Conservative Party Manifestos > 1910 > January > Manifesto text in a single long file

January 1910 Conservative Party General Election Manifesto

Arthur Balfour's Election Address

It is understood that Parliament will be dissolved early in 1910; and I shall then solicit the renewal of the confidence which you bestowed on me in such generous measure nearly four years ago. The immediate occasion of the dissolution is the resolution of the House of Lords that the country should be consulted upon the Budget proposals of 1909. The Budget, therefore, is the subject primarily before the constituencies, and it might have been supposed that the alternative methods of raising money necessary to meet the obligations of the Treasury would have been the topic most deepy interesting to Government. For motives not difficult to conjecture this does not seem to be the case. It is not the merits of the Budget about which they are concerned; it is that those merits should be submitted to the judgement of the people and (bitterest of all) submitted at the instance of the Upper House. There may be good reason for their irritation; but assuredly they are not reasons drawn either from the letter or the spirit of the British Constitution; nor are they based on those more general principles of government common to representative institutions in the best types of modern democracy.

The claim of the Government, stripped of the bad history and bad law with which it is obscured, is simplicity itself. They hold that the House of Commons, no matter how elected, or when elected, nor matter what its relation to public opinion of the moment, is to be the uncontrolled master of the fortunes of every class in the community; and that to the community itself no appeak, even in the extreme cases, is to be allowed to lie. The question, be it noted, is not whether the Second Chamber may orignate money Bills, for that has never been raised; nor whether they may amend money Bills, for that has not been raised; nor raised are three

  1. May there not be occastions on which an appeal to the people on matters of finance is necessary?
  2. Is not this one of them?
  3. If these questions be answered in the affirmative, does any other machinery exist for securing such an appeal than that which has been set in motion by the House of Lords?

In the United States of America it is a fundamental principle of the Constitution that no king of property shall be prejudiced by special taxation. That Constitution is not easily changed; and before a measure like the British Budget could be legally attempted the consent must be obtained of a two-thirds majority in both Houses, nor could any such measure become law without a national mandate from a still stronger majority of the country.

If we suggest the impossible, and imagine these constitutional safeguards withdraw, would the American taxpayer ever then be reduced to the precarious position of his British brother. Far from it. Special taxation might, indeed, by imposed by the House of Representatives, but it could be rejected by the Senate, it could be vetoes by the President.

I do not ask the British citizen should enjoy the same security for his property as the citizen of the United States. I am not so immoderate. I only ask that if his property be subjected to exceptional taxation, by the caprice of a Minister and his majority, he should not be deprived of the only methods known to our Constitution by which an appeal to his fellow-countrymen may possibly be secured.

The trust of the matter is that the present attack on the House of Lords is but the culmination of a long-drawn conspiracy. The Government came into office, not to work the Constitution of the country, but to destroy it. They desire what is in effect a single Chamber Legislature. The Second Chamber may be permitted to survive, partly changed so long as names remain the same; partly to correct the legislative slips of the Lower House which, under our existing system, are numerous, and I believe inevitable. But they desire that for all important purposes the Constitution of Britain shall be as definitely a single Chamber Constitution as the Constitution of Guatemala. For this end they have continuously laboured. It is this policy which represents the solitary thread of constitency connecting the wayward legislative projects of the last four years.

I have watched with interest the progress of this conspiracy. Its results must so far have disappinted the conspirators. On no single occasion when Bills have been rejected by the Upper House or abandoned in the Lower on the alleged grounds that they had been mutilated by the Lords, has the rising tide of the Ministerial unpopularity shown the slightest pause or check. Then came the Budget; and with it the opportunity of manoeuvring the House of Lords into the positino of either abandoning its functions as a Second Chamber or of taking action which might give new life and hope to the contrievers of the single Chamber plot.

The scheme was ingenious. I do not thinkg it is proving successful. The people of this country are not insulted by having their opinion asked on the Budget, nor do they think that the House of Lords has gone beyond their duty in asking for it. And they are surely right. For the single Chamber system is not consistent with the democratic working of representative Government in complex and developing communities. The representative Assembly is no doubt the primary organ of the popular will, and it possesses powers in this country which it certainly does not possess either in the Republic of America or in the Republic of France. It determines without appeal the political complexion of the Government. It controls all the Estimates. In initiates all the taxes. In legislation it is the dominating partner. The Ministers who direct, and sometimes tyrannize over, its deliberations, are nevertheless its creatures; and while no vote of the House of Lords could reduce the salary of an Under-Secretary by a shilling, the most powerful Cabinet must bow to the House of Commons.

These are great powers; in some respects they are, I believe, without example. But they do not satisfy the single Chamber conspirators. And why? Because they wish the House of Commons to be independent, not merely of the Peers, but of the people.

Nor would there be grave objection to this if there was any security that the action of the elected embodied on all great and far-reaching issues the deliberate will of the electors. But there is not and cannot be any such security. It is only by a transparent convention that we can, for example, assume that a House of Commons returned on the cry of Chinese slavery represents the mind of the nation on the question of Socialism. And the convention, which is convenient and in many respects even necessary, because not merely absurd, but perilous, when it is applied to questions of fundamental importance, which have been but imperfectly discussed, which are perhaps but imperfectly understood, which deeply affect individual rights and social well-being.

In such cases there should be an appeal from the people's representatives to the people themselves; and no machinery, however imperfect, for securing this end should be abandoned until a better has been devised.

In any case the single Chamber system is impossible. And it is as impossible in the region of finance as in any other. If finace meant in 1909 what it used to mean in earlier days, the question would be unimportant. But directly the need for money is used by a Government as an excuse for adopting the first instalment of a Socialist Budget, for treating property not according to its amount, but according to its origin, and for the vindictive attack on political opponents, then the people have a right to be consulted; and that right could never have been exercised had the Peers not used on behalf of the people the powers entrusted to them by the Constitution.

If you ask me whether this constitutional machinery could not be improved, either by some change in the composition of the House of Lords, or by the institution of a Referendum, I am certainly not going even to suggest a negative reply. The House of Lords as at present constituted contains, I suppose, more men of first-class eminence in the business of law, of arms, of literature, of science, and of finance, more men who have held great administrative posts overseas, more men in daily touch with local business than the House of Commons. Its debates on great occasions (for reasons in no way derogatory to the Chamber in which I hope to spend all the working days of my political life) are on a more even level of excellence. Nor would it, I think, be wise to turn it into a second and rival House of Commons and make it completely elective. But this does not mean that, even for its comparatively subordiate, though all-important, constitutional functions, it cannot be improved. Nor is any such opinion held by its most distinguished members.

But schemes of reform, however desirable, are but remotely connected with the present issue. It is not so much the privileges of the Lords which are threatened by the single Chamber plot, as the rights of the people. It is in their interest that the plot must be defeated.

On the Budget itself I have already said so much elsewhere, that I need say little now. I am interested in it chiefly as it affects security, and through security the prosperity of the country and the employment of its people. For here it touches the problems, or rather groups of problems, which lie at the very heart and centre of social well-being.

I say groups of problems because unemployment is not a single disease, nor can it be dealt with by a single remedy. It is as complex in its causes as it is tragic in its results. A man may be unemployable through inherited defects of body or mind, through evil training and surroundings, through illness, accident, or age, through the slow deterioration which too often creeps over those who have wasted hope and courage, not in the endeavour to do something, but in the baffled search for something to do.

Again, a man through employable may be unemployed, either because he and some willing employer do not get into touch, or because there is no demand for the kind of work he is qualified to perform.

This brief statement is, of course, incomplete; but even as it stands it shows how complicated is the social problem before us. It has long been evident that it cannot be solved through the machinery of the existing Poor Law. Since the Commission appointed by the late Government have reported, it has become plain that the Poor Law machinery cannot even aid in its solution. For every member of that Commission, Unionist and Radical, offical and unofficial, Individualist and Socialist, agreed, after exhaustive inquiries, that the machinery of the Poor Law must be 'scrapped'.

The task thus imposed upon us must be faced. But it is difficult, and in some respects perilous. The sentimentalist and the doctrinaire, the man who thinkgs that other people's misfortunes are part of an appointed order requiring on his part the exercise of no virtue but resignation; the enthusiast who is prepared to tax two men out of employment in order to compensate one man for being unemployed - all these represent types of criticism which in an unfavourable hour, may prove formidable to the best considered schemes. In truth, this great and pressing reform requires caution as well as courage. If we succeed, the amount of suffering which may be cured or prevented is beyond computation. If we fail (but I think we shall not), we may end by increasing the very ills we desire to remedy.

It is important, however, to observe that State-organised methods of dealing with destitution, either by way of prevention or cure, can do little directly to promote the market demand for labour. They may add to the labour supply - as by turning the unemployable into the employable. They may render the supply more available - as by the stablishment of labour exchanges. They may increase the number of workmen weeking for employers, but they will not increase the number of employers seeking for workmen. Yet, surely, this is at least as important an object as is the other. If the wise and humane treatment of those who cannot support themselves belong to social pathology, the encouragement of enterprise belongs to social hygiene. And how from this point of view do the fiscal policies compare of Government and Opposition?

The Budget, now waiting the sentence of the people, seems designed of set purpose to make every man who has invested his money in this country consider how he can remove it, and every man who is hesitating where to invest it, determine to invest it abroad. The super-tax frightens some, the new death duties cripple others, and worse then all, the origin of the proposals and the principles on which they have been defended, show clearly how thin is the dividing line which separates the policy of the Government from that of the avowed Socialists.

Such is, and must be, the effect of the Budget and Budget speeches on the mind of the investor. Very different are the results I anticipate from Tariff Reform.

There are those who regard it as a paradox to say that Tariff Reform will stimulate home industry. It seems to me a truism. Only by Tariff Reform can you hope to retain colonial preference; only by Tariff Reform can you hope to modify commercial treaties in your favour. Only by Tariff Reform can you secure from unfair competition the home producer in the home market. It will do him no injury in neutral markets, it may give him valuable aid in protected markets. Is it credible, then, that it will not keep capital here that would otherwise go abroad? Is it credible that, if it does, the demand for labour will not increase?

On other aspects of Tariff Reform I will here say nothing. The very fact that it is the first 'plank' in the Unionist programme has prevented it every receiving less than its due need of attention, whether from friends or foe.

But some observation on land I must make; for on the subject of land no absurdity in argument, and no folly in legislation, seems wholly ruled out of court.

The Government began their career by loudly proclaiming the doctrine known as 'Back to the land'. It might have been supposed, in these circumstances, that they would have done their best to make the position of the small cultivator as attractive as possible. Not at all. The life on the small cultivator living solely on his holding is often a hard one - harder often than that of the agricultural labourer. He is not within easy reach of the urban amusements which attract so many, and in our climate the risks of weather can neither be forgotten nor escaped. These are disadvantages. But there is one great advantage of ownership. The hope of this may bring him to the land. The enjoyment of it may keep him there. But it is just this that the Government in their wisdom refuse to give him. They have some vague idea that private ownership in land is a thing to be discouraged. They do not, I gather, think it criminal, like Henry George. They do not argue, like the land nationalists, that since 'the earth is the Lord's' therefore its rents should go to the Chancellor of the Exchequer. But they do apparently think ownership a little discreditable except in the case of the Irish farmer. To make him a proprietor, British credit may, indded, be lavishly employed. But a different policy is good enough for Britain. Here the possession of land is treated almost as an abuse. Those who indulge in it shall be made to pay: and nothing shall be done to increase their number.

This being, so far as I can make out, their view, they insist that the small holders should be tenants and (in England at least) tenants of a public body. now there is not a farmer of sense in the whole of Great Britain who would not reather be a tentant of Mr Lloyd George's favourite duke than of any public authority from Caithness to Cornwall. Their whole way of looking at the problem is illogical and absurd. If it be desirable that money should be spent on the land with slight hopes of profit, property in land should not be talked of as an abuse. If it be desirable that small cultivators should give long hours of toil to the development of their holdings, the reward of possession should be within their reach.

In this address I am compelled to restrict myself to broad constitutional issues and certain great social and financial problems. I am thus perforce constrained to be silent about the navy, but this is of the less importance, as I have spoken more than once in the City upon this great theme since the perilous position of the country first became evident earlier in the year. The situation remains grave and the future is anxious. I do not think the public will readily forget or forgive the lamentable negligence which so dangerously encouraged the very rivalry in shipbuilding which they have so often and, I doubt not, so sincerely deplored.

Here, then, I close what is not and cannot be more than an indication of certain important portions of the policy which I trust our party will pursue. To maintain the Empire, the Union and the Constitution, these are among the traditional obligations of the party which gain rather than lose in force as time goes on. But we have more to do than merely to preserve what we have received. The world moves, new conditions arise, problems of Empire, problems of trade, problems of national finance, problems of national defence, problems of social amelioration meet us in forms not dreams of a few years since. They must be solved each in its own appropriate way. But, diverse as they are, it will, I think, be found that no substantial advance can be made towards the solution of any one of them, till a change of Government takes place, and a party is returned to office prepared to press through to the utmost of its powers they policy of Tariff Reform.

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