VISCOUNT ELIBANK had given Notice that he would call attention to the recent statement made by Mr. Curtin, Prime Minister of Australia, "That the Mother Country could not manage the Empire on the basis of a Government sitting in London"; and also move for Papers. The noble Viscount said: My Lords, quite recently, the Prime Minister of Australia, Mr. Curtin, made a most arresting and challenging statement This statement has caused discussion and thought throughout the Empire. The statement was that
the Mother-Country could not manage the Empire on the basis of a Government sitting in London.
These are words that could not be passed by. What did they mean? Fortunately we had not long to wait for the elaboration of them because The Times correspondent in Australia obtained from Mr. Curtin direct an outline of the proposals which he had in mind and this was published in The Times of September 7.
§ Before actually detailing those proposals, I should like to say a few words about Mr. Curtin's statement itself. I am quite sure that he did not intend by this statement to cast any doubt upon the efficiency of His Majesty's Government in London, but was only suggesting, what he himself has made clear, that if the British Commonwealth and Empire is to fulfil its destiny His Majesty's Government here cannot by themselves alone administer the common affairs of the Commonwealth and Empire, but in the future there must be closer co-operation and collaboration between the constituent parts of it than there was before the war. Mr. Curtin's belief is that Britain's power as force for peace in the world will be strengthened if a firm voice against potential aggressors comes in future from the Empire as a whole and not only from London. It seems quite obvious that the United Kingdom, with its limited manpower and resources, whatever it accomplished in the past under different world conditions, cannot alone in future take on that responsibility. I think your Lordships will all agree with that thesis. I think that you may agree, too, that the British Commonwealth and Empire, on the other hand, with its collective manpower and vast resources can go a long way towards preserving world peace if after the war a common policy of defence and foreign affairs is adopted such 474 as is now being so successfully pursued during this war. I therefore cordially agree with Mr. Curtin, and I venture to express my admiration of his statesmanship in bringing forward this question at this psychological moment, when the thoughts of many of us are directed towards the question of how, having won the war, we are going to win the peace.
§ Now let me outline the proposals of the Prime Minister of Australia, as they were briefly reported in The Times. He envisaged an Empire Council of an advisory nature with a structure somewhat similar to that of the Pacific War Council, through which representatives of the Dominion Governments can regularly consult representatives of the United Kingdom Government. The Dominion representatives, he says, might be the High Commissioners, who could be replaced at proper intervals by Ministers of the Dominion Governments. This Empire Advisory Council might, he suggests, be a permanent body meeting regularly and, because of everything inherent in Dominion status, he thought the meetings should occasionally be held in Ottawa, Canberra, Pretoria, and Wellington as well as in London. Agreement on such a movable venue for the Empire Advisory Council, he continued, would, in his opinion, go far towards achieving the maximum benefit for the constituent members of the British Commonwealth. This Advisory Council should, Mr. Curtin suggests further, have "a permanent secretariat of men as expert in the problems of peace as the men now advising the councils of the British Commonwealth were experts in the problems of war."
§ These are, generally speaking, Mr. Curtin's proposals, and while he visualizes a permanent secretariat consisting of men expert in the problems of peace, nevertheless, in view of the necessity of maintaining Armed Forces after the war, it seems to me to be an essential part of any permanent machinery that military experts should be attached to the permanent secretariat as well, or, on the other hand—and perhaps better still—a permanent Empire body might be established to deal with the question of Empire defence per se, upon which the combined Staffs of the British Commonwealth should be represented. The first important conclusion which I draw from Mr. Curtin's proposals is that, in his 475 view, the Imperial Conference, as we have known it in the past, will not suffice for the future needs of the Empire, and that an Empire Council should be established—like the Imperial Conference, advisory, but, unlike the Imperial Conference, meeting regularly to consider the common affairs of the Empire. To this Advisory Council there should be attached a permanent secretariat to ensure continuity of policy, purpose, and action. With all this I agree. I feel, like many others, that the Imperial Conference, meeting irregularly as it did in the past, and only for ad hoc purposes, will not suffice for the conditions as they will exist after this war.
§ There is, therefore, another very important issue which arises out of these proposals. Recently there has been, and still is, going on in this country a considerable controversy as to whether it is possible to have continuous, co-ordinated, and co-operative action within the British Commonwealth without infringing national sovereign rights. I wish to remind your Lordships that the national sovereign rights of the Dominions were created by, and defined in, the Statute of Westminster, so that without an amendment of that Act no plan of Empire con-operation involving infringement of that Act is possible. From my knowledge of them, I cannot believe that any of the Dominions would agree to any amendment of the Statute of Westminster which had as its purpose the infringement of their sovereign rights under it. Consequently, if that is so—and I fully believe it to be so—any plan for Empire unity such as Imperial Federation, with an Imperial Executive, which has been suggested in certain quarters, and which would involve an infraction of the sovereign rights of the Dominions and of ourselves, would be quite impracticable under existing conditions and with the present trend of thought in the Dominions and, I believe, also here.
§ From the nature of the proposals put forward by Mr. Curtin, that is his view as well. Although he does not actually say so, he implies it throughout his proposals, and I agree with him. Neither do I believe that the United Kingdom Parliament would agree to surrender any of its sovereign rights, as these are inextricably bound up with the power of 476 the purse and taxation which are so vital in the governance of both external and internal affairs. On the other hand, if the British Commonwealth and Empire is to survive, it must inevitably face up to the situation which has been created by two world wars and make provision in its own interest for its future security. With the rapid development of science in destructive methods, we cannot afford a third world war. Such a world war might well blot out civilization, and the Empire with it. I do not see any insuperable difficulty in making provision for Empire security and in enabling the Empire to contribute its share towards world peace, while at the same time maintaining our sovereign rights and those of the Dominions.
§ During this war we are pooling our resources, co-ordinating our Commonwealth Armed Forces, and ranging them together in the battle areas. The Armed Forces of the United States of America are also cooperating with them whilst, both in the Middle East and in the Pacific, American Generals have, by agreement between the Governments, been appointed in chief command of them all. This, I would point out, has in no way detracted from the national sovereignty of the contributors to those Forces. Each member of the Commonwealth, as well as the United States of America, retains control of its own Forces as far as raising, administering, and paying them are concerned. Their war strategy, moreover, is also agreed between them, and when they go into the battle areas they come under the supreme commander selected by them all. I see no reason why this system, with the urge there will be behind it, cannot be carried out in time of peace as well as in time of war, nor why a properly co-ordinated, detailed plan cannot be prepared for carrying this on within the Commonwealth after the war.
§ I now wish to turn to the question of a common foreign policy. This war has proved that the Commonwealth can pursue a common foreign policy without detracting from the national sovereignty of the various members of it. We were told, for instance, by my noble friend Lord Cranborne, who is now Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs, in a debate in this House in July, 1942, on Empire affairs, that although the Anglo-Soviet Treaty did not bind the 477 Dominions they were nevertheless as vitally interested in it as we are here and that they were consulted at every stage of the negotiations. It is this procedure which I submit should be followed after the war, but it should be enlarged in scope so as to embrace not only consultations but also, if possible, agreement by the Dominion Governments in all major questions of foreign policy. It seems to me that it would be fatal in the future if the members of the Commonwealth were to proceed in the old haphazard way of only deciding when war is eventually upon them whether the foreign policy which has led up to that war is good or bad. We cannot and must not in future leave this to chance. Even in this war we have had the case of one Dominion, the South of Ireland, Eire, remaining neutral and she has cost us an immense amount of trouble by so doing. Therefore let us at least as a Commonwealth know beforehand where in the possible event of war we are likely to stand in respect to participation by the various members of it, so that we can make our defensive arrangements accordingly, for human nature and frailities being what they are we cannot leave out of account altogether the possibility of future wars.
§ There are, of course, other essential matters of common concern like trade, shipping, wireless communications and air transport, which obviously should come within the purview of the Advisory Committee for co-ordination where possible. I hope my noble friend Lord Craigmyle will deal with this point when he comes to speak, but I should like to refer to air transport which has already within the past few weeks been the subject of consideration by an Empire Air Conference sitting in London. This Conference, under the active and able guidance of my noble friend Lord Beaverbrook, reported with unparalleled celerity and, as we heard in a debate in your Lordships' House ten days ago, made unanimous recommendations to the Governments of the Empire represented on it. That is an indication of the way one would wish that other matters should be undertaken and accomplished in the future.
§ Let me now refer to another point. The Prime Minister of Australia has suggested, as I have already told your Lordships, that the Empire Advisory Council should be a permanent body established 478 presumably in London and meeting regularly, but that, owing to considerations inherent in Dominion status, meetings should be occasionally held at Ottawa, Canberra, Pretoria and Wellington, as well as in London. I wish to make an alternative suggestion. With the prevailing very rapid means of air transport, which will grow even more rapid in the future, and with the existing easy and instantaneous world communications by wireless telephony, the Empire Advisory Council and its permanent secretariat need not in my view necessarily have their headquarters in London. I submit indeed that from a psychological and even a practical point of view, it might be better if they had their headquarters in one of the Dominions. Following this line of thought, I venture to make the suggestion, perhaps somewhat boldly but still I do, that the Empire Advisory Council and its permanent secretariat might be established at Ottawa, in Canada, which geographically would be a most convenient centre for it.
§ Canada's shores are washed by both the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans, and Canada is therefore domestically concerned in both geographical spheres quite apart from her wider Imperial interests. To continue this geographical picture, I would further remind your Lordships that the United Kingdom and South Africa lie on the Atlantic side of Canada whilst on her other side in the Pacific are Australia and New Zealand. India, on the other hand, which we all hope to see in the future an important and influential member of the British Commonwealth, and which we hope would in any event in the meanwhile take her place in any Empire Council, is geographically situated in the Indian Ocean, in between them all. Thus Canada for the purposes in view is situated geographically in a most central and convenient position. Let me further stress this in support of my proposal. The King is a symbol of our Empire, the living emblem that binds it together. Our King is also King of Canada and the Canadian Government is also the King's Government; indeed, all the Governments of the Dominions of the Commonwealth are the King's Governments. United they stand behind him. His is the living force which holds them together and adds strength to the whole Empire. Do not let anyone of us, in whatever part of the Commonwealth and Empire we reside, forget 479 this simple truth or how much it means to us individually and collectively as an Empire.
§ I wish to draw your Lordships' attention to another advantage in having the headquarters of the Empire Advisory Council and permanent secretariat in Canada. This would make its venue contiguous to the United States of America whose aid and assistance in the maintenance of world peace after the war will be' absolutely vital and essential. Canada and the United States of America, situated as they are on the same continent, have co-operated very closely in this war. Canada, as Mr. Mackenzie King sometimes reminds us, is the natural link between the British Commonwealth and the United States of America, not only geographically, but also from the point of view of the close and evergrowing friendly and commercial relationships between the two countries. Personally I can visualize no better method of assisting in bringing and keeping together the two English-speaking peoples for the great common purpose of j maintaining world peace than by making Canada, as I have suggested, the headquarters of the proposed Empire Advisory Council and permanent secretariat.
§ Finally, it will be just as important in winning the peace as it is proving to be in winning the war that in order to pull their full weight the constituent members of the British Commonwealth and Empire should act together, and that they should collaborate with the United States for world peace, not separately and independently, but on the basis of Empire unity. I wish to urge therefore that the proposals of the Prime Minister of Australia for the establishment of an Empire Advisory Council and permanent secretariat should receive the fullest and most sympathetic consideration at the Imperial Conference to be assembled so soon as conditions allow of it. In addition, I wish to express the hope that the result of that consideration will be the ultimate adoption of a plan of real practical value for furthering Empire unity and for ensuring common Empire policies in defence and foreign affairs, for this I believe to be essential to the security of our Commonwealth and Empire and to the future peace of the world. With a small exception every part of the British Commonwealth and Empire has made, and is making, 480 most immense sacrifices for its security and for future world peace. Let us in our generation make certain, so far as we possibly can, that these sacrifices shall not have been made in vain.
§ I wish to add these few words. Today has been published the principles of agreement between four great nations, Russia, the United States, China and this country, for finishing the war and laying the foundations of a world peace after the war. It is the greatest and most imaginative charter of world liberty between the great nations that has ever been conceived or promulgated in the history of mankind, and as a nation we have a right to be proud for the share we have taken in it. But it means this, if it means anything, that the United Nations as a whole must in future after this war cling together militarily, politically and economically to ensure the peace of the world, and the closer the British Commonwealth and Empire and the English-speaking peoples can co-operate to this end the surer will be the foundation of world peace. I beg to move.
§ LORD CRAIGMYLE had the following Notice on the Paper: To call attention to the need for some action on the lines recently advocated by Mr. Curtin and to the essential part which such action would play in the success of any broader scheme for maintaining world peace; and to move for Papers.
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, I happen to have on the Order Paper a Motion on parallel lines to that of my noble friend, and I am informed by those who are expert in these matters that it will be for the general convenience if both Motions are discussed together. I may then at the proper time withdraw the Motion standing in my name. I am in general agreement with what my noble friend has said, but he has approached this matter from the point of view of military and political policy whereas I would venture to approach it from a somewhat different angle. I feel very strongly that in this matter and in the matter of some international machinery to link up with our Empire machinery, very grave economic and social considerations arise, and that we shall very soon be approaching a turn in our affairs in history when we in this country will more than ever before be dependent upon the good will, not only of the rest of the Empire but 481 of the rest of the world. Without that good will and without machinery such as my noble friend has sketched for making that good will effective, not only in preventing war, but still more in avoiding causes for friction which are all too possible, I think we must abandon any idea of setting up that better social order in this country of which the noble Lord, Lord Lang, has spoken with such eloquence and conviction and which he and his successor have so much at heart.
§ As one who has spent a great part of his life engaged in shipping, I am very conscious that a greatly changed situation will confront us immediately after this war in respect of our shipping services to other lands, including the British Dominions and Colonies overseas. The earnings of our shipping—I have lots of figures, but I do not intend to give your Lordships any of them, because in general outline they are well known—are essential to our standard of life and to our place as a nation in the world. But we cannot disregard the claims and the views of other nations. Nor can we disregard the great merchant fleets which will be on the seas of the world after this war but which will no longer be under our control.
None of us would wish to see British shipping decline to the prejudice both of our defence and of our social security, yet not one of us can contemplate without something like horror the prospect of any post-war misunderstanding on this question of shipping, or on any other matter, with the United States of America. Some of us are following with great anxiety certain pronouncements which are being made on that subject now on the other side of the Atlantic. Mr. Walter Lippman, in his recent book on United States foreign policy, put the matter in a nutshell, as I submit, when he said this:
Only by making sure that the vital common interest in security is invincibly settled can the lesser conflicts of interests be dealt with safely by open discussion and by negotiation.
That is, I think, one of the things for which my noble friend has been pleading. To avoid friction of that kind we clearly need some machinery, not only of an Empire but also of an international character, which will operate much more quickly than the old creaking and groaning machinery of certain Government Departments of which I have had a good
deal of sad experience in the last ten or fifteen years.
§ I venture to deal with this subject because I think it is most relevant as an argument. When we were trying to plead the cause of British shipping we were not fortunate enough to encounter in high quarters the acute and lively intelligence of the noble Lord who is now Minister of War Transport. In those matters then, it might not be unfair to say, torpor was regarded in high circles as the only respectable policy. My personal experience over a number of years on this matter makes me feel somewhat strongly on the subject, and I suggest that the time has come to state this matter with some bluntness, which I hope your Lordships will pardon. It would have been different had there been an Imperial body, such as my noble friend has sketched, to which we could have put our case, whose duty it would have been to regard all these matters from the point of view of the Empire and -Empire defence. But when, about ten years ago, as I vividly remember, we raised the question of unfair and dangerous Italian competition based upon large payments by the Italian taxpayers, the official attitude was this: "For goodness' sake, my dear fellow, don't say that again, or you will upset the Italians. They won't like it and we may offend them." That is stating a fact. It was exactly the same with Germany, though German shipowners were much more reasonable than the Italians. With regard to the Japanese, the torpor was specially profound. The officials stirred from their slumbers only to meet us with a written snub, which is on record, on the ground that we were British and therefore, according to them, had no right whatever to ask for any sign of interest by the Government of India in our struggle against overwhelming odds to meet the menace of highly subsidized Japanese shipping in Far Eastern waters. No help whatever, nothing but a snub.
§ That was the sort of official attitude towards our shipping in pre-war days. That attitude had two main features—a dislike of being bothered at all, and a terror of the results of doing anything at all to help British shipping. I am by no means sure that that attitude has entirely disappeared from every quarter, for the idea seems to be now to keep very quiet and very humble about British shipping in the East in case some offence may be given to the 483 more vocal amongst the disloyal elements in India, and to be quite prepared to abandon without protest or struggle all our shipping trade built up from and based on India to the tender mercies of those who want it or happen to dislike us. It is really the old policy of following what seems to be, for the time being, the line of least resistance; the old policy of appeasement in a new guise. But it is, unfortunately, a part of a larger policy of the unconditional surrender of British interests in India—and, in this case, far more than British interests alone. If there is to be set up some machinery such as that for which my noble friend pleads, clearly this would be a matter which should come before it, because on the plea of conciliating certain sections of Indian opinion we may well throw away the key to our Imperial safety in Eastern waters, and the safety of the cause of freedom itself. The United States of America, though few there would acknowledge it, are themselves vitally interested in this matter.
§ It does seem to me that you cannot base the prosperity of a great Empire upon that "hat in hand" attitude. British shipping and the British Empire are nothing to apologize about. We can never by that timorous approach—as if it were somehow not quite fair or not quite respectable to defend vital British interests—hope to pull our weight in the world, or to build a better social order in this country, or to give India itself that steady guidance and economic help from which she has so richly benefited in the past, and which she will need more than ever after this war.
§ It is with reference to the social scene at home that I should like to say a word now. As regards social policy, it appears to me, if I may say so with great respect, to be quite frivolous, in view of the wholly new conditions which face us to-day, to go on talking as if the main problem was one of the internal distribution of wealth inside this country, as if all one had to do to secure a better social order was to pile up taxes, and as if the burden of taxation rendered necessary by the war should be taken as the measure of what is right and fair and reasonable and safe in times of peace. No solution seems to lie along those lines. The solution seems to lie rather along the lines sketched by my noble friend. Subject always to the 484 retention of that deeper social sympathy which this war has brought about, surely the solution of our economic and social problems lies rather in the building up of economic relations with the outside world. In other words, I submit to your Lordships that the key to our social problems here at home is upon the seas and over the seas; and for that very reason it seems to me essential, if we are to secure a better social order in this country, that those sources of our strength which lie in a wider world should have the protection. the approval, and the consent of the overwhelming opinion of the Governments and peoples of the Empire and of the world.
§ As your Lordships know very well—but it is not generally appreciated outside—our economic equilibrium was pre- served in ordinary times by our income from abroad, including the income from our foreign investments, which have now so largely disappeared, and from our shipping, which is now under a grave threat. That is how we kept going. At this precise moment of time that equilibrium is, as we know, temporarily, and perhaps somewhat precariously, maintained by Lease-Lend, in the operation of which we, in this country, are, of course, doing our level best in the general Allied cause. But after the war it seems to me that a collision will assuredly occur between, on the one hand, the normal wants of the people, enlarged by the new demands which they are being taught to make from many a platform and many a pulpit, and, on the other hand, the inexorable fact that the means for satisfying these demands have, to a very large extent, disappeared altogether—notable among those means being our foreign investments and our unique shipping position.
§ A good many of your Lordships must feel that the red light is already showing, and that affairs are rushing on in their course to a catastrophe which we, in this country, by ourselves, are not in a position to avert. Our foreign investments have dwindled, as I have been saying, to a very low level. Then as to our shipping. After the war we shall need the ships, but America will have the ships, and she is not unnaturally—nobody can complain of it—preparing to use them, as I happen to know, in trades some of which were formerly in British hands. I do not say that in the least by way of 485 criticism, but I do think that that unpalatable fact should be stated frankly so that it may be faced now, and the necessary steps taken to deal with it by friendly agreement. It seems to me that by hushing up facts like that, and pretending that they do not exist, nothing but trouble can come. It is far better to state them and face them. Clearly no unilateral action will solve problems of that kind. There must be machinery for bringing good will to bear by prompt joint consultation and action.
§ It seems to many of us that just as the means for satisfying our material needs are largely held abroad, so the strands of fellowship which bind us here must, if that fellowship is to be real and fruitful, stretch out to almost every land. Great Britain cannot continue to exist as a great Power, a strong Ally, and a buttress of freedom, unless she continues to enjoy the effective good will of the world at large. To men like Mr. Lionel Curtis these problems have been a main preoccupation of years of labour and thought, and the future may owe a great debt to that distinguished disciple of Lord Milner. I do not completely share Mr. Curtis's views as to the precise methods by which the machinery to translate international good will into action for world security can be made to function; for, although I may be wrong, I am not inclined to believe that any nation would willingly surrender so much of its own sovereignty as his scheme seems to require. On the other hand, nobody who reads his latest book, Faith and Works, can rise from its perusal without feeling very strongly that some such organization as that which he sketches must be set up if our children are to be spared more and worse wars.
§ It is indeed fortunate that the indispensable ties of good will between us and the United States and the realization of an overwhelming common interest, are stronger than they have ever been, thanks to the Prime Minister and to the President; but a great transaction with the United States and with the other Allied Nations to secure the peace of the world cannot be for us in this country alone. In wealth, in population and in power, the rest of the Empire will in days to come be far stronger than the United Kingdom; and the Empire in this matter, as most of us will agree, possesses no central 486 machinery adequate to its needs or to its inherent greatness. The recent words of Mr. Curtin, the Prime Minister of Australia, have aroused useful discussion, and we are under a debt of gratitude to my noble friend for putting down this Motion. I look forward with profound interest to the reply of the noble Viscount, the Leader of the House. If the subjects of the King throughout the Empire can, through some machinery, speak with one voice, just as the people of the United States speak with one voice, then, if opportunity is not let slip, we might well, unpromising though the prospect appears now, actually achieve in the next few years a greater measure of real security and prosperity in both hemispheres than any of us have known in our time.
§ LORD MOTTISTONE
My Lords, I am sure that we shall all be grateful to the two noble Lords who have brought before us a subject the importance of which cannot possibly be exaggerated. I think that they have made out their case that an improvement is needed if the Dominions are to be brought closer to us, and if our defences generally are to be more secure in the days to come. We have to take account of the fact that we are again at war, and have been at war for four years, whereas had the plans which were made at the end of the last war been as wise as we thought that they were, or been carried out as well as they should have been, there could not have been this war. I think it is true to say—and I was present at Versailles when the Treaty was signed, and do not hesitate to say it—that had the United States remained a Member of the League of Nations, and as a consequence had our guarantee to France remained ready to be implemented, this war could never have taken place.
That gives us cause for thought with regard to the future. We must all agree not only with the two noble Lords who have spoken but with the Prime Minister of Australia, Mr. Curtin, that we must seek some way of getting closer together. When my noble friend Lord Craigmyle said, however, that the machinery was not there, I am afraid that I part company with him. The machinery is there, but it has not been properly used. It may be that we cannot use it. In both of the speeches to which we have listened, not one word has been said about the 487 Committee of Imperial Defence; yet when that was set up it was designed to do the very thing for which the two noble Lords who have spoken are now pleading.
§ LORD MOTTISTONE
It has not been done, but it does not follow that the machinery is not there and that it could not be done. When the Leader of the House comes to reply, I hope he will say whether he can give us some kind of guarantee that in the post-war years the Committee of Imperial Defence shall have its functions extended and amplified, so that many of the things which it is suggested that this Imperial Advisory Council should do can be done by that body, and so that it can be known that they are being done. The difficulty has always been to combine secrecy with efficiency, and efficiency and secrecy with publicity; and the result has been that nobody knows what the Committtee of Imperial Defence is doing. I see no reason why we should not take the Committee of Imperial Defence and use it for this purpose to the full.
Let us see what the difficulty of setting up an Imperial Advisory Council in Ottawa would be. First of all, although it is true that in days to come this country may be greatly outnumbered by some of the Dominions, for the moment, as I know only too well, when a proposal is made to the Dominions for some kind of consultative body, and it is suggested that it should have executive powers, the answer comes at once from the Prime Minister of every Dominion, to whatever Party he belongs, "No, we shall be overwhelmed by your greatly superior wealth and numbers." That is true. My noble friend Lord Elibank will forgive me if I say that I am sure it would be most embarrassing to the proper conduct of defence if an attempt were made to move the headquarters to a place so far from the centre as Ottawa. There will be the subsidiary difficulty that, if it had a permanent home in Ottawa, the people of Canberra and of Pretoria might have something to say, whereas if there is to be one centre they cannot and do not complain of London, except in so far as London represents the existing régime.
Before I make a practical suggestion, let me remind your Lordships that it was 488 Hitler himself who remarked that democracy cannot make war. I believe he was quoting Napoleon. Certainly there are great difficulties for a democracy in making war as efficiently as a dictatorship or an autocracy. This was very much present, as I know full well, to the mind of Mr. Asquith. He gave it constant thought, and it was he who first conceived the plan that the Leader of the Opposition should always be summoned to important meetings of the Committee of Imperial Defence. More than that, when the Leader of the Opposition, then Mr. Balfour, asked whether he could consult his colleagues who would be in the Government if Mr. Asquith was turned out, Mr. Asquith replied "Certainly; that is just what I want you to do." It was then and there arranged, before the last war, that Mr. Balfour should attend, that he should then consult the people who would probably be, or who had been, the heads of the Service Departments in Parliament, that they should deal quite freely but most secretly with the matters discussed, and that he should then come back to Mr. Asquith and say that they agreed with this but not with that. It worked admirably.
Some may say that we were not ready in 1914, but I would answer that by referring you to Julian Corbett, a real authority, who said:It can be said that for the purposes for which they intended to fight the war, and the methods by which they intended to pursue it, Britain and the Empire were far more ready than any of the other countries.I think that is true. We did not plan to have a great Army. We planned to have an immense Fleet, but not a great Army. It so happened afterwards that we had to create the great Kitchener Armies, and then, of course, there were shortages of all kinds. But we were ready, and the Dominions were fully consulted. I dare say that my noble friend the Leader of the House will say that the Dominions are fully consulted now, and no doubt every effort is made in that direction; but I do not think that they were so fully consulted before this war, to judge by what I have heard from them. Surely, however, that could be done, and we could use to the utmost the machinery of that wonderful body, the Committee of Imperial Defence, if it were given its full function and powers.
489 That brings me to the further point—how you are going to get over the difficulty that the people whom you are liable to have to fight ex hypothesi are those who are opposed to freedom and to democracy, and who therefore have the immense advantage of being autocrats. Well, I think you must do right now what Mr. Asquith so wisely did when he invited the co-operation of Mr. Balfour. How can we bring these people into close touch? I see no possible solution by forming a Super-Government. That really great thinker, Lord Lothian, who made many a speech from this very place where I stand, gave much time and thought to this matter. At one time he considered that we must begin by having a Super-State controlling the Dominions and ourselves, and that that should merge into a Super-State of the world—the dream of the League of Nations which my noble friend Lord Perth administered so wisely and so long. The Dominions are not ready for that. If we attempted to solve the problem by forming a body with executive power they would not agree.
I believe that instead of our bringing over delegations from the Dominions to entertain them and show them kindness and civility, as is done by the Empire Parliamentary Association, official delegations from each of the Dominion Parliaments should be chosen, in proper proportions from their different Parties, but always with every Party represented. They should come at regular intervals so that, for example, the Commander-in-Chief, Aldershot, could say, "January—we cannot very well arrange things then, because that will be the month when the South African delegation will be here," and the Commander-in-Chief, Portsmouth, could say, "No, that week we had better avoid, because the Canadian delegation will be here." Thus it would be known when they would come, and, instead of its being an occasion to show civility and courtesy they should be invited to attend, not the Committee of Imperial Defence itself, but a meeting such as has been held once, to be addressed by the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary. If we had that constant interchange, and if from this country there were a permanent delegation from both Houses that would go at stated intervals to the Parliaments of the Dominions, I think it would help very much.
490 Of course democracy has its objections, and do we not know what happened in the last two wars? A Frenchman bitterly said to me: "The fault of your Liberal doctrine is the same as the fault of our doctrine. You teach 'Peace, retrenchment and reform,' and we tried out 'Liberty, equality and fraternity' and both of us in concentrating upon the middle word of the three lost the other two." It was bitterly said, but it was uncommonly true. How can you avoid that? How can you prevent retrenchment putting us into the position in which we were in 1936? I think there is a way, and I am sure that way is by bringing in the Opposition. We did an extraordinarily odd thing a few years ago. Everybody else in the world thought we were mad. We pay a man £2,000 a year to be the Leader of the Opposition. Nobody outside this country can understand it. They say: "We understand your Party system. You start the engine going, and then you pay a man £2,000 a year to put sand in the bearings." No doubt we are an odd people, but the system does work. But why not pursue it further? Why not accept that doctrine that we trust the Leader of the Opposition not to put sand in the bearings, but to keep the wheels going round, and bring the Opposition completely into our confidence in all plans we make for Imperial defence? We should invite the Dominions to do likewise. Then it will no longer be possible for one Party or the other to seek an advantage at Election time by saying, "You cannot have old age pensions if you have four more battleships." We have all been in it. Let us face up to these things. It is all our own fault: we were unprepared because we each of us tried to outbid the other.
The other thing which I think that we must all agree to is to have a common doctrine for individual service. I never know to what extent the law in other parts of the Empire is the same as ours, but here everyone is bound to serve, and if he fails to do his utmost anywhere at any time, even at the risk of his life, he is a traitor. I suggest that that should be taught in every school throughout the Empire, so that everyone should know that he was bound to sacrifice his life if need be for the sake of his country. One cannot talk of these things without reflecting on the immense burden that falls at this minute on our own Forces by sea, 491 land and air, and without wondering whether anything that is said here can help or hinder them. I believe nothing has been said to-day that will hinder, and I trust that, by bringing the Empire closer together as the result of this debate, we may make their task easier.
§ LORD LANG OF LAMBETH
My Lords, I agree entirely with my noble friend who has just spoken that we owe much gratitude to the noble Lords who have introduced this exceedingly important question, and I venture to make a few remarks only because recently, being now in a position of some freedom and little responsibility, I have been able to give some amount of thought to the problems with which these speeches have dealt. I am sure that too much concentration of thought cannot possibly be given to this vital question, and I should hope that the discussion in your Lordships' House to-day may stimulate similar discussions in every part both of the Commonwealth and of the United Kingdom. The background of these discussions must, I think, be the necessity of the whole Commonwealth meeting the responsibilities which will face them when the war is over. They are not merely responsibilities, they have rightly been called commitments. They are much too large and varied to be brought within the compass of a few sentences, but I suppose they have been sufficiently summarized in the Atlantic Charter, to which I presume all the Commonwealth nations have adhered, to secure for their peoples freedom from fear and freedom from want, or, in other words, means by which war can be prevented in the future, or, if it breaks out, can be waged with the least possible waste and destruction; and, on the other hand, means so to arrange the economics of trade and industry as to enable all these people to be assured of a decent standard of life.
Your Lordships will see at once what a vast range of subjects may be included within these commitments, and the question, therefore, is very much what Mr. Walter Lippmann, in the very able book to which the noble Lord, Lord Craigmyle, referred, addressed to his own countrymen in America—have we with our existing resources sufficient unity and strength to face and carry out these commitments? We have no sooner asked that question 492 than it leads to another. Has not the time for some reorganization of our Commonwealth become imperative? Is it enough to go on, as we have done up to now, with a collection of independent nations united by their common allegiance to the Crown, by certain common traditions, by a habit, which has become very much relaxed, of meekly accepting the leadership of the United Kingdom in matters of foreign policy and the like? Thank God, that has been enough to stand the pressure of these two terrible wars; but when we consider the magnitude of the tasks which the Empire and Commonwealth will have to fulfil after the war, can it reasonably be said it is sufficient now?
It is a commonplace that the immediate future of the world depends upon the continued close association of the United States, Russia, China, and the British Commonwealth; but precisely what is the British Commonwealth? Will not these other members of the United Nations want to know precisely what does this Commonwealth stand for? Has it any common outlook and policy? Can it act and speak as a single body? These are questions to which we must increasingly address our minds. We shall all agree that the old Imperial Conference of Prime Ministers, valuable as it was and certainly always will be, is too loose and irregular. Not unnaturally, there are voices now insisting on urging the other extreme—namely, the creation of some federal constitution by which a supreme Legislature will have the right to determine, for the whole Commonwealth, matters of common concern. I wish that could be possible. In my enthusiastic youth, now rather distant, I was an ardent advocate of what was then called Imperial Federation. As we all know, the proposal found no support in the Dominions. They regarded it as inconsistent with their ambitions for nationhood, and they dismissed it as impracticable. I doubt whether it is more practicable now.
No doubt many great changes have taken place since those comparatively easy and quiet days. Just to summarize in one sentence, the principal change is that the Dominions have now not merely to consider coming to the help of the Mother Country when wars break out, but have to face the menace of war at their own doors. Therefore—I do not elaborate the point—it is obvious that the case for 493 strengthening the common defences of the whole Commonwealth has been enormously reinforced. It is not surprising that those who think matters out should say that it is no good attempting to burke the issue, and that the only way of meeting this new special responsibility is to have a supreme Legislature which would have the right, by common consent, to determine the contributions which the various Commonwealth nations would make to common defence as well as to other common problems, and to assess the taxation in each State necessary to meet the demands.
I cannot help remembering there are other changes, equally remarkable, since those early days. There is, as the noble Viscount pointed out, the Statute of Westminster—the discovery of the fact that these Commonwealth rations are independent nations. They are very sensitive about that status, and are not likely to be willing to set it aside. Could there be any way more certain of arousing suspicions than the provision that some outside body should have the power of taxing their citizens when they must naturally look upon the settlement of taxation as the very test of their independence? It is true that the sovereignty of the Commonwealth nations is—and may be much more in future—a real danger. It is just the same in the international sphere. If there is to be any international authority to help the world to keep in peace, it is obvious that there must be some modification of the independent sovereignty of all the nations that accept it. I think that is true, but I cannot persuade myself that the Commonwealth nations are willing so completely to modify their sovereignty as to accept a decision of an outside body on matters which they must consider to be their special concern. The problem therefore is—is it not?—on the one hand to recognize the independence of these Commonwealth nations, and on the other to secure their interdependence so as to enable them in some way to think, act, and speak as one body. That is where I so entirely agree with what was said by the noble Viscount in. proposing his Motion. I see no way of avoiding that issue.
For this a great many suggestions have been made, but I do not propose to deal with them. The most official and note- 494 worthy, no doubt, is that of Mr. Curtin, to which the noble Viscount has rightly given great importance. May I be forgiven if, greatly daring, I venture to amplify and give more constitutional form to Mr. Curtin's suggestion?—very much on the lines of what the noble Viscount has said only somewhat more precise. Would it not be possible to form a permanent Empire Council or, as I should prefer to call it, a Council of the Commonwealth, to which the constituent nations would send their representatives, formally appointed by the separate Legislatures for a term of years, in numbers proportionate to the population of each nation? I rather stress that because I am not satisfied with the idea sketched by my noble friend Lord Mottistone about increasing delegations and pleasant occasions when representatives of the Dominions listen to speeches by Prime Ministers and Foreign Secretaries and the like. We want something much more formal, definite, and permanent than that.
That is why I suggest that the members of this Council of the Commonwealth should be appointed for a term of years by the separate Legislatures, and in proportion to the populations of the constituent nations. It would, of course, be a permanent body; it is common agreement that it must have a strong secretariat and able staff to survey all the questions that would come before it and to acquire and keep the information necessary for their discussion. It would be concerned very largely with questions of Imperial defence, and with questions of trade both within the Commonwealth and outside it, and I think it would be most valuable as a means of discussing with formal and constitutional representatives of the whole Commonwealth questions of foreign policy. I think it is very doubtful if our Dominions, growing in importance and size, will much longer be content merely to receive information from London as to what the Government of the United Kingdom propose to do. There must be more consultation with them, too, and here would be the very body in which that could be regularly done, for it would be meeting permanently and be capable of being summoned on emergencies arising.
I would add that there is another function which it might most usefully discharge and that is dealing with questions affect- 495 ing not only the Dominions but the Colonies or Dependencies. Many of them are already closely related to the Dominions by the system of Mandates and otherwise. It would be a great thing to modify the existing separation of what has been called the two Empires, the Colonies and the Dominions. Such a Council as this would do a great deal to bring them together. It might, for example, form regional councils after the manner suggested by Sir Edward Grigg in his very able book on the British Empire—regional councils for the Atlantic, for the Mediterranean and the Middle East, for Africa, for the Pacific. It would give consideration to questions affecting both Colonies and Dominions within these regions. These are only some of the functions which such a Council would discharge. It is necessary to add that its functions must needs be advisory and recommendatory, if I may use an ugly word. It might make specific recommendations, but this is the important point. Since these recommendations would be made by a body upon which each of these separate Legislatures was formally represented and made after discussion by the whole body of the Commonwealth as a whole, they would not only carry the greatest weight, but for any Legislatures to refuse them would be a responsibility which they would very seldom be willing to undertake. In short, such a Council would have all authority short of compulsion.
Perhaps I may say there is one obstacle which might have been fatal a short time ago—namely, bringing the members regularly together over vast distances. That is no longer an objection which has any force, because travel by air has more or less annihilated distance and made the problem wholly different from what it would have been even five years ago. Now, my Lords, if such a plan as suggested by Mr. Curtin were, as I have said, made more formal, more constitutional and therefore I think more likely to be valuable, I am well aware that it could be riddled by criticisms. I could take an effective part in that process myself. My noble friend Lord Bennett might have something to say about it. But what I would urge is this. The important point is not the merit or demerit of any particular scheme, but that the mind of the public in the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth nations should wake up and face 496 the problem of how they are together to fulfil the commitments which the war has partly created and partly revealed. So I come back at the close to what I suggested at the beginning of my remarks. Does the Commonwealth as it stands possess sufficient unity and strength to carry out these great commitments? Is it to be left in the future a mere collection of independent nations each going its own way, or is it to discover the means by which it can think and speak and act as one body, and take a worthy place not only in its own development but in the life of the world?
§ VISCOUNT BENNETT
My Lords, were it not for the fact that the words appear in the Motion we are considering I would not have thought it possible that in 1943 the words "that the Mother Country could not manage the Empire on the basis of a Government sitting in London" could appear on any official Paper. The fact is that this country does not endeavour to manage the Empire, and I cannot understand any Motion for discussion being predicated on any such assumption. It was in 1917, to be exact, that a resolution was passed by the Imperial War Conference—not, I may point out, the Imperial Conference to which I have referred in previous debates, and to which I will not now trouble your Lordships by referring again—which made it perfectly clear that there were to be continuous consultations, and that no foreign policy should be promoted by this Kingdom without the other Governments of the Dominions having an opportunity to be heard and expressing their opinion upon it. The truth is that Mr. Curtin's criticism is directed to the carrying out of that policy and not to the policy itself.
The real truth is that the Government of this Kingdom occupies a position of equal status only with the other Dominions. Rightly or wrongly, as I have said in this House, it was a case in which there had been the greatest renunciation of authority of which we ever had record, when this country placed itself on an equality with the other Dominions, and did so deliberately. But it promised that, being the senior Dominion and having the largest population, it would carry on continuous consultation with the Governments of the Dominions with respect to matters of common concern. The words 497 are "common Imperial concern." That, of course, means foreign policy and defence. I see in front of me my noble friend Lord Hankey, who probably knows more of the internal workings and the plans that were created then than any other living man, and I think that if the opportunity occurred he would correct my noble friend Lord Mottistone in what he said in dealing with the question of the Imperial defence organization. As a matter of fact, on every occasion when there was an Imperial Conference they did meet together and discuss matters of Imperial concern, and to my certain knowledge it was in 1930 that Australia agreed to a cessation of the construction of fortification works at Singapore but stipulated that the work should be continued with respect to docks and matters of that kind. I know from personal experience I had that the Dominions Office was created in this country to serve that purpose. There were many differences of opinion as to just how that office should function. There were many who thought it would be better to have a branch of the Foreign Office dealing with this problem of the Dominions, but finally a Secretary of State for the Dominions was created and his Department of the Government has dealt with these problems ever since.
The Dominions had nothing to do with this European war. It must have occurred to your Lordships that in Australia and Canada and New Zealand and South Africa their voice was impotent with respect to this European war. This wax resulted from the guarantee given by this country, not by the Empire, to Poland, and the result is that all the Dominions are at war. It is true that they themselves declared war, but what a member of the Canadian Parliament said is equally true—that had they not been members of the British Empire they would never have been at war; that the Monroe Doctrine, so-called, with respect to their position in relation to the United States ensured them, probably, against any conflict. It must be in the minds of your Lordships how difficult indeed it has been for these Dominions to bring themselves into a war of this character; and vet, having regard to the provisions of the Resolutions of the Conference of 1917, which were adopted by this country, it was their bounden duty to do so, for when one part of the Empire was at war they 498 were all at war. But it is for the Legislature of each Dominion to determine whether or not, and to what extent, they shall participate in a war. How nobly they have responded is a matter of history to which we need not refer at this moment.
The point we must keep in mind is, how can continuous consultation be arrived at? It has been of the utmost difficulty. Something arises here suddenly, and under promise of consultation the Foreign Secretary or the Dominions Secretary sends out a cable to each of the four Prime Ministers in Australia, Canada, New Zealand and South Africa. You have to consider the differences in time and you have to consider whether all responsible Ministers will be available immediately in the several capitals to which the cablegram is sent. I can assure your Lordships from personal experience that it only remains, whether you like it or not, for the Dominions to agree. That is the fact that we must face it. If Mr. Curtin suggests that this country is trying to control the Empire, his statement is at variance with the fact. This country has made the most valiant efforts to shift responsibility to other parts of the Empire, and it occupies the same position as the four Dominions occupy.
Just that mere statement indicates how serious is this problem. There are 47,000,000 people, or thereabouts, in this country. The entire white population of the Dominions is very much less than that. Australia has perhaps at the most 7,000,000. In South Africa there are less than 2,500,000, in New Zealand there are 1,600,000 and in Canada between 11,000,000 and 12,000,000. By virtue of its experience, its geographical position, its wealth and its prestige abroad, this kingdom must be the senior partner. Lord Milner said that nothing short of complete partnership would, in his opinion, save the British Empire from destruction, and Sir Robert Borden entertained the same notion. When they met together and promulgated the principles to which I have referred, it is well to remember that they did not expect to have the negotiations concluded, and they suggested that within a reasonable time there should be a constitutional conference to discuss problems of Empire constitution. That conference contemplated in 1917 was never held be- 499 cause this kingdom accepted the proposals made by the Imperial War Conference, and at the Peace Conference the Dominions had separate representation. Although it was bitterly opposed, nevertheless the Dominions had separate representation and there was a special preamble in the Treaty of Peace indicating how it should be dealt with for the British Empire as a whole.
As the noble Lord, Lord Lang, said, you must endeavour to maintain the principle of an entity in the British Empire or Commonwealth of Nations, and at the same time respect the autonomous position of the several Dominions that comprise it. On a later occasion the position was accepted that the Dominions had equality of status. Then, in 1926, there was the Balfour Declaration followed by the Imperial Conference of 1930, and the passing of the Statute of Westminster. It might be well to remember that Australia did not accept the Statute of Westminster until within the last twelve months. No doubt the Secretary of State for the Dominions has the exact date, but it was not accepted until within the last twelve months. New Zealand has not yet accepted it. Canada accepted it and so did South Africa. It is in my judgment erroneous to suggest that the Statute of Westminster has made such a very great change from the conditions that obtained at the time it was enacted. There is such a thing as the custom of the Constitution which the peoples concerned generally accept and has something of the weight of law, and the custom has been to allow the overseas Dominions the greatest possible freedom. That has been exemplified in the matter of tariffs. Copyright was one of the great difficulties in Canada, but that was overcome. But the Statute of Westminster gave the Dominions authority to pass laws which might be in conflict with the laws of this kingdom and some in fact have been passed since the Statute came into force.
It also declared that this Parliament no longer has jurisdiction to enact a Statute that in any way concerns or affects any one of these Dominions except at the request of and with the consent of that Dominion. In Australia there was a struggle when they were dealing with their section of the Statute. The noble Lord, Lord Hankey, will recall that each 500 Dominion settled the terms of the Statute that affected it directly. For instance, in Canada it was provided that nothing in the Statute would permit of the amendment of the British North America Act—that is the Constitution of Canada—and in regard to the other Dominions it was provided that nothing in the Statute should be taken as varying the Constitution of those communities. In this Statute of Westminster you will find jurisdiction conferred upon the Parliament of each Dominion to enact such legislation as it pleases without regard to the effect it may have upon this country and without regard to whether it is at variance with legislation in this country. There is recognition, of course, of the supremacy of Parliament here to legislate for other parts of the Empire.
How can you bring about continuous consultation? I have suggested before in your Lordships' House that it is a very much simpler problem to-day that it was five years ago. We have seen how quickly Field-Marshal Smuts can travel from Cape Town to London. In a matter of hours the Prime Minister of Canada has been able to come to this capital. The Prime Minister of New Zealand took somewhat longer. The position is changed since the Imperial Conference of 1907, when it was resolved that the Conference should meet every four years. In the last resolution passed before the outbreak of war it was provided that the Conference should meet annually, so that what had been regarded as problems important enough to be dealt with once in four years then became problems to be dealt with annually, and now, I think, have become problems to be dealt with monthly, if not weekly. And the way in which they can be dealt with has been speeded up not only because of air transport: we have greatly improved our communication facilities; telephones and the wireless have come into full play.
I confess that like Lord Lang, when I was young—and that would be about as many years ago as the time when he was young—I believed in the principle of setting up an administrative body that would harmonize the policies of the various Dominions, so that we might have a Parliament—if you could call it such—that dealt only with Imperial problems. By Imperial problems I mean defence and foreign policy; not trade. 501 Discussions concerning trade become political and they always have been. When you begin to talk about preference and matters of that kind you are at once in the political field. But the autonomous idea prevailed. Mr. Curtis and the late Lord Lothian were strong advocates of the joint policy which I have mentioned, and, as I say, the idea of a certain sort of Imperial Federation appealed greatly to me in my youth. I recall now that as late as twenty-five years ago it was still possible to make some observations of that kind. But the autonomous view prevailed.
That idea, which means practical independence for all useful purposes of the different units of the Commonwealth, prevailed. But there were certain limitations, as was at once realized. The late Lord Grey put it more neatly, I think, than anyone I know when he said: "You may have several navies but you cannot have several foreign policies. There must be one foreign policy for this Empire or it disappears." We have no doubt about that. If it were the case that this country should have one foreign policy, Canada another, Australia another and so on, we should have little chance of carrying on as a Commonwealth. That is almost too obvious to state before so learned a body as your Lordships' House. But there are some who think, and your Lordships will have seen it referred to lately in the Press, that some Dominions are contemplating the possibility of themselves being able in post-war days to deal with their foreign policy. They cannot deal with their foreign policy; they cannot deal with it except it be in collaboration with the other Dominions, including this kingdom.
In order to be fair to this kingdom, I may recall that at the Imperial Conference of 1930, we agreed that no treaty would be made by any one of the Dominions with any foreign country without an intimation being given to every other one of the Dominions so that there might be the opportunity to say what they wished to say or for ever hold their peace. It was asked that they might say what they had to say promptly, so that what was being done might be thoroughly understood by all. I assume that the Government of this country gave notice that it was negotiating the treaty with Russia. It was said, in fact, that they 502 did consult with the Dominions upon that matter. But that does not shut the Dominions out from the possibility of themselves becoming parties to such a treaty, because it has been provided that when we made a treaty with one foreign Power, if any of the Dominions desired to accede to the treaty they might do so very simply by negotiating with the foreign Power and passing a Statute by which it accepted the provisions of the treaty. That was not leaving it to the Dominions to make separate treaties by themselves. It was giving the Dominions 1he opportunity to accept the treaties made by this kingdom. That, in my judgment, meets the difficulty to which Mr. Curtin referred.
As to the suggestion of this kingdom endeavouring to rule the Empire, may I point out that it has not done so for at least thirty years? It did not do so long before the Statute of Westminster was passed, because the Statute was but the declaration of a then accepted custom, and custom is as great a power in construing constitutions as constitutional authorities themselves. That is the position in respect of this kingdom. I can hardly think it possible that these words which have been referred to were those used except it be that they were modified by their context. What is the proposal? It is that a Council be set up. There is nothing new about that. In 1905 the late Mr. Alfred Lyttelton sent notice out to all the King's Dominions asking them to agree to the setting up of an Imperial Council to carry over between the meetings of the Imperial Conference. The suggestion came before the Conference of 1907. It was not destroyed by this kingdom; it was destroyed by Canada, because Canada took the view that it might be regarded as an interference with responsible government.
For my own part I have never hesitated to think that that was one of the greatest mistakes ever made in Canadian history, for, if as early as 1907 we had set up machinery that would provide for continuity between Conferences, we would have avoided many of the difficulties that now confront us. In addition, the former Prime Minister, Mr. Asquith, to whom Lord Mottistone has referred, said: "We cannot have any interference by others in dealing with problems of foreign policy and matters of that kind." But he modified his view later when he found what 503 the view of the Dominions was. And the door was no longer banged, barred and bolted. It was opened by the negotiations carried on during the last war. Have we any reason to believe that Australia, promoting an Imperial Council, will have any more support than was received by Mr. Alfred Lyttelton's plan in 1905? And that plan, be it remembered, did not end the matter, for in 1911 Mr. Harcourt asked for the same thing and endeavoured to provide for it, but he found himself unable to do so. Then there was a very strong speech by Sir Joseph Ward, the Prime Minister of New Zealand, who desired to set up an Imperial Council to deal with the very things which Mr. Curtin is now discussing. It was turned down by the Imperial Conference. In 1917 the matter was again raised in consequence of a report made by the Commission headed by Lord D'Abernon, in which it was recommended that there should be set up an Imperial Development Board consisting of twelve members; seven from this country and the others from the different Dominions, but upon that no action was taken and, so far as the record goes, the Dominions at the moment are opposed to any effort to maintain an Imperial Council in being between Imperial Conferences. That is the position at the moment, and we have to face it.
I have read with great interest what Mr Lionel Curtis has said. His nobility of character and integrity of purpose give great influence to what he writes, and he has devoted himself to this matter all his life. I remember distinctly he and Lord Lothian expressing views somewhat smaller in their scope than those he now puts forward. He suggests—and I agree with him—that we must bring the various Dominions which comprise the British Commonwealth into a unity of purpose, for foreign policy and defence at least. That does not mean creating machinery for taxation. The noble and most reverend Lord, Lord Lang, did not, I think, intend to imply that taxation should be levied other than by the Legislatures of the Dominions concerned. The proposal is, however, that a grant should be made to enable a common Defence Force to be maintained. After all, all that can be done here to-day or at any other time is merely to discuss these matters, in order that the Government of the day, when the Imperial 504 Conference meets, may have some idea of what people are thinking, and be able to solve the problem in a manner which will preserve the identity of the Empire and maintain the independence (using that word in its proper sense) of the units which comprise the British Commonwealth
I have only one suggestion to make, and it is one which I have found useful—namely, that each Government should maintain a member of its Government for the moment in London, because London is the important place. There are difficulties in the suggestion that Ottawa should be the centre of such a gathering. It is well known that the British Empire is wholly misunderstood by our neighbours to the south of Canada; they cannot understand how we can be an independent people and still be members of an Empire—again using the word "independent" in its proper sense. In the last war, Canada maintained one, and at times two, of its Ministers here and the questions about which conflict arose during that time were very few indeed. There was a very acute one which the noble Viscount, Lord Cecil of Chelwood, will remember, which concerned the power of this country to requisition shipping. Finally it was agreed that Canadian ships owned by Canadians could be requisitioned only by an Order in Council assented to by the Crown on the advice of the Canadian advisers to the King. There was singular harmony with respect to all these matters, however, and I have reason to believe that if a Dominion Minister were always present here as a member of an administration, chosen because of his close understanding with his Prime Minister, it might do something to harmonize the situation.
I do not for a moment, however, minimize the great dangers which confront us in this matter. In this one question there lies the kernel of disintegration. If it continues to flourish it means disintegration. Unless we can create in the eyes of the world a League of the Members of our Commonwealth, we cannot hope to go far in creating any effective League of Nations. I think that the common sense of our people and their sober judgment will enable them to arrive at some conclusions which will make possible continuous consultation with 505 respect to all matters of common concern, and particularly with respect to foreign policy and to our common defence.
There is one thing which should be added. The noble Viscount, the Leader of the House, is Secretary of State for the Dominions, and he, realizing the difficulty of this problem, set up between the Foreign Office and the Dominions, Office a liaison officer who has been of very great service. That step was taken by the noble Viscount because of his realization of the acuteness of the problems which arose because of the difficulties regarding continuous consultation. The late Sir Robert Borden placed himself on record as attributing blame to the Foreign Office, and made a very scathing observation in public, which I shall not weary your Lordships by reading, indicating that he believed that the fault must lie with the Foreign Office and their inability to accustom themselves to the new conditions, under which foreign policy was controlled not alone by Ministers here but by the views expressed by the four other Dominions which constitute the Empire.
§ LORD HANKEY
My Lords, I had not intended to speak in this debate, and unfortunately I was not able to be present at the beginning of it; but some statements have been made which I feel ought not to be on the records of this House without correction. I refer more particularly to the suggestion that the Committee of Imperial Defence has not fulfilled, in relation to the Empire, the purposes for which it was designed. In the very early days, the Dominions were rather slow to take advantage of its opportunities, but in 1911 there was a notable Imperial Conference, at which some very important meetings of the Committee of Imperial Defence were held. At one of these the late Lord Grey, as is well known, addressed the Committee on the subject of our foreign policy. His statement has since been published, and is always worth reading as setting forth the dangers which were gradually building up around this country and our Empire.
At that same session of the Committee of Imperial Defence, attended by all the Dominion Prime Ministers, a resolution was passed which entitled the Dominions to be represented at the meetings of the Committee of Imperial Defence in such 506 way as each might think fit whenever matters affecting them were under consideration. From that day onwards, the Dominions have in fact been taking an ever-increasing part in the work of the Committee of Imperial Defence. It has varied as between different Dominions and at different times, but the fact remains that the increase has been steady and continuous. At the time of those meetings in 1911, Sir Wilfrid Laurier was the Prime Minister of Canada, but he was shortly afterwards succeeded by Sir Robert Borden. Sir Robert wanted to know what the position was, and he came over with five or six members of his Cabinet, all of whom took part. The whole of the proceedings was repeated and brought up to date, all the available information was given, and it was that meeting which eventually led Sir Robert Borden to appoint Sir George Perley, who was a member of his Ministry, as a representative of Canada in London, including membership of the Committee of Imperial Defence. New Zealand sent over its Defence Minister, Colonel Allen, once or twice, and South Africa sent a Minister, but before a meeting could be held he had to be recalled for some local reason. All that prepared the way for the war, gave the Dominions a great insight into our military position, and enabled them to concert their own arrangements to match. In fact, most of them set up some sort of a Defence Committee of their own, and I think all of them provided something in the nature of a War Book, drawn up on exactly the same lines as our own.
Then followed the war, the Imperial War Cabinet—that very notable development—and the Imperial delegation at the Paris Peace Conference, where every question was discussed before it came up at the Conference, and a similar organization after the war at Washington. After the war came a long series of Imperial Conferences, much more closely together than most people realize. There was one in 1921, followed immediately—it was almost the result—by the Disarmament Commission at Washington. There was another in 1923, and there was one in 1926 where the famous Balfour Declaration was drawn up, in which the constitutional position was clearly expressed. There was one in 1930, which converted that Declaration into the Statute of Westminster. There was one in 1932 at 507 Ottawa, which was really an Economic Conference, and there was one in 1937. That was my last—two years before the war. At every single one of those Conferences the question of Imperial defence was discussed at very great length, and views were exchanged, and the broad lines of the policy were decided and the principles were laid down and published in the reports of the Conferences.
Arising out of these Conferences, and between them, the Committee of Imperial Defence was, of course, fully engaged on the work of war preparation, and in that the Dominions played a very considerable part. The noble Lord, Lord Mottistone, has suggested that it was less after the last war than before. It was infinitely greater. For at least twelve years before the present war there was very rarely a meeting of the Committee of Imperial Defence at which the Dominions were not represented—not always all of them, but there were usually three members present from one Dominion or another. They occasionally included Prime Ministers. Mr. Bennett, now Lord Bennett, was there once. Sometimes the delegates were Ministers here on a visit, sometimes High Commissioners—most frequently High Commissioners, who took a very active part. When Mr. Bruce was sent here he was sent as the representative of Australia on the Committee of Imperial Defence, and he took those duties very seriously. The delegates were present at some of the sub-committees, and staff officers were sometimes present at the subcommittees. In addition to that, the Minutes of the Committee of Imperial Defence were sent to the Prime Ministers of the Dominions, who no doubt discussed them with their own defence authorities, and in the light of reports of any representatives who might have been there.
More and more the methods adopted by the Dominions, of course entirely on their own responsibility, were assimilated to ours in every respect. Their policy did not differ. They had all the information communicated daily—I think we could say daily—by telegram by the Prime Minister or the Dominions Secretary, and they had these minutes and reports and papers of the Committee of Imperial Defence on everything that affected them. That was interpreted very broadly, and they made their own representations at 508 the Committee. All that, I ask your Lordships to remember, is on top of the periodical meetings of the Imperial Conference. I wish to remove any impression to the contrary.
There is one other short point—namely, about members of the Opposition being present. My own memory is not too good, but of this I am quite sure, because I happen to have refreshed it fairly recently. Mr. Balfour did not attend regularly the Committee of Imperial Defence. In 1907–8 there was a great inquiry into invasion, and at the end all the papers, including the draft report, were sent to Mr. Balfour, who was then Leader of the Opposition, and he came to the Committee and gave his views. He ceased to be Leader of the Opposition somewhere about 1910 or 1911, when he was succeeded by Mr. Bonar Law. After that when he was not Leader of the Opposition he became a member of another subcommittee on the question of invasion for about fourteen months. I think that is what the noble Lord, Lord Mottistone, was thinking of. That committee was an active committee.
§ LORD HANKEY
And Mr. Balfour did take an extraordinarily helpful part in the arrangements. Then in the early part of the last war, in Mr. Asquith's time, although he was still on the Opposition Benches, I suppose, Mr. Balfour became a member of the War Council. That also may have been in my noble friend's mind. I shall not follow the arguments further. But the proof of the pudding is in the eating, and to me as one with a good deal of Dominions blood in him it is an astonishing thing that in two wars in twenty-five years, fought at the outset at any rate upon European questions, the four overseas Dominions should have thrown themselves in with all their force and with all their strength, not sparing their blood, not sparing their property or their money, with equal energy to our own. I agree that we should get every possible improvement, but I do suggest that you have got a system there that has produced something with which there has been nothing else in the history of the world that can be compared.
THE EARL OF PERTH
My Lords, the second Motion on the Order Paper introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Craig- 509 myle, raises a point to which I should like to bear testimony—testimony which is based on practical experience. When the League of Nations was founded in 1920 the great Dominions, as your Lordships are aware, all became responsible members of that organization. They entered as entirely independent units, with the same status as Great Britain and as all the other members. At that lime many fears were expressed that the result would be harmful to Empire unity and that dissensions and difficulties would arise. Those fears proved to be completely unfounded. Obviously there were many theoretical objections, but the system worked well in fact, as indeed often is the case in English-speaking countries. The fact that each Dominion and the Mother Country held very similar ideas as to international morality and as to the value of democratic principles led their representatives to work together in the closest harmony, and these representatives were chosen from the highest ranks of the State both in this country and in the Dominions.
So far from friction being created, new bonds were assuredly forged between them. This is always likely to be the case where men are inspired by similar ideals and good will, and work together for a common end. The value of independent—I want to stress the word "independent"—co-operation freely given and spontaneous, is very great, and should not be in any way underestimated. In the particular case of the Dominions and the Mother Country, it has proved itself in the past, and I trust that those who are about to undertake the vital task of framing the scheme for the maintenance of world peace will not lightly discard the experience which has been thus gained. It would not be seemly for anyone in this House to mention the maintenance of world peace without congratulating His Majesty's Government on the announced results of the Moscow Conference. They seem to me to be splendid achievements.
THE SECRETARY OF STATE FOR DOMINION AFFAIRS (VISCOUNT CRANBORNE) (Lord Cecil)
My Lords, this is one of those debates in which the task of the Government spokesman is comparatively simple For one thing, there has been throughout the afternoon a great measure of agreement and, as far 510 as there have been any differences of view, the speakers have already very effectively answered each other. At the same time, there are a few comments which I might usefully make on behalf of the Government. As your Lordships know, this debate takes place on two Motions standing in the names of the noble Viscount, Lord Elibank, and the noble Lord, Lord Craigmyle. These two Motions both relate to the same subject—to some extremely interesting and important suggestions which have recently been put forward by Mr. Curtin, the Prime Minister of Australia, on the subject of post-war Imperial collaboration—and I therefore propose, with the concurrence of the noble Lords, to answer both their speeches together.
Any Dominions Secretary would naturally welcome both to-day's debate and the remarks of the Prime Minister of Australia which have given rise to it. After all, we cannot have too much ventilation of this subject. As I have said before in a previous debate on Imperial relations, the British Commonwealth and Empire, as it has now come to be called, is not static but dynamic in character. It follows from that that the machinery of collaboration between the various parts of the Commonwealth, if the continuance of the Empire is to be assured, must be, not rigid and unalterable, but capable of constant change to meet changing circumstances. I was a little surprised by a suggestion which I detected in the speeches of the noble Viscount, Lord Elibank, and the most reverend Lord Lang of Lambeth, that the policy of the Empire to-day is still directed from London without adequate consultation with the Dominions. I am glad that Lord Bennett, in the extremely powerful and realistic speech which he made to your Lordships this afternoon, has exploded—I hope finally—any such misapprehension. After all, he speaks as no other of your Lordships does, with the authority of an ex-Prime Minister of a Dominion. I do not know personally whence the impression to which I have referred has been gained. I have heard it here and there, but I do not know whence it comes, and I would in any case strongly rebut it. It is not the case. There is, in fact, constant consultation between the United Kingdom and the Dominions. In fact, in the view of Mr. Mackenzie King, if I may quote a phrase 511 which he used, the present structure of international collaboration is "a Cabinet of Cabinets," and he has said publicly that he prefers it to any other system.
I have already quoted in this House—a year or two ago now, when I first came here—some words that Mr. Mackenzie King used in this connexion, and I hope your Lordships will allow me to quote them again to-day because they are very pertinent to to-day's discussion. They show what one Dominion Prime Minister, at any rate, feels about the present arrangement. This is what Mr. Mackenzie King said:I doubt indeed if a more efficient arrangement could possibly be made. The real and invisible Imperial Council made possible by this constant and instantaneous conference has one all-important advantage over an Imperial War Council sitting in London or, indeed, anywhere else. It affords the Prime Minister of each of the Dominions the opportunity of discussing immediately with his colleagues in his own Cabinet all aspects of every question raised. His expression of view is not his alone; it is the expression of view of the Cabinet of which he is the head. It is an expression of view given by the Cabinet in the light of its responsibility to Parliament. It is, moreover, an expression of view given in the atmosphere not of London but of a Dominion itself.That is an extremely lucid account of how the present system works. Of course, I do not want anyone to be under any misapprehension. In wartime, inevitably, there are occasions when immediate decisions have to be taken by His Majesty's Government here, and there is not adequate time for consultation with the Dominions. It is unavoidable that that should occur every now and then in war-time. But these occasions are extremely rare, and it is the object of the Dominions Secretary and the Dominions Office that they occur as rarely as is practically possible. I should like to give your Lordships some account of the machinery of consultation which at present exists because, as I say, I have been a little shocked by the impression I have detected to-day, even in your Lordships' House, that this machinery is not effective.
May I defend myself? In my speech I referred to the fact that the noble Viscount had, a year ago, informed us, in regard to the Anglo-Soviet Treaty, that the Dominions had been constantly consulted throughout 512 those negotiations. I accepted that, and went on to say that I hoped to see, after the war, that there would be not only close consultation but co-ordination with regard to foreign policy. I did not say, and I did not wish to give the impression, that everything was directed from London.
I certainly got the impression, perhaps not quite so much from what the noble Viscount said as from what the most reverend Lord Lang said—and I think other noble Lords got the same impression—that there was a great deal that still needed doing with regard to consultation, and I should therefore like to repeat what those various channels are. The machinery has greatly developed in recent years, and even since the beginning of the war, and it is now a very elaborate network. There are no less than six channels of communication between the different Governments of the Empire. There is first the normal communication between Government and Government through the Dominions Offices here and the Departments of External Affairs in the Dominions overseas. Through that channel shoals of telegrams go out every single day on all passing events, mostly now of course concerned with the war and the international situation. Secondly, there are communications to the Dominion Governments and the Dominion Prime Ministers personally through the United Kingdom High Commissioners in the Dominions, and in the reverse direction communications to His Majesty's Government here through the Dominion High Commissioners in London. These two last channels are mainly used when matters can more conveniently be discussed orally and when the more official and rigid method of cable and telegraph is not so suitable.
Thirdly, there is the system, which was introduced by my right "honourable friend the Foreign Secretary when he was at the Dominions Office, of daily meetings between the Dominions Secretary and the Dominion High Commissioners. Personally I attach, as your Lordships know, the very highest importance to these meetings. I believe they are in many ways the crown of the structure that has been built up. They ensure that there shall be close, cordial and continuous relations between the Dominions Secretary and the Dominions' representatives. These meet- 513 ings take place every afternoon. If we had not been having this debate to-day I should have been at such a meeting at the present moment. I am present at these meetings as Secretary of State, with the Under-Secretary and the Permanent Under-Secretary and the four High Commissioners. The meetings are quite informal. There is no fixed agenda. I give to those present all the latest information in my possession as to events in the international sphere and, especially, at the present time, with regard to the conduct of the war. I also let them know what has passed at the Cabinet on matters of interest to the Dominions and particularly in the field of foreign affairs, with the object of ensuring that the Dominions, who control their own foreign policy, should be kept aware of all developments in ours so as to ensure, so far as we can, perfect co-ordination.
I emphasize that because I think the noble Viscount, Lord Elibank, said, with great truth, and I think it valuable that he should have said it, that there is no sphere where it is more important that there should be complete unanimity between the nations of the British Commonwealth than in the sphere of foreign affairs. It is for that reason there is also present at these meetings, as Lord Bennett, I think, mentioned, a high official of the Foreign Office. This addition I introduced when I was last at the Dominions Office. His presence ensures that the Foreign Secretary should be immediately acquainted with the views of the High Commissioners on matters which they wish to bring to the notice of the Foreign Office. The High Commissioners, on their part, raise any points which they consider require special consideration from the Dominions angle. I believe I should have the agreement of all the High Commissioners, indeed I am sure I should, in saying that this is an extremely effective piece of Imperial machinery. In addition, Mr. Bruce also attends meetings of the War Cabinet on the basis agreed with the Australian Government in 1942, as their accredited representative. The other Dominion High Commissioners do not do that because, when the same facilities were offered to the other Dominion Governments, they expressed themselves as satisfied with the existing arrangements.
Finally, in addition to what I may call standing machinery of collaboration, there 514 are of course ad hoc visits by Dominion Ministers to this country and of United Kingdom Ministers to the Dominions. The most important of these are no doubt the visits of Dominion Prime Ministers. We have had the advantage of visits of Prime Ministers from all the Dominions since the beginning of the war. We have had the visit of Mr. Menzies from Australia, of Mr. Fraser from New Zealand, and of Mr. Mackenzie King from Canada. We have had two visits by Field Marshal Smuts from South Africa and we are very happy to have him with us to-day. I am quite certain all my colleagues would agree with me in saying that the visit of this great soldier-statesman has already been of inestimable value in the counsels of the Cabinet. In addition, our own Prime Minister, as your Lordships know, has also found it possible to pay two visits to Canada. Further, there is a constant flow of other Dominion Ministers to the United Kingdom.
It would be extremely difficult to overestimate the value of these Ministerial visits. They make it possible to straighten out, very often in a few hours, sometimes almost in a few minutes, problems which might have occupied weeks of correspondence by means of cable or letter. It is of course far easier for Canada than for any other Dominion to carry out that part of inter-Imperial collaboration under modern conditions of air travel, about which we have heard so much recently in your Lordships' House. In these days, a Minister can go from this country to Canada in a very few hours, and full advantage has been taken of these new improvements in travel. But whenever these Dominion Ministers come and wherever they come from, they are very welcome in this country.
What I have said up to now relates to channels of communication on the higher levels of policy. On the lower and technical level also there are many channels of collaboration. Thus many of the Ministers of great Departments of State, for instance the Ministry of Food, the Ministry of Supply, the Air Ministry and the Ministry of War Transport, have their own war-time missions or representatives in the various Dominions. Equallv the Dominions have their own liaison officers here in many fields—military, naval, air, supply, and so on. there are also numerous interchanges by means of ad hoc visits of officials and experts, similar 515 to the visits of Ministers to which I have already referred. All this complex intercommunication provides a closely interwoven machinery for keeping the various parts of the Empire in close touch with each other.
Such, my Lords, is the existing machinery of Imperial collaboration. I have described it at some considerable length as I feel that even now it is not realized how complete that system is. I believe it has proved satisfactory to the Dominions and has met most of the needs of war-time conditions. No doubt much of this machinery will continue after the war. But I do not wish noble Lords to think that I am complacent about the situation, or to give the impression that His Majesty's Government regard the present machinery as perfect or necessarily the best that could be devised to meet peace-time conditions. We are always ready to consider amendments and improvements for more regular meetings between the representatives of the Governments of the Commonwealth, such as have been suggested, I think, by the noble Viscount, Lord Elibank, and any other suggestions of the same kind. At the present time, all over this country, and I have no doubt in the Dominions too, there are many minds who are working on this particular question and seeking how we can amplify and perfect the existing machinery.
We have had to-day some extremely valuable and thoughtful contributions from the various noble Lords who have taken part in the debate. Those contributions certainly deserve careful consideration both by His Majesty's Government here and the Governments in the Dominions, and I can assure noble Lords that so far as His Majesty's Government here are concerned they will receive that consideration. Noble Lords will not expect me to-day to express a detailed opinion on the proposals they have put forward and the suggestions they have made. I should like to study them first. There are, in addition, other proposals which have been made outside this House. Some of them have been ventilated in the Press. There are numbers of these proposals which go very far indeed—perhaps further than most of us would be willing to go. Noble Lords have probably seen a letter which was 516 written to The Times by Mr. Lionel Curtis. I think reference has been made to it in the House this afternoon. Mr. Curtis is a man for whom we all have great respect. He has given the greater part of his life to the study of Empire questions and all he says will be read with the attention it deserves. But on this occasion I must confess, if he will forgive my saying so, that I think he slightly over-reached himself. It seems to me his proposition is rather that of an academic thinker than of a practical man of affairs.
As I understand him, he proposes—I can put it in very few words—the setting up of a Federal Parliament for the Empire and a Federal Government, with executive powers overriding and superseding in some matters the powers of the Governments here and in the Dominions. Such a proposal as that may be very admirable in theory, but there is one thing which is quite certain. As the noble and most reverend Lord, Lord Lang, has already said in the profound speech he made to your Lordships, it is utterly impracticable in practice, at any rate at the present stage of development of the British Commonwealth. Neither the Governments nor the peoples of the United Kingdom and the Dominions would look at it. If we remember the insuperable difficulties which arose in respect of a far more limited proposal for an Imperial War Cabinet, I think noble Lords will realize how out of touch with realities is the proposal of Mr. Curtis. I agree with what was said by Lord Lang. The Dominions overseas are sovereign nations. Their Governments are responsible to their own peoples. The peoples of the Dominions, or for that matter of the United Kingdom, would not consider for one moment transferring that responsibility to some superior body which trenched upon their sovereignty. They will insist upon retaining their control of their own destiny and they will not consider any proposal which infringes that.
Mr. Curtin's proposal, on which this debate arose, is very different and far more realistic in character. He has in mind, as I understand his remarks, something more in the nature of a consultative body. Lord Elibank quoted in his Motion words in Mr. Curtin's speech to the effect "that the Mother Country could not manage the Empire on the basis of a Govern- 517 ment sitting in London." The noble Viscount was quite right from his point of view, because that was what was reported in the newspapers. But it is not exactly what Mr. Curtin said. Mr. Curtin's words were:I do not believe that the Mother Country can manage the Empire merely on the basis of pure Government sittings in LondonI emphasize the word "merely." As I understand Mr. Curtin, he clearly does not object to the present machinery, but he would like to see it amplified by a standing Empire Consultative Council with its own secretariat. That is an extremely interesting proposal. I do not myself propose to comment on it now because, as your Lordships will have seen, the Prime Minister said in another place on September 22, in answer to a question on. this particular proposal:Such spacious issues would be appropriate for an Imperial Conference or for a meeting of Dominion Prime Ministers whenever either of these becomes possible.It would clearly be improper for me to attempt to anticipate those discussions. Premature attempts by me to embroider the theme might do a good deal of harm and could not possibly do any good.
If I am asked when a meeting of Dominion Prime Ministers can take place—that is a very natural question—I would quote again what was said by the Prime Minister on the same occasion:I have been trying for the last two years to get a meeting of Prime Ministers.And, my Lords, I can tell you that another attempt has been made within recent weeks. Field-Marshal Smuts was already here and it seemed an appropriate moment to try and bring other Dominion Prime Ministers together. Soundings were accordingly taken. But unfortunately Mr. Fraser was unable to come owing to a temporary illness. All those who know Mr. Fraser, and admire him as; I do, will hope that he will soon be recovered, but that temporary illness makes it impossible for him to be here at the present juncture. Moreover, it now turns out to be impossible for Mr. Curtin himself to make the journey here at the present time. No one who knows the complexities of a Prime Minister's life will fail to sympathize with Mr. Curtin in his difficulties. We can only regret that his other unavoidable preoccupations render his presence here impossible.
518 I only explain these facts in order to make it clear that it is not His Majesty's Government here who are putting hindrances in the way of such a meeting. On the contrary, we ardently desire a meeting of Prime Ministers at the present stage of the war. We believe it could achieve very useful results both for the present and the future, and we can only hope another opportunity will soon occur. In the meantime, let me assure your Lordships' House that the only desire of His Majesty's Government is to perfect the machinery of Imperial collaboration and to achieve co-ordination both in the sphere of defence to which the noble Lord, Lord Mottistone, so rightly drew attention, and in the sphere of foreign affairs. Such co-ordination is obviously equally essential with regard to other cognate questions, social and economic, to which the noble Lord, Lord Craigmyle, drew attention as being vital to the prosperity of the British Commonwealth and the world.
But I would emphasize this: it is not for us alone, for the United Kingdom, to decide what new machinery should be devised. We are only one of five. There is the United Kingdom, which is the Metropolitan Dominion of His Majesty the King, and there are Canada, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa, which are the overseas Dominions of His Majesty the King. All five, as the noble Viscount, Lord Bennett, has pointed out, have absolute equality under the Statute of Westminster, and all have an equal right to decide what machinery should be set up. But I can say this: whatever improvements to the structure of Imperial collaboration are found generally acceptable, His Majesty's Government here will certainly consider them most sympathetically. For we recognize fully, as noble Lords have recognized in this debate, that it is only if the British Commonwealth is of one mind about the many problems which will face the world after this war, and only if we can work closely and confidently together, that we shall be able to play that great part to which our long traditions and our wide interests entitle us.
My Lords, I wish to thank the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, for the words he has spoken in reply to this Motion. I should like to say at once that I did not expect a declaration of policy from His Majesty's 519 Government. I put down this Motion because, like the noble and most reverend Lord, Lord Lang, whose support I was glad to have, I believe that this is a subject—and I think my noble friend Lord Craigmyle also believes this is a subject—which should be ventilated, not only in this Parliament, but in all the Parliaments of the Dominions. The noble Viscount, Lord Bennett, and others who have spoken have pointed out the dangers that there may be after the war unless the Dominions and ourselves come closer together. Never for one moment have I in any way depreciated the amount of co-operation and collaboration that there has been within the British Commonwealth during the war.
I think that my noble friend Viscount Cranborne, when he was speaking, having in mind points made in the large number of speeches delivered in the debate, perhaps overlooked the main theme of my speech in introducing my Motion, which was that there has been a great deal of collaboration and co-operation during this war. I readily admit that; but my great hope is that after the war the same amount of 520 collaboration and co-operation will take place in times of peace, when there may be less pressure and less urge to work in that way. I trust that as a result of this debate this question will not be allowed to lapse, but that debates upon it will take place in another place and in the Parliaments of the Empire and that, after the Imperial Conference, which will sit, as the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, has told us, at such time as may be convenient, there will emerge a scheme of close collaboration and co-ordination within the Commonwealth and Empire which will operate after the war, in peace-time, as well as it has done in time of war. I beg to withdraw my Motion.
§ Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.