HC Deb 27 July 1916 vol 84 cc1966-71

"In respect to Australian citizens no powers shall be vested in the Commissioners additional to those which would exist had Section 2 not been enacted."—[Mr. Lynch.]

Clause brought up, and read the first time.


I beg to move, "That the Clause be read a second time."

May I ask the representative of the Government whether this Clause, or any modification of it which would substantially express the same thing, will be accepted, because, if so, it will dispense with the necessity of my saying anything further?

8.0 p.m.


Of course, the hon. Member's statement places me in some difficulty. I am not quite clear what his object is. In his endea—vour to facilitate business, which I hope he will maintain to the end, he has refrained from explaining it to the House. I conceive the position to be that an Australian in this country is a British citizen on exactly the same footing as any other; he is subject to exactly the same law as any other British subject, and I do not think that under this Act there can arise any occasion for an inquiry in Australia itself.


There may not arise any inquiry in Australia itself—I think that is very improbable—but it is possible that an Australian who fought at the Dardanelles may find himself, by virtue of this Act, when this Bill becomes an Act, under the inculcation of a law which would constrain him to do something, to suffer something, which might give umbrage even to Australian opinion. Or, to put the matter in another way. We are here enacting in the British Parliament a law of which the incidence might strike an Australian citizen in his capacity as an Australian citizen. There are certain matters in which the status of Australia with regard to this country is not perfectly defined, and there is a tendency, less marked than it used to be, even in this Parliament to encroach on the domain of Australia. The Prime Minister even to-day, inadvertently no doubt, committed a faux pas in speaking of Mr. Andrew Fisher as being a representative of one of the Colonies. I admit it was quite a slip of the tongue, but that is an infringement of the right of Australia to be regarded as a Dominion, or, as it is sometimes called, a self-governing Dominion, though I think that even the word "self-governing" is rather unnecessary and patronising. If the representative of the Government here will not accept either this Clause or some modification of it in words which would express the meaning, then I must push it to a Division, because I want the Australian Government to know that there is a possibility that by an enactment in this Parliament there may be an infringement on the domain which they consider, and rightly consider, their own.


I thought I had made it clear to the hon. Member that it would not be so.


I will be happy if the right hon. Gentleman will make it quite clear.


I will try. The Commission will have no local powers in Australia, but I think it is quite clear that it must have such power over Austra- lians in this country as it has over anyone else in this country. We cannot make a distinction between people who are in this country in this matter. What the Australian Government and people would naturally be jealous of would be any infringement of their own rights within their own country, but I have never heard an Australian resident in this country claim to be treated differently from any other British subject.


Might I point out to the hon. Member for West Clare (Mr. Lynch) that he seems to be proceeding under a misapprehension of the facts and of the law. There is at the present time an Act—I think it is called the Colonial Evidence Act—which would, under the proper procedure, give all these powers to a Court sitting over here if it required evidence to be given in Australia for the purpose of proceedings over here, or if evidence were required here to assist proceedings in Australia. It deals with all these matters, and at the present time the self-governing Dominions and the Mother Country are bound together by a system by which evidence under this Section can be obtainel by a proper process. There is nothing in this Act which cannot be obtained by the present system, if put in force, although it may take a little longer to carry it out. Section 2 is no new thing. It is really founded upon the system of the Colonial Evidence Act, which at the present time works, and works usefully, between the two countries.


I do not think the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Chamberlain) has quite met the whole of the case of my hon. Friend (Mr. Lynch). He has stated that this Commission will have no legal powers in Australia. Of course, we will not contest that satisfactory position, which partly meets my hon. Friend's case; but I would like to put to the right hon.' Gentleman one or two cases as illustrations, and to ask him how those cases which I will give should be met. We know there were very large numbers of Australian and New Zealand troops in the Dardanelles, and they had over these troops high Australian officers. It may be that for the purposes of the inquiry to be held by the Dardanelles Commission some of these officers may require to be examined, not only the higher officers, but those who can bear witness to the terrible conditions that these troops had to go through in Gallipoli. Many of these men may have been wounded, and have gone back to Australia. Will this Commission have power to compel those witnesses to return to this country for the purpose of giving evidence? I would like the House to look into that point. I do not think that that is an encroachment upon the rights of the Commonwealth of Australia which should be permitted for a moment, and, of course, a way out would be that the Commissioners should communicate with the Government of Australia with a view to seeing if the Government could spare the services of these gentlemen.

I would only like to say on this New Clause one other word. Very many thousands of Australian and New Zealand troops went from these great Dominions to the Dardanelles. Their record there was one that has not been surpassed by any troops in any part of the operations of war. They went out from Australia under their own organisation, and with their own equipment to a certain extent. We have heard something of the terrible scandals that have taken place in connection with the Dardanelles operations, but throughout it all neither the Home Government, the Secretary of State for the Colonies, nor the Prime Minister, from start to finish of what has gone on in public and in the Press, has ever said one public word in vindication of the Commonwealth Government of Australia, or of the Dominion Government of New Zealand, although they are perfectly well aware that neither of those Governments has one iota of responsibility for the scandals and mismanagement that have taken place. I say it is due to those Governments that that should have been stated, not now but long ago, by some responsible Minister in this country.


I am rather sorry that the hon. Gentleman who has just spoken made those few last remarks, because they are calculated to disturb the brotherly and friendly feeling which now exists between the Dominions and the Mother Country. No one is anxious to run down the great Dominions, as the hon. Gentleman seems to think. I am sure we are all most proud of them, and I think the slight note of discord the hon. Gentleman struck will do him and his Friends no good here if they wish to get other measures through the House. With regard to this new Clause, I am not a lawyer, but it seems to me that it is surely perfectly possible, without sending anyone out to Australia to take evidence or compelling Australian witnesses to come back here, to Mesopotamia, or wherever the Commission is sitting, to use the methods of the High Courts of Australia. That Court would be communicated with, and I understand they would then have powers to compel the attendance of witnesses in Australia. There they would be examined on oath, the results of the examination would be sent home to the Commission, and that would meet all the difficulties the hon. Gentleman imagines to exist. There would be no more inconvenience to witnesses in Australia to attend the High Court than there would be to an English citizen to attend a High Court here.


I think I can ease the minds of the hon. Members who have supported this new Clause if they are really under any apprehension that the Bill is in any way prejudicial or slighting to Australians in the way suggested. This Bill gives the Commission simply the powers of the High Court. At present any Australian in this country can be examined as a witness in this country under the usual pratice, or a Commission can be sent to Australia if it is more to his convenience or to his interest that his evidence should be taken there. This Bill, of course, also gives this Commission these new powers to issue instructions to take evidence. How the hon. Gentleman can imagine that there is any intention to treat an Australian in any different way from an English subject who may happen to be in Australia or in any other country from which it is inconvenient for him to go in order to give evidence, I cannot understand. The Australian and English subjects would be treated with the same machinery, and in the same respect, and I do not see any ground whatever for the apprehension.


I think the hon. Member for North Galway (Mr. Hazleton) is in error in his statement that no mention has been made of the matters of which he has spoken, and I think he will be pleased to hear that the Prime Minister, and the Secretary of State for War also, have constantly, not only here, but in other places I think, spoken in praise of the work done by the Australian and New Zealand troops.


The hon. Gentleman is in error. I did not say anything in reference to the fact that no tribute had been paid to the valour of these Australian and New Zealand troops. I did not insinuate that for a moment. I said that no acknowledgment had been made by the Government of the fact that the Australian and New Zealand Governments are not in any way responsible for the misfortunes or the errors of management which took place in the Dardanelles.

The CHAIRMAN (Mr. Whitley)

This question is quite apart from the Clause.


I may say at the beginning that I had not the slightest intention of introducing any vexatious matter. I have been greatly, but not entirely, reassured by the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Chamberlain) and the hon. and learned Gentleman who spoke from this side (Mr. Pollock). What was in my mind was this: This Commission will have some powers of punishment, and some powers even of disculpation, and that might touch Australian subjects upon whom the Australian Government would desire to exercise either those powers of punishment or of disculpation. Whereas I feel very jealous of any kind of infringement of the complete self—governance of Australia, I do not think I exaggerated that susceptibility as I represented it, because I think it is shared by Australians everywhere, and that it may be put forward now as one of their national characteristics. In view of what has been said, however, and of the consensus of opinion in the House, I beg leave to withdraw my new Clause.

Motion and Clause, by leave, withdrawn.