HC Deb 01 April 1914 vol 60 cc1270-313

I beg to move, "That, in the opinion of this House, the rights of British Citizens set forth in Magna Charta, the Petition of Right, and the Habeas Corpus Act, and declared and recognised by the Common Law of England, should be common to the whole Empire, and their inviolability should be assured in every self-governing dominion."

It is my duty, on behalf of my colleagues and myself, to move the Resolution which appears in my name. I doubt whether there is any Member of the House who will not deplore the facts which render it necessary for a Resolution like this to be moved in the Imperial House of Commons. That the House may be in possession of the facts which call forth this Resolution, I propose very briefly to recite them. To be in possession of the whole case, one must go back to the events of July, 1913, when the miners on the Rand determined to come out on strike in support, as they thought, of the claim for further con- sideration from the mine-owners and the Government of the difficulties under which they worked. There 25 per cent. of the miners die annually from miners' phthisis, and the miners, desiring an amendment of the conditions which caused this tremendous loss of life, moved, or attempted to move, the Government to take action to insist that the mine-owners should improve the sanitary conditions associated with houses at the mines. Instead of them getting that relief, the South African Government appear to have given way to the mine-owners, who threatened that if any considerable addition were made to the cost of production to give effect to what the miners desired, the South African Government would be held up by those mining magnates as the enemies of the British, and that they would bankrupt the Transvaal. That, no doubt, is a serious matter for the South African Government, who depend for a considerable portion of their revenue on what they receive from the mine-owners round Johannesburg, and it would appear that the mine-owners secured what we cannot but term a victory over the Government, who were afraid to be represented in this country as being inimical to British rule. Then we had the strike and the awful events of 4th July in Johannesburg, when the military were called in to suppress the right of public meeting and the right of free speech, and twenty-one persons were killed and hundreds injured. Then we had the threat, which, in my view, has brought matters to a head and raised the issue on which I now move this Resolution—the threat of General Botha that, in the event of a subsequent strike, he would take such action as would render strikes impossible for a generation.

We now come to the events of the present year. The railwaymen were threatened with what was called retrenchment. The retrenchment took the form of a suggestion, amounting to an indication, on the part of the Union Government that they would get rid of something like 494 railwaymen. It was not that there was any absence of work in the repairing shops of the State railways. We have it on good authority—for the facts are now in this country, having come to hand by correspondence and newspapers, so that we are in a position to speak with greater certainty than when we moved our Amendment to the Address—that the shops had plenty of work. The fact is that there were engine-drivers who were almost afraid to go upon the footplates of their engines because of their unsatisfactory condition. It was suggested at the time there was all this work, which would have occupied—I have it on good authority—months of the men's time, that this retrenchment should take place. A curious and significant fact in connection with that retrenchment was that the men whose services were to be dispensed with were, for the most part, active trade unionists. That, in my view, is the most important factor leading up to the events about which we complain. The railwaymen's representatives, accompanied by Dr. Poutsma, one of the deportees, saw Mr. Burton and General Smuts. I understand that they actually went down on their knees and begged that the men on the State railways might work short time in order that their colleagues might not be dismissed. There is only one other industry to which they could go the mining industry, and there is now such an understanding between the mine-owners and those responsible for the control of the Government railways, that a man dismissed from one cannot get employment on the other, and, if he has not the wherewithal to remove himself and his family from the country, then he bids fair to be on the way to starvation. Hence this begging appeal on the part of the railwaymen's representatives on their knees that the workmen might go on short time in order to allow those men who were threatened with dismissal to continue their work.

Dr. Poutsma had attended this deputation. He is secretary of the Railwaymen and Harbourmen's Union. He had addressed his men, and was on his way home by motor car. This was when it appeared that the railway men, finding it impossible to get reasonable terms by negotiations, had determined on a strike. Dr. Poutsma was in the position of having to explain to a great meeting of his men that this was the decision of his executive council. He was then on his way home. Without warrant he was arrested. When he asked what crime he had committed, the answer was that there was no crime. Without the knowledge being conveyed to his wife or family, he was put in prison and kept there for something like twenty-one days, in a foul place in which it was a crime to imprison any man. I have these words from Dr Poutsma's own lips:— And served with a type of soup that was enough to make one ill to see. This under British rule! Naturally the workers in the Johannesburg area were incensed, and the answer to the illegal imprisonment of Dr. Poutsma and one or two others was the calling of a general strike. Let it be noted that when this general strike was called, those who were responsible for calling it made no suggestion that there should be any sabotage, or anything in the nature of the destruction of property, or that there should be anything at all like an attempt to take life. All are agreed that the men who were in charge of this national stoppage recommended their men to adopt peaceful means. There is no doubt that the suggestion was that they should fold arms and nothing more. They knew that to do anything more would be to play into the hands of those who were looking for an excuse for drastic measures, and they carefully avoided doing it. They did not drill 100,000 men, and there was no attempt to coerce the Government of the day by illegal assemblage and the importation of arms. Nothing of the kind was ever suggested. But martial law was the reply of the Government to this general stoppage of work. We have generally regarded it as one of the rights of working men to withhold their labour if they so determine.

There we have, as we think, one of the great departures from well understood British practice. Martial law, we have understood, according to our great charters, was never to be declared in time of peace. It was this kind of thing that led to the great civil war in this country which resulted in Charles I. losing his throne and his head, but in this case, without the raising of a single troop, without the use of weapons to kill a single individual, martial law is proclaimed, and the Executive really takes into its hands the trial, the imprisonment, and the deportation of men on its own authority, which is nothing short of a Bill of Attainder, so to speak. Against that I think we are compelled to protest, and we are asking the House to say that these well understood principles of no imprisonment without trial and no putting into operation of marital law in time of peace shall be the law the Empire round It may be that the Colonial Secretary will tell us that to attempt this may involve some interference with our Dominions. It may be so. If it means that, we think the interference should take place. We have understood that when we granted powers of self-government to our Dominions at the same time they would accept the fundamental statutory and common law rights for all British citizens within their Dominions—the kind of thing which has been won by long and bitter contests in the history of our country. But that apparently is not the case so far as this one Dominion is concerned. We have reason to believe that so far as the workers in Canada and in Australia are concerned, they would be no parties to making any objection if the Government make the suggestion, which I think they ought to make, to the Government of South Africa to give them the statutory and common law rights which have been so long understood by us to exist. We have from our friends in Australia and in Canada clear indications that in their view what may be termed an Empire labour protest should go to the South African Government on this matter, on which we feel so keenly.

May I now call attention to the feeling which has been generated in South Africa itself as a reason why the Colonial Secretary, on behalf of the Government at home, should take action. The Government may have felt that they could do nothing because there was a unanimous feeling in South Africa that what had been done had been done in the interests of the Colony and at the wish of the great majority of the British citizens located there. The recent events which have happened there seem to show that the Home Government could take action, and that it would have the support of the majority of citizens in South Africa if they were to intervene. Take the recent provincial council elections for the Transvaal. I know the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Harcourt) has indicated that he thinks that is more a kind of municipal election, but I would draw his attention to this fact, that t he election was fought in constituencies and on registers which are the Parliamentary constituencies and the Parliamentary registers for the Union Government. Therefore we have reason to believe that the majority of the, people in the Transvaal, not the most British of all the Colonies, hold the same views as we voice here, and that if action were taken by the Governor-General on the instigation of the Home Government there would be no objection from the various provinces which constitute the Union of South Africa. What were the results of those elections? Previous to the provincial elections in the Transvaal there were two Labour men on that council. For the recent election there were twenty-five labour candidates, twenty-three of whom were elected, out of forty-five seats, giving the Labour party a majority on an issue, as we think, identical with the issue which we are raising to-night.

If the right hon. Gentleman urges that this election in the Transvaal is a municipal or county council type of election, may I call his attention to what has happened in the by-elections for the Union Parliament. Take what happened in a district of Cape Town. The parallel that I draw between that district and an English district is that it is equivalent to our St. George's, Hanover Square, or Kensington, and the result was the election by an overwhelming majority of a Labour candidate. It is as though my hon. Friend (Mr. Ramsay Macdonald) were returned for St. George's, Hanover Square, or my hon. Friend (Mr. Snowden) were successful against the Noble Lord (Lord Claud Hamilton). And in a district like that, for people to take the view they have taken, to depart from their traditional political associations, and vote on an issue like this for a Labour candidate is, in my view, to show that opinion in the Cape Town district, even in its best residential quarters, is opposed to the action of the South African Government in what it has recently done. I cannot help but believe that the action of General Smuts was prompted by political consideration as well as those of preserving the peace of his Colony.

It is a curious thing to note that the candidate against him in West Pretoria is one of the deportees, and that as the result of the action taken, largely on the initiative of General Smuts, now I am informed on good authority he finds it difficult to get a hearing in Pretoria West, and those who have communicated with us tell us that if the issue be fought in Pretoria West on the point we are now raising in this House there will be but one result, and that will be the ignominious defeat of General Smuts on his own action. In fact, the suggestion has been made that he should no longer be a candidate for the seat for which he now sits. All these things serve to show that the feeling, whether in Cape Colony, at its centre in Cape Town, or in the Transvaal, or if you could take a vote in a town or in any of the provinces which constitute this Dominion, would, if not unanimous, at least show an overwhelming majority in favour of regarding these rights of British citizenship which we ask the House to assert to-night as the rights of citizens in every part of the Empire. I appeal to the Government not to divide the House on an issue which is so important. They may consider that the final words of the Motion are unduly provocative to the self-governing Dominion. I rather gather that that is their opinion. If so, provided that we get what I may term the main body of the Resolution asserted in this House with practical unanimity, for my part, I would consent to the withdrawal of these final words. If that be the only complaint the right hon. Gentleman has to make against the Resolution, for my part—and I think I speak for my colleagues—I will gladly meet him in regard to that, but so far as regards the main portion of the Resolution which states that in every part of the Empire these rights of British citizenship shall be asserted to be the common rights of all coming under the flag, we cannot go back, and I venture to appeal with some confidence to the House to assert the principle I have ventured to place before them.


In seconding the Motion I do not propose to follow my hon. Friend into the interesting details of the situation out of which the Motion has really sprung. I think we in this country, who take an interest in political affairs, are becoming fairly familiar with recent events in South Africa. At any rate, I myself have had a good deal to do with the deportees, and have been brought into the very closest association with them. I have read columns of news in the South African papers dealing with the position from its initial stages, and the conclusion to which I have come is that if the deportees were guilty and deserving of the punishment which unfortunately has been meted out to them, not in a Court of Law, but by Parliament, then it seems to me there are Members on all sides of this House, and I think especially on these benches who, if they had been dealt with in the same harsh and unjustifiable manner, would probably have been doing penal servitude, if not sent to Botany Bay. If there was nothing more involved in the position than the punishment of the nine men who have been deported—and I am not for a moment going to minimise the suffering which they and their dependants have experienced, and I am not going to hide the opinion I hold that they have suffered very great injustice—the case would not have been nearly so serious as it really is. I want to point out how fundamental the position is, and to say that it is so very serious that no lover of liberty, no admirer of the high standard of freedom upon which we pride ourselves in this country, can afford to ignore the situation which has been created by recent events in one of our self-governing Dominions. It seems to me that if we were indifferent to this situation, especially we on the Labour benches, we would be false to the trust that has been reposed in us, not only by our constituents, but by crowds of organised workers, whom, to some extent, we represent in this House.

We are satisfied that the events to which my hon. Friend has referred, happening as they have within the British Empire, are a full and complete justification for the Motion which has just been submitted. In that Motion we ask the House to make a very definite declaration. That declaration is that that standard of freedom, those elementary rights, and those axioms of British law should, not only be recognised, practised, and enforced, both here and in our Colonies, but should be common to the whole of the great Empire of which we form a part. I think it will be frankly admitted by all sections in this House that it has always been understood that under the British flag there are rights and liberties which are absolutely free from violability. We have always understood that every British subject was entitled, first of all, to have a charge preferred against him if wrong had been committed—apprehension first, charge, trial, and evidence, and that only when the whole of these processes had been carried through should punishment follow, and that the punishment should have regard to the evidence submitted, and to the nature of the violation of the law that had taken place. I do not know that there has been any doubt that that has been the recognised position. Dealing with the arrival of the deportees, the "Morning Post" expressed the position in very clear and emphatic language. It said:— For our part we do not welcome these deported men in this country. We should like to have seen them tried for the offence"— I want the House to note these words— tried for the offence of which they were suspected. We are so old fashioned as to believe that every British subject, whatever his views and to whatever class he belongs, has a right to trial before punishment, and has a right to appeal to the Crown against punishment without trial. This seems to us a much bigger question than syndicalism, or than any other of the questions which are now obscuring the issue. I think that puts the case of my hon. Friend and myself, and the party with which we are identified, as forcibly as it could be stated. One of the most offensive parts in connection with this business is that the punishment has been inflicted not in a Court of Law, but by a Parliament. It is not difficult for us in this House to imagine what would be the position if this house attempted so to destroy the traditions that have ever been associated with British justice and took away from the Law Courts of this country the power of trial, and usurped the functions of those Courts and attempted to inflict anything in the nature of a sentence so extreme and, shall I say, so wicked as the ones to which our comrades have been subjected in connection with South Africa. The opinions which I have expressed are not confined to the Mother Country. It has been my privilege to have communications from our Colonies, and not only from the communications which I have received in connection with my work as an officer of the British labour movement, but from the cables that I have seen in the Press, our Oversea Dominions are pretty well unanimous against the punishment that has been inflicted on these eight or nine trade unionists. And though they might have some temerity that we at home would not possess, with regard to the question of the Mother Country interfering with the policy adopted by the South African Government I think that there are no two opinions with regard to the condemnation that has been expressed on the broad general point of the punishment that has been inflicted. But we need not go outside of South Africa itself. This is a point which I want to emphasise very strongly. I have been reading the Debates in the South African Parliament. I do not know that anybody has condemned the policy of the Government in stronger language than Mr. Merriman himself. I have here one or two expressions which I would like to bring to the notice of this House. He said:— There is a great principle involved in this. Hitherto we have gone through the Act of Indemnity and we have reached the stage that we have condoned what the Government have done. Although we did not approve of all the Government did, still we have felt that they thought they were justified by what had been going on and have acted in good faith "— I want the House to notice this— that although panic-stricken, they may have taken steps of which we did not approve, still they did it in the best interests of public safety. But now we come to the dividing line. Now we are asked not to condone the acts that the Government did, but we are asked to become participators and to join with them in doing an illegal act"— I think that that is as strong language as has ever been used in this House. I do not know that stronger language was used by the Labour party in South Africa— and doing something which is utterly destructive of the very first principles upon which the liberties of this country are founded. Anxious as I am to strengthen the hands of the Government, I cannot be so false to all those principles I have professed during my life; I cannot vote for a Clause like this to condemn men illegally seized-kidnapped, as someone expressed it—and put on board ship in secrecy. He also said:— To raise prejudice, and then to judge them on the lowest form of prejudice where the men have not any chance of answering for themselves—they are not tried; they are not heard in the open; no charge has been made against them, except a sort of vague prejudice which exists—that is the atmosphere in which we are asked to deal with this matter. I am quite prepared to leave that in the very severe language of condemnation used by Mr. Merriman. I need not remind the House that he has no associations, and never had any associations, either with the Labour party in South Africa or with the classes with whom the Labour party themselves usually act. If I remember correctly, he was formerly the leader of the Opposition in the Cape Parliament. But I would like to take this point with regard to the position of the parties in South Africa a stage further. We have been reminded by my hon. Friend who moved the Resolution of the attitude of the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary for the Colonies (Mr. Harcourt) when we raised this question the other night on the Motion for Adjournment. Naturally, we on these benches were a little elated at the unexpected and complete victory that had been secured in the provincial elections. To begin, I think, as they, did, as we have been reminded, with two members, and to have the two, I think, turned into some twenty-three representatives of the Labour party on those provincial councils, giving them a majority, was something to make any political party, having association with those obtaining the victory as we have, highly elated. The Member for Leicester felt that this was an opportunity for making an appeal to the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Harcourt), but he did not welcome the result, as I have no shadow of doubt he would have been prepared to do if he had been in the National Liberal Club and the results of a victory so complete at the London County Council had been recorded upon the tape. I have no shadow of doubt that in such circumstances he would have gone a little outside of his usual decorum, and probably for once have thrown up his hat. However, as my hon. Friend the Mover has reminded us, if the provincial elections were nothing, the right hon. Gentleman cannot afford to ignore entirely the result of one or two of the Parliamentary by-elections that have been decided since the trade union leaders were so ruthlessly deported from the country of their adoption.

9.0 P.M.

I think that the Parliamentary election, having regard to the character of the constituency to which the hon. Member for Sunderland called our attention, was most striking, and it seems to me that we would in this country take a by-election as being very indicative of what the feeling of the country really is. I am quite sure that if the Noble Lord (Lord Hugh Cecil) heard some night that the Fife election had resulted in the return of the candidate associated with his party, or I might go a little further and say, that if it resulted in the return of my friend Jim Larkin—I do not know that it would make very much difference—the Noble Lord would be quite prepared to become elated. We have seen him elated at the results of by-elections recently, and he would be telling us then that what Fife had said to-day the whole country would say to-morrow. We apply the same thing in connection with the elections in South Africa, and we, at any rate, will maintain, until we find evidence to the contrary, that the South African people are as strong in their condemnation of their Government, for their departure from the ordinary fundamental principle of constitutional law, as we in this country can possibly be. But we have had other indications, where public meetings have been possible, that all sections of the community, and I think I can safely say the members of all parties in South Africa, have joined together in public gatherings and in great protest demonstrations to condemn the policy of the Government which lead to the deporting, without trial, of these trade union leaders. I have here a copy of the resolution which was passed at a great many of those meetings and demonstrations:— That this meeting, while recognising that strong action was necessary in dealing with the situation created by the recent strike,"— I am quoting that because I want you to see that they are not labour people who carried those resolutions, that they are not people who are fully in sympathy with the workers who have been engaged in the strike—and the resolution goes on:— regrets the steps the Government have taken in deporting any South African citizens without trial, as such a course is unconstitutional, unjust, and positively dangerous. That resolutions have been carried in places like Durban, Port Elizabeth, Maritzburg, and other places that could be named, is clear proof that we have in the Colonies and in some of our Overseas Dominions, as well as in South Africa, as indicated by the elections there, and as indicated by the resolutions which have been carried at the protest meetings, a strong feeling against the deportation of these men Lastly, there can be doubt as to the feeling in this country, none whatever. It may be said that the meetings that, have been held have been organised by one party. I want to point out that those meetings of citizens there were people who had never had direct or indirect association with the Labour party, yet they turned up and joined enthusiastically in the resolution of protest against the action of the South African Government, not because they were in whole-hearted sympathy with the policy persuaded by the trade union leaders who have been deported, but because, as we represent in our Resolution now before the House, they had become alarmed, and thought that if this dangerous precedent was allowed to go on without any protest at home we might find some day an attempt made even in this country, and certainly in South Africa again, and probably in some of our Oversea Dominions, to quote this dangerous precedent as one to be acted upon. We know how free people are in these days to take a course, not because they are satisfied that it is right, but because they can establish some form of excuse for its adoption merely because some persons have been bold enough to initiate it when placed in circumstances that required them to act in such a manner. I hope, therefore, that the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary for the Colonies will give this Resolution, for the reasons I have endeavoured to state, his sympathetic consideration. I do not want in any sense to make this a party question; I think the fundamental principle at stake is too far reaching. I believe that every lover of liberty on whichever side of the House he may sit, with whichever party he may be associated, ought to join with us in entering upon the journals of this House the declaration that we, at any rate, believe in the sound principle referred to in the Resolution, and we believe that they express the view that ought to be common to every part of this great Empire with which most of us feel proud to be associated.

The SECRETARY of STATE for the COLONIES (Mr. Harcourt)

The hon. Member the Mover of the Resolution towards the end of his speech said it might be convenient to the House to make a suggestion as to the course to take on the Motion. The hon. Member for Sunderland (Mr. Goldstone), in moving the Resolution, made a very wide generalisation under the shelter of the Motion which he has moved, and he directed himself to a specific attack upon the Government of the Union in South Africa, both as regards the mining strike and the interference of the military last July, and the railway strike and deportations in December last. I spoke very fully on the question of the mining strike and the use of the military in this House in July or August last year, and I dealt as fully as I could with the subject of the railway strike and the deportations in the very interesting Debate on the Address at the opening of the Session. I do not myself feel that I could to-night usefully add anything to what I said, with much care and much thought, as to the proper relations between the Government—whatever Government it might happen to be—of this country and the great self-governing Over-sea Dominions which are our care. If I may refer to this Resolution in its broader aspect, I would remind the House that the Indemnity Bill in South Africa has now passed into law, with an amendment in it accepted by the Government removing from the title the words "as prohibited emigrants," and from the preamble the last sentence of it which stated, "that, all the said persons should be deemed permanently to be undesirable inhabitants of the Union." The Bill was materially altered during its passage through the South African Parliament.


Can the right hon. Gentleman say what is the full legislative effect of those alterations?


I really do not think I ought to commit myself, but it must be pretty clear to the House that the only passage in that Bill which used the word "permanent" has been deleted from it.


I understand there is an operative Clause.


There is, but there are no words in it to indicate permanency. I refer to Clause 4. The nine deportees who have suffered under that action of the South African Government have been, I understand, advised that they have certain legal remedies in this country against the owners of the steamship on which they travelled from South Africa, and that matter being sub judice now, I should not, of course, attempt to refer to it at present. It will be clearly understood by the House, of course, that all these acts were done after and under the declaration of martial law. It may well be thought, I know—


The imprisonment of Dr. Poutsma was not under martial law, but before it was declared.


I believe the Indemnity Act covers acts committed a few days before martial law, but so far as that imprisonment is not covered by the Indemnity Act, of course, he would have his legal remedy in South Africa; but so long as the declaration of martial law has been covered by an Act of Indemnity by the South African Parliament, I think that we must depend on the general sense of the South African community to administer justice in the present, or to right a wrong, if there is any, in the future. The Mover of this Resolution attached, and I think perhaps rightly attached, special importance to the general declaration which it contains. He probably did not mean that there should be a strict application of all the instruments which are included in the Motion. Parts of them, as the House is well aware, are long obsolete. Many of them to-day would be impossible. The hon. Member perhaps is aware that amongst the declarations of right in Magna Charta is one which says that all assizes and suits should be held in fixed places in England. That would obviously not be suitable for our Dominions and Colonies. It is also provided that earls and barons shall only be fined by their peers. It is asserted that intestate estates shall be dealt with and distributed under the supervision of the Church. That would probably appeal to some hon. Members opposite more than to my hon. Friends below the Gangway on this side.

One of the articles provides that the lands of convicted felons shall be handed over to the lords of the manor, and another provides that all weirs shall be removed from all English rivers. I will also, in passing, remind my hon. Friend who seconded—and I am sure the recol- lection of it will shock him—that in Magna Charta there is a provision that no man shall be arrested on the appeal of a woman except for causing the death of her husband. What I am sure my hon. Friends had in their minds, speaking in all seriousness, is one of the great provisions of Magna Charta—I believe it is the 39th Article of the Charter—which provides against outlawry or banishment except by the law of the land. Undoubtedly the action of the South African Government was admittedly entirely illegal, and hence the necessity for the Indemnity Bill. If there had been no self-government, and if there had been no Parliament in South Africa, and if such action had been taken by a Governor merely on authority from the Crown or from this House, then we should have had an Indemnity Bill introduced here; but we have deliberately made South Africa the representative and elective judges of their own affairs. You may if you choose—if you think it right or possible—repeal your Charter of Freedom, but you cannot expect to control it in its daily and detailed application. Lord Chatham once said:— Magna Charts, the Petition and Bill of Rights, are the Bible of the British constitution. But, like its prototype, they have had revised, and I think often improved, versions throughout the British Empire. In the Petition and Bill of Rights of 1625, it is asserted that no taxes were to be imposed and no imprisonment was to be inflicted and no maintenance of soldiers without or against the assent of the legislative authority. That is indeed the origin of our Army (Annual) Bill of to-day, which shows that the Army is the creation of and the servant of Parliament and of the people. This Petition and Bill of Rights has been and is the basis of every grant of self-government to every one of our Dominions throughout the world, and is the essential basis of our administration of Crown Colonies and Protectorates under the British Parliament. The hon. Member drew attention to the Habeas Corpus Act of 1679, known for many years as Lord Shaftesbury's Act. The so-called Habeas Corpus Act does not create any right of personal freedom, but improves the legal machinery by which those rights may be enforced. Habeas Corpus has been suspended several times in the United Kingdom. It has been suspended many times in the Colonies and often in Ireland. It is indeed automatically suspended, or, at least, becomes automatically ineffective under martial law. The House will remember that there was an application made in South Africa to Mr. Justice Wessels in Cape Colony at the very moment of the deportation of these nine men. Mr. Justice Wessels said that he would have issued a writ in the matter, but that the men were at that moment out of his jurisdiction, and he added that if the Government chose to violate the law, it was not within the power of a judge to control their action. In South Africa, under Roman-Dutch law, the writ would have been the same, though in form different, and known as de libero homine exhibendo. It is practically the same process, and has the same result.

The British Habeas Corpus Act is not applicable and not available to many of our Colonies, indeed to most of them, because, if it did actually and literally apply, application would have to be made to the Courts in this country to issue the writ, which would obviously entail so great delay as to make it impossible. The Colonies and Dominions have Acts with provisions to precisely the same effect, and their local forms are applicable to the same purposes. By an Act passed in this House as late as the year 1862 the British writ of Habeas Corpus is actually forbidden to run in British Colonies which have an established Court of Law. In the Motion which has been moved mention is made of the common law of England. The introduction of those words is, I think, slightly confusing in this connection. We here all know what we mean, but I am not sure that others outside the House, and especially outside the United Kingdom, would know exactly what was imported by those words. The common law of England does not run throughout the British Empire. I will mention two or three exceptions. In Quebec the law, of course, is old French law. In Mauritius and Seychelles, they administer the French law of the Code Napoleon. In British Guiana, Ceylon, and South Africa, they administer the Roman-Dutch law. The words "the common law of England" would, therefore, be inappropriate, though the conditions which they import would apply throughout the whole of the Empire. But I think that we all mean the same thing, and we all want the same thing. I can see no reason why the House should not agree to this Motion if the Mover and Seconder would accept an Amendment which I shall be prepared to move, and which, I think, is the true meaning of my hon. Friends, and probably represents the general sentiment of the House. I propose to leave out all the words after "Habeas Corpus Act" and to add others, so that the Motion will then read—

"That, in the opinion of this House, the rights of British citizens set forth in Magna Charta, the Petition of Right, and the Habeas Corpus Act, as representing the freedom of the subject, are those which this House desires to see applied to British subjects throughout the Empire."

This, I believe, represents the concept of all of us of what our free institutions ought to be and what we believe them to he throughout the Empire. Any deviation from this must be judged by the circumstances necessitating or producing it; such deviation must be justified to the free Parliament of the Dominion and the constituent authority from which it springs; and any such deviation must be legalised by an indemnity having the force of law with the assent and authority of that Parliament. In conclusion, I cannot do better than to read a short passage from Professor Dicey's "Law of the Constitution."


On a point of Order. A very important Amendment has been put before us viva voce; could we not get the exact words? I think we are entitled to know what is the Amendment.


If the right hon. Gentleman moves the Amendment, it will, of course, be read out from the Chair, and, if any hon. Member desires me to do so, I will read it a second time.


If it will be any convenience to the hon. Member, I will read the words again. [The right hon. Gentleman repeated the words of his proposed Amendment.] The passage which I propose to quote from Professor Dicey is the following:— An Act of Indemnity again, though it is the legalisation of illegality, is also, it should be noted, itself a law. It is something in its essential character therefore very different from the proclamation of martial law, the establishment of a state of siege, or any other proceeding by which the executive Government of its own will suspends the law of the land. It is no doubt an exercise of arbitrary sovereign power, but where the legal sovereign is a Parliamentary assembly even acts of State assume the form of regular legislation, and this fact of itself maintains in no small degree the real no less than the apparent supremacy of law. I beg to move.

Amendment proposed, to leave out the words "and declared and recognised by the common law of England, should be common to the whole Empire, and their inviolability should be assured in every self-governing Dominion," in order to insert instead thereof, the words "as representing the freedom of the subject, are those which this House desires to see applied to British subjects throughout the Empire."—[Mr. Harcourt.]


Shall I be in order in speaking on the general Question, or must I wait until the Amendment is being disposed of?


If the House desire that the Amendment should be made; otherwise the Debate will be restricted for the time being. Perhaps the Mover and Seconder will intimate whether they are prepared to accept the Amendment.


I think that the point we desire to make as to the liberty of the subject is substantially met by the Amendment suggested from the Treasury Bench. With the consent of my Seconder, therefore, I shall be prepared, with the leave of the House, to accept the Amendment.

Amendment put, and agreed to.

Original question, as amended, proposed, That, in the opinion of this House, the rights of British citizens set forth in Magna Charta, the Petition of Right, and the Habeas Corpus Act, as representing the freedom of the subject, are those which this House desires to see applied to British subjects throughout the Empire.


We have listened to a very interesting speech, in which the right hon. Gentleman dealt with the historical aspects of this question, though not always quite accurately, for he confused the Petition of Right with the Declaration of Rights. Strictly speaking, the Petition of Right has no connection with the Army (Annual) Bill. It hardly affects the Army at all. It deals only with two points: the establishment of martial law, and the billeting of soldiers. The Bill of Rights does deal with the establishment and maintenance of the Army. The Colonial Secretary, in dealing with these historical matters, practically omitted to say a single word about what the Colonial Office has done in connection with recent events in South Africa. It is quite true, as he said, that, having granted self-government to a great Dominion, the power of the Imperial Government is very closely restricted indeed. It is restricted far more closely in fact than in theory. In theory there was nothing to prevent the Crown from refusing the Royal Assent to the Indemnity Bill. I am not quite sure how far it applies in South Africa, but I believe it is the case that now the Crown has the power of disallowing the Act within six months of its passage. The right hon. Gentleman says in effect that this great power cannot be used. Once you concede self-government you must allow the Dominion to manage its own affairs precisely as it pleases. That is quite true in a general way, and shows what a great responsibility is undertaken when you do give autonomous institutions to a Dominion or any part of the Empire. It follows that autonomy must be very nearly absolute when once you have conceded it. Supposing the right hon. Gentleman had advised the Crown to refuse assent; supposing General Botha had been supported, as he had reason to think he was supported, by South Africa, it would have been impossible to form a new South African Government! He would, therefore, have had the Imperial Government at his mercy by the simple process of resigning his office. No other Government could have been formed, and South Africa would have been reduced to administrative anarchy. That is so in South Africa, and it is so wherever you establish autonomous institutions.

People constantly talk of the concession of autonomy as if the most important thing were the establishment of self-government and the giving of a Parliament. As a matter of fact the most important thing, and the most responsible thing, is the establishment of an executive responsible to the Parliament. When you have done that you place the executive power in the hands of Parliament, and you practically have no means of controlling that Parliament at all. You have to submit to whatever it does. That is a lesson which I wish I could persuade hon. Members to learn in matters nearer home. Once you have conceded a separate executive you have, in fact, conceded something which in effect closely approaches independence. The point is, when you have conceded these things you may find that your independent or quasi-independent Government does things of which you very strongly disapprove. The hon. Gentleman the Member for Salford is quite right in thinking that self-government implies, not only the power to do what we think is right, but also the power to do what we think is wrong. That is quite true. That is what it really means. It means that you may have an exceedingly oppressive system set up in the British Empire. It means, and I believe hon. Members are quite right in thinking so, that proceedings actually tyrannical may be done under the British flag. Supposing proceedings as tyrannical as had taken place in South Africa had taken place there before the British flag floated over Pretoria and Johannesburg. I really believe, if General Botha had been at the head of a South African Republic, instead of being a Minister under the British Crown, and had done the same thing as he has done in South Africa, there would within a fortnight have been war between this country and South Africa. So that it actually follows that we have less power to interfere in a part of the British Empire that, as it were, takes to tyranny than we should have in a neighbouring country which was nominally independent. That is an exceedingly significant and important fact.

The truth is that it would be more difficult to appeal to force within the British Empire than it is to appeal to force outside it; so that you have actually sometimes less- control over an autonomous part of the British Empire than you would have over nominally a foreign country. I do not know whether hon. Members have ever reflected upon what that means in connection with the Irish question. I wonder whether they ever foresee what very awkward things might happen on the other side of St. George's Channel. I thoroughly agree with hon. Members opposite that our pride, our patriotism, is really identified with personal liberty. I should take comparatively little interest in my country if-it were not conspicuously a free country. It is the liberty of the subject, the individual liberty of the subject, that gives the real value to British institutions.


What about freedom in religion?


The hon. Member need never be apprehensive that I shall wish to burn him at the stake. The principle of universal liberty is, as I said, the thing that makes the British Empire a source of pride and satisfaction to us all. Let us see for a moment, as it appears to me, how far the case of the South African Government suggests that they should invade the essential principles of personal liberty. The hon. Member who moved this Resolution first spoke of the arrest of Dr. Poutsma. That was the first charge before the establishment of martial law. He is quite right in saying that the arrest of Dr. Poutsma on a criminal charge, without proceeding to trial, is a grave invasion of the liberty of the subject, but it is an invasion of the law that can be made in times of great anxiety in all countries. The actual arrest of an offender or a supposed offender in an irregular manner with the intention afterwards of making the situation regular by an Act of Indemnity is a proceeding for which there are abundant records in this country, and in many civilised countries. The proclamation of martial law is much more unprecedented. It is very difficult, at such a distance from the spot and in view of the defective information, at present to express a final judgment, but it is very difficult to understand how, with a Parliamentary majority supporting his Government, and the power of passing any emergency legislation that might be necessary, he should have been ready to proclaim martial law. Martial law is merely the supersection of the ordinary law of the land by mere arbitrary government—that is to say, martial law is no law. The course that would have been followed in this country in a similar case would have been, perhaps in a few hours, to pass through Parliament such special legislation as the national emergency required—to supersede all law altogether by a mere administrative Act. But to do that, not for one or two days, but for weeks together, is certainly on the face of it a very grave invasion of the principle of public liberty to which we are accustomed in this country.

The South African Government, having got martial law, proceeded to arrest a great number of people under it. Having arrested them, and therefore having them absolutely at their mercy, and being entirely free from any rational anxiety of any further mischief that they should proceed to deport nine of them from the country quite gratuitously seems to me without any justification and in violation of any spirit of law and justice. They brought in an Act of Indemnity to condone what they had done. There is, I think, no greater or more dangerous violation of public and personal liberty than the infliction of a penalty by Act of Parliament. In former times it used to be done in this country, but it is the worst of possible abuses of legislative power. To begin with, the body, not in the least judicial, inflicts judicial sentence. We can imagine what an outrage it would be if this House undertook judicial functions. Not only was the judicial power used by a body essentially non-judicial, it also inflicted a penalty on persons who had no warning that they had committed an offence for which such penalty could be incurred. It is therefore a plain contravention, not only of the tradition of British liberty, but of the most elementary principle of national justice. All that has been done and done to our common shame under the British flag. I cannot help thinking, though I quite recognise that the Colonial Office could not advise the vetoing of the Bill, they might have remonstrated with the South African Government on what was being done. It is not the function of the Imperial Government certainly to control, but it is the function of the Imperial Government to offer advice to the Dominions, and especially in the course adopted here which gave us an interest in the matter, when these men were deported to these islands. We have at any rate a right to be heard—I do not say considered—before nine men are sent to the British Isles by an administrative act contrary to law. I confess I think the Colonial Office would have been well within their right if they had made a civil but courteous remonstrance with the South African Government and pointed out to them that they were transgressing the principles of liberty and justice, and although I dare say it would not have weighed with General Botha in the matter of the compulsory expulsion, it would have weighed with the people. If such an expression in a moderately written document could have been quoted all over South Africa, it would have great weight, and all the more so, if it was accompanied by assurances that there was no intention of interfering with the self-governing rights of the people of South Africa.

It is a remarkable and unfortunate thing that we are here discussing this matter with very empty benches. It is a remarkable illustration of what is happening to the representative system in this country, that what interests the country at large no longer interests the House of Commons, and that which interests the House of Commons very often does not interest the community at large. The theory is that we are a mirror of the opinion of England, so that what largely interests the people interests us. But it is becoming increasingly plain that we are a machine which is to-day quite disconnected with the motor power which is supposed to work it, and that while the people are profoundly interested in the South African Government, as I believe they are, we can hardly scrape together an audience in this House.


was understood to say that Members were not present because of the Motion on the Paper with regard to divorce.


It is your people that have stayed away. These benches are full.


There are only seven Labour Members present.


I am not making a party point. Let me say that when we on these benches are charged with adopting reckless partisanship in our efforts to injure the Government, that we might very easily have turned the Government out if we had taken up the attitude of asking that the Royal Veto should have been applied in this case. If the Unionist party took up that cry we should have swept the electorate. It appeals to trade unionists and the advocates of the rights of labour. I was very much impressed when I attended the demonstration at Hyde Park to find that it appeals to them also from the Imperial point of view. British arms and treasures have been spent in acquiring this country for the Empire, and people resent that our best traditions should be set aside. Therefore, if the Unionist party had taken up the cry and agitated in favour of the Governor-General vetoing this Bill, the Government would have had to capitulate or be turned out of office. We did not do so because the proposal of vetoing a Bill is contrary to the principle upon which the Empire is built up. Nevertheless, I am glad that this matter has been brought forward to-day, because it gives us the opportunity of expressiog an opinion and to dispose of an apprehension not shared by the hon. Member who moved this Motion, that something of the kind might happen in this country. That would be probably impossible, because the great majority of the electorate would profoundly disapprove of anything of kind. The circumstances that alone made it possible in South Africa was that there was a great portion of the rural electorate there out of sympathy with labour. We shall see what the balance of power between the rural electorate and the urban electorate is in South Africa, but undoubtedly the rural electorate are more national than any other power of opinion in that country. There is a similar discrepancy between the power of the rural electorate and the urban electorate in Ireland. The principles of General Botha are never likely to be acceptable in Ireland. I am not sure they would be acceptable among the farmers of Ireland, largely under the influence of the Roman Catholic religion, hostile to Socialism, and, as peasant proprietors, hostile to capitalism.


There would be the most conservative element in the world.


But not a Government most really concerned for the liberty of the subject. There is good Conservatism and bad Conservatism. There is the Conservatism that prevails in the country in favour of wise reform, and there is the Conservatism that prevails in the Transvaal. I leave it to hon. Members to consider which is likely to prevail in a national Parliament in Dublin, judging from their experience of the Dublin strike. There is no danger of the thing happening in England, for not only are the working classes devoted to personal liberty, but all classes are. It is a tradition which has been handed down. We value it on this side of the House as much as they do, and if we sometimes criticise trade unions it is rather because they appear to us to invade the liberties of trade unionism, and they will find abundant support on all sides of the House and in all parties if anyone in an insane moment proposes to overthrow the rights of personal liberty to which they are appealing to-day. Unhappily the South African Government are affected by different views, and I cannot help drawing the attention of hon. Members opposite to the wonderful passage of rhetoric in which Burke led the foundations of Colonial self-government, which read almost ironically in view of what we see in South Africa. He appreciated self-government because he was devoted to liberty. He says:— As long as you have the wisdom to keep the sovereign authority of this country as the sanctuary of liberty, the sacred temple consecrated to our common faith, wherever the chosen race and sons of England worship freedom, they will turn their faces towards you. The more they multiply, the more friends you will have; the more ardently they love liberty, the more perfect will be their obediency. Slavery they can have anywhere. It is a weed that grows in every soil. They may have it from Spain; they may have it from Prussia. But until you become lost to all feeling of your true interest and your natural dignity, freedom they can have from none but you. This is the commodity of price of which you have the monopoly. This is the true act of navigation, which binds to you the commerce of the Colonies, and through them secures to you the commerce of the world. Deny them this participation of freedom, and you break that sole bond, which originally made, and must still preserve, the unity of the Empire Do not entertain so weak an imagination as that your registers and your bonds, your affidavits and your sufferances, your cockets and your clearances, are what form the great securities of your commerce. Do not dream that your letters of office, and your instructions, and your suspending clauses, are the things that hold together the great contexture of this mysterious whole. These things do not make your government. Dead instruments, passive tools as they are, it is the spirit of the English communion that gives all their life and efficacy to them. It is the spirit of the English constitution which, infused through the mighty mass, pervades, feeds, unites, invigorates, vivifies every part of the Empire, even down to the minutest member. That great passage was uttered in this House nearly 150 years ago, and I think it ought to be still part of the gospel of the British Empire, and it ought still to be what we all hope and look for the British Empire to give to the world. Let us then, I hope, with unanimous voice recall our sense of profound regret that the South African Government has departed from that standard, and let us invite them to return to the sound paths in which we walk, and on which alone we believe national greatness depends.


I feel bound to protest against some of the Noble Lord's opening remarks, in which he urged this side of the House to beware of the danger of granting a limited self-government to Ireland, because of the dangerous results which have followed the granting of self-government to South Africa. Has any great cvil resulted from the granting of Home Rule to our Oversea Dominions?


But they are not represented here.


The Noble Lord called attention to the danger of granting Home Rule to Ireland because of this incident in the history of South Africa, and he argued that it was a dangerous thing for this House to part with its sovereignty over a self-governing Dominion. In the past when this House has granted self-government to its Dominions, it has done it, in the first place, for the advantage which it gives to that Dominion; and, secondly, for the advantage of the Empire of which that Dominion forms a part. I cannot speak with personal knowledge of South Africa, but of the other Dominions I have personal knowledge, and I can say that there is much more freedom there. The reflection made by the Noble Lord is, in the first place, upon Parliament for granting self-government; and, secondly, upon the self-governing Colonies which, it is said, is so little in keeping with the spirit of Burke, from whose speech the Noble Lord has quoted.


I was reflecting only on South Africa, and not on the Colonies generally.


What the Noble Lord said is a reflection on any other Dominion that enjoys autonomy, and the reflection was also upon this House for granting such autonomy. The Noble Lord told us to beware of the danger of extending local autonomy to Ireland, and he went so far as to say that we had less power in our own Dominions than we had in some foreign countries. Have we less power in South Africa or Canada than in Mexico? Has there not been the unfortunate assassination of an Englishman in Mexico, against which this Empire has lifted up its voice in protest? Could that incident have occurred in a self-governing Colony? I resent the suggestion that the people of our self-governing Dominions, who are in the main British people, are so lacking in their regard for the feelings of this country, and their love for its laws, that they should be considered worse than Mexicans because they enjoy local autonomy. With regard to urging the Colonial Office to veto this Indemnity Bill, I believe you would have a republic for every veto. The Noble Lord said that was a question on which he could have swept this country in three weeks. What a miserable country it must be. What an insult to the people of this old Mother country if in three weeks you could sweep the country because of the vetoing of this Indemnity Bill. If that is the Noble Lord's conception of running the British Empire—


No; I expressly said it was not.


The Noble Lord said the great majority of the people would have considered the application of the veto a proper thing. Whatever the intelligence of the Noble Lord may be, all I can say is that he holds the intelligence of his fellow countrymen very low if he thinks they would follow him in such a campaign. Personally, I profoundly regret that General Botha could find no alternative to the deportation of those nine men, but as he found no alternative, I submit to the House that this House ought not to judge his Government, and the Colonial Office is rightly advised not for one moment to interfere with the administration of a self-governing Dominion. The struggle to build up our connection with our Overseas Dominions in this country has been a long and bitter one, and many distinguished Statesmen on both sides of this House have, at times, felt that the struggle was not worth maintaining, and that it would be better to allow the Dominions to look after themselves. But that view is not held by anybody now. The reason no one holds that view now is that the system of perfect local autonomy, with non-interference by the Colonial Office, except in the way of friendly advice, has built up an Empire cemented not by machinery, but by loyalty, affection, and a sense of self-preservation which, I think, we all agree, is one of the miracles of today. I think a Resolution of this kind is in the nature of a tonic, and the House of Commons is well occupied this evening in passing a Resolution of this kind which will be cabled around the Empire, and which will be read, and I think appreciated, wherever the sons of this old country are to be found. In reference to the specific case of South Africa, I would like to remind the hon. Gentleman who seconded the original Resolution of certain words of the great Lord Selborne. They are these:— The will of the Legislature is omnipotent according to British theory and knows no superior. That applies as much to a Colonial Legislature as it does to our own, and, when we are condemning General Botha, let us remember that it is not for us to judge of his Executive or of himself. His judges are the electors, and, if they think he has done wrong, he will pay the penalty that every Executive does in a free and enlightened country. I think, therefore, that any criticism which we may feel should be withheld, and that we should support the general principle of perfect local autonomy, and leave General Botha to be acquitted or condemned by the voters of South Africa.


We are passing an agreeable academic night, listening to a few polished speeches which will have no out- come whatever. Of those speeches I admired most perhaps that of the Noble Lord the Member for Oxford University, that is to say from the academic standpoint, for in his subtle dialectical exercises he seemed to advocate, as the solution of the Irish question, complete independence. I also enjoyed the speeches of the hon. Member who proposed and the hon. Member who seconded the Resolution, but I thought that they would be better in keeping if delivered in the South African Parliament. The sturdy South Africans would be at some difficulty in following the dialetical skill of the Noble Lord. Then we had the diplomatic speech of the Secretary of State for the Colonies, with his diplomatic solution of the whole difficulty, for by a master stroke he removed all grounds of objection, but only by leading to a completely anodyne Resolution. When I listened to the opening speeches I felt like St. Augustine, who said "There are two men in me," because on the one hand I felt indignation at the recital of these high-handed and arbitrary proceedings, and on the other hand I felt how futile was the whole discussion and how wrong it would be to give vent to that just indignation. There is one particular feature of this matter which overshadows everything else, and that is the question of the authority of the South African Government. I am inclined to say that the original Motion is anti-democratic, and that many of the speeches which have been delivered in support of it on this occasion, as well as speeches on previous occasions, have, perhaps, had a slight anti-democratic ring, or, at any rate, have not been in accordance with the true development of democratic principles. There have been condemnations of syndicalism. There are two aspects of syndicalism, and syndicalism should be carefully separated from sabotage. Most of these condemnations are directed really not against syndicalism but against sabotage, and all the arguments adduced by the Leaders of the Labour party against syndicalism are parallel to those formerly adduced against trade unionism itself. Quite apart from the question of whether these gentlemen had been guilty of illegal acts is the great question of the status of the Government of South Africa, and here I am inclined to say that almost every speaker in this House has been at fault, including, perhaps by a lapsus linguœ, the Secretary of State for the Colonies himself, as, for instance, when on one occasion he spoke of "Dependencies." There is in this House, on all occasions and on all sides, a tendency to patronise the Dominions.

10.0 P.M.


No. I used the word "Dependencies" deliberately, in order to include every Possession of the British Crown beyond the seas. If I had used the word "Dominions," it would not have done so.


I accept that explanation. One reason why I made the reference was in order to make the point perfectly clear. Even the hon. Gentleman whose speech I listened to with very great attention, and who is himself a representative of the Dominions, used continually the word "Colonies." I am rather surprised that it should be accepted in Canada, but I can assure him that it is not acceptable in any other of the Dominions.


When I use the word "Colonies" I use it as it is understood by the Colonial Office, and when I use the word "Dominions" I use it as it is understood.


I am again glad to have brought out the point, but I think it best altogether to avoid words which have a depreciatory association, which are entirely out of date, and which have been resented, especially by the younger representatives of the second or third generation, particularly in Australia and South Africa. There has also been a tendency right throughout the whole of these speeches to lecture the South African Government, sometimes in a friendly or paternal way, and sometimes in the way of admonition. I have known the representatives of South Africa personally, and I have had some experience of this House. While having every intention of preserving my high respect for the great qualities of statesmanship and intellect and ability of the Members of this House, I find that my own recollection of the men I met in South Africa is that they are in no way inferior to them, even in regard to those qualities; and certainly, when they have their own affairs to deal with, they are vastly superior to those who can only deal with them at the distance of half a hemisphere. I venture to say that if such a suggestion as that of the Noble Lord who sits for Oxford University had been carried into effect, and that this country had given voice to a protest in any great impressive and official form, the result would have been as the hon. Member who has just sat down has declared, but these Dominions would not have waited for one or two repetitions of that act they would probably have run up the Republican flag forthwith. I venture to say that the very word "Empire" is a misnomer. It is a word which I always avoid myself, and it is a word which, as the Secretary for the Colonies has carefully explained, has no real meaning and application to those great condominions usually denominated the British Empire. If the original Resolution had been carried into effect, then for the first time, we would have had real Empire builders, and the pioneer of them all would have been the hon. Member who proposed the Resolution, because it would have been declared by the deliberate act of this Parliament to be within the power of this Parliament to deal with and control the acts of the Parliaments of the great Dominions over the seas. That Empire, however, would not have lasted very long, and I think that the best counsel that can be given to this House and to the Colonial Secretary is to remind them that these great statesmen are perfectly capable of managing their own business, that the people of these great Dominions are marching steadily on in the way of progress, and that it behoves this country to march to the same step. These peoples at this hour of the day are not going to recede back to the Middle Ages and to shackle themselves with the remnants of a feudalism from which we are emerging in this country. They are not going to pour the new wine of their manly energies into the old bottles of a decaying and worn out system.


We have arrived at a very interesting position by somewhat remarkable steps. This Resolution, put on the Paper by the hon. Member for Sunderland, is one which has given many of us an opportunity of expressing our opinion or, at any rate, of supporting the proper and, I venture to think, wide expression of feeling in this country on a matter of very great importance. We have only arrived at this opportunity by devious and circuitous routes, but one can almost forgive the Noble Lord the Member for Oxford University for the rather characteristic chicane by which he deprived the House of the opportunity of dealing with the first matter on the Paper, because he has allowed the House to have the chance of dealing with this question. One has always recognised in human life that devious paths are generally overruled for the public good. How much credit is due to the Noble Lord, is a matter I am not competent or willing to decide, but having seen him in his less attractive aspect earlier in the afternoon, and in another phase of that variegated mind when speaking for a few moments in accents we believed to be sincere, on the elementary principles of constitutional government, I am not going to be tempted into considering the irrelevant analogies with which the Noble Lord's mind played so readily. There are plenty of differences between the condition of the Colonies, if that word is still permissible after the protest made by the last speaker, and the condition of Ireland under any conceivable alteration of the existing law. But this, at any rate, is clear, that under any conceivable alteration of the existing law Ireland will still be represented in this House, and the difference which is important, and as some of us think fundamental, is scarcely consistent with the party polemics of the Noble Lord, and the other comparisons he drew from those misleading analogies.

I am not concerned so much with the way at which we have arrived at this discussion as with the subject matter of the discussion. I agree with the Noble Lord in regretting that there should be the slightest excuse for any one of us to say that this matter does not create great interest in the House of Commons. Now, on an occasion which rarely happens, after a very long interval of time, the House of Commons is asked, not to pass judgment, but to express an opinion upon the actions of a Government in another part of His Majesty's Dominions, which is full of constitutional and political significance. I desire to express my thanks to the hon. Member for Sunderland for accepting the Amendment which has been suggested by the Colonial Secretary, and which I hope, as the Noble Lord hopes, may lead to an unanimous vote of this House. There are few positions more difficult, or more dangerous, than that of a representative Chamber of the Empire, as this is, in commenting on actions done in other parts of His Majesty's Dominions which have the fullest grant of self-government. There is a danger in whatever happens; there is a danger in ignoring it; there is a danger in taking notice of it. If you ignore what has happened in South Africa, and thereby imply assent, it may have as great, as serious, and as injurious consequences as expressed dissent may have. It is perfectly true that this House has no direct authority, but I differ from the Noble Lord, as the hon. Member for Galway differed from him, in being glad, and not sorry, that the Colonial Office issued no mere comment when they have not the sanction of authority behind them to do it. But there is all the difference in the world between formal votes of censure and formal quasi-authoritative expressions of regret and the unfettered, free, and individual expression of opinion which has been made in this House to-night from all parts of the Chamber. We seek to exercise no authority, but our sympathy with our fellow subjects in South Africa is not the cheap and easy sympathy which one may extend to a mere acquaintance with whom he is merely concerned to be on friendly casual terms. It is the sympathy which we may feel for relatives and for friends, which makes us profoundly interested alike in the success or in the failure of those with whom we are concerned, and which makes us anxious, if possible, to express courteous and temperate judgment when we find that those for whom we care, and in whom we are interested, are taking steps which appear to us to be fraught with danger and pregnant with disaster and with future trouble.

Those of us who think about the proceedings in South Africa will be grateful to my hon. Friend for the opportunity he has given to us to express sentiments which may be entirely without offence, but, one may hope, not entirely without persuasion. In this country we have a system of law which is not the same in many important particulars as other systems of law in other parts of His Majesty's Dominions, and, in view of the reference in this Resolution to those great landmarks of our legal system which mark out alike in our history and in our own sense of freedom the great stages by which we have endeavoured to reconcile individual liberty with public order, we may well wish that a similar system of law had prevailed all along in South Africa. Our judgment of what has been done there should surely be tempered and modified by the fact that their system of law—the Roman-Dutch law—is different from our own. That should qualify our expressions of disagreement, and that should moderate the vigour and take away entirely the edge of our criticism. But that is no reason whatever why we should refrain from passing a Resolution like the amended Resolution now before the House, which expresses our desire that the legal traditions of this country and the constitutional doctrine which they embody or imply should be shared by our fellow subjects in that country. I am sure that most people in this country heard of these deportations, of the Act of Indemnity, and of the whole proceedings in this great matter with feelings of sorrow, regret, and surprise. I believe that just as we listen with attention to and consider with care all the deliberate actions of the Government responsible to the King in that part of his Dominions, so our opinions and our feelings and the judgment which we form, in all sympathy and with all respect to them, are opinions, feelings, and judgments which are not without their weight in South Africa.

It would, indeed, have been a great pity—it might even have become an Imperial misfortune—if this House had passed any strong and stringent Resolution which seemed for a moment to impair the fullness of their self-government or the absolute character of their responsibility. But when they know that this House of Commons is in full sympathy with that previous House of Commons which was responsible for the grant of self-government to them, when they know that the vast majority of this House—indeed, I trust the whole of this House—are in agreement with that great and pregnant utterance of the late Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman, that it is better to have self-government even than good government. [HON. MEMBERS: "We do not agree with it!"] Like all important truths, it requires and ought to have some dissentients in order to make its fulness and power more clear to the general public. Those of us who do agree with it may, at any rate, hope that our fellow-subjects in South Africa realise that this House of Commons, in the main, is in accord with that great utterance and the principle it enshrined, and that they may be more willing to feel and realise that our sorrow and our regret, our surprise and our alarm at what has happened in South Africa, are not feelings awakened by hostility or by want of sympathy, but are feelings awakened by our own knowledge—knowledge shared in all parts of the House by men of every party—of how sacred liberty is, and of how much more, in the long run, is it desirable that you should take great risks with political opponents or with social movements than to try by oppression to unduly violate the law. But the real inwardness and significance of this amended Motion and of its unanimous passing is not that our attitude is one of carping criticism or even of censure, but of grave and friendly warning that we who inherit traditions which have come down to us from ages in which these problems were thought under many conditions by every type of man, are only anxious that our fellow subjects for whom we wish every prosperity should avoid the mistakes of our ancestors, and should find a shorter and an easier way than has been found in this country to that harmony of freedom and order which is the ideal of us all. Therefore, is it that in that spirit, and in that spirit alone, I, for one, welcome this Motion, and I shall unhesitatingly vote for it, and in doing so I believe, so far as the mere utterance of a minor Member of Parliament can be helpful, I am not hindering but helping the welding together of the Empire, which all men who love it desire always.


It almost seems a pity, in face of the almost unanimous feeling of the House, to continue the Debate much longer. At the same time one desires to put a point or two in perfect sincerity that do not seem to me to have been yet touched upon. When this British Parliament grants self-governing powers to those communities beyond the seas, I have been under the impression that there were certain fundamental principles of British law upon which all these self-governing institutions were to be based. We have been told by the Colonial Secretary that South Africa was governed under Roman-Dutch law. I for one confess to absolute ignorance of that fact. I thought, when we took part in those memorable Debates which led up to the granting of self-government to South Africa, that whatever might be the variations in the general form of government, at least there were certain fundamental conditions the protection of which would be granted to every British subject. In my limited knowledge, I thought that the great Charter granted 700 years ago was at least to be observed, and really I did not think myself that the right hon. Gentleman treated the matter quite as he ought by pointing out to our Friends on these benches that there were many things in Magna Charta which were completely out of date—at least, the essentials of Magna Charta, we hope, are still in existence. It is nothing to us to tell us that the lord of the manor can take forfeited lands and other things which are complete anachronisms. Not a bit of it. What we want to know is, wherever the King's writ runs, throughout the whole of the British Dominions, are the fundamental rights of his subjects equal one to another? That is the great point we desire to know. I do it with some hesitation and some regret, because we find such a vast body of opinion in this House almost in entire agreement, but let us see what was the fundamental condition of that particular charter. It has been carried along right up to date, but one Clause reads this way:— No free man shall be taken or imprisoned, or be disseised of his freehold or liberties or free customs, or be outlawed or exiled, or otherwise destroyed. Nor will we not pass upon him nor condemn him but by lawful judgment of his peers or by the law of the land. We will sell to no man, we will not deny or defer to any man either justice or right. In the ignorance under which we labour upon these benches we really thought that that fundamental condition would exist just as much in the South African Dominions as in our own country, that there should be no person outlawed or exiled, that justice should not be sold and should not be deferred, that no man should be deprived of his fundamental liberties, except through trial by his peers. Are we to be told that the connection between these great Dominions and ourselves is so slight and slender that we must even speak of the connection with bated breath and whispering humbleness? Are we to be told that the cord is so slight and slender that the very slightest touch will break it and will imperil the whole fabric of the British Empire? The Noble Lord read with very great effect—and, indeed, we all felt grateful to him—a noble passage of Burke. I remember that in a similar passage Burke spoke of the ties connecting these territories with the Empire. He spoke of the ties which, light as air yet strong as iron, bind the Colonies to the Mother Country. I think these ties are strong. The Mother Country is sending out tens of thousands of her sons every year. These sons when they leave the Mother Country have a right to know whether they are going to these outlying Dominions on the same fundamental rights as they possess here. They have a right to ask that question, and to have it answered when they take their wives and mothers and children from this country to build up, perhaps, a brighter and happier empire in other lands. They have a right to have the fundamental question answered, once and for all, whether these rights which have been fought for, and which have occasionally caused calamity, suffering, and heartbreaking for hundreds of years, have been secured to them, not merely in England and the British Isles, but wherever the King's writ runs and the British Commonwealth extends. It seems to us that we have a right to have that question answered No one impugns the sincerity of the right hon. Gentleman, but he really ought to carry the matter a little further, and let it be seen, so far as it is possible by honest negotiation, by friendly entreaty, and by every art open to honest diplomacy, that throughout the whole of the British Empire these fundamental rights and liberties shall be properly maintained. The right hon. Gentleman spoke of the Petition of Right. I would rather speak of the Bill of Rights to which the Noble Lord referred. The very first passage in the Bill of Rights is to this effect:—

"That the pretended power of suspending of laws, or the execution of laws, by regal authority, without consent of Parliament, is illegal."

That is the second great law upon which British rights are established. We wish to know, also, whether that is to be established wherever the King's writ runs. We have a right to say that inasmuch as they derive their authority from this Imperial Parliament at least the fundamental rights of the King's subjects in South Africa shall be equally honoured and equally safeguarded. Let us take the tenth clause of that same Bill of Rights. It says:—

"Excessive bail ought not to be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel nor unusual punishments inflicted."

Can you conceive a more cruel or unusual punishment of presumably free men than to be sent out of the heart of the Empire without trial in any way whatever, indeed, without any allegation of any sort, with no indictment framed and no charge of any sort alleged against them, imprisoned without a trial, and told positively when they reached the prison that there was no indictment framed against them, and that, indeed, they knew not what to charge them with? Can you imagine a more cruel punishment than that men should be deported thousands of miles, leaving their wives and children in the country from which they were sent? Is it really true that in this great Britannic Commonwealth we really do possess equal rights throughout the whole Dominions, or is it a farce, a fallacy and a phantom that we are pursuing? I have a consuming desire to have preserved the fundamental liberties that have made the British name famous throughout the world. I say with the utmost sincerity that while there may be other countries better blessed in many ways, the fundamental rights to which British citizens have been accustomed are, after all, the greatest blessings that citizens can enjoy. But we shall have to modify our opinions and revise our views unless we arc told that, at least, wherever the British subject goes, wherever he takes his wife and children, where he is willing to expend himself and his fortune, the fundamental rights to which I have referred shall be secured to him just as much as they were in the Motherland at home.

That is the reason that we have raised this point. Justice has been delayed; cruel and unusual punishments have been inflicted. These men have not been tried by their peers. I thought once that they had the right as British citizens to appear at the bar of this House to plead their own case when other remedies were not available. That may be an unheroic course, but I think that, just as in the old Roman days, the proudest boast of a Roman was to be able to say, "I am a Roman citizen," and to be free from degrading punishments when he made that proud boast, in the same way to-day we ought to be able to hold up our heads proudly and to say that there shall be no cruel and unusual punishments, that there shall be no delaying of justice, and that there shall be no imprisonment without the prospect of a fair trial, that all these great prizes shall be secured to us, and that no man shall be able to say, "I am a British subject; I have to bear the pains and penalties; I have to bear taxation and the thousand and one obligations that British citizenship imposes upon me, but I am denied the full rights of every citizen." I think it a great pity that such a state of things can be honestly stated, and I am sure that we all sincerely hope that in this House, above and below the Gangway on both sides, British citizen- ship shall be a real thing, and that it shall not become the mere figment of political imagination.


The hon. Member has raised a point of very great importance: that every citizen of the Empire ought not only to hope but know that whether he remains at home or goes to the furthest part of it, he shall enjoy the full rights which have been won for him in the Old Island at home. But the recognition of those rights at home rest, for us, upon the long experience of this country of days when those rights either did not exist or had still to be fought for. And in granting self-government to any Dominion under the British Crown the Home country is taking the responsibility itself, and is giving the responsibility to the newly-organised Dominion, saying, "You shall establish those rights on your own foundation and upon your own public opinion, and it cannot in future happen that, once having given full rights of responsible government, that the Home Government can interfere and shall say 'this Act may pass and this Act may not pass.'" But I take it that the point which my hon. Friend the Member for Ince (Mr. Walsh) raised in the earlier part of his speech, namely, the right of this House, as the senior democratic assembly in the Empire, to express its opinion, even in strong terms, on what has happened within the range of another democracy in the Empire, is a right which is unchallenged, and I am quite certain that the expression of opinion which has taken place already outside this House throughout the length and breadth of this country, has already had its due effect in the South African Dominions of the Crown, and that nothing but good can follow from the declaration which this House is about to make, that the events which were witnessed during the troubled period of recent South African history are events which we earnestly hope as Imperialists, without distinction of party, can never happen again. I think there cannot be anyone in this House—although I heard a whispered dissent from an hon. and gallant Member—who will express any opinion but one of reprobation of the measures that were taken by the Union Government. It is no doubt a great irony that General Botha should be the darling of the London Stock Exchange, and some of the cartoons of Mr. Will Dyson have very aptly expressed in recent months the feelings of very many persons in this country regarding the association of General Botha with the interest of the Stock Exchange. But, if I may, I should like to be allowed to say that I would rather see every Dominion of the British Crown stumble through injustice and tyranny to a sure knowledge of its own rights under its own government, than that there should be any form of interference from the Government at home.

The Noble Lord has drawn the lesson often drawn before, that the British Government in many cases has more power over a foreign nation than she has over her Dominions, and that for the very simple reason that she has deliberately delegated that portion of her sovereignity which covers the Dominions to the people of the Dominions. There can be progress towards a firm foundation of the common rights of citizenship in any Dominion unless the citizens of each Dominion are left free to fight for and establish those rights of citizenship for themselves. So much has been said already regarding the whole position that I had not intended to add anything to the Debate, but the words which fell from the hon. Member for Ince, expressing surprise that any person in the South African Union should find himself deprived of any right which he enjoyed at home, suggested to me the argument which I have been trying to develop. In certain minor aspects I have heard the Noble Lord the Member for Hitchin (Lord R. Cecil) say that at the present moment there is an Executive in power supported by a Parliamentary majority which is prepared to violate certain rights of Magna Charta. The matter then rests upon this, that whatever rights have been won in the past rest upon the foundation of public opinion now, and it is because public opinion in this country is so well grounded in the history and in the long story of stirring events which have won those rights, and it is because modern public opinion in Great Britain is so firmly grounded on that basis, that in the main no one ever dreams that those rights will ever be challenged in this country. So the education of public opinion in other parts of the British Dominions must proceed very much in the same way. I do not believe that those rights of British citizenship under the British Crown can rest upon any other foundation but that of a consenting and supporting public opinion, and that public opinion, I have no doubt whatever about it, is better educated by passing through trial than by receiving any form of education or of remonstrance from home. While I yield to no one in deploring the events which passed, I, at the same time, am very glad indeed that His Majesty's Government took no action whatever to frustrate the working out of democracy in the great South African Union.


I think this Debate has shown very clearly that the issues that have been raised in the Resolution, whether in the original or amended form, are very much wider and affect very many other issues than the particular one which was the cause of the appearance of the Resolution on the Paper. The point that seems to be raised very clearly indeed in this: If the Resolution raises one point of importance more than another it is the conflict between what might be called the rights of the self-governing power and those traditions of British citizenship of which we have heard. As I have listened to the arguments, it has appeared plain to me that the issue we have got to decide is whether or not the rights of the self-governing Dominions would be based upon those British traditions, or whether the liberties of the people living in those areas would be based upon what the self-governing Power may arrogate to itself as its right and as its duty. That, I think, is a very important point, and I can quite understand if the subject is not handled very carefully it may bring reprisals. It may bring from persons in the self-governing Dominions the retort, "We are not going to be under the thumb of the Home Government. You have given us self-government, and you have got to let us work out our own salvation in our own way." But it seems to me that we ought to see to it that in future the relationship between these traditions and the powers of self-governing bodies are clearly defined. At present they seem to be somewhat loose ends. For instance, the hon. Member near me (Mr. Whyte) has told us, by implication, that the British flag connotes nothing, that our past struggles for liberty mean nothing and count for nothing, that in future, as fast as a Colony is converted into a self-governing Dominion, it must forge out of the rock for itself, without any respect to the past, its own conditions of liberty, constitutional usage, and the rest of it.


I agree that that may be an interpretation to be placed on my speech, because I did not develop to its full extent the argument that I was trying to put forward with regard to the particular combination of elements which go to make up the South African population and the South African laws. If I had carried my argument a little further I think my hon. Friend would have seen that I meant no such conclusion as that which he has drawn.


I quite understand that my hon. Friend meant nothing of the kind, but, if there is any logic in his argument, that is exactly what it all meant. He said something like this—I do not profess to quote his exact words: "I would rather our self-governing Dominions stumbled and fought their way through injustice and tyranny to better conditions in the future." My point, if I can make it clear, is that there ought to be at least some conditions laid down, assimilation to which should connote membership of the British Empire. In short, does the British Empire mean anything, or does it not? Is there anything which connotes the British Empire? Are there any distinguishing features which mark it off from the rest of the world? Is there nothing in past British struggles for liberty? Are there no traditions upon which we may base ourselves, and, basing ourselves upon them, say, "These things are British; these are anti-British?" I certainly think there ought to be something of the kind. I am not going to push the argument too far; I am not going to say that if there are no such conditions laid down we must come down with a heavy hand upon any Dominion which happens to depart from what we think ought to be. But I make this plea: that if there are no such conditions laid down they ought to be laid down, and that very shortly.

I cannot understand the wringing of the hand of the Colonial Secretary, and in a lesser degree by the Noble Lord (Lord H. Cecil), who made a most interesting speech which I enjoyed to the full, in spite of the fact that one would almost have thought from one part of his argument that Dublin was the capital of the Transvaal, and Pretoria the capital of Ireland. Notwithstanding that ingenious and clever argument, I agreed in the main with what he said, until he came to what appeared to be an exhibition of helplessness. "We have given self-government to South Africa," he said, "and now we are powerless to help ourselves." I am afraid that it is only too true. But I am not disposed to let the matter rest there. I think that the Government, with representatives of the Opposition, and of the party to which I belong, together with representatives of the self-governing Dominions, ought to meet together and hammer out some conditions which would connote British citizenship. I do not suggest that everything upon which there might happen to be a difference of opinion between this country and the Colonies ought necessarily to be held to be of such a vital nature that it ruled those who committed themselves to those things outside the pale of the British Empire. On the other hand, there are some things which, I think, ought to do so. Let me put a case in point. Suppose, for instance, an Australian brother should feel, rightly or wrongly—they should know best—a fear of the Asiatic, believing him to be a menace; and not wishing to submit to Asiatic domination, should decide that no Asiatic should be allowed to land on their shores. Suppose we allowed that. We, so far as we are concerned, say that it is an intolerable thing, and it is in the nature of things we would like to suggest, or compel, the Australians to adopt our point of view. But there is another point where, I think, we should be justified in coming down with a heavy hand, and saying we will not admit this within the ambit of our British Empire, namely, that instead of prohibiting the immigration of Asiatics, the Australians should allow them to come in and then proceed to reduce them to a condition of slavery. That marks off the two kinds of things I have in my mind—one, upon it full liberty and autonomy might be allowed; while the other is a fundamental going hack upon our own struggles for liberty of judgment and liberty of person. No community should be prepared to accept that as a basis of citizenship, or to allow the British flag to fly over such a condition of things.

For my part I have no wish to be associated with any disruptive influencies within the Empire, but I do say in all seriousness that if the kind of thing which we have just witnessed in South Africa recently is going to be repeated, very often some of us at least shall have to ask ourselves this question: Is an Empire under such conditions worth having? I think a very plain answer will be given to that question, for observe this: if there is to be an Empire, and if there is to be in some corner of it people who are living with ideals of the British Empire, rather less enlightened in relation to freedom, then the time is not far distant when a lower standard of liberty and citizenship may come filtering through to the rest of us, and the principles of the whole Empire will be in danger. I hope my suggestion will not be lost sight of by the Colonial Secretary, and that there should be some attempt to keep before all these fundamentals upon which British citizenship and the British Empire should be built up, and with which I believe the British Empire is unsafe.


I am sorry that I have been unable to be here before, for as the House knows I like to be present when questions of this sort are debated. I would like to say that I agree with very much that has been said in the speeches that I have heard. There is only one regret I have, and that is in regard to the speech of one hon. Member on the other side, in which there was what I believe to be a charge of injustice against the present Prime Minister of South Africa. I do not think in a Debate like this it is a fair or proper thing to charge the Prime Minister of South Africa with being associated in a sordid sense with commercial elements on the Stock Exchange. I am sorry the hon. Member is not here at the moment. I think that was a very unfortunate importation into this Debate, and I am quite sure the Leader of the Labour party will agree with me that it should not be done.


He did not mean that.


The Leader of the Labour party apologises for him. I am sure the Labour party would wish to dissociate itself from any attack upon General Botha. I want to say a word concerning the speech of the hon. Member (Mr. Pointer). I quite agree with him that there is a danger to this or any other Government in the centre of the Empire being too squeamish concerning discussion and frankness with any Government of the Oversea Dominions in regard to what the hon. Member called this fundamental principle. All the difficulties we have in the Empire in the past have been about questions which concerned interference with administration very largely I do not think, except in the case of the rebellion of 1827, when there were deportations to Jamaica, that there has been a single case in the Empire in which so grave a question has been raised. I venture to say it would not have been possible in Australia or Canada, where, on the whole, British ideals have been established before responsible government was given. I naturally speak with very great care, and I hope with some discretion, in this Debate, because I believed, with a good many others on this side, that some such difficulty as this would occur if responsible government were given before a period of representation was operative for a certain length of time in South Africa. I believe that the difficulty occurred because responsible government was given too soon. The ideals of British government and British citizenship and fundamental rights are understood in every portion of the King's Dominions wherever British people have laid the foundations of these individual civilisations. I venture to say that the Colonial Secretary, in the speech he made the other day, and again to-night, has in his anxiety and care, lest anything should be done to injure the relations between the Home Government and the Governments of our Oversea Dominions, has hesitated to express what I believe every member of the Oversea Dominions of British blood—at any rate—would subscribe to, and that is, if a difficulty of this sort occurs, frankness on the part of this Government, and open and conciliatory frankness, is the most useful element in the situation.

Question put, and agreed to.