§ The King's Speech reported by the LORD CHANCELLOR.
THE EARL OF RADNOR
My Lords, it has fallen to me to move that an humble Address be presented to His Majesty in reply to the gracious Speech from the Throne, and I am very proud to have that honour. But I could wish that the duty had been placed in the hands of one more competent than myself, because, in these changing and difficult times, even those best able to know hardly dare to give expression to what they believe ought to be done. How much less then can one in my position dare to say much on the present situation of affairs? Before I go any further I would like to say how pleased I am, and I feel sure your Lordships are, to see the noble and learned Viscount (Viscount Hailsham) in the position of Leader of your Lordships' House. I feel sure that that important position could not be in better hands.
9 At the same time I would like to refer to the self-sacrifice of the noble Marquess, Lord Reading, in withdrawing. I hope that that docs not mean that your Lordships' House is going to be deprived of his presence and of his clear sense of judgment to which he has given expression in this House so frequently in the past.
There is still fresh in our minds the result of the recent General Election. Elections have been held in the past at times possibly nearly as acute as the present, but never in the history of Parliamentary government in this country has the nation expressed its wishes so clearly or so emphatically. It is to my mind a most triumphant vindication of modern democracy. We believe that the democracy of this country has taken the right course, and cast aside all others—has taken the view that the nation comes first and personal beliefs and feelings come second. It may be said, and it has been said, that the majority behind the present Government is so large that it may be a matter of embarrassment and a source of weakness, but in my view there is one basic essential to any treasures of reconstruction, and that is that the confidence of the world should be restored in this country, and the action of the electorate has done more to restore that confidence than the action of any Government could do, whatever may be its complexion.
The gracious Speech mentioned that His Majesty's Government would continue their support of the League of Nations. I feel that that will be echoed by the vast majority of the people of this country. The League of Nations has already done much great work, and I hope that it will do a great deal more in the future. At the present time they are faced with a difficult problem in the disturbances that are occurring in the Far East. I hope that their efforts to prevent serious trouble in that direction may be successful and that war may be pre-vented. Should, unfortunately, they not be able to achieve that end, I am quite convinced that at any rate they will be able to limit the evil effects of any trouble that may occur. We in this country, and, I think, the whole world, are realising more and more the interdependence of nations. Nations are no longer mutually antagonistic. They are 10 mutually dependent, and, through the League of Nations, we hope that that mutual dependence will become increased from year to year.
In the same paragraph reference is made to the Disarmament Conference. I do not propose to say much to your Lordships on that very difficult and intricate subject, but I will say this, that Great Britain with her great Imperial responsibilities, her great responsibility for internal security, has, in spite of those responsibilities, made proportionately greater contributions towards disarmament than any other nation in the world. I hope, therefore, that when our delegates go to that Disarmament Conference they will bear that fact in mind, and, rather than in an excess of zeal still further increase our own disarmament, will try and persuade other countries to disarm proportionately to ourselves.
Reference is also made to the Imperial Economic Conference, and I am glad to know from the Speech of the Prime Minister last night that the invitation to attend that Conference has already been accepted. I am sorry to see that the Conference cannot take place, apparently, before July in next year, but the Prime Minister said that the Secretary of State for the Dominions would have the opportunity to go round to the various Dominions and study the situation at first hand. May I express the hope that his study of the situation at first hand may not necessarily stop short at a mere study, but that possibly he may, pending that Imperial Conference, be enabled to undertake provisional measures of agreement which may be put into operation before the Conference actually takes place?
The Government have had, as the gracious Speech states, a "clear and emphatic mandate" from the nation to undertake any measures which may be necessary to restore the balance of trade, and I hope that they will undertake those measures as soon as they can. I know that the questions under consideration are already being examined and I welcome the fact that His Majesty's Government have got to work as soon as they have. But I do hope that a detailed examination will not be too prolonged, because if it is too prolonged His Majesty's Government will find themselves in danger of being accused of 11 dilatoriness or of a fear of taking a definite action. That would be fatal to the Government and to the country. Action is required, and I hope action will be taken as soon as is practicable. I do not wish, however, to try to force His Majesty's Government and I would be the first to deprecate hasty action on the important questions that are before us.
There is one omission in the gracious Speech from the Throne which will have been noted by many of your Lordships: that is, there is no mention of agriculture. I, personally, am rather glad that there is no mention of agriculture. And for this reason. As many of your Lordships are aware there has recently been published by the Federation of British Industries and allied organisations an agricultural policy. Whether your Lordships agree with that policy or not is neither here nor there; the great point about it is that for the first time we have industry and agriculture working together. In the past we have always talked of industry and agriculture, with agriculture as trailing along behind industry rather like a lost lamb. Now the omission of any mention of agriculture in the gracious Speech confirms the view that agriculture is considered part of industry in this country. I hope it will continue to be so treated, because agriculture is every bit as important to this country as industry, particularly in regard to the restoration of the balance of trade. Our industries may increase our exports, but if you increase the agricultural production in this country you will be helping the balance of trade to at least as great an extent by reducing our expenditure abroad. I hope the Government will keep in mind the claims of agriculture and will do something to assist that industry which for so many years has been finding a difficulty in keeping its head above water.
The gracious Speech follows very much the lines of the appeal to the country by the Prime Minister. It goes into no detail because detail is impossible in these changing times, but it does say that His Majesty's Government have a "clear and emphatic mandate" and I think that if there is one thing above all that that clear and emphatic mandate means to His Majesty's Government, it is, to use a colloquial phrase, that the country ex- 12 pects them to get on with the job. That task is difficult. By virtue of their big majority the Government have a tremendous responsibility and they will need all the assistance they can get. I believe that your Lordships' House will be able to assist them in a way in which they need assistance more than any other and that is by the clear and constructive criticism which your Lordships'. House is so well able to offer.
I beg to move that the following humble Address be presented to His Majesty:—Most Gracious Sovereign,—We, Your Majesty's most dutiful and loyal subjects, the Lords Spiritual and Temporal of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, in Parliament assembled, beg leave to thank Your Majesty for the most gracious Speech which Your Majesty has addressed to both Houses of Parliament.
Moved, That an humble Address be presented to His Majesty as followeth—
Most Gracious Sovereign.—We, Your Majesty's most dutiful and loyal subjects, the Lords Spiritual and Temporal of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, in Parliament assembled, beg leave to thank Your Majesty for the most gracious Speech which Your Majesty has addressed to both Houses of Parliament."—(The Earl of Radnor.)
§ VISCOUNT COWDRAY
My Lords, the noble Earl who moved this Address deprecated his ability to do justice to his duties. I only hope that in seconding the Address I may fail to the same extent that he did; because it is at the present moment a very grave responsibility for anybody who is connected with the Government. There has never been a time within the lives of any of us when more has depended upon the action that will be taken within the next few months. The prosperity, the comfort and the happiness of the nation will depend for a long time to come on what line the Government take in the near future. Hence, in addressing your Lordships I might well find that the importance of the occasion was overwhelming if I did not know I could rely on the sympathy and understanding of your Lordships' House. I know that I can be sure of that from an Assembly in which there are many who are associated with some of the greatest 13 undertakings of commerce and where all have some special experience and knowledge that is of advantage to the nation.
The late Government was formed to deal with an emergency and its whole effort, if one excepts the time which it spent discussing its own Dissolution, was concentrated to that end. So it is no matter for surprise that there is nothing very definite in the gracious Speech as to the future legislation intended. Nor must we expect that the Government will be able for some little time to indicate the road it intends to travel. The world's situation is too chaotic; the repercussions are too doubtful. In these circumstances, notwithstanding what the noble Earl aid, my feeling is that well wishers to the Government can best help the Government by a display of patience and by discouraging any attempts which may be made to press the Government to produce indigested panaceas.
The gracious Speech from the Throne rightly indicates that the financial and industrial recovery of any one nation, and of our own nation amongst the others, requires international agreement and common action in various directions. We are suffering, not from a local but from a world-wide malady. An international agreement for a drastic readjustment of War Debts and Reparations is perhaps the most urgent treatment required and this is closely followed in importance by the necessity of a further international agreement to deal with that most difficult of problems, the exchange value of currency. Get these two obstacles out of the way and the stage is ready set to take advantage of the new spirit which is growing amongst many countries in Europe. There is no doubt that the logic of events has made itself felt and there are a number of our neighbours who on certain terms are prepared to make a start in reducing the barriers which now interfere with international trade. It is gratifying to note in the gracious Speech that the Governmentwill do their utmost in cooperation with other Governments, and in the spirit of mutual helpfulness, to find ways for restoring the volume of international trade.We have heard a great deal about the part played by the bankers of this country and of other countries; in recent months. There is a great deal which the bankers have done, there is a great deal which they can do, to help the credit 14 machinery of the world to turn round. But when all is said and done the bankers can only provide the lubricant and the skilled supervision, and unless the statesmen create a situation of reasonably free international trade the credit machine operated by the bankers will become overloaded and must in time seize up and bring disaster to us all. Your Lordships will receive with satisfaction the intimation contained in the gracious Speech that economy in public expenditure is to be continued and you will no doubt hope that it will be practised with even greater intensity. It is on a foundation of the right kind of economy that we must build. No country can thrive on taxation. The National Budget has been balanced and so long as it remains balanced there is no real risk of inflation. No one will complain of the taxation that has been necessary to balance the Budget in the special circumstances of the last few months, but everyone knows that it involves dangers of its own. It is a great pleasure to many of us who for long have admired the courage and steadfastness of the late Chancellor of the Exchequer to know that now that the time has come when he can no longer grace the green benches of another place he will adorn the red and scarlet of your Lordships' House, and it is a matter of congratulation that His Majesty's Government may still rely on his guidance. We have it on his authority that national and local taxation together are now absorbing nearly one third of the whole national income. This clearly means that we have reached the point where taxation strangles industry and enterprise, and, moreover, are approaching the point when additional taxation will yield not-more but less to the Exchequer.
The realisation of this underlines and emphasises the determination to reestablish confidence in our financial stability which takes so prominent a part in the gracious Speech of His Majesty. What the country needs, as we all know, is a revival of trade. Unemployment is not a disease in itself. It is a symptom, a consequence of shrunken markets 'and restricted trade. How are we to revive our export industries? As I have said, we cannot do it by ourselves alone. It must depend on international action. But something can be done even without the passing of Acts of Par- 15 liament. Doors are open to those who will step out. Over against all the drawbacks of the fall in the exchange value of the pound there is this material point in its favour, that it gives our industry an opportunity to expand our export trade. Some are now rising to this opportunity and what we may hope is that industry generally will not fail, by modernisation where necessary and by enterprise everywhere, to recapture the overseas markets where the door is to some extent open. Industry and industrialists have a right to look to the Government and Parliament to maintain confidence, to keep a stable currency, to restrict taxation to the limit of what is absolutely necessary, to refrain from rash experiments in a period of uncertainty, and to give no Occasion for public doubts and alarms. It is in the full confidence that they will keep this duty before them that I beg to second the Address in reply to the gracious Speech.
§ LORD PONSONBY OF SHULBREDE
My Lords, it is with great diffidence that I rise to continue this debate, speaking on behalf of the Opposition, and I think I owe your Lordships some explanation. My noble and learned friend Lord Parmoor, who took the courageous action of remaining in the Labour Party, is I am glad to say in good health but at the beginning of a new Parliament he has felt that he is not inclined to undertake the duties of leadership. Lord Parmoor's long and honourable service in both Houses of Parliament, his genial and kindly disposition and his indefatigable energy have, I think, evoked in all quarters of the House feelings of esteem and affection, and I hope that he may be able to be present on occasions in future.
The natural succession to the leadership would have fallen on my noble friend Lord Passfield, but he desires to pursue his work and studies outside the Parliamentary sphere, and although I think we shall have the privilege of his help in debates in the future he did not want to undertake the day to day routine of leadership. Therefore, my Lords, at the request of my noble friends who sit with me and with the endorsement of the Leader of the Labour Party, I have been offered and I have accepted the post of Leader of the Opposition in your Lord- 16 ships' House. Two years' service in your Lordships' House hardly qualifies to take up the responsibilities of such a position as this. Moreover, in this record-breaking age I find myself breaking another record. I do not think that there has ever been a Leader of the Opposition in your Lordships.' House who has not held Cabinet rank. I am not sure that the fact that I was not in the last Cabinet may not be of some advantage to me. However that may be, I feel a desire to ask the indulgence of your Lordships in these new duties, and the experience of fairly constant attendance during the last two years makes me expect that I may receive it even when, on occasion, I may be obliged to speak rather plainly.
My first duty is a pleasant one. It is to congratulate the two noble Lords who have just addressed us. The noble Earl, Lord Radnor, who, I think, has not been in this House very much longer than I have, has already gained for himself, by his careful study and his felicitous powers of expression, a position among those who make really useful contributions to our debates. The noble Viscount, Lord Cowdray, a late colleague of mine in the House of Commons, who is greatly respected as lord of the manor in which I reside in Sussex, has with the proposer managed to express in the most felicitous language a general approval of the Speech from the Throne. The duties of mover and seconder are never easy, because they necessarily have a feeling of being restricted and semi-official and are deprived of the ease which a casual contribution to a debate allows; but in spite of this I am sure that the House feels that the two noble Lords discharged their duty with the highest possible credit.
I will in the course of my remarks refer later to the points which they touched on. In this very unprecedented situation it is impossible not to make some passing references to the General Election which has created the present-House of Commons. I have fought nine Elections and therefore I have some knowledge of electioneering, and of the sort of method which wins votes, but I do not believe—certainly not in my experience and I believe not in the experience of anybody living—that any other Election has been conducted in the 17 way in which this one was. In all fairness let me say that the idea of the best minds of all Parties coming together in a crisis and seeking the best solution is one that very naturally appeals to people, and seems theoretically to be of the highest wisdom, but those who have studied political history and Parliamentary practice know quite well that in actual fact that is never a success, and for a very simple reason. Men do not go into political life merely for the fun of the thing. They go into political life because they are charged with very strong feelings of what is the best course for the country to adopt, and they do not feel inclined at any time to subordinate their convictions and to compromise with others.
The result is that you get those forces pulling in contrary directions, and you do not get any possible stability. A collection of eminent men does not make a good Government, but a band of men who are bound together by the same principles and the same strong convictions; and yet, of course, in the public eyes a lot of big names attracts. Your Lordships know quite well what is meant by an all-star cast. It is always very amusing to see great actor taking the part of the butler, but if you want a bad performance go and see an all-star cast performance. In the effort to return this Government, on the vain pretence of its being "National," certain expedients were adopted which, I think, are without parallel. I do not refer to the usual language about the Union Jack and appeals to patriotism. That is done every time. I think perhaps that in the last three days the greatest effect upon the electors was produced by the scare that their Post Office savings were in danger—a most scandalously false declaration, but one which undoubtedly very strongly affected the 2½ million people who have small deposits in the Post Office Savings Bank.
There was another process which is certainly unprecedented. It is what I might describe as the stabbing-in-the-back process. From all the Conservative, platforms there was an outpouring of attack upon the late Labour Government and their administration over two years, and all the ills which the country was suffering from were attributed to that Government. At the same time the electors 18 were being urged to support the two men who were chiefly responsible for the policy of the Labour Government—the Prime Minister and the Chancellor of the Exchequer. They were stabbing them in the back and yet trying to support them in that way. Then the late Labour Ministers also indulged in this stabbing in the back by an outpouring, which in the case of the Chancellor of the Exchequer was vitriolic to an extent which has never been known even in his methods, of abuse of their late colleagues. I think the keynote of the Election was the pronouncement of the gallant Admiral, now Member for Burnley. He said he stood only for the Union Jack, "to give politics a hell of a kick in the pants." That really describes the attitude of the supporters of this Government, and that was the Member who is preferred by the Prime Minister to Mr. Henderson, who was particularly successful as a Foreign Secretary, and who had worked for something like thirty years as a close colleague of the Prime Minister in building up the Labour Party. That sort of thing is not very worthy of our best political traditions, but it was this sort of method which was adopted.
The majority was given and the Government, after a little reshuffling, has been formed, still an all-star cast. Your Lordships have the advantage of the leadership of the noble and learned Viscount who is now Secretary of State for War, to whom I respectfully offer my congratulations. Although he and I perhaps have not seen eye to eye on many occasions in the past, and he has the vast majority of your Lordships' House behind him, whilst on our side—I was going to say "We are seven," but I am not quite sure about that—nevertheless, I am sure the noble and learned Viscount will not ruthlessly disregard the opinions and views and criticism's of the small band with whom I am proud to work, who, although temporarily eclipsed in the House of Commons, nevertheless represent a considerable number of voters in the country—something like 7,000,000—and a Party whose foundations are still very strong and firm.
The gracious Speech is, if I may say so, very much like the Government—unprecedented. It really is not a Speech giving proposals, it is a Speech asking for a blank cheque, and I do not suppose 19 any precedent could be found for that. With the first paragraph we can find no need for criticism. We all look forward to the Disarmament Conference with a good deal of anxiety, and we are specially proud on this side of the House that Mr. Henderson has been chosen as Chairman of that Conference; and I hope that, in the work that he does, he will have the full support of His Majesty's Government, and not be in any way hampered.
In the second paragraph the Speech says that the Governmentwill do their utmost in co-operation with other Governments, and in the spirit of mutual helpfulness, to find ways for restoring the volume of international trade.That section of the Speech was elaborated last night at the Guildhall by the Prime Minister, and I read his words with great interest. He said, among other things:His Majesty's Government is prepared to play its part in the disentangling.Those who have knowledge of foreign affairs know very well how extremely difficult these International Conferences are; but what I want to plead for and at the same time ask for information about from the noble and learned Viscount, is whether His Majesty's Government are going to take the initiative. That is the point. We can all express pious opinions with regard to the advantage of international action, and, indeed, for the necessity of it. The noble Earl who moved the Address very properly said that the inter-dependence of nations was a factor that must be taken into account in these days. But we are as a nation habitually a little reluctant to take the initiative. Recently the initiative has been taken by the United States, and on former occasions by France. I hope that the Government, with the power that they have, will see fit to take the initiative, in order to call these Conferences together, without which it really will be futile our endeavouring to cure the ills from which we are suffering. With regard to India, we all hope well for the Round-Table Conference.
The next paragraph that I should like to refer to is the renewal of the invitation from Ottawa. Perhaps the noble and learned Viscount will be able to tell us when that Conference will take place. I note, from what the Prime Minister said, that Mr. Thomas is going to undertake a world tour. I am sure Mr. Thomas will enjoy his world tour, and I am sure 20 the Dominions will enjoy hearing Mr. Thomas; but I am very doubtful as to whether that is a good method of getting Imperial economic questions settled, and I think the first function of the head of a Department is to remain at the centre and keep a very vigilant eye on what is going on all the world over.
But it is the second part which makes this Speech unique. There is no suggestion for any legislation at all. There are vague phrases to show that the Government want to have a free hand to do practically whatever they want. I should like to ask the noble and learned Viscount quite definitely whether the Government intend once more to have recourse to Orders in Council in order to bring their projects to fruition; that is to say, whether once more they are going to deprive the House of Commons of its legitimate rights of debate and the usual stages through which a Bill passes before it becomes an Act of Parliament. Of course, they can do what they like in the House of Commons, with the Opposition as small as it is; but still we do not want a precedent to be created, or that this method of speeding things up by depriving the Legislature of the opportunity for legitimate debate should become a constant practice. Perhaps the noble and learned Viscount will be able to tell us whether that method is again to be adopted.
There are phrases which tell us that they are going to frame plans and that they are going to consider proposals. I do not know what their plans are likely to be, and I do not suppose they know at all themselves for the time being. But they are anxious that they should correct what is called the balance of trade, which at present is adverse. There is one consideration that I should like your Lordships to take into account in this connection, because ever since last August the panic spirit has not departed completely, and there is a tendency for interested persons to set up scares, like the scare about dumping, which is being promoted from some quarters at the present time. I would endorse what was said by the noble Viscount who seconded the Address, that the Government ought not to press forward undigested panaceas. If they do it will prejudice any impartial 21 examination of the questions that they have before them. With regard to this question of the adverse balance of trade, I should just like to quote from a financial authority, the Financial News. Last week the Financial News said:—It looks as. if the deficit on our merchandise account will be not much larger in 1931 than in 1930. We have apparently been reducing our unfavourable import excess on income quite considerably.… A review of the position does not suggest cause for any undue anxiety at present over the problem of the trade balance.I only quote that to show that there is a tendency on the part of people who are interested, and who are pushing particular policies, quite legitimately, to exaggerate the straits in which we find ourselves and thereby to make it oven for a Government as powerful as the present one, a very difficult task in getting at the truth.
I do not desire to delay your Lordships for long. We consider that the present Government got into power by methods which were very unfortunate and very undesirable. We stand for a different policy which, for the time being, may have been discarded but which we have every reason to hope in the future will be adopted. We stand for those principles, and it was because we believed in them so strongly that we refused to compromise and to co-operate with others who thought differently from us. We believe that industry ought to be organised for the benefit of the community and not for private profit. We believe that the great social services should be controlled by public corporations and not run, as they are now, for private profit. We believe that the welfare of this country depends on the free circulation of the spare shillings of the millions of the people and not on the accumulated wealth of the few. We believe that until you can get some sort of public control and governmental voice in the present autonomous power of our banks and of the Bank of England it will not be possible to guarantee that we shall not find ourselves in another financial crisis in the future.
I regard the future with deep apprehension. The expedient which has been adopted of over-riding the free expression of divergent opinions honestly held, which we call the Party system, and 22 substituting for it a Government of notables slenderly held together by the very weak threads of compromise will not work out to the advantage of this country in the long run. To my mind this is not a moment for weak compromise to bolster up the social, industrial and economic evils which have become apparent and to conceal the disadvantages of our social system, but for bold action; and bold action cannot be expected from a Government constituted as the present Government is. Nevertheless, by its gigantic numerical strength it has led the people of this country to expect from it great things, great solutions, great cures, and their disappointment when it comes, their disillusionment and their awakening, are likely to find expression in an indignation which may have very shattering consequences.
§ THE SECRETARY OF STATE FOR WAR (VISCOUNT HAILSHAM)
My Lords, I hope that the House will not convict me of egotism if I begin with just a word of thanks to my noble friend who moved this Address for the kindly reference he made to myself, and to your Lordships for the way in which you received that reference. No one can undertake the Leadership of your Lordships' House without a deep sense of responsibility and without a consciousness that the standard which has been set by the great statesmen who have filled this position in the past is a standard which it is very difficult to maintain. I myself can only bring to the fulfilment of its duties a real pride in the history and traditions of this House, an earnest desire to maintain its usefulness and its dignity, and a fixed determination to devote whatever abilities or energies I may possess to its service.
Fortunately, the first task which I have to perform as Leader of the House is one which is hallowed by convention and which I am able to discharge this afternoon with real sincerity. That is the task of associating myself with the expressions which have fallen from the noble Lord the Leader of the Opposition to the mover and seconder of the Address for the very excellent way in which they have discharged their respective duties. Like them I am for the first time making a speech on the Address, and I shall be very glad if I am able to acquit myself 23 with equal credit. The noble Earl the mover of the Address made more than one contribution to your Lordships' debates when we were in Opposition; I remember particularly that he was the means of initiating a very interesting discussion during last summer. The noble Viscount, the seconder, has behind him a, long Parliamentary experience in another place. I think that this House has reason to regret that since his accession to our numbers those local duties to which the noble Lord who leads the Opposition made reference, have prevented us from more frequently enjoying his assistance, and I am sure that I am expressing the hope of every member of your Lordships' House when I say that I trust that the success which has attended the efforts of the noble Earl and the noble Viscount this afternoon will encourage them to make further contributions to our discussions. If they do I am sure that those contributions will add value and dignity to our debates.
There is just one other personal reference. The noble Lord the Leader of the Opposition told us that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Parmoor, had relinquished the official leadership of the Socialist Party in your Lordships' House. For a very long period the noble and learned Lord had discharged what was necessarily a difficult task whether he was representing the Government or the Opposition, because, as we all regret I think, there is a grave disparity in the numbers which belong to the different Parties. I am sure that we are all sorry that Lord Parmoor has felt it right to lay down those duties which he has discharged with unfailing courtesy and good temper and, while we welcome his successor, we would like to add our message of regret, if we may, to Lord Parmoor in his retirement.
§ VISCOUNT HAILSHAM
From these personal matters I turn to the immediate subject-matter of the discussion this afternoon, and the Address in answer to the gracious Speech. The noble Lord who leads the Opposition began his criticism with an interesting dissection of the recent Election. I suppose that must be a very tempting topic to noble Lords opposite. I do not think it would be profitable for me to follow him at any 24 length into his analysis of the reasons for his Party's overwhelming defeat. Ho attributed it, as I understand, partly to fear for the safety of Post Office savings, and partly to what he regarded as the stabbing in the back which he said was received from his late colleagues. With regard to the uneasiness of the public, I think it is quite true to say that a great many people were seriously alarmed as to what would be the consequence not merely to Post Office savings but to all the. liquid assets of anyone who had amassed any savings at all in this country, and to the fixed incomes of all who enjoy fixed incomes, if the country should have been mad enough to allow the Socialist Party with its reckless programme of extravagance to come back into office.
For myself, I believe that those fears were well founded. I should share the apprehensions of the noble Lord with regard to the future if I believed that there was any real danger that the people of this country would hereafter be so unwise as to accept a policy which was so emphatically rejected at the last Election. With regard to what he described as the abuse of late members of the Socialist Ministry, what I think he referred to was the fact that whenever a member of the late Socialist Government proclaimed his rooted objection to take a particular course one of his late colleagues was able to point out on unimpeachable testimony that the particular Minister had committed himself to exactly the opposite course a few weeks before, and I have no doubt that the exposure of the vacillation and uncertainty of the course pursued by members of the late Socialist Government was a powerful contributory cause to the feeling which undoubtedly swept the country, that people who were so reckless in their promises and so inconsistent in their performances could not be trusted with the administration of the affairs of the country.
I pass from those, which are, perhaps, not altogether profitable, considerations to the questions arising out of the language of the gracious Speech. The noble Lord asked me a question as to whether the Government contemplated taking the initiative in regard to International Conferences. I can only give a general answer, that if it should be 25 found necessary to take the initiative, if we find that it would be useful to summon a Conference on any given topic, we shall not hesitate to take that initiative, but we do not intend on every occasion to push ourselves forward. We believe that the fact that this Government has received so overwhelming a vote of confidence from the electorate is going to do a great deal to increase its prestige abroad, and to restore our reputation and our influence in the councils of the nations, but whether we use that influence either by directly starting a Conference ourselves or supporting proposals put forward by other nations must necessarily depend upon the particular circumstances of the case.
The next question that I was asked was with regard to the summoning of the Conference at Ottawa. I am sorry I cannot give a definite answer to that. For one reason the Canadian Government is the one which is summoning the Conference, and obviously it will be the one that will name the date which it finds most convenient, but I do not think that it would be found possible usefully to have a meeting for some months to come, having regard to the preoccupations of other Dominions and to the data which have to be got together before the Conference can reach a satisfactory conclusion. The noble Lord went on to criticise what he described as the world tour of the Dominion Secretary, and he said that he thought that that was a bad habit which ought not to be encouraged. He will forgive me reminding him that the precedent for it consists in the tour of the same Dominion Secretary when he was a member of the Socialist Government in 1929. Although, no doubt, one has to think very carefully before allowing one of His Majesty's Ministers to leave these Islands, yet occasions may arise when personal contact is useful. I do not think it is reasonable to say to the Dominions that whenever a personal interview is desirable it must always be the Dominion Minister who has to come here, and that we are never to pay a return visit. I believe that on the present occasion the opportunity which Mr. Thomas, who already knows these Ministers personally, will enjoy of personal discussion with them and their colleagues in the various Dominions of His Majesty, as to the multifarious problems with which he will have to deal during 26 the next few years, will be profitable to himself and will be of use to this country and to the Empire at large.
It is perhaps noticeable that in the gracious Speech out of twelve paragraphs no less than three are devoted to the Empire, and one deals with the only new matter which has arisen since the date of the Election, the convening of the Conference at Ottawa. I hope I am not committing any indiscretion when I suggest that the prominence which is thus given to Imperial affairs in the gracious Speech is an indication that the Government recognises the awakening of the nation to the importance of the Empire, its fuller realisation of the opportunities which that unity of Empire affords to each component part, and the determination of our people that the Empire shall remain more and more closely knit together as an instrument for civilisation and peace throughout the world.
The noble Lord complained that the gracious Speech was, in fact, the Government asking for a blank cheque. In fact, the Government has been given a blank cheque by the nation.
§ VISCOUNT HAILSHAM
It is quite true that at the last Election the Government did ask for a blank cheque. The Government, in fact, said to the nation, as I understand the manifestos which were then put forward: "We are in a time of real crisis and peril. The National Government has been formed, composed of members of all Parties of the State who have abolished their Party differences, who have agreed to sink their Party differences for the time being in the face of the overwhelming national danger, and to ask the people to trust them to co-operate together in meeting the danger which threatens to overwhelm us and to take whatever measures may be necessary for the common good."
It is true that this country does not like coalitions. It may be true that a Coalition Government is often not a success, but there are occasions in our national life, occasions of national peril so imminent and so overpowering, when the only way in which we could hope to meet and overcome them is by the union of all sections of the nation in the face of common danger. We believe, and the 27 nation agrees, that the present situation is one of those instances, and we intend that the confidence which the nation has given us shall not be abused. It is true that in the gracious Speech there is no suggestion of what legislative measures are going to be introduced. Do your Lordships not think it would be a sorry trick to play upon the electors if we had a programme of legislation ready arranged when we went to the country saying and promising that we would undertake to investigate the urgent problems of the nation with an open mind, that we would exclude nothing, that we would look with a single desire to find what was best for the national good and consider all possible solutions, if, in the face of that assurance, when the Government is returned to power, within thirty hours of the formation of the new Cabinet the gracious Speech had contained a ready-made programme of legislation? I can imagine the denunciation that would come from the Benches opposite on what they would have described as a trick and a fraud on the electors and on the people.
In effect we intend to carry out the pledge on which the country returned us to office. We are, as the Gracious Speech informs the House and the country, engaging immediately upon the investigations of the problems which concern us. No one who has held office is unaware that it is a difficult thing for a Government to devote itself exclusively to the consideration of one major problem, because as time goes on from day to day there are matters which flood in from abroad and from home which call for decision, which call for examination and which may prove bigger questions than those we are trying to determine. Such questions are arising and will have to be dealt with. So far as day to day administration permits we are agreed that we must press forward with the utmost earnestness and that there must be no loss of time in ascertaining the facts upon which any decision is necessary, and then without undue delay to give a real decision upon what is best in the interests of the nation.
The Noble Lord asked me whether I could give an assurance that in the future there would be no legislation by means of empowering the Government to proceed by Orders in Council. I can- 28 not give that assurance. I do not in the least say it will not be found advisable to ask Parliament for any such powers. I can say it is one of the alternatives which will no doubt have to be considered and if we believe that procedure by means of Order in Council is in any given case the best way to proceed we shall tell Parliament that it is our intention to ask Parliament to give us the authority. It is not the Government, it is Parliament, the House of Commons and this House, which will decide if we are to have those powers or not. If we do not make a case I hope we shall not get them. If we do make a case and establish to the satisfaction of this House and another place that the procedure we propose is the best one—that is by Order in Council—it would be foolish not to commence our career by acting on our pledge that we would not object to any course which might turn out to be the best and one which, if it does turn out to be the best, is obviously one we should take.
I am not sure if there are other specific questions the noble Lord addressed to me. The noble Lord said that the spirit of panic had not departed. I think he is wrong about that. I think there was a feeling of panic, or at any rate very nearly a feeling of panic, at the end of August of this year. If the National Government had not then been formed, if those who then undertook the responsibility (I am not one of them) of carrying on our affairs had not had the courage to undertake that task there would indeed have been panic in this country, and immeasurable disaster. The immediate cause for any alarm has indeed departed, but I am not for one moment saying that the cause for anxiety has passed away.
I think the noble Lord is quite right when he says there is a real danger that the people of this country, having given to this Government an overwhelming majority in another place and seeing this Government enjoying, as I hope and believe it does, the support of an overwhelming majority in this House, may be inclined to say: "We have done all we were asked to do. We have shown our confidence, we have re-established the position. All you have now to do is to go forward and return to the prosperity from which we were so rapidly departing 29 during the last Administration." That is a mistake. It is true that the Government has been given an overwhelming vote of confidence. It is true that the mere fact that that vote is so overwhelming is an incalcuable asset in dealing with foreign countries. I think that the splendid way in which the country responded to the call to patriotism, the splendid way in which it rallied to the support of the National Government, is a vindication of democracy. We went with no specious promises, no bribes of public money, no promises of unlimited expenditure out of an apparently bottomless public puree. We went to the country and said to the people: "The nation is in real peril and its recovery involves sacrifice for all and hardship on many. We do not promise that you will escape these hardships or avoid the sacrifices by returning us to office. What we do point out is that these sacrifices and hardships are necessary if the country is to be saved." And it is a very remarkable tribute to the real patriotism of this country—I think it is a tribute to and justification of all theories of democracy in this country—that when that was made plain to the people even those who were asked to suffer most did not hesitate to join in accepting the sacrifices and returning a Government which asked these sacrifices of them.
I cannot tell your Lordships what the legislation will be which will be called for. Although I speak now rather from a personal than a collective point of view, because I have had very few opportunities of consulting any of my colleagues, I think it is obvious that among the problems which we have to solve the question of the balance of trade which is referred to explicitly in the gracious Speech is a question which must call for a careful examination of facts, a careful weighing up of different suggested solutions and must call for the exercise of that patience for which the seconder of the Address asked. But there may be other more immediate problems. While that investigation is taking place it is to my mind plain that no Government can allow its eventual decision to be hampered or hindered by acts which would render that decision futile when it was reached. It must be possible, if there be a danger of the situation being gravely interfered with in 30 the interim, to protect the situation meanwhile. That is obviously a more urgent and a much easier problem than the other. That question, too, must be investigated in order to ascertain the facts, to see whether there is the danger at which some of your Lordships and some people outside have hinted, and if there is that danger to find what is the ready way of meeting it. I would only give to your Lordships with regard to that and every other matter, the assurance that if the Government comes to the conclusion that it is necessary to ask for powers to deal with that situation it will not hesitate to come to Parliament to ask it to arm it with any authority which it may regard as desirable.
I do not want to set an example in this House which has already been deprecated in another place of making too long a. speech from the Ministerial Benches. I desire only to say this in conclusion. We, the Government, do not ask from your Lordships who support us in such overwhelming numbers any blind acceptance of anything which we may put forward. We do not ask from your Lordships any relaxation of the vigilant watch which, as I know, your Lordships are accustomed to keep upon the doings of any Government of whatever political complexion. We certainly do not ask that the rights of the Opposition to criticise and attack shall be in any way curtailed or shall be in any way cut short because of their paucity of numbers. The very fact that they are so few makes us more anxious that each one of them shall have full opportunity of expressing a body of opinion which is certainly much larger outside the House than it is in existing conditions inside the House. But what we do say to your Lordships is this. We would ask that while you are vigilant, while you are ready to criticise, you should be friendly in your watchfulness, helpful in your criticism. There is criticism which is designed to thwart and hinder and destroy. There is criticism which is calculated to encourage, to foster, to support and to help on. I hope that we shall receive at your Lordships' hands that stimulating criticism which is a very helpful thing for those who are in office, which will be a real help to all of us in trying to carry out the mandate which has been placed upon us. I can promise I think for my colleagues, as I 31 certainly can for myself, that since the country has been good enough to place this overwhelming trust in us, we for our part will try to fulfil the pledge that we gave to seek no Party advantage but to seek only the national good and to bend ourselves with unsparing energy and with such talents as we may severally possess to the difficult task of solving the many problems which throng upon our country to-day, of attempting to restore our nation and our Empire to the place which it ought to hold in civilisation, to the fostering of the common weal of our people.
§ THE MARQUESS OF READING
My Lords, it is necessary that I should trouble the House for a very few moments having regard to the observations that have fallen from the noble and learned Viscount who has just addressed you. I find myself in complete agreement with all that he has said. I only desire to make one or two references to the gracious Speech from the Throne, but I would wish at the outset to add my compliments to both the mover and seconder of the Address for the felicitous manner in which they discharged their duties. We sit opposite the members of the Government in this House, but we are not in opposition. We are, indeed, a party of supporters of the Government. Speaking on behalf of the Liberals with whom I have been long associated and with whom I am at present sitting, I say that our position in the House does not in any sense indicate on our part any lack of support of the present Government. I desire to make this clear without drawing any distinction. I believe I speak for all noble Lords in this House who are associated, or even who have been associated, with Liberalism when I say that it is our set and determined purpose to give every assistance and support we can to the Government which is now in power. We do that entirely regardless of any Party considerations and for the reason that we are seeking, as are your Lordships sitting opposite, to do what we believe to be best in the national interest.
I agree fully with what my noble and learned friend the Leader of the House said just now, that that does not mean that we shall not criticise. On the contrary I think that if we can be of assistance it is our duty to criticise, to sug- 32 gest, to stimulate and, indeed, to contribute whatever is in our power. My own opinion of this Government and of the various Parties supporting the Government is that it is intended to be and should be a contribution by all members, irrespective of Party, to help forward the country in its present hour of crisis and trial. For my own part, having been a member of the Government until quite recently, I desire to express to my noble and learned friend the Leader of the House my congratulations—if he will permit me—upon being a member of a Government to which so much is entrusted, to which so much power is given and by which so much responsibility has to be shouldered; and also to assure him that in whatever I may be able to do, whether in my personal capacity or in my association with the Party, he can always count upon me to do everything I can to assist the Government, because I believe it will act in the real interests of the nation.
I have wished to make one or two observations upon the present situation merely for fear that there might be any misapprehension, especially having regard to what has been said by the noble Lord the Leader of the Opposition. Of course we are all agreed in desiring that the activities of the League of Nations should ge further forward and be strengthened. We most certainly hold the view that it is much to be desired that the tension at present existing between Japan and China may be eased, and that there may be a solution of at least some of the immediate problems when the Council of the League of Nations meets again on Monday next, at whatever place may be determined. As to the observation made with reference to foreign policy, and especially to the stress laid upon taking the initiative, I would remind the noble Lord, who has himself had experience of foreign affairs, that to press an initiative is sometimes not the quickest way of arriving at a solution, and that it may be far greater wisdom to sit back and let another country take the initiative, and then support it. I think that what fell from the Leader of the House in this respect is absolutely correct—namely, that we should take the initiative when we can best serve the world's interests by it, and should not hesitate to do it even if it 33 required courage, but certainly should cot press ourselves too far forward and appear to be pressing for initiative when it is at the moment undesirable.
I will only add one other observation with regard to foreign affairs, and that is because I had the opportunity of observing at close hand. The response of the country to the appeal that was made to it by the Government has greatly impressed foreign Powers, to an extent which I believe it would be difficult indeed to imagine anything could possibly impress other nations. They are amazed. I believe that the true reason for the response of the electorate—overwhelming, far beyond the imagination, I think, of the greatest optimist who ever appealed to the country—is that the country had come to the conclusion, whether Conservative, Liberal or Labour, that there was too much Party recrimination and Party consideration in our political affairs, and that it, was necessary that we should attend to what was in truth the national interest—that we should at once discard altogether the idea that what we were going to do was going to serve the Party, and merely pay our attention to what was best in the interests of the nation. The appeal of the Prime Minister for support and confidence in carrying out a mandate designed for that purpose received a support which was overwhelming, and which, I believe, in the future will always redound to the highest credit of the electorate of this country.
§ VISCOUNT BRENTFORD
My Lords, may I say one word, not of criticism of the Government but, adopting a phrase presented to us by the Leader of the House, in sympathetic stimulation. There is one question of very vital importance which was only touched upon slightly by the Leader of the House, and that is as to what action the Government propose to take in reference to the enormous influx of foreign goods into this land. I know that the whole question of whether there should be tariffs or not is one which is to be examined, and which must be examined, by the Government. I know, of course, of the speeches made by the Leader of the Conservative Party, and of his Manifesto, and I think I may say without want of respect that I know of the speeches made by my noble friend the Leader of the 34 Opposition with reference to dealing in the future with the question of tariffs; but this question of dealing with the balance of trade is really a very immediate one.
The Leader of the Opposition undoubtedly tried to assume, and asked us to assume, that there was very little in this matter. He belittled the question of the excess of imports. I suggest to him, and if I may also to the Government, that one of the main causes of the difficulty in which the nation finds itself has been the steady and persistent increase on the wrong side of the balance of trade. If we had been able to continue the balance of trade, which was at one time £200,000,000 in our favour, we should not have got into the difficult position in which the Socialist Government found itself. While my old colleagues in the previous Government attempted, and I hope successfully, to balance our Budget, we are still in the difficulty of having to balance our trade, which is far more important than balancing the Budget. Balancing the Budget may be done by economy or clapping on extra taxation. That is simple, provided the taxation is realised in the course of the year, but it is very doubtful, unless you get the balance of trade right, whether the taxation which the late Chancellor of the Exchequer put before the House will really realise the amount expected, and which we hope it will realise.
There is undoubtedly a far greater influx of foreign goods at the moment than there usually is or has been at any time during the last few years. These are facts which I think cannot be controverted, and if we are to assume it is the case that the Government must be allowed reasonable time in which to bring in their main legislation—probably it will not be until the House meets again next year—during the intervening three or four months there will be, unless something is done, week by week £2,000,000 added to the adverse balance of trade which we now have. I am bound to suggest, and I do suggest, to my noble and learned friend, that unless the Government intend to take steps to deal with it promptly (and there was something in his speech which led me to hope that they do intend to take steps promptly), to bring in some form of legislation, and 35 not wait until investigation has been made into tariffs—whether by prohibition in certain cases as Mr. Runciman suggested, or by licensing, such as was done during the War, or by a temporary tariff—unless some method is adopted which will restore the balance of trade or make it equal, the Government will have the overhanging menace of this adverse balance upon their shoulders while they are making up their minds.
I have endeavoured to get some information on this point. The Federation of British Industries has provided me with the latest information that they have been able to obtain from those who are engaged in the commerce of this country. There is no doubt whatever that steel which could be made in this country is to-day, if I may use a colloquial expression, being shovelled into our ports from Belgium and Germany. Shipments which usually at this time of the year come in boats with a cargo of about 1,000 tons are now coming in boats with a cargo of from 5,000 to 7,000 tons. Not only is that taking place in South Wales, but there is a large import in London, going through to the Midlands, all of which could be manufactured in our own country and which, if it were so manufactured, would restore to a very large extent the balance of trade which is now adverse, and about which I at least, and, I hope, His Majesty's Government also, are really anxious.
May I give one or two figures? The imports of foreign steel in August of this year were 43,000 tons. In September they were 53,000 tons. In October, when foreign nations began to realise that a change must inevitably take place in the fiscal policy of this country, they rose to 83,000 tons. The noble Lord who leads the Opposition surely cannot say that there is nothing in those figures which need cause alarm. Taking some other trades, in silk fabrics there was an increase in September of this year, as against September of last year, of 36½ per cent.; in artificial silk tissues, of 22 per cent.; and in artificial silk hosiery of no less than 60 per cent. I could also give many other figures, rising in the case of woollen underwear to an increase of 189 per cent, compared with the ordinary importation of previous years. Wherever one looks one finds that these figures are such as to cause the very gravest anxiety, 36 not merely in the commercial world—I have no interest whatever in manufacture or the commercial world myself—but in the financial world. The commercial question can be dealt with in the future undoubtedly, but at the moment it is the financial question in regard to which I desire sympathetically to stimulate my noble friend and the Government.
I have been a disciple of my noble friend and have worked with him in the cause for many years past. I look upon him, naturally, as my leader now, but I always have looked upon him as one who was not merely my colleague but my leader, and I cannot but realise that he must have the same views as I have, the same sense of anxiety, and the same desire to remedy the position that I have. I only desire therefore to ask him whether, knowing his great power in the Cabinet, he will make it his duty at the earliest possible moment to bring this matter before the Government, and not to allow the country to wait until the fuller and further investigation, which, I agree, must take place, is entered upon, but at once, if these facts which I have given are correct, and if there is still this grave adverse balance of trade of something like £2,000,000 a week—an adverse balance which must do harm to the balance of our Budget, and to the position of the pound sterling—to take their courage in both hands and bring forward in this House, or possibly in another place, the requisite legislation to deal with this matter by one or other of the methods which I have indicated.
§ LORD HASTINGS
My Lords, while acknowledging to the full that in the gracious Speech from the Throne His Majesty's Government have reserved to themselves the fullest power to deal with all matters that affect the balance of trade, I do regret, and regret very deeply, that it has not been found possible to include in the gracious Speech some specific reference to the mighty agrarian problem with which this country is faced at the present time. I regret it for a very special reason. I regret it because it would have been relatively easy in the gracious Speech to have sown that seed of hope which, swelling into confidence, is the only thing to-day which will prevent the dying embers of our greatest industry from expiring altogether. We all of us know 37 that hope, swelling into confidence, is the first step to revived prosperity, and in agriculture to-day confidence and a revival of prosperity are more urgent than they have ever been in the memory of the oldest man in this country.
Although I have expressed my deep regret for the reasons given, I do not allow myself to suppose for one moment that His Majesty's Government are likely to be unmindful of the problem to which reference has been made. On the contrary, I have every expectation that plans are already being discussed for dealing with this tremendous problem. And I am greatly encouraged by my recollection of the great interest and zeal which the noble and learned Viscount who, I am proud to know, is now the Leader of your Lordships' House, took in the many agricultural measures which were brought before your Lordships at the latter end of the last Parliament. To any noble Lord interested in agriculture that circumstance is certainly one of great encouragement, for his powerful voice in the Cabinet, I feel certain, will always be on the side of those who are advocating consideration of agricultural problems.
But I wonder whether, even now, the country as a whole realises how intense those problems are throughout Eastern England. We are at the beginning of the blackest winter that arable agriculture has ever known. We are now faced with what has been known to be coming for some time—we are faced with thousands of acres of derelict land, for which it is impossible to obtain any tenants, and from which it has been necessary to discharge the whole of the labour. Although I speak without knowledge of Yorkshire, I believe that far north of East Anglia the same conditions prevail, and also south of it. In all those villages able-bodied men are standing idle, with no prospect of re-employment. And, whereas it is possible to close a factory to-day and open it again in a month's time without much harm having resulted, it is impossible for a farm to go out of cultivation for months and thereafter to be brought back again into production, in the same way that you can switch on the power and start the wheels in a factory.
38 What is really happening, and has happened, to our agriculture is catastrophic, and the day I think is perhaps coming when it will not be so much, for the country to save the farmers, as for farmers Lo be asked to save the country. What is to happen when there are none, and how is the balance of trade to be brought into a favourable position if those who are now in agriculture are allowed to drop out of it, and there are none to take their place? The discouragement which they have received over long terms of years cannot be easily forgotton. It cannot be easily made good. That discouragement has been grave in the extreme. It has now reached its climax. What the country most fervently desires and requires is that greater and ever greater home production should prevail, enabling us thereby to reduce the tremendous commitments we have entered upon and the tremendous purchases that we make from abroad. How, then, will it be if the agriculturists who have been capable hitherto of that production no longer exist?
There is the gravest risk of the whole of the corn-producing areas of England becoming derelict and depopulated. No man now remaining, whether he be landowner or farmer, has any longer the means with which to carry on his hopeless enterprise. It is impossible to use terms which are too exaggerated, there is no possibility of exaggerating; the situation is one to which language is hardly capable of giving full expression. In such a situation as this I beg and implore His Majesty's Government, while not for one instant neglecting others of the immense problems with which they are faced—I do not wish to suggest to them that there are not other problems which, demand their immediate attention; of course, there are-not to allow a moment to pass without investigating and probing to the depths the needs of agriculture in England, and taking steps to save it before it is too late. I apologise for venturing to intrude upon this special occasion, but I do not think that Parliament should grow one day older than the day of its opening before the urgency of this particular problem is brought to the notice of His Majesty's Government. It was for that reason that I rose to address your Lordships, and I thank you for having given me the opportunity.
§ On Question, Motion agreed to nemine dissentiente, and Address to be presented to His Majesty by the Lords with White Staves.