- The Empire Club of Canada Addresses (Toronto, Canada), 29 Sep 1932, p. 232-238
- Hurd, Sir Percy, Speaker
- Media Type
- Item Type
- The British attitude towards the Imperial Economic Conference which has just been held at Ottawa. What it means to the average Englishman and what he expects from it. The prospects of this new policy of Empire partnership to which the Governments of the Empire are committed. The political atmosphere in England agitated. The speaker's version of the facts of the present position in a frank but non-partisan spirit.
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- 29 Sep 1932
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- Full Text
- THE NEW EMPIRE PARTNERSHIP
AN ADDRESS BY SIR PERCY HURD, M.P.
Thursday, September 29, 1932
LIEUT.-COLONEL GEORGE A. DREW, President, introduced the speaker.
SIR PERCY HURD: It is quite true that as a boy I was in the service of the Canadian Pacific Railway in London, which at that time was a very small beginning compared to the huge organization which exists today. It is also true about that time as a lad 1 had an intimate association as a junior with one of your great newspapers The Toronto Globe, of which the well-known novelist, James Rice, was a member. He was the London correspondent and I was one of his minnows. My association with Canada and Toronto has been a somewhat lengthy one and always a most happy one. and that association of happiness today is increased by your kindness in making me your guest. I greatly appreciate your presence and your kind invitation.
The Chairman has told me that you have been good enough to think that I may be able to say something of interest to Canadians about the British attitude towards the Imperial Economic Conference which has just been held at Ottawa. What does it mean to the average Englishman and what does he expect from it? In view of the latest news from London and the resignation of certain Ministers, what are the prospects of this new policy of Empire partnership to which the Governments of the Empire are committed?
I am speaking to you at a moment when the political atmosphere in England is somewhat agitated. You may not be surprised to hear that political atmospheres go that way at times in all countries. 1 am a Conservative supporter of the National Government under Mr. Ramsay MacDonald; but I am in Canada and it is a wise rule to keep one's party politics for home consumption. 1 propose to do that today, and will try and put before you my version of the facts of the present position in a frank but non-partisan spirit.
First, as to the meaning of the Conference, as the average Englishman sees it. Here in Toronto, no less an authority than Lord Hailsham, a British Minister attending the Conference and a man of great weight in British affairs, has told you that he is profoundly satisfied with the achievements of the Conference. No calmer, better reasoned or more statesmanlike utterance on Empire affairs has been delivered in our day than his speech here a week or two ago. Mr. Neville Chamberlain, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, upon whom, with Lord Hailsham, fell the chief burden of the Conference negotiations, has, since his return to England, borne similar testimony to the success of the Conference, and so has Mr. Baldwin, the leader of the British House of Commons. Of course, you have heard, as I have done at Ottawa, Montreal, and elsewhere, stories of dramatic moments at the Conference, conflicting currents, frayed tempers and strong language. I have seen enough of parliamentary life in Westminster to be undisturbed by these stories. We are all human beings at the best. The achievements of the Conference stand and will stand. It would be foolish and contrary to nature to suppose that in pursuing this new and, in some respects, untried Empire path, it will all be easy going. The Empire interests are many and varied, and there will be awkward corners and possible collisions. But the. confidence of those who made the agreements is unhesitating, and the first point I wish to emphasize is that this confidence is the confidence also of the great body of the British people. When the British Parliament reassembles in a fortnight's time, there will be an overwhelming vote in support of what the National Government has done. But you may say--"What about dissentient voices in the press and in Parliament?" Of course there are dissentient voices. Did you ever know of any great cause in free countries that evoked all ayes and never a no? Had Cobden and Bright and Peel no political critics? Yet their Free Trade ideas ruled England for three generations, until indeed those ideas had lost all relevance to the controlling economic forces of our day. British war policy in 1914 had bitter opponents. Yet it swept Britain along with resistless force until victory was won. There were Ministerial resignations then John Morley, John Burns and others. Their places were filled and the cause passed on to triumph. Why? Because the vast majority of the British people would have it so.
Look for a moment beneath the flurries on the surface of British political life. Less than a year ago the British people were called upon to declare their will on an issue as momentous as any that has come up for popular decision in this generation. Britain had to be saved from the bankruptcy and disgrace to which it was rapidly drifting; the engines had to be quickly reversed to escape the precipice. Only by a supreme national effort could disaster be avoided. The gravity of the position was disclosed by men who were no politicians, men of the highest national standing. The economic fabric of the nation and the Empire had to be rebuilt upon sure and lasting foundations,, and one of the essential means to that end was declared upon every political platform to be the creation of a closer economic union between the States of the Empire. Ottawa became a household word all through the United Kingdom. By helping each other, the free and independent British democracies scattered over the face of the globe were to help themselves. The British Commonwealth of Nations was to become the British Commonwealth of Trading Partners--horne and Empire first and then, and only then, the friendly foreigner. The newly-formed National Government of Conservatives, Liberals and Labour, asked the electorate for an absolutely free hand. It sought liberty to take whatever means, tariff or otherwise, it found necessary to solve our economic difficulties. however much those means might run counter to old accepted theories and practices. That was the National policy of the National Government and of all its Ministers. That was their united appeal to the electorate. What was the result? The electoral majorities up and down the country for the National Government and their declared policy were embarrassing in their hugeness. Conservatives, Liberals and Labour candidates, fighting what were held to he impossible seats, were surprised to find themselves members of parliament. The national cause was the only cause worth talking about. The vote was decisive and national beyond any recent precedent. That was just eleven months ago. Has the British temperament, slowly developed over the centuries, suddenly become so fickle that it now turns round and rends the National Government for doing what it was told to do? That is hardly the British way. The Ottawa agreements will, I say, pass through the British Parliament by overwhelming majorities. Out of the twenty Cabinet Ministers, two in the House of Commons, and two only, will ease their Free Trade consciences by speech and vote against the Government. That is nothing new; they have done so several times before. They have spoken and voted against the Government of which they have been members. That curious affair, in spirit unconstitutional and un-British, 'the agreement to differ' has been in operation. It now comes to an end. The National Government, with its Conservative, Liberal, and Labour members, will be solid for the policy which the Ottawa Conference represents. Liberal speeches against the National Government have been in the past and will be again balanced by other Liberal speeches for. The National Government goes on with its appointed national task. Without intending any disrespect, we may use the old Eastern phrase, "The dogs bark and the caravan moves on".
The third retiring Cabinet Minister, Lord Snowden, is in the House of Lords, and speech and vote there on such an issue as this are of little more than academic interest. The two dissentient Liberal Cabinet Ministers, Sir Herbert Samuel and Sir Archibald Sinclair, have been especially featured in the press. They are estimable public men, but let us get things into something like the true perspective. They have been enjoying the halo of office which descended so unexpectedly upon their heads, a year ago. They seemed destined to spend the rest of their political lives in the cold shades of Opposition. Suddenly, and without any effort on their part, they found themselves brought into the Cabinet as a balancing factor and they have been basking in the sunshine of high office. They clung to it as long as they could. Should we not have done the same? But the end has now come. Their supporters in the constituencies have pushed them out. Free Trade Liberalism, though so sorely routed at the polls a year ago, lives on in parts of England, Scotland and Wales. The survivors are men and women to whom the tenets of Cobden are almost as sacred as the Tables from the Mount. They are sincere souls, very vocal in their sincerity, and they have now succeeded in leading the two dissentient ]Liberal Ministers to resign office. Certain Liberal under-secretaries go with them; they are good enough men, but have no outstanding parliamentary or public status. Outside their own constituencies the public hardly knows their names or offices. These dissentients will now return to the benches in the House of Commons below the Gangway, the very benches from which, in those fateful years for British solvency, 1929-1931, they gave just enough support to Socialism to keep it in office. Their motives were doubtless of the best, but we now see that the effect in the National interests was calamitous. Those are the benches to which the dissentients will now return.
In the constituencies there will, for the most part, be little change. At the last election, National Government members had Free Trade Liberals put up against them. These Free Trade Liberals more often than not carried a coupon letter from Sir Herbert: Samuel. A mere handful of them won their elections--30 in a house of 615. What happened last year in this respect will happen again. If Free Trade Liberal Party funds permit there may be more of these Free Trade Liberals at the next election, but the electoral position is not substantially changed.
As to the Ministry, the places of the two dissentient Cabinet Ministers in the House of Commons will presumably be filled by other Liberals who, like Sir John Simon and Mr. Runciman, have the National outlook. The under-secretaries can be replaced with little trouble, except the difficulty of choosing from so large a field of eligible men. The National Government of Conservative, Liberal and Labour Members will proceed. One English journalist who brightens our drab life on the principle of "Each day its daily thrill" has, when visiting Canada, foreseen the resignation of the British Prime Minister. In imagination, Mr. Ramsay MacDonald has even been sent up to the House of Lords. R.M.G.-Rainsay Must Go. Another prophet sends Mr. Baldwin back to this Worcester pigs. B.M.G.-Baldwin Must Go. A third prophet puts Mr. Neville Chamberlain into Mr. Baldwin's place as leader of the Conservative Party. Such speculations fill many columns of the popular press. Well, it is often the unexpected that happens in politics everywhere, but those who prefer to keep near to the facts and probabilities of the present situation may see little sign that the National Government has lost its momentum. The vast body of the public still stands behind it. At elections, it is not so much for something as against something that the masses of the electors vote. "The against" is as strong as it was a year ago. The menace of Socialism and bankruptcy for everyone who has anything saved, anything to lose, has still to be watched and diverted. The future has to be kept secure for the millions of men and women who are depositors in the Savings Banks, Benefit Societies, Building Societies and the rest. Production has to overcome unemployment.
The menace and the hope unite as they did a year ago. A year ago the Socialists laughed at the menace and their allies of 1929-1931, the Free Trade Liberals derided the hope. You know what their fate was at the hands of the nation. Putting aside as far as one can party feelings, and trying to look at the facts as they stand, I would say that the National Government seems to me as secure as any Government can be in this changing world. As its leader, Mr. MacDonald, has the immovable support of Mr. Baldwin, and Liberal statesmen of the highest standing are his contented allies. The fight for the cause of Empire has been long and arduous. It has now been won, and won as surely as the cause of Free Trade was won three generations ago. It has been won on broad national and Empire lines. For fighting, we must now substitute working. We must see to it that the Ottawa agreements, having been passed into law, are honourably observed and carried into effect in the spirit as well as the letter. Points of view will differ, interpretations of phrases may not always agree, friction may result from sectional interests, but the steady national purpose of Britain, as in Canada and elsewhere, must and will prevail, and lead to an understanding of each other's diffiiculties and find a solution which is just and fair to both sides. Under the statue of Westminster our Empire has become in the political sphere an Empire of consent and good-will. It must be made no less so in the economic sense. We are partners in a great heritage. And what we seek together to do is to cure our economic troubles by living within our means, by eliminating waste, by a reasonable regulation of supply, by the alleviation and ultimate removal of undue fetters on the flow of trade all this can be done for themselves by other nations whose Ministers assemble shortly at the World Economic Conference. Then indeed, in Lord Hailsham's words the Empire, whose exertions saved the world in time of war, may save the world by its example in time of peace. 1 thank you. (Loud applause.)