HC Deb 05 September 1895 vol 36 cc1748-52

On the Motion that this Bill be read a third time,


said, that he wished to make a personal explanation. In answer to a question the other day, the Secretary of State for the Colonies said that he had no proof at all as to the atrocities alleged to have been committed by the Boers. He had furnished to the right hon. Gentleman three authentic letters from gentlemen in South Africa, whose names and addresses were given, but under secrecy. Two of them were eye-witnesses of the atrocities. He had further furnished the right hon. Gentleman with the statements of the independent Press of South Africa, and there was other evidence with which the right hon. Gentleman had not yet been furnished. He wished to make these facts public, because the statement of the right hon. Gentleman that he had no proof would go out to South Africa, and would have a disastrous effect on the interests of the unfortunate natives. He had not the slightest doubt of being able to prove the charges which he had made; and he feared that the case against the Boer officials would be found graver than was at first supposed. He did not wish it to be thought that he had attacked the Boers as a race. There were many Boers of great humanity and advanced civilisation who reprobated these atrocities. But with regard to the ruling clique in the Transvaal and the officials on the native frontiers, it was impossible to speak too strongly of their inhumanity.


I can answer the hon. Member in a single sentence. He seems to be intellectually incapable of distinguishing between charges and the proof of them. He has conveyed to me a number of accusations against the Boers on the authority of gentlemen of whom I know absolutely nothing at the present time; and having conveyed to me those accusations, the hon. Member says that I am in possession of proof of their truth. What I have to do, and what I intend to do, is to test the evidence given to me; and if I find it accurate, I shall, of course, take steps. But at present I cannot assume that the evidence is necessarily true.

MR. HERBERT LEWIS (Flint District)

urged the Government to make greater progress with the important work of afforesting the Crown Lands in Wales. In Mr. Stafford Howard they had a sympathetic Commissioner, and he trusted that every facility would be given to him in prosecuting the important work which he had commenced. It had been shown repeatedly, on the authority of a Select Committee—and no attempt had been made either inside or outside the House to contradict it—that on the transactions of sale and investment of recent years, the Woods and Forests Department owed Wales £110,000. The question was how that amount could best be reinvested in Wales? He agreed with the right hon. Gentleman's reply to the effect that the Commissioners of Woods and Forests ought to invest the moneys in their hands so as to secure a remunerative return, but he did not think it fair to a country like Wales, from which they received an annual income of about £15,000, that they should concentrate their investments upon ground rents in London. He contended that one of the best and most paying methods of reinvesting the amount due to Wales from the Woods and Forests Department was by reafforesting the Crown Lands. Private landowners made timber growing pay, and there was no reason why the Department should not do so. He was aware that there was one difficulty in the way. The Crown only possessed 500 acres of freehold property in Wales, although it had 84,110 acres of unenclosed land, and had rights over 364,000 acres. The rights of the commoners would have to be extinguished to a very small extent. He thought this could easily be done by purchase, and by agreement with the commoners, as only a comparatively small proportion of the enormous sheep walks which were owned by the Crown and were subject to common rights would be required for planting. In any event no injustice must be done to the commoners. If the situation were faced with a real desire to reafforest the Crown Lands, the difficulty would speedily disappear. Many private landowners were doing their duty by timbering large portions of their estate, and he thought it was the duty of the Crown to set a good example to all landowners, instead of lagging behind them, in reafforesting the land. Continental countries had discovered the advantage of growing timber. There was no European country in which the State did less for afforestation than in the United Kingdom. In Belgium within recent years, one-third of the waste land had been afforested, thus giving an immense amount of work to the unemployed—work that was permanently productive, and of a remunerative character. He had spoken upon this question in the interests of Wales, but there was a general question involved of the most important character. The United Kingdom imported £18,000,000 worth of timber a year. The timber stocks of the world were rapidly diminishing. Timber was cheap now, but it was a question whether it would be so cheap in 30 or 40 years' time. When they saw Sweden importing logs from America, it was the beginning of the end. There were 26 millions of acres of waste land in this country, and if only six millions of acres were planted, it would replace the timber we had now to import, and and would give work at a slack time of the year to an enormous number of men. Not only for the sake of beautifying the country, but also for the sake of the profit and employment it would bring, he hoped the Department would resolutely pursue the policy he had recommended. He further drew attention to the fact that some of the officials were paid by fees and poundage on the amount collected by them, instead of by fixed salaries. It was right that Members of the House should know what salaries these officers received from year to year, and that the amount received for the previous year should appear on the Estimates. The remuneration paid to some of these officials was extremely high. He instanced the case of one, who admitted in evidence given before a Select Committee that he received sums varying from £2,165 to £5,800, which was more than the salary of a Cabinet Minister. He was not arguing whether it was right or wrong that these large salaries should be paid, but that the House should know exactly from year to year what was paid. He hoped that by next year the manner in which the Estimates were now presented before the House of Commons would be radically altered. He had referred yesterday to the fact that the Committees on the Army and Navy Estimates had been discontinued. He thought that they should be reappointed, and that there should also be a Committee on the Civil Service Estimates. It was true that there was a Committee called the Committee of Public Accounts. So far as he could gather its work was chiefly to elaborately and carefully lock the stable door about two years after the steed had disappeared. A Town Council, or a County Council appointed Committees to control its spending departments, which supervised the work and saw that the expenditure was properly incurred. Then every figure was checked by the Finance Committee, and when the business came before the County Council or the Town Council, discussion was principally confined to questions of policy. He hoped that some system of this kind would be adopted in the House of Commons.

Bill read 3° and Passed.

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