§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House at its rising this day do adjourn till Monday, 26th May."—(Mr. A. J. Balfour.)
§ (12.25.) MR. SWIFT MACNEILL
said he had given the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for War notice of the only subject to which he wished on this occasion to direct his attention and that 488 of the country. It was, however, a matter on which the public mind had been greatly stirred and agitated. About the 25th or 26th of March last a statement obtained circulation that two British officers had been tried for wilful murder, by court martial at Pretoria, and had been sentenced to death. No intimation as to this, however, had come from the public authorities themselves. The news had leaked out in a mysterious way through Press channels, and there were various reports current as to the nature of the crime, but it was not until after pressure had been brought to bear by Australian statesmen, including the Premier of Victoria, and the Prime Minister and Attorney General of the Australian Commonwealth, that the Government were induced to take any action. Before they did so, however, they were stimulated in this course from a most unlikely source, The Times newspaper which, on 3rd April, asked Ministers to give a full account of all the circumstances attending these murders, and to do so in the public interest. He would read the passage in The Times in which that course was recommended, it ran as follows—It is eminently desirable that the Home Government should lose no time in putting a full and authentic version of the facts before the nation and before the world. Hesitation or delay in taking this necessary step could only lead to the propagation of malignant exaggerations, which will best be met by a plain, unvarnished statement of the whole truth, however sad and painful it may be.He agreed with that statement, and his complaint was that the Government had not given a plain and unvarnished account setting forth the whole truth of the transaction. On 4th April they gave to the Press a summarised statement in reference to these murders, and his objection to that statement was that it was unjust to the Army at large, unjust to the memory of the unfortunate men who had suffered the extreme penalty of the law, and, under the circumstances, unjust to the British people, for if this series of horrors had occurred it was only right that the public should be made acquainted with the facts. But the truth was, a policy of concealment had characterised the proceedings of the Secretary of State for War from the very beginning of the conflict. He had never taken the people into 489 his confidence, indeed, he had been careful that they should not know what was going on in South Africa, whether good or bad. He (Mr. MacNeill) was not advocating that news should be made public which might, if communicated to the enemy, be productive of mischief to this country. But much information, he complained, had been withheld which the people of this country were entitled to be made acquainted with.
The first thing made public was a bald account of twelve murders, and of a thirteenth death which was evidently attributable to murder, although there was not sufficient evidence to convict on the capital charge in that case. He had looked into this matter as far as the limited information at his disposal had enabled me to do so, and he was bound to say that, had it not been for the murder of a German missionary (Mr. Heese) who, when he found out that eight out of twelve Boer prisoners had been murdered in cold blood, determined, like the Minister of the Gospel he was, to go to Pietersburg to communicate the information to the authorities—had it not been for his death, nothing would probably have been known about this affair. He feared that this country was becoming so accustomed to the horrors of war that sufficient attention was not paid to these matters when they were made public; indeed the Treasury Bench during the war had become simply soaked and inundated in blood. He would like to quote the first official statement which was made on the subject—The facts as to the court martial held upon certain officers of an irregular corps serving in the Transvaal, and the sentences which were passed upon them for being implicated in several murders, are as follows :—In July and August last an irregular Colonial force, the Bush Veldt Carabineers, recruiting in South Africa but including other colonials, was employed in the wildest part in the Transvaal known as Spelonken, about eighty miles North East of Pietersburg, and took a certain number of prisoners. It came to the knowledge of the military authorities in October that grave irregularities on the part of certain officers of the corps had taken place within the previous three months.He was bound to say that the clerk in the War Office who invented the term "grave irregularities" as a description of a series of wilful murders deserved 490 high promotion. It surely was better than saying "Killing no murder." The official statement continued—An exhaustive investigation was immediately ordered by the Commander-in-Chief in South Africa, and a Court of Inquiry assembled on the 16th of October. The Inquiry proved to be a matter of considerable difficulty, in consequence of the necessity for collecting witnesses who, on the expiration of their term of service with the corps, had proceeded to various parts of South Africa. As a result of this Inquiry five officers were tried by general court martial at Pietersburgh in January, 1902, and were found guilty as principals and accessories in twelve murders. Lieutenant P. J. Handcock and II. H. Morant were found guilty of murder and sentenced to death. These sentences have been continued and carried out. The same officers were also charged with the murder of the Rev. C. A. D. Heese, on the 23rd August, 1901, and, although there was strong suspicion that Lieutenant Haudcock, instigated by lieutenant Morant, committed the deed, the evidence was not considered sufficiently conclusive by the Court to justify their conviction. Lieutenant G. R. Witton was found guilty of murder and sentenced to death. As, however, this officer was present under influence, the sentence had been commuted to penal servitude for life. Lieutenant H. Picton was found guilty of manslaughter and cashiered. Major R. W. Lenaban, commanding the Rush Veldt Carabineers, who became aware of the crime subsequent to their committal was convicted on a charge of by culpable neglect omitting to make a report which it was his duty to make. This officer was ordered to Australia, his dismissal being rendered unnecessary by the previous disbandment of the corps. No doubt exists as to the guilt of the accused, whose plea in extenuation that a member of their corps had suffered ill-treatment at the hands of the Boers was not sustained by the evidence at the trial. The sentences were such as would have been inflicted on any officers found similarly guilty.Now he would ask the right hon. Gentleman if he considered that a full and sufficient report of the court martial. He had time after time asked for a full Report, but it was not until the 26th of March that any information was made public to the effect that these two officers had a month previously been executed at Pretoria. The Government had kept back the report of the court martial, which he submitted that country was fully entitled to have before it.
He had now a few questions to put to the right hon. Gentleman. Did the official statement which he had just quoted accurately set forth the defence of these officers? Of course, one knew that the procedure in civil and military 491 courts varied very considerably. The accused in a court martial was represented by one who was described as his "friend," and who, consequently, invested himself to a certain degree with the personality of the accused, and had to satisfy himself that the defence he was putting forward was fair and honourable. He had in his hands a four column report of what occurred at the court martial. The account appeared in the Daily News of the 17th April, and he proposed to trouble the House with a few extracts. What the defence amounted to was that, from first to last in this affair, the accused acted under superior orders, and, if the orders they alleged were actually given, that fact threw a marvellous light on the conduct of the Government towards Mr. Cartwright, whom they would not allow to return to this country. Lieutenant Morant, giving evidence in his own defence, stated that he was under Captain Hunt, with the force charged with clearing the Northern District of Boers. In his cross-examination he said Captain Hunt's orders were to clear Speloken and take no prisoners. He had never seen those orders in writing, but Captain Hunt quoted the action of Kitchener's and Strathcona's Horse as precedents. Prisoner had not previously carried out the orders, because his captures were a good lot. He had shot no prisoners prior to Visser. No witnesses were called, as they were all eyewitnesses. Picton raised objection to Visser being shot, on the ground that he should have been shot the night before. Captain Hunt told prisoner from whom he had received orders not to take prisoners, he had never questioned their validity. Morant was asked whether he knew who gave the order, but the Judge Advocate protested against the question, and was upheld by the court after consultation. The next day the court altered its mind and allowed the question, and Morant then stated that Colonel Hamilton, Military Secretary, was the one who had given Captain Hunt the order that no prisoners were to be taken. Others received those orders from Captain Hunt, including Handcock. Picton, also one of the accused, corroborated the statement that orders were given not to take prisoners. Witton, another of the accused, said he was guided by his 492 superior officers in regard to the finding of the court martial. Captain Taylor said he had heard Hunt reprimand Morant for bringing in prisoners. Morant had always behaved well to the Boers. The report in the Daily News also dealt with the trial of the prisoners for the murder of eight Boers, and he would like to briefly draw the attention of the House to the defence put forward in that case. Counsel for the defence claimed the discharge of the prisoners on the ground that the charge was not proven, arguing that they should, if anything, be charged with conspiracy. The court however, over-ruled that point. Counsel thereupon said he did not dispute the facts, but he would call evidence to show, first, the orders received; second, what the custom was, having regard to the enemy they were fighting; and third, the practices adopted by other irregular corps against an enemy breaking the usages of war. After calling such evidence, counsel pleaded justification on the ground that the Boers in the district were gangs of train-wreckers without a head, and that their conduct had brought reprisals. The Judge Advocate refused the plea of justification, and said the contention that other corps had done similarly did not make two wrongs right.
Now, he wished to ask the Secretary for War whether, in view of the gravity of the facts disclosed in this Report, he was justified in withholding the information so long as he did? Was he justified also in suggesting, in the official statement, that the only defence raised on behalf of these officers was that they had acted in revenge for the murder of a British officer? Ought he not to have made it clear that they also pleaded that they received orders to do what they did, and that they only followed the precedent set by two other irregular corps? Surely the suppression of the plea was unjust to the men executed, unjust to their families, and unjust to the country at large. If such things had been going on, the facts should have been made public, so that, if necessary, the people might sweep from power those who were directly or indirectly responsible, and who were at the head of the administration which permitted such practices.
493 Next, he wished to call attention to some of the dates in connection with this matter. It was admitted in the official statement that it came to the knowledge of the military authorities in October last, that "grave irregularities" had occurred, and a Court of Inquiry was actually assembled in that month. It was clear, therefore, that Lord Kitchener knew everything about it. The right hon. Gentleman the Secretary for War was in constant secret telegraphic communication with Lord Kitchener, and he, too, must have been fully acquainted with the facts, and must have known that, when they were made public, they would cause a great scandal. The right hon. Gentleman must have been aware that twelve murders had been committed; he must have known the nature of the murders; and yet, at the very same time, he was actually publishing despatches from Lord Kitchener describing atrocious murders committed by the Boers. Just about that time he found it convenient to make two public speeches, one at Glasgow on December 12th, and the other in the city of London on November 10th. The speeches were long ones, but he would only invite the attention of the House to one or two short extracts. Before doing so lie would ask one or two simple questions. When the right hon. Gentleman made these speeches did he or did he not know that Lord Kitchener was holding a Court of Inquiry into the "grave irregularities," or, in other words, the wilful murders by British officers? Had he in his possession any particulars of these murders? At the time the speech was made in London, the Court of Inquiry was nearly a month old, and was it not reasonable to suppose that the right hon. Gentleman had received secret telegraphic information in regard to the evidence which had been given thereat? In his speech at the City Carlton Club on November 13th, the right hon. Gentleman said—I believe, and I am here to uphold, that no war at any time by any nation under such conditions has been waged with more humanity than the war in which we are engaged.I am not going to press the question of firing on ambulances, of the professing to surrender and then opening fire again, or the firing on our wounded which have been established on various occasions, except, to 494 say in passing, that these terrible breaches of the rules of war have never provoked any retaliation on our side, or any divergence from the civilised law of quarter to your enemy. We may have paid heavily for our humanity, but there is one thing on behalf of our armies in the field, and our credit as a nation, I am not going to allow to pass without notice, and that is the persistence with which our enemies have been eluding us during the last few months. I am constantly asked the question, How is it, if you send this vast number of horses, if you have fleet columns, if you have good leaders who are well equipped, that our men cannot catch the enemy. Is your intelligence defective? Is your system at fault?' One explanation, not the only explanation, but a better explanation is this—the system of our country and people with regard to the Kaffir is different from the Boer system. The Boer columns have only too frequently eluded our columns by hiding their tracks by murdering the Kaffirs behind them. It is a serious charge, and I make it only for this reason—that I had occasion to notice in the secret intelligence Reports so many cases were mentioned of the murder of Kaffirs that I telegraphed to Lord Kitchener whether this was a general practice or whether it was the action of isolated persons. His reply to me, which I received only today, runs: 'Cold-blooded murders by the Boers have been frequent of late.' [Shame.] He adds, It was only on the 10th instant (three days ago) two dead natives were found with their hands tied behind them down a mine-shaft at Greyling-stad.' I do not bring this forward with the intention of making an impeachment against the whole Boer nation. I say that Lord Kitchener informs me of this, that he has sent a despatch on this subject, and that this is in itself a most serious development of the war, and it is serious in this respect—that if it becomes more general it becomes the act, not of belligerents, but of fiendish desperadoes, who can no longer be treated as belligerents.And at Clasgow on 12th December the right hon. Gentleman said—Lord Kitchener in his despatch gives thirty or forty cases in which such orders have been issued, some of them in which information is given of the actual murder of particular individuals. I will just cite one or two of them in order to show you how false is the estimate of those who believe that these things are only done when the Boers have been roused by armed Kaffirs attacking them. There was a case when a train of ours was captured by Boers. The Englishmen were looted and taken prisoners. There were five unarmed Kaffirs, having no more part in the war than those who are sitting at home. These five men were taken aside and shot in cold blood. One of them after he was lying on the ground had five shots fired into him. Mr. Brodrick, continuing, said he could not help remembering when they were discussing these matters the words in which Mr. Gladstone twenty-two years ago raised the feelings of Scotsmen in favour of another native race : 'Remember that the rights of the savage, as in all time, are equal to our own, remember that the sanctity of his life in the sight of God is the same as 495 yours.' He commended those facts and that utterance to the consideration of those who were now occupied in vilifying their own countrymen for cruelties they never committed.He would again, in conclusion, repeat his question—Did the right hon. Gentleman at the time he delivered these speeches know that vast scandals were impending in connection with the action of our own officers? It was pretty clear that, unless these men had had the misfortune to come in contact with a German missionary, they would have enjoyed immunity from punishment. But the death of the Rev. Dr. Heese made it a serious matter, and the Government, well aware that the German authorities would press the question home, found it necessary to bring the men to trial. It was that fact which largely stimulated the court martial.
Now, he asked for the direct and immediate publication of the proceedings of the court martial. He asked this in justice to everyone, in justice to the memory of the dead, and in justice to the British and Australian people. The foundation of all these allegations lay in the refusal of the right hon. Gentleman to give information. So great was his fear of the people of this country, who had a keen sense of justice when their hearts were aroused, that he had stopped all the avenues of information. It was an atrocious proceeding, utterly unparalleled in the history of civilised war. He (the hon. Member) had spoken not as a politician, but as a man. He abhorred this horrible system of murder. He had been accused of gloating over human misery. That was a baseless charge. He was simply endeavouring to unmask an awful iniquity which called to Heaven for vengeance. England stood condemned of a terrible crime, of which he believed the people of the country were wholly unconscious. They had been deceived by an avalanche of falsehood and misrepresentation. No fewer than 25,000 gallant boys were lying on the veldt as a result of this unholy war—a war supported by injustice and promoted simply for monetary considerations. It was an atrocity so great that in the history of the world it had had but one equal, and 496 that, like the present war, was an atrocity perpetrated by Gentiles, but promoted by Jews.
§ (1.5.) THE SECRETARY OF STATE FOR WAR (Mr. BRODRICK,) Surrey, Guildford
The hon. Member, three-quarters of an hour ago, said he would speak for a few minutes; but in the volume of rhetoric which he has launched on the House he has gone at great length into a story which he has raised again for some purpose that I find it very difficult, after closely listening to his remarks, to understand. I fail to realise what are the considerations which have influenced the hon. Gentleman in bringing again into discussion a subject which has been fully dealt with by the military authorities at the front, and dealt with to the satisfaction, not only, I think, of all classes in this country, but of our countrymen beyond the seas who are interested in this matter. It is a subject which cannot be pleasantly discussed in the British House of Commons or in any other section of the British Empire. The hon. Member claims to have brought it forward not as a politician, though he ended his speech with a vehement attack on the war and his Majesty's Government, but as a man. I would take leave to tell him, however, that he has brought again into prominence a matter which every other man but himself in the British Empire has been content to allow to lapse. [Nationalist cries of "No, no!"] I say that for this reason. Here is a case in which incidents occurred which we all deplore. Those incidents were dealt with by the military authorities at the front without fear, prejudice, or favour. The officers were put on their trial. Two were condemned to death, one to penal servitude for life, and two others were severely dealt with. In the whole course of his speech the hon. Member was not able to suggest that those sentences were insufficient, or that there has been any palliation of the offence, and, therefore, for all practical purposes, the only effect of his speech was to show that he was scavenging in the dust-heaps of the past in order to produce a painful impression, or to add to the painful impression which these events had already made on the minds of the House and the nation.
§ * MR. SPEAKER
The hon. Member knows that unless he rises to a point of order he cannot interrupt the right ton. Gentleman.
§ MR. SWIFT MACNEILL
He has imputed to me the malignant motive of scavenging in some dust-heaps, when I was endeavouring——
§ MR. BRODRICK
I listened to the hon. Member for three-quarters of an hour, and I do not propose to occupy the time of the House for more than a few minutes; but must be allowed to put the case as it appears to me. I have nothing to conceal in this matter, as full justice has been done. The hon. Member has asked three or four different questions. One is why I will not lay all the evidence of the court martial rather than any other court martial. I am not going to take a different course in regard to this court martial than have taken in regard to all other courts martial held in South Africa. Many officers and many men have, for one reason or another been brought before court martial. It is inevitable that it should be so in a war in which nearly a quarter of a million of men have been constantly engaged, and in which operations spread over an enormous area have been involved. If I laid the evidence of one court martial I should have to lay the evidence of all in which there might be a demand on the part of the public, or of any member of the public who happened to be interested in the fate of a particular officer or man. I made a full statement to the public on April 4th of what occurred, and the hon. Member challenges that statement for two reasons. First of all he says that 498 there was a suggestion made that other corps had done the same; but men who were on their trial for their lives and who had bean guilty, as these men had been, of these actions, were not likely to be very scrupulous as to what they suggested as regards other corps. No sort of proof was brought before the court martial in support of the suggestion, and certainly was not going to bring a scandalous allegation of that kind unless there had been some proof to support it. The only suggestion which they did endeavour to establish, and was not established, was that there had been something done to one of their officers which justified them in retaliating upon the Boers. The hon. Member spoke with great vehemence about these actions, and especially of my conduct in having in November last spoken strongly of the action of the Boers in regard to Kaffirs at the time when, as he states, I must have known that this charge was pending I had heard certain pieces of information with regard to the conduct of our troops, and I was perfectly aware at the time I spoke that allegations had been made with regard to certain officers : but until I received Lord Kitchener's report of the trial in February I had nothing whatever to make me suppose that such allegations were in any established or likely to be established, I admit that when the report of the trial came before me I felt extremely strongly, as we all must, about the discredit brought upon the irregular force by the conduct of these officers. I do not suppose that anybody could feel more keenly than the Commander-in-Chief and myself the fact that any officers could have been guilty of such action. But the hon. Member is absolutely wrong. There is no evidence whatever to induce us to believe that such action had taken place with regard to other corps or that such an allegation could be established. I certainly should never have hesitated for one moment, even had I known these statements to be true, to bring before the public what is my bounden duty to bring before them—namely, the conduct of the Boers, established not in one instance, but in twenty, thirty, fifty, or a hundred instances, towards the Kaffirs during this war. That conduct I denounced, and I denounced it in order that public opinion, not only here, but in the country at large, might exercise its possible effect 499 on the Boer leaders, and induce them, as most of them, I believe, honestly wish to do, to restrain these excesses on the part of their followers. Nothing that occurred in this particular case would justify us in allowing civilised war to degenerate into barbarism if by any efforts of ours it could be stopped.
With regard to the other matters relating to the accusation which the hon. Member has brought against me, they are of a small party character and I need not pursue them. I am still at a loss to understand what is the particular object that he proposes to achieve in bringing this subject before the House. The whole matter has been dealt with, the verdict is disclosed, justice has been done, and it is recognised that justice has been done, not only in this country, but in Australia, where there was considerable feeling at the idea that any Australian officers should have been guilty of such an outrage. I am glad these officers belonged to an irregular corps rather than to one of the organised corps with which our fellow-citizens have provided us in the colonies in such numbers, and which have done such excellent service in the war. I hope the House will excuse me from going further into this subject. We have nothing to conceal about it, there is nothing behind my speech. I feel that it is undesirable that the House of Commons should be asked, merely for the purpose of raking up events which are in themselves unquestioned, and which have been adequately dealt with by those who are responsible to go further in detail into this occurrence; to bring before the public a matter which was settled and on which a statement was made two months ago. I assure the hon. Gentleman that there is no want of respect for humanity or his own feelings on my part, but I demur to making this House of Commons a platform for bringing out everything with regard to this war which we deplore and which, if it had not been dealt with by the military authorities as it has been, would, I can assure the House, have received the most severe treatment from the Government.
§ *(1.20.) MR. WEIR (Ross and Cromarty)
said that the opportunities of private Members were now so few that he 500 felt bound to take advantage of that occasion to bring forward one or two important Imperial matters. He deplored extremely that the number of British seamen were diminishing. The noble Lord the Member for Woolwich had referred to the decline in the number of British seamen. What was the use of building more ships when they were without the men? Many of the British steamers which were subsidised by the British Government were, to a large extent, manned by foreigners, and he thought it was the duty of the British Government to see that British ships which were subsidised by British money should be manned by British seamen. This would be an extremely serious matter in the event of this country being engaged in a naval war, for he did not know where they would get their reserve men. They could not manufacture seamen in a few months. For good seamen they wanted men who were accustomed to sea life. If British ships carried British crews, there would be a feeling of safety in time of war, but the country would be in a most disastrous position if it had to depend upon foreigners, who might desert at any moment and fight against us. In many of these subsidised British ships the whole crew, with the exception of the officers, were foreigners, and how could we depend upon such ships in time of war. If we desire to build a house we cannot depend entirely upon the foreman or manager, but must depend to a large extent upon the workmen; the same argument applies to British ships, which ought to be manned by British seamen as well as by British officers. To talk about Britannia ruling the waves is absurd. We have the largest tonnage, it is true, but what is the use of that if we have not the men to man the ships when the time of trouble comes. He had always supported Liberal and Conservative Governments by voting ample supplies to maintain the Navy in the highest state of efficiency. What would be the use of ships without a reserve of seamen, if we met with a naval catastrophe? By subsidising shipping companies who employed foreigners, the Government were encouraging an unsound policy.
501 At the present time, the fishing villages all around the coast of the United Kingdom were being denuded of their population. The fishing population consisted of strong and hardy men who had been accustomed to a rough sea life, and they form the best material for British seamen, but the Government were allowing all the fishing villages in England and Ireland, and more especially in the North of Scotland, to be denuded of their population by the action of foreigner trawlers who were ruining the fishing industry; the fishermen being compelled to go to our large towns in order to get a living. Several years ago they were told that the Foreign Office were moving in the matter, not on their own initiative, but on the initiative of Sweden. This country had all along been too timid to take the initiative for fear of offending France or Germany. He remembered, the good old times when the head of the Foreign Office used to put his foot down and say, "This state of things must be altered." They were rapidly losing the material for their best seamen, viz the line fishermen; foreign trawlers must be cleared out of our firths and bays. They are now permitted to come in and devastate our fishing beds. Not only are thousands of people thrown out of employment, but this nation is, at the same time, losing its very best material for seamen. The Foreign Office had been altogether too timid in its policy. He should be the last person to encourage war, but there were times when this nation ought to be firm.
If the noble Lord the Under Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs would go to the East he would find that British prestige had gone down considerably in recent years. [Lord CRANBORNE dissented.] He had been in the East himself, and he found we were not the power we were a few years ago, and this was all on account of the timidity of the Foreign Office. British Consuls had not the discretionary powers they ought to have. Go where you will in the East, British subjects cannot get their grievances redressed by British Consuls in the same way as the French obtain redress through their Consuls. He did not wish this country to adopt an aggressive 502 French policy, but our Foreign Office should see that justice is done to the merchant class in the various parts of the world. Is it on account of British Consuls being tied down by hard and fast rules, that British prestige had gone down, and is going down, in the East? It may be that the Government cannot act so firmly as they would like to do at this time, in consequence of the present wretched war. No doubt, that has tied the hands of the Foreign Office considerably. With regard to the foreign trawlers, the Marquess of Salisbury on receiving a deputation some time since expressed sympathy with the line fishermen, whose livelihood was being jeopardized by the ravages made by foreign trawlers in our firths and bays. But what has been the result of his sympathy? Nothing whatever has been done which will have the effect of protecting the line fishing industry, and keeping the line fishermen in our villages. They are being driven out of house and home by those robbers of the sea, the trawlers. Lot the trawlers go further out to sea, so that we may have line fishermen upon whom we can fall back in time of need. We did not know how soon that time may come. He hoped the Foreign Office would throw more energy and vigour into its action in this connection. The depopulation of the Highlands is going on, and we are losing one of the best sources for the recruiting of the army and navy. Allowing for the ordinary increase of population that might have been expected the last Census showed that in his own constituency there had been a loss of 10 per cent. since the previous Census. In every Highland county there had been a loss of several thousands. He knew there were many Members who thought that deer forests were better than sheep farms or crofts. Deer would not fight the battles of the country. He asked the First Lord of the Treasury a question the other day with reference to the extension of a deer forest on the estate of Strathconon, and his reply was that the Government had no official information on the subject. The hon. Member understood that a splendid grazing farm on the estate of Strathconon was to be absorbed in the existing deer forest. It was shameful that this state 503 of affairs should go on. Where did the First Lord of the Treasury expect to get "official information"? The right hon. Gentleman stated that in the event of the farm being converted into a deer forest no crofter would be dispossessed, and that there was no reason to believe that the change would prejudicially affect the economic condition either of the district or of the country at large. According to Mackenzies Highland clearances some fifty years ago, fifty-one families were evicted from the Strathcouon estate in order that sheep farms might be formed, and later on the sheep farms were converted into deer forest. The right hon. Gentleman said that no crofters would be dispossessed, but it should be the policy of the Government to put people on the land. As to the effect on the economic condition of the district and the country at large, the hon. Member pointed out that it was much more important for the food supplies of the people that the land should be occupied by crofters or used as sheep farms than as deer forests. The question of the depopulation of the Highlands was of great national importance when considered in connection with the necessity of having a sturdy race to fight our battles whether on land or sea in time of emergency.
He was sorry the Secretary of State for War was not in his place, as he wished to call attention to another matter of Imperial importance. The other day he asked the Under Secretary for Foreign Affairs a question with reference to the fortification of Kowloon. That place which is on the opposite side of the water to Hong Kong, was secured by the British a few-years ago, but what is the use of it unless we have some guns on the hills which command the New Kowloon territory. No doubt we had our ships of war, but disasters might overtake them, and it would be too late then to provide land fortifications. When questioned on this subject, the right hon. Gentleman said this was a matter that should be left in the hands of the Defence Committee. When another question was put to him on the matter he replied that he had nothing 504 to add to the answer he gave before. They could not get at the Defence Committee, and therefore they must approach the Secretary of State for War in this House, but the right hon. Gentleman treated the subject with the utmost contempt. Instead of being grateful to a Member of the House for calling attention to the weakness of our position he simply said the matter was in the hands of the Defence Committee, and that he could do nothing more. Mirs Bay to the north-east of Kowloon was absolutely unprotected, and an enemy might get in there and do an immense amount of mischief. He did not say that the commanders of our ships would be asleep, but in order to provide against successful attack the Kowloon territory ought to be fortified. He wished the right hon. Gentleman would himself take a turn round and see the state of affairs, or depute someone to do so who would take an impartial view of matters. A badly constructed building on the peak at Hong Kong was acquired at cost upwards of £39,000, and the War Office afterwards spent £4,000 to make it suitable as barracks. He knew something about building construction, but he never saw such a wretched building in his life, and yet the Secretary for War justifies this shameful waste of public money. The province of Canton was now disturbed, and it would be no difficult matter for the Cantonese rebels to come down and secure the Kowloon heights. He knew they would ultimately get the worst of it, but the place ought to be protected. He protested against the treatment Members of the House received at the hands of the Secretary of State for War, and the contemptible fashion in which he answered questions. To say "I have nothing to add to what I said before" was most childish.
He now turned to another matter. Today he asked a question with regard to the report that the French had acquired territory near Macao, two hours sail from Hong Kong. The French could bring ships of war along, erect fortifications, hoist their flag and defy us. He hoped the noble Lord the Under-Secretary for Foreign Affairs, would keep a sharp eye on the French, not only at Macao, but generally throughout the East. He could assure the noble Lord that the French were extremely aggressive in the East. Merchants there 505 declared that the French were enlarging their frontiers, and getting a footing wherever they could manage it, and they could manage it very well, owing to our weak attitude. Was it not possible to secure Macao for the British Empire? It was a pretty little town, but at present nothing but a gambling-hell of the worst order, where fan-tan was played morning, noon, and night.
(1.48.) MR. GIBSON BOWLES (Lynn Regis)
said that the hon. Member for Ross and Cromarty appeared to be desirous of substituting line fishermen for trawlers, but as a matter of fact the real seamen among the fishermen were those engaged on trawling vessels. The line fisherman never went beyond a few miles from the shore, whereas the trawlers went out to the Dogger Bank and the Silver Pit, and gained there experience which made them the best type of seaman in the world.
As to the defences of Kowlung and Hong Kong, that was a matter which ought to attract the attention of the Government.
His intention, however, in intervening in the debate, was to refer to the subject of the shipping combine, which, perhaps, was the most important event which had occurred in this generation, and was most pregnant with results which might be very serious to this country. It was quite clear that this was not the time to fully debate this question, although it was equally clear that at some period they must have a full debate upon it in this House. When attention was last drawn to the subject on a Motion for the adjournment of the House, they did not know the facts, but they knew the facts now. What he wanted to know was what the law was as to these facts. The President of the Board of Trade had, of course, been conversant with this matter for some time. That right hon. Gentleman had avowed that he had information about it, although he said it was not official, and therefore he could not give it to the House. But he had had that information in his possession for a time sufficient to give him an opportunity to consider the effect of it, and to enable him to tell the House what the law was with reference to the 506 British registry of the vessels affected by the shipping combine. He believed he rightly understood the President of the Board of Trade to say the other day that he was not aware that the vessels which had been acquired by the combine had lost their British registry. He did not understand the right bon. Gentleman to say that he was certain one way or another as to what the law was. He had already said that this was not the time for a full debate, but he did think that this was a time for further information being given by the right hon. Gentleman as to the position of this country on this matter. There was no question as to what the law meant. The Merchant Shipping Act of 1894 most distinctly contemplated one condition, and one condition alone, as being possible for a British register, and that was British ownership. No candid person could fail to see that, if the ships which had been bought by the Morgan combine were allowed to retain their British register, and were still held by the Board of Trade to form part of the British Mercantile Marine, the whole intention and foundation of the Merchant Shipping Act of 1894 disappeared, and the Act itself became mere waste paper and idle verbiage. There was no question as to that, because the fact was that this combine had been avowedly made for the acquisition of those ships and everything connected with them—the whole of what constituted ownership; and it was on the term "ownership" that the whole thing turned. It was possible, and he thought it probable, that the right hon. Gentleman had been advisted that the Joint Stock Acts had affected the state of things as regarded ownership. Those Acts might have affected the technical fact as to ownership, but they could not have affected ownership, in its proper meaning and intent, as used in the Merchant Shipping Act. There was no doubt that various back doors had been opened by the Joint Stock Acts, for instance with reference to contractors. A contractor with the Government who sat in this House was liable, he believed, to a penalty of £500 for every time he sat and gave a vote in the House; but nevertheless it was notorious that half-a-dozen contractors for piers, docks, works up the Nile, 507 and so forth, sat in this House. They were Government contractors, but were held to be not Government contractors because they called themselves a company. He did not believe, however, that anything in the Joint Stock Acts could affect what was meant in the Merchant Shipping Act as to the British register of vessels, because, as he had said, the whole thing turned on ownership. Suppose the ships of the White Star Line technically belonged to the White Star Line whose office was in Great Britain, but they really belonged to a Company whose office was in a foreign country; he believed that it would be quite idle and entirely contrary to law to say that vessels thus disposed of were still entitled to be considered as British vessels. He fully admitted at once that they could not prevent any shareholder of the Joint Stock Company, nor any individual, from selling his property in a ship, but when the sale was effectually made, and when the ownership was transferred to a foreigner, that property must have imposed upon it all the disabilities, if any, which attached to the sale. It was idle to pretend that these vessels had not been transferred to a foreign company, although the name of the White Star Company was retained, and the office was still in this country. He would ask the President of the Board of Trade, categorically, whether he had been advised by the law officers of the Crown that these vessels which had been transferred to this combination continued to be British vessels attached to the British register.
He had only one last word to say. We were face to face with an entirely new contingency never contemplated by the Merchant Shipping Act or the Joint Stock Companies Act. New methods had come into force, and they were only to be met by new methods on our part. It the plan had been formed of buying up a certain number of British ships in order to form combinations whereby other British ships should be excluded from the Atlantic trade, and that was what he believed was meant, the Government ought to step in. It might be that an amendment was required of the Merchant Shipping Act. The Government ought to consider whether some 508 method could not be adopted of dealing preferentially with our own ships, and which should prohibit foreign ships under certain circumstances from bringing goods into this country. It must be remembered that even if America was the seller of the trade, we were the buyer, and we had a perfect right to meet preferential methods by preferential methods. This matter was very urgent and deserving of immediate consideration, and when the holidays were over some opportunity must be found of bringing about a debate on this subject, on which occasion he trusted the Government would be prepared with the exposition of a new policy, and be prepared to lay before the House some definite proposals. In the meantime he wished the right hon. Gentleman to definitely tell the House what was the exact position according to law. He contended that these vessels were no longer "owned," in the sense used by the Merchant Shipping Act, by British owners, and that they were no longer entitled to be kept upon the British register. (2.5.)
§ (2.35.) MR. JOYCE (Limerick)
desired to support the hon. Member for Ross and Cromarty with regard to the protection of sea coast fisheries. He was a strong advocate of the protection of Scottish fisheries, but he had not so much reason to complain as had the Irish people. Question after Question had been put to various Government Departments, and they had been put off with plausible promises which had never been fulfilled. They were told twelve months ago that there were five vessels watching the Irish sea coast fisheries to prevent the depredations of illegal trawlers, and in answer to a Question the other day the Chief Secretary stated that during the last year there were eight captures, seven of which were effected by one vessel. The fact was that they had practically one vessel—belonging to the Department of Agriculture—to watch their fisheries. Nominally they had two, but the second, owing to her lack of speed, could not capture a trawler. The only capture she had ever made was when she caught a trawler napping. They did not ask for this protection in the 509 interests merely of their own fishermen. During the mackerel and herring seasons the coast was largely frequented by Scottish, English, and Manx fishermen, and it was almost as much in their interest as in that of the Irish fishermen, that additional protection was sought. One vessel was not sufficient to patrol a coast of over 2000 miles. At least half-a-dozen boats were necessary, but if the Government would assist the Board of Agriculture by supplying three small fast despatch boats—they need not be large gunboats—much of the illegal trawling within the three mile limit could be prevented. Wherever that trawling took place, the ground was torn up and the ova destroyed. It was bad enough on the deep-sea banks, but it was much worse when people were allowed to fish close in under the land at the mouth of harbours. But another class of fishermen, besides the steam trawlers, required watching. A good deal was heard of French encroachments on British territory, but little was heard of French encroachments on Irish fisheries. French fishermen, with much larger boats than ours, and a larger train of nets, took advantage of the bad watch kept to shoot their nets across the estuaries of the rivers, thus destroying the salmon as the trawler destroyed the ground fish. This was a state of things to be looked into. They were not asking for anything out of the way. As soon as proper protection was given they would rest satisfied, and the Government would not be troubled by continual questioning; but as long as they neglected to do their duty by protecting this important industry, the Irish Members would persist in raising the point. With regard to British seamen, the hon. Member for King's Lynn was mistaken in saying that the long-line fishermen who fished on these coasts were only long-shore men. The trawlers produced a hardy race of seamen, and so did the long-line fishermen. They had very arduous duties to perform, not in the rivers, but many miles from the coast : they bad to face a dangerous sea in opon boats, and the industry was a nursery for the hardiest seamen that the British Isles produced. The hon. Member also stated, in dealing with the British 510 merchant sailors, that there were half a million British seamen manning our ships—
§ MR. JOYCE
said he found that in 1860 the proportion of foreigners in British ships as compared to British seamen was 9.8. Ten years after, in 1870. the proportion was 10.9, in 1880, 13.72; 1890, 14.63; 1900, 21.014, not counting Lascars or Asiatics. Those figures included the number employed upon foreign-going British steamers. In 1900 there were 174,532 British seamen employed in the foreign trade, and of these 36,893 were foreigners and 36,023 Asiatics and Lascars. Therefore, those who said that the British seaman was dying out had very good reason for saying so. The Government ought not to allow those British seamen to be driven from the ships they had manned so long by foreigners; and when the Board of Trade was dealing with any question in which the interests of the British shipowners were concerned, they should not lose sight of the important fact that if British shipping was being threatened now by the great combination, British seamen had been threatened for a good many years now. He thought it would be far better if those hon. Members who took such a deep interest in the shipping combine, and who brought pressure to bear upon the Government to safeguard the interests of shipowners would not lose sight of the fact that British seamen were a part of the population of these islands, and it was not right that they should be driven from the ships, which they had manned so long served so well, by foreigners.
(2.50.) MR. JAMES LOWTHER (Kent, Thanet)
I think the hon. Member for King's Lynn has done the House a good service in affording hon. Members an opportunity of discussing this subject of the shipping combine. I think we ought to clear our minds of a vast deal of the misconceptions which appear to surround this subject. I am one of those who think that a person has a right to do what he likes with his own property 511 within certain limits, and no one has a right to blame Mr. Pierpont Morgan or anyone else for buying what is in the open market. Nothing could he more unfortunate than that any feeling should be raised against a kindred nation whose citizens are only exercising their individual rights in making such purchases as they think fit. I think that all this stuff which we hear of the encroachments of American citizens in domestic affairs is singularly misplaced. Still, I am the last person to disregard the interests of our mercantile marine and naval supremacy. As business men we ought to take a business view. The Government, it appears, have now some information on the subject. For a long time my right hon. friend the President of the Board of Trade admitted an utter absence of official information upon this subject, but it now appears that the Government, after some delay, have arrived at that degree of knowledge which every reader of the newspapers has possessed for some considerable time. We have been told before that the man in the street knows more of public affairs than the Minister responsible in Parliament, but upon this matter there has been no mystery, and indeed, it appears to me that the promoters of this movement have been very frank in their statements which have appeared in the public Press.
There is one thing which appears to be plain—that a predominant influence has been acquired in British shipping by persons who are not subjects of His Majesty. Without pursuing the legal argument, I imagine that my hon. friend the Member for King's Lynn is quite correct in the view he takes as to the law in regard to this matter, namely, that ships which have been acquired by a combination which has its main centre in another state can only in name continue to be British ships. We can gain our object by a calm and impartial consideration of this subject, and we should not hesitate in adopting legislation or action, reversing the course this country took many years ago, when we very unwisely cast aside the means of protecting our mercantile marine which the law formerly afforded. This was done by what was called a great and beneficent measure for the freedom of trade from all its trammels, and the same argument 512 was used for ruining the agricultural interest. That course was carried out, and we now find ourselves absolutely defenceless in the face of one of the most serious difficulties which this country has ever had to face. I may be called a reactionist if I appeal to the procedure and policy of our ancestors as better than the shortsighted optimism of the present age. The weapons which they took up are still available, and though, perhaps, it is somewhat late to shut the stable door when a considerable number of the occupants of the stable have bolted, still there might be left in a stray box or two a remnant which might be worth preserving.
It is quite evident that this country will have to face, not in this connection alone, a very considerable recurrence to the wise policy which prevailed many years ago. Parliament will have to put aside its own vanity, and it will have to admit that it has unwisely put aside precautionary measures which the wisdom of our forefathers prescribed for the protection of our national interests. We have no fault to find with the Government of the United States; its attitude has been perfectly correct; but I would remind the House that that Government has shown by their action a disposition to take precautions strangely in contrast with the policy of the British Parliament in recent years. The Shipping Subsidy Bill which is about to be introduced in the United States takes a practical step towards creating and preserving a paramount interest in the shipping of the United States. I have heard the most absurd idea put forward in some quarters, that if we adopted what I venture to say is the practical and common-sense method of protecting our national interest, we should give rise to hostility on the part of the Government of the United States. I can imagine nothing more absurd. The United States have not shown any disposition to consult His Majesty's Government as to the details and arrangements for this great shipping combine, still less as to navigation laws and proposed methods for subsidising and assisting the. American mercantile marine. I believe that if this country were to afford facilities, whether by subsidies or any other means it is not for me to say, for trade within the limits of the British 513 empire by first class steamship services which should be available on the main routes by which our food supplies were carried, such a scheme would be generally applauded in this country, and not a single foreign power on the face of the globe would be disposed to raise a syllable of objection. The British empire is as much one, or should be as much one, as the various kingdoms or states which constitute the German empire, and I say that His Majesty's Government are justified in making preferential arrangements, both by sea and land, with all the different component parts of the empire so far as fiscal relations are concerned. That is a fact which I think is now generally admitted by all persons who have studied the subject. The old alarm that we might excite hostility on the part of foreign States should not deter us in view of the fact that every country manages its own fiscal affairs exactly as it likes. No one could find fault with our cementing the commercial relations between Great Britain and the other parts of the empire any more than fault could be found because goods are allowed to pass between Bavaria, which is acknowledged as a quasi-independent monarch)', and the rest of the German empire.
That is a fundamental right of this country, which I thought it right to dwell upon, because we are very apt to be drawn away from it by critics, in regard to this very movement. We have a perfect right to defend ourselves and our interests without consulting any power or combination of powers on the face of the earth. If we do not help ourselves, I wonder who will help us. The transfer of a vast tonnage of shipping, representing a large amount of capital, has startled the public of this country. I do not, of course, expect the Government to form hasty plans, though I am glad they have got beyond the stage of "know nothing" which has been somewhat unduly prolonged. I believe it will assist the Government in coming to a reasonable conclusion on this matter if they bear in mind that the country would have no patience with any pedantic adherence to obsolete prejudices and discarded theories, in commercial and financial affairs which have done duty with a certain amount of success for half a century, but which fail to come up to 514 the requirements of the time in which we now find ourselves placed. As to the actual steps to be taken I do not wish to go into them. I think there is great good to be derived from ventilating this subject, and it is the duty of those who hold opinions upon it to avail themselves of every legitimate opportunity of placing them before Parliament by way of warning against a system, which during the past half century has seriously injured the interests of this country.
§ (3.6.) MR. A. J. BALFOUR
May I say that it is impossible for the Government to raise objections to the rights private Members have of raising any question which they deem of importance on the Motion for the adjournment for the holidays. I do not complain of the use my right hon. friend has made of that discretion; but I think I ought to repeat that in our opinion at the present stage of the discussion it is quite impossible for the Government to say anything with advantage—nay, it is impossible for us to say anything without disadvantage to the great public interests committed to our charge. The importance of the question is very great, and its difficulty is acknowledged by my right hon. friend and everybody who has considered it. The Government are now in communication with some of the parties most interested in this affair, and at the present time we certainly cannot break the silence imposed upon us by a public duty. May I add to that a remark which is specific and relative only to the speeches of my right hon. friend and the hon. Member for King's Lynn, that I think it would be for the general convenience if the debate could be brought to a speedy conclusion. The House is thin, and I do not think there is much advantage to be gained by prolonging the debate. Certainly it would be a great convenience if hon. Gentlemen could either forego their right of speaking, or cut down their speeches within narrow limits.
§ *(3.9.) MR. BLAKE (Longford, S.)
After what the First Lord of the Treasury has said I shall only say a few words which I think are absolutely necessary, particularly after the speech 515 of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Thanet. The question as to what is to be done in regard to the projected large transfers of British shipping is of vast consequence. I recognise the view of the First Lord of the Treasury that the Government must be the best judges—they being engaged in the discussion—of when the time has arrived at which they can usefully communicate anything to the public, and consequently I think the Government should not be pressed. Nor shall I now discuss what should be done. But there is one thing that should not be done. The general observations of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Thanet as to the situation of Britain with reference to the carrying trade and the lessons to be drawn from the policy of the past, which he proposes to reverse, seem to me to be so utterly opposed to the true possibilities of the case that I want to say a word about them. What was the condition of the relative carrying trade between America and Great Britain before the great War of Secession? The ships were principally wooden, and America had the great bulk of her own carrying trade. When the War of Secession came on, Great Britain sent out the Alabama, and the American ships were swept from the seas. The low duties and the generally, comparatively speaking, sound and successful fiscal policy which the American Government had adopted up to that time were then reversed, and extremely high protective duties were established, first for the revenue purposes of the war, but also for those protective objects which the right hon. Gentleman so earnestly desires. That result coincided with the introduction of iron, and subsequently of steel, for the bottoms on the sea, and with the increasing replacement of sail by steam, and England wedded to what the right hon. Gentleman calls the fatal policy of Free Trade, and having the advantage of coal and iron ores, and her shipbuilding and engineering interest being first in the field, obtained her now somewhat waning but still predominant position in the carrying trade of the world. If it were not for the enormous coasting trade, extending from the North Atlantic round the Horn to the North Pacific besides the vast inland trade, 516 which she has at enormous cost to her people rigorously preserved, the flag of America would be absolutely, as it has been, practically swept from the seas. Wherever there is free competition you have beaten her hollow, and you are beating her hollow today. You do not understand their national sentiment on that matter. It is natural as well as national. Their national sentiment is one of humiliation at the circumstance that a people of eighty millions with their mental, physical, and material resources, with their ingenuity and productive power, are excluded from the high seas, and that the goods they get from you and the goods they send to you, to the value of scores of millions of pounds, the great bulk of all being their own products, are transferred in bottoms to which they can lay no claim. I can understand that in these circumstances they should try to do something to redeem their position, and what they ought to do to redeem it is to revert, as far as may be, to the British policy of Free Trade. They still say that it costs about half as much again to build ships in the Philadelphia yards as in British yards, and therefore they cannot compete. But the right hon. Gentleman wants to make things as dear here as they are in America, and to proceed by a system of mutual disadvantages instead of by taking advantage of natural opportunities. Now you cannot expect that the extraordinary predominance which you had once obtained, and which you even now largely hold in the carrying trade of the world, should continue. It is natural that so soon as the nations of the world learn, or so soon, at any rate, as Americans learn, that by taking advantage of their natural conditions, and avoiding artificial restrictions they can build to much greater purpose than they do now, you should find the predominance of Britain still further trenched upon. You are not the monopolists of the high seas of the world. But, with the advantages freedom gives, and skill, energy, and capital improve, you ought, maybe with some relief from legislative burdens, to hold your own. But do not take the right hon. Gentleman's advice. Do not abandon the foundations and fruits of your success. Do not sink from your place, by right of worth, on the open seas, to a protected coasting trade 517 round these little shores. I think that, rightly viewed, what has happened is a tribute to, and an acknowledgment of, the soundness of British policy with regard to the carrying trade. What has happened is a confession and acknowledgment that the Americans cannot build in their own yards ships to compete with you, and practically they have bought from you for half as much again as they are worth a lot of English ships in order to carry on competition with Great Britain in the carrying of their own products from their own ports. That is what the scare is about. [Cries of "No."] I think it is very largely so, and I think it will be found out when dividend day comes. Notwithstanding this remarkable object lesson of the result of your policy in the past, the right hon. Gentleman seizes this occasion to declare that you have set up false idols of Free Trade, and that the old gods of Protection are to be enshrined once more in this unhappy land.
§ *(3.16) MR. CLAUDE HAY (Shoreditch, Hoxton)
I rise with considerable reluctance to address the House, but at the same time I feel it my duty to do so in consequence of the most unsatisfactory replies which I, in common with others, have received from Ministers in regard to the treatment of military prisoners. This is an old question, which however has now got to a breaking point. No true argument can be advanced by the Government to shatter the contention which has been and will be advanced that they have not made adequate provision for the treatment of military prisoners. The extension of the war is no excuse, and former Governments as well as the present Administration are responsible. The Inspector General of Military Prisons in his report for 1899 said—The accommodation in prisons for military offenders which was reduced in November 1898 by the Naval Prison in Lewes becoming unvailable for soldiers, was further reduced in April 1899 in consequence of the Naval Prison at Bodmin being reserved entirely for the Navy. This loss has seriously increased the strain on the already insufficient Military Prison accommodation in England, and specially affects the Western Military Districts, in which there is no military prison. It has necessitated the committal of a larger number of soldiers under sentences of court martial to the criminal prisons, and I regret to observe that in the criminal prisons in England and Wales alone 518 there are no less than 310 soldiers now serving sentences of imprisonment for breaches of military discipline. It is manifestly unfair to a military offender, that he should, by the mere accident of want of accommodation in a military prison, be relegated to a criminal prison, be practically classed as a criminal, be subjected to the same treatment as a criminal prisoner, wear the prison dress and be thus permanently degraded.Further than that, we find that in 1899 the governor of one of the largest military prisons in the United Kingdom, viz., that at Aldershot, said that—During the year 547 prisoners, owing to want of accommodation, were transferred to civil prisons, there to undergo sentences, and, in the words of the Official Report, were practically classed as criminals, were a prison dress, and thus were permanently degraded; to which I would add, and their efficiency as soldiers greatly impaired.' The necessity of thus transferring offenders against military discipline to criminal prisons demands, I think, immediate attention.I am sorry to observe that the Secretary for War is not in his place, though I gave him notice that would raise this question. To continue the accumulated evidence in support of my case, I quote from the Report of the Governor of York Castle, who says—One source of crime is the superficial teaching given to the young soldier in keeping himself and equipment clean, and after a series of minor punishments on this account the recruit gets disheartened and lands in prison, when it is apparent he lacks both knowledge and application in kit cleaning. Most of the crimes come from the combination of drink and temper, and were it possible for the Army Temperance Societies to get in touch with prisoners and give them a helping hand immediately on release, it would be of great assistance to them. Possible imprisonment is no deterrent to a man who has never undergone it, offences being heedlessly committed on the spur of the moment, much in the same way as deeds of dash and gallantry; but by improving the prisoner, keeping him tit in his own trade, and interesting him and working him at industries away from temptation, he is given a great chance of pulling himself together and returning to the colours a better man, with the probability of being less likely to err.To conclude this branch of the subject, I think the following words from the report of the Inspector General of Military Prisons for 1900 must have some influence upon the House—Even the men sentenced by court martial to hard labour imprisonment and discharged from the Army for serious or repeated military offences, it would seem only reasonable to class differently to the habitual offender against the criminal law, and I believe that it would be in the best interests of the Army to confine all such men in one 519 penal establishment distinct from the ordinary criminal prisons, to instruct them in trades, and employ them on work for the Army, and, by arrangement with philanthropic societies to provide for their help on discharge, for their being given a start in civil life, and saved from falling into dishonest ways. I would here observe that the court-martial prisoner discharged from the Army from a criminal prison is not usually helped by the Local Aid Society unless such prisoner belongs to the locality. He is thus at a disadvantage as compared with the criminal.From the last report on military prisons available it appears that the number of prisoners received under sentence of courts martial exceeded in 1900 the number for the year 1899 by 1100, as is shown by the following figures—1899, 8,782; 1900, 11,888. The number of court martial prisoners received into military prisons (5871) is, doubtless, only a proportion (probably not more than one-half) of the actual number sentenced, seeing that the average strength of the Army was nearly double that of the year before, and that many sentences must have been carried oat, especially on active service in South Africa, in establishments other than military prisons.
Before I leave this part of the question I may point out that the authorities had had timely warning of the probable increase in the number of prisoners. In 1885 the number of military prisoners in local prisons in England and Wales was 153, in 1893 it was 410, in 1895 it was 328, in 1898 it was 433, in 1899 it was 442, and in 1900 it was 1,042. During the last seven years of the period I have referred to the number of military prisoners sentenced for purely military offences, serving their sentences in local prisons has doubled. If in that time the authorities could not build adequate accommodation for a thousand prisoners, then I say that they have not discharged their duty with proper obligation to the public, nor with a due regard 520 to military dicipline. Now, the testimony on this subject is further emphasised in the report of the Inspector General of Military Prisons. He says that of the total number of 2000 soldiers discharged from the Army every year only a little over 20 per cent. are discharged as the result of disgraceful or even of very serious military crime; that many are mere lads, and that under altered circumstances these men might have made good soldiers. The Governor of Kendal Military Prison saysSeventeen men passed through the prison who were discharged on application of commanding officer; all well behaved and good workers; many mere lads. It is regrettable that they should be lost to the service, and that something cannot be done to try them in other regiments and surroundings.The Governor of Colchester Military Prison says—There is a man here now, with only eight months service, who is to be discharged at the expiration of his sentence. He is the smartest, cleanest, and lest set-up man I have bad here, and it seems a pity that he should be lost to the Army. He was anxious to continue soldiering, but deserted under the influence of a woman to whom be was married without leave.The treatment of military prisoners has substantially improved. The Governor of Kendal says—The last year of the century is chiefly noteworthy for the introduction of the new order of things by which prisoners in confinement now wear their own uniform instead of being clothed in unsightly prison dress, which, with no good results, made the smartest look repellent, and in all cases diminished self-respect. It is impossible to speak too highly of this innovation, which has raised the tone and morale of the prison. This carried with it sensible marching order parades and inspections, and marked improvement in drill.521 The Governor of Dublin Military prison says—I think an appreciable improvement in the prisoners' conduct is due to the discarding of the old humiliating prison dress; a prisoner dressed in uniform can realise that he is still a soldier, and generally behaves, looks, and bears himself as such; one now sees little of the sullen, slouching, hang-dog demeanour that many men used to assume when dressed in prison garb.The Inspector General of Military Prisons in his Report says that—The crank and the useless and exhausting shot exercise have given place to physical drill, gymnastics, parades, and drills in marching order, profitable and industrial work, and school teaching. The aim of the treatment is to develop the young soldier mentally and physically, and make him a useful self-respecting man and a better soldier.The Inspector General goes on to say that the Amendment of the prison treatment of prisoners in military prisons—Is in accordance with the views of the most enlightened officers of the Army, from many of whom I have received gratifying expressions of improvement and encouragement. I am, however, aware that there is a small minority who regard these changes with disfavour, who contend that prisons should be places of punishment pure and simple; that prison-treatment should be entirely penal, degrading, and unprofitable, the labour uninteresting, and so hard as to break down the prisoner, the one object being to frighten and so deter others from offending against discipline and order. These objectors I am satisfied, can have given no serious thought to the subject. They have not realised that such a system cannot improve, but is calculated to brutalise. They have not realised the fact that most of the young soldiers in prison for rarely military offences, to say nothing of those who desert or are discharged for bad conduct (amounting in the year under review to over 8,000) are brought to prison, or lost to the Army in a great measure through the fault of their instructors; that they might be made into good and loyal soldiers by patient teaching, by encouragement, by a little interest in and system with them.[Cries of "Divide" and interruption]. In spite of the interruption of the hon. Member for Peckham, I am not to be put down, because I know I am performing a public duty in calling attention to the extent of this evil, and to the sorrows which the present system inflicts upon the prisoners and 522 their families. I am also justified in doing so because other measures which others have taken have not had the desired effect upon the authorities. It is not reasonable to advance the argument that there are only now 712 military offenders in prison. The average sentence does not run to the whole year—the average sentence is about three months, therefore in the course of the year we should have nearly 3,000 military prisoners in civil prisons. It is all very well for the Secretary of State for War to say a military prisoner has better treatment than civil prisoners, but the only advantages that they can secure are to be put in the Star Class. This arrangement on the part of the prison authorities lifts a certain amount of prisoners up to the Star Class, but anybody with any knowledge of prisons knows that geographical isolation is almost impossible, and that one of the subjects dealt with year after year in the Commissioners' reports is the danger and the trouble that arise from prison contamination; therefore I say, with all the energy in my power, that the Government has been very remiss by not taking time by the forelock, in not taking advice from the responsible officers engaged in the management of military offenders. They are casting on these unfortunate young men not only great misery, but the stigma of crime which they are not entitled to bear. I am told that of the military prisoners within civil prisons, the number who would be there if they were not soldiers would be very small. I deny that the facts justify such a statement. They are nearly all prisoners for military offences, and when you commit them, to civil prisons, you do wrong. I 523 have heard it said that many of them are young overgrown striplings, utterly unfit to serve at the front, and who should never have been sent out, and to try and get out of this responsibility by saying that a young man has only been in the army eight months, and is therefore practically a civilian, is simply striking at the root of military discipline. What I am saying may not he very popular in certain quarters, but I know full well that there is a strong and growing public opinion in this matter. In calling attention to it I do not do so in any spirit of hostility to the Secretary of State for War, who I know has been heavily engaged in other work in his department, but I say the time has arrived when some definite statement should be made by the Government. In conclusion, I would only refer to the several answers I have received in reply to the questions I have raised. No legislation is required to remedy this evil, the Secretary of State by the stroke of his pen can provide that no soldiers be committed to a local prison.
§ MR. SHEEHAN (Cork County, Mid)
I cordially endorse the remarks of my hon. friend the Member for Limerick with regard to the patrolling of the Deep Sea Fisheries on the coast of Ireland; we certainly do require faster vessels for that purpose. I would just wish to obtain the views of the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary for Ireland on a subject which hon. Members on these Benches have been continuously bringing under his notice. We are forced to put Questions almost every other day which show glaring defects in the administration of the Labourers Acts in Ireland, and which prove the absolute and 524 urgent necessity which exists for their Amendment and for the extension of their provisions to classes of working men who are at present outside the scope of their operations. The right hon. Gentleman has admitted the necessity for legislation, has stated that the subject was engaging the attention of the Government, and has practically promised that he would introduce an amending Bill. Now, Sir, as I intend dealing with this subject more fully at a later stage I will not refer further to it now, but as the question is one which affects the well-being, the comfort and the happiness of thousands of the Irish population, I would ask the right hon. Gentleman to make a definite and favourable statement as to when he intends to introduce legislation for the better housing of the working classes in Ireland.
§ *(3.42.) MR. DELANY (Queen's Co., Ossory)
said he quite sympathised with the views of his hon. friend the Member for Mid Cork, but he desired to bring forward another question which he was sure the House, when in possession of the facts, would regard as of very serious moment, not only to his constituents but to the Midlands in Ireland generally. It was the question of the Barrow drainage. In the last session, as well as in the present session, he had endeavoured to get an opportunity for bringing the matter before the House, but he was not successful. Last session he was successful in the ballot, but when the time arrived to move his Motion the Leader of the House brought forward a Motion taking all the private Members' days that remained. On that occasion the right hon. Gentleman promised him that the Chief Secretary would consider the matter during the recess, and he, 525 therefore, did not again attempt to raise the question. What happened during the recess? The Chief Secretary was in Queen's County, and he wrote to the right hon. Gentleman asking him to visit the district, but he received a reply that the right hon. Gentleman had other engagements which obliged him to go elsewhere. As far as he could see, the right hon. Gentleman, publicly, at all events, gave the matter very little consideration. He addressed a Question to the right hon. Gentleman at the commencement of the present session, asking him what was the result of his consideration; and the right hon. Gentleman replied that the arterial drainage of Ireland was a large question, with which he did not see his way to deal at present. It was not the question of the arterial drainage of Ireland that he was bringing forward, but that of the Barrow drainage.
The history of the question was as follows. As far back as 1847 damage was done, and survey and valuation estimates were prepared, in order to take advantage of the Arterial Drainage Act of 1842. In 1882 the Government of the day promised half the cost of the survey and valuation, the other half being guaranteed locally. The result was that in 1885 Lord Spencer, who was then Lord Lieutenant, appointed a Vice-Regal Commission, which was known as Lord Castletown's Commission, on which there were very experienced local men. That Commission reported in favour of a scheme of drainage amounting in the aggregate to £550,000, and pressed the urgency of the matter. The Royal Commission on Irish Public Works appointed in 1887 also had the subject under consideration. They had the Report of the Vice-Regal Commission of 1885 before them, and they, too, 526 reported in favour of a scheme of drainage. The result was that the First Lord of the Treasury, when Chief Secretary for Ireland, in 1888 introduced a Bill, which, however, did not come up for Second Reading. In the following session the right hon. Gentleman introduced a more comprehensive Bill of some forty-five clauses dealing with the question. The preamble of the Bill contained the following extract from the Report of the Royal Commission on Public Works in Ireland—The basin of the Upper Barrow suffers more from floods than any other part of Ireland. … The proportion which the lands flooded and injured bear to the whole catchment area is exceptionally high; the length of time during which large tracts are covered with water is often considerable; and there are several low-lying towns within the limits of the river basin which suffer both directly and indirectly from inundation. Altogether the condition of the district may be described as deplorable.This Commission proposed to carry out a scheme of drainage to the extent of £360,000, ofwhich£215,000 was to be a free Treasury grant, the balance to be raised on loan under ordinary conditions. That Bill, he was sorry to say, was withdrawn; why, he had never been able to understand. What he wished to impress on the House was that the condition of things was every day getting worse and worse The bed of the river was being filled up with silt to such an extent that the water had not sufficient space to flow, and the consequence was that floods had become very serious and threatening, not only to property, but to health, and even to life, in the locality. He wished to quote from the reports of the medical officers of health, whom the Chief Secretary would recognise as officials of the Local Government Board. The late Dr. William 527 Neale, Medical Officer of Health, Mount-mellick, reported—I know of several instances in which houses are rendered unfit for habitation by flooding. I have no doubt that the health of the district generally, and particularly in those portions near which the flooded lands are, is injuriously affected by the flooding. Sometime ago, whole families had to leave their houses in consequence of the floods. We had diphtheria in the distriel, which, I feel certain, was due to the flooded condition of the land about; there is also typhoid fever which is due to defective drains. The district is much subject to fogs. The health of the district is injuriously affected, and would, in my opinion, be improved most materially by drainage. The town cannot be effectually drained in its present state. The sewerage is thrown back into the drains when there is high water in the river, and I observe injurious effects as regards health at the season when the waters become stagnant and evaporation takes place.Dr. Tabuteau, Medical Officer of Health at Portarlington, reported—I have been medical officer of this district for over fifteen years, I have seen from thirty to forty houses or perhaps more flooded continuously by the Barrow. I have attended patients in some of those houses with water from three to four inches in depth round the posts of the bed, and I myself standing on a chair. I have frequently attended people under such circumstances. The floors of the houses are composed of clay, and when the flood subsides it leaves the floors in a terrible state. Damp, bad vapours exhale from the floors, and all kinds of mischief is done. The result is that the people, who are all poor, find great difficulty in getting well again. There have been epidemics in the town—scarlatina and fever. There were some fifty cases of typhoid, some years ago, in the town alone, of the most virulent type. I have reason to believe that immense damage is done to the pump wells of the town from the floods, which flush back sewerage into the wells.Dr. M. W. Hanlon, Portarlington, reported—I have known the district for forty years, and I cannot conceive any district worse off in respect of flooding. I may mention a case in point. A man was lying ill with fever in his house. I was asked to go with the medical officer to see him. When we called there was a foot of water under the bed upon which the patient lay. He had become so weak that he could 528 not be removed. He died two or three days afterwards. The whole house was flooded; this was in Spring. The people are obliged to leave their houses, and it is getting worse every year. The floods conduce very much to disease. At present we have scarlatina in the town, and we have a good deal of fever from time to time, particularly in the Autumn. Fever, rheumatism, scarlatina, and chest affections prevail. I have been keeping a register for forty-three years. Within the last fifteen or twenty years disease has greatly increased in the district. I attribute this increase to the flooding. The unsanitary state of the district produces a number of orphans who have to be provided for in the workhouse as well as a number of sick persons.He would not read further reports; but he desired to mention that the 45,000 acres which were flooded at the time of the Commission had now increased to at least 100,000 acres. The floods of 1900 were particularly severe, but those of November, 1901, were the most severe of all. He himself went to the scene last November. One house, which was occupied by an old woman and her sons and daughters, was flooded. The people had only just time to carry the old woman out before the house collapsed. When he visited the scene the sons were removing the debris. On the other side of the road was a comfortable cottage which was propped up to prevent it being carried away by the flood. The water mark on the walls was three feet high, and the bedding and bed clothes were saturated. Hon. Gentlemen could imagine the condition of a house in which five, six, or eight inches of water remained for a couple of days. He had seen water running in the front door and out the back door; and had seen dams at the doors to keep the water out. He wished to direct the attention of the House, and of the Chief Secretary, to a few letters which were very remarkable. One occupier wrote— 529My land has been Hooded three times during the past two years to the extent of 224 acres statute; and [estimate my loss on hay and grass at £11"). If the Barrow River is not cleaned up, farmers situated as I am, on the hanks of the river, will have to throw up their farms and emigrate.He had several other letters to a similar effect; but what he wished to impress on the Chief Secretary was that the public health of the district, which included six large towns, was involved. Heretofore, it was only health and property that was endangered; but now life itself was in danger. Last November the cottage of a poor woman, with three young children, whose husband was fighting in South Africa, was flooded about four o'clock in the morning. She put the children on a table in a bed, but the water came up to the table. Four volunteers, two of them policemen, swam in and rescued the woman and children, and received the medals of the Royal Humane Society. The following appeared in the Press—At the Mountmellick Petty Sessions on Tuesday medals, forwarded by the Royal Humane Society for those who distinguished themselves in saving the lives of persons imperilled by the Hoods of November last, were presented by the Chairman, Mr. R. Warburton, D.L.—Mr. Wm. Bailey, Mr. M'Evoy, Sergeant Fitzsimons, Constables Dillon and Burke, were each presented with a medal and certificate of the Society. The recipients of the medals expressed the acknowledgments in suitable terms.The Press also reported that at a meeting of the Royal Humane Society in London testimonials were forwarded to—Constables J. Quinlivan and Peter Conboy, R.I.C., for their pluck in saving Dorah Whelan, aged 60, who was in danger of drowning in her cottage, owing to the Barrow overflowing its banks at Kilmalogue, King's County, on 18th November.530 Surely this matter had been long enough under consideration. It was considered by the Commission appointed by Lord Spencer in 1886, and again in 1887, and it was time the question was taken out of the domain of consideration into the domain of practicalaction. Ireland received absolutely no return for all the taxes her people paid, and some remedy should be found for the habitual and consistent neglect with which her interests were treated.
§ (4.0.) THE CHIEF SECRETARY FOR IRELAND (Mr. WYNDHAM,) Dover
The hon. Member for the Ossory Division of Queen's County has brought forward a subject in which he very naturally takes considerable interest. It can, not be denied that the floods on the River Barrow exercise a very great effect in the Division which he represents. He has asked me why the Bill which was once presented to the House was withdrawn. It was withdrawn because at that date it was impossible to effect arrangements by which the Bann area, would contribute to some scheme of arterial drainage. Since that Bill was abandoned the government of Ireland has devoted itself to other works of a reproductive character—light railways, etc. I have always said that arterial drainage was a most important matter for Ireland. But the hon. Member has urged that he is concerned with the river Barrow alone, and that I am not entitled to speak of arterial drainage as a whole. I, however, would be deceiving the House if I pretended that it was possible to take up the case of the river Barrow without also taking up the case of the river Bann. He has asked me to take the question out of the domain of consideration into the 531 domain of practical work. I have recently been engaged in endeavouring to deal with land legislation and a so with the provision of harbours on the west coast of Ireland. We can only do one thing at a time, and I should really be deceiving the hon. Member if, in order that the House might adjourn early, I promised that effective steps would be taken during the present session They cannot be. Legislation is required, and there is no time for legislation on the subject this session. Funds are required, and I have no funds at my disposal. I would ask him, however, to take it from me that the questions of the rivers Barrow and Bann are questions present to my mind, and are objects to which, in my opinion, public money could well be devoted. Further than that I cannot go. Reference has also been made to the fishery question; I hope immediately after Whitsuntide to introduce a Bill to provide further harbour accommodation on the west coast of Ireland. The point with which the hon. Member for Limerick city dealt, was the injurious effect created by trawlers. He complained that Ireland was not treated so well as Scotland in the matter of protection from the Admiralty. I am not yet in a position to say anything definite upon that point, but I am in communication with the Admiralty upon the matter, and at any rate my efforts are in the direction desired by the hon. Member. The hon. Member for Mid Cork asked me when I hoped to introduce a measure dealing with the provision of houses for the labouring classes. I shall introduce a Bill on the subject shortly after Whitsuntide. The Bill is already drafted.
§ Question put and agreed to.