§ Order for Third Reading read.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read the third time."
§ Mr. URE (Linlithgowshire)
I propose on this stage of the Appropriation Bill to raise once more the question of the unsettled claim in connection with the loss of the steamship "Kowshing "This matter has really passed from the region of the personal and local into that of the National and Imperial, and I submit that it is of sufficient gravity to warrant asking the deliberate judgment of the House of Commons. The first duty of a civilised Government is to protect the rights of its citizens abroad—to protect them from oppression, and if it is unwilling to come to their rescue, then it absolutely fails in its duty. On two previous occasions have I had to narrate the facts of this case to this House, and the right hon. Gentleman the Under Secretary for Foreign Affairs has freely admitted that my statement of them is substantially accurate. I will therefore on this occasion confine myself to the briefest possible recapitulation of the broad facts of the case. Six years ago this British ship was sunk by the Japanese in Chinese waters. But although the guns were fired from a Japanese cruiser, the Chinese Government was alone responsible for the disaster. Of that there can be no possible question. After careful inquiry into the facts of the case, the Govern- 976 ment of the day announced their intention of prosecuting the claim of these British subjects against the Chinese Government, and within a short period of the present Administration coming into office they were placed in possession of the necessary details. But from that day to this absolutely no progress has been made, and we seem to be just as near a settlement to-day as we were on the day the disaster occurred. What is the excuse offered for this unconscionable delay The first was the temporary sickness of the Chinese Ambassador. That served both the Government and China for two whole years! At the end of the two years our Government woke up and again stated the claim. This time we wore met by the excuse that it was necessary to translate the documents connected with the case, and that this was a job which would occupy a considerable time. But let the House remember that the Chinese Ambassador at that date was the very official who made the contract with the owners of the "Kowshing. "Let it further be borne in mind that the Chinese Government had already had two and a half years to make itself acquainted with the documents, and the House will then be able to judge of the sufficiency of the excuse. Still it was deemed sufficient, and the Government again slumbered and slept. And they have not yet completely awakened from that sleep. I confess there never was a Government so easily deceived and befooled by flimsy excuses. It would almost seem as if this were their first experience of Oriental diplomacy, so guilelessly did they accept the pleas put forward for not paying a just claim. However, the fact remains that for a period of five years excuses as to the sickness of an ambassador, and the necessity for translating a charter-party and other documents satisfied our Government. What could be said of a Government with such an enormous majority, which sought to shake itself free from the responsibility of vindicating the rights of British subjects? Had it been a French, German, Russian, or American subject who had suffered the loss, does any hon. Member for one moment believe that six years would have been allowed to elapse, or that the sufferer's Government would have been put off with such flimsy excuses as those which obviously sufficed for Her Majesty's Government? I venture to say that six months would not have 977 been allowed to elapse without this just claim being enforced. The right lion. Gentleman says, "What am I to do; do you wish me formally to declare war against China for the purpose of enforcing this claim? "Has it really come to this, that the right hon. Gentleman, with all the resources of the British Foreign Office at his back, finds himself to be dead beat when confronted with the task of recovering a few thousand pounds from a recalcitrant foreigner? A Liberal Government sent the British Fleet to the Piraeus in order to enforce an admittedly exaggerated claim of a foreigner—a man who was a Jew by religion and a Portuguese by extraction, whose claim against the Greek Government was debated for four nights in the House of Commons —and they refused to withdraw the Fleet until the claim was settled; yet the present Government seems to suggest, through the mouth of the Under Secretary opposite, that in this case the resources of diplomacy are completely exhausted, and that it has no means of recovering this just debt. In view of what appears in the last Blue-book on China, I do not think the right hon. Gentleman will need to pick a quarrel with the Government of China in order to recover condensation for the loss of the "Kowshing" The quarrel has already been picked for him on totally different grounds. Why cannot this claim be pressed to a final settlement? I notice the right hon. Gentleman said, in answer to a question the other day, that the present hitch arose in the adjustment of the terms of reference. I was astonished and disappointed to read that, because, to my mind, it points to this—that China now disputes our claim on its merits; that she now denies liability altogether, and does not merely question the amount. When on previous occasions I have stated the facts in this House I have laid emphasis on the point that the Chinese Government has never disputed its liability, although it had questioned the amount it ought to pay. But now, if I apprehend the right hon. Gentleman's answer aright, China has shifted her ground after a lapse of five years, and maintains that the question of liability is still open. When the right hon. Gentleman replies to me I hope ho will state when it was that China for the first time disputed her liability, and what specifically are the grounds on which it disputes what 978 I have regarded as an undeniable claim. Four or more years have elapsed since the Law Officers of the Crown advised this Government that the claim was unanswerable in law, and as I am informed, the highest authority on international law in this country, after closely and narrowly investigating the whole facts, has unhesitatingly come to the conclusion that the Chinese Government is alone to blame. It would be a rather sad thing if at this time of the day the Government were to go into an arbitration, leaving the question of liability open. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will not take that course, but that the Government will stand firm, and in the event of an arbitrator being appointed will insist on going before him on only one question—namely, that of amount. Even if that course be adopted there must inevitably be a long delay before this matter can be finally settled. Now, the victims of these long delays do not understand the ways of diplomacy. The widow of the chief engineer of the "Kowshing, "who is resident in my constituency, is now almost in despair. She lost her breadwinner, and I am sure the House will admit that her case is a very hard one. I have no reason to suppose that others are not in a like position. These humble people, who have lost their breadwinners, have for upwards of six years been waiting and trusting to the Government to enforce their most just claims. May I offer a suggestion on their behalf to the right hon. Gentleman? The House heard with unfeigned satisfaction, in connection with the "Waima" claims, that the Government were prepared— pending the final settlement—to afford some temporary relief to the sufferers. Will not the Government in this case inquire into the facts and ascertain those sufferers who are really in need of help, and follow the same course as in the Waima case, by affording some temporary alleviation of the long sufferings of these unfortunate people who lost their means of support by this disaster? It is possible —I hope it is not probable—that the right hon. Gentleman will tell us to-day that the hands of the Government are already more than full of British interests requiring protection in the Far East, and that the intensity of the situation at Peking at the present moment eclipses all other interests, and so fully absorbs the 979 energies of the Government that they have practically no time left for the prosecution of this claim. In ordinary circumstances, I think, the House would have been readily prepared to accept that as a sufficient answer, and I, at any rate, would have had such an appreciation of the fitness of things as not to have ventured to raise this question to-day. But the circumstances are different. I am speaking of a wrong committed not yesterday, or six months, or a year ago, but many years since. Now, the extreme gravity of the situation at Peking has only become apparent to us during the present summer, and the period of our breathless anxiety is measured by only ten weeks. Therefore I say the right hon. Gentleman cannot plead that as an excuse or even an explanation of this prolonged delay, of this supineness, this almost culpable negligence of the Government to enforce admittedly just claims, and to perform what I call the rudimentary duty of a civilised Government, to protect the interests of its subjects abroad. I beg to move that the Bill be read a third time this day three months.
§ Mr. JOSEPH WALTON (Yorkshire, W.K., Barnsley)
I beg to second the motion. I have had an opportunity of perusing the correspondence and the Papers relating to the "Kowshing" incident, and, so far as I am able to judge as a business man, a perfectly undeniable claim is established. But I rose mainly to say that in the course of my journey in the Far East I happened to have as the captain of one of the coasting steamers by which I travelled the man who was first officer on beard the "Kowshing, "and he told me the facts of the case. The "Kowshing" was sunk not in a moment, but gradually, from the firing of guns from the Japanese cruiser. She would not have been sunk at all had it not been that the British commander and the officers, after they had been summoned and were willing to surrender to the Japanese cruiser, were forcibly prevented from surrendering by the Chinese soldiers on the "Kowshing. "I would especially draw the attention of the Under Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs to that fact. The three Europeans who escaped did so only by diving into the sea and swimming to the Japanese cruiser, being repeatedly fired upon by the Chinese soldiers, who believed that 980 their capture was due to the bribery of the British commander by the Japanese. I venture to say that this is a case which ought to be promptly dealt with by Her Majesty's Government, and that the hardship, suffering, and privation involved to those who have lost their breadwinners deserve sympathetic consideration. I trust we shall have from the Under Secretary an announcement with regard to this case as satisfactory as that which he made in connection with the "Waima "incident, and that when the present hostilities in China are over, Her Majesty's Government, in addition to rendering temporary relief to the sufferers, will take care that in the final settlement a proper adjustment of this claim is included.
To leave out the word ' now,' and at the end of the question to add the words ' upon this day three months.'"—(Mr. Ure.)
§ Question proposed, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question."
§ *Sir E. ASHMEAD-BARTLETT (Sheffield, Ecclesall)
I regret having to trouble the House for a short time on this occasion, but the necessity for my doing so is the very unusual action of the Government the other clay in putting five or six Bills before the Second Beading of the Appropriation Bill. I do not think that that ought to pass without a word of protest, because, in my long recollection of this House, I have never known the Appropriation Bill to be put further down than the second Order, and then only with a very unimportant Bill before it. It is worthy of protest also, because the opportunities of private Members have been so greatly curtailed of recent years that the operations of this House now mainly consist of exchanges of views between the two Government Benches. With regard to the affairs in China, the gravity of the position is obvious to all. I wish it were as clear that Her Majesty's Government realised what the situation demands of them. We have every reason from the past to be suspicious and even distrustful of the policy of Her Majesty's Ministers towards China. During the past six years the most lamentable sins of omission and commission have marked the conduct of Chinese affairs by both parties. The mutual compliments be- 981 tween the two Front Benches, which are now a regular feature of a Chinese debate, are far from reassuring. They are taken, I know, for statesmanship by many; but to me they are more like the winks which the Augurs of old exchanged when the populace were being victimised in some peculiarly flagrant way. The debate of last Thursday did good, in spite of the melancholy vaticinations of those gentlemen who, having no feasible policy of their own, hope to get credit for wisdom and moderation by denouncing those who have a policy and have the courage to avow it. The declaration which was elicited from the Under Secretary of State on Thursday was generally welcomed by this House and by public opinion. It was to a certain extent satisfactory', though deficient, as I shall proceed to show, in several vital points. It was satisfactory because it proved that Her Majesty's Government have at last decided frankly and fully to carry into effect the resolution of 1st March, 1898, which this House passed nemine contradicente, in favour of the independence and territorial integrity of the Chinese Empire. The Government, by their mouthpiece, declared on Thursday in most unequivocal terms against the partition of China, and against any of those thinly-veiled attempts at partition which have passed under the name of spheres of influence, or spheres of interest, and which have misled some of my hon. friends. The debate on Thursday was also satisfactory, because it exposed that dangerous farce the Yang-tsze Valley Protectorate, which some have tried to substitute as an alternative policy to the independence of China, and as a feasible policy for this country to adopt. It is an impracticable policy, not merely because it means the partition of China, and would set all China against us, and also the United States, and probably the German Empire as well, but because it would involve the creation of a second India in Central China, with an enormous political and administrative organisation, and an immense army. Nor is this all. The Imperial genius and resource of the English race and the wealth and vigour of our Empire may be equal to the creation of a second India, but the Yang-tsze-Kiang valley has no strategical frontier. It could be easily attacked and overrun by the forces which Russia, after a few years 982 of conquest, would accumulate by conscription in the northern provinces of China. I think that the debate of Thursday also gave the coup de grâce to that cuckoo cry of "the Concert of Europe" and that most delusive reliance upon a "Concert" that does not exist, that cannot exist, and that is a veritable misleader and chimera. This fictitious Concert only deceives ourselves, helps our enemies, paralyses our action, leaves British policy at the mercy of our foes, and presents them with a powerful lever for confounding British interests and promoting their own aims. I was vehemently attacked on Thursday for venturing to expose the hollowness and danger of this Concert, that does not exist, and the tremendous peril to British interests of basing our policy upon such a will-o'-the-wisp. Surely it is far bettor both for our policy, for our own success, for the credit of the Government, and for the peace of the world that our people should understand at once that the only hope of a successful issue in China is a clearly defined British policy, supported by the allies of England and by the friends of peace. Such a policy must be based on distinct objects and with a clear aim; and not upon a mere hopeless attempt to make our policy harmonise with foreign ambitions and schemes, which are at absolute variance with it. Such an attempt can only end in deplorable and fatal inaction on our part, or in placing our enemies in coigns of vantage from which they cannot be dislodged, or only with immense sacrifices. There is the greatest danger nowadays of our people falling victims to catch-penny and delusive phrases. This is the age of cheap fallacies, and the "Concert of Europe "is one of the most misleading. Another was used by the Member for Whitby in the course of his otherwise excellent speech on Thursday, and also I by the Under Secretary of State. He said, amid cheers, that he would rather go half way with all the Powers than all the way alone. How absurd when tested by fact does this fetching phrase become. Would he rather go half way to Peking with all the Powers than all the way alone?
§ *The UNDER SECRETARY OF STATE FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS (Mr. Brodrick,) Surrey, Guildford
I said I would rather go half way with all the 983 Powers than attempt at this moment to go the whole way alone.
§ *Sir E. ASHMEAD-BARTLETT
The right hon. Gentleman has not bettered his case by this explanation. Would he really rather go half way to Peking than all the way? Is it ever worth while to go half way anywhere? The statement is an absurd paradox. The action of Her Majesty's Government has been a series of very feeble attempts from the very first. So much for the satisfactory side of the Ministerial declaration. But there are features not reassuring. First, there is the military position. Although two months have passed since the crisis began, there seems still to be no general in command of the allied forces. The conditions of modern warfare render it most important that there should be a skilful commander-in-chief. The area of modern warfare is so large, the necessity of effective turning movements is so great, that a supreme head is most needful. The losses at Tientsin were far greater than necessary owing to the confusion of command. I hold that such a commander-in-chief should be an English general officer, because our position in China is greater and our interests far larger than any other Power's, and also because our soldiers at Tientsin are more numerous than those of any other European Power. There are special reasons also why British troops should not be placed under the command of other nationalities, whose ideas of warfare are very different to our own, and in a country where already most cruel and deplorable sacrifice of civilian life has been inflicted. I cannot believe that it would have been impossible to got the consent of the great majority of the Powers to an English commander-in-chief, had this been pressed soon enough and vigorously enough. I fear it will turn out that, just as the despatch of July 6th which led the Japanese to send an effective force ought to have been sent on the 8th June, so the question of commander-in-chief has been put off till too late for practical settlement in our favour. I trust that this will not have a disastrous effect upon the relief of the Legations. It may certainly have a very awkward effect when the allied forces are at Peking; and may lead to horrible scenes of slaughter and rapine. The tales of what took place at Tientsin are bad enough; but Peking, with its 984 million of inhabitants exposed to the licence of five or six different armies, might easily offer scenes of horror that would be a disgrace to our so-called civilisation, and would consolidate Chinese resistance to Western progress and Christianity as nothing else could do. I am not a pseudo-humanitarian. I know what war means and what war must involve. But I am confident that while we must defeat and thoroughly smash Chinese armed resistance, and must punish in a striking way the leaders of this barbarous revolution and attack upon the European representatives in China, it will have a most beneficent effect upon the Chinese people and on behalf of Christian influence and repute if the peaceful and innocent non-combatant population of China are spared as much as possible. It will be easier to get to Peking than to get away from Peking. At this moment there seems to be a general attack made by Russian troops upon the northern boundary of China. In fact, a state of war has been created upon a large part of the Russo-Chinese frontier. One of the many difficulties before the allied troops at Peking will be to avoid being used as an irresistible lever for placing the whole of Northern China at the mercy of this separate Russian invasion from the north. There will be no satisfactory settlement of the present crisis, which strengthens the military position of Russia in Northern China. That must be a cardinal point in British policy. It would be better to at once occupy the whole Yang-tsze Kiang valley, with all its immense responsibilities, than to allow this crisis to end by Russia getting hold of Manchuria. Every square mile of Chinese territory brought under Russian control is so much territory taken away from British commerce and from the free commerce of the world. The aim of Russia is to keep China in disorder and decay, so as to facilitate its conquest when the right moment comes. The Boxer movement was encouraged so as to break up the splendid organisation, mainly British, which Sir Robert Hart's ability and industry have built up for the Chinese Customs during the past thirty years. Efforts have been made by Russia to get hold of all the northern railways, and now even of that between Ta-ku, Tientsin, and Poking. These malign encroachments can only be mot and baffled by a clear and resolute British policy, supported 985 as it would be, if distinctly and courageously put forward, by the irresistible influence of the United States, of Japan, and, I believe, also of Germany. The theory that Northern China is lost and must become Russian is a pusillanimous and disastrous theory. Northern China is not lost. It need not be lost if only this country will firmly maintain, with the support of its allies, the policy of Chinese integrity to which it is now pledged, and will also take effective measures to see that an honest and progressive Government is upheld in China. And here I come to the most serious defect in the Ministerial programme as I understood it. What China most needs is reform; what the Chinese most crave for is an honest administration. This very Boxer movement originated in the plaint of the dumb masses of China against the cruelties and exactions to which they are subjected by a corrupt and capricious ruling clique. Unless this crisis results in the reform of the Chinese Government, all the bloodshed, all the sacrifice of treasure and life will have been in vain. The result of the heroism of your Ministers, of the courage of your troops, of your vast expenditure, will be nil, or even worse than nothing, for they will but rivet more firmly the chains of servitude upon the four hundred millions of Chinese now groaning under misgovernment. In my opinion nothing could be more unfortunate than the statement of the hon. Baronet the Member for the Berwick Division of Northumberland. After saying that—It is to our interest that the Government of China should be independent, strong, and better than it has been in the past,he went on to deal a fatal blow to those pious aspirations. The hon. Baronet added—It is not our business, nor the business of other Powers, to attempt to set up that Government. It must be formed by the Chinese themselves.Such a pitiful laisser aller policy as this must destroy all hope for the future of China. The hon. Baronet has got great credit by always sitting on the wall and coming down on one side when the course of the political current is clear. In this case opportunism is deadly. Of course, the Government must be Chinese; but what chance is there of a sound and honest Government being set up unless England 986 and the Powers that sympathise with England give the Chinese a start, and a sure start, on the right path? It is not for me to attempt to lay down the exact manner in which influence should be used by Her Majesty's Government I and other Powers. There are good men in China; there are honest and capable Chinese, and true patriots in China. But except by Western knowledge and support, how can this small leaven of upright and progressive Chinese ever get into power and remain in power Abandon the internal affairs of China, as the hon. Baronet advises, and you will leave those 400 millions again to fall under the sway of the Tuans and the Chengs and the Li Ping Hengs, or the coterie of Palace eunuchs who are said to have more influence than any Prince. If any good is to come out of this welter of revolution, massacre, and furious war, you must make it your business to see that a good Chinese Government is set up at Peking, and you must support it. You will have to send a strong Ambassador to China, one of the strongest men that your great Oriental service can provide, a man of experience and force of character. You will have to support him by a strong and determined and unwavering backing at Downing Street. The lion. Baronet would commit in China the same wretched and ruinous blunder which his party made after the Crimean War in Turkey. That sanguinary and costly struggle was undertaken by the Liberal party for great objects—; the liberties of Europe. It was successful, and would have been a boon to the world, had the same party that caused and waged it not abnegated their duty towards Turkey, and there by sacrificed all the results of the Crimean War No effort was made by England after the Crimean War to keep Turkey in the path of progress, economy and good government. The result we have seen in our own time, in widespread and almost unparalleled destruction of life and human agony. That may also happen in regard to China. You may relieve the Legations, put down revolution, and restore apparent order; but unless you follow this up by resolute pressure in order to maintain an honest Chinese Government in Peking all your efforts and sacrifices will be thrown away. I do not know whether the present Under Secretary of State meant to endorse the views of his prede- 987 cessor or not. In one portion of his speech he made a very equivocal statement, which sounded like an echo from across the Table. But towards the end of his speech the right lion Gentleman made a reassuring utterance which I should rather wish to believe to be the real policy of Her Majesty's Government. He expressed a hope that the Powers of Europe will discover a foundation on which a tolerable Chinese Government may be built up. He pointed out how vital it was to this country, both from our splendid and increasing trade, from Sir Robert Hart's great Customs organisation, and from other British efforts, that a reformed Chinese administration should be the outcome of the present crisis. This, Sir, is the real problem; upon its solution the issue for good or for evil not only for China, but for British interests and for those of all truly civilised and peace-loving nations, depends. But this problem can only be solved by Her Majesty's Government taking a brave, clear, and sustained lead in the reform of China. It can only be successfully solved by Her Majesty's Government deliberately uniting around the lead of England the support of those Powers that are really wishful for the progress, the integrity, and the peaceful development of the Chinese people.
§ *MR. BRODRICK
Although we have had the advantage twice within seven days of hearing from my hon. friend a fairly full expression of his views with reference to the policy of Her Majesty's Government in China, I think the House would be almost disappointed if my hon. friend had not followed his invariable practice on the last day of the session of not allowing the Government to go away without having received a warning from him as to the dangers which the country might undergo during the time they would be exempt from his criticism. I fully recognise the right of my hon. friend, even within the interval of a few days, to develop afresh his opinions on the policy of the Government with regard to China which was announced a few days ago, but I must not be regarded as a consenting party on behalf of the Government to all the views which my hon. friend has expressed in the course of his speech. I know the interest he takes in the whole question, but when he claims to-day that the Government have come round to his 988 views I will not grudge him his triumph —I believe he considers the whole session has been a triumph for him. I will not refer to the unsound principles we have deserted or to the sound principles he has instilled into us; I will not even go so far as to point out that almost in one and same sentence he upbraided us for not having arrived at a conclusion with foreign Powers, and informed us that the weakness of our position was that we were acting in concert with foreign Powers; but there is just this one thing I must say with regard to our policy, and that is that I wish it to be clearly understood that as my hon. friend claims us as converts to his way of thinking we are not to be bound by the interpretation which he has put on my speech. I believe the House and the country fully understand what the policy of Her Majesty's Government with regard to China is at the present moment, and I do not think it necessary to recapitulate what I have already said. I fully agree with my hon. friend that it will be most necessary to choose representatives in China who will represent Her Majesty's Government with firmness. At the present moment our opinion with regard to China is this—that the fewer words we use the easier it will be to make good the position we desire to take up. We are quite conscious that in matters of this kind we can neither be too closely bound nor should we be wise to lay down principles which at some future time it might be inconvenient to carry out. I can only say that we will follow with absolute firmness, perseverance, and determination with regard to British interests, both in the north of China and the Yang-tsze valley, so far as they are affected, the course which the House would desire to see us take. There was an advantage in the length of my hon. friend's speech, because during it I received two telegrams from China which the House will desire to-hear. One is a telegram in cipher from Sir Claude MacDonald, handed in at Tsinan Yamen, 3.40 p.m. yesterday, and received at 7 o'clock this morning—Peking, 3rd August.—I have to-day received your cipher telegram forwarded through Chinese Minister. Shell and cannon lire ceased 16th July, hut rifle tire has continued from Chinese position, held by Chinese troops and ' Boxers,' intermittently ever since. Our casualties since then slight. The following British killed:—Warren, David Oliphant, 989 Captain Strouts, Privates Scalding and Phillips, Royal Marines. Wounded—Twenty-six British, including Captains Wray and Halliday, students Peachey and Townshend, and The Times correspondent, Dr. Morrison. With exception of Private Sawyer, all wounded doing well. The rest of British in Legation doing well, including garrison. Total loss—killed, 60; wounded, 110. We have strengthened our fortifications, and have over 200 women and children refugees in Legation. Chinese (Government have refused us permission to telegraph in cipher until now.That telegram establishes the fact of the safety of Sir C. MacDonald. A further telegram, I am glad to say, gives some information as to the advance of the allies. It was received at the Admiralty from the Admiral at Chifu, handed in at Chifu, 6th August, 9.10, and received at the Admiralty at 7 o'clock a.m., 8th August—Allies, about 12,000, attacked Chinese entrenched position at Hsiku, about two miles outside Teintsin, early this morning. Chinese driven out and retreated northwards pursued by allies, who occupied Peitsing. Transport followed troops by road and river. Advance on Peking begun.These telegrams, I think, are, on the whole, satisfactory. Before I sit down I will say a few words in reference to the question raised by the hon. Member for Linlithgow. I was a little astonished that at practically the last moment of the session the hon. Member should choose his opportunity for bringing this "Kowshing" case forward, seeing that he had not referred to it at any period during the whole session. The hon. Gentleman spoke of this case as a grave national scandal, and also said that the position shows the intense weakness of the Government. And he used a variety of other disparaging observations. The strong expressions used by the hon. Member are not justified by the facts. I stated perfectly clearly last year, and now repeat the statement, that the cause of delay was not want of firmness on the part of Her Majesty's Government. The fact is that the Chinese Government dispute the claim put forward, representing that, the ship being chartered by the Chinese Government and sunk by the Japanese before the actual declaration of war, the claim should be made against the Japanese and not the Chinese Government. Our Law Officers take a different view, holding that our claim is good against the Chinese Government. There is a difference of opinion which cannot be disposed of in 990 the way the hon. Member suggests. It is not for Great Britain to dictate to China and to send up a fleet, as the hon. Member proposed, in a dispute involving a few thousand pounds. To do so would be to wantonly provoke an outbreak such as we now have to deplore. It would be absolutely impossible to carry on diplomatic intercourse with foreign Powers in such a manner that, when divergence of opinion arises which cannot be immediately reconciled, recourse should at once be had to hostile measures. I can only say, as I have said before, that no single case has been pending against the Chinese Government as to which we have not obtained a settlement sooner or later, and such a result will, I hope, be attained in this case, though naturally we may all object to Oriental procrastination. In this particular case, as hon. Members are aware, arbitration has already been agreed upon, and Mr. Choate, the United States Ambassador, a jurist of great repute and a man of absolute impartiality, has been suggested by the Chinese Government and has undertaken to act as arbitrator. There is still a difficulty as to the exact terms of reference, and this difficulty it is impossible for the Government to resolve under present conditions, the Chinese Minister having referred the question to Peking. The hon. Member has asked whether an advance of money could not be made to the claimant for damages as in the Waima case, but that does not appear to me a reasonable proposal. In the Waima case, certain officers and soldiers died in the discharge of their duty, being fired upon unexpectedly— quite a different case to that where people put their money into a commercial venture, carrying troops for a foreign Government when war was on the point of breaking out. I anticipate that in this, as in all other cases, the Government will, sooner or later, see full justice done.
What are the specific grounds on which the Chinese dispute 991 that their troops took forcible command of a British ship at a supreme moment?
§ *MR. BRODRICK
I cannot go into details. It is extremely undesirable to discuss in this House the details of a question to be submitted to arbitration.
§ Sir WILFRID LAWSON (Cumberland, Cockermouth)
The hon. Member for the Eccles all Division said that the proceedings of this House had now degenerated into an interchange of views between the two Front Benches. As my two hon. friends below medonotseem to be about to take advantage of their opportunities, I wish to call attention to another matter. A new rule has been laid down that the South African letters are not a matter which should be brought forward in this House on a point of privilege, or a point of order. I wish to bring it forward to-day entirely as a point of honour. Now, what has happened? The right hon. The Colonial Secretary on Friday last declared that he had in his possession copies of some letters which were not proper letters to be written by British subjects and that these letters were written by Members of this House. I say that, under these circumstances, it is really incumbent upon the right hon. Gentleman, in the interests of this House, in the interests of the country, and in the interest of himself, to produce these letters with the names of the writers without any more delay. If he will not do that, it is not playing fair with us. Here we are, a lot of suspected men. I have even heard my own name mentioned in the Lobby as being suspected of having written a letter to a Boer. I say that it is most unfair to withhold this information, because we are going to a General Election very shortly. I am told that elections are conducted in all sorts of ways. I would be quite willing to condone any sort of dexterity in the matter, but I do think that this last manœuvre of the right hon. Gentleman is playing it a little too low; to use a phrase of the day, I should say it is rather "slim. "For what will happen? If nothing more is stated about these letters, every man on the Liberal side will go to his constituents in an atmosphere of suspicion, insinuation, and innuendo. That is not proper. I would ask the right hon. Gentleman, on this, the last occasion 992 on which we meet, to take the manly line, and let the House know all about the letters. Then we can part in peace, feeling that when we do go into fight a few months hence we will do it in a straightforward, honourable manner.
MR. BEYN ROBERTS (Carnarvonshire, Eifion)
said it was not often that he agreed with the hon. Member for the Ecclesall Division, but the debate on the Appropriation Bill had been reduced to the condition in which nearly all the debates this session had been reduced. Prominent Members wore always called upon, and wore sure of an opportunity to address the House, while ordinary Members were practically excluded from taking any part in the discussions, and as soon as a few prominent men had spoken the closure was moved. In his view the closure was never intended to interfere with the right of debate on the part of any Member, however humble he might be, but was only meant to put clown obstruction. He desired to draw the attention of the Under Secretary for War to a matter of some importance to Volunteer officers. Complaints had been made to him with reference to the Royal Military Academy. Officers of the Regular Army were permitted to send their sons to that Academy at reduced rates, while the sons of Volunteer officers, of however long standing, were obliged to pay £150 a year for the admission of each of their sons. He wanted to know how that was. It seemed to him that it was part of a regular plan, he did not say followed by the Government, but by the War Office, of discountenancing the Volunteer movement in every possible way, and dissociating it as much as possible from any privileges granted to the Regular Army, and putting the Volunteers in a sort of inferior status. Having regard to the large expenditure of the Volunteer officers, they ought to be put upon a par with their brothers in the Army in this matter. The difficulty with regard to the Volunteer movement was the difficulty of getting officers, who would not come forward because of the enormous expense to which they were put. Did not that give them as great a claim as that of the officers in the Army to have their sons admitted into the military college at a reduced fee, especially having regard to the fact that the war in South Africa had 993 shown that for the purposes of offence and aggression the Volunteers had proved themselves not unworthy to stand and fight beside the picked military forces of this country? He hoped the right hon. Gentleman would give an assurance that the officers of Volunteers would be treated in this matter upon terms of perfect equality with officers of the Regular Army. He felt constrained whilst addressing the House to make some reference to the war in the Transvaal, and the point to which he desired to draw attention was one which had received too little attention in the House. It was an undisputed fact that martial law was an illegal law, only justified by the extremest necessity to protect Her Majesty's subjects in the district where that martial law was administered. There was no justification for resorting to it when the ordinary courts were open. The result of putting martial law into force in the Transvaal had been that men suspected merely of having had commercial dealings with the enemy, when the enemy was in the colony, had been arrested and kept in prison for weeks and months without bail. In some cases the ordinary law of the country intervened, and writs of habeas corpus had been issued, with the result that the military authorities, not venturing to defend their proceedings, had liberated the prisoners, and when those persons had returned to their own homes they had been again arrested. Many persons wore also aware that the administration of this martial law had been entrusted to colonials from districts for which they had been elected, and the result had been that these colonial politicians had abused the authority they possessed by arresting their political opponents. Such a proceeding was unheard of in a civilised country, and one which one would have supposed could not have taken place outside Turkey. It was a scandal that ought to be brought to the attention of the Government. We had a right to distrust the colonials of South Africa. It was because of the lying assurances of these people that we had been dragged into this hideous war. [Cries of "Oh, oh!"]It was indubitably true. He alluded to the colonial financial gang in South Africa. A telegram to the hon. Member for Rochester had appeared recently in an evening paper, which said that every assurance which had been given to the Government by those men before the war 994 had been false. We were told by the leader of the gang that the Transvaal army was the greatest unpricked bubble in the world. Did the Government believe that now?
MR. BRYN ROBERTS
said he had not it in his possession, but he had seen it in an English newspaper. One of the assurances these people gave was that the Boor army could not keep the field for a fortnight, that they could not feed themselves, and would vanish away in about a month. Those statements were persisted in to the last. The last lie that was told was that in order to keep up the fighting spirits of the burghers the President had to resort to all sorts of lies but, when General Prinsloo surrendered, 3,000 or 4,000 of his burghers declined to obey him and lay down their arms, and went away prepared to go on fighting. When should we listen to common sense in this I matter? The men in the Transvaal who-had given their blood and laid down their lives—and their wives and children also laid down their lives in many cases—knew something about their own business. Was it to be supposed that they did not know for what they were fighting? If there was anything that would raise a suspicion in an ordinary human mind it would be the idea that the President was making use of them for his own purposes; and if that had been true the burghers would have discovered it long before the people of this country. The men who were fighting were men who lived upon the veldt, and the only human motive which could induce them to make the sacrifices they had made was to preserve their independence or the independence of their country. We were fighting to take away that independence, we were not fighting for honour. Honour called upon us to desist from this fighting. Honour called upon this country to abide by its promises, its treaties, and declarations. When the Colonial Secretary was pleading with President Kruger for the lives of the Jameson raiders, Mr. Fairfield wrote at his instigation or under his direction to the Chartered Company calling attention to our treaties with the Transvaal. The right hon. Gentleman assured the President that he would perform all the obliga- 995 tions of the Convention of 1884. It was a solemn promise, solemnly made, and he had broken it in a manner which brought disgrace upon this country. The war was carried on for the basest motives that could actuate politicians—greed and aggrandisement. Immediately after the war began, the Prime Minister stated that we sought no territory, that we sought no goldfields; but now, under the malign influence that had led the present Government into all the difficulties and iniquities which, in his opinion, had been perpetrated, the Prime Minister had been forced practically to abandon that attitude. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for East Fifeshire had publicly stated that no single reasonable politician in this country was in favour of annexation, and that if anyone connived at it in any shape or form he would thereby give colour a hundredfold to the charges of insincerity and Pharisaism levelled at this country by the Continental press. The right hon. Gentleman had been extremely silent during the session. He appeared, while sitting on the Front Bench, to be in a brown study. He did not know the subject of the right hon. Gentleman's meditation, but he rather suspected he was thinking how he could best get out of the declaration he had made. Ho hoped that was not so; but he held that when a responsible politician on either side of the House made such a solemn declaration as that he ought to stand to it. He trusted that his right hon. friend would stand to it, whatever pressure might be put upon him, and that he would denounce this aggression and annexation. This matter, as had been truly said, had brought disgrace and discredit on the country more than anything had ever done. This country occupied a position as bad as any ever occupied by Russia in its treatment of Poland, or by Austria in its treatment of Hungary.
ADMIRAL FIELD (Sussex, Eastbourne)
said he became aware last year of a great abuse and gross injustice, and he did his best, by means of questions addressed to his right hon. friend the Secretary to the Treasury, to draw public attention to the subject. He referred to the abuse existing in certain divisions of the High Court in connection with the retirement, or rather the non-retirement of the clerks in these courts. The Ridley Commission 996 reported on the subject some years ago, and an Order in Council was issued laying down rules which provided that clerks should retire at the age of sixty-five, except in special cases where the services of individuals were further required. It appeared from an answer given to a question which he put to his right hon. friend that the Lord Chancellor, the Lord Chief Justice, and the late Master of the Polls held that the rules with respect to the retirement of clerks, which were applicable to every office under the Crown, did not apply and should not apply to the clerks of the High Court. Last year he had personally to go to the Probate Court to prove the will of a relative, and there he saw some elderly men. He asked how it was that they were there, and what salary they received. One of them told him he was ashamed to say that he was receiving £200 a year, after occupying the same position for twenty-two years. His right lion, friend when questioned on the subject told him that the Lord Chancellor was unable to obtain the assent of all the judges to the adoption of the Report of the Commission. That seemed to imply that the Lord Chancellor was in favour of the adoption of the rules. He put another question to his right hon. friend as to whether there wore any statutory difficulties in the way of these judges adopting the rules with respect to the High Court. The reply was that the legal authorities were in disagreement on the subject. His questions led Sir Francis Jeune to ask what the grievance was, and he wrote fully to that distinguished judge, who, after inquiring into the matter, applied the rules to the clerks in his department. Why did not the Lord Chancellor and the Lord Chief Justice see that these rules were applied in the other divisions of the High Court? From a Return showing the number of clerks still serving beyond the age of sixty-five because the judges would not allow them to have the benefit of the retirement scheme of the Ridley Commission, he found that there were twenty-five. There were in all fifty-nine who would probably come within the rules. One gentleman was seventy-five, another seventy-two, two were seventy-one, one was seventy, three were sixty-nine, five were sixty-eight, five were sixty-seven, two were sixty-six, and five were sixty-five. By continuing these clerks in the service 997 of the Crown, the zeal of the clerks below them was being killed, because promotion was blocked. This matter did not concern him individually. It only concerned him as a lover of justice. This was a grievance that ought to be remedied, and it should not be in the power of the Lord Chancellor and the Lord Chief Justice to ignore the recommendations of the Ridley Commission and the rules approved by the Government.
§ MR. SWIFT MACNEILL (Donegal, S.)
said this was the last opportunity there could be this session of complaining in this House that documents which had been referred to by a right lion. Gentleman on the Treasury Bench, which had been exploited for party purposes, and to which that right hon. Gentleman gave his own version—documents connected with the honour of Members of this House—had not been produced for the consideration of the House. It was the absolute duty of the Colonial Secretary, or of the Cabinet, if they had these documents, to produce them to Parliament, and not to keep them in hand as an electioneering manœuvre— not to allow Members of the present Parliament to suffer from sinister rumours, but to have the matter cleared up at once. He belonged to a party which had suffered from letters and documents. They all recollected the Pigott transaction. He wanted to protect his hon. friends on that side from a bastard Pigott campaign in khaki. He would address himself to the First Lord of the Treasury, in the absence of the Colonial Secretary. Although they had always been opposed to each other, he ventured to assert that, outside his own personal friends, there was no one in this House who had a greater admiration for the right hon. Gentleman than he had. He appealed to him as a gentleman of honour not to permit a campaign of slander and calumny to be launched against Members of this House—not to permit members of the Treasury Bench to promote such a campaign, involving inferences as to these letters and their authors for party purposes. This House ought to vindicate the honour of its Members. It should insist upon the documents being produced, and thus put an end to all sinister rumours. He ventured to say that if the right hon. Gentleman the Colonial Secretary would permit him to give an answer 998 about these incriminating documents, he would give the right hon. Gentleman one ho would never forget. The right hon. Gentleman was now conspicuous by his absence, but he had stated that he would communicate with the incriminated Members. He was constituting himself the guardian of the honour of Members of this House. He had innumerable Under Secretaries, like Daniel the Prophet, and he had put on his considering cap. He only communicated with the hon. Members on Monday evening. Was it not clear from that that he did not want to get an answer before Parliament was prorogued? Why was he so careful about not producing these letters? He (Mr. McNeill) was certain that if there had been anything really disparaging politically in them, he would have produced them post haste. He was treating these hon. Members as disgracefully as he treated the House in regard to the Hawksley-Rhodes and the Hawksley-Chamberlain correspondence, copies of which he still had in the Colonial Office. It was true that ho swore before the Committee that he did not keep copies of the letters. He was a man of honour—he was an expert in honour——
§ *MR. SPEAKER
Order, order! The hon. Member must not use an expression of that sort. He must not indulge in offensive personal recrimination.
§ *MR. SPEAKER
The hon. Member said sarcastically that the right hon. Gentleman was an expert in honour. He must know that such an expression practically accuses him of dishonour.
§ MR. SWIFT MACNEILL
Perhaps I was wrong in saying that. But I had in mind at the time the observation of the right hon. Gentleman that Mr. Rhodes was a man whose honour was untarnished. I think, therefore, there was some excuse for my observation. Continuing, the hon. Member said he wished to draw attention to the case of our dying soldiers in the South African hospitals. He had to make one observation about that, and he intended to make it, whether or not it gave offence to the First Lord of the Treasury. He was as certain as he was 999 of his own existence that the lives and health of these men had been cruelly and absolutely disregarded, for political, personal, and strategical purposes.
§ *MR. SPEAKER
Order, order! If the hon. Member means that, as I gather he does, as a reflection upon Ministers sitting on the Front Bench, he is not entitled to use such language.
§ MR. SWIFT MACNEILL
I never mentioned such a thing, and I never referred to such a thing. I am afraid I am singularly unfortunate if you misconstrue me in such a way as that. I did not refer to them. If you wish me to name the person to whom I did refer, I am prepared to do so.
§ Mr. SWIFT MACNEILL
said he was not referring to the gentlemen on the Front Bench. He could only conclude that they knew' nothing about the events with which he was dealing. But, on the other hand, they ought to have known. They ought to have been aware that in the management of the hospitals in South Africa there had been criminal negligence. On that point he had some testimony to lay before the House. The Archbishop of Cape Town, writing in a paper under the control of Mr. Rhodes, of the date 27th June, declared that there was great dissatisfaction at the way in which our sick and wounded were treated at several of the hospitals. He had had complaints from personal friends of the strong feeling which existed. Warm clothing was greatly needed, and, somehow or other, although it had been sent out, it was being withheld—either the doctors said it was not required, or they could not get it. Thus the blankets provided by charitable societies had never reached the troops at all. The Archbishop was speaking of the hospitals in his own diocese, and lie said there had been great and horrible mismanagement. There was another witness—Mr. Michael Davitt—who had been travelling in the Transvaal. He had stated, in an interview with a correspondent, that he was convinced from what he learnt when he was in the neighbourhood of Bloem-fontein that the hon. Member for West- 1000 minster had understated his case, and that the condition of the sick and wounded at that place when Lord Roberts entered was most distressing. He had heard Boers say that the Tommies were treated, or rather were neglected, as if they were Kaffirs. He went on to say that nothing could be bettor than the prompt attention) given to the sick and wounded Tommies who happened to fall into the hands of the Boers. He visited several Boer hospitals, and never heard a single complaint as to the treatment of the patients. Great as had been the amount of sickness, there was no doubt that much more would, occur, seeing how both air and water were polluted by the carcases of the thousands of animals that had been killed and wore left unburied. He (Mr. MacNeill) was himself a sufferer from these causes. Two of his relatives' had already succumbed to disease, and he wished to express his belief that there had been gross mismanagement on the part of the hospital administrative department. He had before this given expression to his-personal feelings, and he must say he was disappointed at the manner in which the First Lord of the Treasury had received the representations as to the miserable, horrible, and ill-ventilated hospitals, with every accompaniment of human misery. He ought to have been rejoiced at receiving the information, instead of being angry with the hon. Member, who practically took his political life in his hands, who put politics altogether out of the-matter, and who came forward with his disclosures solely in the interests of humanity. Although he believed ho would be in order in doing so, he did not propose to-day to question the constitution of the Hospital Commission. But he would like to say that it ought to have been empowered to take the evidence of ordinary paid assistants, and that the reasons-given for not granting it that power were both flimsy and invalid. The reference to the Commission which had been appointed was such that it was bound to be used for "whitewashing" purposes. This ought not to be. He hoped the cries of the sufferers in South Africa would be heard throughout the length and breadth of the land, and that the War Office administration, which had been shown to be so flagrantly guilty in these matters, would be emphatically condemned by an outraged public opinion. He desired to say a word with reference 1001 to the Under Secretary of State for War. There was no Minister in the House who gave so complete, generous, and satisfactory answers as the hon. Gentleman—when he did not understand the effect of those answers. A few days ago, in reply to a question, he said there were 385 civil medical officers, as distinct from the Army Medical Department, who had been sent to the hospitals in South Africa. A day or two afterwards the hon. Gentleman was asked how many of the Army Medical Reserve, consisting of gentlemen who had retired after twenty or twenty-five years service, had been employed, and the answer was that out of ninety-eight only four had been sent to South Africa. An Army medical man with twenty years experience would have been able to dictate to the officers and say how many ambulances and other appliances should go up. But the War Office did not want such men of experience; they wanted men who could be coerced by the military commanders. Everyone knew his opinion of the war. He regarded it as one of the blackest and foulest transactions in the history of mankind. The Irish regiments, especially the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers and the Irish Rifles, had boon shamefully treated. The Fusiliers left Queenstown on 3rd November, 1,135 strong; on the last day at Colenso they numbered only twenty-six men and three officers all told. They were deliberately placed in the forefront of the battle during the whole of the Natal campaign, though the}' did not complain of that until they were practically extinguished, and yet not a single kindly observation of their action ever appeared in a despatch or paper; the news was left to dribble out through private letters. When the regiment lost its officers, where did the promotion come in? The major who had fought in the engagements was passed over, and Englishmen who had seen nothing of the war were brought in from other regiments by the action of a set of distinguished gentlemen known as the Board of Promotion, sitting in a back parlour of the War Office, while the men who shed their blood in England's battles were cheated out of their just and honourable promotion. The same course of action had been pursued with regard to the Irish Rifles. Then there was a matter in regard to which he wished to defend himself. The hon. Member for Forfar the previous 1002 day asked when the despatches subsequent to Stormberg would be published. He wished to ask the First Lord of the Treasury if he would guarantee that when these despatches were published they would not be sub-edited at the War Office for public consumption. Sir Redvers Buller had stated that he did not like the idea of rewriting a despatch for publication, and that he would rather leave it in the hands of the Commander-in-Chief. He should not have asked this question but for Sir Redvers Buller's refusal to write a despatch for public consumption. Again and again he had asked for the publication of those despatches, which were being kept back because they; affected illustrious men. Something was being kept back from the public, which if they knew would alter their opinion of the Government and their conduct of the war. The most shocking case was the Magersfontein disaster, in which battle the Scotch brigade were actually destroyed and ruined. Lord Methuen was in command there. The whole of the northern campaign—which resulted in the battles of Graspan, Belmont, Modder River and Magersfontein—was a campaign solely prompted by a desire to save Mr. Rhodes. There fore every drop of blood that was shed in those battles was shed simply to preserve one man. If they thought this one man was worth sacrificing 3,000 lives and 9,000 wounded men, he did not envy their opinion. In regard to Spion Kop, he had received a telegram from a distinguished gentleman who had been in command of the Sea forth Highlanders, and he said that he considered his regiment had been destroyed by mismanagement. There was another aspect of this case which had not been brought under public notice at all, although he had endeavoured to do I so by means of questions. He believed that some of our officers had been guilty of gross cruelty to their men. He had I seen a letter from a correspondent drawing a very horrible picture as to how their soldiers were punished in the field. He had read that, for some of fences committed in the field, soldiers had been tied securely to posts, and left in the sun for two or three hours according to the sentence. This accusation appeared in the Daily Graphic of the 23rd of June, 1900. Surely there must be something behind this, when a statement appears in a highly respectable English 1003 paper that English soldiers had been crucified under the African sun. Those were the kind of things which were going on and which were being kept from them by an atrocious system of unworthy concealment. He wished to few words in regard to the press censorship, which was one of the most atrocious systems he had ever heard of. The press censorship in South Africa had been managed for political purposes. Of course, statesmen of the first class would not speak on the Third Heading of the Appropriation Bill, but perhaps as the shadow of the General Election was falling on the Treasury Bench, the House might receive words of wisdom from the right hon. Gentleman the Colonial Secretary. He wished to make an allegation, and he would repeat it at any public meeting at which South Africa was referred to. It was that industrious men who had gone out from the Cornish mines and were making £3, £4, and £5 a week at the Johannesburg mines, were put out bag and baggage when the war began. When they wished to return to Johannesburg the greatest consternation was shown at the Government House, Cape Town, and at the Colonial Office, and warning telegrams were issued telling them not to come back. These Englishmen were sent away from Johannesburg in order that the German Jews and other capitalists might employ Kaffir labour. That was one of the pecuniary advantages of a just, righteous, and necessary war At a meeting of the Consolidated Goldfields it was stated how much cheaper it would be to employ Kaffir labour. That was to be a result of the war, which was undertaken for the franchise, and he trusted English working men would understand that. No one could accuse him of speaking for an electioneering purpose. He did not think there were ten Liberal Imperialists among his constituents—they were wise men—but he would not take any honour or any wealth to be for five minutes under the responsibility for the war, which he believed attached to the Colonial Secretary. Some things might be in doubt, but he was certain that if anyone else had been at the Colonial Office except the right hon. Gentleman there would have been no war. He was as certain of that as he was of his own existence. It had given him many painful and miserable nights when he remembered that if Parliament had been 1004 called together one week earlier last October there would have been no war. Sir Edward Clarke's speech would have affected public opinion, the whole conspiracy would have been disclosed, and the country would not have been forced into war. The irritating speeches from members of the Cabinet followed, and Sir Alfred Milner acted as if he were the subservient tool of the capitalists. He did not accuse the English people of the war. He did not accuse the Cabinet, he did not even accuse the Colonial Secretary of it, but the right hon. Gentleman was gravely responsible for it. He was perfectly certain that if the right hon. Gentleman had had the slightest idea of w hat the results of the war would be he would never have entered on it. The right hon. Gentleman did not know what he was doing. Personally, he (Mr. MacNeill) was thankful that he was only a foreigner in the House, and had nothing to do with the war. The most warlike did not think that 500 lives would be lost, but there had been sent back from South Africa more wounded and crippled men than the whole Boer army. That was a horrible story. He did not count the cost of the war in money, but 60,000 human beings had been sacrificed who, but for the war, would be in full health and strength to-day. There was a terrible expression in the Hebrew prophets about fathers giving up their sons and daughters to devils, but these men were sacrificed—their hands were imbued in the blood of the Boers—because of the abominable lust for gold. The Boer train of thought did not appeal to him very much, but the Boors were a magnificent race, absolutely above all considerations of pelf. They liked to lead pastoral lives, and, if their ideas were in some respects rustic and uncouth, they had magnificent traits of character. The First Lord of the Treasury used an expression which was unworthy of him in the great speech he delivered at Manchester. He said he could not understand the inconceivable folly of the Orange Free State joining in the war, as in any result they could not have been a penny the better off. But they did not consider pence; they considered the claims of blood and kindred, and the freedom for which their forefathers fought, and for which they were willing to be sacrificed, and if they had not achieved success they certainly deserved it. They had 1005 proved themselves to he the worthy descendants of men who went into the forest twice to avoid the British lust for gold. They were great men, glorious men, who were prepared to give up their lives for an ideal. It was thought that because they knew they would be beaten they would resign themselves to the inevitable, but they were actuated by considerations infinitely superior to such selfish motives. They recognised that it was better to be beaten than to relinquish their independence. He was sorry for the war. He came of a military stock himself, and he was sorry because of many dear ones who were engaged in the war, but he was more sorry because the war was a degradation of common humanity, and an offence against the great God and His Son whom all should love.
§ THE SECRETARY OF STATE FOR THE COLONIES (Mr. J. CHAMBERLAIN,) Birmingham, W.
I do not think the House will expect or desire that I should reply at any length to the discursive speech to which we have just listened. It was of course, to be expected that on the last day of the session the hon. Member for South Donegal would add one more to those numerous speeches which he has made during the session, in which he has spoken so much and said so little. It was also naturally to be expected that that speech would contain an attack upon the Colonial Secretary. I find it very difficult to treat the hon. Gentleman very seriously. He poses in this House as the avowed enemy of this country, and he and his friends declare themselves to be foreigners and opposed to our policy. They are the people who cheered the Mahdi and who cheered some other savage chiefs with whom we were at war, and who now approve the action of the Boers. It does not matter what the war is or what the cause is, provided Great Britain is engaged, these hon. Gentlemen profess to side with our opponents. But I think probably I might take the hon. Member seriously if I thought he meant all he said. Ho is accustomed to rhetorical flights, and I attribute what would be very offensive in anybody else to a rather emotional and excitable nature. Take the speech to which we have just listened. Again and again he stated that he did not intend to throw any accusations across 1006 the floor of the House, or attack any class or party. But his speech was from beginning to end a series of most extravagant imputations upon everybody with whom he professes to have a quarrel. He declared that the wilful and deliberate negligence of the whole medical service in South Africa had been the cause of the deaths of our soldiers. He then came down to the Government, and said valuable lives had been sacrificed for political purposes. Is that an imputation? He went on to accuse Lord Lansdowne of political and discreditable motives because he had done what, I think, any person of common sense would think a very natural and courteous thing to do—namely, to give Sir Redvers Buller an opportunity of saying whether or not he wished to revise a despatch which he did not know was intended for publication. Then the hon. Gentleman wont on to fall foul of Lord Kitchener and other officers. He appears to be a military expert. He holds himself justified in criticising the operations of the officers in the field and the conduct of our generals. He attacks the officers with charges of cruelty which he has discovered in some sensational paragraph in a newspaper.
§ MR. SWIFT MACNEILL
I made no attack upon the officers. I said that is a matter which should be considered. I said that the working officers are above suspicion.
§ MR. J. CHAMBERLAIN
The working officers are above imputation, and yet they crucify their men on the field! That proves what I am saying, that the hon. Gentleman is really not aware of the force of his language. He does not know how very fierce his invective is when ho gives us a dramatic performance, but it may affect some people outside who do not know him as well as we do. They believe that he is quite in earnest. Then he comes home and attacks the Board of Promotion, and assumes that every member of this Board is animated with a fiendish sentiment which leads them to promote the wrong people, and especially not to promote the friends of the hon. Member. Finally he falls foul of the Colonial Secretary, and accuses him of most improper conduct in refraining from the publication of certain letters, and attributes to him some terrible 1007 motives in connection with them. I wonder amongst whom, in what society, the life of the hon. Gentleman is ordinarily passed? Where does he get these low ideas of humanity? Where has he conceived that any person with whom he has the slightest acquaintance in public life could be capable of these improprieties? Really, however, the very extravagance of the hon. Gentleman is his best answer. The hon. Baronet the Member for Cocker-mouth asked me for an assurance that certain letters, or alleged letters, to which reference has been made, shall be published as soon as possible, and he gave as his reason for that that he and others were under suspicion. It seems to me a strange thing that the hon. Baronet should complain of being under suspicion, because in the same short speech he suspected me of the most improper motives, and he suggested that somehow or other the time had been carefully devised, and that I was going to hold them back for some mean or improper purpose of my own. But the hon. Baronet has only to go down to his constituents or say in this House that he has not written any letters or done anything objectionable of the kind, and we shall all believe him. Every innocent person is in precisely the same position. I do not think there is this cloud of suspicion resting on the House generally, and I doubt very much whether the hon. Members for whom the hon. Baronet professed to speak will be grateful to him for what he has done. What we have done will commend itself to the general sense of the House. We have come into possession of certain letters the effect of which I do not wish to exaggerate. I expressed my own personal opinion that they are not proper letters to have been written, but beyond that I do not go. They may be forgeries for aught we know. Such things have happened before.
§ MR. J. CHAMBERLAIN
If they are not forgeries, they may be open to full and satisfactory explanation. We thought the proper course, therefore, was to send them to the persons who were reputed or -alleged to have written them, and to wait for their reply. Something was said about the time at which the matter was referred to. Well, we cannot govern the 1008 time at which a matter of this kind becomes public property; but as we only received this correspondence from Bloemfontein a very few days ago—the first part only about a fortnight ago—and as we were told there was more to come, my own idea was that we should wait until we had the whole of the alleged correspondence in our hands before coming to any conclusion. But as the matter became to a certain extent public property, and questions were asked about it, I felt it was desirable and fair that those who were at the present moment concerned should immediately have the opportunity of making any observations they chose to make regarding this alleged correspondence; and having regard to all the contingencies to which the hon. Baronet referred, I think the whole matter should be decided one way or other at the earliest possible moment. But I decline at the present moment to go beyond what I have already said, and that is that as soon as we can get the replies we will come to an immediate decision as to whether the correspondence should be published or not.
§ MR. LLOYD-GEORGE (Carnarvon Boroughs)
The only thing which hon. Members on this side of the House who have taken part in the debate have done is to appeal to the sense of fair play in the House. I deprecate the conduct of the right hon. the Colonial Secretary in regard to these South African letters. He says he has received a certain number of private letters written by Members of this House before the war to some man in Bloemfontein. The right hon. Gentleman might have said, "I cannot publish these letters until I have afforded the opportunity to these gentlemen to explain them. "That is not the course, however, which the right hon. Gentleman has taken—a perfectly proper course, which would recommend itself to any gentleman in this House. But what does he do? He says, "I do not know whether these letters were written by the gentlemen to whom they are ascribed; they may be forgeries"; but at the same time he says that he will not publish them until he finds from the gentlemen whether they are forgeries or not, and then he quotes the very worst phrases out of them——
§ MR. LLOYD-GEORGE
This is rather important, as it affects the honour of Members of this House, especially these words. This is what the right hon. Gentleman said—Two of them were dated just before the outbreak of the war; the other is a request, couched in a form which is certainly open to criticism, for information respecting the administration of martial law.
§ MR. LLOYD-GEORGE
Yes; and he gives the pith and purport of another letter. Here it is—The most interesting feature of the South African correspondence is the general admission of substantial grievances, and of the necessity of reform. There are, however, some suggestions that President Kruger might make temporary concessions, and wait for a reaction in this country.It would have been much fairer if the right hon. Gentleman had quoted the actual words used. If giving the actual words used would have been more damaging to the reputation of hon. Gentlemen on this side of the House, I venture to say the right hon. Gentleman would have done it.
§ MR. J. CHAMBERLAIN
The hon. Gentleman misunderstands what I said. The purport of these letters had been very greatly exaggerated, and I wished to give the proper effect of the letters. There is another point on which I wish to correct the hon. Member. The letters to which he has now referred, and which showed the existence of real grievances, are not the letters that are attributed to Members of this House, but are letters written in South Africa by British subjects there.
§ MR. LLOYD-GEORGE
Was the letter making "some suggestions that President Kruger might make temporary concessions, and wait for a reaction in this country "written in South Africa? The right hon. Gentleman admits that he gave the purport of the letters, and that is what I complain of. The right hon. Gentleman now explains, "Oh, I did it in order to remove the very exaggerated impressions which prevailed as to what the letters contain. "How did these letters, or the purport of them, come out? Real news is censored, and so are 1010 the despatches of generals giving the facts; but the moment that any sort of letter which implicates any particular person is discovered, it is not given in its true form, but in what the right hon. Gentleman himself calls an exaggerated form, to the public, If it has been exaggerated who did the exaggeration? It must have been exaggerated by someone in the Colonial Office. [An Hon. MEMBER: No!] I am well within the facts, and why should the hon. Member interrupt me when I am stating the facts? These letters are in the Colonial Office, and have got into the hands of the press. And what has been the result? Every day since Friday last there have been charges of treason, by the friends of the right hon. Gentleman in the press, against hon. Members of this House. Why should the right hon. Gentleman be surprised that hon. Members of this. House complain of being under suspicion of being guilty of a capital charge? The hon. Member went on to complain that papers which exaggerated grievances and created fictitious tales of horror about the treatment of refugees and others, which were proved to be absolutely untrue, were now circulating, upon the basis of the replies of the right hon. Gentleman himself, charges of treason wholesale. He saw that one paper of today's date called upon the Government to publish the treasonable correspondence; yet the right hon. Gentleman complained because hon. Members came down on the last day of the session and demanded that these letters should be published, and complained of their not having been published before. The right hon. Gentleman said he had had these letters for a fortnight, but did not communicate with the hon. Members because there might have been other letters, and he wished to have the whole of them. On the previous Friday he did communicate with the hon. Members. [Cries from the Government Benches: "Who are they?"] Did not hon. Gentlemen know? Why did they not ask the right hon. Gentleman? He was making the same request himself; it was no use asking him. The right hon. Gentleman knew perfectly well that some of the hon. Members were here at that time, but they had since gone away with the majority of the Members of the House, and he took very good care to communicate with them at a time when no reply could possibly be given before the rising 1011 of the house. The right hon. Gentleman knew that if replies could have been received several questions might have arisen. Ho would probably have been asked why that interpretation had been placed upon these letters, and why certain passages had been withheld. Only what could possibly prejudice the public mind unfairly had been published, and that had been done, he ventured to say, in a way which could not and would not have been done by any other hon. Member of the House. The letters were sent out on the Monday, and the House was to disperse on this Wednesday, and there had been no opportunity to discuss this matter. It was not so easy for a minority in this House to stand up against a war in which this country was engaged, although perhaps the present was the largest minority which had ever opposed a war, and he did not think it was an upright thing to place greater difficulties in the way of the minority than they had to face. It was not a courageous thing on the part of the right hon. Gentleman to attack a small minority in the way in which he had done, and he would not have tried to do it if the minority had been a powerful one. He had taken advantage of the letters to put difficulties in their way in a manner which no courageous statesman would have adopted they were entitled to a little indulgence and fair play, seeing that the minority was so small. At the present moment the right hon. Gentleman had achieved his purpose, which was that all those who opposed this war should be sent to their constituencies with the suspicion that they had been guilty of treasonable correspondence with the enemy. All the correspondence ought to be published, and not selected passages.
§ MR. LLOYD-GEORGE
It was now admitted by the right hon. Gentleman that there were other letters. He had simply quoted from the right hon. Gentleman's reply. There was one other matter to which he wished to refer—the Report of the War Office Contracts Committee. There had been a great deal said about dynamite scandals in a country 6,000 miles away; he wished to know what the Government proposed to do with regard 1012 to certain dynamite scandals rather nearer home. The facts as set out in the exceedingly diluted and restricted Report were sufficiently serious, and showed that there were favoured firms in this country. Tenders having been invited, a certain firm which had sent in the highest tender was told that if they reduced their tender a large order would be given to them. Such a thing had never been done by any monopoly; if it had, the inquiry would have been much more searching, and I something would have been done to prevent such a thing taking place in the future. This new firm had been practically made by the War Office. [A VOICE: It has been in existence for twenty years.] Nominally, no doubt, it had been in existence for twenty years, but everybody was aware that until certain gentlemen in Birmingham, who had influence with a member of the Government, could say, "If your contracts are too high we can give you another chance, "the firm was not known. That firm was made by the War Office. Whatever party in the country suffered by the war, one party in the country was doing well out of it. It was perfectly clear from the evidence before the Committee that an unfair advantage had been given to this firm, I and equally clear that some of the officials at the Admiralty felt that there was something that was not right, because they remonstrated with the Financial Secretary to the Treasury, who, he believed, had he been able, would have brought the matter to an end long ago. The House was entitled to ask the War Office whether they intended to carry out ruthlessly the recommendations of the Committee in all respects, because they were proceeding by innuendo in these matters.
§ MR. LLOYD-GEORGE
They were taking a lead from the right hon. Gentleman, who insinuated treason, insinuated impropriety of language, and, above all, who insinuated that he treated hon. Members in a gentlemanly manner by offering them an opportunity of which they could not avail themselves. They were, therefore, entitled to know whether the recommendations of the Committee would be carried out in all respects, because, 1013 when the Government was so anxious to redress grievances in and purify the administration of the Transvaal, it was desirable that they should also endeavour to do the same at home.
§ MR. J. CHAMBERLAIN
The innuendo of the hon. Member is perfectly well understood by the House, and it will, perhaps, justify me in asking the House to allow me to say one or two words in reply. The Report of the Committee I have not seen, nor have I seen the report of the examination of the witnesses. I therefore cannot answer anything the hon. Gentleman has said with reference to what went on before that Committee; but the innuendo is of course that the Colonial Secretary was in some way or another—— An Hon. Member: Your brother.
§ MR. J. CHAMBERLAIN
In some way or another connected with this matter. Now I wish to say I have no interest, direct or indirect——
THE HON. MEMBER
rose amid loud cries of "Order! "to make some further remarks, but MR. CHAMBERLAIN declined to give way. Thereupon
§ MR. LLOYD-GEORGE
said: I rise to a point of order, Sir. The right hon. Gentleman is speaking a second time by the indulgence of the House. I do not object to that, and I do not think hon. Members object, but at the same time I wish to say that there is a misrepresentation of the charge I made. I never even suggested——
§ *MR. SPEAKER
As the hon. Member has risen to a point of order, I must tell him that what he is now saying has no reference to any point of order. A Member in possession of the House is not bound to give way to another who wishes to correct a misrepresentation. That is not a point of order.
§ MR. J. CHAMBERLAIN (continuing)
I have no interest, direct or indirect, in Kynoch's or in any other firm manufacturing ammunition or war materials. I have never interfered directly or indirectly with the distribution of these contracts, and I have never spoken to anyone in the War Office about them. I have no more to do with them than the hon. Member opposite. The hon. Gentleman who interrupted me just now stated what is public property—namely, that my brother is chairman of Kynoeh's. That is perfectly true, but I have never discussed the matter with my brother. I have nothing whatever to do with his private concerns, any more than he has anything to do with my public concerns, and it is a gross abuse—[Cries of "Order!"] —it is a gross abuse to attack a public man through his relatives, for whom he is not responsible.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Main Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill read the third time, and passed.