HC Deb 01 August 1908 vol 193 cc2097-106

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this Bill be read a third time."

*MR. MACKARNESS (Berkshire, Newbury)

said that, in consequence of the unsatisfactory reply given by the Under-Secretary for the Colonies to his hon. friend the Member for Peterborough, in deference to the Natal Indemnity Act, he desired to say a few words of protest against the sanctioning by the Imperial Government of that Act. That Act was passed to cover in the widest terms all that had been done under martial law during the last seven months in Zululand, but it had never been pretended that there was any war or rebellion to justify the proclamation of martial law, or to care for its continuance. It had, in fact, been proclaimed and maintained directly in opposition to the views of the Imperial Government. The condition of things, therefore, under which that Government was asked to sanction the Act was quite unprecedented. But further than that, martial law had been used against a single individual, and for the purpose of prejudicing his defence against charges of the gravest kind never definitely sormulated. Everyone knew the circumstances attending the arrest, imprisonment, and long secret examination of Dinizulu. He had at length, after seven months, been committed for trial, and upon being committed he was reported to have made a striking statement to the Court, a few sentences of which he (Mr. Mackarness) desired to call to the attention of the Prime Minister. Dinizulu said— I emphatically say that I am innocent of the charges laid upon me. If the law called martial law had not been brought into operation in Zululand, and my lawyers prevented by it from going into Zululand, I am sure I should have proved and confirmed my innocence. The result of all this treatment of myself is that I have been shut up in gaol all these months without the opportunity given by the law of this land co all charged with crime like me of preparing their defence. At present I am ignorant of the names of those whom it is said I murdered, and also of the names of those whom in is said I incited others to murder. I now stand here about to be committed for trial on such charges. He (Mr. Mackarness) appealed to the Prime Minister to consider what an evil precedent would be established if the Imperial Government lent its sanction to an Indemnity Act to cover martial law put to such purposes as those described in Dinizulu's statement. He was quite aware of the difficulties by which the Imperial Government were confronted, and their natural desire to avoid a state of friction with the Natal Government which all would deplore. But in that matter far-reaching issues were at stake, and, inasmuch as the Natal Legislation was still sitting, it was not too late to obtain some such modification of the Act as would bring it somewhat nearer, at least to the practice and rules which had been held in modern days to govern martial law.

MR. G. GREENWOOD (Peterborough)

joined in the protest against the terms in which the Bill of Indemnity was drawn. In the Question he had put to the Undersecretary, he had referred to the New Zealand Bill of 1867. In New Zealand before 1867 there had been a serious war; but in Natal there had been no war at all and no rebellion to suppress, and, in fact, the Bill left out any reference to a rebellion, or it did not pretend there had been any rising; indeed there had been nothing of paramount necessity to justify martial law. In New Zealand martial law was naturally and rightly proclaimed, and in 1867 the New Zealand Government came with a Bill of Indemnity. The Bill was reserved for the signification of Her Majesty's pleasure, and the then Secretary of State, the Duke of Buckingham, refused to advise the Royal Assent on grounds set forth in a despatch of May 15, 1867. The despatch had not been published, but it could easily be unearthed at the Colonial Office. What were the grounds stated? In the first place, That it is so worded as to indemnify, not only civil and military authorities and persons acting under them or under the authority of the Government, but to indemnify 'all and every other person whosoever' who shall have done or ordered, or directed any act, matter, or thing to be done, etc. Secondly, that, owing to the disjunctive form in which the second and third sections are drawn, the destruction of the property of a person suspected to be concerned in the insurrection would be covered by the indemnity given by the Act, even though such destruction may have been wanton and reckless and not inflicted or ordered in or about the suppressing or quelling of the insurrection. Thus, if a private individual acting under no authority has wantonly or recklessly destroyed or ordered the destruction of the property of a person whom he may have chosen to suspect to be concerned in the insurrection, he would be protected under the terms of this Act, though such destruction in no way directly or indirectly tended to quell the insurrection, and though the person whose property was destroyed should have proved that he was in no way directly or indirectly concerned in it. The Duke of Buckingham concluded by expressing his opinion that— The Act should be limited in its phraseology to an indemnity for acts ordered or approved by some responsible military or civil authority. The objections in the despatch applied with force to the Natal Indemnity Bill. In its present form it would, if passed, set an evil precedent, and it was right that a protest should be raised having in view the extraordinary circumstances in which martial law had been maintained in Natal and Zululand with the one object of preventing Dinuzulu's solicitor from going into Zululand to collect evidence.

MR. BYLES (Salford, N.)

asked if the Royal Assent had actually been given to the Indemnity Bill; would it be given automatically; did the Government really believe that the Bill would, if discussed, receive the approval of the House of Commons; and was it impossible to defer assent until Parliament had had an opportunity of discussing it.


said that, with regard to Parliamentary discussion, he thought the House had had exceptional opportunities for discussion. The Vote for the salary of the Colonial Secretary had been postponed until after the Bill was received and was in the hands of Members, who, he thought, had had the fullest opportunity for understanding, so far as it was possible to understand, the complicated circumstances before a decision was arrived at. He had told the House that the Government had decided to advise assent, and assent would be given, but he could assure his hon. friend they had been guided in this matter not only by the consideration that they wished to do that which the Government of a self-governing colony thought it would be wise to do, but also by the consideration whether sanction would make for justice or injustice. He had no hesitation in saying it would make for justice, and for this reason: any postponement would aggravate those difficulties to which allusion had been made in the way of the advisers of Dinizulu obtaining evidence in Zululand. If in any way the Act were delayed martial law would continue, and so long as it continued Dinizulu's agents could not obtain that evidence, or certainly not with that freedom they desired.


asked was it not within the power of the governor to issue a proclamation annulling the previous one.


said they were advised that, that would not be in accordance with constitutional procedure. It would, in fact, be an unconstitutional proceeding, and it certainly was not proposed to take that step. In conclusion, he had to say that the Government deprecated at this moment the use of any words which might tend to exacerbate feeling, and were most anxious not to disturb a situation which during the last twenty-four hours had become so much more favourable, and tended to show that the Natal Government were as anxious as were His Majesty's Government to do justice to the native races in South Africa and to secure for them complete fair play.

MR. CROOKS (Woolwich)

said he did not want to strike a note of discord on what ought to be the happiest day of the year, but there hung over them a kind of shadow of trouble to come. He did not want the Local Government Board to be sitting down complacently waiting for something to turn up. He had asked the House for four or five years that in time of peace and comparative prosperity they should be looking ahead for possible danger. There hung the shadow of the unemployed over them. All he asked at the moment was that the Department should not use only the critical part of its organisation, which was excellent in its way. He knew no Department of the State which had such excellent critics as the Local Government Board. They were like dramatic or musical critics. They were equal to anything. They could condemn and find fault with everything, but they were under no obligation to suggest an improvement. That was a great advantage for a critic to hold, but when Ministers were at the service of the State, one had to look to them for help. He had often made the statement which might be a very foolish one, that Cabinet Ministers might make mistakes in various directions. Treaties might go wrong, and all sorts of things, but where human life was not concerned it did not matter very much, and it could be got over. But where this great Department had to deal with human life it was an entirely different thing. They wanted to save the homes of the people. They were not at that moment concerned with new homes but with the preservation of existing homes, and it was a nightmare that men should be willing to work and unable to find it. There was a latent organising capacity in the Department which had never yet been put into operation. Foolish and unthought-out schemes he admitted had been sent, but that did not relieve the Department of the responsibility of suggesting better plans They had all the information. He would not say they had all the knowledge—he did not suppose anyone would admit that anyone else had all knowledge—but they had opportunities to acquire knowledge. What he and his colleagues had pleaded for was that they might be able to find out trend of trade and the possibility of employment, and to have a schedule of possible work. Had every local authority been asked in time of peace what work it could do in time of depression without injury to ordinary industry, so as to help men to tide over the difficult time? They could not expect a shipwright or a boilermaker to get back to the land. The question was what work they could offer to tide him over the difficulty, but they were only told "suggest a plan and we will look at it." They could not go on suggesting plans. This great Department ought to suggest means to prevent men becoming degraded. The longer they left a man the less chance there was of lifting him up. The man could not help it. He got so low that he could not even stand up to a square meal at last—it would he too much for him—much less could they expect him to stand up to work. He did not want to send Ministers away on their holidays with the impression that things were awfully had. That of course they who lived near slums had to put up with. They could not escape. They had no golf links or shooting. They had on their minds all the time the everlasting shadow of want and misery. He knew the House would forgive them if this was the last word to be spoken, when they implored the Department, with all its capacity for doing good, to put into operation some of its organising capacity to deal with the unemployed.

MR. PICKERSGILL (Bethnal Green, S.W.)

said he desired to support the appeal of his hon. friend. The President of the Local Government Board had spoken in a spirit of strong optimism of the prospect of the coming winter. Unfortunately, these views wore not shared by Prebendary Wakefield, the chairman of the Central Unemployed Body of London, who had recently said— I view with very great apprehension the next winter. I think we shall find a state of things of a very serious nature. In these circumstances, he desired to make a very strong appeal to the President of the Local Government Board, that steps might be taken in good time.


said his hon. friends the Members for Woolwich and Bethnal Green bad addressed to him words of sympathetic appeal not to under-estimate the responsibilities of his office towards the subject which they had at heart, and which was shared in its proper proportion by every Member of the House. The hon. Member for Woolwich had suggested that his Department was capable of strong powers of criticism, and be believed was capable of powers of organisation. On this subject he must not forget that their hands had been tied considerably in the last two and a half years in dealing with this problem, by the fact that the Royal Commission specially constituted to consider this subject were traversing every one of the points and suggestions which the hon. Member thought he ought to snatch out of their purview. He did not intend to anticipate, probably in a wrong direction, some permanent remedy that it was their special function to provide. The Government had already been freely criticised because they bad ventured to deal with one aspect of the poor law and poverty problem in a bold and generous and practical way, by granting old-age pensions, and they had no right, on the question of the treatment of the able-bodied poor, and the many phases of the Poor Law problem to which the hon. Member had referred, to anticipate the suggestions and remedies that might be proposed by the Commission that would report, he trusted, in October or November. But, in the meantime, the hon. Member had not done his Department justice, because concurrently with the consideration by the Royal Commission of this vast problem, which no single Act of Parliament could settle, the Department had met local authorities in many cases by anticipation in the handling of the problem. Every scheme of work had been generously interpreted, every claim for money had been promptly met, and he was surprised that a man who shared with him the buoyant optimism of the cream of the working classes should be to-day in the position of a doleful Jeremiah, and he regretted that the hon. Member for Bethnal Green should so readily fall into the elusive trap that was being set in advance of the winter by tariff reformers, who were purposely and deliberately exaggerating the difficulties of the unemployed problem by giving figures and statistics, and creating alarm and panic which was political and not economic or social in its object or intention. He could assure the hon. Members that they could rely on the Department doing its best to grapple with this particular problem during the winter. When they met again next February, after the autumn session, the preparations they had made for the winter would be more than approved when the results of their activities were reviewed by Parliament. They would do their duty promptly and sympathetically.


May I ask if Prebendary Wakefield is a tariff reformer?


said he did not give that interpretation to the Rev. Russell Wakefield's speech which the hon. Member did.

*MR. MORTON (Sutherland)

said he desired to complain once more of the treatment of Scotland in the matter of the unemployed grant. Probably the Government were not bound legally to give an equivalent grant, but they were morally bound to do so, and Scotland had never had her equivalent grant share of that £200,000 yet. There were not many places in Scotland, but there were some, especially in Glasgow, that wanted it. He would like to appeal to the Prime Minister whether he would not see that Scotland was treated fairly in regard to the distribution of public money. He did not want to stop hon. Members from going away—they might do less mischief at home than here—but they ought to put public duty before holidays. He wanted to complain strongly of the want of opportunity that was given them to discuss the Estimates. It had always been understood by what they called the constitution that it was the first duty of the House of Commons to criticise the expenditure of public money, but under the present procedure, and especially under the present Government, they had had no opportunity of considering a large number of the Votes at all. For instance, there were a number of Scottish Totes, on which they did not want so much to consider party political matters as the social affairs of the country, but which had not been considered during the last three sessions. He did not say the Government was responsible for the guillotine, but he expected from a Liberal Government that independent Members should have an opportunity of considering these matters so as to let the Departments know what their constituents wanted. It was almost a farce to say that this House had any control over the national finance at all. The Government ought to give them more opportunities of discussing the Estimates. He knew they were not going to get any such opportunities in the Autumn Session, but he hoped next session more facilities would be given them for discussing these matters. He would like the Government to drop a very unfortunate practice. They knew that they could get all their Votes after the allotted days under the guillotine, and consequently any Votes they did not desire to be criticised could be carefully kept from the purview of the House, and that was the practice he desired the Government to drop. There were many Votes which they ought to have the opportunity of considering which never came before the House at all. On the face of it it looked as though the Government kept back some of those Votes, such as Army Vote 12, because they were afraid of discussion, and that was doing a great wrong to the country and to the House. In future, more especially as the Prime Minister represented a Scottish constituency, he trusted that the Government would give them some further opportunities of con- sidering the local affairs of what was the most important part of the United Kingdom. There were a number of matters upon which it would have been much more convenient if he had the Prime Minister's opinion before he visited his constituency, for then he would be able to tell them the Government view, but if the Prime Minister did not give them his views till early in October, it would be too late for him (Mr. Morton) to discuss the matter with his constituents this year. In regard to the land question in Scotland the Lord Chancellor had made a speech in another place in which he declared the Small Landholders' Bill (Scotland) to be defunct, and promised to consider whether the English Act of last year could be applied to Scotland. That speech, if made at all, should have been made by the Prime Minister, who was their leader. He (Mr. Morton) was anxious to assist the Prime Minister as far as possible, but if the right hon. Gentleman would not give him his advice in time to make any use of it what was the good of having a Prime Minister? The Government had given too much attention to the consideration of rich trusts and companies, and if the same consideration had been given to Scottish affairs it would have been all the better for the people of Scotland. Ho hoped the Prime Minister would give him some assurance that they would have more opportunities for the discussion of Scottish Estimates next session. He would also like some information in regard to the Land Bill. He trusted the Government would give the points he had raised their best consideration.

Question put, and agreed to.

Bill read the third tune, and passed.