HC Deb 06 April 1900 vol 81 cc1414-47
MR. COURTNEY (Cornwall, Bodmin)

The motion just moved by my right hon. friend covers an unusually long period of time, for the House is about to separate under circumstances of a very serious and even unprecedented character. It appears to me, therefore, that the time is not unfitting to enter into a discussion, which may be conducted without exciting heat or feeling or party passion, on the situation in South Africa, and on the possible conditions under which the war may be brought to a close. ["Oh!"] I am quite aware, from the sounds that are being emitted around me, that there are dangers attending such a discussion. I should not have proposed to enter upon it without very grave consideration, and I hope I shall conduct it in a manner not to prejudice any of the interests of the country, and not to excite any feeling derogatory to the traditions and character of the House. I am well aware of the perils of the subject. I should have thought that in the present situation anyone who is conscious of the dignity and responsibilities of Parliament and his own position as a Member of Parliament would not have thought it unbecoming to have entered on a discussion such as that which I have described. But I find I am debarred from entering on the main purpose of the speech which I had contemplated delivering to the House. An hon. Member in the exercise of his privileges has put down a motion for an Address to the Crown praying that no conditions of peace shall be agreed upon which do not satisfy certain conditions set forth in the notice. The notice was given for an early but indefinite day, and probably I am not very far wrong in thinking the hon. Member was not very eager to bring it on. At any rate, the result is that even the House itself, if it desires by a majority beyond computation to enter on the discussion of this subject, which must be admitted to be one of paramount importance, is absolutely debarred from considering the question. The notice of motion prevents attention being called to the subject on any day of this session, and this deprives hon. Members of an opportunity of fulfilling the duty they are sent here to perform. It is especially unfortunate that this should happen at the present time, when this House is regarded as the single refuge where free speech can be possibly relied upon. The press is in great measure closed—["No!"]—the fact cannot be denied—to the minority, in some places a considerable minority, who hold views which are opposed to those of the majority. The power of assembly in public halls even for private discussion after notice given is practically interfered with and taken away in many parts of the country. It becomes of all the greater importance, therefore, that in this House the privilege of free speech should be maintained—that the House should not be debarred from the possibility of expressing its opinion on the most important question of the day. I have nothing to do but to submit; but I am not sorry that attention should thus be called to what has frequently been described by the right hon. Member for Thanet as "an injurious exercise of the irresponsible power of a single Member." There are, however, two matters of subsidiary importance on which I will crave leave to speak for a few minutes. One has been the subject of a question and answer to-day, and I will say at the outset I was rejoiced to hear the answer given by the Under Secretary for War with respect to the treatment of sick Boer prisoners. I am sure nobody wishes to add to the horrors of the war which is being waged in South Africa by any unnecessary infliction of sickness on the unfortunate prisoners who have fallen into our hands. It is not surprising they should develop a great amount of fever, especially enteric fever. Those who have realised the horrible pit in which Cronje and his men were placed before they were driven at last to surrender, and who understand the conditions of life to which they are accustomed, cannot be surprised to find that a large number of the prisoners who were brought down to Cape Town are suffering from fever. But they have been dying of late at a rate which will become serious if the present conditions are permitted to be maintained. I am, therefore, glad to hear from the Under Secretary that steps have been taken to prevent the further development of the sickness. So far as I know, no sickness has arisen among our own prisoners at Pretoria or elsewhere, though comparisons have been made between the treatment of colonial prisoners and the treatment of prisoners belonging to the Regular Army. Those comparisons do not seem to me of great importance1, but they have been made. But there has been no suggestion whatever as to neglect being in any way found in the treatment of our prisoners. On the contrary, there is very considerable evidence to show that care and kind attention has been paid to their wants. My hon. friend has treated the cases among the Boers as cases of enteric fever only, but everyone knows how easy it is for fevers which are infections to be confounded with those which are not. I assume that the greatest precautions have been taken to prevent any such confusion, and I hope that before the prisoners are landed care will be taken to see that no other infectious disease is developing itself. The other subject to which I wish to call attention is one in which, perhaps, there is not the same spontaneous interest which has been developed in the case of the sick prisoners; I refer to what has been done in the northern portion of Cape Colony and the colony of Natal in the way of the proclamation of martial law and the action there under. Very little is known as to what martial law is. One of the highest authorities, the late Lord Chief Justice, in a celebrated charge, practically declared that there was no such thing, that it was a negation of the law, which cannot be recognised as law at all. Of course, I am not prepared to deny that necessity might arise for action which might be roughly described as putting martial law in force, but I would suggest with reference to what is taking place in South Africa that the zone within which it should have force should be very largely decreased. It surely cannot be necessary for the assistance of the army in the field that martial law shall be carried down to Durban. The extension of the zone of martial law, an extension into which it is easy for an Administration to lapse, ought to be watched with the greatest jealousy. There is some reason to fear that the steps taken under martial law have not always been carefully instituted. There is the case in which three farmers were arrested in a district near the seat of war. They were taken to Cape Town, and there application was made to the court on their behalf, and after that application had been made they were moved back into the district into which they were arrested and in which martial law had been proclaimed, so as to escape from the jurisdiction of the civil court. The farmers have since been released, but I must say that the spirit which animated the military authorities in taking these men from Cape Town to the seat of war after an inquiry had been ordered by the High Court must be condemned. These men were in custody for a considerable period, and in the end they were discharged, because there was no evidence against them. And that case does not stand alone. A gentleman in Kimberley was kept in custody for three months and then discharged because there was no evidence against him. We all have experience of the way in which prisoners get lost sight of. The late Mr. Roebuck once drew attention to the case of a man who had been in custody in Ireland for years, and whose case had been lost sight of. It requires great attention to prevent such abuses. In some cases, too, the punishment inflicted seems to have been excessive, the evidence against the prisoners being unsubstantial in character and resting entirely on two or three native servants, who produce nothing which would be admissible in a court of law. If the records are true, this is a matter which requires serious attention. I would suggest that care be taken that no one shall be detained under martial law beyond a short time without his case being inquired into, and that no sentence extending beyond a certain period shall be inflicted by a court constituted under martial law without its being subject automatically to revision by a court of civil jurisdiction. Some such safeguards as these would, I believe, be acceptable to the officers administering martial law, as likely to prevent the risk of injustice, to which they themselves would be the first to acknowledge they are liable. Now I come to another question. As everyone knows, there is a censorship established at the Cape. I have heard of perfectly innocent communications being stopped by the censor. A resolution arrived at by a committee here in Westminster was communicated to a gentleman in Cape Town. A committee with which I am not myself associated passed a resolution of sympathy with the Dutch in South Africa. It was sent out to Cape Town. Large sums were paid for the cost of transmission, and a fortnight afterwards the telegraph company returned the message to the person who sent it. [An HON. MEMBER: A good thing, too.] It is the hon. Member's opinion that it is a good thing to prevent people in Westminster telling people in Cape Town that they have their sympathy. But is it a good thing that a message to a gentleman in Cape Town which involves no conceivable danger to the public interest should be stopped by the censor, the irresponsible censor? For to whom is the censor responsible? I have said all I have to say. I could have spoken at greater length if I had had the freedom I desired, but, under the operation of the rule to which I have referred, I have been stopped from pursuing a course which I believe I could have pursued without injury to the public interest.


Upon a point of order I desire to say that the notice of motion to which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bodmin has referred stands on the Order Paper in the name of the hon. and gallant Member for West Cumberland. In view of the fact, which is now notorious, that the hon. and gallant Member sailed from England more than a week ago for South Africa to engage in service at the front, I wish to know whether this notice of motion placed on the Paper by the hon. and gallant Member precludes this House from discussing certain phases of the war until he comes back. Suppose he never comes back at all. I assume that I am correct in saying that the House has power to order the discharge of a Bill, and I wish to ask if there is a similar power to order the discharge of a motion from the Order Book which is plainly there for blocking discussion and for a mischievous purpose, and which cannot be moved. The notice on the Paper is in the following terms— That an humble address be presented to Her Majesty, praying Her Majesty not to make terms of peace with the Presidents of the South African Republics on any terms which do not provide for the annexation of the two Republics to Her Majesty's dominions. I also wish to ask to what extent a motion of that kind can prevent debates in this House on the question of the settlement of this war.


I wish to ask whether it is not an ancient rule of this House that hon. Members who leave this country for a lengthened period have to obtain the leave of this House; and whether, on such leave being obtained, all the motions in their name do not necessarily lapse.


I do not know of any such rule as that to which the hon. Member has just referred. It might, or it might not, be a reasonable course, but there is no rule to that effect. As regards the question of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Kilkenny, I cannot take any notice of whether an hon. Member who has set down a notice of motion is in South Africa, or Scotland, or England. Then as regards the question which he asked me as to whether there is power in this House to discharge a notice of motion, I can only speak from precedent, and I am not aware that such power in a case like this has ever been exercised. I do not know whether the hon. Member can show me any precedent. As to the extent to which a debate is limited, I can only say that it is impossible for me to give an exhaustive definition beforehand. If an hon. Member trespass upon the ground covered by a notice of motion it is my duty to call him to order.


Will it be open to me, in face of this motion, to argue that the British Government, in case they get the power to do so, ought to give back the independence of these States? Can I go that length?


Certainly not.

*SIR WILLIAM HARCOURT (Monmouthshire, W.)

I do not propose to enter into the questions which my right hon. friend the Member for Bodmin has raised in the latter part of his speech, but I would ask the leave of the House to say a word on the subject which he dealt with at the commencement of his speech—the difficulties placed in the way of the action of this House by the rule, Mr. Speaker, which you have just laid down. I can give an example of the operation of this rule, as it happened when I was responsible for the conduct of the Opposition some years ago. There were then very serious questions affecting the policy of the Government in Crete, and I always, as I think the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House will acknowledge, abstained from bringing on a motion which might be detrimental to the public interest at that period and on this subject. I came to an understanding with the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House that it was expedient and proper that that question should be brought on, by leave, on a motion for adjournment. With the consent of both sides of the House I came down to make that motion, and I found that there was a motion on the Paper, put down by the hon. Member for East Mayo, who wished the motion to come on, and who had no idea that his notice would obstruct it. He desired to withdraw the notice that day, but he was told that it was impossible, and the whole object of both sides of the House was defeated by the operation of this rule in a matter of very great public importance affecting the interests of the country generally. We had a discussion at that time upon the subject.* I remember the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House was as anxious as I was that the matter should come on, and we were absolutely defeated by the operation of a rule which, I venture to say, in the manner in which it operates, makes this House absolutely impotent. It may be that some very great public crisis has arisen, and there may happen to be, accidentally or intentionally, a notice of motion upon the Paper of this House, and though it may be the highest duty of the House to discuss that subject, though the Government desired it and the Opposition desired it, yet you have a rule which reduces you absolutely to impotence. A man may have a Bill introduced in the earliest days of the session without the smallest chance or intention of ever prosecuting it, and if that Bill refers to a subject which may be of the greatest possible importance, by no possibility can a motion be brought on in reference to that subject. Now, Sir, that is a situation which I think the House ought not to allow to continue. It does not depend upon any Standing Order of the House at all. It has grown up quite recently within my own memory. It was originally what may be called an obiter * 1st March, 1897 (See The Parliamentary Debates [Fourth Series], Vol. xlvi., page 1,347). dictum of Mr. Speaker Peel,* and no doubt the original intention was to prevent a man, when there was a genuine motion intended to come on, and which should come on, from taking advantage of a motion for adjournment in order to anticipate that motion. It has now grown up into a totally different thing. It has grown up into a system of blocking public business, of excluding matters of the highest possible importance, and of making this assembly ridiculous. It leaves it in the power of any single man to defeat the whole House of Commons by the operation of this rule. The circumstances of to-day add to the ridicule, as was stated by the hon. Member behind me. A Member puts down a motion—I dare say in perfectly good faith. He goes abroad, and we may not see him again this session, or after this session, and yet by the mere fact of his having put down that motion on the Paper the whole question of the settlement of South Africa is excluded from the consideration of this House. It is intolerable that such an absurdity can be allowed to continue in the House of Commons. I know it has been called common law of the House of Commons, but it is common law of very recent origin, and though it was very good in its intention originally, it has been abused to such an extent that I think we ought to take notice of it. By resolution, at any moment, this practice can be abolished, and I do hope that some measure will be taken at a very early period to deliver the House of Commons from this ridiculous restraint upon its freedom of speech.

MR. JAMES LOWTHER (Kent, Thanet)

I think the right hon. Gentleman opposite is mistaken in speaking of * In May's Parliamentary Practice (Tenth Edition, page 264), references are given to many decisions on this point; but the earliest definite pronouncement under the present Rules of Procedure is not noted. On the 17th February, 1887 (see The Parliamentary Debates [Third Series], Vol. cccx., page 1,777), Mr. Speaker Peel gave a very distinct ruling, which he expressly founded on a ruling of his predecessor in 1882. The latter is reported in Vol. cclxxv of the Debates, at page 26. Mr. Speaker Brand said: "An hon. Member is debarred from discussing on a Motion for adjournment a Motion which stands on the Order-book of the House." This, apparently, has no specific reference to the (then) new Rules, for Mr. Speaker Brand proceeds:" That is an established and fundamental Rule of Debate. this rule as a rule of the House. When the subject arose in connection with Crete a question was put to the Chair, I think by myself, as to whether it was in the power of a Member by putting down a motion of this kind to restrain the House from exercising the right which any Member possesses under Standing Order No. 17, to which the right hon. Gentleman just now referred—namely, in regard to motions for adjournment at the end of questions having precedence. I remember that the Leader of the House took part in that discussion. That was not a question of the rule of the House, but it was a ruling of the Chair in the time of your predecessor, which I am bound to say was a ruling in which a good many hon. Members of the House well versed in the usages of Parliament were not able to concur. I remember that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wolverhampton cast some doubts upon that ruling. What took place upon the occasion I am now referring to was that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Monmouthshire on the 1st of March, 1897, told the House that he found himself precluded from bringing on a motion for adjournment upon the question of Crete. I then asked the Leader of the House— Whether it would not be the more convenient course that the House should modify the Standing Order which applies to cases of this kind. Because I would remind my right hon. friend that I, for one, have a perfect right, if I think fit, to put down a notice on all fours with the notice of the hon. Member for Mayo, which would land the House in the same fix as to-day. Therefore, I venture to ask whether it would not be desirable that some modification of this rule should be adopted, whereby if, in the opinion of the Chair, any question arises which he considers of sufficient urgency, it might he brought forward, notwithstanding the interposition of any motion of the kind referred to. The Leader of the House expressed sympathy with my suggestion, and went on to say— We have not in practice found that much difficulty arises, for the good sense of Members on both sides of the House has hitherto, in my experience, always prevented any such impasse, or such insuperable difficulty as in theory undoubtedly might arise at present, although in practice it has not arisen. In reply to that I went on to say— I am afraid I cannot associate myself with my right hon. friend's experience as to no inconvenience having occurred in the past. I have known cases of considerable importance— Here Mr. Speaker called me to order, as there was no question before the House, and I proceeded— I will then ask a question. Do I understand that my right hon. friend will take steps with a view to the modification of the rule, because, if not, I must consider whether another object lesson should not be forthcoming? Then, on another point of order, the Speaker said— The ordinary rule of the House is that when a motion such as that of the hon. Member has been put on the Paper it operates, so far as the question of anticipation goes, until it ceases to appear on the Paper. Then the right hon. Gentleman the Member for East Wolverhampton asked, on a question of order, whether there was any Standing Order of the House that laid down this rule, or whether it was not the practice that had grown up without any sanction from the House. The Speaker said, I think, "There is the Standing Order."


It must be a misprint if the report states that I said, "There is a Standing Order." What I said was, "There is no Standing Order."


I assume it must be a misprint. The Speaker then proceeds— It is a practice of the House which has been acted upon, and the practice of the House, as the right hon. Gentleman knows, when acted upon for years is as binding upon the House as a Standing Order. Then the Speaker also proceeded to say— Of course it is obvious that there are occasions when the practice would operate inconveniently. It is not for me to say whether, on the whole, it operates inconveniently or not. Certainly if the House thinks fit to alter the rule I shall not offer any advice to the contrary. Then I asked— What course can the House adopt? Would it be by way of resolution to move a modification, or by Standing Order? To which the Speaker replied— Where you want to alter the practice of the House, it would be more convenient to do so by Standing Order. At the same time, the House has sometimes acted upon resolutions. It is a matter for consideration what course should be followed. Whereupon I said— As far as I am personally concerned, having regard to the assurance that the matter shall receive consideration, I shall not take action in the direction of an object lesson. It was upon that distinct assurance that I refrained from putting on the Notice Paper that very night a motion which would stop throughout the whole of the session anything being said about Crete, and I shall be quite prepared to take the responsibility of putting down one of these sham blocking notices with a view to exposing the outrageous character of our system. It seems to me perfectly preposterous when a subject is brought forward which in the opinion of the speaker is a definite matter of urgent public importance, that the House should be precluded from discussing it because some individual Member who may be in South Africa or elsewhere had put down a motion, and that our privileges should be interfered with by an absurd system of this sort. I believe the original ruling to have been wrong. That is, of course, a matter with which I cannot deal now, but I venture to hope that my right hon. friend will give us an assurance that this matter shall be seriously considered by the Government, and that he will propose such a modification, whether by Standing Order or resolution, in the practice and procedure of this House as will restore to the House that freedom of debate it has always freely exercised.


The debate on the adjournment for the holidays has taken a somewhat unexpected turn owing to the difficulty in which my right hon. friend the Member for Bodmin finds himself by being precluded by a motion on the Paper from making a speech he intended to deliver upon the terms of peace, or Lord Salisbury's message to the two Presidents, or some analogous subject. While I always listen to the right hon. Gentleman with the greatest pleasure, I am not sure that this is a very convenient time or a suitable occasion on which to discuss the settlement which will have to be made at the conclusion of the war, which, I am afraid, has some length to run before that happy termination is reached. Without going into the propriety of a discussion such as my right hon. friend wishes to initiate, I suppose the House desires that I should express an opinion on the more abstract and general question which has arisen on the present occasion. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Monmouth and my right hon. friend the Member for the Isle of Thanet have, not for the first time, called attention to the inconvenience the House is put under by having its freedom of debate, so to speak, limited by its own rule or, at all events, by its own practice in this matter. I do not feel at all disposed to minimise that inconvenience, but at the same time I do not remember that in fact, during the last few years, it has produced any serious limitation of the power of debate. My right hon. friend has mentioned an instance, the only case apparently that occurs to his memory, in which a debate upon Cretan affairs was prevented from coming on on a certain afternoon. No doubt, at the time, the inconvenience was felt to be considerable, but no one who remembers the events of that session can assert that the affairs of Crete were inadequately discussed during its progress, nor can any Member of the House recall a single case in which any question of public policy interesting to any large section of the House was prevented from coming on by the operation of this practice or rule.

MR. LOUGH (Islington, W.)

There was the instance, the other day, with reference to the employment of foreign seamen aboard British ships.*


I do not think there can be a better illustration of what I mean. I do not think that anybody can pretend that that particular subject was not adequately discussed.


The blocking motion was removed.


Yes; the motion was taken off and did not operate to prevent discussion. The statement I ventured to make was that in the recollection of the House no question of public policy had in fact been precluded from discussion by the operation of this practice, and the only case the hon. Member can call to mind proves to be an illustration of the very proposition I am making.


There were several cases during the period when the right * See page 680 of this Volume. hon. Gentleman was Chief Secretary for Ireland when discussion on the conduct of the Royal Irish Constabulary and other questions was prevented.


My right hon. friend's appetite for discussion must indeed be great if he thinks that the conduct of the Royal Irish Constabulary was not sufficiently discussed at that period. I really think that a less fortunate instance of the gagging of the House could hardly be mentioned than that my right hon. friend has happened to hit upon. I was about to say, when my right hon. friend threw in his pointless interruption, that if Members like the right hon. Member for the Isle of Thanet are going about on a kind of piratical expedition to prevent any subject in which the House is interested being discussed, by means of bogus notices of motion, I do not for a moment doubt that serious public inconveniences might arise. Let me point out that the Standing Orders, at all events, provide an outlet—I do not think a sufficient one—even from that serious state of affairs. Nothing can prevent discussion on the Estimates, on the salaries of Ministers, or any relevant point on any Vote; and especially I will venture to say, under the new rules of Supply, any considerable demand for the discussion of a particular matter at a particular time is always agreed to by the Government. I have admitted that there is undoubted difficulty, though it has been accentuated and exaggerated; and let me now only ask the House not to rush too hastily to the conclusion that the whole of that inconvenience can be abolished by a resolution such as has been suggested without danger of some other difficulty, perhaps not so serious, but not to be lightly disposed of, arising in its place. It has been pointed out that it may be impossible to avoid dragging the House into a double discussion, under most inconvenient circumstances, and it has been suggested by my right hon. friend that it should be left to the Speaker to decide whether a matter is of urgent importance. That may be the proper course, but it will be throwing a new burden on the Speaker, who as I understand, has not now to decide whether a matter is one of immediate public importance. That has to be determined by the fact that forty hon. Members rise in their places. [Several HON. MEMBERS: No, no!] My view is that the Speaker judges of the definiteness, but the urgency and importance are decided by the House. Perhaps it would be for the convenience of the House if we know how the matter stands, and on a point of order I would appeal to you, Sir, for a ruling as to how we stand and what are the duties thrown upon the Chair by the Standing Order in relation to motions for adjournment.


The Standing Order presents some difficulty in interpretation. When I came to the Chair I found the practice of the Speaker had been to deal with the question of definiteness himself, but as regards the urgency and public importance of the subject they have practically always been left to the decision of the House by the rising of at least forty Members in their places. I say "practically," for certainly I do not understand that the Speaker is bound to put a question as one of urgency and public importance if it is obviously ridiculous or frivolous, or so obviously unimportant that the Speaker ought not to put it. Subject to that limitation, that the question is obviously one that the Speaker ought not to submit to the House, the practice has been to leave the question of urgency and public importance to the House in the manner proscribed by the Standing Order.


In order to clear our ideas on this matter, let me take a concrete case. Let us suppose there was some very important question of foreign policy about which some Gentleman had put a notice on the Paper, and upon which, by common expectation, a discussion of importance must arise. Suppose that a few days before that some private Member got up, with the assent of forty of his friends, and called the attention of the House to the subject as a matter of definite and urgent public importance. The whole arrangements of the House would be upset by this premature discussion, by the action of a small minority. I am disposed to say that that is not the least of two evils. I only mention this because we ought not to interfere with our practice in these matters without considering the pros and cons of the policy we pursue. We ought not to fly from evils that we know to evils that we know not of. I am not sure it might not be a good plan to refer this matter to the Committee on Procedure, which will have to sit later in the session—soon after Easter—and they may perhaps give the House some counsel in the matter. In the meanwhile, I hope my right hon. friend will abstain from putting down a series of burking resolutions, and will be content to leave this discussion to bear its natural and legitimate fruit in the minds of Members. The case has been put before the House both by the right hon. Gentleman and my right hon. friend. I have endeavoured to set forth the pros and cons for the suggested alteration in our practice. If the general opinion of the House is that that alteration should take place, I do not desire to oppose it.


There is one respect in which I think the House has not yet fully sounded the extraordinary depths of this question, and I will endeavour to explain it to the House. The origin of this practice was that, as has already been explained, in old days, which many of us remember, it was in the power of any Member of the House during Question time, or at the end of Question time, to proceed, founding himself possibly upon the reply to a question he had himself put, to deliver an address of any length he chose, and he could always say, "I will put myself in order by concluding with a motion for the adjournment of the House." The result was that in a most irregular and irresponsible way the time of the House was occupied sometimes on the most trivial subjects. It was, I imagine, in order to prevent that abuse that the new rule was established, confining the power of moving the adjournment of the House in this irregular way to cases which had been formally submitted to the Speaker for approval more or less, the Member also showing that he had support from a certain considerable contingent of Members of the House. I think that the object was to regularise that form of procedure. The object of the new rule was to prevent a man, from a good or bad motive, from jealousy or vanity, or from over eagerness or too great a desire to benefit the public, rushing in and taking the water, as it were, of some honest, hard working, thoughtful man of foresight and intelligence who had secured an opportunity some weeks in advance of bringing forward a particular subject. That is an evil which must be guarded against. But let me point out to the House that, while the new arrangement was aimed at those more or less irregular adjournments of the House moved by individual Members, that is not the case with us to-day. My right hon. friend did not rise to move the adjournment of the House. This is one of the stated occasions during the session when it has been by immemorial practice considered the right and privilege of the House to discuss anything connected with the conduct of the Government. And that is why it is made such a formal business that it cannot be moved in an off hand way or at the end of a sitting. Notice has to be given, so that when it is done there shall be full opportunity for debate. The motion for adjournment for the Easter holidays has been made at a time of great public anxiety, and my right hon. friend is prevented from discussing a matter of the very gravest moment by the accident of an hon. Member having put down a motion. I venture to say this is a much more important thing than a mere question of a Member getting up with a few of his friends and throwing the whole of the business of the House into confusion in order to bring forward something in which he and they are interested. The new practice has come to be a direct infringement of the traditional privileges of the House on the motion for adjournment for the holidays to discuss the whole gamut of public policy.


I am sorry to interrupt the right hon. Gentleman, but he seems to think it is the invariable practice to put down the motion for the adjournment for the holidays as the first Order, so that there can be a long discussion. I assure him he is incorrect. It is not absolutely necessary to give notice at all. The motion has constantly been put at the end of the Government Orders of the Day, and not at the beginning, so that if a discussion were to take place at all it would be in the small hours of the morning.


I think the right hon. Gentleman and hon. Members generally will agree with me, if they search their memories, that the making of the motion for adjournment for the holidays has always been regarded as an opportunity, not to appropriate the whole sitting, but an opportunity when anything urgent can be dealt with. It is such an opportunity that is being invaded at the present moment. My right hon. friend wished to call attention to a very delicate and difficult question. I have a high opinion of the sagacity of my right hon. friend, but, for my part, I should not have thought that the present is a very opportune moment for any such discussion as he proposed to raise. But that is a matter of personal opinion. I do not complain because I have been shut out from making a speech. I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that that is not my motive. But I do think there is more involved than the mere preventing the abuse of an irregular mode of discussing matters by a spontaneous moving of the adjournment of the House. What is involved is an invasion of an ancient privilege, which I think is one deserving of the respect of the House.

SIR WILFRID LAWSON (Cumberland, Cockermouth)

The proceedings to-night have taken a very extraordinary and, I think, a very unfortunate turn. We have been deprived of an opportunity which many of us wished to avail ourselves of, to discuss, as we have a right to do, the position in which we find ourselves in regard to the war. And now we discover we are unable to do so on account of a bogus motion put down by an hon. Member on the other side of the House. I do not know whether even yet the Speaker might not exercise his authority. Look at the position. The blocking motion is for an "early day." Now, how is it possible for an hon. Member who is now in South Africa to bring on his motion on an "early day"? Could you, Mr. Speaker, not rule that this is a bogus motion and enable us to go on in the usual way? It is a great pity if we cannot. My right hon. friend the Leader of the Opposition has said this is not an opportune time to discuss the South African position. I think it is an opportune time always to protest against the injustice and the wrong that is now going on. There is another point. What has become of free speech in this country? We are driven about from pillar to post, unable to get a hearing, and we thought to find refuge in this House; but we are met by a bogus motion even in this House. This question of free speech is becoming rather serious. Some hon. Members may have observed that we managed to have a dinner the other night in a certain place of resort in London. But what do we see to-day? Why, that the man who holds the establishment says that he did not know what our dinner was about, and if he had known he would have swept us out. I point out that as a proof of the difficulty of getting free discussion now. Another incident has happened. My hon. friend the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs is going down next week to address his constituents, and what is the intimation that he has got? He is told by his agent that the speakers at his meeting will not be interfered with except by the missiles which will be thrown at them as they enter and leave the hall. That is a pretty sort of thing: we are to travel out of England before we can obtain the right of free speech. An hon. Gentleman just said to me, "If you want to speak against the war come over to Ireland." Fancy being driven out of the House of Commons, the old home of free speech, and being obliged to go to Ireland for the purpose of making a speech against the war. It is a sad state of things, and all arising out of the spirit of militarism which is becoming predominant in this country, and which, if not checked very shortly, will deprive us of many of the rights and privileges we so highly value.


May I suggest to the right hon. Gentleman opposite that this Conciliation Committee is a little misplaced, and that if he wants to produce any effect with it he should transfer it to the Transvaal, and see if he could get any terms of conciliation from the Boers out there? I am not surprised that the constituents of the hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs should promise him a warm reception, because he went down to my constituency to speak against me. Now I want to say a word with regard to the rival claims—the urgent motion for an early day for the discussion of this war, and the motion which is blocked by that motion. My suggestion is that both the urgent motion and this motion should be allowed to go on, and I submit that to the consideration of the First Lord of the Treasury. The settled and considered motion can be debated when its time comes on, and this motion can be debated now. These blocking motions have taken upon themselves a very formidable character. We have thirty-three Members of this House away without leave soldiering in South Africa. [An HON. MEMBER: Ask for a call.] Yes, but the time has gone by for calls of this House, otherwise I, for one, should be very glad to see a call. Now one of those hon. Members before he went put a blocking motion on the Paper, and the subject cannot be debated in his absence. It is an abuse of the privileges of this House to put down such a motion, and it only arises from the fact of right hon. Members on the front bench giving hon. Members leave to serve in South Africa. If hon. Members had to obtain leave of the House before they went, then motions standing in their names would lapse, so that it is entirely in consequence of the irregularity of hon. Members going away without obtaining leave of absence that this unfortunate state of things has arisen. My right hon. friend the First Lord of the Treasury tells us that there is to be a Committee appointed to consider the procedure of this House. It is not before it is wanted. There are some Standing Orders which most urgently require amending, and I hope those Standing Orders will be referred to that Committee. Am I to understand from my right hon. friend that they will be referred to the Committee?


No; my hon. friend is not to understand anything of the kind. I am not at all sure that there ought not to be a Committee appointed to revise the Standing Orders, but that is a very big order, and I certainly must not be taken to make any proposal on so large a scale.


I think if the right hon. Gentleman would consult the Chancellor of the Exchequer he would find that there are several which very much require to be amended.

MR. LABOUCHERE (Northampton)

If the hon. Gentleman proposes to take action on this matter, I suggest that he might do so by opposing the adjournment for the holidays, on the ground that we ought not to leave here until we have discussed this motion. If the hon. Gentle- man will do that I will tell with him. I would also venture to suggest to the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Treasury that there is a way, to a certain extent, of meeting this matter. In olden days when Bills were blocked by a notice, the notice once put down lasted the whole session; that was subsequently modified by the hon. Member who put the notice down being obliged to renew his notice every week. It seems to me that we might meet a motion of this kind by laying it down that a motion does not hold good unless the hon. Gentleman who puts it down is in his place to renew it every week. Then if one hon. Gentleman went away and another hon. Gentleman desired to move a similar motion, we could deal with it. We have to deal with the fact that an hon. Gentleman who has gone abroad has put down a motion, and this prevents us discussing what is best to be done under the circumstances of this war. That cannot be fair or proper, and we want to do something. My right hon. friend the Member for Bodmin asked two or three questions which have not yet been answered. I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman the Under Secretary of State for War is going to answer them or not, and I call attention to the fact that they are questions which demand an answer. One is with regard to the Transvaal prisoners; we have a large number of prisoners, and as the right hon. Gentleman pointed out, our prisoners are well treated in the Transvaal, and the Boers are under the impression, rightly or wrongly, that the prisoners we have taken are not so well treated. I asked the hon. Gentleman yesterday,* and he told me that there were some cases of illness, and some deaths. We want thoroughly to understand that something is being done and some care is being taken in order to mitigate and improve the position in which these unfortunate men are placed. There was another question which was pressed by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bodmin; he asked what the law was, or what was our action with regard to martial law at the Cape. He pointed out that three men who were taken under martial law were sent down to the Cape, and when they arrived at the Cape it was discovered that they *See page 1253 of this volume. were outside the jurisdiction of martial law, and that they were then sent back to the place from which they came, where martial law did exist, where they were released without trial. I think that we should know something about this. I have always urged that it is difficult to say whether in a self-governing colony the military commander has a right to administer martial law without the consent of the governor of the colony. I do not think he has. There is another point that I should like to have some understanding about, and that is with reference to the proclamation read by the right hon. Gentleman the Colonial Secretary. As I understood it, anybody who want only damaged property is to be held responsible for such damage in his person and his goods. I do not think that we had any right to issue such a proclamation; our being at war with the Transvaal does not give us a right to interfere with its laws, unless we are in military occupation of the country. Then there is another proclamation issued by Sir Alfred Milner himself that we shall not recognise any transfer of property, though carried out with the full concurrence of the courts, after the war is over. We have no right to issue such a proclamation as that. A third thing which I should like to know is, what is the status of a Free Stater in that part of the Free State occupied by our troops. What are the Free Staters at the present moment? Are they Free Staters or are they British subjects? I cannot make out myself. I presume that in the view of Lord Roberts they are British subjects, because he has, without any right or authority whatsoever, deposed, as you may call it, the President of the Free State Republic. President Steyn he spoke of as "ex-President Steyn," and I saw here yesterday that there was a question put by an hon. Gentleman on that side to a Gentleman on the front bench asking something—I forget exactly what it was, but the words used were "ex-President Steyn." I would ask the First Lord of the Treasury or the Under Secretary for War whether we do recognise President Steyn as the President of the Free State or not, and whether we still recognise the authority of the Orange Free State as an independent Republic at present. I am not questioning as to whether there is to be annexation or not. I wish to know what is the status of the Orange Free State at present internationally, and what is the status of the inhabitants of the Free State toward us.

MR. CHANNING (Northamptonshire, E.)

The First Lord of the Treasury suggests that the main difficulty occupying us this afternoon would be to some extent met by referring this matter to a Committee of Procedure. Well, of course, even this method of inquiry will take time, and probably will not result in the mitigation of the situation in which we are placed for some time. Therefore, unless some practical step is taken the suggestion of the First Lord of the Treasury will not relieve the House from the difficulty of dealing with the question at all for a very long time. The question I have to ask the First Lord of the Treasury is whether he will not communicate with his hon. friend who has this motion on the Paper, and take such steps as may be desirable, and communicate also with other Members who may wish to place similar motions on the Paper, so that when reasonable occasion does arise in the course of the present session for dealing with this question the House may be able to discuss it. I think after the discussion we have had to-day we ought to have some assurance from the First Lord of the Treasury that he will make an effort to free the House from the difficulty of discussing a question which up to the present moment may not be ripe for discussion, but which within a few weeks may become eminently ripe for discussion.


I will telegraph.


The hon. Member for Northampton referred to two subjects which were raised in the first place by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bodmin. The hon. Gentleman put the case in such a pointed manner as to require an answer from me with reference to the prisoners of the South African Republic, and also on the subject of the administration of martial law. In regard to the case of the Boer prisoners in our hands and the treatment of the sick and wounded I have given a certain amount of information to the House, and I think all I can add to that information is that no distinction whatever is drawn in South Africa between the wounded and sick of the enemy and the wounded and sick of our own men. A sick or wounded Boer, like a sick or wounded Englishman, is carried into one of our hospitals, field or stationary, and is treated without any kind of discrimination, just in the same way as any person run over in the streets of London would be treated if carried into a hospital. All that can be done to alleviate the necessary horrors and distresses of war is done, and I may say always has been done. I say with confidence that one of the outcomes of war has often been the touching commiseration shown for the victims of war, and that has always been characteristic of the officers who have commanded in the British Army. Now I pass to the question of the procedure under martial law.


What I wanted to know was whether it was consistent with the health of these prisoners that they should all be shut up together in the hulks.


The hon. Member is aware that we have made arrangements for their removal from the hulks, and either confining them on shore at the Cape or sending them to St. Helena. Prisoners who were taken at the earlier stages of the war expressed a preference to go to St. Helena. The question of the safety of the prisoners must be paramount. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bodmin quoted a definition of martial law as no law at all. I think that goes a great deal too far. There is some confusion in the minds of hon. Members as to the difference between martial law and military law. Military law only applies to soldiers and to persons amenable to Army discipline. Martial law is a wholly distinct matter. It is the best substitute which can be contrived by those commanding an army of occupation for the civil law which has been dislocated and impaired by the very fact that warlike operations are being prosecuted, and it is in that spirit that martial law is administered. That general statement, I think, completely answers the criticisms the right hon. Gentleman has offered. The hon. Member for Northampton has asked what is the status of the Free Staters in the portions of the Free State occupied by our Army. The Free Staters have the status that the French had when the army of Germany occupied a portion of France, and that the Turks had when the army of Russia occupied a portion of the Turkish Empire—that is to say, they are persons living in an area occupied by a preponderating military force. The duty of the officer commanding that force is twofold. He must, by the immemorial consent of nations, take all necessary steps for the safety of his force, and he is expected to take all the steps he can to provide a substitute for the civil law which has been destroyed owing to the fact that the army is there. Take the other case referred to by the hon. Member. Take the case of a portion of Cape Colony where martial law has been proclaimed. We have been reading in the newspapers that magistrates have in some cases been prisoners for weeks and months surrounded by rebels in arms. That is an illustration of my point. Civil law has become impossible, and in such a case the military commander is the only one who can supply a substitute. Lately detailed instructions have been issued to guide officers who administer martial law. They are instructed to follow as far as possible the rules of evidence and to model their proceedings on the proceedings of civil tribunals, and their attention has been specially directed to any charges, the presumption of which might not be well founded, urged against persons of Dutch nationality; and in respect of the more serious charges of high treason, which would carry with them the extreme penalty of the law, it has been provided that a judge of the Supreme Court of Cape Colony shall preside over the trials, although conducted under the provisions of martial law. Beyond that I do not think it is possible to go. The best guarantee that we can have in this House is in the character and record of the officer who, in the last resort, administers this law in South Africa—Field Marshal Lord Roberts. As far as I am aware, the only scandals which have occurred under martial law were when the personal character of some commander—I am speaking of centuries ago—was such as to make him negligent of the duties falling upon him. Under such circumstances I am convinced that Lord Roberts, with all the facts before him, is better able to temper justice with mercy than we are, and that he will lose no opportunity of doing so.

MR. BRYN ROBERTS (Carnarvonshire, Eifion)

The only rule of the House with respect to the point in dispute is that which was announced in 1897. Practically, the House has no option in the matter. If at that time the Speaker misconstrued a rule, and adopted one for which there is no warrant in the Standing Orders, the House has practically no means whatever of disagreeing with that ruling. Therefore it is rather hard to say that the practice of the House has followed that. It is not the practice of the House, but the practice of the Speaker who gave the ruling. I wish to ask as a question of order whether the rule obtains in this House which obtains in courts of law, that every Speaker is bound to follow the ruling of every previous Speaker as to the meaning of any particular Standing Order. If that be the case, it seems to me that the House is absolutely at the mercy of any Speaker who may be in the chair at the moment—that he may give a ruling on a Standing Order which every subsequent Speaker will be bound to follow, as it is practically impossible for the House to rescind it. The only way in which it could be rescinded, so far as private Members are concerned, is by balloting, but according to my experience you may ballot for years and years without success. If you do succeed in gaining a chance it is probably taken away from you. The result is most deplorable. Free debate on the part of private Members has been completely abolished within the last twelve or fifteen years, not by the action of the House, except in a very slight degree, but by rulings from the Chair, over which the House has absolutely no control whatever.


Order, order! The hon. Member will not be in order in discussing the rulings of the Chair. Moreover, he is altogether wrong in saying the House has no remedy. The House can always deal with such rulings by a substantive motion.


I will not proceed any further with the subject. What I meant by saying the House had no remedy was that the private Members have practically no remedy, because it is absolutely useless, unless the Government take the matter up, to endeavour to obtain by ballot any change in the Standing Orders of the House. With regard to the position of the Government, the fact is that no matter who, whether the Conservatives or whether the Liberals, are in power, they are always in favour of the restriction of the rights of private Members, and therefore they will never move in the matter. They can always—and properly—count on the support of the Chair in the carrying on of business, and therefore they never take any steps for the purpose of recovering the lost liberties of the House in respect of debate. I hope that private Members will take this into consideration, and that, irrespective of party—and I may now appeal to the Conservatives—they will put pressure on the Government in order that some of this lost liberty of debate may be recovered. To pass to the other matters which have been discussed, I think the hon. Gentleman the Under Secretary of State for War has rather misapprehended the complaint in regard to the exercise of martial law. It is not that the ultimate decisions have been unjust. I have been carefully through the newspapers, and I do not find any great complaint of the ultimate decisions. As a rule the cases in which complaints have been made are cases in which persons have been kept under martial law for long periods without examination or trial, or even the formulation of charges against them, and when charges have been formulated they have been proved to be unfounded. Our suspicion is that under martial law private individuals are enabled to wreak their vengeance upon other private individuals in the district. That is an evil which obtains in all countries in times of agitation and especially in times of panic. It was so in France at the time of the 1870 war. At that time it was dangerous for almost any foreigner to travel in France, for fear of being denounced as a spy. I am afraid there is a similar danger now with regard to the state of affairs in South Africa in the districts in which military operations have taken place, especially in Cape Colony, where we find that respectable Dutch people have been incarcerated for weeks, many of them being subjected to the same rules of imprisonment and diet as are imposed upon convicts, and afterwards liberated without conviction. There are not merely one or two, but a large number of these cases, and they lead us to believe that there has been a gross abuse of this power, not in the higher officers who decide these matters, but in the underlings. There certainly ought to be some investigation of this matter, as there is great danger that feelings will be emibittered and the pacification of the districts made more difficult if such injustices are perpetrated. I wish also to refer to the treatment of the Boer prisoners. The complaint is not that the wounded are not properly treated. We know that our medical men are absolutely above any petty revenge of that kind. There has never been the slightest hint or suspicion that they were in the least degree tainted by any partiality in their treatment of the wounded. But there certainly has been some feeling with respect to the treatment of the unwounded prisoners. That has now been recognised, and we are told that they are to be brought ashore. It is humiliating enough for Englishmen to be beaten in the field by our enemies, but it is more humiliating to be beaten by the Boers in magnanimity of conduct towards opponents. We certainly have been beaten in that respect. ["No!"] How have they treated prisoners? They might have sent them to underground mines under the pretence of securing safety, especially as they had the excuse that several prisoners have escaped, and that they have very few men to guard the remainder, practically all the able-bodied men being at the front. But they did nothing of the kind. On the other hand, we have thousands and thousands of men in South Africa who could without difficulty be put in charge of the Boer prisoners on shore, but instead of that the prisoners are being sent to St. Helena. The two newspaper correspondents—Mr. Winston Churchill and another—who have been taken prisoners have been most strongly impressed by the Boer conduct in this respect. It seems that as soon as correspondents come into personal contact with the Boers, their sense of honour, honesty and truth obliges them to give our opponents the highest character. The Boers have also beaten us in magnanimity to helpless men and men crying for quarter. There has not been a single complaint against the Boers of having refused to give quarter when asked. On the contrary, they have gone further than the rules of warfare and the practice of soldiers demanded. On the other hand, we have correspondents and privates writing home after the battles of the Modder, Elandslaagte, and others, priding themselves on the fact that the Boers were falling on their knees praying for mercy, and receiving the reply, "Remember Majuba Hill," and then being bayonetted or shot. I am eager and willing to believe that these stories are somewhat exaggerated, and I cannot believe that there are many men in our Army who have fallen so low; but the fact that these reports were sent home by soldiers and newspaper correspondents shows that among a section of them, at any rate, a depraved state of things exists in respect to this matter. It is not a noble and manly or a soldier-like thing to kill a man who is begging for mercy, and I wish that our commanders would take care that a proper feeling should be cultivated amongst the troops, although I believe that that feeling animates a large majority of our men. We should also see that that feeling extends to this base minority who have not acted according to the rules of war, and have evidently declined to give quarter to the enemy when asked to do so. [Cries of "Divide!"] This is a matter of great importance, and this is the only opportunity we shall have of discussing it, so I do not see why hon. Members should be in such a hurry to divide. I think some trouble should be taken by those in charge of our troops to see that the laws of warfare are not abused by our troops.

*SIR HOWARD VINCENT (Sheffield, Central)

I am astonished at the speech of the hon. Member for the Eifion Division. It seems to me that the hon. Member is willing to believe every story against our Army—


I desire to say that—


Order, order! The hon. Member has no right to interrupt unless the hon. Gentleman who is in possession of the House gives way.


It appears to me that the hon. Member is ready to credit every possible story against our own troops, and to give credit to the Boers where no credit whatever is due. I was present at the capitulation at Paardeberg, and I can tell the hon. Member that the treatment of the Boer prisoners by the English soldiers was admirable to see. Our soldiers did everything they could to relieve the distress of the Boers. The hon. Member complains that our men did not give them water. I can assure him that our soldiers went amongst the prisoners, giving them both food and water, not only after the capitulation, but also on their way to the Modder. I had no intention of speaking, but I could not possibly sit and listen to a statement of this kind and not say a word in refutation of it. Something has been said about the treatment of the Boer wounded. I have seen a great many Boer wounded in a great many hospitals in different parts of South Africa, and I can bear testimony to the most undoubted fact which was stated by the Under Secretary for War that no difference whatever has been made in the treatment of the Boer wounded and the English wounded. In the hospital at Wynberg I conversed with many Boer prisoners, and I also spoke to Commandant Pretorius, and I asked him if they had any complaint to make or any suggestion for better treatment. Commandant Pretorius said that nothing could exceed the kindness of our troops and the Army Medical Corps to the Boer prisoners, and gratitude was depicted on the face of every Boer prisoner I saw. I desire to say one word in regard to the admirable work which has been done by the Royal Army Medical Department in Cape Colony, Natal, at the front, at the stationary hospital, and at the base hospital. Nothing could possibly exceed the kindness, the skill, and the zeal with which they have done their work, and one is gratified to know that the recent changes made in the Royal Army Medical Department have not only been a great improvement, but they have given great satisfaction to the officers of the Army itself. I should like to thank Her Majesty's Government for having appointed some of the leading surgeons of the day to proceed to the seat of war, and I also desire to thank those eminent surgeons who have sacrificed their practice and gone out to the front in order to render the best possible service to our troops. The hon. Member opposite and the hon. Member for Northampton have spoken of the treatment of unwounded Boer prisoners. I saw the Boer prisoners at Simons Town, and I saw them in camp myself. Their camp is organised on exactly the same principles as the camp of a British regiment. The prisoners are divided into battalions, they are fed in the same way, and are tended and camped in exactly the same way as our own men. When, scarcely four weeks ago, I was in the Boer prisoners' camp at Simons Town, it was a pleasure to me to see how happy and merry the Boer prisoners were, playing football and other games, and to see what sources of recreation were [provided for them. I think I should add a word or two about the administration of martial law. I have been in Natal, as also in frontier provinces, and from no source have I been able to obtain any evidence that martial law is administered in a rigorous or harsh way. On the contrary, in Durban, for example, under the administration of martial law by Captain Percy Scott, many of the inhabitants said to me that they had never seen the town so quiet and so well ordered, or so much peace and liberty prevailing. The only other matter I desire to allude to is as to Lord Roberts. My hon. friend the Under Secretary of State for War stated that he was quite sure that it was the desire of Lord Roberts to do everything that was possible to minimise the racial feeling which, unfortunately, undoubtedly exists in South Africa. It is impossible to exaggerate the extraordinary tact with which Lord Roberts has acted throughout this campaign, not alone concerning our own Army, but concerning the administration of the occupied districts. There are many people who, without knowledge of the facts, think that Lord Roberts may have gone too far in his desire to extend sympathy to those who have now been placed in an unfortunate position in the occupied districts. I was present when Lord Roberts received General Cronje, and I was cognisant of all the arrangements he made for the conveyance of the prisoners to Simons Town, and I can say that there is no single Dutchman in Cape Colony, or in Natal, or in the occupied districts, or in any district in which martial law prevails, who does not realise that the Commander-in-Chief of the British troops in South Africa is not only doing all that he possibly can to bring the campaign to a successful conclusion, but he is also doing all he can to minimise those horrors of war which are absolutely inevitable from its pursuit. I will not detain the House further, but I could not remain seated and hear the statements made by the hon. Member for the Eifion Division, which are calculated to do great harm to Her Majesty's forces, who are doing their very best in South Africa for their Queen and country. Such a statement cannot fail to cause pain to honourable and gallant officers, who are doing their utmost to administer the law and the responsibilities confided to them in the most humane and admirable manner.

MR. BARTLEY (Islington, N.)

I only wish to say one word on this subject in regard to the rule which has hampered the House. No doubt there is a great deal to be said from the standpoint of inconvenience; but, I think, we ought to remember also that this much-abused rule has its advantages. This rule has prevented to-day a debate which I consider would have done a good deal of harm in South Africa, because any remarks made by the hon. Member for the Eifion Division would have been telegraphed over to South Africa and they would have done a great deal of mischief. Therefore, this rule has tended to save us from having a debate upon the arrangement of the terms of peace, upon which question the expression of the views of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bodmin and others would have done immense mischief at the present time. In altering this rule we must remember that there is a good side to it, and no stronger instance of its utility can be found than the proceedings of this afternoon, whereby this rule has prevented a most mischievous and dangerous discussion, and one which, if it had taken place, would have done immense harm in this country. In regard to this war the time seems to have come when a certain number of hon. Members of this House do not mind what they say or how they abuse our own men. Not only this, but they seem to delight in believing everything that is said against us whether it is true or not. The hon. Member said with regard to one of the statements he made that he did not think it was true, and that it was mere hearsay, and yet he has repeated it in this House, and no doubt it will be telegraphed to South Africa, where it may do incalculable mischief. I saw instances of this when I was in South Africa at the beginning of the War. I am surprised that hon. Members opposite do not restrain themselves, and are inclined to think that the only nation in the world that is criminal to the root is our own country. I think it is a grand thing that this rule has prevented a very mischievous debate from taking place.

MR. H. J. WILSON (Yorkshire, W.R., Holmfirth)

I desire to make a protest against the hon. Member for Central Sheffield coming here and accusing my hon. friend of saying things which he never said. If the hon. Member had been present during the whole of the speech of the hon. Member for the Eifion Division he would not have made those remarks.


I was here the whole of the time.


It is not fair to accuse my hon. friend of things which he did not say. The whole statement made by my hon. friend was with reference to the prisoners on board ship, and if the hon. Member thinks he disputes that complaint by speaking of the camp, he is very much mistaken. Then the hon. Member for North Islington repeated similar slanders.


I rise to order, Mr. Speaker. Is the hon. Member in order in using such language?


No; the hon. Member should withdraw that expression.


I beg leave to withdraw those words.

*MR. WEIR (Ross and Cromarty)

I desire to ask the First Lord of the Treasury what he intends to do in view of the Return which has just been issued in regard to the sea fisheries of the United Kingdom, which shows a falling off in the fishing population of Scotland of 25 per cent. This is a very serious matter, for there is no such falling off either in England, Wales, or in Ireland. In the year 1894 the number of persons employed in the fishing industry in Scotland was 50,589, but in 1898 it had fallen to 38,508, or a decrease of 12,081. I wish to know from the right hon. Gentleman whether the Government propose to take any steps to inquire into this matter. I have repeatedly brought the question of illegal trawling under the notice of the Lord Advocate. I have no doubt illegal trawling is largely responsible for this state of things, and is simply ruining the line fishing. As the hon. Member for Aberdeen stated the other night, fishermen are being driven from the fishing villages into the large towns. The First Lord of the Admiralty knows what a fine body of men these Scotch fishermen are, and we are fast losing a very valuable class from which the Naval and Marine services may be recruited. The Lord Advocate has treated this matter very lightly, and he has not the courtesy to come and take his seat while the subject is being discussed. The registered number of fishing boats in Scotland in 1894 was 11,217, but in 1898 it had fallen to 10,485, or a fall of 732. There is no such fall in England, Wales, or in Ireland, where the number of fishermen are increasing, and it is only in Scotland that there is this tremendous diminution, which I attribute to illegal trawling. This subject does not receive the attention of the Government, and I would urge the First Lord of the Admiralty to see if he cannot send down some of the cruisers which are now lying idle to do police duty, so that this great Scottish industry may be protected, and not allowed to go to ruin. With regard to the unsatisfactory harbours we may be told that they were good enough fifty years ago, but they are unsuitable now owing to the increased size of fishing boats; moreover, no fund is provided for their upkeep and extension. I should be glad to have the attention of the First Lord of the Treasury to these matters, seeing that they are treated with such indifference by the Lord Advocate. The First Lord of the Treasury claims to be a Scotsman, and I think he might show a little sympathy to those of his countrymen who are now in such a plight in regard to the fishing industry. I trust the right hon. Gentleman will give his attention to this subject, and not allow this terrible depopulation of the fishing villages in Scotland to go on. I am sorry to have to occupy the time of the House on such an occasion; but it is a matter of very serious importance to the Scottish people, and I deplore the want of courtesy shown by the Lord Advocate in failing to be in his place when such questions are laid before the House.

Question put, and agreed to.

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