EMPIRE CLUB SPEECHES MODERN BRITISH LIBERALISM AND THE EMPIRE.
An Address by SIR ROBERT . W. PERKS, Bart., M.P., of London, England, before the Empire Club of Canada on May 27, 1909.
Mr. President and Gentlemen,
I sincerely thank you for having allowed me to say a few words to this distinguished organization concerning the attitude of Modern Liberalism towards some of the problems which confront you and which face us. Sir, I am not, and I sometimes feel thankful to God that I am not, an official member of that political party. I am sure my friend Mr. Foster* must sympathize to some extent with this feeling. I know it is not confined to Canadian politicians. My friend Lord Rosebery once told me that the best day of his life was the day when it was announced that his party had been defeated in the House of Commons on a snap vote, and that he would cease to be Prime Minister of our country.
Gentlemen, I do not belong to what is called the "Little England" section of the Liberal Party at home, and I may say, further, that whenever the policy of that small but respectable section of our party has been submitted to the test of our electors, it has invariably been repudiated by the rank and file of our party. I myself have always belonged to what is called the "Liberal Imperialist" wing of the party, led by Lord Rosebery in years gone by and also today; supported by the Prime Minister of our land, Mr. Asquith, by Sir Edward Grey, by Mr. Haldane, Minister of War, and by another Cabinet
*Hon. G. E. Foster, one-time Minister of Finance, who was present.
Minister, Lord Wolverhampton; all four of the latter being Vice-Presidents of the Liberal League which was founded for the express purpose of showing the country that the views propounded by a section of the Liberal Party during the progress of the Boer War were not those of a considerable section of Liberals in our land. That organization is still maintained in its full vigour and, should the occasion ever arise when the views which were put before our country by the late Prime Minister and by one or two members of our Liberal Cabinet today, be again submitted as a part of our foreign and colonial policy, I feel sure that this Liberal League, the Imperialistic section of the Liberal Party, will be able to impress their opinions upon the electors as successfully as they have done before.
Mr. Chairman, I hope that in saying what I have to say I shall not be too rigidly criticized, because I speak today to what I know is a non-political organization, as a very pronounced politician and, therefore, those of you who do not agree with me will perhaps forgive and overlook my ignorance of Canadian political issues. Sir, the first thing that I wish to say is that England is not a decadent and dying nation. You take up sometimes a newspaper and you see some statistician producing what is the easiest thing in the world to produce; namely, sheets of statistics to prove that our country is living on its capital and that we are daily getting poorer. You take up some medical journal, or some neurotic, humanitarian journal (because there are some of that description) and they tell you that the race is deteriorating, that its physique is going, that its people are drunken, that its cities are densely packed with a degraded population, and that the days of England's physical force are also over. You take up another journal and it tells you that Socialism is triumphant; that the old Liberal party has been captured by the extreme wing of Socialism; that we are adopting the economic theories of Mr. Henry George, who, by the way is not quite the same as Mr. Lloyd-George. You take up sometimes a religious journal and it tells you that we are suffering from luxury and idleness and ir-religion and Godlessness all along the lines; and then you come to the political journal (or even may I say the non-political journal) and it tells you that Parliament is helpless; that Government has passed from the hands of the people into the clutches of a little band of administrators; and that the Mother of Parliaments is in a condition of senile decay.
Gentlemen, who is it says all this? First of all-=and these are the heriditary exponents-=society says it. The ruling classes in our country say it. The prophets and apostles of high finance say it. The drama occasionally says it. And you see the level-headed, sensible, resolute, sometimes aggressive Englishman portrayed in every country of the world as a demented imbecile and our land made the laughing-stock of every nation. The press says it. May I say in passing that the Liberal Party has no exponent in the Old Country, no powerful exponent of its opinion in the British press. Take the Times newspaper, owned by two respected and very accomplished friends of my own today, men who in their earlier days belonged to the Liberal party but have thrown off the dust of their feet from us, although one is still a prominent member of the Liberal League. The Telegraph, the Standard, the Morning Post, and Daily Mail--newspapers with the greatest circulation in our land--are all strong supporters of the Conservative or Unionist party today, and hence it is that in your Dominion and in the neighbouring United States, in South Africa, in Australasia, you hardly ever have an opportunity of seeing the case of British Liberalism presented to you fairly in the extracts from the British press. And I may go further and say that the press agencies whose duty it is to serve up for the intellectual consumption of our fellow-citizens throughout the world the most interesting features of British political reform today are almost entirely controlled by one political section in the Old Land.
The people who criticize, who tell you that England has seen her best days, and that she cannot confront the problems, be they commercial or political or military, that are ahead of her with the same success and resolution as in days gone by--I say these people shut their eyes, either ignorantly or knowingly, to some of the most striking features of British life today. Gentlemen, when you go to England, you probably spend the most of your time in the centres and suburbs of the Metropolis, and even there you notice that during the last generation London has practically been re-built. Works of enormous magnitude in the public interest have been constructed which have changed the aspect of the Metropolis, architecturally, socially, and in many other ways; but go from London into any of our great populous cities and you will find miles and miles of newly-constructed streets inhabited by the working classes today, living in a condition of comfort--a large percentage of them in their own homes-with which those of their fathers could never have compared. When a financial statistician, whose figures were quoted by one of your newspapers a few days ago, points to the comparatively small growth of the savings of our working classes in our Savingsbanks, he totally ignores the enormous fortunes of the working classes of our land invested not only in their own houses but in the co-operative societies and in friendly societies, where their investments are very great. He also overlooks the fact that our great joint stock banks and financial institutions during the last twenty years have recognized that it is sound finance to offer facilities for the savings of the working classes--establishments which a quarter of a century ago would have paid no attention whatever to the working-man.
Sir, there are the houses of our people, the rate of their wages, the standard of living; the millions and millions of children today receiving from the state education who twenty-five years ago were running uneducated through our streets; the vast expansion of our home and our foreign trade as shown by the trade returns of two or three years ago, and even in the present year; the increased revenue which a penny on a pound in the income tax now shows realizes exactly twice as much as thirty years ago and proves that the assessable property in our country for income tax purposes, which now exceeds £1,000,000,000 a year, has doubled during the last thirty years.
Gentlemen, these are not signs of commercial, of financial, or of social deterioration; yet I am quite prepared to say that all is not well from a social standpoint "in the state of Denmark." Our densely-crowded slums, the far too large percentage of unemployed, the gigantic revenues which are expended by all classes of society in intoxicating drink, the huge crowds which throng to the places of public amusement to watch our matches, simply because they have something on the event--I say these are not satisfactory features in connection with British social life today. "What," we ask our critics, "is your remedy? You say that the country is decadent, that its finances are in a state of chaos, that the needs of the people are not being properly attended to or provided for, that our old-age system is based upon a rotten foundation"--and I admit that to some extent it is, because I think your system of assisting poor people to make some provision for their necessities in old age stands on a firmer foundation than ours at home. The answer is very simple-turn the Government out and put us in. I daresay, gentlemen, you have heard an echo of the same panacea for all financial and social and political ills even in the Dominion of Canada.
May I say, in passing, that the descendants of the old Puritans are the backbone of the Liberal party today in the House of Commons and the constituencies. They are, 'to a very large extent, the leaders of provincial thought. They hold a large percentage of local offices of authority where they are elected by the franchises of the people. An enormous percentage of them today are found in the ranks of the Labour party in our country, and at least two hundred of them are on the Liberal benches of the House of Commons. Now I venture to say that were we ever faced as a nation and as an empire with some of those military or naval problems which one hundred years ago our forefathers, with a small population and a poor people and with inferior appliances, had to face, you would find that the descendants of those old Puritan forefathers at home have got the same fighting force, the same resolution, the same stamina, and the same love of country which marked them in the days of the Commonwealth. Gentlemen, you sometimes say that we don't pay sufficient attention to Victoria Day, that we don't altogether support the proposal to put up the flag over our elementary schools, or observe, by these outward and visible signs, the profession of political faith which we inwardly hold. Well, the Puritans and the British Nonconformists are not a very demonstrative community. We do not shout very much; we do not wear our hearts upon our sleeves; we rather prefer to be known as men of action than as men of mere talk. At the same time I am not here for one moment to say that these outward displays of patriotism have not a very material effect upon a community, but, alas! in our country they have been appropriated by one political party who have claimed to have a sort of monopoly of patriotism and, unfortunately, this has antagonized many members of the Liberal party who would otherwise, I have no doubt, have been willing to readily adopt these patriotic symbols.
In my home in Oxfordshire, close to where the great Battle of Edgehill was fought, there lived three hundred years ago an old Colonel of Cromwell's army who was told the night after Edgehill to move his soldiers along quickly and cut off King Charles' retreat from Banbury to Oxford. Instead of doing so he allowed his men to sleep in what are now my stables, and in his diary he says: "My policy has always been to he sure you are right, then move quickly, strike hard, and praise God." What a wonderful art it is to be sure you are always right. Now I would say that while we are Nonconformists (and I had the honour of being Chairman for two years of the two hundred Nonconformists in the House of Commons; I am sorry we got nothing done--they would not listen to us), we are men of peace. But we are also sufficiently students of history to know that the only way to insure peace is to be ready and up-to-date in preparation for war, and we know that a defenceless, especially when it is a rich country, must be ultimately a servile and liberty-lost country. It would be a strange thing indeed if I had to defend the Liberal party today in a company of Canadian politicians, because if I had time to run through the records of Great Britain, (and I am not going to do it), during the last half century, or even more, I could show from the quotations of our great statesmen, from the acts of our Legislature, and from the whole trend of history, that no political party has ever striven more to enable the King's Dominions across the Seas to acquire and learn the art of self-government; and nobody has fought more resolutely than we have the theory that the British Colonies were made not for the colonists, but for the personal aggrandisement of politicians at home.
Before I sit down let me say a word or two on two questionsImperial defence and Imperial trade. We are sometimes told that sentiment is the true bond of Empire, but there is not a man in this room, I presume, who does not recognize the value of what one might term the sentimental bond which is a powerful and a growingly powerful bond between the Old Country and the Dominions across the Seas. I certainly am not here to say that sentiment is the sole, or even, possibly, the most powerful bond of Empire. There is a duty of the Mother Country which I think she has faithfully fulfilled--to protect the commercial and political interests of the Dominions which have been placed beneath our flag in all parts of the world. And may I point out this, that nearly every war in which our country has been engaged during the last one hundred years--every war indeed--has been a war (with one exception) for the defence of the Colonial interests of Great Britain in various parts of the world. I am not much concerned with the somewhat academic discussion which the Spectator newspaper has embarked upon as to the relations of Great Britain and the United States upon naval issues, and I hardly think that it was a very happy journalistic inspiration of that clever journal when they said that the United States holds your Dominion of Canada in the hollow of her hand as a hostage. Why, the United States could not do that in the early history of your country. How could she do it today? But the only rivalry that I should like to see between the English-speaking communities, be they American or be they Canadian, would be a rivalry in commercial progress, in industrial activity, in intellectual discovery and attainment, and in everything which makes for the strengthening of a nation in its social and in its commercial and in its religious life.
I beg you not to believe all that you hear concerning what is sometimes called "Mr. Haldane's phantom army." The response of our people, aided (and here I gladly acknowledge) by the very section of the press to which I have alluded a few moments ago, notably the Daily Mail, to Mr. Haldane's appeal to our people for recruits to swell the territorial army, has been met with a most satisfactory response; and he is now within six percent of the total number of troops which he requires to form the second line of defence in our country. I do not know whether you desire to contribute towards the construction of Dreadnoughts in the Old Country, or whether you are going to embark upon the somewhat difficult and costly path of building them yourselves and, as a preliminary, erecting the ship-yards to construct them, and the docks to house them. Gentlemen, that is a Canadian issue on which I am not going to express any opinion. You will find it a very fruitful field of expenditure if you embark upon it. May I pass from the subject of Imperial defence for a moment, although I should like to add that Canada has not contributed a very large percentage of the cost of our Navy in years gone by, voluntarily and generously as she did contribute to the relief of the country in the great struggle for the defence of our South African colonies in the Boer War.
Now, gentlemen, we are told to look to Germany as our real model for commercial organization; and for methods of taxation even, and one of our financial authorities has recently, as you know, taken a motor trip of ten days' length around Germany in the motor car of an enthusiastic political friend, and has come back to the Old Country after this ten days' investigation in his motor car, believing that the whole railway system of the Old Country should at once be transferred from private enterprise and taken charge of by the state. Germany is powerful, she is learned, she is to some extent thrifty as we know she is beer-drinking, she is heavily taxed, and she is very much over-militarized. One of her great economists (Lizt) says, and I quote his statement because I believe it is applicable to Canadian trade: "the power of a nation depends upon its possession of a manufacturing power of its own." That does not mean of its ally. Now we are told that in the new Government, should it come into power and should the Liberal party be beaten in our country at the next election, we shall have in control a Tariff-reform Government, one of whose duties will first of all be to place on a more satisfactory footing, both to the Home country and to the Colonial manufacturer and merchant, the fiscal relation of our two lands.
May I go home, gentlemen, and tell my political friends that this distinguished company of Toronto merchants and politicians and students are all in favour of unrestricted free-trade with the Mother Country? Mr. Foster says I shall have to be my own guarantor. I am sorry to say I could not go bail even for myself. I should have to fall back on a dictum from that great economist where he lays down the irrevocable and sound commercial theory that a nation or a country which is emerging from its critical and its primitive conditions of trade into a manufacturing community, cannot afford to let go those reasonable and moderate tariffs which enable her manufacturers to produce the commodities which we see crowding the windows of your shops in your towns, and which you are disbursing all over your Dominion today. So I think I should have to say that so far as my investigations and inquiries go, I do not think that the Canadian people today are quite prepared for free-trade right through the Empire, or that you are ready to strike off your tariffs in order to allow a British manufacturer to send in from Bradford, from Lancashire, from our great steel district, and from our various paper mills, etc., commodities which you are paying, under the 'protection of the tariff, somewhat more for now than you would then get them at. If I were a Canadian I am bound to say I would not be a free-trader in the present condition of the country. But may I also say that while you are not ready to adopt free-trade, Britain, as far as I can gauge its opinion, is not ready today to put any taxation upon her grain coming into the country, or upon the raw materials of trade.
Now, gentlemen, within those two conditions, or rather outside those two conditions, there is a very wide field for the action of economists, and commercial authorities, for making preferential arrangements between our two countries for the advancement of our respective industries. But I believe Mr. Chamberlain said the same thing to your Canada Club in London only twelve years ago. He pointed out then, as I am trying to point out today, that free-trade all round the Empire under the protection of a sort of Zolverein, is not a condition which would suit the Colonies which are nurturing and fostering their local industries; nor would it suit the consumer in the densely-populated cities of the Mother Land, who is bound at the present moment to get the necessaries of life at the very lowest figure that he possibly can. We are sometimes told that Britain has done nothing at all for the Colonies even in the way of preference. I think it was Mr. Foster, when he was Finance Minister of this Dominion, who managed by his persuasive eloquence to persuade our treasury and government in London to do a thing which has secured to Canada preferential treatment in a most important domain of finance--that of trust funds. Our Government have in this thrown open for the Canadian Government securities a very wide field of investment which was before closed to every form of security excepting British and Indian securities. That was an enormous achievement. I am not sufficiently familiar as to who had the credit of securing that great concession, or that great change in the relations of our country, financially, but it is almost impossible to exaggerate the importance to Canada of that change in the law. (Mr. Foster: "That change was brought about under the present Government; it was commenced under the late one.")
It shows how your Governments are willing to adopt the wise things of their predecessors and put upon the scanty shelves those things which are not wise. But today a trustee is not allowed to invest in Argentina, where we have gigantic sums of money risked; we are not allowed to invest in United States securities; even our ally France, or Foreign nations-we are not permitted to invest one single penny in the securities of those nations. But of the seventy million sterling, which at this moment represents the Debt of Canada, a very large percentage, I should think probably five-sixths of that great fund, is probably held by the British investor. And that money, which you have borrowed at such absurdly low rates would never have been got in the Mother Country had it not been for the facilities of a preferential nature thus given.
Gentlemen, (we recognize it across the water; you must be still more conscious of it here) you have problems facing you which do not perplex and trouble us at home. We are trying to straighten out the troubles of the past; we are trying to adjust the work, and sometimes the legislation of men who in days gone by controlled our Parliaments and legislated in their own interests. We have, as we are so often reminded, a densely-crowded country with problems of an economic and social nature which do not, happily, at the moment trouble you. You are busy developing the vast and unknown resources of this gigantic Dominion. You have to pioneer your country; build your towns; construct your railways; open up your waterways; provide healthy and safe conditions for your miscellaneous populations. These are problems which, unfortunately, we have not to deal with in the old Motherland. We look often with envious eyes across the seas and see the energy and success with which you embark upon and successfully solve so many of these questions. May I assure you, and I speak as a man who has been in Parliament now for close on twenty years (I have never been beaten when I have appealed to my constituency; I have never taken what I call the "Little England" view of the destinies or duties of the old Mother Country), that I am looking forward to the time when our whole Empire will be federated for defensive and for trade purposes; when we shall acknowledge the different fiscal and economic conditions which pertain to the various communities under the protection of our one flag: and, believe me when I say, that there will be no hands held out more heartily, no hands which will grasp yours more firmly, than those of the Liberal sons of England across the waters.