§ LORD BANBURY OF SOUTHAM rose to move, That this House regrets the abandonment of the doctrine of Cabinet responsibility by His Majesty's Government. The noble Lord said: My Lords, the doctrine referred to in my Motion has 520 been observed for a great number of years. It has been observed by all Liberal Prime Ministers, from Lord Melbourne down to Mr. Lloyd George, who as recently as the year 1918 or 1919—I forget which—dismissed Mr. Montagu from his Cabinet on the ground that he had violated the doctrine of Cabinet responsibility. Now I do not base my argument merely upon the fact that this doctrine has been observed for a great number of years, but I base it also upon the fact that it is the most sensible way in which a Cabinet can conduct its business.
§ A Cabinet is a Committee of the Privy Council responsible to Parliament, and it resembles in a great way the board of an important company responsible to its shareholders. Let us consider for a moment what would have happened at a meeting of a great railway company. I see my friend Lord Peel here to-day. He and I were directors of the Great Northern Railway Company and also of the London and Provincial Bank. I ask my noble friend Lord Peel what would have happened at the annual meeting of shareholders of the Great Northern Railway Company, Lord Allerton being Chairman, if, after Lord Allerton had proposed the dividend, Lord Peel had got up and said: "I do not agree with that and I am going to move an Amendment. Not only am I going to move an Amendment to it, but I am going to circularise the shareholders against it. At the same time I am not going to leave the Board. I am going to continue to receive my fees, my passes and all the pleasant circumstances which attend a director of this great company." I can conceive, and I am sure my noble friend Lord Peel can conceive, what would have happened. I think that Lord Allerton, if he had not had a fit, would almost have taken my noble friend by the neck and pushed him off the chairs behind the table where the directors sat. What would have happened at a meeting of the London and Provincial Bank, of which my noble friend and I were also directors, if that sort of thing had taken place? What would have happened on the Stock Exchange to the price of the shares in the London and Provincial Bank if the Stock Exchange and the shareholders knew that the board were fighting among themselves upon a most important point?521
§ That this is a most important point cannot be denied because the difference is on a financial question and it is a well-known fact that the Government must resign if it is beaten in another place upon a financial question. I am not quite sure whether everybody quite realises that Sir Herbert Samuel claimed the right not only to speak and vote against the proposals of his own Government in the House of Commons but to speak in the country. That was stated in the Sunday Times of January 31, which I have with me, but I do not wish to weary your Lordships with unnecessary quotations unless, of course, I am challenged. Not only did he do that but he spoke last Thursday, as your Lordships know, in another place. On Friday he went down to Manchester and spoke at a meeting at the Reform Club there, stating that he conceived that the action of the Government was wrong. Not only did he speak on Friday at Manchester in the Reform Club, but he spoke on Saturday at Southport at a meeting of the Liberal Federation.
§ We had a meeting of the independent Peers last Wednesday before Sir Herbert (Samuel had made this statement in the House of Commons and I ventured to say a few words about the Motion that I was going to move to-day. I said that I remembered 1904 and 1905. I remembered that the Liberal Party was divided then into two factions, the Liberal Imperialists and the Pro-Boers. I remembered that Mr. Chamberlain had brought forward his Tariff Reform proposal and that the two branches of the Liberal Party were united against that. They raised the cry of "Your food will cost you more." When the Government went to the country the Liberal Party was triumphant. History repeats itself. Is it not possible, nay, is it not certain, that Sir Herbert Samuel intends at the next Election to be in a position which will enable him again to raise the cry "Your food will cost you more," and so to unite the Liberal Party which, at present, is divided into two or, I rather think, into three sections? Not only that, but he is going further because he said in another place—I have the OFFICIAL REPORT with me—not only that food would cost people more but that the imposition of a tariff would relieve the shoulders of the well-to-do at the expense of the poor. So there are to be two cries—"Your food 522 Will cost you more" and "your cost will be used to lighten the burden which is on the shoulders of the well-to-do." That is to say, the worst passions in human nature will be appealed to.
§ In those circumstances is it right that Sir Herbert Samuel and the other dissentient members of the Cabinet should remain in the Cabinet? They are perfectly right to say so if they hold the view that food will cost more and that the proceeds of the tariff will be used to lighten the burden on the well-to-do, if there are any well-to-do, if they leave the Government. On that I would like to say that it is quite impossible for this country to continue prosperous unless the burden of taxation on the well-to-do is lightened. It is impossible to go on paying 5s. Income Tax, nearly 5s. Super-Tax and possibly half your money at your death, and to leave any capital in the country. The result of course will be that the poor will suffer much more than the rich. The noble Viscount, Lord Snowden, told the House of Commons only a short time ago that, in the case of a man with £50,000 a year, if he insured against Death Duties and paid his Income Tax and Super-Tax the result would be that not only the whole of his £50,000 would go, but that there would be a small sum—I forget what it actually was (about £1,500 or £2,000 I think) which he would not be able to meet—in respect of which he would be in debt. We cannot go on like that. Therefore I say it is absolutely necessary if people hold these views that, though they are at perfect liberty to mention them, they should at the same time retire from a Cabinet which I presume holds different views. The result would be, I think, most advantageous for, amongst other people, the noble Viscount, Lord Snowden, for I hold in my hand a little book called "The Socialist's Budget" by Philip Snowden.
LORD BAXBURY OF SOUTHAM
In that he says:Both local and national taxation should aim primarily at securing for the communal benefit all 'unearned' or 'social' increment of wealth.Taxation should aim, deliberately, at preventing the retention of large incomes and great fortunes in private hands, recognising that the few cannot be rich without making the many poor.523 I hardly think that the noble Viscount can advocate those principles if he remains in the Cabinet. I hardly think that he would have written a, book enunciating those principles unless he sincerely believed in them. It is said that this is only an emergency case, that it is not going to happen again, though I would observe that Sir Herbert Samuel said that the result of this would be apparently, as far as I could make out, that on every occasion on which anybody differs from the Government he can do as Sir Herbert Samuel is doing at the present moment. But we have all heard it said when a new thing is introduced that it is only for this one occasion; that it does not mean it will go on. We heard that about the Rent Restrictions Act, we heard that about D.O.R.A., we heard that about a good many other things, and we heard it last September when Mr. Baldwin stated that the National Government would only be in existence to balance the Budget and when that had been done Parties would revert to their old positions.
Mr. Baldwin, in his manifesto, said this:At that time we expected that the co-operation then secured would last for only a few weeks, but recent events have rendered it necessary, in my view, that the period of this co-operation should be extended.I have not any doubt if any further troubles arise in the Cabinet it will be said that it is necessary that the principles which were enunciated a day or two ago should be further extended. I do not want to weary your Lordships with a long speech. The matter seems to be very clear. It is a most unbusinesslike proposal, and if you want to carry on the government of the country satisfactorily you must do it in a businesslike way. But I do not want in any kind of way to censure my noble friend below me, Lord Hailsham; all I want to do is to lead him in the right way, to show him the right path, and to hope that he will follow it after due and careful consideration. I beg to move.
§ Moved to resolve, That this House regrets the abandonment of the doctrine of Cabinet responsibility by His Majesty's Government.—(Lord Banbury of Southam.)
§ LORD PONSONBY OF SHULBREDE
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Banbury, who has introduced this 524 Motion has forestalled us on this side of the House. We should certainly have put down a Motion on the Paper in more or less similar terms. I should like at the outset to congratulate the noble Lord not only on his eternal youth but on his eternal vigilance. It is some 25 years since, in another place, I first heard the noble Lord raise points of order and insist on the careful observance of the Constitution and the Regulations and Standing Orders of the House of Commons, and I must say, whether one agreed with the noble Lord or not, invariably there was substance and profound knowledge of the question behind his contentions. Nobody can accuse the noble Lord of inconsistency. He is one of the most consistent politicians that exist in public life to-day, and that, at a time when there is so much shifting and wobbling and changing, is something of which I think he may well be proud. I do not perhaps take quite the strict constitutional view which the noble Lord takes. The British Constitution is not a written Constitution. Our Parliamentary system is full of anomalies and contradictions. It has been gradually built up from generation to generation, and we have settled down to a system which we consider to be the best form of Parliamentary government. I, for one, think that it is a system which needs a good deal of change. I should be in favour of a very drastic change in the Standing Orders of the House of Commons; perhaps, too, in the methods of choosing a Government; and also in the present practice of the life of an Administration being jeopardised very often by a chance adverse vote. All those things no doubt in time will be changed, and when they have been changed the rigid adherence to the doctrine of Cabinet responsibility is likely to be very much modified. But for the time being this idea of Cabinet responsibility has been maintained, as the noble Lord said, for a great many years, and this breach of it comes not on some minor question but on the major policy of the Government.
Just imagine what would have happened if the Labour Goverment had indulged in a practice of this sort. If during 1929 and 1930 the Labour Government had said that half of the Ministers were inclined to make drastic alterations in unemployment insurance and the other half were wholly opposed to any such change, but, 525 as it was only a difference on one point in their programme, there was no difficulty about them all remaining in the Government, there would have been the most terrific outcry. The Conservative Press would have said that the Labour Ministers were breaking down the Constitution, and we should have had a great deal of very strong language. My view is not one of rigid constitutional punctilio but the interest of good government, and I have said more than once in your Lordships' House that I could not believe in a Government that consisted of Ministers, however eminent, who were sharply and deeply divided on vital principles.
It is the essence of good government that you should have a Cabinet that is united even if the members may not be men of very eminent position. Let me take two instances to show exactly what I mean. What would have happened in 1846 if Sir Robert Peel had said to Mr. Disraeli and Lord George Bentinck: "You are strong Protectionists. You want to advocate the continuance of the Corn Laws. I am a Free Trader, and I am going for the repeal of the Corn Laws. But, after all, it is only one item in our programme. Let us remain united as a Government"? What chaos and absolute confusion there would have been! Take a more recent instance. Suppose Mr. Gladstone, in 1886, had said: "Home Rule is one of the important issues, but it is only one. It is most necessary that a Liberal Government should continue." And suppose he had said to Mr. Chamberlain, and Lord Harrington: "You are quite at liberty to speak against Home Rule, to go out into the country and denounce Home Rule, but you can stay on the Front Bench and you can speak n the House against Home Rule if you want to." I venture to say that if that lad happened it would have been an absolutely damaging blow to Mr. Gladstone's reputation as a statesman and it would have absolutely destroyed Mr. Chamberlain's reputation for personal integrity.
Let me take instances from to-day in other countries where people are watching the Mother of Parliaments and wondering what particular phase it is going through. If Dr. Brüning in Berlin said that some of his Ministers in the Reichstag might advocate and support the Nazi policy and advocate what Herr 526 Hitler recommends, I cannot conceive what the German people or what people throughout the world would think. Again, what would be thought if in France M. Laval were to say to his Ministers: "You are quite at liberty in the Chamber and in the country to recommend cancellation of German Reparations. It is not my policy, but it is after all only one item. You are quite at liberty to do that, and I will continue in my policy, and we can denounce one another in the Chamber whenever we want to."? Those examples, when we take them from other countries, show what a very dangerous situation is being created by these scenes that we have recently witnessed in the British House of Commons.
There is another point. One of the safeguards of the Constitution is that a Government is always aware that there is an alternative Government to take its place. So long as it is aware of that it is kept more or less within the regulations of Parliament. Moreover, it has to tread warily, and the strength of the Opposition contributes very largely to the strength of a Government. Now the present Government, with a self-complacency which has never been equalled, is obsessed with the idea of its indispensability. In all their speeches Ministers show that any other Government, any other body of men drawn from any other Parties in this country constituting a Government, is to them unthinkable. They are indispensable and therefore every subterfuge must be resorted to in order that they may remain in office. I do not know where this system is going to end. If this can be done on such an important question as that of tariffs, of course it can be done on any other question, any minor question or any equally important question. We shall find questions arising with regard to foreign affairs, questions arising on which there is as great a difference of opinion, and yet Ministers will be allowed to carry on in the Government sitting where they do on the Front Bench together.
My Lords, I think we in this House might make a contribution to this farce of sixes and sevens. I think it would be a great advantage if members of the Government when they were going to oppose the Government would come over to this side of the House and speak from this Box. This Box is a very favourite position of some noble Lords. The noble 527 Viscount, Lord Brentford, whom I do not see in his seat to-day, is very fond of speaking from it. I think he likes to see his friends' faces when he is giving them a good talking-to. There is plenty of room on this side and we should be very glad to welcome Ministers if they would walk across the floor of the House when they are going to oppose the Government. The noble and learned Viscount who leads the House laughs, but probably the time will come when he will have the liberty to oppose some point of policy which this extraordinary Government is bringing forward, and then he will give us the hint by just walking across the floor and speaking from this side.
But when one thinks of the genesis of this Government, after all one cannot be very much surprised one way or the other. They called themselves a National Government and I was reprimanded in your Lordships' House for saying that it was a bogus National Government. I think I was right, anyhow. There is not one single official Labour organisation in the country which supports this Government, and therefore it is not a National Government. That to begin with. The Government was created by denouncing the failure of the last Government and then it took the leaders of the last Government who were responsible for the failure as their own leaders. We must never forget that this is the centenary year of Lewis Carroll who wrote "Alice in Wonderland." A Government has been created which is overriding the House of Commons in more ways than one and has now created an entirely new system of government. The motto of this Government is "Divided we stand, united we fall," and it intends to continue its existence until it is cured of this, as it seems at the moment, incurable self-complacency. I must say I agree with the noble Lord that it is rather difficult to understand how Ministers who are so deeply opposed to this major policy which has been brought forward can consent to act with colleagues with whom they have such very acute differences.
I noticed that the Prime Minister, in a speech at Seaham—and may I say in passing how glad we are that he has passed through what must have been a very painful operation so successfully?—said he had to work day and night. I 528 have been wondering since which of the colleagues he had to work with at night in order to carry out this extraordinary scheme. We are all impatient to-day to hear the maiden speech of the noble Viscount, the Lord Privy Seal. I am pretty sure that he was not the one that occupied the whole night with the Prime Minister. I know the noble Viscount well enough to know that when he makes up his mind, he makes it up very rapidly. In the whirligig of time I never expected to find myself on opposite sides to the noble Viscount, but one cannot ignore him in this Government. He is one of the leaders. The noble Viscount has the reputation of having won the General Election. I think that was probably true, but I do not want to go back to that now. His former associates, however, having been watching with interest first of all his swallowing the first little dose of tariffs, and then his swallowing the overthrow of the main item of his last Budget, the taxation of land values, have been wondering when his gorge would rise. It has risen, but not to the extent of cutting himself adrift from those who want to pursue the policy to which he is so deeply opposed, and we shall hear from him to-day why in that position he still conceives it to be his duty to remain in the Government.
The situation in this country and in the world is serious. There seems to be still the same doubt with regard to the balancing of the Budget, with regard to our financial stability, with regard to the balance of trade, while the unemployment figures are rising rapidly and there is very grave discontent with regard to the means test. That the Government, in a position of this sort, and at a critical moment like this, should fall back on an expedient which must shatter the confidence of the country in them—when they are speaking with divided voice and when they are occupying their time not in contesting the attacks of those opposed to them, but in squabbling amongst themselves and attacking one another in the House of Commons and in the country—is an amazing spectacle. The British Constitution has never seen anything like it—the Home Secretary getting up in the House of Commons and making a very formidable speech against the Government he is serving, an Undersecretary following and denouncing him, the Whip going out and taking the chair 529 at a meeting of members who are going to vote against the Government—this is reducing Parliamentary government to an absolute farce.
This abandonment of the idea of Cabinet, responsibility, which has hitherto been the doctrine observed by all Parties for generations, is not a considered, plan; it is merely a dodge, a subterfuge, a makeshift adopted by the Government so that by a system of shuffling and trickery they can continue to maintain what they are pleased to suppose is believed to be a united front. Nobody is taken in; everybody sees through it and recognises it far what it really is—a gross imposture, which will add considerably to the mistrust which is felt in the country for the present Administration. There has been already the most amazing example of that mistrust in the by-election in which the National candidate has lost 21,000 votes within three months. This Government came into power with promises that were far too tall and the country is beginning to understand that its performances are far too meagre. I do not think, after this last exhibition, that we can expect anything worse from them, but meanwhile there are many ills that are wanting to be cured, and I think it will be a great advantage to this country when we can get clear-cut Party government back. I would far sooner be attacking a Conservative Administration, knowing where Ministers stand and knowing also that they believe in the doctrines that they press forward, than this ridiculous makeshift. If the noble Lord divides the House I shall certainly follow him into the Lobby. Even if ho hesitates to divide the House there will still be a Division.
§ THE LORD PRIVY SEAL (VISCOUNT SNOWDEN)
My Lords, I do not know if it be the practice in this Chamber, as it is in another place, when a member rises to speak for the first time, to claim the indulgence of his fellow-members on account of his youth and inexperience, but be that as it may I think the special circumstances in which I am placed by the Motion now before the House entitle me to the attention of your Lordships. The position in which I stand is unique, at least in the history of the last hundred years. It is the first time during that period that a Minister, while remaining a member of the Cabinet, is in opposition to an important piece of legislation pro- 530 moted by the Government. I do not intend this afternoon to enter into the details of the proposals which are now before the other House. There will, I hope, be an opportunity for me to express my views in some detail upon these proposals when they come before your Lordships' House.
The question which has been raised by the Motion of the noble Lord is the alleged constitutional outrage by the decision of the Government to allow certain members to vote and speak against a Government measure. I am not in the least interested in the statement with which the noble Lord opened his speech, that such an abrogation of the doctrine of Cabinet responsibility is without precedent during the last hundred years. This Parliament, I believe, has been in existence for six centuries, and if this doctrine of Cabinet responsibility dates only to one hundred years back then the noble Lord might, I think, have found five times the number of precedents for the course which the Government have, in circumstances of exceptional emergency and difficulty, adopted.
I am not in the least interested, either, in constitutional authorities, and the authority of precedents leaves me quite unmoved. All human progress has been made by ignoring precedents. If mankind had been the slave of precedent we should still be living in caves and subsisting on shell fish and wild berries. No! no! I am no worshipper either of Constitutions or of precedents. Constitutions and precedents were created to meet the circumstances of the time, and when circumstances change, and when new conditions arise, then precedents which are unsuitable must be abandoned. The test to be applied to the innovation is this. Was it required in the circumstances—in the very special circumstances? Was it prudent? Was it desirable? Was it necessary? The National Government itself is a departure from the usual constitution of the Government. It was very specifically declared by the Leaders of the various Parties which formed the National Government that they were joining together for one purpose, to restore the financial and economic condition of the country, and that this co-operation for this purpose 531 involved no sacrifice of any of the principles which had divided political Parties hitherto.
It was quite evident from the outset that this question of tariffs would arise, and Free Trade members made their position perfectly clear. We ruled out from consideration nothing, not even tariffs, if after a full and impartial examination it appeared that tariffs might be necessary—temporarily necessary and beneficial—but we made it perfectly clear also that we would be no parties to using an emergency to establish a permanent system of Protection in this country. The noble Lord who has just sat down was kind enough to say that I possessed some influence. I have never regarded myself as a leader of any Party, but as my personal action is involved in this Motion, and that of my dissenting colleagues, I think that perhaps your Lordships will permit me to read to you a short statement that I made in a broadcast talk during the General Election—a talk which the Labour Party often remind me, as indeed the noble Lord did this afternoon, was largely responsible for the devastating defeat which the Labour Party suffered.
I said in that talk:We all joined the National Government on the understanding that controversial Party questions were to be set aside until we had completed the task of restoring national solvency. I do not believe that the Conservative leaders would regard a majority obtained in the circumstances of this Election as giving them a mandate to carry a general system of Protection in the new Parliament. Such a radical departure from our established fiscal system could not be made without an emphatic and unequivocal decision of the electorate.Three or four days later Mr. Baldwin referred to this statement, and to statements of a similar character which had been made by certain members of the Government. Mr. Baldwin said:Perhaps I should say a word about those who have tried to confuse the issue with attempts to revive the Free Trade-Protection controversy of 25 years ago. Now that is not the real issue. Here the Prime Minister and Mr. Snowden have both stated the position quite accurately—that the National Government must be free to consider any and every expedient which may help to establish the balance of trade—which may help to establish the balance of trade! I have already told your Lordships that we were perfectly ready to 532 co-operate in the examination of everything, including tariffs, which might contribute to the achievement of that purpose, the establishment of the balance of trade. I would like to remind you of the undoubted fact that it was statements like these, made by Mr. Baldwin, made by the Prime Minister, and made by other Free Trade members of the Government which gave millions of Free Trade votes at the Election to Tory candidates.
Now, we were, as I said, prepared to consider the question of a temporary tariff if, after full examination, we were convinced, as Mr. Baldwin put it, that it might help to restore the balance of trade. This was one of the first questions to which the Government directed its attention after the General Election. It is well known that a Cabinet Committee was appointed to enquire into the subject. Sir Herbert Samuel and myself were members of that Committee. We had many meetings. We examined the question as thoroughly as we were able to do. It was a Committee of nine. All the members of the Committee, with the exception of Sir Herbert Samuel and myself, agreed upon a Report. We were unable to accept the proposals of the majority. Sir Herbert and myself each submitted a dissenting memorandum. As I said, I am not going to discuss these proposals now, but my conviction, is that they contain nothing which will contribute to redressing the alleged adverse balance of trade, that they are full-fledged Protection of a permanent character, and our fear that such was the nature of these proposals has been confirmed by what has taken place during last week. They have been hailed by Protectionists as the death-blow of Free Trade and as the establishment of a permanent system of Protection in this country; and Mr. Chamberlain, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, in his speech in another place last week, hailed them as the culmination of his father's Protectionist campaign of 25 years ago.
Now, when these proposals were adopted by the Cabinet, it was quite impossible that the minority could accept them, and we did what is usual when members of a Cabinet differ from their colleagues upon a matter of great importance: we offered our resignations. Those resignations were not accepted. 533 It never occurred to us that there could be any other course. In taking that course, we were not indifferent to the national interests, but in such a crisis one has to choose between conflicting loyalties. We may be mistaken, but we hold, with the fullest conviction, that the tariff proposals of the Government will be disastrous to the economic and industrial life and prosperity of this country. Speaking for myself, and I believe for my dissenting colleagues also, much as we should have deplored any impairment of the National Government we could not have remained in office had it involved acquiescence, either implicit or explicit, in these proposals, holding the views that we do upon them. Our personal position in the matter did not matter at all. We do not regard ourselves as indispensable. I am quite sure that we could easily be replaced, probably by men far more competent than we are. I have no Party, but the position of the Liberal dissenting Ministers was different. They represented a large Party, and their secession from the National Government would have destroyed to a large extent its representative and composite character.
Well, the situation was discussed at great length and in the most friendly spirit, and ultimately the course which is the subject of this censure this after-noon was suggested to us. We did not make the suggestion, and, in reply to what the noble Lord said, I may say this in justice to Sir Herbert Samuel: Sir Herbert Samuel, to use the noble Lord's words, never claimed the right, to speak, he put forward no claim. The suggestion did not come from us. It was made by our colleagues, and, after having discussed the matter for some time, the four of us retired. It was an extremely delicate situation. We talked the matter over, and we came to the conclusion that if we rejected such an unprecedented offer we should place ourselves in a very difficult position in the eyes of the electors of the country. The offer was made to us by the Prime Minister and by all our other colleagues, and it was urged in the belief that at this time it would be a serious thing in any way to weaken the representative character of the National Government. No one can tell how this will work. It is a new experiment made in unique and very exceptional circumstances. But we decided to try it, and the decision has been endorsed 534 by the country, in spite of what the noble Lord said. It has been endorsed by the House of Commons, and we can only wait and see whether the outcome will justify the experiment. It has been said that responsibility for the arrangement, or the success of the arrangement, rests mainly with the dissenting Ministers. That I do not admit. It is the responsibility of all those who are parties to it, and it will break down if any attempt is made to limit the freedom which has been given to the dissenters under the Cabinet statement.
The noble Lord who moved this Motion objected very strongly to Sir Herbert Samuel exercising his right—a right which I repeat he never claimed, a right which was conferred upon him—to express his own views in the country upon these fiscal proposals. One Party cannot be permitted to carry on a raging campaign, in the country in support of these proposals and the dissenters confined to a single mild protest. It has been suggested that, having made our protest, we should remain silent and accept Protection as an accomplished fact. Speaking for myself and I should think for my dissenting colleagues, that is a condition that we would not accept. The noble Lord, Lord Banbury, seemed to assume that it would be something of an outrage for Sir Herbert Samuel to rally the forces of Free Trade and make this an issue at the next Election. But it will be an issue at the next Election, and is it fair to expect that Free Traders can leave the field between now and the General Election, which may be years ahead, free for the Protectionists to entrench their position while they (the Free Traders) allow the case for Free Trade to go by default?
§ LORD BANBURY OF SOUTHAM
May I be allowed to interrupt the noble Viscount? He has misunderstood me. I did not intend for a moment to say that the dissentient Liberals should not take advantage of what the noble Viscount says and defend their proposals. But they must do it outside the Cabinet and not inside it.
§ VISCOUNT SNOWDEN
I am sure I did not misrepresent the noble Lord in the slightest degree. He has confirmed what I was attempting to reproduce as the statement that he had made. There is now no need for us to defend our posi- 535 tion inside the Cabinet. The matter has been cleared up. It is understood that we maintain our position and that, the majority of our colleagues maintain their position. The point with which I am dealing now is that the statement was made by the Cabinet. The basis of the agreement by which we remain in the Cabinet is that we shall be allowed to express by speech and by vote our opposition to these proposals and to proposals of a cognate character. We remain in the Cabinet only on the condition that we have the same freedom to express our views upon these questions as those who take the opposite view very rightly claim to exercise and to use. Upon this vital matter we certainly cannot be dogmatists; but if the decision of the Cabinet is interpreted in practice in the letter and in the spirit of the Cabinet's official statement, I believe the arrangement will be justified by results and that we shall be able to co-operate, and to continue to co-operate, in carrying out the work for which the National Government was formed. There is complete unanimity within the Cabinet upon all those other questions. We have to settle urgent matters like Reparations, Debts, monetary policy, economy, disarmament, and India, and on all these matters there is complete unanimity within the Government. I do not think that the fact that we I publicly differ upon one matter, important though it is, of Government policy need impair the usefulness of the Government in carrying out this still very important work.
I do not think there are many points which have been raised in the speeches which have been delivered which have not been covered, or at least implied by way of reply, in what I have already said. But I would like to join with the noble Lord opposite in congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Banbury, who moved this Motion, on the vigour which he still maintains. Like the noble Lord opposite I knew him in another place and years have not impaired his vigour and age has not reduced his eloquence. But I must congratulate him also upon his new allegiance and upon his new leadership. We have seen many strange whirligigs during the last few years, but surely none more unexpected or more remarkable than to see the noble Lord enrolled 536 under the leadership of Mr. Lansbury, and the noble Lord opposite now shares with the noble Lord, Lord Banbury, the leadership of the Opposition in your Lordships' House.
I am not going to follow the noble Lord opposite (Lord Ponsonby) in his attack upon the motives of those who are parties to this arrangement nor his remarks about the nature and the character of the National Government. All that part of the noble Lord's speech can be answered in one sentence and it is this, that the criticisms of the Labour Party are due wholly to the annoyance they feel that the National Government has not been broken up. In regard to their opposition to the tariff proposals of the Government, I would just as soon, and I am speaking of what I know, entrust the safeguarding of Free Trade to Sir Henry Page Croft as I would to the Labour Party. The Leader of the Labour Party at the last Election— I am quoting from the Daily Herald which put the statement of Mr. Henderson in a frame because of its importance—made a statement to the effect that he was in certain circumstances in favour of a 20 per cent, tariff. I can understand that the Labour Party will be disappointed at any rate in one-half of the proposals of the Government—disappointed that those proposals have only gone halfway to carrying out the policy upon which the Leader of the Labour Party contested the last Election.
§ VISCOUNT SNOWDEN
I am quoting from the Daily Herald, and six weeks after the Daily Herald evidently attached a great deal more importance to Mr. Henderson's original statement than it did to the revised statement. We have been charged too—indeed, this is the very essence of the noble Lord's charge—with, a lack of unity upon an important question. The Labour Party ought to be the last people in the world to charge anybody with a lack of unity. Why they were not able to carry a united Party into the Division Lobby in the House of Commons two nights ago upon a Vote of Censure upon this Government, and we have had the spectacle quite recently of the noble Lord, Lord Arnold, and Dr. Addison speaking on the same day, and their speeches reported in the same 537 column, of the same newspaper—speeches in which Lord Arnold denounced the wheat quota as a crude, fantastic, impossible proposal, and in which Dr. Addison (on the same day) advocated it as a sound, practical, beneficial measure, complaining also that if it had not been far my opposition his proposal for a quota would have been carried into effect under the late Labour Government.
The noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, objected to this departure because he did not believe that it would be in the interests of good government, and because a divided Cabinet must have the effect of causing unrest and dissatisfaction both within the Party and in the country. He quoted a number of instances of what re regarded as historical parallels, but not a single one of those cases had any application at all to the circumstances under which this arrangement has been made. Then, our predecessors had a Party Government, and Cabinet responsibility is really the outcome of Party Government, because if there be disunions in a Party Cabinet then that is likely to lead to disruption of the Party; and it was in order to maintain the unity of the Party, I believe, that originally the doctrine of Cabinet responsibility was adopted.
I think I have dealt with most of the points raised in the two speeches that preceded mine, but I must say this in regard to the invitation extended to me and to other noble Lords who are members of the Government, when we speak in opposition to the proposal of the Government, that we should go to that side of the House, I hope the noble Lord will not regard it as offensive when I say I am not in the least attracted by the company that I should have to keep on that side of the House. I have tried to give to your Lordships a frank and honest statement, perhaps too plain a statement of the reasons which led to the adoption of this unusual practice. As far as we are concerned we shall keep strictly to the letter of this agreement, and if we do that, and if it be, as I have said already, carried out in that spirit, then I believe it will be found to be an innovation which has justified itself by its practical success.
§ EARL PEEL
My Lords, may I first of all congratulate the noble Viscount on the very frank and very sincere statement that he has made to your Lordships' 538 House. I agree, if I may say so, with one of the sentiments he has expressed—that he will not follow the invitation of the noble Lord opposite and transfer himself to the other side of the Table in order to conduct his criticisms of the Government. I listened with the greatest interest to the noble Lord the Leader of the Opposition, who told us that he was not in favour of rigid constitutional punctilio. It was hardly necessary for the noble Lord to make that observation. I had gathered that already from some of his statements, and I gathered from the actions of many of his colleagues in 1926 that those who supported direct action were not in any technical or rigid sense of the term high constitutionalists. I think I may also congratulate my noble friend Lord Banbury, in spite of the fact that he selected me, rather unfairly I think, as a victim for the examples he brought forward in putting this matter before your Lordships.
I am very well aware that a great many subjects of transcendant importance are now occupying the minds of the people of the country; still I think it is right that departures from constitutional principles should, in your Lordships' House at least, be carefully considered when they arise. At the same time I should like to express myself as being generally in favour of the custom, long established, of Ministers resigning on a difference of opinion upon important points, because such a practice does add great unity and strength to the counsels of the Cabinet, and conduces also to active and vigorous executive action. I must, if I may, enter a protest against the theory which has been advanced so much in the Press that this matter of Cabinet responsibility is merely a convention which can be discarded when required. It is in my judgment far more than a convention, because it is based upon common sense and also upon the experience that we have gained in Parliamentary government over a long period. Decisions beget decisions and also action. When decisions are taken you have far-reaching consequences in action and further decisions based upon previous ones.
The noble Lord the Privy Seal told us he was not much troubled by precedents or by the historical parallels of the eighteenth century. I rather agree with him. I never am much troubled by pre- 539 cedent myself. I think it is worth considering why it was that the present system was established, and why, in spite of the fact that in the eighteenth century in the course of our constitutional developments this liberty of proselytising was the custom in Governments, it proved a complete failure. It was because it led to many deplorable incidents in the history of our country in the eighteenth century that finally this habit of Cabinet responsibility was firmly established. Nor do I think, with all respect to the noble Viscount, that it makes a great difference whether you have a single-Party Government or a Government in which several Parties are combined. I am inclined to think that the unity of a Government is more necessary to be established when several Parties are combined in it, because as a matter of fact everybody will imagine that there is no unity in that combined Party Government. It is even more important than when a single Party is in charge of the government, although then I suppose no question of anything of the sort would be likely to arise. It is equally plain that this precedent cannot be very closely followed because if it was too freely illustrated the whole system of Cabinet Government would fall to the ground. I have no doubt that all these points and many others have been carefully weighed by the majority of the Cabinet.
The noble Viscount says that the invitation to stay came from the majority and did not come from them. I can well believe that, but I do not think, with all respect to him, that that makes very much difference to the question. The question before us is whether for the national benefit and for national unity it is wise or unwise that this new precedent should be established, or, shall I say, that an old precedent should be broken. That is the sole point I think—whether in the present circumstances it is wise that this new precedent, if you like to call it so, shall be established. I must assume, and I do assume, that the majority of the present Government have weighed all these and many other considerations and come to the conclusion not only that it is in the national interest that they should have the co-operation of the Liberals in other matters but also that it is in their judgment quite possible, 540 in spite of demonstrations by their colleagues, to act in unity with them in the Cabinet itself. I am inclined to think that this is the test, and the only test, which we need apply as regard the Government working together in the Cabinet.
Members of the Government, who know their own colleagues much better than anyone else can do, have told us that they can and will work together, and if they chose to try to work this experiment I think there is no reason why we should object to their doing so. But I think other questions arise as regards what is to happen outside in the country and in that matter I think we are entitled to have an opinion. I certainly had been under the impression that the dissentient Ministers, as we may call them, would be content with a protest and vote and that they would not carry this warfare into the constituencies. If they do carry this warfare into the constituencies I must say that I should have much more misgiving as to whether this situation can remain stable. If I heard correctly the noble Viscount the Lord Privy Seal, he seems to think that it could be carried on: that Ministers could do much more than dissent in the House and submit a protest; that they had the right to organise opposition in the constituencies. If that is so, I am bound to say that I did not understand that that was the intention, and I was a little shaken in my support of the Government scheme by the statement made by the noble Viscount in that respect.
I have been looking at the statement of Liberal policy which was reported in The Times on February 9. The Times stated:At a largely attended meeting of the Liberal Free Trade Committee yesterday the following resolution was passed unanimously:—and then the resolution is given. The resolution says that the Government tariff policy… not only goes far beyond the programme laid before the country by the Prime Minister, but constitutes a breach of faith with millions of Liberal electors who voted for the National Government last autumn …That is a very strong expression, "a breach of faith," and I am bound to say that it gave me rather a shock when I read it. I wondered how it was possible for men who declared that the action of 541 the Government was "a breach of faith" to act with the majority. I am not suggesting for a moment that this was the view taken or stated by the Ministers themselves. I drew a distinction between them and the members of the Party, but it is rather a serious consideration for those gentlemen who support these Liberal Ministers. I am not speaking, of course, of the noble Viscount in this connection, but of these Members of Parliament who support these Ministers and who consider this arrangement a breach of faith. That is a little more than dissent.
On the other hand, the fact that Liberal Ministers have accepted the suggestion of their colleagues that they should remain in the Cabinet is in itself very reassuring. A few years ago it would have been quite impossible because at that time the question of Free Trade or Protection was not regarded simply as a matter of expediency. It was lifted rather into a moral question and a question of conscience. It is quite clear that it cannot be so regarded by these Liberal Ministers to-day because of course in those circumstances they would not accept the invitation of their colleagues to remain in the Cabinet. I think we have gained something therefore if we can regard these matters of old controversy, not as matters of high principle or conscience, but really as questions of expediency to be exercised as may be necessary in certain circumstances.
I do not wish to detain your Lordships long on this matter, but I would like to say that I do not perfectly understand what is meant by a permanent system of Protection. It is quite obvious that if you are going to put on duties, if you are going to have, say, 10 per cent, all round, it would be almost frivolous to say that two or three years hence you are going to take off these duties when trade has been built up and industry has accommodated itself to that new system. Therefore I use those words "permanent" and "temporary" in rather a generous spirit. I extend, if you like, the word "temporary" and I mean by the word "permanent" only that it is as permanent as anything can be in this country with changing political majorities and so on. It so happens that the necessity of dealing with the balance of trade by means of 542 tariffs does coincide with a tremendous change of public opinion in all Parties in favour of proceeding by tariffs, and if there had been no difficulty about this balance of trade nevertheless the feeling in favour of tariffs would still have grown so that it would be something rather more permanent and rather less temporary. That I think the noble Viscount would be ready to admit. Of course I should have preferred to consider that the Liberals themselves, recognising that the trend of economic thought and view was running in a contrary direction, were ready to remain in the Cabinet and that they were going to content themselves with a vigorous protest—relieving their feelings as it were—on the subject, and that, realising that Free Trade was no longer n practicable or possible policy in this country, they were willing to accept what we may call an expedient system of Protection.
As I am anxious myself that the National Government should still consist of a fusion of Parties I think that anyhow this liberty should be made use of as little as possible by Liberal members, because, if we are to have a great campaign in the, country, and they are to use the Cabinet as an entrenchment for attacks against their colleagues, I do not think this system will long be tolerated. I hope, that will not be so, and that they will exercise a good deal of forbearance, contenting themselves with these speeches and, perhaps, with a little less vigour of criticism of their colleagues than they have shown in another place. I am not making any charge on that point against the noble Viscount (Lord Snowden). If they exercise that restraint I think this reversion to old constitutional precedent may be tolerated and will work. I hope it will work. Rumour says this change was suggested by the noble and learned Viscount who leads the House. If that was so I congratulate him on his ingenuity and his knowledge of historical precedents, and I hope he will exercise his great influence in the Cabinet in order to curb his more vigorous dissentient colleagues so as to secure that this great change is made with the general agreement of Parties and accepted by partisans in the country as well.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR (VISCOUNT SANKEY)
My Lords, I am sure that this House is grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Banbury, for giving it an opportunity of discussing the subject of the collective responsibility of the Cabinet and also for the interesting speech in which he has supported his Resolution. In a debate of this character, which concerns the foundations of our government, I would ask your Lordships to pardon me if I draw your attention to certain principles with which no doubt you are, and have always been, familiar. Our constitution is not like the laws of the Medes and Persians, unalterable, nor is it kept within the straitjacket of a written code. Far from this being a handicap it is we think, an advantage, and it is one of our proud boasts. Our system contains within itself the seeds of growth, and though the principles of law remain unchanged their application can be changed with the changing circumstances of the times.
So, too, the doctrine of collective Cabinet responsibility is not fixed and unalterable. It did not even come over with the Conqueror. It is of comparatively modern growth. Its author was probably Sir Robert Walpole, but it was not perfected till years after his time. Its history is set out in well-known passages of the late Lord Morley's "Life of Sir Robert Walpole" and in Todd's "Parliamentary Government in England." It has been modified on occasion; it has been and can be adapted to meet the needs of time and circumstance. When Cabinets were smaller and the range of subjects for their determination more restricted collective responsibility was an ideal which could be attained, but when Cabinets became larger and the range of subjects before them more numerous, although the doctrine of collective responsibility still remained it remained as an ideal to be aimed at, but not always one to be realised. Our Cabinet system needs something more than it can receive from those who risk nothing and are content to move comfortably within the ambit of the things said and the things done by their predecessors. With the great amount of social and industrial legislation, and with the burden of foreign affairs added to the ordinary routine of Parliamentary work, it is doubtful whether in future it will ever be possible 544 to get a large Cabinet to be unanimous on every subject.
Those who engage in public life in this country may be divided into two classes—those who construct and those who criticise, and it is a fortunate occurrence that each of the great political Parties is called upon to occupy these rôles in turn from time to time. There are, however a number of great politicians who always seem to prefer to be amongst the critics and if the noble Lord, Lord Banbury, will permit me to say so, I think that he is a distinguished member of this class. He has that valuable quality which our neighbours on the other side of the Channel call l'esprit negatif, which, being translated, means that he is generally against the Government.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
We rejoice to see him on the present occasion running in double harness with the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby. It may be a good and joyful thing for Cabinets to dwell together in unity but, my Lords, criticism is just as valuable inside the Cabinet as it is outside it. At least one of my pre decessors since Walpole's time, Lord Thurlow, frequently spoke and voted against the Government of Which he was a member. I think an autocratic Cabinet might well produce that most undesirable thing, an apathetic House of Commons There are some who would like to see more subjects left to the free vote of the House of Commons.
Permit me to draw attention to one or two other things. In the Grenville Ministry, 1753, the business of Government was settled when five or six Ministers only were present. In 1784 the Cabinet consisted of seven persons; in 1803 the number was twelve. Mr Asquith's pre-War Cabinet was twenty in 1915, a National Ministry was formed, and the Cabinet consisted of twenty-three persons. This is the largest that can be traced, and it was followed by a war Cabinet of six. During these periods from time to time many matters were referred to a free vote of the House of Commons. Such great questions as Parliamentary reform, the ballot, the abolition of the slave trade, Roman Catholic emancipation, have severally been considered as open questions by some Administrations, though not by others.
545 Your Lordships must therefore see that the doctrine of collective responsibility is not a creed, nor is it even an Eleventh Commandment. It is a good working rule for normal times, but there is no obligation upon a Prime Minister always to adhere to the rule in its entirety, nor does is bind succeeding generations when conditions have changed or when circumstances are abnormal.
It is an old English saying that too much of a good thing is good for nothing, and we can trust our national common sense to prevent this doctrine becoming a tyrant, and to define its proper limits from time to time. Those Englishmen who are entrusted with the task either of framing a new Constitution or developing and working an old one will doubtless follow our English system. It is not our habit to make change impossible, but rather we desire to make it difficult, and prudence will dictate that governments or systems long established should not change for light and transient causes. That being the law, how is it to be applied M the situation in which we find ourselves? It seems to me at any rate that at present we have a National Government, with, I hope, a National Cabinet. That is the mandate which has been given by the electorate. A National Cabinet is necessary in the present position of international affairs, and in a National Cabinet neither Tory, nor Liberal, nor Labour, can get his own way. Every member has to make some sacrifice and to put up with some disappointment in order to achieve a, policy which on the whole is best for the country.
When England is in danger, as she was but no longer is, and when England is in difficulty, as she still is, I do not hold myself bound by the shackles of Party or the bonds of precedent. These difficulties will soon pass, and our country will emerge greater than ever. Then it will be time enough to think of Parties and precedents. Now you want a united nation, a united Cabinet, to face foreign affairs, Reparations and disarmament, and a number of other questions. I rejoice that the Government have taken the step they have. It is a matter for congratulation, not for regret. The experiment was necessary and permissible. Our action will not be judged in terms of precedent but will be judged in terms of desirability and workability. I shall only 546 regret the experiment if and when it fails, and that I cannot contemplate, because I have no doubt what the result will be.
§ LORD DARYNGTON
My Lords, I rise to oppose the Resolution of my noble friend Lord Banbury, and I would like to give a few reasons for so doing. I do not in the first instance mean to deal with the question of Cabinet responsibility, except to say one or two things in regard to the statement of the noble Lord. He first referred to the fact that he was connected with the London and North Eastern Railway and the Great Northern Railway, of which he has been Chairman, and he drew an analogy between the directorate of a railway company and the Cabinet. There are a very large number of boards in France and other countries in the world, but while those directors have the same sort of power as directors in England, there is no Cabinet responsibility of the same kind in any other country in the world.
My reason for strongly supporting the Government on this occasion is a different one. I believe that it is very much to the advantage of the country that these members should remain in the Government. This afternoon we have had a great many questions referred to, and a good deal of theory has been put forward in reference to the terrible problems with, which we have to deal, but I think there has hardly been full realisation of the extreme gravity of the situation. Mr. Runciman, in one of his characteristically able speeches in the House of Commons, yesterday told us what a grave position we were in, and I think that if we reflect upon that and realise that we must be united to have power, it is in the interest of the country that there should not be a break-up of the present Cabinet unless it is absolutely unavoidable. With regard to the past, everybody knows that there have been many dissensions in Cabinets. There was very deep dissension with regard to the question of woman suffrage, and I believe the noble Earl, Lord De La Warr, told us in this House one day that the majority of the Labour Ministry were in favour of Protection. I think that is something of considerable importance.
The best statement, in my humble opinion, made in the House of Commons with reference to this subject was made 547 by Sir Donald Maclean, the President of the Board of Education, and I am inclined to think that no one can find any real fault with the arguments he adduced for staying in the Cabinet. From a business point of view it is exceedingly important that there should not be, if a fiscal change takes place, any drastic change in the Government within a short period. Everybody knows who has knowledge of business, that to make a change of this kind by tariffs, and then have a change in the direction of Free Trade within a few years, would be absolutely disastrous to any trade that we could possibly see in prospect.
I believe that a very great change has taken place in the opinion of the ordinary man in the street with regard to the question of Tariff Reform. There was a day when Free Traders said that the consumer paid the tax. Anyone who listened to Mr. Runciman's speech in the House of Commons would not agree with that. The Tariff Reformer used to say that if certain goods were made in a foreign country that money was lost to this country. That might not be so if men were working on some other goods, but it is lost if, as at the present time, there are thousands of men unemployed in this country. I mention the question of Tariff Reform because I believe that it is very important at the present moment. As far as Free Trade is concerned, it is unobtainable. Many of us would like to see world-wide Free Trade, but we find it impossible. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Buckmaster, not long ago said in this House:I have never thought that Free Trade was anything but an economic arrangement suited to the special conditions of the time in which the country finds itself.I think that that is the policy which has been found to be correct by many members of the Liberal Party, and the most thoughtful of them.
I want to say that the speech of Mr. Runciman yesterday, in which he emphasised the present position, really shows the absolute necessity of our remaining a united party as far as we can from a national point of view. This was the statement he made:We bought last year about £800,000,000 worth of commodities abroad for our own use. We paid for part of these with material exports of £390,000,000. and, by various other services, £300,000,000. There 548 was a gap of £100,000,000 left, and we provided that £100,000,000 by living upon our capital. There is no other explanation of the way in which the gap was filled.Is it possible to think of anything much more grave than such a situation? And is it not a real argument in favour of the policy of the Government? If the House will excuse a reminiscence, I should like to refer to the fact that about thirty years ago I was sitting in the House of Commons and heard a conversation between Mr. Balfour and Mr. Labouchere in reference to Mr. Runciman. At that time he had only been in the House about a year or a little longer, and they both agreed that he was the most promising member of the Liberal Party. I think the whole country is under a very deep obligation to him for the steps which he has taken in regard to this question, and I feel that he has now shown to the country the great ability which was foreshadowed years ago.
I should like to say something in reference to Mr. Joseph Chamberlain, as I had the great privilege of working with him on this question of Tariff Reform. I went with him to Newcastle, Leeds and various other places during his campaign. Mr. Joseph Chamberlain was not a Protectionist in the ordinary way; it was not Protection that attracted him, it was Reciprocity with the Dominions of the Crown—and I rejoice, by the way, to see that Mr. Bruce is coming over from Australia in reference to this matter. I feel that the allusion that Mr. Neville Chamberlain made in the House of Commons to his father must appeal to all men. He is not responsible for any promises that have been made in various directions. He has always shown his adaptability, and at the same time he has shown his common sense on this question of Tariff Reform; and I do believe that if Joseph Chamberlain, from the sphere he now inhabits, were looking down on this sublunary scene again, he could not help feeling great satisfaction at the progress made by the cause which he had at heart. I wish to oppose the Resolution proposed by my noble friend.
§ LORD GAINFORD
My Lords, I welcome the support which the noble Lord is going to give to the Government, but I do not think that this is an occasion when we need allude to matters like 549 Tariff Reform, Reciprocity, or Mr. Runciman's or Sir Herbert Samuel's views on Free Trade and Protection, or those of any other person. This is purely a constitutional question which we have to decide to-night—the question as to whether Liberal Free Traders are to be permitted to remain in a Government which has decided to adopt the policy of Protection. I regard this constitutional question not as one upon which the noble Lord, Lord Banbury, or Mr. Lansbury or the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, should dictate to us what should be done. I believe the constitutional position is simply this, that the Prime Minister is responsible for his Ministry, and he advises his Sovereign whom he should include in his Ministry, and if he should decide at any time that any resignation should be accepted or rejected, the responsibility is his. It is not really a collective responsibility, and if the Prime Minister desires no longer to retain the advice and help of his Ministers he calls upon them to resign en bloc, as has been done on many occasions by Prime Ministers. It was therefore a question for the Prim Minister as to whether these resignations should be accepted or rejected. In six years' experience of Cabinet office I have seen many occasions when Ministers have offered their resignations because they did not agree with their colleagues, and it has never been left for the Cabinet to decide whether those resignations should be accepted. It remained entirely a matter for the Prime Minister of the day. In this case the Prime Minister of the day desired to retain the services of the noble Viscount, Lord Snowden, and his three Free Trade Liberal Ministers in the House of Commons, and that, it seems to me, was in accordance with the interests of the country.
There is no doubt that those of us who at the General Election did our best to persuade Liberal Free Traders to support a Government Which we believed would do its best to introduce protective tariffs into their policy, did so with our eyes open. We thought it was the best thing to be done in the emergency of the moment and in the critical position which the country was in and I agree with the Lord Chancellor that, whilst we may to some extent have overcome the emergency which arose last autumn, we are still in 550 the throes of great commercial and industrial difficulties. We have to face a large number of most important problems, and it is a pleasure to me to-night to hear both. Lord Snowden and the Lord Chancellor refer to the agreement which remains in the Cabinet in regard to questions of the most vital importance—questions far greater than the question of tariffs—such as Reparations, such as dealing with the National Debt, and financial questions of a very varied character. We have the question of the unity of the Empire coming up, quite apart from tariffs, and the question of better relations between all the Dominions and ourselves; and if the Cabinet are united in trying to secure closer contact with the Dominions that is one of the biggest questions which is likely to be presented to them before many months are over. All these matters are vital to our industrial position, and I for one am glad that the Prime Minister has seen his way to refuse the resignations which were offered by his Free Trade Ministers and that they still remain in the Cabinet.
§ THE SECRETARY OF STATE FOR WAR (VISCOUNT HAILSHAM)
My Lords, although the occasion of this debate is a Vote of Censure, none the less I think that we must all have enjoyed the opportunity which has been afforded to this House by the Motion of my noble friend Lord Banbury, for the discussion to which we have listened, not only because of the high level upon which it has been carried on, but also, if I may say so, because it has afforded to my noble friend Lord Snowden an opportunity for making his maiden speech in this House. I believe that I am expressing the opinions of every one on each side of the House when I say that we rejoice to know that the vigour of thought and of expression which made him so formidable a fighter and so brilliant an ally in another place is now available for service in your Lordships' House.
My noble friend Lord Banbury I know is not easily shifted in his convictions. He is a miracle of consistency. But I wonder whether even my noble friend is not a little doubtful of the wisdom of the Motion he has put down, when he finds that its one enthusiastic supporter is to be found in the Leader of the Opposition, Lord Ponsonby. I have heard before that extremes meet, but I am rather 551 sorry that Lord Banbury and Lord Ponsonby should find the only common meeting ground in their common censure of the National Government. The decision which the House is asked to censure is one which has been the subject of a great deal of discussion among the public. I have read a considerable number of letters, the majority of which, I think I may say the overwhelming majority of which, have supported the decision of His Majesty's Government. And the support has come from very different angles. There are those who acclaim it as an advance forward towards a new principle in political government. There are those who welcome it as a return to the good old principles of long ago. Historically, no doubt, it is true, as has been pointed out this evening, that the doctrine of the collective responsibility of the Cabinet is a doctrine which had its foundation in the desire of Ministers to be in a position to resist the influence of the Crown, and it became embedded later on in our Constitution as the only necessary safeguard or, as a necessary safeguard, to uphold the system of Party Government.
It were easy to find precedents of a century ago when collective responsibility was habitually neglected in such important matters as Catholic emancipation. I believe that within the last fifteen years there was an instance at the end of the War when no less authorities than my friend Sir Austen Chamberlain and my noble friend Lord Carson obtained and exercised the liberty to vote against the Government to which they belonged on the question of female suffrage. But I do not propose to rest my defence of our decision upon precedent. I think, to be quite frank with your Lordships, it would be rather quibbling to suggest that we are merely following the precedents to which I have alluded. Equally I think it is not quite fair to speak of what we are doing as an abandonment of the doctrine of Cabinet responsibility. I find myself in complete agreement with my noble friend Lord Peel when he says that he believes in the doctrine of collective Cabinet responsibility and that he would be very sorry to see it abandoned. So would I.
I am not myself in favour of the course which we are taking on the ground that it is to be a permanent new departure. I justify it to myself and, I hope, your 552 Lordships' House as an exception to a very sound constitutional principle which can only be justified by exceptional circumstances. I do not agree with my noble friend Lord Banbury that because it has been once allowed therefore it must become the habitual practice. It can only be justified by exceptional circumstances such as I hope are not likely to recur. Obviously, in defending the position on that ground one has to look to see what are the circumstances which, in the view of the Government, justify the departure which we have taken. I would remind your Lordships of the situation in which that decision has been taken. Last October, less than four months ago, there was a decision by the then Cabinet to go to the country on what has been called the "doctor's mandate"; that is to say, they found it impossible to reach an agreement as to whether or not tariffs should form part of their policy. Accordingly, they agreed that that question should be left open and that they should appeal for support to the country on the basis that the Government was not pledged to anything except to examine all possible alternatives to meet the emergency in which we then found ourselves, in order to restore the situation to which we had been brought by the misgovernment under which we had so long lived. There were some of us who doubted the wisdom of that decision and who would have preferred a purely Party Election. I will not discuss which was right and which was wrong. The decision was taken.
The result was that the country was faced with a plain question whether they would accept the policy of plunder, spoliation and squander which the Socialist Party or the remnant of the Socialist Party was putting forward, or whether they were sufficiently patriotic to be willing to make personal sacrifices in order to maintain the national good. I think that this great advantage at least was reaped from the decision to go before the country on that issue—that the overwhelming response which the country gave to the appeal then made had a tremendous effect throughout the whole of the civilised world in restoring the prestige of Great Britain. I think that people in Europe and America alike were astonished to see the vigour and decision with which, in face of a national risk and a national crisis, all classes of people 553 rallied to the support of the National Government.
That was three months ago. What has happened since? Can anybody say that the crisis which then threatened us has completely passed away? We have for the last three months been engaged, members of all Parties in one Government, in collaborating to meet the difficulties which surrounded and threatened? to engulf us. Although we approached problems naturally from different political angles we found it not only possible but easy to work in harmony one with another. There has, however, emerged one matter upon which we are unable to reach agreement: that is the question of a tariff. I think I may say that on all sides we have tried to fulfil the pledge which we gave to the country that we would examine the question without bias and without affection or fear, in an honest endeavour to find the right solution. We have differed in the result at which we have arrived.
What, then, were the alternatives which confronted us? Before you condemn us in the choice we made you have to consider what other possible courses were before us. First of all, there was the possibility that the majority of the Cabinet should have given way and should have agreed to drop the tariff proposals in which their other colleagues could not acquiesce. That was to us an impossible course. I am not arguing, as my noble friend Lord Snowden knows, the merits of one proposal rather than the other. I am not suggesting that any mandate was given at. the last Election in favour of tariffs. But I also think that he will agree that although no mandate was given, there was nothing in the last Election which precluded us from embarking upon a tariff policy if we were satisfied, on the unbiased examination of all the facts, that that was the right coarse to meet the crisis with which we were confronted; and that the main fact that that did involve a departure from our established practice did not in itself preclude us from consideration of that remedy with others. At any rate, to the majority of us it seemed, rightly or wrongly, but it honestly seemed, that the imposition of the tariff on the lines which have been sketched in another place was the best means of restoring the balance of trade, that it was the right and the 554 best means of helping our industry, of curing or at any rate of going some way to reduce unemployment, of maintaining the standard of living for our population, and, last but not least, of laying the foundation of that closer economic unity in the Empire to which some of us at least look forward as the most hopeful avenue for the future. We believed that was so, and we could not acquiesce in giving up that solution when we had honestly reached that conclusion.
What was the next alternative? The next alternative would be that the minority should acquiesce in our proposals. That equally was an impossible solution. Four of them—their names are public property—honestly reached the conclusion that we were mistaken in attributing to our policy those results which we thought would ensue. They honestly believed that that policy would be disastrous, and they could not accept the responsibility of endorsing it. Then another alternative remained. Obviously the natural, the ordinary one would be that the dissentient minority should resign, and it is common knowledge that in fact that was the solution which the minority had made up their minds to accept and that their resignations were in fact tendered. It is not fair, if I may respectfully say so to those who have used that argument, to picture the minority as clinging on to office, and as anxious to retain the fees and advantages of public service while themselves disclaiming its responsibilities. That is not what happened. It is not true to say that the minority suggested that they should be allowed to stay and at the same time to differ from the majority.
What happened is the exact reverse. The minority tendered their resignations. Some of us in the majority, one of us at least in the majority, made an alternative suggestion, the alternative which has ultimately been accepted not by the majority or by the minority alone but by the Government as a whole—the suggestion, in other words, that they should remain members of the Cabinet, collaborating in all the various difficult problems with which the Cabinet has to deal, but free as to this one matter publicly to express their dissent by speech and by vote. We did not reach that conclusion—I know my noble friend Lord 555 Snowden will forgive my saying this—because we regarded those four members of the Cabinet as indispensable. I no more regarded my noble friend Lord Snowden as indispensable than I regarded myself as indispensable. I know well enough that there are men and to spare in this House and another place who could well fill any vacancies which might occur in a National Government, and, so long as there was no risk of anyone professing the doctrines of the present Socialist Party being entrusted with the affairs of the State, the change might not have been particularly disastrous. But that was not the issue. The issue was not whether a particular person was indispensable. The issue was whether a particular form of government should be a success or a failure.
If the four members who formed the Free Trade dissentients to this policy simultaneously left the Government it would have been recognised, and rightly recognised, as being the failure of the experiment on which we embarked in October last, and the National Government would have been broken up. Would that or would that not have been disastrous for this country in existing conditions I That really is the question which we had to ask ourselves, and which I respectfully suggest your Lordships have to answer for yourselves to-day. Remember, if you will, some of the difficulties with which we are to-day confronted. I doubt if ever in the history of this country there has been a more critical year than that on which we have begun, and through which we hope the National Government will be able to pilot the ship of State. Remember this, too—without any imputation upon the patriotism and loyally of any of my colleagues—that if a man is in the Cabinet when any question arises he is anxious to find the points on which ho can agree with his colleagues. If he is in Opposition he is anxious to find the points of criticism and of difference with the policy of the Government, and in such questions as are arising it is not difficult to find points of criticism if you are not fully aware of the facts.
Take such questions as India, disarmament, Reparations, the Ottawa Conference. As to India, would it be for the 556 public interest that members of the Congress Party and persons having seditious tendencies in India should believe the policy which His Majesty's Government is there pursuing is not one which has the united support of all sections of those who support the National Government I Take disarmament. Would it add to the influence and prestige and weight of this country's representations in that most critical Conference if it were thought that the delegates who came from this country represented only one Party instead of representing the whole State? Take Ottawa. If, as I hope, we are able to achieve a means of closer economic unity at that Conference, is it likely to be more permanent if it is a scheme which is endorsed by the whole of the National Government representing all the Parties to which its different members belong, or if it is only an agreement reached by one section of the Government and subject to the attack and criticism of other great sections of public opinion? I could go on enumerating other problems. I hope I have said enough to satisfy your Lordships that this is not the time to allow the National Government to break up if by any means an honourable solution can be found which enables it to keep together.
It has been said that the liberty which has been given by the majority to the minority under this agreement is one which will be abused. I entirely agree with the opinion which was expressed in another place first by Mr. Stanley Baldwin, afterwards by Sir Donald Maclean, an opinion which, I think, was echoed by my noble friend Lord Snowden this afternoon, that whether this experiment succeeds or fails depends upon the spirit in which it is worked on both sides. Of course there will be difficulties. Of course it is not as satisfactory as if we had all found ourselves in agreement as to the policy which we were to pursue, but we did not find ourselves in agreement. Given that circumstance what was the best way out? I claim that this experiment is the best solution which could be found in the circumstances which then existed, and I hope and believe that it will be worked on both sides in such a spirit as will make it a success.
I am confident that the great majority of the people of this country want this 557 experiment to be a success. I am surprised, not at the criticism or any mistrust which it has evoked—the people of our country are rightly suspicious and distrustful of any new ideas—but at the measure of support which it has evoked. I think it is true to Ray that the majority of those who have expressed themselves as opposed to this plan are the people who do not want the National Government to succeed. That is why we have the Opposition in this House and in another place denouncing us—not because they think the experiment will fail, but because they are afraid it will not fail. In my belief the great mass of the people of this country will be hoping and praying that we shall be able to make it succeed. I am sure that the whole of our colleagues, majority or minority whichever they be, are united in their hope and determination to do their best to make it succeed. I know that the House of Commons by an overwhelming majority has expressed its approval of the course an which we have embarked, and I hope aid trust that your Lordships' House will give us sympathetic understanding and cordial support in trying to make a success of this experiment, not for any personal advantage but for the good of the country and for the closer union of the Empire.
§ LORD BANBURY OF SOUTHAM
My Lords, the noble and learned Viscount who has just sat down has said that he hopes that this experiment will succeed and that it depends upon the spirit in which it is worked. My noble friend Earl Peel said he hoped that the criticism of dissentient Ministers would be confined to the House of Commons. I agree with my noble and learned friend below me that if this is going to be worked in the spirit in which he says it is going to be worked, and if my noble friend Earl Peel was right, there would be very little more to be said. But let me point out what happened on Saturday last. Sir Herbert Samuel, speaking at the annual meeting of the Lancashire, Cheshire and North Western Liberal Federation at Southport on Saturday, said:Liberals of Great Britain will have no share in this tendency to intensify economic nationalism, and, speaking or. behalf of the British Liberal Party, I must make it clear to the nation and to the world that we dissociate ourselves from it completely.558 Sir Herbert Samuel also said in the course of the same speech:We accepted the invitation to remain in the Government only because it was accompanied by the offer that we should have liberty of speech and of vote in expressing our disagreement. That freedom must be a reality and not the somewhat restricted freedom of a bird within its cage"—which I presume means of a member of the House of Commons. The noble Viscount, Lord Snowden, in his interesting speech, gave an illustration of Dr. Addison making a speech somewhere and of another member of the Labour Party making a speech somewhere else. Well, what is to prevent my noble and learned friend below me going to Manchester and making a speech in favour of Tariff Reform and the noble Viscount, in another hall in the same city, making a speech against it? There is absolutely nothing to prevent it.
I hope that my noble and learned friend does, not mean that I am against the National Government or the success of the National Government. It is because I am in favour of the Government as it is constituted that I am making this Motion to-night. You must remember that these Liberal members of the Cabinet have only thirty followers in the House of Commons. There are only thirty Samuelite Liberals, if you leave out Sir Herbert himself, Sir Donald Maclean and Sir Archibald Sinclair. There are thirty-five Liberals who follow Sir John Simon, and therefore the Liberal Party would still be represented if these Ministers left the Cabinet. It seems to me an amazing situation, and I have only made this Motion in the interests of the Government itself. I hope I am wrong, but my experience, extending over forty years in both Houses of Parliament, makes me think that my noble and learned friend in the innocence of a more youthful mind, is taking too rosy a view of the situation. I only hope I am wrong.
§ On Question, Whether the Motion shall be agreed to?
§ Their Lordships divided:—Contents, 7; Not-Contents, 73.559
|Arnold, L.||Hay, L. (E. Kinnoull.) [Teller.]||Ponsonby of Shulbrede, L.|
|Banbury of Southam, L.||Wavertree, L.|
|Fairfax of Cameron, L.||Marley, L. [Teller.]|
|Sankey, V. (L. Chancellor.)||Hambleden, V.||Hanworth, L.|
|Hood, V.||Howard of Glossop, L.|
|Somerset, D.||Knutsford, V.||Howard of Penrith, L.|
|Mersey, V.||Jessel, L.|
|Airlie, E.||Novar, V.||Lawrence, L.|
|Albemarle, E.||Snowden, V.||Luke, L|
|Beatty, E.||Manners, L.|
|De La Warr, E.||Alvingham, L.||Marks, L.|
|Eldon, E.||Ampthill, L.||Mildmay of Flete, L.|
|Grey, E.||Amulree, L.||Monckton, L. (V. Galway.)|
|Halsbury, E.||Askwith, L.||O'Hagan, L.|
|Iddesleigh, E.||Biddulph, L.||Oriel, L. (V. Massereene.)|
|Lucan, E. [Teller.]||Charnwood, L.||Oxenfoord, L. (E. Stair.)|
|Midleton, E.||Clwyd, L.||Rathcreedan, L.|
|Onslow, E.||Conway of Allington, L.||Rochester, L.|
|Peel, E.||Cranworth, L.||Somerleyton, L.|
|Plymouth, E.||Danesfort, L.||Stanley of Alderley, L. (L. Sheffield.)|
|Rothes, E.||Darcy (de Knayth), L.|
|Scarbrough, E.||Desart, L. (E. Desart.)||Stanmore, L. [Teller.]|
|Stanhope, E.||Dickinson, L.||Stonehaven, L.|
|Dulverton, L.||Strathcona and Mount Royal, L.|
|Allendale, V.||Ebbisham, L.|
|Churchill, V.||Fairhaven, L.||Swaythling, L.|
|Cobham, V.||Forster, L.||Templemore, L.|
|Elibank, V.||Gage, L. (V. Gage.)||Trent, L.|
|Esher, V.||Gainford, L.||Wigan, L. (E. Crawford.)|
§ Resolved in the negative, and Motion rejected accordingly.