§ Order read, for resuming Adjourned Debate on Question [2nd February],"That an humble Address be presented to His Majesty, as followeth—
§ "Most Gracious Sovereign,
§ "We, Your Majesty's most dutiful and loyal subjects, the Commons of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, in Parliament assembled, beg leave to offer our humble thanks to Your Majesty for the Gracious Speech which Your Majesty has addressed to both Houses of Parliament."—(Mr. Hardy.)
§ Question again proposed.
§ Debate resumed.149
§ MR. BUCHANAN
When the House rose at half-past seven I wanted to lay before the consideration of the House, and press a little further than my right hon. friend the Leader of the Opposition, two subjects. They are geographically somewhat far apart, yet they are subjects of some considerable interest in view of the statement in the King's Speech. I wanted to say a few words, first about Thibet and then about the Transvaal finance. I am sorry at this moment the Secretary of State for India is not present, because, if he answered my preliminary question, I should say no more on the question of Thibet. He has promised us Papers,—they were promised in the King's Speech—but no statement was made as to when they were to be produced. If the right hon. Gentleman said they were to be produced immediately I should say nothing more on this subject until a later stage of the debate, but as no time has been mentioned, we cannot expect them to be produced immediately. I would also have asked him whether he could give an assurance that after the Papers have been produced we should be given an opportunity to discuss this question, because otherwise what may and probably will happen, will be that after the debate on the King's Speech comes to an end there will be no opportunity for raising discussion on any Indian subject until the Indian budget comes on, which is in the last week of the session. Not only is that an unfavourable opportunity, but events will then have gone forward in such a way that all the discussion we shall be able to have will be on events that have taken place instead of being able to offer criticisms on a policy of which some of us may approve and some may disapprove. I do not think either the paragraph in the King's Speech or the statement made by the Chancellor of the Exchequer really advances us further on the subject than we were in August last when the House adjourned. The Chancellor of the Exchequer has told us there was friction on the frontier; there were difficulties connected with grazing and difficulties in connection with trade rights on the frontier. That is almost the exact statement which was made to us in August last by the noble Lord the then Secretary of State for India in reply to a 150 Question put to him from this side of the House. The point of difference between then and now is this, that while the noble Lord then stated that in consequence of these differences an expedition had beed dispatched under Colonel Younghusbann with an escort of 200 to a place called the Chumbi Valley over the Jeylepla Pass the state of affairs now is very different. Now, instead of a peaceful escort of 200 men, Colonel Younghusband has something like 2,000 men with him, exclusive of camp followers. It seems to me to be an abuse of the King's Speech to describe this as a simple political mission. In the first place you are sending a mission over the border into a foreign country and you are accompanying it with a large military force. It cannot be described as a political mission. Colonel Young-husband is accompanied by a force too large for an escort and too small for an army, and the conditions are exactly similar to those which led to the Afghan war. Then we had imaginary Russian intrigues in Afghanistan; now we have imaginary Russian intrigues in Lhassa. I say the course of events bears an ominous and ill-omened resemblance to the course of events that led up to the Afghan war, and we ought to have from the Government some assurance on the subject beyond the vague promise of the production of Papers at some time or other. It is useless for us to be put off by fair words; public opinion is gravely alarmed at what has taken place. The Thibetans up to the present have been a peaceful people. On the south of the Sikkim frontier the land is grand and fruitful; on the northern side it is arid and barren, and no doubt they do prefer to pasture their flocks and herds on the southern side. Of that we are aware, but so far as official statements go there has been nothing to show there has been any serious increase in that grievance or that there has been any serious character in that grievance for months and years past, yet we have this expedition to within 100 miles of Lhassa. No wonder the Thibetan people should be seriously alarmed at what we may have in view, and that they should be, to say the least, doubtful as to what our intentions are.
When one wants to see what ideas are held, one only has to look at 151 the Anglo-Indian newspapers to sea that we desire by our expedition to enforce on the Lamas of Thibet a British Agent at Lhassa, which they are strongly opposed to. And it must be remembered that they are not only opposed to a British agent but they have never allowed a Russian or any foreign agent whatever in Lhassa. We want also to annex the Chumbi Valley, a splendid country, and it is currently believed in India, at all events, that we desire to enforce absolutely on Thibet Indian trade, if necessary by force of arms, not only through the Jeylepla Pass and the Chumbi Valley but in the other directions as well. These ideas may be all imaginary, and it only needs a word from the Government to prove them so, but we have had no explanation whatever either from the Indian or the Home Government of what our motives are and the purpose for which this expedition is sent over the border into a foreign country. I will not go further on this subject on the present occasion, but I do hope before the debate on the Address ends we shall get some further information from the Secretary of State for India or some other member of the Government. I should not wish to carry this matter to the length of bringing a Motion before the House, but I am afraid that what happened in 1873 will happen in this case. When Sir Neville Chamberlain was sent with 1,000 men over the Khyber Pass it is true no Motion such as I have referred to was put before the House. But what happened? Sir Neville Chamberlain had to go back and war ensued,. We have now sent Colonel Younghusband with 2,000 men over the Jeylepla Pass, and no doubt collisions will occur, and then the Government will have to bring a Motion before the House. I do not know whether the time is yet ripe for bringing forward such a Motion.
I now turn to the other subject on which I desire to say a few words, the subject of the Transvaal finance. It has been alluded to by my right hon. friend the Loader of the Opposition, and was partly alluded to by the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer in his reply. My right hon. friend confessed that he was surprised, and I am as surprised as he, that there was no mention of the subject of South Africa 152 in the King's Speech. Occasionally no news is good news, but on this occasion I am afraid no news is the reverse of good news, and I was somewhat surprised that in the remarks of the Chancellor of the Exchequer the right hon. Gentleman omitted entirely to deal with one side of the question, because it not only affects the finance and prosperity of the Transvaal, but it materially affects the finance of this country. It must be in the recollection of the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer and most Members of this House that on the debate on the Budget of last year the Chancellor of the Exchequer, of that time, was criticised and pressed as to the provision he had made for diminishing and paying off the National Debt, and as to the sufficiency of the provision made. His reply always was—We have got £30.000,000 coming from the Transvaal, £10,000,000 in January, 1904, £10,000,000 in January, 1905, and £10,000,000 in January, 1905.All that was to go in reduction of the National Debt as a payment from the Transvaal and Orange River Colony towards the expenses of the war. Not only did the then Chancellor of the Exchequer say that, but it was put into an Act of Parliament, because in sub-Section 2, Clause 2, of the South African War and Loan Act, 1903, it is specially provided that these repayments shall be devoted to that purpose. It was a binding agreement between the Chancellor of the Exchequer, the supreme authority of the finance of this country, and these colonies. We know now that the first instalment is not forthcoming, and what I should like to ask the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer, if he were here, or any other member of the Ministry, is this: What steps has the Chancellor of the Exchequer taken, as the supreme authority of the finance of this country, or what steps does he propose to take, for the diminution and paving off of debt in the current year, in 'view of the fact that this £10,000,000 on which he relied is not forthcoming? As I have said, it was put into an Act of Parliament, and last session it was defended again and again, because, while the Finance Bill was going through the House, my right hon. friend the Leader of the Opposition drew 153 attention to Clause 6; to the want of definite security for the advance of this £30,000,000, and he was supported in his criticisms by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Bristol. The reply of the Chancellor of Exchequer was, so far as words go, as reassuring as could be, particularly with regard to the first £10,000,000.Therefore," he said, "so far as the first £10000,000 we are quite safe.That was the assurance given by the Chancellor of the Exchequer in the Committee stage of the Finance Bill on an Amendment moved by my right hon. friend the Leader of the Opposition on this specific point as late as the 22nd of June. Not only was that assurance given, but we had equally strong assurances given by other members of the Government of equal weight and authority with regard to this part of the business. What I want to press upon the House and the Colonial Secretary is this, that the issue of this loan of £30,000,000 to the Transvaal was part and parcel of the whole scheme of Transvaal finance. It was one part of the bargain by which this country was prepared to advance £30,000,000 to the Transvaal and the Orange River Colonies. I do not wish to labour the subject, but I have here several statements by the late Colonial Secretary on the subject. They start with one at Johannesburg. In setting out the scheme he described it as the second part of the agreement that another loan of £30,000,000 should be called up in annual instalments of £10,000,000; but there was a much stronger statement than that made by the right hon. Gentleman after he came home on the 6th of May, in which he said—The whole arrangement, that is the two loans, must he treated together, and I might almost say that the support of the Committee to the loan now under consideration is indeed conditional on the contribution of the £30,000,000 to which I have referred.What could be stronger than that? But he goes onto say that in order that success might be assured, and to show their confidence in their country, the capitalists of the Transvaal agreed to underwrite the first £10,000,000 of the loan. On the 27th of July, on the Second Reading of 154 the Bill, these are the words the right hon. Gentleman used—I have no doubt that a satisfactory agreement will he made between us and the underwriters of the loan to make it absolutely certain as to the first instalment of the loan that will be placed upon the market,and we have a further statement made in the House on the same day by the Chancellor of the Exchequer on the question raised by my right hon. friend the Member for West Monmouth on the same subject, when the right hon. Gentleman said a draft audit was being made and being sent out to South Africa, and that when it was settled it would be laid on the Table of the House. What we want to get from the Colonial Secretary now is some further information on the subject than has been vouchsafed. So far as details go, we know nothing of what has taken place since July last. I have been informed that a Motion was tabled in the Legislative Council of the Transvaal that this money should not be advanced. At any rate we are in possession of the fact that the loan has not been brought our, and that the first instalment has not been paid. We want further information. We want to know what was the close of these negotiations which were going on in July last. Can the right hon. Gentleman inform us, and can he table the correspondence of the same? Can he inform the House of the views of the Transvaal authorities on the subject? I gather from his nodding assent that he will be able to give us full information as to why, in respect of this guaranteed advance, they have now gone back from the guarantee they gave. It is a matter in which there ought to be further investigation and information from the Government, and when the Colonial Secretary gives this information we should also like to get from him information on the other points, as to which my right hon. friend the Leader of the Opposition asked, with regard to Transvaal finance. The statement made by the Chancellor of the Exchequer is rather disquieting, both as regards the £10,000,000 and the interest of the £30,000,000. I think we ought to get from the Colonial Secretary some particulars on this subject. The House is well aware that the security for the payment of the interest on the 155 £35,000,000 depends primarily on the railway revenue of the Transvaal, and, beyond that, on the general assets of the two colonies combined. In the middle of last summer Lord Milner had what seemed to some of us somewhat rosy anticipation as to the development of the revenue and the restrictions of the expenditure of the Transvaal, and I hope we shall have from the Colonial Secretary a complete statement as to the railway revenue, and also the general revenue for the half-year ended December 31st last, and, further, as to the separate expenditure of the two colonies for that period, and the joint expenditure for the South African Constabulary. Such information would give us an idea as to how far the finances of the Transvaal and the Orange River Colony have declined during the past half-year, and enable us to make some rational estimate of the probabilities of the future. It will be remembered that when the Bill was under discussion the £35,000,000 were devoted to a variety of objects, and the amounts to be paid for specific purposes were left somewhat vague and general. Will the right hon. Gentleman now tell us what has been paid for the purchase of railways, and state the correct estimate for the settlement of the claims between the military and colonial authorities with regard to the railways? By so doing he will strengthen our knowledge of the condition of affairs in South Africa, and reassure the rational fears which we feel as to the security for the loan of £35,000,000, and as to the possible future fulfilment of the pledges of the Transvaal and the guarantors with regard to the £30,000,000, and particularly the first instalment due in January of this year.
§ * SIR HOWARD VINCENT (Sheffield, Central)
I am sure that all Members of the House who took part in the recent visit to the French Deputies appreciate the mention in the King's Speech of the great courtesy and attention which they received. It is impossible to speak in too high terms of the hospitality and kindness with which we were received by the French Deputies, the French Government, the Mayors, the Presidents of the Chambers of Commerce, 156 and the French people generally. The President of the French Republic, in receiving the Deputation, referred in these terms to the visit—There is infinite cause to be glad for the movement which is going forward and now being carried on by the two great western nations. A new era of fraternity is opening before us which must never be permitted to close.It would have been unworthy not to acknowledge the kindness with which we were received, and the pains taken in the matter by Baron D'Estournelles dc Constant and the hon. Member for the Romford Division of Essex.
The mention in the Speech of the redemption of the promise made by the Prime Minister of New Zealand to inaugurate preferential trade between Great Britain and New Zealand will afford great satisfaction. The mover of the Address referred to the fact that five years ago Canada established this preferential treatment of British goods, and on the visit of the right hon. Gentleman for West Birmingham to South Africa the Customs Convention gave a preference of 25 per cent. to British goods entering the South African markets. The fact that this preference has been established in New Zealand and that the proposal has been so warmly taken up by the Legislature and the people of the colony, cannot be otherwise than a great relief to large numbers of people in this country who are suffering from the present depression of trade. The condition of affairs in many parts of the country is well illustrated by the Labour Gazette for the present month. In the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition there was much that was interesting and amusing, but it contained no proposal or suggestion tending to provide a remedy for the actual condition of things which exists. According to the Labour Gazette, 37,500 trades unionists were out of employment at the latter end of December. If that is the case with regard to skilled artisans, it is quite certain that the state of affairs with regard to unskilled labour is infinitely worse, though no definite returns are available. During the years 1901–2–3–3,000,000 workpeople sustained decrease in wages, while on a single day in December last 370,469 people in the 157 United Kingdom were dependent on poor law relief for their existence. Moreover, during the year 1903 261,363 persons emigrated from the United Kingdom, going for the most part to countries where their industry and labour would be protected, in despair of being able to obtain a livelihood in this country. We must express our gratitude that the first measure mentioned in the Speech is one to deal with the evil of alien immigration, to which for many years some of us have called attention. While over 260,000 people emigrated from the United Kingdom last year, their places were taken by no less than 82,000 of the scum of Eastern Europe. The Leader of the Opposition said that these people came from the most highly protected countries, thereby implying that they were dissatisfied with their condition in those countries; but what about the 260,000 who left the Free Trade market of this country to go to countries where their industry would be protected? I earnestly hope the Government will introduce the promised Bill at the earliest opportunity, and press it forward with the utmost speed. This is not the first time that such a Bill has been announced. A measure was promised in 1896, and in the subsequent session the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Croydon stated that the Government had no intention of departing from the pledges they had given on the subject, but, with the exception of the appointment of a Royal Commission, nothing further has been heard of the matter until now.
There is only one other matter to which I desire to refer, and that is the general problem of the Army and War Office reform. The scheme which appeared in the papers yesterday has been well received generally. There is one matter of military administration which is very serious indeed, and presses for early consideration and amelioration —the condition of the Militia and Volunteer forces. Both of those branches of the auxiliary forces show a serious decline. It is harder than ever to get officers for the Volunteers; the force is under-officered to the extent of between 2,000 and 3,000; recruits are coming in very slowly indeed, and the resignations are very numerous. I am aware that a 158 Commission is at present inquiring into these matters, and it will be difficult for the Secretary of State to bring forward any scheme until that Commission has reported. The matter, however, is an extremely urgent one, and the recent speech of the Secretary of State for War gives us great hope that in his hands the Volunteer force will receive fairer treatment and better consideration than it has recently experienced at the hands of the military authorities.
§ MR. PAULTON (Durham, Bishop Auckland)
Perhaps I ought to apologise for intervening in the debate, but I do so for the purpose of asking a definite Question on a matter of considerable public importance. In the debate on the Amendment moved to the Address last year, calling attention to the case of the London and Globe Finance Corporation, the view was taken by the Government that the present state of the law did not enable them to advise a prosecution in the case as matters then stood, but the Prime Minister gave a definite pledge that legislation should be introduced to amend the law in the respects in which it was held to be defective. The words of the Prime Minister were—I ask the House to be content with the pledge that I have given, that we should endewour to amend the law in accordance with that broad view of commercial morality so ably defended by my hon. friend.No reference whatever is made in the King's Speech to that pledge or to the subject on which it was given. As the Attorney-General is in his place, and in view of a debate which I understand is to be raised on an Amendment referring to the matter, I trust the hon. and learned Member may be able to explain to the House why no reference has been made to the matter.
§ THE ATTORNEY-GENERAL (Sir ROBERT FINLAY,) Inverness Burghs
I feel that the Question of the hon. Member is a perfectly reasonable one. As regards the inquiry with which he concluded I would remind the House that it is not necessary to include in the King's Speech every matter with regard to what it may be the intention of the Government to introduce legislation, but I shall certainly endeavour to 159 answer fully and frankly the substance of the Question which the hon. Gentleman has put to me, and for that purpose I think the House will agree that it is probably desirable that I should enter into matters on which my mouth was closed while the case out of which this Question arises was still pending. When this matter was under discussion a year ago I told the House that nothing would induce me to say a word which would prejudice either the prosecution or the defence, and to that resolution I adhered. Now, of course, no such considerations are applicable, and I am at liberty fully to answer the Question asked by the hon. Gentleman. I desire to say, before I enter into the matter, that I hope that the fact that this Question has been raised at this stage and that I now make a statement upon it, will not in any way interfere hereafter with the fullest possible discussion of the Question which the House may desire. Opportunities may arise hereafter, and it certainly would be my desire, and I am perfectly certain that it would be the desire of the Government, that the fullest possible discussion which the House might think requisite, should take place upon this subject. In the first place, I wish to make clear one matter on which I think there is a good deal of misconception. It seems to have been supposed that the decision as to not putting the Director of Public Prosecutions in motion in the case of Whitaker Wright was the decision of the Government. It was nothing of the kind. The sole responsibility for that decision rests upon myself as Attorney-General. It is not a case in which the Government decide. It is not a case in which the Government are advised by the Law Officers. The law casts upon the Attorney-General the duty of deciding upon such a question in what I may call almost a judicial capacity. In the discharge of the duties which the law devolves upon him no other member of the Government either can or would dream of endeavouring to interfere with his discretion.
§ SIR ROBERT FINLAY
One other observation I desire to make is that 160 the responsibility of the Attorney-General in this matter is not one which is to be shared with any of his colleagues. I am the first to acknowledge the invaluable assistance which I have derived in this and in all other cases from the gentlemen who have co-operated with me, but the decision rests with the Attorney-General, and for that decision those who have assisted him in the matter are in no sense responsible. The sole responsibility rests upon him alone, and it is the Attorney-General alone who is answerable to the House and the country for the manner in which he exercises his responsibility. In dealing with the question as to putting the Director of Public Prosecutions in motion the Attorney-General, as I have said, must decide almost as if he were a judge. It is for me to decide in a quasi judicial capacity. I have referred to the fact that last year I said that on the subject of the grounds of my decision my mouth was closed, because a summons was then pending before a judge for leave to prosecute, and I felt that anything I attempted to say in justification of myself might have operated either to help the prosecution or the defence, and no consideration relating to myself would induce me to utter one syllable which would interfere with a fair and unprejudiced trial of any case which was pending. Now I am at liberty, after what has taken place, to state what my grounds were; and I think that, in answering the Question put by the hon. Gentleman, the House is entitled to expect from me not only a categorical answer to the Question, but also an explicit statement of the grounds upon which I took the action I did in the case of Whitaker Wright, and of the grounds upon which I thought, as still think, that an amendment of the law is urgently required. What I have to say, of course, as to the grounds on which I acted relates solely to the case as it appeared on the materials then before me in 1902, when I had to decide upon it. I am about to deal with the case as it was then presented to me. With regard to the subsequent prosecution and the result of these proceedings, I have one thing to say to the House, and one only, and that is that since the case has been terminated the 161 Treasury have, with my full concurrence, determined that they ought to bear the cost of the prosecution. I now proceed to state what were the grounds that actuated me in the course which I took.
Whitaker Wright was, as is well-known to the House, the managing director of the Globe Company. The Globe Company was a company which carried on a highly speculative business. In the year 1900 it had got into very great difficulties, and Whitaker Wright, on behalf of the company, engaged in an enterprise which was intended to restore its fortunes. That enterprise was this—he endeavoured to establish what is called a corner, on a very large scale, in the shares of a company called the Lake View, a corner in Lake View Consols; and the particular operation that he was engaged upon was this—he entered into contracts for the purchase of Lake View Consols on a very large scale, and at the same time he was taking measures to secure that the very shares which he was buying should be under his control, so that many of the sellers to him would have to go to him when the day for delivery came and give him any terms he chose to ask for in order that they might be in a position to fulfil the purchase. That was the operation. If I that operation had succeeded, as it very nearly did succeed, the fortunes of the Globe Company would have been to I a very great extent retrieved. It failed. The enterprise in itself was, in my view, contrary to every sound code of commercial morality. I believe that it is an absolutely immoral thing for a man to enter into a transaction of that kind when he is buying and at the same time is taking steps to prevent those from whom he is buying from being able to fulfil their contracts, except by submitting to any terms he may choose to dictate. Further than that, I have no doubt whatever that such an enterprise falls within the range of the criminal law if it is carried out by several persons in combination, at least if any circumstances of misrepresentation attend it. I most carefully considered this question in the summer of 1902, and I most certainly should have directed a 162 prosecution of Whitaker Wright for a conspiracy of this kind if it had been possible to obtain any evidence that others acted in conspiracy with him in the matter. I was informed that no evidence of that kind was obtainable. So strongly did I feel upon this point that I adjourned the consultation in order that inquiries might be made as to whether any such evidence could be obtained. I was informed that no such evidence was obtainable, that Whitaker Wright had operated in substance alone. I do not think that the criminal law can reach an enterprise of this kind carried out by one person by himself and not in combination with others. The law of conspiracy would not apply. The question, therefore, was reduced to this, whether I could properly direct a Treasury prosecution of Whitaker Wright for issuing a fraudulent balance sheet.
The balance sheet of 1900, in my opinion —and I of course speak only of the case upon the evidence as it was submitted to me in the summer of 1902—contained statements which were grossly untrue. That was the impression I formed upon the evidence before me, and I do not pretend to speak as to anything else. But then a further question arose before a prosecution could be properly directed, and that was the question as to the intent with which these misrepresentations had been made. Now I feel very strongly that the law ought to be that any wilful misrepresentation in any document issued by officials of a company ought to be punishable. The shareholders and the creditors of the company are entitled to know the truth; and whatever the intent with which a misleading statement is put forth, if that misleading and untrue statement is wilfully made. I think the officials of the company who make that statement ought to be punishable. But beyond all controversy that was not the law up to the end of December, 1900. It was necessary, further, that the misrepresentation should have been made with intent to defraud certain classes of persons. The question depended upon Section 84 of the Larceny Act of 1861. According to the provisions of that section there must not only have been misrepresentation in a document 163 issued by the officials, but that misrepresentation must have been with the intent to deceive or defraud shareholders or creditors, or to induce persons to become shareholders in the company, or to induce persons to entrust or advance property to the company, or to become security for the company. The section does not provide at all for the case of misrepresentations made with the general intent to defraud the public, unless it happen to fall within the particular classes to which I have referred as enumerated in the section. The most material intent for this purpose was the intent to deceive or defraud shareholders or creditors. The word deceive in that collocation, in my mind, means, substantially, the same thing as defraud—that is, to mislead persons on questions of fact with a view to prejudicing them pecuniarily. I cannot better illustrate my meaning than by quoting to the House the language in which Chief Justice Cockburn charged the jury in a case under this section in the year 1880. The case was one of great magnitude, the trial of which extended over many days. It was a prosecution under this same Section 84 of the Larceny Act of 1861. It was a case in which the assets of the company had been dissipated in rash speculation, and after that had taken place the directors issued a balance sheet in which certain of the assets of the company were most grossly overvalued. The summing up of Chief Justice Cockburn appeared in The Times of May 6th, 1880. In the course of that summing up he dealt with the question of the intentional misrepresentation of the facts in stating that assets that were said to be worthless were of the value of between one and two millions. Then he came to the question of intent, and he said, addressing the jury—But even if you should be of opinion that the accounts were intentionally falsified, that alone would not be sufficient to determine this question, because, even if you are of opinion that the defendants acted contrary to their duty in treating this property as a real and substantial asset of the company, you will have to say whether you are satisfied that they did so with the fraudulent purpose of defrauding the shareholders and the creditors of the company or to induce persons to become shareholders in order to defraud them also. There would scarcely have been any intention on their part to defraud the shareholders and the 164 creditors, because it is plain that the very best thing that could be done under the circumstances in the interests of the shareholders and of the creditors was to keep the bank going.Sir John Holker, I should observe, was then Attorney-General, and this was a Treasury prosecution. The Chief Justice continues—Sir John Holker suggested that that was the very motive of the fraud he imputes to the defendants. But how could keeping the bank going defraud the shareholders or the creditors? No doubt to have made the real state of things known would have been to have produced an immediate depreciation of the property of the shareholders, and it was in the interest of the shareholders that the facts should be kept, as it were, in abeyance, and not at once disclosed so as to alarm the public.I do not think that ought to be the law. I think that if an untrue statement is made by officials of a company in the balance sheet they ought to be amenable to the criminal law. But in deciding this matter one could only deal with the criminal law as it stood at the time when the transactions took place. I therefore had to inquire before I set the Public Prosecutor in motion whether, on the facts before me, the intention of Whitaker Wright in making these misstatements in the balance-sheet was to defraud any class of persons mentioned in the section. After most carefully considering the matter on all the materials that were at my disposal in 1902, when I determined this point, it seemed to me that the purpose of these misstatements was really to support a corner which, if successful, would have reestablished the fortunes of the company, to keep the company going till it succeeded; and, however reprehensible the whole enterprise in its very nature was, however reprehensible these misrepresentations which were intended to assist it were, that it was done, not with intent to injure, but with a desire to benefit, the shareholders and the creditors of the Globe Company. That was the real substance of the matter with regard to this transaction in the year 1900. As regards the balance sheet of 1899, there is one further observation which I should make. The Official Receiver did not bring the balance sheet of 1899 before me at all as a possible subject of prosecution. It was brought before me subsequently in the month of December, 1902, by Mr. Flower. 165 I, with my colleagues, had a long consultation upon this point. The Official Receiver reported to me that, in his opinion, the case upon this balance-sheet of 1899 was a very weak one upon the fact of misrepresentation. Upon these materials I came to the conclusion that I ought not to direct that the Public Prosecutor should institute a Treasury prosecution in this case.
I need hardly say that the fact that the case is not taken up by the Public Prosecutor sets no bar whatever against a prosecution by anyone else. Anyone may issue a prosecution, and anyone, where a company is in liquidation, may apply to the judge for a direction that, at the expense of the estate, a prosecution be instituted. My decision was given and announced in this House in the summer of 1902. It was open to those who desired a prosecution either to prosecute themselves or to apply at once to the judge in whose court the winding-up of the company was proceeding. Nothing of that kind was done until the month of January, 1903. During the six months that elapsed before that application was made, attempts were made in various ways to induce me to give the weight of the name of the Director of Public Prosecutions to the proposed proceedings. I think the House will agree that it is absolutely unnecessary for me to notice any suggestions that were made, that my action in this ease was due to any unworthy motive; and I think the House will further agree with me that it is important, and, indeed essential, that those with whom the responsibility of administering the criminal law rests should not allow themselves to be urged into action either by pressure or by dread of misrepresentation of their motives.
There is another consideration which had weight with me in determining whether this was a case in which the Director of Public Prosecutions should lend all the weight of his name and authority to the proceedings that were desired. Many Members of the House will be aware that in the year 1902 an action was pending by the Globe Company against certain brokers for selling shares in the Lake View Company, in breach, it was said, of agreement not to sell under a certain price, and; 166 by that sale under the agreed price causing the collapse of the whole scheme on which Whitaker Wright had relied for the restoration of the fortunes of the Globe Company. If that action had succeeded large damages would have been recovered for the shareholders and creditors of the Globe Company. That action was continued by the Official Receiver; it had been commenced by the company before the company went into liquidation. The question of directing a prosecution was never brought before me until after that action had failed, as it failed in the summer of 1902. In that action Whitaker Wright had been the principal witness —in fact, the material witness who was put forward on behalf of the company. All the matters which were relied upon in respect of the application for a prosecution had been known for a long time and were known while that action was pending. The question I had to consider was whether the Public Prosecutor should, at the instance of the Official Receiver, when the action failed, lend the weight of his name to a prosecution in respect of these very matters which had been known at the time when Whitaker Wright was put forward as a witness in support of that action. It seemed to me that such a course would have been open to very strong and just observation.
As regards the alteration of the law in the future, I have two things to say. The first is this—I am not prepared to recommend to the House to proceed to deal with the law affecting what are called corners, or the analogous subject of rigging the market. The question is one of very great intricacy, and legislation upon it, however desirable in the interests of commercial morality, would be attended with very great difficulties. I should like that something should be done in this matter, but it cannot be done until after very full and complete inquiry into the whole subject, and the views are ascertained, not only of lawyers, but of business men, with regard to it. With reference to the question of making punishable the issue of statements by officials of public companies which they know to be untrue, I have a very strong and definite opinion that legislation ought to proceed on the lines adopted in the 28th Section of the Companies Act of 1900. By that 167 section, which relates only to documents required by, or for the purposes of the Act of 1900, any wilfully false statement in such a document is a misdemeanour. The provision is not encumbered with the necessity of proving intent to defraud any classes of persons such as contained in the 84th Section of the Larceny Act of 1861. Now, surely this is right. Shareholders and creditors, in regard to statements promulgated by the officials of companies, are entitled to have the truth, and any wilful misstatement by officials of companies in such documents should be an offence. If there is no intent to defraud, that ought to go and would go in mitigation of punishment, but if a misstatement is wilfully made, in my judgment in every case, it ought to be amenable to the criminal law. If such a change were made it would relieve all those who have to deal in subsequent cases with such problems as came before me in 1902, from the difficulty which attended the proposal that I should direct the Public Prosecutor to institute a Treasury prosecution in this particular case. I think I have answered the Question which was put by the hon. Gentleman opposite, and in conclusion, I have only to say this: any Attorney-General would be unfit for his position, who from any by-motive failed to prosecute in a proper case, and more than that, and on the other hand, any Attorney-General would be unfit for his position, who, because a particular prosecution would be a popular thing to do, sets the Public Prosecutor in motion without being satisfied that it is a proper case for that intervention. Indeed where a case has in it materials which are likely to inflame public feeling, I think it is the duty of the Attorney -General, under whose orders the Public Prosecutor has to act, to be very cautious as to what his action is. Whatever view may be taken of the conclusion at which I arrived on the materials which were before me in 1902, I feel perfectly certain that the House—and I hope I -nay say that every hon. Member, in whatever part of the House he may sit —will have no doubt that in this case I acted to the best of my ability, and with a single eye to the discharge of those delicate and responsible duties which the law casts upon the Attorney-General.
§ * MR. JOHN ELLIS (Nottinghamshire, Rushcliffe)
The hon. and learned Gentleman has, with that lucidity which we all admire, dealt with this case as it concerns himself personally. I do not rise to offer any observations on his remarks further than to say that I am sure I for one willingly concur in the sentence with which he concluded his speech. I rise rather to make some remarks in continuation of those which fell from the hon. Member for East Perthshire earlier in the evening, and which I wish had been listened to by a more crowded House than that which the hon. Member addressed. He put some very searching questions to the hon. Gentlemen who is now in the position of Colonial Secretary, and I am about to follow up those questions by some others. In the excellent speech to which we listened from the Leader of the Opposition, it was remarked that this was the first time for long —ten or twelve years, I think I might say —that we have had no mention in the Speech from the Throne of South Africa. I venture to say that the right hon. Gentleman who holds the seals of that office has found and will find that South Africa bulks very largely in the labours he has to undergo, and will do for many a day. We are all familiar with the rosy pictures drawn from the Benches opposite, and notably by the late Secretary of State for the Colonies, with regard to the state of that country—how we were to get repayment of the money advanced, how the country was to be a field for emigration of white labour and so forth. The right hon. Gentleman made a most remarkable speech on 6th May last, beside which the speech of any company promoter perfectly pales. In that speech, which occupies nearly thirty columns of "Hansard," the right hon Gentleman came under some very serious obligations I hope in this connection we shall have from the Colonial Secretary very explicit assurances on the head of finance. With respect to the £30,000,000, the late Colonial Secretary used rather significant language on the 6th May, 1903. He then said—It is true we are not dealing to-day with the raising of the £30,000,000 which will be required in order to pay the British Exchequer the contribution the colonies are willing to 169 make; but the whole arrangement must be treated together; and I might almost say that the support of the Committee to the loan which is now under consideration is under condition not upon the contribution of £30,000,000 to which I have referredMy hon. friend dealt so fully with the details of the finance that I shall not say a word more on that subject.
I turn to what the Leader of the Opposition said as to the importation of Chinese labour into the Transvaal. We want a great deal more information on that subject. It is quite true that the right hon. Gentleman has given us to-day two Reports of the Labour Commission, but these Reports are unaccompanied by the evidence. The right hon. Gentleman knows very well that the essence of the case often lies in the evidence. I notice in running through the Reports that they refer to the evidence, and, therefore, I venture to say that the Reports are very imperfect, and of very little use indeed, until you can refer to the evidence. I hope when the right hon. Gentleman speaks he will tell us when we may expect the evidence that was placed before the Labour Commission. This subject cannot be overestimated in importance. It is many years now since the action of George III. and his Ministers in refusing to allow the American Colonies to put an end to the slave trade of that day. The whole difficulty in the United States came from the action of the English Ministers with respect to the intrusion of black labour in that country. I do not know that the right hon. Gentleman remembers the debates on the question of Kanaka labour in Queensland, but if he looks into"Hansard," he will see the part that many of us took in regard to that question. It is remarkable that one of the first acts of the Australian Commonwealth Parliament was to put an end to the Kanaka difficulty. From the 31st of March this year, no Kanaka can be imported into Australian territory. Anyone who looks into the question of Chinese labour must see that it has in it the seeds of a problem of the most serious consequence to South Africa. Anybody who lives in San Francisco will tell you that you must be mad to allow it. Not only have we not got the evidence with the 170 Reports, but we have not received the correspondence that passed between Lord Milner and the late Colonial Secretary on the subject. We want information brought to date by the official dispatches on the matter. We want an opportunity, free from the trammels of the debate on the Address, of discussing this question in all its relations. I wish to call the attention of the right hon. Gentleman to a promise which he gave. It was rather a remarkable promise for a Secretary of State to give. He said on 25th January, through his private secretary—Mr. Lyttelton desires me to say in reply to your letter of the '22nd inst., that it is intended to give an opportunity for a full discussion in Parliament of the question of the importation of labour.I claim the fulfilment of that promise. To "give" an opportunity implies much more than that the Opposition shall "take" one.
It is the one vital matter before the people of Cape Colony. The right hon. Gentleman talks of treating the new territories in these matters as self-governing colonies. I venture to say that the first thing to do is to give them the institutions and rights of self-governing colonies. The opinion of the Legislative Council is hardly worth the paper it is written on so far as it conveys the opinions of the inhabitants of the Transvaal. I hope we may look forward to getting from the new Secretary of State more information of a detailed and official character as to what is going on in these new territories than we have received in the past. I must say in sitting down that we meet here under rather unfavourable circumstances owing to the most regrettable absence of the Prime Minister. I do earnestly hope that he will soon be restored to health, for we have at present a headless Government. No one could have listened to the Chancellor of the Exchequer—and I say this without any disrespect to the right hon. Gentleman—without feeling that the House was being left rudderless, because the pointed and authoritative inquiries of the Leader of the Opposition had been left unanswered. I hope that will be remedied in a few days, and that we shall have some one here to speak with the voice of authority 171 on all the vital matters which must come before us.
* MR. GIBSON BOWLES (Lynn Regis)
The right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition has made an attack of considerable force—I might almost say ferocity—on His Majesty's Ministers on the occasion of the Address. I think he has shown a want of consideration for the position of His Majesty's Government. They have lost some of their greatest figures. In Lord Salisbury they have lost a great statesman, who has left his impress on the politics of Europe; they have lost the late Secretary for India, and three Chancellors of the Exchequer; they have lost that eminent statesman whom the Prime Minister writes to as "Dear Duke," but whom the right hon. Member for West Birmingham, with greater familiarity or affection, addresses as "My dear Devonshire." The forlorn remnant who now sit a little band of heroes on that Bench must feel what their position is. They know that, though like the lords of the Philistines they sit on the roof making sport, there is beneath them a blind Samson bowing himself between the pillars to bring down the whole structure upon their heads. I think, therefore, that more consideration should have been shown than the speech of the right hon. Gentleman displayed. I will not detain the House at this late hour on that, but will come to the points referred to in the King's Speech. One has already been touched upon, but if the hon. Gentleman who drew attention to it will permit me to say so, I think he missed the point of the case. An expedition has been sent into Thibet. The Gracious Speech tells us that it is sent with the concurrence of the Chinese Government, but not a word is said as to whether we have the concurrence of Thibet. That is the most important point of all. If there is concurrence of Thibet, then this is a mission; if not it is an invasion. I put the specific Question whether this is a mission or a military operation of invasion to any Gentleman on the Front Bench who feels competent to answer it, and I take the Attorney-General for choice. It is really an extremely important Question, because if this is a military operation—and in 172 my belief it is—the clause in the 1858 Act for the government of India, forbidding any application of the Revenues of India for military operations beyond the Indian frontier without consent of both Houses of Parliament, has been disobeyed and the law broken. The right hon. Member for West Birmingham is not here, but I may remind the Chancellor of the Exchequer that in 1878 this very question was raised by the right hon. Gentleman, who gave notice of a Motion in these words—That, this House regrets that in the present instance the consent of the nation, through its representatives, was not obtained before war was declared, and that the Government withheld from publication the Papers.That was the exactly similar case of the war in Afghanistan and I may remind the House that the Member for West Birmingham, Lord Hartington, and Lord James of Hereford all voted against the Government of the day on this very ground. We are therefore entitled to most specific information, firstly, as to the reasons for the mission or military operation, secondly, as to its quality, and thirdly, as to whether in addition to the assent of China the assent of Thibet has been obtained to this missionary or invading operation.
With regard to China and Japan I hope no Member of this House will say more than the very least he can on the subject. I shall say very little, but this I must say. We have had for centuries but one ally in the world—Portugal. We have now taken another in Japan. Japan is the second country in the world which in a treaty we call an ally. Let the House and His Majesty's Government remember that when you have given that name by treaty to a State, and if that State should come to extremity, it is impossible to abandon them. I shall say no more on that subject except that up to this moment, and at this moment, it is this country that holds the balance. In any naval war coal is the determining factor, and we hold the coal. My hope and trust, and I would add my belief, is that His Majesty's Government have made their position and intentions clear in this matter to those who are concerned—absolutely clear, though in terms no doubt of the utmost courtesy. I do 173 not believe they have failed to do so. If they have their responsibility would be great indeed. Let me remind the House what happened after the Russo-Turkish War of 1878, which bears in a most important degree on the situation at this moment. Lord Beacons-field, speaking in July, 1878, after he had returned from the Congress at Berlin, used these words—One of the results of my attending the Congress at Berlin has been to prove, what I have always suspected to be the absolute fact, that neither the Crimean War, nor this horrible devastating war which has just terminated, would have taken place if England had spoken with the necessary firmness.The Question I put to myself and to Ministers is: "Has England spoken with the necessary firmness in this case, and is she now speaking with the necessary firmness?" If not the most serious consequences may ensue. I pass now to the most important Report on the proposed new supplementary body to the Defence Committee. It is dated 11th January but it is not yet in our hands, and I must say I feel some surprise to find no mention of it in the Gracious Speech from the Throne, except a casual and incidental reference to it, as if it had something to do with the question of economy. This most important subject lies at the root of the whole thing, at the root of our conduct in regard to this very Russo-Japanese War, at the root of our conduct in Thibet, for the Defence Committee is the very body to which we must look for guidance and we should take the advice of such a body before embarking on the very first steps in these matters. The subject is so extremely important that I do trust the greatest attention will be given to it by the Government. It is my belief that the new body, which, as I have said, is intended to be a supplementary body to the Committee of Defence, is entirely mis-conceived; that its constitution is wholly wrong, and that it will occupy a position which will render it nothing but a fifth wheel in the coach. It is proposed to make a new department, but the gentlemen who recommend it seem never to have had before their minds the official heirarchy or the necessity of finding a place in that hierarchy for the suggested new department. Who is to be at the head of it? The sugges- 174 tion is that the head of it should be the Prime Minister, an official unknown to the English law but who usually is, and always ought to be, First Lord of the Treasury. When that is so is this new department to be under the Treasury; when it is not so, when, as recently, the Prime Minister is Lord Privy Seal, then under whom is the department, as a department, to be? To this some answer is required. The constitution of the pro-posed nucleus of a department is also to my mind fatally defective. The object is that it is to be permanent, but this body has no permanency about it. The secretary is to be appointed for five years, and the nucleus is to be composed of six or seven gentlemen of inferior rank, naval and military, to be appointed for only two years. Therefore, I do seriously say to the Government that there is a necessity for the reconsideration of the constitution of this body. I lay before the Government two points. First of all, you should have on such a body as this an archivist, someone corresponding to the Clerk of the Privy Council who keeps the book of the Council; and secondly, it is absolutely essential that you should have as a member of this body a man cognisant with international law, especially in sea matters. My suggestion has been that the archivist, clerk of council, or chancellor should be an international lawyer. My own belief is that no body to consider and co-ordinate our strategic and political problems can be satisfactory unless it be in the nature of a permanent Royal Commission, with a permanent clerk or archivist whose salaries should be charged on the Consolidated Fund in order to prevent their acts being discussed in this House, for that I would prevent.
The references to finance in the King's Speech are certainly not encouraging; to many they will be discouraging. The House will remember that when the late Chancellor of the Exchequer introduced his Budget last year I most earnestly warned him that his estimates were exaggerated, and I affirmed to him more than once my confidence that his estimates of revenue would not be reached. As we now know, they will not be reached. It seems to me quite certain, however, that the Government were under the belief that 175 these estimates would not only be reached, but would be surpassed, for it is on that theory alone that I can understand their buying the two Chilian warships for £1,800,000. The House will recollect that I suggested in Blarch last to the Government to buy these warships, but the First Lord of the Treasury then said that they would not buy them because the vessels were not Suited to our requirements. I cannot reconcile their former statement and their present purchase. My own belief is that they are and were always better ships than we had ourselves, and that it was a very good step on the part of the Government to make the purchase. But they could not have done so unless they believed that they were going to have a surplus to enable them to accomplish it. The Government could not treat these £1,800,000 as a portion of the sum to be spent on their naval programme and spread over several years; the money being actually expended must, I conceive, be treated as a portion of the expenditure of the year. If that be so, and if my rough estimates of the probable financial results of the year ending 31st March next, are at all near the truth, I can only foresee a deficit of £4,000,000 or £5,000,000 which is rather an alarming outlook.
Then as to the £10,000,000 of the Transvaal loan guaranteed by the great mine-owners, we are now told that this is not an opportune time to issue the loan. But the loan is guaranteed; and it is the guarantors who have to see how and in what manner they will provide this money. They have guaranteed it to us, and we have a right to call upon them to fulfil their guarantee. I am the first to admit that the moment is not favourable for the issue of any loan—neither this loan, nor the Irish loan, nor anything else. Nobody who studies the finances of the country can be without great apprehension for the future, were it only for the fact that Consols during the reign of this Government have fallen 27 per cent. Our finances are in a very uncertain, dangerous, and unstable condition, and it is very uncertain to look forward to a time which will be opportune for the issue of this £10,000,000 loan, or any loan at all. I see no such 176 opportune moment in any prospect of the near future.
I wish to address a few remarks to the so-called fiscal question, which in reality is not a fiscal question at all, but a tariff question. Now I speak for nobody but myself, but I will say, and I think there are some who will agree with me, that if the road of taxing food is to be entered upon, I will not follow in that road whoever may lead. Thathow-ever is not the road the Government are taking; that is not the policy of the Government as explained by the only man competent to explain it, as the Chancellor of the Exchequer has too modestly said. As to retaliation, I think that the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition was a little unfair in his description of the retaliation policy of the First Lord of the Treasury, whose absence I deeply deplore, and the cause of it. The policy of the Government, and of the First Lord of the Treasury, as regards retaliation is the most strictly limited policy ever presented to the world as a policy. Its central point is the exclusion of the taxation of food or raw material. It excludes also the creation of a high and a low tariff, although that is the only means I can see by which tariff retaliation can be effectually carried out. It is, furthermore, not to include a general tariff war, nor is any retaliation to be carried out without the assent of Parliament. I had the honour of elucidating this point by a letter to the Prime Minister who said he did not contemplate any change in the law, which implies that no new tax would be imposed without Parliamentary consent. Retaliation is therefore limited in an extraordinary, and to me in a most satisfactory degree, and I, for my part, am prepared to give the fullest and most favourable consideration to any proposal of retaliation limited in that manner. But it is impossible to forget that since the declaration of the Prime Minister at Sheffield, which I, for one, fully and completely accept, there have been other voices besides his. The Lord Privy Seal, the Postmaster General, and the President of the Council are convinced Free Traders; they are more than free fooders, they are Free Traders; but 177 the Minister for Agriculture, the President of the Local Government Board, and what is more, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, are very different and have openly avowed their full sympathy with the food taxers. In fact the Government has been speaking with two voices—some members of it with one, some with another —and the Prime Minister occasionally with both. Therefore it is absolutely necessary, for those who, like myself, are convinced that it would be ruinous for this country to tax food, to have some clear and unambiguous enunciation of the policy of the Government. When we have the great advantage of the presence here of the First Lord of the Treasury, I trust that he will give us complete satisfaction on this point. We intend to support the Prime Minister as against the right hon. Member for West Birmingham, and we feel confident that he will stick to the guns that he trained upon the enemy in his great speech at Sheffield.
Now I have alluded to the Chancellor of the Exchequer. I feel great interest in the Chancellor of the Exchequer. I congratulate him on attaining so great a position as he now enjoys. The Chancellor of the Exchequer also feels a great interest in me. He has most kindly and thoughtfully written a letter to one of my constituents in which he stated that nobody who knew me would attach the slightest importance to anything I said. While the Chancellor of the Exchequer was making that magnificent oration which so stirred the House to-night, I wished and longed that I could have the same feeling towards him that he has towards me, and that I need not pay any attention to him. But that is impossible. For, after all, he is Chancellor the is Exchequer. There is no doubt about that; hard as it may be to believe, it is the fact, and doubtless, among all the young Catos that have ever sat on that Bench and risen to speak, he gives a greater promise of developing in later days the effect produced by his right hon. 178 friend, or relative, in his unparalleled efforts and stupendous successes at Newcastle, at Leeds, at Cardiff, and greatest of all in the Guildhall of London. There is, however, even in him, a certain want of definiteness as to the view of the Government on this question, and I may observe here that the First Lord of the Treasury has very largely added to the doubts some of us feel as to the attitude of the Government by what he said at Bristol so late as 14th November. He said there—A new charge is now brought against us namely, that the members- of the Government, who are agreed on the immediate practical issue are not agreed as to the desirability or practicability of further developments. This is no doubt a fact.Thus there are not only two voices, there is admitted undoubted disagreement in the Government itself; wherefore it is most desirable, and indeed absolutely necessary, that some plain, definite, unambiguous statement of the policy of the Government should be made. Having that in view, it is in my opinion scarcely decent to initiate a debate in the most regrettable absence of the First Lord of the Treasury, who, it is true, is the only man competent to give us authoritatively the last declaration of the policy of the Government. It seems to me that it is impossible that the debate could be conducted adequately in his absence; I go farther, I consider it is absolutely im-Droper that an Amendment to the Address should be moved from the Front Opposition Bench during his absence. Therefore I would appeal to right hon. Gentlemen opposite to curb their impatience, and to appeal to the Government to grant what I feel sure the Government would accord, a special day for the discussion of a special Resolution raising the whole tariff question. In my opinion, that is the proper course to be taken, and it would be calculated to draw forth from the Government the declaration which we all desire. That some such declaration is necessary I think must be apparent to the House and the whole country. I 179 myself follow and adhere to the declaration which the Prime Minister made at Sheffield, but we who have been somewhat disturbed by the various utterances that have since been made, including his own, feel that some further declaration is now necessary, and we hope and behave that, as at Sheffield so now, the Prime Minister will declare himself in accord with those of us who are determined to oppose to the last and to the very utmost any attempt to tax the food of the people.
§ LORD HUGH CECIL (Greenwich)
I wish to intervene for a very few minutes in the debate. I do not desire to talk lightly on what may be a very serious matter to a great many people inside and outside the House. I concur with my hon. friend in thinking that this matter would have been raised more conveniently by a special Resolution; but when the debate does come on I think the House is entitled, and especially the Members of the Ministerial Party, to have a declaration from the Government on their fiscal policy more definite than anything which has yet been given. It is no mere academic question, and should not be treated as such, either in this House or in the country. It is in fact being made, whether with the approval of the Prime Minister or not I do not know, a test of Party loyalty and membership of the Party. Months ago I was told, long before the Duke of Devonshire's letter in connection with the Lewisham election, that a tariff reform candidate would be run against me at Greenwich. Many other Members had a similar experience. A more striking, a more surprising, a more scandalous thing has recently taken place, a member of the Government, the President of the Local Government Board, who Bits on the Government Front Bench in virtue of Free Trade votes, using, or, as I should say, abusing his position, went down and supported the candidature of a gentleman who was standing in opposition to a Conservative Member of the House. The justification alleged for this is that there is a policy before the country which every loyal Conservative is bound to accept. Then we ought to know with the utmost precision what that policy is. There is a story of a 180 17th century persecution which is familiar to many Members, according to which King Charles I. propounded a certain oath requiring people to accept the government of the Church of England as laid down by Archbishops, Bishops, Archdeacons, et cetera, and those subjected to this oath very reasonably complained that they did not know what the phrase et cetera covered. But the lot of people in those days was easy compared with that of members of the Conservative Party now, because they had a great number of details of the ecclesiastical establishment whereas we have almost nothing except the et cetera. We are being told in great urgency that the policy of the Government is a policy of fiscal reform. What does "fiscal reform" cover? The Prime Minister directed us to ask ourselves whether we were in favour of fiscal reform. He might as well ask whether one is in favour of taking medicine. So much depends on what the medicine is. The Chancellor of the Exchequer seemed to indicate that all that was meant was an admission that the commercial and industrial position of this country was not in its essence unreformable. Of course anyone can point out defects. I admit to the full that high foreign tariffs are a great evil; but in admitting that one does not necessarily admit that anything which calls itself a remedy is to be adopted. It is not wicked to be a protectionist and not wicked to be a free-trader, but it seems to be wicked, because it is exceedingly cruel, to propound to the country and the members of a Party a policy the limits of which no one knows. If we are to have a standard of orthodoxy in the Conservative and Unionist Party, and if Members are to be driven out who cannot accept that standard, then that standard should be stated with the utmost clearness and precision. When I am asked whether I am in favour of the policy of retaliation, I am obliged to make a very long speech in reply, explaining in what points I agree, and in what points I differ. It is exceedingly cruel to propound to the country, and to members of the Party, a policy the limits of which no one knows.
181 There are two points which I wish to see cleared up. First of all whether, in the view of the Government, it is premature to propose the taxation of food. What is the meaning of the word "premature?" Does it mean that it would be mature in a year, or three years, or at any time to which politicians need have no regard —say ten years? Does the House understand that the Government are pledged not to put a tax on food any time in these ten years? One still more important element in the policy of the right hon. Member for West Birmingham is a duty averaging 10 per cent. on manufactured goods. Does the Government contemplate at any time supporting such a proposal as that? If I followed the Prime Minister's speech at Sheffield, I understand that my right hon. friend rejected that policy. But it is clearly a point that should be settled, for either the Government are in favour of it or they are against it. This particular policy involves the whole distinction between Protection and Free Trade. Surely when there is a violent feeling excited in the country, when Members are threatened with exclusion from Parliament, the House ought to be told whether this general duty of 10 per cent. is what they are required to assent to or not. The matter has got to a point at which dexterity becomes unfairness, and a clear and straightforward statement ought to be made, and I am quite certain, whatever may be the case with one or two Members, that a great many votes in the House will depend on the sort of declaration the Government will make.
§ Mr. JOHN REDMOND (Waterford)
I understand that the Government have 182 no objection to adjourning earlier to-night than usual. I beg, therefore, to move the adjournment of the debate.
§ Motion made, and Question, "That the debate be now adjourned."—(Mr. John Redmond)—put, and agreed to.
§ Debate to be resumed to-morrow.