HC Deb 26 April 1920 vol 128 cc995-1004

Postponed Proceeding resumed on Question proposed on consideration of Question, That a sum, not exceeding £169,810, be granted to His Majesty, to complete the sum necessary to defray the charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1921, for the salaries and expenses of the Department of His Majesty's Secretary of State for the Colonies, including a Grant in Aid and other expenses connected with Oversea Settlement.

Question again proposed, "That a sum, not exceeding £169,710, be granted for the said, Service."

Lieut.-Colonel MURRAY

I am glad that we have got back to the Vote which was under discussion. The fact that in this House to-day only some four and a half hours is given to a discussion of the questions affecting our great Dominions and Colonies overseas proves quite clearly that the Parliamentary machine, so far as dealing with all these matters is concerned, has completely broken down. As other hon. Members wish to speak, I will make my remarks as brief as possible. The question to which I wish to draw the attention of the Under-Secretary for the Colonies is the question to which the Senior Member for the City of London has already drawn the attention of the Government, and one as to which I have put questions in this House on more than one occasion. That is the question of the separate representation of Canada at the British Embassy at Washington. I put questions to the Under-Secretary for the Colonies last year. A Debate had taken place in the Canadian House of Commons in which it was suggested that a separate Canadian representative should be appointed at once. The Under-Secretary will remember that when I put a question on that subject he replied that the matter was under negotiation between the Canadian Government and this Government. I repeated the question this year, and the hon. Gentleman informed me that the matter was still under consideration.

Now I wish to draw the attention of the Committee to the fact that great interest has been excited quite recently in Canada by the forecasts of the powers which it is proposed should be exercised by the diplomatic representative of Canada at Washington. I believe it to be the case that, while Canadians generally are in favour of diplomatic representation at Washington, there are many that have given deep consideration to this subject who see that the position of the representative of Canada at Washington would be an anomalous one. Seeing that the Dominion of Canada is not an independent country, the authority of the Canadian representative would be impaired if he were subordinate to the British Ambassador. May I quote to the Committee the substance of a paragraph which appeared in a very important Canadian newspaper, the "Toronto World," which asked these questions: Will the Canadian representative be a Canadian representative with allegiance only to Canada, or will he be subordinate to the British Ambassador legally owing his appointment to the authority which appoints his superior. If he is to be under Sir Auckland Geddes and Canada pays his salary, will he in fact be the representative of London or the representative of Ottawa? The "Times" Correspondent, after citing other instances, deals with the situation which will probably arise if the proposal be carried out. He goes on to say: It will be a triumph for diplomacy indeed to instal a Minister plenipotentiary in Washington, who will represent two nations without being finally accountable to either. The War is indeed teaching us many things. The questions put by the "Toronto World" are very pertinent, indeed, and they throw into very broad relief the immense intricacy of this problem. Canada is not the only Dominion which is concerned in this matter. Surely, if Canada be separately represented at Washington, it will be only a very short step to the other Dominions, at least expressing a wish, that they also should be separately represented. I purpose to-night to make a definite suggestion to the Government in this matter. The hon. and gallant Gentleman is aware that at the Imperial War Conference on April 16th, 1917, a Resolution was passed dealing with the Constitution of the Empire. I will briefly quote it to the Committee. The Imperial War Conference are of the opinion that the readjustment of the Constitutional relations of the component parts of the Empire is too important and intricate a subject to be dealt with during the War, and that it should form the subject of a special Imperial Conference to be summoned as soon as possible after the cessation of hostilities. They deem it their duty, however, to place on record their view that any such readjustment, while thoroughly pressing all existing powers of self-government and complete control of domestic affairs, should be based upon a full recognition of the Dominions as autonomous nations of an Imperial Commonwealth, and of India as an important portion of the same, should recognise the right of the Dominions and India to an adequate voice in foreign policy and in foreign relations, and should provide effective arrangements for continuous consultation in all important matters of common Imperial concern, and for such necessary concerted action, founded on consultation, as the several Governments may determine. In submitting that resolution to the Conference, Sir Robert Borden laid stress upon the fact that foreign policy and foreign relations, which have been under the immediate control of the Government of the United Kingdom, must certainly in future be made compatible with the aspirations of the people of the Dominions. Other speakers from the other Dominions, Mr. Massey, Sir Joseph Ward, Sir Edward Morris, and General Smuts, laid stress upon the same point, that is to say that in future the Dominions must be brought, to an extent to which they had not hitherto been brought, into full consultation as far as our foreign relations and foreign policy were concerned. I venture to suggest to the Government that the step that it is proposed to take in respect of separate Canadian representation in Washington is the beginning of a great constitutional change. It must inevitably lead to a demand for separate representation at Washington on the part of the other great Dominions. I therefore suggest to the Government that they should not undertake at this moment any definite arrangement with regard to this matter, and that rather than proceed any further with the negotiations that have taken place—in saying this I do not for a moment suggest that the change may not be a good one; in fact I believe it will be a good one—they should now definitely decide to mark time and to leave this particular question of the separate Canadian representation at Washington to be settled by the Imperial Conference which, according to this resolution, is to be summoned as soon as possible after the cessation of hostilities. I hope the hon. Gentleman will be able to give us an assurance that the Imperial Conference will be held next year. He is well aware that the sooner it is held the better. It would have been very much better to have held it at the end of this year, but I understand that would not be acceptable or convenient to the Union of South Africa. I hope it will be held in the summer of next year, and that this question will be held up until then, and will be settled at the Conference in conjunction with other matters affecting the constitutional readjustment of the component parts of the Empire.

Lieut.-Colonel J. WARD

I wish to refer to an incident that occurred whilst I was at Hongkong. I wish it to be a reminder to the Secretary of State on a subject about which I have informed him already. During 1917, when stationed at Hong Kong as a military officer, I was invited one day to lunch at the Governor's house, the occasion being a reception to the Chinese mandarin who was the Governor of Canton. All British officers and officials of the colony were present. A discussion took place on one side of the table about a matter which had just been before the courts—a case of selling two girls, and as to whether it was legal in a British colony to buy or sell human beings. The Chief Justice, or whatever may be his proper title, laid down an obiter dictum, which was strange to the ears of an Englishman who had not been long in the colonies. It was to the effect that it was extremely doubtful as to whether slavery and the buying and selling of human bodies was not legal in Hong Kong. Since by the Proclamation taking over the territory of Hong Kong we agreed to observe Chinese customs; and slavery at the time was one of the Chinese customs to which we believed the Proclamation referred. No punishment was inflicted, but there were Englishmen in Hong Kong who still thought it was not possible to buy and sell people legally under the British flag, and so it was heatedly discussed. One of the legal gentlemen who had been at the trial was at the lunch, and the Consul-General from Canton carried on some slight discussion relating to what they considered to be the constitutional policy as to slavery within the British Dominions. After the conversation was over, so far as the British replies were concerned, the Mandarin silenced the whole discussion by making the following observations: "It is true that under the old Manchu Dynasty slavery was a legal institution within the Dominions and Empire of China, but the moment that dynasty was swept away and a Republic established its first declaration, and its first most stringent law, was the abolition of slavery and the buying or selling of human beings, even for adoption or any other purpose, or in any other guise. Because it was a Chinese custom we found it very difficult to suppress it in China, and we have cut off the heads of hundreds of Chinamen to insist on this law being observed. Now one of the strangest things is that the only place where this can be done within the whole territory of China is Hong Kong, the possession of Britain."


I join in the expressions of regret that this Debate, which covers a number of most important subjects affecting the whole of our Empire overseas, should have been contracted within the very narrow limits into which it has been forced by events to-day. I hope that it will be found possible to arrange at some later date before this Session closes for a continuance of the Debate, because, with the exception of the question of East Africa, I doubt if a single one of the most important and interesting topics which have been raised by hon. Members this afternoon has received anything like the adequate discussion which their importance and their interest fully deserve. It is impossible for me to deal at all in detail with any of the topics which, had I had the opportunity, I should have liked to have discussed, not at great length, but at some length, because the topics which have been discussed to-day are topics which, from my personal experience extending over many years in Africa, I have some claim to be heard on in this House. I should specially have liked to have said something with regard to the very interesting matters which were raised in the speech of my hon and gallant Friend the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Colonel Wedgwood), also in the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Bishop Auckland (Mr. Spoor), both of them dealing with most interesting aspects of the general question of the relations of this country to the natives in the overseas possessions of the Empire. The reason specially why I should like to have dealt with some of those views, which were ably and most fairly put forward, is because I feel that if the hon. Members had possessed greater personal familiarity with the very diverse conditions with which they had to deal they would not perhaps have felt quite so certain either of their facts or that the views which they hold are so correct as they at present imagine. It is a great misfortune that the leaders of those who speak for Labour have not been informed by personal acquaintance with the conditions on the spot of the territories of which they speak so freely.


We are not responsible for our poverty.


I was merely expressing regret that certain so-called leaders of Labour—I do not know what is meant by "Labour"—but I think it is a misfortune that they have not more adequate knowledge of our possessions overseas.


May I inform the hon. Member that every single Member of the Labour Advisory Committer who have been drawing up this policy, had intimate knowledge of all the Colonies in Africa.


I was not in particular referring to the speech of my hon. and gallant Friend who, I freely admit, always takes great pains to inform himself of the subjects on which he speaks, and although we may not always agree with his views, I think every Member of this House will admit that he is always interesting to listen to, and has done his best to inform himself on the subjects on which he speaks. I had in mind more particularly the speech of the hon. Member for Bishop Auckland, which I felt was sincere, was animated by generous ideals, but was curiously out of touch with the real facts. Somehow his speech seemed to me to assume that all parts of the great Continent of Africa are much the same and that the same treatment can be applied to all of them. I venture to doubt that. Nature has been extremely diverse in the gifts which she has bestowed upon these various territories. The races which inhabit them are of very varying degrees of civilisation, and am convinced, from my own experience, that the problems of each particular territory must be studied with reference to its particular circumstances, and that it is not possible to have general rules applicable to all. Therefore, I think these comparisons of West Africa with Rhodesia, with which I am particularly familiar, are really very misleading, because the conditions which apply to one do not apply to the other.

On the subject of Rhodesia, I should like to thank the Under-Secretary for the statement which he has made this afternoon, and which, coming from him, with the weight which his office bestows upon him, is of great value, and will give the utmost satisfaction to those—and they are numerous—high-minded Englishmen who, in the circumstances of that difficult and trying territory, have been for many years doing their utmost to pursue a British policy in its best sense towards the aboriginal inhabitants of these territories. I note it has been the fashion in certain quarters for many years to make out that the administration of the Chartered Company in Rhodesia has been purely selfish and purely commercial. Those of us who know, know that any such statement is a gross travesty of the facts, and we have had to endure these false accusations for many years while we knew we were doing our very utmost to raise the conditions of the native inhabitants of those territories, and have been doing it most satisfactorily. It has been the greatest satisfaction to us to know—and the satisfaction will be greater in Rhodesia, than in London—that the Colonial Office, informed as they are by such an independent and high-minded authority as Lord Buxton, is in a position to testify that the native administration of Rhodesia and the conduct of the white settlers in Rhodesia towards the natives is really a model administration which may be treated as a model by other administrations in Africa. I should like to thank him most heartily for the public statement which is now on record, and which I hope will not again be questioned in this House. There are, I know, differences of opinion with regard to other matters with which the Chartered Company is concerned, and I do not propose to enter upon them, but anyone who has been concerned, as I have been, and has personal responsibility for such matters, does feel acutely attacks made upon the Company which he has the honour to serve, on grounds which are wholly false, and on so-called facts which have no real existence.

The other subject upon which I should have liked, had it been possible, to have said something, and at greater length, would have been the question of Empire development. There is no time to pursue it now. I took part in the Debate with my hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Bigland) on the Address of February of last year, and it was entirely due to the courtesy of the leaders of the Labour party at that time that we had our opportunity. We had our opportunity and made our appeal to the Government, and, as the hon. Member for Birkenhead has said, that appeal did not fall on deaf ears. The Colonial Office appointed a Committee, which is now engaged in studying these matters, and I hope great good to this country and the Overseas possessions of the Empire will accrue through the operations in the future of that Committee. The day will come when it will be, I am sure, a vital necessity to find a better outlet for the savings of the new rich amongst what have hitherto been the poorer classes of this country and to give them an opportunity of favourable investment for their money. I am sure, under the guidance of the Committee, of which Lord Islington, I think, is the head, these savings will accrue if encouraged, and the thing of all others which I am-sure this House will be anxious to avoid will be that the product of these loans shall not be absorbed in meeting the current expenditure of this country. It will be necessary to find proper and remunerative directions in which those savings can be employed to advantage, and I venture to suggest to the Colonial Office that they should continue the pos- sibility of taking advantage of these savings when the time arrives. I think that is a matter which deserves most careful consideration, and I hope that on the next occasion, when I hope this Vote will be again discussed, the Under-Secretary for the Colonies will be able to give us his views upon this and upon other matters connected with the development of the Empire.

It being Eleven of the Clock, the Chairman left the Chair to make his Report to the House.

Committee report Progress; to sit again To-morrow.

The remaining Orders were read and postponed.

ADJOURNMENT:—Resolved, "That this House do now adjourn."—[Lieut.-Colonel Sir R. Sanders.]

Adjourned accordingly at Four Minutes after Eleven o'Clock.