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III

I was particularly impressed by Viscount Grey of Fallodon, then Sir Edward Grey, Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs. My first meeting with him was accidental.

We were the guests at luncheon of the literary and journalistic members of the two Houses of the Imperial Parliament, and were received in Westminster Hall, that old, spacious and lofty chamber which is crowded with so many historical associations. It was where Warren Hastings was tried, and it was to it that Macaulay referred as “the great hall of William Rufus, the hall which resounded with acclamation at the inauguration of thirty kings, the hall which witnessed the just sentence of Bacon and the just absolution of Somers, the hall where the eloquence of Strafford for a moment awed and melted a victorious party inflamed with just resentment, the hall where Charles the First confronted the High Court of Justice with the placid courage which has half redeemed his fame.”

Care was taken that only members of both Houses who were associated with literature or journalism


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should be permitted to be hosts. Mr. Foster Fraser, referring to the luncheon, wrote:

“The writers of mere law books had to be excluded—there was no room for them. The Prime Minister was there, not as Prime Minister, but because, in his briefless barrister days, Mr. Asquith earned welcome guineas by writing newspaper articles on economics. And it was pleasant to look round the room and see the distinguished politicians who had served their apprenticeship to public life as writers of the Press—Lord Curzon, a prince among hard-working, go-anywhere-and-do-anything special correspondents; Lord Milner, once a writer for an evening journal; sitting in a corner, Winston Churchill, who had done his share of dramatic war correspondence; Sir Charles Dilke, busy editor; Sir Henry Norman; Mr. T. P. O'Connor; whilst amongst those who had written books were Sir Edward Grey, Lord Cromer, Mr. Haldane, Mr. Birrell, Mr. A. E. W. Mason. No lord or commoner had the privilege of being a host unless he could legitimately lay claim to being a writer.”

The luncheon was held, not in Westminster Hall, but in another part of the parliamentary buildings. It took place in the Harcourt Room, which is bright and overlooks the Thames. No seats were allotted. There were a number of small tables. The guests were asked to seat themselves where they wished, provided no two guests sat together. When I took my seat, I was joined by a member of the House of Commons, who, like


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myself, came from County Galway, Ireland—Mr. T. P. O'Connor. A few nights previously I had met him at a cheery evening at the Savage Club. Presently a gentleman, clean-shaven and sharp-featured, quietly sat down beside me. “T. P.,” who was known to everyone, and everyone liked him, promptly presented me to my neighbour—Sir Edward Grey—telling him that I was from Australia, and that I had been a member of the Commonwealth Parliament, and was then a member of the Western Australian Parliament.

Sir Edward treated me with old-time courtesy. He said he was glad to be sitting beside a delegate from Australia, a country about which he would like to know more than he did. We then talked about Australia. After the conversation had proceeded some time, he said: “Would you mind telling me what you think Australia would do if Britain were in death grips with a foreign power, or a combination of foreign powers?”

I told him that the casual visitor to Australia was liable to form an altogether wrong opinion of Australians, whose general attitude towards the world, including Britain and Britishers, was inclined to be somewhat critical. To know Australians' attitude towards the Old Country, it was necessary to be in Australia in war time. It was evidenced during the Sudan War, also whilst the Boer War lasted. There were fewer pro-Boers in Australia in proportion to the population than in England itself. The reverses sustained at the outset of the Boer War only made Australians more determined than ever to help to restore the Empire's prestige. I added that I felt certain


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that the greater the British difficulties in a war against foreigners, the more ready Australia would be to help.

Sir Edward looked pleased. Some people had told him that Australia was so far away that she would not trouble about European wars in any circumstances.

Then I ventured to mention how several practical, common-sense men, some of them members of Parliament, in Australia viewed the imperial policy. They wished to know why Britain went on at huge expenditure engaging in a warship-building competition with Germany. Why did Britain allow it to continue? They considered that the action of Germany in constructing an immense fleet was as provocative of war as the massing of troops on a land frontier in order to menace a neighbouring country. Britain could smash the German fleet, and Germany could not land troops in British territory. It was therefore felt that Britain was unwise to wait until Germany got stronger and had completed her war arrangements. People who took that view wondered why Britain did not say to Germany, “If you go on warship-building, and thus menace us, we will regard it as a hostile act, and take extreme measures.”

Sir Edward appeared interested. He listened patiently, and said that that viewpoint had not been overlooked. There were many who supported it, but he was strongly against it. In fact, it had been brought before the Cabinet, and the Cabinet favoured his opposition to it. Nothing could be done, in his opinion, in the way indicated to force Germany to limit her ship-building programme. The gist of what he said was as follows:




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“Germany has as much right as we have to build a fleet, and when war does come, if it comes, then we must be certain that Britain is in the right. Britain would not be right in saying that no other country ought to build a fleet as strong as her own. The next war will be decided by public opinion, and many nations will be drawn into it; and we do not want to antagonise the rest of the world. It is true that Germany's army would be helpless against Britain whilst Britain had command of the sea; but she would probably invade France, and a European conflagration would ensue, for which Britain would be blamed. When war comes, it will probably be world-wide, and, unless we be in the right, we cannot have the world on our side.”

How wise and far-seeing these words were was proved by subsequent events. When war did come five years later, and Germany having invaded and attacked, in violation of treaty obligations, a small, inoffensive country anxious to remain neutral, Sir Edward Grey, in his wonderful speech in the House of Commons immediately after the declaration of war, clearly showed that Britain came into it to maintain treaty obligations to Belgium and oppose a national outrage. He conclusively showed Britain to be in the right and Germany in the wrong.

It had been arranged that one of the New Zealand delegates, Mr. Gresley Lukin, was to respond at the luncheon to the toast of “The Guests.” At the last moment he sent word that he was too ill to attend. The committee appointed to select speakers came to


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me, and asked me to reply. I suggested Dr. Hackett, but he told us his health did not permit his speaking—he was in poor health at the time. In the course of my reply, the official report of the proceedings (page 44) represents me as saying, amongst other things:

“There was a change coming over the self-governing dominions and the spirit of Empire. They felt that they were slowly but surely tending towards a period of nations in alliance, and that the Empire of the future would be something grander and greater than it had been in the past, inasmuch as it would consist of something different from what it consisted of now; it would consist of a family of new nations that would be a strength and pride to the Motherland.”

Since then the Statute of Westminster has been passed. When I sat down, Sir Edward was good enough to say that he quite agreed with the remarks I had made. The following day, when he addressed the Press Conference, he indicated his views on various imperial problems, including naval expenditure and the relationship between Great Britain and the self-governing Dominions. He is reported (page 157 of “A Parliament of the Press”) as saying:

“You should know to-day how conscious we are at home that we have far too much at stake to allow our naval expenditure to fall behind, however great the burden, and you from beyond the seas have made it clear to us how great the resources of the Empire are. In upholding the Empire we are going more and more towards the ideal to which


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Mr. Kirwan referred in his speech yesterday—of a union of allies—of self-governing Dominions. If you could only have been present at the last Imperial Conference when the Prime Ministers of the self-governing Dominions were collected here in London, I think you would have realised how much the relation between self-governing Dominions and the Government at home approaches to that of allies already. If there be a difference I would say it is most noticeable in this—that the freedom of speech which takes place is greater than that which is ever permissible between allies. (Cheers.) That freedom of speech is not resented because we take it as evidence that the Prime Ministers of the self-governing Dominions, when they come to London, feel themselves to be at home.”

Viscount Grey of Fallodon was too shrewd a statesman not to recognise that hard-and-fast constitutional bonds are not the best means to keep the Empire together. He saw that unity is best promoted by fostering sentiment and common interests and—more than all—by freedom.

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