Thursday, 3rd May 1928

3rd May, 1928


My dear Prime Minister,

I have to acknowledge your two letters of March 20th, one of which dealt with a number of points raised in my letters to you and the other with the British Government’s proposal to use E. M. B. funds to advertise the British Industries Fair. [1]

I am very glad that you liked Low’s [2] cartoon. The ineffectiveness of Amery [3] in this country has been particularly evident since his return. I think that he was really very overtired when he got back. I had a talk with him yesterday and I think he is recovering but an incident which occurred last night in the House of Commons will have damaged him to a very considerable extent in the Party and in the country.


Yesterday Churchill [4] had to remain at home owing to a temperature, probably caused by overstrain. In his absence, the new Financial Secretary to the Treasury-Arthur Michael Samuel-had to hold the fort. Everything went alright until a trivial question on the new duty and excise upon Mechanical Fire Lighters came up.

Churchill has proposed a duty of 6d. on each mechanical fire lighter and a countervailing excise of 6d., the whole intention being to protect the substantial revenue derived from the duty and excise on matches and to discourage the use of mechanical fire lighters.

One of my protectionist friends-Ramsden [5], the member for North Bradford-quite in the ordinary course of a debate, moved an amendment urging that the excise should be reduced to 3d. so as to encourage the manufacture of mechanical fire lighters in this country. This was seconded and Samuel replied that he could not accept the amendment. Esmond Harmsworth [6] then supported the amendment and Samuel, who was sitting on a front bench empty of Cabinet Ministers except for Amery, after a whispered consultation with Amery got up and said that, as the revenue effect of the amendment would be so trifling, he was prepared to accept it on behalf of the Government. Immediately there was a storm in the House, Snowden [7] and Sir John Simon [8] making it clear that they regarded this as a most serious thing. An adjournment of the House was moved and for two hours a debate went on, the main point of which was that the Financial Secretary had no right, in the absence and without the knowledge of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, to give away a definite point in the Chancellor’s programme. Finally the Government had to be rescued by the Chief Whip [9], who had arranged with Ramsden for the withdrawal of the amendment on the understanding that it could be raised on the Finance Bill when the Chancellor would be present.

The scene has received a great deal of publicity in this morning’s press and Samuel’s reputation as a parliamentarian, already poor, has been, I should imagine, hopelessly damaged but Amery’s reputation, as a serious politician, must also be regarded as having been considerably affected. It was a stupid business as I have no doubt you will agree.

A few hours before this occurred, I was discussing with several Members the reason why the Government had decided to invite Walter Elliot [10] to assist the Chancellor in the heavy work entailed in the passage of the Budget and the Finance Bill through the House of Commons. I had asked whether it was not felt that this invitation reflected rather seriously on the capacity of the Financial Secretary-Samuel. I was told that there was no doubt about that and that the personal relations between Samuel and Churchill were so bad that Samuel had complained bitterly over the fact that the Chancellor treated him with the utmost contempt and that the Treasury Officials regarded him as a cipher. What the upshot of all this will be is impossible to say. It is hardly probable that it will embarrass the Government but I think it is certain to affect the political future of Samuel and I should not be surprised at it having a considerable effect upon Amery’s own prospects.

While referring to Churchill, I should like to draw your attention to what I think is the best political phrase that I have heard for a very long time. Speaking the other day Churchill said that socialism was a deficiency disease, in fact it might be described as ‘political rickets’. You are, of course, aware that rickets in human beings and animals is due either to a lack of sunshine or to a lack of proper food (Vitamin D). The idea of socialism as a disease, due to unsatisfactory social conditions, could not have been more ably expressed. Perhaps on some occasion you may find this phrase of considerable service.


On Wednesday I sought out J. H. Thomas [11] in the House of Commons to discuss with him the prospects of the forthcoming Commonwealth Trade Union Conference being made of use in the development of Empire understanding and spirit in Labour quarters.

Thomas said that it was quite futile to discuss anything of the sort. His own phrase was that the Conference would simply be ‘b-dy tripe’ and that he did not propose to associate himself in any way with it; in fact he might refuse to be present.


I should particularly like to refer you to my letter of the 26th April [12], pages 6-8. I am now enclosing a very important resolution proposed by Sir Merrik Burrell [13], seconded by Sir Archibald Weigall [14] and carried unanimously by the Royal Agricultural Society of England. [15] The Commonwealth Veterinary Officer [16] here has been consulting me about the idea of the compulsory storing of all meat imported from countries affected by foot and mouth disease. He has for some time had the idea in mind and he made the suggestion that the High Commissioner [17] should write to the ‘Times’ pointing out how slight would be the effect of such a requirement upon the British trader and consumer.

I have very strongly advised that, instead of the High Commissioner taking any action, this information should be communicated to British agricultural people with the idea that they should use it, In my view it is possible that the British Government may come to a decision that it is desirable to insist on Argentine meat being stored or otherwise treated to eliminate the danger of infection. Should this prove to be the case, I feel sure that the British Government will want to put the matter purely on a veterinary basis and would only be embarrassed by the raising of this issue from the High Commissioner which would suggest to everyone economic reasons for quarantine action.

I am enclosing the Hansard of the Budget Discussion on Mechanical Lighters [18], which you may find interesting to look at.

Yours sincerely, F. L. MCDOUGALL

_1 The letters are on file AA:M111, 1928.

2 David Low, a New Zealander who had worked for the Sydney Bulletin. See note 12 to Letter 149.

3 Leopold Amery, Secretary for the Colonies and for Dominion Affairs.

4 Winston Churchill, Chancellor of the Exchequer.

5 Eugene Ramsden, Conservative M.P.

6 Conservative M.P.

7 Philip Snowden, Labour M.P.; free trader; Chancellor of the Exchequer 1924.

8 Liberal M.P.; Attorney-General 1913-15; Home Secretary 1915-16.

9 B. M. Eyres-Monsell, Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasury.

10 Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Scotland.

11 Labour M. P.; General Secretary of the National Union of Railwaymen; Colonial Secretary 1924.

12 Letter 161.

13 Chairman of the Veterinary Committee of the Royal Agricultural Society.

14 Deputy Chairman of the Federation of County Agricultural Committees; Governor of South Australia 1920-22.

15 The resolution, reported in the Times, 3 May, called for compulsory cold storage of meat from countries where foot and mouth disease existed.

16 R. Grant.

17 Sir Granville Ryrie.

18 House of Commons, Parliamentary Debates, fifth series, vol.

216, cols 1787-1850