§ Order for Third Reading read.
§ MR. DILLON (Mayo. E.)
I wish to take this opportunity of raising the question of the persecution to which the rector of St. Clement's Church, Belfast, has been subjected for the last six months—a persecution of an extraordinarily inhuman character and of continuous and increasing intensity. What has been the history of this extraordinary business? For a, period of, I believe, nearly six months the Rev. Mr. Peoples, the officiating clergyman of this church in Belfast, has been subjected to a constant and organised system of persecution, and, 346 so far as I am aware, this has been directed against him for only one offence, namely, that he conducts the services of the Church of St. Clement's in a certain fashion which gives offence to a how Church party in Belfast—in fact, that he indulges in certain Ritualistic practices. I desire, at the outset, to draw a broad distinction, which I think may fairly be drawn, between the offence given to those who dissent from certain religious practices by services conducted in the open street, and those conducted in a church. Now, in the present instance, the Rev. Mr. Peoples cannot be charged by his enemies with making any attempt to obtrude his particular religious views on any one who does not desire to enter his church, or to be present at any of his ceremonies. On the contrary, his ministrations are entirely confined to his own church, and, so far as my information goes, are not objected to by his own congregation. But because he has carried on certain Ritualistic practices which, I believe, are largely indulged in in this country, this campaign has been conducted against him Sunday after Sunday for many weeks. I may divide the persecution of which I complain into two classes. First, there is the barbarous conduct of those who invade this gentleman's church and turn it into a pandemonium; and, secondly, there is the conduct which commences at the door of the church, and which consists in assaulting Mr. Peoples while walking through the streets. My complaint to-day is chiefly concerned with the conduct of the mob outside the church, and I shall say little or nothing about the extraordinary scenes which, Sunday after Sunday, are taking place inside that edifice. So far as the persecution outside the church is concerned, I desire at the very outset to draw attention to one very remarkable characteristic of it. It is not spontaneous. It is not an isolated outbreak of popular feeling caused by sudden provocation or outrage. It has been deliberately organised at meetings held during the last six months in front of the Customs House steps, and also in close proximity to St. Clement's Church, and, at these meetings, this campaign has been boasted of and encouraged by various speakers who have addressed them, and especially by a gentleman of the name of Trew. I gave some speci- 347 mens the other day of the expressions used by these gentlemen, and the right honourable gentleman said that it was not so, because the policemen had been examined, and they said that no such lauguage had been used. I believe that that is a very insufficient answer.
§ THE CHIEF SECRETARY TO THE LORD LIEUTENANT OF IRELAND (Mr. GERALD BALFOUR,) Leeds, Central
I was not aware that any such language had been used.
§ MR. DILLON
I only know what the information is which was sent to me by gentlemen who were in the crowd; but the language used was certainly of a very violent character. But as the right honourable Gentleman denies the use of the language which I gave the other day, I shall not repeat it; but, having regard to the view that I have taken of this matter, and the language used—I said first of all, for I do not think that the right honourable Gentleman will deny that this conspiracy against Mr. Peoples —and that is what it amounts to—was encouraged, and the avowed purpose of this thing was to disturb the conduct of the service at St. Clement's Church. But I do not base my case on that or on the language used at the public meetings; I hold in my hands a copy of one of the most infamous newspapers ever published—which is very wisely, I think, on the part of those responsible for its publication, printed illegally without any imprint—the "Belfast Protestant," and you will see the kind of language that is used in this newspaper in Belfast in respect of the fearful persecution that I am now about to lay before the House. The headline of the first column is as follows, "Victorious Again," and then it says that the "Belfast Protestant" has at last been compelled to let the people see that they still existed, that their friends in the country had thought that the "Protestant" had fulfilled its mission and died; but that is not so, that work that it has been engaged in has been going on day by day lest Ritualism should gain an inch of ground. Then it goes on to describe what the work was, and says that Mr. Peoples has attempted to erect a cross in the church, but has been prevented by a band of workers who have resisted the objectionable 348 emblem being raised. Now, note this language—Mr. Peoples tried all the little tricks he knew to get police protection, but failed, with the result that the contractor was obliged to give up the job and take his workmen away.Now, how is the right honourable Gentleman to get behind such language as that—Mr. Peoples tried all he knew to get police protection," to do a work which he was perfectly entitled to do, "but failed." Then there is a still further illustration of the spirit in which this thing was organised. This paper then describes how, when it was discovered that Mr. Peoples was to hold a quiet meeting in a house, it was at once decided to march down and also hold their meeting there, which they did. Then somebody reported that Father Peoples was climbing over a wall and escaping. I think, seeing that the reverend gentleman was going in fear of his life, that it was no wonder that he attempted to escape by the back way. Now, the right honourable Gentleman can see the sort of language which is used by the organ of this gentleman who is organising this crusade. Now let me direct the attention of the House to what is really being done. It is really very difficult to get people in this country to believe the actual facts of what is taking place in Belfast every Sunday. The "Ulster Echo" and the "Northern Whig" —the "Ulster Echo" is the oldest Protestant paper of Belfast—point out that Sunday after Sunday, going to his church and again returning from his church, twice every Sunday, this reverend gentleman is surrounded by a howling mob, variously estimated at from 1,000 to 10,000 people; that he is subjected to the filthiest language and the most frightful insults, and is obliged to travel the streets of Belfast in the midst of a heavy body of police, in order to obtain protection from a mob which is encouraged by the impunity with which it has for so long been allowed to carry out its outrages. This last Sunday the mob has gone a step further, and the reverend gentleman had to go to his church amid a shower of stones. The "Ulster Echo" of the 13th of March describes a scene where Mr. Peoples was arriving at home; it says that the crowd numbered many thousands of persons who hooted at him when he 349 came to his home in Templemore Avenue. "Fortunately no stones were thrown." That was on the 12th of March. On the 19th of March, last Sunday, a further step in advance was taken, and in the "Ulster Echo" it goes on to describe what occurred. It says divine service in several churches of the district was considerably interrupted by the shouts of the rowdies, and that the scene baffled description. That is an extremely mild description to give of the language used, "No damage done." So that on Sunday last the mob actually held the field unrestrained by the police, and such great showers of stones were thrown upon the roof of the church that the churchwarden had to come to the door and say that no afternoon service would be held. This paper goes on to say that a number of the adherents of St. Clement's were hit, whilst one young man was badly beaten. I would call the right honourable Gentleman's attention to the fact that that was the same young man who was struck down in the road a fortnight before, when he had to fly for his life. On Sunday last he was again assaulted, his only crime being that he gave evidence against the men when the Crown refused to prosecute, and the prosecution was taken up by private persons. Not content with assaulting Mr. Peoples and this unfortunate young man who appeared as a witness, they assaulted one of the young women. Now, that is the condition of things which has been allowed to go on in this so-called civilised city without any attempt being made on the part of the Executive Authority to stop it. For two or three weeks I have put Questions to the right honourable Gentleman the Chief Secretary for Ireland, in order to be quite sure as to whether what I saw described in the newspapers is correct, and for several weeks past the Chief Secretary has stated in answer to those Questions, that the facts as stated in the Questions were correct. Then I asked whether it was the intention of the Government to put an end to these disturbances. Now the Chief Secretary some time ago gave an answer to that Question which is destined to become somewhat classical; he gave that answer about three weeks ago. He said this was a question upon which there mast be some difference of opinion, and that what was lawful was not always expedient. 350 That is the most extraordinary statement that I have ever heard made by a responsible Minister in this House, because what he has to deal with here is an avowed, organised conspiracy, kept up by public meetings, for the purpose of hounding a man through the streets. Every Sunday that he goes to his church he has to go in the midst of a heavy body of police, and we are told by a responsible Minister that he cannot see his way to take action and put a stop to these proceedings; and then he says, "What is always lawful is not always expedient." Now, if in this city that we are now in there was an avowed conspiracy against an honourable Member of this House, and every day that he came to this House he was surrounded by a howling mob of 4,000 people, throwing stones whenever they could find an opportunity, and using filthy language, what would be the opinion of this House? Why, I venture to say that no Minister who was so lax in administration would dare to face the question. I desire to put one or two questions to the right honourable Gentleman in reference to these proceedings. I wish to ask him, first of all, is it, or is it not, a lawful proceeding to hound a man through the streets in the way I have described. If it is not, I wish to know what were the considerations of expediency which influenced the Government of Ireland to abstain from proceeding against those who are breaking the law? And then I want to ask the right honourable Gentleman whether it is true, as I am informed by the Rev. Mr. Peoples himself, that in the month of October last, when he applied for police protection to the Commissioner of Police in Belfast, when he stated that he was in dread of his life, he was told by the Commissioner that so long as he indulged in ritualistic practices in his church the disturbance would continue. If true, that is a most scandalous state of things—that he should abstain from giving that protection to which every citizen is entitled. Is it a fact that about three weeks ago the Commissioner of Police, Mr. Moriarty, called upon the Protestant Bishop of Belfast and requested him to either close St. Clement's Church or to remove Mr. Peoples? I put this in the form of a Question yesterday, and the right honourable Gentleman the Chief Secretary for Ireland declared that he regarded it as being in the form of a confidential 351 conversation. I do not think he ought in this case to treat as confidential the proceedings of the Commissioner of Police when he requested the bishop to close the church or to remove Mr. Peoples. The statement that there was such a conversation has gone abroad, and it has greatly encouraged those who have been engaged in this outrageous conspiracy against this man. I do not think it is a communication which has a right to be considered confidential, and I think I have a right to have an answer. Then I desire to ask the right honourable Gentleman whether it is a fact, as stated by Mr. Peoples himself, that on Sunday last that several of the congregation were kicked and stoned and otherwise disabled by these rowdies, and whether the rector of St. Clement's Church on Sunday sent for police protection in Belfast inside the church, stating that he feared his life would be in danger, and that that protection was refused him?
§ MR. DILLON
These, briefly stated, are the facts of this extraordinary transaction in Belfast. The Chief Secretary a few days ago was very indignant with me for suggesting that the history of this transaction disclosed the fact that there were very different laws administered in Belfast to those which were administered in the South of Ireland. Whatever the Chief Secretary's indignation may be, it is impossible to deny the charge that I have brought. I shall allude only briefly to a case which took place in the West of Ireland—the case of alleged intimidation of Mr. C. Daly in Castlebar. The only intimidation alleged was that a band went out and played the "Dead March in Saul" for Mr. Daly's benefit, and that he heard it in his house. A prosecution was immediately brought, and Mr. Daly was examined, and said he was not intimidated; and in spite of all that, those who were summoned by the police, five young men, were brought up, and, in default of getting bail, were sentenced to a month's imprisonment in the Castlebar gaol. That case, if they were guilty at all, was insignificant; yet, in spite of all the appeals that I have made, the right honourable Gentleman refuses to prosecute or disperse this howling mob, and has conveyed consequently to the leaders of these men who are carry- 352 ing on this persecution the impression that they are engaged in a safe transaction, and there is no danger; and, instead of its being a slight matter, it is a very serious one. Now, those are the facts of this case, and I ask the Irish Secretary to state once and for all whether the conduct of these people is legal, and, if it is illegal, whether he will take active steps to put an end to what is a very great scandal?
§ MR. GERALD BALFOUR
I have no desire to extenuate the gravity of the very discreditable scenes which have lately and are still taking place in Belfast, or to deny that what has occurred there has caused, from the beginning, very great anxiety, and is still causing great anxiety. At the same time, I am not prepared to subscribe entirely to the account which the honourable Member for East Mayo has given as accurate; still less am I prepared to admit, as he has alleged in these cases, one law for the north of Ireland, and one law for the south. In order to appreciate the difficulties which we have to take account of in connection with these disturbances, it is first of all necessary to thoroughly apprehend the relations in which Mr. Peoples stands in regard to his own congregation. With regard to the practices which he has introduced into his church, and the character of the services carried on there, I have nothing to say, and I express no opinion on that point. It is a matter that does not concern me as a Member of the Executive Government, but, at the same time, had these positions been reversed, and had Mr. Peoples been a representative of the Low Church opinions, and the crowd which has assaulted him been of a different persuasion, the course taken by the Government in that case would have been exactly the same as it has been in this. Now, Sir, the honourable Gentleman made out one fundamental point; he has told the House that, so far as he was able to ascertain, there was no dispute between Mr. Peoples and his congregation. Sir, the facts of the case are exactly opposite; the Church of St. Clement's was opened on the 1st of October last, and from the very first Sunday upon which the church was dedicated there has been open hostility between Mr. Peoples and the vast majority of his congregation. According to the information which has reached 353 me, out of a congregation of 700 persons, exclusive of the choir, only one churchwarden and 20 members of the congregation approve of the services conducted by Mr. Peoples. The rest of the congregation there dissent from the way in which the services are being carried on, and a great many of those created more or less disturbance to indicate their disapproval of the way in which the services were being conducted. When any other clergyman has conducted the service in Mr. Peoples' absence, the congregation has been invariably quiet and attentive and devout, and no disturbance has occurred. The honourable Member for East Mayo evidently believes, and desires to persuade the House, that the trouble that has taken place in Belfast is due to the opposition of the Low Church party to the way in which the services of this church have been conducted by Mr. Peoples, irrespective of the attitude of Mr. Peoples' own congregation. The real fact of the matter is that Mr. Peoples has excited and aroused not only the hostility of the Protestants of Belfast generally, but 95 per cent. of his own congregation. It may be said that these facts do not justify the treatment which he has received. I entirely concur; but one thing is certain, and that is, that in cases of this character, disapproval of a particular course is not always guided by sweet reasonableness, especially in the north of Ireland. All these scenes occur in the north of Ireland, and scenes of this character are more violent in the north than in the south. But anybody who really knows the circumstances of Belfast, and who can appreciate the state of things which I describe, would realise what a difficult situation is the situation in which the Government now stands, and how much it stands in need of careful handling. What are the actual facts inside the church? From the very first time that the church was opened there have been unseemly interruptions whenever Mr. Peoples has been present and has conducted the services. Those disturbances have been more or less serious on different occasions; they consisted of groaning, shouting, scraping of feet, and other demonstrations; and the disturbances have been so serious that on nine occasions since 1st October the church had to be closed, and no service has been held, I understand, by order of the Bishop. On five occasions the police 354 have been called in to clear the church. There has been in connection with the disturbance one prosecution, that of a man named Johnston, who was summoned and charged with brawling in the church. It is unfortunate, as the honourable Gentleman has said, that a witness mainly instrumental in connection with the prosecution has been subsequently illtreated, and, as I understand, has now lost his situation. So far as this Government is concerned, they have done their best to investigate this matter, and they are now investigating the case of the persons who have used violence against this witness.
§ MR. GERALD BALFOUR
There was one member of the congregation illtreated last Sunday, but I have no information as to what was his name. I quite admit that these occurences are to be regretted, and are most discreditable in every way, and I may point out to the honourable Member how difficult it is for the Government to put down manifestations of feeling which are practically universal. If a witness against a brawler in St. Clement's Church cannot give evidence without being maltreated by his fellow-workmen, it shows how widespread is the hostility in this ease, and how difficult is the task that the Government have to undertake. Outside the church Mr. Peoples has, no doubt, been followed home by a crowd groaning and hooting, and the rowdy element which seems to be always in force in cases like this made itself apparent. Although a few stones were thrown, no personal injury has been noted, except in the case of one person who was stoned. Speaking generally, although there have been a larger number—two or three thousand people—in the crowd, their demeanour has not been such as to justify the police in taking the extreme step of dispersing the crowd with a baton charge. When the police have been called in by the rector or churchwarden to clear the church of disturbers, they have cleared it, and they also expressed their willingness to give evidence in any prosecutions which the churchwardens decided to institute, but the result of one such pro- 355 secution has disclosed the fact that the relations between Mr. Peoples and his congregation are not so friendly as the honourable Gentleman suggests to us.
§ MR. DILLON
I am sorry to interrupt the right honourable Gentleman, but I am informed that the one churchwarden who prosecuted Johnston has had to leave the city.
§ MR. GERALD BALFOUR
I do not think that is true, and, as I have told the honourable Gentleman, I think it is absolutely preposterous. At any rate, notwithstanding what has occurred, churchwardens have been very unwilling to institute proceedings, and in addition to that, the police have expressed their readiness if the Rector or the Bishop requested them—they have expressed their willingness to exclude from the church persons likely to cause disturbance. Outside the church the police have, and will continue to afford personal protection to Mr. Peoples; in addition to that they have the power to forbid an assembly which is obstructive or calculated to intimidate. And under these most trying circumstances, I consider that the police have acted with extreme forbearance and extreme judgment. In addition to the steps taken, it would not be possible to take the extreme step that has been suggested. It has been suggested that the police should attend in plain clothes for the purpose of formulating a charge with the view of instituting a prosecution for disturbing the service. No steps could be taken of that kind, and any steps which might have been taken in that direction would not have mitigated, but would have been almost bound to aggravate the circumstances with regard to which we have had this statement to-day. What the Government is most anxious to do in religious disturbances of this character is not to take extreme measures; they are very reluctant to take the extreme step of dispersing the crowd by a baton charge.
§ MR. GERALD BALFOUR
The Government are always reluctant, unless there is extreme and urgent necessity. Another course which it 356 is suggested we ought to pursue is to make arrests. Arrest, of course, could be executed if it was seen that it was necessary, but the whole object hitherto has been to avoid taking extreme steps. I have told the honourable Gentleman, in answer to a question, that if the demurring crowds become more violent we shall be driven to take these steps, and I believe that the House agrees with me that these are matters in which the utmost forbearance should be exercised, and that such measures as would be likely to lead to such a serious result as would a baton charge should be avoided as long as possible. The honourable Member charges me with having one law for the north and another for the west of Ireland, and as an instance he referred to a case which lately occurred in Mayo, where the police prosecuted for intimidation; but, Sir, does not the honourable Gentleman see that there is all the difference in the world between a religious disturbance of this kind, arising in connection with a congregation and its Rector out of a religious dispute, and a case of a disturbance arising out of the agrarian question?
§ MR. GERALD BALFOUR
In the case of disturbance arising out of the agrarian question everybody would be treated in the same way as with these persons in Mayo. If you wish to judge the Government fairly in this matter, and to examine into the question as to whether they have the same law in the north of Ireland as in the west and south, the cases which bring most knowledge at the present moment are those cases in which the police were ordered to various parts of Ireland when religious disturbances arising out of street preaching were occurring, and intimidation was rife; in those cases, in which the circumstances were exactly the same as here, the instruction to the police, both under the last Government and this, were that the police should afford all possible protection to private individuals, but that they should, so far as possible, and it has been done, maintain absolute neutrality between the parties. Let me take the case of Sligo. Since I have been Chief Secretary, there have been 357 serious disturbances in the streets of Sligo, owing to religious differences, and I am surprised, when giving an illustration, the honourable Gentleman confined himself to an agrarian case, instead of taking a case of closer analogy to this. In Sligo, the same course was adopted, and the same forbearance was shown by the police, until at last the disturbance assumed greater proportions than in Belfast. In Sligo, a mob of 10,000 people made an attack upon a street preacher, and a large number of stones were thrown, and the man was in peril of his life. Under those circumstances, it became necessary to disperse the mob by force; and if a similar crisis should occur in Belfast, exactly the same measures would be adopted as in Sligo, no matter what the consequences might be. As to prosecutions, the only prosecutions in connection with the Sligo disturbances were for riot and assaults on the police; but the result of the proceedings was not very satisfactory. What I want to impress upon the House is this: that the method adopted by the Irish Government in the treatment of these disturbances in Belfast is the result of long experience in dealing with difficulties of this kind. It is now traditional with the Irish Government, and has been followed with success by our predecessors in the disturbances which arose in Cork and Sligo in connection with street preaching. The police were there to confer protection, if required, but were instructed to observe a strict neutrality as between the opposing parties. I have now given two cases, in which disturbances have occurred—one where it arose in the case of street preaching, and the other arising out of a congregational dispute, and in all these cases the Government has followed the method which they have pursued in connection with Belfast; and let me once more impress upon the House this point. The Irish Government have a long experience in dealing with these matters. This policy has not been started by us; we have taken this practice from our predecessors, from whom we have inherited it, and it-is, I believe, the best one that we could adopt. The honourable Gentleman referred in his speech to an interview which took place between the Commissioner of Police of Belfast and the Bishop. He asked me a question upon 358 this subject the other day, which I declined to answer, as the interview was of an unofficial character, and I adhere to that now, although I have no reason to find fault with the Commissioner for what he said or urged upon that occasion. As my honourable Friend has introduced the name of the Bishop into this, let me express my own opinion that a very grave responsibility rests both upon Mr. Peoples and the Bishop in regard to this matter. The hostility of the congregation of St. Clement's to Mr. Peoples is increasing rather than diminishing, and there is every sign that it will continue to increase. It certainly seems hopeless to expect that anything like a reconciliation can be anticipated between Mr. Peoples and his congregation. If I am in error on that matter, I err in very good company, because I have information today, and I believe there is a statement in "The Times" newspaper to the same effect, that the Diocesan Council had almost unanimously passed a resolution recommending the Bishop to end this dispute by closing the church for 12 months. If Mr. Peoples insists upon remaining where he is, and acting as he is doing, I hope the resolution passed by the Diocesan Council may be adopted. The situation is very serious now, and is likely to become more serious still, but the police have shown the utmost patience and forbearance; but forbearance has its limits, and should the demeanour of the mob become more violent, it will be the duty of the Government to take the strongest measures. Until it is necessary, however, it clearly ought not to be done, because when the police come into conflict with the mob, the probability is that not one riot, but a series of riots will be the result, which in all likelihood will be accompanied by loss of life.
§ MR. DILLON
Is that an argument to be used in the South? Does the right honourable Gentleman say that the mob should be encouraged by the police, if they persist in breaking the law?
§ MR. GERALD BALFOUR
I can only express the hope that this unfortunate occurrence may be terminated in the only way in which it can be satisfactorily terminated, either by the action of Mr. Peoples, or failing that, by the action of his ecclesiastical superiors.
§ MR. T. P. O'CONNOR (Liverpool, Scotland)
In Belfast there is a clergyman who belongs to what is termed the High Church School of thought, and a certain portion of his congregation, including the choir, are in entire sympathy with the reverend gentleman, and we have, therefore, in the City of Belfast the same state of things which exists in this city and in this country. We have a state of religious feeling there which is also apparent in this country, and we have congregations who are in favour of High Church doctrine, and we have another body, not all belonging to the congregation, who are opposed to the doctrine. Now, in this country that state of things is fought out either by Debate in this House or by actions in the courts of law, but in Belfast, I will not say with the sanction of the right honourable Gentleman, but certainly without his earnest and forcible1 opposition, they deal with these disputes of faith and doctrine by an entirely different method. A large body of people, numbering 2,000 or 3,000, meet outside this church, and shout, and groan, and riot, and throw stones, and offer violence, not only to men, but to the women; they penetrate into the church, and upset the service going on there, and the result of all this is that they are given a, fair field and plenty of favour. I have a copy of a, paper here called the "Belfast Protestant." This paper incites the people to go and disturb this congregation and expel Mr. Peoples, so that the first factor that we have is the newspaper; then we have the agitator, Mr. Trew, who makes very inflammatory harangues inciting this mob; and we have the Diocesan Council recommending that the law should be obeyed in principle, but that the lawbreakers should be capitulated to, as I gather from the speech of the right honourable Gentleman. On nine occasions has this church had to be closed, and on five occasions the police have been called into the church, wonder 360 if the House really appreciates that this barbarous and savage behaviour is taking place in the loyal and peaceful City of Belfast, and the final result of it all is that the Executive have risen to the height of ordering one prosecution. The result of that is that a man gets two months' imprisonment, and, as a matter of fact, the man is better off than the people who gave evidence against him, because of three persons who appeared against him we find one has been dismissed from his employment, and for no other offence than that he gave evidence against this gentleman who disturbed the congregation. I venture to state that this state of things would not be tolerated in this country for a moment. If this had occurred here the editor would have been in gaol. Mr. Trew would have been in gaol, and the others. I am not sure that the employers who dismissed this man would not be in gaol too. Now, what justification does the right honourable Gentleman give? He draws attention to the case of Sligo, and other cases of a, similar character. Now, the case of Sligo is not analogous to the case of Belfast in any way. In the case of Belfast you have a clergyman inside his own church, addressing people of his own way of thinking. He is interrupted in his service by rioters shouting, and when he goes out of the church he is absolutely assaulted, because, forsooth, he preaches his own doctrine to his own congregation inside his own church. In the case of Sligo you have a number of propagandists who go out into the public highway, and who address not only persons of their own creed, but members of different congregations, and address them in the harshest and strongest language which the Church permits. There is no analogy there. Then the right honourable Gentleman says in the south of Ireland you are dealing with agrarian disputes, but in this case you are dealing with religious disputes. I say that the religious disputes have all occurred in Belfast, and that Belfast is the only city in the three kingdoms where such riots are possible.
§ MR. T. P. O'CONNOR
Does the right honourable Gentleman compare them? I do not think there is any analogy between them. I do not think you can compare the case of a man in his own church, surrounded by a congregation of his own creed, with the case of a man preaching in the public highway, not to persons of his own creed alone, but of all creeds, and addressing them in a most violent and the strongest manner which the Church allows. And then, when the right honourable Gentleman comes to the question of religious riots, are these little miserable street corner squabbles, which are really all that took place, in which a few stones are thrown and a few people are assaulted—I will put it as high as the right honourable Gentleman likes—to be compared with the religious riots which take place in Belfast, and which extend over seven or eight weeks, and in which scores of lives have been sacrificed? I think the right honourable Gentleman ought to pay more attention to what takes place in Belfast than to anything that takes place anywhere else.
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY (Mr. A. J. BALFOUR,) Manchester, E.
I quite admit that honourable Gentlemen have a right to discuss matters upon this Motion, but I would appeal to them to allow us to go by universal consent to what is the main business of this evening, and to permit the Debate by agreement to finish at 12 o'clock to-night. I make that appeal not in my own interests, but in the interests of the House at large.
§ * MR. WEIR (Ross and Cromarty)
I wish to do my utmost to respond to the appeal of the right honourable Gentleman, and shall detain the House but a very few moments. I rise with the object of calling attention to various matters of very great importance to a large section of my constituents. One is with regard to the time of year for calling up the Ross-shire Militia for annual training. Perhaps I had better postpone my observations with regard to that matter until there is some Gentleman on the Treasury Bench to reply to me. Meanwhile, as the Financial Secretary to the Treasury is on the Bench, I should like to ask him whether he has yet arrived at any decision with regard to the Stornoway 362 mail steamer, which has been behind time on 70 occasions out of 78, and the delay on 31 of these occasions exceeded half an hour. Now, the right honourable Gentleman is not responsible for the conveyance of passengers, but he is responsible for the conveyance of Her Majesty's mails, and since a subsidy of £3,000 is given for the mails I think the Government ought to be better served. Then, with regard to the question of dog licences. I would urge upon the right honourable Gentleman the necessity for dealing with this matter. The law is clear and distinct, that a crofter owning sheep or cattle may have a dog for the purpose of tending them, and shall be exempt from paying the dog tax. These Inland Revenue officers are evidently not acquainted with the law. I think the right honourable Gentleman should take care that the law is fairly administered, and if the law is an unsatisfactory one let it be altered. Do not give these young and inexperienced Inland Revenue officers power to say, you shall give to this person or that an exemption from dog tax. They have acted very unjustly in a case brought to my knowledge. There is another matter to which I wish to call the attention of the right honourable Gentleman. The Science and Art Department have notices printed in the corner of their letters stating that all communications to the Department should be written on foolscap. Now, Sir, the great Departments of the State do not ask for anything of the kind; in the Post Office, Customs, Treasury, War Office, and Admiralty there are no restrictions of that description, but it is only the small Departments which make this ridiculous rule, and I do hope that the right honourable Gentleman will give this matter his attention. These small Departments had better go and take some lessons from some of the greater Departments which do not make such absurd rules. I see the Secretary for the War Department now on the Treasury Bench. What I want to know from him is whether any decision has been arrived at by the War Office as to the time of year for training the Ross-shire Militia? The Militia hitherto have been trained in the month of April. The commanding officer has now given instructions that they shall be trained in the month of July. The majority of the 363 Ross-shire Militia are fishermen from the Island of Lewis. In July a great number of them are engaged in their ordinary avocation as fishermen, and if they are brought away from their pursuits in order to attend at Fort George the annual training, it will simply mean ruin and disaster to their families, and not only to them, but to the whole of the Island of Lewis, with its population of just upon 30,000. I have had the matter brought under my notice by the Burgh Commissioners of Stornoway, and the committee of the county council has appealed to me to approach the War Office on the subject. I sincerely hope that the honourable Gentleman will be able to give me some satisfactory statement to-day which will satisfy these public bodies and also the Ross-shire Militia. Then I want to ask the Secretary for the Admiralty if he has considered the question of sending a training ship to the western islands of Scotland, in order to tap the splendid material which is to be found there, and give these island boys a, chance of entering Her Majesty's Navy?
§ THE FINANCIAL SECRETARY TO THE TREASURY (Mr. HANBURY,) Preston
The honourable Member has asked three questions affecting my Department which he tells us are very important, namely, the steamer, the note-paper, and the dog. With regard to the dog, he has complained that a person in whom he is interested has had to pay the ordinary licence for a dog which is kept to tend certain cattle. Well, the surveyor of taxes on the spot, by whom, of course, we must be guided, assures us that this dog is perfectly incapacitated for that work. Then, with regard to the steamer. The honourable Member admits that the interests of the Post Office are in the mails, and not in the passenger service. He has asked me about this steamer, I suppose, very nearly half a dozen questions already this Session, and I have been able to give him an exact account of almost every day and every journey on which this steamer has been late, and the time, almost to a fraction of a second, by which it has been late. But our mails, on the whole, have been carried very satisfactorily. Whether it may be a bad sea-boat for passengers, and whether the 364 honourable Member himself may have been somewhat inconvenienced, I do not know, but, at any rate, the mails have been fairly satisfactorily carried. No doubt they have been late occasionally through very rough weather, but just as often by reason of the late arrival of the mail train. Then on the third important question of the note-paper. The honourable Member takes great objection to a Department requesting their correspondents to communicate with them on paper of a particular shape.
§ MR. HANBURY
I do not think that the Treasury commits such an enormity, and my honourable Friend tells me that there are other Departments—the War Office is one—which are free from that vice. I am sorry to say that I have no control in that matter as regards the only Department which the honourable Member has specified, and, therefore, if the honourable Member again wishes to raise this highly important question, perhaps he will refer it to the heads of the Department that can answer it.
§ MR. PIRIE (Aberdeen, N.)
The opportunities for bringing up Scottish questions are so few and far between in this House that that must be my excuse for troubling the House with a question which has been agitated for upwards of two years. I refer to the present state of matters in the Moray Firth. It was hoped that the North Sea Fisheries Conference was going to prove a solution to the question, but the information which I have this morning, from a Reuter's telegram dispatched from Stockholm, leads me to believe that this Conference will be long delayed. The Under Secretary for Foreign Affairs, dealing with this matter in the House at the beginning of this week, informed the House that the Conference was going to meet probably in May. I read now, on the authority of the "Official Gazette" of Stockholm, that the Swedish-Norwegian Government has not yet been able to issue the invitations to the Conference because all the Powers interested have not yet replied to the preliminary questions addressed to them. The Swedish-Norwegian Government hopes, however, to be able to open the Conference in Stockholm next 365 year. What I wish to know is, first, granted that the Conference takes place, will it deal with the existing state of affairs in the Moray Firth? I remember that the late Under Secretary for Foreign Affairs, in July of last year, stated that Her Majesty's Government could not see any likelihood of being able to persuade the North Sea Powers to forego their rights of fishing outside the territorial limit in Scottish waters, and this statement made one still more sceptical that, even if this Conference does meet, it will remedy, or even deal with, the state of affairs about which I am asking for information. But I also wish to know what is to happen until this Conference does take place? Is the existing state of things to continue, or is it not.' We who are interested in this question wore put off last year, driven from pillar to post; we were directed from one Member of the Government to another Member of the Government, and obtained no satisfactory information at all. I am not using too strong a word when I say we were deluded into believing that negotiations were actually taking place, and that probably the Conference would assemble months before the date which is now promised. I do not think that Her Majesty's Government realise the gravity of the situation, and that is really why I have brought it before the House on the present occasion. It is really a question more for the Secretary of State for Scotland than for the Under Secretary for Foreign Affairs; and I bring this matter before the House, not as representing the trawling interest—I bring it before the House from the point of view of the public good, of the fishing question as a whole. As regards the view which I hold on the question of opening or closing the Moray Firth, I am of the same opinion that the Lord Advocate expressed to-day. I should be very averse to expressing any definite opinion upon a question which I regard as one of natural history, and I should be prepared to follow a scientific Committee upon this no after. I cannot say what scientific opinion is, but even if it declared that it was advisable, in the fishing interest generally, that the Firth should be closed to trawlers, I am perfectly ready to support that. This much is very clear—that it is not in the interests of one branch of the fishermen that I bring 366 this question forward. But my opinion is, Sir, that the present state of affairs is far more brought about by attention being paid to the necessities of electoral representation and the votes of the fishermen than really to the true fishing interests. I am strengthened in that opinion by an admission which was made not very long ago by a Scottish Member, a member of the Scottish Fishery Hoard, when he said that it was really a question of the inhabitants surrounding the Moray Firth taking measures for the Firth to be opened. That statement was disavowed, it is true, by the Government; but I would ask the Lord Advocate, who stated that no direct interest should be represented upon the Scottish Fishery Board, how comes it that a member of this Fishery Board, Mr. Jameson, is, at the same time, secretary of the Edinburgh and Leith Fishery Association? To my mind it is very clear that, in spite of himself, he cannot help being directed by one special interest as regard to his official position as member of the Board, and another by his private interest as secretary of this Fishing Association. However, that is only by the way. But more important, in my mind, even than the fishing interest, is the actual condition of affairs brought about by the present state of the law in the Moray Firth. I say that the present state of affairs brings about falsehood and fraud, and is a direct incentive to violence and breaking the law. There has been case after case brought up, in which fishermen have got themselves into serious trouble, and fined and imprisoned through breaking the law—the law being so unjust that there was every temptation for them to break the law.
§ * MR. SPEAKER
Order, order! The honourable Member will not be in order in advocating an alteration of the law.
§ MR. PIRIE
Then, Sir, I would really ask how soon this state of affairs, which leads to direct antagonism between the foreigners and our own fishermen, bringing about, as I say, violence and the breaking of the law, is to cease? I would also say that the present state of affairs leads directly to fraud, for I have the very best information, Sir, that there are numbers of these trawlers——
§ * MR. SPEAKER
Order, order! The honourable Member is going now into the present state of the law, not its administration.
§ MR. PIRIE
I apologise, Sir; I will merely ask if there is any truth in the statement of the Swedish-Norwegian Government that the Conference will not assemble until next year, and, if that is the case, what in the meantime is going to take place, and when the present state of affairs may be put a stop to?
§ MR. ARNOLD-FORSTER (Belfast, W.)
In view of the appeal which has been made by the Leader of the House for facilities to get on with the discussion of the London Government Bill, I will abstain from replying, at the present time, to the very unjust attacks which have been made upon a section of my constituents, but I concur in all that the Chief Secretary has said on the subject.
§ SIR W. WEDDERBURN (Banffshire)
Sir, the question has been raised whether some temporary arrangement could not be made pending the settlement which we hope to see made by the Conference, and that is the point that I would most strongly urge upon Her Majesty's Government—that they should try to get some temporary arrangement, some modus vivendi, to end this most unsatisfactory state of things which has been referred to by my honourable Friend. I quite agree that the position of affairs is most unsatisfactory, and the fact that my honourable Friend has just drawn attention to, that there seems to be a difficulty in the early meeting of the Conference, very much strengthens the necessity, if possible, for coming to some arrangement whereby to stop the present unsatisfactory state of affairs. I think all the fishermen—and a large number of line fishermen are among my constituents—regard the present state of things as almost intolerable. We all agree that the position is unsatisfactory, and we all agree that it should be put a stop to. But the question is, how it can be put a stop to? The complaint is that whereas foreign trawlers are allowed to go into the Moray Firth, British trawlers are not allowed. The specific complaint 368 is of inequality. Well, to my mind, that inequality could be removed, at any rate temporarily, if it is decided to exclude all, to exclude foreigners as well as our own trawlers.
§ * MR. SPEAKER
Order! The honourable Member is now complaining of the existing state of the law, and contending that it should be altered.
§ SIR W. WEDDERBURN
I beg to explain, Sir. I have no proposal about a change in the law. My wish is to urge upon the Government certain measures with regard to the Conference; that is the sole thing that I wish to urge. The present strained state of affairs is owing to the British trawlers being excluded and the foreign trawlers being admitted. I want the Conference and negotiations, because foreign trawlers cannot be excluded by any change in the law, but only by agreement of the Governments under which they live, and I want to point out to the right honourable Gentleman that there are only two ways of making equality between foreign trawlers and British trawlers. The first is by admitting British trawlers, and the second by excluding foreign trawlers. The effect of admitting British trawlers would be to upset the whole existing policy of the Government and the Fishery Board, which we entirely approve. We consider that the Scotch Fishery Board is well acquainted with the needs of the Scotch fishermen. We have confidence in the Fishery Board, and we wish to support them. Therefore we do not wish this policy upset. If British trawlers are admitted into the Moray Firth they will make as clean a sweep of the Moray Firth as they have made of the coasts of Scotland and England. They have cleared away their own fisheries, and they wish to come into the Moray Firth. I say that the matter ultimately will be decided upon the broad grounds of the proper protection of the supply of fish and fair play to all. What I am pressing upon Her Majesty's Government has to do with the existing strained relations to which my honourable Friend referred, and that can best be remedied by an exchange of active communication with 369 other Governments, and an agreement that for the time being all trawlers equally shall be excluded from the Moray Firth.
MR. GIBSON BOWLES (Lynn Regis)
I hope I may be allowed a few words to protest against the monstrous doctrine that the honourable Member who has just sat down preaches, that trawlers destroy fish, and therefore ought to be excluded. If the honourable Member had read a most excellent book dealing with the question of the natural history of fish, "The Resources of the Sea," and also had studied the works of the Biological Institute at Plymouth, he would see that it is absolutely true that the spawn of fish float in the sea; that no trawler, no seine fisherman, can by any possibility harm the spawn of the fishery; and that all these matters are delusions upon which an ignorant Scottish Fishery Board has excluded their own trawlers, and then others more ignorant and stupid than the Scotch Fishery Board come and want the Government to try and exclude the foreign trawlers. All this is founded upon the merest delusion, upon ignorance of the habits of the fish. Sir, I think it is outrageous that day after day Members should come here and put questions suggesting that the trawlers are injuring the supply of fish to the world. The Member for Ross-shire constantly suggests that without any rebuke, and it is allowed to go forth that trawlers are destroying the supply of fish. Everybody who has studied the habits of fish knows—["No"]—I say yes; all those who have scientifically studied the habits of fish are thoroughly well agreed that the trawler does no harm at all.
§ SIR W. WEDDERBURN
The honourable Member must be aware that a Bill is before the House introduced by a trawling Member to prevent the sale of immature fish.
§ Bill read a third time and passed.