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British Government took the gravest view of what had happened, asking for the immediate release of the prisoners, and urging that immediate steps should be taken to provide against a repetition of these serious outrages. Mr. Chamberlain insisted on the urgency of passing a Bill to invest the Provisional Government with authority to control disorderly elements within their boundaries. Turning to the boundaries dispute, he warmly repudiated the suggestion that the rights and privileges of Ulster had been abrogated. They had, he declared, been left intact, and would not be altered without her consent. He did not admit that the establishment of a Boundaries Commission was prejudicial to Northern Ireland, and he was loath to believe that Sir James Craig and Mr. Collins had spoken the last word.
Lord Londonderry called attention to the border raid in the House of Lords, and Lord Carson asked whether their Lordships had become the handmaid of Sinn Fein outrage. Had all English feeling for justice and humanity vanished? The Government had shown that the way to get what one wanted in Ireland was to murder, kidnap, and burn houses. These, he declared, were the methods employed in order that Southern Ireland might get Tyrone and Fermanagh. He demanded that contention on this boundary question should be put an end to at once.
The Lord Chancellor deprecated the use of provocative expressions, and refused to believe that these acts of violence proceeded from anyone under the control of the Provisional Government. He had not abandoned hope of a settlement of the boundary question. The amendment moved by Lord Londonderry, urging the maintenance of the integrity of the area given to the Government of Northern Ireland by the Act of 1920, was defeated by 46 votes to 39.
During the debate on the Address the question of unemployment was raised on an amendment proposed by Mr. Hayday, regretting that there was no indication that the Government were prepared to deal effectively with the causes of unemployment or to provide productive work for the people. The amendment was seconded by Mr. Naylor, who charged the Government with having no policy on the problem of unemployment. Trade was being hampered and unemployment caused by increased postal rates. The Postmaster-General was making his department pay, but the money that went into the Post Office came out of the Ministry of Labour in doles to the unemployed. The Coalition Government were not prepared to use capital for starting productive work. A Labour Government, he declared, would have no such scruple.
Dr. Macnamara rose at once to reply. Since the autumn of 1920, he said, the Government and the Local Authorities had spent 40,000,0001. for productive work. Under the export credit scheme credits had been sanctioned up to 3,647,0001. up to October last, and in the last three months that figure had been practically doubled. They had guaranteed loans amounting to 2,100,0001. to stimulate trade and provide early employment, and 563,0001. was provided in the estimates last year for the acceleration of certain Government contracts. As the result of these various schemes productive employment had been found for 126,000 men.
Mr. Clynes expressed disappointment, saying that what the Government were doing was clearly inadequate to the needs of the terrible situation which existed. He welcomed the prospect of the Genoa Conference. It was indeed such a Conference as the Labour Party had suggested years ago. They wanted revival of trade more than a General Election, and the revival of trade depended upon a recognition of the Russian Government. It was for the Russian people to decide how they should be governed. It was for us to lose no opportunity of doing business with the Russian people. The Prime Minister intervened in the debate to rebut a suggestion that unemployment was the result of the Government's reparations policy. Was Mr. Asquith committed, he asked, to a reduction of reparations ? The Labour Party would cancel Germany's debt. Lord Grey backed up France, and said that she was being pressed too hard.
Sir Alfred Mond, replying to the debate, reminded the Labour Party, who blamed the Treaty of Versailles for the present distress, that unemployment was due to war exhaustion and not to the conclusion of peace. It was futile to talk of trade with Russia. How could they trade with a country where the right to private property was repudiated and debts were not recognised, and where if people sold their goods they could never find out in what way they would receive anything for them? He reproached the Labour Party with withholding from the Government the credit due to them for the work they had done in providing revenue-producing work. There were still large schemes which would give work throughout the country which were on the eve of being carried out, and he looked hopefully for the provision of work to overseas settlement and the creation of a great self-sufficing Empire. At the end of the debate the amendment was rejected by 270 votes to 78.
The next important amendment to the Address was moved by Mr. Asquith on February 13. It humbly regretted the extravagance of your Majesty's Ministers has imposed upon the country a crushing burden of taxation.” After criticising the action of the Government in keeping the Geddes Report secret for two months, he commented upon the remarkable document which, as we have already described, had been issued by the Board of Admiralty. The Admiralty memorandum, he said, accused the authors of the Report of gross ignorance and abject incompetence, and he predicted that this was but the advanced guard of similar counterblasts. Mr. Asquith asserted that the facts and figures contained in the Report were not capable of being seriously impeached. Our pre-war expenditure on defensive purposes was 80,000,0001. a year, whereas the estimate for the present year was 170,000,0001. The situation in Europe presented no parallel to the pre-war conditions. There were only two nations which had large armies. These were France with 800,000 men, and Poland with 600,000. The outlook was totally different, and they ought to budget having regard to the new conditions. In the proposals with regard to education Mr. Asquith saw a very real danger. Admitting that our expenditure on education was colossal, and that there was room for real economy at the right end, he warned the House that there was an economy that might prove to be waste of the worst kind. Mr. W. Graham, speaking on behalf of the Labour Party, declared that they were strongly in favour of the most drastic economy provided it would fit in with the admitted needs of the country. He asked if we could afford to spend 150,000,0001, on armaments in view of the present condition of international affairs.
The Chancellor of the Exchequer replied to Mr. Asquith by asserting that, while the latter accused the Government of extravagance, the most important part of his speech was devoted to defending extravagance in the realm of education. He pointed out that the amendment ignored the most important factor in public expenditure to-day-the expenditure which went to meet our obligation under the War Debt. Whether we were saving or not, said Sir Robert Horne, we did not err very greatly on the side of extravagance. While our expenditure was 54 times what it was before the war, that of France last year was 10 times, that of Italy 94 times, and that of the United States 5 times. In comparison with other countries we had done very well. As regards the Geddes Report, he said it was perfectly obvious that not all of the recommendations could be accepted in their entirety. There were very difficult and grave questions of policy involved in the Report, and the recommendations regarding education were under the consideration of the Government. On the question of the Navy, too, he said, it was also obvious that there were very grave questions of high policy. The Secretary for War and the Army Council had made a very notable contribution to the cause of economy in their suggestions in regard to the Army estimates for next year, and the Pensions Ministry offered even greater economy of administration than the Geddes Report suggested. The cuts that had been made by the Cabinet in the expenditure on other matters were of a drastic order.
Dr. Addison complained that the Government had not yet decided upon a policy, citing the condition of affairs in Constantinople, Egypt, and Mesopotamia as examples. Mr. Chamberlain reiterated the statement that the Admiralty manifesto was issued in pursuance of a general decision of the Government, but he said that the view expressed must not be taken as the considered decision of the Government on the whole question, for they had not yet reached a decision.
On a division the amendment was defeated by 241 votes against 92.
The last day of the debate on the Address in the House of Commons was devoted to an attack upon the administration of the Secretary for India. An amendment was moved calling on the Government to take immediate steps to restore law and order in India, and establish security of life and property in the country. Sir William Joynson-Hicks, who moved the amendment, asserted that the present position of unrest and lawlessness, leading to constant breaches of the peace, was the direct result of Mr. Montagu's administration. He complained that the Secretary for India had made use of his position as a Liberal Minister in a Coalition Government to govern India according to Liberal and Home Rule ideas. Mr. Montagu believed, said the speaker, that bad government, if free, was better than good government if it was autocratic. Reforms had been brought in which had encouraged the extremist party in India. Quoting Lord Curzon's statement that the situation was anxious and menacing, he said that respect for the law ought to have been enforced during the past three years. Tracing the growth of the extremist movement, he described the Ali brothers and Lajpat Rai as its evil geniuses, and he expressed astonishment that Ghandi had not been arrested. He recalled, however, that the Secretary for India had declared that he was proud to call Ghandi his friend.
The amendment was seconded by Mr. Rupert Gwynne, who claimed that during the last three years there had been greater loss of life and destruction of property than in the previous sixty years. Mr. Montagu's continuance in office, he declared, constituted a grave peril to this country.
In reply Mr. Montagu admitted that the condition of affairs in India was grave, but said that the causes were not so simple as his critics suggested. There was first a steady growth of what was called race consciousness. That was a growth of centuries, but it had received new inspiration during the war. The discussions which had raged round the questions of Poland, Silesia, and Ireland had played their part, for they could not keep the world in watertight compartments. Another cause was the economic situation of the world. India was highly taxed, prices were high, and the population was very poor. Hope lay in the development of the agricultural and industrial resources of the country. Another factor in the present unrest was the Treaty of Sèvres and the continued hostilities between Greece and Turkey. Replying to criticisms of his administration, he said that India could not be governed from London, and the Government in India had recognised their prime responsibility for maintaining order. Referring to the case of Mr. Ghandi, he mentioned that he had learnt a few days before from India that orders had been issued for his arrest, but Mr. Ghandi had decided not to pursue his policy of civil disobedience, and consequently the Government of India had decided to postpone proceedings in order to ascertain how far this meant the complete cessation of illegal and dangerous activities. Outlining the policy of the Government, he declared that its object was the maintenance of the integrity of the British Empire, coupled with the grant of self-government and opportunity for development within the Empire. He did not think there would be any question of going back on the Government of India Act, but Parliament would not be justified at the present moment in extending the scope of that Act. The Act, which was the first instalment, was conditional on its use, and that criterion would not be departed from.
Towards the close of the debate the Prime Minister delivered a speech in which he warned those Indians who believed that Britain was contemplating abandoning the country that they were labouring under a delusion. There was much in the situation, he said, that justified grave concern, but there was certainly no cause for panic. The situation was well within the compass of our strength without adding to our burdens, but it demanded examination at the hands of Parliament. The education of Indian youths in this country was putting new wine into old bottles, with the result that the bottles burst and the intoxication swept over the East. Another cause of unrest was that, as a result of the war, we had been manoeuvred into fighting the greatest Islamic Power in the world ; that was an undoubted triumph for German diplomacy. It would be an enormous advantage if peace could be made with the Turkish Empire, and the Foreign Secretary hoped in the course of the next few days to take up the matter again with our Allies, with a view to seeing whether it would not be possible to arrange a satisfactory peace. But it must be a just peace. There was nothing to be gained by unjust concessions to force. We must be fearlessly just to both religions: otherwise, in the end, no good would be done. Regarding Home Rule, the Government meant to give the experiment a chance, but further reforms must await the result of that experiment. The impression had been created by propaganda that we meant to give up India. There ought to be no doubt in the mind of anyone upon that: His Majesty's Government did not, under any circumstances or conditions, propose to withdraw or impair the full sovereignty of the King Emperor. The British Empire, although it had come out of a great trouble exhausted, was not so exhausted that it could discuss such a proposal or anything that would lead to it.
The amendment was then defeated by 248 votes to 64, and the motion for an address to His Majesty was agreed to,