HC Deb 27 May 1907 vol 174 cc1308-12
MR. WEDGWOOD () Newcastle-under-Lyme

I beg to ask the Secretary of State for War whether the cost of sending British troops from Pretoria to Johannesburg to keep down the British miners on strike and of maintaining these troops at Johannesburg will be borne by the Colonial or by the Imperial Exchequer.


If any extra expenditure is involved by the employment of the troops to aid the civil power in this Colony a claim for such extra cost will be made upon the Colonial Government.

MR. LEA (St. Pancras, E.)

Who made the application to the general officer commanding in Pretoria or Johannesburg for these troops, and what was the alleged reason for their being sent to the Rand?


That is a Question which should be addressed to the Undersecretary for the Colonies.

MR. MACKARNESS (Berkshire, Newbury)

Can the right hon. Gentleman state the number of troops sent to the Rand?


I think there is rather a misapprehension as to the position of a soldier in relation to an unlawful assembly. He is under no special military liability his liability arises out of the fact that as a civilian he is, like other civilians, liable to be called upon to assist the Crown in putting down riot. He exists upon a more handy footing, in a more handy position, than the ordinary civilian, and therefore he is more often called in.


Why were the Volunteers in the Transvaal not called out, or was it suspected that they would decline?


The responsible Minister of the Transvaal made an application to the High Commissioner for the assistance of the Imperial troops in maintaining order, and High Commissioner, acting upon his authority and responsibility, directed that such necessary assistance should be afforded by the Imperial troops. I believe that about 800 soldiers have been sent from Pretoria to Johannesburg.

MR. J. WARD (Stoke-on-Trent)

Has the right hon. Gentleman's attention been drawn to the fact that when the news was circulated on the Stock Exchange in London that Imperial troops had been employed to ride down Britishers working on the Rand, it was received with acclamation, and the price of shares went up?


The right hon. Member has no authority over the London Stock Exchange.

MR. CATHCART WASON (Orkney and Shetland)

Are we to take it that when civilians are called upon to assist the police they are entitled to use firearms?


I did not say that. The law is that anybody who calls for assistance in putting down, say, a riot or unlawful assembly does so at his peril. If he calls for more assistance than necessary he is guilty of man-slaughter, and it may be of murder. He calls for just so much force as is necessary to put down what he has to cope with. That may be, as in the case of Feather-stone, an extremely serious riot, or it may be something very slight.


asked whether the soldier who was called upon went as a soldier or as a civilian, and in what capacity he took his bayonet and rifle.


said that he went as a citizen and was personally amenable to the civil law. lie was liable as a citizen to be called on to give assistance to the Crown in redressing disorder, and if he took his bayonet, he only did so in view of the extreme seriousness of the situation. Anybody calling upon a soldier might find himself in trouble.


asked whether it was not a fact that the chief ground for sending the troops from Pretoria to Johannesburg was to overawe the Chinese rather than to guard against any dangers from the strike of the workmen.


said that this was a very complicated matter, indeed the most complicated that he had ever anything to do with. He did not feel it to be possible to discuss the question of the strike in Johannesburg by mere interpellations; but he did think that the presence of 50,000 Chinese on the Rand was an element which added to the general insecurity of the country and which justified the High Commissioner in affording additional assistance.


asked whether the soldier was not liable to be tried by court martial if he did not go to the aid of the civil power.


said that this subject was one of the most obscure questions that could be discussed in jurisprudence. Sir James Fitzjames Stephen took one view of it, and other eminent authorities took a different view; but if the hon. Member wished to find the fullest statement of the law he knew, it would be found in the Report of Lord Bowen's Committee on the Featherstone disturbances. It contained an exhaustive statement as far as the law was ascertained on the whole subject

MR. HAROLD COX (Preston)

asked whether the Government's intention was that troops should be permanently maintained in the Transvaal at the cost of this country.




asked whether the right hon. Gentleman had more recent information than was contained in the newspapers with regard to the proceedings connected with the dispute in Johannesburg. Was any effort being made by the Government to bring about a settlement?


said that at present he was not very fully informed as to the details of this dispute; but the policy the Government were at present pursuing was to give what aid was thought to be necessary to the new Government in dealing with this matter—a Government, it should be remembered, which had been largely supported by many of the men now on strike.

MR. BYLES (Salford, N.)

I beg to ask the Secretary of State for War whether the Transvaal Government have asked for the help of Imperial troops to suppress a labour strike; and whether he will withdraw at least a portion of the military forces of the Crown from South Africa, and in this way discourage the employment of the Regular Army on police duty.


The duty of the Regular troops, wherever stationed, is to assist in the maintenance of order whenever called upon by the civil authorities. The question of the garrison of South Africa does not arise.


Are we to understand that the Transvaal Government asked for 800 troops to be used solely against white miners?


said he would inquire as to that.


If the troops had been withdrawn from South Africa these "bayonetted civilians" would not have been so handy.


They happened to be there, and being there we used them.