Prime Minister's Statement.

Orders of the Day — Honours Lists. – in the House of Commons on 17th July 1922.

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Photo of Mr Godfrey Locker-Lampson Mr Godfrey Locker-Lampson , Wood Green

I beg to move: That it is expedient that a Select Committee of seven Members of this House be appointed to join with a Committee of the Lords to consider the present methods of submitting names of persons for honours for the consideration of His Majesty, and to report what changes, if any, are desirable in order to secure that such honours shall only be given as a reward for public service. I deeply feel the responsibility of moving this very important Resolution, and I am glad to think that in a very few minutes—because I am going to make a very short speech as so many other hon. Members desire to take part in the Debate—the rest of the Debate will be in more authoritative hands than my own. One thing I will try to do. I will try to make a very moderate statement, and I will do my best to say nothing that can in any way be regarded, I hope, as exaggerated. I do not think that any exaggeration of language is required. This Motion is in the name of no fewer than 279 Members of this House. A great many hon. Members have been in the House much longer than I have, but I have had the honour of being in this House now for 13 years, and certainly, so far as I am concerned, I have never known a Motion on the Paper raising a controversial issue so far as the Government is concerned supported by so many hon. Members or so generally in all parts of the House. I have analysed the names of the hon. Members who support this Motion. I find that among them there are no less than 134 Coalition Unionists out of a total number of 312 Coalition Unionists: that is to say, very nearly one half of that party. There are 20 Coalition Liberals out of 119, and I wish there had been a few more. There are 29 Independent Liberals, practically the whole of that party. There are 11 Ulster Unionists. There are 58 Members of the Labour party out of a total of 75; and there are 27 representatives of all the other various smaller independent parties in the House of Commons. That is to say, representatives of every party in the House are sup- porting this Motion. Every section has subscribed to it, because every section believes that something must be done to restore public confidence, which has been, gravely shaken in this matter during the last few months.

There is one thing that I should like to make clear from the start. This Motion has nothing whatever to do with the Royal Prerogative. We do not wish to touch the Royal Prerogative, or to question it, or to discuss it in any way whatsoever. The Motion merely concerns the advice given by the Prime Minister to the Crown; and, just as we always feel perfectly free to criticise the Gracious Speech from the Throne, because the words of the Speech are put into the mouth of the Sovereign by Ministers, because the legislative programme embodied in the Speech is recommend d by Ministers, so we feel that we are entitled to criticise the advice given by the Prime Minister in regard to the bestowal of honours, without trenching in the smallest degree on the absolute Prerogative of the Crown to give what honours it pleases. There is another point which, if I may, I should like to emphasise. I personally do not in the least want to rake in the past. I believe that Governments for a long time have been culpable in this matter of honours. Some have been less culpable, some have been more culpable; but the scandal has now reached such dimensions that a full inouiry is necessary.

This Motion has not been put down with any idea of exhuming the past. The Motion, in fact, does not compel, it does not even ask, a Select Committee to do so, or to go into specific cases of abuse. Under the Motion it is only necessary for a Select Committee to examine the present machinery of collecting names and the present procedure in sifting names and tabulating them for the final list. So far as I can see, the chief task of the Select Committee would be to recommend the best procedure for the future. In any case, I do not think it is necessary to discuss that particular point at the moment, because, if the Motion is agreed to by the House, I imagine that the terms of reference would be framed so as to exclude, and could expressly exclude, what the House might desire to exclude. But what I believe the majority of the House does wish is to make certain that there shall be a proper system in the future to ensure that only such names are submitted by the Prime Minister to the Crown as can be justified on the ground of character and public service.

I submit that it is not fair to the Crown that there should be undesirable recipients of honours. The Crown is the fountain of honour, and many of the public outside are totally unaware of our constitutional practice. They believe, quite ignorantly, that the Crown acts on its own initiative in bestowing honours. They do not realise that honours are given on the advice of the chief Minister of the Crown. When, therefore, honours are awarded undeservedly to those from whom they should be withheld, it is the Crown that suffers. A slur is cast upon it, when all the time it is only the transient Minister who is to blame. Therefore. I say again that it is very unfair to the Crown, which, in the very nature of the case, cannot defend itself. I also submit that it is very unfair to those who receive well-merited honours, who have paid no money for the recommendation, and have done great public services. It lowers the dignity of the honours when they are recommended undeservedly for cash across the counter, and for cash alone. It brings them into contempt, and lowers their moral value. I also submit that it is not fair to those who ought to be recommended for honours, but who have been passed over to make way for richer and less deserving men. Such abuse, if it goes on, can only act as a discouragement to honourable ambition.

I may say—and I only speak for myself here—that I do not in the least object to somebody being recommended for an honour who has also paid into the party funds. Payment into the party funds, in my humble opinion, ought not to be a bar to being recommended for an honour. After all, there is no crime in helping one's party. A man might have paid into the party funds ten years ago, and have done great public services since. Is he to be debarred on that account from being recommended for an honour? Or he might have paid quite a small sum, out of all proportion to his public services: or he may wish to pay after the honour has been conferred. If he does, is it to be recommended later on that the honour is to be taken away from him? I think there ought only to be two conditions in this matter of recommending a man for an honour. In the first place, has he rendered such public service as to justify the recommendation of an honour? In the second place, is his personal character such as to warrant it? To my mind, those two conditions ought to run together, and no one should be recommended by the Prime Minister to the Crown for an honour unless he satisfies both of them fully.

4.0 p.m.

I submit that the time has come when we ought to have a joint Committee of both Houses to advise what procedure should henceforth be adopted to see that both of these conditions are strictly observed. The great number of supporters of this Motion shows that the time has come. They amount; to very nearly half the House, excluding those Members who have not taken the oath. Matters have reached the climax, and Ministers know perfectly well themselves that something has got to be done. I understand that the Prime Minister is going to reply, and I realise only too well that we are up against a very formidable tactician in the Prime Minister. There have been a great many rumours in the Press, but, so far as many of us are concerned, we shall not be satisfied with any concession that is not real, and that does not go to the root of the matter. A small Committee appointed by the Prime Minister himself to advise him in the future will not be sufficient. That will not restore public confidence, and the restoration of public confidence is essential. We must have a properly constituted body to recommend the best way of dealing with this question in the future. I have no doubt that several plans will occur to hon. Members at the present time. It may be that the Select Committee will recommend that there shall be a small Committee appointed by the Privy Council to advise the Prime Minister and to review his lists. It may be that they will recommend that such a Committee shall have the final power of vetoing his recommendations before they are submitted to the Crown. It may be that they will recommend that the Privy Council shall themselves prepare the lists in the first instance and that the Prime Minister shall review them. Several alternatives will occur to hon. Members. We do not know what kind of plan would be suggested by the Select Committee, but it is all-important that the best procedure should be adopted after full and careful consideration, and, therefore, an inquiry in the first instance is absolutely necessary. Until such an inquiry has taken place, it is perfectly useless to produce a scheme. I feel very strongly that this Motion ought to have been allowed to go to the free vote of the House. That course would have been in accordance with precedent. I have myself never known a Motion on the Paper, supported generally from all sides of the House, not being allowed to go to a free vote. So far as many of use are concerned, we shall watch this Debate very anxiously to-day. This Motion has not been put down for the sake of dividing the House, but in order to secure a real reform. We want the Government to meet us. If they meet us substantially, sincerely, genuinely, no Division will be necessary. But, if their proposals do not meet the case. then, believing as we do that this scandal and disgrace in public life has got to come to an end, we shall press this Motion to a Division and try its fortunes in the Lobby.

Photo of Mr Samuel Hoare Mr Samuel Hoare , Chelsea

I beg to second the Motion.

The question of honours is a very delicate one. There is a good deal of thin ice and a good deal of deep water under it. and, on that account, I venture to think that the House will expect me, in seconding the Motion, to deal with it with complete candour and with as great precision as I possibly can. I will make that attempt, and I will address myself to three definite questions. In the first place, why do we raise the question of honours now more than at any previous time? Secondly, what are the exact charges that those who are supporting this Motion make? And, thirdly, what is the precise remedy that my hon. Friends and I propose? Why is it that we have chosen the present occasion for raising this question upon the Floor of the House? It would be hypocritical to suggest that the uneasiness and suspicion about honours is the creation of the last few months. Perhaps for twenty years there has been very general uneasiness and suspicion upon the subject. That suspicion has found frequent expression in the Debates of Parliament. Let hon. Members recall to their minds the Debates that have taken place in another place on this subject. The most important took place in October, 1017, when the House of Lords unanimously accepted two Resolutions, with the full approval of the Leader of the House and the Lord Chancellor, speaking on behalf of the Government. The first of those Resolutions was that in all cases, where an honour has been conferred upon an individual, full and accurate particulars about his public services should be published at the time that he received the honour. The second Resolution was to this effect: The Prime Minister should assure himself, before recommending any person for an honour, that no payment to any party or political organisation was directly or indirectly associated with the grant or promise of such honour or dignity. Let the House mark this fact. Those two Resolutions were, as I say, accepted unanimously in another place and by the Leader of the House and the Lord Chancellor on behalf of the Government. Let me come to this House. In May, 1919, a Debate took place upon the subject, and the then Leader of the House (Mr. Bonar Law), whom we are glad to sec in his place, speaking after consultation with the Prime Minister, used these words: The Prime Minister has made, and will make, no recommendations to His Majesty as a reward for contributions to party funds."—[OFFICIAL, REPORT, 28th May, 1919; col. 1367, Vol. 116.] So much for the Debates in the two Houses. What was taking place outside? There, as I say, for many years past there has been in existence suspicion and uneasiness. If I went back to a particular date, I should say that it was excited in a special degree, first of all, by the Conservative honours list of 1905. Then came certain incidents in the period that followed, such as the creation of a man who was made a Baronet in one year, and shortly afterwards a Privy Councillor, and who was subsequently proved to be trading with the enemy. Occasionally, there are oven humorous instances in this curious passage of history. There was the case of a man who was made a Knight, and the people who recommended him did not even know his Christian name. He was described in the "Gazette" as an "author and writer," and all that he had ever written was a number of songs. So much for the past—general suspicion and general uneasiness spread over a considerable period of time. Then, on the top of that, comes this year's Birthday Honours List. Public attention, already critical and alert, concentrated at once upon two or three specific names. I agree with my hon. Friend opposite that we do not wish to rake into the past or into the details of specific cases, and I only make this passing allusion to prove my point that we have been compelled by the force of circumstances to bring this to an issue now.

There was the case of a man who was made a peer and who, for good reasons or bad, transferred his business to South America to avoid the Excess Profits Duty and Income Tax. There was the case of a man who was made a baronet and who was convicted of trading with the enemy during the War. Thirdly—and here I am afraid I must use a specific name—there was the now notorious Robinson case. So far as Sir Joseph Robinson is concerned, his case, in my view, has been honourably closed by the dignified letter in which he asked to have his name withdrawn from the list of peers, and, if I quote his case to-day, it is not on any account to make charges against a man who has now withdrawn his name, but simply to prove my point. There were three features connected with that case to which I would draw the attention of the House. In the first place, a man was offered a peerage although salient facts in his career were apparently unknown. Secondly, a man domiciled in one of the Dominions was offered a peerage without the Prime Minister of the Dominion knowing anything about the offer, and without the Secretary of State for the Colonies knowing anything about it in London. Thirdly, the manner in which the name was published in the "Gazette" and the Press was contrary to the letter and the spirit of the House of Lords Reolution which had been unanimously accepted in another place. The result of all this was that a man who accepted a peerage one week had publicly to withdraw his acceptance the next week. What wonder, in view of an incident of this kind, that the public sense that something is wrong with the system and that something must be done to prevent such scandals and mistakes in the future. So much for my first-question.

Let me come to the second question—and here, again, I wish to be as definite and precise as possible—the question of the exact charges that we make. Let me say at once that I make no charge of general corruption. I believe that our public life is much purer to-day than it-was, say, fifty or one hundred years ago. If any hon. Member doubts that view, I would ask him to look at such records of the past as, say, Sir Jonah Barrington's reminiscences as to the methods that were adopted in passing the Act of Union, and a book that was published in 1835, known as the "Black Book," in which a detailed description was given of the methods which were adopted in bringing about political pressure and influence in the eighteenth and seventeenth centuries. I make no charge of general corruption, but I say, first of all, that unknown and apparently undeserving persons seem to be included in the lists in increasing numbers: secondly, that for no apparent reason individuals are suddenly advanced from one dignity to another, and from one grade in the peerage to a higher grade; and, thirdly, the House of Lords Resolutions have been flouted by the Government. I have dealt with the first two questions that I put before the House at the beginning of my speech.

Let me come to the even more difficult-one as to the remedies my hon. Friend and I suggest. Obviously, there is one very drastic but none the less very easy remedy—the remedy in abolish honours altogether. I should no approve of a remedy of that kind. I: my view it is not simply snobbery that a man should desire to be distinguishes I above his fellows, or even that he should hand on that distinction to future generations. I think it is a praisewortly desire. I go so far as to say that, while I have no desire to bring honours to an end altogether, I have no desire either to bring to an end party honours. I hold the view, right or wrong that party service is a public service, like several public services—perhaps not the highest form, but none the less a very definite form of public service. If that be so, and if public service generally is rewarded by dignities and honours. ! see no reason whatever why party service should not receive its fair measure of reward. But I make these two definite provisos. I say, first, that party service should not receive an exaggerated reward. The rewards that the public generally most appreciate are rewards which are given for public service, whether it be in the Army or the Navy or the Civil Service, or wherever it may be. Secondly, I agree with every word my hon. Friend has said that on no account should rewards be given simply and only for a money payment. I will give the House my own view definitely and frankly. I take the view that it is praiseworthy on the part of a party politician to subscribe to his party funds. What other line could we take? If hon. Members have the same experience as I have, a great part of their time is spent in trying to induce their constituents to subscribe to their local associations. If that be so, how is it possible for any Member to say it is a sin for a man to make a subscription to the central party funds?

But while it is in no way wrong for a man to subscribe to the central party funds, it is altogether wrong that he should receive an honour simply and only for that subscription. That being so, the problem, in my view, is reduced to a concrete and a comparatively limited one—first, to restore confidence, and, secondly, to prevent mistakes and scandals in the future. If that be the problem, the only way to solve it is to appoint a Committee of Inquiry. My hon. Friend and I, and the Members who support us, say the proper body to make an inquiry of this kind is one composed of Members of the two Houses. That seems to me to be a very reasonable request. If that be so, the next question arises as to what kind of inquiry it should be. Should it be an inquiry into the past? There are many of us—here again I speak quite frankly—who would be very much interested to know how certain individuals got their names into various honours lists. None the less, I am faced with a practical difficulty as to what is likely to be the result of any inquiry into the past. If there is to be an inquiry into the past, it must obviously in fairness be an inquiry into the whole past. Where are you going to draw the line? Are you going to take it back to the methods which were adopted in passing the Reform Bill of 1832, or the Act of Union, or the reasons that prompted Charles II to make Duchesses of the ladies of his affections, or James I to sell appointments in the distinguished Order of which I am a member for £600 apiece? No. I do not think an inquiry into the past is really practicable, and I do not believe the cases we should desire to probe would really be proved. I cannot help thinking that if a man has been degraded enough to buy a title, and if someone has been degraded enough to sell it to him, those two persons will be clever enough to cover up their tracks and an inquiry into the past therefore will not lead to any practical results. But I think it would have a bad result, for I believe the result would be, firstly, no practical improvement in the future, and, secondly, a general poisoning of the whole of our public life. On that account I suggest that if the House desires a practical improvement they should concentrate their attention, not upon mud-raking in the past, but on reform for the future.

My hon. Friend has alluded to the very difficult questions which will have to be considered in such an inquiry. How, for instance, can you maintain the Prime Minister's responsibility while at the same time setting up some form of Advisory Committee, and how, if you set up any rules, can you avoid the reverse danger of evasion? A number of difficult problems of that kind which will suggest themselves to every hon. Member will have to come up for careful scrutiny and inquiry. On that account the success of the inquiry must depend upon the men who carry it out. They must be men of force and men of independent position, whose opinions will be accepted by the general body of people in the country—men who will not look upon this question from a hypocritical, puritanical point of view. We do not want an inquiry carried out by a number of Aristides. If I had been living in the time of Aristides I should willingly have voted for his death. We want a Committee of Inquiry manned by men of public experience and public position, neither hypocrites nor cynics who would accept a low standard of public morality. Public opinion, I am quite confident, will not be contented with anything short of such an inquiry. Public opinion is, after all, the real safeguard, and just as it is the real safeguard, so it is the true guide. If public opinion demands an inquiry upon a question that directly touches the public conscience, an inquiry must be granted. It is on these grounds that I second the Motion, and I ask the Government to agree to the demands of 300 Members and the desire of the great majority of men and women throughout the country.

Photo of Mr David Lloyd George Mr David Lloyd George , Caernarvon District of Boroughs

I think it desirable that the Government should indicate at once the course of policy which they propose to adopt and recommend to the House upon this Motion. Had the leaders of the two parties sitting opposite desired to speak before the Government, I should have been very glad to give way, but I understood they preferred to speak after the Government had already placed their policy before the House. My hon. Friends have divided their speeches, very properly, into two parts. First of all, there is the critical and, if I may say so, the condemnative part of their speeches. Then, there is the constructive part, in which they made definite, practical suggestions. I will deal with the first part, and I hope the House will bear with me, because I shall examine this matter at some length. Before I do so, let me say at once that the Government are quite prepared to assent to any re-examination of the question of honours which will be satisfactory to the House of Commons. As to the form of the inquiry, I shall say something later on. An inquiry is desirable for two reasons. First of all, there has been a very considerable increase in the number of honours, not merely in quite recent years, but in the last thirty or forty years, owing to the increase in population and the increase in the wealth of the population, and owing to the setting up of a new Order which has democratised honours to a very considerable extent. Honours have been conferred upon a very considerable number of people who, certainly, could make no contribution to any party.

The second reason is a reason which I acknowledge, that during the past—not two months, as stated by my hon. Friend the Member for Wood Green (Mr. G. Locker-Lampson), or even 20 years, as stated by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Chelsea (Sir S. Hoare)—thirty years there have been Debates in this House upon the question of honours. The ease has never been fully stated, but charges have been made during the whole of that period of exactly the same character and in exactly the same words. They have been repeated a hundred and a thousand times, whereas they ha\c only been refuted two or three times. The result is that unrest has naturally been created in the public mind. It is desirable, for these two reasons, that there should be some form of inquiry into the matter, and the Government will assent to it in the form which I shall state later.

I have said this at the start, because I do not want the examination to which I hope to submit the question to be prejudiced by any idea in the mind of anyone that I am leading up to a pure negative. I am bound to say something, and to say a good deal, about the charges which have been levelled, not merely against the present Government, but against preceding Governments. in respect of the creation of honours in this country. I agree with my hon. Friends that it is not a question of criticising the Crown. Prime Ministers are responsible. They are responsible to the House of Commons and to public opinion, and the House of Commons is not merely entitled, but it is its duty to call Prime Ministers to account if they think that they have misled the Crown on so very important a matter.

When my hon. Friend the. Member for Wood Green talks, as he has done, about the last two months, he cannot possibly have devoted any attention to the examination of what has taken place, and I propose, therefore, to remind the House of the history of the complaints which have been made from time to time, here and elsewhere, in reference to the advice given to the Crown as to honours. It is quite impossible to come to a fair decision if it be treated merely as if it were a question of the dereliction of a particular single Administration. I see references made to Walpole by people who obviously have read nothing about Walpole, except in the columns of some newspaper; otherwise they would not have made such statements. One need not go so far back as Walpole in order to get a repetition of statements, exactly the same complaints, exactly the same charges, in exactly the same form as those made to-day, and, if my hon. Friend will take care to read the Debates, in exactly the same words.

I heard a Debate in this House 30 years ago. It was raised on a Motion moved by the late Sir Wilfrid Lawson, and my right hon. Friend the Member for South Molton (Mr. Lambert) seconded the Motion. I voted against it. I take exactly the same view that I took then, and I made exactly the same complaint then as I make now. I have been absolutely consistent upon this question. What was the charge then brought by Sir Wilfrid Lawson? It was not in reference to the recommendations made by the Liberal Government, but by their predecessors.

Photo of Mr David Lloyd George Mr David Lloyd George , Caernarvon District of Boroughs

In 1894. He was not criticising the peerages of that particular Government. He was making a general charge in respect of the way in which advice in reference to the granting of honours was given to the Crown. His general charge was against the unfitness of those recommended, and, in the second plane, against the unworthiness of the motives. Those were the two charges which my right hon. Friend the Member for South Molton supported. I remember Sir William Harcourt's reply. It was a reply which I do not give to the House to-day. He said: Honours were given on the principle that on an average justice was done. He quoted a reply of Lord Erskine at the Bar, in which he said: While I have lost a great many verdicts which I ought to have won, at any rate, I have won a great many verdicts which I ought to have lost, and so, on the average, justice is done. That was the answer given by Sir William Harcourt to my right hon. Friend the Member for South Molton and Sir Wilfrid Lawson. Afterwards, the late Sir Thomas Gibson Bowles, then Mr. Thomas Gibson Bowles, raised the question in reference to the promotions of the Unionist Government. Then came a series of questions and Debates, I think in both Houses, certainly in this House, in 1907–8. They ended, as one would expect, in recriminations, flung from one side of the House to the other. The same charges were made as are made now against both sides. "Trafficking in honours" was one phrase, "Sale and purchase of honours" was another, and "Employment of tariffs"—that is, a scale—was another. There were charges against both sides, and a phrase which is bandied about now was a commonplace of the Debate—"These scandals." Here is an extract from the speech of an hon. Member who played the part which my hon. Friend the Member for Wood Green has played in this matter. He asked questions, and I think he worked up an agitation. Certainly he took a very prominent part in the matter. [HON. MEMBERS: "Name!"] He was a predecessor of my hon. Friend the Member for Wood Green This is an extract from his speech: The titles and decorations in vogue in this country are just as lacking in dignity, prestige and moral worth as the methods by which they are obtained are loathsome, corrupt and nauseous. That was in reference to what happened fifteen, twenty and thirty years ago. That is language which beats even the "Morning Post"! In 1914, Lord Selborne raised the question in the House of Lords. He had been in the Whips' Office, and, as a poacher, he displayed the zeal of a convert, though with the half-knowledge which he had acquired as under-game-keeper. He was talking of the prevalent belief about the using of honours for the support of the party system, and for replenishing the party fund. This is what he said: I say at once that this prevalent belief applies to both political parties, to both those great political parties that have held office, and that the evil is a growth of our party system and that both political parties are responsible for it. Both political parties are tarred with the same brush. [HON. MEMBERS: "Agreed!"] This is not two months ago. Lord Bryce said he had heard of it from 1880 up to 1902. In the Debate in 1907–8 six names were mentioned. Three of them were Liberals, and three of them were Conservatives. I am not going into the question of whether or not they were deserving. Anybody who cares to take the trouble to look up the Debates can judge for himself. Take the last six years. There have been exceptionally heavy lists, because of the War. Does anyone imagine, whatever Government had been in power, without any reference at all to charges of this kind, that you would not have had an exceptionally heavy list in consequence of the War? In the lists of the last six years you have about 400 sailors and soldiers.

Photo of Mr Henry Croft Mr Henry Croft , Bournemouth

For honours of this kind?

Photo of Mr David Lloyd George Mr David Lloyd George , Caernarvon District of Boroughs

Peerages, baronetcies, and knighthoods. Apart from that, never before in the history of the country did the civilian population take such a part in the organisation and in assistance behind the lines, and, therefore there were extensive and heavy lists in that respect. I am going to analyse that later on. I do not want to do so at this moment, because that is not the point to which I wish to call attention. In addition to that, the Ministers who are principally concerned in making these recommendations—my right hon. Friend (Mr. Asquith) and myself—were engaged on problems which, for their number, their magnitude, their gravity and their complexity, were very rarely to be met with in the previous history of this country. I will say more.

There never has been a time when the Honours List has been subject to such a scrutiny. I am not complaining, but I only want to come to the point to which I am leading. I am not objecting to the scrutiny, but we have a group in this House, a party group, a well-organised group which has put this in the forefront of its programme. That has never happened before. You have had, in addition to that, advertisements in the organs of that group, inviting information about scandals. In the third place, even agencies have been employed for the purpose. Never before has the Honours List been subject to such a careful, organised scrutiny. I have been through the whole of the questions put in this House. I have been through the Debates in this House and the Debates in the other House. As far as I can see, three names have been mentioned, and, as far as I can understand, there is a fourth name given to-night for the first time in the Debates here. Had I known of it, I should have been prepared to answer, but take four.

Photo of Mr Samuel Hoare Mr Samuel Hoare , Chelsea

The other name is not in that list at all. It is in the previous list.

Photo of Mr David Lloyd George Mr David Lloyd George , Caernarvon District of Boroughs

At any rate, that only makes four which have been mentioned in both Houses of Parliament. In Debates in 1907 and 1908 six names were mentioned, three Liberal and three Conservative, while in the whole of the last six years, in spite of the scrutiny, only four names have been mentioned. I am not going to say that no mistakes have been made. That is too high a claim for any Prime Minister, living or dead. It is too high a claim in respect of the exercise of any patronage, public or private. There have been energetic representations of qualifications, the marshalling of recommendations, and the skilful glossing over of facts which, had they been fully known at the time, might have led to a different choice. I would not say that any Prime Minister, living or dead, is free from the possibility of making mistakes in this or in any other branch of patronage. That is not the case which I am going to present. All I say is that the percentage, in spite of the exceptional pressure, has been as low as in any previous period. My right hon. Friend said, "You are making a case by referring to the past." I am not. I do not believe the charges made against my predecessors.

Photo of Major-General John Seely Major-General John Seely , Ilkeston

No, I said that it was time it was changed.

Photo of Mr David Lloyd George Mr David Lloyd George , Caernarvon District of Boroughs

I do not accept the statements made in previous Debates in this House. I think that they are wild—that they had no basis in fact. Where there were mistakes they were exaggerated, and all the criticisms overlook the fact that the vast majority of cases were unexceptional, and, therefore, I do not think that the mere fact-that, in previous Debates in this House, exactly the same charges were made, is any justification for an inquiry. Making mistakes is something that happens in every period, and a few well-advertised blunders leads to a general inference-being drawn. To draw that general inference was as unfair then as it is now, and is as unfair now as it was then. My hon. Friend the Member for Chelsea (Sir S. Hoare) has referred to what happened in the eighteenth century. I am not going to quote that as a justification now, because what happened in the eighteenth century has no reference to this country in respect of the charges which are made now. It is not a question of Walpole. It is a question of Pitt, who lavished peerages and baronetcies and knighthoods and sinecures, and he did it, as he himself admitted, for the purpose of what he called "strengthening the administration." But I am not going into that. Take what Sir Robert Peel said about his predecessor, writing, I think, in 1841 or 1842. That was well on in the nineteenth century— It seems to me that the distinction of the peerage, and every other distinction has been degraded by the profuse and incautious use which has been made of it. He was bringing the charges against his immediate predecessors, Lords Liverpool, Canning, Grey, Melbourne and Wellington. He then wrote to say that he was resolved to be careful, but uninfluenced by any personal or private object, to consider any power of conferring honours as a great public trust, to be administered on some public principle, and the first public principle he mentioned was such as, for instance, the strengthening of the administration by rewarding those who do not hold office. That is the statement by Peel. But the abuses of a hundred years previously were not tolerated by the more sensitive opinion of the nineteenth century, and there is no doubt that the Reform Bill in itself effected a very considerable change in the whole attitude of the House of Commons, and of the public towards the question of honours. Since then they have not been altogether free from the possibility of mistakes—what system is?—due to oversight or carelessness, but not to any corrupt motive. So much for the past. With regard to an inquiry into the past, if the House of Commons or the House of Lords care to enter into an inquiry into the past, that is a responsibility which they must take. All I say about that is that the past did not begin two months ago, no, nor five years ago. Some hon. Gentlemen might like to limit it to five years. The whole question is—are you investigating the question of honours, or are you simply looking for something against the administration? If there be an investigation into honours, it muse be retrospective. You must examine the growth and development. You must examine the principles, and not merely the principles, but the practice of the great men of the past.

How can you have any standard or any comparison, or any contrast, otherwise? There must be some fairness. It would not be fair, under the guise of an examination into honours, to say that you would examine only into the last five years. Besides, you do not get a real examination. It is a matter of very great importance. By all means, if there is to be an examination, let us have it into the past. It would be better for strengthening the honours system. What really happens in an inquiry of that kind, is a concentration on what are called bad cases. It is inevitable. There would be recriminations. All parties must be represented. The 999 cases which are unexceptional would be excepted. Then there would be the picking out the bad cases. What does that mean? There would be evidence and counter evidence, examination and counter examination. Men must defend themselves, and the whole attention of the public would concentrate an honest inquiry upon a few exceptional cases, who may have got through, and those are the only ones that will be reported. Frailty makes good "copy," but the record of commonplace virtue has a limited circulation. What would be the impression? That the whole of the vast majority, who thoroughly deserved the honours, and who were thoroughly worthy, would be dismissed in the papers with one conglomerate paragraph. All the rest would be fully scrutinised. Material would be provided very unfairly and very unjustly, not for an attack upon the administration, but for attack on something which is much more vital in the life of this country. It is for the House of Commons to consider this before they come to a decision.

5.0 p.m.

My hon. Friends treat political honours as if they were, I will not say practically the whole, but the majority of the Honours List. That is not in the least true. Political honours are a comparatively small percentage of the whole, I will give the House a general sketch of the qualifications which place men on the Honours List. I am not speaking with any scientific precision, but generally. My right hon. Friend the Member for Paisley (Mr. Asquith) will correct me from his longer experience if I am wrong, or if I overlook facts. The first is the Departmental List. That relates to civil servants in the various Departments, and naval and military men or others who have rendered service in the special tasks of a Department. Another is made up of men who are distinguished in science, in art or in literature. A third category is made up of those who have rendered some special service locally, in the great municipal institutions of the country. Another category is made up of those who have shown great munificence in charitable matters. Another is composed of outstanding figures in the commerce, industry and finance of the country. Another is made up of those who, in a great national emergency like the War, have rendered national service. Last of all comes the frankly political list. My hon. Friend (Sir S. Hoare) said that he would speak with perfect candour. So shall I. There are many men on the political list who might very well have been put in other categories; they have rendered service municipally or otherwise.

Take the last five or six years. The number of those who have received rewards for political services to their party is a smaller percentage of the total than at any previous time in the history of this country. There are many men who have been promoted even to the House of Lords who have been political opponents of the Government. The right hon. Member for Paisley had a very interesting experience with his peers. So had many of his predecessors. In course of time they forgot the party that rewarded them, and generally found themselves in opposition to the Government. But there was always in his case a decent interval. There was none in my case; they did not wait. As I have pointed out, in recent years there has been a new Order, upon which a very large number of men have been put of the working and lower middle classes, who certainly could make no contribution to any party funds, but who have rendered service at one time or another to the State, mostly in connection with the War.

What is the political list? What is its relation to the party system? No doubt, a certain number of men are deliberately chosen for social advancement or distinction because they have rendered service of one kind or another of a political kind. The hon. Member for Chelsea (Sir S. Hoare) said that that was quite right, and that services to a party are services indirectly to the nation. I agree with that view. Preference, of course, is given to the service rendered to the party in power. I am going to speak with perfect frankness and candour upon this subject. This list is prepared for submission to the Prime Minister by the party Whips, that is, by the Patronage Secretary. That is not the case with the present administration only, but is the tradition ever since a party Government existed in this country. The tradition is that the political list has a party flavour. That is no new precedent; it has been set and followed by possessors of the most honoured names in British history. What constitutes service to a party? We are all politicians, and we know what service to party means, whether it be Parliamentary service, service on the platform, with the pen, or in the organisation of general support in the country. But the House wants to know, Does it include service to the funds of the party? I will read a statement by Lord Lansdowne on that subject in the House of Lords. He was talking about party promotions, and said: It is the result of the party system as we know it to-day. I doubt, however, whether anybody will suggest that it would be possible for us to dispense with the party system altogether. I believe that political life would be very insipid and very inconclusive if the party system did not exist. If you have the party system you have the party expenses; if you have party expenses you must have the party war chest; and it must inevitably happen that to that party war chest the richer members of the party will be expected, and, I think, naturally expected, to contribute out of their affluence. That seems to me not only not improper conduct, but conduct in a way creditable to those concerned. At any rate, it does not shock me—

Photo of Mr James Wignall Mr James Wignall , Forest of Dean

In the trade unions it is a voluntary contribution.

Photo of Mr David Lloyd George Mr David Lloyd George , Caernarvon District of Boroughs

Let me finish the quotation from Lord LansdowneThen we come to the moment when the Honours List has to be compiled. It has been said more than once to-night, and I think we are all agreed that nobody contends that a generous contributor to party funds should be excluded from recognition because of his generosity. I am glad to see my Noble Friend Lord Selborne signify his concurrence. Then comes the question, Is it the chief element in political honours? Is it a decisive consideration?

What I am saying now I can say on behalf of every predecessor of mine. I say emphatically, "No." There is no Prime Minister, either of to-day or of the past, who has any knowledge, when names are submitted to him, who has contributed to the party funds, or who has not. The mere fact that men are rich is not proof that they have contributed to the party funds or to anything else.

It is a mistake to assume that all rich men contribute—even strong party men. They ought to do, but they do not. There are men who have rendered other services also. Prime Ministers judge upon the records of service which are placed before them. Which of them contributes no Prime Minister has the slightest idea That is as it should be, and for a very good reason. Whoever is recommending these names ought not to have his judgment biased one way or the other by the knowledge of those facts. The lists are prepared as I have stated, and are submitted to the Prime Minister. The whole of the political Honours List is a minority. The Prime Minister of the day ought not to be informed, as to the names coming before him, whether any of their holders have contributed to the party funds, or which of them have done so. It is unfair to him; it is unfair to them.

Photo of Mr Frederick Banbury Mr Frederick Banbury , City of London

How can the Prime Minister reconcile that statement with the statement made in the House of Lords?

Photo of Mr David Lloyd George Mr David Lloyd George , Caernarvon District of Boroughs

My right hon. Friend will have ample time to develop his argument on that point. Let me continue my speech. The question is, Are men to be ruled out because of such contributions? If you do not rule men out because they have contributed, you will always be liable to the retort that that has influenced you. My hon. Friends do not suggest that, and no one suggests it. If the system of party political honours is to be terminated, let the House deliberately make up its mind on that subject. But before they do so, I ask them gravely to reflect on what will happen. There will be a gap to be filled up, and we have to consider what will be the effect. As to the question of bargain and sale, I agree with everything that has been said about that. If it ever existed, it was a discreditable system. It ought never to have existed. If it does exist, it ought to be terminated, and if there were any doubt on that point, every step should be taken to deal with it. There I agree with my hon. Friends. But, seeing that this system—the system of reward for political services—is one which has obtained, not merely in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, but in the nineteenth century, under the most distinguished leadership the country has over seen, the country ought to consider very seriously before it brings it to an end.

The point is, does Parliament really wish to terminate the system by which service to party is rewarded in this country? If so, I should like them to remember that it is a system which has been evolved by the sagacity and by the experience of the people who have the longest experience and made the greatest success of representative institutions. It has the sanction of the noblest and purest names in British history. It may be illogical, like most of our institutions. I do not say that, because great men of the past have either founded or sanctioned institutions as suitable to their time, these institutions ought to be continued when times have changed. But, at any rate, the fact that they were so sanctioned is prima facie evidence that they ought to be continued until an overwhelming case is made out against them.

If that system be abolished, what will be the substitute? The Labour party, naturally, do not feel the same difficulty. They have other means of dealing with the situation. They have their own organisations in the country. But I would only utter one word of warning to them. When the time comes, when they have responsibility for the Government of this country, they will find the system, which may be helpful to them now, entangling their steps and destroying their independence. They will find themselves committed to positions from which it will be very difficult for them to extricate themselves. I do not say another word on that subject. I am only putting forward a consideration which must be in the minds of the most thoughful of them.

Turn to the countries which have not adopted our method of encouraging party service—if you like, of rewarding party service. There is nothing dishonourable in rewarding an honourable act of service, but human nature is very mixed in its motives. Some of the worst natures very often surprise you by revealing veins of golden goodness that you would never suspect, and if you strike with a pickaxe into some of the best, they reveal streaks of rather poor metal. Bui whether a man be of the best or of the worst, an encouragement, a stimulus, a reward for him to do his duty always helps him along. If you abolish this system, there are two alternatives, and I want the House solemnly to consider them. I speak now as a fairly old politician, who has been a Member of this House for over thirty-two years, who believes in representative institutions, believes in the House of Commons, believes it is the finest Assembly of its kind in the whole world, and I want the House carefully to consider, before it puts an end to the system, either by deliberate Resolution, or by making it impossible to carry on, what is the alternative to the system. Hon. Members opposite for some time, until they accept greater responsibilities, will be able to manage. The danger is that political organisation will collapse, and the alternative to political organisation is political chaos.

I know it is rather a cant in certain circles to gibe at politicians. Anybody who is afflicted with that disease should read what the great men of Germany have said as to the failure of their country. There is not one of them—admirals, generals, princes—who does not attribute it entirely to the fact that Germany had no politicians. Some of the worst blunders that have ever been committed could have been avoided had they had the trained political machine. Her organisation of resources behind the lines would have been better done and better distributed if Germany had had better politicians, as we had on our side. There is one most remarkable, and I always think most inexplicable, fact in the history of the War: That is the sudden collapse of Germany in 1918. Look at the reasons which are assigned for it. It would never have happened had Germany had political organisation, skilled and trained and organised for the purpose of appealing to the national sentiment, and arousing the national spirit. Whether in peace or in war, the nation that is politically organised is twice as safe as the nation which is not.

Another alternative is one which anyone can see for himself if he only look at what is happening in other great democratic countries just as free as ourselves, just as proud as ourselves, just as resentful of corruption as ourselves. Let anyone who cares to look into the matter read some of the authorities, classical authorities accepted for their impartiality even by those countries themselves. These are alternatives which I ask the House to consider very carefully before they make up their minds that they are going to strike out the whole of the honours recommendations made as rewards for political services. [HON. MEMBERS: "We never suggested that !"] Very well, if that be so. you come to the second point—whether in your political recommendations you ought to say that no man who contributes to party funds—[HON. MEMBERS:"NO, no!"] Well, then, if that be a question of purchase and sale in honours, of traffic in honours, there is no disagreement in any part of the House, and I can assure the House of Commons I am not standing up on behalf of the Government to defend any system of that kind. I am here to say that neither by this Government, nor, I am perfectly certain, by any of its predecessors, has any system of that kind ever been sanctioned in this country. If the House—as I agree it is entitled, having regard to the discussions from time to time—if the House of Commons wants a reassurance, and the public wants a reassurance, then the Government are all for a re-examination of the methods of submitting the names.

The responsibilities of the chief Minister must, in our judgment, remain. You cannot transfer that responsibility to anyone else. He is the man who is responsible to the Sovereign, he is the man who is responsible to public opinion, and he is the man who must be responsible to the House of Commons. He is the man who can be arraigned, and who should be arraigned. Therefore no Committee which you set up can relieve the Chief Minister of the Crown of the main, and as far as the House of Commons is concerned, the sole responsibility for the advice given to the Sovereign. The whole question is whether there is any method by which you can strengthen his hands, and help him to discharge a difficult, delicate and individious task. Ministers for some years in the past have been—and Ministers for some years in the future, especially leading Ministers—are going to be so charged with burdens of all kinds in reference to the complications of public affairs, that any assistance that can be given them in the discharge of duties of this kind will be welcomed by them, and will be helpful to them. My hon. Friend (Mr. Locker-Lampson), in the beginning of his speech, made three or four suggestions that in his mind would perhaps meet the case. But I do not agree. They were all suggestions for taking the duty and the responsibility off the shoulders of the Chief Minister of the Crown, and if they were adopted, his responsibility would disappear. But I am not going to discuss the various suggestions which he made. That is obviously a question that ought to be considered calmly—not in the atmosphere of a Debate, where you have charges and counter-charges, but quietly, by men who are quite independent.

As it would deal with the prerogative of the Crown, it must be a Royal Commission, and the Government is prepared to assent to the appointment of a Royal Commission, to consider and advise on the procedure to be adopted in future to assist the Prime Minister in making recommendations to His Majesty of the names of persons deserving of special honour. I agree with my hon. Friend that the men who constitute that Commission must be men whose authority would be accepted by the whole of Parliament and the whole of the public. That is vital. They must be men whose independence, whose integrity, and whose experience, are above reproach.

Photo of Mr Carlyon Bellairs Mr Carlyon Bellairs , Maidstone

Does that mean that the right hon. Gentleman will accept the Report of the Commission?

Photo of Mr David Lloyd George Mr David Lloyd George , Caernarvon District of Boroughs

I would not be prepared to say that. I do not think any Government has ever given that pledge, but if we do not accept the Report of the Commission, and if the House of Commons take a different view, the remedy is in the hands of the House of Commons. The Report will be presented to the House of Commons, and if we decline to accept it, then we are entirely in the hands of the House. I do not think it is an answer which I could give beforehand. This Commission will inquire into all the matters suggested by my hon. Friend as to the best machinery for assisting the Prime Minister in the discharge of this very onerous and very difficult duty. Such a Commission will render undoubted service to the State, if they can devise any machinery which will render it more difficult for men who are unworthy to get on to the list, and will give additional assurance to the public that every man who may receive an honour from the Crown wears it because he has rendered in his day service, however humble—real service—to his generation.

Photo of Mr Herbert Asquith Mr Herbert Asquith , Paisley

I gather from the speech of the Prime Minister that the Government have, in effect, accepted the Motion now before the House. It matters very little whether the inquiry be confided to a Joint Committee of both Houses or to a Royal Commission, and it is quite obvious that, whichever form of inquiry be adopted, they cannot make recommendations for the future without having regard to the history of the past and to the existing practice. Therefore, I do not think there is anything more than an academic distinction, subject always, of course, to the very important point of who are to be the members of the Commission, between the Motion moved by my hon. Friend and the proposition with which the Prime Minister concluded his speech. The Prime Minister devoted the greater portion of his speech to demolishing two argumentative bogies which, I believe, no one takes seriously at all. The first was the bogey that there should be no connection between the grant of honours and political service, and the second was that contribution to a party fund should be a disqualification for the receipt of an honour. We had nearly a quarter of an hour or 20 minutes expended in the demolition of propositions which no rational person would ever uphold.

I have had a longer continuous experience in connection with this matter of the distribution of honours than any living person, and the House may therefore be indulgent at any rate if I give thorn the results of that experience. Let me say at once and at the outset that, among all the onerous duties which are cast on the Prime Minister of this country, there is none, in my experience, more thankless, more irksome and more invidious than the recommendation of honours to the Crown—worse even than the nomination of Bishops, which ranks high among the incongruous and inconvenient duties which our Constitution imposes upon the Prime Minister. It is a great pleasure, as anyone who has held that office will agree, to be able to offer adequate recognition of the services rendered to the State, not merely by Admirals and Generals, but by those who in the less conspicuous walks of our civil employment, little known to and little appreciated by the great bulk of the nation, enable the work of administration to go on, men such as two or three of those whom I have had the privilege myself of submitting to the consideration of the Sovereign, men like Lord Kilbracken, Lord Hardinge, and Lord Southborough, who, in varied spheres of administration, through successive Governments, without any political partiality or prejudices, have enabled the great work to be carried on. Those are men who, in any Second Chamber that you could possibly create, would add distinction to its Debates and authority to its decisions. Again, as the Prime Minister has stated, it is a great satisfaction to be able, not by elevation to the House of Lords, but in other ways, other conspicuous ways, to acknowledge the enormous contributions made to our national life by the men of science, literature, and of art. That is the pleasant side, and the only pleasant side, of the duty of recommending men for honours. But when you leave that aspect of the case for a moment out of consideration, the duty, as I have said, is a thankless one.

I was responsible myself, during the time that I held the office of Prime Minister, for submitting, I think, no less than nine Birthday Lists to the Sovereign. In one respect my term of office in the discharge of that responsibility was exceptional, for on three occasions, first of all, the occasion of the Coronation in 1911, when I asked the Leaders of the Opposition to recommend an equivalent number to those which were upon my list of men for distinction—I say nothing about that—and in the years 1915 and 1916, when I was at the head of the first Coalition Administration, and my duties and my responsibilities were shared with others; but, leaving these three years out of account, there were six years out of nine in which the responsibility, so far as I was concerned, was sole and undivided. The Prime Minister has very properly, though I think rather unnecessarily, enlarged upon the utility of our traditional rule, observed by every Prime Minister for the last 50 years, at any rate, so far as the political side of the Honours List was concerned, of enduing it, if I may say so. with a slightly party colour, but I should like the House to know, speaking from my own experience, that that colour was by no means uniform. I myself had the honour on more than one occasion—on several occasions—of recommending, for one form of distinction or another, old and inveterate political opponents. For instance, the name has been mentioned in this Debate, that of the present Lord Selborne, and one of the most doughty champions that the Conservative party has ever had in this House, Sir Edward Clarke, whom I had the honour of recommending to the King as a member of the Privy Council, so the list has not been by any means quite so uniform in colour as some people outside might think.

But I will say this—and I say it with the utmost emphasis and, I think I may say, with the clearest conscience—that during the whole of those years, when my lists of honours were often criticised as being humdrum and common-place, studded and even stuffed with mediocrities, I do not remember a single occasion during the whole of that time when the name of any person whom I recommended for distinction by the Crown was adversely commented upon on the ground of unworthiness or of a bad record on the part of the recipient. I am not at all quarrelling with what the Prime Minister said at the end of his speech, that the ultimate responsibility must rest, as it ought to rest, and it can only rest, with the first Minister of the Crown. He cannot divest himself of that. The King is entitled to have his responsibility and his advice in any honour that he gives. A great deal has been said about the relation of honours to party funds. I want to tell the House exactly what I think about that matter In my opinion, from the people who take their politics seriously, and have adequate resources, a contribution up to the limit of their powers to party funds is not only an innocent thing, but it is a matter of obligation. Just think what it means. If you belong to a Church, if you belong to a trade union, if you be- long to any association which is brought together and held together by great purposes, the first duty which is cast upon those who are members of it, is to do what they can, by personal effort and by material contribution, to further its ends. Surely, if that be the case in these other spheres of life, it should also be the case when people in their heart of hearts, and their brain of brains—if they have any—believe that the good government of their country depends upon the practical prosecution to an effective end of great principles of policy? Can there be any duty which is more incumbent than that of making a sacrifice by contributions? In no other way than by propaganda, by fighting elections, and the whole more or less prosaic but absolutely essential work of political organisation, can you secure that which is all essential, first of all the conversion and the adhesion of public opinion, and, next, the Parliamentary instrument of a majority of this House.

The walls of Jericho in these days do not fall before an orchestral blast, even with a choral accompaniment. They have to be sapped and mined, and sapping and mining, under the conditions of modern political strategy, are a more laborious and costly operation. You will never obtain your purpose—I do not care to which party you belong—unless the members of a great political organisation realise that it is not only their right, but their duty to put their hand into their pocket and contribute to party funds. We should never associate ourselves, nor ought any intelligent and sane politician associate himself, with this vulgar claptrap outcry against contributions to party funds. You cannot carry on political life, you cannot organise political warfare, except by these means. To say that a man, because he contributes to a party fund, is thereby, I will not say disqualified, but even prejudiced when the question arises as to who is or is not a fit recipient for honour, is, to my mind, pure pedantry and folly. I repeat that, so far as my knowledge and experience go—and, after all, it is longer than that of anybody else in this country—no honour has ever been conferred by a Prime Minister—I know nothing of what goes on now, but I am perfectly prepared to accept what my right hon. Friend has said—unless he has satisfied himself, as I did always, by the most careful personal inquiry, whether or not a recipient was, on public grounds, qualified and entitled to it.

Holding those views, I welcome most heartily any inquiry. I do not care how far it goes back, and I say so particularly for the reason that no intelligent instrument of inquiry can possibly make fruitful suggestions as to the future unless you go back more or less—I do not say how far—into its history. It is impossible that an intelligent conclusion can be arrived at without that preliminary investigation. I do not make any anticipation—it would be foolish and wrong to do so—as to the form in which the suggestions may ultimately be made, and, therefore, I will not attempt to discuss various hypotheses which have been put forward from that point of view. As I have said, you must have one person ultimately responsible for the advice given to the Sovereign, and that person must, of course, be the first Minister of the Crown. But the more assistance he can get from persons qualified by their experience and their knowledge, their conversance with affairs, to make effective and valuable contributions in the way of counsel and advice, the better. I should have been very glad on many occasions, when one's own means of information and opportunities of inquiry under the pressure of great public anxieties and duties were obviously insufficient, to have such assistance from such a quarter, and I am glad to think, from what the Prime Minister has said, that at this moment there is practically no difference of opinion whatever in this House, first of all, that there should be such an inquiry; secondly, that it should only be limited by what the Committee or the Commission themselves determine; and, finally, that whatever conclusions are arrived at, it will be, I will not say necessarily, accepted in advance, but an important alleviation of the burdens of the Prime Minister, and, which is more important from the public point of view, be regarded as providing an adequate safeguard against possible abuses, and a real sifting of the qualifications of those who are recommended to the favour of the Crown.

6.0 p.m.

Photo of Mr John Clynes Mr John Clynes , Manchester Platting

This Motion raises a very narrow issue. Whatever we may think of the issue itself, whatever point of view we may express upon it, it does submit clearly a position readily understood, and makes a demand which cannot leave us in any doubt. The Motion before the House asks for two things—for consideration to be given to the present method of submitting names for honours, and for a report to show in what way we can secure that such honours shall only be given as a reward for public service. One would have thought, in regard to the charge underlying this Motion, that the Government, having clean hands in the matter, having nothing to fear with regard to its future intentions, and nothing to conceal with regard to its past, would readily accept this Motion, and have steps taken upon the lines of the two points which alone it expresses. On the contrary, judging from the speech of the Prime Minister, the whole system of effective party government is involved in this seemingly harmless Motion; indeed, the reason why Germany lost the War was that she had not a political system which enabled her to confer titles for private gifts, and that the future stable government of this country depends upon the maintenance of the present method of secretly securing large sums of money from men of large means. Those are the conclusions which are to be drawn from the speech of the Prime Minister. I say that if the party system of government has to depend upon the kind of traffic which has been so often impugned in this House, that party system had better go. But I do not believe that any Member of the House was able to go with the Prime Minister to the length of the conclusions which he drew from his arguments. There is scarcely any subject in this House which can be raised without reference to some previous or like discussion upon a similar theme, and so the Prime Minister can remind us that this is only the old, old story; that 50 years ago or 30 years ago, or at some remote period, this subject was under discussion, and, therefore, the Administration of the day must not be regarded as the only offender. But the question is not is this the old, old story, but whether this story is true, and in what way can the truth be revealed both to the House of Commons and to the country. We have all noticed the taunts that are levelled, at times un- justly, against the politicians. Political services, when given in a disinterested manner, no matter by whom, are services as honourable and as vital to our national life and welfare as any form of service in any sphere of life. I value—if I may say so—the description of politician, but I want to have it rid of the taints and taunts which now attach to it, because clearly, on the admission of the Prime Minister to-day, party and political, and even Governmental, machinery have been used to receive private gifts, either for prospective or actual dignities to be conferred upon certain persons.

Photo of Mr David Lloyd George Mr David Lloyd George , Caernarvon District of Boroughs

The right hon. Gentleman must not take it that I said that.

Photo of Mr John Clynes Mr John Clynes , Manchester Platting

I draw that conclusion from what the Prime Minister has said. It was the thread of his argument. If not, I make it as a charge. The cause of public resentment has not arisen because of an odd case. The discussion provoked by these odd cases is really of secondary importance. Not only suspicion but disgust has arisen because of the large number of titles scattered of recent years, and because they have fallen in many instances to Press-men and to organisers of publicity services, whose work has been done, not in support of principles, but in support of the party caucas and the Government, no mattter how frequently that Government, has altered its course.

I observe the Lord Chancellor, speaking on this subject, and of the number of titles which have brought men into another place, admitted frankly that a very great increase had been made in quite recent times. So we now have a second Chamber equalling or exceeding in number our own. We have more than 700 Peers. It is true that many of them never come near the place, and never intended to. They have served no apprenticeship and have given no political or public service. They have acquired no fitness for the arduous tasks of Parliamentary Government. How, for instance, comes it that three members of the directorate of a great distilling interest have recently found their way there? What signal public services have they performed to make their path to the other place so secure? Lord Carson, in another place, went this length in a quite recent discussion: I have had more than once in my Chambers to advise on cases in which I have examined long correspondence which showed that there was a regular brokerage, however conducted, for the purpose of carrying out and obtaining honours. Lord Carson was a member of the Government of the Prime Minister. That is a very serious statement which I have quoted, and one which the Prime Minister ought not to ignore. Here in the House of Lords a recently-created peer of great political distinction and legal eminence said that in the course of his business he has had correspondence which informs him that there has been a regular brokerage in this matter of carrying out and obtaining honours. Lest there should be little in the statement of Lord Carson, let me go higher and quote a declaration of the Duke of Northumberland. He said: It has come to his knowledge that there was a considerable number of persons in this country who wrote to other people saying they were authorised to approach them with a view to their obtaining an honour in exchange for a contribution to the party funds. He had several of these letters in his possession and he could produce them if necessary. I hope that the Duke of Northumberland will be called to produce the documentary evidence which is in his possession in any inquiry that results as a consequence of the debate in which we are engaged. There can be no truth revealed in this matter unless there be the fullest and most frank inquiry. I can imagine that no inquiry will reveal the truth unless reliable evidence can be adduced that may be subject to full examination. It is clear to anyone who reflects for a moment that every man who has sought honours, or men who for money have received them are not themselves likely to volunteer knowledge of those facts. But, according to the Prime Minister's admission, there is in the keeping of the Patronage Secretary certain documentary evidence as to financial transactions relating to these honours and that evidence ought to be produced. The effect of an investigation of this kind will only deepen the suspicion which now exists, not merely in this House, but in the country. In short the real question is: are cheques required for political funds from interested parties either before or after titles are given to them? That question has not been in any way satisfactorily answered by the speech of the Prime Minister. In my judgment there are two governing conditions, two outstanding principles, which ought to be followed in respect to any of these distinctions.

Under no circumstances should honours be conferred either for purely political services or for pay. To use the functions of Government to fill the coffers of the party is to degrade and besmirch politics. We have heard a great deal about the decline of politics in the public estimation. After to-morrow I think millions of people will have read between the lines of what was expressed by the Prime Minister in the course of his speech. Nor do I think the granting of honours in perpetuity can be defended. What ground can there be for giving honours to some because their fathers preceded them? Give them—if you are going to give them—not for these, or for reasons of marriage, but for merit! One can understand honours for services, yes: but to give the father who has done something for his country a title that may descend to his son who may be a totally worthless and undeserving person is a course so indefensible that I am surprised that any attempt is made to defend it. A distinction conferred for services ought not to become a title or a privilege for another person. Hereditary titles are totally inconsistent with our present-day democratic circumstances.

Some slight information was given by the Prime Minister to the House as to the lists. I therefore draw his attention to the fact of how little recognition there has been by successive Governments of great merits and enormous public services. The Civil Service for long has had a prescriptive right to title and distinction. Men in the Civil Service were honoured apart from their work and the value of their services to the State. The incompetent have been treated as nicely as the gifted. What can be said of a system which means that a certain civil servant, because of custom or rule, because some predecessor had a title, should also have one? What can be said of a system which gives an honour because he has over a certain number of years done certain work and not on the grounds of any special gifts or services at all? Nor do I think that the great municipal authorities, the great outside, but still important national and county organisations, and the great cooperative bodies, have had anything like the same recognition of their value as has been conferred upon others. Do not let hon. Members misunderstand me. I am not asking for any special favour for the leaders of the great co-operative movement. If I did so they themselves would be the first to resent it. But I would point out the fact that while scores and scores of distinctions, knighthoods, and so on, have been conferred upon the heads of private business houses, companies, and trading concerns, men who have rendered no outstanding political or national service at all—while, I say, scores of these honours have been conferred upon these who have served private interests, in only three instances has any distinction of that kind been conferred upon the leaders of the great co-operative movement.

Not so much by his admission as by what he left us to infer has the Prime Minister admitted the whole case which is aimed at in this Motion on the Order Paper. I did not expect that the Prime Minister could himself have kept up such an appearance of innocence in asking the House to agree to the nice distinction which he drew. The Prime Minister, we were told, ought not to know of any monetary transaction. That is never brought before his notice. Indeed, according to the Prime Minister—I quote his language—that is as it should be. That must be left to others. How can that rule, that line of attack, enable any Prime Minister fully to discharge his obligations to his Sovereign or accept the full responsibility which his office confers upon him? The Prime Minister is answerable for the conferment of these distinctions. It is before, and not after, any criticism or revelation that the Prime Minister should acquaint himself with any financial or other taint that may attach to any particular name recommended by him. It is not enough for the Prime Minister to tell us that he does not know of these financial transactions. I suppose it would not be proper for me to ask whether the right hon. Gentleman sitting beside him (Mr. McCurdy) gave any information to him in respect to any inside knowledge of this side of the case. Perhaps my right hon. Friend (Mr, McCurdy) will be willing to inform us during the course of this Debate. I am not seeking to score any party point when I assert that those of us who have responsibility, particularly at the head of a Parliamentary party, must go deeper into this matter than our predecessors in regard to the evil influences which crept into party conditions in this country when power was much more restricted in the number of men who possessed it, and when the electorate was too small and Parliamentary institutions were far removed from the millions of the masses of the people. These evil influences should not benefit by being perpetuated or improved upon on the financial side, which is the main part of the charges levelled against the Government.

In sustaining his argument in this regard, the Prime Minister argued that in this respect the Labour party stood in a favoured financial position, and, therefore other parties, not having our methods, must have recourse to secret gifts of money from wealthy men. In this matter we have sought no favouritism, and the parties who support the Government are quite free to follow our methods if they wish. They have hundreds of institutions, and there are thousands of clubs and associations throughout the country which claim to represent a great body of opinion, and they do. Let them test the genuineness of that opinion by asking their main body of supporters to give them a few coppers per year in support of their political service. That will be imitating what is done by the Labour party. In all these matters of money the Labour party does what it does in the light of day. Nor is there any compulsion in regard to the payment of contributions by working men for a political purpose.

It may be that the Prime Minister has been too long absent from the regular Debates of this House to be well-informed on this matter. I would therefore like to inform him that before any body of workers can pay a contribution to a political fund they must voluntarily declare their willingness to do it, and any man who is not willing and who may have voted against it, or for other reasons is opposed to subscribing for a political purpose can easily secure exemption on the grounds of a conscientious objection or for other reasons, and then he does not need to pay a single copper for a political purpose. Instead of criticising the Labour party in this respect, it would be much better for those who possess all this wealth to follow the example set by the Labour party and get their money in exactly the same way. Instead of this, titled political leaders in this House are now trying by means of the law to destroy the political revenues of Labour, but that revenue is quite secure.

Photo of Mr James Hope Mr James Hope , Sheffield Central

That can hardly be in order on this Motion.

Photo of Mr John Clynes Mr John Clynes , Manchester Platting

If I am restrained from pointing out the fact that the line which the Labour party is permitted to pursue is being resisted, and that efforts are being made to prevent the revenues of Labour being derived, as they now are, by contributions of workmen previously agreed to by ballot, then I regret it. The Prime Minister kept until the close of his speech the alternative to be followed by the Government in regard to this Motion, but he made no effort to show any real distinction between these two proposals. If there is a distinction, it should have been clearly drawn, and sound reasons should have been adduced for the Amendment which has been suggested. If there are no such reasons, what can be the objection to the Government accepting the Motion as it appears on the Order Paper.

We know clearly what the Motion means. It provides for the appointment of a Committee selected from both Houses; it describes its duty and defines its object. These are really objects which any Government with clean hands should readily support instead of offering a form of resistance such as that suggested by the Amendment. We were told by the Prime Minister that when Prime Ministers went wrong in this respect they could be called to account by the House of Commons, and the House of Commons was reminded of its duty. That, however, is the one thing which the Government will not allow this House of Commons to do. If we are to be the judge, then it must be a free judgment, and we must know and be told that no pains or penalties will follow if we exercise our unrestricted judgment, and vote for or against this Motion as hon. Members may choose. But this is not to be a free vote and it will not be the judgment of the House. It is going to be a vote given under the crack of the party whip. Considering that not only the Prime Minister's politics, but, to some extent, his honour, is being impugned by this Motion, I should have thought that the least he could have done was to have left this matter to the free judgment of the House.

Photo of Mr Henry Croft Mr Henry Croft , Bournemouth

I have taken very great interest in this subject for some years past, and have, in consequence, lost a few friends and made a few enemies. Consequently, I am very much encouraged to find that, whereas those who pursued this course in the past were described as "cranks," the number has now increased to something like 300 Members of Parliament. The Prime Minister spent a great deal of his time in a clever dissertation which seemed to be very far removed from the Resolution itself. We heard, for instance, a very fine piece of rhetoric asking us if we wanted to abolish the party system?

Photo of Mr David Lloyd George Mr David Lloyd George , Caernarvon District of Boroughs

Not the party system, but party honours.

Photo of Mr Henry Croft Mr Henry Croft , Bournemouth

I have not heard anyone suggest that, because a man was a good party man, he should not be rewarded. The right hon. Gentleman asked how far we wanted to go back into the past? If I were sure that the future would be secure, I do not care about the past at all, but I think it is the duty of this House to see that the scandal will not occur again in the future. We have heard an extraordinary argument addressed to the Labour party, which, as far as I can understand it, was an incitement to them, that when they eventually took office, they also should become sellers of honours. There is no other explanation of the Prime Minister's speech, which practically told the Labour party to be careful about abandoning this system, because he said that when they came into power, they would want it. That means that they should do away with their "voluntary compulsory" party fund system, and adopt the method now in force. If we continue to tolerate a system which we believe has a corrupt tendency, it is inconceivable that in the long run you will not find some manipulator of that system who himself will prove to be corrupt. I do not suppose there is any hon. Member of this House who will deny my statement when I say that the British Empire has largely obtained its great position in the world owing to the high traditions and the noble principles of our public life, at any rate, for several generations past. I admit that so long as you have patronage there is likely to be some financial consideration in the bestowal of honours. I admit that you cannot get rid of patronage, but I do say that at least we can safeguard our patronage system against the gross abuse which has recently been so evident, The Prime Minister this evening gave us a very interesting account of the happenings of the past. I could understand him using that argument if he had been, like myself, described as a "reactionary."

Photo of Mr Henry Croft Mr Henry Croft , Bournemouth

Yes, but I am defending the Prime Minister. I suggest that he is a Liberal and a creator of new worlds, but I think the right hon. Gentleman stultifies himself when he comes here and tries to justify his action by the dark and murky past to which he has referred. There is one point I wish to make clear. I have noticed in one or two newspapers it has been suggested that because a man is rich he should not receive honours. There must be a good many names which will immediately occur to every hon. Member of gentlemen who have created great industries, and who, by their enlightened policy—there are cases where men have had the means and have been able to develop great and fine housing schemes, and have done great things for the advancement of civilisation—who have commanded the attention of those who desire to recognise work of that kind in whatever quarter it may occur.

I do not think anybody would argue that because a man is rich he should be excluded from honours any more than he should be excluded because he is poor. What I understand is demanded by those who are taking part in this movement, is that that should not be the sole reason. The mere fact that a man is able to give a big, fat cheque should not be the sole reason for receiving the title, or, at any rate, it should not be the reason which should persuade the Prime Minister to recommend his name, but, in addition, he should in character be above reproach. I am sure there is nobody who takes a pride in our institutions who has not been shocked by the public rebuke offered to the Prime Minister of this country by the Parliament of the Dominion of Canada. I am sure, also, that no one can be pleased that great discourtesy was possible by which a South African was offered a peerage without ever consulting the Prime Minister of that Dominion, or any responsible person in the Dominion.

Unfortunately, there is much worse than that. Recently, I would remind the House, one of the greatest public servants of our country was vilely assassinated, and I presume it is now readily admitted on all hands that he was one of the greatest contributors to, if not the greatest organiser of, victory in the later stages of the War. In the eyes of a grateful country, he was created a Baronet for his wonderful service to the Empire and to the Allies, but, within a year of that, on the recommendation of the Prime Minister, another gentleman was created a Baronet who happened to have been convicted of the most serious case of food hoarding during the whole of the War, and on whom the heavy penalty known in the War was inflicted. [HON. MEMBERS: "Name?"] I am prepared to give the name if necessary, but I would rather not, and I will tell hon. Members why. I have mentioned it four times in this House, and I do not want to go on inflicting pain upon these persons, because it is the system which is wrong, and the Prime Minister is wrong in not protecting himself against such names being submitted to him. I am prepared to give evidence on oath before a Royal Commission of at least six cases, and I am prepared to give the Prime Minister the name of anyone to whom I may refer this evening. When I questioned the Prime Minister, as I did on several occasions, with regard to this particular case, I was told that this food hoarder was a gentleman who built ships so very quickly for the Government, and I reply that he built ships no more speedily than the fortune which he built up in the time of his country's sufferings.

I would ask the House to bear with me while I mention two other cases. One is that of a man of great fortune who was appointed, or got himself appointed, representative on a tribunal for military service, and he used his position to gain exemption for his son and another very near relative. The whole neighbourhood was scandalised, and I myself received something like 130 letters on the subject, many from poor people. I was asked how could they be expected to fight Bolshevism while this kind of thing went on. The gentleman was created a Baronet on the recommendation of the Prime Minister. In the third case the gentleman during the War was declared guilty of rendering false accounts. A judge and jury found him guilty of fraud. He was made a Knight. I am prepared to give to a Royal Commission the name, but I do not see that any good purpose is served by merely causing pain among the relations of the persons to whom I refer. I have caused enough already.

These cases have been chosen at random, but they point out that we have already gone to some depths. In this matter of the grant of honours, I submit, our country has been dishonoured. Assuming for the sake of argument that the Prime Minister was totally unaware of the facts of these cases. What are we to say of a system which permits him on his sole responsibility to submit such names to his Sovereign as worthy of the highest reward 1 We are grateful from what we have heard this evening, that the Government realise that something must be done. I would have thought, the burden being so great that the Prime Minister cannot personally inquire into these matters, that the right hon. Gentleman would have welcomed with both hands the Resolution we are putting forward to-day as the most speedy means of relieving himself of his trouble. In these cases I have referred to I am afraid it is true, unconsciously it may be, innocently it may be, but nevertheless it is the fact that the chief guardian of the fountain of honour has himself polluted the very wells which should be crystal clear. I think it will be agreed that the position is intolerable, and some of us, at any rate, will never rest until the Throne is protected from these indignities which it has suffered in recent years.

It is no good the Prime Minister coming here, and saying, "Look at the past, I am no worse than Walpole or James I was," or anything of that kind. That is not what we want. We know that as far as modern history is concerned there have in recent years been more grave causes for complaint than ever in our Imperial and political history. I take a very great deal of interest in this question, and I have received as much evidence on it as most Members of this House. I wish the right hon. Member for Paisley (Mr. Asquith) were here. During his Administration, it is true, there were certain cases sent along to him which proved fairly conclusively that it was a very substantial contribution to the party funds that had caused those persons to be recipients of honours, but not in one single case did we find that a name was submitted of a man who had been condemned by a judge in a Court of Law, or had been ostracised by Society, or was thought to be unfit for such an honour. It is only fair that that should be said. When the Prime Minister comes down and says, "What can you expect? Among our creations were 400 of the soldiers and sailors of the country," I think he is attempting to draw a red herring across the path. There were seven or eight Peers only granted to the Army and Navy in the greatest War in modern times. If the right hon. Gentleman referred to a number of K.C.B.s and K.C.M.G.s, then not a single member of this House wants to question the honours granted during the War to the men who presented their skins to the enemy. But they form quite a different class from those who merely enriched themselves at the expense of their countrymen.

One more word with regard to the Press. I am sorry the Prime Minister has had to go. I know a man cannot live by words alone, and that it is necessary for him to go to the Tea Room to refresh himself, but I hope the Leader of the House will ask this question of the right hon. Gentleman, as I cannot do it myself. It is an important question. Is there a single newspaper, a single great newspaper in this country, which has supported the Prime Minister consistently for a whole year, which has not been rewarded, either through its proprietor or through its editor? I will be grateful if that question is answered. I would remind the House of what Lord Beacons-field said, I think it was in one of his novels, namely, that one of the greatest dangers of this country was that a Prime Minister might arise who would assume a dictatorship by corrupting the Press. I do not wish to suggest that the Press has been corrupted, but I will say this, there have been cases where, after the proprietor of a newspaper has been ennobled, he has kicked over the traces—it may be only from a desire to get the title of marquis on the occasion of the next birthday honours. I am not bringing any general charge. I merely say that the Press was not more patriotic in the War than any other industry in this country, and why should the whole of them have received this shower of honours and of hereditary titles in this matter? Is it good for the health of the country I Are we really going to be a better country if the Prime Minister of the day from time to time is going to offer rewards to all newspapers that happen to give him political support?

There are three points which seem to be emphasised in this Debate. The first is that it should be impossible for a man of bad character to be given a title. I think I have proved there are men unfit to black the boots of a private soldier in the trenches who have been lifted to the ranks of chivalry over their fellows. Secondly, no man should receive a title unless it is clearly given for services which entitle him to be rewarded over his fellows. There is no explanation in many cases except that these men have subscribed to party funds. The third point is that steps should be taken to prevent the wholesale grant of titles to a Press which supports the Prime Minister of the day. I understand that the Government have practically agreed to a suggestion I made some time ago that an inquiry should be made as to whether there is anything wrong. But what the House wants to know is what are going to be the terms of reference. Is it to be a Royal Commission which is to have the same power as a Joint Committee of the two Houses would have? That is very important. Is it going to be a real Commission or a sham Commission? Can it call evidence? Am I to be permitted to give evidence before it, as I and some of my hon. Friends desire to do in order to improve the present state of affairs? Great interest is taken in this question throughout the country at the present time, and it is because there has been a most flagrant neglect of duty in this matter. If the names had been submitted to Scotland Yard for one moment, if the "Police Court News" had been exam- ined, the Prime Minister would have known that many of these people on whom honours has been conferred had failed as good citizens in this country, and it is because these cast's have become more and more flagrant in recent times that we not only say that the Prime Minister must be protected from this kind of thing, but that our bounden duty is, as loyal citizens, to prevent the Crown being subjected to indignities of this description in days to come.

Photo of Mr George Lane-Fox Mr George Lane-Fox , Barkston Ash

I think the House will congratulate my hon. Friends who have brought forward this Motion on the concluding words of the Prime Minister's speech. If they have not obtained the actual form of inquiry for which they asked, they have obtained a promise of a Royal Commission. While, however, that will gratify the great majority of the House, I think a great many will agree with me that the speech which immediately preceded it was most regrettable. Why is it necessary to grant an inquiry in this grudging manner? I was prepared to agree that this Government is no more culpable directly in this matter than any other, but, surely, the speech of the Prime Minister, and all this reluctance to grant this inquiry, suggest the conclusion that there was a great deal more in the background. The Prime Minister practically warned us that there was a possibility that this inquiry might be dangerous. He is very adroit, but I very much regret that his speech was one that must have given the impression that he regretted the inquiry, that he did not think it would do much good and might do serious harm. What harm can be done? What is wanted is that the public should be reassured, and who can deny that there is very grave uneasiness on this matter among the general public?

The Prime Minister adopted a very common form of argument, which is generally associated with debaters who have not a very good case to defend. He attacked two or three different arguments which no one had used against him. He suggested that my hon. Friends had declared that in no case ought a man who has given any financial support to his party to be rewarded with an honour. Both my hon. Friends, however, distinctly and deliberately said that they did not hold that view. Then the Prime Minis- ter suggested that the argument had been used that no man who had rendered political services ought to be given an honour; but, again, that was one of the things which my two hon. Friends distinctly said they did not suggest. The Prime Minister was at great pains to point out what I should have thought everyone knew, namely, that it was impossible for him personally to go into the career of every man who was recommended for an honour. Everyone knows that ho cannot, and that it does not depend upon the Prime Minister himself always, but upon those who serve him; but quite recently there was an undoubted scandal in a case which someone, surely, ought to have reviewed. I do not want to dig up the mud of the past, or to make sensational disclosures, or anything of that sort, but I think the public would be much more reassured if in such a case as that of Sir J. Robinson the person responsible for the blunder had been dismissed or had resigned. The fact is that, unless the Prime Minister is honestly served by men who are perfectly honest and above-board in these matters, these things will happen. On the matter of choosing whom to blame among those who servo the Prime Minister, it is not for me to remark, but several things haw, happened lately which have caused very general public disquiet, and I think the whole House will be glad that the Government, in spite of their manifest unwillingness, have come to this conclusion.

There are one or two questions about which I should like to ask. We have been told, as I understand, the terms of reference. I should like to know if they are the settled terms—whether they are the absolute terms of reference which are going to be submitted to the Royal Commission, or whether they are only a sort of general indication. Then, although there are obvious advantages about procedure by Royal Commission, it has one disadvantage. If you want to give real confidence to the public, you must have an absolutely independent body, and if the Government are prepared, as I am sure they wish, to appoint to that Commission men as to whom it is not possible for the public to have any suspicion at all, then we shall have got the body we want; but a Royal Commission, unlike a Select Committee of both Houses, is entirely nominated by the Government, and that is the drawback which I see to the practice of employing a Royal Commission for such a purpose. I do not suppose that the Government can give us the names, but if they will assure us, as, indeed, the Prime Minister already has, that they really wish to appoint men who are absolutely above suspicion, whose names will appeal to the general public, there is reason to hope that the inquiry will give general satisfaction, and, after all, that is our real object.

It is obvious that something must be done. As has been so often emphasised, the mere fact that this kind of suspicion has lasted for so many years is the strongest and best reason for bringing forward this Motion. If once we allow it to become so rooted in our political system that it becomes recognised as an axiom, we shall never get rid of it. As long as there are snobs in the world, it will always be the easiest way for party agents and party whips to get their political funds in this way. They may say that it is impossible to avoid it, but we have to show them a way in which it can be avoided. Members of the Labour party inform us that they would recommend their system to us. If, when the Royal Commission sits, the Labour party will be prepared to show them their books in every detail, and explain exactly where their funds come from, I am sure the Royal Commission will be glad.

Photo of Mr Neil Maclean Mr Neil Maclean , Glasgow Govan

They are published every year.

Photo of Mr George Lane-Fox Mr George Lane-Fox , Barkston Ash

I do not wish to go into that question, but would conclude by saying that, if we can satisfy the general public that there is no risk of any such scandal as has been suggested ever occurring again, this Debate will have been well worth while. Politicians are not very highly thought of in this country, but, at least, I think they stand higher than in many other countries, and that is due to our having a higher sense of duty, and to there being a large number of men who are prepared to serve their country without thinking of what they are likely to get from it. To allow honours to become so depreciated that they cease to have any real value to the man who has served his country would be the worst thing that we could possibly do.

Photo of Lord Robert Cecil Lord Robert Cecil , Hitchin

I do not desire to trespass upon the House for more than a very few moments, partly for reasons which are personal to myself. In listening to the Prime Minister's speech, I confess that I felt some of the uneasiness which, apparently, affected my hon. Friend who has just sat down. I could not help feeling, in the first place, that I did not quite like the insistence which the Prime Minister laid upon the necessity of having large party funds. It may be true, but, in connection with this Debate, I cannot help thinking that it is likely to produce considerable disquiet in the country when people read that long passage in which the Prime Minister explained the enormous importance of party organisation, pointing out, as I understood it, that you could not have party organisation without political honours, and finishing by explaining that party organisation was necessarily a costly matter, and that, therefore, large subscriptions must be received from somebody, in order to keep it going. I think that that was an unfortunate and a disquieting argument. What most disquieted me, however, was the curious irrelevance of the greater part of the Prime Minister's speech. I really think that an intelligent foreigner hearing, I will not say all, but three-fourths of it, would not have had the least idea as to what was the real Motion before the House. All the long historical disquisition as to the difference in corruption between the days of Walpole and the days of Pitt, all the elaborate disquisition as to the importance of party funds from a public point of view, either had no bearing on this Motion at all, or else a bearing of a very sinister character.

Let us be quite clear what it is that we are discussing to-day. We are discussing the popular belief that there is a certain amount of corruption in the way in which honours are given. That is the plain English of it. Do not let us underrate the importance of the charge. It is that subscriptions to party funds are given in order to obtain honours, and are successful in that object. That is the charge, and a very serious charge it is, as I am sure everyone in the House will agree. It is not merely a charge of discreditable practice, as the Prime Minister called it; it is a charge of actual corruption. It means not only the degradation of the honours themselves—and, personally, I think that that is a serious matter—but something much more serious. It means that someone or other, not necessarily the Prime Minister himself, but some of his advisers, are allowing their judgment and sense of official duty to be swayed by the transfer of money for a particular purpose, though that purpose may be unavowed. If that be allowed to continue, and if that impression be not corrected authoritatively, it must mean the increasing degradation of public life.

I confess that I listened with a certain amount of anxiety to all the elaborate disquisition to the effect that subscriptions to party funds are necessary. So they may be—that they may be often admirable So they may be. Let us also remember, however, that the whole system is exceedingly dangerous and exceedingly insidious, and may easily lead to a very grave and serious evil. It is quite true that if a man give a sum of money to a party fund, that is not to exclude him necessarily from honour. It is quite true, if you like to say so, that that in itself is a praiseworthy act. But if it once become understood that subscriptions to party funds will be followed by the granting of honours, you are very far down the slope that leads to corruption.

The next step will unquestionably be an understanding beforehand that the man shall receive the reward, and then, perhaps, the deliberate promise that, if he will give so much, he shall receive such-and-such an honour. I do not know at all—I am not in the least in a position to know—how far the general impression that some such practice does prevail, and has for some time prevailed, is right or not. Nor do I know whether it be true or not that it is getting worse, that it is getting more unashamed, more blatant. But that that impression exists now in the public mind it is simple folly for us in this House to deny We know it. We hear, everyone of us who keeps his ears open, constant stories—very likely many of them quite mtrue—and we observe the immense increase of honours during the last few years, which is not explained by the War. Putting aside all the War honours, you still have an enormous increase, and the increase is not accounted for by honours granted to soldiers and sailors. The great mass are what are called business men and poli- ticians and, though I am by no means prepared to say that neither of these classes should have honours. Yet it is not true that the increase of honours is accounted for by the War. Then, of course, we have the relatively few instances of gross miscarriages in these public functions in the recent peerages of which mention has been made.

7.0 p.m.

I am not going to attempt to enlarge on these topics, but I am more anxious to come to the definite proposals which the Government have made. Undoubtedly what is mainly desired is not the raking up of past scandal, but security for the good administration of this patronage in the future. I do not agree that there are only a few and difficult plans which might be adopted. There are many plans which might be considered, but I quite agree that none of them can be usefully considered hero. It must be by a separate and an impartial inquiry. As I listened to the Prime Minister's explanation, I did not quite understand why he did not simply accept the Motion on the Paper. I have read it more than once, and it seems to me that the reference is very adequate. Inquiry by a Joint Committee is, after all, the usual inquiry made in a subject of great difficulty in which both Houses are interested. I heard the Prime Minister say that, since this is a matter of Prerogative, it must be done by Royal Commission. It is not a matter of Prerogative. It is not that we are questioning the Royal Prerogative at all. We are questioning the method by which names are submitted to the Crown for the grant of honours. That is a totally different thing. The Royal Prerogative is not in question at all. Therefore, I do not quite understand why it is necessary to proceed by a Royal Commission. At the same time, as far as I personally am concerned, I will accept a Royal Commission or any other tribunal, provided there are guarantees, upon which this House can rely, that this inquiry is to be a real one, and not a means, as some Royal Commissions have been, of hushing up a difficult question. That is the real essential, and that is the thing we ought practically to insist upon before we part from this Motion.

Photo of Mr Frederick Banbury Mr Frederick Banbury , City of London

The Royal Commission ought also to have power to take evidence on oath.

Photo of Lord Robert Cecil Lord Robert Cecil , Hitchin

I am very glad of my right hon. Friend's assistance, in case I should leave something out. I was going to mention that. I know the right hon. Gentleman takes a very great interest in this subject. His experience of this House is enormous, and his knowledge of the Constitution of the country is unequalled. There are several things on which we ought to be quite clear. I agree with my right hon. Friend that we must be quite sure that this Commission has the power of making the inquiry a real one. A Royal Commission, normally, has no such pewer. It cannot compel the attendance of any witness, and cannot take evidence on oath.

Photo of Mr Frederick Banbury Mr Frederick Banbury , City of London

I think under the Tribunals Act of last year, if there be a Resolution of both Houses, and only if there be a Resolution of both Houses.

Photo of Lord Robert Cecil Lord Robert Cecil , Hitchin

I agree. I have the Act here, have looked it up, and I was just going to refer to it. Normally, a Royal Commission, properly so called, apart from the Tribunals Act of last year, cannot compel the attendance of witnesses and production of papers. Such an inquiry really would be only a kind of burking. I do not think it is reasonable to ask this House to be satisfied with an inquiry of that kind. I should like to know from the Government if it is proposed to utilise the Act of last year, in order to confer on the Royal Commission the power of making an inquiry on oath, and of compelling the attendance of persons and papers? That is the first point.

I happen, by the courtesy of somebody or other on the other side, to have seen the Terms of Reference, but the House has not seen or considered them. I imagine they will be laid on the Table of the House, and that some opportunity will be afforded for criticising them—I do not mean necessarily by a Debate, but that some way or other will be found, if it be thought they do not go sufficiently far. I have them here, and will read them— To consider and advise on the procedure to be adopted in future to assist the Prime Minister in making his recommendations— and so on. I observe, in the Motion before us to-day, the words to consider the present methods of submitting names of persons…and to report what changes, if any, are desirable… I should like to know why the wording of the Motion has been departed from, and the new wording adopted. I do not see how an inquiry into the future can possibly be effective without some inquiry into the past, but I confess I am a little disquieted by the fact that there is a change—and evidently a deliberate change—from the terms of the Motion. I should like to know whether the Government will not adopt, as their Terms of Reference, substantially the terms of the Motion on the Paper?

There is another difference between a Royal Commission and a Select Committee. A Royal Commission is practically nominated by the Government of the day. A Select Committee has to be approved by this House. My hon. Friend the Member for Barkston Ash (Mr. Lane-Fox) commented on the obvious reluctance of the Prime Minister to grant this inquiry. I think that is true, and, indeed, the course of this question has shown that the Government were very reluctant. At first they said they would not give the time for discussion, and only when they found the pressure was very strong did we get them to this point. I hope I am not unduly suspicious if I say I should very much like to know, before the House finally parts with control over this matter, who are to be the Royal Commission. I do not know whether there are any other things which my right hon. Friend the Member for the City of London (Sir F. Banbury), or any hon. Members taking a great deal of interest in this matter, think ought to be suggested, but I should like to be satisfied on that point. This is a very serious matter, affecting not only the reputation of the Government, but affecting indeed, the respect of the country for the whole system under which we live. Corruption, in any form, however slight, however seemingly innocent, is the great danger of all forms of Government, not least of a democracy. We cannot afford to disregard this matter. It is one of a very, very serious character. If, as a result of this Debate, the country should form an impression that there was a great deal of lip service to the desire for a change in the matter, but that no really effective steps had been taken, I am satisfied there would be very grave and serious disappointment throughout the country. We must not give any excuse to any person to say that we have been hushing this matter up. Therefore, I earnestly hope the House will insist that the terms of reference should be adequate; that the powers of the Royal Commission should also be adequate; and that the House should be informed, before they are finally settled, of the names of the persons whom it is proposed to recommend to His Majesty for appointment on the Royal Commission.

Photo of Mr Frederick Banbury Mr Frederick Banbury , City of London

The late Lord Salisbury described a Royal Commission as "the best method of shelving a question," and we must be careful that we do not fall into the pit which may be ready dug for us. I am glad my Noble Friend the Member for Hitchin (Lord R. Cecil) has brought forward the question of whether or not the Royal Commission can take evidence on oath, and can compel the attendance of witnesses. Up to last year, they could not do so without a Bill. Last year, as I understand it, an Act was passed which gave them that power, provided that a Resolution of both Houses be passed saying that it was a matter of urgent public importance. Therefore, the first thing we have to find out is whether the Government will either pass that Resolution in both Houses, or bring in a Bill which will give the required power to a Royal Commission. I understand that in another place it has been decided that the composition of the Royal Commission shall be submitted to Members of that House—to the leaders of the two political parties in that House. Are the names of the Royal Commission going to be submitted to anybody in this House? I think they ought to be submitted to the leaders of the various groups in this House. Unless that be done, we might just as well never have had this Debate at all. Unless that is done, and especially unless the Chairman is an active man, we may find that the Royal Commission will go on for three or four years. By that time, the whole matter will have been forgotten, and probably a milk-and-water report will be the result.

In his speech this afternoon the Prime Minister went at great length into the iniquities of the past. Among other things, he informed the House that in 1894 the same sort of agitation arose. I was a Member of the House of Commons in 1894, and I perfectly well remember what happened. The Liberal party of that day had announced that they did not intend to make any more peers. They had said they were opposed to the House of Lords, and did not intend to make any more peers. When that Parliament was drawing to a close, Lord Rosebery, who had succeeded Mr. Gladstone, refused to make any peers, and the late Mr. Labouchere had various pictures in "Truth," of ploughing the sands, and of three flowers growing up, which were three peers eventually made by Lord Rosebery, notwithstanding the statement by the Liberal party that they would not create peers. I do not remember who was the third, but the other two were both Members of this House. They were not very distinguished people, but there was nothing against them. There was nothing against them, and that is a very different thing from the gentlemen who have been honoured during the last three or four years. The Prime Minister acquiesced in the Resolution, arrived at in the House of Lords in October, 1917, that a full and accurate account should be given of the reasons why people were created peers. I have here the account given in the "London Gazette" of why Lord Vestey was created a peer: Managing director of the Union Cold Storage Company, Limited. Has devoted his life to the production and preservation of food supplies by refrigeration, and has opened up numerous new sources of supply of refrigerated products from various parts of the world that have materially helped to cheapen the food supply of the people. Rendered immense services during the War to the country, and provided, gratuitously, the cold storage accommodation required for war purposes at Havre, Boulogne, and Dunkirk. I asked the Secretary of State for War to-day whether any sum of money or other consideration was awarded by arbitration or otherwise to Lord Vestey for the use of his cold storage stores in France during the War? This was the answer: I have no information of any payment being made to Lord Vestey for the use of his cold storage in France. Payments were made to the Union Cold Storage Company for the use of cold storage buildings in Havre and Boulogne. Therefore, the very essence of what the Prime Minister agreed to, namely, that a full and accurate account of the reasons why certain gentlemen should be honoured by their King should be published in the "Gazette," has not been adhered to, because, not only in the case of Sir Joseph Robinson, but also in this case, the reasons given were incorrect. I should also mention in the case of Lord Vestey the curious fact that the great service he rendered his country by moving his business out of the country, and evading payment of Income Tax, Supertax and Excess Profits Duty was not communicated.

I am not surprised that the terms of reference, which have been read by the Prime Minister, are totally different from the Motion. The Motion says, "to inquire into the present method of distributing honours, and to recommend a new method in which these honours should be given." What the Prime Minister is going to do is to ask that a Royal Commission should investigate into future methods of distributing honours. Ail this that has been going on now is simply to be wiped out, and they are only to consider what is to be the future method. That is not satisfactory. The terms of reference must be the same as the terms of the Motion—whether or not it is a Royal Commission or a Select Committee I do not very much care, provided that, either by Resolution of the House or by a Bill, powers are given to the Royal Commission to take evidence on oath, and to compel the attendance of witnesses and the production of documents, and also that the names of the Members are submitted to certain independent Members of the House. I do not know at the moment who they should be, but I should think if they be submitted to the Leader of the Labour party, the Leader of the Independent Liberal party, and the Leader of the Die-hard group, there might, possibly, be some guarantee that we should get a full, an impartial and a quick inquiry.

Over and over again I have known Royal Commissions last five or six years. That is not what we want. We want an actual inquiry into what has been going on, and how we are going to stop it in the future. It is no argument for the Prime Minister to say, "Others have done wrong. Therefore why should not I?" What we want to do is to see that this form of corruption is stopped. \None of us has ever said that, because a man happens to have contributed five or six years ago to a party fund, he should not receive an honour, provided he be respectable. But to say that because a man has given something to a party fund, he should at once be made the recipient of an honour, is repugnant to the sense of everyone in the House and to the sense of the country.

Photo of Mr Ronald McNeill Mr Ronald McNeill , Canterbury

I agree with my Noble Friend (Lord E. Cecil) that the speech of the Prime Minister was most disappointing, and I believe it will do very little, when read to-morrow, to remove the sense of disquiet which has been caused in the country by this subject. I also agree that the method of inquiry which the Government are prepared to grant is a very unsatisfactory one, unless some securities can be taken such as were referred to by my right hon. Friend (Sir F. Banbury). But when the Noble Lord said he could not understand why the Prime Minister had not accepted the Motion I could not follow him. I think the reason is perfectly obvious. The Prime Minister has never desired to have a real inquiry at all. All he wanted to do was to meet the pressure which has been brought to bear in the House and in the country, to give something the exact nature of which will not be fully understood, and to set up an inquiry which will be in apparent response to the demand which has been made. Such an inquiry will probably stretch over years, with no sort of Report until after the next General Election, when this matter may have been forgotten, or perhaps a new scandal in relation to it may have sprung up, and, in the meantime, of course, this inquiry will drag on and will be lost sight of.

Not only that, but it is quite clear from the speeches made that the inquiry which my hon. Friend demanded, and which I think 370 Members of the House were supporting in putting their names to it, is one in which this House will have some control. If a Select Committee of the two Houses were appointed, the selection of the names of the persons serving on it would be under the control of this House. We could object one by one, if it were necessary, to those nominated by the Government, and we could propose other names, and, if necessary, divide the House upon them, and so exercise a real control, and we should also exercise a control over the terms of reference. A great deal of dissatisfaction has already been expressed on both sides of the House with regard to the terms of reference which the Prime Minister read out. I will not repeat what has been said to show how unsatisfactory they are, but if we had the inquiry which the Motion on the Paper demands, we should have very little anxiety upon that score, because the House could, itself, exercise control, and insist upon having such terms of reference as would prove satisfactory.

Listening to the speech of the Prime Minister, followed by that of the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Asquith), I could not help thinking that the greater part of the House were in the somewhat difficult position of listening to two initiates speaking upon a mysterious subject with which they were entirely familiar, whereas all the rest of us were standing outside the courts of the temple in which those mysteries were carried on. But I agree with my Noble Friend that those speeches really rather add to than diminish our anxiety on this subject. One heard what the Prime Minister said, with great eloquence and at considerable length, about the necessity for party funds and the obligation—not merely an innocent transaction, but an obligation—upon good party men to subscribe as handsomely as they could to their party fund. I am not prepared to dissent from that position stated baldly by itself, but it was rather an unfortunate connection that that particular duty should be so insisted upon in this particular Debate. And I think it rather added to the seriousness when the other initiate, the right hon. Gentleman on the opposite bench, told us he had had a longer experience than anyone else in this matter, and went, if possible, beyond the Prime Minister in insisting upon the tremendous duty that it was, going above all the other duties which a man can perform to his party and the most valuable that he can perform, apparently, to give handsomely to the party fund. Then the curious thing is that, while these two right hon. Gentlemen laid stress upon the gravity of that duty to their party, they are in complete agreement that no one who has ever discharged that duty has ever received any rewards for party loyalty and party work, which they both say is quite legitimate, while they have received rewards for other and apparently less important forms of party allegiance and service. It is rather difficult to believe.

The Prime Minister said—and I rather think the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Asquith) said the same thing—that as Prime Minister he never even knew at all whether those who were recommended to His Majesty for honours did or did not subscribe to the party funds. That is a matter entirely outside the ken of the Prime Minister. They never venture to inquire, and they are never told. But someone must know, and I could not help reflecting, while the right hon. Gentleman was making that speech, that under the circumstances, accepting, as of course we all do, his statement that he never knows anything on the subject, his speech ought to have been made by the Patronage Secretary. Then we could perhaps get at the facts.

I should like to know what the Patronage Secretaries have to say. I can understand quite well, if the Patronage Secretaries are not so sunk in hopeless ignorance as is the Prime Minister on this occasion, their reasons for keeping the Prime Minister in that ignorance. There are probably cryptic signs which may pass between the Patronage Secretary and the Prime Minister when the Patronage Secretary says, "So and so is a man who certainly ought to be made either a Peer or a Knight of the Garter." I do not know whether those cryptic signs are so graduated as to indicate the size of the cheque, but at all events, it is quite clear that some Member of the Government first of all satisfies himself that party allegiance and party loyalty are a strong point. He goes to the Prime Minister. He says nothing whatever about subscriptions to the party funds, but says, "Here is a gentleman whose public services, either to the country or to the party, are so transcendent that they cannot properly be rewarded by anything short of some signal mark of His Majesty's pleasure." That appears to be the way in which these things are done.

We are all agreed, I think, that subscriptions to party funds ought not to be any bar to honours, but, as my right hon. Friend has said, the gentleman ought to be respectable. I am sure these are all very respectable, but I will go further. It is all right. Let them give their money to the party fund. But when the Patronage Secretary accepts a recommendation from some source, and passes it on by his cryptic signs to the Prime Minister, surely the Prime Minister ought to satisfy himself that the particular individual whom he is to recommend to His Majesty is a man whose services, either to the country or to the party, are really significant enough to deserve the particular honour.

My right hon. Friend the Member for the City of London (Sir F. Banbury) has told us about one of the peers who has lately been recommended. I noticed that the Prime Minister laid great stress upon the fact that, although these complaints about the bestowal of honours have gone on for a long time, and are growing in insistence, only four names have been mentioned. That is not unnatural. It is not a pleasant thing in this House to bring up names unless you have something very definite against the man. The man may be perfectly respectable and innocent, and in many respects an honourable and a desirable Member of this House or of society at large. It is a very invidious and disagreeable thing to bring up his name, and ask why he was given a peerage or some other honour. Therefore, I think that it is quite enough to account for the fact that other names have not been mentioned. If disposed to do so, I could mention other names besides the four, whose receipt of the honour would call up a note of interrogation. I restrict myself to the four. We have heard something about two of them. We have heard about Sir Joseph Robinson. That is a very strong case. I rather gather that Sir Joseph Robinson had been engaged in litigation in South Africa, and lost the case practically on the ground that his finance there had been of a fraudulent character. He asked for leave to appeal to the Privy Council here, but the Privy Council, I am told, refused even to give him leave to appeal on the ground that on the face of it, his transaction was clearly of a fraudulent nature. Then my right hon. Friend mentioned Lord Vestey, and has shown the nature of his public service.

Let me mention another name. Let me mention another Noble Lord, Lord Waring. There is nothing, so far as I know, that can be brought against Lord Waring comparable at all to what has been proved in the case of Sir Joseph Robinson. But Lord Waring as a business man was managing director of a large business in London which went into bankruptcy, I think, or, at any rate, was re-constructed in 1910. There was a very large body of debenture holders in that business, and also a very large share capital, both preference and ordinary shares. There was a reconstruction and, if my information be correct, a very large figure was put down in the balance-sheet as assets representing the value of stock. I think that stock must have been very much overvalued, because, at all events, the facts are these: That the debenture holders, holding £1,000,000 in debentures, in the reconstruction were obliged to take, I think, 75 per cent. of their holding in preference shares in the new concern, instead of having the better security which debenture holders ought to have; and these preference shares of £l now stand at a value of 10s. a share. They have never got back to par. The whole share capital in the original concern was, I think, wiped out. There was nothing fraudulent in that, but, at all events, it was not very successful business.

In the meantime, the War came along, and the head of this business, who is now Lord Waring, saw his opportunity and, I believe, made for himself a very considerable fortune at the White City in constructing and turning out equipment for aeroplanes on Government contracts. That was for himself. No part of that fortune went to paying the shareholders, or making up the deficiency for the debenture holders in the concern of which he was the head and the managing director. I only mention that to say this: that it is a curious circumstance that four or five men are singled out in the whole of this country for what ought to be regarded as a very high honour. I suppose this gentleman came under the category described by the Prime Minister as the "political list." I do not know. I do not know whether it comes under charity. Anyhow, four or five men are singled out. For what reason can anybody imagine why this particular business man, whose transactions over a series of years were such as I have described—his shareholders losing large sums of money, through misfortune possibly, or bad management, while he makes a fortune for himself in the War in another direction—is singled out at this time for this very high honour?—[LORD WARING, sitting in the Distinguished Strangers' Gallery:" That is a false statement!"] That seems to me to be a, point which the Government ought to meet.

I would like to call the attention of the House to another case. The other case is certainly on the political list. Re-calling what the Prime Minister and the right hon. Member for Paisley (Mr. Asquith) said about party service, one would imagine that the Prime Minister, when he had the list of honours to make out, would, no doubt, cast his eye and his mind round this House, and single out some of his many followers in this House to be honoured with a peerage. He had among his followers in this House a number of very distinguished gentlemen, many of them, no doubt, very deserving of recognition for their party services. That being the case, for what reason did the right hon. Gentleman or the Patronage Secretary single out the right hon. Gentleman who up to recently was the Member for Moray and Nairn? What were his party and public services which entitled him to this honour? I do not say for a moment that he rendered no service, but it is rather difficult, apart from any other facts, for those who have been for some time in the House, to understand why that particular selection was made. The difficulty becomes a good deal greater when one knows a little more about the right hon. Gentleman.

I do not know whether the House is aware of the facts which I am about to narrate. The right hon. Gentleman, whom we knew as Sir Archibald Williamson, was head of the large firm of Balfour, Williamson and Company, who, as the House probably knows, or as many hon. Members know, are a very large and important firm of merchants doing business in South America. My information is, and I think it is correct, that during the War, out in South America, especially in Buenos Ayres and Valparaiso, the laxity of this firm in relation to trading with the enemy was notorious. It became so notorious that a statement was drawn up in our Foreign Office, and the statement is in the Foreign Office now, containing 24 different heads of accusation against this firm. This statement was sent out by our Foreign Office to the Consulate-General in Chile, with the request that they would go through it, and see whether they were able to confirm it or not. The statement came back from the Consulate-General in Chile entirely confirmed, and with one or two other items added.

I will tell the House two of the particular counts which were found upon that statement in the Foreign Office. The first one that I will mention is this: A letter from Sir Archibald Williamson to one of his houses out in Chile, saying that it was quite unnecessary for them to pay too much attention to the Government Regulations against trading with the enemy, as he was in a position to see that they did not get into trouble. A copy was sent to the Consulate-General at Valparaiso, and I believe it is at the present moment in the Foreign Office. The second charge was that this firm were selling fuel oil to certain German nitrate factories in 1915–16, at the very time when, out there, our Minister and Consuls were devoting all their energies to strangling, as far as possible, the German nitrate trade, which was, of course, a very necessary thing for them to do. This fuel oil, I am informed, came from the United States of America. At a later period—I am not sure of the date, but I presume it was after the United States came into the War—the United States Government prohibited delivery of their oil to the Germans, and then this curious thing happened. Some German firm out there brought a lawsuit against Balfour, Williamson and Company, and obtained in the Chilian Courts an embargo upon the fuel oil deposited in two nitrate ports there. This was a very serious matter, because the effect was that it meant an almost complete stoppage of the supplies of nitrate to ourselves and the Allies. That was to us a very large restriction, meaning a complete stoppage of the stores which were necessary for the manufacture of explosives.

In consequence of that, pressure was brought to bear by the British and the United States Governments upon the Chilian Government, and they got the embargo removed. Meantime, the bona fides of the defence to the action at law, which had been set up by this firm, came under suspicion. They were very doubtful whether it was being really defended, and our Intelligence Department asked for a legal opinion on this point to be sent home from Chile on the conduct of the suit. Legal opinion was obtained and sent here. It showed that the suspicions were well-founded, and that there had not been a real genuine defence to the action. That opinion is at the Foreign Office at the present moment. I want to ask the Government—I do not know whether they will answer—whether or not, when these transactions were going on during the War, the Law Officers of the Crown were ever consulted as to whether this Member of this House was or was not liable to prosecution for breach of the Regulations for trading with the enemy? My own belief is that they were consulted. I think it is quite possible that they may have advised that, owing to circumstances of which I am entirely ignorant, it would be wiser not to prosecute. It may have been on the ground that there was not sufficient evidence of a certainty for getting a conviction, and so it may have been thought better not to pursue it. I do not know, and I do not care. My point is this. Is it not strange that that particular gentleman, of whom these facts were known to the Government, should have been singled out, among all the hon. Members of this House, to be rewarded for his services, either to the country or to the party of which he was a member? I am not talking about anything that is not very well known in some parts of the world, though it may not be very well known here. The information came to me in no confidential way.

Photo of Mr John Mills Mr John Mills , Dartford

How long ago did you get it?

Photo of Mr John Mills Mr John Mills , Dartford

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that the person whom he accuses has served as an Under-Minister of the Crown?

Photo of Mr Ronald McNeill Mr Ronald McNeill , Canterbury

I am aware of that. I did not think it necessary to refer to that. My statement is that these matters were known to the Government, and no sooner was the War over than this gentleman was given office in the Government, and subsequently he was given the honour of a peerage. But these things are known in South America. There is a large British community in Buenos Ayres and in Valparaiso, and when they see that this gentleman is singled out to be made a peer—

Photo of Mr Neil Maclean Mr Neil Maclean , Glasgow Govan

On a point of Order. The hon. Member has made a certain accusation, and there is a feeling on this side of the House that, in addition to the person mentioned, who was a Member of this House, there is a member of the firm, who is at present a Member of this House, who should have notice, and we want to make sure that that is so.

Photo of Mr John Whitley Mr John Whitley , Halifax

That is not a point of Order.

Photo of Mr Ronald McNeill Mr Ronald McNeill , Canterbury

I do not wish to stand between the House and the hon. Member who wants to speak. The point is in connection with the four names which have been mentioned, apart from the question of party funds or anything else, what were the particular services to the country which caused them to be singled out for an honour of that kind. When it is known, as it is known that these men who, no one can suggest, however honourable and desirable they may be in any other particulars, have given resounding services, and when it is known that they are all rich men, is it surprising that there should be very grave suspicion that there is something in the nature of a traffic in these honours, such as has caused the disquiet which has brought about this Debate? And when we find the Prime Minister and the late Prime Minister both saying that they have never known anything about the subject as to whether contributions are made or not—and there is evidently a blank in our information as to what happens when the Patronage Secretary steps upon the scene—in those circumstances the effect that this must have on public opinion is such that, I think, the Government would be extremely ill-advised if they try to blanket this inquiry, as I am afraid they are doing by having a Royal Commission with all its disabilities. They would be very much better advised to accept the Motion of my hon. Friend, and let us have a real, quick and effective inquiry by Members of this House and the House of Lords.

Photo of Major-General John Seely Major-General John Seely , Ilkeston

I think that this House is at one in being determined to put an end to this vile system, which does undoubtedly amount to the sale of honours, and as to which the Government have not made any attempt to reply. But I would like to say a word in reference to the last case, that of Sir Archibald Williamson, the allusions to whom impart an entirely new aspect to the matter. The case of Sir Archibald Williamson is quite a different case from that of the others who have been referred to, who were men less worthy of honour than many others who were not selected. The case of Sir Archibald Williamson is the case of a man who was 16 years a Member of this House, and was not only a member of the Government, but had conferred on him an honour, which I think most of us honour much more highly than a peerage, that of being made a member of the Privy Council. Since the charges made by my hon. Friend are most grave, though not relevant to this Debate, those of us who knew him here, as I did, for all these years would like to know whether there was not another side to the question before finally passing judgment. That is one point. Another point is that it is of course clearly a different case from those others which my hon. Friend quoted, because a man who had already received an honour, which I think higher than the peerage, and had been for 16 years a Member of this House and a member of the Government, is the kind of man whom one must expect under any system to be raised to the peerage without qualification of any kind.

Having made this distinction in the case of a man whom we all knew here, I wish to say that I agree with everything that has fallen from my hon. Friend opposite. It must be clear to the Government that there was a pecuniary interest involved in some of the honours recently given, because otherwise they could not have been given, for no other reason is alleged. In considering how we are to get rid of this system, I, respectfully, submit that we are entitled to ask the Leader of the House—whom I am glad to see back again, and who, I hope, will not suffer in his health by coming back so soon when we would all have excused a longer absence—if he is advised by the Law Officers that a Royal Commission is necessary because, technically, the discussion is as to the prerogative, then that the Royal Commission should be as powerful as a Select Committee would be, and should have the same advantages from the point of view of this House as a Select Committee would have. First, as to personnel. It seems to me clear that if, as the Prime Minister has in effect admitted, this practice has got to come to an end, the Commission should be as strictly im- partial, and as much drawn from all sides as a Select Committee would be. I would ask the right hon. Gentleman if he could satisfy the House on that most important point. The next point is, will the Commission be in a position to get evidence on oath, and to compel the attendance of persons and the production of documents? With regard to terms of reference, just as I think that the Royal Commission should be in all respects, as regards personnel, as powerful as a Select Committee would be, so I think that the terms of reference should be as full as the proposal now be-fore the House, which the Prime Minister in essence has accepted.

I would utter a word of warning to my hon. Friends on all sides of the House who are anxious to extend the terms of reference, and I would recommend the Mover and Seconder to take care that they are not helping those who are helping to delay the matter by making the terms of reference too wide. If the Commission is to go into the past 30 or 40 years, it would be three or four years before we could get any possible Report, if the Commission is going to do its work properly. Surely what we want is to know what the present system is and why it works badly, and that as quickly as possible the Royal Commission should recommend a way by which these scandals should not occur in future. Those are definite questions, and I ask my right hon. Friend, when he comes to reply, for a definite answer. For nobody could know him without knowing that he hates this system as much as or more than anybody else, because the Government cannot deny that the highest honours have practically been bought, because no other explanation can be given, and we are anxious, especially at this period in our history, as to the honours granted by His Majesty, not of this particular kind, which appear in the "Gazette" now, when many of these honours are sacred to people in this country, because they are honours granted in the late War, minor honours, military crosses, military medals, all honours granted by His Majesty, which are in many cases left to the relatives of those who fought and won them and then died, and it is more important now than ever that the fountain of honours should not be suspect, because so many countless thousands of people have been consoled by the receipt of an honour. I would suggest to the right hon. Gentleman that he should tell us what the terms of reference are, and that they should be satisfactory to the opposing leaders in this House, and I think that they should be satisfactory to the Mover and Seconder of the Resolution. If the right hon. Gentleman will give a satisfactory assurance on those points, every Member of the House will be grateful to him for having taken a step to stop this detestable traffic.

Photo of Mr Neil Maclean Mr Neil Maclean , Glasgow Govan

I apologise to the hon. Member for Canterbury (Mr. McNeill) for having appeared to have interrupted him. What I wanted to get at was whether notice had been given to a member of the firm who was still a Member of this House. [HON. MEMBEES: "He is not!"] I am not referring to the Member for Hampstead (Mr. George Balfour).

Photo of Mr Ronald McNeill Mr Ronald McNeill , Canterbury

I gather from the hon. Member that there is a member of the firm referred to in this House. I did not know that. Had I known it, I would have given him notice.

8.0 p.m.

Photo of Mr Neil Maclean Mr Neil Maclean , Glasgow Govan

As a Member of this House, I am concerned for the honour of this House, and I thought it right for an hon. Member of this House that he should have been notified when his firm was going to be brought up for such a practice as that which has been quoted by the hon. Member. The Prime Minister this afternoon did not seem to be very happy judging by the speech which he delivered on this question. To the Prime Minister the sale of honours is something which does not happen. At least he has no cognisance of it. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Paisley (Mr. Asquith), the previous Prime Minister, also declares that he has no knowledge of the sale of honours. So far as they are concerned nothing is obtained for any of the honours. Names are submitted to the Prime Minister, and the Prime Minister considers the qualifications in the light of what these men may have done for the nation in the War, or in science, art, literature or charity. The only one who knows is the Patronage Secretary, and I join with the hon. Member for Canterbury in suggesting that it is not the Prime Minister who ought to have addressed the House this afternoon on the sale of honours but the Patronage Secretary. The hon. Member for Reading (Colonel L. Wilson) or the hon. Member for Northampton (Mr. McCurdy) or both of them might have had an explanation for us quite as satisfactory to the House as the explanation given by the Prime Minister. I can quite understand why the Prime Minister was so unhappy this afternoon. It is remarkable, with the reputation which the Prime Minister has, that he should stand there and try to make out that, as far as he is concerned, everyone who passes through the portals of that Chamber is of absolutely 8.0 P.M. unblemished honour. We have had certain instances quoted to us to-day that strike me as fitting very appositely the statement that was made by the Prime Minister himself in his palmy days, not when he was defending the sale of honours, but when he was attacking the Chamber to which he has been sending so many of his colleagues and friends during the past two or three years. The right hon. Gentleman told a London audience in the Paragon Music Hall, Mile End Road, that Aristocracy is like cheese—the older it is, the higher it becomes. It seems to me that he is considering the House of Lords as a place to which he can send individuals—I say this because of the speeches we have heard to-day and the instances we have had quoted to us—whose reputation, at all events, is likely to be as high as is the reputation of those who have already been in that Chamber for a considerable period. At one time in his career the Prime Minister said that if he went to the Australians with the object of getting them to adopt a Chamber similar to the one we have in this country—namely, the House of Lords, they might ask for some samples to be submitted, and that if he told them that the samples he would submit were those Noble Lords who had come over with the Conqueror and had stolen the land of the people at that time, the reply of the Australians naturally would be that they hanged all their robbers in Australia and did not make them peers. The right hon. Gentleman, in that same speech, quoted those who had been made rich and had become peers through the despoiling of the monasteries. He gave a sample, in his own words, of the peerages that were created to ennoble the indiscretions of a king. Those were the three samples he quoted, and he told his audience that the reply which was likely to be made by the Australians would be in these words: Rather than be governed by men or by a Chamber like that, we would have a senate of kangaroos. That is the opinion which the Prime Minister held of the House of Lords in those days. He likened it to cheese—the older it was the higher it became. He likened it to the kangaroos. Yet he has been busy sending into this forcing house and storage chamber of cheese, if he likes to have it that way, or into this menagerie of kangaroos, if he cares to have it the other way—he has been busy sending all these, people there, and he tries now to make out to this House that he knows nothing as to whether any price has been paid for admission to that Chamber. I am to-day very much in the position in which the Prime Minister was in the days of his youth, in the days of his political wisdom, not of his political senile decay. I am not in favour of a hereditary Chamber, and what are falsely called "honours" being bought or sold and conferred. The greatest men in history live in the memories of the people of this country, not because they were Peers. Many of them were plain men and many of them had no titles. The only claim to distinction that they possess is that they really did something of benefit and interest to the country, and for that reason their names are still cherished in the memory of the people of this country. It is not because they were Lords or Barons or Marquises, but because of the things they did for the country.

Cases have been quoted from the other side of peerages that have; been bestowed. Names have been mentioned. We are told there is no traffic in peerages. The Prime Minister and his predecessor, the right hon. Member for Paisley (Mr. Asquith) have joined in stating that they know nothing of such a traffic. I submit that it is time they knew something of it. And not through a Royal Commission. The people outside have no faith in Royal Commissions. There have been Royal Commissions in the past, and Governments have not accepted their recommendations. There is nothing to bind a Government to accept a Royal Commission's recommendation; a Government can go on with the buying and selling of honours, in spite of the recommendations of a Royal Commission. You could have future Lloyd Georges coming out and denouncing the House of Peers that may be appointed by the present Prime Minister. The general public outside do not know, but they believe that there is a wholesale traffic in honours. Speak to the man in the street in any working-class constituency in this country, and talk to him about the House of Lords, and about the honours bestowed upon people during the past 10 or 15 years. That man will laugh. He will ask you, "How much did the man pay for his baronetcy? What did he do to become a Viscount?" People outside realise that there is a wholesale traffic, and no amount of cloaking it is going to be of any advantage.

An hon. Member opposite has told us that there is no need to dig into the past. Why not dig into the past? Why not find out how things have been done in the past? Any decent-minded man, if offered a peerage to-day, after the statements that have been made in the House, would decline the offer with indignation if he had any respect for himself or his family. We have had instances quoted to us today by the very individuals who barracked me for what I did not do in the War. They have quoted instances of the people who made money out of the nation during the War when our young men were bleeding in the trenches. Honours that have been sold and bartered for have made the House of Lords simply what the Prime Minister called it in bygone days. It is a place for the man who climbs with wealth acquired in a most unscrupulous manner and becomes respectable by subscribing large sums of money to the political war chest. Even the Diehards are not above having a political war chest. The "Morning Post" has its columns open every morning, soliciting applications to the Die-hards' fighting fund. Are the Die-hards likely to be false to those who subscribe to that fund, after they have appealed to them to save the country from the present Government and to place power in the hands of a Government made up of Die-hards? I do not see much difference between them. There is not much difference between the Diehard group and their programme and the programme of the present Government. I am told they have collected £20,000. That is the price of a baronetcy. [HON. MEMBERS: "How do you know?"] The Duke of Northumberland put the price at £20,000 in a House of Lords Debate. He had all the prices listed. If this sort of thing goes on he will soon be able to hold a sale of shop-soiled goods. It seems that the peerage has fallen on rather evil days when it has become a sport of the House of Commons.

The present Prime Minister and his immediate predecessor have told us that money is not accepted for honours; they give them away for nothing. Really, they do not know properly what they are doing or they would not be doing that. The Prime Minister told us in one of his past speeches how much a fully-equipped duke cost the country. He said a duke cost as much to maintain as a couple of dreadnoughts, and was just as great a terror and lasted longer. When the Prime Minister was attacking the House of Lords, he said: Why should 500 men, ordinary men, chosen accidentally from amongst the unemployed, override the judgment of millions of people: Only one stock has gone down badly. There has been a great slump in dukes. They used to stand rather high in the market, especially the Tory market, hut the Tory Press have discovered that they have no value. One especially expensive duke make a speech recently, and the Tory Press said: 'Well, now really; is that the sort of thing we are spending £250,000 a year upon? ' So it goes on. We all remember the famous dogma of one of the Prime Minister's colleagues, Marquess Curzon—that the best work in the world is being done by the aristocracy. The Prime Minister's comment on that at the time was: He evidently does not think much of the Christian religion. He would have thought more of it if it had been propagated, not by 12 Galilean fishermen, but by a dozen dukes. That is the Prime Minister's comment. Then he said: They in the main were men whose brows had never been sprinkled with the curse of man. The eating of bread through the sweat of their brow was unknown to them. They were born within that magic circle of Cherubim with flaming swords that guarded the Paradise where plenty was obtained without labour. Yet the Prime Minister is busily engaged in sending batches along the Corridor from this Chamber, from Chambers of Commerce outside—mineowners, so-called captains of industry, men who plundered the people during the War, men who sold ships to the Government at £40 per ton when the pre-War rate was £9 per ton. Men who coined fortunes out of the necessities of this nation, now come and put down large sums of money as an election fund for the present Government to fight Labour at the next election. They are not afraid of the Die-Hards. [HON. MEMBERS: "To fight the Bolshevists!"] I can fight the Bolshevists with a shilling. It is not necessary to fight the Bolshevists. They are on that side of the House, and not on this side. People who rob the nation are on those Benches and not on these Benches—the bleeders of the nation.

Photo of Sir Edwin Cornwall Sir Edwin Cornwall , Bethnal Green North East

The hon. Member is using expressions which are not Parliamentary.

Photo of Mr Neil Maclean Mr Neil Maclean , Glasgow Govan

When an hon Member opposite interrupts, and infers by his interruption that those who occupy these Benches are Bolshevists, he must take what he gets from these Benches. We are only human and we may make mistakes—as the Prime Minister has told us he may make mistakes in the appointment of peers. It seems to me the whole of the House of Lords is a mistake, and if you are going to have an inquiry into the formation of the House of Lords, let it be on such lines as will make possible the abolition of the hereditary principle altogether. If you are going to have honours, let them be of a character different from those which exist at the present time. That a man has wealth, or even that he may have done great things in literature, in science or in any walk of life, is no justification why he should, as a reward for that cleverness and ability, be made a lord and promoted to the position of a legislator who has to supervise Bills passed by this House and who may assist in throwing out those Bills. Find some other way of honouring those people. Remove the hereditary principle altogether and remove with it the possibility of selling honours, and you make it possible for us to have, for the first time for 700 years in the history of this country, purity in political life.

Photo of Sir Arthur Benn Sir Arthur Benn , Plymouth Drake

I did not intend entering into this discussion and would not do so, but for the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury (Mr. R. McNeill) which I think may have a very serious effect on a British firm of very high standing and good repute—the firm of Balfour, Williamson and Company, the senior member of which is a Member of this House for the Partick Division of Glasgow, and has been a Member of this House for 15 years. He lost a son in the War and is, I believe, one of the most patriotic men we have. That firm during the War, to my knowledge, was keenly anxious to do everything in its power in connection with the purchase of nitrates, to aid the British Government. I was chairman of the Stores Purchase Advisory Committee in connection with the Explosives Department of the Ministry of Munitions and I happen to know that the firm of Balfour, Williamson and Company were very much annoyed that they did not get an opportunity of doing still more for their country. A statement which ought to be investigated thoroughly, before any opinion is formed, is the statement that there are documents in the Foreign Office showing that the firm of Balfour, Williamson and Company were trading with Germany. I do not think that statement would stand much investigation because, if inquired into, I think it will be shown that the trading was only done with German firms on the West coast of America, on the Pacific: Slope, who were running businesses on the coast, and had control of the export stuff and were importers. The firm of Balfour, Williamson and Company may—I dare say they did—through their American house, trade with some of these houses. It was a great question at the time as to what should be done, because these houses were not living in Germany. They were not subject to German law; they were subject to the law of the country in which they were carrying on business. I know it was a question with some of our British firms, whether or not these ought to be treated as German firms or as firms established in America and doing business there, in every way as local firms. I hope before the House decides to take any definite view about the firm of Balfour, Williamson and Company they will have more investigation made, because one of the worst things for our country is that British firms which are known and respected abroad, should be slurred and slighted at home and have such things as this thrown at them unless these statements can be shown to be true.

Photo of Hon. Aubrey Herbert Hon. Aubrey Herbert , Yeovil

My hon. Friend who has just sat down will forgive me if I do not follow him on the subject of which he has spoken. All who heard the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury (Mr E. McNeill) find ourselves more or less in the same position. We recognise that the statements he made are not at all irrelevant to this Debate, but practically no one in this House, without further evidence, is qualified to pass an opinion on that statement. That speech was a very remarkable speech, and indeed the great majority of the speeches made to-night were remarkable, with the exception of that of the Prime Minister. It was a remarkable speech, too, but it was only remarkable in what the right hon. Gentleman did not say. I thought while he was speaking, the Prime Minister was bored with the subject, and I quite understood why he should be so. When we meet together in this House, to undo some work of the Prime Ministers, there is a general enthusiasm apparent in the House, but you cannot expect the Prime Minister to share the enthusiasm, when he sees his own work being done away with and his own hands being fettered and his feet shackled. There have been a number of remarks on the terms of reference of the proposed inquiry. As I understand them they seem to be entirely unsatisfactory. First, they are vague, and, secondly, they deal entirely with the future. There is an amnesty for everything tile Prime Minister himself has done. Then, again, the Prime Minister says that the responsibility for advice on honours must remain with the Prime Minister. I think most hon. Members will probably agree with that. It is not the responsibility we object to, it is the abuse of his power. Again, the right hon. Gentleman spoke of this whole system as if it were a sort of damnosa heereditas, as a thing he has inherited. Of course any man can get up in the House and say, "My father was a criminal, my grandfather was a criminal, and I am a criminal myself. That is not my fault. I have it in my blood," but no man has any right to get up here or anywhere else and say, "My grandfather owned a sweated industry and so did my father"; or, "My grandfather and my father owned slums and I own them, too, and I am going to keep them on, in exactly the same conditions."

It is remarkable that the Prime Minister should have developed such a studious conservatism about this system. Apparently the hon. Member for Govan (Mr. N. Maclean) thinks the way to cure all this is to prevent the giving of any titles at all. With deference to him I think that is entirely wrong. France and America think they have got rid of this question simply by abolishing titles, but you cannot do that. After all, honours and life are almost inseparable. You cannot get rid of symbols like the rose and the sword in poetry, and you cannot get away from honours in life. They begin at school and they end at Westminster—the Abbey I mean, not here, and because they are so coveted the resentment aroused when they are given to the wrong people or for indaquate reasons is correspondingly great. It has been said that there has been previous criticism on this question, but it has never risen to the present point of acrimony, because it has never been necessary. The scandal has never been as great as it is to-day, and the reason is obvious. In the past honours may have been wrongly given, but on the whole there was a certain alliance between honesty and honour, and honours were not given solely because people made gifts to party funds. When honours were given, very often the laurel wreath may have been too great in proportion to the race that had been run, but there was a certain merit about it.

Now the Prime Minister tries to make out that there is no scandal, and that there is very little in the matter. No scandal, I suppose, can have a godchild, but a scandal can have a grandfather, and the real grandfather of this scandal is the Marconi scandal. There may have been no corruption in that case, and there may be none in this, but both of them equally-suggest an atmosphere of corruption. I am very glad of this Debate to-night, because for once in a way the big battalions of the House of Commons and principles seem to be combined, and that is a Coalition that may be very formidable to the Prime Minister, but, on the other hand, I think most of us share this feeling, that we shall be glad when the Debate is over, because it is no pleasure for anybody here, as a Noble Lord said the other day in the House of Lords, to get up and attack people who are not here and who cannot defend themselves. At the same time, when we reach the point that has been reached, when you have honours given to men from the Dominions that are not sanctioned or agreed to by the Dominions, when you have honours given to foreign financiers and you must ask no question about the reason for giving those honours in this House, then it is high time that we protested here. Honours fall into two different categories. There is, first of all, the academic honour that we give a man, a C.B. or something like that, that carries no power with it; and there is, secondly, the other kind of honour, that you give a man when you send a commoner to the House of Lords. Then you give him and his descendants a certain fractional power that may be an important power in this country.

I do not want to mention names, but there is one name that I shall mention, because I have spoken of it at various times in the House, and I want on this occasion to get rid of it for good and all, and that is the name of a very great financier, who is reputed to be the richest man in the world—Sir Basil Zaharoff. Let me say that I do not know that gentleman, but let me give briefly the rumours I have heard about him. He is, first of all, reputed to be a very great philanthropist, a very great educationist, a great patron of the arts, and a man who spends his money generously. It is, secondly, generally said that his very great wealth is derived from this source, that he has owned munition factories in many countries of the world, and that consequently war has been an extremely profitable industry to him. There is no more profitable way of making money, I imagine, than owning munition factories in countries hostile to each other. If you own Vickers—and he is reputed to own a great number of shares in Vickers—and if you own Krupps, whether Germany be beaten or whether England be defeated, the fortunate possessor of those shares may be quite certain of making a very handsome profit. Again, it is said that Sir Basil Zaharoff helped us a great deal in the War by giving us loans. I am quite prepared to believe that, but if it were the case, why not say that that was the reason for his decoration? Again, this is said about him, and this I believe to be a fact. He has been one of the strong supporters of our Greek policy. The result of that Greek policy has been that the whole of the East is in chaos, and that Great Britain has made enemies throughout the entire East. Sir Basil Zaharoff is reputed to have paid £4,000,000 sterling out of his own pocket for the upkeep of the Greek invading force in Asia Minor. What I say is this, that this House in the future has the right to demand the reasons why these honours were given, and if the Government at any time decide upon giving a bar to Sir Basil Zaharoff's G.C.B., I think we ought to be told the reason of it here.

The Government have said that this question is a Vote of Confidence. If my hon. Friends who inaugurated this Debate accept the Government's point of view, it seems to me that the whole purpose of the Debate will be stultified, and that any inquiries that take place will probably be entirely nugatory. I hope very much that they will not accept it, and, indeed, why should it be a Vote of Confidence I It is a Vote of Confidence in the policy of the Government, not in their past or present policy, but in their future policy. A Vote of Confidence in the future policy of the Government at a definite moment, when the Prime Minister is pressed and frightened, seems to me only means that it is a Vote of Confidence in the simple truth of the old adage— The Devil was sick, the Devil a monk would be;The Devil was well, the Devil a monk was he. If the Government be let off to-night without making any further pledges, the present state of affairs will continue entirely unremedied. If the House tonight accept the Government's point of view, which I suppose it may well do, I believe the House will not in any way reflect the mind of the country, because it is inherent in human nature that people should like honourable men and like to see merit recognised, but they do not like to see rewards given under false pretences or given to the wrong men, and they blame the giver more than they blame the recipient. Take the V.C. in war, the highest honour that any man can obtain. Suppose a man has a "faked" title to a V.C, and his commanding officer sends in a claim for the V.C, and he receives it. Whom do you suppose the comrades of that man would blame? They would blame the man, but the man who would receive the chief blame would be the officer who had recommended and obtained the honour for him, and therefore I hope the House to-night will insist upon a real inquiry and upon a real guarantee against this fraudulent system continuing.

Photo of Mr Walter Elliot Mr Walter Elliot , Lanark

I think it rather unfortunate that the recent personal charges that have been made should have gone far to stultify the previous Debate. It is a little hard—and I say it with all respect to the hon. Member for Canterbury (Mr. E. McNeill)—that when he accuses, as he has accused, one of my Scottish colleagues of some of the gravest offences which any man could bring against any hon. Member of this House, or indeed any patriotic citizen of this country, he should not have taken even the preliminary trouble to find out whether the Gentleman he was accusing was a Member of this House, in addition to the fact that he did not warn him that he was bringing the matter up for discussion. The hon. Member for Partick (Sir R. Balfour) was actually in this House during the earlier stage of our Debate this afternoon, and, as has been said by the hon. Member for the Drake Division (Sir A. Benn) here to-night, he lost a son in the War. On that account alone, it certainly seems that he should have the utmost consideration from all the other hon. Members of this House, and when a charge of such gravity is to be lodged, I think it stultifies the whole case of the hon. Member for Canterbury and those who act with him in bringing forward the very serious charges which they undoubtedly made. I also think that when the hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. A. Herbert) was making his familiar accusations against Sir Basil Zaharoff, it was a pity to drag him into this particular Debate, because, after all, what he started to say, as far as I could gather, was that he was a money-grubbing, munition-making profiteer, and he went on to destroy this accusation, in his own words, by stating that this man had subscribed £4,000,000 out of his own pocket for the advancement of bis own country, which certainly, what-ever else may be said, does seem to relieve him from the charge of being a self-seeking money grubber.

Photo of Mr Walter Elliot Mr Walter Elliot , Lanark

The hon. and gallant Gentleman may not be aware that the Greco-Turkish war was continuing. I should have thought that one with his knowledge of public affairs would have grasped that fact. When we come to a Debate such as that of to-night, we have to consider, first and foremost, whether the object of the Government is likely to commend itself to Members of this House, whether this Royal Commission is an advance on a Select Committee, and, if so, in what respect. I think it is an advance on a Select Committee of this House, for the reason that the responsibility in the case of a Royal Commission is fixed on the individual who has done the damage. It is fixed on the party in power. It is fixed, first and last, on the Prime Minister. You cannot divorce responsibility from power in this case, and I think a Select Committee of this House would tend to split up responsibility with the Opposition parties, and divest the party in power of what is, after all, its undivided duty. The party in power, which makes these political recommendations, suffers—and rightly suffers—enormous discredit if it has made any unsuitable recommendation. Public opinion directed against a single individual is our great safeguard, and is bound to be our great safeguard in this country. If you split up that responsibility in any way by Advisory Committees or Select Committees, or by any device or machinery to divide the responsibility, you will, in so much weaken the power of public opinion against a single individual. The Prime Minister and the Coalition party to which I belong should suffer the great discredit from the charge of having made unsuitable recommendations to His Majesty the King. That is right, and it is better, if it be true that these unsuitable recommendations have been made, than to split up that responsibility in any way. Therefore, I should support the present recommendation of the Government rather than the recommendation of the Mover of the Motion before the House. It is impossible to hope that any party in power will escape from odium in making recommendations on the subject of honours. Recommendations will be criti- cised by people who are not acquainted with the circumstances of the case, and discredit will arise as a result of that. It is well known amongst private soldiers that one of the accusations brought against the staff during the War was the buying and exchanging of medals and the taking of an undue share of honours. An hon. Member opposite seems to deny that, but it is well known that one of the accusations was that the Corps Staff and the Army Headquarters Staff secured an undue proportion of honours, and that the British Corps Headquarters trafficked with the Belgian and the French Corps Headquarters, and those of our other gallant Allies, and that medals and decorations, to which the recipients had no right, were traded in amongst these various staffs. I believe in most cases those accusations were utterly unfounded. But when such accusations can arise so readily in regard to military honours it is useless to hope that the donors of political honours will escape from such charges. In the long run, the party in power must make these political recommendations boldly, knowing that on it will fall the discredit if the recommendations prove unsuitable. The Select Committee proposed by the Mover and Seconder is, in my opinion, not so suitable an instrument of inquiry as the Royal Commission proposed by the Government, and for that reason I shall support the Government in their proposal.


I should like to congratulate the hon. and gallant Member who has just sat down on the readiness with which, at very short notice, he has put up such an excellent case on behalf of the Government. It is the first speech we have had to-day in support of the Government. I am quite sure the hon. and gallant Member came down to the House without any intention of making a speech. I do not know whether the signs and symbols that went on behind your Chair, in which the Patronage Secretary of the Treasury figured, had anything to do with the speech, but certainly it was a very excellent speech for the defence of the Coalition. I would, however, say this to the Patronage Secretary to the Treasury, that before calling on members of the Coalition to defend their policy, he should be more careful to see that they are correct in their facts. The hon. and gallant Member referred to attacks made on the hon. Member for Partick (Sir R. Balfour), while the attack of the hon. Member for Canterbury was not on the hon. Member for Partick at all, but on Lord Williamson.

Photo of Mr Walter Elliot Mr Walter Elliot , Lanark

Surely, if an accusation be made against the firm of Balfour, Williamson and Company, the senior partner is implicated in that attack. I do not wish to object to the hon. Member's references to myself, in bad taste though they are, and unjustified, as I am certain they are. But when he says that no attack was made on a colleague of mine, who is senior partner in a firm accused of trading with the enemy, then I absolutely deny it.


The attack was concerned with a person about which quite unreasonable—

Photo of Mr Walter Elliot Mr Walter Elliot , Lanark

I do not wish to interrupt the hon. Member for one moment. [HON. MEMBERS: "Order."]


The point was—

Photo of Mr Walter Elliot Mr Walter Elliot , Lanark

There were two attacks.


The hon. and gallant Gentleman added another name, that of Sir Basil Zaharoff, to the least doubtful of honours, but that name was of very little importance among others of importance. The effect of these charges is very great on the relations between this country and Turkey. But that example shows us how very difficult it will be for any Committee, whether a Select Committee or a Royal Commission, to go into the details of this matter because it might not be that actual money, or kind, had passed between any gentleman or any Government. It might be that the money was given in quite a different manner. It is said, as an example, that money was paid to the Government, or to certain sections of the Government staff, in order that the "Daily Chronicle" newspaper should be bought. How on earth can any Committee say that was so—


Quite easy!


—and whether or not these people could be identified? I believe it will be possible to add a great number of these names. I think there have been certain names of people, justified or unjustified, brought into unnecessary relief.

All the observations I have to make in this Debate come from one who has had no practical experience in being offered honours, and I cannot claim either that I have been offered any honour in return for money. I am very glad to see the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Heading (Colonel L. Wilson) in the House now. For the last two hours the only representatives of the Government on the Front Bench have been the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport and the hon. Member the new Scottish Whip (Mr. M. Scott). No doubt the Scottish Whip is considering a new Scottish policy in this matter. What, however, we want to hear in this Debate is the hon. and gallant Gentleman to whom I have just alluded, or the hon. Member for Northampton (Mr. McCurdy) or both. We were told by the Prime Minister that he had no knowledge of how this money was paid for this or that title. Before we adjourn we have a right to ask the two hon. Gentlemen I have mentioned, one, or preferably both, to give us the full benefit of their knowledge of this very important matter. Attacks upon this honours question come from two sides. They come from those who have already got titles whether they have held them for two minutes, two months, two years, or two hundred years, and who very naturally wish that their order should be kept select because in the words of the well-known writer it is not much of a thing to be a duke if dukes are three a penny: and the attack also comes from those like myself and other hon. Members who are genuinely disgusted at the manner in which honours have been flaunted about. There is a general feeling in the country, because unfortunately the public are not very enlightened in this matter, that honours are still given for service to the State.

I am rather sorry that the chief spokesmen to-night, who moved and seconded the Resolution, are such very close supporters of the Government. I am always very doubtful when I see these Resolutions put forward by staunch supporters of the Government. I say nothing about the hon. Member for Wood Green (Mr. G. Locker-Lampson). I am sure he would not be guilty of anything of the sort to which I refer, but when hon. Members who are such close supporters of the Government put forward a hostile Resolution of this sort, there is always too much chance that before we go to a Division the Resolution will be watered down if not withdrawn. If I may prophesy, that is what is going to happen to-night! It is rather singular that it is a particular party. It is very lucky the Government should have this Resolution before the House. It comes at a very opportune moment, as there has been a great real of discussion about honours in the Press and elsewhere. I believe if the truth were told, if the Patronage Secretary would give us some of the information he possesses, we should probably find that the charge for honours was going down, and that there was a slump in the market for honours. What is going to be the result of this Debate? The result of the Debate is to be the appointment of a Royal Commission. That Commission will sit and talk and discuss and produce a Report, and it will Have the effect of restoring confidence to the public. The price of honours will go up again, and the Government will be able to get more money for the party funds. The real result of this Debate will be to burnish up the crowns and coronets.

A certain amount has been said as to the, difference between this and past Governments. There is not very much difference. In the Asquith Government I find there were only 106 peerages, while under the present Government there have been 108. The really important matter, which hon. Members have to look at to-night in discussing this question, is the title of the people who have been rewarded. If we make a comparison between these two Governments, we find that in the Asquith Government 84 of these peerages could be brought under the rubric of political and public service rewards, while under the present Government only 55 could be so classified. We find this—this seems to me to be the most important difference between the present and the past—in the Asquith Government 108 honours were bestowed to business men, while under the present Government there were 173, or very nearly double, bestowed on business men. Neither of these Governments, the Asquithian or the present, appear to have thought it worth while to reward soldiers and sailors. Only seven rewards were bestowed under the Asquith regime, and only 24 by the present Government on soldiers and sailors, which is just on a par with those bestowed on War pensioners and their dependants. During the period of the War the lives of these people were valuable, and they were held in esteem. When it was all over they could go back to obscurity.

Another comparison which is I think worth notice is that during the Asquith Government 22 men connected with literature and science were rewarded, whereas during the present régime only four have been rewarded. I think that shows the psychology of whoever is responsible for recommending the honours at present. The Prime Minister realises that literature and science or men of high degrees are of very little propaganda value in a general election, and so men in the sphere of literature and science are disregarded when it comes to the question, of giving away honours. Nowadays we give honours to business men and to the kindred newspaper men, not forgetting the brewers. But the present Prime Minister shows he is a realist in this question of giving honours. He only gives them to one class of people, and that is the people who have got money, the wealthy. I think his feelings can be well described by quoting what was said a great many years ago by Carteret— What is it to me who is a judge or a bishop? My business is to make kings and emperors, and to maintain the balance of Europe. To-day a very similar state of affairs exists. The only thing that affects the Prime Minister is the man who has wealth or who has power. I find that the organ of the Diehards, the "Morning Post," has been one of the most outspoken journals on this question of honours, but they made the mistake which has been repeated by a great many hon. Members, that is by thinking that public opinion will settle this honours question. I think that is approaching it from an entirely wrong direction, because, as a matter of fact, the people who control public opinion are just the people who are being given these honours about which complaint is being made. One of the complaints we make is that the giving of honours gives to certain people a great power in this country. Simply because a man is made a knight, a baronet or a peer, what he says afterwards in public is reported in the newspapers, and that is how public opinion is formed. Therefore it is idle to say that public opinion can settle this question of honours. The "Morning Post" has been inveighing against the indiscriminate giving away of baronetcies, and this morning they say: Now we should like to know if any sensible man considers that to "contest" two Parliamentary elections is a public service appropriate to the revard of the illustrious style and title of baronet, not only for one Hildebrand Harmsworth, but for all the succeeding Harmsworths from now to the crack of doom? What hon. Members do now in criticising these new baronetcies is to forget that because a title happens to be an old one it is always supposed to be honourable. That criticism comes from hon. Members who happen to belong to those who have got titles whether they have had them for two years or 200 years. As a matter of fact, we find that, as long as there have been such things as titles, certainly a great percentage of them have been given for unworthy and dishonourable reasons, and you have not to go far back for an illustration. The Prince Regent gave honours to those who assisted him in his carousals at Brighton. At the time of the Reformation, amongst many families who now constitute typical examples of the aristocracy, were many of the parvenus of that age who did well out of the War of the Roses and the middle classes of that age, who received from that upstart and robber of henroosts, Thomas Cromwell, who wanted a new nobility, titles which are respected to-day. The historian Hallam quotes the ancient family of Russell and Cavendish as examples of those who got titles during the Reformation.

9.0 p.m.

We are told that the illustrious style and title of Baronet was first brought into existence by James I largely as a shift for raising money on a strictly cash basis. Later on some of our higher titles, and especially Dukedoms, were conferred upon the husbands and sons of the charming ladies who found favour in the eyes of the Merry Monarch, Charles II. The fortunes of one ducal family whose descendant now graces the Government Bench and who is now a Member of the Cabinet was founded by a distinguished General whose honesty and loyalty were called in question more than once by all the parties of the day. In the eighteenth century more recently, we find honours were bestowed on business men for the despicable work of carrying on the slave trade in the West Indies. To quote one final example, of the crop of titles which date from the Union with Ireland when, in order to overcome the opposition of the Irish borough-mongers, Lord Castlereagh and Lord Cornwallis went round freely distributing a peerage here and a pension there on a scale never previously known.

I think it is quite clear from all this that you cannot assume that because people have had a title for 200 or 300 years it is necessarily an honest title. This granting of honours and titles is irretrievably bound up in the whole question of the House of Lords and the reform of that Chamber, which is made all the more pernicious by the new Resolutions which the Government have just brought in to deal with the constitution of the other place. It seems to me that the Government is prepared to bring in Resolutions of this sort taking away the right of this House, and the right of Mr. Speaker in regard to Money Bills, and that is not likely to give more power to this House to reform the honours system. I welcome this Debate, however, because it will make a great many people outside think about this question of honours, and it will bring the searchlight of public opinion upon the very regrettable system we have in this country. This will not take place as much as we should like because in regard to the whole question of honours the mouth of the Press and the mouths of those who control it have already been muzzled by the very system which we are criticising. However, I am sure there will be some people who will be able to read between the lines.

The Prime Minister, in his speech which nobody applauded except the hon. Member who was put up to support the Government by the Coalition Whip, practically admitted that honours are given for cash. I cannot help thinking that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Paisley (Mr. Asquith) has not made the matter any clearer. As far as I could follow his speech it was a defence of the right to accept money from people in return for knighthoods. I think he said that if a man could not speak, or was not handy with the pen, you must see what amount he can give to the party fund. I shall support the Amendment on the Paper in the name of the hon. and gallant Member for Leith (Captain Benn). I think the whole question of honours ought to be considered, and it is no good having a Committee to advise as to future honours. As long as the golden calf is the goal and the betterment of the people is forgotten, so long will the Government of any party which looks after vested interests, protects property and profiteers in the way this Government has done, we shall not be able to get very far by discussing the question of honours. I hope the Amendment I have referred to will be moved so that we may have an opportunity of supporting it.

Photo of Mr John Mills Mr John Mills , Dartford

I should like your ruling, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, as to whether it is permissible for this Amendment to be moved, or are you going to rule it out of order? The Amendment I refer to is the one standing in the name of the hon. and gallant Member for Leith (Captain W. Benn), which is to insert after the word "Majesty" the words "and the desirability of abolishing hereditary titles."

Photo of Sir Edwin Cornwall Sir Edwin Cornwall , Bethnal Green North East

The Amendment has not yet been moved by the hon. and gallant Member for Leith Burghs.

Photo of Mr John Mills Mr John Mills , Dartford

I asked for a ruling because I am hoping it may be my pleasure to move it. in the absence of the hon. and gallant Member who has put it down. If it is in order, I will move, after the words "His Majesty," to insert the words "and the desirability of abolishing hereditary titles." I think every Member of this House who values the principle of representative government will feel that somehow or other the air is being cleared as a result of this Debate, because out of it is evolving the whole basic question of government and a far bigger question than the mere question of promotion. We are now getting down to the fundamentals of government. We are discovering that expediency is not permissible in the law of morals.

Photo of Sir Edwin Cornwall Sir Edwin Cornwall , Bethnal Green North East

The hon. Member asked if I would accept the Amendment. I doubt whether it is not outside the scope of the Motion on the Paper, which refers to the appointment of a Select Committee to consider the present method of submitting names of persons for honours…and to report what changes, if any, are desirable in order to secure that such honours shall only be given as a reward for public service. That does not enable the hon. Member to so widen the scope of the Debate as to bring in the question of the abolition of hereditary titles. I think that would require another Motion.

Photo of Captain William Benn Captain William Benn , Leith

On that point of Order. I had not intended to move the Amendment at present, because I did not want to bring the Debate down to a narrow issue, and not because I am running away from the proposal. I submit as a point of Order that the words "what changes are desirable in order to secure that such honours shall only be given as a reward for public service" justify the Amendment. It is quite obvious that hereditary titles cannot be given as a reward for service to be rendered by a grandson or great grandson, and this is one of the changes that might be made. I therefore submit that the Amendment is in order.

Photo of Sir Edwin Cornwall Sir Edwin Cornwall , Bethnal Green North East

I do not agree with the hon. and gallant Gentleman. I think there ought to be a limit to the discussion, and I cannot accept the Amendment.

Photo of Mr John Mills Mr John Mills , Dartford

Most respectfully, I should like to ask for a reconsideration of that ruling. I fail to see how it is possible to limit the discussion, and to rule the Amendment out of order. Obviously, a man might have a title given for services rendered which would expire on the death of the person on whom it is conferred.

Photo of Sir Edwin Cornwall Sir Edwin Cornwall , Bethnal Green North East

I have given my ruling on that point.

Photo of Mr John Mills Mr John Mills , Dartford

Of course, I bow to your ruling, but I want to point out that out of this Debate is evolving the basic question of the morality of Governments. Out of it is emerging from the leading Ministers in this House and in the other House statements which prove conclusively that to them expediency is the only determining factor. If we are going to come down to this on a question of morals, I suggest there is no jurist who can be referred to in the whole history of literature who would ever admit expediency into the law of morals. For that reason, I want to draw attention to statements made in this and in the other House, and I want to show how shallow is the kind of criticism used. It is merely an attempt to perpetuate and brighten tarnished reputations. It does not get back to the basic idea that honours and rewards should be given for services rendered. The trend of civilisation is always presumably upwards, and accordingly we assume we are developing towards that state where we shall secure the greatest possible service without any hope of reward or without any of the taints formerly associated with the creations of particular periods. We have had the highest Minister of the Crown in the ether House giving his reasons in these words: I myself was pleased when some years ago I became a Peer and a Member of this House, and was made a Baron. I was living in dangerous days, as were all of us. I was undertaking a voyage more or less dangerous, and I thought with pleasure that if I died in the course of it, it would be a satisfaction to me to know that my son would not bear a name not easy to distinguish from other names. The Noble Lord's common or garden name was Smith.

Photo of Mr Carlyon Bellairs Mr Carlyon Bellairs , Maidstone

Are we entitled to quote recent Debates in another House? I believe that on a previous occasion you ruled that I was not entitled to do so, and I abided by your ruling.

Photo of Sir Edwin Cornwall Sir Edwin Cornwall , Bethnal Green North East

I quite realise the point made by the hon. and gallant Gentleman. I admit there is substance in it, but while it is contrary to the Rules of this House to refer to Debates which take place in another place, I feel I cannot be as strict as usual in enforcing that rule to-day, in view of the very unusual Motion now before the House.

Photo of Mr John Mills Mr John Mills , Dartford

I wanted to point out that after all the Debate was proving certain things, and I was attempting to show that by referring to the speeches of leading Ministers of the Crown in both Houses. The leading Minister in another House as well as in this House appears to be actuated by the law of expediency. They have a very low idea of the kind of reward that should be achieved for services rendered. If the proposed quotations are known to my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Maidstone (Commander Bellairs) and if he is aware that they will prove damaging, perhaps we can refrain from any further quotation. But I do think that if any Member of this House has occasion he should be allowed to draw the attention of Members of the House to certain points in the matter of debate. We are accused of all sorts of things. It is a fact that many of the people who agree to differ and are quite prepared to jeer are the very people who, if they would only read Blue Books and the Records of Debates in both Houses, would be far more helpful in these Debates than they are at the present moment. I will, however, leave the quotations from speeches in the other House and refer to them merely from memory. One Noble Lord speaking there said that, so far as he was concerned, if a man was rich he ought to subscribe to the party funds. If he were rich and was not endowed with the best intelligence, that did not prevent the Government giving him some upward lift in return for the money they received from him, because that money might develop a mentality in another youth which might have in it some of the germs of Statecraft. He therefore justified it on the ground of expediency.

My object, in hoping that this Amendment might be accepted by the Chair, was to point out that, throughout the whole history of the other House, we have a long record of tragic degeneracy arising out of the conferring of peerages in the generations that have gone by. The Courts are crowded, even to-day, with the records of the dissolute deeds of the eldest sons of those who have been promoted for services within their generation: and, because they have been promoted in their day and generation, humanity has to be cursed with their offspring, who not only carry into perpetuity a name for good services rendered, but are also able to influence the legislation that may make or mar the development of a country. I do submit that, following this Debate, something bigger and more far-reaching than many Members have thought will arise from the work of the Royal Commission, if there is to be one—for I presume, by what we have seen behind the Speaker's Chair, that there is no likelihood of a Division, but that there is likelihood of agreement, and that the people who sup- ported this Motion will think that all has been achieved in this best of all possible worlds. I, too, could have hoped that either the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Reading (Colonel Leslie Wilson) or the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Northampton (Mr. McCurdy) had intervened in the Debate, because I am certain that, if the Patronage Secretary had intervened, he would have taken the biscuit in more than the Reading sense. He would have added to to the piquancy of this Debate, and would probably have added a lot to the presumed ignorance of the Prime Minister as to the particular reasons why titles were being given.

My point, however, is that politics are only sound when they are conducted on principles of morality, because they are, in fact, the morals of a nation. I quite admit that morals are not unchanging. For instance, we can easily go back a few centuries to the time when a man who lived by usury would be hanged to the nearest lamp-post by his thumbs for a period of time for daring to be guilty of the crime of earning money without doing any useful work in return. Morals have changed since the 13th century, and to-day it is probably the royal road to a peerage to be guilty of usury. It is one of the most virtuous institutions at the present moment. If, however, we are going to build up a really representative assembly that will stand for public life without thought of honours for work done, we ought to see if it is not possible to profit by the undoubted errors of the past, and to abolish this idea of hereditary peerages—to abolish the idea that you can carry genius into perpetuity. I am certain that there are some dukes who are just as daft as dustmen, if dustmen are, indeed, daft. All those who have gone to the other House for enlightenment, and who have listened to the kind of authorities quoted by those who have posed as Noble Gentlemen, undoubtedly come away with the idea that a dustman could easily transcend that particular point of brilliancy. When we have one of these Noble Gentlemen who write all about the Bolshevist conspiracy from Bristol to Bagdad telling the other House that he knew someone who had approached someone else who had heard a letter read out offering peerages and baronetcies at varying prices, one can only wish that this Com- mission, if set up will—[Interruption]—I dare say this may be annoying to the hon. Member for Mossley (Mr. Hopkinson), but there are the Smoking-Room and the Library. If he attempted to interrupt his own particular leader—

Photo of Sir Philip Magnus Sir Philip Magnus , London University

May I ask if the hon. ember is in order in raising the question of the desirability of abolishing all titles?

Photo of Mr John Mills Mr John Mills , Dartford

I hoped that we should have profited by the experience of many generations, if honours have to be conferred, though I do not agree that honours have to be conferred. Democracy has its own honours. We have men who go through a lifetime of work in the ordinary crafts of our country, and we reward them in our own way. We do not seek to give them the power of life and death over other people, but a man will treasure in his cottage home an award of merit, and these things are handed down and just as highly prized as many of the things that are regarded as valuable by the people on the other side. We have our own rewards, and I am certain that, if this matter were removed from the mere question of financial gain, if we were to separate the question of private wealth and real service to the State in the rewards that we give, and if, above all, we were to prevent an award given in this generation from going on till the crack of doom, we should have achieved a much more statesman-like method of rewarding merit than those who have preceded us in the deliberations of this House.

Photo of Sir William Davison Sir William Davison , Kensington South

In the few moments for which I desire to detain the House, I will not follow the hon. Member for Dartford (Mr. Mills), whose speech, I think, has been largely irrelevant to the Motion we have been discussing.

Photo of Sir Edwin Cornwall Sir Edwin Cornwall , Bethnal Green North East

It is not in Order for the hon. Member to start his speech by a reflection upon the Chair.

Photo of Sir William Davison Sir William Davison , Kensington South

I apologise, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. I did not desire to reflect upon you. I used the word largely." did not think the speech was sufficiently irrelevant to enable you to rule it out of Order. One of the points to which I desire to direct the attention of the House is a point in the Prime Minister's speech, in which he said that, in considering whether or not he would recommend any particular person for an honour from the Crown, he was always particular to see that he was not informed as to whether or not that person had made any payment to parry funds. He made a special point of that. When this matter was last considered was in the House of Lords in October, 1917, and, after an exhaustive Debate on the subject, two Resolutions were passed, which were accepted by Lord Curzon on behalf of the Government, and on behalf of the Prime Minister, that is to say, of the present Prime Minister. Those Resolutions were accepted, and it was understood that Governments in the future, and certainly the Government which had accepted them would abide by them. One of those two Resolutions, which has already been referred to to-day, was as follows: That a definite public statement of the reasons for which the honour has been recommended to the Crown shall accompany the recommendation of the grant. That has been alluded to to-day. With regard to that I am bound to say I felt that in the speech of the Prime Minister to-day there was a great lack of candour. We heard of people in the past who had been guilty of malpractices in the recommendation of honours to His Majesty the King far back in history. The Prime Minister did not deal with a single case in which he himself had been responsible for the recommendation. The Prime Minister of the day is not responsible for any recommendations of his predecessors, but he is for his own recommendations.

From beginning to the end of his speech the Prime Minister did not state, for example, who it was who recommended and for what reason the honour of a peerage was offered to Sir Joseph Robinson. We know that Sir Joseph Robinson's life was spent entirely in South Africa, yet none of the four Governors-General, who, during recent years, have been responsible for that great Dominion, had any knowledge of the services which that gentleman had rendered to the Crown; nor was the Colonial Minister consulted, nor the Prime Minister of the Dominion of South Africa. Yet the Prime Minister, speaking for a prolonged time to-day, never informed the House of any reason which actuated him in recommending that name to the King. I think some explanation ought to be forthcoming from the Prime Minister, in the course of this Debate, with regard to that recommendation.

The second Resolution, passed by the House of Lords in October, 1917, which was accepted by Lord Curzon on behalf of the Government, was this: That the Prime Minister, before recommending any person for any such honour or dignity, should satisfy himself that no payment or expectation of payment to any party or political fund is directly or indirectly associated with the grant or promise of such honour or dignity. If the Prime Minister, as he said to-day, never inquired whether any payment had been made by the person recommended for the honour or dignity, how can he have satisfied that Resolution, which was accepted by the Government in October, 1917, as incidental to the recommendation for all honours in future? It seems to me a contradiction in terms for the Prime Minister to say that he never inquired whether any money had been paid or any promise of contribution had been given. While he and his Government are bound by the Resolution I have just indicated, that he, before he recommends any names to His Majesty the King, has to satisfy himself that no payment or expectation of payment to any party or political fund is directly or indirectly associated with the grant or promise of such honour or dignity. I hope the representative of the Government will draw the Prime Minister's attention to this matter, or that the Leader of the House, when he replies, will refer to it, as the House is entitled to some explanation.

Photo of Mr Carlyon Bellairs Mr Carlyon Bellairs , Maidstone

A matter which caused me considerable astonishment was that both the Prime Minister and his predecessor could have said that they turned a blind eye to the gifts to the party funds. It enables me to understand, almost for the first time in my life, what Lord Sidmouth meant when he said, "A very important part of wisdom is to know what to overlook." The sort of thing to which they must, therefore, be turning a blind eye is that, whenever a subscription of £100,000 comes into the party chest, we are given to understand that the Prime Minister knows nothing whatever about it. It would cause me very considerable astonishment if he were to tell me that he never hears that a subscription of £100,000 or £50,000 comes into the party chest. As a rule, when gentlemen give large subscriptions to hospitals, they do not wish their fame to blush unseen. We all hear of their gifts. Why should not the Prime Minister, even, hear of these gifts to the party funds? The sort of thing I mean is this—I will take a quotation from a gentleman whom the Prime Minister very much esteemed, the late Lord Rhondda. Speaking in Wales in 1912, he said: He knew one South Wales peer who was paying for his honour on the hire-purchase-piano system, but he died before finishing the instalments, and the executors refused to conclude the payments, saying they had no further use for the title. That is the sort of thing, and so long as Prime Ministers in this country ignore subscriptions that go into the party funds, we shall have a system of touts straying about this country and offering titles. I agree with what Lord Loreburn said, that there were no touts where there was no trading, and he pointed out that he had heard of quite a number of these transactions.

I asked a question at Question Time about the Sale of Offices Act, passed in 1809. The Government will acknowledge that there are no sales of offices now, so that the Act is not really required any more. The Act was wanted in 1809, and evidently it has been so successful that it has absolutely stopped the sale of offices. It would be a simple matter for the Government to extend that Act—it would pass without opposition in this House—to the sale of honours. That would do something to stop this system of touts. I rather understood the Prime Minister to say that the Government were willing to prosecute. The Duke of Northumberland says he has got all the evidence at his disposal, and is willing to give it to the Government. Let them call upon the Duke of Northumberland to produce his evidence. Let them act upon that evidence of actual authentic cases of touts going about offering to sell titles. The Prime Minister said that the same complaint has been going on for 30 years past. That only proves our case. If it has been going on for 30 years, it is time it came to a stop. The Prime Minister referred us to Sir William Harcourt's very facetious answer, given some 28 years ago. It was possible to make fun of this 28 years ago, but it is not possible to make fun of it now. I think after 30 years it is too serious.

It began to be a real evil with the growth of the caucus system which, I believe, was only invented in the eighties. It was perfected in Birmingham. With the growth of the caucus system the necessity for party funds came about. I honestly believe that if we abolish this system, by which men make very large subscriptions to party funds in the hope of getting honours, a great number of people, when they realise that that system is abolished, will give a large number of small subscriptions to the central fund. People who button up their pockets now and refuse to subscribe to the central fund will then begin to subscribe. The Prime Minister said that statistics in regard to the honours which he has distributed were complicated by War honours. If, however, we take 1921, and half of the year 1922, which are not war years—one and a half years of peace—we find that 26 peerages have been given, peerages which are equivalent to what Nelson earned at the Battle of the Nile. Presumably they were for services comparable to the services of Nelson and his men at the Battle of the Nile. No less than 74 baronetcies were bestowed in 18 months. They were equivalent to what Nelson got at St. Vincent. 294 knighthoods were given, and that was the honour given to Sir Francis Drake and Sir Isaac Newton. It is impossible for the Prime Minister to scrutinise a big list like that properly. I think the only real cure is to limit the number of peerages, baronetcies and knighthoods which can be given in a single year, except in war time, which we all recognise is abnormal.

Photo of Mr Frederick Banbury Mr Frederick Banbury , City of London

And then only for war services.

Photo of Mr Carlyon Bellairs Mr Carlyon Bellairs , Maidstone

Then, as the right hon. Gentleman says, only for War services. My own proposal would be to limit the peerages to two a year and the baronetcies to four a year. I make no suggestion in regard to knighthoods. I regard them as almost beyond hope of reform. It is no new proposal to limit the numbers. In 1719 the House of Lords passed a Measure to limit the number of peers to six more than the existing House of Lords. The Bill passed the House of Lords on 2nd March, 1719, and a Message was received from the King relinquishing the prerogative of creating peers. That Bill was defeated in the Commons on the ground that it made the Peers a caste apart and would prevent the House being recruited from the great middle classes to a great extent.

All that I think the Mover and Seconder and those who have signed the Resolution want is that the system by which titles are conferred as a result of contributions to the part)' funds should come to an end and that titles shall only be given for merit to men of character. If that be done, I do not think we want to rake up the past. I certainly do not. Let the past bury its dead provided we get satisfactory guarantees. It is not enough for the Prime Minister to say the evil has always existed. The same contention was used once by a great judge, Lord Verulam, better known as Bacon, who said that corruption of the judges had always existed, and he was able to say he was a much more honest judge than any of his predecessors. That did not prevent Parliament from disgracing him. I do not think that is a sufficient answer. I hope the Royal Commission when it sits will recommend that the larger subscriptions given to the party funds shall come before the public eye. I think it is important that the large subscriptions should be published. The Americans compel these large subscriptions to be published, because they have another danger, and I want to guard against that danger. There is a great risk that exists in America of corporations making large subscriptions to party funds with interested motives in connection with the tariff. I know it is contended by many that to try to stamp out corruption is very much like squeezing an india-rubber ball. The evil appears in another direction. We want to guard against the evil appearing in any direction whatever.

My hon. Friend who spoke last referred to the Resolution of 1917. There was another Resolution passed unanimously by the House of Lords in February, 1914. That Resolution expressly asked for the concurrence of the House of Commons, and though passed early in the Session no notice whatever was taken of it. I do not think that is a courteous way to treat the House of Lords. The Government of the day ought to have taken notice of it and enabled the House of Commons to debate it. If we deal with subscriptions to party funds, we have only half dealt with the evil. For instance, a man buys a newspaper and runs it in support of the Government. That is about as direct a subscription to party funds as can be imagined. I cannot help noticing that practically all the great newspaper proprietors have become peers. Sir George Cadbury, who is a baronet, is the only one who has not become a peer. In some way we want to stop methods by which a man pays money for the services of the party. It is impossible to say that all these noblemen and gentlemen who own newspapers were really deserving of the honours they had got compared with Nelson's Battle of the Nile, for instance. In 1908, I read the other day, 170 of the peers had been Members of the House of Commons. Some, of course, got there because they were next-of-kin, but the great majority, I am afraid, got there because they were simply supporters of the Government of the day. When I look at the gentlemen who are sent to the House of Lords from this House, I cannot help thinking that they are by no means the select of the elect of this House, and that we often make a man a baron of the State because he is barren in Debate. I can quite understand any man of over 70 wishing to go into one of the best clubs in London, which the House of Lords undoubtedly is. If a man is over 70 there are 70 good reasons. But we do not find that the best men in this House ever do want to go to the House of Lords. They want to stay here. I shall welcome this Royal Commission provided the names are satisfactory to the House. I agree that the way to find out if they are satisfactory to this House is for the Government to consult the leaders of the different parties, including that important section, the Die-hard party, and the Mover and Seconder of the Resolution ought to be consulted. If the Lord Privy Seal is able to assure the House that those names will be submitted to these hon. Members I feel certain the House itself will be satisfied with the Royal Commission.

Photo of Mr John Rawlinson Mr John Rawlinson , Cambridge University

I do not differ from what the last speaker said, but for the life of me I cannot understand why he objects to the publication of the party funds by each party. It would clear away a very large amount of the difficulty and distrust hanging round this Debate. It is a very simple matter, and I have never heard any good reason for them not being published. I can understand it not being desirable to publish the way in which they are spent, but what possible motive can there be in concealing from the public and the House who it is who subscribes to the party funds? I am a comparatively mean man myself, but on the rare occasions when I give a subscription to anything, I am a little shy about my name appearing, and I am bound to admit I prefer to go under an anonymous name. But I never see that sign of modesty about my brother Members. At any rate, we may take it there is no good reason, if the Debate is not only to end in talk, why a short Act should not be passed enforcing publication of subscriptions to party funds in each part of the House. As far as the Labour Members are concerned, we know we have an Act, which it is out of order to discuss, so I say no more about them.

I really rose to deal with the Commission which has been suggested. There are three classes of people on whom honours have been conferred. The first class are those who, everyone admits, are fully entitled to them—people in the Navy or the Army, like Lord Nelson, and people in other walks of life, who undoubtedly are fully entitled to a peerage. With them this Motion has nothing to do. On the other side of the scale there are people who have got a black mark against their name—"known to the police" as we sometimes say in another place. No doubt this Motion is intended to prevent them getting honours very easily in the future. No doubt this Commission, if it is set up, will understand that it is its business in future to prevent people whom there is anything against coming upon the Honours List. That there will be no difficulty about. What the Bouse wants to know is whether you really mean to deal with the third class or not, the class of person against whom there is nothing either in this House or outside it, but who would not have the slightest chance of ever becoming peers or baronets unless they paid for it. Do you not want that to be dealt with? I am not so sure. If you do, will this Commission deal with it, and are they meant to deal with it? I am not dealing with this Government. I have no intention of scoring off the present Government. We are now dealing with a question which is outside party polities. I have had to advise upon matters, and I will not give names, for professional reasons, but I know that 20 years ago, when the Conservative party were in power, people were requested to take honours, provided that a certain sum was paid to the party funds. In one case that I know of, a definite amount was paid before the honour was granted. In due course the honour was granted, and the man is alive at the present time I have not a word to say against him, but unless that payment had been made he never would have received the title. I did not know until to-night that there was any doubt that that system existed, even up to the present time. I cannot say that I have such a strong feeling against it as the hon. and gallant Member for Central Hull (Lieut.-Commander Kenworthy), who has just intervened. What I want to know is, whether this Commission is going to inquire into the point whether in the past it has been possible to obtain honours by a perfectly respectable person making a payment of money to party funds. Is the Commission meant to inquire into that or not? The hon. and gallant Member for Chelsea (Sir S. Hoare) said that he did not wish to rake up the past. Does the Government, in setting up this Commission, mean that it shall be the duty of the Commission to inquire whether or not it has been the practice in the past to give honours to suitable people upon payment of a particular sum of money, or is that not to be raked up, and is the past to be allowed to be buried?

The terms of reference are distinctly vague, and I do not know whether the Commission is meant to make the inquiry I have suggested. Is it meant to prevent people of an undesirable nature—speeches have been made pointing out certain defects in the lives of people who have received titles—against whom something is known, receiving honours, or is it intended to prevent the creation of honours in return for payment to party funds? Do let us be honest. I do not want to say that payment for honours in certain circumstances may not be even admissible. We live in a commercial age, and I am afraid that plutocracy has a great hold in all branches of society, and that there is a large number of people who are anxious to get a title, who are willing to pay for a title, and who intend to pay for it. I have known more discreditable ways of getting a title than paying a certain amount of money for it. Sidelights occur in regard to business and certain professions which show that where a person has a title given to him very often it means a pecuniary loss to people who are competitors in business. It may not be, under these circumstances:, a desirable state of affairs that a person should be able to make a payment, in order to equalise results so far as business is concerned. The Commission should do one of two things. It may be a convenient way of shelving matters, for the Commission may sit for two years and do nothing, or it may deal with the questions I have indicated, in which case they ought to have a direct mandate from this House to deal with such eases, and they ought not to leave it open by saying that we do not wish to rake up the past. We ought to let the Commission know what they are to do, and when they are to report.

Photo of Colonel Claude Lowther Colonel Claude Lowther , Lonsdale

The House will agree with me that my hon. Friend the Member for Wood Green (Mr. G. Locker-Lampson), who moved the Motion, made a most mild, moderate and clever speech, and I am sorry that the Prime Minister is not in his place, because there are many of us who regret the attitude which he took, and the way he lashed out and turned the vials of his ridicule upon my hon. Friend who opened the Debate evidently thinking that he was going to be met with a speech of a far different nature. It may be Welsh wit, engendered, perhaps, at Westminster, but unfortunately delivered in English. The Prime. Minister not only lashed out at my hon. Friend, but he turned upon my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Chelsea (Sir S. Hoare), who seconded, and accused him of having made a speech which he called critical and contemplative. If I may, in my humble capacity as a back bencher, criticise the speech of the Prime Minister, I should describe it as being critical and hypocritical. It was critical about former administrations, from the time of Simon de Montfort, and it was hypocritical about his own administration. He had a pat on the back for everybody. He had a pat on the back for the House of Commons. He told us that this was the most brilliant assembly the world had ever known. He told us that, with the wonderful flourish of a Welsh chaplain. He advised my Labour Friends, who did not need advice, that they would be very ill-advised if they allowed a scrutiny into this particular subject, because the day was very soon coming when they would be in power—I would not mind that in the least—and that they would find it financially advisable not to have a scrutiny into these matters at the present moment. That is my reading of his speech.

Having patted the House of Commons upon the back, having patted the Labour party on the back, he gave himself a little pat on the back, and said that if only Germany had possessed a Lloyd George she would have won the War. Then he went on to talk of Walpole. He spoke of Walpole, of Canning, of Lord Liverpool, of the Duke of Wellington, and of Lord Melbourne. All these great leaders, these great administrators, trafficked in honours, why should not he? That was his only argument. He talked about the great Debate that took place in 1894. In that Debate the traffic in honours was supported. Why should not he traffic in honours? What a monstrous thing for the House of Commons to come down upon this little man, who knew nothing about it, who was so gripped with great problems, who was dealing with complexities, bristling with difficulties, and expect that he should know anything about the price that had been paid for a peerage, and still less for a baronetcy. He did not even talk about knighthoods. Are these charges defended, or are they not? The Prime Minister made a very able defence of this traffic in honours. Does he wish this system to continue?

I see a tremendous difference between, if you like, a traffic in baronetcies and knighthoods and a traffic in peerages and privy councillorships and seats upon the Front Bench or any honours which carry with them legislative power, and for a very good reason. In the case of honours which carry legislative power, it would mean that we should get undesirable people in the House of Lords or on to the Privy Council, undermining the Constitution of this country, and undermining it at a most difficult moment when we want the master brains of the nation to solve the problems of which the Prime Minister complains. Does the Prime Minister really intend to put a stop to this or not? This ruthless bestowal of peerages is ruining the House of Lords, which was the most brilliant Assembly up to some decades ago, and has been killed by the wholesale distribution of titles. From being the most brilliant Senate in the world, it has fallen to the level of a very second-rate Second Chamber. It is impotent; it is discredited. This at a moment when all thinking people are looking to this Constitution, to Parliament alone, in order to put back this country on the pedestal from which it has fallen. We have got now to so mould our policy as to enable us to deal with the problems of which the Prime Minister spoke this evening, to deal effectively and rapidly, and above all honestly and prudently, with them, so that when the time comes Parliament, and by Parliament I mean this House and another place, may keep the confidence and respect of every right-thinking man in the country.

10.0 p.m.

Photo of Sir Edmund Bartley-Denniss Sir Edmund Bartley-Denniss , Oldham

Though I oppose the Resolution to appoint a Select Committee, and support the Government proposal for a Royal Commission, I am very anxious that the Royal Commission should have full powers of inquiry, of summoning witnesses, obtaining documents, and going into the past. For this reason. Serious charges, detailed with the names of the persons, have been made by several Members, more especially the hon. Member for Canterbury (Mr. R. McNeill), who has brought charges against two of the recently created peers, Sir Archibald Williamson and Mr. Waring. The charges against Sir Archibald Williamson are of such a grave and serious nature that, if they are true, he ought not only not be a peer, but he ought to be struck off the roll of privy councillors, and is not fit for decent society. According to What the hon. Member for Canterbury said, though Sir Archibald Williamson has been for 16 years a Member of this House, and a Minister of the Crown, yet during the War in the archives of the Foreign Office were found letters in which he told his firm in South America that they should take no notice of the Regulations of the British Government, because he was in a position to get them excused. There were also other charges. Further, he said that the Law Officers of the Crown had been consulted as to whether he ought to be prosecuted or not for what he had done. Is it conceivable that in those circumstances the Prime Minister, with a knowledge of what is going on in the Foreign Office, and with the knowledge that the Law Officers has been consulted, bestowed a peerage on Sir Archibald Williamson? What would a straightforward honest man, a Member of this House, have done in the circumstances when he had that in-formation? Before putting it before the House of Commons he would have written to Sir Archibald Williamson and said, "A Debate is coming on on this question of honours. I have most serious grave charges to bring against you. Am I to tell the House of Commons that you admit them, or that it is a libel?" and then he could have come here and said, "I have communicated with Sir Archibald Williamson. He denies these charges, and he wishes them to be investigated." But the hon. Member did not do that. Sir Archibald Williamson had no chance. He cannot speak for himself here, and, to my mind, it is a cruel, and a wrong thing to have brought those charges without communicating with Sir Archibald Williamson who is only across the way.

Photo of Sir Edmund Bartley-Denniss Sir Edmund Bartley-Denniss , Oldham

He does, but this Royal Commission will have to investigate it, and it may be six months or two years or even more before his character is cleared. He has no opportunity in this House, in which he was a most respected Member and a Minister of the Crown, of answering this charge. I know Sir Archibald Williamson, and I have a very high opinion of him myself apart from the charges brought to-night. I do not know Mr. Waring, but the principle in that case appears to be on exactly the same basis. I understand that he met the hon. Member for Canterbury outside the House and told him that what he said was untrue, and that he challenged him to say it in the Press. Will the hon. Member put it in the Press and stand an action for libel? That is the test of being manly and straightforward. I think it only right that he should. I might as well bring against the hon. Mem- ber the charge that he obtained those Foreign Office documents from a subordinate and used them in this House to support this charge—I have no reason to suppose that he did; I have no reason to bring a charge against him—but I might as well bring such a charge against him as he brings the charge against Sir Archibald Williamson. Of course we must have an inquiry now after all that. These men must be cleared. Their reputation is everything to them. The Government, I feel sure, will see their way to go into the past. I hope they will go into the past. How can they say what is to be done in the future if they do not know what has been done in the past? I am a supporter of the Government. I took a pledge at the last election and many other hon. Members took a pledge. They have since broken their word, but I have not broken mine. Let me say, briefly, why I do not approve of a Select Committee. I ask those who propose a Select Committee whether, if Members who had received honours were appointed to that Commitee, they would agree to the proposal? They would not. Then I say, would the House agree if Members who had not received honours were proposed to serve on the Committee? The House would not. It is quite clear, therefore, that a Royal Commision should be appointed of independent men, and that they should have the fullest possible powers to investigate the very grave charges which have been brought under such unfair and unwarrantable circumstances.

Photo of Sir John Marriott Sir John Marriott , Oxford

I beg to move to leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof the words an humble Address be presented to His Majesty, praying His Majesty that he will bo graciously pleased to appoint a Royal Commission to consider and advise on the procedure to be adopted in future to assist the Prime Minister in making recommendations to His Majesty of the names of persons deserving of special honour, and to assure His Majesty that this House will concur in empowering such Commission to take evidence on oath, to compel attendance of witnesses, to grant certificates of indemnity to witnesses in such cases as may he desirable and proper, and to call for all necessary records and documents. I agree entirely with the last speaker that a Royal Commission, with the fullest possible powers, must be appointed, but I hope the House will allow me to lay special stress on the concluding portion of my Amendment, for I believe the House would regard it as an entirely empty form to appoint a Royal Commission unless some such words were included in the reference. I am sure that the whole House would agree with my Noble Friend the Member for Hitchin (Lord R. Cecil), in spite of the hilarity which has been provoked or evoked by {he last speaker, that we are to-night discussing a question of the greatest possible gravity. I think all will agree that, on the whole, the question has been treated with a gravity which is not inappropriate to the subject. I am convinced of one thing. The House will not part with this matter—and if the House were disposed to part with it the country would condemn the House for parting with it—unless full and adequate assurances are given on the essential points. May I insist in two or three sentences on what are the essential points? Nobody questions the fact that if you have a system of party government you must have party funds, and that it is no disgrace to anyone to subscribe to those funds; on the contrary, that it is an honourable duty which those who are able to do it may very well perform. Equally, however, it will be agreed that it is a disgrace that anyone should be recommended for an honour simply on the ground of subscribing to those funds. Further, and much more than that, that it is still more scandalous if any be recommended, despite the fact that he has made those subscriptions, who is not otherwise and for special reasons deserving of the honour. This point has been elaborated at great length to-day, and, therefore, I merely recall to the House what I regard as essential points.

Photo of Mr John Rawlinson Mr John Rawlinson , Cambridge University

Does the hon. Member mean that the inquiry shall be retrospective or that the Commission is merely to deal with the future?

Photo of Sir John Marriott Sir John Marriott , Oxford

I have already said that I would strongly insist that the Commission have power to call for witnesses, papers or records.

Photo of Mr John Rawlinson Mr John Rawlinson , Cambridge University

Does that apply to the past or the future?

Photo of Sir John Marriott Sir John Marriott , Oxford

That is a matter for the Commission. They would have that power. You cannot have records of the future; at least, it would be highly difficult to imagine. The points on which I believe the House would desire to insist are these: (1) That the inquiry, whatever form it take, whether a Select Committee or a Royal Commission, shall be a really genuine and searching inquiry; (2) that the tribunal, whatever it be, shall be equipped with adequate powers, such as those which the Amendment suggests; and (3) that the personnel of the Commission shall be such as to approve itself to independent Members of this House.

Photo of Captain William Benn Captain William Benn , Leith

I beg to second the Amendment.

I understand that the Amendment embodies the offer made by the Government, and I assume, therefore, that the Government will offer no resistance to it. The Amendment makes the offer of the Government operative, by giving to the Royal Commission the necessary powers to call for papers, to compel the attendance of witnesses, and to take evidence on oath. If this matter was grave and urgent when we met this afternoon, it is far more grave after the speech of the hon. Member for Canterbury (Mr. R. McNeill), and after other matters which have come to light. If the Government's offer be a bond fide offer—I have every reason to believe it is—I do not suppose they will resist the Amendment, which, if passed, will be merely a Resolution of this House accepting the offer of the Government and making the inquiry an effective instrument for achieving the purpose we all have in view.

Photo of Commander Hon. Joseph Kenworthy Commander Hon. Joseph Kenworthy , Kingston upon Hull Central

The House is in some difficulty, having only heard the words of the Amendment announced by the Mover and read from the Chair, without having the actual text of a rather complicated proposal on the Paper. Will this proposal enable the case quoted by the hon. Member for Canterbury (Mr. R. McNeill) to be investigated? It falls far short of what the House expects, and what is only fair to the two gentlemen whose names have been mentioned in that speech, if this case cannot be inquired into. If the proposed Commission is only to inquire into the future, then I do not think it meets the case at all. I quite agree, that not much is to be gained by raking up the past and trying to prove charges against this Minister or that, but it is absolutely necessary that cases which have been quoted recently, both in another place and here, should be inquired into at once. The hon. and learned Member for Cambridge University (Mr. Rawlinson) made the extraordinary statement that it did not matter very much if a gentleman, who was otherwise respectable, desired to pay a large sum of money in order that he might be ennobled. I gathered the hon. and learned Member to suggest that such a man might be made a peer as long as there was nothing against him—as long as he was not known to the police.

Photo of Mr John Rawlinson Mr John Rawlinson , Cambridge University

My hon. and gallant Friend must realise that he is absolutely misquoting my point of view. I made a definite point as to there being three different classes of cases. I made a perfectly clear point which I need not repeat to the House now.

Photo of Commander Hon. Joseph Kenworthy Commander Hon. Joseph Kenworthy , Kingston upon Hull Central

I think I am within the recollection of the House in saying that the hon. and learned Member referred to one class which he apparently thought was not so objectionable, and he wanted to know whether the House wished such cases inquired into. There were the cases of the men who were very rich, but otherwise respectable, and who had social aspirations. When I interjected that such a case should, of course, be inquired into, my hon. and learned Friend suggested that I felt very strongly on the point. As a matter of fact, I do not feel so strongly about it except in one respect, and that is that you are not simply giving such a man a handle to his name and giving his children in perpetuity handles to their names. You are enabling him to become a legislator. You do not merely advance his social aspirations but you make him a hereditary legislator, with the power of hindering Measures passed by this House, and of initiating legislation in another place. If there is anything in the power of the House of Lords you make him into a person who for good or ill can alter the destinies of his country, and you do so for nothing more or less than a money payment. I think it scandalous that there should be even the suggestion that-such a system is respectable or is to be defended. I do not know if the Government is going to make any reply. [HON. MEMBERS: "Divide!"] For the most of the evening the Treasury Bench has been untenanted. The Prime Minister has said that he has no knowledge of any money payments being made. Why have we not had a speech from one of the two Patronage Secretaries The Prime Minister pleads complete innocence, but the charge that is made is made against the Patronage Secretaries. They have heard it, they have had full notice of the Debate, and I thought at least one of them would have been put up to make a speech. If not, they must have a very poor case indeed, and I hope, at any rate, that the Amendment that has been moved will draw them to their feet. I am sorry there is nothing on the Paper in the name of the Government as to their actual views on the powers of the Commission, and unless we get something more satisfactory from the Government as to what is going to be done, I hope the many Members who signed the original Memorial will stand to their guns and divide, otherwise it will be the most pitiful example of the House of Commons starting in a mood of fierce activity against the Government and then being, as usual, charmed by the Prime Minister and, I suppose, next morning regretting they had not had more courage when the Division bell rang.

Photo of Mr Austen Chamberlain Mr Austen Chamberlain , Birmingham West

I hope the House will not think I have attended too small a portion of the Debate, but a good deal of the time that I was off this bench was spent in business not unconnected with this subject. I hope the House will show me a little indulgence for the next week or two. I have listened to a large part of the Debate, notwithstanding my absence since eight o'clock or thereabouts. I think I have listened to enough and heard sufficient report of the other part of it to have gathered something of the feeling of the House, of its anxiety, of its wishes, of its purpose, and before I sit down I shall hope to satisfy it. When I say that, I do not lay to my soul the flattering unction that I shall satisfy the hon. and gallant Member for Central Hull (Lieut.-Commander Kenworthy). I am not the heir to an hereditary peerage. If I can control my fate, I shall be known to the end of my life by the title which I have borne from the beginning of it, and it may be that, being thus divorced from the aristocracy, I am not competent fully to share the deep feelings which stir the breast of the hon. and gallant Member. If I cannot share his feelings and cannot altogether understand them, it is hopeless for me to try to convert him, but I think I do understand the feelings of the ordinary Members of this House and of the public outside.

For twenty years or more, at intervals, questions have been raised as to the sale of honours or the grant of honours to unworthy recipients in return for contributions to party funds. I have heard more than one of those Debates. I have sometimes, sitting on that side of the House. thought there was a great deal in the criticisms that were brought forward. I have heard ugly rumours. I know enough not to believe ninety-nine one-hundredths of those rumours. I do not know enough to say that the one-hundredth may not be true, and, if it be true, it is a scandal. It is a scandal which it is in the interest of all of us to prevent. But even if it be not, and if there be no scandal, and the highest at which you can put your charge is that sometimes a mistake has been made—and in regard to that charge, I suppose, every Prime Minister would plead guilty—I do not see how he is to prevent it—of an imperfect knowledge of all the facts at the moment when he made his recommendation—even if that be so, there is a cause for public disquiet, and there is a reason why those who are charged with this most invidious task should seek assistance and prevention against suspicion, unjustified 99 times out of a 100, and the result of a mistake in the hundredth case.

Like other speakers, I want to be perfectly frank with the House, and to have no misunderstanding. I think the argument of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister was misunderstood by some subsequent speakers. Possibly my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, in framing his argument, thought that he had to meet arguments which were not in the minds of hon. Members. That is one of the disadvantages of speaking early in the Debate, and yet I am quite certain, when you speak early in the Debate, you have not only to reply to speeches which are made, but you have to anticipate, as far as you can, the speeches of critics who will speak afterwards, and you may misapprehend the objections which are likely to be raised. The misapprehension, if there be misapprehension, is in regard to political honours, and in regard to how far contributions to party funds should count in any distribution of political honours. The great field of honours is not in challenge to day. The honours given to the Services—the Army, Navy, the Air Force, the Departments of the Civil Service, the Colonial Service—those are not in question. The whole question is what is known as political honours. Now the backbone of the political list is the House of Commons itself. That, with one exception, to which I shall refer later, is not challenged. The service of the country in a party where we are organised as a party Government, the service of the country in Parliament as members of a party, is recognised as one of the claims to public honour, and? hope that it will continue to remain so.

I have spoken of the honours most in question to-day, but I say for myself there was no prouder day of my life than when I was sworn a member of His Majesty's Privy Council. We may differ in our opinions, and may have our idiosyncracies in regard to what it may be possible for us to accept; what honours it may be agreeable to accept; but we like to have our services recognised, not from any snobbishness, but because we think it is the opinion of those who are best fitted to judge that we have served honestly and faithfully and with some advantage this House or the country. Therefore all that class of honours is out of the question. I do not suppose any man who has been in public life as long as I have has not had his patience tried by the armchair politician. If there is any sermon which I preach, to the weariness of my audience, and to the point at which I may be adjudged a prig, it is that I do not care on which side of the House any Gentleman sits—in comparison, of course—I care not which party in the State any man works for—but the man who is the object of my scorn and the object of my indignation is the man who sits at his club fire, or beside his own hearth, and damns anybody who is doing anything, while at the same time he does nothing himself. I respect an honest opponent, as I hope I am respected by him. I welcome the clash of divergent thought, above all, on the Floor of this House, where we are accustomed to listen to men from whom we profoundly disagree, but where in the long run any man, however unpopular his cause, if he be honest, if he be single minded, does not fail to obtain a hearing or to win respect, and even more than respect, the affection of his colleagues. [An Hon. MEMBER: "What has that to do with it?"] Permit me, I think it has. That is the man with whom I have no patience; the man who criticises and does nothing but await the course of events.

Some of us give our lives, some of us who are unable to give our lives to politics give a portion to public service, whether in this House, in the municipality, or on local bodies, but public service of some kind. Some men are able to contribute to the success of the cause in which they believe, as has been said by my hon. Friend the Member for Paisley (Mr. Asquith), not by speech, not by taking a seat in this House, but by contributing to the party funds. I think it would be absurd, in a general review of political services, to say that service by speech is acceptable, that the really popular tubthumper, though he always gives the same speech, and should never be sent to the same place twice, is a worthy recipient, while others are not; that the man who comes to this House and attends to his duties regularly, and sometimes not so regularly, but as regularly as he can, is, by reason of his being a Member of this House, a proper object of consideration for the Prime Minister of the day, while the man who conducts a great business in this country, which is part of the prosperity of the country and the success of the country, who says, "I have not the power of speech, I cannot spare the time to sit on public bodies, but I will make my contribution in money"—that he is not to be considered.

Photo of Lord Hugh Cecil Lord Hugh Cecil , Oxford University

Is the transaction to be disclosed!

Photo of Mr Austen Chamberlain Mr Austen Chamberlain , Birmingham West

Perhaps the Noble Lord will answer my question before he puts another to me. For myself, I have very little to do with these matters I have made recommendations when I was in a different position, sometimes they have been accepted and, I am glad to say, more often than not. I have made recommendations in a more responsible position, and I share responsibility for the recommendations since I have held my present position. The Prime Minister may be responsible for some, but I am responsible for others. I, as well as he, am responsible for the names which have been specifically mentioned in this Debate, and I do not wish to shirk any part of my responsibility.

I ask the House to follow me in the argument in which I am trying to lay my mind bare and give what reasons I can. I ask hon. Members to follow me and say whether they think I am wrong or not. If I am wrong I am judged by the House, and the practice of this country will be different in the future from anything that it has been under any Government in the past. I would never recommend for an honour a man whom I did not think, by his personal and his public conduct, was fitted to receive that honour, and, even if I were privy to the fact that he had made a contribution to the funds of the party to which I belong, that would be, to my mind, an additional claim if I knew it, and I say so frankly, and I believe that would be a case with every Prime Minister or leader of a party who has preceded the present Prime Minister or myself. There are various ways of collecting party funds, and a great number of people contribute to those funds—

Photo of Mr James Sexton Mr James Sexton , St Helens

You will not let us do it?

Photo of Mr Austen Chamberlain Mr Austen Chamberlain , Birmingham West

The hon. Gentleman is referring to what has excited rather stormy scenes in the Committee upstairs, but it is not the misdeeds of the hon. Gentleman and his friends with which I am now concerned. I think it would be a bad day for this country if you excluded the services of party in every capacity from the claims which the Prime Minister is entitled to take into consideration when making his recommendations to the King. As all of us know, with such exceptions as the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Paisley mentioned—exceptions which only serve to prove the rule—political honours are always given to the party in power, and would I, in tendering advice to the Prime Minister, who in turn tenders it to the King, say, "My dear Prime Minister, I should wish to make a recommendation in favour of such and such a hon. Gentleman, a man devoted to the public service, who has spent years of his life in the House of Commons with credit, but I feel bound to recommend to you the hon. Member for so and so because he has been extraordinarily disagreeable to us in the last few weeks"? No Government has ever acted on that principle No Government ever could survive the adoption of that principle. Payment of blackmail is the ruin of anybody who once consents to take that part. I have said so much because I really want to tell the House what is in my own mind and what seems to be implied in some of the speeches, although the right hon. Member for Paisley has not frankly expressed it in his speech. I am not content with the statement that the contribution to party funds is not to be a bar. I think it is one of the considerations which may properly be taken into account by those who are concerned in the recommendations for political honours.

Photo of Mr Austen Chamberlain Mr Austen Chamberlain , Birmingham West

Certainly, and I add this—and this is where I think the public is rightly angry—the contribution to political funds, as the contribution to charitable funds which as oftens obtains an honour, should not be a matter of bargain beforehand: the award should be a free gift afterwards. Will hon. Members allow me to give an instance? I was asked whether I would recommend or obtain a very high honour for a gentleman of, I believe, absolutely blameless life, if he made a very considerable contribution to a national interest wholly unconnected with politics. It was represented to me he was willing to make that contribution if he could have the promise of the honour. I consulted my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and others who had had experience in these matters, and they all said, "You cannot make a bargain of that kind—a bargain of purchase and sale. If the man does a public service that is to his credit he will be considered, but you cannot honestly make beforehand the honour conditional on his doing a particular thing or giving a particular contribution." There was no question of party. I have had the same thing in connection with party, and I refused to have anything to do with it. If my right hon. Friend the Patronage Secretary, or anyone else, tells me that so-and-so has been an active supporter of our party and a generous donor to our funds through his life, and I find him otherwise worthy of the honour which it is suggested he should have, the fact he has been such a generous donor would be to me, and has been to me, in the short time during which I have had to deal with these matters, an additional recommendation. [Interruption.] I am speaking for myself, and should like to be quite frank with the House. Am I to say that, if a man gives a large contribution to a hospital, that is a claim to an honour; but that if he gives, through a long period of years, generous support to his party, that is no reason why I should consider him for a party honour—and political honours are all party honours? I say it is absurd.

I have been led to deal with that matter at greater length than I intended, and I have left myself very little time, but I must say one word about the speech of the hon. Member for Canterbury (Mr. R. McNeill). The hon. Member introduced names which had not been introduced before into the discussion, and he introduced them without any notice to Members of the Government that he proposed to challenge the particular appointments. He introduced them also without any notice to the gentleman who was lately our colleague, and is now a Member of the other House, whose honour he impugned; and without any notice—it is unheard of—to the hon. Baronet the Member for Partick (Sir R. Balfour), who is himself the senior member of the firm, who was in the House up to Seven o'clock, and who, an old man, who was then not feeling very well, left the House without any idea that the conduct of his firm was going to be called in question.

Photo of Mr Ronald McNeill Mr Ronald McNeill , Canterbury

I thought the right hon. Gentleman had heard that at an earlier stage of the Debate I explained that I had no idea that there was a member of the firm who was a Member of this House, and that, if I had had that knowledge, I should certainly have mentioned the matter to him.

Photo of Mr Austen Chamberlain Mr Austen Chamberlain , Birmingham West

I accept that, but I think it is only fair to say that the hon. Gentleman knew that the firm was that of Balfour, Williamson and Company. He named the firm; and the hon. Baronet the Member for Partick is not a new Member of this House. More than that, the hon. Gentleman said that these facts had been of general notoriety since they occurred, if they occurred. The Noble Lord the late Member of our House held office under this Government. Why did not the hon. Gentleman challenge him then? He gave no notice of his intention to raise this question. I have not been in communication—I have not been able to be in communication—with the hon. Baronet who is a Member of this House, but I have no doubt that he and the Noble Lord the Member of the other House will deal with their own case. The other peer whom the hon. Gentleman attacked, Lord Waring, was in the Gallery—

Photo of Mr Frederick Banbury Mr Frederick Banbury , City of London

And made a disorderly interruption.

Photo of Mr Austen Chamberlain Mr Austen Chamberlain , Birmingham West

And made a disorderly interruption. I am not in favour of disorderly interruptions, but sometimes they can be understood, if they cannot be excused. I am informed that the statement which the hon. Member for Canterbury made—that Lord Waring took personal contracts at the White City, and made a fortune from them, while the shareholders of Waring and Gillow received no benefit from them—is the contrary of the fact. I am informed that Lord Waring organised the manufactures at the White City for Messrs. Waring and Gillow exclusively, that the entire benefit and profit went to the Company, and their shareholders, and that the War Office stated that the output attained was phenomenal, and tendered his firm special thanks for relieving them from a grave situation.

I have been reading the first volume of the "History of the War in the Air," by the late Sir Walter Raleigh, whose death is nothing less than a national loss. I have not been able to verify it, but unless my memory is wholly at fault, among the records and matters mentioned there comes an incidental reference to the services rendered by this firm in supplying the deficiencies of the War. I leave the matter with the hon. Member for Canterbury, as I understood him to say he was going to repeat his statement outside.

Photo of Mr George Lambert Mr George Lambert , South Molton

Is there not to be an inquiry into these cases?

Photo of Mr Austen Chamberlain Mr Austen Chamberlain , Birmingham West

No. There I come to the subject to which I wish to devote the few minutes I have left. The hon. Gentleman who moved and seconded this Motion, and those for whom they speak, desire, not an inquiry into the particular recommendations of the period, but an inquiry as to what measures should be taken to secure, in the first place, the greatest possible freedom from mistakes in the future, and, in the second place, to give confidence to the public that no recommendations are made for improper reasons. That claim we are prepared to meet in full. We are prepared to advise His Majesty to appoint a Commission with the terms of inquiry which my right hon. Friend stated, which will be complete and sufficient for the purpose. We are prepared, in advising His Majesty as to the members of that Royal Commission, to consult the leaders of parties opposite and with the prime Mover of the Motion today, both here and in the House of Lords. That statement has already been made in the House of Lords; it has been accepted by the Mover in this matter in the House of Lords, I understand, and from all that took place in my absence, I have no doubt that it will be satisfactory to the hon. Gentlemen who were the prime movers here, and to those with whom they act. That is an inquiry as to how scandal can be prevented in the future, and how suspicion of scandal can be prevented.

If you want an inquiry into particular cases in the past, you must have a wholly different kind of inquiry. It must be a judicial inquiry, for it is an inquiry, as is shown by the speech of the hon. Member for Canterbury, not primarily concerned with the action of the Ministers advising His Majesty the King, but with the conduct of the individuals about whom they have tendered advice. If the hon. Gentleman is to make charges such as he made against Lord Waring or Lord Forres, these gentlemen are entitled, where their honour is concerned, to be heard by counsel, to have a judicial verdict—not political, but judicial. It must be a wholly different tribunal, not a Royal Commission, but a judicial inquiry. If you want to do that, you want to do something more. You want not merely to impeach the honour of men who are our colleagues, or were our colleagues till yesterday. You want to impeach the whole conduct of the Government in the distribution of patronage. If that is the will of the House the will of the House will prevail, but that is a wholly different proposition from that which was advanced by the Mover and the Seconder, and those for whom they spoke, or those with whom they voted in the other House. If you want that, we will meet your challenge, but do not let anyone suppose that we will sit on this Bench, indicted by the House of Commons for an improper use of our powers, under trial by a tribunal on that charge, and still remain Ministers of the Crown. When you pass that Motion we cease to be Ministers of the Crown, as any self-respecting men would, and it will be an unhappy day for this House when men are ready to have a Motion of impeachment, for that is what it is, carried against them by the House of Commons, and still remain Ministers of the Crown. No, that is an entirely different kind of inquiry, an inquiry which, since it must be founded upon allegations against individuals and Members of the Government, whose honour is involved, must be a judicial inquiry. That is not an inquiry which we can consent to as long as we are held responsible for the business of the State.

Photo of Mr George Lambert Mr George Lambert , South Molton

We have a right to demand that the recommendations should be inquired into.

Photo of Mr Austen Chamberlain Mr Austen Chamberlain , Birmingham West

If the right hon. Gentleman desires to impugn the advice the Prime Minister gave to the Crown, let him put a Motion on the Paper impugning that advice. [Interruption.] If you make an accusation—

Photo of Lord Hugh Cecil Lord Hugh Cecil , Oxford University

I did not make any. We had no opportunity.

Photo of Mr Austen Chamberlain Mr Austen Chamberlain , Birmingham West

You had plenty of opportunity. I have two minutes. We cannot accept the Amendment. That is useless for the purpose of the inquiry for which the Mover and Seconder and their Friends ask.



Photo of Mr Austen Chamberlain Mr Austen Chamberlain , Birmingham West

Just as soon as we can do it, with power to inquire, in the Terms of Reference, and to consider and advise what procedure should be adopted in future to assist the Prime Minister in making recommendations to His Majesty. If the House wants to inquire into the past, it must be a different inquiry—a judicial inquiry. If it is to be a judicial inquiry into the past, you cannot ask us to sit on this Bench carrying on all the responsibilities of Ministers while you are arraigning us before a. judicial tribunal.

Lord HUGH CECIL rose



It being Eleven of the Clock, the Debate stood adjourned.

Debate to be resumed to-morrow.