Motion made and Question proposed:—
That a sum not exceeding, £78,610, he granted to Her Majesty, to complete the sum necessary to defray the Charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March 1897, for the Salaries and Expenses of the Office of Her Majesty's Secretary of State for the Homo Department and Subordinate Offices.
§ MR. THOMAS LOUGH (Islington, W.) moved to reduce the Vote by £500, in respect of the salary of the Secretary of State, in order to call attention to the neglect of the recommendations of the Departmental Committee on Cabs. The late Home Secretary received a deputation in October 1893, when the grievances of the men were presented to him. In May 1894, there was a discussion in Committee of Supply, and the late Home Secretary, as a result of it, appointed a Departmental Committee, with one or two members from outside, to consider the whole of the grievances and make recommendations. The Committee reported in January 1895, after meeting some 24 times. After that there ought to have been no further need to discuss the question; all that had to be done was to carry out the recommendations of the Committee. But, after an interval of 18 months, practically nothing had been done. The cabmen had 10 substantial grievances, and only one of them had yet been satisfactorily disposed of, though two or three others had been slightly touched by the Home Office. The first grievance was as to the inspection of cabs. The Committee reported in favour of a strict system of inspection, by inspectors (one for each police district) acting under a chief inspector; and they recommended that the inspectors should not be policemen, but men with technical knowledge. Except for the appointment of a few policemen as inspectors, nothing had been done. He had just read a Report from the representatives of the men, which declared that this police inspection of cabs was perfunctory and absurd. The second recommendation which had been dealt with was that the police should be more gentle in their treatment of cabmen, that the magistrates should listen to their complaints, and that a Bill should be introduced to protect the drivers from bilking. So well had this recommendation been carried out that in the first three months of the present year there had been only 84 summonses, of which 57 had been dismissed. The third grievance related to the privilege system at the railway stations. The Committee were not unanimous on this point, but the great majority reported in favour of the abolition of privilege. The cab question would never be settled 1271 until the privilege system was abolished. The railway companies contended that without the system they would get a bad class of drivers into the stations. But that would be obviated if the Home Secretary carried out the recommendations of the Committee, and gave licences only to men of good character. It was very hard that the men who were allowed to take passengers to the stations might not take them away. The men had presented a statement of their complaint to the Home Secretary, but he had done nothing with it. He could quote the late Home Secretary as a reluctant convert to the abolition of the privilege system. In the recent Report from the men's representatives, to which he had referred, they declared that they were determined to deal with this privilege system by ether than conciliatory methods, unless the Home Office did something. The fourth recommendation of the Committee was as to the extension of the cab radius. The present radius was fixed in 1855, and all the vestries and the London County Council were in favour of its extension. Yet the right hon. Gentleman had taken no steps to extend the radius. The fifth recommendation was that there should be a careful registration and inspection of the cab-yards in the Metropolis; and the sixth, that the cab-shelters should be taken over by some public authority and made more useful to the men. Neither of these recommendations had been carried out. The seventh dealt with the prevention of sub-letting. Under that clause they might get rid of the railway privilege system—it was, after all, only a system of sub-letting—because the right hon. Gentleman might refuse to license any cab that was sub-let under this privilege system. The eighth recommendation was that there should be a greater number of small standings in the streets; and the ninth was in favour of the proprietors, that they should be freed from the responsibility they now labour under with regard to producing a driver if he committed any offence when dealing with luggage. Nothing had been done in these directions. The last recommendation was that there should be a more strict account kept of the fines levied from cabmen, and that something should be done to improve the position of the cabmen, and that the tax 1272 itself should be reduced. He submitted that he had proved that of all the recommendations only one had been satisfactorily dealt with, all the others had been totally neglected, and of this the men justly complained. The real fault lay in this—that a municipal duty was discharged by the Home Office and the police, who were utterly unable and incompetent to do it. The question would never be settled until the control of the cab service of the Metropolis was handed over to the London County Council.
§ * THE SECRETARY OF STATE FOR THE HOME DEPARTMENT (Sir MATTHEW WHITE RIDLEY,) Lancashire, Blackpool
said that if the House really knew all that had been done in carrying out the recommendations of the Departmental Committee, they would not be disposed altogether to agree with the hon. Gentleman, who had found very unnecessary fault with the proceedings of the Home Office. He was the last to deny to the Departmental Committee full credit for their labours in the matter, not only in behalf of the cab service of the Metropolis, but the Home Office itself, which, as the hon. Gentleman said, was most unfortunately responsible for this service—["Hear, hear!"]—though he did not agree with him. He had given the hon. Gentleman from time to time full information of what he had done in consequence of the recommendations of the Committee. In no respect had he gone back from any of the intentions expressed by his right hon. predecessor in office, and, as regarded the general recommendations of the Committee, he should think there never was a Committee which had succeeded in enforcing so many of their regulations upon a Department. Generally speaking, there were about 17 recommendations, and he had up to the present carried out seven; one required legislation, and a Bill had this Session been carried through Parliament by the Under Secretary. He was confident that the cabmen, if they considered fairly and candidly what had been done, would think that the Department had loyally endeavoured to carry out, both in spirit and in letter, the recommendations of the Committee. With reference to inspection, there was now one inspector to about 1,000 cabs, and in his opinion 1273 the inspection was now adequate. The result was that there had been a distinct gain to the character of the cabs of London by the withdrawal of the worst kind of cabs. As to the privilege system, he believed the worst feature about it was the name. ["Hear, hear!"] He was, however, aware of the sentiment which prevailed among cabmen against the system. He found, when he succeeded to office, that his right hon. Friend opposite had, in answer to a question by the hon. Gentleman, agreed to communicate with the railway companies and ask them to agree to a conference on the subject. The advantage of the privilege cab system did not lie in any pecuniary benefit derived by the railway companies, or in any privilege to the drivers; it lay rather in the convenience to the public. ["Hear, hear!"] The railway companies maintained that it was only by the system of having in hand a certain number of cabs whose presence they could always rely upon in circumstances where there was likely to be a heavy drain, such as a race meeting, that the requirements of the public could be met. No one holding his position, or who was in any degree responsible for regulating the cab trade of the Metropolis, could do other than put in the forefront of considerations the convenience of the public, so long as it was consonant with the liberties and rights of the cabdrivers. That was the objection taken by the railway companies. It was not a question of money; from first to last it had been represented to him as purely a matter of public convenience. A conference with the railway companies having been agreed to by his predecessor, he summoned the representatives of the railway companies in London to come and talk over the subject with him. He had the assistance of two members of the Departmental Committee, and he put it to the companies whether any proposals could be submitted by them on the subject. But he failed to arrive at any solution of the question, it being held that the convenience of the public was best met by the present system. Then followed, at a later period, and after correspondence, certain proposals, the moderation of which he recognised. He was not going to 1274 commit himself by saying whether or not the companies ought to accept them, but he felt that they afforded a basis on which an arrangement could be made. He then inquired whether the companies could accept the proposals or submit counter proposals in order to arrive at a compromise. At present he had received but one answer, and he regretted to say it was not a very favourable one. He could assure the Committee that he was trying his best to arrive at a solution of the question by an amicable arrangement with the railway companies. The points to be borne in mind were, the general convenience of the public, and the fact that the stations of the companies were private property. If station cabs were abolished, then it would be open to the railway companies to establish their own cabs, as they had established their own private omnibuses.
§ * SIR MATTHEW WHITE RIDLEY
said that was another question altogether. The hon. Member said that nothing had been done about the radius. He believed that the cab trade was divided on the subject, but he understood that the vestries were in favour of the extension. This, however, was a matter of detail which he was ready to consider. As to the register, that was kept by every district inspector. Stables were regularly visited, and the date of the inspection was shown in the register. The general result was that the attention of the local authorities had been called to about 50 insanitary premises, and the evils connected with them had been remedied. He agreed that the grievance connected with sub-letting ought to be met. A regulation had been drafted providing, as a condition of the licence, that a cab should not be sub-let, and a breach of it was punishable by suspension or revocation of the licence. If the County Council or the vestries were to signify their willingness to take over the shelters, he did not think that any objection on the part of the Home Office would be made to those shelters 1275 becoming public property. Then, of course, the ratepayers would pay for them.
§ * SIR MATTHEW WHITE RIDLEY
Certainly not. The shelters were supported by public contributions, which had been cheerfully given. He hoped that no unpleasant measures would be resorted to on the part of the cabmen, because one difficult point in connection with the settlement of the cab dispute had not yet been disposed of. He assured the Committee that he had done his best to try to bring the parties together, and, short of legislation, he could not do more. But he was not without hopes that the sentimental grievance complained of might be met, and if he found that anything could be done to help he would cheerfully give his assistance. The hon. Member, however, was wrong when he said that a very small proportion of the recommendations of the Committee had been adopted. He could, if time allowed, show in detail that there was scarcely one of them which had not received the most minute attention and fullest consideration.
§ MR. JOHN BURNS (Battersea)
was grateful to the Home Secretary for what he had done in this matter, and particularly for the facility with which he had passed the Bilking Bill. He regretted, however, that the right hon. Gentleman had not been prevailed upon to pass that Bill in its entirety. The Home Office deserved great praise for the strong way in which Sir Edward Bradford had prevailed on the police to treat the cabmen more civilly than formerly. A marked change of tone and attitude on the part of the London police had occurred in the last 18 months towards the cabmen, especially in the neighbourhood of the Strand, Drury Lane, Regent Street and Haymarket after 11 o'clock at night. He believed that that was mainly due to the action of the right hon. Gentleman and his predecessor, and of Sir E. Bradford. The police had been given to understand that cabmen were but human, and that in cold weather, when fares were perhaps scarce, they might be pardoned for sometimes giving sharp answers. The cabmen reciprocated this kindly treatment. He 1276 was glad to hear that the Home Secretary had condemned 50 cabyards, but there were at least 150 which he might condemn with advantage in the next few weeks. The keeping of a register of defective cabyards was a step in the right direction. On the subject of the radius, he quite recognised that cabmen could only be tolerated on the condition that they subordinated their own interest to the general convenience of the public. If it was for the benefit of the public that the radius should be extended it must be done, even against, the wishes of the cabmen. He thought, however, that upon investigation it would be found that a majority of the cabmen were in favour of the change. He thanked the Home Secretary for having asumed the rôle of mediator between the cabmasters and the men, and for having tried to induce some of the railway companies to take steps in the direction of the abolition of the system of privilege. He urged the right hon. Gentleman to persist in his endeavours. If he did so, perhaps in a year the privilege system would have disappeared. Speaking roughly, about 1,500 cabs were privileged. Their number had been tremendously exaggerated. The system of privileged cabs was objectionable, and was often the cause of obstruction in the streets, for people who failed to get cabs in a station—Victoria, for instance—had to take their luggage on to the pavement outside, where non-privileged cabs could take up luggage. That was not convenient for the public, and it encouraged outside cabmen to collect round the station, with the result that the traffic was sometimes obstructed. If the Home Secretary were to make the railway companies adopt the system prevailing at Waterloo station, where a cabman was only charged a penny for admission, he would be doing good work. A system which was good enough for Sir Charles Scotter, one of our ablest railway managers, to adopt at Waterloo, was good enough for other railway companies. He trusted that by some means the Home Secretary would succeed in abolishing the system of privilege, which no one could defend.
§ * SIR CHARLES DILKE (Gloucester, Forest of Dean)
remarked that the recent administration of the Factory 1277 Acts and Coal Mine Acts by the Home Office had been such as to give general satisfaction. In consequence, however, of the large number of our industries and the complexities of the laws relating to them, the need for more inspectors was increasing. An ever-augmenting number of Members of that House desired to see more money spent in useful objects like the promotion of the efficiency of the Home Office inspectorate. Where expenditure was necessary in order that legislation might have practical results, and might not remain a dead letter, it ought to be incurred. He recognised that to increase largely the present staff of very highly-paid Home Office inspectors would be a costly process, and he knew also that there was a very natural disinclination to intrust the great powers conferred by the factory and coal mining legislation of this country to less well-paid men who might not be fully competent to discharge the duties of the position. His view was that it might be possible to make a division of duties, and to have male and female assistant inspectors of a lower grade, who would be eligible for promotion to the higher posts if they did good work. Undoubtedly, if an absolute line was drawn, as it was in the Navy between officers and non-commissioned officers, there could be no hope of getting a first-class body of men. But if the best men and women felt that there was no bar to their rising to the higher ranks, then he believed it would be possible, without paying very large salaries all round, to get a very valuable body of assistants. There was a larger question he would like to touch upon, and that was whether a Government like the present, with a large majority, and especially a Conservative Government, would not do well to turn its attention to the limits of work between the various offices of State. The labour work of the Home Office did not clash, but it was mixed up, with the labour work of the Board of Trade. At the present time there were three Departments which applied to the same persons for information—namely, the Registrar of Friendly Societies, the Labour Department of the Board of Trade, and the Home Office. They were continually asking for exactly the same statistical information. He would be the last in the 1278 world to say a word against the Labour Department of the Board of Trade, which had rendered very valuable services. If there had been any failure on their part it had been because they had not a sufficient staff, or means to bring their work up to date; but he must say that in the long run he thought the Government ought to face this problem of the partial amalgamation of offices. It was a matter which was, perhaps, too large for the consideration of the Committee. It could probably only be taken in hand by the Government, and therefore he wished to press it upon them.
§ MR. ELLIOTT LEES (Birkenhead)
said he had known one or two cases of men who, having very considerable acquaintance with factory work, had been appointed to the inferior grade of inspectorship and put on to work in which their experience in factories was of no use. He certainly thought it would be well that such men should have an opportunity of rising to the higher grade, where their experience would be useful. There was a small grievance to which he would like to call the right hon. Gentleman's attention, connected with police pensions. It was a distinct, grievance that an old soldier who joined the police was not entitled to reckon his service in the Army towards his pension, whereas a civil servant was. That seemed to him a great anomaly, for which there was no reason. He hoped the right hon. Gentleman would give the matter his sympathetic attention.
§ MR. H. H. ASQUITH (Fife, E.)
said the question actually before the Committee was the Amendment moved by his hon. Friend behind him to reduce the salary of the Secretary of State. He need hardly say that that was not an Amendment for which he had much sympathy; but probably his hon. Friend felt that that was the only way of bringing the subject he had introduced before the House. He desired to acknowledge in the fullest way the complete continuity in the administration of the Home Office, and he earnestly trusted that the administrative work of the Home Office, particularly in that sphere of activity which concerned the health and industrial condition of the working population, might come to be regarded as entirely outside the sphere 1279 of Party controversy, and that, whatever developments that system might undergo, would not only be acquiesced in, but welcomed, and carried on in the same spirit in which they had been begun. He was quite certain that that had been the case during the last 12 months. With regard to the cab question, it was no doubt an anomalous thing that the time of the House of Commons should be taken up with the discussion of the purely local matter of the regulation of cab traffic of the Metropolis; but so long as this function was intrusted, not to the local authority, but to the Home Office, there was no alternative but to raise the question in this way. In the course of the dispute which took place two years ago, when he had an opportunity of making the close acquaintance of the cabmasters and men, on one occasion he said there was, at any rate, one point on which they were at one, and that was the privilege system; but he was not then asked to take notice of it, and he had never expressed any opinion as to whether the privilege system was or was not a desirable system. He did not think it was desirable that a Home Secretary should take up a definite line on that subject, because it would disqualify him for the position of mediator between the two parties. It appeared to him the wisest plan was to bring in the railway companies in conference with the Home Office, and to see whether some via media could not be adopted. He should certainly think that a system which was so condemned, and which was a source of friction amongst the vast majority of proprietors and cabmen, was a system into which it would be as well to introduce such modifications as would remove the repugnance it excited, and he could not help strongly expressing his hope that the Home Office might see their way to arrive at a new arrangement which would be equally convenient to the public and satisfactory to the men. With regard to the point raised by the right hon. Baronet near him, when he was at the Home Office he sought to give effect to the view that the staff of inspectors should be reinforced by men receiving smaller salaries and of a lower educational calibre, and he did create 25 assistants, for whom the Committee were now asked to vote nearly £3,000. 1280 He believed that the creation of that class of assistants had been, on the whole, a valuable and useful experiment. They had done a good deal of work which ordinary inspectors could hardly be called upon to do, and they had saved an enormous amount of time and trouble in clerical and other work. By the creation of this class Her Majesty's inspectors were relieved of a great many of their smaller duties, and secured more time for the discharge of their more important duties. He agreed that when a man entered the lower class he should not be debarred from promotion to the higher class if and when he showed himself fitted for the transfer. But it was impossible to hold out any promise or expectation to men who entered the service under these conditions that, as a matter of right, they should be entitled to promotion to a higher class.
§ MR. ASQUITH
said that was not what the men wanted. The applicants for the post of inspector were like the sands of the sea-shore, and the process followed was that a preliminary paper scrutiny took place. Some half-a dozen or a dozen of those who appeared upon paper to be best fitted for the post were entered for a competitive examination, by which the matter was decided. The inspector's assistants were not debarred from entering for that competition. If they showed that they had the same qualifications, or qualifications derived from experience, as the gentlemen selected from outside they would have as good a chance—indeed, a better chance—of being sent in for examination. He was glad that the Home Secretary had added to the number of female inspectors. Under the Factory Act of last year a great many provisions, especially provisions dealing with laundries, had been introduced into the law which affected female labour, and he was quite satisfied from recent experience that these provisions could not be efficiently enforced except by female inspection. In reference to the inspection of mines, he wished to ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he was in a position to say how the experiment of subjecting quarries to the jurisdiction of the Inspector of Mines had 1281 worked, and whether the number of accidents to life and limb in quarries had appreciably diminished.
§ * SIR MATTHEW WHITE RIDLEY
said that from the beginning he had never ceased to do his best to bring the two parties together, and to reduce the points of difference to the narrowest possible limit. All he could say was that he was willing to continue these efforts. The Home Office had done a great deal more in the matter than the hon. Member was willing to admit. He was not prepared to say that the control of cabs should be handed over to the County Council. He was responsible for the control of the Metropolitan Police, and until the House determined that that control should pass to the County Council it would not be proper for him to make any proposal which would depend upon such a change. He was very grateful for the way in which the services of the Home Office had been spoken. Very important legislation was passed by the late Home Secretary, especially with reference to factories. The carrying out of that legislation had not been an easy matter, and a great deal of credit was duo to the late Chief Inspector of Factories, who had just retired, for the successful working of the new Act. Considering the many difficult points raised and the different interests affected, there had, on the whole, been very little friction. Most of the provisions of the Act had been adopted by those concerned, and from all accounts the Act was working satisfactorily. With reference to the appointment of additional assistant factory inspectors, the right hon. Gentleman the late Home Secretary had appointed 25 of a lower educational calibre, but who were more intimately acquainted with factory work than men of higher education. He thought that was a good experiment, and so far as he knew it was working satisfactorily. There was nothing to prevent those assistant inspectors from rising to the higher posts, if on competitive examinations they were found to possess the necessary educational and 1282 other qualifications. He had made this year two appointments in connection with the work under the particulars clause of the Factory Act. So far as he knew, the result of the examinations for assistant inspectors had resulted in adding very useful men to the public service. He agreed with the right hon. Gentleman, his predecessor in office that the inclusion of a large number of laundries within the operations of the Factory Act had made it specially desirable to add to the staff of lady inspectors, and he was taking steps in that direction. Much good had been done in the interest of the female workers of the country by the appointment of those lady inspectors. Allusion had also been made to the relief which had been given to the inspectors in the matter of clerical work. The Home Office had opened 18 new offices in the various large centres and had made provision for the appointment of 40 new clerks. There was now a factory office in every district, and each district inspector had a clerk to relieve him of clerical work, which had enormously increased of late, and thereby give him more time for the work of inspection. He did not know whether those clerks would be continued, for he thought it possible that in some cases the Home Office would be able to utilise the services of the assistant inspectors in the discharge of the clerical work in addition to their work of inspection. The Factory Act was a difficult Act to work, but on the whole it was working satisfactorily, and he desired to thank the officers of the department for the way in which they had discharged their duties. The right hon. Gentleman had said that he had not provided for any additional assistant inspectors of mines. That was perfectly true. The view he; took, and the view taken also by the inspectors, was that, despite the great addition to their work, they would rather wait until they saw how the Coal Mines Bill, now before the House, operated before they asked for extra assistance. Speaking generally, the new special rules affecting quarries were becoming more and more extended in operation with the general consent of both small and large owners. He believed that the operation of the rules tended to diminish the loss of life, but at present he 1283 could not give any figures on the subject. He thanked the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Fife for his kind expressions as to the manner in which he had tried to carry on the traditions of the Home Office in all work affecting factories. He had been asked whether arrangements could not be made to allow the previous service of old soldiers who entered the police to count for purposes of pension. That was a matter in which he could do nothing, as it depended on a Treasury regulation.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ MR. EDWARD MORTON (Devonport)
rose to call attention to the question of the release of the Irish prisoners now undergoing penal servitude for treason-felony. This question had previously been invariably raised from an Irish Nationalist standpoint, and the Motion for the release of the prisoners had been presented in a way which prevented him from supporting it, but it seemed to him, viewing the matter from a British standpoint, that there were certain considerations which ought to be taken into account. He need not say that he had no sympathy with those who represented these men as heroes, who had nothing to regret in the crime of which they had been convicted. He, therefore, had nothing to say against the refusal of the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary to accept a Motion for their release. But the heinousness of the crime of which these men had been convicted should not prevent the House from giving a fair consideration to the points advanced in their favour. It was urged, for instance, that they were the dupes of other men, and that they were receiving a more severe punishment than was given to the Walsall anarchists who, though convicted of the same offence, were only sentenced to 10 years' penal servitude. He was not considering the Walsall case; but there was another case exactly in point—that of the Italian anarchists, Farnara and Polti. That case only differed from that of the Irish dynamiters in being more heinous, for Farnara was a refugee, while the Irishmen at least believed themselves to be at war with this country. Yet Farnara was only sentenced to 20 years' penal servitude, 1284 which was actually equivalent to a sentence of 16 years. No Irish prisoner, therefore, ought to receive a heavier sentence than 20 years, and, therefore, none of them should remain in prison more than three years from the present time. The Home Secretary would have an opportunity of revising the sentences before the sixteen years had expired; but if he proposed to reduce the sentences, it would be in the interests of public policy to make the announcement as soon as possible. Polti only received a sentence of 10 years, because the judge said that his youth made it evident that he was the dupe of Farnara. There were four of the Irish prisoners who were entitled to the same consideration. One was 23, another 22, and a third 22 at the time of sentence, and a fourth, Deveney, was, according to the prison doctor's report, "undoubtedly of weak intellect." It was a crying shame that this last man should be longer detained, because it was obvious that he could only have been a dupe in such a complicated and dangerous conspiracy. Although he had not been able to vote in favour of the unconditional release of the Irish dynamiters, he should in future make no objection if the Home Secretary saw his way to releasing them all immediately. No political capital would be made against the right hon. Gentleman if he released the prisoners. The whole of the Nationalist Party desired the release, and Ireland had this claim on our consideration, that it was more free from crime than any other country in the civilised world at the present moment. It was a most unfortunate thing for any Irishman to be able to point to the treatment of Irish prisoners under English law, as being more severe than that of other prisoners convicted of the same offences. He should not move the reduction standing in his name.
§ MR. JOHN DILLON (Mayo, S.)
said that the present Government were in a peculiarly strong position. They could do what their predecessors were afraid to do, and advise Her Majesty to exercise the clemency of the Crown. He went a great deal further than the hon. Member, because he held that the Home Secretary ought to look at this matter from the point of view of public policy. Hardly a week passed but he received 1285 reports of great meetings held in different centres in South Africa urging the Government in this respect to follow the generous example of the President of the South African Republic; so that this had become a question of great public interest throughout the civilised world. He contrasted the treatment meted out to the Irish prisoners with that accorded to Dr. Jameson and his fellow raiders. He did not condemn the action of the Home Secretary in the case of Dr. Jameson; on the contrary, he I was glad he had resolved to treat them as first-class misdemeanants. A Conservative Member came to him last night and begged him to sign a petition to the Home Secretary to intervene and procure more decent treatment for these men. He signed the petition and was glad he did so, but at the same time he could not forget that when colleagues of Conservative Members to the number sometimes of half a dozen were stretched on the plank bed and exposed to every form of insult and degradation, no Conservative Member in those days thought it worth his while or duty to hawk round a petition asking for a mitigation of treatment for their own colleagues with whom they had been in the habit of conversing. He had passed through that ordeal on more than one occasion, though, thanks to medical interposition he never lay on the plank bed, as a number of his brother Members had. He carried no bitter memories with him, but he trusted the lesson would not be lost on the present First Lord of the Treasury, who would remember the days when he passionately pleaded that no mitigation of treatment should be allowed to the Irish Members. Time brought its revenges, and it was with a certain sense of gratification that at the request of a Conservative Member he signed the petition in the interests of Dr. Jameson. He signed it because he had always considered it a disgrace to any civilised Government to treat a political prisoner like a common felon. Thousands of men English Governments had put in prison in Ireland for political crimes, whom they had systematically, and of malice aforethought, subjected to the present forms of prison treatment, forms, some of which could have no object but to insult and degrade and madden men, just as educated and as accustomed to a good 1286 system of living as Dr. Jameson. Their motives were as unselfish, but that was not taken into consideration. He even recollected in those old days when Irish Members asked for a lightening of the insults and outrages committed on their comrades in prison, that habitually their demands were received with shouts of laughter from the Conservative Benches. He did not know what Dr. Jameson's politics were, but whether they were Conservative or not, he would never wish, even in regard to his bitterest enemy, to desire to see him for a political offence subjected to the insults and punishments the Irish prisoners had suffered.
§ MR. MICHAEL DAVITT (Mayo, S.)
supported the Motion of his hon. Friend. He had listened with intense gratification to the statement made by the Home Secretary with reference to the change of treatment of Dr. Jameson and his friends. He believed that this act of clemency on the part of the Home Secretary would be hailed with universal satisfaction throughout Great Britain and Ireland to-morrow; and if the Home Secretary would only go a little further in the same direction, and exercise the prerogative of clemency towards the Irish prisoners, he was certain that neither he nor his colleagues would ever regret it. It was only fair to these men to bear in mind that notwithstanding the enormity of their sentences, no loss of life, not even the destruction of any property was brought home against them on trial. He did not wish to mitigate the offence for which they were put on their trial, but it was only right and fair that the Committee should bear in mind certain circumstances connected with them when taking into consideration the Motion of his hon. Friend. These men could not in any circumstances receive a fair trial in London. At the time, feeling was much excited against them, and when there was a strong prejudice in the public mind it was almost certain that the administration of the law would err on the side of severity rather than on the side of leniency. What had these men endured already? They had been in prison for 13 long years. Had their crimes been even greater than they were, those long, terrible, weary years of punishment ought to satisfy justice. He would go so far as to say that there 1287 was not to-day among the civilised nations of the world a Government which treated its political offenders as harshly and vindictively as England treated her political foes in the past. In the last few years he had come in contact with a number of Russian exiles who had undergone long years of imprisonment in Siberia, and he said that there was no comparison between the treatment meted out by Russia to her political foes in Siberia and the treatment to which our political prisoners were subjected. When he was released after nine years of imprisonment, four other prisoners accompanied him. Only two of the five were now alive. The punishment those men had endured had affected their health so much that they had passed into a premature grave. He appealed to the Home Secretary who was as humane a man as had ever exercised the prerogative of the Home Office, to release these men, not only because of the long time they had been in prison, but in view of the fact that the nation was about to celebrate the 60th anniversary of Her Majesty's reign.
§ * SIR MATTHEW WHITE RIDLEY
said that the Committee would not expect him to follow the last two speakers in dealing with the act of clemency which he had announced to the House that day. He was glad to acknowledge, however, that what he had thought to be his duty appeared to meet with the general approval of the House. ["Hear, hear!"] He thought that the last speaker had exaggerated the evils of our prison system when compared with the punishment inflicted by the Russian Government in Siberia. So far as he had studied the inquiries instituted last year by the late Home Secretary, he could safely say that from year to year our prison system was becoming more and more humane, and however severe it might have been in old times, at least those who had the conduct of it now could not be accused of being wanting in the feelings of humanity. He was now asked to extend amnesty to the Irish treason-felony prisoners now in Portland. He was willing to admit that there was much in the conduct of these unfortunate men, much in their motives as far as they were known, which might be called political, and he was ready to admit that 1288 they were convicted under the Treason Felony Act. But he reminded hon. Members that their offences were grievous, that they employed bombs and dynamite, with the possibility and apparently with the intention of destroying innocent life. This was a very serious offence, and one which could not be described as merely a political one. He was not able to make any fresh statement that day. He had said on a former occasion that these prisoners ought to be treated in all respects as the Home Office was in the habit of treating other prisoners sentenced to long terms of imprisonment, and he had explained that it was the custom of the Home Office to review long sentences at stated periods, and when the proper time arrived there would be no departure from that custom in this case. He had paid constant attention to the question of the health of the prisoners, and he had been more liberal in allowing them to have interviews with their friends. He was glad that he had been able to be indulgent in this respect, especially as the privilege accorded had not been in any way abused. With regard to two or three of the prisoners he had just received a medical report which contained matter for serious consideration. In considering the question of the health of the prisoners, he was always ready to give them the benefit of the doubt, and it had been his inclination to release prisoners who were proved to be suffering grievously. He feared that he could add nothing to the statement which he had made on this subject at the beginning of the Session.
§ MR. MORTON
hoped the right hon. Gentleman would reconsider as soon as possible the cases of the men whom he (Mr. Morton) had classed with Polti, because they had actually suffered five years more penal servitude than Polti was sentenced to.
§ MR. J. H. DALZIEL (Kirkcaldy Burghs)
thought that the time had arrived when all Party feeling might well be laid aside in considering this matter, and when the question should be looked at from the point of view of mercy only. Perhaps in the interests of the prisoners themselves, it would be well to leave the Debate where the right hon. Gentleman had left it, but there was one consideration which he felt he must 1289 urge. The Home Secretary had that very day wisely exercised his prerogative of clemency in the case of Dr. Jameson and his colleagues. That act would be popular with all parties in the country, no matter how severely they might condemn Dr. Jameson's action. But why would it be popular? Because people believed that Dr. Jameson was misguided, that his was not a purely criminal offence, and that a higher motive than a criminal motive governed his conduct. How could the Home Secretary draw a distinction between Dr. Jameson's case and the case of the Irish prisoners? The right hon. Gentleman said correctly that the Irish prisoners were engaged in an action which might probably have caused the death of innocent people. But, similarly, when Dr. Jameson started on his raid, the lives of innocent and helpless men were threatened. The men who were likely to be shot if they stood in the way of Dr. Jameson's force were as innocent as any of the men whose lives might have been sacrificed by the treason-felony prisoners. He urged the Home Secretary to continue to give consideration to the cases of these men impartially and mercifully; to exercise that mercy which his political predecessor probably felt that he could not exercise on account of his political relations with the Irish Nationalist Members. Could it be said that justice had not been satisfied? These misguided men who believed, wrongly, no doubt, that by their action they were serving their country, had now been in prison for many years. It could not be said that it would be dangerous to the State to release these men who were in a helpless and miserable state, and probably on the brink of the grave. If they were released, in all likelihood nothing more would be heard of them. He believed that public opinion would support the right hon. Gentleman if he determined to exercise clemency in favour of these prisoners.
§ MR. T. M. HEALY (Louth, N.)
thought that the course of extending clemency to Dr. Jameson was the true and proper course to have taken, and that it would be unjustifiable on their part to draw needless inferences from what had taken place. But he believed that to be the true course to take with regard to all political prisoners. It was 1290 a source of satisfaction to them to hear from the Home Secretary that he was watching the health of the treason-felony prisoners, and maintaining a favourable disposition towards them.
MR. GIBSON BOWLES (Lynn Regis)
wished to ask a question about two pluralists whose salaries were borne upon this Vote. The first case was that of the accountant of the Home Office, whose maximum salary was, properly speaking, £600, but who had a special allowance with the result that he received £700. This gentleman, however, was also a pluralist, as he received £50 a year as auditor of the Patriotic Fund. He held that it was objectionable that a man should fill two offices and draw two salaries. The other case was that of an inspector of coal mines and collieries, who received £300 a year as professor of mining at the Royal College of Science, South Kensington. There was a General who received an extra £300 a year as professor of mining at the Royal College of Science at South Kensington. He could not be an inspector of coal mines and give lectures at the same time. That was a particularly obnoxious case of pluralism, and he trusted by the calling attention to these pluralists he would strengthen the hands of Ministers, and prevent the creation of any more.
§ MR. THOMAS ELLIS (Merionethshire)
wished to call attention to two questions which he had put to the right hon. Gentleman some time ago. One had reference to the open quarries of North Wales, and the other to the Merionethshire mines. Departmental inquiries had been held into both these matters, and the right hon. Gentleman admitted that the recommendations of neither Committee had been fully carried out, and that in two of the largest quarries, the Penrhyn and the Dinorben quarries, the special rules suggested had not been put into operation. This was an extremely serious matter from two points of view. In the first place, the smaller quarries had adopted these special rules and were open to prosecution, but in the two most powerful quarries the rules had not been adopted, and the rules under which they worked were not enforceable at law. The matter was all the more serious because the manager of the Dinorben quarry was himself a member of the Departmental Committee, 1291 and not only assented to the rules, but actually assisted in drawing them up. He hoped the right hon. Gentleman would make an earnest effort to secure the adoption of these rules in those two great quarries. With regard to the Merionethshire mines, the House had constantly been engaged in passing-Statutes relating to the safety of mines, and the result had been a great decrease in the number of fatal accidents in underground mines. Whereas in the decade from 1873–1882, the number of accidents was 2.57 per thousand, by 1893 it had been brought down to 1.71. In South Wales, the most dangerous district, the numbers had decreased from 3.3 to 2.85. But in the Merionethshire mines the numbers were in 1875 4.38, in 1877 6.73, and in 1892 3.42 per thousand, or an average of 3.23, twice as high as in the coal mines. The Committee appointed to inquire into the condition of these mines 12 or 18 mouths ago, made 43 recommendations, of which nine required legislation, but 11 of which could be met by special rules. In Merionethshire at the present time there were a number of codes of special rules, and one recommendation of the Committee was that there should be one code for the whole of the county. In reply to a question the right hon. Gentleman had told him that the chief inspector was endeavouring to secure the adoption of special rules. Had he been asked by the Home Office to draw up special rules in accordance with the recommendations of the Committee, and could the right hon. Gentleman say that he would take prompt steps to secure their adoption? The Metalliferous Mines Act was passed 21 years ago, and every inquiry under it in North Wales showed that it overlapped to a certain extent the Factories and Workshops Act, and that precautions adopted under the Coal Mines Act had not been adopted under the Metalliferous Mines Act. He desired to press very seriously and earnestly on the right hon. Gentleman the responsibility which lay on him to bring the administration and legislation on Metalliferous Mines to the same level as that adopted with reference to coal mines and factories and workshops.
§ * SIR MATTHEW WHITE RIDLEY
assured the hon. Gentleman that the Home Office had not been unmindful of 1292 the extreme importance of the subject he had brought to the attention of the Committee. The inspectors had been pushing the adoption of special rules with the greatest prudence and tact, and at the same time with energy, and he could assure the hon. Gentleman that the figures he gave a day or two ago of the number of quarries in which special rules had been adopted, did not represent by any means the amount of work done. The adoption of these special rules was by no means in a backward condition. With reference to the large quarries, he was in correspondence with the owner of the Penrhyn quarry, and in the event of his not being able to settle the matter with him, it would go to arbitration; and in a very short space of time he hoped the special rules would be adopted.
§ MR. T. ELLIS
asked whether the right hon. Gentleman could explain how it was that Mr. Vivian, the manager of the Dinorben quarry, being himself a Member of the Committee and joining in recommending these rules, did not put them in force in his own quarry.
§ * SIR MATTHEW WHITE RIDLEY
said he could not give any explanation of that. He could only say that he had not been able yet to get the rules adopted in that quarry, but in that case, also, if the rules were not accepted, the matter would be settled by arbitration. With reference to the Report of the Merionethshire Committee, considerable progress had also been made. He could assure the hon. Gentleman that the subject had not been lost sight of, but substantial and real progress in the line he desired was being made.
§ MR. LLOYD-GEORGE (Carnarvon Boroughs)
said it was the opinion, not only of the quarrymen but of the inspector, that as much protection as could possibly be afforded would be given by the adoption of these rules. The remedy was in the hands of the Home Office. Under the Factories Act they could compel Mr. Vivian to adopt these rules. It was for him to object, but surely he could not object to rules which he himself had recommended should be enforced in other quarries. He hoped the Home Office would take immediate action.
§ * SIR MATTHEW WHITE RIDLEY
said he could not compel the adoption of the rules except by having recourse 1293 to arbitration. As to the recommendation in regard to metalliferous mines, he could not promise legislation next Session; but it would be a great satisfaction to him if he found himself able to pass a Bill on the subject.
MR. PRITCHARD MORGAN (Merthyr Tydvil)
called attention to the case of Mrs. May brick, and urged that she should now be released. The case had created enormous interest, and no less a personage than the Lord Chief Justice of England had recently expressed an exceedingly strong opinion upon it. Mrs. Maybrick was tried by a judge who, in his earlier days, exhibited very great knowledge of his profession. But at the time of this trial, as was known to every man, woman, and child in the country, that judge was not in a proper frame of mind to conduct such a case. The motives supplied by the Crown formed a very important feature in the opinion, not only of the judge but of the jury, in regard to the guilt of the prisoner. She was found guilty, and the only Court of appeal in this country, the Home Secretary, after reviewing the evidence, came to the conclusion that the jury were not justified in returning a verdict of murder. It was a well-known principle of English law that it was better that 999 guilty persons should be acquitted than that one innocent person should be convicted. In this case the only Court of Appeal found that the evidence did not justify the conviction, and he submitted that the time had arrived for reconsidering the matter. This woman had suffered enormously. If she did not commit this offence, and no less a personage than the Lord Chief Justice had suggested to the Home Office that the evidence was not conclusive, her sufferings must have been great indeed. If, on the other hand, she was guilty of the attempt to murder, he thought justice had been met by the long term of imprisonment she had undergone. He urged that the time had come when Mrs. Maybrick should have the benefit of the doubt which unquestionably existed by being released from imprisonment.
§ * SIR MATTHEW WHITE RIDLEY
assured the hon. Gentleman that he required no pressure from the Committee to lead him to reopen this much-vexed case; it had taken up a very large portion of his time during the 1294 autumn and winter. One of the first promises he made after his accession to office was, that he would devote his best abilities to consider any facts, old and new, that might be put before him. In consequence, a large volume of papers was submitted to him, and, on the suggestion of the Lord Chief Justice himself, he consulted the Lord Chancellor on the matter. He went most carefully into the case, and he came most emphatically to the opinion that it was not his duty to advise the Crown to exercise any further clemency.
§ MR. HERBERT LEWIS (Flint Boroughs)
desired to mention a matter relating to the public records now deposited at the Home Office. Some of these records were extremely valuable, and a great amount of interest was taken in some of them at present by Welsh scholars. But considerable difficulty was thrown in the way of those who desired to consult them, and vexatious formalities had to be gone through. All he asked was that persons who desired to consult old documents, such as those dealing with the French invasion of Pembrokeshire in 1797, should be allowed to do so without having to go through the long and delaying formalities enjoined by the Home Office.
§ MR. JAMES DALY (Monaghan, S.)
called attention to the large number of explosions of petroleum oil lamps which occurred during the year, resulting in the loss of many lives and the destruction of much valuable property, and hoped the Home Secretary would give the matter his attention.
§ * SIR MATTHEW WHITE RIDLEY
said a Committee had been appointed to inquire into the explosions of lamps through the use of dangerous mineral oil, and had given a large amount of time to the investigation of the difficult subject. It had not yet finished its labours, but he hoped that it would result in suggesting means for the prevention of those deplorable accidents. With regard to the matter raised by the hon. Member for Flint Boroughs, papers down to 1772 were open to inspection in the Record Office without any permission being required. But in regard to Home Office papers from that year, which contained many confidential documents that could not be made public, the regulations were, first, that 1295 the permission of the Home Secretary should be obtained, and secondly, that any extracts made should be submitted for approval to the Home Secretary.
§ MR. LLOYD-GEORGE (Carnarvon Boroughs)
said the subject of the proposed inquiry into the papers relating to the French invasion of Pembrokeshire in 1797 was to clear up aspersions which had been cast on a Nonconformist body, that they were in a conspiracy with the French to aid them in invading England.
§ * SIR MATTHEW WHITE RIDLEY
said he would inquire whether the restrictions could not be removed in the case of the papers referred to.
MR. JOHN McLEOD (Sutherland)
suggested the Home Office might follow the example of the Swiss Government in distributing warnings and cautions in connection with the careless use of petroleum in lamps.
§ Original Question put, and agreed to.
2. Motion made, and Question proposed—
That a sum not exceeding £ 127,542, be granted to Her Majesty, to complete the sum necessary to defray the Charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March 1897, for the Salaries and Expenses of the Office of the Committee of Privy Council for Trade and Subordinate Departments.
§ MR. J. H. DALZIEL
desired to call attention to the importation of foreign prison-made goods. He did not complain of no legislation having been introduced dealing with the subject. He would confine himself to a few administrative questions. Towards the end of the last Parliament a long Debate on the subject had been raised by some of the present occupants of the Treasury Bench. Those Gentlemen complained that the then President of the Board of Trade had not exercised his power to prevent the importation of those foreign prison-made goods.
§ THE PRESIDENT OF THE BOARD OF TRADE (Mr. C. T. RITCHIE,) Croydon
I would very much like to know what powers I could exercise in the matter?
§ MR. DALZIEL
said he was coming to that point, as the right hon. Gentleman would see if he gave him his 1296 attention. The complaint was made by the right hon. Gentleman's colleagues that his predecessor in office had not exercised his powers in the matter. A great deal of political capital was made by the Unionist Party at the last election on this question, and one of the most eloquent passages of the President of the Board of Trade's election address was devoted to the necessity of steps being taken. On many occasions questions had been asked as to how the Government were progressing, and last year the right hon. Gentleman said that he was going to pursue a policy of inquiry. After 18 months of office nothing had been done. Some months ago the right hon. Gentleman said that he had communicated with foreign Governments, that replies had been received from all but Germany, and that he had telegraphed for that reply. When the right hon. Gentleman was asked to circulate the correspondence, he replied that he would prefer to wait until it was complete; and he gave a definite pledge that, before the Board of Trade Vote was taken, the whole correspondence would be circulated. Hon. Members were still without that correspondence. He wished to know what were the dates of the communications to foreign Governments, the dates when the replies were received, and when the correspondence would be circulated. He further asked the right hon Gentleman, in the event of representations being being made to him under the Cheap Trains Act, 1883, about insufficient workmen's train accommodation between Kirkcaldy and Kinghorn, to exercise the powers which he possessed if the case were made out.
§ MR. RITCHIE
said that he had no objection to giving the assurance asked for. He was only too glad to take every opportunity of seeing that the Acts were properly carried out. As to the question of prison-made goods, he did mention it in his election address as requiring attention, and he was certain that the working classes of this country would not regard with equanimity the importation of prison-made goods. If he had promised to circulate the correspondence before the Board of Trade Vote was taken, the promise must have been conditional on the correspondence being ready. Germany had again and again been asked to reply, but none had yet 1297 been received, though that was the only reply still wanting. If there were no prospect of receiving a reply soon, he would consider the advisability of issuing the correspondence without it. There were two courses of action open to the Government. One was to try and get foreign Governments to join in friendly arrangements by which these goods should be retained from home consumption. The other was to introduce legislation prohibiting importation. It was desirable to escape the latter alternative if possible, because legislation of that kind was not easily framed or carried out. Moreover, restrictive legislation on imports was not in harmony with the general spirit of the day. He could not give the dates of the correspondence, but there was no delay whatever. It would undoubtedly be the duty of the Government to legislate, if it became necessary, as soon as there was a chance of passing the Bill.
§ [After the usual interval Mr. E. R. WODEHOUSE (Bath) took the Chair.]
§ MR. HERBERT LEWIS
said that the Debates on this subject that took place before the last General Election were very different in character and tone to the Debates that had taken place since. Before the last election some of the gentlemen occupying the highest posts in the present Ministry endeavoured to impress upon the House that this question of prison-made goods was a real question of great importance. Now, however, the subject had been relegated to the pigeon holes of the Board of Trade. The President of that Department had been asked over and over again to produce the correspondence which had taken place with foreign countries on this subject. Was there any reason why that correspondence should not be produced? If so, what was the reason? He claimed that they were entitled to have this correspondence in extenso, and he trusted that none of it would be held back on the plea that it was confidential. The right hon. Member ought to disclose at once all the information that the Board of Trade had been able to obtain upon this question, so that they might ascertain how far the statements made by the Party opposite during the General Election were true. At the time of the 1298 election a large number of the working classes really believed what hon. Members opposite said about this question. How had they been treated? The subject had been shelved from month to month, and the information which ought to have been published was being still withheld.
§ MR. D. LLOYD-GEORGE
reminded the Committee that when the question of prison-made goods was discussed in the late Parliament, the then President of the Board of Trade expressed his willingness to institute an inquiry. The present Secretary of State for the Colonies, however, declared that he would have nothing to do with an inquiry, and that the matter was of such vital importance that something ought to be done at once. The President of the Board of Trade then said that he was advised by his permanent officials that nothing could be done, and that it was impossible to discriminate between a prison-made brush and any other brush. The right hon. Member for West Birmingham thereupon said:—Make us the family physician; give us the fees, and we will produce the prescription.Well, the right hon. Member and his colleagues had now got the fees, but what had become of the prescription? The present President of the Board of Trade had refused to produce the prescription; he had turned his back upon the patient who was declared last year to be suffering from so grievous a malady, saying—Do not bother me; your ailments are of no importance at all.The electors had been treated badly in connection with this matter. The President of the Board of Trade had allowed the electors of the country to believe that he had a prescription in his pocket and was prepared to produce it. The right hon. Member said last year—Exercise patience; I am in communication with Germany and other countries.But since then nine months had elapsed, and he had been repeatedly pressed to publish the correspondence that had taken place. The right hon. Member that evening had made light of the matter, and evaded the question. As this correspondence was kept back they 1299 were entitled to assume that it proved that the aspect of the matter was not such as was ascribed to it in the election addresses of the President of the Board of Trade and the right hon. Member for West Birmingham. What was there of such importance in the correspondence that even the House of Commons could not be taken into the confidence of the Government? The real fact was that the right hon. Gentleman's own officials on the Board of Trade derided this idea. They knew that this notion, which misled London and so many other constituencies at the last election, was a perfectly preposterous one, and the right hon. Gentleman could not fly in the face of his officials. He would like to see the sort of letters the officials of the Board of Trade had been writing, and the Returns that had been made. Had the right hon. Gentleman communicated with the Consuls abroad, and, if so, what answers had he received? Why had they not been published? In the course of the Debate on the Estimates last year the Secretary for the Colonics intervened. The right hon. Gentleman was conveniently absent that night. He knew the value of this idea as an electioneering expedient. He knew perfectly well that there were thousands of electors who would be misled by the talk about foreign-made goods, and the right hon. Gentleman wilfully misled the electors of this country. The Secretary for the Colonies said last year that the policy of the late Government was to minimise the importance of the question of prison-made goods, but—our policy is different. We do not minimise its importance. We are prepared to move in the matter. We will conmunicate with those foreign Powers, and, if they will not accede to our request, we will legislate.Had the President of the Board of Trade any statistics with regard to these goods? How did they affect trade in this country? If it was only out of courtesy to the House of Commons, and in order to enlighten the electors, who were wilfully deluded at the last election, the information asked for ought to be given.
§ MR. DALZIEL
Whether it was 18 or 12 months, the declaration they made on this subject was made some months before they took office, and it was certainly 18 months since they took the question up. They declared that the former President of the Board of Trade had refused to exercise the power he possessed in order to deal with this most pressing question. They tried to turn the Government out of office on the question, declaring that it was a most vital question affecting the well-being of the working classes, and the working-classes thought that if this Government were returned to power, one of their first acts would be to deal with this important question. Yet 12 months after they came into office the President, of the Board of Trade said, "Tell us what we can do." That was an admission that all the flowery orations of the Member for West Birmingham was so much clap-trap, intended to delude the electors. The British workman seemed to have been forgotten during the present Session, and the House had that night made an admission that practically nothing had been done, and that nothing was going to be done. He would ask the President of the Board of Trade whether he could not allow the House now to have this correspondence. Germany had had quite sufficient time to reply, and he did not see why the correspondence should be kept back simply because Germany had not been courteous enough to reply. Could the right hon. Gentleman tell the House now what was the purport of the replies he had received? Did they encourage him in the belief that this question was going to be settled? Was it to be a question of settlement, or would legislation be necessary? He thought that, in view of the declaration the right hon. Gentleman had made that the correspondence was to be issued before the Vote was taken, he would not think it unreasonable that he should now be asked what the purport of the replies he had received was. He should be sorry if he was compelled to take a Division with regard to the delay in producing the correspondence, and therefore he hoped the right hon. Gentleman would give to the House some further information.
§ MR. J. BRYCE (Aberdeen)
thought the humorous position of the subject 1301 could hardly be appreciated by those who were not in the last Parliament, like the right hon. Gentleman. ["Hear, hear!"] It was a very interesting commentary on the way in which political questions were raised in this country by an Opposition who were anxious to find an opportunity of attacking the Government in power. In the Debate which took place in 1895 immense importance was attached to this subject. The House was told that the trade of the country was very severely affected, and particular appeal was made to the Government to relieve the working man of a great hardship. No one was keener on that occasion than the present Colonial Secretary, who dwelt on the carelessness and indifference of the Government to the interests of trade and the working men. It was his duty on that occasion to tell the House that, so far as the information of the Government went, this was a matter of infinitesimal importance. That statement was not accepted. It was supposed that the Board of Trade know nothing about the matter, and they were upbraided with an indisposition to take the steps which were immediately necessary to remedy the evil. The Colonial Secretary in particular represented himself as being in possession of some means that would be adequate to meet the case. During the rest of the Session the then Government were frequently pressed on the question. A Committee was appointed, and their Report, which was made in the autumn, entirely bore out the statements that had been made on behalf of the Board of Trade, and showed that this was a matter of infinitesimal importance. The matter was brought up when the Estimates were discussed in the House in August last year. On that occasion the President of the Board of Trade told the House that diplomatic methods were being tried, and he remembered appealing to some of his friends to give the Government a chance of seeing what they could do by diplomacy. He was bound to say that, having consulted the Foreign Office on the subject, he had an idea that there was not very much to be obtained by that means. The Government, however, were more sanguine, and now, after the expiry of 11 months, the right hon. Gentleman was not able to state what diplomacy had done. This 1302 was the way in which questions were apt to be handled in the House. They knew all along that this was a mere piece of demagogism. They knew that it was being worked for electioneering purposes; but they did not expect that through the whole of this Session the Government would have shown such a complete indifference to their pledges.
§ MR. RITCHIE
said the two hon. Members who preceded the right hon. Gentleman had spoken in a tone of indignation altogether unwarranted by the importance of the subject itself, or by anything that had been said or done by any Member of the Government. It was true there had been delay in publishing the correspondence, owing to the fact that a reply had not yet been received from Germany. But, as hon. Gentlemen must know, there was no chance of legislation this Session on the subject, and it, therefore, did not seem necessary to publish the correspondence until it was completed. If, however, a reply from Germany was not received soon, he would place himself in communication with the Foreign Office in order that what they Lad got of the correspondence should be published. They had nothing to conceal, and were anxious to place the whole of the information in their possession before the House. The purport of the communications generally was sympathetic, but they did not lead him to suppose that it would be possible to come to an understanding on the subject. The right hon. Gentleman had spoken of the humour of the situation represented by the Debate in 1895. It struck him that the humour of the situation was that the right hon. Gentleman, having tried to close the Debate by promising an Inquiry, changed his attitude on finding that that was not satisfactory to the House, and that the Government were likely to be defeated.
§ MR. RITCHIE
agreed; he did not think the matter a large one, having regard to the extent of the importation of foreign prison-made goods; but the principle of admitting these goods was a large one, and it was to that principle he believed that the majority of the 1303 House was opposed. The humour of the situation was that the right hon. Gentleman, having offered an Inquiry, accepted a Motion condemning that principle. His (Mr. Ritchie's) attitude had been perfectly consistent. He had always stated that he thought the question should be settled by negotiation rather than by legislation. They had endeavoured to obtain a settlement by negotiations, but the replies, though sympathetic, did not lead him to believe that they would result in any arrangement.
§ MR. EDMUND ROBERTSON (Dundee)
said he did not suppose that anybody would dispute the consistency of the President of the Board of Trade. They welcomed from him the statement, made in a guarded way, to the effect that this was a small matter.
§ MR. RITCHIE
I said in so far as the importation is concerned it was not a large question, but the principle was.
§ MR. ROBERTSON
said the right hon. Gentleman distinguished between the question and the principle; the one was large and the other small. The right hon. Gentleman had said that nothing said or done by any Member of the present Government would justify the indignation which had been expressed by his hon. Friends below the Gangway. The right hon. Gentleman was not in the House 18 months ago when this question was discussed. He (Mr. Robertson) sat through the whole Debate, and he remembered what was said by a right hon. Gentleman who was now a Member of Her Majesty's Government largely on the strength of the speech he then made. He referred to the Secretary for the Colonies. The right hon. Gentleman then said that this was not a political question, but from that night it would be. There was no question, continued the right hon. Gentleman, upon which the working classes of this country had more generally made up their minds than upon this, and there was not a single Member who sat for an industrial constituency who could hold an open meeting and carry a resolution there against the principle of his hon. Friend. But what was the principle for which his hon. Friend contended? Downright restriction of the importation of prison-made goods. That was 1304 the principle which the right hon. Gentleman declared the working classes of the country had then made up their mind upon. They did not want inquiry; they wanted restriction. What was the present Government doing? Had they produced any restriction? The right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Chamberlain) fixed a special taunt on that occasion upon the working men Members by observing that they were conspicuous by their absence. Where was the right hon. Gentleman who made that taunt now? Why was he not on the Treasury Bench?
§ * THE CHAIRMAN (Mr. WODEHOUSE)
I hope the hon. Gentleman will not pursue at length a retrospective survey of what happened in the last Parliament. Such discussion is scarcely regular.
§ MR. EDMUND ROBERTSON
said he had not the slightest idea of doing anything like that. He did not intend to pursue the subject further. Nothing had been done by the President of the Board of Trade. Let the right hon. Gentleman go home with his salary in his pocket, but with the confession that the Government in this, as in many other things, had failed to carry out the pledges on the faith of which they won their big majority.
§ MR. H. C. STEPHENS (Middlesex, Hornsey)
complained of the unsatisfactory manner in which inquiries into the loss of vessels at sea were conducted by the Board of Trade. What was required for the protection of the ocean-travelling community was a searching investigation, and that was impossible owing to the mode in which the Inquiry was held. There was no real and sound reason why the procedure in relation to the loss of a ship of the Mercantile Marine should not be assimilated to the procedure in relation to the loss of a ship of Her Majesty's Navy. The result of the Inquiry into the loss of the Drummond Castle showed great recklessness and want of seamanlike skill in the captain; and it was reasonable and fair to ask whether there was any previous experience which might have led the owners to consider whether they did their duty in intrusting to that officer the command of the ship. He had found that both the captain and the chief officer of the Drummond Castle 1305 had been not remotely twice in trouble; and it was therefore natural for him to ask the President of the Board of Trade for the production of the ship's log. The right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade agreed that the ship's log should be presented at the Inquiry; but when they were asked for, the counsel for the Board of Trade protested that it was the first they had heard of the demand, and there was a long dispute before the books were produced. Again, he asked the President of the Board of Trade whether he would obtain the Lloyd's Registry Survey of the injury to and repairing of the Doune Castle; and the right hon. Gentleman refused. Yet those documents were produced, and proved to be the most important of the whole Inquiry. The President of the Board of Trade had informed the House that only one or two plates of the vessel were indented, but the evidence of one of the partners of the firm showed that the damage was much more serious. The captain said he thought that he had touched a piece of floating wreckage, and that the shock was so slight the incident was not entered on the log. Yet when the vessel was examined in dock it was evident, from the damage, that she must have struck a piece of detached rock. These misleading statements were laid before the public in a letter to the newspapers, a most extraordinary circumstance, seeing that Sir Donald Currie himself presided at the, private inquiry. He wished to show that these Board of Trade Inquiries were, as now arranged, misleading, because an unnatural attitude of neutrality was forced on the Board of Trade which prevented any exhaustive examination of the facts. As far as the Board of Trade were concerned, the Inquiry into the Drummond Castle, disaster would have been value-loss. He regretted that the President of the Board of Trade had refused to print the evidence given at the Inquiry, because it settled, among other things, the vexed question as to whether a ship's boats should be in-swung or out-swung. There was no reason why the boats should not be always out-swung; and if they had been on board the Drummond Castle all hands might have been saved. There was another reason why he very much regretted the decision of the Board of Trade, because the Committee would 1306 remember there was very much complaint of the conduct of the captain of the Werfa; but really he had no option, for, if he had signalled at night to the Drummond Castle, it was quite clear the Drummond Castle would have had the right and, in self-defence, would have made a crushing claim for salvage. He wished the right hon. Gentleman had seen his way to print the evidence, but whether he did or not, it would be printed, because he did not think any greater publice service could be done than by publishing the whole of the evidence. He begged to move the reduction of the Vote by £500.
MR. GIBSON BOWLES
did not think the hon. Gentleman had made out a case for printing the whole of this voluminous evidence. There never was a case in which the facts were more simple. The Drummond Castle was undoubtedly lost through the careless navigation of her master, through his neglect to avail himself of the means on hoard in Lord Kelvin's sounding apparatus of taking soundings. With regard to the Inquiry of the Board of Trade, he was no particular friend of those Inquiries. He did not think they were perfectly conducted, and in his opinion it would be better to replace them by something like the old fire inquiries which used to be held when there was a fire in the City. The Board of Trade was conducting what was practically a prosecution against one of their particular friends, the Member for Perthshire, who had always stood by them, whether in the rule of the road or in any other matter. But in this instance, for once, the result of the Inquiry had been complete and satisfactory. With regard to the boats being out-swung, he had to point out that by so doing there would be great risk of their being carried away. Nobody, except in the most favourable weather, would have the boats swung out. There was another matter which lay at the root of these disasters, and it was this, that the shipowner, while he had been most unjustifiably interfered with for years by the Board of Trade, nevertheless had an immunity which ought not to belong to him in the statutory limitations of his liability. That, he contended, was entirely contrary to public policy. The liability of a railway company was unlimited, and the result was that they required no Board of Trade to look after railways. [Mr. 1307 LOWLES: "There is a railway department of the Board of Trade."] He knew that, and they had done nothing but mischief. Not by the superintendence of the Board of Trade, but by the care and vigilance produced by a long series of tremendous verdicts with great damages, that the railway companies had attained their present position. That was the way to deal with shipowners, to leave them absolutely unlimited for the wrongs they committed.
§ MR. BRYCE
said that whatever might be the case with regard to the operation of the rule limiting the liability of shipowners to so much per ton, it could not be necessary or useful to the owners of the great passenger lines, because in the case of railways there was virtually no competition. But in the case of the great passenger lines there was keen competition, and the injury suffered by a great passenger line when it lost a vessel was an injury greater than could happen in any other way, and, therefore, he did not believe that any additional securities were needed. He could bear testimony, from his short experience of the Board of Trade, to the extreme care exercised in the great passenger lines, and he could certainly say that with regard to the Castle Line. The moral of the loss of the Drummond Castle was simple, and he did not think it could be increased by the issue of the printed evidence. The moral was that the greatest danger which was run at sea arose from a neglect to use the lead. More than half the cases, probably two-thirds of the cases, in which accidents occurred to British shipping were traceable to neglect of the use of the lead; and an accident of this kind ought to bring home to the captains of the mercantile marine the supreme importance of using the lead in approaching a dangerous coast.
§ MR. RITCHIE
agreed with the observations of the right hon. Gentleman, and he thought that the report of the Committee fully bore out the statements made that the loss of the Drummond Castle was due to the neglect of the precautions with regard to the use of the lead, especially on a dangerous coast. Probably one of the results of this disaster would be to bring home this fact more closely to the minds of captains. Having regard to the very large number of voyages which those great passenger 1308 ships made, and the number of passengers they carried, it was very remarkable how small the loss of life was, and how few were the accidents. This showed that, generally speaking, they had nothing to complain of as to the manner in which the captains navigated their ships. He believed that, with regard to the Castle Line, although their ships had passed this dangerous coast many hundreds of times, this had been the only occasion on which loss of life had occurred. The Committee would see how impossible it was to endeavour to re-try the case in the House of Commons. He regretted that his hon. Friend had taken up the attitude he had assumed with regard to the position of the Board of Trade, and what it had done in connection with this Inquiry. The hon. Gentleman was dissatisfied with the action of the Board of Trade, and practically he said that, had it not been for the friends of those who were lost, very little evidence of value would have been obtained. No stone was left unturned by the Board of Trade in their endeavour to get evidence from every quarter; and he was satisfied that a most valuable portion of the evidence at the Inquiry was the evidence procured by the Board of Trade. He had more than one communication with his hon. Friend before the investigation took place, and he told the hon. Gentleman that, if there was anyone who could throw light on the accident he would take care to have him produced at the Inquiry. The hon. gentleman went to the Board of Trade and communicated with the authorities there, and they repeated his offer to the hon. Member and expressed a willingness to help him in every effort in order to elucidate various points connected with the accident.
§ MR. STEPHENS
said that the right hon. Gentleman had declined to call a most important witness—Captain Vaughan.
§ MR. RITCHIE
said he never declined to call him. He told the hon. Member that the Board of Trade were not prosecutors in this case, and they were willing to call every one who could throw light on the subject. He also told the hon. Member that the ship's logs were called for at the Inquiry, and they were produced. In defence of the Board of Trade he could assure the hon. Member that he went carefully through the brief pre 1309 pared for counsel, and that a more complete specification of every point that ought to be produced and insisted upon at the Inquiry could not be imagined. If his hon. Friend was under the impression that the Board of Trade did not endeavour, by every means in their power, to throw all the light they could upon the causes of this disaster, he was much mistaken. Nothing would be gained by a publication of the evidence, and he must adhere to the answer which he had already given on that point.
MR. PRITCHARD MORGAN
said that passenger ships ought to carry furniture and bedding of a buoyant nature. An exhibition of life-saving appliances was being held at the present moment in Holborn. A bed made of cork shavings and fibre was shown, which was capable of keeping several people afloat for a long time. The Board of Trade ought to insist that the benches on the deck of a vessel should not be fixed, so that they might be used as buoys in cases of disaster.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ MR. C. W. CAYZER (Barrow-in-Furness)
said that in all large passenger ships there was a cork belt in every berth capable of keeping any man afloat. The Board of Trade did all in their power to secure that there should be adequate life-saving appliance on board ships. As to the cork beds referred to by the hon. Member, he did not think that many hon. Gentlemen would like to sleep upon them.
§ MR. LLOYD-GEORGE
said that, in order to test the opinion of the Committee upon the question of prison-made goods, he would move formally to reduce the Vote by the sum of £100.
§ The Committee divided:—Ayes, 52; Noes, 135.—(Division List, No. 361.)
§ * MR. F. A. CHANNING (Northamptonshire E.)
asked in what form the reports of the Sub-inspectors of the Railway Department would be utilised, and whether they would be introduced into the annual Report, in the same way as the Reports of the Sub-inspectors of Mines? He also asked how many inquiries into fatal accidents had been held by the Sub-inspectors. Formerly inquiries into fatalities to individual railway servants were only made when they were of sufficient public 1310 interest to get into the Press, and lead some public man to demand an Inquiry. The number of Inquiries had very materially increased since the appointment of the Sub-inspectors, but were still only made in about one in six fatalities. A third point to which he desired to direct attention had reference to coroners' inquests. The present state of the law left the discretion as to the attendance of a representative of the Board of Trade at coroners' inquests into railway fatalities with the coroner. He maintained that in these cases the facts would be brought out better by a practical and scientific expert than by a legal functionary, and he suggested that a circular might be addressed to coroners on the subject by the President of the Board of Trade, or through the Home Office. With regard to these inquests it was too frequently the case that the coroner refused to grant a hearing to representatives of the deceased or of Trade Unions of railway servants, even when they were represented by solicitors. He thought that fatal accidents to railway servants should be investigated in the same manner as fatalities in mines and in factories. In the latter investigations, the coroner was compelled to have a representative of the Home Office present; and the presence of a representative of the Board of Trade was equally needed at railway cases, because it was only by the questions of a competent and informed person that the causes of accidents in many cases could be ascertained. He found that fatal accidents to the men employed on railways were three times as numerous as accidents in factories, and two-thirds of the number of those that occurred in coal mines. He was sure that if the Board of Trade was represented at those inquiries, it would tend to decrease the number of rail way accidents. He would also like to know whether the right hon. Gentleman had any statement to make in regard to the promise he made last year to consider the question of increasing the number of assistant inspectors. If that were done, the Board of Trade could be more frequently represented than now at inquiries into railway accidents.
§ DR. TANNER (Cork, Mid.)
said that for eight years he had called attention to the inadequate medical attendance 1311 given to poor emigrants on Atlantic liners, and also to the total want of such attendance in case of sailors who went on long voyages. Nothing, however, had been done to improve matters. There was no adequate medical provision on board the transatlantic steamers not of the first class. He knew a case where the plates of the ship's hospital had been unscrewed to convert the space into saloon passenger accommodation. The water supply was not sufficient. Sometimes 300 emigrants had to depend on one tap, turned on only at certain hours, for the whole supply for every purpose. If the doctor's tried to do their duty they would be dismissed. The columns of the medical journals had been devoted to this question for years. He knew a liner which was used for passenger service three or four days after cattle had been discharged. There was no sanitary accommodation on board; the vessel was three days in a storm; her 300 emigrants were battened down; and the condition of filth became so execrable that the stewards almost revolted, and the medical officer fainted on going below.
§ MR. EDWARD STRACHEY (Somerset, S.)
asked the President of the Board of Trade to tell the Committee what his Department had done in regard to the still further reduction of railway rates for home produce in the way of bringing them down to the level of the rates for the more favoured foreign produce. Now that the great railway companies were flourishing they could afford to reduce their rates?
§ MR. JAMES DALY (Monaghan, S.)
stated that while for two tons and upwards the difference made by the railway companies in their rates was inconsiderable, upon quantities under two tons they had increased the rates from 50 to 75 per cent. The result was that, in a poor country like Ireland, the vast majority of the traders were heavily handicapped in competition with their richer rivals. This was a grievance which came home to the poor and small farmers of Ireland. He pointed out that in 1894 the increase of the Great Northern Railway Company was £30,000; in 1895 it was £40,000; but the traffic had not increased. There was scarcely a railway company whose dividends had increased from 1¼ per cent. to 2¼ per cent. since 1893. While, 1312 therefore, the traffic had decreased, the dividends had increased, on account of the railway companies getting their rates advanced in 1893. The money came eventually out of the consumers' pockets. He asked for an investigation, and hoped that the rates would be brought back to what they were in 1893. He further called attention to a level crossing near Castleblaney, and the danger thereby caused to the lives of the people.
§ MR. RITCHIE
said that he had no power to interfere with level crossings or platforms authorised to be constructed by Acts of Parliament. He could, however, make representations on subjects of that kind to the railway companies, and was always ready to do so when it appeared to him to be desirable. With regard to any unjustifiable advance in railway rates, he would point out that aggrieved traders were given a remedy by the Railway and Canal Traffic Act of 1888. The Board of Trade had no power to compel a company to alter their rates. But the Department had brought pressure to bear upon companies, and the result was that there had been a considerable modification of the rates in a large number of cases. In his last communication with the companies he had taken note of the concessions which they said they would make, and had urged them to make those concessions public. He had been asked how many Inquiries into fatal accidents had been held in the past year by the inspectors of the Board of Trade. The number of such Inquiries had considerably increased. In 1893 there were 450 accidents and one Inquiry; in 1894 there were 479 accidents and eight Inquiries; and in 1895,442 accidents and 70 Inquiries. Thus, although the number of accidents in 1895 was less than in 1893, there was an enormous increase in the number of Inquiries. There was also a great increase in the number of Inquiries held by sub-inspectors, and he was glad to be able to say that so far the sub-inspectors had been an undoubted success, and had contributed largely to the more satisfactory state of things that now existed. With regard to the attendance of sub-inspectors at inquests and the publication of their reports, he had been in communication with the sub-inspectors, and they told him, without hesitation, that they were altogether against the publication of their reports. They said that these reports were made for the 1313 information of the inspectors only, and were likely to be much more useful if they were not published. Then, with regard to attendance at inquests; there again, they considered that if they were called on to attend inquests their usefulness would largely decrease, and that the inquiries they made by night and by day would enable them to see the working of the lines and the mode in which the work was done was of far more service in preventing accidents than any attendance at inquests. The hon. Gentleman had drawn an analogy between the action of the inspectors of the Home Office in attending inquests and that of the inspectors of the Board of Trade; but the inspectors of the Home Office occupied quite a different position. There was a statutory obligation cast upon the Home Office to have continuous inspections of mines and factories, and those inspections were carried out by inspectors appointed for a district. Naturally those gentlemen could give considerable information to coroners. The case was different with the railway inspector. He was very glad, indeed, to bear testimony to the good work done by the sub-inspectors, and he could assure the hon. Gentleman that if any necessity arose for increasing their number he should not hesitate to do so; but at present he did not think there was any necessity for an increase.
* MR. CHAINING
thought that the publication in some form or other of the reports of sub-inspectors was of real importance in introducing reforms in the working of railways, and he hoped the right hon. Gentleman would further consider the question. He did not understand the idea of the sub-inspectors when they said that their reports were only made for the information of the superior inspector, and he thought that the publication of the notes made by them on the cause of a fatality would be of public service.
§ MR. RITCHIE
apologised to the hon. Member for Cork (Dr. Tanner) for having omitted to refer to the point raised by him. All he could say was that the hon. Gentleman had again and again made statements similar to that he had made that day, but he had never given any particulars. It was quite impossible for him to make an investigation into a charge unless it was properly formulated. If the hon. Gentleman would give particulars as to the name of the 1314 ship or otherwise, which would enable him to examine into the matter, it would receive his careful attention.
§ DR. TANNER
suggested that the right hon. Gentleman should apply to his own medical inspectors in the different ports for information. He would not give names because a reign of terror prevailed, and these men would be discharged for doing their duty.
§ MR. COURTENAY WARNER (Staffordshire, Lichfield)
said the right hon. Gentleman had not answered the question as to the unfair competition created through railway companies carrying foreign goods at special rates.
§ Original question put and agreed to.
3. Motion made and Question proposed:—
That a sum, not exceeding £9,600, be granted to Her Majesty, to complete the sum necessary to defray the Charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March 1897, for the Salaries and Expenses of the Office of the Commissioners in Lunacy in England.
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY
said he had hoped that they should have finished the Board of Trade Vote at an earlier period of the evening, in which case they would have gone on with the Votes in their order. It was, however, now quite manifest that they could not expect to get the remaining Board of Trade Vote and the Local Government Board Vote in a reasonable time to-night, and these Votes had, accordingly, been passed over. He understood that there was no objection to the Lunacy Vote. He was informed by the Treasury that the Stationery Office Vote was absolutely exhausted, and that Vote must consequently be got that night.
§ MR. DALZIEL
said there were some important points to be raised on the Stationery Vote, and he suggested, if the Vote were taken that night, the report should be put down for a time when the matter could be reasonably discussed.
§ MR. SAMUEL SMITH (Flintshire)
asked that an opportunity should be given on the Local Government Board Vote for the discussion of the Poor Law Schools Commission.
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY
said the duty of the Leader of the House was constantly to try to get 1315 fourteen horses into ten stalls. [Laughter.] But he would do his best to see that the important Votes got the best places.
§ SIR HENRY FOWLER (Wolverhampton)
thought the proposal of the Leader of the House a very fair one and one the Committee ought to accept. ["Hear, hear!"] There were only two more days for Committee of Supply. The right hon. Gentleman had promised to bring on the Army and the Scotch Votes the next day, and he hoped that on the last day a prominent position would be given to the Vote for the Local Government Board, which was really the most important Vote left.
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY
I understand that the view of the Committee is that the Local Government Board Vote is the most important remaining Vote; and that, if the Stationery Vote is given to us to-night, that the Report of that Vote will be the most important report outstanding. If that is the view of the Committee, I will endeavour to carry it out.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ The following Votes were agreed to without discussion:—
- 4. £376,571, to complete the sum for stationery and printing.
- 5. £26,700, to complete the sum for Civil Service Commission.
- 6. £39,974, to complete the sum for Exchequer and Audit Department.
- 7. £5,300, to complete the sum for Friendly Societies Registry.
- 8. £9,500, to complete the sum for National Debt Office.
- 9. £8,833, to complete the sum for Privy Council Office.
§ Resolutions to be reported upon Monday next; Committee to sit again upon Monday next.