§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."
§ *MR. CHANNING
I wish to say a few words on the settlement of the South African War. I offer no apology for attempting to deal briefly with this subject, because this is the last occasion on which we shall be privileged this session to offer any observations upon perhaps the gravest and most important issues this country has ever had to face. And I do not think that any apology is needed for a Member of this House coming forward, as I wish to do, in the capacity of a peacemaker. I listened with the greatest interest to the speech of my hon. friend the Member for Durham the other day, the admirable spirit and broad statesmanship of which I do not think could be praised too highly. 832 In that short but significant speech the hon. Member rather complained that on this side of the House there had been no suggestions as to the future, nor as to the conduct of these affairs to a definite issue. I wish in what I am going to say to lead up to some practical and useful suggestions for the settlement of this tremendous problem. The Colonial Secretary said the other day that it added very much to the force of the contentions of those who wished leniency to be shown to the two Republics and to the rebels in the Cape if they believed that this war was an unjust and an unnecessary war. I do not wish to enter upon that topic now, because it would be trespassing unfairly upon the time of the House. I dealt with that aspect of the case very fully on the Amendment to the Address, and all I have to say about it now is that it seems, to me that all the arguments, the contentions, and the evidence brought to light since the debate on the Address on the Amendment of the noble Lord the Member for Cricklade have tended only to deepen my conviction that this war was an unnecessary and an unjust war. I will not now labour that contention, nor do I wish to make any attack upon the Colonial Secretary. I think that the 833 issues which are before the House at such a moment as this are beyond any personal issues. History will have to answer many questions as to the right hon. Gentleman and his connection with these affairs; history may solve the problem why it is that the right hon. Gentleman has preferred, in dealing with men and with nations, rather to make enemies than to make friends; history will decide what contribution the right hon. Gentleman may have made towards that hatred and suspicion of England among peoples abroad which has roused such lively alarm in the minds of great experts in foreign policy like Lord Salisbury and Lord Rosebery; and history will have to solve the problem whether that greatest and most disinterested of British statesmen, William Pitt—who forms the noblest picture, perhaps, in national history—won more glory by fighting the battles of the nationalities of Europe against the Imperialism of Napoleon than the right hon. Gentleman has gained by suppressing the liberties of two petty republics whose liberty we have again and again pledged ourselves to preserve. What I wish to deal with are practical, simple, and direct issues. It seems to me that there can be no work more noble in its character than to make suggestions which will tend to remove some of the bitter horrors of this war, and ameliorate the condition of chaos which we see in South Africa to-day, and which will tend to produce friendship and good will between two races which will have to live side by side in the future. What I have to bring before the House is whether John Bright and Ireland have taught us the true lesson that force is no remedy, or whether we are to accept the modern theory that the only way of obtaining a willing acquiescence in our rule—which is the aim of this policy, if it has any aim whatever—is to crush out the individuality of men and peoples, and to dictate without conferring or listening to their views, or claims, or protests, and to force upon them our own scheme of government whether they like it or not. We have already seen some of the results of this policy. The reply of Lord Salisbury to the telegram of the President of the Orange Free State and the President of the Transvaal Republics when Bloemfontein was captured seemed to me at the time a reply which menaced a prolongation—an embittered prolongation—of this 834 war. I venture to say that it would have been better if, without accepting the terms suggested in the telegrams of the two Presidents—which, of course, were impossible terms—Lord Salisbury had shown that there was some hope of some of the ideas cherished by the Republics being accepted in some form or other by Her Majesty's Government. Then I come to the proclamation by Lord Roberts annexing the Orange Free State. What does that say? It says that it was expedient that the Orange Free State should be annexed, and should form part of Her Majesty's dominions. This proposal was not prefaced by any statement or any declaration stating the grounds, for such annexation, and there was no communication with the Orange Free State, so far as I can trace, at all on the question. There was simply an absolutely autocratic statement that the Orange Free State should cease; to exist, and that it was expedient that it should be annexed. [Ministerial cheers.] Hon. Members opposite: cheer that statement, but is there any State document of a similar nature recorded in history which does not preface: such annexation by a statement of the grounds on which such a policy is: declared to be expedient? But will this policy of force be successful? Will the Transvaal and the Orange Free State be peaceful countries when you have completed this work of military ascendency. But your problem, as you put it yourselves, will be to assert the supremacy of a peaceful, industrial community of: Englishmen, Germans, Frenchmen, and others over perhaps the fiercest, most determined, and most dexterous fighting community in history, as the Boers during, this war have proved themselves to be. We know that before the war the Uitlanders were reluctant to become citizens of the Transvaal because they incurred military responsibilities, and they were equally reluctant to join in the agitation and the revolution planned by Mr. Rhodes, because their only desire was to be let alone to acquire wealth and bring it away with them to this country. Do you think that the prevailing spirit will not be exactly the same when you have restored order in the Transvaal? Do you think when the Uitlanders have returned to their occupations that they will not be just as reluctant to be turned into soldiers, against their habits and 835 choice, and against their interests, as before? Do you think they will hold their own with such a warlike and enterprising race as the Boers? It is suggested that you may turn your soldiers from the colonies and elsewhere into settlers in South Africa, and some of them are to form a garrison to maintain British supremacy in the Transvaal. I should like any hon. Member who attaches any importance to that proposal to read the article written by Mr. Edward Dicey in one of the recently published reviews. If they know anything of the subject, they will know that it is practically impossible to make agriculture a paying industry for Englishmen in the Transvaal. It is an insoluble problem, the difficulties of which cannot be surmounted. You may spend money in planting those men there and equipping them, but the only result will be that in a very short time the men you have planted on the soil will drift into the towns and become hangers on at public-houses. [Ministerial cries of "Oh, oh!"] If they cannot carry on the agricultural industry successfully it is economically certain that they will drift into the towns and become waifs and strays. You have turned out all the Dutch railway men, and I think, if they committed no acts of war, that was a very questionable policy. You may create a few industries, and get employment for a few Englishmen in that way, and in that way your garrison might bestrengthened; but is it possible under this régime of force and this idea of suppressing the vigour and vitality of a race which has been keeping England at bay for eleven months that any scheme of that kind without the presence of an enormous army from England will succeed in curbing the impatience of this resentful race, eager and capable of initiating at some time or other, probably when England may have her hands full with difficulties in other countries, a policy of revenge for what they consider the grave injustice to which they have been subjected. I believe there is only one cure for this state of things which is likely to bring about amicable relations between Englishmen and Dutchmen, and which will save England an enormous expenditure of life and treasure in dealing with this great problem, and that is to recognise frankly and fully the right of these people to maintain in some form or other that independence of which they are now 836 being deprived. It may be an unpopular, and it certainly is an unfashionable, doctrine at this moment to support the policy of Mr. Gladstone in 1881. I am one of those who believe that that policy is the only true policy having its cornerstone in history and in human nature. But it was carried out under most unfortunate circumstances, and it would have been wiser if Mr. Gladstone had initiated his policy upon his advent to power in 1880. That would have been an intelligible and wise policy in 1880, whereas the moment when it was initiated was most unfortunate, and was surrounded by unhappy circumstances, which detracted from it. Yet, even so, it was not a failure, but had all but effected a complete pacification of South Africa. We have the testimony of many public men upon this point. Mr. Statham, one of the ablest recorders of South African contemporary history, said that this policysignally successful, as shown by the condition of South Africa in 1887, a year in which South Africa was nearer to political union through the action of natural forces than it has ever been before that date or since.The House will probably recollect the very remarkable expression of opinion made by Lord Randolph Churchill, who visited South Africa in 1891, and who was at that time largely in sympathy with Mr. Rhodes and his policy. The view he expressed at that time was that, after studying the question, he had come to the conclusion that a mistake had been made in considering that this policy was a wrong policy, and he said—So far from being an impolitic surrender, it had by its wisdom soothed the exasperation of Dutch sentiment at the Cape, and had made a real concord between the Dutch and English races possible.In venturing to make suggestions from a practical point of view, I wish to do so without offence or irritation to those who take the opposite view of this question. I do not for a moment assert that we can reinstate the same state of things as existed before. That is absolutely impossible, but I do say that we ought to recognise what causes had stood in the way from 1887 to 1889 of the carrying out to successful fruition of Mr. Gladstone's policy, and that the same cases are now still standing in the way, and are preventing us from arriving at the sort of 837 solution which Mr. Gladstone contemplated. What was standing in the way I then, as now, is that great conspiracy, of which Mr. Rhodes is the head, to capture the gold mines of the South African Republic and turn the whole place into a gigantic monopoly out of which enormous wealth may be secured for a limited few: at the risk of imperilling the happiness and well-being of the many. Having; regard to the fact that English tradition points to the preservation of the rights of individuals to private property, I do not suppose that the private property of the Dutch in the Transvaal will be interfered with. You will, therefore, have much the same class of people coming to the front and taking part in the future life of the Transvaal. You will have the same leading Englishmen and Dutchmen gradually resuming their places. In the presence of such conflicting interests and sentiments, why on earth cannot we take this course instead of entrusting the settlement of this difficult question to the one man who has created the maximum of irritation and difficulty in the Transvaal and Orange Free State—Sir Alfred Milner? Why cannot we adopt the wiser policy, which is suggested not by myself but by that eloquent man whose loss we feel so much in this House, Sir Edward Clarke, who said that it would be wiser if some broad-minded and patriotic men were sent out to solve and settle and determine these tremendous issues and bitter controversies in South Africa in a generous spirit, and so arrive at a solution which would bring Dutchmen and Englishmen into harmony in the future t That is the solution for the immediate future of the Transvaal which I venture to suggest. What, again, is the issue between the Government and the wiser leaders in Gape Colony, between the Colonial Secretary and Mr. Schreiner, who has so admirably and so temperately represented the composite and conflicting interests there? Mr. Schreiner has made a suggestion to Her Majesty's Government that the same policy should be adopted in dealing with these dangerous and perilous issues in Cape Colony which Lord Durham so wisely adopted years ago in Canada. On the other hand you have this policy of refusing to listen to any of the demands of the Dutch people and of laying down the principle of lifelong disfranchisement and universal 838 punishment. We know very well that the lifelong disfranchisement advocated by the right hon. Gentleman—which he said was not a punishment too severe to apply to the Cape rebels—has been practically overruled by the Ministry which has succeeded Mr. Schreiner's Ministry. What was really the suggestion which the Cape Ministry laid before Her Majesty's Government? It was that they should adopt Lord Durham's policy. Lord Durham in Canada was face to face with a similar exasperation of one race against another, and face to face with the same vehement denunciation of anything like clemency for the beaten French majority. And what was his decision? His decision was absolute pardon and amnesty for all but a few. Even those individuals who were sent out of Canada at that time were able to return within three or four years, and were actually elected to the first Dominion Parliament after the Union Act of 1840. Lord Durham as keenly appreciated the necessity of securing the ascendency of the British race and of British policy in Canada, as the right hon. Gentleman or Sir Alfred Milner does in the case of South Africa, but Lord Durham absolutely refused to secure the supremacy of the British race by tactics or proposals which would be liable to be represented as an electoral fraud, depriving the people whose fate he was determining of the right to share in the government of their country. He looked to the influence of perfectly equal and popular institutions in effacing distinctions of race and removing disorder and oppression. That is also the suggestion from Capo Colony to the British Government, and it seems that it is to be practically pushed aside. I may, perhaps, be treading on dangerous ground in even alluding to measures which are now actually under discussion in the Cape Parliament. I would be the last man to say a word which would be prejudicial to the interests of Cape Colony, but I ask whether it is not plain that the course of events is now being controlled from Downing Street, and on that ground only I venture to lay before the House of Commons some considerations as to the policy we should adopt in South Africa with regard to the Cape rebels, and that that policy should be the policy of Lord Durham instead of the policy laid down in the last Blue-book. One of the strongest arguments advanced by the Schreiner Ministry in the Minute they 839 laid before Her Majesty's Government was that it was undesirable to punish wholesale, as the universality of such a punishment would rob it of its deterrent effect by converting a grave sentence of the law into a measure of political vengeance. That is an argument of enormous strength which should receive the fullest consideration of the Government. Mr. Winston Churchill, who seems to have inherited the keenness of insight and the courage of his brilliant father, in dealing with this question, advocated a generous and forgiving policy to these unfortunate men, who, he said, were only traitors in the legal sense, and had obeyed a natural instinct in joining men of their own blood. [Hon. MEMBERS: Oh!] I am quoting Mr. Winston Churchill, who, I believe, is a not undistinguished member of the party opposite, and I venture to think that the breadth and generosity he has shown in the letters he has written about the war will stand to his credit, no matter to which party he may pledge himself in future. I would wish to press this further point. There are more than 450,000 Dutchmen in Cape Colony, but it is only alleged in the Blue-book that 10,000 of those men have been traitors, some of them in the comparatively venial sense described by Mr. Winston Churchill. We have now to consider this fact. Owing to the wisdom of Mr. Schreiner and many other leaders of that side of politics in the Cape we have the vast mass of the Dutch in Cape Colony standing loyal to this country and absolutely abstaining from joining in the war. That is a tremendous fact, especially when it is remembered that the universal opinion among the Dutch in South Africa is that the war was unjust and unnecessary, and that though begun on the pretext of franchise, it was really directed towards the extinction of the independence of the two Dutch Republics. Are we to offer no reward or show any consideration to the vast number of loyal Dutchmen in South Africa who have remained loyal to this country 1 Would it not be a wiser policy to reward their loyalty by a generous policy and not by a policy of wholesale disfranchisement? A policy of this kind is not a policy of punishment, as was pointed out by my right hon. friend the Leader of the Opposition the other day. It is rather a policy of political proscription, and the 840 result can only be the creation of a new race of real Dutch helots in South Africa, when the war was started on the sham plea of rescuing British helots. The raid is fresh in the minds of many hon. Members. What happened then in regard to the rebels who-rebelled against the perfectly lawful authority of the Transvaal Government, and who were just as much rebels as are the Cape Dutch to-day? I remember the Colonial Secretary praising the magnanimity of President Kruger in refraining from punishing those men with the extremity that he was by the laws of the Transvaal and by International law fully and absolutely entitled to use against them. The right hon. Gentleman now mocks at the idea of allowing red-handed rebels in Cape Colony to enjoy the franchise any longer or to share in the government of the country. But what did he do then? Within a few weeks of President Kruger amnestying these men the right horn. Gentleman recommended a series of reforms, one of the very first proposed of which was the extension of the-franchise within the Transvaal to the very men who had acted as red-handed rebels, and had revolted against the perfectly lawful authority of the Transvaal Government. That seems to me to be a salient illustration of the unreason of this, policy. In working this noble instrument —the British Empire—which ought to be-used for the advancement of human happiness, human freedom, and human welfare throughout the world, we should remember the simple doctrine, "Do unto-others as we would they should do unto us," and that every other race has an equal right to live and enjoy the full benefits of being upon this earth. If we deal with all races and all questions in that spirit I venture to say we shall not have so often displayed the bitter animosity against this country which now prevails, and that we shall have more often words like the noble words Kossuth uttered at Southampton, when welcomed back in 1851, after the glorious, struggle that he made for the liberty of Hungary. Kossuth then said he had learned to look always on England as the Book of Life that taught the nations how to live. Are we now to make England, at the end of the nineteenth century, the Book of Death to individual and national liberties, and a bye- 841 word among the nations for suppressing a spirit which, after all, is worthy of admiration and respect? I do not know whether any words of mine will have the least weight with this House or with Her Majesty's Government, but I have tried, so far as in me lies and without offence, to lay before the House what seemed to me to be some reasons for adopting a more generous policy towards these people than that which has been put forward, not forgetting the wrongs they may have done, but striving to remember this fundamental truth, that the best way of curing these evils is by elevating, not by crushing, the human race. I venture to say that if we turn to the lessons of the last century, looking first to the policy of Lord North, and, forty years later, to the noble results of the wiser and more generous policy of Lord Durham, we should remember in dealing with these Cape rebels the lessons of Lord Durham, and deal with the grave difficulties in the Transvaal in the manner indicated in the weighty and wise words, uttered at the commencement of this session by Sir Edward Clarke.
Attention called to the fact that forty Members were not present (Dr. Tanner, Cork County, Mid). House counted, and forty Members being found present,
§ *SlR J. COLOMB (Great Yarmouth)
I do not intend to follow the hon. Member who last spoke, in his remarks upon the situation in South Africa, or to say anything that could have been said during the session on any Vote of Supply or in any debate that has taken place. I wish to take the only opportunity of the session to say a few words on the general question of Imperial defence. The procedure of this House is such that this is a question absolutely precluded from being considered as a whole during the session, and it is only on the Appropriation Bill that you can look at it in its main aspects. When the Army Estimates are before the House we pretend that protection against invasion and the defence of the colonies is not a purely Naval question; and when the Navy Estimates are under consideration we are obliged to pretend that no Army exists. Therefore we are precluded from dealing with the broad principles of British defence. What I chiefly want to touch upon is the fact that while the procedure of this House debars discussion on the general prin- 842 ciples of defeuce, there is no Minister and no Department of the State that is responsible for dealing with British defence as a whole. The defence of the Empire is worked in several water-tight compartments. The Army is worked on one line, the Navy on another, the defence of the colonies is carried on on independent lines, while there are several armies under the Foreign and Colonial Offices. In addition to that there are military forces in all the self-governing colonies which can never be touched upon or discussed in the House, except in separate Votes. It is true that we have a Defence Committee of the Cabinet, but that Defence Committee cannot be regarded as responsible to this House for its acts, and its policy—if it has one—can never be discussed here because its members receive no salary as a Defence Committee,, and we can never challenge their action. That is the excuse for my troubling the House at the present moment. The most remarkable character about the Appropriation Bill, if you take it over a series of years, is the prodigious growth of the expenditure of the United Kingdom for the protection of the whole Empire; and that is becoming more emphasised and more marked every year. This year, of course, it is abnormal on account of the war, but I am taking the normal expenditure, and the fact was recently dwelt upon with great lucidity by the hon. Member for Dundee. That being so, another question suggests itself, namely, that while this enormous expenditure of the United Kingdom is growing, the trade and revenue of the United Kingdom is not increasing in any corresponding degree. That is a remarkable fact, and justifies my drawing attention to it on the Appropriation Bill. But when I turn to the outside Empire I find a different state of things prevailing. There is no such increase of expenditure in behalf of the protection of the Empire, but there is an enormous increase in its trade and revenue. I do not want to weary the House with figures, and I will merely deal with the self-governing colonies during the last thirty years. During that period the expenditure of the United Kingdom on the Navy for the protection of all the interests of the trade of the British Empire has more than tripled, while the increase of the sea trade of the United Kingdom has not been more than 50 per cent. But during 843 the same period the aggregate sea trade of the self-governing colonies—wholly independent of that of the mother country—has increased by 133 per cent. And be it noted that the sea trade of the self-governing colonies, independent altogether of any interchange with the United Kingdom, is now many millions in excess of the whole sea trade of the Empire of Russia. In the same period of thirty years the increase of revenue of the mother country has not been more than 50 per cent., while the aggregate revenue of the self-governing colonies has more than quadrupled. In fact, the aggregate revenue of the self-governing colonies now is half the entire revenue of the United States of America. Take another point—the dominion of the sea. The protection of sea trade is as vital and necessary to any single part of the Empire abroad as to the United Kingdom. That will not be denied by any colonial citizen. Let me point out how the burden of the protection of this sea trade is borne. Twenty-eight per cent, of the revenue of the United Kingdom is spent on the Navy for the protection of the Empire's trade; and only .3 or 3–10ths per cent, of the revenue of the whole outlying Empire goes as a contribution to the Navy for the protection of the sea trade of the Empire. In another form, out of every £100 of revenue raised in the United Kingdom, £28 is spent on the Navy; while out of every £100 of the aggregate revenue of the outlying Empire, 6 s. per cent, only is paid as a contribution for the protection of its sea trade by the Navy. In other words, the United Kingdom bears a proportion of ninety-three times more of the Navy expenditure than the outlying Empire. I think anyone who has studied this question for some years must be forced to admit that this state of things cannot continue. The point is to find a remedy. We must sooner or later, and I think sooner than later, face this question, difficult and delicate though it be, of the distribution of the burden of empire throughout the Empire. One day you have a naval fever and spend everything for the Navy, and another day you have a military fever, and spend recklessly for the Army. I trust it will be distinctly understood that I am not suggesting that this Empire can be run on the cheap; there must be an enormous expenditure, but I do question whether we get value 844 for our money. The question which I wish to bring to the attention of the House is the contribution to the expense of protecting the Empire. It is a matter which we must take notice of, and cannot avoid taking notice of, and under these circumstances, I think, instead of dealing with the question in bits, as at present, we should have a bigger policy of settled co-operation, and an organised system to provide for British security throughout the world. We can only approach this question in mutual confidence between our self-governing colonies and ourselves. The time has long gone by for anything like dictation on our part, and what we have to do is to take the colonies more into our confidence, and I think the time is opportune for calling a conference for considering the matter. The war has brought this thing to a head. It has given a most conclusive proof that all parts of the Empire mean to stand or fall together. It has established beyond doubt in the face of the world the solidarity of British sentiment and the craving for British union. It has shown that the will of the colonies has outstripped the will of the Ministers at home. It was not a question of the machinery of Government and the suggestion of Ministers, but of spontaneous rush and desire on the part of colonial peoples, that produced the forces from all parts of the Empire for service in South Africa. That broke down all the political theory upon which the government was formed for the colonies. The whole of the constitutions of our colonies only recognised passive defence as the extreme possibility. All that laws recognised was that the forces raised in the colonies were to be used and used only for the defence of their particular territory, but, in the circumstances of the war, a larger view was taken, and the education derived from the war has brought home to the sons of the Empire all over the world the fact that they must look beyond their territory, and can only live in real safety by sharing the common burdens of Empire. They have shed their blood and treasure for the cause of union. They have voluntarily and spontaneously in this war taken upon themselves the burden of Empire, and they have proved their title to more confidence being placed in them, and to be taken more into real partnership with the mother country. 845 That being so, I appeal to the Government to consider whether, under the circumstances to which I have referred, and when the war is finished, the time has not arrived for looking ahead and looking to the future policy; whether it is not time for the Government to consider the advisability of inviting the colonies to take part in a conference to consider the position. It is said that any suggestions as to holding a conference must come from the colonies. That is an arguable question, which I will not weary the House by entering into, but I must observe in passing that it is only the Imperial Government which knows the dangers that confront our Empire, and knows the real difficulties and strain in which the Empire would be involved in case of war. It is only the Imperial Government which can place before the colonies the whole position of the difficulties and dangers we all have to meet; and to refuse to take action and to shuffle off responsibility by saying they will not ask for a conference, but wait for the colonies to do so, is a shirking of responsibility by the Ministers of this country. No one would propose that the colonies should contribute without giving them some voice in the matter. The question cannot be solved in an abstract way if there is to be absolute combination, as there must be if the Empire is to be safe. There must be an arrangement for bearing the burdens which the defence of the Empire involves. In some shape or form all parts of the Empire should have a voice. The Government thinks the suggestion for a conference must come from the colonies. Now, a remarkable step has been taken by New Zealand. If it is not a hint I do not know what a hint is. The proposal of Mr. Seddon, the Premier of New Zealand, is, briefly, that Australasia shall raise a force of 50,000 men available under certain conditions for service in all parts of the Empire. The general outline of the proposal puts the expenditure at £1,000,000 a year, and Mr. Seddon proposes that the expense shall be shared equally upon the basis of population or some other basis between the mother country and the colonies; the equipment and munitions of war required shall be provided by the mother country, the colonies to pay 3 per cent, upon the capital charge; and that a sinking fund shall be formed from the difference at which colonial borrowings can be made and the amount at which Imperial 846 loans can be raised. He also proposes that a branch of Naval Reserve and Volunteers shall be drilled on the cruisers on the Australian stations, and he advocates the strengthening of the Australian Squadron, and he concludes by asking that a conference shall be held in the colonies, which shall be presided over by Lord Roberts, if ho can be spared, and if not, by some general who has served iii South Africa. In that suggestion there is a very broad hint as to what New Zealand and the Australian colonies think about joining hands with us. The necessity of an Imperial conference is shown by the fact that the Navy is thus treated as a sort of supplementary scheme; but the Navy is the paramount necessity of the Empire, and before we begin to raise the military machinery we have to be quite certain that our naval machinery is sufficient for our needs. That shows the necessity for a conference between the self-governing colonies and the Imperial Government, so that the main principles of Imperial defence should be thoroughly understood, and each point dealt with in its own order in the regular way. I hope, therefore, the House will pardon me, upon the Appropriation Bill, drawing attention to a question which grows in importance every day, and which must be faced. How are we going in future to preserve the safety of the Empire without some arrangement by which all parts of the Empire shall participate? I thank the House for having listened to me so patiently, and I should not have troubled hon. Members with these observations if I had not thought there was very great need for a redistribution of the Imperial burdens.
§ Mr. EDMUND ROBERTSON (Dundee)
said the hon. and gallant Gentleman had made an instructive and courageous, and at the same time a very temperate speech. The hon. and gallant Gentleman complained that while the defence of the Empire was entrusted to a Committee of the Cabinet, the policy of the Committee could not be discussed in the House because it was not represented in the House as a Committee. But that Committee directed the heads of the Army and the Navy, both of which were represented, and the single comment he had to make was that since the hon. and gallant Gentleman had been speaking no one representing either the War Office or the Admiralty had been present to listen 847 to him. They must have known what was taking place through the usual channels, according to the principle of the Appropriation Bill, when all Ministers were supposed to be in attendance, seeing that every Department could be attacked. He was surprised that a speech by such an authority as the hon. and gallant Gentleman should have received no attention from the heads of the Departments directly concerned. The speech was a courageous one, because at this particular juncture, having regard to public opinion, it required courage upon the part of Conservative Members to expose to the people the system by which an unfair portion of the burden fell upon the United Kingdom. There were two points in the speech of the hon. and gallant Gentleman which he proposed to deal with with regard to the Navy. It could not be denied that the Navy was as available for the defence of the colonies as for the defence of the United Kingdom, and that our expenditure for the Navy in the present year was £30,000,000. Before many years passed, even if shipbuilding for the Navy was not increased, we must look forward to an automatic increase in expenditure, up to, say, £40,000,000. The points he wished to emphasise were that the whole of this expenditure was as much at the service of the colonies as ourselves, and the whole of it was borne by the people of the United Kingdom alone. He did not take into account the small sums paid for the maintenance of the Australian Squadron or the small amounts from Cape Colony or Natal, as in the true sense of contribution they were more in the nature of grants. Taking population as the basis of calculation, the proportion of the contribution towards thirty millions for the naval services common to the United Kingdom and the colonies should be three millions from the Australian group of colonies and three millions from the Canadian Dominion. He would by no means approach any of our self-governing colonies in any spirit of dictation, but surely we could trust their Imperial patriotism so far as to put the facts before them.
§ Sir WILFRID LAWSON (Cumberland, Cockermouth)
I could not help thinking, whilst listening to the speeches which have just been delivered, what we have done, and in what position we have placed ourselves, which has made it 848 necessary to have this enormous appropriation for self-defence. Hitherto we have got on very well, and there must have been something in our consciences to have led to this. I remember in the old days when the Second Beading of the Appropriation Bill used to be taken in a few minutes, the Leader of the Opposition, whoever he might be, would make an interesting speech, and the Leader of the House would explain his policy, if he had one. Now we are rather like sheep without a shepherd. The position reminds me of an incident in the Chino-Japanese war. A telegram giving an account of a battle, stated that just at the moment when the battle began a junk was seen proceeding along the coast bearing the Commander-in-Chief to a place of safety. Private Members under these circumstances must do what they can, and the important duty of a private Member is, I think, to discuss how the national money has been disposed of. We have now the most enormous revenue we have ever had, and the most enormous expenditure. I suppose some day the nation will ask us how this money has been expended and whether it has been expended for good purposes. For the moment, the Government may be called the steward of the national funds, and the question for us and the country is, have they laid out that money well and to good purpose? I do not think it has been laid out to good purpose. I do not think £70,000,000 gone for the slaughter of men of the same colour, the same creed, and the same race as ourselves, is a profitable expenditure of public money. When I say £70,000,000, that is what was quoted the other day, but I suppose nobody doubts that before the finish it will be £100,000,000 or more. We have sacrificed that money to a deity whom the Colonial Secretary calls the God of Battles—a deity constructed out of his own ingenuity, for whom I should have no respect at all. If it is a right and noble thing for us to appeal to the God of Battles and to kill all these people, I am always puzzled to know why the natives were not allowed to join in the enterprise. If it was noble, we ought to have invited them to assist. I have never heard any explanation why it was so wrong for natives to join and right for Europeans. I really think, looking at all that has been going on lately, that by this enormous expenditure, by this system of 849 aggression, by this system of attack, by this system of filibustering, we have entered on a course of ruin. If we look back in history, we find that all great military empires have sooner or later collapsed. It appears to me that we are going the same road. I do not altogether blame the Government and the hon. Gentlemen who support them on the opposite side for this state of things. We have done bad things enough on the Liberal side. We have pandered to the military spirit. I look back only about twenty years to our Egyptian policy. We went and interfered with the Egyptians when they had a revolution in trying to reform their own finances. We invaded them, and there were perpetual battles and massacres for many years. Not satisfied with that, when hon. Gentlemen came into office on the other side they must go to the Soudan and out-do us, I suppose. There they had that glorious day when in the space of two or three hours 30,000 men were shot or wounded, and it was supposed that never in the history of the world had more men been killed in the same space of time. That delighted the whole of this Christian country. That rejoicing was joined in, I am sorry to say, by the leaders of the Opposition. Then alter that we have this Chinese affair. I was interested in the description of the policy in China which the Chancellor of the Exchequer gave the other day. He described the policy in China as a plum cake policy. Everybody goes and cuts a slice. He does not seem to believe that the Chinese are human beings at all. Now we are meeting with the results of the filibustering policy, in which I do not say we are worse than other nations. All the European nations have been going on in that way. After all this Egyptian policy, Soudanese policy, and Chinese policy, we have this awful war in South Africa—a war which has now become one of crushing out two independent small Republics—a course of conduct which is as bad, in my opinion, as anything Austria ever did in Hungary, or Russia in Poland. Can anybody say that the results we have got are worth all the enormous sums of money we have spent and are spending? Can anybody tell me what human being is the better for this Transvaal war? Myriads are the worse for it. Thousands and thousands have died, and thousands of survivors are suffering torments worse than death from this dreadful policy. The answer to that 850 would be—Well, we have vindicated our power. I suppose we have, but is that a great thing? Is that a glorious thing? Supposing that in a town or village one man was accounted obnoxious, and five men go and kick him to death, do you call that a noble act? In the old days it would have been called a very cowardly thing. In the old days it used to be said, hit a man of your own size. That has all gone now. It is considered the noblest and grandest thing to have sent out an army five times as large as that with which we have had to contend, and we have shown the greatest delight at triumphing over and defeating them with five to one. Why, what are I we doing with these wretched people in South Africa? The whole world is filled with horror at the present moment at the conduct of the Boxers in China. What is their policy? To kill foreigners. Well, what is our policy in the Transvaal? To kill all Boers. [Cries of "No!"] Then what do you fight for? Is it not a policy of extermination? [Cries of "No!"] They are going on, and they are defending themselves. I suppose that as long as there is one man left you will fight him. Is not that a policy of extermination? The difference between that policy and the policy of the dreadful people in China is that they are resisting people going into their country, and we are going vain another country and killing the inhabitants thereof. There seems to be no desire or attempt to stop this dreadful fighting. Day after day we look at our papers, and read the telegrams stating that so many men have been killed here and so many there, so many made prisoners here and so many there. We read with the greatest equanimity, and seem to think it is a delightful way of proceeding. We do not seem to care how long it goes on. I think that any Government that does not try by negotiation to cease this senseless slaughter is a Government deserving of the condemnation of all just and upright men. I said that this was probably the last time that we shall have an opportunity of discussing things in this way. I dare say it is the last time for many of us. Many here will not be seen again on these benches, and I very likely may be one of them. [Cries of "No!"] Oh, yes; they are not absolutely wise in the north of England. But, I say, that being the case, it is all the more important that any of us who has to make his last dying speech and confession should take 851 care that it should be a true one. You may say that this is electioneering. There was a talk of that last week in the debate on the Supplemental War Loan Bill. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Monmouthshire made a speech which the Chancellor of the Exchequer said was electioneering. I want to know what bettor thing anyone can do. Honest electioneering does nothing more than undertake to advise our fellow-countrymen what we believe to be right, true, honest, and just, and I do not know that any nobler thing can be done than electioneering in that manner, not for our own profit but for the profit of the nation. What can be said for the Government that has landed us in this awful state of things? Look at what they will say to the country if they speak the truth. They will say, "We have been in office five years, and as the result we have made a hell of South Africa. We have made a filibustering raid on the people of the country to accomplish that result. We have blotted out as far as we can from our policy the word magnanimity. We have made a jest and a laughing-stock of the word. Magnanimity is nothing more than honour, truth, and justice, and according to the greatest authority in the House of Lords and elsewhere we have contrived to make an atmosphere of hatred regarding ourselves in almost all the countries in the world. I suppose the Government will say quite truly that they did not mean to bring all these evils about. Of course they did not; if they did they would be either lunatics or traitors; but does that exculpate them? Not entirely. A few weeks ago there was a man driving the engine of a London express train. He inadvertently failed to see that the signals were against him, and he ran his train into another standing at Slough. Four people were killed and many were injured. That man's life is blasted. He will never be trusted again. But what have we to say of the Government that has disregarded the signals of danger, disregarded all the warnings, and landed us in a miserable war costing thousands and thousands of lives? I, for one, would far rather be that unfortunate man who drove the engine at Slough than a member of this Government. The point is this. If this Government are maintained in power, if they vindicate all these aggressions they have made, what 852 is before us? Nothing but an endless vista of future war. I know that it is expected that the nation will give its mandate again to this Government. All I can say is, if they do it, so much the worse for the nation. What is the meaning of our confederation together if we cannot oppose this? I say that peace is the very foundation stone of Liberal policy, and if Liberals do not proclaim that principle what are they? Mr. Disraeli long ago said that "a Tory Government was an organised hypocrisy." [An Hon. MEMBER: Conservative.] I beg pardon, "a Conservative Government was an organised hypocrisy." I say that if the Liberal party go to the country and put aside their own doctrine of peace, they are nothing more than a disorganised hypocrisy. I speak for myself, and I do not know for how many more, but I know that I speak for a certain number when I say that they will maintain that policy. I say more. However black things may look now, with them is the future. You may call us pro-Boer, you may call us traitors. I remember the lines of Lowell—Call us cowards, call us traitors,Just as suit your mean ideas;Here we stand as tyrant-haters,And the friends of God and peace.I say here, before the General Election— because I am not ashamed to make an electioneering speech here on anywhere else—I say here in Parliament, as I shall say in the constituencies, that we will protest to the utmost of our power against the gospel of grab which, for the last ten months has been preached in Parliament, in the pulpit, and in the press. We will do that, and we will remind, our fellow-countrymen that while a great authority has said that "the greatest of British interests is peace," a still greater authority has declared that "it is righteousness-alone that exalteth a nation."
§ *Mr. BURDETT-COUTTS (Westminster)
I am sorry to have to divert the attention of the House from subjects so important in themselves, and which have been rendered so interesting by the three speeches to which we have listened. If I may venture to say so, in regard to* the speech of the hon. Member for Cocker-mouth, while saving the interest of my party, I would hope that the mournful anticipations he has indulged in with regard to himself will not be realised, and 853 that he will return to this House to I interest and amuse us with his familiar and genial presence. I feel bound to call the attention of the House at this late period of the session to the position in which the question of the sick and wounded in South Africa is left by the form of the inquiry that has been instituted. It seems to me extraordinary, and, I think, most unfortunate, that a subject in which the people of this country are so deeply interested—more interested, I think, than Her Majesty's Government seem to be aware of—should, in its later and most important phase, have been accorded no adequate opportunity of discussion in this House. It is not my fault if any criticism I may feel bound to offer was not made before in this House—was not made at a time when it might have led, as another criticism led, to an effective discussion. I took the only opportunity that was open to me, and that was through the public press to protest against certain features in the form of this inquiry. The Government, it is true, proceeded to make a change in the status of the Commission, but that change conferred on the Commission none of the powers essential to arriving at a proper conclusion. There has been no opportunity in this House of discussing the constitution of the Commission as a whole. There has been no opportunity of discussing its original constitution by the light of certain facts which were I authoritatively denied from the Front Bench, and subsequently admitted. I do not propose myself to discuss the constitution of the Commission to-night, partly because I think it would be more respectful to a former ruling of yours, Sir, that I should not do so, and partly because I for my part have no desire, now the Commission has been constituted and has gone to work, to criticise its personal con-position on this occasion. There is another question to which I wish to refer, which is far more important, and for which there has been no opportunity of discussion in this House, and that is the powers with which it goes forth. I propose to show that the Commission has been issued divested of all the powers essential to finding out the truth in this matter; and the great, permanent, humane and national interests involved in this inquiry will be imperilled, if not defeated, by the course that has been taken. The Committee, as it was originally called, has been 854 turned into a Royal Commission. But in announcing that fact the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Treasury stated that the change did not confer upon it either the power to take evidence on oath or power to compel the attendance of witnesses. Well, if that is so, the Committee goes forth with its hands tied behind its back, utterly powerless to push the investigation home. Moreover, it goes forth at the mercy of one side and of one interest in this inquiry, and that the side and interest most involved in its own exculpation. What is the exact position? I have never suggested that the whole blame for the state of things that has existed in South Africa devolved upon the Army Medical Department, but undoubtedly it is largely involved. The watchful and far-seeing energy of that Department in its own defence has become sufficiently notorious. It is not criticising the action of the Commission to say that I could give an instructive illustration of this from the curious selection of witnesses that has been presented to the Commission in this country. Is it to be supposed that this energy in its own defence will be relaxed as the trial goes1 on? The Commission has gone to South Africa. There nine-tenths of the evidence is under the control of that Department, or of some Department of the War Office; their hand reaches over the whole field of witnesses. Of course, they will organise the evidence and they will choose the witnesses. There is no organisation on the other side of the case. I myself can give the Commission very little assistance, for reasons I will make clear in a moment. On one side you have this powerful organisation; on the other you have absolutely nothing but the voluntary act of individuals, ninety-nine out of one hundred of whom believe, rightly or wrongly, that they will be prejudiced by coming forward. The right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Treasury, when I brought this subject forward on a former occasion, referred me; to "the very elaborate precautions which the Commission propose to take for the protection of witnesses," and he proceeded to add that he "doubted whether any statute would give a protection so absolute." What are those precautions? I confess I was amazed, when I read them, at the description the right hon. Gentleman gave. They are two. First, witnesses in Government offices will be 855 freed from their obligation of secrecy with regard to official information. Surely that is an ironical precaution. What do witnesses in Government offices know about the sufferings of the sick and wounded in South Africa? And what sort of evidence are we to expect from offices which contain the very Departments which are on their trial in this matter? The second precaution is that the evidence of those who desire it will be taken in private and their names will not appear. This is no protection at all. [An Hon. Member: Why not?] I will tell you. With the Commission holding its sittings, as it will have to do henceforth, in localities where every individual is known, with half a dozen officials at the doors and half a dozen reporters inside, do you suppose you will persuade any man that his name will not leak through to that inner circle of authorities whom he fears. [An Hon. MEMBER: No!] My hon. friend says no. Take the case of the private soldier. He will have to get leave of absence to attend before the Commission; his officers and noncommissioned officers will know all about him, and next morning they will not have the slightest difficulty in identifying his evidence and knowing what he said. But the second precaution is open to far graver objection. Do you suppose for one moment that the public mind, which is awake on this question, is going to be satisfied by even a partly secret inquiry, with any of its proceedings carried on in the dark, and any of the grounds of its conclusions wrapped in mystery? The Commissioners in their opening statement went on to say, and the right hon. Gentleman repeated it here——
§ Mr. SPEAKER
Order, order! The hon. Member is now about to refer to the proceedings of the Commission itself——
§ Mr. SPEAKER
The hon. Member began by saying, "The Commissioners in their opening statement" said so-and-so.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
The hon. Member will be out of order in referring to the proceedings of the Commission.
§ Mr. BURDETT-COUTTS
Then I will keep within your ruling, Sir, by confining 856 myself to stating that the First Lord of the Treasury said in this House that if the Commissioners "are substantially hindered from ascertaining the facts by the absence of compulsory powers, they will not hesitate so to report to the Prime Minister and to ask his assistance in procuring the necessary powers." The right hon. Gentleman stated at the same time that the only means of giving them those powers was by Act of Parliament. But the Commission has gone to South Africa, and this Parliament is over. What is the Government going to do? Does it propose to wait till a new Parliament meets or another session opens, and then pass an Act of Parliament when all the most important part of the Commission's work is done? I am sorry to have to detain the House, but I do not on a question of this kind like to indulge in generalities, and it will make my point more clear if I give to the House certain instances which will show how little chance there is of the Commission getting at the truth in this matter. There are many classes of witnesses. In the first place, there are the officials engaged out there. I have here a letter from a responsible and important official out in South Africa, written some time before my article appeared in The Times, and entirely independent of it, giving an account, with long and exact details, of the confusion, incompetence, and mismanagement, which resulted in three general hospitals going up to the front, but with the staffs of two, the beds and equipment of one and the tents of another; and the red tape which prevented those three elements being combined for the use of the sick and wounded, who were lying and dying huddled together on the ground in the field hospitals. But at the end of his letter—and this is the point—he says —I trust to you not to give me away by quoting my name. You know what the result would be to me.Then there are the officers themselves. They may be young officers, but they are none the less watchful, and their testimony is none the less valuable on that account in regard to things they have seen. I will give two instances. The first is an officer who saw with his own eyes and described j in detail the horrible sufferings of the wounded at Paardeberg owing to the almost entire absence of everything that 857 was necessary. I thought he would come forward and tell his story; but after a couple of months he says—I cannot give evidence; I am convinced it would prejudice my future career in the Army.The second is an officer who was able to speak to at least three of the most important incidents to which I myself bore testimony in this House, and who saw many other things equally bad if not worse. I took down this officer's detailed statement in South Africa, and read it over to him. I hoped he would come forward, but ho has returned to this country, he has gone into his club, and now he says—I cannot come forward. I know what it would be. I want to get on in the Army. And then there is the regimental feeling. The fellows would say, 'What did you want to come forward for and make complaints?' and I should not be able to stay in the regiment.Then there are the private soldiers themselves—the rank and file of the Army— whose fear of "the authorities" is traditional, and who look on any and every inquiry as a court-martial. From these I have had plenty of letters—I will not say "innumerable" letters—giving most important details, but all, with hardly an exception, begging that their names may not be mentioned, as they know the consequences. The Commission went down to Netley. ["Oh, oh."] It so happened that I had a correspondent at Netley, a relative of a respected Member of this House, and in every way trustworthy and reliable, who wrote to me giving detailed and very strong statements from several of the men there, and saying—Had I been longer at Netley and set about it systematically I could have had plenty more statements, but directly the soldiers think anything they might say might come out nothing would induce them to speak, as they told me they would only get punished if they complain about anything. I am much afraid the Commission will do no good, if they were disguised as orderlies and lived the life for a few days they would find out the robberies and neglect and inhumanity in South Africa, but just going, perhaps well heraded, will be absolutely useless.That is from a person who has been constantly for the last month in Netley amongst the patients there. But I do not see much similarity between the statements I have in my possession and the reports of the evidence taken at Netley which I read in the public press. Then there are the doctors or officers of 858 I the Army Medical Corps and the Army nurses, who have worked so strenuously, and many of whom have died, under conditions which were unfair and unjust and unnecessary, and to which they ought never to have been subjected, and who would be able to point out how many of those conditions might have been avoided. Apart from the fact that by a sustained misrepresentation ray statements have been taken as an attack on the Royal Army Medical Corps, what is the position of the doctors? They depend for their advancement upon a private report of their superior officers. Do you suppose that they would be induced voluntarily to come forward and make complaints? Promotion in the commissioned ranks of the Army Medical Corps comes very largely by selection. Then there are the non-commissioned officers and orderlies of the same Corps. They too depend very largely upon selection by their superior officers; and I do not think I am urging anything unfair when I say that if you have to depend upon those men voluntarily coming forward to make complaints against their superior officers you will not get their evidence. Then there are classes of civilians who have been engaged in these military hospitals. There are the so-called Army Reserve Nurses — a very important class. From those I have many letters giving exact and startling details; but all of the writers with one single exception asked that their names might be suppressed lest they should not be chosen again for work which their bravery and devotion made them eager to obtain. Lastly, there is the most important class of all—the civilian doctors who have been engaged in military work. Most of these belong to that large floating element of the medical profession which very often, through no fault of their own, are without fixed employment, and who are looking to the continuance, in one form or another, of this employment under the Army Medical Department, upon which their livelihood depends. I have taken at random a letter from one of those doctors, written to a relative before my articles appeared in The Times, and quite independently of those disclosures, and he states—I assure you that there is a great deal of nonsense being talked at home about the perfect arrangements made for the sick.859 —this was written six weeks before my letter appeared in The Times—The wounded do better, as there is a certain halo of romance about the thing which is not the case when a poor devil drops out on the march suffering from dysentery, pneumonia, or typhoid. People at home would not believe me if I told them that two days ago eighty sick men passed south through this station in open cattle trucks with no one in charge. They had been travelling by road and train for three days, and had had no food for thirty-six hours. Two of the men were dying.The doctor's relative who sent me the letter says, "Of course, you will not give the name of the writer." I have other independent letters of the same kind written to relatives and also a large number written to me direct, containing much evidence which would be of the greatest possible use to the Commission, but in all cases the difficulty with regard to disclosing the name comes in. I must give one more case—amongst the civilian doctors. A considerable number of these civilian doctors are endeavouring to obtain permanent appointments in connection with the Army Medical Department. I have a long letter from a civilian surgeon with regard to a hospital not at Bloemfontein — he sends me a copy of correspondence bearing out his statements—which is one of the worst cases that has been brought to my notice. This doctor says that in this hospital there was a complete lack not only of medical comforts but of drugs; that these were easily obtainable close by; and that he applied for them over and over again, but was refused. He says that men died in his hands solely for want of those drugs, and at the end of his letter he states that he is applying for a permanent appointment under the Government, out of which he will be able to make a decent living, and adds—I mention the fact in order that you may know of my position, for I am a married man with [such and such a number of young children. I cannot afford to let my family starve, and therefore I pray of you not to disclose my name to the authorities.When I put the case of these classes to the First Lord of the Treasury as persons whoso present livelihood and future interests would prevent their speaking out, the right hon. Gentleman replied that "the suggestion was an unmerited insult" to them. To my mind the real insult to these people lies in placing them in a position in which they must either hold back the truth, or suffer—as they 860 believe, rightly or wrongly, they would suffer—personal loss or prejudice.
§ Mr. IAN MALCOLM (Suffolk, Stowmarket)
said the hon. Member had been the recipient of these communications,, and had honourably observed the secrecy desired by the writers. But why could not that same secrecy be observed by a judge of the High Court?
I have already told my hon. friend why in South Africa that secrecy cannot practically be maintained. I have given these cases in order to ask what is the remedy the Government propose for this state of things. I do not wish to be misunderstood. I am far from saying that the future interests of these persons would be injured or would be prejudiced by their coming forward to give evidence. My whole point is that they believe they would be so prejudiced, and that that conviction, which cannot be eradicated, will prevent the Commission getting the whole of this valuable evidence. The only way in which this fatal result can be avoided is to relieve them of the responsibility of voluntarily coming forward by giving the Commission compulsory power to call them as witnesses; and I believe there is only one way by which, if they do come forward, you can get at the whole truth, and that is by giving the Commission power to take evidence on oath. There is only one more question, but it is a very important one. How do the Government propose that the Commission shall obtain the evidence of the colonial soldiers who have been invalided home and returned to the colonies? I want to call attention to a very painful incident which I think deserves the consideration of those hon. Members who have been in the habit of making the splendid voluntary aid given by our colonies the subject of the perorations of almost all their recent speeches on the war. I am going to read a letter which is reproduced in the Western Mail, an Australian paper, and which has reference to a number of Australian troops who came down from the front to Cape Town and went to Maitland Camp. The letter is written by a well-known resident at Cape Town, an Australian by birth, and was addressed to Sir Alfred Milner. It is dated Cape Town, 22ni May, and is as follows—Sir,—In the cause of humanity, I feet obliged to bring under your notice the treat 861 ment received by about 100 sick and wounded Australians and New Zealanders, who are at present in the Maitland Camp. These men are sadly in want of warm and decent clothing, many being without overcoats and blankets, and their repeated requests for these have not been attended to. The condition of these men is such that, were it known to the people of Australasia, I feel certain a big reaction would set in against volunteering for any future campaign. This, I feel sure, is not the intention of the British Government.…So bad is the lot of these men (and, no doubt, other Volunteers) that a number of them have been sent back to the hospital suffering from a relapse; besides which the men who are invalids are not tit to sleep on the ground, especially at this time of the year, much less when they are compelled to do so without blankets, waterproof sheets, and a great-coat,…There are men at present in Maitland Camp whom the doctor instructed are to have milk diet, but they cannot obtain any milk… I sincerely trust your Excellency will have the condition of my countrymen improved at your earliest convenience.I am your obedient servant,HENRY MCDONNELL.This letter was asking Sir A. Milner to go and look at the condition of things on the spot, and the House will remember that Maitland Camp is within two miles of Cape Town. The following reply to the above letter was received—High Commissioner's Office,May 28, 1900.Sir,—I am directed by his Excellency to acknowledge receipt of your letter, and to say that the matter to which you direct his attention, and of which he was entirely unaware, appears to be exceedingly serious, and will receive his immediate attention.The paper goes on to say that the circumstances under which those men departed for Australia were—regarded as the most serious fault of the Imperial authorities. At two o'clock on the day the 'Australasia' left Cape Town, the Australians who lay in their beds at Woodstock Hospital were told that they would have to leave for their own country in two hours time. Many of the men had not been out of bed for weeks, and few had a penny, though much was owing to them all in the way of arrears of wages, while their outfits were all incomplete. The case of Bottomley, the Queenslander, who is still confined to his bed, was, it is alleged, a particularly serious one, and his comrades pleaded that he might be allowed to remain in the hospital; but the officials stated that they had received their orders, and the men would have to go. It was pointed out that Bottomley could not walk, and that he was absolutely penniless, but the authorities were; obdurate. At last some of the convalescent soldiers were able to obtain some money, and to hire a cab for the man, who, it is stated, was I regarded as being in a dying condition.This was in the month of May, at Cape Town—the base of supplies, the depôt 862 of the concentrated resources of the mother country, with all her wealth, and all her welcome of these distant sons of hers. If these things have been done in the green tree, what has been done in the dry? What need to inquire into the doings of Departments at Bloemfontein which have permitted these shameful things at Cape Town? I would ask the right hon. Gentleman if he can give us any assurance that the evidence of these men who have returned to their homes will be taken. And now I will come back to the main object of my speech, and will ask the right hon. Gentleman whether it is really too late for the Government, by some means of which I have no knowledge myself, to confer upon this Commission the compulsory powers and the power of taking evidence on oath, which are essential to its carrying on an effective inquiry and arriving at the truth. I venture sincerely to ask the right hon. Gentleman to take a more serious and a little more sympathetic view of this whole question than it appears to mo has characterised his attitude towards it hitherto. I ask it on behalf of hundreds of thousands of people in this country who undoubtedly take a serious view of it. I ask it on behalf of our common humanity and of our national strength, of the future welfare of our soldiers, and of the popularity of the military service among those classes from whom the rank and file of the Army, who have suffered most in this matter, are drawn, and in a country which must always depend for its military strength on the voluntary spirit. I have felt bound to criticise the inherent defects of the form of this inquiry instituted by the Government. If the party system in this country has come to such a rigid phase that it is not permitted to a Member of Parliament to take that attitude when a great national object is in view, it is a bad thing for the country. I do not believe that the party with which I have acted will so far fall from their legitimate position of representatives of the people of this country as to treat perfunctorily or petulantly a subject which involves great humane and national interests.
§ The FIRST LORD of the TREASURY (Mr. A. J. Balfour, Manchester, E.)
The hon. Gentleman who has just sat down ended his speech with a lecture addressed to myself in the first place and 863 my colleagues in the second place, and to the party of which he professes to be a member, for our want of sympathy with the cause which he has advocated—all but himself. [Opposition cries of "Oh!" and an HON. MEMBER: Hitting below the belt.] If the hon. Gentleman accuses me or any other Gentleman on this side of want of sympathy with the wounded and suffering in South Africa, ho has shown himself utterly unworthy of the party to which he belongs or with which he pretends to act. What does the hon. Gentleman found his accusation of want of sympathy upon? What is his basis? Is that an accusation to be lightly hurled by a member of a political party against the rest of his party without justification? What is the basis of it? If the hon. Gentleman wishes to interrupt me I am quite ready to sit down.
§ *MR. BURDETT-COUTTS
Sir, what I stated was that, in my opinion, the attitude of the right hon. Gentleman— not the party—had shown a want of sympathy upon this question.
§ Mr. A. J. BALFOUR
If the hon. Gentleman confines his attack to myself, apart from my colleagues, I can afford to treat it with contempt, and I do treat it with contempt. There is absolutely not the slightest justification for it. He has stated no justification for it, and as a mere question between himself and me, as he has chosen to make it so, I do not think it worth while occupying the time of the House upon it. Very well; I pass from that purely personal question, in which I take no interest, to the larger issues which the hon. Gentleman has raised in the course of his observations. I should never have gone beyond those issues had not the hon. Gentleman chosen, in the concluding words of his speech, to make a most unwarrantable and outrageous attack upon myself. Now, Sir, the hon. Gentleman, as I understand him, bases his attack upon what has occurred upon the character of the Commission which has been appointed; and what is his attack upon the Commission appointed? As far as I understand, it is confined to the assertion that as that Commission is incapable of taking evidence compulsorily and upon oath, it cannot carry out its duty. The hon. Gentleman appears to me to have utterly misunderstood both the history of previous Commissions in this country and of 864 the legal powers we could have given this Commission. There have been very few Commissions in this country which have had the powers he asks to be given in this case. [Mr. SWIFT MACNEILL: There was the Pigott Commission.] The right hon. Gentleman the late Home Secretary, whom I see opposite, appointed a Commission to look into a most critical collision which took place between the police and people connected with a strike—a collision in which lives were lost, and in which party passions were violently aroused—I do not mean political party passions. Was that a satisfactory Commission? It was a Commission precisely of the kind which this Government has appointed to look into this matter.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
No, I am not. If the hon. Gentleman had been listening to me he would have known I was not speaking of the Belfast riots. I was speaking of the late Home Secretary, who had nothing to do with the Belfast riots. That Commission took evidence, and took it successfully, and the question was fully investigated. There have been many other Commissions equally successful. I want to put this point before the House and the hon. Gentleman. He wishes a Bill to be brought in to make this a Statutory Commission—like the Parnell Commission, I suppose, which appears to excite the admiration of the hon. Member for South Donegal, or like the Commission which inquired into the Sheffield case.
§ *MR. BURDETT-COUTTS
Will the right hon. Gentleman permit me to state the object of my former interruption? I understand that the Belfast Commission was turned afterwards into a Statutory Commission because it was found that it would not have worked otherwise.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
I think that is possible, though the facts are not present to my mind; but I do not see how the interruption is relevant, because I never made any allusion to the Belfast riots. The Commission I was referring to was that which had to do with the Featherstone riots. But supposing we had a Statutory Commission. That 865 statute could not be extended to the Cape, it could not be extended to Australia. It would have had no power to compel witnesses to come from either of those countries. [HON. MEMBERS: Why not?] Of course, I do not say this House has not a right to override—— [Nationalist cheers.] Clearly, the hon. Gentleman's allies are on that side. This House, of course, has power to suspend the constitution of every self-governing colony. Are those the powers you wish to exercise? This Legislature has the power, and it is the only Legislature which has the power to appoint a Statutory Commission. This Legislature has the power, no doubt, to override every self-governing colony in the Empire; it has the right to pass what laws it chooses for any part of the Empire; but such a thing has never been heard of in the history of this country since self-governing colonies were established, as that this Legislature should pass a statute to compel colonial witnesses to attend upon a Commission appointed by this country, and to give that Commisson the power to administer an oath. This is the policy which I understand the hon. Gentleman seriously advocates with the assistance of hon. Gentlemen opposite. In the first place it is an impossible policy, and in the second place it is a futile and absurd policy even from the point of view of the hon. Gentleman himself. What are the hon. Gentleman's objections to the Commission that has been appointed? His objections are these—that the witnesses are afraid to give evidence, that whether they be soldiers or civilians their cowardice is such that no protection given to them by this Commission—anonymity, secrecy, anything else—is sufficient to enable the truth to be extracted from them. That is the hon. Gentleman's objection. Before I comment on the character which the hon. Gentleman gives to our soldiers and civilians of this country in South Africa, let mo ask him how that difficulty would have been got over by a Statutory Commission.
§ *MR. BURDETT-COUTTS
If the right hon. Gentleman asks me the question I will answer it. I have already answered it in my speech. I say if the Commission have compulsory powers to call witnesses it relieves the witness of all responsibility for coming forward; and if they have powers to take evidence on 866 oath the witness must, of course, tell the whole truth.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
What the hon. Gentleman pointed out to an astonished House was that the fear of consequences in the minds of these witnesses was such that they could not be expected to tell the truth. I want to know how that is to be cured by the Statutory Commission which he desires, even if the Statutory Commission had, or could have, powers of calling witnesses in South Africa or in, the colonies, as the hon. Gentleman appears to desire. I have heard—not often, I admit, from these benches—but I have hoard in this House attacks upon the moral courage, upon the honesty, upon the probity, and upon the public spirit of our soldiers and civilians, but I have never heard an attack from any quarter of the House like that which the hon. Gentleman has thought fit to make.
§ *MR. BURDETT-COUTTS
I repudiate absolutely the suggestion. I made no attack. I gave specific instances of men who said they were afraid of coming forward and making their names known.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
We differ, I suppose, as to what an attack consists of. I call it an attack upon a man to say that he knows the truth but dare not say it. The hon. Gentleman does not call that an attack. However, we need not quarrel about words. All I meant to indicate to the House was that the hon. Gentleman had scattered broadcast the accusation over both civilians and soldiers serving us in South Africa that they were afraid to come forward, that they were afraid to tell the truth, because of the consequences to themselves; and, not content with attacking them for this incredible meanness and cowardice, he accused their superiors of not less meanness, not less incredible meanness, in suggesting that honest evidence honestly given would destroy the chances of a man being promoted.
§ *MR. BURDETT-COUTTS
As the right hon. Gentleman continues to make these accusations against me, I must answer them. I particularly stated that I did not believe that these would be the results to these witnesses; the point was that they feared that those would be the results.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
I withdraw absolutely my charge that he accused the authorities of the incredible meanness of 867 which I thought he had accused them. I withdraw that. All he does is to accuse the subordinates, the witnesses, of the meanness of fearing the result and of the folly of supposing that the result would ensue. I do not know that he makes his case much better, though I am very anxious not to misrepresent him. I must say that the hon. Gentleman is peculiarly unfortunate in the character of his correspondence. He has read out a certain number of letters. He tells us that they are mere specimens of hundreds or thousands.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
Perhaps the hon. Gentleman opposite will allow the hon. Gentleman to contradict me himself. [Several HON. MEMBERS: He has done so.]
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
Innumerable. I do not exactly know the numerical valuation that is to be given to the adjective innumerable—the adjective used by; the hon. Member.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
Many, but not innumerable; but, after all, why should hon. Gentlemen quarrel with me on this subject, considering that the whole case depends upon the number of these letters? If the letters are not representative, what is the use of quoting them in this House? What do they come to? What is the value of them? It is only because they potentially represent hundreds or thousands that they are of any value whatever. If it is merely Mr. A or Mr. B who thinks the hon. Gentleman is a proper representative to send these communications to, it does not matter to me, to the inquiry, to anybody; but if the hon. Gentleman wishes us to assume that the letters he has read out are mere specimens of a vast number which he might have read out, then I say he has a most unfortunate set of correspondents, and, since the time when anonymous accusations were put down in the lion's mouth at Venice, I do not know that any gentleman has been so favoured as the 868 hon. Gentleman. The hon. Gentleman has, I believe, already been called as a witness. He has already given all his own evidence, and he has been cross-examined upon his evidence. Is it a fair use of his privileges as a Member of this House to come before us and the tribunal of the country while the inquiry is still on, after his own examination, when there is no opportunity of cross-examining him or criticising him, and giving this supplementary appendix to the evidence which he has already given? Is that the way he thinks a great inquiry of this sort ought to be treated? Is that the value he puts upon his own evidence? Is that the manner in which ho thinks this great tribunal, the House of Commons itself, ought to be treated? If the hon. Gentleman had attempted to take the course he has taken to-night in reference to any case being tried before one of the judicial tribunals of this country, he would have been stopped, first by the Speaker, and if not by you, Mr. Speaker, by the general public opinion of the House. I am convinced that the general public opinion of the House takes the same view of this question that I do. It is not fitting, it is not in the public interest, that at the time when an inquiry is going on we should be debating this question in circumstances in which alone debate can take place in this House, having ex parte statements made from this side or that side of the House, without the power of examination, without the power of cross-examination, without having any witnesses before us, and without the power of coming to an impartial verdict. That must be left until we have the result of the inquiry before us. I confess, though I have not altogether approved of the line the hon. Gentleman has taken in this matter, I have entirely agreed with him from the beginning as to the necessity of an inquiry, before he ever raised the question in this House. I have all along taken the view that there should be an impartial and thorough and systematic inquiry into the matter. I have always held that view, and so far I agree with the hon. Gentleman; but when I heard him tonight, after having asked for an inquiry, systematically depreciate the character of every witness that has come before the Commission; when I heard him complain that the truth is not to be expected from the inquiry; when I heard him tell the House that the organisation of the 869 Medical Department was so rigid in South Africa that nobody would come forward to give evidence; when I heard him state that witnesses were prepared either to abstain from giving evidence or to give false evidence because their worldly career was at stake; when I heard him discredit this inquiry which he has asked for from the beginning—then, for the first time, I began to doubt the evidence the hon. Gentleman himself has given in this House. I am perfectly frank with the hon. Gentleman. I have absolutely believed everything he has told us about the facts he has seenand about the conclusions he has drawn in South Africa, though I confess I thought the picture was probably a one-sided one; but I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman, by the speech he has made to-night, has shown such evident anxiety as to the result of the inquiry that is to be held. I think the course ho has taken is not only contrary to every sound Parliamentary tradition, but to every suggestion of common sense. I think that, for the sake of the cause which he himself professes to have at heart, there cannot be a more imprudent procedure than to attempt to throw these unworthy suspicions and aspersions not only on the Commissioners themselves who are making the inquiry, but upon every witness, except himself, who is likely to be heard.
§ SIR WALTER FOSTER (Derbyshire, Ilkeston)
I should never have thought that a discussion on a question of this kind was one which was likely to have excited any party passion or personal recrimination. I should have thought that on a question of this kind no passion or temper, such as we have unfortunately seen exhibited on more than one occasion, would have been displayed. I regret that from the day when the hon. Member for Westminster made his first statement in the House, there has been exhibited on the Treasury bench an amount of temper which was not creditable to the right hon. Gentleman or anyone holding his position. I think that throughout this business we have been placed in an unfortunate position. The hon. Member for Westminster brings before the public and the House, animated by the spirit of public duty, certain information which he thinks ought to be laid before the House and the country, and as the result of that we have given us, not very spontaneously or cheerfully, a Commission of Inquiry.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
The hon. Gentleman is mistaken. The Commission 870 was decided upon before the hon. Member for Westminster made a single statement upon the subject to this House.
§ SIR WALTER FOSTER
I am not in a position to know when it was decided upon. I only know when it was announced. The public announcement of the inquiry in this House is what I refer to. When the Commission was announced it was announced with certain powers which many of us felt were inadequate. I think it was unfortunate that the right hon. Gentleman opposite, and those who agreed with him in appointing this Commission, looked upon its scope from far too narrow a point of view. They regarded it as an inquiry into an attack upon the Army Medical administration in South Africa. The reference to it was to inquire into the treatment of the sick and wounded in South Africa, and that was a very narrow reference, and practically referred only to the Army Medical Department.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
The reference was to inquire into the treatment of every sick and wounded man in South Africa. You cannot go further than that.
§ SIR WALTER FOSTER
If it refers only to the medical persons engaged, they are all under the Army Medical administration, and therefore the reference has a comparatively narrow object. The civilian doctors are part of the Army Medical administration and the reference is simply to the treatment of the sick and wounded. This inquiry ought not to have had so narrow an object. I am sure every Member of this House looks upon the inquiry from a broad point of view, as an inquiry which ought to be gone into as the public wish it to be gone into, in order to get at the whole truth as to the treatment of our soldiers and the causes of disease. No charge or attack is made on the Army Medical staff, or on any surgeons employed in South Africa. All it is wanted to ascertain is why these unfortunate soldiers in South Africa did not have adequate treatment. When the right hon. Gentleman said that the hon. Member for Westminster brought a charge of meanness against persons unwilling to come forward as witnesses, anyone who has had the conduct of a public institution knows that one of the most difficult things is to get witnesses to come forward. That? difficulty is in the way of every inquiry that is held in connection with any large 871 hospital in the country, or in any large public institution. Still more does it dog the footsteps of a great organisation such as we have to deal with in this matter. But, beyond this, there is the esprit de corps which I am glad to say exists in the British Army, to its honour, and men do not like to come forward and make complaints against their associates. Gentlemen who have been in South Africa have spoken and written to me in the same spirit as the hon. Gentleman, and scores of others have been written to, and therefore the attack of the right hon. Gentleman on the hon. Member for Westminster is not one which ought to be approved by the House. I have no question of party consideration in this matter, and I never had. I have always looked upon it from the point of view of the humanity which belongs to my profession, and I have never desired to obtain the slightest tittle of party advantage out of it. But I desire that it should be sifted to the very bottom in order that we should get at the truth, and that we should have full knowledge of why these heroic soldiers were allowed to die in those bell tents at Bloemfontein under shockingly bad conditions. That is a thing which every citizen has a right to know, and to demand that it should be probed to the very bottom. The whole question is a much bigger question than it has appeared to the House in the speeches that have been delivered. We have had in this unfortunate campaign in South Africa an amount of disease beyond the ordinary experience of such wars. Up to 7th July we have lost more than 3,000 from typhoid fever, and tested by the percentage of mortality given by Lord Roberts, that means that there have been between 15,000 and 16,000 cases of this disease among our troops in South Africa. I am understating rather than overstating the figures, for I believe more than 3,000 have died up to this time. The records have been published up to the 7th July, but since then many others have died of this disease. It is an enormous blot on this campaign that we should have something approaching 15,000 cases of typhoid fever among our troops, and it shows that there must have been something wrong in the medical administration in South Africa that no provision was made against this almost certain outbreak of disease, although the War Department was warned in the public 872 press and by other means that such an outbreak would take place. The fact is, that every village and town that our troops had to march through was known to be a source of infection and disease before they arrived, and yet under these circumstances adequate precautions were not taken to prevent its spread. The result is, that if we compare the deaths from disease up to the present time and the deaths from disease in the Franco-German War we find that we have lost from disease a much larger proportion than the Germans lost. The German army consisted of 887,000 men, or four times the size of our army in South Africa. Up to 7th July—and it is now even worse—we lost 20.7 per thousand of our men from disease, while the Germans, with all the rigour and severity of the winter around Paris, lost only 13.7 per thousand. That shows that our administration is faulty, that the medical something is wrong in administration of the army in South Africa, and that the cause of this outbreak ought to be inquired into by this Commission. What I complain of is that the right hon. Gentleman, in drawing the reference to the Commission, did not make it sufficiently wide to enable the Commissioners to inquire into the causes that brought about this enormous prevalence of preventable disease among our soldiers, in order that we might be in a position to avoid a similar condition of things in any future campaign for the benefit of the men who fight for their country. Finally, I would say as regards the whole position that this is an example of the want of foresight which the administration has shown throughout this war. The same spirit that led them to cable to the colonies that they wanted infantry and not mounted men, has brought about loss of life among our soldiers. The same want of foresight that led them to think that 40,000 or 50,000 men would suffice to finish the war, is the same want of foresight that has brought about this disaster to our soldiers. From the beginning to the end of this campaign the Government have not shown adequate foresight, either in the management of the war or in taking precautions for the protection of the men whom they sent out to fight.
§ *COLONEL BLUNDELL (Lancashire, Ince)
I wish to say that I believe that this Commission will arrive at a proper 873 conclusion. I venture to say that no soldier would look at this question as reflecting solely on the Medical Department. It is a question whether what my hon friend the Member for Westminster saw at Bloemfontein was caused by the Medical Department, or whether it was unavoidable, or might have been avoided by some different arrangement of transport. There are two parties interested in the case, the staff of the Army and the staff of the Army Medical Department, and between the two the Commission will, I am sure, arrive at the truth.
MR. PICKEBSGILL (Bethnal Green, S.W.)
I desire to offer a few observations to the House on a single point, namely, the condition of the troops now serving under General Bundle in South Africa. I should not have troubled the House with the matter if I had been met fairly and reasonably by the War Office. I asked last week and again to-day for some information as to the condition of these troops, who upon credible testimony have been reported to be starving. I asked also whether even now at the end of three months any steps had been taken to provide these troops with adequate food. I received an answer which I will not characterise as I think it deserves, because if I did I should probably exceed the limit of Parliamentary debate, but it was not answer that should have been given to a Member of this House on an important subject, and I may add that the substance of the reply was not helped by the jaunty manner in which it was given by the Financial Secretary to the War Office. The substance of the reply was that the War Office knew nothing of the condition of General Bundle's troops, and that they did not intend to inquire. This is a matter which has excited the most painful interest and anxiety in the public mind, and especially in the minds of those who have relatives serving under General Bundle, and in those circumstances I do submit to the House that the answer which I received showed something very like callousness of feeling towards our brave private soldiers in South Africa, and also a want of respect towards this House and the country. It is monstrous that the War Office, which is discredited and mistrusted by the nation, should adopt an arrogant tone of this kind when a simple inquiry is addressed to it by a Member of this House with regard to the condition of troops who, as I have said, have 874 been, on credible evidence, reported to be starving. If the House will stand that from the War Office, it will stand anything. A description of the troops serving under General Bundle for the last three months inevitably recalls to mind the description of our troops in the Crimea now nearly half a century ago. I limit this inquiry to the special case of the troops serving under General Bundle, but I am not at all sure that the case of those troops is an exceptional one. In fact, I have been assured by those who are far more likely to know than I am that the case of General Bundle's troops is not an exception. I desire to limit my inquiry to that case, however, for the simple reason that I have in my possession an extract from a letter written by a soldier serving under General Bundle, and I thought, also, that by limiting the matter in this way it might be possible for me to give a precision to the inquiry not possible, for me at least, in the case of other troops. I therefore come to the actual condition of the troops under General Bundle. In the first place, before I refer to my private information I should like to draw the attention of the House to an account given of the condition of the troops by a distinguished and very accurate correspondent—Imean Mr. Hales, the war correspondent of the Daily Newt. On the 30th July the Daily News published a long letter from Mr. Hales, dated the 11th July, which stated—The men are absolutely starving. Many of the infantrymen are so weak that they can barely stagger along. They are worn to shallows, and move with weary, listless footsteps… General Rundle faces the work in front of him with men whose knees knock under them when they march, with hands that shake when they shoulder their rifles—shake, but not with fear; tremble, but not with wounds, but from weakness, from poverty of blood and muscle, brought about by continual hunger. Are those men fit to storm a kopje? Are they fit to tramp the whole night through, to make a forced march to turn a position, and then to fight as their fathers fought next day?That is how Mr. Hales described the condition of the troops. I have an extract from a letter written by a private soldier in a famous regiment now serving under General Bundle. It is dated the 24th April, and he says—We are nearly starving. We have not seen a piece of bread for three weeks, and we have been living on biscuits about the size of Spratt's dog biscuits, which contain bran instead of wheat.On the 20th May he wrote that the allowance of biscuits per man per day 875 had been reduced, and that the troops were fairly starving. The letter continues—The other day they gave us one and a quarter biscuit to last ns for the day. Next day was worse—a half pint of warm coffee for breakfast, but nothing else. I have been so hungry that I have eaten tea-leaves after they have been used.Referring to the day on which the battle of Senekal was fought, he says—We get up at 3.45 a.m. Breakfast consisted of one and a quarter biscuit per man; then we marched and arrived at camp at 10 p.m., having been without food or water for eighteen hours.On the 26th June he states that things were as bad as ever, though they then had received tents, having previously had to sleep on the ground without any protection from frost, cold, or wet, and on one occasion he states that his coat was frozen to his back. The only practical question which the House has to consider is, was this state of things necessary or inevitable? I suppose that we shall have the usual answer from the War Office that it was inevitable. Mr. Hales has, however, anticipated that reply. He said that General Bundle's troops were not isolated, and that supplies could be got to them. He asks what became of the provisions, and ho answers, "Ask at the snug railway sidings," and he adds that with ordinary management the food which had been got to Cape Town ought to have been within easy reach of our troops. Let us see how it stands with regard to General Bundle. General Bundle has been on duty for three months and has a front reaching from Winburg to the Basutoland border. Winburg was the terminus of the railway, and Mr. Hales himself showed how supplies might be obtained, because he himself obtained them. Ho relates how he rode to Winburg station with a companion, taking with them two Cape carts. They took train at Winburg and went down the line to Cape Town, got their supplies, came back to Winburg and brought the supplies into General Bundle's camp, without an escort. If Mr. Hales and his friend could get supplies in this way, I want to know how it was that supplies for General Rundle's troops could not have been obtained from the same base by the same means. The Under Secretary for War told us the other day, as illustrating the difficulties of getting supplies in South Africa, that it was as difficult as if London were depending on Rome for its 876 food. I respectfully say that that is an inapt and misleading illustration.
§ The UNDEB SECBETAEY of STATE FOR WAR (Mr. Wyndham, Dover)
That phrase was used in a letter written by Mr. Burnham, the scout.
I do not quite appreciate the force of the hon. Gentleman's interjection, because the phrase was part of his argument, and he adopted it by way of explaining the difficulties of the position.
§ MR. WYNDHAM
That was an illustration used by Mr. Burnham, the scout, and I would prefer that the hon. Gentleman dealt with Mr. Burnham.
That interjection is entirely unnecessary and irrelevant. It does not matter who originated the phrase. The Under Secretary was defending his Department, and in order to explain the difficulties of the situation he adopted the expression that it was just the same as if London were depending on Rome. I repeat very respectfully that that appears to me to be an inapt and misleading comparison, for this reason. We know that supplies for the troops arrived at Cape Town, and what we want to know is why, apparently, they had not got further than Cape Town and why they had not got into the neighbourhood of our troops, for whom they were intended. There has been one noble tradition of the British Army, to which I think is to be attributed not a little of its success, and that is that in times past our generals were careful of the food of their soldiers, and they recognised the military truth that "an army marches on its belly." They kept up supplies and fed their men well. In one quarter of South Africa it is only fair to say that that tradition has been kept up. There is one man—a man who I venture to think has received, up to the present time at any rate, scant justice in this country—I mean Sir R. Buller, who has worked on the old lines of keeping up supplies and feeding his men well, and there is accumulating evidence that in other parts of the stricken field in South Africa, under different direction, the men have, to put it plainly, been starved. I want to know how that happens, and who is responsible for it. My object in putting this question to the Under Secretary for War was a very modest one. It was confined to the 877 specific case of General Bundle's command. It was a perfectly proper question, it was couched in proper Parliamentary form, and I was only following the recognised traditions of this House in putting it. I have to complain that to that question I have received no reply. I press for an answer to that question now, and if the War Office is to be allowed to put us off in this jaunty manner, I shall feel that at least I have tried to do my duty as a Member of this House.
§ MR. WYNDHAM
The lion. Member has put a specific question to the War Office, and, as the representative of that Department, I am bound to reply. The hon. Member has taken exception to the replies he has received from my hon. friend and myself; but if he makes complaint as to the answers, I make no complaint as to the question. The question he put as to whether the Government could say anything to relieve anxiety as to the condition of the troops under General Bundle has been present to the minds of us all for eight or nine days. The mail arrived on Saturday and brought letters from newspaper correspondents and others describing how at the time the letters were despatched General Bundle's troops were on very short rations indeed. The hon. Member is not the only one who has received such letters. I have received two or three myself from relatives and friends serving with General Rundle, but I am bound to say that while they described the circumstances they did not accept the conclusion that they were such as could have been easily avoided. They appreciated the difficulties of carrying on a campaign in a mountainous district. The hon. Member has commented on the answer he received that no official information was to hand. That is true. Unless General Bundle—who, by subjecting his troops to these undoubted hardships, has achieved in four weeks one of the greatest successes of the war—had, instead of prosecuting his arduous operations to their successful end, sat down and written his report, it would have been physically impossible for the information to have reached this country. The earliest information reached this country on Saturday, and unless General Bundle had suspended operations in order to write his report it would not have been possible for us to give any explanation. There is an unwillingness on the part of the hon. Gentleman to accept the explanation we 878 gave, and he complains of the tone and substance of the replies he received to a perfectly natural question. No slight was intended to the hon. Member, nor any disregard of the position and responsibility of this House, when I informed him, with, I believe, courtesy, that we had no information until a few days ago. The War Office had no information as to the facts when I answered the hon. Gentleman a few days ago; but having received private letters from close relatives and friends, I was unwilling to withhold the circumstances to which they alluded, and so I added that, owing to the nature of the country and of the operations, General Bundle's troops were exposed to hardship. The questions of fact are hardly in dispute. The hon. Member has said he believed that the troops under General Bundle four or five weeks ago were on half or even quarter rations; but in order to illustrate the difficulties of transport, I may say that when Lord Boberts arrived at Germiston, before Johannesburg, the troops had to be ready to fight a battle without an ounce of food; and if they had not broken into Johannesburg they would have suffered hardships of a most deplorable character. That is incidental, not to this war alone, but to all wars. A daring strategic plan means that the amount of food must be really measured by ounces. So many days were allowed to strike the blow. If it succeeded all was well, like Cromwell's attack on General Leslie at Dunbar, and if it failed, there was a retreat like Napoleon's from Moscow. The question is, has all been done that could have been done in this campaign? That is a question of the most solemn importance, but not one that can be profitably decided on the Appropriation Bill. It must be investigated fearlessly, jealously, curiously, and to its uttermost depths. That is what every man in the House and in the country must feel. But the examination must be made when the evidence is available, and all the reports on the operations are in our hands, in a cold and impartial spirit. It was asked what there was peculiar in these operations and in this country to make it likely that the troops would be reduced to half rations. A glance at the map answered the question. There was the railway fifty or sixty miles to the west of an Alpine district, in which the operations were being conducted; and there were 15,000 troops distributed over an 879 are of 150 miles. The hon. Member says if the war correspondents at the front could take provisions, why should not the whole army be able to take full rations. I might go a ten miles walk to-morrow with a sandwich in my pocket, but it does not follow that I could find sandwiches and bread and cheese to feed an army of 15,000 men distributed over an arc of 150 miles. There must be an enormous organisation working without a hitch to do that. There was a very good organisation; but it had no direct railway communication, and the supply route by road was threatened by an enemy who had already overwhelmed one isolated force after another. It should be remembered that General Rundle, the circumstances of whose force have attracted attention owing to the last mail which has arrived in this country, was the chief staff officer of Lord Kitchener during the whole of his operations up the Nile. For years everyone at home and abroad had been lavishing praise upon the administration of that campaign as far as the transport was concerned. [Mr. MACNEILL: No, no. It was extremely hard work.] The hon. Member really did himself an injustice by these interruptions. Now are we to believe that a man of that capacity, whose transport and food arrangements in Egypt excited the admiration of the whole world, has failed egregiously in South Africa, or that there has been a bad service from the Home Government, or that Lord Roberts would fail to bring that fact to our knowledge? These are things to be studied in the future. Let us find out, if we can, whether better provision can be made for a campaign in a mountainous country, at such an enormous distance from our base, and with only a 3ft. 6in. railway running for 500 miles from our secondary base. All we know is that we have four months provisions for every man in South Africa, and that we have appointed officers whom we believe competent to feed these troops. We realise, as some hon. Gentlemen who have taken part in the debate do not realise, what the work of the Army needs, and I hope that in a few weeks time the work of the War Office in considering the whole campaign will begin.
§ MR. HAVELOCK WILSON (Middlesbrough)
said he wanted to ask the President of the Board of Trade several questions with regard to matters which had been discussed in the House on pre- 880 vious occasions. The right hon. Gentleman would remember that some time ago he made a promise that he would insist upon the P. and O. Company complying with the law. He had been anxiously waiting to see what action the President of the Board of Trade would take. He observed from the papers that the chairman of the P. and O. Company had made the statement at a meeting of the directors of that company that if they were to comply with the Act of Parliament, which provided that the lascars should have 72 cubic feet of space on board ship, that would mean a loss to the P. and O. Company of nearly £20,000 a year. That meant chat the P. and O. Company had been swindling the seamen at the rate of £'20,000 a year. Moreover the chairman of the P. and O. Company challenged the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade to commence proceedings against the company in order to have the law tested. He hoped that the right hon. Gentleman would be prepared to say definitely what had been done in regard to this very serious matter. He found that thirty passengers on the outward bound P. and O. steamer the "Rome," which arrived at Gibraltar on Monday, had been placed in quarantine for ten days in consequence of two lascars suspected of having the plague having been put on shore from the "Rome" before she left the Royal Albert Dock. The two lascars died, and one of them when taken to the hospital was suffering from plague which it appeared had broken out in the ship in consequence of overcrowding. He had repeatedly pointed out to the right hon. Gentleman the danger not only to the lascars themselves, but to the people of this country, of having the plague brought to our shores in consequence of the insanitary condition in which these men lived on board ship. It now appeared that the crew of the "Rome" had been in quarantine, and one man had died in the Albert Dock and two in the hospital. That ought to tell the right hon. Gentleman thas it was time to take prompt action, and insist, as far as ho could, that the lascar seamen should have proper accommodation, and that that accommodation was kept in a sanitary condition. A short time ago he asked the right hon. Gentleman a question with regard to the provisions that were supplied to seamen on board British ships. 881 He had no doubt that the right hon. Gentleman would inform the House that night that he himself had no control over the quantity of the provision supply to seamen on board British ships. He (Mr. Wilson) would dispute that contention, and prove that the Board of Trade had some control or some right to interfere with regard to the quantity of provisions supplied to seamen on board British ships. This question of the quantity of the provision supply was a very important one. At the present time there were a number of complaints made by shipowners of the desertion of seamen from British ships in foreign ports, and no doubt the shipowners were always ready to blame the seamen for these desertions. They said it was due to drunkenness on the part of the men, and that British seamen allowed themselves to get into the hands of the crimps at foreign ports, and caused a great deal of expense and inconvenience to the shipowners. Ho would prove that it was entirely duo to the manner in which the British shipowners fed the sailors on board their ships. The articles of agreement issued by the Board of Trade, which the crews had to sign, provided a scale of provisions containing twenty-four items — water, broad, beef, pork, preserved meat, preserved potatoes, preserved vegetables, flour, peas, rice, oatmeal, dried fruit, butter, molasses, vinegar, pickles, etc. But if the right hon. Gentleman would make inquiry of his Department he would find that in almost every case, instead of the men getting the twenty-four items provided for in these articles of agreement they only got eight—three quarts of water daily, 1 lb. bread daily, 1½ lb. beef four times a week, 1¼ lb. salt pork three times a week, ½ lb. flour three times a week, ½ pint of peas three times a week, ⅛ oz. tea daily, ½ oz. coffee or chickory daily, and 2 oz. of sugar. That completed the list. Ho had had the cost of the scale of provisions supplied by British shipowners to the sailors carefully estimated. He ought to say, however, that the men employed on the largo liners were treated differently, and wore fed liberally and well. He meant the White Star, the Cunard, the Castle, the Union, the Orient, the Shaw-Savill, and the Wilson lines. But outside these liners the sailors were all confined strictly to the scale of provisions he had mentioned, and the cost of it worked out at 3s. 5½d, per week. Did 882 the right hon. Gentleman suppose that it was possible for any man to be content, and remain in the service of these shipowners for any length of time, when fed on such a scale of provisions? Seven pounds of biscuit for a week cost the shipowners 7¼d.; six pounds salt beef (this was remarkable) cost 1s. 3¼d. He questioned very much whether it was beef. That beef was old donkey which was carried over to Antwerp, salted up with saltpetre, and put into casks marked "Best ox beef." It could not buy decent beef He defied anyone to buy decent beef in London under 8d. or 9d. a lb., and it was impossible to supply beef at the rate of 1s. 3¼d. for 6 lb. Salt pork, 3¼ lb. three times a weed, 1s. 0¾d.; flour—the extravagance of the shipowner in supplying the sailors with flour at 1¾d. for the weed; peas, 1¼d.; rice, ½d.; the tea which the sailors get was supplied at 9d. per lb. out of bond, and cost the shipowner 1½d. for the seven days; coffee, 1¾d.; sugar, 1¾d., or a total for the week's supply of 3s. 6d. Ho had hoard sailors say that what they got were dog biscuits, but that was a libel on the dogs, for he found that dog biscuits cost 35s. per cwt., while sailors' biscuits cost only 10s. 6d. per cwt. On board American ships he found a very different state of affairs prevailed. They got a far better provision scale—biscuit, beef, pork, flour, canned meats, fresh bread daily, fresh, preserved, or dried potatoes, tomatoes, peas, beans, rice, tea, sugar, molasses, fruit, pickles, vinegar, corn meal, mustard, pepper, salt, etc. All that cost the American shipowner 6s. 8d. per week. The great difference between the American and the British scale of provisions was that the former was provided for by Act of Congress, and the American seaman knew exactly to what he was entitled and could demand it. But the Board of Trade arrangements were deceiving to the men. The Board of Trade in the articles of agreement provided a scale of provisions which was supposed to consist of twenty-four items. If the men could got that it would be all right, but they only get eight items out of the twenty-four. That was the cause of all the trouble about men deserting at foreign ports. Men who went on board a British ship were expected to work on food which cost 3s. 6d. a week. Of course men could not work on such conditions, and the conse- 883 quence was that they became disagreeable, insubordinate, and on the first opportunity they deserted the ship. He wanted to know what the right hon. Gentleman was going to do in regard to this matter. He was sure that the right hon. Gentleman could do something. He remembered when he tried to get a proper provision scale passed by Act of Parliament the Board of Trade opposed it on the ground that that was a matter that ought to be left to the shipowners. The shipowners had; had the matter in their own hands for the last five years, and instead of there being an improvement things were gradually getting worse. He maintained that the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade could send out a circular to the shipowners calling attention to the fact that they had only provided for eight articles of food out of the twenty-four in the articles of agreement, and recommending the shipowners to carry out the articles of agreement. He had no doubt that that would do some good, and if it did not have the desired effect the right hon. Gentleman could bring in a Bill next year to regulate the matter. There was another question to which he wanted an answer from the right hon. Gentleman. He had repeatedly called the attention of the Board of Trade and the Foreign Office to it, and he was glad to see both the President of the Board of Trade and the Under Secretary for the Foreign Office present, because they might be able to give him some satisfactory answer. He had repeatedly called the attention of the Board of Trade and Foreign Office to the fact that a number of Her Majesty's Consuls in foreign ports had taken upon themselves the responsibility of imprisoning British seamen without any trial; and he wanted to know from the right hon. Gentleman what law in this country gave power to Her Majesty's Consuls to have seamen arrested, and kept in prison without trial. The right hon. Gentleman was aware of one of the cases to which be referred, because ho brought it under the notice of the Board of Trade four months ago. A man named Gardner serving on board the ship "Dalblain," seemed to have some grievance with his captain. The men employed in discharging cargo at Iquique made a kind of piece task that they would load a certain number of lighters alongside, and when finished that they would do no more work until fresh lighters arrived. 884 The captain came on the scene, and wanted to know why the men were not working, and ordered Gardner to go over the side and paint. Gardner said—I have done my share of the contract, and won't do more until the fresh lighters have arrived.The captain went ashore and arranged with the Consul that the police should go on board and arrest the man and put him ashore. Whereupon the Consul sentenced him to twenty days imprisonment. At the end of that time, when ho was let out of prison, the man was convoyed by the police on board ship, and at the end of the voyage the captain added insult to injury by charging the man £'10 for prison expenses. The right hon. Gentleman promised to communicate with Iquique, and he wanted to know from the right hon. Gentleman what bad happened, and if the Consul had given any explanation of his conduct. He wanted more than that. He had a right to ask the Government to dismiss a Consul from his position who dared to place a British seaman in prison without a trial and to keep him in prison without a trial. That Consul had no power or authority to do anything of the sort. Then he bad the case of the ship called the "South Australian." That vessel was lying at Beira, in East Africa. The crew had been employed during the week working from six in the morning to six in the evening. On Sunday morning they were turned out at six o'clock to wash down the docks. Now, he did not object to washing down the decks on a Sunday morning. That was the rule on board British ships, and the men in question did not object; but while the men were washing the decks the chief officer came along and ordered a certain number of the men to take down the derricks. They refused. They were taken to the captain, who repeated the order, and they again refused. Then the captain entered their offence in the official log, and the next morning the men were ordered to go ashore to the Consul. They went to the Consul's office, and were not taken in together. The captain and two of the officers were with the Consul when each man went in. Each was asked if he had refused to do work, and each said that he refused to take down the derricks, but did not refuse to wash the decks. They were ordered on board the ship, and two hours after they had commenced the performance of their duties Portuguese 885 police were sent on board and the men were taken ashore, one to do twenty days and the other four weeks. He had since seen that that Consul had been murdered, and in all probability it was such imprisonment that had led up to it. These cases of imprisoning British seamen in different ports were occurring almost every day, and the Foreign Office and the Board of Trade would have to take immediate steps to prevent them. He had complained many times, and his complaints appeared to make no difference; but he would tell the British Consuls through the right hon. Gentleman who had control over them, that if they continued to send British seamen to prison, a course would be adopted which would bring them to their senses. Writs would be served on the Consuls for false imprisonment, and they would be put to the expense of coming to England to stand their trial and perhaps to pay substantial damages. Then they would know something about British law and how far their powers went. The House and the country had a right to know whether it was with the approval of the Foreign Office that the Consuls were allowed to take a liberty of that kind. It was a liberty that would not be tolerated in this country for five minutes. If any person in this country dared to arrest a person unlawfully he was bound to say that person would be soon brought to his senses. He wanted to know what the Board of Trade intended to do in the matter. Was he to be told again that the Government had no information and that the matter was still under consideration? Another matter he wished to complain of had reference to the Foreign Office. A steamer was stranded on the Turkish coast and the men were compelled to temporarily leave the vessel. Not long afterwards some Turks boarded the vessel and stole the men's clothes and effects. The vessel was afterwards got off, and subsequently the Foreign Office was asked to demand some compensation from the Turkish Government for the loss of the men's effects. Ho was surprised that this Conservative Government, who prided themselves on their great power and influence in Europe, and who imagined that foreign nations trembled before them, were not able to get any satisfaction from Turkey. They were told that nothing could be done in the matter. Surely the Government might have done more than that. Was that all they could do for the pro- 886 tection of British seamen against brigands on the Turkish coast near the Dardanelles? Was that the best protection they could look forward to? He hoped the right hon. Gentleman would be able to give some more information with regard to the matter, and ho trusted he would be able to say that the Government had not dropped the question, that it was still under the consideration of the Foreign Office, and that strong representations would be made to the Turkish Government with a view to insisting on compensation. He was sorry to say that at the end of the seventh session of this Parliament he could not give the President of the Board of Trade very much credit for having done anything in the way of improving the condition of the seafaring population of this country. In fact, working men in general would be able to give very little credit to this Government for having done much for them. They were too busy with the war, and had no time to look into questions affecting working men. No doubt when the General Election came some of them would be able to remind members of the Government of the fact that in six years they had performed very little for the working classes. The right hon. Gentleman had a splendid opportunity of doing some good for the seamen if he had taken it. The Liberal Government appointed a Committee to inquire into the manning of ships. The Committee sat for two years, and recommended a number of things with a view to improving the conditions of sailors and firemen on board ships. They recommended that no fireman should be called to stoke more than three and a half tons of coal in the twenty-four hours in cold climates and two and a half tons in hot climates. The President of the Board of Trade brought in a Bill to deal with that question. What did the right hon. Gentleman do t His Department issued regulations to the effect that on board steamers of a certain tonnage there should be at least six deck hands—they did not say what deck hands, or whether they should be fully qualified able seamen or bo37s. As a matter of fact many steamers which were under the regulations of the Board of Trade only kept three able seamen and throe ordinary seamen—that was, three boys—and in many instances the boys wore first voyagers, who could not steer, and were not competent to keep a proper look-out. When such regulations were issued, the 887 Department must have been entirely ignorant of the recommendations of the Manning Committee, which went thoroughly into the question. He had seen articles of agreement which did not contain a single word as to the number of firemen and stokers which should be carried. He desired to know if the right hon. Gentleman's Department would insist upon articles of agreement providing for the number of firemen to be carried, as well as the number of sailors. He knew something about the class of men who were engaged as firemen. When the ships got out to sea, two or three hands were taken from the stoke-hole and put into the engine-room to act as greasers —that was, to do engineers' work. There was a revival of the disturbance, and at the first foreign port at which the vessel arrived the men were taken before the Consul and thrown into prison. If the articles of agreement were properly drawn out—as they ought to be—the Board of Trade would see that the number of firemen was properly provided for, and the men would know perfectly well that they could insist on that number being employed. Another serious matter was the discharge of British seamen in foreign ports. The right hon. Gentleman had some power to check this, because the Merchant Shipping Act provided that Her Majesty's Consuls should have the right to withhold their sanction to the discharge of any crew at a foreign port unless the captain could give a proper reason for it. During the three years commencing 1897 and ending 1899 there were 92,000 sailors and firemen discharged from British ships at Rotterdam, Amsterdam, Hamburg, and Antwerp. Now these 92,000 men had to make their way to the United Kingdom, and in their places there were engaged 90,000 odd foreigners. They were foreigners who did not reside in this country, and who did not spend the money they earned on British ships in the ports of the United Kingdom. If the seamen were engaged and paid off here instead of on the Continent, at least two millions of money would be spent in British ports. That was a very serious matter, especially seeing that Her Majesty's Government had promised, when they came into office, to place some restriction on foreign immigration into this country. He did not want to be misunderstood on this matter. He was not complaining of foreigners who were resident in this 888 country or who made the United Kingdom practically their home; but he was complaining of engaging 90,000 men in foreign ports and displacing 90,000 British seamen. He trusted that he would get satisfactory answers to all the questions he had asked.
§ The PRESIDENT of the BOARD or TRADE (Mr. RITCHIE,) Croydon
said that as regarded the latter part of the hon. Gentleman's speech, relating to the engagement of foreign seamen on board British ships, he could add nothing to what he had said on previous occasions. The question had been recently discussed in the House and between the shipowners themselves. There was no restriction whatever on the employment of foreign seamen on board British ships, although they much deplored the fact that so many were so engaged, and he would gladly see them replaced by British sailors. But he could not undertake to ask Parliament to legislate so as to compel British shipowners to employ seamen of a certain nationality.
§ MR. HAVELOCK WILSON
said he did not ask the right hon. Gentleman to legislate. What he asked was that the right hon. Gentleman should instruct the Consuls to prevent the discharge of British seamen at British ports.
§ MR. RITCHIE
said that when British seamen were discharged at foreign ports the law provided that they should be sent home. And that was all that the law could do. Ho was sorry that the hon. Member had used the expression that the P. and O. Company had been swindling and robbing their lascar seamen.
§ MR. RITCHIE
The hon. Member says he means that. Then anything more unjustifiable could not have been alleged against the P. and O. Company, who maintained that it was quite entitled by law to engage lascars with the accommodation the P. and O. Company provided for them. It was, no doubt, a subject of considerable difficulty, but the matter was now in the hands of the Counsel of the Board of Trade, who wore preparing a case in order to get the opinion of the High Court of Justice, and until that was obtained nothing more could be done. The hon. Member had said that the bad quality of the provisions was one of the reasons why so many British seamen deserted at foreign ports. While both the quantity and quality of the provisions served in the 889 great liners were all that could be desired, he was not without the feeling that in some ships the provisions were not so good. But he was not quite sure that the cooking had not something to do with it.
§ MR. HAVELOCK WILSON
said it would take a very good cook to cook good meals from provisions which cost 3s. 6d. for seven days.
§ MR. RITCHIE
said the lion. Member must be aware that the scale of provisions had nothing to do with it. The scale in the articles of agreement was only a recommendation; it was not laid down as by law. It was a matter of agreement between the crew and the owners of the ship. The Board of Trade had no power in the matter. The skeleton scale which the hon. Member had quoted had been in existence since 1893, and it was proposed to issue a new one in 1901. The seamen had opportunities of complaining if they did not get proper food both as regarded quantity and quality. Their complaints when made were investigated, and if they were found to be justifiable an order was issued, and unless that order were complied with the master of the ship was liable.
§ MR. HAVELOCK WILSON
said his complaint was not that the men did not get what they signed for. He complained that what they signed for was insufficient.
§ MR. RITCHIE
said that if the men could not help themselves the Board of Trade had no power, as it was a matter of agreement. With regard to the action of the Consul to whom the hon. Member referred, he had received a report from him which he was bound to say he did not consider satisfactory. He had again communicated with the Consul, and if it turned out that he had acted ultra vires of course steps would be taken to deal with the matter.
§ MR. ELLIS GRIFFITH
said he desired to direct the attention of the House to a local matter which might, however, be of general interest, and regarding which he had given notice to the Vice-President of the Council that he intended mentioning it. It was, he thought, one of the grossest pieces of clerical intolerance which had occurred for a long time. The Vice-President was always asking for specific cases; but when he placed a case of a very serious and important character before him the other day the right hon. Gentleman traversed 890 all the facts. In Holyhead there was a Church school which was overcrowded, and the school board made repeated applications to be allowed to build another board school, but all these applications had been refused. On 11th April, Canon Thomas, one of the managers of the Church school, called two pupil teachers— Roberts and Shone—before him. Roberts had been a pupil teacher for three years, and the custom was to sign the indentures when the pupil teacher began to teach. Roberts, however, wasdenied her indentures of apprenticeship for three years. Did the right hon. Gentleman deny that?
§ THE VICE-PRESIDENT OF THE COMMITTEE OF COUNCIL ON EDUCATION (Sir J. GORST, Cambridge) University
§ MR. ELLIS GRIFFITH
Then, for two years Roberts was a pupil teacher, and had not had her indentures signed. He should like to have an explanation of that from the right hon. Gentleman. The real explanation was that these pupils teachers were denied their right until they promised to attend church and Church Sunday-school. No other reason was suggested. On 11th April Canon Thomas called Roberts, whom he had been trying to proselytise for two years, before him, and asked, "Are you willing to go to church?" and she said, "No." Then he said, "I decline to sign your indentures, and will give you further time for consideration." He thought that was an iniquitous abuse of a public position. Subsequently Roberts left that school, though the right hon. Gentleman in his reply to a "question seemed to imply that she was still in it. The right hon. Gentleman ordered an inquiry. An inspector was sent to the school, and—would the House believe it —at that inquiry the curate of the parish was present. He did ask the right hon. Gentleman to keep curates out of any inquiries he instituted into the management of these Church schools. In the particular school he was referring to, seven out of nine Nonconformist teachers went over to the Church, and he thought some light should be thrown on the methods which brought about that result. It might be said that he was taking the word of a pupil teacher against the word of the Canon, but he preferred the word of the pupil teacher. The right hon. Gentleman smiled, but he would give an 891 instance of what Canon Thomas did. The choristers of the church had to sign a written promise not to sing solos in meeting-houses or Halls—meeting-houses with a small "m" and Halls with a large "H." Meeting-houses were, of course, the houses of God, and the man who was capable of such conduct as that should not have much reliance placed on his word. He hoped the right hon. Gentleman would inquire further why indentures were withheld from pupil teachers in the manner he described. He trusted that the right hon. Gentleman would not rely on the word of Canon Thomas, who was the accused person, and he was sure when he had all the facts before him he would administer a severe rebuke to the managers of the school.
SIR J. GOEST
said that no offence of which the Board of Education could take any cognisance had been disclosed.
SIR. J. GOEST
said that the Board of Education had no control whatever with reference to the matters mentioned in the hon. Gentleman's question. The hon. Gentleman stated that repeated applications were made to Canon Thomas to sign the indentures in question, but there was not a word of truth in that. The school was conducted in a very liberal manner, because the hon. Gentleman himself admitted that there were nine Nonconformist pupil teachers in it, and the liberality displayed by Canon Thomas deserved more recognition than it had received.
MR. BRYNMOR JONES
said no doubt the right hon. Gentleman was quite right in stating that he had no right to interfere in the particular matter mentioned; but what they desired to know was how long were the Government to continue giving grants out of public money to schools in which such injustice was permitted? What happened, according to the admission of the right hon. Gentleman himself?
MR. BEYNMOR JONES
The right hon. Gentleman admitted that the facts stated by my hon. friend were correct.
MR. BEYNMOR JONES
On what evidence does the right hon. Gentleman contradict my hon. friend's statement?
SIR J. GOEST
On the Report of my inspector, the evidence of Canon Thomas, and the Reports sent to the Education Department.
MR. BEYNMOR JONES
said he understood that Canon Thomas was not examined at the inquiry, but that he sent his curate. What were the Reports sent to the Education Department? They had not been laid before Parliament. On the main fact, however, the right hon. Gentleman did not contradict, on any evidence the House could accept, the statement of his hon. friend that proved injustice had been committed. Two pupil teachers were concerned; one had her indentures signed because she agreed to teach at Sunday-school, and the other had not because she would not agree to the terms laid down by Canon Thomas. He held that it was a great injustice, and it was no good for the right hon. Gentleman to turn round in a case like this and simply say he was not responsible for the management of the school. The right hon. Gentleman was responsible for the use to which the funds voted by the House was put. The right hon. Gentleman had not said what was the result of his investigation. Was the Canon at liberty to keep the girls dangling for two years for their indentures while all the time he was trying to proselytise them? And was any manager of a school entitled to keep them out of their apprenticeship indentures?
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill read a second time, and committed for To-morrow.