HC Deb 26 July 1910 vol 19 cc2023-32

Message to attend the Lords Commissioners.

The House went, and having returned,

Mr. SPEAKER reported the Royal Assent to—

Appropriation Act, 1910.

Police Superannuation (Scotland) Act.

Census (Ireland) Act.

Supreme Court of Judicature Act [H.L.].

Police (Weekly Rest-Day) Act.

Norwich Charities (No. 2) Act.

Glasgow University (Chair of Clinical Medicine and Chair of Clinical Surgery) Order Confirmation Act [H.L.].

Muirhead Trust Order Confirmation Act [H.L.]

St. Mungo's College Order Confirmation Act [H.L.].

Land Drainage Provisional Order Act.

Dunfermline and District Tramways (Extensions) Order Confirmation Act.

Kirkcaldy Corporation Order Confirmation Act.

Wemyss Tramways (Extensions) Order Confirmation Act.

Caledonian Railway Order Confirmation Act [H.L.].

Electric Lighting Provisional Orders (No. 3) Act.

Local Government (Ireland) Provisional Orders (No. 3) Act.

Local Government (Ireland) Provisional Orders (No. 4) Act.

Local Government (Ireland) Provisional Orders (No. 5) Act.

Metropolitan Police Provisional Order Act.

Assam Railways and Trading Company Act [H.L.].

Gowerton Gas Act [H.L.].

Surbiton Urban District Council Act.

Bishop's Stortford, Harlow, and Epping Gas and Electricity Act [H.L.].

Saint Just-in-Roseland Docks Act.

Southend Water Act [H.L.].

Thorne and District Water Act [H.L.].

Yorkshire Electric Power Act [H.L.].

Great Western Railway (General Powers) Act.

Garnant Gas Act [H.L.].

Provident Association of London Act [H.L.].

Tynemouth Corporation Act [H.L.].

Matlock Bath and Scarthin Nick Urban District Council Act [H.L.].

Liverpool and London and Globe Insurance Company Act [H.L.].

Central Argentine Railway Act [H.L.].

Reading and District Electric Supply Act [H.L.].

City of London (Tithes and Rates) Act [H.L.].

Railway Passengers Assurance Company (Transfer) Act [H.L.].

London Electric Railway Amalgamation Act [H.L.].

Saint Mary, Stockport, Rectory Act [H.L.].

South Lincolnshire Water Act [H.L.].

Exmouth Gas Act.

Brighton and Hove Gas Act.

East Grinstead Gas and Water Act.

Egremont Urban District Council (Gas) Act.

Exmouth Urban District Water Act.

Worksop Urban District Council Act.

Mansfield Railway Act [H.L.].

Metropolitan Railway Act [H.L.].

Great Central Railway Act [H.L.].

Nottingham Corporation Act [H.L.].

Belfast Corporation Act.

Cardiff Railway Act.

Wimbledon and Sutton Railway Act [H. L.].

Blackpool Improvement Act [H.L.].

Great Grimsby Gas Act.

Baker Street and Waterloo Railway Act [H.L.].

Mallow Urban District Gas Act.

Midland Railway Act.

South Hants Water Act.

Warden's Divorce Act [H.L.].


Before the brief interval I was referring to the state of the frontier, and I was congratulating the Under-Secretary on the policy of Lord Kitchener, following on with the reforms made by Lord Curzon, which have resulted in a considerable period of peace. This brings me to the question of the arms traffic on the frontier. I think it is very remarkable and a subject very well worthy of criticism that the Under-Secretary made no allusion whatever to the most important question of the arms traffic in the Persian Gulf and on the Afghanistan frontier. Especially this year, when the traffic is very largely augmented, I think we have reason to hear something very definite on this point with regard to the policy of the Government. I do not know whether the House realises what a vitally important matter this is. It is very little use organising the internal defences of India, spending large sums of money on forts, guns, personnel, and equipment, if you are allowing some 200,000 men within your frontier or just over it to accumulate large masses of ammunition, guns of precision, and rifles. I said 200,000 men, but these are mostly on the British side of the frontier, whereas the numbers existing between the political and administrative frontier is probably nearer 1,000,000, or at any rate well in excess of 200,000. These men are not of the same character as those we find elsewhere in India. They are hardy fighters, trained to carry arms ever since they could walk. Whereas only a few years ago there was probably not more than 10,000 modern rifles within our frontier, to-day the last figure shows that probably some 200,000 rifles have been distributed among the tribes of which I am speaking. The question this House has to consider—and it is one of special gravity at the moment—is whether the Government is doing sufficient to put a stop to the traffic. I recognise the difficulty. I have seen this traffic carried on in the Persian Gulf, and I have been associated with the officers who control the shores in that part of the world. Whilst the Government of India are spending nearly £200,000—I think the actual sum is £178,000—in watching this traffic, they are doing absolutely nothing, so far as I know, to interrupt this traffic at headquarters, where some systematic system of super vision might do a great deal in this direction. I would remind the House that it is only within the last few years that this traffic has really reached such very serious dimensions. It has been growing, I know, for some ten years. The Australian disarmament and a change in rifles has probably led very largely to this increase in the arms traffic. When any nation discards one weapon in favour of a newer one we all know that is the moment that gun-runners, who buy up these guns in England or on the Continent, send them to Muscat. Whilst we spend enormous sums of money upon controlling the Gulf and pay a considerable toll in life, we do nothing to control this immense traffic in arms.

I will give a few figures, all of which I am prepared to vouch for. In the year 1908 no less than 23,000 rifles reached the tribes, and in 1909 this total was augmented to 50,000, a considerable increase on the top of a big increase. In 1908–9 there were no less than 85,870 rifles landed in Muscat, made up of 43,280 Martinis from Belgium and 25,000 from Great Britain. Here is a point of interest which denotes the importance of this traffic. The price of rifles fell from £13 to £8 per rifle. That is the clearest indication of why the supply of rifles has so immensely increased. With regard to ammunition, in 1908–9 Muscat received 12,500,000 cartridges and the price fell from 2d. per cartridge to less than a farthing. When you review these figures and realise that every single cartridge and all those rifles find their way into the hands of warlike people who are masters in every form of raid and are perpetually causing us trouble on the frontier, the House will realise how futile it is to allow this traffic to go on. I do not say it can be stopped entirely, but I am sure a great deal more can be done. Another indication of the proportions to which this trade has grown will be realised when I remind the House that gun stealing from our frontier posts has practically ceased during the last two years.

Captain MURRAY

They are very few in the year.


They are few now I know, for the reasons I have just stated, but you cannot dismiss this matter lightly, and you cannot get rid of the arms traffic in a day. So long, however, as you allow this matter to remain unsettled it will become aggravated. With reference to the refusal of France to co-operate with us in this matter, the House is probably aware of the old trading rights which France acquired in 1862 at Muscat. Does the House realise that France uses these trading rights in no legitimate way in regard to us. She uses them to foster and encourage traffic which she knows is most hostile to British interests in India. I regret that all negotiations with France have been entirely futile and abortive. Surely this is a moment when by virtue of the specially good relations and close friendship which happily exists between France and this country a further attempt should be made by the Government of India and the Home Government to get some more practical expression of friendship with France with regard to the arms traffic in the Gulf, in order to place a restriction on arms landed at Muscat. We do not ask that they should give up their trade rights or assent to prohibition for a long period of time, but I think we can very properly ask, and I hope the Government will ask, that France should co-operate with us for a period of years, and give instructions to their Consul at Muscat not to aid and abet this traffic as he has done in the past, but to do his utmost to co-operate with us in order that we may put an end to gun-running in the Gulf. It is useless to have Hague Conferences and International Arms Conferences if nothing is done in this matter. I would like to know whether this subject was discussed at the International Arms Conference and what did France say she was going to do in the matter? It is idle to have such Conferences if France refuses to deal with a question of this kind. I hope the Under-Secretary will give us a very clear and explicit assurance to-night that he will do something immediately to put an end to an illicit trade which is a source of very great expense to the Indian taxpayer, which is already a very serious menace to our peace and tranquillity on the frontier, and which is destined to become an incalculable source of danger if ever British problems of defence be diverted from the frontier to other internal parts of the Indian Empire. Surely, when we have these large considerations in view, both France and ourselves might consider that the small African trade is not to be put in the balance against it. Some hon. Members may think this is purely an academic point, and that the danger from the tribes to which I allude has no particular importance and is not likely to be realised. I would only refer those who may hold that opinion to their history books as regards India. I would remind them of the beginning of the Mogul power and the fall of the same Empire. In the ruin that followed upon the fall of the Mogul Empire, it was not only the Mogul power that suffered, but the territories and lands of the Hindus and the people who lived in the North were devastated, and by the time that loot and raid on the part of the frontier tribes was suppressed the country was laid waste and the peoples exterminated.

There is one other point on which we might press for a little more information, and that is with regard to the doings of the Indo-Afghan Commission. I was sorry to hear the Under-Secretary was not very sanguine as to the result of the Conference, but I hope it may be followed by the demarkation of that portion of the frontier which is still undetermined, and which, I believe, extends roughly from the Kurran to the Kabul River. It was, I believe, marked on a map by the Durrand Agreement, but so far as I know, it has never been locally defined. It would be very useful if the Indo-Afghan Commission could effect a settlement. I would like to ask in this respect one definite question of the Under-Secretary. I think, in view of the impression which the Amir has given us lately in one or two respects, it is very important for us to know whether he has yet given his consent to the terms of the Anglo-Russian treaty. In the Debate last year we heard that his consent would be granted, but we have heard nothing about it since, and I think it is high time the Under-Secretary should give us some assurance that the Amir's consent has been obtained. At any rate, if it has not been obtained, I hope he will let us know what is the position of this treaty.

I forgot, when dealing with the military aspect of the question, to allude to the general system of inland telegraph communication in India. It is probably fresh in all our minds that a serious telegraph strike occurred in 1908, and I should be very glad if the Under-Secretary could give us some assurance that the attitude of the telegraph staff in India is more moderate in the matter, that their aims have been satisfied, and that the recommendations which followed on the strike have been fully carried out. Occurrences like this, I think the House will agree, are very serious, and especially serious in India, and I hope some statement will certainly be made showing that the matter has changed. I asked at Question Time to-day for some statement with regard to wireless telegraphy in India, and the answer I received was not very reassuring. My information led me to believe that no attention had practically been paid to the protection of the inland telegraph routes in India, because it was Lord Kitchener's policy to ignore them from the defence point of view, as he intended substituting for them a large and complete scheme of wireless telegraphic communication. We were told that in February, and I saw in the Press, and other statements have been made, that the matter was one ripe for immediate action. It is now July, and, in reply to my query, the Under-Secretary said that, whilst the matter was going to be immediately dealt with, nothing had actually been done. I feel sure the Government of India fully realise the gravity and urgency of a matter like this, and I hope they will give us some explicit assurance that money will be devoted immediately to this object, and that the work will be pushed on with all possible and reasonable speed.

The situation with regard to the revenue is rather disquieting. No one can read the statement of the Finance Member without great uneasiness as to the small margin on which the Budget is worked. A margin of £245,000 is a very small one in any country, and in India it is insignificant. The remarks of the Finance Member are perhaps more alarmist than any I could make in this House. He says:— There is a very small margin in a year in which many surprises await us, and any shortage in the monsoon would sweep it clean away. With reasonable good fortune, I trust, a modest surplus will carry us through as it has in the past year. I do not think that is at all a reassuring statement, especially when it is remembered that last year the Government was assisted to the extent of £1,000,000, by entirely fortuitous circumstances, with regard to their revenue. You have in India, from the financial point of view, problems entirely different from those in England. Here the Chancellor of the Exchequer is confident that with new sources of taxation he will be able to get his revenue in the future, though even in England he has been proved completely wrong in more than one instance; hut in India there is much less reason for assurance, and you live entirely from hand to mouth. Our financial arrangements depend entirely on one industry, and that industry depends entirely upon the weather. The lack of elasticity in your financial arrangements has never been better exemplified than this year, when, in order to raise a few extra hundred thousand pounds, you have to put increased taxation on a very broad variety of articles. These articles were alluded to by the Under-Secretary with some satisfaction as articles of luxury. I think it is very easy to show that these articles are by no means articles of luxury, nor does the Finance Member, in his heart, consider that they are so, for he admits to very genuine sorrow at being obliged to impose this taxation. I believe the taxes imposed, on the whole, are as good as he can possibly impose under the circumstances. I do not think the tax upon petroleum is likely to fall at all hardly upon the consumers in India from the mere fact that there is a competing supply in India. The tax upon alcohol is, on the whole, I think, perfectly justifiable, because the increase in the consumption of alcohol has gone up by leaps and bounds, and, possibly, it is an article which it is well to tax. You will never get greater elasticity until you loose yourselves from dependence on a single industry, and encourage a greater diversity of productive undertakings in the country. The Under-Secretary of State made a very eloquent appeal that we should differentiate between anarchists and reformers, and he said he hoped we would recognise the legitimate aspirations which the reformers put forward. If you are going to study those legitimate aspirations, you will have to follow a policy which means an increase of the protection of industry. You have educated thousands of young men, whose services would be acceptable in the development of economic industry, but you are doing nothing to avail yourself of their services, because you remain sternly tied to a worn-out doctrine. I say your hands are being forced. You must step along the path of industrial development in India or you will be driven along it. The Government of India, in its capacity as a paternal Government, must take the first step along that path. I should like to make it perfectly plain that I do not advocate fiscal liberty for India. I am the first to recognise that for all the period of time which it is in our province to consider now. The ultimate fiscal control must always remain in the hands of England. It does seem probable that a demand will arise—in fact it has arisen—for a larger measure of freedom in this respect. There is a growing demand for industrial development, and the speeches made by members of the Council who have very closely studied this question confirm that view. I may refer to a speech by Mr. Chitnavis, who regretted the limitations under which the Government had to frame its industrial policy. He said:— However excellent Free Trade may be for a country in an advanced stage of industrial development, it must be conceded that protection is necessary for the success and development of infant industries. Even pronounced antagonists of Free Trade do not view this idea with disfavour. England has not reached her present state of development without protection. That Indian manufacturing industry does not admit of controversy. Why should not India then claim special protection for her undeveloped industry? There are many more quotations I might give. I have another one of very grave warning, which I think the Government should study, for this same member of the Council wound up his speech by saying that— These measures are all the more urgent in that, through Government as well as private liberality, a large body of young men are being trained in the various industrial arts, and the promised establishment of technological colleges will swell the ranks of Indian experts. Unless au opening is found for their talent and they are employed they will be idle and discontented, and might be a source of anxiety to the Government. I do not want to pursue the many quotations one might give from speeches of the various Finance Members of the Council, but there is no doubt in my mind that so long as you admit these members in the Council you are carrying out a very foolish policy unless you pay some attention to their perfectly legitimate aspirations. In view of this I do not oppose the policy, although I know the subject is a very contentious one. I should like to refer to a speech the right hon. Member for the Forest of Dean (Sir Charles Dilke) made last year in regard to military expenditure. He said:— I am bound to say, in the strongest possible terms, that at this moment of Indian unrest it specially behoves us to place our financial relations with India on a just footing—a footing which can be defended by reasonable men—and this is a subject upon the general principle of which India is united. What the right hon. Gentleman said in regard to finance is equally true with regard to the commercial development of India, and I hope the Under-Secretary will give us some clearer outline of the policy it is intended to pursue. What is going to be the policy of the new Commercial Member of the Council with regard to the industries of India? There is notably the case of the sugar industry. At the present moment India can grow any quantity of sugar, but, as a matter of fact, the larger proportion of the sugar that is consumed comes from outside. I know the Government may reply that there are no facilities for refining sugar in India, but that is a kind of excuse which we cannot possibly accept. Of course, there will be no facilities under present circumstances, but what are you doing to increase the growth of sugar? What are you doing also to encourage the growth of long staple cotton? That is equally an important matter of development, which should be considered by the Under-Secretary. There are many other points I should like to refer to, and there are some especially with regard to the Debate that is going to take place on the Motion of an hon. Member opposite. I would like to say whatever turn that Debate may take on the part of hon. Members below the Gangway, I hope that outside, as well as in this country and in India, it will be clearly understood that the perpetual encouragement which certain Gentlemen see fit to give not to reformers, but to anarchists, comes only from a mere handful of the people who are already doing very much harm in the country. One of the Gentlemen who is likely to speak to-night on this subject has only recently been denouncing, in very serious terms, our Sovereign in this country.


That has nothing whatever to do with the matter under discussion.


I bow to your ruling, Sir. I was trying to illustrate the remarks which are likely to be made coming from a body of men who are not doing anything to foster the traditions of order and respect which prevail in this country, and I will say that any such remarks which fall from such lips, while they may do considerable harm to the Members who utter them, will have no effect upon the unalterable intentions of the Government on the one hand to do their best for the people of India, and to give them those reforms they can properly grant, and on the other hand to deal, as the Under-Secretary said, with political anarchy. Nor will it affect their determination to defend the honour or shield the loyalty of their fellow-subjects in India against the remarks which are made by a small body of malcontents in this country.