HC Deb 03 September 1895 vol 36 cc1568-81

Order read for the Second Reading of this Bill.

MR. CALDWELL (Lanark, Mid) rose to call attention to the case of a shoemaker, named William Agnew, who was tried for murder at Glasgow on the 29th ult., and acquitted, and complained that, not with standing the gravity of the charge, the Crown refused permission to medical men appointed by the prisoner to be present at the post-mortem examination of the deceased. The case, he said, was known to be one of circumstantial evidence, where it would be very material that there should be a post-mortem examination. Accordingly, the agent for the prisoner wrote to the Crown authorities asking that two eminent Glasgow medical men, whose names he furnished to the Procurator Fiscal, should be present at the post-mortem examination in the interests of the accused. The Crown authorities refused to grant this application, and the question he (Mr. Caldwell) had addressed to the Lord Advocate that afternoon was, on what ground such refusal was based? It turned out that the only link of evidence was a shoemaker's punch found in the man's pocket, which the medical men said fitted into the wound. The importance of the post-mortem examination became apparent, and at the trial counsel referred to the fact that he had made application to the Crown to have medical men present and had been refused. As showing the manner in which the Crown Prosecutors pressed prosecutions in Scotland, the Crown Counsel admitted that the request had been made and refused, and he declined to allow any evidence to be given on the point. He was surprised at such a procedure, for he always understood the whole case went to trial, and that it was not possible, by any simple admission on any one point, to exclude any evidence competent to be brought forward on the merits of the case. The Crown authorities maintained the position that the post-mortem examination was conducted by the Crown with neutral medical men in the interests of the prisoner as well as of the prosecution, and they did not consider that a prisoner was entitled to have a special representative in his own case. That contention was obviously wrong, because, undoubtedly a prisoner was entitled to bring forward medical evidence to rebut that of the prosecution. It was essential to the witnesses for the defence that they should have all the material necessary to formulate their case, and have the advantage of being present at the post-mortem examination, when they might detect other matters which might have escaped the notice of the most impartial witness for the Crown. It was stated that the practice adopted in this case was the practice followed in all similar cases. What he wanted to know was whether the Crown meant to persevere with this barbaric system of refusing to allow medical men to be present at post-mortem examinations in the interests of the accused persons? He did not think it wise, in the interests of the Crown, to continue to follow such a practice, because they would not get a jury to convict if there was a suspicion of unfairness. In the case of Agnew, he was tried before Lord Kingsbury, an eminently fair judge (who declined, however, to take any notice of the fact that medical witnesses were not present on behalf of the prisoner at the post-mortem examination)—and a verdict of Not Proven was returned. The medical faculty in Glasgow were unanimous in condemning this refusal on the part of the Crown, and the legal faculty were also opposed to the practice. He thought they were entitled to some declaration from the Lord Advocate, that, as regarded the future policy of the Crown Authorities, he would not refuse medical men the permission of being present at a post-mortem examination, where the case was one in which a person was on trial on a charge of murder. This was the case of a poor shoemaker, but that should make no difference in the matter of law, as there was no more reason why he should be refused to have medical men to represent him at the post-mortem examination than if he were a person in a higher grade of society.

* THE LORD ADVOCATE (Sir CHARLES PEARSON,) Edinburgh and St. Andrew's Universities

hoped it would content the hon. Member if he assured him that his predecessor in office had commenced, and he himself was carrying forward an inquiry into the expediency of introducing any modification into the long-established practice of the Crown Office in such a case as that which the hon. Member had brought before the House. He said that without pronouncing one way or other as to the expediency of changing the practice of many successive Lord Advocates in Scotland. The Crown Office, represented in this House by the Lord Advocate, had always held that it was within their discretion in each particular case to allow the presence of outside medical men at the autopsy. The latter could on application obtain an investigation for themselves, but to allow outside medical men to be present as a right at a post-mortem examination by the doctors selected on behalf of the Crown was a matter which raised very difficult issues and was not to be decided off-hand. It would amount to a vital change in the practice which had hitherto obtained. That, however, was one of the things which was being investigated. He did not think the hon. Member was accurate in saying that the medical profession in Glasgow were unanimous on the subject; on the contrary, he was aware, from his own examination of the documents in the case, that certain members of that profession did not take the view indicated. He hoped the hon. Member would rest satisfied in the meantime with the assurance he had given.

* SIR E. ASHMEAD-BARTLETT (Sheffield, Ecclesall)

called the attention of the Secretary of State for the Colonies to the character of the inquiry which he proposed to make into the maltreatment of the Woodbush tribes in the Transvaal. This question had excited very great interest throughout South Africa, and he himself had not the slightest doubt that ample proof would be forthcoming of the accuracy of the statements in regard to those atrocities which had been made in this country and in the independent press of South Africa. A great proportion of the press and almost all the agencies for news in South Africa were in certain hands. They were either in the hands of the ruling clique of the Transvaal, which was, of course, directed by President Kruger, or they were in those of one or two great millionaires, who lived partly in this country and partly in South Africa. The consequence was, that very little accurate information came to this country by telegraph. He should not have referred to this subject to-day, but for ridiculous misstatements which had lately appeared in the Boer organs, notably in the South African Telegraph, as to his own action and that of others who took an interest in the well-being of the native races. Statements coming from those interested sources, either from President Kruger or from gentlemen anxious to stand well with the Kruger clique in order to obtain great concessions from them, did not deserve the credit either of this House or the country. The information, however, which had come to hand from private sources of the most reliable nature, of the barbarous maltreatment inflicted upon large masses of native races by the Boer authorities, military and civil, was too strong to be resisted. It was overwhelming. He had in his own possession letter upon letter written by gentlemen of good position in South Africa, who guaranteed the truth of what they had written, who had seen these things with their own eyes, who had seen these unfortunate native tribes attacked without provocation and because they resented unjust exactions, who had seen the survivors driven hundreds of miles across a bleak country without proper food or protection under the whip of what were practically their slave-drivers, who had seen women falling and dying under the trials and exposure of the route, children—


Order, order! I am afraid the present remarks of the hon. Member are not relevant to the Appropriation Bill.


We have always hitherto been allowed to debate subjects on the Appropriation Bill which might have been discussed in Supply.


I was not objecting to the hon. Member discussing the conduct of the Colonial Office with respect to these transactions; what I do object to is the hon. Member going into a detailed description of the conduct of the Boers towards native tribes.


said, this was a very important matter, in which the honour of England was concerned; he had introduced the subject by referring to the inquiry that the Colonial Secretary had promised; but as the Speaker objected, he would not go further into these details. With regard to the investigation which the Secretary of State had promised to make into the truth of these statements, he would press on the right hon. Gentleman very strongly the importance of the investigation being of a thorough and independent character. It could not be said that our representatives in South Africa had of late given that full information to the Home Government which he ventured to think was desirable. He would not say where the fault lay, but even the right hon. Gentleman was obliged to tell him, in answer to a question about the very important petition signed by over 30,000 non-Boer residents in the Transvaal asking for constitutional rights, that he had no official information regarding it. Similar answers with regard to important interests of British subjects resident in the Transvaal had been given by the late Government. The first duty of their representative in the Transvaal should be to send home official information on such a grave matter. This investigation, if it was to be real, must be very carefully conducted, and it must be conducted by representatives of the Queen who were above suspicion, and who would visit the scenes of these atrocious events. They must obtain evidence from the witnesses direct, and promise them safeguards in return; otherwise, he feared, the investigation would prove abortive. He did not press the point which he raised in his question that day with regard to the pledge of Sir F. Fryer to the native chiefs of the Shan States. There was no doubt that Sir F. Fryer, the British Chief Commissioner in Burmah, speaking with the authority a gentleman in his position would speak, promised these Shan chiefs that their country should be British and should always remain British.


I must intervene to remind the hon. Member that he gave an incorrect version in his question of the words used by Sir F. Fryer. I quoted the correct words, which do not justify the interpretation put upon them by my hon. Friend.


said, he was quite willing to accept the words given by the right hon. Gentleman. He quoted from the only source open to him, namely, an important article in the Times. The words quoted by the right hon. Gentleman—viz., that were "an integral part of the British Empire"—were, however, strong enough to prove that a distinct guarantee was given of the maintenance of British rule over these Shan tribes. He was aware this was a very difficult and delicate question, and it was quite evident from the reply of the right hon. Gentleman that he was not anxious to go into it at this moment. He could only express a hope that this case would not be added to the painfully long list of British pledges to native races which had been broken within the last few years. Another question to which he wished to refer was the killing of three gallant British officers and a considerable number of British native troops at Weima, or Warina, in West Africa. Several questions had been asked in the House during the last 18 months with regard to this very serious and unfortunate event. He would not say anything upon the question that could, he hoped, give offence to the great nation whose forces were responsible for the attack on the British troops; but, in his opinion, from the very first, a most unfortunate line was taken by the Foreign Office with regard to this matter. It was said that this affair was to be a portion of the general settlement in Africa. Such an event as that could not in propriety be made a portion of a general settlement. It was an act which required immediate attention and an immediate explanation. There was little doubt that Weima was regarded by the Foreign Office as within British territory before this unhappy attack was made. The late Government on many occasions retreated, in a very ignominious way, before the same Great Power that was responsible for this attack—with regard to Siam, Sierra Leone, the Anglo-Congo Convention, Madagascar, the Upper Nile Waterway, and other points. But of all the abandonments of which they had been guilty, the abandonment of this Weima incident was the most deplorable. He was not blaming the present Under Secretary. He recognised that the whole affair occurred under the preceding Government; and that the present Government could not justly be held responsible. But the right hon. Gentleman had just repeated the official answer that it would be necessary to send a large expedition to ascertain the exact geographical position of Weima. He ventured to think there was no real doubt about that, but that a navigating lieutenant, even of the merchant service, would in the course of a very few days settle the position of Weima, and that he would not require a large escort to do this. He wished to ask the right hon. Gentleman now whether Her Majesty's Government proposed to take any steps to obtain some explanation of this very grave event, or whether it was intended to allow the matter to drift on from month to month, and perhaps from year to year, without any satisfactory explanation being given.


said, he could not allow the Appriation Bill to pass without expressing some disappointment on the part of those who looked to the Under Secretary for Foreign Affairs to inaugurate a new era in foreign policy. They expected many things of him. They had a perfect Foreign Minister, and in the right hon. Gentleman they had looked for a pluperfect Under Secretary. He had been everywhere; knew everything. He had read every book; he had re-written most of them and abstracted the rest; and, consequently, they did expect many things from him. They thought of him in the words of Shakspere:— Turn him to any cause of policy, The gordian knot of it he will unloose, Familiar as his garter. But when they came to the House and humbly asked him to untie the knot in the form of a question, when they asked him for a little information, they could not get any at all. He was worse, and that was saying a good deal, than the last Under Secretary of State. There were extremely important matters being carried on, as to which this House was entitled to some information. Take the case of Turkey. He wanted to know whether Her Majesty's Government were agreed, not merely with France and Russia, but with the other three Powers who were signatories to the treaty under which the action was being taken. He had asked, on more than one occasion, whether the Government had consulted or concerted with Austria, Germany, and Italy; and, if they had been consulted, he wished to know what answer had been returned. Was it not the fact that they had been consistently and persistently snubbed by those Powers in the suicidal course they were now taking with regard to Turkey, and which was calculated to throw down one of the main barriers of their Indian Empire. They had a right to some answer to this question. The Joint Note of the 11th of May had been given to the Press, but it had not been laid on the Table of the House as, he submitted, it ought to have been. The House of Commons ought not to be left to the Press, either English or foreign, to gain its information about foreign affairs. Hon. Members ought not to be treated as they had been by the right hon. Gentleman. Either the whole information should be given or he should withhold it all. They should either know the whole facts and the whole of the negotiations, or the Under Secretary should have entrenched himself in the old position of the Foreign Office of giving them nothing. The attitude which had been taken up by the Under Secretary towards Members of that House, and towards the country was one that he could not persistently maintain to the end. The country would expect to have information as to their foreign affairs, and he warned the right hon. Gentleman that next Session a good many Members of the House would not be content to take answers which were no answers, but were puttings-off, and with the suppression of important Papers on the policy which was to be carried into effect by the Government.


Probably it will be for the convenience of the House that I should reply to the matter raised by my hon. Friend (Sir E. Ashmead-Bartlett) which concerns my Department, before the Under Secretary for State answers the hon. Member who has just paid to him a compliment, not only high in itself, but particularly gratifying, coming as it does from one who is undoubtedly the most encyclopædic Member of this House. Turning to my hon. Friend, I admit I cannot quite understand what object he has in view in raising again the question of the alleged ill-treatment by the Boer Government of certain natives. What are the facts of the case? My hon. Friend on many occasions has made most serious, grave, and important charges of inhumanity and cruelty against the Boer Government, and has said that when I came into office I had proof of these charges.


No. The right hon. Gentleman has misunderstood me. I said he now has strong evidence of them.


The hon. Gentleman said, in the course of his speech, that he was convinced that I must have proof of these allegations. I wish to say that that is undoubtedly not the case. I have absolutely no proof at all, but, at the same time, the allegations in themselves were so serious that I at once promised my hon. Friend that I would make the best, and most complete and impartial inquiry it was possible under the circumstances. But the circumstances are not so easy, because my hon. Friend made these accusations either upon the testimony of the natives or of persons who refuse to allow their names to be used. It is excessively difficult to make anything like an efficient inquiry when the witnesses will not come forward; and, therefore, it will not be in my power to make the kind of inquiry I should like to have done in regard to this matter. So far as it is in my power to settle the question once for all, I shall be prepared to do so. But my hon. Friend will not be satisfied with any inquiry which does not prove the Boers to be guilty. He has asked for an impartial inquiry, but it is perfectly evident that he thinks that the persons who are to conduct this inquiry are prejudiced. He rejects altogether as evidence in this matter the testimony of our present officials, both in the Transvaal and in Cape Colony. I have to inform him that since I have been in office I have seen absolutely no cause whatever to doubt the trustworthiness of these British officials.


I cannot allow a statement of that sort to pass. I did not say that I denied the trustworthiness of our officials, but I said they must be rather slow in sending information home, because Ministers have on several occasions stated in this House that information had not been received on important questions connected with the Transvaal. I must remind the right hon. Gentleman that I have not said one-half with regard to our officials what he himself said with regard to Sir Hercules Robinson last Session. [Opposition cheers.]


That is a statement that ought not to have been made. But I am happy to give an absolute denial to the imputation contained in it. I said nothing last Session—I refer the House to the report of my speech in "Hansard"—which in the least degree reflected upon the character, the ability, the impartiality, or the judicial trustworthiness of Sir Hercules Robinson. I criticised, it is true, the conduct of the late Government in sending out Sir Hercules Robinson to the Cape under circumstances which are within the recollection of the House. But I carefully avoided and specially guarded myself against saying one single word which threw the slightest doubt on the high capacity or personal honour of Sir Hercules Robinson himself. So much for the interruption. When the hon. Gentleman goes on to say that he did not make any imputations against British officials in the Transvaal, let me remind the House that he accused them of withholding information, and he seemed to suggest, because I said the other day that I had no official information about a matter which was within common knowledge—namely, that an independent State had refused to alter its constitution at the request of a certain number of petitioners—because I had no official knowledge of that, which I did not require, that therefore the officials failed to keep me informed as to the very serious circumstances which the hon. Member alleges to have taken place in regard to the treatment of the natives. I give my hon. friend the assurance which he asks. I will endeavour to carry out an impartial inquiry into this matter, and I really think my hon. friend might wait until that inquiry has been completed and the result of it known, before again repeating in this House ex parte accusations which he has so constantly made and which up to the present time have not been proved. [Cheers.]


I will answer quite briefly the questions contained in the speeches of my two hon. Friends. The hon. Member for Sheffield has used very strong language, and has once at least employed the word "deplorable." I think in the few remarks I have to make I shall show that neither the conduct of the late Government nor the conduct of the present Government deserve that imputation. The hon. Member spoke with great confidence of the exact geographical position of Weima, the place where this unfortunate incident occurred. He said that Weima was in territory officially regarded as British, in territory which cannot on any authentic grounds be denied to be British. That statement does not in the least degree tally with the information in the possession of the Foreign Office. The exact geographical locality of Weima is wholly undetermined. It is either in British territory or it is in Liberian territory; it is a matter in all probability of a few hundred yards in either direction. He says there being this uncertainty any navigating lieutenant with proper instruments could set it right at once. That is not the case. A number of expert engineer officers have at different times been to Weima, but through their having no fixed point from which to calculate it has been found impossible to arrive at any scientific calculation as to the position of Weima. There being this uncertainty as to the exact locality of the place, my hon. Friend asks what were the French doing there? The French have a treaty with the Liberian Government which gives their officers the right to cross the frontier on to Liberian territory in pursuit of fugitives or other persons in the course of warlike operations. There is not a shadow of a doubt that this unfortunate act on the part of the young French officer who lost his life was a perfectly bonâ fide act, taken in what he believed to be the exercise of French rights, on a territory the exact locality of which has never been determined, and which he believed to be within the boundaries where he had a right to go. Then occurred the melancholy incident in which lives on both sides were lost. It is perfectly true that the matter was regarded both by the late Government and by the present Government as one of sufficient importance to justify them in bringing it up in any discussion of African questions at large with the French Government. But, looking to the great uncertainty as to the position of the place, and the difficulty of sending out any expedition to obtain more adequate information, the hon. Member is not entitled to use the word "deplorable" in reference to the conduct either of the late Government or of the present Government. With regard to the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for King's Lynn, I must express my thanks to him for the high compliment that he has paid me. It is, indeed, surprising to me to learn that an hon. Gentleman of his discrimination could expect from the introduction of any individual into a subordinate office the inauguration of an entirely new era in foreign policy. I am sorry I am the person fated to disappoint his expectations in that respect, but, inasmuch as he has made me for the first time in this House the victim of a Shakespearian quotation, I think I may find some consolation in that. My hon. Friend's desire for information is so ravenous, increasing instead of diminishing as the Session approaches its close, that no amount of official indiscretion on my part could possibly satisfy him; and in the future I must hold myself open to the particular criticism he has brought against me this afternoon. My hon. Friend asks whether we are, in respect of Armenian matters, in agreement with the three other great Powers besides France and Russia, with whom we have consistently acted, and he went on to say that we had been snubbed by them Now, I stated in some remarks I had to make earlier in the Session that the co-operation with France and Russia, for which there were many grounds of justification, was a legacy to the present Government inherited from their predecessors, and one, therefore, which they felt bound to maintain. As regards action with the other three Powers, there has never at any moment been any lack of sympathy with them. We have reason to believe that the other three Powers are entirely in accord with the action we have taken. We have had no indication whatever of an opposite state of feeling at any time since the Armenian movement began. Then my hon. Friend goes on to complain of the note of May 11, and here again he paid me a compliment which I do not deserve, because he said it was in part my production. At that time I was an obscure Member of Her Majesty's Opposition, and the late Government did not pay me the compliment of asking my views on the Note they addressed to the Porte. For that Note, therefore, I have no official responsibility. As to the question of its publication, it must be obvious to my hon. Friend that while these negotiations are still proceeding it would be impossible to publish papers relating to them, or, if papers were published, to publish papers relating to one part of the proceedings alone. In reference to my replies to questions, the hon. Member has stated that I was quoting from a document in one case and not in another. He was mistaken. In the case in which he objected to my replies I was reading out to him the substance of a telegraphic answer which had been received from Her Majesty's Ambassador at Constantinople. If he is anxious to see it I will give him the telegram itself. As regards the general charge which has been brought by my hon. Friend against me—dissatisfaction with the amount of information I have hitherto been able to give—he assures me that that dissatisfaction is not only entertained and vigorously expressed by himself, but also by his colleagues on these Benches and by hon. Gentlemen on the other side of the House. I do not for a moment believe that that is the case—[Cheers]—and, until I have some further evidence than the utterances of the hon. Member I shall continue the course I have already pursued. [Cheers.]


desired to thank the Board of Agriculture for acceding to his request to send a Commissioner to examine and report on the distressed condition of East Anglia. During the 10 years he had been in the House he had frequently played the part of the importunate widow, but hitherto he had always been met with platonic sympathy and a blank determination on the part of the Government to do nothing. He did not know what the Minister of Agriculture would do for the agricultural interest during the Recess, but he ventured to direct the right hon. Gentleman's attention to the questions of local taxation and the tithe-rent charge. Since the Budget of 1894 realty and personalty were both in the same boat with regard to Imperial taxation, and therefore the one ought not to pay three times more than the other to local taxation. With regard to the tithe-rent charge, it would be easy for the Government—as they did under the Ashbourne Act in Ireland—to lend money to enable the charge to be paid off within a given period.

Bill read 2°, and committed for To-morrow.