I should like to ask the Leader of the. House to be good enough to give us an assurance that we shall have an early opportunity of discussing the very important question that has agitated public opinion outside in regard to the importation of Canadian store cattle. Can the right hon. Gentleman give us ample opportunity to raise this matter? Some days ago he told us—I will quote his own language:
I did undertake that I would find an opportunity, not necessarily a whole day, for the discussion of the subject, but that must be when we have real progress with Government business."—[OFFICIAL, REPORT, 10th May, 1922; cols. 2178–2179, Vol. 153.]
I think I may claim to be a loyal supporter of the Government, and I ask as that that my right hon. Friend will grant us not only one day, but from the point of view of my political opponents opposite, two days for the discussion of this very important matter. I have no wish that this matter should come before the House before the whole topic has been adequately considered, not only here, but elsewhere, and I think it is being well discussed in other quarters. I do hope and trust that when it does come before this House we shall have the presence of the Secretary of State for the Colonies in order that he may be able to give expression not only to his own views, but also to what he knows to be the feelings in Canada and other parts of the Empire. I have no wish whatsoever to detain the House, but I trust that the Lord Privy Seal will grant us at least one full Parliamentary clay for the discussion of this matter. [11oN. MEMBERS: "Two days."] I am quite willing to meet the request of my hon. Friend opposite, and I agree that two days would be better. I trust that at least we shall have one day, and that, in addition, the right hon. Gentleman will arrange an opportunity for us having placed before us the views of the Secretary of State for the Colonies. I have no desire now to go into the merits of the question.
Mr. CHAMBERLAIN (Leader of the House):
I think it is customary for hon. Members, and it is certainly convenient when they propose to raise a question on the Motion for the Adjournment of the House to convey some private intimation to the Minister concerned. I have had no notice from my hon. Friend, and it is only through the Patronage Secretary that I became aware that the hon. Member was going to bring this matter forward. If the hon. Member had given me notice, I should have been here at Eleven o'clock when he rose.
This is a matter which concerns me as Leader of the House and notice should have been given to me. I was in the precincts of the House, and I am sorry my hon. Friend did not talk to me on this point face to face. The hon. Gentleman told the Patronage Secretary that he wished to raise the question of Canadian cattle embargo, but what he has raised to-night is the question of having an opportunity of debating that subject. I only say this by way of apology for not having been in my place when my hon. Friend rose. The hon. Gentleman must be really astonished at his own moderation. In a Session in which the Government business has made scarcely any progress, and where the majority of the days have been given to the discussion of financial business, very little progress being made with legislation, my hon. Friend asks for two days.
Two days by preference, or even a week, for the discussion of this question of embargo on Canadian cattle—for reasons which we all appreciate both of conviction and geography, and I would respectfully suggest to him that an exaggerated claim of that kind is calculated to bring upon him ridicule. It is obviously impossible to do anything of the kind. I have promised to make an opportunity for the House to discuss this question. Before the opportunity has occurred, I have been asked to receive, and have received, a deputation from English agriculturists. The fate of a Minister who refuses to receive a deputation is known to Members of the House. The fate of a Minister who consents to receive a deputation is lamentable. If he receives a deputation from one side, he must, of course, receive a deputation from the other, and I have now been asked to receive a deputation from the other side, and it is the particular desire of that deputation, as it is the particular desire of my hon. Friend, that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Colonies should be present. That is a desire I heartily share. Accordingly, I have informed the deputation that I will receive them, but that, sharing their desire that my right hon. Friend the Secretary for the Colonies should be with me to hear the burden of the day, the deputation must be postponed until my right hon. Friend has succeeded in obtaining that rest which I hope he will enjoy, but which he has forgone by returning to his duties because of the urgency of public affairs. Under these circumstances the matter must wait, I will not say on my right hon. Friend's convenience, but on his restoration. As regards the opportunity for discussion, T gave no sort of pledge at any time that I would treat this as a matter of urgency. I have said that I would find some opportunity for the House to discuss it, and I will observe that pledge, but I cannot now say when that opportunity will be. We really must make progress with the business which the Government has invited the House to consider before we take this extra subject. I believe that in all schools there are extras, but they are not included in the ordinary class. If my hon. Friend will use his influence to facilitate the progress of the class in which we normally work, it will make it easier for me to find those spare hours. This matter is of great interest, but is not of the same immediate urgency, because it is not a matter which the Government has immediately brought before the House as requiring its decision. I think that is all I can say. My hon. Friend may desire me to say more, but this is not the proper occasion, nor, since we are to have another opportunity, would it be suitable for me to do so.
Lastly, and perhaps for me the most conclusive reason of all, I will not do it because it would only bring me into conflict with my hon. Friend, for when this opportunity is found of a half-day, or a day, or two days or a week, at the end of the discussion, be it shorter or longer, I shall find myself painfully divided for the moment from my hon. Friend, I hope only to make our subsequent reunion the pleasanter for our temporary separation.
We have all enjoyed the delightful speech which the Leader of the House has made, but anyone listening to it would hardly have imagined that he was dealing with a topic which excites the most intense feeling in the country, and behind which there is a by no means contemptible body of opinion. The right hon. Gentleman's statement, which I followed with intense pleasure, fell into two parts. First, he mildly chipped the hon. Member for Montrose (Mr. Sturrock) because he had taken the unusual course of communicating with the Government through what are called "the usual channels," and then he proceeded to a long disquisition on the rules of the school, but he gave no indication as to when this definite Government pledge is to be redeemed. The people of the country want to know when the Government are going to act on the report of their own Commission. The right hon. Gentleman has seen deputations—
It has been well said that "deputation" is a noun of multitude implying many, but not signifying much, and that seems to me to be the meaning the right hon. Gentleman attaches to it. Seriously, this is a matter on which public feeling is growing intense. It is held by some that most substantial pledges were given to the Dominion of Canada during the War by the then President of the Board of Agriculture, than whom no one could be better qualified, on behalf of the Government. They were fortified by the same expression of opinion by another President of the Board of Agriculture, Lord Long, and were understood by the Canadian Government as a definite promise. Even from that standpoint, and leaving all other considerations out of account, this is not a matter on which the Government should definitely delay its decision. As far as one can judge from the jocular remarks of the Leader of the House, we are never to hear any more about it. "This year, next year, some time, never" is the general tone of his speech. I consider that this is a matter which should be debated in this House, and that the decision of the House upon it should he registered. I go further, and say that the decision of the House should prevail. When I put a question to the right hon. Gentleman on the subject, he said: "Oh, yes; we are going to give an opportunity for discussion and for the decision of the House, but we give no pledge whatever to make that decision operative." I contend that that is treating the House with great disrespect. When all is said and done, the House of Commons is the master of the Government; it is not the Government that is the master of the House of Commons. I go even further than the hon. Member for Montrose, and say that if the House has the opportunity to which it is entitled, and if it avails itself of that opportunity, to give a definite expression of its opinion, then it is the duty of the Government to see that that opinion is made operative by an Act.
So far as previous speakers are concerned, I cannot see for what public they speak. I endeavour to speak for the consumers. At the moment there is no more vital question affecting the great consuming public than this question of the removal of the embargo. I had hoped the right hon. Gentleman would have given us some indication of a provisional date. I shall not be so stupid as to suggest a definite date. I appreciate the difficulties in the right hon. Gentleman's way and the troublous times through which, as Leader of the House, he is passing. But he might give us some indication as to when the date may be. Hon. Members are receiving many letters. Even deputations are visiting us to see what is our opinion on the question. What are you going to do? Are you going to press on the Lord Privy Seal your desire to have the matter settled? Is it your intention to demand that he should put the decision of the Royal Commission into operation? These things are engaging the attention of most of the attentive Members of this House and we are faced with this from our constituents. I appeal to the right hon. Gentleman to give us some idea of a provisional date when this matter can be discussed. A pledge has been given that a Debate shall take place. That was some considerable time ago. The right hon. Gentleman told us that deputations are coming to him, but if he will give us a. provisional date as soon as the Whitsuntide Recess is over there will be ample opportunity between now and then to see all the deputations that are necessary.
I should be the last person in the world to inflict too much hard work upon the right hon. Gentleman. I think every hon. Member knows that he attends to his duties very regularly and is one of the most consistent Members in being always in attendance. I should not like to rob him of his holidays, but between now and when the House rises there will be ample opportunity to receive deputations. He could then rest contented, and when on the seaside front he is anxious to engage his thoughts he would be able to think of the future Debate and give us an idea when it might be. I make that suggestion in the view that it would relieve our anxiety, and we should be able to tell the people we represent what the Government's intentions are.
Sir DOUGLAS NEWTON:
I hope we shall have a day given to us for discussion of this matter. In agriculture you have the greatest industry in the State. The embargo question is very much exercising the minds of all agriculturists, and it is a matter on which a decision should be reached one way or the other. It is not merely a matter of seeing deputations, but it is a matter which this House should have an opportunity at an early date of considering and recording an opinion upon it.
Is it impossible for the Leader of the House to say whether he can give a date before or after Whitsuntide? It is not a case that any of us who are opposed to an alteration of the present law have any intention of shirking debate. We think it rash in the extreme for those who desire this policy to be reversed to challenge a Debate without the presence of their chief protagonist, the Secretary of State for the Colonies. With his presence we shall have difficulty in withstanding them; without him there would be no question about the matter, and this 26 years old agricultural policy of the country would continue as in the past. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman can say whether or not he can give a date before Whitsuntide.