HC Deb 25 February 1886 vol 302 cc1244-57

(4.) £3,000, Slave Trade Services.

(5.) Motion made, and Question proposed, That a Supplementary sum, not exceeding £1,200, be granted to Her Majesty, to defray the Charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March 1886, in aid of Colonial Local Revenue, and to defray the Salaries and Allowances of Governors, &c, and other Charges connected with the Colonies, including Expenses incurred under 'The Pacific Islanders Protection Act, 1875.'


May I ask if this Vote has anything to do with the Canadian Volunteers for the Expedition against Riel?


I would also ask for information concerning this Vote. What have the Canadians done to entitle them to medals to be paid for by the taxpayers of this country?


Part of the Vote is for the cost of medals to Volunteers in Canada who served in the recent Expedition against Riel; it has nothing to do with the services of the Canadian Militia. The Canadian Volunteers performed a great public service; and, in the opinion of the Canadian Government and of the Home Government, it was a fit and proper recognition of their services that a medal should be granted to them by the Imperial Government.


Last year, when I put a Question in reference to the suppression of Kiel's rebellion, and the causes from which the rebellion itself had sprung, all information was denied; but, nevertheless, this country is now called upon to pay for medals for the Canadian Volunteers. It is only a natural thing that men who behave well on the field of battle should be rewarded; but my complaint is that when I put a Question last year as to the rebellion of Riel, and asked for information in regard to the grievances of the Indians and Half-breeds in the North-West of Canada, I could get no information whatever. Unfortunately, it is too frequently the case that no information can be obtained with regard to Colonial questions. We are now asked, in this case, to pay for the cost of those medals; but why should not the Canadian Government pay for their own medals themselves? They entered upon the war for the benefit of their own country, and the least they can do is to pay the wages and rewards of their soldiers. The door ought either to be open or shut; and if it is right that this country should be called upon to provide the rewards intended to be given to the Canadian soldiers we ought to pay the wages of the soldiers as well. We should either do that, or have nothing to do with them at all. We did not care to send out soldiers to Canada to put down the rebellion there; and why should we give the men engaged in suppressing it silver pieces in the shape of medals, when we decline to give them silver pieces to put in their pockets? We have heard too much already of this rebellion, which arose out of a renewed attempt at insurrection on the part of this unfortunate man—Riel—who appears to have been a confirmed lunatic, and ought to have been confined in an asylum. Instead of taking that course the Canadian Government took him and hung him, and they hung a number of other Indians at the same time, in a way that was not altogether creditable to the Canadian Volunteers. Under these circumstances, I shall certainly divide the Committee against this Vote. If we want to go to war with the Indians, or with anybody else, let us go to war in a just cause; but we ought not, in a case like this, to be called upon to pay anything either for medals or in the shape of soldiers' wages. I beg to move the reduction of the Vote.


By the whole sum?


Yes; by the entire sum charged in connection with the cost of these medals.


The answer which the Secretary to the Treasury gave just-now to a question I addressed to the Committee was not quite understood in this quarter of the House. I asked distinctly whether the sum named in the Estimate was for the purpose of rewarding the Volunteers who suppressed the rebellion of the Half-breeds; but the reply of the hon. Gentleman, so far as it was understood, was unsatisfactory, and I shall certainly join with the hon. Member for South Londonderry (Mr. T. M. Healy) in opposing the Vote. I believe the feeling extensively prevails that those Half-breeds were goaded into rebellion by the injustice with which they were treated by the Canadian Government; and I cannot understand why, when a Government has driven its subjects into rebellion, the British taxpayer should be called upon to reward the soldiers engaged in suppressing the rebellion into which these unfortunate Canadian subjects were goaded. It seems to me that those of us who have the interests of the people at heart, and who represent the poorer class of the taxpayers, would be wanting in our duty unless we gave a distinct and sturdy opposition to this Vote.


I certainly heard nothing from the hon. Gentleman who spoke from the Front Bench on the other side of the House to justify the Committee in voting this sum. After all, we must not lose sight of the policy which led to the Expedition against Riel. The whole matter was one which had reference to the internal policy of the Canadian Dominion, and it was a matter in which the Canadian troops were alone engaged. I, therefore, take it that neither the Government of this country nor the taxpayers were consulted as to the merits of the policy pursued by the Canadian Government; and I take it that if we vote this sum now we shall most decidedly be giving the sanction of this House and of this country to the merits of a policy which was entered into by the Canadian Dominion after consultation with the Imperial Government. Under these circumstances, and not approving of the policy which led to the execution of Kiel, I consider that Members sitting upon these Benches are perfectly entitled to divide the Committee against the Vote, more especially when it is manifest that the question of policy is the one which underlies the Vote.


Hon. Members below the Gangway on this side of the House always show their sympathy with rebels against the British power and the Queen's authority in all parts of the world. [Mr. T. M. HEALY: Civil war.] In this case a notorious rebel was trying his hand for a second time at insurrection, and to put down British power in Canada; but the loyal Volunteers of Canada, a large proportion of whom, I am happy to say, are Orangemen, always prepared to vindicate the honour of the British Government, volunteered to go to the North-West Provinces, and having gone there succeeded in putting down the rebellion against British authority. That being so, I think it would have been a very ungrateful act on the part of Her Majesty's Government, and of the House of Commons, if they were to fail to recognize the loyalty of the Volunteers of the Dominion of Canada, and were to refuse to make this small recognition of their services that is asked from the Committee in the Vote to-night. Hon. Members below the Gangway on this side of the House have made themselves familiar with these sort of matters in Ireland; and I cannot forget that cheers were given for the Mahdi whenever an attack was made upon the British troops in the Soudan. The Mahdi found no want of sympathizers in Ireland amongst those who would like to see the British Flag lowered and trampled in the dust. Hon. Members below the Gangway have sympathized on every occasion with the enemies of England and of the Crown of England. And the sentiments uttered to-night below the Gangway only show that feeling which is ever ready to express itself whenever there is an opportunity of sympathizing with rebellion against British authority, and expressing a desire to bring dishonour upon the British Flag. I hope the Committee will not listen to the arguments which have been advanced to-night; but as I am quite sure that the loyal Volunteers of Canada are fully entitled to these medals I trust that nothing will be done in this House to deprive them of the reward they have so well merited.


I do hope that the Committee will not be led into a discussion which strikes me as going altogether beyond the purpose of this Vote. We are not here to sit in judgment upon the Canadian policy, or upon the acts of the Canadian Government. For my own part, I have a high opinion of the ability of the Canadian Government, and perfect confidence that in the steps which they took with regard to the rebellion they took steps which they considered to be necessary for the welfare of the Dominion. The point for the consideration of this Committee is altogether a different one. It is whether the Canadian Government, having its own Administration, and paying its own administrative expenses, should not also have authority to confer any reward it may deem necessary to mark its appreciation of the services rendered by its soldiers. As to loyalty, or want of loyalty, that has nothing to do with the question. I may not be of the same opinion altogether as hon. Gentlemen below the Gangway on the other side of the House; but I am quite sure that this is a kind of expenditure, out of British taxes, which will not be satisfactory to the people of this country. I do not wish to deprecate, for a moment, the policy of the Canadian Government, or the services rendered by the Canadian Volunteers. The accounts which I read in the newspapers certainly redounded to the honour and credit of the Volunteers; but I must say that I have not heard from my hon. Friend the Secretary to the Treasury any reason sufficient to justify this Vote. I strongly suspect that my hon. Friend is only the mouthpiece of the late Government; and that if he would make a clean breast of it it would be found that this Imperial idea was sprung in the mind of some Member of the late Government, and that it was the late Government which proposed to give these medals, and not the occupants of the present Treasury Bench. I shall be very glad, indeed, if my hon. Friend will withdraw this Vote. Otherwise I shall feel bound, although with some reluctance I admit, to vote against it.


I cannot find that there is any precedent for a Vote of this kind; and I strongly object to the establishment of a precedent which may be hereafter made use of to justify similar expenditure. I may add that, personally, I oppose the Vote on the same grounds as my hon. Friend the Member for Derry (Mr. T. M. Healy)—namely, that the Volunteers of Canada were engaged in suppressing a rebellion, with which we, as the Representatives of an oppressed people in Ireland, naturally sympathize. In addition to that fact, I am afraid that a Precedent might be established for spending the taxes of the people of this country in rewarding with medals the Indian troops who have been lately engaged in the suppression of the Burmese and Egyptian "rebellions." I am, therefore, bound (oppose this Vote. I trust that the Committee will take no notice whatever of the arguments which have been put before it by the hon. Member for Belfast (Mr. W. Johnston), who, with the noble Lord the Member for Paddington (Lord Randolph Churchill), has lately been proving his loyalty to the Crown by preaching rebellion in Belfast. I trust that my hon. Friend the Member for Derry (Mr. T. M. Healy) will persist in dividing against the Vote, which, I think, ought to be rejected upon the simple ground that it would establish a very dangerous precedent for the future in regard to the manner in which the money of the taxpayers of the country at large is to be expended.


The hon. Member for Belfast (Mr. W. Johnston) has altogether misrepresented the remarks which fell from my hon. Friend the Member for Derry (Mr. T. M. Healy). My hon. Friend did not speak upon the merits of the question at all; but he said he thought that the Government of Canada would, have acted more wisely if, instead of executing Kiel, they had confined him in a lunatic asylum. My hon. Friend said that Riel was a man of strong convictions and very excitable tempera- ment; but he undoubtedly holds—and I hold—that certain incidents connected with that rebellion, and the punishment of it, did not redound to the general credit of the country. The statement of my hon. Friend was that the Canadian Government have not only their own Administration, but their own Treasury. They initiated and carried on the Expedition, and brought to a close the rebellion in the North-West. They paid the wages of their soldiers, and they ought also to have rewarded them. That is the simple position of matters, and not that which has been put forward by the hon. Member for Belfast (Mr. W. Johnston), who has entirely misrepresented the drift of the argument addressed to the Committee by my hon. Friend. The Government of Canada actually pay the salary of the Governor General whom we send out from this country; and I am at a loss to understand why the Mother Country should be asked to pay for such an expenditure as this. There is only one other point. I have always understood that the presentation of military medals was intended as a reward for distinguished bravery. I should like to know how many soldiers were engaged in suppressing this rebellion? I see that 5,250 medals have been issued, and I should like to know whether every soldier who took part in the suppression of the rebellion has been granted a medal for distinguished bravery?


I think that the Canadian Government ought to take an example from the United States in this matter, considering that Canada itself is in America. No medals of any kind were given by the United States to the soldiers who were engaged in putting down the Great Rebellion there. It was thought an undesirable thing that anyone should go about the country with a medal for having killed some of his fellow-countrymen. But if the Canadian Government choose to take a different view, let them pay for it themselves. Why should we do so? They have no right to expect that this country should pay for medals presented to their soldiers. I hope there will be a division upon the Vote, and that there will be a majority against this perfectly ridiculous and wicked charge.


I entirely endorse the opinion which has been expressed by the hon. Member for Burnley (Mr. Rylands) and the hon. Member for Northampton (Mr. Labouchere). I really think that this is a very bad precedent to set. I understand that it has been already stated by an hon. Member that there is no precedent for awarding medals, under such circumstances, to, soldiers not engaged in a war against the enemies of this country; and I think it is a serious matter for consideration whether it is proper that we should establish a precedent now. Certainly, when the hon. Member for Belfast (Mr. W. Johnston) stands up in the House of Commons and asks the Government to justify this grant on the plea that the Volunteers employed were Orangemen, I at once decline to accept puch a recommendation, coming at such a moment, from the hon. Member. It is quite enough, however, for the Committee to know that there is no precedent for this Vote, and I think it is impossible for the House of Commons to go on voting away the money of the taxpayers as they have been doing within the last three or four days. We have been told that the hon. Gentleman the Secretary to the Treasury is not responsible for this Vote; but, as a matter of fact, he is responsible for it. It is all very well for hon. Members who sit on that Bench to offer opinions now which are intended to put themselves in accord with those which they were accustomed to express when they sat below the Gangway. The Committee has nothing to do with that. The hon. Gentleman brings forward this Estimate with the sanction of the Treasury; but, at the same time, I am perfectly sure that my right hon. Friend at the head of the Government cannot for a moment sanction a Vote of this kind for which it is perfectly clear there is no precedent whatever. In no other instance except where the services have been rendered by the soldiers of Her Majesty have we given medals to troops engaged in any other transaction, with yards of ribbon besides.


I think I am entitled to explain that the Supplementary Estimates which the Committee are now discussing are not Supplementary Estimates which have been prepared by the present Government, nor have they been signed by myself, as Financial Secretary, but by my Predecessor who sits opposite. The present Government had no discretion in the matter, nor have they exercised any. When they came into Office they found that the money now asked for had been expended, and that the medals had been manufactured; and, consequently, they have not been in a position to exercise any discretion in regard to the purpose for which the grant is made.


I have only an imperfect knowledge of the present case, because I was not Secretary of State for the Colonies when the medals were granted, and, as hon. Members are aware, it is not the duty, nor is it, of course, in the power of every Member of a Government to become aware of all the circumstances and all the facts which may be brought under the notice of the Government. But I have, however, some recollection of the circumstances of this case. This is a medal to reward soldiers acting under the orders of a General Officer in the Queen's Service. I believe the custom is that when a medal is given to one portion of the force, it is given to the whole force. I am under that impression; but I wish to speak with caution upon the matter, because I do not desire to create any false impression. I believe the operations undertaken in the North-West of Canada were undertaken by the Government of Canada, with the full knowledge of the Colonial Department of this country, but without any desire on the part of the Colonial Office to interfere with the full responsibility of a Constitutional Government like that of Canada. The military operations in question were not conducted during the Administration of the late Government, but in that of its Predecessor. It was represented, I believe by the Government of Canada, that a very great public advantage would be derived from a recognition on the part of Her Majesty of the bravery and endurance which the soldiers displayed in the discharge of their duty in the Dominion of Canada. It was also represented that no such recognition could, be given by the Government of Canada itself, because it had no power to grant a Royal medal in recognition of those military operations. Considering all the circumstances of the case, having regard to the fact that the Colonial forces were forces of the Crown, although not paid by this country, and having regard also to the fact that this country had received much aid and comfort from our Colonial forces in an enter-prize which this country lately conducted on the Nile, the late Government deemed it advisable to accede to the request of the Canadian Government, and grant a medal to these men in recognition of the services they had rendered in an Expedition which terminated so successfully.


I am quite willing, after the speech of the right lion. Gentleman who has just sat down, to accept the word of the right hon. Gentleman that he knows very little about this matter. But I am bound to say that when the right hon. Gentleman said that the Dominion of Canada could not grant these medals, he carefully guarded himself against saying that the Dominion of Canada cannot pay for them. That is the question which the Committee have to consider. I was also surprised to hear from my hon. Friend the Secretary to the Treasury that neither he, or the Government of which he is a distinguished Member, have anything to do with the Estimates which are brought forward, and which he recommends the Committee to adopt. I do not know why the hon. Gentleman moved them, unless he was prepared to recommend them. I can quite understand that there might be a difficulty if the medal has already been ordered and the money spent. I understand, however, that the medals are of standard silver, and there is one suggestion I would throw out for the consideration of the Committee. I imagine they are of the value put down in the Estimate, and I anticipate that that value could be obtained if the Committee, in its wisdom, did not choose to pay for the medals. I am quite willing to pay for the 1,320 yards of ribbon, because the ribbon could not possibly be disposed of at its original value, and also the £5 charged for waste of metal. If the Treasury is in a difficulty how to get over the liability of this country for £1,200, I would suggest that the hon. and learned Gentleman (Mr. T. M. Healy) should move to reduce the Vote by the sum of £1,155, which would allow the medals to be sold at their market value.


As there may be some difficulty in regard to the payment for the ribbon, I am quite willing to adopt the suggestion of my hon. and learned Friend. I will, therefore, move that the Vote be reduced by the sum of £1,155.

Captain VERNEY

I rise for the purpose of seconding the Amendment proposed by the hon. and learned Member for the reduction of this Vote. As one of the many Members of this House who have the honour of wearing Her Majesty's medals, I feel that I ought not to vote against the Motion of the Secretary to the Treasury without giving a reason. I entirely endorse what has been said by the right hon. Gentleman the late Secretary for War (Mr. W. H. Smith), that no medal can be granted, and no medal has any value, unless it comes from Her Majesty. No Colonial Government can grant a medal that would have any value in the eyes of either a soldier or sailor. It is because it is presented by Her Majesty, and for no other reason, that a piece of silver has a priceless value in the eyes of the man who receives it. But those who receive it receive it on the recommendation of the Government of the day; and I am distinctly of opinion that the Government of the day wrongly advised Her Majesty when they recommended that those who had been engaged in the suppression of what practically amounted to a civil war, and who were fighting against their fellow-countrymen, should receive this reward. Such a reward as the granting of a medal should be reserved only for those who fight against the enemies of their country.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That a Supplementary sum, not exceeding £45, be granted to Her Majesty, to defray the Charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March 1886, in aid of Colonial Local Revenue, and to defray the Salaries and Allowances of Governors, &c., and other Charges connected with the Colonies, including Expenses incurred under 'The Pacific Islanders Protection Act, 1875.'"—(Mr. T. M. Healy.)


I think there are other considerations involved which have not been put by any other Member. This is certainly a very formidable grant—a Vote of £1,200—and I have no doubt that it merits the careful consideration which the Committee has given to it. But I would ask hon. Members to consider whether the Canadians might not, with much justice and truth, put a serious misconstruction on the rejection of the Vote by the Com- mittee to-night. If the Committee think that the late Government were wrong in granting the medals, they can censure them. But what is the position as it affects the Dominion? And what is the position in which we stand, not only with regard to Canada, but with regard to one of our Australian Colonies? We were carrying on military operations which sorely strained the military resources of this country. The Nile Expedition could hardly have been carried on with so much celerity if it had not been for the Canadian boatmen; and the Canadian Government afforded all possible facilities for giving the British Government the assistance of those boatmen. That was a favour shown to this country by the Canadian Government in a most honourable and dignified manner. I imagine that the fact must remain on their mind that they did render assistance to Her Majesty's Government in a time of need. But how is it proposed to reward them? They came to our assistance at a time when their services were really wanted and were really useful, and they did, in point of fact, render invaluable service in a matter in which we should hardly have got the work done without their aid. Soon after this invaluable service had been rendered to us, the Government of the Dominion was placed in a position of considerable difficulty by the outbreak of a rebellion, which was successfully put down by an Expedition of Volunteers organized and carried out by a remarkable development of the martial spirit in Canada. After the return of the Expedition the Government of the Dominion asked that a special mark of favour should be shown by the Crown to the Volunteers who took part in the Expedition. What would be thought in Canada if the House of Commons, after the Crown and the Government had come forward to grant a reward, declined to vote £1,200 now asked for for the medals for the soldiers? That is all I have to put before the Committee. The Committee may censure the late Government; but it would be most impolitic not to comply with the request of the Canadian Government, who have rendered us material assistance when the resources of this country W6re to some extent overtaxed. I cannot help making an appeal to the Prime Minister whether that is a position the Committee could occupy with dignity or advantage, and whether it might not produce serious misunderstanding in Canada if the Vote now asked for were, by any possibility, to be refused by the Committee? I trust the Committee will not be disposed to go to a division without a word from the Prime Minister indicating his opinion on the expediency of refusing the Vote.


I am very glad that explanation has been made, because it puts clearly before the Committee the position of the Government with regard to this Vote. The resignation of one Government and the appointment of another, when it occurs in the interval between the spending of a sum of money and the final sanction of the House to it, frequently leads to some difficulty, because it is one Government that comes to a decision to spend the money, and it is another whose formal and unquestionable duty it is to submit to the House the Estimate that has been prepared and signed. Nothing remains to them but to submit it to the House. A fair and candid statement has been made by the right hon. Gentleman the late Secretary of State for War (Mr. W. H. Smith), who has given the reasons which influenced the late Government in the decision at which they arrived. Well, Sir, the present Government were not parties to that decision. I own that I feel great difficulty in making myself a party to it, ex post facto, by stating that I thought a sound discretion had been exercised. I have not the slightest idea that any improper motive can be imputed to the late Government in coming to this decision. But when I come to consider the vote I should give, I approach the question less as a Minister than as a Member of Parliament; and, looking at it as a Member of Parliament, I am certainly unable to adopt the whole statement just made by the noble Lord. But what the noble Lord stated is entitled to the consideration of the Committee. He has asked whether, if we were to reject the Vote, the Act would not be liable to be misconstrued in Canada? I do not doubt that the rejection of the Vote is within the competency of the Committee; but it is impossible for me to deny that it would be open to misconstruction in Canada; and, on the whole, I am not willing to incur the risk of that misconstruction. I feel, with the hon. Member for Northampton (Mr. Labouchere), that the question of giving military decorations for military services in operations that were of the nature of civil war is a very nice question indeed, which admits of being argued against as well as for; and that reason, of itself, would have inclined me to leave the matter entirely in the hands of the Canadian Government. But I could not resist the force of the fact that what has been done has been done in perfect good faith, whether the judgment exercised has been sound or not. If the Committee were to intervene now and withhold its sanction, it is probable that such an act on the part of the Committee would be open to serious misconstruction in Canada; and it is by no means worth while incurring such a risk in a matter of this kind.

Question put.

The Committee divided—Ayes 66; Noes 209: Majority 143.—(Div. List, No. 10.)

Original Question put, and agreed to.