I beg to move,
That this House can have no confidence in a Government which confesses its inability to decide upon a united policy and proposes to violate the long-established constitutional principle of Cabinet responsibility by embarking upon tariff measures of far-reaching effect which several of His Majesty's Ministers declare will be disastrous to the trade and industry of the country.
I am one of the very few Members of a Cabinet who resigned because of a disagreement with the party to which they were attached, thus giving proof of their adherence to principle in social and political matters. I want to recall the fact that the hon. Member for South Poplar (Mr. D. Adams) and his predecessor, Mr.Sam March, and myself, went to prison for six weeks for nothing to do with our personal interest nor for any real offence against the law. During this discussion no doubt we shall hear a great deal about people s conscientious views and their conscientious decisions, but there cannot be any such thing as a collective conscience. Although it may be true that the Home Secretary and his friends have been permitted by the Cabinet to take the action they have taken, they themselves must be responsible, and they cannot put the responsibility on the Cabinet and say, "Well, we would have resigned, but the Cabinet told us not to do so." I should like to ask the Minister of Education, or any Liberal Minister who speaks later, to tell us whether they would both speak and vote against the Government if by so doing they would turn the Government out? It is important that we should have that matter cleared up, because we should then know how far the right hon. Gentleman really feels upon this matter, how far his convictions carry him. I hope that the Minister of Education will reply, but I should be quite satisfied if some other Member of the Liberal party would tell us, because it is so easy to be courageous when there is no danger. I hope that the Home Secretary will take notice of the fact that the present Prime Minister, who was lately Leader of the Labour party, continually chided the minority in our party with being very courageous in marching into the Lobby, when they knew perfectly well the Tory party would save
us from defeat, or, on occasion, the Liberal party would save us from defeat. I cannot myself indulge in any great laudation of the right hon. Gentleman and his friends for their courage in this matter, because it is evident that they would not risk turning the Government out if they had power. I should very much like an answer to that question. In passing, I would say that no one can absolve another person's conscience. The fact that 16 people have told these four other right hon. Gentlemen what they can do, does not absolve them from responsibility.
In regard to the general question, we shall be told, I have no doubt, that this quite an exception. I will come to that in a minute. I want now to say that we are not opposing this procedure because we think that such procedure should not take place on occasion, or because we are opposed to the Members of the Government having freedom of action. I do not understand that the Lord President is going to say to-day that the Government propose permanently to alter the procedure that has been followed for the last 100 years with regard to Cabinet responsibility. If because of the conditions prevailing in the country the Cabinet had come to the conclusion that we ought to have a change in this matter, I think he would have found us quite ready, not only to discuss but to support very drastic changes both in the methods of procedure in this House, and certainly in the relationship which should exist between the Cabinet and the Government. No one, I think, has ever argued that a Cabinet of 20 men, or even a dozen or three men, would always say aye or no on any particular question under discussion, or at all times. We are not arguing that today, or that a Government should not, in some circumstances, make an exception, as is proposed now.
The point that we want to make in that connection is that, so far, we know that the Government have no intention of asking Parliament to change the present position. There is no proposal to abolish the constitutional practice which, in spite of the present Cabinet decision, still remains the custom and unwritten law of the land. At the risk of being charged with not being a constitutional lawyer, I will, in the presence of the Attorney-General, state what the ordinary person like my- self thinks the position is. Members of the Cabinet are members of the Privy Council. They are sworn in before they take office. They are appointed by the Prime Minister, who is appointed by the Crown, and not by this House. The Prime Minister, in turn, submits the names of his colleagues to His Majesty. Of course, in the acceptance of a Cabinet His Majesty has to take account of opinion in this House, and relies on the advice of such of his advisers as he thinks necessary to call in to advise him. Therefore, the Cabinet is not something which is appointed by this House, but the constitutional practice is that the Cabinet is approved by the King, but appointed and chosen by the Prime Minister—[Interruption.] I take it that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham (Sir A. Chamberlain) will have an opportunity of speaking, and there is plenty of legal ability here to prove if I am wrong.
The further point I want to make is that the Cabinet does not of itself resign. It is the Prime Minister who resigns, and, by doing so, the Cabinet comes to an end. It is necessary that that should be understood, because in this matter we have not heard the Prime Minister. I regret the cause of his absence, and hope that he will soon be recovered. We do not know at present on which side of the question the Prime Minister stands, and if it should be that he is on the side of the dissentients, then we have the extraordinary position of a Cabinet being divided, and the head being on one side, and, I suppose, the body on the other. I want also to say that the Cabinet is looked upon as a unit, that the one person who represents the Cabinet is the Prime Minister, and that the Prime Minister is the one person who represents to the Crown the decision of the Cabinet. About that there is not any question:
The Cabinet is a unit—a unit as regards the Sovereign and a unit as regards the legislature.
It is not maintained by the authorities that you can have two voices in regard to the Cabinet in this House:
Its views are laid before the Sovereign and before Parliament as if they were the views of one man. It gives its advice as a single whole, both in the Royal closet and in the hereditary or the representative House.
That is the statement, not of a theorist, but of a man well versed in practical affairs, and recognised as an authority on these matters. I should have thought the Minister of Education would have considered that the late Lord Morley was a respectable authority on such a matter, but Todd's "Parliamentary Government" also says on this question:
It is not therefore allowable for a Cabinet Minister to oppose the measures of government, to shrink from an unqualified responsibility in respect to the same"—
This is a point which the Home Secretary might take to heart—
to refrain from assisting his colleagues in the advocacy of their particular measures in Parliament, or to omit the performance of any administrative act which may be necessary to carry out a decision of the Government, even though he may not have been a consenting party thereto, A Minister who infringes any one of these rules is bound to tender his immediate resignation of office.
I could have quoted another responsible statesman whom the Liberal Members of the Government and the supporters of the Government would appreciate, namely, the late Mr. Gladstone, but I think those two statements will not be controverted. I understand that it is accepted that that is the constitutional usage. I do not think that anyone here will quarrel with those statements of what has been the custom and usage in regard to Cabinet responsibility, but I think the House is entitled to be told—and I am glad to find myself in this matter in agreement with something which was said by, I think, two of the speakers in the Debate last Thursday—to what extent this go-as-you-please policy is to be practised. I should like to know who will report to the King. Will the Home Secretary take up a minority position or will someone on his behalf write a daily letter to His Majesty regarding the sort of pantomime that takes place when Ministers contradict one another, as they did last week? Then I should like to know whether they are going to be allowed to continue their opposition during the Debates upon which we are just going to enter? There will be weeps of discussion on these tariff proposals, and will the Lord President tell the House and country whether these hon. and right hon. Gentlemen are to be allowed to continue a day by day fight, first in the Cabinet,
wasting the time of the country, when we are told that every moment is of importance, and when the House of Commons is discussing these matters, will the right hon. Gentleman lead the campaign against his colleagues on that bench, and will they be able to come down day by day and move and support Amendments against these proposals?
Then I would ask the Lord President, who is going to Ottawa to support the Government? It is a, sort of "Alice in Wonderland" we live in now, but I should have thought we would have wanted a united delegation to Ottawa. I will not say anything about the proceedings of the last Conference, but I should very much like to know whether Viscount Snowden is going to assist in negotiating Imperial Preference? I should have liked to have heard the Postmaster-General on that matter. It is very important. Are we going to speak with two voices to the Dominions? How is it expected that agreement with the Dominions will be obtained when within the Cabinet, and perhaps taking part in the negotiations, there is Lord Snowden, who up to the present has been furiously, violently opposed to the making of any effort to give the Dominions any preference or any assistance of any kind? Are the docile sheep below the Gangway to be allowed freedom of expression and freedom of voting? Will they be allowed to go as they please? Again, if Lord Sankey suddenly finds himself in disagreement with the Indian policy of the Government, will he be allowed to go as he pleases? May he speak with one voice in the House of Lords and the Secretary of State for India with another voice here?
I should very much like to know how far we are to go in this matter. If the Prime Minister, as is quite possible, disagrees with the Foreign Secretary over the policy concerning Shanghai and China generally, or disarmament, is he to be allowed freedom to denounce his own Foreign Secretary? [interruption.] The question of disarmament and foreign policy is vital to us. Is the question of introducing protective tariffs in this country equally important? I should like to know, and I think the country would like to know, whether the Prime Minister will be able to speak as he would have spoken if he were standing here instead of me.
There is the question of future legislation. Already an. agitation is going on, and a number of influential members of the Cabinet are taking part in it, to the effect that now is the day and now is the hour when the Parliament Act can be repealed—[interruption.] Yes; I will send the right hon. Gentleman the cutting of a speech that was made on this subject by one of his great supporters, in which it was said that this was the day and this was the hour, with all these legions of supporters, to undo the evil work that was done by the Asquith Government when they passed the Parliament Act with the help of the Home Secretary. If the Government think that this legislation should be brought forward, what is going to be the position? Will the Labour Ministers and the Liberal Ministers have a free hand to do as they please? Then the Prime Minister—I cannot help bringing him in again—suggested in a speech that the working of the transitional benefit regulations is to be reconsidered, and perhaps, if good cause is shown, may be changed. There may be profound disagreement on this matter. I think I know the mind of the Chancellor of the Exchequer on these questions as well as most people, because I have "had some," and I know perfectly well. that, if any effort is made to ease those regulations, the Treasury, if it is going to cost them any money, will come down against any change on their heels and their toes at the same time. But suppose that the Prime Minister feels strongly for the people whom he represents, and says that this ought to be done, while the Cabinet by a majority say that it shall not be done, may the Prime Minister come and stand by his own people for once in this matter? Is he going to be allowed a free hand in this matter? [Interruption.] I am putting these questions seriously; they are all serious questions; but I can always understand the hilarity of this House, especially when you have a thumping majority behind you. If I were in the same position I would be like 'that also. Anyhow, both the House and the country want an answer to these questions.
It was said by the Home Secretary—and I was amazed when I read it, though I ought not to have been—that foreign Governments are impressed by our national unity. It is national humbug, that is all. It is an insult to the intelligence of any of the Ambassadors in this country to say that they do not understand quite well that there is no national unity behind this Government. With all these embattled hosts around them, the fact remains that they represent two-thirds of the electors and we represent one-third. But I should like to remind the Home Secretary that, if he were making this speech, which he would do much better than myself, one thing that he would try to prove would be that his small numbers represented millions outside, and that, if only we had a really representative system, he would have a, couple of hundred supporters behind him. That is our case also, but I am not going to cry about that; I am sure that the up and down of the business will give my friends their majority in due course. The voters at the last election were called upon to support a discordant crowd of men who agreed about nothing except one thing, and that was let out by Lord Londonderry, a close personal friend of the Prime Minister, by sheer accident. I agree that, Lord Londonderry is a person of political sagacity and honesty, but he let the cat right out of the bag when he said, "The object of all of us is to crush and destroy the Socialist party." We cannot have any Old Mother Hubbard talk about national unity after that. When there are nearly 7,000,000 voters who said, "No, we are baying none of that, we are standing by the Labour party," it shows that even Lord Londonderry did not have so much influence as he imagined.
There is another question that arises in connection with this matter. Someone made the point, I think in a letter to the Press either to-day or on Saturday, that abroad, when there is a Coalition Government, disagreement is allowed. Perhaps the Lord President, if he is going to take that line, may give us a case in point. I do not believe there has ever been a case in this country or abroad where a Government has had within its ranks Members who have been permitted to speak and vote against a first-class vital issue upon which the Cabinet as a whole was agreed. It certainly does not happen in France. I was speaking to a French statesman last [...] and he said that of course there are disagreements, but that, when once a matter is decided, unless Ministers stand together in the Chamber they of course have to go out. It is said that this Government was a collection of doctors. I do not know whether they are doctors of medicine, or what kind of doctors they are, but they have proved themselves to be nothing better than old-fashioned quacks— the sort of cheap-jack doctors that one meets in the market place, each wanting to sell his wares, and all pretending to compete with one another. You know how they "do each other down," or appear to, and then share the swag afterwards. Each one of them tries to talk the others down—I have been in many a market place and seen it—[Interruption.]—I have not been talked down yet —and each one of these gentlemen strives to prove that his pills are better than the other fellow's. I was reminded of that when I listened to the Home Secretary on the one hand and the Chancellor of the Exchequer on the other; and then the Financial Secretary to the Treasury weighed in with a most delightful speech which proved quite rightly that Codlin was the friend, not Short.
What is to happen to the patient while all this is going on? What are the people outside asking themselves when these speeches are made by supposed responsible people who behave just as the quack does in the market place, each declaring that his point of view is the only one to save the nation? It is quite certain, in our minds anyhow, that neither Protection nor Free Trade can save the nation. We know what Britain was in the Hungry Forties. A right hon. Gentleman on the other side of the House on Thursday night quoted Disraeli amid great enthusiasm, but he forgot that later on Disraeli said that Protection was dead and damned. I do not know how right hon. Gentlemen opposite are going to square the two statements, but we know that the present condition of finance and industry has been brought about when both systems were in existence. No one in this House can deny that countries under Protection and countries under Free Trade are suffering equally from what is called the world depression and from the crisis that has arisen in the industrial and monetary affairs of the world. I point that out at this juncture because I do not want it to be imagined that we are taking the line that we are taking merely because of the theoretical arguments in favour of Free Trade or of tariffs. We think something entirely different is needed. But the point is that both the Simonites and the followers of the Home Secretary—I was not sure whether Samuelites was a good word or not—the whole-hoggers and the little piggers, want the best of both worlds. They want to be able to say, "Of course, we kept the Protectionist Government in power," and at the end they will say, "Please Sir, it was not I. I only stayed in to preserve national unity and to uphold the prestige of the Government." I heard the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Wallasey (Lieut.-Colonel MooreBrabazon) tell the Lord President the other day that he could change the occupants of that row twice over and have, if anything, better men than there are there. I should not like to say that, but one of the right hon. Gentleman's own friends said it.
I want to say a word on the question of propaganda and publicity in regard to Cabinet secrets. A lot of nonsense is talked about that. Whenever I wanted to know what was going to happen during the coming week—you do not get a lot of information at the Cabinet meetings as to what is going to happen during the forthcoming 10 days—I looked at the "Times" newspaper. It always had a very clear, definite column telling you all about the Cabinet. I was once at a Cabinet meeting—I am not giving away anything that matters—when we were discussing a most important international question. We were all exhorted to be very careful and not to breathe a word. I went out feeling a most important person. I walked down Downing Street and at the corner bought an "Evening Standard," and it had the whole story. It is forgotten that, whatever may have been the case years ago, nowadays there is a Cabinet secretariat and a multitude of documents are typed and printed. I have had secret documents, I was going to say by the million, but from 50 to 100 persons at least knew the contents. I have heard it said that two people cannot keep a secret, and I do not think they can. Only one can, and he has to be sure that he has not a wife or a girl. Is there anyone in the House who listened to the Chancellor of the Exchequer last Thursday and who reads the newspapers who did not know beforehand the main points of the scheme that the right hon. Gentleman told us about? I think it would be very good indeed if all the Cabinet records, conclusions and minutes were published. The ordinary Cabinet Minister never sees the minutes of the Cabinet. He only sees the small summary which is called the conclusion. I should like to see both the minutes taken by the Cabinet secretary and the conclusions, except in very exceptional cases, published immediately after the Cabinet meeting.
I want to say something about the working of this policy. I want to know the extent of it and how far hon. and right hon. Gentlemen are going to be allowed to go. The nation is now reaping the fruits of the foul campaign that was carried through at the Election. The Lord President will probably think that is strong language, but I listened to speeches over the wireless and I read speeches in the Press which could only have been uttered by people full of political dishonesty. We used to say at school that cheats never prosper, and the cheating and the lying that went on at that General Election is now coming home to roost. I have seen a good many things happen in my lifetime and I am old-fashioned enough to believe that any thing founded on a lie is bound to fall to the ground. This Government is founded on lies and half-truths. It would not be where it is to-day but for that, and there is not a man or woman in the House who does not know it. There is no question of preserving national unity. You cannot preserve something that does not exist and has not existed. You will say that what I have said is exaggerated and untrue, but listen to Viscount Snowden:
The Tory party would not be morally entitled to claim a Mandate to carry out a general system of Protection in the new Parliament.
Now why do you not cheer? [An HON. MEMBER: "Hear, hear!"] The bleating
of the sheep does not count. The Home Secretary said something:
If some section of the House of Commons were to break up national unity and insist on party policy"—
certain things would happen. I wonder whether he believes that now. But that is what helped to get you back to Parliament. You fooled the Liberal Free Traders by this sort of guff, which is only guff. What are both sides now trying to do? The laudatory speeches last Thursday and the family celebration of the triumph at long last, after 30 years of struggle, of the policy set up by Joseph Chamberlain and adopted by the Tory party, prove that the Tory policy is triumphant. I hope hon. and right hon. Gentlemen will not be afraid to cheer sentiments that they agree with. It would be useless to argue as to what the vast majority of Tory Members promised their constituents. There can be no question that probably the overwhelming majority of them—I am excepting the Liberals—promised tariffs of some sort as a cure for unemployment, trade depression, trade balance and balancing the Budget, but the Prime Minister and his colleagues did no such thing and especially the so-called Liberal Free Traders, who were going to hold the fort, and men like Viscount Snowden took the other line. It was also promised by the Prime Minister that the Government was to be composed of—
men who may not see eye to eye on the ordinary political questions that divide us in normal times"—
I should like to know if tariffs and free trade is an ordinary question that divides you in normal times—
but are united heart and soul in finding the best way to overcome present troubles.
Now here they are, not united in finding a way out but hopelessly divided on what the majority of the House considers the most vital question of the day. No-one will deny that the majority in this House, and the majority of the Cabinet, consider this question of Tariff Reform the most vital in regard to trade. The Lord President declared that the result was no party victory, until last Thursday,
but an emphatic declaration by the people as a whole in favour of national co-operation in order to restore the fortunes of our country.
The Minister of Education believes that it will ruin the fortunes of the country. The Home Secretary has told us that it will do that. I cannot find words to describe what I cannot but think the humbug and chicanery of the position in which Parliament finds itself. I do not believe there is a single person who gives two thoughts to this question who will not agree that no greater attempt has ever been made to befog and humbug the nation.
The Government on Thursday put up three of their spokesmen. The first was the Chancellor, who made a very able and lucid speech and argued that only the policy of Protection could save the nation. He was followed by the Home Secretary, equally lucid and equally convincing, who informed the nation that, if the policy set forth by the Chancellor was carried, not prosperity but ruin would descend upon us. As I listened to him I thought that, from the point of view of capitalist business, there was no answer to it. Later we had a speech from the Financial Secretary to the Treasury who in turn made mincemeat of the Home Secretary. Now we are told that in the sacred name of national unity these men must always play the game of "Let us pretend," and that on all other questions they are united—we do not know that at all—and that, because they may or may not be united on some other questions, they must remain the rulers of the country and break the constitutional position that they believe in. The Prime Minister called it common sense. I call it common nonsense. The Home Secretary says that if he and other Ministers resign, the Government will have been deprived in a large measure of its claim to the title of "National." It cannot be robbed of that title because never, by any stretch of imagination could it possess that title. Even if we conceded that it was a. National Government because it represents Liberals and Tories, I should declare that as between the Liberal party and the Conservative party there never can be, and never will be, any unity on the question of Free Trade and tariffs. It is a major issue of policy and one upon which there is no unity either in theory or action.
Someone the other night mentioned the case of the War, and said that men united then in a Coalition. It is true that men united in order to win the War. Their goal was the same and it must be evident to everybody that when Mr. Asquith was put out of office by some of his following and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) was put in his place with the powers almost of a dictator, it was done because men at the head of affairs believed that the policy and method which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs intended to pursue for winning the War were more likely to serve the nation better than those of Mr. Asquith. There you have a clear cleavage of method. The Government, in this case—which the Prime Minister tells us is similar—people like ourselves, and, I hope, everybody in the country, want to produce peace and prosperity, and yet it is upon the means to attain that end—that is the point which I want to drive home—which the Government say they were elected to secure, that the Home Secretary and others disagree. These men say that the Government's policy will intensify our evil plight, and that also is the position of myself and my friends.
We disagree fundamentally with the major policy of the Government. We repudiate their claim to represent the nation, and we say to the nations of the world—for it is necessary to know it—that when we Socialists come to power, as come to power we most certainly shall —[Interruption.] Yes, in my time!—we shall pursue a policy of expanding trade and industry, both with our Dominions and Colonies, and with the whole world. We are determined by every means in our power to destroy the fiction that in these fiscal matters the Government represents the nation. It represents Toryism and is engaged in imposing a full-blooded Tory policy upon the nation. I emphasise the fact that we are fighting to the best of our power against the Government, the reason being that 6,500,000 voters stand solidly with us, and other thousands are joining us daily. We know that private capitalism and not Socialism has been on its trial. We know that private capitalism is, as a means of supplying the millions of men and women in all parts of the world with a means of earning their daily bread, whether living under Free Trade or Protection, played out. The restrictions which are being imposed will not assist the masses in their efforts to raise their standard of life. We are confident that only by an expansion of consumption can the world be saved.
We are certain that there is only one way to restore peace and harmony throughout our land and throughout the world. The world is not suffering from under-production or because it cannot produce; everywhere you go there is too much. You cut down the production of tin, you cut down the production of iron and steel, you cut down the production of wool. You cut down the production of wheat, which they burn out there in Argentina. They burn coffee in Brazil, they destroy cotton before it is grown, and everywhere in the world man's power to produce is overwhelming. All that is needed is to put the world right in order that abundance may be brought to the masses. It is that for which we stand, and it is because we stand for that, and because we know that economic nationalism must lead, not only to economic ruin, but probably to war—because we know that the putting up of more tariff walls produces discontent and bitterness between nations—that we shall fight as hard as we can, whether the Liberal party help us or not, and to the best of our ability, against this disastrous policy.
We believe that the day has come when in our own interests there must be co-operation in the production of goods for the service of the nation. We believe that international—[An HON. MEMBER: "It is a Vote of Censure!"] I shall certainly say all I intend to say. We maintain that not only is national co-operation needed, but international cooperation. The capitalists of the world co-operate nationally for their private interests. The capitalists of the world form great combinations—combinations of Germans, Italians, French and of English on one side, and on the other the people of the same nationalities are fighting for power and for the means of creating wealth. We say that the only way out of the present difficulties—the only way that will save mankind—is that labour in this country should be organised for the benefit of the masses; that great private interests should be swept away. We say further that the money and credit systems of the world, instead of being used to hold up and to choke up commodities, have to be loosened in order that goods may be brought to the service of mankind. It is for those reasons and many others, which the House will hear many times during these Debates, that I move the Motion in my name.
With the permission of the House, I should like to make a few observations about the Motion which appears upon the Paper. The procedure which the Government have adopted is one which deserves discussion in this House, it is one which calls for explanation, and it is one which, it may be, calls for justification, but I cannot see that it is one which calls for censure; and it is a Vote of Censure to which we have to reply. I have no fault to find with the statement of constitutional doctrine in the early part of the speech of the right hon. Gentleman. I can assure him, or we assure him, if he prefers the phrase, that I am not even going to mention his conscience or that of anyone else. I can sympathise with him as to what he said about the secrets of a Cabinet, and I would remind him, if it be any consolation to him, that he will find a passage in the last volume of Lord Malmesbury's Diaries written in 1807 in which he says, that nobody is to be trusted, that everybody is leaking, and that the circulation of papers in such a Cabinet as the one he was in was impossible.
This Vote of Censure has been put down, and it is a matter of vital importance that the House should examine it thoroughly and carefully, that reasons should be given for the procedure that has been followed, and that the House should come to a decision upon it. The first thing that strikes me is the contrast between the two Motions which are on the Paper, both emanating from hon. Members who together have long formed a part of that great Labour party, though the names to the second Motion are those of hon. Members, who, perhaps, at the moment, are pursuing a more independent course. It will be obvious to the House that the second Motion commends the Government for what the first Motion condemns them; it will be equally obvious that we are commended in the second Motion for giving up that secrecy and irresponsibility which is the very foundation upon which the Government of Moscow rests, which is a very curious conclusion having regard to the quarter whence it comes—an irresponsibility which is only shared between Moscow and certain of the organs of Fleet Street.
But with regard to the Motion, I welcome that position because there were times in 1926 when I doubted whether the direction of the strict constitutional principle in that period was as strong and as decisive as I observe it to be to-day. And that I am specially glad to see, because, just as the right hon. Gentleman reads the speeches of my friends, so I read the speeches of his friends; I see that the hon. and learned Member for East Bristol (Sir S. Cripps) was speaking at the end of last week. Although he is going to support this Motion, yet I see that he too is coming along. He would abolish the powers of his own father. That policy has two merits. It falls in with the sentiment of the present age; is quite unoriginal and has been shared by the children of every generation since the son of man trod upon this earth.
The Motion says that the Government have no united policy. Let us look at the result of the Divisions to-night and tomorrow! The Motions in support of the Government will be carried by larger majorities than have ever been seen in the House before on matters of similar importance. But in studying this Motion we have to devote our minds to the meaning of the word "Constitution," and how far we are deviating in the course we are taking from what is constitutional. I had the pleasure of hearing an impromptu speech by my right hon. Friend the Member for West Birmingham (Sir A. Chamberlain) about a week ago, and he said, in the course of that delightful speech, that "unconstitutional" was a term that you applied in politics to the other fellow when he did something that you did not like, just as the other fellow always defended his conduct on the grounds that he was constitutional. Of course, that was said partly in chaff, but there is some truth in it. We want to clear our minds this afternoon, first of all, as to whether we are deviating from the constitutional course, when we have decided what that constitutional course is. The first thing to get clear in our minds is that our Constitution, more than any Constitution in the world, is a living organism. It is largely because it is a living organism and because of the changes that have occurred in the body of its practice and conduct through the centuries that our people have in so large a degree, and I believe more than any other people, two qualities, rare in themselves and rarer in combination—a profound reverence for the traditions of their country, together with the capacity to tread new paths when the occasion arises.
The historian can tell you probably perfectly clearly what the constitutional practice of this country was at any given period in the past, but it would be very difficult for a living writer to tell you at any given period in his lifetime what the Constitution of the country is in all respects, and for this reason, that at almost any given moment of our lifetime there may be one practice called "Constitutional" which is falling into desuetude and there may be another practice which is creeping into use but which is not yet called "Constitutional." There may be changes on the horizon to be seen only by some man of vision. I was interested to find last night, when I had finished making the notes for my speech, that that very point—I think it is an obvious one—was taken by no less an authority than Walter Bagehot in the preface to the second edition of his work on the Constitution, when he had cause to write of the great changes in constitutional practice which had occurred in the short seven years since the first edition was published. I will not read his words, but I would call attention to the matter in confirmation of the fact that he, at the beginning of that preface, seizes on the points which I have just mentioned.
The very Cabinet system itself which, of course, is the basis of the whole question we are discussing this afternoon, if I may use a broad and general term to cover it, for quite a generation after the first germs of the system appeared in Charles II's reign was denounced as unconstitutional. I think it is necessary to dwell, upon this development in order to clear our minds in regard to the position in which we find ourselves to-day. It is very difficult always to realise how things looked in a past generation. To-day, a very favourite phrase used by Members of Parliament is "legislators." We have all been called "legislators," but legislation is an extremely modern function. As recently as the time of Chatham you will find that throughout his Administration practically no important changes were made in the law. You will find in the time of his son, William Pitt, that he never thought of resigning office if legislation introduced by his Government into Parliament failed to pass. Was his position at that time constitutional? These are difficult questions to answer. I would ask the House for one moment to contrast the position of William Pitt with that of Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman on the Cordite Vote in the House of Commons, which is in the memory of many of us.
Sir Henry Maine—I do not know whether anyone reads him now—who always had a very vivid way of painting a picture, showed in very few words the position of the British Government and the British Cabinet for about a third of the eighteenth century. George I and George II cared a great deal about Hanover and being Kings of Hanover, and much less about England and being Kings of England. So there was a tacit understanding between the Whig aristocracy and these two Monarchs that the Whig aristocracy should concern itself with England, and the Kings should concern themselves with Hanover. But when George III came, he cared very little for Hanover and a great deal for England. He cared a great deal for being King of England, he hated the Cabinet system and he wanted to be, as King of England, the dictator of English policy. He refused to submit to the Cabinet. Was his position constitutional at that time or not? A very difficult question to answer. Up to that point you have innumerable instances of Ministers both voting and speaking against the Measures and policy of their own Government. The success of those votes and those speeches depended largely upon the character of the man who was at the top. It was an easier thing to speak against Newcastle than it had been to speak against Walpole. It was done, and done repeatedly, up to North's time.
As to the position of the Prime Minister, it is only within the time and the memories of those sitting here that the Prime Minister's place has appeared in the official precedence of this country. When did the Prime Minister's position become constitutional? That is not an easy question to answer. The real struggle began in the reign of George III. The whole struggle of the eighteenth century was the struggle between the King and the Ministers. Two points of view were held. One point of view was that each Minister, as a servant of the Crown, was responsible for his own Department, with little or no reference to his colleagues. The second view was that Ministers were a homogeneous body, with one Minister to direct and give unity. The King, of course, favoured the first view, because by that means, and that means alone, he could control the policy of this country. The struggle went on for nearly a generation, and the King lost. Probably the event that marked the end of that long constitutional struggle was the dismissal of Thurlow, the last Minister to claim that he had a right to the King's ear as Lord Chancellor and Keeper of the King's Conscience. It was not the mere fact of having conversation with the Monarch that mattered, but the fact that Ministers could discuss with him behind the back of their own leader, and if the King happened to be an extraordinarily able politician he could split any British Government into fragments at any time. So there was a, very great principle at the back of that struggle.
It. was Pitt who ultimately made responsible Ministers the true source of power, and formed the system of government which has lasted practically until the present time. We owe to the statesmen of that period a very great debt, consciously or unconsciously, as that struggle went on. It is inconceivable to-day that the Monarch could play the party game that was played in those days. The Monarch to-day plays a far greater game, if I may use the word, than did the Monarch in King George III's time. It is true that the Crown has been shorn of the power of initiating policy, but it has gained this, that throughout the whole of the British Empire, through all the races of the peoples who compose that great agglomeration, he is our King; he is every man's King as he is ours. Going back to George III's time, the peril of the country through the great French War caused the struggle between the Crown and the Ministers to cease, and collective responsibility became the rule. It had grown—and this is a point to which I would call the attention of the House—with the growth of parties. It was not necessary to the formation of party itself that it came in, but it came in to fight the party of the King's friends. That was how the battle went on, first as against the King's friends and then to maintain the position of the Government in Parliament. That has been the fact ever since. As party government grew and strengthened in this country, so that rule became essential for the maintenance of party government. Party discipline is necessary to party survival. It is not always put as crudely as that in this House, but it is put as crudely as that by Professor Lowell, of Harvard University. One could expect, perhaps, the intelligent observer from overseas to lay his finger on that point in dealing with English Constitutional matters.
To-day, whatever the right hon. Gentleman may say, we have a National Government. In other words, it is not the Government of one party. It is a Government consisting of representatives of the three parties. [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] Secondly, if we look for a moment at the enormous majority which supports the Government, it is perfectly true to say of many of them that we should not have had the pleasure of their company here if they had not stood as supporting a National Government. Therefore, the great principle for which the fight for a century and more went on is not at stake here. The fate of no party is at stake in making a fresh precedent for a National Government. Had the precedent been made for a party Government, it would have been quite new, and it would have been absolutely dangerous for that party.
Domestically the tariff issue is one of great importance. Internationally for the Government the world problems are infinitely more difficult, and, whatever the right hon. Gentleman may say, we believe that it would have been a grave matter for the world at large if, within a few months of the inauguration of this Government, there had been a secession of any section of its Members. It is very interesting that all the dissentient voices in this matter come from those who would like to see the Government split. You ask, is what we are doing constitutional? I remember very well—and it shows how at times questions are asked, and at other times silence is maintained —after the General Election of 1929 having a discussion with many of my friends as to whether we should resign at once or meet Parliament. Some of my friends, perhaps with greater knowledge of the constitution than I, took the view that the constitutional position was to meet Parliament and accept our dismissal by Parliament. I took the view, that whatever had been the constitutional position, under universal suffrage the situation had altered; that the people of this country had shown plainly that whether they wanted hon. Members opposite or not, they certainly did not want me, and I was going to get out as soon as I could. My colleagues agreed with me, but I do not remember right hon. Gentlemen opposite asking me whether I behaved constitutionally. They were getting into our places before we had time to move.
Is our action constitutional? Who can say what is constitutional in the conduct of a national Government? It is a precedent, an experiment, a new practice, to meet a new emergency, a, new condition of things, and we have collective responsibility for the departure from collective action. Whatever some ardent politicians may think, it is approved by the broad common sense of the man-in-the-street. The success or failure of this experiment will depend on one thing only, and that is the spirit in which it is conducted. I have every hope, I have every desire, that that spirit—I know the taunts which will be levelled at us—will be found equal to the task, that this experiment may be so conducted that it may prove successful, and that the judgment of future generations will be that the House of Commons by the vote to-night took a step of wisdom and common sense.
The Lord President of the Council has made a very interesting speech on the constitutional issue. He suggested that our Constitution, as we know it, is an active living principle, and that this experiment of a. National Government is the result of the ordered development of our Constitution. At the same time another part of his speech was an argument against that position. He showed that what the Government are proposing to do now is to go back to the primitive state of things from which our Constitution has developed and evolved. It has been suggested that in putting down this Vote of Censure and bringing up the constitutional issue we are guilty of an act of constitutional pedantry, that we are mediaevalists, that our outlook is out of date. It is suggested, because we are supporting those high constitutional principles, of which it has been said that Edmund Burke loved with the passion of a lover for his mistress, that we are proving ourselves old-fashioned and out of date and that when the time comes we shall be scorned and rejected by the rising generation who are being educated at Hollywood, and who, because they prefer discord to harmony in their music, are likely to prefer discord to harmony in their methods of government.
That is not the case. We hold that the principles of our Constitution do not depend for their validity on ancient parchments or musty manuscripts. As far as they are founded on tradition and precedent they represent on the whole the accumulated wisdom of generations of law-givers and legislators. But, apart from that, their actual virtue does not depend on the fact that they are based upon tradition, but on whether they appeal to the common sense of the people of the present day. Unless our constitutional principles appeal to the common sense of the people there is no virtue in them. I have yet to find a single person outside this House whose common sense does not say to him, as it has to past generations, that in matters of government unity is strength and disunity means weakness and defeat. Among my acquaintances, whether they are Conservative, Liberal or Labour, I have yet to find a person who does not say that the Government ought to come before the country with a united policy, and that if there are members who disagree with policy the view of the average person is that they should remain silent or resign. The Lord President of the Council has said that the Government have a united policy. He said: "Look at our majority to-night and to-morrow night." May I remind him that in the book from which he has just quoted Walter Bagehot gives an anecdote of one Cabinet Minister who said to another Cabinet Minister: "We have a case we cannot defend; we must apply our majority to it." That is not an unusual practice, and proves quite clearly that the possession of a majority does not necessarily show that the Government have a united policy.
This doctrine of Cabinet irresponsibility is not new; there is nothing novel in it. It has all been said before and refuted before. It was maintained by Lord Bolingbroke and denounced by Edmund Burke. The Government are going back 200 years to the times of Henry St. John Viscount Bolingbroke who speaks to-day through the mouth of the present Prime Minister. Lord Bolingbroke is one of the favourite writers and philosophers of the present Prime Minister. He has always had a great admiration for the work and career of that disappointed and unsuccessful politician. When this question arose I refreshed my memory of the works of Lord Bolingbroke. I went over some of his essays and writings, and I found, as I should have supposed, seeing he is a favourite of the Prime Minister, that they were extremely rhetorical and extremely vague, in fact, as described by Voltaire they were "leaves without fruit." Reading through Bolingbroke's "Dissertation on Parties" I found it difficult, after reading page after page of rhetorical expressions, to select anything in the way of an apt and concise quotation, but it was quite clear, reading through that work, that Lord Bolingbroke wanted to destroy the Whig and Tory parties and to bring them unitedly into a National party. Lord Bolingbroke said:
It is time that all who desire to be esteemed good men…should join their efforts to heal our national divisions and to change the narrow spirit of party into a diffusive spirit of public benevolence.
Lord Bolingbroke's idea was that the two great parties should unite, and anyone who opposed it was considered to be animated by the narrow spirit of faction and personal hate. He wanted this new party to revolve around the figure of the Patriot King. The parallel is quite complete. The Prime Minister tried, first of all, to destroy the Labour party, but did not succeed. He is now trying to destroy the Liberal party, and I am not sure whether he is not trying to destroy the Conservative party as well. He is forming a new National party, to centre around, not the figure of a "patriot King," but around the figure of the indispensable Prime Minister. We were
told that one of the reasons why this experiment is being tried, and why the Home Secretary is allowed to make speeches such as he made in this House last week and such as he made at Southport and Manchester, is that if the Liberal Members of the Cabinet withdrew that would embarrass the Prime Minister; that it would embarrass the Prime Minister to be left alone with merely Tory colleagues. I am not sure whether it would not cause more embarrassment to the Tory colleagues if they were left with the former Socialist Prime Minister to lead them without any Liberals to keep up the pretence that it is a National Government. But as far as the Prime Minister personally is concerned I do not think he would be embarrassed in the slightest. He is where he wanted to be and I think he would say, in the language of Bolingbroke—
I am in my own farm, and here I shoot strong and tenacious roots … and neither my enemies nor my friends will find it an easy matter to transplant me again.
But, anyhow, the position seems to be as stated, that the Prime Minister must not be embarrassed, that the Home Secretary is to be allowed a free hand in order that they may carry out the policy laid down by the Prime Minister in a sublime phrase.
Differ as we may, the Cabinet is more determined than ever to face our national problems as a united body.
Therefore it has been decided to embark on an experiment which the Prime Minister says will require very delicate handling in its working. We had a very fine example of the delicate handling in the speech of the Home Secretary in this House last week. I would congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on that speech, even though it was a speech which the "Observer" said seemed to be designed expressly to cause as much damage to the Government as possible. It was a devastating speech. It might almost have been made by an avowed opponent of the Government seeking to destroy it. It was a speech in which he raked the Government fore and aft. He hit them over and over again between wind and water. He showed very clearly, speaking as a member of the Cabinet, that a 10 per cent. tariff will do nothing to redress the balance of trade. He showed that it was not a measure to deal with the pre- sent emergency; that it was not an emergency Measure, but that it meant and implied a permanent change-over in our fiscal system from Free Trade to Protection. He showed that, first of all, by taxing food the Government would increase the cost of living, and secondly, that by taxing raw materials they would increase the cost of manufacture in this country, and thus hamper our export trade, which it is the duty surely of the Government to promote.
He showed that as a result of the Government's policy the poor and the unemployed will have to pay more for their milk, their bread, their sugar and for a commodity known as margarine. He showed that not only would the unemployed and the poor be pressed more deeply into the mire, but he said that if it was imposed as a means of getting revenue by which to reduce taxation on the well-to-do a most formidable controversy would arise. I take it, therefore, that if the Chancellor of the Exchequer is going to use the revenue tariff for the purpose of lightening the Income Tax instead of restoring the cuts in the unemployment benefit and in the smaller range of salaries and wages, the Home Secretary intends to fight the proposal inside and outside the Cabinet, in this House and in the country, and to use all his influence as a Cabinet Minister to discredit and destroy such a policy. I shall look forward to action of that sort with eager anticipation. I trust that the Home Secretary, if he decides to take that action, will be supported by his colleagues, the Scottish chiefs, one of whom is sitting beside him. I hope even that he will be supported by the Prime Minister, who, I trust, has not altogether forgotten the working people from whom he sprang.
But after having listened to the Home Secretary's able speech I was not at all surprised at the attitude of the Chief Whip, who went down to Rugby on the following day and described the Home Secretary's proposals as "futile and fatuous." If the Chief Whip had only had the nautical experience and vocabulary of his predecessor, the present First Lord, I should tremble for the hearing of the Home Secretary. I am afraid that the Home Secretary has got him
self into a very unfortunate position, a position described by Burke in similar circumstances in this way:
They are delivered up into the hands of those who feel neither respect for their persons nor gratitude for their favours.… thus living in a state of continual uneasiness and ferment.… They are unhappy in their situation yet find it impossible to resign.
The Home Secretary has stated that one of the reasons why he has not withdrawn from the Cabinet is that on the whole the Cabinet are united on other Measures. He mentioned certain matters, including the question of currency. I suppose that the Cabinet are united there because they have no policy whatever on that important matter. But is the Home Secretary sure that the Cabinet are united on all other questions? It seems difficult to reconcile that statement with the speech the right hon. Gentleman made last Thursday. For example, the right hon. Gentleman spoke about the strain on sterling. He said it was due to very complex causes. He said that he regretted that the Government had not taken the advice of experts and economists on the matter. He wished very much that the Government had had an inquiry into the matter. I believe that if he had insisted upon an inquiry he would have received the support of the Prime Minister, who is always ready to grant an inquiry on any matter as long as it delays action. But the Government have decided otherwise. They have not decided to have an inquiry. It seems to me therefore that Cabinet unity on that subject also is imperfect.
Then the Home Secretary put forward certain views of his own, very valuable views, on certain subjects—national planning, reorganisation of industry, Imperial development, and the reconstruction of international trade. He put forward constructive ideas. But they do not voice the principles of a united Cabinet. The Chief Whip said they were "futile and fatuous," which I think was not only extremely unfair but incorrect. Not only is there not a united policy on that matter, but the Home Secretary said that the Government were proceeding from the wrong end, and that their policy was restrictive instead of being constructive. So here is a vast range of subjects upon which there is disunity in the Cabinet. I take it that the Home Secretary will be free, when we come to discuss these questions, to advocate all those ideas which he adumbrated the other night, even if that entails a conflict of opinion with certain of his colleagues. But what is the Home Secretary going to do now? Is he going to heed the admonition of the right hon. Member for Tamworth (Sir A. Steel-Maitland) who said in effect, "You have spoken once. Let this be enough, and now for ever hold your peace."
Is the Home Secretary going to speak about these matters? Is he not going to take any action in support of his ideas? It may be said quite truly that a speech in this House is in itself action. "The song that nerves a nation's heart," is in itself a deed. Is not the song that nerves a party's heart, even if it is a swan song, equally a deed? So in some ways it may be said that the Home Secretary's speech was action. In any case the right hon. Gentleman has denounced the Government's policy as calamitous. That was what he said at Manchester. He has aroused the Liberal party. The National Liberal Federation is awake. The Young Liberals, however old they may be, are looking to him now as their leader. He is their Henry of Navarre. They are telling their colleagues that they must follow where his white plume wavers in the van. Has the right hon. Gentleman drawn his sword merely to sheath it again? Surely he is not going to do that. Surely he is not going to denounce the Government's policy and take no action in the country. Are he and his friends going to be merely pole squatters on the subject? Does he mean to wash his hands like Pontius Pilate and let the business proceed without further opposition to the execution though the destruction of our trade and prosperity, as he says, will follow?
I feel sure that the Home Secretary will not do anything of that sort. Surely he will use his influence in the Cabinet and the country to arouse the people of this country, to arouse the Liberals of the country. Already action has been taken. The dry bones are moving in the valley. Life has been breathed into them, apparently, by the right hon. Gentleman. I hope that we shall now see him embarking on a raging and tearing campaign up and down the country, as Mr. Joseph Chamberlain did nearly 29
years ago, to rouse the Liberals out of their tomb, and, by agitation and in every way, to try to do something to stop the Government from pursuing a course which, he himself says, is perilous and calamitous. Anyhow, our task is clear. A Cabinet so divided cannot stand for long. The position reminds me of something which Mr. Disraeli once said about Coalitions. It is not the familiar quotation but another one. He was asked how long a certain Coalition Government would last and his reply was:
It will come to an end when every member of it has his public character irretrievably injured.
That is what will happen to this Government. We repudiate its claim to be a National Government. We are confident that when it is discredited, as all Coalition Governments are discredited, the country will turn to the party which I represent, which will put before the country a united policy of rapid, decisive, and drastic action.
In rising to address it for the first time, I do so with a very full sense of the dignity of the House in which it is now my privilege to sit. Let me say right away that I shall not presume to take more than a few moments of the time of the House. The Socialist Vote of Censure has been moved with the object of drawing attention to an alleged breach of Parliamentary principle. It is not my business to inquire whether this action of the Government in agreeing to differ is or is not without precedent. There are young men in this House and there are people throughout the country who care very little for precedent. I say that in no spirit of disrespect for my elders and betters, and in no spirit of disrespect for our predecessors, but simply because the question of precedent in this matter is neither here nor there. The Government were returned, as has been pointed out, to deal with an emergency which was itself without precedent. As far as I am concerned, strict adherence to precedent was no part of my mandate from the electors, and I submit that adherence to precedent formed no part of the mandate of the National Government.
The National Government were returned to deal with an emergency by any and every means, and the voice of the country, at the General Election and since the General Election, has been twofold. It has been for action and for unity in action. Action the Government have given us. In this one case, as was foreseen, unity in action has proved to be impossible, but that is not to say that we may not see the Government united after action, and if we get that, then little harsh has been done. I believe that it is the duty of every supporter of the National Government, to whatever party he may belong, to do all he can to preserve the unity of the Government, and, if I may say so without presumption, I believe that to be the duty of the individual members of the Government itself. As far as the criticism of the Socialist party goes, perhaps I may be allowed to say that in this case it is not to be taken too seriously. It is the duty of the Opposition to avail themselves of every opportunity to try to pour discredit on the Government, but in this case I do not think that the Opposition have any strong feeling in the country at their backs. If they claim to speak with the voice of the country then I submit that while they may speak with the voice of those people, with whom the National Government never was and never will be a favourite, yet I do not believe that they can claim to speak with the voice of the country as a whole.
To my mind the dangerous criticism is that which comes from our own ranks. There are certain people like the hon. and gallant Member for Wallasey (Lieut.-Colonel Moore-Brabazon) who hold very strong views on certain matters just as there are strong partisans on the other side and I must admit that it is very hard not to be carried away by the criticisms which are sometimes offered. It is idle to pretend that the spectacle of one member of the Cabinet doing his best to tear to pieces the policy put forward by his colleagues was pleasing to any one of us, and there is the greatest temptation to say in the words of a great statesman on this very tariff question:
If they cannot come with us, why then we must leave them behind.
But I submit that we must not allow ourselves to be carried away by feelings such as those. The need for a National Government is as great to-day as it was in October last. All of us who supported it at that time declared it to be essential
and the country followed our lead. He would be a bold man who would lightly set aside the wishes of the vast majority of the electorate so definitely expressed less than four months ago.
In rising to speak on this Motion, I wish to express my regret that you, Mr. Speaker, have not been able to see your way to call the Amendment which stands in the name of some of my hon. Friends and myself. Before dealing with the Motion, however, I follow the usual custom of this House in congratulating the hon. Member for North Lanarkshire (Mr. AnstrutherGray) on his maiden speech. I do so rather diffidently because he defeated one of the very few supporters of my party in this House. I would rather that this opportunity had not fallen to me—one need not be hypocritical in these matters—but as the hon. Member got here in spite of me, may I say now that he is here that at least my displeasure is modified by realising that that goad colleague and comrade of mine whom he defeated was not defeated by an inferior. His contribution to this Debate was, in style and eloquence, one which augurs well for his future. But may I add one point against him? He is young and I am not too old. I implore him not to become an old man too soon. The way of youth ought to be the way of risk. The old can afford to be complacent. Youth can never afford to be complacent. I ask him, in these days, to take risks; and, to me, the risky way is not the way disclosed in his speech, namely, that of a close and rigid adherence to the Government of which he is a follower.
This Motion seeks to condemn the Government for its lack of unity. Let me be quite frank. In my heart of hearts I could not condemn any Government merely on the ground that it is not united. There was one part of the speech of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Bow and Bromley (Mr. Lansbury) with which I agreed, and I wish he would make a start in circles in which he has immense power for good, in carrying that part of his speech into effect. He said it would be for the good of the country if the Cabinet issued a synopsis, or resume, or minute, of its proceedings after each meeting. He expressed the desire that that should be done, so that those, not in the Cabinet, might have some intelligent idea of what was happening. I am in full accord with that desire and I ask the hon. Gentleman to, show an example. Can he not get the Labour party in the House to issue to constituent bodies, minutes of the proceedings of the party meetings? Can he not get the Labour party executive, the Cabinet of the Labour party, after each meeting to issue to its constituents, who pay the piper, a minute of the proceedings Can he not get the Trades Union Congress to issue to its constituent elements a minute of its proceedings? Or are we to take it that in his scheme, this Cabinet is different from the semi-Cabinets which dominate the Labour movement?
I welcome this procedure in that it is a break with the past in this respect, and that it ends much of the hyprocrisy which was connected with Cabinets in the past. Take the Labour Government as an example. I defy Members sitting on the Labour benches to deny this—that there were Members of the Government meeting in the Cabinet and taking a particular line on certain questions, but it was said, "Do not say that so-and-so is against that in the Cabinet or is in favour of this in the Cabinet." We were not told, "It is someone who is doing this or someone else who is forcing that." But if the right had been established of a Cabinet Minister to come to this House and speak and vote as he felt conscientiously, then we should have known who was, and who was not, in favour of certain policies within the Cabinet.
This break with the past is more important for the Labour party than for any other party in the State. The Labour Cabinet and the Labour party differ from other parties in this respect. The Labour party is a comparatively poor party. The great bulk of its Members depend on this House for their livelihood, and the man who is going to take action which involves his resignation—I do it for I am no better and no worse than others—has to think of the economic consequences. A man who is in the Cabinet and whose income from that position is his only income, his only method of attaining decency and comfort for his wife and family, must, if resignation is involved, think of his future as a man. That applies to the Labour party. Hon. Members opposite can resign with no hardship to those for whom they care. With Members of the Labour party it is different. I say, therefore, that, from the point of view of the Labour movement, this precedent is sound because it allows the poor man in the Cabinet of the future, the man without a penny of private income, to follow his conscience and not to follow the browbeating of high finance and the dictates of his own poverty. Therefore, I say that, far from being attacked by the Labour movement, it ought to be welcomed as a precedent eagerly sought for and much desired. It is said by critics of the Government that the Cabinet is not united, but I have never known a more united Cabinet than this. I say that frankly and openly. The Leader of the Opposition said that this was an issue as between tariffs and Free Trade. He also said—and I agree with him—that the Socialist answer was that fundamentally, from the point of view of the great mass of the common people, that issue was not of Socialist concern. It was in effect a quarrel as to Free Trade and tariffs between two rival groups of what I term the master class in society. The free trader in a certain manufacturing circle is anxious to get raw materials and products cheaply and in abundance. You can see it in the steel trade. Steel manufacturers are anxious for tariffs, and certain other people in the trade are demanding Free Trade. It is the old quarrel between the shopkeeping community and the manufacturing community, and the Socialist answer has always been that it is no part of our duty to intervene in that quarrel, but that our part is to point the Socialist way.
What we have had to-day is merely a quarrel between two sections of the Cabinet as to which side of the employing or master class they will serve. Take that away; take the quarrels between the master class away, and get to what is real policy, get to the everyday work of the Cabinet, and never was there a more solid, hard-faced set of men than those that occupy the Government Bench to-day. Take any great issue you like. Take India. Here is the Indian problem before us now. There are threatenings every day, and every form of repression is being practised—the Cabinet united, even the Liberals, who used to be the defenders of individual liberty. In the old days of Bannerman, they would never have stood for the present happenings in India, but they are united now; they are acting for their class. Take unemployment insurance, the means test, transitional benefit. The working class must be degraded and reduced, and those who form the employing class must be relieved of financial responsibility in every way. What matter the poor? We are a class Government. Never was there a Cabinet more united and determined in lowering the standard of life than this Cabinet. Take the Far East—united again.
Take the Home Secretary's statement to-day on Dartmoor. They must rigidly punish the criminal, they must deal with him properly, and it must be done in secrecy—the Cabinet united. On every issue where the interests of the working class and the common people are at stake, the Government are unalterably united. When the master class differ, when those who rule us and exploit us differ, then there is liberty in abundance each time.
I ask any Conservative or any Liberal in this House whether, if it had been a question affecting any section of the population other than convicts, they would ever have allowed a report to go out without knowing the nature of the evidence behind the report. How can a man discuss a report, how can you do anything in the nature of coming to an intelligent conclusion, without the evidence Who were the convicts brought before the Commission? What kind of evidence did they get out?
I merely say that on that matter the Government are absolutely united. On the general issue; may I say that no one wants to continue the farce of the Labour Government? I have heard talk about lies from one side to the other, but may I say to my Labour colleagues, of whose party I am not likely ever again to be a Member, Do they think, or do any of us think, in these matters that we have a monopoly of honesty? I read in a publication of the Socialist party, or at least the Labour party, this week deliberate lies. I see that an ex-Cabinet Minister said about the Anomalies Act—and I challenge him for saying it—that it was the other Government that introduced the regulations, that did this and did that. For my part, when the Labour party is able to clear itself of the charge, then it will be time for it to throw stones at other people.
On this issue, it may be said, as the right hon. Member for Bow and Bromley said, that the Rome Secretary is not showing courage. I am not going to be the judge as to whether or not he is showing courage. Time will show, and nobody can decide that to-day, but at least he showed courage or this amount of initiative on a matter about which, speaking for his section of the community, he felt sore. He spoke on it. When the Labour Government was in office and men's wages and unemployment benefit were being attacked by it, members of the Labour Government were all united; at least we never had one with the courage to dissent from that Government.
As far as tariffs and this quarrel are concerned, I cannot see where the Labour party can have any quarrel there. They may have a quarrel about unity, but not about tariffs. So far as I can read the proposals of the Government, they are much the same as Mr. Arthur Henderson favoured—a 10 per cent. tariff throughout. [An HON. MEMBER "No!"] Oh, yes. It may be denied that this was the kind of thing we were going to get, and it may be said that Mr. Henderson did not favour a 10 per cent. tariff, but I attended a meeting where he did. I attended a meeting at Transport House where he said that, in the emergency, he would accept a 10 per cent. tariff. [An HON. MEMBER: "Rather than—!"] Yes, rather than a cut in unemployment benefit. There is no question of principle in it. The inference was that it was the only way to avoid a cut in unemploy- ment benefit, that the rich could not be attacked, that those who owned land could not be attacked, and he favoured a 10 per cent. tariff rather than a cut in unemployment benefit. It might be assumed from that that he was not in favour of a 10 per cent. tariff.
My colleagues and I welcome this departure. To us, there have often been departures from the Constitution. The Labour Government, I think rightly, departed from the Constitution when they said they could be defeated often without an election, and it was quite a good thing that they did so depart from the Constitution. The present Government have taken another departure. For our part, we would welcome open meetings of the Cabinet, giving to the public and to the mass of the people everything possible in that connection; and we say that, so far as this Cabinet is concerned, it is merely a petty quarrel, and we hope that this departure from principle will be used by a future Government, in order that those who compose that future Government, the men and the women in it, will do their duty, not by the Cabinet, but by those from whom they derive authority, namely, the working people, and will insist, even when they are defeated in the Cabinet, on coming to this House and stating their views fearlessly and openly.
Anything that tends to dishonesty in politics, anything, for instance, that makes a man say one thing in the Cabinet and then come to this House of Commons and say another thing, anything that makes a man vote in the Cabinet one way and then vote in this House another way—that system may work, but ultimately, from my point of view, it corrupts the system. No man can go on acting dishonestly in a Cabinet and outside without himself becoming corrupt and without the system of which he is a part ultimately being corrupted too. Therefore, we who form a small minority in this House do not disagree with this departure at all. We are opposed to the Government, and we shall vote for the Motion because we think they are a united Government, a brutal Government, a bad Government, shorn of the decencies of mankind in their treatment of the poor. We think that the Government should be swept aside as speedily as possible, and because of that and not for any other reason, we shall vote for this Motion of Censure.
I should like to join in the words of appreciation which were addressed by the hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan) to the hon. Member for Northern Lanarkshire (Mr. Anstruther-Gray) on his first speech in this House. I remember his father very well, as many others of us do, and we can wish him no better career than that he should be a worthy successor, as he certainly will, of a man who was a real public servant and a true Member of this House.
With regard to my hon. Friend who has just sat down, it was a distinct change from his widespread practice of dissonance to hear him for once stating that he is in favour of the attitude of the Government, but he disappointed me when he said that in no circumstances could he find it within the realm of his conscience to support any Government and particularly this one. With regard to the Motion before the House, perhaps the best course for me to adopt would be to recall some of the history which has led up to the present position; I do not mean the constitutional history, but the history of the past few months. The manifesto of the Prime Minister set out very clearly and definitely the non-party attitude which was taken up by the Government of that day when they appealed to the country. I will quote two or three words:
As it is impossible to foresee in the changing conditions of to-day what may arise, no one can set out a programme of detail on which specific pledges can be given.
He went on to say that the Government must therefore be at complete liberty to consider in the fullest manner any proposals, tariff or otherwise, likely to help. That was the manifesto of the Prime Minister, and it arose out of a long discussion which took place in the narrow, small Cabinet of those days. Though some of us held similar positions to those which we now occupy, the actual Cabinet consisted of about 10 members. I would like the House to bear in mind that the agreement which led to the Prime Minister's manifesto was the result of an agreement to differ then. Our agreements to differ are not of immediate origin. The Prime Minister's manifesto
was followed by manifestos from both the Conservative and Liberal parties. The Conservative manifesto made it quite clear that tariffs remained and would remain a part of their political faith and programme. On the other hand, we made it equally clear where we Liberals stood. It is not for me to quote any part of the Conservatives' pronouncement, but it does fall to me to give a. quotation from the Liberal manifesto. After stating that it was imperative, in our view, to balance the Budget and to endeavour to secure a favourable balance of trade, and that we were prepared to take any measures to deal with these emergencies, we went on to say:
We feel bound to declare our view that, whatever emergency measures might be found to be necessary to deal with the immediate situation, freedom of trade is the only permanent basis for our economic prosperity and for the welfare of the Empire and of the world.
That is a clear statement of our position, and we stood by that. Then came the election, and we know the result. It brought forth immediately, as one expected it would, express disclaimers from the Prime Minister and from my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Conservative party who, in the absence of the Prime Minister leads the House with such satisfaction to all parties in it. They expressly disclaimed that that great and sweeping majority in any sense constituted a party victory—[Interruption.] That is a perfectly accurate statement.
My colleagues and I joined the Government on the specific definite basis of the manifesto which we laid before the country and of the manifesto of the Prime Minister. Those of us who accepted the invitation of the Prime Minister to join his Cabinet can, I think, claim that we were not lacking in loyal co-operation in any of the proposals which were laid before the Cabinet and subsequently before the House. Some of these were matters which were extremely distasteful to us, and we accepted them because they constituted part of the policy of dealing with an abnormal situation by emergency Measures. I am no authority on Cabinets, notwithstanding the long experience I have had in this House on the back benches and on both Front benches, and the very happy times I have had in the Chair assisting former Speakers, but I think I can say that it was a very remarkable achievement to keep Cabinet unity on so vast a range of subjects. That unity did not develop out of ease and compromise, but out of real difficulties, out of great dangers, and not out of safety.
Why is this Debate taking place to-day? It is for the simple reason that the present proposals before the House and the country, in the view of myself and my colleagues, constitute an acceptance of a permanent Protectionist policy; also that it carries with it, at any rate for the time being, a complete reversal of the practice of Free Trade. Some day, I hope and believe, somebody will stand at this Box and propose the wiping away of these duties. You never know. That reversal will come in one of two ways: either by a party that sets itself out definitely to make the reversal; or, what I am sure my Conservative friends would much prefer, by a world recognition of the harm and the disastrous damage wrought by hostile tariffs. There was no alternative for us but that of resignation, and it is no secret to say, as my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has said, that we did tender our resignations to the Prime Minister.
It is a very proper question to ask what I am doing at this Box. Nobody suggests that we could not be very easily replaced. It is not a suggestion of any of my right hon. Friends, certainly not of my own, that there is any special virtue in us individually which could not be more than amply made up for by those who could take our places. We only say that we are of the average capacity of dullness which usually follows the assumption of Office, varied, as a wit once said by occasional flashes of mediocrity. I have had no experience of Cabinets, but I very much doubt whether anyone in the Government was ever present at more remarkable gatherings than those of the Cabinet, dominated as they are, not with an atmosphere of self seeking on the part of anybody, but of a very earnest desire to seek the public good. We made our response to that—all of us with some knowledge and some with considerable knowledge indeed of Parliamentary life—knowing the difficulties which it has brought and will bring. In those difficulties we shall, quite naturally, bear the greater share of the burden. The speech of my right hon. Friend the other day was an indication of some of the Parliamentary difficulties with which this experiment will have to contend. I think it is unnecessary for me to say that I stand by his speech.
Let me just say a word or two about the Vote of Censure, and what we think our course of procedure ought to be. The Vote of Censure is devoted to two matters with which my right hon. Friend the Lord President dealt with clarity and force earlier in the Debate. First, there is the point of inability to decide upon a united policy. Does anybody expect that with the developments which have taken place—[Hon. MEMBERS: "We cannot hear a word"]—some such crisis as this was not bound to happen? Then it is stated that this is an unprecedented action on the part of the Government of the day, and on our part in sharing in it. There is no precedent for a solution of this character, for the very good reason that there is no precedent for a situation of this kind. Therefore, I do not look for precedents at all, nor do I intend to lay before the House any juristic arguments of any kind. The special glory of the British Constitution is its flexibility.
But the success of this flexibility of the Constitution—and here, again, I am sure I shall have the agreement of the right hon. Gentleman opposite—has depended upon this, that on the whole it has been worked and continues to be worked by men of public spirit and a high sense of responsibility in all parts of the House, and it cannot work without it. The checks of an unwritten Constitution such as ours are of the spirit and not of the letter. The checks of a written Constitution are those which are expressed in the Statute which made it, and often prove obstacles rather than aids in dealing successfully with a new and unexpected situation. We have only to look to other countries today to see examples of that state of affairs. In the last few days we have taken a further step, and as younger Members of the House will, I am certain, live to see, further steps as startling will also be taken in the years to come. That is because the British Constitution is a living organism. The proof of this experiment will lie in its working and in no other way. No speeches will make it work.
It will succeed if it is judged in accordance with the immemorial British tradition of judging by results rather than by logic and theory. History has never been made by historians, and the British Constitution has not been constructed by constitutional lawyers, but by its ever-changing practice. If hon. Members look at the Standing Orders of this House they will see that dates are put opposite many of the Standing Orders, and many of them mark a crisis in Parliamentary history which is now an accepted working part of the practice of this House. What is to be our course of procedure?
My colleagues and I are determined that, as far as in us lies, our conduct shall be governed by the same considerations of honour and public responsibility which have led to the creation of this experiment. As to when we should speak and vote on these proposals, in Committee or otherwise, is a matter we must leave for the occasion from time to time to dictate. Clearly it is impossible to lay down hard and fast rules. The exercise of our liberty to speak and vote in this House must be decided by our sense of duty, by good sense, and by good feeling. [An HON. MEMBER "Not on principle!"] We shall always bear in Mind, whether the discussions are in the Cabinet or in Parliament, the special responsibilities that attach to the holding of ministerial office. I claim that this experiment has an honourable origin in the Cabinet. Whatever varying views may be held with regard to the opening of the Debate in these matters, it has had an honest beginning. No humbug can long persist in this House. Nothing is gained by subterfuge or concealment.
I entirely agree with many of the sentiments of the hon. Member for Gorbals. The best service we can render to the House and to the country is, as far as possible, to make frank statements showing what the position really is. I, of course, endorse in the fullest manner the statement made by my right hon. Friend the Lord President of the Council. The success or failure of this experiment depends entirely on the spirit in which it is worked. There is a saying, the exact terms of which I do not remember, but which I will paraphrase thus: "There is more sense in the House of Commons than in anybody in it." Those of us who have had long experience of this great Assembly—after all, the greatest deliberative Assembly the world has ever known—know that underlying all the tumult and the shouting of our Debates there is a sense in this House itself of which Disraeli, in one of his great phrases, said there is a membership of this House which is not related of those who happen for the time being to be in it, but consists of those silent, long past,
Members who are independent of the caprice of constituencies or the flight of time.
It is that sense of what is fair and just which at the bottom I believe actuates all parties in this House, and that spirit and that attitude of mind alone will be the final arbiter of whether this experiment fails or succeeds.
I rise with considerable hesitation to intervene in this Debate, and with all the greater hesitation, because I am following my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Education. I would like to say this by way of preliminary and perhaps I may justify myself by saying that most of the speeches to-day have not been justifications but preambles. My preamble is this: that I should be the very last person, either in this House or out of it, to attribute any mean or sordid motive to any public conduct of the right hon. Gentleman who has just sat down. I have known him in the House of Commons for nearly 30 years, and the one thing about him that has always struck me has been his patient courage and his transparent honesty. Never was the manifestation of those characteristics seen more clearly than when the first Coalition Government was formed and he declined to join it. That was really a National Government, as far as one can apply the term. It was a Government brought into existence to face one of the most terrible emergencies this Empire had ever known. If there was a time when the sacrifice of personal and individual views to the public good should have inspired one's conduct it was on that occasion, but the right hon. Gentleman, for reasons which commended themselves to him, and commended themselves to me, declined to join that Coalition, and for years led the Opposition in this House with an infinite patience, skill, and self-sacrifice.
The Leader of the House opened his speech to-day with a series of constitutional observations which have no bearing whatever on the situation. He said that this is a National Government. I decline to accept that description of this Government. Moreover, I think it is a dishonest description of the situation. A National Government is a Government containing various elements—a homogeneous aggregation of men in the Cabinet mirroring the opinion of the elements in the different parties. That is what I conceive to be a National Government. This Government is not a National Government in that sense; it is composed mostly of the members of the Tory party who ought to be the Government in this Parliament. I am aware that there are also in the Government a number of very distinguished Liberals, and two or three people called National Labour, but without meaning anything offensive I think we can rule them out. If it is true that a large combination, consisting of a large party with a few Liberals is a National Government, then the last Government must have been, to a large extent, a National Government and on many occasions no one was a larger contributor to that state of affairs than the Home Secretary who was then quite as active in his propaganda and scientific Parliamentary organisation to keep the Socialists in office as he is passionately anxious now to keep the Tories and the Liberal party in office.
At the last General Election 14,000,000 votes were given for the composite National party and 7,000,000 votes were given for the Labour party. Therefore, there cannot be any reasonableness or sound argument in calling the present Government a National Government, representing as they do 14,000,000 electors against the representatives of 7,000,000 electors who decline to accept either the present Government estimate of themselves or their policy. The mentality of the country was not justly determined at the last election when you consider the propaganda, the passion, the lying, the misrepresentation and all the forces that operated in that election. We know how the minority suffered and how unfairly they were treated. This is not a National Government, and it has no right to claim to be a National Government. I decline entirely to subscribe to this long recital of constitutional precedents and tradition which is intended to smother the moral of the question among all these musty precedents. I recognise no issue on this question but the issue of right or wrong. What is the situation? No doubt there were many issues at the last election. We had before us the questions of India, Reparations, and Disarmament. I take it that the National Government are agreed upon every question except tariff reform, and therefore there can be no mischief in the members of the Liberal party leaving the Government, because all those questions would be adjusted precisely on the lines which the Liberal Members want them adjusted. The only difference is on tariff reform. I have never worshipped at the altar of Free Trade or tariff reform. On this question, I have always had an open mind, and I agree with the hon. Member who said that national salvation is not to be found on either of those lines.
I do say, however, that the moment of triumph has arrived, and, if the laurels are to be placed on Parliamentary brows, they ought to be placed upon the brows of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Sparkbrook (Mr. Amery) and the hon. and gallant Baronet the Member for Bournemouth (Sir H. Croft). They are the pioneers of tariff reform, and they have never ceased to carry on the propaganda in favour of it. We now witness this strange situation, that when the purpose and object for which they have worked and laboured for over a quarter of a century is about to be achieved, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Sparkbrook sits obscurely on the back bench counting as little as I do in the affairs of this House. Is that fair? To the victors the spoil ought to belong. At the present moment the Free Traders occupy prominent places in the Cabinet, and the real fiscal reformers are prepared to occupy obscure places on the back ministerial benches. I was a Member of this House when the late Mr. Joseph Chamberlain introduced his policy. I listened to his speeches, and as far as tariff reform was concerned they were irresistible appeals, and they convinced me by their sound reason and logic. After that I listened to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill), and he spoke passionately in an opposite sense. Thirty years after that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping declares that he was wrong and that the late Mr. Joseph Chamberlain was right.
Last week the Chancellor of the Exchequer came forward moved by a feeling that at least he has fought out this question, and has ultimately established the great cause of fiscal reform. On that occasion the Chancellor of the Exchequer made a very remarkable speech, and immediately after he sat down the Home Secretary made a speech equally powerful and full of argument. I have been longer in this House than many of the supporters of the Government, and I know that the great bulk of them came to this House filled with definite enthusiasm for the cause of tariff reform. Most of them considered their own judgment inferior, and they came to this House to hear the argument. What did they hear? They heard a remarkable statement made by the Chancellor of the Exchequer to vindicate the policy of 30 years ago, and after that they heard that policy torn to tatters by the Home Secretary. [Hon. MEMBERS: "No!"] Now we are asked what we are to do? I do not wish to attribute anything but the highest motives to the Home Secretary and the other Liberal Members of the Cabinet, but I confess that I could not, in my conscience, remain in a Government in these circumstances, because I think what is now being done is a departure from constitutional tradition, and it is an outrage upon our ideas of honour, because you cannot blind yourselves to the fact that the one great issue which moves the public mind to-day is the question of fiscal reform.
The Chancellor of the Exchequer says he has introduced fiscal reform in order to save England, while the Home Secretary declares that if this policy of Tariff Reform becomes part of our Imperial policy it means the ruin of England. Who is to lead us on this question? Who are we to believe? I recognise that the situation is a very difficult and delicate one for the Liberal Members of the Cabinet, but to the ordinary observer, with the ordinary cuteness of mind, and to the honest man there is only one course, and that is to leave the Cabinet because it has been openly declared that if they do so nothing will be sacrificed. Are the Liberal Members of the Cabinet not prepared to trust their Tory colleagues on all other questions? If the English people want Tariff Reform, Members of the Cabinet have no right to hold diametrically and fundamentally opposite views and remain in the Cabinet, because, however those Members of the Cabinet may divorce themselves on other questions, they cannot divorce themselves if they remain in the Cabinet from the responsibility for a policy which they decline to accept. Tariff Reformers declare that if their policy is carried out it will ensure the industrial greatness of this country. To the victors belong the spoils. Let us return to healthy politics. This fake, this appearance of national solidarity—was there ever such a picture of union and solidarity? For 30 years I have seen varying changes in this House, and changes in tradition and in constitutional practice. Never did I even dream that the day would come when the Government's policy on the greatest and most vital of all the problems that come before it to be settled would be denounced in vigorous, unmeasured, and in many ways irresistible terms by the most intellectual force, the closest reasoner and the most prominent politician in the Cabinet.
That is all that I desire to say on this question. I am now speaking without any regard to all the issues except one —will the Government be more respected in the country after the performance of the last two days? Will an impatient public, impatient of Parliament, regard with more popular favour a Parliament of Tariff Reformers cheering the chief protagonist of Free Trade? Will it raise the status and increase the honour of our Parliamentary institutions if we say that there is to be, on the one hand, a vigorous and prolonged intellectual campaign by the leading member of the Government next to the Prime Minister against the policy of the Prime Minister and the Chancellor of the Exchequer? No doubt my right hon. Friend who has just sat down will come along and soothe the situation. The fact remains that the action taken in this regard is a lowering of the dignity and honour of public life. Is a complete departure not from tradition and constitutional practice, for which I have no respect at all, but a sweeping departure from all those principles upon which national respect is secured for Parliamentary institutions and for the honour and purity of our public life. As far as I am concerned, my view has nothing whatever to do with the decisions which have been argued in this House and which will be argued for some time to come. I take this view because I feel that, if we are to preserve this respect for our institutions in face of the suspicions, dangers and difficulties that lie before us, when people are ceasing to believe in parliamentary institutions, the unhappy spectacle, the ugly picture which will he painted in the constituencies and among the thoughtless as well as among the thinking people, must strike a blow at the glory and strength of our parliamentary institutions. It must be opposed by all who believe that in the respect which the common people have for this great Parliament alone lies our future strength, greatness and power
Those Members of this assembly who have been in this House only for a short. time or for a few Parliaments must sometimes wonder what it is that makes those of us, like my hon. Friend who has just sat clown, and who has been engaged in politics for over a quarter of a century, return to this House Parliament after Parliament and appear to be absorbed in its procedure. The House of Commons is attractive to me not only when it deals with some great moral issue bringing forth all the emotion of which the House is capable, as for instance on the question of the Prayer Book, but when we have an afternoon of high comedy such as we have had to-day, which has been the greatest extravaganza I have ever seen in the quarter of a century I have been in Parliament. First of all, we had the Leader of the Opposition making a speech, parts of which we can all support no matter in what part of the House we sit, arguing in favour of constitutional action on all occasions. It was a speech which might have been cheered to the echo by all those dead and gone Tory Members of the House to whom the Minister of Education referred in one of the most moving passages in his speech. Then we had the Lord President of the Council, who made a most excellent and most adroit Parliamentary speech He, on the other hand, defended the flexibility of our Cabinet and Parliamentary system to the utmost. According to the logical interpretation to be put on his speech, almost any revolutionary plan could be carried in this House or in any other Parliament, and would be justified by this flexible constitutional system. Everybody knows that the British Constitution is not fixed, but some of us are anxious to see it is not revolutionary, which is a very different thing.
My right hon. Friend quoted in the erudite fashion, to which we are accustomed when he speaks on historical matters, from eighteenth century and early nineteenth century practice. I do not think it is all relevant to the question at issue, but it was very interesting. There is one thing I would like to take up with him as a matter of purely historical interest. He drew a contrast between what happened in the younger Pitt's Government and what took place in this House in the 'nineties. He said that at the time of the younger Pitt the Government saw Bills that they were promoting or supporting constantly defeated in the House, and that did not cause them to resign, arid he contrasted that with what happened over the Cordite Vote. I am sure that if Mr. Pitt's Government had been faced with the position with which the Liberal Government were faced over the Cordite Vote, they would have resigned. The Cordite Vote was a Vote of Confidence dealing with one of the most important questions affecting the country, namely, the defence of the country. I do not see any resemblance between those two cases. There has, however, been a vast change in constitutional practice. What was his reasoning? Does he wish to return to the eighteenth century or to the early nineteenth century? As I shall show, the whole doctrine of Cabinet responsibility has grown up not so much because it is intrinsic constitutionally—I agree with him that our constitution is a very flexible one—but because of its practical convenience, and because it is necessary for the conduct of business in this House.
There was only one thing in my right hon. Friend's speech—I say it in all sincerity and politeness—which I rather regretted he said. He said that all the dissentient voices came from those who wish to see this Government split. For my part, I am not in that category. I do not wish to see the Government split. I have supported it with speech and action during its short existence, as I did the previous National Government. I hope it will remain in office for the whole of this Parliament. It was an unfortunate term to speak of "Those who want this Government split"; because, if there, ever were a Government split, it is this Government, so that it was an unfortunate phrase in this connection. If he had said, "Those who wish this Government to come to an end," it would have been a happier way of expressing the situation, because the Government are split at the present time. It may well be argued that those who were returned to support the National Government were returned to support a united Government. I see below me my hon. Friend, who fills what is known as one of the minor offices in the Government, who criticised in strong terms the action of the Government. Does he wish to see the Government split? Another of my hon. and gallant Friends below me criticised the action of the dissidents in stronger terms. He said it would not work at all. I would like to ask the Lord President of the Council or the Attorney-General whether those hon. Members are among those who are attacking this plan merely because they wish to see the Government split? I have no intention of voting for this Motion, which is worded in ridiculous terms, for the simple reason that, contrary to the opinion of my right hon. Friend, I do not wish to see this Government ended. If the majority voted for this Motion, the Government would have to resign.
That does not prevent me from giving my views on the course which they have taken, and saying in very plain and frank terms that it will not work. I would like to congratulate the Government on the admirable efficiency and smooth working of what I might call their Press publicity agent. I have no doubt that they keep someone who acts as liaison officer between the Press and the Government, and they have certainly succeeded in getting the Press to give a good reception to this plan. I have a shrewd idea of how this was done, without making any charge of corruption against the Press. The person in. question went to the great newspapers and said, "If you criticise this arrangement too drastically you will destroy the Government and destroy the first signs of returning business confidence and of increased advertising revenue. For goodness sake be careful and do not allow a mere question of constitutional rectitude and propriety to influence your action too greatly." I would like to say, by way of parenthesis, that the Press invariably likes Coalition Governments for the reason the House dislikes them—for the simple reason that it can do more with Coalition Governments than with party Governments. No-one knows better than my right hon. Friend, who so successfully for many months withstood a Press attack, how difficult it is. for the Press to destroy a party leader or a party Government, because they have all the party organisation behind them. It is much easier without a party. We all know the story of a Coalition of 1918 and the Press action upon it. There is one respect in which the Press has been scarcely accurate in diagnosing the situation which has arisen. The doctrine of Cabinet responsibility has been thrown overboard not, as the newspapers say, on a mere item of domestic policy, but in a vast fiscal change from the system of free imports to the system of Protection. It is argued that this is only an item of domestic policy. How can a change that is going to affect the whole trading relations of the world be only an item of domestic policy? It is mixed up with all sorts of international questions, and no one knows that better than the Home Secretary. He knows perfectly well that it is one of the biggest questions, and always has been.
I dislike the dishonest, evasive way in which some people say that this question is dead, is a mere item, is a matter of no importance which does not matter. It is nonsense, and the House knows it. Someone spoke of the good sense of the House of Commons, and I agree that the House of Commons is usually right in the long run. Governments and Oppositions flout it at their peril. This Government will flout it at their peril if they think that this is a mere item of domestic policy, and not what in effect it is, namely, one of the greatest questions that has ever been fought over between both sides of this House or in the country. Some of us have been fighting it for over a quarter of a century, and we rejoice more than I can say that to-day our plans and the policy which we have advocated all these years are in course of fruition. There is to be a reversal of a policy around which has raged more political fighting than around any other question of internal policy, and to-day we are in sight of triumph. I regret that a rather sneering reference was made to my right hon. Friend the Member for Sparkbrook (Mr. Amery). Let me say, as I am sure I can on his behalf as well as on my own, that we who are Protectionists do not care whether we sit on the Front Government Bench or not, as long as we see our policy successful. Our triumph is not in ourselves, but in our policy.
The doctrine of Cabinet responsibility is not a mere abstract constitutional theory. It has been found to be a practical necessity in order that administrative action and legislation may have a fair chance of success. If a minority of members of the Cabinet are at liberty to criticise the action of the majority of their colleagues on a matter of prime importance, the policy dealing with it is subjected from the start to an unfair handicap. Among the many astonishing letters which have appeared in "The Times" newspaper from various mugwumps—and I must say that "The Times" is the great oracle of mugwumpery—there was an astonishing one from some elderly, amiable, sexagenarian somewhere in the North of England, which praised this plan as being thoroughly in accord with the best business principles. I have been a director of a great insurance company in my time, and know something about company directors. My right hon. Friend the Member for Hillhead knows a great deal more, and he will agree with me when I say that no company which was worth anything at all would allow a minority of its directors, after a policy had been decided upon, to go about the country and attack the policy of the board and express the hope that at the earliest possible opportunity it would be reversed. [Interruption.] Yes; to continue the business analogy, the shares would go down, and the directors would very soon go out.
Speaking as a Protectionist, and I have always been a Protectionist, I believe that the Government's policy will meet with the strong approval of the majority of the electors, but I admit that there is a minority which is opposed to every Measure pased by this House, especially if it is a Measure of such prime importance as the one which we are going to consider this week. Hitherto all Members of the Government have shared alike the popularity and the unpopularity resulting from any Measure which they have initiated. Every Measure that every Government has passed has produced some opposition somewhere in the country, but Members of the Government, as a united body, whether they agree with the Measure or not, are in honour bound in public to play the game —to use a phrase of which my right hon. Friend the Lord President of the Council is very fond; and, in order to play the game, they go about the country supporting these Measures, whether they agree with them in their own minds or not, and they share alike the popularity and the unpopularity.
What is the position that is now open to the dissentients in this Cabinet, and perfectly honourably open to them, given to them by the majority of their colleagues, who seem so pleased with this plan which they have produced? They will be able to go and say to those of the electors who dislike Protection, "Do not blame us; blame the Tories; they are the people responsible"; while, on the other hand, they will be equally able to say to those who like Protection, and who ask them why they voted against it in the Cabinet, "It is quite true that we did not vote for the Measure, but we remained in the Government and worked with those who did, so we are not really bad." Once you concede the principle of Cabinet irresponsibility which has been conceded by my right hon. Friend this afternoon, you promote disunity in public and you deprive yourself of the weapon of objection to minority Ministers fighting their colleagues as one set of politicians normally fight others who disagree with them.
I cannot think why certain Tory Members of this House were so infuriated with the Home Secretary over his speech last week. He made an excellent fighting speech, though I was in total disagreement with it, against Protection, but the people who are responsible for his making that speech are the majority of the Cabinet who gave him permission to do so. Why should other Conservative Members object? If they want to object, they should object to the action of the majority of the Government who gave him permission to do so. You could not expect a man of the importance of the Home Secretary, with the command of language and the knowledge of facts which he has, not to put the case in the best way that was open; he could not be expected to deal with the matter from a purely colourless point of view.
The matter goes further. We have been told by the President of the Board of Education that the Ministers in question will be given permission to speak and vote against this Measure at any stage, and will not merely be expected to confine themselves, as I do not think the dissentient Ministers would ever agree to do, to a merely formal protest. I agree with the Lord President of the Council that the whole matter depends on how the plan will work, and I want to tell him that I do not think it will work. I believe that it is an utterly unworkable plan, and that before many weeks are out the position will become so difficult for the Conservatives vis-a-vis is the Liberals led by the right hon. Gentleman that, to use a very vulgar phrase, the whole show will bust up. It is because I want to see the Government go on and carry out its work, which I think it is doing very well, that I so deeply regret that the Cabinet came to this astonishing decision.
I want to say a word with regard to the doctrine of indispensability, but before I do so may I say that I forgot, when making my references to extravaganza, to mention the hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan). I think that the most delicious part of the mingled irony and comedy this afternoon was the hon. Member's speech supporting the Government amid cheers from the Lord President of the Council. Many years ago I was Parliamentary Private Secretary to Mr. Joseph Chamberlain; in fact, I was with him up to the time of his lamentable breakdown in health. It is so long ago now that I think there is no harm in my repeating something that that great statesman said to me in private. Referring to somebody or other, I had said, "I think he is indispensable," and Mr. Chamberlain turned to me and said, "My clear boy, you are young; you are just entering politics. Do remember this: No one is indispensable, especially in politics."
We all tend to rate our services to the country too highly. Everyone on the Front Opposition bench in any Parliament, or on the back benches on either side, who has ever been in any Government, thinks that the Government would be carried on better, or the particular office that he has in mind would be better filled, if he were in the Government; and all those in the Government, especially the leaders, believe that they personally are indispensable, and that they alone stand between their beloved country and disaster. I believe that to be a complete delusion. I believe that, if all those in this House who are in office or who ever held office were suddenly removed, the Government of the country could be carried on by back-bench Members who have never held office, or by men outside such as those who run the great municipalities and businesses of this country, almost as well as it can be carried on by experienced Ministers. The only thing that is indispensable in our political life is the Civil Service. I want to say, speaking as one of them, that politicians who have burrowed in red boxes for 20 years are not necessarily the only saviours of their country. I believe that, if all those who have held office or are in office were taken out in a ship, and if by some terrible misfortune the ship was lost, what would happen would be that our families would mourn us, there would be a service in Westminster Abbey, and foreign statesmen would shed their crocodile tears, but life would proceed as before, and the man in the street would probably say, "Well, the old gang has gone West at last. I feel very sorry for the poor blanks, but I wish some of them had been drowned 10 years ago." I commend that philosophy to the two right hon. Gentlemen below me, and ask them to believe me that neither they nor any of the rest of us in or out of this Government is indispensable to the carrying on of the Government of the country.
Yes; it is what I may call a mutual admiration society. You always think yourselves very beautiful, and we are quite prepared to agree with you provided you agree among yourselves, but we are a little disinclined to accept you quite at the value which you put upon yourselves. I beg the Government in these matters not to take themselves too seriously. Most of the people of the country think that the Government have worked very well, and have achieved a great deal in a short time, but do not let them take themselves too seriously, and do not let their leaders take themselves too seriously. Every leader that I have ever met during the 27 years I have been in this House has believed that, if he ceased to be leader of his party or Prime Minister, the party would come to an end. That is a complete delusion. When a great statesman dies, we hear many emotional tributes, but I always have a feeling of cynical amusement when it is said that his like will never be seen again. That is really nonsense. The country can be carried on just as well by men who have never been tried in Government as by those who have. This whole situation, which is a difficult and delicate one, and is going to be far more difficult and delicate as time goes on, would never have arisen if only Members of the Government had remembered that neither individually nor as a body are they indispensable. On the other hand, it is desirable at the present time that they should continue if it is possible for them to do so, but the price they must pay for that is to agree in public to support the policy which they have put before the country. If they do not do that, they will inevitably come to an end. None of the special pleading put forward by the Lord President to-day alters this indisputable fact, that the public, although they may agree totally to this very inconvenient arrangement, are determined, if we are to have a National Government, that it shall be a united Government in public and in private, and, if it cannot be united, there will have to be some other form of government to take its place. They are not going to put up with a continuance of this rather squalid state of affairs. I, therefore, beg the Government, before it is too late, to make up their minds what they will do. Let them agree not to allow a repetition of the Home Secretary's action last week. If they do allow it, as sure as night follows day, this Government will come to an end or, at any rate, its usefulness to the country will be gravely impaired.
The atmosphere of high comedy which the Noble Lord has shown to be pervading this Debate has been ably continued by him, and I presume it will continue until 11 o'clock strikes, when the Noble Lord will go into the Lobby with the Government instead of with the party which he has been supporting in the Debate. The atmosphere, indeed, has been enhanced by the Noble Lord's speech. For 20 years, while he has been responsible in office after office, he has concealed his first love. Protection has had no word from him. Now we have seen the re-juvenescence of that Lord Tumour of early days who kept the House so merry a quarter of a century ago. That is an advantage which even a Debate carried on in an atmosphere of irony has given the House something to think of. differ, likewise, from the hon. Member for Fermanagh and Tyrone (Mr. Devlin) for the first time in my life. I beg him to remember that a little honesty in the Cabinet is likely to be popular in the country and not unpopular, that this change will make for greater apprecia- tion of the work of government and not drag it into the mud. To my mind, if this is a constitutional change, which I doubt, it is a thoroughly good one, making for honesty, for publicity, and for individual responsibility. I congratulate the four Members who offered to resign on the honesty of their action.
The hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan) pointed out the difficulty which a Labour Member had to face, because of his financial position. But that difficulty applies to the whole House and not merely to Labour Members. It is not merely financial disaster if you lose your job, but you have the absolute disaster to your political career. [Interruption.] It matters to the individual very much, and, if any of these four Members had resigned office and lost their jobs, they could never have expected to get office again. The party is too small and the power of the Government too great. It is a great tribute to them that they refused to consider even their political careers. Is this change a change in the Constitution? Is it not rather a change in the power of the Prime Minister? The Prime Minister has said for the first time: "I am not prepared to demand unanimity in my Cabinet." I can only wish that in earlier days he had not been prepared to demand it from the Labour party. At any rate, now that he is in a position of greater independence, I suppose, he offers to his Ministers the right to vote and speak as they think. That is a change in the power of the Prime Minister, and not a change in the constitution of the country, and I cannot help thinking it is a change that might very well be embodied in the rules of the Prime Minister's old party. After all, it would be ridiculous to continue the principle of autocratic control in a party which is not in power when that principle has been dropped completely by the Prime Minister in dealing with the Cabinet. If unity in the Cabinet is not essential, unity in a party obviously cannot be as necessary as it has been held to be by the Labour party in the past.
I want to call attention to another point. The opposition to this change has not been an honest opposition to a change in the form of government. It would obviously be impossible for the Radical party to worship tradition to such an extent as to oppose this change. It has been largely, from both sides of the House, an expression of the desire on the part of the speakers to get on to that bench themselves. I am certain that the speeches to which we have listened have been almost entirely directed towards getting rid of some Members on that bench in order that other Members may take their places. The speech of the Noble Lord was obviously directed towards that business.
I come back to this, that the Prime Minister, in making this new departure, has shown his hand. It would obviously have been easy for him to get rid of these four Members. He could have replaced thorn with the greatest possible ease. All he had to do was to invite the Members for Sparkbrook (Mr. Amery), Hillhead (Sir R. Horne), Horsham (Earl Winterton) and Tamworth (Sir A. Steel-Maitland), and they would have taken their places. I am thoroughly thankful that their places have not been taken by those four Tariff Reformers, and I want the right hon. Gentlemen who at present constitute this unofficial opposition in the Cabinet to remain in the Cabinet, and I believe everyone who has the interests of Free Trade at heart wants them to remain as some check upon the wild vagaries of the Birmingham school. The whole of the demand for the head of the Home Secretary on a charger has come from the Tariff Reform crowd. They want to be there. Therefore, they want him out. Thank goodness the Prime Minister evidently prefers them, with all their dissentientness, to the Tariff Reform crowd. And not only the Prime Minister. It is obvious that this is the affair not of the Prime Minister but of the Cabinet as a whole, and I am glad the Cabinet prefer retaining an element of common sense on economics rather than admitting the wild men from the Birmingham backwoods. We have a bad time to go through. Let us, at all events, have in the Cabinet some people with the character necessary to offer resignation and with intelligence as to the necessary checks that are to be exercised upon this tariff madness. What I cannot understand, and what has not been touched on yet, is why there are only four of them. Where is the President of the Board of Trade in this business? He has taken no part in the Debate. As every one knows, he has the Free Trade case not only in his head but in his heart.
Until I hear it from his own lips, I shall not believe is possible. Where is he? Why is he not also among the prophets? There are others as well. There is the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, at present at Geneva. Has he also gone wrong or is he also to be relied on for a certain amount of strength and vision? The House to-day, far from passing a censure upon the Government for accepting this division of opinion and accepting a change in constitutional practice which I hold to be of great value to the country, and to the character of its politicians, should praise the Government for the first time for trying to keep one element in that party in and another out. This is probably the first action of the Government, from whose every action I have differed since its formation, which shows the beginnings of an understanding of the problem. It would have been so easy when it was formed to get in all those now back bench but formerly Front Bench Tariff Reformers. With the solitary exception of the Colonial Secretary, and possibly the Chancellor of the Exchequer, they have been excluded—a very good sign. My last word to the Government would be: Keep them out, and lei common sense stick in.
There has been a good deal of hot air in the Debate to-day. A good deal of talk about senses of responsibility, dignity, playing the game and all that sort of thing, which may mean anything or nothing. I agree that a great deal depends on how this experiment is worked. With the exception of the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan) and the Noble Lord the Member for Horsham (Earl Winterton), there has not been much reality about the Debate. I myself do not see why any Unionist Member should be called upon to censure a Government which has just adopted the policy which he must have been advocating as long as he has been in politics. It seems to me to be a subject for self-congratulation on the part of Unionist Members. Nor do I see why we should object to any alteration in constitutional procedure as such, provided it will work. Events in the modern world move with bewildering rapidity, and it is essential that all machinery should be continuously kept up to date, and none more so than the machinery of government, large parts of which are at present obsolete. I was a little disappointed at the speech of the Lord President. I always thought fundamental difference between the Radical and Tory point of view was that the Radical treated questions from a theoretical standpoint, and the Tory always approached them from a purely practical standpoint. The President of the Council developed a theory about the Constitution designed to show that the present experiment would work. It may. But, the traditional Tory method of approach to a problem has been, "Has it worked in the past; and is it likely to work at present?" and I think that is the proper attitude of mind with which to approach this situation.
When Lord Melbourne, who was a very shrewd statesman, made his celebrated observation with regard to the fact that it did not matter what a Cabinet said so long as they all said the same thing, there was an obvious reason for it. The reason was, as the Lord President of the Council very rightly pointed out, that it was designed to prevent one section of the Cabinet from intriguing with the Sovereign against another section of the Cabinet. That is exactly the danger which confronts us to-day. The Sovereign in this country at the present time is the democracy. The danger of the present situation is that one section of the Cabinet may intrigue with the Sovereign against another section of the Cabinet, and that is what we want to be sure is not going to happen.
We may assume, I think, that the attitude of the official Labour party is mere hypocrisy. They certainly are the last people who would object in the future to any necessary Alterations in the Constitution. We all know that alterations will have to be made, and this sudden pedantry, and love of constitutional methods, ill-becomes them, and is obviously insincere. But I do not think there is any good in disguising the fact that there are certain aspects of the present situation which give those who are the best friends and supporters of the National Government cause for grave misgivings. The last election was caused by the breakdown of economic internationalism. The failure of the nations of the world to co-operate with each other economically led directly to the crisis which, in turn, led to the formation of the National Government. It became clear that a change in our own policy was not only necessary, but urgently desired by the country as a whole.
The National Government was formed, and received a mandate from the country and the electorate at the last election, to put into operation a national economic policy. Of that there can be no doubt. Every National candidate of whom I heard, pledged himself at the election to approach the whole economic question with an open mind, to accept the decision of the Government once it was reached, and loyally to support the Government subsequently. I think the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for the Home Department is guilty of some breach of the pledges that he and his party gave at the election. The Government came to a decision, by a majority of the Cabinet I agree; but at the election we knew nothing about this new doctrine of Cabinet irresponsibility. We were entitled to assume that a majority decision of the Cabinet would be carried out wholeheartedly. The Cabinet came to a decision. The Chancellor of the Exchequer, in his historic statement on Thursday of last week, rightly described that policy as "the main business which had brought us together in this House." Against this policy the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for the Home Department made a very formidable, fierce, and, if I may respectfully say so, a very partisan attack, which astonished many of us who heard it. Nobody expected from the right hon. Gentleman anything but a cogent, clear and powerful statement of the Free Trade case. But he said—and I quote from the OFFICIAL REPORT:
Put an additional charge of 2 or 3 per cent, on the cost of these articles through your tax upon raw materials, and perhaps for the sake of a £1,000 tax received by the Exchequer the manufacturer may lose a contract for £50,000. Repeat that hundreds of times throughout the country, and over the whole range of our industries, and you will get same measure of the injury that is likely to he dealt to British trade from this tax upon raw materials."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 4th February, 1932; cols. 321-22, Vol. 261.]
That is a real distortion of the facts. I suggest to the right hon. Gentleman that if he really supposes that this is going to happen as a result of the policy, he cannot conscientiously remain a Member of the Government which is going to put it into operation. If he does not sincerely believe it, then he is guilty of having made a partisan speech.
Then the right hon. Gentleman referred to the tax on food in relation to unemployment pay. That is the sort of speech we would expect to hear from the hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan) or the hon. Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Maxton), but hardly from the Secretary of State for the Home Department referring to his own Administration. He said towards the conclusion of his speech:
For these reasons, for my own part, at every stage I express my disagreement with these proposals."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 4th February, 1932; col. 328, Vol. 261.]
He had expressed them. It was useless to beat about the bush in these matters. This is not the place or the time to debate the merits of Free Trade and Protection. But I wish to submit to the right hon. Gentleman the 'Secretary of State for the Home Department that it is really impossible to isolate fiscal policy. It is an integral and vital part of the general economic policy of any Government in any country in the world at the present time. It affects agriculture directly. It affects the whole of industry, and industrial development. It affects coal particularly. No wonder there is misgiving in the coal industry at the present time at the views known to be held by the present Secretary for Mines. For there is no industry which is more vitally affected by fiscal policy than the coal industry. It affects currency policy, Imperial development, and foreign relations. That practically comprises the whole of politics in any country at the present time.
Let me take, as an example, the fundamental question of prices. The right hon. Gentleman dilated in his speech on Thursday night upon the dangers which might arise in regard to the price levels in this country, and the effect of a rise in the cost of living. He thus revealed a sharp additional cleavage between those holding his views, and those on this side of the House who sincerely believe that until we get a rise in the level of commodity prices we shall never get any prosperity in this country, or, indeed, in the world. I really do not see how the right hon. Gentleman, holding the views he does and those which he expressed in the Debate can remain a Member of an administration which proposes to put the whole of the policy he has so bitterly and cogently attacked into operation. That is what worries me about the future. For I do not believe that he can remain silent about the question.
I have been trying to discover some motive for the attitude he has taken up. I dismiss at once the motive of indispensability, which was suggested by my Noble Friend. India has been put forward as a reason for the action of the Liberal Cabinet Ministers. But if they agree with the policy which is being put into operation by the Government in regard to India, they can give just as effective support to it from any quarter of the House. It is not essential that they should be upon the Treasury bench in order effectively to support, in the eyes of the world, the policy of the Government in India. The desire to maintain the national unity has also been put forward as the reason for the action taken by the Cabinet. But the right hon. Gentleman knows that, although it may be highly entertaining for Members of Parliament to witness the sort of comedy which took place in the House of Commons last Thursday, the spectacle of the Secretary of State for the Home Department getting up and fiercely attacking and endeavouring to overthrow the arguments the Chancellor of the Exchequer has advanced an hour or two before, is not going to enhance either the prestige of the Government or the credit of this country in the eyes of the world. It may seem a vigorous thing to say, but I do think that as a result of what took place on Thursday last, the National Government was for the time being turned into nothing short of a national farce. [An HON. MEMBER: "It was never anything else!"]
When we continue the search for a motive, it is a little difficult for some of us not to believe that Colonel Tweed's letter may have had something to do with it. I am not at all sure that a horrible spectre, which has for some time been haunting the right hon. Gentleman, but which he thought he had laid, did not emerge out of the fog round Churt. And that rather than allow the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) to assume the leadership of the Opposition, the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for the Home Department decided to assume the leadership of the Opposition himself. The question that really confronts the House at the moment is whether, and for how long, and under what conditions, the Leader of the Opposition can remain a Member of the Cabinet. For the moment the right hon. Gentleman has got the best of all possible worlds; but only for the moment. I do not think that his position is really a very comfortable one. We all agree with the Noble Lord that last Thursday the right hon. Gentleman displayed great personal courage; but I do not think that he did anything to enhance the prestige of the Government, or the traditions of public life of this country. If he continues upon this course, taking the sort of action he took last Thursday, I certainly believe that the position of the Government will become impossible.
What, for instance, is to happen to the Civil Service? The Noble Lord said that the Civil Service was indispensable to the country. No politician is indispensible, but the Civil Service is. What is going to happen when in the morning the Chancellor of the Exchequer sends for his experts and asks them to supply him with detailed information and arguments in favour of the policy he is endeavouring to put into operation and the same afternoon the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for the Home Department, sitting in his room at the Home Office, presses his bell, as he is fully entitled to do, and sends with all the authority of a Cabinet Minister for those same civil servants, and asks them for details and arguments diametrically opposed to those obtained by the Chancellor of the Exchequer? What is the unfortunate civil servant to do in those conditions? I can only say that I should be very sorry to be a civil servant under these conditions.
The overwhelming majority of this House believe in the policy of the Government as adumbrated by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. We do not care—nobody cares—who carries it out, provided it is carried out by people who believe in it. When I was in Scotland this week-end I found a legitimate anxiety among the agricultural community as to whether the Secretary of State for Scotland was sufficiently enthusiastic about the proposals for the revival of Scottish agriculture, which he is responsible for putting into operation. I am worried about this because I believe that, whether a policy be good or bad, it cannot succeed if it is to be operated by men who not only do not believe in it but who have publicly proclaimed that they think it will be disastrous to the general interests of the country.
That is the sort of thing which worries us. If the right hon. Gentleman and his friends are going to put spokes in the wheel at every stage, in the Cabinet, in this House, and in the country—and from their statements I do not see how they can very well help doing it—sooner or later they are bound to go. And I am not encouraged by leading articles in the two principal Liberal papers in this country, the "Manchester Guardian" and the "News Chronicle," which appeared during the week-end, and which show clearly enough the sort of danger with which we are confronted. Take the "Manchester Guardian":
All who refuse to countenance this fiscal revolution must hope that the other Free Trade Ministers will range themselves firmly behind the Home Secretary and refuse to he deterred by the beset clamour.
It says that an M.P.—who happens to be me—
plaintively asks why the Leader of the Opposition should remain a 'Member of the Cabinet'. The particular turn of events may not have been foreseen a week ago. But if Sir Herbert Samuel can fulfil the unusual role, Liberals at least will not be displeased.
Take the "News Chronicle":
Free Traders are hound now to mobilise for the support of their principles; they are bound to take steps to secure at least that every stage in the imposition of what they believe to be this disastrous policy shall be rigorously examined. This is both their right and their duty: the mere existence of a National Government,' however it
may be constituted, cannot be allowed for a moment to interfere with their mobilisation.
The President of the Council not so very long ago went to Aberdeen and made a speech in which he told his audience that one of the difficulties of a coalition Government was that when you passed the ball you never found the other member of the team in the right place. He expressed the hope that in time the Coalition team would work together, no that you would always know where your man was. I do not think that any member of the Unionist party would have objected if on Thursday the Chancellor of the Exchequer had not found the Home Secretary in his place. What they did object to was that he was found in exactly the right place, and that when he was given the ball he shot as hard as he possibly could at their own goal. We maintain that if the right hon. Gentleman is going to continue to shoot at our own goal, at least he ought to change his jersey. Then we shall know where we are. If, on the other hand, the right hon. Gentleman, having had a shot at our goal, and having missed it, perhaps only by inches, but still having definitely missed it, decides to play a neutral part in future, there is some hope that this strange scheme may operate for some time to come. But we feel, and we have a right to warn him, that if he is going to continue to have shots at our own goal, sooner or later the majority of the House is bound to see that he joins the other side.
The position which we are discussing to-night reminds me of the lines of an old Limerick:
There was a young lady of Riga,
Who went for a ride on a tiger;
They came back from the ride
With the lady inside,
And a smile on the face of the tiger.
When the Home Secretary and his Liberal colleagues went for a ride in October last with the Lord President of the Council, they had little idea what would be the result of the ride. They came back from the ride with the Tory party dominant in the Cabinet and the House, and, as I and other hon. Members have stated in this House before, the Liberal party have remained as prisoners of the Tory party.
I am not very much concerned about the action of the Government as to whether or not they are making a precedent, but I am concerned in regard to the question of discipline. The hon. Member who preceded me used the term "democracy." I have always understood it to be the right and the democratic thing that when you have discussed a subject and you have come to a decision, you accept the decision of the majority. If that be so, and I believe it to be so, I cannot see why criticism should be levelled at us by the hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan), or why some of the criticism levelled by some Conservative Members at their own Government should have effect. The right thing to do in a party or in a Cabinet is to discuss every matter thoroughly, to differ as far as you must and ultimately, when you have arrived at a decision, accept the majority decision. The right hon. and gallant Member for Newcastle under-Lyme (Colonel Wedgwood) has always been in his outlook what I would call an individualist anarchist. Recently, for some reason, he decided to refuse to accept any longer the rule that he accepted for many years within the party that when the majority had come to a decision that decision should be accepted by the minority. That appears to me to be the only principle of Government which is possible outside anarchy.
Let us carry to its logical conclusion the action of the four Members of the Cabinet who are permitted by the new Cabinet precedent to act as they are doing, and to speak as they are speaking against the Government to which they still belong. It would mean that every individual Member—
I was suggesting that a little consideration should be given to the logic of the position that has been taken up by the Cabinet. I presume that if it is right for four Members of the Cabinet to act as they like it must be equally right for any other four Members or any other number of Members of the Cabinet to act similarly. If it is to be considered right for any number of Members within the Cabinet to act in such a manner, I know of no reason why it is not right for any number of hon. Members to act on their own; but I do not think the Government Whips would permit the same freedom to the Members who sit behind the Government that they are prepared to allow to certain Members of the Cabinet, or to other Members of the Government who may follow the actions of those particular Members of the Cabinet. I should be glad to see far more freedom given for discussing matters, either in the House or in the Cabinet.
I agree with the Leader of the Opposition that if we could have a more intimate knowledge of the proceedings of the Cabinet it would be very much better for the whole of the Members of the House as well as the people in the country. I should like to know, and I do not think anyone does know, where the Prime Minister stands with regard to this matter. If we had more knowledge of what took place in the Cabinet we should be told whether he agrees with the majority of the Cabinet or not. I read a speech which was made by the right hon. Gentleman in his constituency a. week or so ago in which he said that he had been considering this matter for the past two or three years. I have had pretty close association, perhaps not so close as other Members of my party, with the Prime Minister for the past two or three years and for a longer period, but I have never known him to intimate that he was giving any special consideration to the matter which we are discussing in the House to-day.
Whether the four Members of the Cabinet are indispensable or not, I cannot help feeling that the criticism made by some Members of the Conservative party is legitimate. It is criticism to which any straightforward, honest man should pay a great deal of attention. I could not remain for a length of time a Member of a Cabinet or of any other organisation with which I professed to be in total disagreement on a matter of principle. Honesty ought to compel those four Members of the Cabinet to reconsider their position. I am not concerned with the general policy of the Cabinet, but I would like to know what is going to be the action of the four Ministers with regard to the future. [Interruption.] Could not reasonable order be observed while an hon. Member is speak- ing? Those who desire to carry on conversation might go outside. It would be a little more courteous. They have only just come into the House. I have been here since the House assembled and I do not think that I ought to be interrupted or ridiculed by someone who has just come in.
Nor is it a meeting in a little hall in Islington. I read with interest the speech made on Thursday by the Home Secretary. The part that interested me more than his reference to tariffs was the alternative proposals to which he referred. Those alternatives are worthy of a good deal of discussion. I should like to know what will be the action of the Members of the Cabinet if those proposals are put forward definitely by the right hon. Gentleman who made them in this House. What will be the action of the Cabinet in regard to any future policy that comes before it? It is of very little importance to me whether the Free Traders or the Tariffists in the Cabinet are in a majority, or whether they have the support of this House, because everybody knows that neither Free Trade nor Protection has made any material difference to the conditions of the general body of people either in this country or any other country.
If tariffs were a cure for unemployment and all its evils, it is obvious that those countries where they have been in operation for many years would be in a much better position than we are in this Free Trade country. But that is not the case. We on this side of the House are much more concerned with the condition of the people who are suffering as a, consequence of the squabbles between these two sections of the Cabinet and their followers in this House. We have no proof that any attempt is being made by the Cabinet to better the condition of the people. We have all been com- pelled to make sacrifices during the last few months, but these sacrifices have been made to a, much greater extent by the people of the country, and particularly by the unemployed. Many men are now unable to get a house which they had reasonably hoped to get a few months ago, and children are lacking the necessities of life because of the economies which we have been called upon to make by the present Government. These things are infinitely more important to us than the squabbles between traders and industrialists and commercial men as to which is the best policy, tariffs or Free Trade, and we have a right to ask what the Government propose as their future policy, outside altogether of the question of tariffs.
We have a right to know what they propose to do with the housing question. I am interested in the building trade and in the effect of a tariff on that trade and the housing problem. I have had a good deal of experience in buying timber, and I know that a tariff, even if it is only of 10 per cent., will make a difference in the cost of a very small working class house of between £4 and £5. A circular was issued a few weeks ago to local authorities by the Ministry of Health appealing to them to give consideration to the type of house they were building, to reduce its size, because it was essential to cut down the costs. They said that if local authorities could not do this the Minister of Health would not be able to sanction the schemes put forward. A tariff will definitely raise the price of house building. It will add from £4 to £5 to the cost of a very small house, and if that amount is capitalised over 40 years it will make a considerable difference to those who have to rent the house.
The same thing applies to every one of the articles upon which a tariff will be imposed. Who pays the tax; because a tariff is nothing but a tax. I hear hon. Members opposite to my amazement say that this is a tax imposed on the foreigner, as if the British Government ever had or can have the power to impose a tax on the foreigner. It can only mean a tax on the British people who will undoubtedly pay it. The importer of the goods will pay the tax to the foreigner and then the merchant and the middleman come in. Does anyone imagine that he will not pass on the extra fax paid to the foreigner, or that the shopkeeper will bear the extra tax himself and not pass it on to the consumer? Of course he will in every one of these instances. It is so simple that it is amazing that the people of this country should have been taken in as they were by the plausible stories told them by perfectly dishonest people at the last election. It means that the general standard of living of the people will be reduced. Already their wages have been reduced, and with the increase in taxation people have been brought within the Income Tax limits who never paid it before. Everything is going up, and the general standard of the people, as a consequence of the activities of the present Government, has been definitely lowered.
We have a right to ask what the Government are going to do to meet what is of far greater importance to us than the question as to which section of the capitalist class of this country shall take the bulk of the wealth from the exploited workers of the country. The hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. H. Johnstone) can make a very excellent speech in favour of a Free Trade policy. I am not sure whether he is one of the minor ministers who are going to vote against the Cabinet, but at any rate we know and the hon. Member knows, that all this squabble between Free Traders and Tariff Reformers is a question as to which of them shall get the largest share of the wealth which the workers of the country produce. We are far more concerned with stopping that exploitation than in sharing the plunder between the two sections of the capitalist class, one which poses as Free Traders and the other as Tariff Reformers. I know that it is in the interests of certain traders to have a tariff because it benefits them personally, and that other traders would allow things to come in free because it benefits them personally, but it is not in the interests of the worker, and cannot be, to have extra taxes imposed upon him after he has been exploited in the factory and his wages still further reduced in purchasing power.
As regards the general constitutional question, all I can say as a very ordinary citizen, and as one who desires to do the right thing in Parliament and out, is that it would appear to me to be the right thing to do, if I were in a government with which I fundamentally disagreed, like the two right hon. Members of the Cabinet, to come out of the Government; to be honest about it. They have been told by many members of the Conservative party that they should get outside; and so they should. No honest man would remain in an organisation with which he fundamentally disagreed.
Now I am wondering what the small fry are going to do. Are they going to be logical in their opposition to the Government? How can they justify the action they have already taken in supporting tariffs in a small way just before the Christmas Recess? I know that the Liberals have been rather notorious in recent years in having no particular set of principles or policy at all. They are prepared to give general support to a Labour Government when it is in office, and they give general support now to a Conservative Government to keep it in office. They do not appear to be able to frame any kind of policy that they can agree upon, even amongst themselves. But I am not much concerned about them. None the less I hope they will make an attempt at some kind of logical action in the future, and that they will carry their opposition to this thing, if they are sincere, into the Committee rooms, into every Debate in this House, and into the country. The position is farcical. A Noble Lord opposite described it as a comedy. It is more than a comedy. The position of the Liberals, particularly on this occasion, is so farcical that it is amazing to me they do not see it, themselves. We are concerned with the well-being of the general body of people in the country. There is no earthly use in a Government pretending to be a National Government unless they can show means by which they are going to increase the general standard of living of the majority of the people; and certainly tariffs will not provide means by which that can be done.
References have been made to the irony of the present Debate, and perhaps there is particular irony at the moment in the fact that there is only one member of the Liberal party present, the hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Harcourt. Johnstone). I am glad that there is only one. I do not know much about him, except that he fought my constituency with considerable lack of success some years ago, and has since not returned to Eastbourne. There is another aspect of the question which has passed the attention of every Member who has spoken in this Debate. That is the curious sadness on this occasion. No one has shed tears over the departure from precedent, no one has mourned the departure of Cabinet responsibility. It has become a sort of joke. But I am not surprised, because I think that the whole nation, when it saw the position of the Government stated in the newspapers, thought that this was a sort of practical joke on the part of our elder statesmen. It has been treated in that spirit very properly throughout the Debate. Nevertheless I think it becomes hon. Members in the old parties of the State to mourn this sad demise of one of the comparatively ancient and very sensible conventions of our constitution. I think we of the Liberal and Conservative parties ought to sing a hymn of mourning and compose a strophe and antistrophe for the departed precedents. It is due.
But after we have mourned I think we are entitled to approach this matter with certain very practical considerations and criticisms. In the first place, will this action increase the prestige of the Government? I hardly think that the nation as a whole will regard the Government with the same respect, because in politics as in justice it is almost as important to seem right as to be right, and it is just as important for the Government to seem strong as to be strong. Hardly anyone can see any trace of strength in the present action of His Majesty's Government. This decision came upon us like a bolt from the blue. No one was prepared for such a sudden change. Those who took part in the Debates before Christmas heard the Lord President of the Council appeal to his party on two separate occasions, not on grounds of argument or principle, but on grounds of party loyalty; and on the Statute of Westminster and the question of India there were, I know, many hon. Members in my party who went into the Government Lobby against their better judgment and against the still small voice of their political consciences, in obedience to the call of their leader. Now we find that the rule which was not relaxed in favour of the inexperienced new Members who still had some inspiration of political honesty, is relaxed and even abolished in the inner councils of the nation. That is the position with which we are faced at the present time. No one can say that the prestige of the Government has been increased by that. We now find the Lord President of the Council in a speech full of fourth-form logic and elementary political history telling us that a new situation has arisen and that it demands a change in one of the most sensible usages in our Constitution. I think we have only to ask the question about prestige to answer it in the negative.
Then there comes the even more important question, has this change increased the efficiency of the Government? Has it increased the Government's power to act, its vigour in action? There is an old saying that a house divided against itself cannot stand. The Government with so large a majority can repeal a constitutional convention, but they cannot repeal the eternal verities of human nature. They cannot say that a Government divided in council can be as strong in action as if it were united. So we are bound again to answer our question in the negative. There is another question which interests me more, and that is, is this a permanent or a temporary abandonment of the principle? I came down to the House prepared to hear speeches from the Lord President and others, and expecting them to say that this was a temporary expedient to bridge over an extraordinarily difficult situation. But, no. If anything could have persuaded me to vote against the Government and with the Motion moved by the Opposition, it was the speeches of the right hon. Member for North Cornwall (Sir D. Maclean) and of the Lord President. Apparently they have completely and for ever jettisoned this convention. The Lord President of the Council clearly does not care for precedent at all; he does not consider that it is worth a moment's consideration when circumstances change. That is a strange attitude for a leader of the Conservative party.
On the other hand, I think this is a matter purely of common sense. By the simplest methods of argument you can decide whether this has increased the prestige of the Government, whether it has increased the power of the Government. You can answer both questions in the negative. Then you can ask, "Is it worth while?" The right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary could possibly have made a reasonable speech; he could have made a speech which was decent, which was conciliatory. He made a speech which, in the circumstances, was hardly decent and certainly not conciliatory. In times of peace statesmen are allowed the luxury of ideals. They can talk about matters as matters of general principle. Have we forgotten what we were talking about at the last election? We were talking in terms of crisis, almost in terms of war; and in times of crisis we cannot afford the luxury of talking about political ends. We have to talk about political means, about how we are to save the nation.
There is a precedent for this situation in what happened during 1914–1918. Then, we had a Coalition Ministry. We were concerned with the means of saving the nation, and one of the most important questions which our statesmen had to face was whether they were going to carry on the War by voluntary service or by conscription. That question involved moral and political considerations no less important, perhaps more important, than the distinction between Protection and Free Trade. But it became a question of means and not of ends. Members of the Government were to be found on both sides of that question and urging strong considerations on each side. We know that the Foreign Secretary was a strong advocate of voluntary service. We know that he resigned when the other view prevailed. That was a question of a means to an end. What would be said of a member of that Government who had been allowed to stay in the Government after conscription had been decided upon, and who then denounced it from the housetops as tyranny and did everything in his power to baulk the means which were advanced towards that end. Surely it would have made us a mockery among the nations. Would there have been any chance of winning the War with a House thus divided against itself? Is the situation so very different now?
No, I think the nation at the last election presented a singularly unanimous voice; it presented a mandate, almost a command, for the members of the various parties to agree upon a policy. Whatever the general will was, one thing at any rate which the general will did not decide was this—it certainly gave no command to the Members of all parties to form a Government in order to agree to differ. That, surely, is an insult to the singular unanimity of the nation. It might have been thought that a man, however clever —and we all agree that the Home Secretary is clever—[interruption.] I was just paying a compliment to the right hon. Gentleman and his entry was well-timed. Let the Home Secretary wait and hear what else we have to say about him, and perhaps his exit may be equally well timed. Nobody, I say, disputes that the right hon. Gentleman is a clever man but it might have been thought that a man, however clever, however deeply committed to economic theories of the past, would have said, "The nation has agreed that some plan must be adopted. Therefore, although it involves considerable intellectual and moral self-sacrifice, I must sink my individual opinions and try to make that plan, however bad, work as well as possible." These things have happened before. Rightly or wrongly that is the way of democracy. It is not necessary to go back to Lord Falkland and the Battle of Edge Hill or to Robert E. Lee and the American Civil War to find instances of statesmen who have put country first and who have, although they were convinced that there was a better plan, decided to follow faithfully the inferior plan and perhaps, even thus, help to achieve their country's safety and victory.
I think the right hon. Gentleman in this case took the less noble part. He presented us with a speech which was entirely academic. In my view there was not one element of constructive statesmanship in it. We were familiar with the arguments. Although the right hon. Gentleman did not mind prohibition, he abhorred Protection. He swallowed the camel but would not take the gnat, because, forsooth, the camel was a matter of expediency but the gnat was a question of principle. There are some people who object to the right hon. Gentleman's speech. There are some people who found its tone extremely offensive and who deplored it. I, for my part, rejoice. It might have been possible for the right hon. Gentleman to have made a speech which would have made him beloved and respected by all the Members of this House which might have raised him almost to the position of a national hero. Had that been the result, people would have said "Tell it not in Dartmoor, publish it not in the streets of Churt, but the Home Secretary is a good fellow and a great patriot and it may be, after all, although we differ from him on economic principle, that he will still be a valuable asset to the Cabinet." But how could anybody take that view after the singularly unseemly speech—I take his own word—which he made on Thursday last? After that speech, how could anybody take the view that he could possibly advance any plan which has so far been presented to this House by the Cabinet? I rejoice in the speech of the right hon. Gentleman and I hope that he will go from strength to strength. He did not shrink from imputing what I think were the vilest of political motives to his opponents.
I will not withdraw that statement. He suggested that they were taking the burdens from the rich in order to put those burdens on the poor. I hope, I say, that the right hon. Gentleman will go from strength to strength, reviling his colleagues, imputing vile motives to them and supplying the most dangerous and effective ammunition to His Majesty's Opposition. It is that he will so show that this strange plan which has been adopted with such sanguine expectations by the Lord President of the Council, must come to nought. The Home Secretary by that speech inevitably put a term upon this present ignoble compromise, as I regard it. I do not think that he could have made a more perfect speech from the point of view of those who agree with me. Meanwhile it is an ill wind which blows nobody any good. It will be a great time for those who have some independent political judgment. There will be rejoicing in the caves of Adullam. I venture to think that if the lions in the political Zoo are allowed to roar as they please, surely the humble mice will be permitted to squeak and to scamper as they choose across the Floor of this House.
I think that the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Council failed to make good the distinction between party loyalty and loyalty to the Government. I do not think that I would have the slightest difficulty in exposing the fallacy of the distinction which he sought to make, and to do so on his own premises—[Interruption]. It was the Lord President of the Council himself who sought to make that distinction, but I do not think that it was a valid distinction—on his own argument—as between those who support the party and those who support the Government. But as I have said, it is an ill wind which blows nobody any good and I hope that hon. Members who are not Members of the Government will not be outdone by the Home Secretary in independence. I hope that they will endeavour to push the Government and to press the Government forward according to their pledges even more violently than the Home Secretary is endeavouring to pull them back according to his own ideas. History repeats itself and in the permanently wise books of the world at any rate, one occasionally finds some explanation of the actions of the present day. When the Home Secretary made that speech I really think that he must have been inspired as his distinguished namesake was in the remote and bitter past, because we read:
And the Lord said to Samuel, Behold, I will do a thing in Israel, at which both the ears of every one that heareth it shall tingle.
Certainly he made the ears of the Tariff Reformers tingle the other night and that was a great achievement because we are a singularly obstinate and thick-skinned people We have pursued this object for many years, and we are prepared to do our very utmost to see that it finally reaches the crown of fulfilment. In the meantime we cannot take this Vote of Censure seriously. It. is a ridiculous expectation to think that we, the Conservative party and one of the constitutional parties in the State, can support a Vote of Censure coming from the right hon. Member for Bow and Bromley (Mr. Lansbury). We have only to compare what might have happened in the last Parliament. Supposing, for instance, I
had moved a Vote of Censure on the last Government for not providing work or maintenance for the people of this country. Would it have been expected that my hon. Friend the Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Maxton) would have followed me into the Lobby? There must be some kind of limitation to the company you keep in the Lobby.
Like most politicians, I have a memory that is conveniently short, but I do not remember the hon. Gentleman coming with me into the Lobby for the vindication of the British Empire on the Statute of Westminster Bill, or for the maintenance of rule in India and the protection of the millions of the depressed classes of Indians. I regret that my political memory is sufficiently accurate to remember that the hon. Gentleman was not there on those occasions. As I say, I do not think I could have expected my hon. Friend, in the last Parliament, to follow me into the Lobby on a hypocritical Motion from me concerning work or maintenance. I think more of the hon. Gentleman than that. Neither could I follow the right hon. Member for Bow and Bromley when he, as a sort of political and constitutional purist, introduces this, for him, ridiculous Vote of Censure. It is a very bad precedent to have set for himself. It argues very badly for the future of his opposition. This is the first considerable Vote of Censure, as he said himself, which he has moved, and, of course, it is a farce and a sham, and I could not possibly vote for it. Indeed, I shall with the greatest pleasure in the world vote against it, and as I go into the Government Lobby to-night, however much I disapprove of the violation of this constitutional convention at the present time, I shall know that the great majority of the Government have decided upon the great issue at the present time, the only important issue for me, namely: Is Great Britain to be an island, or is she to be an Empire? I shall be sure that they have taken the first and most effective step towards the latter end. After all, it is the policy that matters above all things, and as I march joyfully and give my name to the Division Clerk in the Government Lobby, I shall also be consoled by the fact that owing to the attitude of the Home Secretary, to use his own epithet again, his unseemly attitude in this matter, I know that this ignoble constitutional compromise will be of short duration.
It has been said in other places that out of the mouths of babes and sucklings there sometimes cometh wisdom. I am very pleased indeed to have had the opportunity today of hearing a series of historical lectures, beginning at the wrong end and finishing at the bottom. The right hon. Gentleman who, in the absence of the Prime Minister, leads the House, started off by beginning with the second Charles, and finished up with a reference to George III, a very significant lapse in English history. Some of us have not had the opportunity of going to the schools to learn history in the orthodox way—we have only been able to learn it since we left school—but we are finding that nearly all the historical and political action in this country to which the right hon. Gentleman referred took place at a time when the common people had no voice in the government of the country. They were pariahs and outcasts, so far as political opportunity was concerned.
The right hon. Gentleman never came on to the Georges of modern times, and certainly not to his present Majesty King George V, because it would have completely knocked the bottom out of his story. We had references to Pitt, the bottomless pit, and to the Prime Ministers who were really dictators, in the days when the common people had no voice in the government of the country, when Kings, with the assistance of their Prime Ministers, were able to give the land of the country away to their favourites. The history we have had given to us to-day is a misrepresentation of the real history of the British people, and I leave it at that. Constitutionally, the Cabinet is supposed to be, for the time being at least, the Government of the country. As to what Pitt or Walpole or any of the others who went before them did, I am sorry their names have been mentioned, because their history will not bear investigation. If there was a volume published as to corruption in this country, those names would stand out most prominently as those of men who robbed the people of their birthright or attempted to do so.
But we are coming down to modern days. There is one thing that could be said about the Governments of those past days: they were united and they all agreed upon robbing the people. That was the principal item on their agenda; it was the Acts of the Apostles, so far as they were concerned. These modern Governments are of a different kind. Some are Free Traders, free to rob the people; others are Tariff Reformers, out for the same thing. They do not care to the extent of a jingle on the tombstone, from the standpoint of personal interest, whether there is Tariff Reform or Free Trade—the common people have to be taken advantage of in both cases. This Vote of Censure is to some of us a natural vote. The last speaker, the hon. Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Marjoribanks), is naturally a Conservative. Nobody objects to his being a Conservative. He is going to keep all he can and get all he can. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] I believe in the good old rule. Let us keep all we can and get as much as we can, and I am going to, because I think the class to which I belong has a right to get everything there is. There is no doubt about that. I think I have a right to take a leaf out of your book. You have done it very well. Why should not I? You talk constitutionally to me, but I know your constitutionalism. It means that so long as you are the top dogs, we have got to be the bottom dogs.
In the last General Election some of you had the courage to say what you believed; others had not. The Home Secretary has retained his position in the present Government, but he knew when he went in what they stood for, namely, everything in which he does not believe, in fiscal policy. He says that his action is in the national interest, but what is the national interest? Is not the interest of the ordinary working people the real national interest? Do they not represent at least 90 per cent. of the population, men, women and children? The men and women who work for wages are the people of this country in the main, and if they are, and if a man believes that your policy is going to take advantage of them, if he believes that your policy is going to place further burdens upon them in addition to those which they already bear, are we not entitled to say that he is in the wrong camp when he sits on those benches taking part in a policy which he abhors?
I admire the Tariff Reformer, because we do not expect anything better from him. If he is honest, he believes in taxing things which the people need to save himself from being taxed. We have already been told that one of the proposals which is likely to be made in the next Budget is a reduction in the Income Tax—for whose benefit? We are also told that there is to be an increased tax on tea. The very things which the ordinary people use are to be taxed, and those who are best able to bear it are to be relieved of taxation. You did not tell the people at the General Election that that was your policy. Who is creating the situation which has been brought about? I do not care, for I am not interested in precedents. I have broken as many in the House and out of it as most people. If I go on to a committee, I claim the right to say what I think, but when a decision is arrived at, I claim the right also to abide by it on the executive or to get off the committee. Those who claim to be constitutional in the Conservative and Liberal parties cannot object to that principle. It is no use taking me back to the days of King Charles; I want you to bring me back to the days of King "Mac."
So far as we are concerned, it is not going to be a doctor's mandate, but a surgical operation, and the operator will not be the gentleman who asked for the mandate, but the gentleman who never got it, or at least never asked for it. There are sitting on the Front Bench men who know that they are on the slippery slope, for they will have to sacrifice every principle for which they have ever stood as the Government proceeds. After to-morrow there will be a series of Debates and Divisions upon the various proposals for taxing the commodities which the people use, and yet, because of the new doctrine of Cabinet responsibility, we shall have to have this spectacle of lifelong Free Traders getting up in the House and opposing the Government to which they belong, and going to the country to give away the secrets of Cabinet meetings. This will make the confusion worse confounded. I wish the Government joy of their recruits. Thank God we are clear!
My hon. Friend below the Gangway made reference to divisions in the Labour party, but that party has never pretended to be absolutely united on every subject under the sun. Even those Members who have become converted to the Simon pure policy and who jibe at us do not agree with each other. Wherever a body of men meet together there are bound to be differences, but on fundamental issues they do not differ. On those issues honest men will go against those opposed to them. There is no difference on fundamental issues in our party. We are neither Free Traders nor Protectionists. The only protection in which I believe is the protection of the working class against the robber class, the people who all through the centuries have lived by the exploitation of the common people. That is the kind of protection that I shall preach as long as I am in this House. You will go into the Lobby and establish your Protectionist schemes to the fullest extent, and then where will you be? On 31st December the people will be in the same place as they were on 1st January—always in the same position, "go day come day, God send Sunday." What is t he difference between the worker in Great Britain and the worker in the United States and Germany or any other Protectionist country? They are all in the same boat, so far as their economic circumstances are concerned, and all at the mercy of the people who dominate their needs of life. The people who own the land and capital of every country are the dominating factor. Therefore to put the tariff policy forward is like putting a sticking plaster on a wooden leg. Your Protection proposals are pills for an earthquake. I am glad to see the Liberals and the Conservatives join together, because it shows that the real issue is now being joined. The next fight will be capitalism against Socialism. We are glad that it is coming. We will go into the fight with our bands playing and our flags flying. We will face the people of the country, and instead of 7,000,000 votes, we shall have nearly double at the next election because you will fail lamentably. Your doctor's mandate will turn out to be an emetic, and the mass of people will discover that you have been weighed in the balance and found wanting, with your Free Trade chemist giving assistance to the doctor performing the operation, and all the other doctors waiting by with their mouths wide open to swallow the medicine which they do not get.
The idea of those Ministers who do not agree with the tariff policy is, "Whatever happens, we must remain in the Government because without them we will be lost; there will be no hope for us. Rather than see the Socialists come back to office, we will sell our souls and principles and give our bodies away to the people whom we have always been opposing." We in this party are not built that way. We shall keep on fighting, and although we are not so clever as the other parties, we hope that we are cleaner. I said during the election, and I say it now, that this is not a National Government but a national insult. They were returned by means of the greatest misrepresentation and the assistance of some renegades who left our movement. There is one thing that Judas Iscariot did: he had the decency to go out and hang himself. Some of the new Judases have not been so decent. A right hon. Gentleman said a short time ago that no man is indispensable. Nor is any section indispensable and individuals are not indispensable to the Labour movement. We will keep on to the end of the chapter, and eventually we shall sit on those benches as a real working-class Government. Then we shall be able to do what you are doing and carry our policy into effect. We shall then ask those who do not agree with us to leave the place.
We have listened to a most interesting Debate, and a most entertaining side of it has been that those Members, mainly, who spoke in support of the Government spoke from the other side and those who spoke against the Government are mainly numbered among its own supporters. We heard a most brilliant speech from the Noble Lord the Member for Horsham (Earl Winterton), but I thought that his position, which is that of a great many other Members of this House, was a most illogical one. It was his contention that those Members of the Cabinet who do not agree with the policy of the majority should resign, and he taxed them with insincerity, and yet he said that he himself was a supporter of the Government and would vote for them to-night, although disapproving of this great innovation in constitutional history. Hon. and right hon. Members on the other side are in the same illogical situation, for we have seen the right hon. and gallant Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Colonel Wedgwood) congratulating the Government on its attitude and the hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan) doing likewise. The speech of the hon. Member for Silvertown (Mr. J. Jones) I will not trouble to discuss, because, as usual, it was totally irrelevant to the subject under review.
The three main objections advanced againts the step which has been taken by the Government are, first, that it violates the Constitution, second, that it will not work, and third, that it is dishonest and unscrupulous. The contention that it violates the Government has been answered very ably to-night. It has been pointed out that the British Constitution is a fluid one, and is constantly in the process of being built up. I will not trouble to quote authorities who have written on this subject, but, I would refer hon. Members to Professor Dicey, who was perhaps the greatest authority on Constitutional history up to the present time. He explains in the preface to his hook on Constitutional Law that many innovations have been introduced in the past and that they are the essence of the British Constitution. The Cabinet itself, as we have been told, was an innovation, and was as bitterly opposed in the days of William III and afterwards as is the present innovation to-night. There have been precedents, also, in the Cabinets of the past for the differences which have occurred in the present one. The doctrine of collective Cabinet responsibility was accepted only in the last century. The principle of Cabinet unanimity has worked well, but it is based in essence upon party Government, and in that respect the custom of the country has been departed from on this occasion. We have a National Government, and therefore the situation is altered. Professor Dicey says in his book that even with party Government a Foreign Secretary—and he adds a Foreign Secretary who was a genius—could carry on both in a Conservative Government and in a Liberal Government, and points out there is no earthly reason why the same Lord Chancellor should not function equally in a Liberal and in a Conservative Government.
As for the question whether this innovation will work or not, experience will show. The hon. Member for East Aberdeen (Mr. Boothby) regretted that the Lord President of the Council had adopted this line in his speech. He said the line of a Tory politician was to say of a thing, "It will work because it has worked." If for once the Tory party have departed from their custom of accepting only what has existed before, and have adopted a method of progress, we Liberals on these benches can only congratulate them on it. But the agreement to differ on one point must not result in a cleavage which would influence the decisions on other questions, and here the action of the majority will have a great bearing, but the very fine spirit of the speech of the Lord President of the Council, and the fact that this innovation was suggested by a former Tory Lord Chancellor, Lord Hailsham, do indicate that the majority will lend an ear to the views of the Liberal Members in the Cabinet.
The third objection which has been put forward is a far more serious one. It is that the dissentient Ministers are acting dishonestly and unscrupulously. I venture to say that open disagreement in the Cabinet is not less honest than stifled disagreement can be. To avow open disagreement is in no way less honest than to vote in this House in support of a view which one does not honestly share with other Ministers. Constitutional government is only a machine by which the will of the people can be effected. There can be no doubt that the will of the people was clearly shown in the last election. They demanded a National Government, because it was felt that in these complicated and difficult times all points of view should be discussed from within and with seriousness and frankness. When electors in the General Election ceased to vote for a party for which they had voted all their lives, and changed their allegiance, it was only because they expected that their point of view would be voiced in the Cabinet and in this Parliament. The hon. Member for East Aberdeen who made an attack on the Home Secretary, was one of those who went to the Liberal Association and asked that the Liberal candidate should stand down. In 1929 he got in by only a very small margin, but at the last election he won his seat with a huge majority, and he ought to remember that he represents not only those Tories who put him in but also the many thousands of Liberals who contributed to his election.
At the General Election the fiscal policy was not part of the policy put forward either by the Prime Minister or the Lord President of the Council. It was not regarded as a paramount issue. The paramount issue was, Shall we or shall we not have a National Government to tackle these great problems which face the country to-day—war debts, reparations, currency, disarmament? These still remain to be solved. We Liberals here who consider the fiscal policy put forward by the majority of the Government to be burdensome to all classes of the community and industry, who consider that it will add to the burden of the nation, must, therefore, feel it still more incumbent upon us to contribute as much as we can towards lightening the burden in other directions and solving the problem of national debts and national expenditure. Sir Walter Layton, who was the representative of this country at the recent meeting at Basle, has pointed out the importance of the question of internal debts. As long as every child born in this country has a debt of £150 hanging over its head, we shall always be in a state of inferiority in competition with other countries which have a burden which is incomparably lighter than our own. This burden may be directly borne by the wealthier classes, but it affects the standard of living of the masses and of every man in the country. Besides the question of the National Debt there is also the question of national expenditure. So long as this country continues to spend annually one-fifth of the national revenue so long will this question remain a burning problem before the nation and so long will there be some work to be done by the Liberals in the Cabinet as we know it to-day.
The Liberals are prepared to share the unpopularity which cannot help but result in the country from any action in that direction. The Prime Minister and his Liberal colleagues are willing to go on collaborating upon these questions. If by this departure from all precedents the Cabinet can settle down to the consideration of these problems which are each of them separately just as important as the fiscal measures which are now being taken, then a solution of these great national problems will be found and the National Government will be carrying out its duty to the electors and I think the constitutional experiment which we are now carrying out will then be found to have been worth while. I consider that no demand should be made now on the, dissentient Ministers to leave the Cabinet and so disregard the good will shown to them by the Prime Minister who has striven so hardly to maintain national unity.
The National Government was elected in order that more than one point of view should be put forward at Cabinet meetings and thus each Member of the Government owes it to the country to voice his own conception. If Members of the Government believe that the fiscal policy has an important bearing on questions of world peace, disarmament, war debts and reparations or if they believe that the new fiscal system will prevent the countries of the world arriving at a settlement, then it becomes their duty to put forward their views in regard to any fiscal changes proposed by the Government. It is the will of the nation that all these views should be expressed. The dissentient Ministers are in the position of a devoted wife who sees her husband at the point of taking a dangerous step. She will argue, remonstrate and put her views before him at his bed and board, his goings out and comings in, but there will be no divorce, because they know that the match was made by confiding and trusting electors in the hope that it would have a fruitful outcome of which both parents might be justly proud. These matches, I am told, are made in Heaven and I feel that this one should not be terminated in this House to-night nor I hope in another place.
I have just been thinking that the Home Secretary will not enjoy the idea of being con- sidered the devoted wife of the Conservative party. I think the Prime Minister would have been well advised last Tuesday, when he was pressed by the Leader of the Opposition, to allow this Debate to take place before the Debate on the Tariff Motion to have given his consent. The result has been that the Debate has centred on the speech of the Home Secretary, who attacked the Prime Minister and his colleagues, whereas if the Prime Minister had accepted our suggestion the position might have been very different. Some very direct questions of procedure have been raised, but the Leader of the Opposition is not quite so interested in that subject as the Prime Minister. We want to know whether the Cabinet is justified, when it finds itself in difficulties, in changing the Constitution to suit its own ends. We do not say that the Constitution should not be changed, but are the Cabinet entitled to do this at a time when they are in a difficulty of their own creation? The Cabinet has had before it the report of the committee dealing with the balance of trade, and they have found it impossible to adopt the whole of the recommendations of that committee. How much stronger would the Government be if the Members who differ from the majority of the Cabinet were outside? Would the fact of their differences being expressed when they are not Members of the Cabinet make for more unity than by their expressing them and remaining in the Cabinet? We fail to see that the fact that these people might say, not being Members of the Cabinet, that they disagreed with the tariff policy, would make for less unity than for them to remain in and say they disagreed with Cabinet policy.
If it is national unity that is in question, they are not deceiving the nations of the world by saying they are united because they are all in the same Cabinet, whereas if they left the Government and voiced their differences outside, they would not be united. No one knows better than the Home Secretary, with his lucid, logical mind, that the question of unity would not alter at all if he spoke from this Box with the same vigour that he spoke from that Box against the tariff policy. If we want to appear united, that is all very well, but we on these benches have never placed much value on appearances. We prefer realities far more than appearances. If there is real unity, there is no need to try to appear united. It is because there is not real unity that they bring this mask of so-called unity. What is happening? The Home Secretary told the Prime Minister at a Cabinet meeting: "I am going to oppose the policy or resign." The Prime Minister said: "Do not resign, but stay with us for the sake of appearances, and if you stay we will concede to you the right to speak and vote against it. Whatever else you do, if you want to help the opponents, help them, but stay inside. If you want to score for them, do so, but stay on the field in our team." That is the team spirit in the Cabinet. No Member of the Government or anyone outside the Government could have scored better on this issue than that expert exponent, the Home Secretary.
If Members of the Cabinet can claim the right to voice their opinions against Cabinet policy and vote against it, what right have they to say to the back benchers that they must not exercise the same right, but must accept the whip and support the Government? Surely, if it is right for the front bencher to voice his opinion against the tariff policy and vote against it, it cannot be wrong for the back bencher to demand the same privilege. Supposing the majority in this House were in favour of a policy supported by a minority in the Cabinet, what would happen? Was it not because the Cabinet was sure that the majority of the House held the same opinion on the tariff policy as a majority of the Cabinet that this arrangement was made? Does anyone suggest that if there had been some doubt whether there was a majority in this House in favour of their policy this course would have been arranged? This is a simple arrangement to continue deceiving the electorate as they were deceived at the election.
The hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan) devoted the whole of his speech to giving lessons to the Labour party and the Trades Union Congress. He said we had no right to ask for Cabinet documents to be disclosed until the Labour party disclosed all its documents, or the Trades Union Congress disclosed all its documents, or that you had any right, to ask a man to take up one stand in the Government and then to take up an opposite stand in this House. Surely there can be nothing wrong in that? I have been accustomed to be a trade union delegate and have fought for certain points of view in my own lodge. I have gone to conferences and fought for the same points of view and have been defeated, and after that defeat I have accepted the decision of the majority. During the miners' stoppage in l926, and on many other occasions, I differed from the policy being pursued and put forward another policy, but when I was defeated at the conference, accepted the decision and I never thought it was wrong to go about and preach that policy. We see nothing wrong in the Cabinet frankly facing the matter, and what, we say to the Home Secretary and his colleagues is this. They accept the decision of the majority on this question, but they say to the House, "We agree to accept the majority decision that we should stay in the Cabinet, but we will not accept the other. We have a conscience on the trade policy, but we have no conscience on the other question. On the trade policy we take up a stand, but if the majority say we should stay in, we accept the majority decision." How can a man say he will agree with the majority on this question but on that question he will not agree and will go to the extent of resigning? I fail to see anything in the procedure adopted to show that this is a National Government.
The Chancellor of the Exchequer, in his fine exposition of Protectionist policy last Thursday, said the great day for which the Tory party had longed since October had come, when they could commence to put their policy into operation. Whose policy is it? It is the policy of the Tory party. The Lord President of the Council has said it was the result of serious thought inside the Cabinet, but it is merely the policy of the Tory party. What this gesture shows on the part of the Government is that the three Liberal leaders, plus Viscount Snowden, prefer to sink their opinions in the name of an apparent unity. What may happen? Lord Sankey is almost certain to differ from the Secretary of State for India on Indian policy. Lord Sankey then claims the right to put before the House his own policy in opposition to the Sec- retary of State. Shall we then say that is a sign of unity?
What we in the Labour party feel—and this is the only reason why we place this Vote of Censure on the Order Paper —is that this is not honest dealing with the House of Commons, nor is it straightforward. It is not maintaining the prestige or the efficiency of this House. Let no one say we are standing for some minor constitutional point. We are not. If the Government had said frankly that they could not agree, that one section opposed this policy and another section accepted it and that the section which opposed it was not to continue its support, that would have been honest dealing, and the prestige of the Government would not have fallen. As it is, that prestige has fallen in so far that the country believes it is nothing more than chicanery and insincerity for three men to say, "We do not agree with the policy, but we will remain in the Cabinet that is going to carry out that policy, and oppose it."
I rise to speak with very great reserve in support of the view put forward earlier by my hon. Friend the Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan). We placed an Amendment on the Paper, but I understand that you, Mr. Speaker, are unable to grant us an opportunity of recording our votes in support of it. It remains our point of view none the less. We think this Government is due for censure all the time. We think it deserved to be censured from the first day it was conceived in the mind of the Prime Minister, but we think, at the same time, that the least censurable thing it has done has been to agree to the liberty that it has considered it desirable to grant to a minority of its Members. We who belong to the party that sits on this bench have laid tremendous stress on the question of liberty in the House of Commons. We believe that nothing but good can come from men who believe things taking the liberty to stand for those things here and elsewhere, and that, when a man allows his point of view to be subordinated, even temporarily, he not merely does a wrong to himself, he not merely does violence to his own character, but he does something which does violence to the principles for which he is supposed to stand, and that can never, in the long run, work out for good in the body politic, however suitable it may be for carrying one through awkward situations of the moment.
I have this amount of sympathy with the Home Secretary, that he himself has had to bear the major brunt of the personal attack. The President of the Board of Education, I must say, got through his little piece to-day wonderfully well. I do not think that the hardest Tory in the place had any feeling against him, the reason being that he propounded his point of view with perfect sincerity but with very great urbanity—an urbanity which, I gather, was lacking from the Home Secretary's method of addressing the House on Thursday.
Although Cabinet responsibility has gone overboard, we still have Cabinet secrecy, so that we who are outside the sacred portals, in the absence of direct information and minutes such as my hon. Friend the Member for Gorbals urged, must be content with exercising our imagination; and our imagination leads us to believe that the mule who first put down his feet and said, "We are going to resign rather than support these fearful tariff proposals," is not sitting on the Front Bench in the House of Commons, but is probably sitting comfortably in the other place. We can imagine that the strong man in this revolt was our late comrade, the Noble Lord who was formerly the Iron Chancellor. I have known him better than I have known practically anyone else in this House except the Prime Minister. I have known him for nearly a quarter of a century, and right through from the time when he held minor positions in our small party he was always ready to throw in his resignation at any moment. He has carried that successfully through his life, and has never yet met a body of men who were ready to call his bluff; and he never placed his resignation on the table until he had dug out a better hole to go to.
It is not enough merely to throw overboard the doctrine of Cabinet responsibility; with it must go the doctrine of Cabinet secrecy. I would ask the Attorney-General, who, I understand, is going to reply for the Government, to be quite frank and tell us the story of what took place—not to leave it to rumour and imagination, but to tell us just exactly what took place. Where was the Prime Minister in this little dispute? Has the Cabinet some responsibility for hastening his illness, because of the worry and excitement that it gave him? Had he no view on this matter? I have never been in a Cabinet, and, in spite of jeers on the subject from the benches opposite or on this side, I hope I shall be able to lead a clean political life without the necessity of having to go into a Cabinet. It has been said that the hon. Member for Bridgeton, if he were in the Government, would do just exactly the same thing as has been done by So-and-So and So-and-So. No; I am quite sure that I should not. If the time comes when I am one of a Government in this country, it will be a Government so entirely different from anything that has gone before that there will be no precedents on which to judge its conduct. But the right hon. and learned Gentleman ought to give us a complete statement of what actually took place.
Remember the position of some Members of the last Labour Government. Two sections came out of that Government, one of which told us one story and the other told us another story, and, whenever we began to get down to the essential facts that mattered—[An HON. MEMBER: "You found they were both liars."] No; we did not find out what happened at all. They drew themselves up with dignity whenever we got near to it, and said, "You must remember the oath of secrecy." That is exactly the position in which the House is to-day between these two sections. We do not know what took place at all. We do not know what was the alignment of forces. We do not know whether there were other groups in the Cabinet besides the three or four mutineers. From my little experience of politics, I know that in these situations there are usually three groups. There is the group which insists on having its way—the majority; there is the minority, who say, "We are going to have our way though the heavens fall"; and in between there are those who say, "We are with the minority, but we are not here to carry it to the stage of having the heavens fall, and, therefore, we will line up with the majority."
The Attorney-General ought to tell us. I understand that he is speaking for the Government, but my hon. Friend the Member for Gorbals tells me that the Attorney-General is not a member of the Cabinet. In that case I think that, unless he has been very fully briefed, on this issue the Government are not being fair to the House in sending down someone to present their case who has not been present at the incidents which have led up to the Debate that we are having to-day. Do I understand that the right hon. and learned Gentleman has been very fully briefed on the subject? An hon. Member behind me tells me that I can take that for granted. Then that means that the doctrine of Cabinet secrecy has been broken. I hope he will tell us all these things, so that we shall know. May I again congratulate the Lord President of the Council, as I congratulated him on the taking of private Members' time? He is the greatest confidence trickster in this country. I think that the greatest good fortune which has befallen the Government lies in the fact, although we all regret the reason for it, that they had the Lord President of the Council to carry them through this little difficulty instead of the Prime Minister. But he got away with it in the most wonderful fashion. He has only to come to the House of Commons and tell us a little ancient history. I do not believe he has even gone so far as the hon. Member for Ely (Mr. de Rothschild) who said he had read the preface to Dicey's History of the Constitution. I think both the President of the Council, the hon. Member for Ely and the President of the Board of Education are to be congratulated on having got through the Debate without quoting the piece about "broadening down from precedent to precedent."
The real point at issue is this: On the first day when this Parliament assembled, I ventured to doubt whether these men, sitting on this Front Bench, who had all in their separate party capacity had opportunities of Government responsibility before and had failed to deal with the national situation could, fitting together in one Government, produce a greater collective wisdom than they had been able to produce separately, and the essence of the criticism that the Oppo- sition has against the Government is that, after these four or five months, during which crucial decisions had to be taken governing the future of the Government and this party, these men were unable to put their wisdom into the common pool, mind against mind, debate against debate, point against point, and out of that clash of minds and political ideas produce a national policy. That is where the great failure lies, that after their weeks of discussion and debate, after their weeks of self-abnegation and self-sacrifice, after their weeks of looking at problems from a non-party point of view, they came out, not with a national policy, but with their party policies still intact.
From the time when the obvious weaknesses in our industrial and economic system began to show in the post-War period, when this nation was confronted not with new problems but with problems in a different form from that in which they had been presented in pre-War days, from that time onward practically all the time we have had a series of open Coalitions or quasi Coalitions right down to now. One after the other they failed. Every year that went past, the problems of the nation became more obstinate. Every year that passed, the condition of the people became more pitiable until 1931 came and people said, "These statesmen have had the experience of 14 or 15 years. They have turned the problem this way and that way, and they have all had a shot at Government. We will give them again a chance of dealing with the problem nationally, so that they can produce a national policy which will make for the national good."
To me the position we stand in to-day is not one that we need worry about because some obsolete part of the old British Cabinet system has been broken. The thing for regret by this House and by the nation is that this combination, on which the nation reposed great hopes and from which the nation expected the highest things, has come before us and told the nation in plain, blunt language, "We are unable to subordinate our party differences and our economic interests to the general welfare of the nation." In the first speech I made in this House I said that it was easy to get unity when you were knocking shillings off the unemployed man. It was easy to get unity when you were hitting the standard of living of the working class. Where your troubles would begin would be when you started to try to attack the vested interests of one powerful section or another. To-day we are facing the realisation of the fact that, while you are brave and gallant and united enough to hit the poor, each section of it is afraid to deal a blow against the big, powerful vested interests which one section or the other is specially here to protect.
I should like to associate myself very heartily with the concluding sentences of my hon. Friend's speech. I entirely agree that Coalitions constitute a most unsatisfactory form of Government in this country and that the truth of that proposition has been abundantly proved since the end of the War in 1918. Further, I see no reason whatever to disagree with my hon. Friend when he said that in plain fact the fundamental reason for this present disagreement between the differing forces that constitute this coalition Government—I prefer that name to National Government —is that they cannot now agree and secure a co-ordinated policy in regard to an attack upon vested interests. We have had to-day a variety of speeches, all of which have been interesting in their way, some having a greater relevance to the subject under discussion than others, but still I think, all raising definitely the issue as to whether or not this House is justified in accepting or rejecting the Motion.
There are some three propositions in the Motion. We submit, first, that the Government have failed to secure unity, secondly, that in view of their failure to secure unity they have abandoned a well-established rule of Cabinets, namely, the principle of Cabinet responsibility, and that the real occasion for that is failure to agree upon a co-ordinated tariff policy. I wonder if I should be doing wrong if I asked this question at this point? Is, there any Member on any side of the House who is surprised at the present picture presented by the divergencies on the Front Government Bench? It is not necessary to go through the whole story in detail, but all Members will recall, and even Members who were not in the late Parliament wilt remember, that for three weeks prior to the last General Election stupendous efforts were made by the three parties, or the two parties, and the quarter of a party, to arrive at a formula. They failed to obtain a formula except the sort of formula to have no formula, and in the teeth of the opposition of the Liberal section of the Cabinet a general election was forced upon the country.
In the course of that election some very curious things happened. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Darwen (Sir H. Samuel) was opposed by a Conservative candidate, both saying that they stood for the National Government but both taking as much care as they could anyhow to see that the other fellow lost. The same thing befell the right hon. Gentleman the Member for St. Ives (Mr. Runciman) — [Interruption] — the right hon. Gentleman the Member for North Cornwall (Sir D. Maclean). I understand that there is a great distinction between North Cornwall and St. Ives nowadays politically. But in another part of the world we have a much more remarkable state of affairs. In the case of my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Louth (Lieut.-Colonel Heneage), who is still with us, I am glad to observe, he was opposed by Mr. Ramsay Muir. A Member of the then Government, a Secretary of State, went down to support Mr. Ramsay Muir, and, if I remember rightly, another Member of the same Government went to support the hon. and gallant Gentleman opposite. Thus, there were two Members of the same Government speaking for Opposition candidates at the same election in the same division. How can you, in those circumstances, have anticipated anything approaching political unity?
The question has been asked several times before, and I will repeat it, for we have a right to ask the question, and I hope the Attorney-General will be good enough to answer it—Where does the Prime Minister stand in this matter? The Tories we know; some of the Liberals we know. We are entitled to know where the principal Minister under the Crown stands in respect of this particular proposition. I know that the probability is that he has not made up his mind. Possibly there is a commission sitting upon the matter with a view to discovering a conclusion on his behalf, but we are entitled, nevertheless, to know whether the Minister who has direct access to the King has an opinion, and, if so, what is it. Does he belong to the majority or does he belong to the minority, or, which is the more likely, to neither? Therefore, it is clear that the first point which we make is obvious to everybody. There is no unity. That is not controverted by anybody, and I do not labour the point. The point which has occupied most of our attention is the second point, namely, the question of Cabinet responsibility and its further continuance, as we used to say, "for the duration of the War," or the duration of the present dispute. A good deal of unfair misrepresentation of our position has been made in the course of the Debate. There is no intention to submit to the House on behalf of this party that there should be a slavish adherence to precedent in this matter. Indeed, we can conceive actions arising for all Governments where it might be desirable for a less rigid adherence to precedent to be observed, and certainly if ever we should, as I hope we shall, and that soon, have a Labour and Socialist Government in this country, we should obviously feel that we must remember some of those constitutional precedents. That is our position, but it is not the position of hon. Gentlemen opposite.
I remember the President of the Board of Education leading the Liberal group, the Wee Free group, as we used to call them, in this House from 1918 to 1922 with very great distinction, and he eternally brought the House back to the old proposition that in the very nature of things the Coalition which he was then opposing involved almost intrinsically some menace to the principle of Cabinet responsibility. Whatever that Coalition may have been, we have enough to guide us for the future in the action of the present Government. We have had Orders in Council, and we have the present departure from precedent which is very valuable. We thank them extremely for the guidance which they have thus given us, but we wish to emphasise the point that we may be entitled to embark upon those departures, but it does not lie in the mouths of the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Education and his colleagues to defend this departure, for they, above all people, throughout their political life have been strictly meticulous in their regard for these legal niceties. Suppose the action which is now being adopted by this Government had been adopted in August last, year by the then Labour Government, and the Labour Government had agreed to present this House with the spectacle we now behold of a certain majority taking one line and a minority taking the other line, and each side being free to state its opinion freely and frankly to the House. I wonder what our friend Lord Beaverbrook would have said. I wonder what the Tory party would have said on this side when Parliament reassembled. In point of fact, it is a mere expedient to get over a difficulty, which, if it persists, must lead to the break up of this unholy Coalition.
I do not wish to take the line that there should be a complete break with solidarity in the Cabinet. I agree that if you have a Government or a Council of Ministers it can only be conducted successfully so long as each individual Minister is prepared to co-operate with his colleagues if his view is in accord with that of his colleagues. The moment his view is not in accord with that of his colleagues the honest thing, clearly, is for him to resign. Therefore, it seems to me that the case against the Government in their present action is overwhelming.
My hon. Friends below the Gangway, in their Amendment, seem to indicate that this departure, which they commend, involves in some measure greater publicity and less irresponsibility. I cannot see that. They will not know one whit more of what will be going on in the Cabinet in the future as a result of this departure than they have done before. There is no pledge whatsoever from the Lord President of the Council that there is to be full publicity of Cabinet proceedings in the future. There has been no such guarantee given. [Interruption.] The wish of my hon. Friend the Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Maxton) is father to the thought. So far as I can see, what we have been told to-night is that on this issue and this issue alone there is to be freedom, because without the grant of freedom this Government must come speedily to an end.
At what point is this disagreement in the Cabinet to stop? Did I understand aright from the President of the Board of Education that it is the intention of himself and his colleagues in the future stages of the discussion of the Tariff Bill to speak against the Government and, if necessary, to put down Amendments against the Government? [Interruption.] Will the hon. Member who interrupts observe the ordinary courtesies of debate? I do not interrupt him. I know that he has not been long a Member of the House.
Am I to understand that the President of the Board of Education and his colleagues insist not only upon the right to speak against the Government but that they are to be free to move Amendments to the Bill of a Government of which they are Members? If so, is that freedom to extend to junior Ministers? Are we to have, say, the Postmaster-General speaking on one side and the Minister of Mines on the other? Are we to have the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health speaking on one side and some Conservative Minister on the other? At what point is this freedom to stop? If Ministers are to be free, are ordinary Members of the party to be free? May we test that to-night? Will the Government take off their Whips and allow each Tory Member who strongly disagrees with this political expedient and experiment to be free, as the Ministers are free, to walk into the Lobby with us if they so please If they are not to be free, on what grounds are Cabinet Ministers entitled to demand freedom for themselves? This freedom once granted must be universal for hon. Members in all quarters of the House.
I do not pretend to be a student of constitutional history or constitutional law on a vast scale, but I am interested in the simple proposition that when a Bill is carried through this House and the other House it has to go in the ordinary way to receive the Royal Assent. Suppose the Cabinet at any particular point were almost evenly divided. On what ground of reason could we then expect His Majesty the King, or the Sovereign, whoever he might be, to give his Royal Assent to a Bill in regard to which there was the gravest possible reason for doubting whether there was adequate support for it inside the Cabinet or outside? That question ought to be answered, because if the exercise of this freedom is to be unrestricted, sooner or later the relationship of the Crown to the Cabinet of the day will arise in controversy in this country.
Instead of Cabinet responsibility we have the new doctrine advanced of personal indispensability. I want to address myself more particularly to the dissentient minority in the Cabinet. I do not challenge for a moment the honesty of their purpose or the integrity of their intention, but I am interested in the case that was made by the President of the Board of Education. He said: "We have not been lacking in loyal co-operation. There has been Cabinet unity on a vast range of subjects." Both he and the Lord President of the Council suggested that we should test the validity of the present situation by judging the results. I assume that I am right in saying that probably Liberal Ministers feel that by remaining in the Cabinet they are in some way adding to national unity, as they call it, and they may be hoping that by remaining inside the Cabinet they are thereby reserving to themselves the opportunity for influencing legislation.
I invite the Liberal Ministers of the Cabinet to answer these propositions. Let me take foreign affairs—and the point is that in regard to these more general questions there is unity. Unity, yes, but at the expense of Liberalism and in the form of a victory for Toryism. Let us test it. Has the policy in Manchuria, I do not say anything about Shanghai, been a Liberal or a Tory policy? Was the somewhat ostentatious way in which the present Foreign Office insisted on presenting a separate note, disassociating itself from the American Note, indicative of the triumph of Liberalism or Toryism in our foreign policy? Would a distinguished radical leader of the last century, Mr. Gladstone, or a distinguished radical leader of this century, Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman, been silent in view of the events recently in Manchuria? Why have Liberal Ministers been silent? It is because they have subordinated their Liberalism, even in foreign affairs.
Take disarmament. Are we to take it that it is because of the triumph of the Liberal party that Lord Cecil is not a member of the delegation at Geneva this week Is that indicative of the triumph of Liberalism or of Toryism? Everyone who has read the evening papers can see that it is the triumphant vindication of Toryism in the present Cabinet at the Disarmament Conference this week at Geneva—[Interruption.] That statement seems to be controverted. If hon. Members will read the speeches of Lord Londonderry and Lord Hailsham before they went to Geneva they will find the spirit in which they intended to go. Was it a Liberal spirit or a Tory spirit? Liberal Members opposite, for the sake of the fiction of unity, the mere semblance of unity, remain in the Government although they are unable to influence its policy in any Liberal direction. When the President of the Board of Education was the leader of the Liberal party in 1922 he was extremely eloquent on the subject of the black and tans in Ireland, I was going to use a much stronger adjective. What is the policy of the Government now in India? They have black and tans there. Is it the policy of liberation or of force? Is it the policy of Liberalism or of Toryism that is now in operation there? The point I am making is this, that although they believe quite honestly that by staying in the Cabinet they may be able to influence policy, in practice you have Toryism triumphant all along the line.
Let me suppose that Liberal Members accept this policy wholeheartedly, would there be anything to prevent the right hon. Member for Darwen (Sir H. Samuel) from stating his policy as the leader of the Liberal party from this side of the House? He could still guarantee unity of the Government on international affairs, if he thought it was desirable to impress the world for a Tory Government to be assisted by an active opposition on a particular point for the time being. But instead of that we have the complete submergence of the Liberal party in everything that matters. The Home Secretary has emphasised over and over again that in international affairs it is essential that the Government should present a united front to foreign nations. Let us concede that point for a moment. If that be true, does it not follow that it is equally necessary for the Government to present a united front in relation to Dominion and Colonial affairs? But as I under- stand it, the gravamen of the charge which many Tory Members advance against the Home Secretary is that in. prosecuting his line of opposition to tariffs he is, as a fact, alienating a substantial measure of Dominion and Colonial opinion.
Lastly, there is the question of the tariff. I think the right hon. Gentlemen opposite are entitled on the one hand to our sympathy, and that on the other hand they deserve our condemnation. They have invited the situation. At the end of last year they entered a Government in which they knew that inevitably they must be in a minority. They went into the Government with their eyes open. I confess that from that point of view there is an overwhelming case in favour of the Tories who say, "We have been returned to this House in overwhelming numbers. We represent the main body of strength behind the Government. We are entitled, therefore, to demand that the policy of our party shall be implemented by the Government of the day, which depends upon our majority alone." On the other hand Liberal Ministers quite honestly declared to their constituents and to the country at the general election that, come what may, they would not be able to accept a Protectionist policy. It really will not do. If the right hon. Member for Darwen and his friends—and especially the right hon. Member for Darwen—have been in the studio of the Government that has been creating this Frankenstein for weeks, they are not entitled at the premiere to slip into the orchestra stalls and attack their colleagues on the ground that the thing is not fit for presentation. The Home Secretary must accept the ordinary principle of democratic government. Either this tariff policy is good for the country or it is bad.
We cannot successfully run the nation on the principle which we saw so grotesquely exhibited last Thursday, and according to which one Minister declares that Protection will lead to the revival of industry, while another says it will lead to the ruin of industry; one says that Protection will give new life to industry and another that it will inevitably result in the death of industry. In face of those conditions how can we expect the people to increase their respect for this ancient institution of which we are all proud to be members? Right hon. Gentlemen opposite are entitled, indeed it is their public duty, to propound the principles of Free Trade in this House, but they ought not to continue to do so as members of a Government which by a majority have declared in favour of the contrary policy. In such circumstances as these, by resignation they will not only regain that freedom which they desire, but they will add to the respect of the electors for the Government of this land.
I am bound to say that in my judgment only one reason underlies the course of action which is being taken. I hate to attribute motives but it seems to me, in this particular situation, that both parties have agreed even to the abrogation of ancient principles rather than reveal to the country the hollowness of the pretence which they made a few months ago. Right hon. Gentlemen opposite call themselves a National Government but I deny their claim to any such name. The Home Secretary on Sunday said that if the Liberal party left the Coalition the national character of the Government would be lost. What right has the Home Secretary to presume that the presence of the Liberal party in the Government gives it a national character, while the absence of the Labour party makes no difference at all? When, on the creation of this alleged national bloc, the Prime Minister failed to deliver to the Lord President of the Council more than some 10 followers, he proved conclusively that there was no such thing as national organisation or National Government. Indeed, the actions of this Government, the legislation of this Government, its attitude towards foreign affairs, the relationship of the country to foreign countries under this Government all prove that so far from having national cohesive unity in the form of a Government, we have just a curious agglomeration of fragments of parties without the trace of a claim to speak in the name of the people of this country.
The Government have no reason to complain of the Debate which has been initiated by the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition, if only because of the diversity of the grounds which have been suggested, many of them inconsistent with each other, for censuring the Government. The hon. Member who has just spoken has indeed left me in considerable doubt as to what his particular complaint against the Government is. He asked a number of questions, some of which I am manifestly unable to answer. He invited me to express an opinion as to what Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman would have thought of the policy with regard to Manchuria at the present time.
As the hon. Gentleman knew that I was to reply, and not my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Education, perhaps he showed his customary discretion in asking a question which could not be answered. He went on to complain, if I understood him aright, that my right hon. Friends had subordinated what he called their Liberal opinions to Tory domination. Am I to understand that the hon. Gentleman complains, not of too little agreement among Members of the Government, but of too much agreement among them? The Vote of Censure was moved on the ground that the Government were not able to agree among themselves, and yet when, in the fields which the hon. Member mentioned, upon his own showing the Government are united in their opinions, he seemed to complain with equal fervour of the misdeeds of my right hon. Friends.
The Debate has had its entertaining side, and it has had its serious side. I think the House has fully appreciated the spectacle of the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition, the sworn enemy of tradition, posing—I do not wish to use any offensive expression, so shall I say standing?—as the supporter of constitutional precedent. We hope the right hon. Gentleman will play that role on many future occasions. He will certainly not find that this Government will fall out with him if that is the part which he proposes to play. I gather on the whole that the complaint of the Opposition is that the Government have embarked upon a novel experiment, but a very little reflection will show that the experiment is not so novel. The practice of so-called Cabinet unanimity is certainly no older than the fiscal system which we have been discussing in the last few days in this House. Some Parliamentary institutions have grown up with the nation, but this particular tradition of Government unanimity or Government solidarity, has certainly been the growth of no more than 100 years, as my right hon. Friend the Lord President of the Council pointed out.
The fact is, as everybody knows, that it is a custom that has only developed since Governments began to take their shape on hard and fast party lines. It was a practice formulated and adopted not so much in the national interest as in the party interest. Now, as we all know, the events of the last six months, or rather of the late summer of last year, were events which made everybody, every thinking person, appreciate that it was not a time when the best results could be obtained from the party system. The decision to form a National Government was, I think, applauded in every party in the State, and I believe that everybody realised that if we were to come through the troubles that then suddenly confronted us, there must be a drawing together of men of good will in all parties. I think a great many people in the Labour party regretted that there was such a manifestation of the most acid and bitter party spirit in the discussions that took place immediately following the formation of that Government.
But when that decision to form a National Government was taken, it is not surprising that the nation's necessities compelled us to consider whether the old constitutional precedents need be followed with the same rigidity and exactness as had been customary. Some comments have been made on the name which we still claim we have the right to use—that of a National Government. Member after Member opposite, beginning with the hon. Member for Fermanagh and Tyrone (Mr. Devlin), has said that we are not entitled to call ourselves a. National Government. All I can say is that if anybody acquainted with the great centres of population will make a little unprejudiced examination of the number of genuine labour working men who voted across their party allegiance in support of this Government, he will realise that this, perhaps more than any other Government that this country has ever known, is entitled to that name.
The hon. Member for Fermanagh went on to refer to the great question of tariffs which has been occupying our minds. He said that he himself had never worshipped either at the shrine of Free Trade or the shrine of Protection. The hon. Gentleman calls himself an Independent, but why should he expect greater unanimity in a National Government than he is able to find even in his own, mind and conscience? If he has an open mind on this subject, and he has been considering it ever since Mr. Joseph Chamberlain first introduced it to the nation, is he very surprised when we have a National Government formed to deal with a national emergency that there should be men who quite honestly continue to hold opinions for which they have had a life-long attachment?
But there is a well known proverb which will appeal to the hon. Member, that those who live in glass-houses should not throw stones. The hon. Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Maxton) has imitated the hon. Member for Fermanagh. He, too, criticised the Government because they had not been able to reach a measure of unanimity on this tariff question. He disowned the intention of forming a Member of any Government. He hoped to live an honest and pure life without ever sitting on the Front Bench on either side of the House. Anybody who is living a detached life of flint sort can afford to criticise any Government. The real fact of the matter is that when a National Government was formed to deal with a national emergency, it was bound sooner or later to come up against some constitutional question or some rule of Parliamentary Government, and in all probability make a break with the past.
My right hon. and Noble Friend for Horsham (Earl Winterton) who made such an entertaining and delightful speech, which was also penetrating, said that this experiment will not work. We will wait and see, but I decline to recognise my Noble Friend in the form of Cassandra. If we are lacking in good sense and wise instinct, the experiment will break down. My Noble Friend gave an illustration from the company life with which he is familiar. He said that if a board of directors were to differ as the present Government has differed, the shareholders would be shocked. All I can say is that the doctrine of indispensability of which he spoke is much more popular in company-directing circles than in Government circles. If my experience goes for anything, there are many occasions on which directors of companies dissent from the policy of their co-directors, and even ask that their dissent may be recorded on the minutes, but the occasions when a company director expresses his differences in public are very rare indeed. Those are the occasions when the shares of the company fall in value, and what my Noble Friend is really desiring is not that all the directors of a company, or all the Members of the Government, should agree, but that there should not be publicity. What he wants is not agreement, bat secrecy.
My right hon. friend and learned Friend must do me the justice to admit that that was not what I said. What I do not want to see is the shares of the company fall; and I tell him the shares of this company will fall unless they agree in public.
I gather that my Noble Friend goes on to say that the shares of a company would not fall if only, being in disagreement, they would keep their disagreement to themselves. [Interruption.] My Noble Friend assents to that proposition. It is a matter on which we may have our own opinions. Speaking for the Government, as I do this evening, I say the Government have deliberately come to the decision that in the very special circumstances of this kind it is better that they should openly and honestly disagree upon this one topic than that there should be any pretence of agreement while all the time there is a festering sore of disagreement in the ranks of the Cabinet. The Noble Lord seemed, if he will allow me to say so, to be a little too much afraid of himself and some of his friends. It is no discredit to the speech of the Home Secretary the other day to say that some of us who do not agree with him are quite con- fident that we have arguments with which we shall be strong enough to refute any criticism he may have to make upon the Government's financial policy. But the Noble Lord seemed to be so afraid of the Home Secretary's speech that he is against any opportunity being given to the Home Secretary to express his opinions. I believe that most of us on this side have more courage and more confidence in our opinions than has my Noble Friend behind me.
I must ask the House to notice—and the hon. Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Morgan Jones) will mark this—the restricted nature of the topic upon which the measure of disagreement has been allowed to be expressed. There is no intention of any substantial breach or any other breaches of what is, of course, a rule of common sense—that men who are going to act together shall be substantially agreed upon the policy which they have to carry through. Let us consider the nature of this question upon which there has been a measure of division. The tariff question has been with us for some 25 or 30 years. It is a question that has a peculiar flavour. It excites passionate feelings. It recalls "far off things and battles long ago." It is charged with emotion. It is a question upon which people do not readily surrender their convictions. Some of my right hon. Friends here have anchored their views to Free Trade, just as some of us have anchored ours to Protection.
Is it to be said that in this crisis of the nation's history it was quite impossible for anybody who had formed a definite opinion upon this great controversy to get together with others who disagree with him on that question and to unite with them in preparing measures which will bring the nation through its crisis? Of course it may be said that it is impossible, but we believe, contrary to what the hon. Gentleman has said, that it is not impossible. By adopting a method of which the country has approved with an amazing measure of unanimity—the proposal that there shall be disagreement and an opportunity of expressing it on the part of four or five Members of the Government—we can have an agreement upon the whole policy of the Government, except upon this one topic; and upon this topic effect is to be given to what is the view of the majority of the Cabinet and also, I believe, of the party. Hon. Members opposite are the last people in the world to reproach the Government with differences of opinion upon this question. The hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan) pointed that out earlier in the evening, and I am sure that right hon. Gentlemen opposite and their friends do not need to be reminded of what Mr. Arthur Henderson said on this subject. The only difference between us and hon. Members opposite is that, if we are divided, then right hon. Gentlemen and their followers opposite are much more divided. The only difference between us and hon. Members opposite is that our opinion is honestly expressed whereas right hon. Gentlemen opposite keep up an appearance of unanimity on this question when they are separated from top to bottom.
The opinions which have been expressed in the Press and on public platforms as to the wisdom of the Government's decision to allow differences of opinion in the Cabinet show the common sense of the Government. The Noble Lord the Member for Horsham referred to the publicity agents of the Government. The Noble Lord seems to know more about publicity agents than I claim to know, but I express the opinion for what it is worth, that the opinions which have been expressed in the public Press are those which you will meet with in the railway trains, the street, the board rooms and the council chambers up and down the country. These people are expressing opinions which are not dictated by publicity agents, and they are almost the universal opinions expressed outside. They think that the Government took the wisest course in not pretending to agree when they did not agree, in giving effect to the policy of the majority, and giving liberty of conscience to those in the Cabinet who wish to assist in carrying through the great task for which the Government were elected.
The hon. Member for Bridgeton said, "Shame on you that you cannot put your differences and your prejudices into the common stock and form a united Government." I agree that that would have been an ideal policy; in fact it would have been Utopian in the circumstances which I have mentioned. But suppose that you cannot sink your differences, is there anything dishonourable, provided they are sure that the opinion and the decision of the majority is going to have effect given to it? The Chancellor of the Exchequer made that perfectly clear the other evening. This is not a policy of compromise. The Government have carefully considered this question and, to their great honour, some right hon. Gentlemen have felt obliged to hold to their convictions. Let there be no mistake about it. The policy of the Government is not one which has been watered down to meet the views and convictions of some persons in the Cabinet, but it is the deliberate policy of the majority of the Government, and no one recognises that more than the Home Secretary who, with great force, presented the argument against that policy as he understood it. I think our frankness and the frankness of the Government is the best sign of the unity and the earnestness with which this and other questions will be faced. Bear in mind that the fiscal question is not the only question on the horizon. It may loom large at the present time, but as everybody knows there are other questions which require a strong and a unanimous Government. The great preponderance of opinion at the present time is in favour of the Government continuing as long as possible as the Government which it claims to be, the National Government representative of all parties.
I cannot help thinking that the whole animus that lies behind the Motion is
the passion which hon. Members opposite have for regulations, uniformity and unanimity, so much beloved by them, and compulsion—conviction by compulsion and trade by regulation—that they cannot believe the Government are actuated not by regulation and uniformity but by common sense. The fact is that to-day politics have reached a phase when we must take our courage and face the open seas. There are some hon. Members who would prefer to manoeuvre along the well-charted channels of ordinary party politics, and they are dismayed when they see a Government with courage and conviction attempting new policies and proposing a new course in circumstances of unexampled difficulty. We, at any rate, believe that in this National Government, to which we all have the honour to belong, we had the task imposed on us at the last General Election of making a non-party Government work in the interests of the nation as a whole and in carrying out that policy we believe we may yet show to the nation and the world that there is unsuspected power in our venerable but vigorous Constitution.
That this House can have no confidence in a Government which confesses its inability to decide upon a united policy and proposes to violate the long-established constitutional principle of Cabinet responsibility by embarking upon tariff measures of far-reaching effect which several of His Majesty's Ministers declare will be disastrous to the trade and industry of the country.
|Division No. 49.]||AYES.||[10.53 p.m.|
|Adams, D. M. (Poplar, South)||Grundy, Thomas W.||Maclean, Neil (Glasgow, Govan)|
|Attlee, Clement Richard||Hall, F. (York, W. R., Normanton)||Owen, Major Goronwy|
|Batey, Joseph||Hicks, Ernest George||Parkinson, John Allen|
|Cocks, Frederick Seymour||Hirst, George Henry||Price, Gabriel|
|Cripps, Sir Stafford||Jenkins, Sir William||Salter, Dr. Alfred|
|Daggar, George||Jones, J. J. (West Ham, Silvertown)||Thorne, William James|
|Davies, Rhys John (Westhoughton)||Jones, Morgan (Caerphilly)||Tinker, John Joseph|
|Devlin, Joseph||Lansbury, Rt. Hon. George||Watts-Morgan, Lieut.-Col. David|
|George, Major G. Lloyd (Pembroke)||Lawson, John James||Williams, David (Swansea, East)|
|George, Megan A. Lloyd (Anglesea)||Leonard, William||Williams, Dr. John H. (Llanelly)|
|Graham, D. M. (Lanark, Hamilton)||Logan, David Gilbert||Williams, Thomas (York, Don Valley)|
|Grenfell, David Rees (Glamorgan)||Lunn, William|
|Griffiths, T. (Monmouth, Pontypool)||Macdonald, Gordon (Ince)||TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—|
|Groves, Thomas E.||McEntee, Valentine L.||Mr.Charles Edwards and Mr. John.|
|Acland-Troyte, Lieut.-Colonel||Anstruther-Gray, W. J.||Atkinson, Cyril|
|Adams, Samuel Vyvyan T. (Leeds, W.)||Applin, Lieut.-Col. Reginald V. K.||Baldwin, Rt. Hon. Stanley|
|Agnew, Lieut.-Com. P. G.||Apsley, Lord||Balfour, Capt. Harold (I. of Thanet)|
|Albery, Irving James||Aske, Sir Robert William||Balniel, Lord|
|Alexander, Sir William||Astbury, Lieut.-Com. Frederick Wolfe||Barclay-Harvey, C. M.|
|Allen, Sir J. Sandeman (Liverp'l, W.)||Astor, Maj. Hn. John J. (Kent, Dover)||Beaumont, M. W. (Bucks., Aylesbury)|
|Allen, Lt.-Col. J. Sandeman (B'k'nh'd.)||Astor, Viscountess (Plymouth, Sutton)||Beaumont, Hon. R.E.B. (Portsm'th,C.)|
|Allen, William (Stoke-on-Trent)||Atholl, Duchess of||Benn, Sir Arthur Shirley|
|Bernays, Robert||Doran, Edward||Horsbrugh, Florence|
|Betterton, Rt. Hon. Sir Henry B.||Dower, Captain A. V. G.||Howitt, Dr. Alfred B.|
|Bevan, Stuart James (Holborn)||Dugdale, Captain Thomas Lionel||Hudson, Capt. A. U. M. (Hackney,N.)|
|Birchall, Major Sir John Dearman||Duggan, Hubert John||Hudson, Robert Spear (Southport)|
|Bird, Ernest Roy (Yorks., Skipton)||Duncan, James A. L. (Kensington, N.)||Hume, Sir George Hopwood|
|Bird, Sir Robert B. (Wolverh'pton W.)||Dunglass, Lord||Hunter, Dr. Joseph (Dumfries)|
|Blaker, Sir Reginald||Eales, John Frederick||Hunter, Capt. M. J. (Brigg)|
|Blindell, James||Eastwood, John Francis||Hurd, Percy A.|
|Boothby, Robert John Graham||Eden, Robert Anthony||Hurst, Sir Gerald B,|
|Borodale, Viscount||Edge, Sir William||Hutchison, W. D. (Essex, Romford)|
|Boulton, W. W.||Edmondson, Major A. J.||Inskip, Rt. Hon. Sir Thomas W. H.|
|Bowater, Col. Sir T. Vansittart||Elliot, Major Rt. Hon. Walter E.||Iveagh, Countess of|
|Bower, Lieut.-Com. Robert Tatton||Ellis, Robert Geoffrey||Jackson, Sir Henry (Wandsworth, C.)|
|Bowyer, Capt. Sir George E. W.||Elliston, Captain George Sampson||Jackson, J. C. (Heywood & Radcliffe)|
|Boyce, H. Leslie||Elmley, Viscount||James, Wing-Com. A. W. H.|
|Bracken, Brendan||Emmott, Charles E. G. C.||Jamieson, Douglas|
|Braithwaite, J. G. (Hillsborough)||Emrys-Evans, P. V.||Janner, Barnett|
|Briant, Frank||Entwistle, Cyril Fullard||Jesson, Major Thomas E.|
|Briscoe, Capt. Richard George||Erskline, Lord (Weston-super-Mare)||Joel, Dudley J. Barnato|
|Broadbent, Colonel John||Erskine-Bolst, Capt. C. C. (Blackpool)||Johnston, J. W. (Clackmannan)|
|Brocklebank, C. E. R.||Evans, Capt. Arthur (Cardiff, S.)||Johnstone, Harcourt (S. Shields)|
|Brown,Col. D. C. (N'th'l'd., Hexham)||Everard, W.Lindsay||Jones, Sir G. W. H. (Stoke New'gton)|
|Brown, Ernest (Leith)||Falle, Sir Bertram G.||Jones, Henry Haydn (Merioneth)|
|Brown, Brig.-Gen.H. C.(Berks., Newb'y)||Fermoy, Lord||Jones, Lewis (Swansea, West)|
|Buchan, John||Fielden, Edward Brocklehurst||Ker, J. Campbell|
|Buchan-Hepburn, P. G. T.||Foot, Dingle (Dundee)||Kerr, Hamilton W.|
|Bullock, Captain Malcolm||Foot, Isaac (Cornwall, Bodmin)||Kimball, Lawrence|
|Burghley, Lord||Ford, Sir Patrick J.||Kirkpatrick, William M.|
|Burgin, Dr. Edward Leslie||Fraser, Captain Ian||Knatchbull, Captain Hon. M. H. R.|
|Burnett, John George||Fremantle, Lieut.-Colonel Francis E.||Knebworth, Viscount|
|Burton, Colonel Henry Walter||Fuller, Captain A. E. G.||Knight, Holford|
|Cadogan, Hon. Edward||Galbraith, James Francis Wallace||Knox, Sir Alfred|
|Caine, G. R. Hall-||Ganzoni, Sir John||Lamb. -Sir Joseph Quinton|
|Campbell, Edward Taswell (Bromley)||Gault, Lieut.-Col. A. Hamilton||Lambert, Rt. Hon. George|
|Campbell, Rear-Adml. G. (Burnley)||Gibson, Charles Granville||Latham, Sir Herbert Paul|
|Campbell-Johnston, Malcolm||Gillett, Sir George Masterman||Law, Sir Alfred|
|Caporn, Arthur Cecil||Gilmour, Lt.-Col. Rt. Hon. Sir John||Law. Richard K. (Hull, S.W.)|
|Carver, Major William H.||Glossop, C. W. H.||Leckie, J. A.|
|Cassels, James Dale||Gluckstein, Louis Halle||Leech, Dr. J. W.|
|Castlereagh, Viscount||Glyn, Major Ralph G. C.||Lees-Jones, John|
|Castle Stewart, Earl||Goff, Sir Park||Leighton, Major B. E. P.|
|Cautley, Sir Henry S.||Goldie, Noel B.||Lennox-Boyd, A. T.|
|Cayzer, Sir Charles (Chester, City)||Goodman. Colonel Albert W.||Levy, Thomas|
|Cazalet, Thelma (Islington, E.)||Gower, Sir Robert||Liddall, Walter S.|
|Cecil, Rt. Hon. Lord Hugh||Graham, Fergus (Cumberland, N.)||Lindsay, Noel Ker|
|Chalmers, John Rutherford||Grattan-Doyle, Sir Nicholas||Lister. Rt. Hon. Sir Philip Cunliffe-|
|Chamberlain, Rt.Hon.Sir J.A.(Birm.,W)||Graves, Marjorie||Llewellin, Major John J.|
|Chamberlain, Rt. Hon. N. (Edgbaston)||Greene, William P. C.||Llewellyn-Jones, Frederick|
|Chapman, Sir Samuel (Edinburgh, S.)||Grenfell, E. C (City of London)||Lloyd, Geoffrey|
|Chorlton, Alan Ernest Leofric||Griffith, F. Kingsley (Middlesbro', W.)||Locker- Lampson, Rt. Hn. G. (Wd. G'n)|
|Chotzner, Alfred James||Grimston, R. V.||Locker-Lampson, Com.O. (H'ndsw'th)|
|Clarke, Frank||Gritten, W. G. Howard||Lockwood, John C. (Hackney, C.)|
|Clarry, Reginald George||Guinness, Thomas L. E. B.||Loder, Captain J. de Vere|
|Clayton, Dr. George C.||Gunston, Captain D. W.||Lovat- Fraser. James Alexander|
|Clydesdale, Marquess of||Guy, J. C. Morrison||Lumley, Captain Lawrence R.|
|Cobb, Sir Cyril||Hacking, Rt. Hon. Douglas H.||Lymington, Viscount|
|Collins, Sir Godfrey||Hales, Harold K.||Lyons, Abraham Montagu|
|Colman, N. C. D.||Hall, Lieut.-Col, Sir F. (Dulwich)||Mabane, William|
|Colville, Major David John||Hall, Capt. W. D'Arcy (Brecon)||MacAndrew, Maj, C. G. (Partick)|
|Conant, R. J. E.||Hamilton, Sir George (Ilford)||MacAndrew, Capt. J. O. (Ayr)|
|Cook, Thomas A.||Hamilton, Sir R. W.(Orkney & Zetl'nd)||McCorquodale, M. S.|
|Cooke, James D.||Hammersley, Samuel S.||MacDonald, Malcolm (Bassetlaw)|
|Copeland, Ida||Hanbury, Cecil||Macdonald, Sir Murdoch (Inverness)|
|Courthope, Colonel Sir George L.||Hanley, Dennis A.||McEwen, J. H. F.|
|Craddock, Sir Reginald Henry||Hannon, Patrick Joseph Henry||McKeag, William|
|Craven-Ellis, William||Harbord, Arthur||McKie, John Hamilton|
|Croft, Brigadier-General Sir H.||Harris, Sir Percy||Maclay, Hon. Joseph Paton|
|Crooke, J. Smedley||Hartland, George A.||McLean, Major Alan|
|Crookshank, Col. C. de Windt (Bootle)||Harvey, George (Lambeth, Kenningt'n)||Maclean, Rt. Hn. Sir D. (Corn'll N.)|
|Croom-Johnson, R. P.||Harvey, Major S. E. (Devon, Totnes)||McLean, Dr. W. H. (Tradeston)|
|Cross, R. H.||Haslam, Henry (Lindsay, H'ncastle)||Macmillan, Maurice Harold|
|Crossley, A. C.||Haslam, Sir John (Bolton)||Magnay, Thomas|
|Cruddas, Lieut.-Colonel Bernard||Headlam, Lieut.-Col. Cuthbert M.||Maitland, Adam|
|Curry, A. C.||Heneage, Lieut,Colonel Arthur P.||Makins, Brigadier-General Ernest|
|Davies, Edward C. (Montgomery)||Hillman, Dr. George B.||Mallalieu, Edward Lancelot|
|Davies, Maj. Geo. F.(Somerset,Yeovil)||Hills, Major Rt. Hon. John Waller||Mander, Geoffrey le M.|
|Davison, Sir William Henry||Hoare, Lt.-Col. Rt. Hon. Sir S. J. G||Manningham-Buller. Lt.-Co. Sir M.|
|Dawson, Sir Philip||Holdsworth, Herbert||Marjoribanks, Edward|
|Denman, Hon. R. D.||Hope, Capt. Arthur O. J. (Aston)||Marsden, Commander Arthur|
|Denville, Alfred||Hopkinson, Austin||Martin, Thomas B.|
|Mayhew. Lieut.-Colonel John|
|Despencer-Robertson, Major J. A. F.||Hore-Belisha, Leslie||Meller, Richard James|
|Dickle, John P.||Hornby, Frank||Merriman, Sir F. Boyd|
|Dixon, Rt. Hon. Herbert||Horne, Rt. Hon. Sir Robert S.||Millar, Sir James Duncan|
|Donner, P. W.||Horobin, Ian M.||Mills, Sir Frederick|
|Milne, Charles||Rentoul Sir Gervals S.||Stones, James|
|Milne, John Sydney Wardlaw-||Renwick, Major Gustav A.||Storey, Samuel|
|Mitchell, Harold P. (Br'tf'd & Chlsw'k)||Rhys, Hon. Charles Arthur U.||Stourton, Han. John J.|
|Mitchell, Sir W. Lane (Streatham)||Roberts, Aled (Wrexham)||Strauss, Edward A.|
|Mitcheson, G. G.||Roberts, Sir Samuel (Ecclesall)||Strickland, Captain W. F.|
|Monsell, Rt. Hon. Sir B. Eyres||Robinson, John Roland||Stuart, Hon. J. (Moray and Nairn)|
|Moore, Lt.-Col. Thomas C. R. (Ayr)||Rodd, Rt. Hon. Sir James Rennell||Sueter, Rear-Admiral Murray F.|
|Moreing, Adrian C.||Ropner, Colonel L.||Sugden, Sir Wilfrid Hart|
|Morris, John Patrick (Salford, N.)||Rosbotham, S. T.||Summersby, Charles H.|
|Morris, Owen Temple (Cardiff, E.)||Ross, Ronald D.||Sutcliffe, Harold|
|Morris, Rhys Hopkin (Cardigan)||Ross Taylor, Walter (Woodbridge)||Tate, Mavis Constance|
|Morris-Jones, Dr. J. H. (Denbigh)||Rothschild, James A. de||Templeton, William P.|
|Morrison, William Shephard||Ruggles-Brise, Colonel E. A.||Thomas, James P. L. (Hereford)|
|Moss, Captain H. J.||Runge, Norah Cecil||Thompson, Luke|
|Muirhead, Major A. J.||Russell, Albert (Kirkcaldy)||Thomson, sir Frederick Charles|
|Munro, Patrick||Russell, Alexander West (Tynemouth)||Thorp, Linton Theodore|
|Nathan, Major H. L,||Russell, Hamer Field (Sheffield, B'tside)||Titchfield, Major the Marquess of|
|Nation, Brigadier-General J. J. H.||Russell, Richard John (Eddisbury) Rutherford, Sir John Hugo||Todd, Capt. A. J. K. (B'wick-on-T.)|
|Newton, Sir Douglas George C.||Salmon, Major Isidore||Touche, Gordon Cosmo|
|Nicholson, Godfrey (Morpeth)||Salt, Edward W.||Tryon, Rt. Hon. George Clement|
|Nicholson, O. W.(Westminster)||Samuel, Sir Arthur Michael (F'nham)||Turton, Robert Hugh|
|Nicholson, Rt. Hn. W. G. (Petersf'ld)||Samuel, Rt. Hon. Sir H. (Darwen)||Vaughan-Morgan, Sir Kenyon|
|Normand, Wilfrid Guild||Sandeman, Sir A. N. Stewart||Wallace, Captain D. E. (Hornsey)|
|North, Captain Edward T.||Sassoon, Rt. Hon. Sir Philip A. G. D.||Wallace, John (Dunfermline)|
|Nunn, William||Savery, Samuel Servington||Ward, Lt.-Col. Sir A. L. (Hull)|
|O'Connor, Terence James||Scone, Lord||Ward, Irene Mary Bewick (Wallsend)|
|O'Donovan, Dr. William James||Selley, Harry R.||Ward, Sarah Adelaide (Cannock)|
|O'Neill, Rt. Hon. Sir Hugh||Shakespeare, Geoffrey H.||Warrender, Sir Victor A. G.|
|Ormsby-Gore, Rt. Hon. William G. A.||Shaw, Helen B. (Lanark, Bothwell)||Waterhouse, Captain Charles|
|Palmer, Francis Noel||Shaw, Captain William T. (Forfar)||Watt, Captain George Steven H.|
|Patrick, Colin M.||Shepperson, Sir Ernest W.||Wedderburn, Henry James Scrymgeour.|
|Pearson, William G.||Simmonds, Oliver Edwin||Wells, Sydney Richard|
|Peat, Charles U.||Sinclair, Maj. Rt. Hn. Sir A. (C'thness)||Weymouth, Viscount|
|Penny, Sir George||Skelton, Archibald Noel||White, Henry Graham|
|Petherick, M.||Smiles, Lieut.-Col. Sir Walter D.||Whiteside, Borras Noel H.|
|Peto, Geoffrey K.(W'verh'pt'n,Bilston)||Smith, Sir Jonah W. (Barrow-In-F.)||Williams, Charles (Devon, Torquay)|
|Pickering, Ernest H.||Smith, Louis W, (Sheffield, Hallam)||Wills, Wilfrid D.|
|Pike, Cecil F.||Smith, R. W. (Aberd'n A Kinc'dine,C.)||Wilson, Clyde T. (West Toxteth)|
|Potter, John||Smith-Carington, Neville W.||Wilson, G. H. A. (Cambridge U.)|
|Powell, Lieut.-Col. Evelyn G. H.||Smithers, Waldron||Windsor-Clive, Lieut.-Colonel George|
|Pownall, Sir Assheton||Somervell, Donald Bradley||Winterton, Rt. Hon. Earl|
|Procter, Major Henry Adam||Somerville, Annesley A. (Windsor)||Wise, Alfred R.|
|Pybus, Percy John||Somerville, D. G. (Willesden, East)||Withers, Sir John James|
|Raikes, Henry V. A. M.||Soper, Richard||Wolmer, Rt. Hon. Viscount|
|Ramsay, Capt. A. H. M. (Midlothian)||Sotheron-Estcourt, Captain T. E.||Womersley, Walter James|
|Ramsay, T. B. W. (Western Isles)||Southby, Commander Archibald R. J.||Wood, Rt. Hon. Sir H. Kingsley|
|Ramsbotham, Herwald||Spears, Brigadier-General Edward L.||Wood, Sir Murdoch McKenzie (Banff)|
|Ramsden, E.||Spencer, Captain Richard A.||Worthington, Dr. John V.|
|Rankin, Robert||Spender-Clay, Rt. Hon. Herbert H.||Wragg, Herbert|
|Ratcliffe, Arthur||Stanley, Lord (Lancaster, Fylde)||Young, Rt. Hon. Sir Hilton (S'v'noaks)|
|Reed, Arthur C. (Exeter)||Stanley, Hon. O. F. G. (Westmorland)||Young, Ernest J. (Middlesbrough, E.)|
|Reid, James S. C. (Stirling)||Steel-Maitland, Rt. Hon. Sir Arthur|
|Reid, William Allan (Derby)||Stevenson, James||TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—|
|Remer, John R.||Stewart, William J.||Captain Margesson and Mr. Russell Rea.|
Resolution agreed to.