§ Order read, for resuming adjourned debate on Question [28th March], "That the Bill be now read the third time."
§ Question again proposed.
§ MR.CHARLES HOBHOUSE,
continuing his speech, said that in years past the English Government had had a good deal of difficulty in persuading the responsible Ministry of Newfoundland, to pass from year to year the modus vivendi which was necessary to continue the agreement between this country and France. The sooner the necessity for that persuasion ceased the better it would be for all parties. There were other countries to be considered in reference to the negotiations with France. The first was Morocco. In that case it was impossible for His Majesty's Government 920 to make any territorial sacrifices as we had no territory to give up, but we had a distinguished position with regard to Morocco which might be sacrificed if the matter we e not very carefully considered. He understood the view of the French Government was that their interests along the borderland of Morocco, which touched Algiers, were so important as to give them the right to morally dominate the Sultan and the empire of Morocco. Such a domination would inevitably lead to a political occupation of that country. Morocco was a relic of barbarism in the midst of civilised empires, and what the French aimed at was first, commercial supremacy, and finally political occupation. But we had very great commercial interests in that country. Our trade with Morocco amounted to £1,500,000 a year, and that could not be lightly endangered. We had even more serious political and military interests at stake; and before any settlement was arrived at he would like to know whether the Defence Committee would be consulted with reference to any possible danger that might threaten Gibraltar, and thus endanger the greatest fortress we had on the Mediterranean, if the coast-line of Morocco were in the occupation of another Power. Events might arise if the coast-line of Morocco was in the hands of France, which might compel that country to disregard any obligations; she had entered into with us and thus practically close up the mouth of the Mediterranean to our fleets. Questions affecting Egypt and Siam were also involved in the proposed treaty; and what he was anxious to press on the Under-Secretary for Foreign Affairs was that the negotiations, or, at all events, the facts of the negotiations, between this country and France should be presented to the House of Commons before any definite understanding was come to.
§ MR. CHARLES ALLEN (Gloucestershire, Stroud),
referring to Macedonian affairs, said he had no desire to criticise the Government in any way, first of all because he knew how difficult and dangerous the problem was, and, secondly, because, under the circumstances, any criticism must be largely uninstructed. But he did wish to lay emphasis on the 921 fact that time was pressing. Already they had renewed stories of the activity of Bulgarian bands, and soon all the mountain paths of Macedonia would be open. He would, therefore, press the noble Lord to use his influence with the Government to accelerate, as far as possible, the organisation of the gendarmerie of that country. Organisation in Turkey was always difficult, and the organisation of this gendarmerie was especially difficult, and would become impossible if the rebellion broke out again. War would probably follow another outbreak of the disturbances, for the ground had been preparing for it for years, and Bulgaria was probably more prepared and more willing to make war than she was a year ago. Every spring the Macedonians in hundreds crossed the frontier to find employment; and the stories they carried of misrule, murder, and outrage in their own land and the accounts they carried back of constitutional Government and personal freedom in Bulgaria amounted to the preparation of a mine that might at any time explode. He did not wish to criticise His Majesty's Government, but he earnestly pressed them to do their utmost to effect a beginning in the work of organisation to the extent of getting European officers into the Macedonian villages. This would be evidence to the people, who were ignorant of what was going on in Europe, that something was really being done on their behalf.
§ MR. WEIR (Ross and Cromarty)
wished to know what progress, if any, had been made in the attempt to come to a satisfactory settlement with the signatories to the North Sea Fisheries Convention in reference to fishing in the Moray Firth and trawling there by foreign vessels. He also desired to know why the Inland Revenue had not refunded the excess of 4d. in the pound for income tax which the Board had deducted from dividends paid in April last to holders of Cape 4 per cent, stock. He was a small stockholder himself, and had had his claim satisfied through the London and Westminster Bank, but the amount of the overcharge amounted in all to £166,000, and this in honesty should be returned. Any honest commercial firm when they found they had been overpaid would at once refund the 922 money, and he wished to know what the Government was going to do for the thousands and tens of thousands of widows and orphans whose money was invested in these securities, and who by the action of the Government in this matter were out of pocket to the extent of £166,000. How much of that £166,000 had been repaid and how much had been retained by the Inland Revenue? The Chancellor of the Exchequer had stated in reply to a Question that the matter was very complicated and that it would take trouble and time to ascertain how much was still in hand. That system of book-keeping was not creditable, and he was ashamed that the British Government should conduct its business in such a manner. He hoped that the Inland Revenue would take steps to have this matter looked to. He complained that the arrangements in Scotland for the supply of lymph for vaccination purposes was of a very unsatisfactory character, and stated that the present system of allowing an official of the Local Government Board, who was receiving a handsome salary, to carry on a trade in lymph was not a creditable state of affairs. Vaccination was compulsory in Scotland, there being no "conscience clause" as in England. It was, therefore, all the more necessary that proper arrangements should be made for the supply of a genuine standard of calf lymph. If that were done he doubted very much whether there would be so many objectors. He asked the Under-Secretary for Foreign Affairs whether steps were being taken to induce the Chinese Government to have the obstruction on the Canton River removed. The Chinese Government two years ago entered into an engagement to remove the obstructions, but were very shifty indeed, and it was necessary to be very persistent in our efforts.
§ THE UNDER-SECRETARY OF STATE FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS (Earl PERCY,) Kensington, S.
said with regard to the latter point raised by the hon. Member, they had a treaty right to demand the removal of the obstructions, and the Chinese Government had already taken preliminary steps to secure their removal. The hon. Member for East Bristol dealt 923 with the question of negotiations at present proceeding between our Government and the French Government. He understood that the hon. Member thought that, as certain discussions had taken place in the French Press, therefore the French public were placed in a better position than people in this country. He did not think that that was so. The conjectures in the French Press had been repeated in the English Press and, therefore, they were at the disposal of everyone. It would be quite contrary to precedent to enter into any discussion of questions of that character which were under negotiation and with regard to which, he was perfectly certain, there was an earnest desire in that House that they should reach a satisfactory conclusion.
He passed from this subject to what had been said by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Aberdeen, and several other speakers, with regard to Macedonia. They had discussed this question only six weeks ago, and he did not think the House would expect him to say that there had been any change in the general policy adopted by the Government. He did not understand that the right hon. Gentleman attacked that general policy, but he did say that it was a pity that the Government had delegated the initiative in regard to the reforms to what the Member for St. Pancras had spoken of as a sub-committee of the Powers, and thought we should have made greater-progress if we had adopted the initiative ourselves. He hoped that everyone looked upon the action of this country with regard to Macedonia as entirely disinterested; but if we had thrust ourselves to the front, that very fact might have suggested that we had an ulterior motive. The right hon. Gentleman suggested that we might have co-operated in the front line with Italy and France; but he would admit that, if we had taken that course, we should have been acting as a sub-committee of the Powers in precisely the same way as Austria and Russia. We deliberately adopted a back seat, if he might use the expression, in regard to these reforms, and encouraged Austria and Russia to take the initiative, for reasons which had been often explained. They were closer to the seat of 924 action, they had most to fear from a violent disturbance of the status quo, and there had been a general agreement between them in regard to the Balkans for some years past. But he did not admit that, because we had not ostentatiously taken the initiative, therefore we had not occupied a prominent position. As a matter of fact, Lord Lansdowne himself suggested the appointment of the two civil assessors, and put forward the appointment of a Christian Governor as an alternative. The appointment of two civil assessors was accepted by the two Powers, and in that respect, at all events, this scheme represented the policy of Lord Lansdowrne.
The general policy of His Majesty's Government was, and always had been, to support the scheme of the two Powers, with the reservation that it was the irreducible minimum of reform which we could accept, and, if that scheme should unfortunately prove to be a failure, we reserved to ourselves full liberty to put forward alternative proposals of our own. He deplored the delay which had taken place in putting this scheme into effective operation, and he quite agreed that every day the delay continued the less chance of ultimate success there would be. But he thought it was somewhat premature to describe as a failure a scheme which had not yet been applied, and that it would be time enough to so describe it if the two Powers introduced into the scheme limitations and modifications which were inconsistent with its fundamental principles, or if the demands which the two Powers put forward were refused by the Porte. He was happy to say that at present we were not confronted with either of these contingencies. The Powers had been careful to insist that their agents, both civil and military, should have all the power and authority which would be necessary for the adequate discharge of their duties, and the Turkish Government, although they had not yet signified their assent to these demands, had certainly not met them with a categorical refusal. In point of fact, His Majesty's Government had been informed by our Ambassador that the reply of the Porte might be considered as, on the whole, satisfactory. No one regretted more 925 than he did that any part of the responsibility for the delay which had occurred should be attributable to the Turkish Government. He regretted it not so much in the interests of the subject population of these provinces, because he thought the Powers were deeply pledged that their interests should not suffer whatever became of this or any other reform—he regretted it far more in the interests of the Turkish Government itself. He was one of those who thought that the Turks did not always receive strict justice at the hands of hon. Members in this House; that sufficient allowance was not always made for the very real difficulties with which the Turkish Government was confronted, or for the susceptibilities of their Mussulman subjects; and that hon. Members were too apt to attribute any delay for which the Turkish Government were responsible to the very worst motives, while saying very little of the delay, not less mischievous, however inevitable, which was attributable to the action of the Chancelleries of Europe. He regretted that attitude on the part of s me Members of this House, because it tended to deprive their opinions and their warnings of that weight and authority at Constantinople which their position in English politics might other wise enable them to exert. But holding that view, he held all the more strongly that it was the duty of those who could take a more dispassionate view to lose no opportunity of impressing upon the Turkish Government that the only result of delaying or imperilling the success of the present reform scheme would be to force upon the consideration of the Powers alternative proposals, which, however effective for the object in view, would certainly be far more distasteful to Turkey. The reforms which they were now pressing upon the Turkish Government were eminently reasonable in character; they did not in the least degree derogate from the sovereign rights of the Sultan, they would confer nothing but benefit upon every class of his subjects, and they were reforms of a kind that had long been eagerly demanded and would certainly be welcomed by a large section of the Mussulman portion of the population.
926 They could not forget that Turkey had long ago pledged herself on paper to reforms vaguer perhaps but more drastic and far-reaching in their character than anything contained in the present scheme; and it was obvious that the European Powers might at any moment be driven, by delay that amounted to obstruction or by a refusal of their demands, to demand the execution of the pledges of the Berlin Treaty in their literal and original form. He did not wish in the slightest degree to excuse the Turkish Government for any delay for which hey were responsible, but it was only fair to say that the largest responsibility for the delay which had occurred was not attributable to them. General did Giorgis did not arrive in Constantinople until the beginning of February, and the reforms in their latest form were not presented to the Porte until the first week in March. The delay had been due to the extreme difficulty of settling a number of comparatively small technical points to the satisfaction of the various European Powers who had undertaken to play an active part in this work of reorganisation. The principal points which had been under discussion had been the question of ways and means, the manner in which the gendarmerie fore; was to be paid, the question of the position which was to be occupied by the European officers, and the question of the areas which were to be assigned as their respective spheres of activity. In regard to all these points he thought they might congratulate themselves that some progress had been made. The question of ways and means had been settled with commendable promptitude by the assignment of a large portion of the tithes and taxes of the three vilayets, amounting to £280,000, which were not already assigned for the service of the debt and the railways, and it was understood that those revenues would be paid direct to General di Giorgis by the Ottoman Bank without the intervention of the Turkish Minister of Finance. With regard to the powers and duties of the European officers, their position would not be more anomalous than the position of the two civil assessors. They would be in the service of the Turkish Government, but they would take their orders 927 from the Italian General, and, if they were guilty of any offence they would be tried by a Court of their own nationals. He entirely agreed with the view which the right hon. Gentleman expressed with regard to the character of the powers and duties which it would be necessary for these officers to exercise. It was intended that they should be the medium of communicating to the Turkish officers the orders which they received from the Italian general and the staff officers, and they were to report to headquarters any case of disobedience to those orders and any case in which a member of that force was incapacitated either physically or mentally for the proper discharge of the duties which he had to perform.
He could not make a definite statement just now with reference to the number of officers to be sent out. That point was still under discussion, but the Government lone ago warned the officers whom we should be ready to employ. But it was impossible to say, until they received the text of the demands presented, how many officers would be required in order to carry out the work of reorganisation. He believed that at the present moment the Turkish Government had assented to the employment of twenty-five of these foreign officers. He thought that our best course would be to send out at once the officers for whom sanction had already been obtained. Although the position of these officers might be anomalous their position would be a strong one, because their recommendations would have the united support of the Powers at Constantinople, and the officers themselves would be irremovable. The Powers would also make it clear that if the authority now claimed, or the number of officers now employed, were not adequate for the purpose, additional officers and further powers would be claimed.
It had been decided also that the forces of the different European Powers were not to be mixed in the same area. Each Power was to have a separate area to itself, and those areas would follow, roughly, the divisions of the civil administrative areas. There would be five of these areas, because Germany apparently did not intend to take any active part in the work of reorganisation. For the 928 present it had been decided that those western portions of the vilayets of Nossovo and Monastir should be excluded from the scheme which contained a preponderating element of Albanians. The areas to be assigned to the various Powers had not yet been determined. The Government were anxious that the scheme should be put into working order as soon as possible, and he did not think that they could have given a better proof of their disinterestedness in the matter than by saying that they were willing to waive their own personal convenience and to fall in with any arrangement which might commend itself to the other Powers, or, if that solution were preferred, to decide: the distribution of areas by the rough: and ready but practical expedient of I drawing lots. The Government intended to send the officers from this country to join the Italian general at Salonika as soon as he left Constantinople, and he had heard that day that the idea was that the general should leave Constantinople next week.
It was true that the appointment of the civil assessors had not, as far as he knew, been accompanied by any fundamental change in the internal administration of the country at present. They had I been engaged for some weeks past in elaborating the details of the scheme of administrative reforms, and the Government hoped that this task was nearing its completion and that the assessors would be in a position to undertake those tours of inquiry which would satisfy the local population of their desire not to rely merely upon hearsay, but to acquaint themselves by personal investigation with the; conditions of the problem which they were expected to solve. They would also be entrusted with the supervision of the distribution of relief, and he could not say that the information which he had received altogether bore out the statement of the right hon. Gentleman that the Turkish Government had been throwing great difficulties in the way of the distribution of relief and in the management of hospitals. He would be glad if the right hon. Gentleman would communicate any information of that kind he received. On one or two occasions the Government had brought complaints to the notice of the Ambassador for inquiry, but the conditions 929 of affairs in the area of relief distribution appeared to be much more satisfactory and the population not nearly so destitute as was at one time believed. It was probable that they would be able to tide over, without any serious risk of famine, the few months that intervened before, the reaping of the harvest, and there seemed to be a general inclination to rely upon the assurances and sincerity of the European Powers instead of exposing themselves once more needlessly to the perils and sufferings of a perfectly useless struggle. That fact threw additional responsibility on the European Powers to show that they were worthy of confidence. It was a responsibility of which His Majesty's Government were deeply sensible: and they would continue in the future, as in the past, relying on the support of all sections of the House and on the opinion of the country, to do their utmost to discharge.
§ MR. TREVELYAN (Yorkshire, W.R., Elland)
said there was another, subject which he wished to bring before the House. He meant the mission to Tibet. The expeditionary force into Tibet, or the Political mission as it was called, had been stationary for some months, but apparently it was about to move forward, and as far as could be seen there was likely to be opposition on the part of the Tibetans. Although there was not much danger of the expedition being in any way defeated, it became the duty of the House to consider the reason why we were moving forward in this quasi-military manner. They had never had any explicit statement of the reasons why the mission was going forward at all. He approached the matter to a certain extent in a spirit of inquiry. There had been a debate in another place, and, in answer to a series of Questions, a catalogue was given of small incidents and annoyances on the borders, and these were given as a reason for intervention. Lord Hard-wicke on that occasion said that the Tibetans were doing their best to thwart trade with us, and he gave somewhat humorous instances of that. One was, that they built a wall of protection round a town in order to prevent their own traders coming out and doing business with Britishitraders. He thought he 930 could convince the House that that reason was very slightly grounded. If they looked at the record of trade with Tibet it would be seen that that trade had steadily risen on both sides. The exports from Tibet rose from seven lakhs of rupees in 1890, to fourteen in 1894, and nineteen in 1902. The exports from British India to Tibet rose from four lakhs of rupees in 1890 to nine lakhs in 1897, and eleven lakhs in 1902. Therefore, although the trade was not increasing with great rapidity, they could put aside the idea that our trade was being ruined. Another reason given for the expedition was that the Tibetans were removing boundary pillars between Tibet and our territory. These pillars were in a country without a population, and at an altitude as high as Mont Blanc where, he should say, the competition for land was not of great importance. Another allegation was that two British subjects who had gone into Tibet had been arrested and not given up. These were the only specific cases ever submitted to Parliament or this country on which it was alleged the mission was necessary. There was, it was true, an objection to the Tibetan policy of isolation. It was true that there was a Government there who would not deal with the British Government; but, surely, that was hardly worth making an invasion for.
It seemed as if this enterprise was the result of a morbid curiosity on the part of Lord Curzon to get to Lhasa, in order to find out the inner working of the strange State religion of Tibet. He supposed, however, they were expected to believe that the real reason was the old bugbear of Russia. He would not argue the general question of Russia's intention towards India, but he would point out that, of all the causes of fear of Russia, this was the least that had ever occurred in the history of England. There was a report of Russian envoys going to Lhasa, and that this Government asked the Russian Government what it meant. All that Lord Lansdowne could say in regard to that in the House of Lords was that it was not what the Russians had done, but what the Tibetans imagined they would do, which had given rise to these reports; and that he gave no credence to the rumours. Lord Lansdowne 931 accepted the words of Count Benckendorff that there was no convention cither with Tibet or China, nor anyone else in regard to Tibet, nor had the Russian Government any agent in Tibet nor had they any intention of sending an agent there. Lhasa was 1,200 miles from Yar-kand, and 700 miles from the boundary of Eastern Turkestan. The intervening district was a high, wild, desert, unpopulated country, over which the Russians would have to march if they thought of approaching India in that way. It seemed a very strong measure, with this small evidence of Russia's intention, and this immense territory that the Russians would have to traverse, to send an armed force into this harmless country. And what effect would it have on Russia, if any? It was obviously, if anything, a challenge to her, an irritant, an attempt to steal a march upon her, just at the moment that she was engaged elsewhere. It would simply create hostility in Russia where none existed previously. If we were to interfere anywhere whilst Russia was occupied in the Far East, we might as well interfere in Macedonia. The speech they had just listened to from the Under-Secretary for Foreign Affairs was not particularly hopeful. The noble Lord talked of England taking a strong line in the future, but that they must have consideration for the susceptibilities of the Porte. He did not think that that indicated to the Porte, or anyone else, that there was much chance of England intervening. Besides, the Porte knew that, whatever the intentions of Russia might be, she was unable to intervene in Macedonia during the complications in the Far East. It was time for England, he insisted, to take the lead once more in the Near East. It would be much better to do that than embark in a new war in a country with which we had nothing to do and in order merely to satisfy a morbid curiosty.
§ MR. JOSEPH DEVLIN (Kilkenny, N.)
said that although neither the Chief Secretary nor the Attorney-General for Ireland were in their places, he wished to take the opportunity of raising the question of transit between the Castlecomer Collieries and Kilkenny. 932 They had heard a great deal from a member of the Government of the need of the Irish people doing something for their own industries instead of continually appealing to the Government for support. Now, in these Castlecomer Collieries there was a proof of the anxiety of the people of Ireland to do something for themselves; but the Government had neither directly nor indirectly used its influence with the large railway-companies in Ireland to facilitate the transit of the coal from these collieries to other parts of Ireland, although the development of these mines was of the greatest importance, not only to the people of the district, but to the was South of Ireland. No less than 80,000 tons of coal were raised from the mines every year—coal which had been found superior to Welsh coal—and at present there were 100 people employed. The cost of carriage for the eight miles to the nearest station was 6s. 8d. per ton, which, added to the cost of production, made it impossible to compete with the Welsh coal in the market. It was a perfect scandal that it should cost less to bring coal from Swansea in Wales to Cork, than from Castlecomer to Kilkenny, a distance of only eight miles. In 1801 a grant of £40,000 was made by the Board of Inland Navigation for the purpose of constructing a canal for the development of these mines; but not a single farthing of that money had ever been spent. He was entitled to ask the Government what had been done with that £40,000. The population of the district of Castlecomer had been going down considerably for thirty years, and he thought that the Government should take some steps to encourage this great industry and restore the population to the district. They had recently had a discussion on the expedition to Somali land which cost £400,000, and could not the Chief Secretary offer some encouragement to the people to maintain an industry in a land where industries had practically disappeared. The right hon. Gentleman might say that he could not compel the Treasury to listen to claims of that character, which he admitted were just, but he (Mr. Devlin) could not understand that plea because he knew perfectly well that the Chief Secretary was the most suave and eloquent rhetorician 933 in that House, and whether it was on questions of fiscal policy, Chinese labour, or the war in South Africa, the right hon. Gentleman was requisitioned to defend the Government. Surely some of that rhetoric and suavity might be exercised by the right hon. Gentleman in the Cabinet on behalf of Ireland and its resources. It was a perfect scandal that these industries should be left in their present condition for lack of the necessary facilities of transport, and he appealed to the Chief Secretary to use his influence with the Great Southern and Western Railway to facilitate the delivery of the consignments from the colleries of Castlecomer.
§ MR. AUSTIN TAYLOR (Liverpool, East Toxteth)
said he desired to call the attention of the Secretary to the Colonies to a matter not in connection with the much debated question of Chinese labour, but to the supply of stores and materials for the public departments of the Transvaal. That was a subject not unworthy of the attention of the House, because, if those colonies were to be a success, it was essential that the stores and materials supplied to their public departments should be bought in the cheapest market and of the best quality. In the time of the late Mr. Kruger—he meant in the time of the late President Kruger—these colonies were free to buy as they liked, and the House knew to its cost that their purchases were extremely efficient and as good as could be purchased by this country. Under the existing system the Transvaal was obliged to buy all its stores and materials for the public departments from the Crown Agents, and he thought it was not a waste of time to inquire whether through these Crown Agents they were obtaining stores and materials on the most economical terms. The Crown Agents were no doubt most estimable gentlemen. They had an office in Tokenhouse Yard for a staff that dealt with stores and materials for forty-four colonies and protectorates forming the whole of the British Empire outside India and the self-governing Colonies. Take the case of railways. In 1901 the railways in the Transvaal that a voice in the management of their own concerns, and 934 bought their own stores and materials, but now they were under strict regulations to buy their stores and materials through the Crown Agents, and were not allowed to purchase, even locally, anything that could be procured through the Agents in London. He wished to ask whether any complaint had been received respecting the stores and materials that had been furnished to the public departments, and more particularly to the railways of the Transvaal, through these Crown Agents. The Secretary to the Colonies had recently issued a Paper marked Cd. 1944 defining the duties and status of these Crown Agents. It might surprise the House to know that this was the first document for nearly a quarter of a century that had been issued from the Colonial Office defining the duties and position of Crown Agents. A great deal had happened during the last quarter of a century. In 1881 a Paper was issued dealing with the duties of Crown Agents and after the lapse of so long a time the curtain had been again lifted upon a system which controlled the whole commercial and financial business of the public departments of no less than forty-four colonies and protectorates of the British Empire, to which the Transvaal and the Orange River Colony had now been added.
The transactions carried through by these three gentlemen were understood to be very large indeed. He did not possess the exact figures, but he believed that in 1903 they handled a sum not very much inferior in magnitude to the sum handled by the Chancellor of the Exchequer for the United Kingdom. In fact, he understood that little short of £100,000,000 passed through the hands of these Agents over whose business and administration the House of Commons had no control whatever, and as to the commissions they received, the House had no exact knowledge. They had handled the Transvaal loan of £30,000,000 in 1903, which had already been discussed in the House. He understood that the Crown Agents wanted to have the floating of that loan, but that the late Chancellor of the Exchequer put down his foot and would not allow it; but all the same, in their accounts for 1903, they did operate this loan in some connection, and he 935 desired to ask whether they received any commission on that loan of £30,000,000, and more particularly whether they charged the scale of commission that they were entitled to charge upon all financial business. They were entitled to charge a commission of ½ per cent on the issue and repayment of a loan and¼ per cent, on the payment of interest. He would like to know whether that commission of½ per cent, was charged because it would represent £150,000, and he would further like to know whether they were entitled to charge the ¼ per cent, on the interest.
Then he wanted to ask a few questions about, West Africa. He understood that the price of coal charged for the Lagos Railway in 1902 was £2 10s. per ton. The best South Wales coal could be bought in this country for 15s. per ton. The freight to West Africa under ordinary circumstances would not exceed 15s, which would make £1 10s. per ton, and he was at a loss to account for the extra £1 which brought the price up to £2 10s. per ton—a price against which the railway lodged a complaint, with the result that in 1903, as he understood from the right hon. Gentleman, they were allowed to buy the coal direct. Yet it was laid down that nothing should be bought locally by a department or by any public works administration that could be bought in this country, and surely if there was one article more than another that could be bought cheaply in England it was coal, the price of which was cut finer than any article except, perhaps, cotton or coffee. Peculiar importance was attached at the present moment to transport in West Africa, because efforts were being made to stimulate the growing of cotton in the British Empire It was all very well for Man Chester and Liverpool to exert themselves over the question of the growing of cotton in the British Empire, but he was inclined to think that the true need of the moment was not so much the growing of cotton as its transport, from the interior to the coast of West Africa, and that could only brought about by the rapid construction of railways especially adapted to the country, which could be laid down economically, with a minimum of delay, and would carry at such rates of freights 936 as to encourage rather than discourage those who desired to supply this country with cotton. He trusted that this I question of transport between Nigeria I and the coast would be dealt with on the lines of modern enterprise, and not in an atmosphere of officialism and red tape, and if it were found that the system of the Crown Agents was expensive and dilatory, he hoped the Colonial Secretary would have the courage to set it aside.
The whole question was really one which could be called "Tied-house Imperialism." The Colonies were compelled to come to this country for the whole of their stores and materials for their public works, whether telegraphs, railways, bridges, iron, piping, or electrical appliances. The result of that system might be either good or bad, but he was inclined to think that as it was quite outside the purview of the House of Commons it was desirable that it should enlist a little more attention. What was the possible result of the prohibition to purchase stores locally? If British makers who were represented in British colonies were debarred from obtaining orders for Government work on the spot, they were at a disadvantage as compared with their foreign competitors. A pushing firm in England desiring to open a branch house at Colombo or Singapore would know that it stood no chance of getting a share of the Government work because it was part of the system that all orders must be given to the Crown Agents in England. The people in the Malay States requiring lubricating oil had made local contracts, although there was an English company ready to do business with them but was debarred from so doing.
§ MR. WILLIAM REDMOND
The American companies give better terms. I am sure the hon. Gentleman will be glad to hear the reason why these contracts are given to the American Standard Oil Company is because that company gives better terms. He will find that that company has many contracts in this country.
§ MR. AUSTIN TAYLOR
did not understand what the hon. Gentleman meant by better terms, seeing that all orders had to come through the Crown Agents and no opportunity was given to 937 place them elsewhere. He thought the right hon. Gentleman might in his reply deal with the question whether these colonies and protectorates were being supplied as efficiently and economically by the Crown Agents as they might be under a more elastic system of open competition. It was to him a matter of surprise that these gentlemen should be operating enormous sums year after year entirely outside the purview of the House of Commons, and without any means being afforded for having a discussion on their accounts year by year. Although their accounts were audited by the Accountant-General they were not laid on the Table of the House, and if in that House they were to think Imperially they might turn their attention to prosaic duties of the nature he now indicated.
§ MR. HARRIS (Tynemouth)
said the Crown Agents were engaged in transactions which involved the receipt and payment of stupendous sums of money; they enjoyed unlimited powers, and were quite beyond the control of the Colonial Secretary; they owned no responsibility either to the House of Commons or to the Legislative Assemblies of the colonies, who were forced to employ their services. He understood that the financial transactions of the Crown Agents for the Colonies in recent years amounted to no less than the combined Estimates for the Army and Navy, and yet in spite of that fact neither the salaries of the officials nor their transactions were submitted to Parliament for criticism and review. Those gentlemen had the exclusive privilege of purchasing s ores and materials for forty-four colonies and protectorates and for the construction of railways in Africa. The strangest part of the business was that hardly a transaction was carried through between this country and the Crown Colonies on which the Crown Agents did not in some way or other get a commission. When we lent £35,000,000 to the Transvaal they got a commission on both the loan and the interest, while in regard to railway construction in South Africa, the Crown Agents got a commission on all purchases of bridges and of stock. Further than that, they charged commission on all investments by the Colonies 938 of their surplus funds. The late Colonial Secretary stated, in answer to a Question by the hon. Member for Chesterfield, that in 1901 £80,000 was paid to them in I commission. This money, however, did not go into the pockets of the Crown Agents but was, he believed, invested to make up deficiencies on previous years and to allow of pensions being paid to those who had served in the office. He had therefore, no complaint to make against the gentlemen who now held these offices; their character was absolutely unimpeachable and beyond suspicion, but he would remind the House that complaints were constantly being made both by private firms in this country and by the Colonics that their interests were being treated in a way that they considered unfair. There was one complaint which was being constantly made. He found, on referring to the Report of the Special Commission which sat on Civil Establishments in 1888, it was laid down that no permanent officer on the establishment was to be permitted to take part in the management of any insurance company or any trading or financial company. This condition must either have been broken or rescinded, for one of these gentlemen was a director of the London Assurance Company, which enjoyed practically the whole of the insurance business passing through the hands of the Crown Agents. This business had represented many hundreds of thousands of pounds in recent years. It might, indeed, be useful that the Colonial Office should be represented on the board of that company, and he did not suggest that there was anything in this that was not bond fide, but it seemed to him unfortunate that a gentleman should occupy the dual position of Crown Agent, having the control of all this insurance business, and at the same time sit as director on the board of the Company which got the business, to led, at any rate, to a great deal of scandal and gossip, which in this case, no doubt, was absolutely unfounded, but which at the same time was natural and excusable. This was to his mind an opportune time for securing that the responsibilities of Parliament should be made less indirect and less vague in regard to the relations between the Crown Agents for the Colonies 939 and His Majesty's Government. He would urge the right hon. Gentleman to consider the advisability of the appointment of a Committee to consider the whole subject, or else that his right hon. friend the Colonial Secretary should look into the constitution and management of the office of the Crown Agents with the thoroughness which characterised all his actions. That would, he was sure, satisfy the House.
§ MR. SYDNEY BUXTON (Tower Hamlets, Poplar)
said he was well aware that the Crown Agents themselves had no direct pecuniary interest in these contracts, as they were paid fixed salaries, but he was bound to admit that too much mystery surrounded the Crown Agents' Office, which ought to be dissolved by some form of inquiry. Two complaints were advanced against the Crown Agents. One was that they were allowed to spend large sums of public money without any control, and the other was that they were dilatory, unbusiness like, and expensive in their operations. It was also urged that the system under which orders had necessarily to be placed in this country, did a great deal to discourage local enterprise. These two complaints entitled them to demand a Committee of Inquiry not into the probity or bond fides of the Crown Agents, but as to whether that office could not be placed on a more business-like footing. It seemed absolutely essential to have an immediate inquiry into the position of the Crown Agents. What had made the Civil Service such as it was? It was beyond fear and reproach because there was no suspicion that our public officials had any personal interest in the business which they transacted. Now the House were told that the chief Crown Agent, Sir Edward Blake, was a director of a public company doing business with the Crown Agents. Surely it was the duty of the Colonial Secretary to sever that connection at once, for obviously it was not a proper position for the head of a public department handling many millions of money during the year. The time had arrived when a Committee of this House should inquire into the functions of the Crown Agents and see whether they could not be put on a better basis, affording 940 greater publicity, and getting rid of scandal if it existed.
§ THE SECRETARY OF STATE FOR THE COLONIES (Mr. LYTTELTON,) Warwick and Leamington
said that the basis upon which the operations of the Crown Agents were conducted, and which hitherto had been supported by both Parties in the State, was that it was desirable that the Crown Colonies should have agents in this country, and that their interests were best served by having agents who would deal for all the Crown Colonies together. This system undoubtedly possessed great merits, although naturally it was open to some criticism. The Crown Agents had an immense area to operate upon and immense credit at their command. They had great experience, they conducted their operations for a very low commission indeed, and the result was that they were able to command a vast quantity of business and dealt with the very best possible manufacturers of this and other kingdoms. Any dereliction on the part of manufacturers could at once be visited severely by striking them off the Crown Agents' list, with the result that they got no further share in what was undoubtedly a very fine business. Moreover, very great disadvantages were obviated in the Crown Colonies themselves. A great many of the Crown Colonies were not producers of the articles which they found it necessary to obtain, and they sent the order to the Agents, who at once procured the required articles from the widest market at the lowest possible price, they having the command of the market. If a Crown Colony were left to itself to order its own commodities there was a very great temptation. Local manufacturers were not on the spot, but agents and travellers from all over the world went to the Colonies, and a very great temptation was offered in the form of commissions to those who were dealing with these matters in the Crown Colonies. He dared say they could resist that temptation, but it was temptation, and it was very desirable that it should not be offered. His hon. friend was incorrect in saying that the system was a discouragement to local production.
§ MR. AUSTIN TAYLOR
I did not say that; my point was that it was a discouragement to British firms to open agencies for the sale of their goods in these colonies.
§ MR. LYTTELTON
said these agencies needed to be remunerative and they could not, therefore, do the work for the 1 per cent, which the Crown Agents received. The general theory of the system was that in the Crown Agents they had a very large and experienced firm at home, not dependent on orders, but paid by a moderate and fixed salary. The salary of the senior Crown Agent was only £2,500 a year. This general system, which every Party in the State had approved for many years, was one in the interests, broadly speaking, of the Colonies. They obtained their goods more cheaply and of better quality; they, in fact, obtained the best treatment. The remuneration of the Agents was of a very moderate character. The scale of charges laid down was a uniform commission of 1 per cent, on all stores, and on loans,½ per cent, on the i sue and¼ per cent, on the repayment of interest. It was true that this amounted to a very large sum in the case of the Transvaal loan, but that was a very exceptional transaction, and he did not think I that the Crown Agents had ever before had to raise a loan exceeding £5,000.000. These charges were the only source of in-come received by the Crown Agents' Office. The office expenses were paid out of the commissions, and the balance was carried to a reserve fund, out of which losses, if they occurred, were made good. Admitting that there might be something in the point raised by the hon. Member for Poplar that there should be more control, if possible, he submitted that they got, in the present system, a very great service performed for the Crown Colonies at a very moderate charge indeed, more moderate than if private agents were employed, and they had also the benefit of immense experience placed at the service of the Crown Colonies. His right hon. friend the Member for West Birmingham had made an elaborate inquiry into this whole question, with the result that he found the complaints of the system were very few, and his general conclusion was 942 that it was a good system and not to be disturbed. Whatever the House might think of some opinions of his right hon. friend, all would probably agree that few men had more knowledge and more acute perception of business matters than he. Special reference had been made to the charge for coal for the Lagos Railway, but that, he believed, was bought locally, and the Crown Agents were not responsible for it. With regard to the necessity, in West Africa, of transport for the benefit of the cotton industry, he pointed out: that the moment was not very favourable for additional financial operations. Complaint had been made of the expensive character of the railways constructed in South Africa, but the choice had to be made between laying down lines which would require to be renewed in a few years or having them so constructed as to avoid the necessity for such renewal. He was not aware that any of the Crown Agents were directors of any company, and he did not know what the practice was. He was sorry that his hon. friend had brought this matter forward without acquainting him beforehand, but obviously it would not be right that, in a personal matter and without notice, he should say a word with reference to it without having seen the gentleman concerned.
§ MR. SWIFT MACNEILL (Donegal, S.)
called attention to the Provostship of Trinity College and felt obliged to say that the right hon. Gentleman had given improper advice to the King in regard to the appointment of Dr. Traill. He had given notice of this Question, and he trusted that the Minister concerned would be sent for, and that the right hon. Gentleman would do him the honour of coming into the House. They had no concern with the dispensation of patronage generally but the Provost of Trinity College was in a somewhat different position. He thought the Prime Minister, in regard to this question, had given improper advice to His Majesty the King by the appointment of Dr. Traill, having regard to the state of the Irish University question at the present time, and the great desire that it should be settled on the most amicable basis; and he thought that it was a mistake to appoint to one of the greatest academic prizes in Europe 943 a gentleman who was against the recognition of Roman Catholic rights, who was the champion on the landlord side in the land war, who was a politician first and a scholar afterwards. The salary was something like £4,500 a year and the house attached to the Provostship was one of the most beautiful palaces in Europe. This appointment was generally given as a reward of merit and not for political services. The gentleman who was placed at the head of Trinity College must necessarily have a very commanding and influential vote in every matter affecting Irish University education. It was therefore an imperative obligation upon the Prime Minister, who was a pretended advocate of the extension of University education to Catholics, that he should not put in that position a man who was a bitter antagonist of Catholic rights and privileges and of popular rights and privileges in Ireland. Dr. Traill was as much a Party politician as he was himself, and he was certainly the last person who should have been chosen for the head of a college devoted to learning and intellectual achievement. When by means of a Question he asked the Prime Minister upon whose advice this appointment had been made the right hon. Gentleman declared that it was on his own advice, but he did not think it proper at the time to give the reasons why he gave such advice. The appointment was calculated to exasperate religious difficulties in Ireland and to retard instead of settling on an amicable basis the important University question. Having regard to the deleterious results of the appointment, he declared it to be perhaps the most pernicious which had been made since the Union, and certainly since the appointment of Judge Keogh in 1857. In the past the Provostship of Trinity College had always been considered a reward of merit, and it was a very sad thing that the appointment should now have been given to a Party hack. The right hon. Gentleman had no doubt seen the statue to Edmund Burke at 944 Trinity College. The other day he came across a letter written by Burke to the Prime Minister at a time when there was a vacancy in the Provostship of Trinity College, Dublin, and he characterised the appointment of the Provost in a way in which he would not venture to characterise the appointment of Dr. Traill. Burke called it "a shameful job," and he said it ought not to be considered a thing of promiscuous patronage which might as well be given to one man as another.
He wished to say nothing in disparagement of Dr. Traill beyond saying that his qualifications were not such as fitted him for the post to which he had been appointed. He was not distinguished in the world of letters, he had taken a fellowship, but he had never occupied a professorial chair, and as The Times said of him: "He had not secured and did not claim eminence as a scholar." That was the gentleman who had been placed at the head of a great university with its great influence on the educational system of Ireland. The Prime Minister had said that he was responsible for the appointment, but apparently he was not very well versed in constitutional usage. This appointment was not actually in the right hon. Gentleman's gift, but it was the gift of the Lord-Lieutenant of Ireland, and therefore the person responsible was not the Prime Minister but the Chief Secretary for Ireland, who would not have appointed Dr. Traill. But Dr. Traill had taken a keen interest in land legislation, he had an estate in Ulster, he was a member of the Committee of the Landowners' Convention, and he was an Orangeman. The right lion. Gentleman said he wearied of details, but there was one detail which he would not weary of, and perhaps he would recollect the celebrated battering-ram which was given to the Irish police during the time he was Chief Secretary for Ireland, and which was designed by a Committee of which Dr. Traill was a member. Was that a qualification for a gentleman at the head of a great edu- 945 cational institution? Dr. Traill had met his hon. friend the Member for South Tyrone in the land war, and he had fought in the land Courts with great persistency. Such things were not qualifications for the headship of a great university, Dr. Traill sat on the Fry Land Commission, not in the interests of the tenants, but in the interests of the landlords, and therefore he was not the man for such a post, where he would have great influence over the educational system, and his appointment would retard the movement for extending university education among all classes in Ireland. Dr. Traill was not a great scholar, but he was a good Orangeman. Had this appointment been given as a sop to the Orange Members, to whom Dr. Traill and his friends wrote canvassing for the appointment? If the Prime Minister had taken the advice of the Chief Secretary another appointment would have been made. The right hon. Gentleman's correspondence was very extensive, and no doubt he had had some letters from very influential persons urging him to make this appointment. The Times had said that Dr. Traill was not a contributor to the world of letters. He pointed out a' a suggestive fact that the appointment of Dr. Traill was not announced until half an hour after the poll, in the recent election in Dublin, closed. The fear was that if announced before the poll closed the Government would lose many respectable voters. Outside persons who were engaged in active political life, Dr. Traill's name was utterly unknown, and by his appointment grave injustice had been done. There was a gentleman whose name the mere mention of Trinity College suggested. That gentleman was 946 a distinguished scholar, but he was disqualified because, although a strong Protestant, he wished to extend the rights and blessings of university education to Irish Catholics. For that reason he had been kept out of Trinity College. The First Lord of the Treasury was the last person who should have appointed Dr. Traill, and that appointment had not been received with favour in Trinity College.
§ THE PRIME MINISTER AND FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY (Mr. A. J. BALFOUR,) Manchester, E.
The hon. Gentleman appears to have supposed that, in objecting to his raising the question of the advice that I thought it was my duty to give in reference to the appointment to Trinity College, I objected to its being brought before Parliament. That is not the case.
§ MR. SWIFT MACNEILL
said what the right hon. Gentleman objected to was that he should be asked for his reasons; for that advice.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
When it comes S to personal claims, and rival personal I claims, it probably is not expedient that the House should devote much of its time to such a discussion. But as the hon. Gentleman has thought fit to raise the ' question, I will endeavour very briefly to deal with the speech which he has just delivered. I may say at once that there has happened to me upon this occasion what does not always happen to me when I listen to the hon. Gentleman — I have: learned a great deal from his speech which I did not know before. It never occurred to me until the hon. Gentleman; informed me that Dr. Traill's appointment 947 was due to his having been what the hon. Gentleman described as a Party hack, or that he merited the appointment by being a member of the Landlords' Convention and serving on the Fry Commission. In these various capacities —all useful in their way — Dr. Traill may have earned the gratitude of this or that section of the community, but not one of these considerations entered into my mind even for a moment when I was considering the propriety of recommending him for the appointment to Trinity College. And I may say, though the hon. Gentleman will hardly believe it—
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
Then I proceed with the greater confidence to Inform the hon. Gentleman that even the battering-ram which was designed, as I understand him, by the Landlords' Convention of which Dr. Traill was a member—even the invention of that interesting implement of agrarian warfare was not present to my mind when I was dealing with the large correspondence which this appointment entailed upon me, or when I was considering what decision it was my duty to come to upon this subject. It may be that Dr. Traill was the actual designer of the instrument in question, but until to-night I never heard a suggestion on that point And though he is a distinguished mathematician, and though I know as a fact that he has, by his personal exertions, established a great engineering school in Trinity College, Dublin, I am not aware that the efforts cither of that school, or of any of the pupils in it, were 948 devoted to designing the most efficient method of providing a battering-ram by which the operations of the law might be expedited.
The hon. Gentleman, having given this narrative of the qualifications, as he conceived them, of Dr. Traill, proceeded to give us an enumeration of the disqualifications which he thought Dr. Traill possessed. He said, in the first place, that Dr. Traill's appointment threw back the cause of general university education in Ireland, for which, he was good enough to observe, I was a pretended advocate. If I am only a pretended advocate of the extension of university education in Ireland) my fate is indeed a hard one; for I have certainly quarrelled with a great many of my English friends over the subject, and I do not appear to have made friends with the Gentlemen whose interests are primarily concerned. I am sorry that so unhappy a result should attend all my efforts, which, according to the hon. Gentleman, were only pretended at the best, and I suppose now vanished altogether. My desire to see university education extended to the great body of the Irish people has suffered no diminution either by the lapse of time or by personal defections; but I am utterly at a loss to understand how the appointment of Dr. Traill to the headship of what is at the present one of the places, no doubt by far the most distinguished, in which university education is given in Ireland, militates against the establishment of other institutions in which the same university education can be given. I do not know—I have not thought it my business to inquire— but it may be that Dr. Traill does not take the same view that I take of the 949 necessity for extending University education in Ireland. I have never asked whether he agreed with me in that or in any other opinion. But let us grant that he differs from mo. I wholly fail to see how it is in his power to retard for one instant any decision which this House or any other body competent to deal with the matter may arrive at in connection with that great question. Dr. Traill, no doubt, as Provost of Trinity College, Dublin, will have great influence over that college, which is now, and has for years been, open to students of all denominations. But unless the hon. Gentleman anticipates that the problem of university education in Ireland is to be solved by entirely changing the character of Trinity College, Dublin, and making that the actual organ of education, I fail to understand how the fact that a gentleman of Dr. Traill's opinions, whatever they may be—how his appointment to the headship of that college can affect either for good or evil the general course of the controversy which has so long raged on this question. The other disqualifications which the hon. Gentleman finds in Dr. Traill I do not think I need refer to. He read a long extract from a correspondence with a learned Judge, of the merits of which I know nothing. But I did not understand that it was on the merits of the controversy between Dr. Traill and the learned Judge that the hon. Member was exercised. It was that in the final sentence of Dr. Traill's letter he said "hung" when he should have said "hanged" I do not pronounce on the delicate question of English raised by the hon. Gentleman. But supposing that Dr. Traill did say "hung" when he should have said "hanged"—a fault to 950 which I am myself liable—I could point out in Dr. Traill's excuse that his academic distinction was mathematical and not linguistic, and, however inadmissible it may be to a great classical scholar to say "hung" when he should have said "hanged," a distinguished mathematician may be permitteda lapse of that character.
My only other observation is this. The hon. Gentleman has indicated that in his opinion the appointment of Dr. Traill belongs to the same class as those appointments which in the eighteenth century were the scandal of Irish government. It is perfectly notorious that all through that century, after Grattan's Parliament was established, as well as before it, political appointments were made which did very little credit, I will not say to the individuals, but to the system under which they were made.
§ MR. SWIFT MACNEILL
said that Dr. Traill was the thirty-sixth Provost of the college since its foundation, and, with one exception of a Provost who was appointed before 1782, every appointment had been desirable.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
I do not compete with the hon. Gentleman in knowledge of the long series of doubtless distinguished men who have filled the office of Provost of Trinity College. His opinion, so I gather from his speech, is that no man should be appointed to Trinity College unless he has written some work of European fame. I do not for a moment doubt that the works of European fame by the thirty-five predecessors of Dr. Traill exist, or that the hon. Gentleman is prepared to tell us, having studied those works, that they all deserved their appointments. My 951 knowledge is incomparably less than that of the hon. Gentleman, but I really am not sure that, except the works of the late Dr. Salmon, I remember having read the works of any of the previous Provosts, though doubtless they exist.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
I have not read his works, doubtless the hon. Gentleman has. But, at all events, however eminent that particular ecclesiastic may have been, I have not got to consider that point, but Dr. Traill's qualifications for the position which I have recommended. Dr. Traill has devoted long years of energetic labour to the interests of the college he represents, he has worked actively and strenuously in its interests; and, so far as I was able to discover during the not restricted correspondence which I had on the subject, his was the appointment which would give most satisfaction to the graduates of Trinity college, not including the hon Gentleman—I am not sure whether he is or is not a graduate.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
I admit that one year is not a long academic 952 career, though it may leave most pleasant recollections behind it. But after all, the duty of the adviser to the Crown must include the consideration of the feelings, opinions, and wishes of those over whom the Provost of the college is appointed to preside. I do not say or think that that should be the solitary consideration, I do not say or think that an unworthy candidate, however popular, ought to be appointed; but when I find, as I did find in this case, or believed myself to find, that there was a strong trend of Trinity College opinion in favour of Dr. Traill, I felt that that was a most weighty consideration, and one that it was impossible for me to neglect. I think it would be improper if I were to go further into this matter; nobody who knows Dr. Traill doubts, whether he may say "hung" or "hanged," that he is an extremely able administrator, nobody will deny that in dealing with the business of this great institution he possesses, and is likely to continue to possess, the confidence of those whoso interests he serves. Whether those be or be not adequate reasons for his appointment, I think the House at large, and even the hon. Gentleman himself, will admit that the reasons, adequate or inadequate, are at least not unworthy.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill read the third time, and passed.