion and that provisional conclusion possibly might be laid before the country after that conclusion had been arrived at by the Conference. At the same time, you talk about a general Protectionist 567 policy. They may not approve of a general Protectionist policy, but that statement is perfectly consistent with the introduction of a number, or a very large number, of duties for Revenue purposes or even for Safegarding. Therefore to my mind that statement is very ambiguous.
It does not seem to lay down in the rigid terms that the noble Lord opposite has laid down, that no duties or system of duties will be permitted, but of course as stated there it is perfectly consistent with a considerable range of Safeguarding Duties and also of Revenue Duties. I do not know whether that is the proper interpretation, but I confess when I read that statement I thought that the bulk of the speech was no doubt intended to indicate a general Free Trade policy, but that there was rather ingeniously slipped into this speech a statement consistent with another interpretation, and that if the balance was to change in the Party—if I may use names, if Mr. Thomas was in the ascendant and the Chancellor of the Exchequer was in the descendant—there would be a declaration of Government policy quite consistent with a more active Empire Free Trade policy, or development of it, as advocated by Mr. Thomas, the Secretary of State for the Dominions. I may be wrong in that matter, but it seems to me consistent.
Whether that be true or not, I end by saying that if the interpretation put upon it by the noble Lord opposite is true, then, even if the Government, by the arguments brought forward by the Dominions, or by the statements made by the Dominions or put into the mouth of the Dominions, are proved to be wrong, nevertheless, according to the noble Lord opposite, if he has incorrectly interpreted their views, the most rigid denial and refusal is to be given by the Government to entertain those proposals if they involve either taxation on foreign foodstuffs or any protective duties. I hope that is not the proper interpretation, but if it is I can only say I think it is hardly worth while asking these distinguished men to come over from the Dominions. Instead of having a Free Conference you will have something very like a farce.
§ THE SECRETARY OF STATE FOR THE COLONIES (LORD PASSFIELD)
My Lords, my noble friend Lord Arnold is not 568 entitled to speak again and I simply rise to say that I do not accept any of the dilemmas that the noble Earl has attempted to put on us. Surely the position is perfectly clear. This is a Free Conference. No other Conference would be worth having. That is to say, the agenda will be drawn sufficiently widely to enable any question which any of the Dominions or any of the parties to the Conference wish discussed to be brought forward. That surely is quite unambiguous. Any proposal which is brought forward by any of the Dominions will, of course, be discussed by the representatives of His Majesty's Government. We do not propose to go into the Conference in what I may call a rude way or to refuse to enter into any question which is proposed for discussion. I have nothing to add, nothing to take away from, nothing to explain, in the very careful statement which my noble friend Lord Arnold has made, and we see no ambiguity whatsoever in it.
The noble Earl has attempted to suggest on the one hand that we are going into this Conference as a tied Conference and then, later on in his speech, as I understood him, he attempted to suggest that we ought to go into the Conference with another tie. As a matter of fact it is a Free Conference, in which presumably the facts and the arguments will carry conviction to every party as far as they can. That is as I understand it. I quite agree that there are some people who are impervious to arguments and who are blind to facts, but the whole object of the Conference is to enable facts to be brought out and arguments to be stated. Surely there is no ambiguity or difficulty in the fact that on behalf of His Majesty's Government we declare what is our opinion on the subject—not a new opinion, an opinion which was shared yesterday by the Conservative Party, which is still shared by the Conservative Party.
It is very interesting to notice in this discussion that in no speech made is there any dissent from the declaration that in no circumstances can we assent to food taxes in this country. There was no dissent from that. There was no dissent from the statement that in no circumstances so far as we could see could we believe in the advantage of a Protectionist tariff. It is a little singular that His Majesty's Government are constantly now 569 being denounced and attacked for doing exactly the same thing as I venture to think the Leaders of the Conservative Party are doing. We have frankly and honestly declared our conviction. Surely our conviction is not in doubt on that subject. Is it doubtful, as my noble friend said, that His Majesty's Government see no advantage, but the gravest possible disadvantage, in any taxation of food in this country, and that they see the gravest disadvantage in a Protectionist tariff for this country for reasons which have been abundantly given? Is it wrong that we should state our conviction? It is a conviction which has been stated on the other side. I have therefore on behalf of His Majesty's Government nothing whatever to add to the declaration made by my noble friend Lord Arnold in which I contend there is no ambiguity whatever.
§ EARL PEEL
May I be allowed to interrupt the noble Lord to say that I did not think there was any ambiguity in what the noble Lord, Lord Arnold, said, but that I thought there was ambiguity in the statement made by the Chancellor of the Exchequer and that I thought there was some contrast between what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Arnold, and the statement of the Chancellor of the Exchequer? I am sorry to interrupt, but that was the point I made.
§ LORD PASSFIELD
I congratulate the noble Earl on his ingenuity, but I should like to tell him that so far as I am aware and can discover his ingenuity is misplaced. We see no ambiguity in the matter whatsoever. The noble Earl seems to think there is some distinction between a provisional and a final judgment, or complete Protection and partial Protection. Does the noble Earl want the Government to lay down specifically their judgment on every point before we go to the Conference? We have laid down pretty clearly and definitely what is our opinion, but apparently the noble Earl's criticism is intended to indicate that he thinks the Chancellor of the Exchequer has some reserves on the subject. I can only say that I believe the Chancellor of the Exchequer has no reserves on the subject. We have endeavoured to make the position of His Majesty's Government clear. It has not been impugned here to-day, it has not been contradicted here to-day; no argu- 570 ment has been brought against it here to-day. We must leave it at that.
§ LORD PASSFIELD
I certainly gave no warrant for any such interpretation. I believe both statements are accurate and there is no contradiction between them whatsoever. Necessarily when two people make statements without concert on the same subject their words may differ, but surely the whole purpose of the two statements is identical. At any rate they are meant to be identical.
My Lords, the remarks made by the noble Lord, Lord Passfield, have left me rather befogged. He got up to explain how unambiguous the statement made by the noble Lord, Lord Arnold, had been, and he went on to say that this Conference would be a Free Conference. The remarks made by Lord Arnold certainly showed that this Conference would be a tied Conference. He showed this by the categorical answers that he made to the Questions on the Paper that I categorically asked him. He has told us to-day that the subject of Empire Free Trade and the subject of the taxation of foreign foodstuffs were specifically ruled out of that Conference.
So far—if the noble Lord will forgive me—as His Majesty's Government are concerned.
§ LORD PASSFIELD
If the noble Viscount will allow me, I must make this quite clear. The subject is not ruled out; it can be brought forward, it is covered by the agenda. So far as His Majesty's Government are concerned, it is equally not ruled out by them, and of course, if it is brought forward, it will be discussed by the representatives of His Majesty's Government; but they have announced their present opinion.
§ LORD PASSFIELD
I admit that we all live, and I can only say what is the opinion of His Majesty's Government to-day. I can also go on to predict that 571 it is not likely to change. It would be impolite to the Conference to assume in advance that it was impossible that it might be changed, but we make it quite clear that, on the facts and arguments that we know and the opinion which, as I say, is shared by the Conservative Party, we go into the Conference, we discuss and we argue, but we do not see any likelihood that it will be possible for His Majesty's Government to take up the attitude which is called Empire Free Trade.
I venture to submit to your Lordships that this is tantamount to the subject being ruled out, because, as we are the largest partner in this Conference, it is perfectly obvious that no Dominion is going to come forward with a proposal which we are told in advance by His Majesty's Government several months beforehand that they have no intention of acknowledging, listening to or really discussing with any desire to come to a conclusion upon it. Accordingly I still contend, in spite of what the noble Lord says, that this must be a tied Conference.
Let me put it in this way: that His Majesty's Government will go into the Conference with their hands tied behind their backs, because they will know in advance that the subject which is uppermost and of the greatest importance to the Dominions will be ruled out, from the point of view that His Majesty's Government have already made up their minds upon it. That sort of Conference can be of no avail 572 or help to the Empire. I hope that the noble Lord who has just sat down will perhaps see his way to change his mind before that Conference takes place.
Before and at the time, for if His Majesty's Government do not do so the Dominion Premiers and those who attend will have journeyed across oceans to this country to no avail at all. I had rather the Conference were put off for a year or six months until there had been a General Election in this country and we could see what the people of the country really think of this. I do not think it is right that the Dominion Premiers should come to this country on conditions which will leave them in the same state as when they went away from their respective countries. I do not propose to press this Motion to a Division. We have had a debate which has, at any rate, drawn from His Majesty's Government a definite declaration as to the position which they hold and which they intend to take up. I think it is most deplorable that they should adopt that attitude, and I only hope that they may look at some of the earlier passages of the speech that I made this afternoon on the chance of our finding a solution in a different direction. I beg leave to withdraw my Motion.
§ Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.
§ House adjourned at five minutes past six o'clock till Monday next, a quarter before four o'clock.