HC Deb 14 August 1896 vol 44 cc853-87

On the Motion for the Third Reading of this Rill,

*SIR CHARLES DILKE (Gloucestershire, Forest of Dean)

said that on the Second Reading of the Bill the discussion was chiefly concerned with affairs in Crete, and therefore he should only make this reference to that matter—that in the present condition of our military and naval preparedness, and in our present somewhat delicate position in the world, it was doubtful whether we should find ourselves able to engage in anything like knight-errantry on behalf of other people. When the present Government came into power they announced their intention of taking a new departure with regard to military and naval matters by the constitution of a Committee of Defence in the Cabinet. The House had been led to expect that that Committee would take up the general consideration of military and naval affairs and bring them into harmony with the requirements of the nation. The only tangible effect of the working of that Committee this year had been the production and withdrawal of four military Rills, to two of which, he believed, he should be in order in referring. The Army Reserve Bill, which had been dropped, was a confession of the failure of the existing military system. The Military Works Bill, which had also been dropped, was of great importance, because the works that that Bill was intended to provide for were being carried out at the present time without the House having had any opportunity of pronouncing on the policy of constructing them. Certain fortifications for the protection of London were being erected on the North Downs, and it was rumoured that the Military Works Bill of this year would have contained provision for them. Other works were being carried out now in the neighbourhood of Guildford and Dorking, which, he believed, would also have been brought within that Bill. Certain works were also being carried out on the coast of Ireland in the way of the fortification of certain harbours. He presumed these works were being carried on out of the ordinary Military Works Vote, but the House had had no opportunity of discussing the policy which gave rise to them. As far as the Army was concerned, the House could hardly think that the working of the new Defence Committee had been revealed in a very favourable light. With regard to the Navy, they had an even more justifiable anxiety because, whatever might be thought of the Army, it was upon the fleet that the defence of the Empire mainly depended. On the Second Reading of the Finance Bill this year, and on one other occasion, allusions were made by the Chancellor of the Exchequer to his hope that the Navy Estimates of this year might be regarded to some extent as exceptional, and his belief that next year it would be possible to decrease them. That was not a mere expression of an ordinary hope of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, because on the first occasion the First Lord of the Admiralty was sitting at the right hon. Gentleman's side, and endorsed and explained his statement. When the proposals for the Navy were discussed in February and March last, interesting speeches were made not only by the First Lord of the Admiralty and other naval Members of the Government, but also by the First Lord of the Treasury. The First Lord of the Treasury went very carefully into the consideration of the points of policy which ought to lie at the base of our naval preparation, and the right hon. Gentleman took up an observation made by himself to the effect that in making comparisons with the Navies of other Powers, all depended on what was counted. Of course, that was the case, but when the extent to which every competent authority without exception was agreed that it was mainly on a comparision of battleships that we ought to place our confidence in our own naval strength, was considered, it would be seen that it was not sufficient to rest entirely satisfied with the advice of the naval authorities at the Admiralty, but that hon. Members must enter into these questions for themselves. Of course a comparison between the strength of the British Navy and that of other Powers was a matter of much difficulty. But still, taking into consideration the size of the vessels, the power of the guns, the resisting power of the plating, the quick-firing armament, coal endurance, speed, and other similar matters, it was possible to test ship against ship and come to a conclusion as to their relative force, at all events in one's own mind. After having spent several months in calculations of that character he was bound to say that he had come to the conclusion that our Navy was not sufficiently powerful. The Government appeared to believe that our Naval force was sufficient to meet the combined fleets of any two European Powers. He had contended in February last, and he was prepared to contend now, that, even if our fleets were superior to those of any two combined European Powers, that would not give us that naval superiority which our position as an Empire required that we should possess. It might be said that we could always rely upon the jealousy of other Powers to prevent such a combination among them as would give them a naval superiority over ourselves. But was it wise to stake the whole existence of the British Empire upon the probable effects of the jealousy of the other Powers? ["Hear, hear!"] We must never forget that our existence as an Empire depended upon the overwhelming superiority of our fleets over those of other nations. He fully admitted that it would be absurd to attempt to make our fleets superior to the combined fleets of all the other nations of the world; nevertheless, we ought to have a more powerful naval force than we at present possessed in order to make our Empire secure. There was no doubt that this country was rich enough to enable us to build and maintain the requisite naval force, were it not that we were continually engaged in undertakings in various parts of the world which cost a great deal of money, and which were, at the same time, of doubtful necessity. He would not allude to the money that was to be spent upon the construction of the Uganda Railway, but he would refer to the expedition to the Soudan. When Parliament next assembled they would probably be asked by Her Majesty's Government to provide money towards defraying the expenses of the main expedition, as we had been already asked to defray the expenses of the supplementary expedition. On July 3rd, the First Lord of the Treasury had promised that the House of Commons should be consulted and taken fully into confidence by Her Majesty's Government before England had to come to the financial assistance of Egypt, even remotely. Yet, although considerable expenses had been incurred with regard to bringing the Indian troops to Suakim, Parliament had had no information laid before them as to the financial liabilities that we were incurring in the matter. He should think that it was extremely probable that England would have to give financial assistance to Egypt, in connection with the main expedition, before the re-assembling of Parliament next January, and he thought that in such circumstances the Government should have consulted that House upon the subject. Where were our responsibilities to end in this matter? Lord Salisbury had stated that we should be recreant to our trust, if sooner or later we did not restore to Egypt the territories which she had lost between 1882 and 1884, and that we could not evacuate a diminished Egypt. The Government had stated that the Egyptian Army, as trained and modelled by British soldiers, was strong enough to protect the country, and therefore he saw no reason why we should spend money upon this expedition to the Soudan. These, however, were incidental matters, and he had only referred to them to show that we were rich enough, if we kept a strict guard upon our expenditure, to provide ourselves with such a naval force as would enable us to maintain our position as an Empire. ["Hear, hear!"]

*SIR JOHN COLOMB (Great Yarmouth)

thought that discussions on the proposals for the fortification of London would have very little practical result. The necessity for the fortification of London rested upon the assumption that a foreign Power, in consequence of the success of its naval operations, would succeed in landing a considerable force upon some part of our coast. Therefore, the question for them to consider was whether they would put the money into these fortifications or into ships. Lord Wolseley had spoken of an Army landing and marching on London but naval danger as a bogey, but that criticism rested upon an assumption in regard to the Navy of which he knew nothing. It was necessary, therefore, that on one day, at all events, the procedure of the House should permit the questions of the Army and Navy to be considered together, which at present was impossible. He called attention to the fact that a force of 3,000 men was being trained, at considerable expense, both as naval artillery and as land artillery, and yet that we practically made no use of them for the purpose for which they were created. He would ask his right hon. Friend during the Recess to look personally into the question of whether the marine artillery and the Navy could not be drawn more closely together.


dwelt upon the necessity for appointing more Roman Catholic Chaplains in the Navy, and asked the first Lord of the Admiralty what steps he had been taking in the matter.

*THE FIRST LORD OF THE ADMIRALTY (Mr. G. J. GOSCHEN,), St. George's, Hanover Square

who was heard with difficulty, said: I have by no means forgotten the point raised by the hon. Member for East Mayo, and I have been in communication with the Commanders-in-Chief of the various squadrons on the subject. As the hon. Member is aware, the matter is one of considerable difficulty, but it will continue to receive my best attention. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Forest of Dean always treats questions regarding the Army and Navy in so broad a spirit, a spirit so entirely removed from the Party sphere—["hear, hear!"]—that everything that comes from him on those subjects deserves a most respectful answer. The right hon. Gentleman would readily understand that it is always more difficult for the First Lord of the Admiralty to speak with freedom and confidence on such a subject as this than it is for hon. Members who do not occupy an official position. The Admiralty, for instance, may be conscious of the number of advantages we have over other countries, but it would be neither in good taste nor advisable for us to point out all those advantages—a fact which renders it impossible for the numerical comparison submitted to the House to be proceeded with. Besides, every argument that our armaments are sufficient is always met with the reply that the Admiralty take too rosy a view of the situation. I do not think the Admiralty does take too rosy view of the situation, and as First Lord of the Admiralty I have determined to see that we have a strong and efficient Navy. [Cheers.] I think the right hon. Gentleman has perhaps left too much out of account the enormous sacrifices which the Admiralty have this year demanded of the country with reference to strengthening our naval position. The right hon. Gentleman also said there was a want of continuity in the policy of the Admiralty. I agree that that has been so in the past to a great extent, but it has not been so during the most recent years. Lord Spencer made most praiseworthy and successful efforts for largely strengthening the Navy, and the present Board of Admiralty composed very much of the same advisers as Lord Spencer had, has distinctly continued his policy without any change, except by adding to it. I am bound to say that if the advice of some were taken, and we were to go far beyond our present limits in increasing the Estimates—if the Estimates should reach some extraordinary limit beyond that high limit they already possess, then, indeed, there might be a reaction, and a cold fit might set in leading to those changes of policy which are so much to be deprecated. We are most anxious to keep our policy within thoroughly adequate limits, but at the same time within such limits as we may be quite sure will maintain in the long run that continuity of policy which all Parties in the House so much desired. I hope that that continuity of policy may be looked upon as finally adopted by the House of Commons, and that it may be maintained by the sacrifice of all Party spirit on both sides of the House— [cheers]—both sides recognising the justice of the Estimates and being determined to carry them through. There is another point, and that is that our possible opponents have, like ourselves, got immense resources of money, and they would not be likely to allow any startling increase of our Estimates without making a fairly corresponding increase. I beg the House to bear that point thoroughly in mind. I believe the right hon. Gentleman, and many critics with him, simply count ship by ship. There are two ways of dealing with the numbers of ships; to count only ships that are ready to be sent to sea, or to include ships that are being built. Generally, these critics, I think, count both. I think my right hon. Friend probably included ships that are being built by other Great Powers as well as those that they are sending to sea. If so, let me point out that, in the case of a good many foreign ships now building, dependence has to be placed on other nations for their armour-plate, while we produce all our own. ["Hear, hear!"] This gives us an enormous advantage; and, for my part, I will not be a party to laying down ships to make a good show if I do not see the way clear to provide armour, guns, and men as fast as the ships are likely to be built. Our policy has been, in regard to men as well as ships, to pursue a decided, but moderate and proportionate, advance in regard to all these requirements. In order to meet an accelerated programme for this year, £3,100,000 has been put on the Estimates. The amount for next year would have been more, but the Government took a portion of the 1896–7 amount into the 1895–6, in order to get on faster, especially in the arming of those torpedo-boat destroyers to which we attach so much importance. The result is that we shall be stronger in a certain class of ship than we should have been. Consequently the Estimate for this class of ship will be smaller in next year's accounts. I hope the House will consider that I have given good reasons why the ratio of our progress should be gradual, and such as Parliament will be willing to continue. Our policy is to go on steadily step by step towards the object which we have kept before us—namely, to maintain our position with regard to other nations. We have maintained a steady, continuous policy of progress in this matter, whereas other nations have been spasmodic. Ships have been turned out quickly, and it has then been found that they have not answered to the original design, and were not complete. On the contrary, our ships are always completed to the design at the appointed time, and are ready to go into commission as soon as completed. ["Hear, hear!"] Our ships are generally completed to the day, and ready to go to sea at once. We have, besides, the capacity to greatly increase our naval resources which other countries have not. Of course, I admit that constant efforts and persistent steady progress are necessary to keep up the efficiency of that vast machine, the efficiency of which is indispensable to us. The Government policy cannot always be in all respects satisfactory, but we are doing our best to strengthen the position of the country in this respect from year to year. We must ask the House of Commons to second us in our efforts, and not to discourage them or the country, or to ask us to move at a rate which would frighten the country, or which the country might not approve. I hope the country will not be unduly discouraged by the speech which so eminent an authority as the right hon. Gentlemen (Sir C. Dilke) has delivered. I assure the hon. Member (Sir J. Colomb) that the Government are not neglecting the Royal Marine Artillery, but we are doing our best to utilise them in every way. With regard to the observation of the right hon. Gentleman (Sir C. Dilke) relative to the Army Bills, I have to say that the Government greatly regret that they lave not been able to pass the Military Works Bill this year. It is not our fault that the Army Bills were not passed. We shall take the earliest opportunity next year to pass the Military Works Bill, and I hope we shall have the assistance of the right hon. Gentleman in passing it. [Cheers.]


did not propose to follow his right hon. Friend the Member for the Forest of Dean, but desired to say a word or two as to the Soudan expedition and the state of affairs in Crete. He thought that, with regard to the Soudan expedition, they ought to have some assurance from the Government that the limited objects of the advance should not be exceeded without the sanction of Parliament. ["Hear, hear!"] The effect of the speech of the First Lord of the Treasury was that the object of the expedition was to rectify in a moderate degree the Egyptian frontier, in order to free it from the depredations of the hostile tribes. The right hon. Gentleman certainly did not say what Lord Salisbury had said—that the object was also to extend the territory of Egypt to the limits occupied before 1895. The House was entitled to an assurance that the expedition would not exceed during the Recess the objects stated by the First Lord of the Treasury. As to the negotiations with regard to Crete, the Under Secretary had given the House to understand that the Government were really without much official information as to what went on in the interior of Crete. The country felt a great interest in Crete, and it ought to be properly informed of what was going on there. He did not wish to make any aspersions on our valuable Consul in Crete. Recent events had widely extended that gentleman's duties; and it was impossible for him to supply all the information that was needed unless he had a sufficient staff. The Government might give an assurance that Papers with regard to Crete would be circulated during the Recess—["hear, hear!" from Mr. BALFOUR]—and also a more explicit statement with regard to their intentions as to Crete. A recognition of the original Convention would not be a sufficient settlement of the question. Greece did not at the moment wish to take over the Government of Crete, and the Cretans themselves were not prepared for it if it involved their acceptance of a share of the burden of the Creek debt. He hoped Her Majesty's Government would demand complete autonomy for Crete on the lines of that enjoyed by the island of Samos. Practically Samos was independent of Turkish rule, but for the payment of a very moderate tribute. He was glad that the Government had refused to take part in the international blockade of Crete, and he hoped they would spare no pains to come to an understanding with Russia. The House would feel great satisfaction at the announcement that our negotiations with America were approaching a satisfactory conclusion. Nothing would give a greater hope of peace to all nations than the fact that Great Britain and the United States had entered into an arrangement which not only settled a very thorny question, but placed on a permanent footing a method of settling by arbitration all future difficulties.


said that the great difficulty in the way of granting autonomy to Crete was the Mussulman population of the island. They were only a third or a fourth of the whole population, and unless some Power occupied the island to see that justice between Christian and Mussulman was observed, the latter would probably be massacred or driven out of the island. The right hon. Baronet the Member for the Forest of Dean had made enormous advances in his views of Imperial policy since 1883; but there was one subject on which he was still entirely hopeless, and that was Egypt and the Soudan. [Laughter.] The root mistake which led gentlemen holding the opinions of the right hon. Baronet wrong in regard to Egypt, was that they did not realise the enormous importance of the Upper Nile to Egypt, and of the attitude of the European Powers in regard to the river. A European Power in possession of the Upper Nile and with the resources of engineering at its disposal, could reduce Egypt to a desert in six or 12 months. Even the Khalifa, if he had intelligence to use the appliances of modern engineering, could prevent the Nile from rising or dry it up altogether. It should also be remembered that the recent reverse of the Italians in Abyssinia was brought about by the fact that the Abyssinian Army was armed with French rifles and led by Russian officers. Again, France had made great advances towards the Upper Nile, and it was quite possible that at any moment we might hear of the French occupation of a portion of the Upper Nile. Under those circumstances it was absolutely necessary that the Government should obtain possession of the Soudan; that they should go to Dongola, and ultimately they would also have to go to Khartoum. His object in again raising the question of Crete was to try to get justice for the Mussulmans, who were in the minority in Crete, and were the greatest sufferers by the present disturbed condition of that island. During the last Cretan rebellion, which began in 1889 and lasted two years, the most horrible atrocities were committed, and the greatest sufferers were the Mussulmans. For every church destroyed three or four mosques were wrecked, and for every Christian murdered, three or four Mussulmans were murdered. Precisely the same things were occurring in the island now. The truth was, they were in the presence of the most able, thorough, and gigantic conspiracy to destroy entirely the credit of Turkey and the Turkish people in this country that had ever been invented. Like most of the stories of atrocities circulated in regard to Armenia, the tales told now about the roasting of priests in Crete were absolute fictions. The reports were sent from Athens by persons who, being far from the state of affairs, knew nothing about what was happening. If the Government were carrying on a great policy which should secure good government to the Christian population of Crete, he appealed to them not to lose sight of the rights of the Mussulman minority. The autonomy of the island or its annexation to Greece would mean ruin to its 100,000 Mussulman inhabitants. The best policy for the Government to follow in the East was to work in harmony with Germany, Austria and Italy. He hoped there would be no repetition of the mistake made by the the Liberal Government, who based their Eastern policy on an alliance with Russia and France. That really was the cause of numberless woes of the Christian population in Asia. He also thought the idea of a European concert was chimerical. That, too, was the invention of a Liberal Government. He would rather see this country working with firm and reliable allies, with identical interests in the carrying out of a clear and sensible policy. It was, perhaps of little use in face of the present ignorance of public opinion, and of this gigantic scheme of lying in regard to Turkey, to try to obtain any justice even for the simple Turkish people as distinct from the Turkish Government. He appealed to the fanatical opponents of Turkey in this country to really examine the evidence upon which the stories of massacres and outrages by Turks were based. He appealed to them to do justice to an unfortunate people who had no representatives of the Press in this country to defend them, who very likely were unaware of the charges that were brought against them, and the obloquy to which they were exposed.

*MR. C. J. MONK (Gloucester)

said the hon. Member for Sheffield had said that the atrocites in Crete were manufactured in Athens. But a letter he held in his hand, received a few days ago, signed by the President the two Vice-Presidents and Secretaries of the Cretan Assembly, dated Canea, August 1st, contained a confirmation of the atrocities which had been reported by the Press in England. These gentlemen appealed to this country and the British Parliament to assist them. They did not say one word about annexation to Greece, but asked for the sympathy of the British Parliament to encourage the Cretans to throw off a yoke which was too hard for them to bear. His hon. Friend the Member for Burnley, expressed great satisfaction at the appointment of the late Governor of Samos to the same position in Crete. He joined with him in that, but the new Governor was unable to act in that capacity without the cooperation of the military Governor. Perhaps the Under Secretary for Foreign Affairs would be able to inform the House whether the Great Powers approved of the appointment of the new military Governor of Crete, who was said to surpass Abdullah Pasha in fanaticism and cruelty. He held that post in 1889, and caused great dissatisfaction to the whole of the inhabitants of Crete. So great was the dissatisfaction felt in the Island that the European Consuls made representations to their Governments desiring that he should be dismissed. He hoped the Government did not approve of that appointment. He would not go again into the question of the massacres. He admitted freely that atrocities had in times past been committed by the Christians on their Mussulman fellow-citizens. But what was complained of at the present moment was the action of the Porte in sending troops to Crete who had been engaged in the massacres in Armenia and could not restrain themselves when sent against Christians in another part of the world. The Under Secretary for Foreign Affairs would, he felt sure, be able to refute a good deal that had been said by the hon. Member for Sheffield, and prove conclusively that many of his statements had no foundation in fact. ["Hear, hear!"]


who was indistinctly heard in the Gallery, said he would first answer the question of his hon. Friend about the military commander of Crete. It was true that Abdullah Pasha had been replaced by Ibrahim Pasha, and it was true that the previous records of that official were not such as to make his appointment one that was very agreeable to the Powers. But this he might say about the disappearance from the scene of Abdullah, that it was an illustration to them not to be too much guided by what appeared in the Press. Abdullah Pasha was very much attacked for his supposed oppressions, and day by day questions were put in that House to secure his recall. In consequence, to a large extent, of the Government's representations to Constantinople, Abdullah was recalled. But on his leaving the island they received a telegram from their Consul in Crete to the effect that Abdullah, during his tenure of office, had acted with perfect honesty and fairness between both parties, and the Consul regretted his disappearance from the island. [Cheers.] The hon. Member for Burnley complained that the Government appeared to be without proper information on the subject of Crete. That was not at all the case. The Government had very full and constant reports from our Consul there, and also from officers of Her Majesty's Navy cruising along the coast. There was no desire whatever to keep the Papers back, and they would be presented at the earliest possible moment consistent with the public interest. Several of the Dispatches contained matter of a character which if published at this moment might tend to inflame rather than allay the situation. Much had been said about the particular incident, or rather the report of the particular incident of the burning of priests. That might or might not be true, but he was bound to say that at present it was an unconfirmed report. If it was true he could not but think they would hear about it from their Consul. He could not say it was a canard or invention. But if it were true, it was almost certain to be reported to the Government. Even if it were true, it was merely an instance of a terrible state of affairs and could not be regarded as determining the line of policy which the Government must pursue. That must be affected by much larger considerations. The hon. Member for Burnley pressed for more Consuls in Crete. There were places where the cry for Consuls was greater and more urgent than in Crete. If they had money at their disposal it would be to Armenia where they would send more Consuls, where suffering was greater and destitution much more pressing. The island of Crete was a small one, with a population of a little over 300,000. The villages in the interior were very scanty of population, and the most populous places were scattered along the coast. Her Majesty's ships cruising off the coast were able by their presence and by the reports their officers sent to render precisely that kind of help which a Consul might give. These reports would be found in the Papers that would shortly be presented. The hon. Member asked him what was really the policy of the Government with regard to Crete. The object which the Government had in view was solely the good government of Crete, and by good government he meant peace and harmony between the two sections of the population. Of the population of the island 270,000 were Christians and 50,000 Mahomedans. These people were intensely irritated and estranged from each other, and the object the Government had in view was to enable them to live in peace and harmony, side by side, if possible. The "bag and baggage" policy which was recommended by certain people might be all very well in theory, but was impossible to carry out in practice. ["Hear, hear!"]

MR. THOMAS BAYLEY (Derbyshire, Chesterfield)

desired some information as to the steps it was intended to take with regard to those officers bearing Her Majesty's commission who were implicated in the criminal raid in the Transvaal, but who were not tried with Dr. Jameson and the other defendants in the recent trial.


observed that the hon. Gentleman was quite within his right in raising this question, and he had to express his regret that he was not able to give him any further information. He had stated that he hoped he should be able to do so before the end of the Session, but that hope had been disappointed for a reason he would explain. At the trial, evidence was given which had regard to certain officers. The trial only concluded a fortnight ago, and it then became necessary for the War Office to consider the position of the officers mentioned, and to make certain communications with regard to the evidence affecting them. These officers were scattered, and all their replies had not yet been received. The hon. Gentleman would agree that, however desirable it might have been to submit a statement to the House on the subject, it would certainly be undesirable to make a partial statement when they were not in possession of the replies of the various officers affected. ["Hear, hear!"] He could assure the hon. Gentleman and the House that there was not the smallest desire to in any way evade Parliamentary criticism. The sole reason for the delay was that the War Office had not got the information they desired and which was necessary both in justice to the officers and in order to ascertain with perfect accuracy the extent of their participation and responsibility for the offence that took place. ["Hear, hear!"]

SIR WILFRID LAWSON (Cumberland, Cockermouth)

called attention to the large sums which had been voted for military and naval armaments in the present time of peace, and asked why such an enormous expenditure was necessary? It might be said it was for the purpose of defence, but surely there was no greater danger now than there was years ago?


replied that if the hon. Baronet really required an answer he might well refer him to a right hon. Baronet sitting on the same side of the House. The right hon. Member for the Forest of Dean had told them a little earlier in the day that they had not spent nearly enough on armaments. If the hon. Baronet would discuss the vast questions he had raised in connection with the British Empire with the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Forest of Dean he was sure the latter would not only give him full satisfaction as to the uses of the present British Army and Navy, but he might also convince him that neither the Army nor the Navy was sufficiently large. [Laughter and "Hear, hear!"]


He is not in the Government.


desired to allude to a subject of vital importance and interest in Ireland, namely, the contract for the carriage of the Irish mails. He thought they were all indebted to the right hon. Gentleman opposite for his statement upon the Second Reading of the Bill, in which he showed that he brought a perfectly independent mind to the consideration of this question, and was sincerely desirous of conciliating and satisfying Irish opinion. He should hope the statement of the right hon. Gentleman on Friday last might be taken as practically the climbing down of the General Post Office on this subject, and as showing that the position they had previously taken up was absolutely untenable. He spoke on this matter as the representative of a commercial community in Ireland, perhaps the most interested in this question, namely, the City of Cork. Belfast was also largely interested, but it was at least an hour and a-half nearer to Dublin than Cork was, and the position of the mail question in Belfast was such that they had never had as keen a grievance in regard to it as Cork had had. He therefore thought the whole question of the Irish mails might be judged entirely from the Cork point of view, and the point whether or not the Post Office had come to the right solution of this question must be determined on the experience in regard to the City of Cork. He rather agreed with what the right hon. Gentleman said that from the Post Office point of view the principal matter was the night mail from London and the night mail from Ireland. The day mail was important, but he thought it was largely important from the passenger point of view. What was their demand on this question? Two years ago they started an agitation to induce the General Post Office to spend a sum which ultimately was shown to amount to £100,000 to improve the Irish mail service. What improvement did they want in the service? They wanted, especially from the Cork point of view, practically two additional hours between the arrival of the morning mail in Cork and the dispatch of the evening mail from Cork. After a great deal of difficulty, much agitation, many deputations, and innumerable public meetings in Ireland, they succeeded in inducing the Treasury to make this very large and valuable concession to Irish opinion. But what did they find? After the Treasury had made this grant, the Post Office stepped in and practically took away half the benefit which they had hoped they had extracted from the Treasury. They got their two hours, but then the Post Office stepped in and made the concession absolutely nugatory as regarded one of those hours. That was a most extraordinary result. One of the advantages of the speech of the right hon. Gentleman made the other night was that they had at last got a clear statement of what the Post Office reasons and what the railway reasons were which were said to justify this interference. The right hon. Gentleman said the Post Office reasons were two, and that the first related to the day mail from Ireland, and the other related to the night mail from London. As regarded the night mail from Ireland the Post Office reason was that they wanted to get the mails half-an-hour earlier in London. They had given them two hours to improve the transmission, but they said that half-an-hour of one of those hours must be devoted to the convenience of the General Post Office in London. It came to this, that to save the wages of a few postmen in the city of London, the General Post Office absolutely threw into the Thames £50,000 of the £100,000 the Treasury had voted. The Post Office at present got their mails from Ireland at a quarter past six. It was idle to say that, getting the mails in London at quarter past six, that was not ample time for the first delivery and for all Post Office purposes in London. If the Post Office desired that these mails should be delivered in London at an earlier hour, let them get a few extra postmen to do it. Then there was the question of the night mail from London to Ireland. On this point he professed himself absolutely unable to understand the Post Office reason. At present, the right hon. Gentleman said, the last hour for posting in London was six o'clock—the Irish mail did not leave until half past eight—and the suggestion was that, deducting the 19 minutes occupied in conveying the mails from St. Martin's to Euston, two hours and a quarter were required to sort the letters posted up to six o'clock. If he was told that the resources of the Post Office were not equal to sorting the Irish letters in two and a quarter hours, then he said the Post Office officials made great demands on their credulity. If they were unable to do it, let them put on extra officials. It was only, at the utmost, a matter of a few extra sorters. To suggest that the resources of this tremendous institution were not equal to sorting the Irish letters in two and a quarter hours—well, he could not believe it, that was all he could say about it. The right hon. Gentleman's argument, as he understood, was that as six o'clock was the last hour for posting in London, it was impossible to dispatch the mails earlier from London than 8.30. Supposing they granted that position, how did that justify the time-table the Post Office had issued? Their proposal was to make the mail start later than 8.30. Their proposal was to make it start at 8.45. He could only regard the Post Office reasons as of the most flimsy character, and they would not bear examination for one moment. He now came to the substantial part of the right hon. Gentleman's argument—the railway reasons. He need only touch on these railway reasons to show that they were wholly untenable. The right hon. Gentleman gave no reason in the case of the night mail from Ireland, consequently there were no railway reasons in the case of the night mail from Ireland.


said there were railway reasons, but not so important as those which he did give to the House.


said in that case their importance must be very small. Then there was the case of the night mail from London. The right hon. Gentleman showed that they could give them an extra quarter of an hour by expediting the Manchester train, but that to give them the whole of their demand—namely, half-an-hour, he would have to expedite five trains. He was informed that, in the main, they were slow trains, and that there was no insuperable difficulty in solving this question. He took it that there existed neither Post Office nor railway reasons why this enormous Treasury expenditure should not be devoted to the purposes for which they sought and obtained it. He thought the right hon. Gentleman, although he had made no formal declaration, had offered what he might call, without offence, a recantation of the previous declarations of the Post Office on the subject, and they might take it that, when the new Session opened and the right hon. Gentleman was in a position to make a statement, the statement he would then make would be satisfactory to the Irish views of this matter. There was another point to which he desired to direct the attention of the House. Twelve months ago, when the right hon. Gentleman came into office, he asked him whether, in connection with the improvement of the mail service, the Post Office would consider the desirability of putting an end to the present antiquated system of transferring the mails, which involved a waste of some three-quarters of an hour. The right hon. Gentleman then came down and gave the stereotyped answer of the Post Office. The right hon. Gentleman had now given exactly the same reply he gave 12 months ago—namely, that the Department were considering the matter. He asked the right hon. Gentleman and the postal authorities to do themselves justice, and not only so, but to treat the Members of the House of Commons as if they possessed average intelligence. Hon. Members were quite capable of bringing their minds to bear on these questions, and of weighing fairly the answers of public Departments. He, personally, was convinced that if the right hon. Gentleman were to express his own candid opinions in this matter they would be of a very different nature to his official opinions. He would put it to the right hon. Gentleman whether, the Post Office having thought it worth while to expend £100,000 a year extra to save two hours a day in the mail service, it was not desirable to incur a further comparatively trifling expenditure to expedite the transhipment. There was one other point to which he wished to direct the attention of the right hon. Gentleman, and that was the system of fees which prevailed in the Irish County Courts. The answers which he had previously received on this matter were not satisfactory, and having regard to the conduct of the Treasury in financial matters connected with Ireland, he was under a distinct apprehension that they might utilise the Recess to issue a new set of County Court fees which would be altogether unsatisfactory. The Treasury doubled the fees in the Irish County Courts in 1877, and thus doubled the amount which in this way they exacted from the poorer classes of Ireland. He was unable to understand the difference between the fees in the Superior Courts and in the County Courts. In the Superior Courts, having regard to the large litigation involved, the fees were small compared with those imposed in the County Courts. He should not be satisfied with any comparison between the English and the Irish County Courts which the right hon. Gentleman might set up in his answer to him. He knew that the fees in the English Courts were even higher than those in the Irish Courts, and he regarded the fees of the English Courts as nothing less than a scandal. If he were an English Member he would never rest satisfied until he obtained some reform of the system of fees in the County Courts of this country—["hear, hear!"]—for seeing the way taxation was levied and the enormous sums which the Exchequer spent on certain matters, he would say that no English Member could do better service to the poorer classes of his country than by inducing the Treasury to initiate some reform in the scandalous conditions existing in the County Court administration. What they wanted in Ireland was cheap justice for the poor man. ["Hear, hear!"] He thought the Treasury was hardly so much to blame in this matter as a certain Irish official, whose name he would not mention, but who seemed to think that his sole duty as an official in Ireland was to go about poking his nose here and there with a view to see where he could put on some extra charge or tax. There was a great necessity for reform in the Irish County Courts in the method in which the fees were levied. If he had been a Member of that House in 1877 he certainly should not have been satisfied with the scale of fees which the Treasury then imposed, for they were most inconsiderate. The fees then existing should have been left alone, and certainly not increased as they were. He wished to know whether the Treasury contemplated any action in the matter, and if so, to tell the Irish Members what it was. Unhappily, in Irish matters they were exposed to the tender mercies of those Treasury gentlemen who were little better than so many sharks, who were ever seeking what they could do to obtain more money out of Ireland, the poorest part of the United Kingdom. ["Hear, hear!"] A Committee had considered the matter several months ago, but the Treasury had done nothing in it; they had simply allowed the matter to drift. That day he put a question to the right hon. Gentleman as to what the Treasury intended to do. For this was no new question. The same system had gone on in Ireland for over 20 years, and if any new Order was to be issued or any alteration was to be made, it was not unreasonable to ask that it should be done in the eye of Parliament, so that the Irish representatives might have the opportunity of considering and criticising the action taken. He feared the Treasury would wait until the Recess to issue a new Order, and then, as the Irish Members knew by experience, it would be incapable of alteration. He asked the right hon. Gentleman not to make himself a party to any such shifty course of action. Let him insist that any proposals of the Treasury in the matter should be submitted to Parliament, for to sneak a thing through in the Recess was not an honest course, and no upright Minister would lend himself to it. He appealed to the right hon. Gentleman to give him a pledge that if the Treasury contemplated any alteration they would wait until Parliament was sitting to make it.

On the return of Mr. SPEAKER, after the usual interval,

*SIR ALBERT ROLLIT (Islington, S.)

desired to offer the co-operation of the Chamber of Commerce and the commercial classes in this country with the Irish Members on the subject of the carriage of the Irish mails. He thought that the hon. Gentleman who introduced the subject had spoken too much, if anything, from the Irish point of view. It was a real Irish grievance, no doubt, but it was also a British grievance. It was difficult to speak of any postal question as being localised; it must at least affect the two districts in which the correspondence was exchanged; but what affected Cork, for example, also affected, to a large degree, London and other parts of England. The Chambers of Commerce had taken up this question frequently, and had passed several resolutions upon it, and through him they now offered their heartiest co-operation in order to bring the question to a close. He did not think that the railway companies were rendering proper service to either country in this matter. In the first place, the delays in connection with Crewe and Chester, and the allowance according to the time-table of half-an-hour, were most excessive. The companies also seemed to forget how deep was their interest as traders in facilitating trading inter-communications. Their policy, therefore, should be one of enterprise rather than that of inanition, and so far from offering in this case all the facilities in their power, it seemed to him that they had done entirely the reverse. He hoped that the Postal Department would, as it would where mails and subsidies were involved, bring pressure to bear on the railway companies, and would insist upon every facility being given between the two countries. He could not altogether acquit the Post Office of blame in this matter. The Post Office had a large surplus revenue, and it forgot that its first duty was, after all, to those who provided the money. The primary duty incumbent on the Post Office was to take care that those who provided the revenue should have proper facilities. He had great confidence in the Secretary to the Treasury, and he hoped that as the right hon. Gentleman seemed to realise that this was a grievance, he would make up his mind that the Department should not refrain from strong representations as to the demands of both countries in the matter. He also agreed with his hon. Friend with regard to the fees charged in the County Courts of Ireland. The matter had been before the Chambers of Commerce, and it had been resolved at the Dublin and other meetings, that the whole procedure required to be greatly improved.

MR. J. P. FARRELL (Cavan, W.)

drew attention to the mail facilities in the north of Ireland, and particularly the mails delivered by the Great Northern Railway Company of Ireland. The arrangements made by that company in the transport and dispatch of the Irish mails received from England and abroad were inefficient and inadequate. On the Midland system a train left at 7.40 a.m. and arrived at Cavan at 11 o'clock. A Great Northern train left at 6.45 a.m., and the mail was not delivered in Cavan until after 11 o'clock. It was impossible in these circumstances for the merchants of the town to answer the letters received as the outgoing mail left at one o'clock. There was no reason or excuse why 40 minutes should be lost at Dundalk on the way from Dublin to Cavan. The train arrived at Dundalk at 8.20 a.m., and the outgoing slow train which stopped at every station did not leave Dundalk until 9 o'clock, and it took over two hours for that train to travel a distance of 50 miles. In this matter he thought that the Government and the Post Office were allowing themselves to be badly treated by the Great Northern Railway Company, because he understood that the Company had on occasions shown the greatest disinclination as to giving facilities for the carrying of the mails. The Company was receiving from the Government a large subsidy, and he failed to see why in return for the facilities granted to them this strong Government could not bring pressure to bear on the Companies through the Railway Commissioners or the Board of Trade to compel them to give a better service than at present. The Midland Great Western Railway Company delivered their mails in Sligo, 136 miles from Dublin, at 12 o'clock, whilst the Great Northern Railway Company could only deliver their mails in the town of Cavan, which, in a direct line, was only 70 miles from Dublin, at 11 o'clock in the morning, although they left Dublin fully half-an-hour before the mails left Dublin for Sligo. The whole system was bad, and he asked for an assurance that a change would be initiated.

MR. VESEY KNOX (Londonderry)

said that the city of Derry was also greatly interested in the mail question. The decision which the Post Office might come to in the question of the acceleration of the mails concerned Derry very closely. It was not yet certain whether the Canadian Government would require an Irish port for their new mail steamers. At any rate, it had not yet been decided what port was to be used. If the Government did not improve the communication on this side between Moville and Dublin, Derry might lose the advantage of having the port used by the Canadian mail steamers. That would be a great loss. The present system of communication between Derry and London was most unsatisfactory. The time allowed for entering letters in an important commercial town like Derry was ridiculous. He wished to hear from the Secretary to the Treasury what was proposed to be done with respect to the alternative service by Stranraer. At present it was the Scotch portion of this service that was faulty, and there was an unnecessary delay at Carlisle of 40 or 50 minutes.


said the hon. Member for Cork had raised three points, the first of which was with regard to the general question of the Irish mails, and the next in regard to certain alterations at Holyhead and Kingstown. He had also raised the further question of County Court fees. He could assure the hon. Member that the Treasury had not forgotten any of its pledges, for they held that they ought to see that the poor got cheap justice in these County Courts. The hon. Member had complained that the Committee had been sitting some time, and that he (Mr. Hanbury) had had no information to give him when he put questions, but the fact was, of course, that there were two parties to be consulted with regard to the ultimate decision in this matter, the first being the Lord Chancellor and the second the Treasury, and they had as yet had no information from the Lord Chancellor as to the view he took on this subject. That being so, and as the House was going to rise, the hon. Member had suggested to him that it would not be unreasonable that no official decision should be arrived at by the Treasury until next Session, when it would be possible, if objections were raised to the scale of fees, to raise them in that House. He (Mr. Hanbury) was hound to say that he was one of those who thought that in these matters delay would be of considerable advantage, and he would undertake, on behalf of the Treasury, that the question should not be settled until opportunity had been given for discussion in the House. Then the hon. Member raised the question of Holyhead pier and of the Kingstown arrangements for shipping the mails. In view of the importance of giving greater time in Ireland for replying to the London correspondence, he undoubtedly thought it was very important that there should be more rapid and more effective means of shipping the mails than existed at the present moment. The hon. Member said that occasionally the delay was a delay of three-quarters of an hour. That might be so occasionally, but he thought that the average delay was only from 10 minutes to a quarter of an hour under the present arrangements. This was an important question, especially in view of the difficulties the railway companies raised in regard to any alteration of their time-tables, and he would say frankly that he thought the hon. Member had some just cause for complaint that no decision had been arrived at upon this matter sooner. On the other hand, there was this to be said, that he (Mr. Hanbury) did not think it of very material importance until the new arrangements came into play, and certainly he would hope that within the next two or three months, at any rate, the matter would be settled. The new arrangements were not designed to come into force until the 1st April, and, though there had been delay, he did not think that practically very much time had been lost. But there had been difficulties, because not only was it a mail question, but it was also a harbour question, in which the Board of Trade was concerned just as much as the Treasury and the Post Office. He would see whether a Committee could be appointed to consider whether an alteration could not be effected in these almost antediluvian arrangements. Then the hon. Member raised the general question of the mails, a subject they discussed on the Second Reading of this Bill, and he said it was a question of especial importance to Cork. He was bound to say, from the representations he had had from Irish Members representing all parts of Ireland, that he realised that it was a question of very serious importance to Ireland. The trade correspondence of that country with England was, of necessity, a question they ought to do their utmost to meet, and they had now reduced the matter to this point—that whilst the wish of the Irish Members was that there should be an additional two hours' time given in Ireland for the London correspondence to be dealt with, the Post Office could only provide for one hour. He did not think the hon. Member for Islington (Sir A. Rollit) was quite fair to the Treasury or the Post Office in implying that this was merely a matter of money. It was not really that. Although, no doubt, the Post Office had a considerable surplus, still, on the other hand, he thought that in incurring an extra expenditure of £100,000 on these mails, the Treasury had gone a long way to meet the necessities of the case. What they had now to consider was the question of communication by land, and the hon. Member had criticised the Post Office on the subject. As he said the other day, there were difficulties which were purely Departmental connected with the Post Office, and also difficulties connected with the railway companies. Among other things the hon. Member mentioned, was the difficulty of sending off letters for the Irish mail before half-past eight o'clock, and he assumed that all the etters reached St. Martin's-le-Grand at six o'clock. Of course, that was not the case. Letters were posted all over London at six o'clock, and it took some time for them to arrive at the General Post Office. Then the hon. Member seemed to assume that they were dealing only with Irish letters. Of course they were dealing with all letters, and they had to be separated, and the Post Office had undoubtedly found in the past that it was quite impossible to deal with these Irish letters before half-past eight o'clock. Only a comparatively small portion of these letters started by the Irish mail; fully one-half were sent by the Scotch mail, and the Irish mail had to wait at Crewe for the Scotch mail. The hon. Member had said they might get through this work a great deal more quickly if they had a larger staff. It was not a question of expense, but to a great extent a question of space. The Post Office accommodated at present practically as many clerks as it could, and even if they had a greater-staff they really had not got the space at present. But after all, as he had said, whatever time they might start from London, whether they started at eight o'clock, half-past eight, or nine, what really was the key of the whole position was the departure from Crewe and Chester. The difficulty arose at Crewe and Chester because the Irish mail had to work in connection with the mails coming from Birmingham, Bristol, Derbyshire (by Stoke), and from Manchester. He thought that there they had the largest ground for complaint, as undoubtedly in these arrangements too large a margin was allowed for un-punctuality. If they allowed a margin of 10 minutes he thought they would be allowing as much as they could fairly be expected to allow; but allowing, as they did, in some of these; cases 25 minutes and in others more than half-an-hour, was, he thought, more than the railway companies had a right to expect. He also, to a large extent, agreed that the railway companies, who, after all, enjoyed great privileges, and to whom the Government, through its mails, gave a large amount of traffic, might, as it was only a question of a few minutes, do something to shorten the wait at Crewe. He fully recognised the difficulty that if the trains were required to arrive a quarter of an hour earlier, the communication along the route would be to a great extent upset; but he could not help thinking that that was a difficulty which might be got over by a rearrangement of their timetables if plenty of time was given to do so. The hon. Member said that pressure ought to be brought to bear on the companies. He himself would say this—and he said it not only with regard to the Post Office contracts, but to a good many other Government contracts—that he thought these contracts might be drawn up in a much more businesslike manner than they were at present. He also thought when contracts of this kind were made they ought to see that better provision was made than existed under the present contracts for efficient intercommunication and junction at Crewe and Chester. But, as he had said, in these matters he thought the Post Office might bring pressure to bear upon the railway companies. The Irish Members had, perhaps, done the most to settle this difficulty by obtaining the concession that the whole matter should be postponed until next Session, so that in the meantime public opinion might be brought to bear upon the railway companies, and he hoped that the strong public opinion upon this matter would induce the companies to make an alteration which he thought the public had a right to demand.

MR. W. E. M. TOMLINSON (Preston)

called attention to the Commission on the Incidence of Local Taxation. Looking to the terms of reference and the names of the Commissioners, it seemed to him that the subject was likely to be treated in too narrow and departmental a way. He thought that the departmental element was too strong. The question they wanted to have decided was, what was the real incidence of rating on industrial enterprises, and what proportion those burdens bore to the same burdens in other countries. He was convinced that the industrial interests of the country would not be satisfied unless the Inquiry was conducted on a wider basis.


was understood to say that local taxation was a highly technical and difficult subject, and that the officials selected had been chosen for their competence to advise upon the matter.

Mr. HERBERT LEWIS (Flint Boroughs), and MR. PATRICK O'BRIEN (Kilkenny)

rose to speak, when


appealed to the House not to lengthen the discussion, because unless the Third Reading of the Bill was obtained by four o'clock, the arrangements for closing the Session would be very much interfered with.


said he was compelled to call attention to a matter in connection with the appointment to the County Court Judgeship for county Down. The present occupant of the office had for some time past been prostrated by illness, and in consequence it became necessary to appoint a locum tenens 12 months ago; and the gentleman selected happened to be the Unionist candidate for the county. That was a reason why he should not have been appointed as deputy, and an absolute reason why he should not be appointed to succeed Judge Roche if it should unfortunately be necessary to fill his place. One of the duties the County Court Judge had to fulfil was to revise the register of voters for future elections, and it would be perfectly indecent to appoint to that office a gentleman who had been a candidate for Parliament. It would be to deliberately frustrate the ends of justice. As a result of questions put by him, this gentleman had been removed from the office of locum tenens, and he had been boasting that that was done as a matter of policy by the Government, and that when a permanent appointment was made it would be made when Parliament was not sitting, and that he would then receive the appointment. He hoped that the right hon. Gentleman, in the event of the vacancy occurring during the Recess, would not make the appointment until after the reassembling of the House. He could assure the House that he had no feeling against Mr. Craig, but he felt it to be part of his public duty to protest against the appointment. One other point to which he would ask the attention of the right hon. Gentleman was a matter which had given general satisfaction in Ireland, especially during the past Session, and he would ask him to take a leaf out of the book of his colleague the Home Secretary for England, who, being dissatisfied with the Report of the local medical officers, had sent experts to inquire into the health of political prisoners. It was unfortunately true that they still had in Ireland a large number of political prisoners, and he asked the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary to follow the example of the Home Secretary for England, whose action he was pleased to say had been so favourably received by every section of the House. He asked him to take some means of having experts sent to inquire into the condition of health of a large number of Irishmen detained in prison, and he hoped that when he got the Reports of those experts that he would take the same action in liberating them. He was afraid that those Reports would bear out his anticipations, that their condition was such that if kept in prison until the expiration of their term of sentence, or even to the end of the term which the law required, the lives of some of them might be sacrificed. He would remind the right hon. Gentleman that, during the last few years one of the prisoners died a fortnight before the time when he was to have been released, and that, of two other prisoners who were released, one of them of the name of Walsh, was taken to the hospital, where he (Mr. O'Brien) saw him, never got off his bed, and there died. A third case was that of Christopher Dowling, who was released on the ground of ill-health, but who died, and was honoured with a public funeral in the city of Dublin. He mentioned these instances in order to warn the Chief Secretary that, although he might depend to a large extent, as he was bound to do, upon the Reports supplied by the prison medical officers, it was not safe to depend upon them if he wished to save the lives of some of the prisoners. He knew of other prisoners who were in danger at the present time in consequence of their confinement, and he therefore asked the right hon. Gentleman to follow up the action of the Home Secretary, and not to depend on the official men however excellent they might be, but to send an expert down to inquire into the matter.


said he desired to associate himself with the expression of regret which had fallen from the hon. Member as to the state of health of Judge Roche, but he trusted that the Judge might still be able to resume his duties. It was not really in the power or province of any member of the Executive to remove Judge Roche, who could only be removed by an Address by both sides of the Houses of Parliament. The appointment of the Judge was in the gift of the Lord Lieutenant, and therefore the hon. Member was not in order in raising the question on this occasion. Still, he did not, on that ground, decline to deal with the question to-day. He thought it was an unheard-of thing, before a vacancy had occurred, that a demand was made upon the Executive Government to appoint a person to a particular office. He thought such a demand had never been made upon the Government before, and it was one with which he absolutely declined to comply.


Has the right hon. Gentleman ever heard of a deputy saying that he would soon get into his principal's shoes?


said he had absolutely no evidence before him to show that the charge which the hon. Member was bringing against Mr. Craig had any foundation. Nothing of the kind had reached him, and in any case, if Mr. Craig had made any statement of that kind, it was wholly unauthorised. He could assure the hon. Gentleman that they were not speculating upon Judge Roche vacating office, or who the Lord Lieutenant would appoint as his successor upon his vacating office, but they would consider the qualifications of the various candidates on their merits with regard to all the circumstances of the case. Beyond that he could not go. Then the hon. Gentleman had asked him to make special inquiry into the state of health of those whom he called political prisoners in Ireland, and to imitate the example of the Home Secretary in that matter. It was the duty of those who had to consider those matters to see that not merely political prisoners who were in danger of their lives because of the confinement should be enlarged, but that any such prisoners should be enlarged, and of course that matter would have the attention of the Executive in Ireland. He must remind the hon. Member, with reference to the action of the Home Secretary, that the Report from the local officers with regard to those prisoners was to the effect that their confinement endangered their health, and accordingly his right hon. Friend sent down a special Commissioner to inquire further. He (the Chief Secretary) could not undertake to make special inquiry into the state of health of the political prisoners in Ireland, but, if it was reported that their confinement endangered their health, it would be the duty of the Irish Executive to take the matter into consideration.

Motion agreed to; Bill read the Third time, and passed.