§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now Adjourn."—[Lord Edmund Talbot.]
§ Mr. A. WILLIAMS
I wish to raise a matter touching the honour and the interests of this country which ought to be discussed before we separate for our well-earned holiday. I refer to the unhappy people of Armenia, who have no holidays, but suffer day by day and year after year under the terrible tyranny of the Turkish Government and the Turkish bands. I refer particularly to Cilicia. There is a most dangerous state of things there, and unless it is dealt with by the Allies it will lead to a great expenditure of money, and perhaps loss of life. It is all very well to think that these things are far away from this country, but we cannot neglect our responsibilities to those who have been our Allies, to those who are in their present position largely because of the action of the British Government in the past, without entailing upon ourselves also very serious and very lamentable consequences in the 1340 future. In the province of Cilicia, a district which has no exact geographical boundaries, lying between the mountains and the sea, in a sort of crescent at the point where Syria and Asia Minor join, at the present time there are scores of thousands of refugees, chiefly Greeks and Armenians, who have barely escaped with their lives from the great Turkish massacres during the War, and now they are in very grave danger of their lives from the attacks of Turkish bands. We have all read of the town of Marash where there were at least 10,000 people killed, mostly Armenians who had been repatriated by the British authorities, and, I have it from official information, repatriated in many cases against their will, and were sent back to the North, whereas they wanted to follow our troops to the South.
Then we handed over their country to the French, and these terrible massacres occurred. At present the town is for the most part destroyed, being a wooden town. The Church authorities there are held as hostages, and a telegram I have here has been received purporting to come from them, declaring their danger if the French should return to that town, which will be understood by all who know the ways of the East, as just a threat on the part of the Turks that these people will be massacred if there is any attempt by 1341 the French to re-take the place. The town of Aintab is in very great danger, and Hadjin, where there are 6,000 Armenians, is also in very great danger. The Greeks and Armenians at Schar have been massacred. That information has come within the last two days, and there are several other towns being occupied by bands. Within these towns there are not only native Christians, but Americans and, possibly in some cases, British subjects also, but I certainly know of Americans. When you come to the town of Adana, the centre of the district, there are at least three British subjects there, and there are 55,000 Christian people, 30,000 of them refugees who have come back, and the remainder inhabitants of the place. Thousands of Armenians are asking arms of the French to go and relieve the town of Hadjin, and probably other towns in danger. The French find themselves unable to send troops. They have officially recommended that the women and children should be brought away from Hadjin, but that is not practicable without the greatest possible danger; indeed it is practically impossible to do it at all, unless a force of troops is sent. The French are unable to send a force of troops all the way, but they have offered to send them half way if the men of Hadjin are able to conduct the women and children the first half of the way to Adana.
I have here quite a large number of documents bearing upon this position which I should like to read to the House, but I do not wish to intrude upon the time too much. Here is one very short extract from a letter which left Adana on the 10th of this month. Adana is the very centre and capital of this district, the headquarters of the French, and the place to and around which the great mass of the refugees have been brought back. This is what a very level-headed Canadian writes:There is at present some directing power hehind these bands, as the attacks are being made in a complete semi-circle all round Adana, although at some considerable distance from it. Last night the French Consul admitted that twelve men had been killed outside Mersina (that is a town right upon the coast), and that there was restlessness in the direction of Selefkeh (which is another town right upon the coast). This is continued in a large circle round to beyond Islahieh (a long way further to the east). 1342 where the railway is cut in several places, and no communications of any kind are open to Aleppo. It is hard to say that massacres on the scale of the troubles in the Marash district are taking place, but without doubt many Armenians are being killed daily in small parties in widespread areas.These bands are attacking from the hills, and are gradually working their way down to the plains. From the first, as we know from the Rev. Harold Buxton, who has come direct back from this district, they took for their war cry "To Adana." They are not merely brigands, as the Turkish authorities like to call them, but regular, organised bands working in a semi-circle, and taking first one place and then another, and working down to Adana, where the great bulk of the Christian population is. If the French of course, are able to defend that place, and, above all, if they are able to go on giving arms to the Armenian people, who desire no better than to have arms put in their hands, in order that they may defend themselves, then there is some hope; but I am bound to say that what has happened in the past causes in our minds the greatest possible anxiety as to what will happen in the immediate future.
I have letters indicating the absolute necessity of holding the hill country if the plain of Cilicia is to be effectively held, but at present it seems the Nationalists will attack the plain and the rail way and the towns of Adana and Tarsus. I do not wish to underestimate the difficulties which the French have in that country. I know it would take a consider able force really to maintain order in that country, but they desired to occupy it, and I feel bound in my duty to these people, whom I have had the honour of representing in some sense in this House for a good many years, to say that the French people, having undertaken to occupy Cilicia, having been anxious to occupy Cilicia, having sent on a certain number of troops to one point and another—not troops enough to hold the country, but enough to exasperate the fanaticism of the Mohammedan people— the French Government are bound in honour to see that they maintain order there, and they are bound, I think, by every principle of honour and expediency, to call in the native Christian loyal inhabitants to help them in that great work.
1343 This is a matter of the greatest anxiety at the present time. Before we meet again we may hear that 10,000 people have been massacred at Hadjin, or 10,000 people had been massacred somewhere else, that possibly Adana itself is seized, and then possibly will come the cry that we, as the Allies of France, will have to send greater forces there. It would be not altogether unnatural, because we were in possession of that country until November, and then we handed it over to the French, in pursuance of some arrangements between us and the French, not asked by the native people there at all. We handed it over to the French, and when handing over the country we handed over the refugees whom we had sent back against their will into this country, and into this great danger. I hope, therefore, the Government will bethink them while yet there is time that they have a great responsibility in this matter; that they cannot come here merely and say this loss of life is very deplorable, but that the French are in possession and are responsible. I do not believe the conscience of this country will bear that. I say more than that. We cannot forget that these people have been our Allies, and have fought for us, and have fought for the French in the War. They have shed their blood in defence of Verdun in France itself. If we are now going to desert them, then I ask; what little people are going to trust this Nation in future in any war that may arise? I hope we shall have some words from the representative of the Government that either they or the French Government will take all necessary measures to effectively maintain order in that country, with justice and security for men of all races and of all religions.
§ Lord ROBERT CECIL
I share fully with my hon. Friend opposite the anxiety as to the fate of the Armenians in Cilicia. I cannot help feeling that it would be a very serious disgrace to us and to our Allies generally if the remnants of this unhappy people in Cilicia were finally wiped out. What they have suffered during the War is very terrible to many of us, and it is very difficult to find words which do not sound exaggerated in describing what their sufferings have been. May I remind the House very shortly how very precise are our obliga- 1344 tions in this matter? In the statement of the Allied Aim in 1917 we expressly included the Armenians as among those who must be liberated from Turkish rule. The Prime Minister's speech of 1918 referred to the matter, and a pledge was again given in the most specific and definite terms. In this House the Government of the day has constantly reiterated those pledges. I myself, as the mouthpiece of the Government, on more than one occasion have stated in the strongest and plainest language the obligations we felt to do everything we could to protect the Armenians. Though I have not looked at the document recently, I rather think that an avowed and similar undertaking, expressed or implied, is in President Wilson's fourteen points as a basis for the Armistice.
It was for that reason, because of the anxiety felt in various quarters of this country, among considerable numbers of people, that I ventured to press upon the Government the other day that it was right that they should have some direct representative in Cilicia who could report directly upon what was happening there. It was not from the slightest want of confidence or trust in the French that I suggested this, but merely that there might be direct official information that we could absolutely trust so that we did not depend upon indirect methods, or obtain information which we were not strictly entitled to, and which we could only receive by the courtesy of our French Allies. It would be a great satisfaction to the people of this country if they knew somebody was there representing the British Government in the sense I have put, charged with keeping the British Government fully informed as to what actually was happening, and in which the British Government's honour was so expressly and completely pledged as it is in this matter. I still think as I did, but I should be very sorry if it were believed that that suggestion implied the slightest want of confidence in our French Allies. The French aim, in this and other matters, is the same as in this country. I believe there is a very strong feeling of humanity in the French nation, quite as strong as exists in this country. I believe they are as quite determined to carry out their pledges to the Armenians as we are. It is not because I doubt that in the least. I am sure they will do so if they can. To think 1345 otherwise would be to think very basely indeed of the French nation, for not only are they bound by the Allied pledge, but it is common knowledge, as my hon. Friend reminded the House, that the Armenians have actually fought for the French; more than that, the French raised an Armenian battalion—or was it a brigade?—which fought in other parts of the world. The Armenian decision was only made on the express understanding that they were to be liberated from the Turks; that they were fighting for their own liberation as well as for the general cause of freedom. I am sure it is not too much to say that the civilised world has been watching with close attention the action of the Allied Powers, and the French in particular, for she has a force in that part of the world. The civilised world is watching what action will be taken to carry out and make effective the pledges we have given to these people. If the Allies fail in this matter it will be useless to expect that anyone should attach the slightest weight or value to any pledge that may in future be given by any of them on the same or similar grounds. I only hope that the Government will realise this and will realise the great disgrace which will happen to the Allied cause, and to the British name, if there is any failure, and that we shall not again, as has happened on too many occasions, have to write the terrible epitaph, "Too late!" on the efforts of the Government.
§ 5.0 P.M.
Lieut.-Colonel J. WARD
A subject has recently been brought to my attention which I desire to refer to for a little while only, because I do not think that the continued discussion to-day is really to stick to the rules of cricket. In addition to that, it is not necessary that any Minister should reply to me. But I want to place on the records of the House just a protest in reference to a matter of which I have personal knowledge. It comes, I suppose, under the Department of the Colonies. I have had sent to me a paper—"The Child's Guardian," for April—apparently published in London. The front page deals almost entirely with a subject the heading of which is, "Does child-slavery exist in a British Colony?" Perhaps I had better read one quotation which will explain what I want the authorities to gather. I am now quoting from the "Hong Kong Telegraph":— 1346Whether slavery does or does not exist in Hong Kong is a matter upon which different people have different ideas according to their conception of the meaning of the term. One of our Registrars-General once referred in his Annual Report to a state of affairs which he admitted was, at any rate, closely allied. But on one point there can be no dispute, and that is that Chinese children are bought and sold in this British Colony, without their consent being in any way obtained, and no attempt whatever is made to hide the fact. This is a Chinese custom. Whilst we admit that very many of these children are far happier in their slavery than they would be in freedom, we say unhesitatingly it is a custom which ought to be suppressed. We can understand the horror of the English lady who wrote us yesterday on the discovery of the existence of this pernicious system in a British Colony, and while we agree with the sentiments she expressed, we are glad to think she realises the difficulties of the matter. We wish her success in her determination to get the matter brought to the notice of influential persons at home. It may interest her to learn that the very first enactment passed, when Hong Kong became British was an anti-slavery Bill, but it was disallowed by the Home Government, as it was considered that the Imperial Statutes for the abolition of slavery extended by their proper force and authority to Hong Kong. That means that the laws against trafficking in human beings are still operative.Then this newspaper asksThen why are they not rigidly enforced by His Majesty's officers in this Colony?Just for a moment I will describe my own experience. When I was in Hong Kong, in 1917, by attention was called to this question, and I wrote letters to the Secretary of the General Federation of Trades Unions, and I gave report of a case which was tried in the High Court of Hong Kong, where for some reason or other the ipse dixit of the Judge was to the effect that as the buying and selling of human beings was a Chinese custom, and that when taking possession of the colonies we had agreed to observe the Chinese customs, and buying and selling of human beings, if included in that custom, could not be interferred with by us. I called the attention of the Federation of Trades Unions to this matter in the latter part of 1917. I asked them to keep it quiet, and I said that while we are fighting and battling with all the forces of our Empire I did not wish it to be known that we were tolerating the buying and selling of people in one of our own colonies. I asked them to go quietly to the Colonial Office and lay this very case before the Secretary of State for the Colonies and see if the matter could be quietly altered.
1347 It strikes me that you cannot get anything quietly altered in this country and you have to make a noise before you can get anything done. I am informed by the Federation of Trade Unions that the Colonial Office definitely promised to attend to the matter if the Federation would not make it public property. They promised to see that this practice was curtailed and as far as possible abolished. Now we are having letters from Hong Kong, which are about to be published in a paper circulating in London, showing that this buying and selling of human beings takes place quite publicly. Anyone can go and see it done, and can offer so many dollars for one of these girls or boys as the case may be, which to my mind is a most outrageous proceeding. On this question the documents must be at the Colonial Office, and my letters must be there. A copy of the report of the trial to which I have referred at Hong Kong must be in the pigeon-holes of the Colonial Office, and yet not a stroke appears to have been done to deal with the matter. This seems to me to be so unusual and opposed to our character as a nation that I wonder how the thing has lived as long as it has done. I thought it was only necessary to draw the attention of the Colonial Office to it in order that it should disappear. Three years have gone by, and, according to an advance copy of a newspaper sent to me, the thing is still flourishing and would continue to flourish if I had not been allowed use of these few minutes, which I hope will be sufficient to put this inhuman practice down.
§ The UNDER-SECRETARY of STATE for the COLONIES (Lieut.-Colonel Amery)
I was not aware that my hon. and gallant Friend was going to raise this matter or I would have taken an opportunity to refresh my mind on the subject. Not very long ago my attention was drawn to it, and I made inquiries, and there are inquiries on this subject on their way to Hong Kong at this moment. Looking through the papers I came across this very material point. There is no form of slavery in force or recognised by law in Hong Kong. There are no persons who have not perfect liberty over their own bodily self to do what they like, and they are not bound by any permanent contract as to service. What has caused confusion is that there are two Chinese customs. One is slavery which exists in China, and which in no 1348 shape or form is recognised in Hong Kong. There is another practice, and I do not remember the Chinese term for it, which is the adoption of girls and youths for domestic service, in which case a lump sum is paid to the parent or guardian. As a matter of fact, the adoption does not carry with it any power of restraint over the person. If a Chinaman in Hong Kong wishes to pay a sum to the parents of a particular girl to become an adopted inmate of his house that girl can walk out of his house at any time.
That may be so in theory, but it is not so in actual practice. They remain in servitude for the whole of their lives.
§ Lieut.-Colonel AMERY
That is exactly the sort of point on which I wish to get fuller information. I saw a letter from the Governor about the time my hon. and gallant Friend refers to, drawing this very clear distinction between the two entirely different Chinese customs, and confirming my statement that there was nothing in the nature of slavery in Hong Kong. If, as my hon. and gallant Friend suggests, children are often not able to get away and are held in restraint, that is a matter I must inquire about. I do not think even in this country either adopted or other children can always get away as freely as they would like, and perhaps that is sometimes a good thing for them. It was suggested that attempts were made by procureurs and others to get these girls from their homes, and to that extent the courts would watch over the interests of those girls and young men. I am sure the hon. and gallant Gentleman has done no harm in raising this question, and I am much obliged to him, but it is just one of those sort of things that we ought to have cleared up, and if anything wrong is going on, the sooner we put an end to it the better. We could not know what is going on in these matters unless some hon. Members took up these questions and brought them to the notice of this House. I shall look into this matter again and see that our inquiries are accelerated.
The UNDER-SECRETARY of STATE for FOREIGN AFFAIRS (Mr. Harms-worth)
It will probably be for the convenience of the House that I should say what I have to say on the Armenian question at this juncture. I will say at once 1349 to my hon. Friend the Member for Consett (Mr. A. Williams) that I am not yet in a position to affirm or deny the accuracy of the latest telegrams he has received. His information, as the House is aware, is usually ample and extra ordinarily accurate. I only wish to tell him that I have made the latest possible inquiries at the Foreign Office, and we have as yet no confirmation or otherwise of the greater and more alarming reports that he has received. May I say this? My hon. Friend and the Noble Lord the Member for Hitchin (Lord E. Cecil) have spoken of the great anxiety that prevails in parts of this country and among a large part of our population in regard to the Armenians in Cilicia. I can assure the House that that anxiety and that solicitude are shared to the fullest extent by His Majesty's Government, and indeed I think my hon. Friend and my Noble Friend are well aware with what anxiety the Government Department chiefly concerned have watched the development of this very dangerous situation, and I was very glad to hear my Noble Friend say that there was no reason to suppose that the French people or the French Government were less anxious about the situation than we are. I am very glad also that in this Debate no expression has been used tending to convey the impression that the French people or the French Government are less willing to render aid and assistance than we should be in like circumstances, but I am not at all sure that the House and the country fully realise that Cilicia is a country that is not under the control or the jurisdiction of His Majesty's Government. That has been made clear, I admit, in the speeches of those hon. Gentlemen who have paid particular attention to this matter, but I am not at all sure that it is fully realised in the House or in the country. Whatever our past obligations may have been to individual Armenians in Cilicia, or large bodies of Armenians for that matter, we have not at the present time any jurisdiction over that part of Asia Minor in which they now find themselves.
§ Colonel GREIG
I am not sure that the public mind is quite clear on this. Are there not two countries in which there are Armenians in Asia Minor? One is the North, which it is suggested should be made independent and be autonomous, and the other is Cilicia, which is now under the control of the 1350 French, and it has nothing to do with the other Armenians at all?
Of course that is so, but I think my hon. and gallant Friend is mistaken in supposing that that is not generally appreciated. It is appreciated, I think, by all who have given any mature consideration to the subject. The situation has been very fully described from time to time in this House. The House knows of the recent events in Marash, and it appears that the French Government are not at present in a position to render military aid. Every kind of representation, for what such representations are worth, has been made to the Turkish Government, not only by the French Government, but by our Government, and a plain intimation has gone out from the Peace Conference, as the House is aware, that if necessary, and if these misdoings continue, the Allied Governments may alter their attitude in regard to recent pronouncements about Constantinople. Everything that moral pressure can effect has been tried, and I can only trust that our great Allies have found it possible by now, or will find it possible, to render that more immediate and material aid which I agree with my hon. Friend in thinking is necessary in this case. I only rise with the object of saying that in fact the Government have nothing to add, are not in a position to add, anything to the rather full reply I gave yesterday to private notice questions of my hon. Friend. I can assure him and the House that as in the past, so during the time of the recess, the Foreign Office will continue to pay day by day anxious consideration to this most important matter.
§ Mr. A. WILLIAMS
Will His Majesty's Government offer to the French Government that British forces will, if they desire it, be sent there to assist in this work?
§ Brigadier - General CROFT
I gave notice that I would raise on the adjournment the whole question of the Ministry of Munitions, but in view of the fact that there are two other hon. Gentlemen raising questions, and that the Ministry of Munitions Vote will be taken on Tuesday week, I wish to deal with the specific case which is now know in the House referring to the dismissal of Mr. Hankinson. With regard to the general question, I will only 1351 say that I hope by Tuesday week the House will be quite convinced, on general grounds of efficiency, and in order to end extravagance and waste, that the whole policy should be reformed, and that the Ministry of Munitions and the Disposals Board should give place to one of the older Departments, which ought now to be able efficiently to carry out the remaining work. With regard to the specific instance which was raised in the House by several hon. Gentlemen last week and the week before, a perfectly simple administrative matter, it seems to me, has now, owing to its treatment, become a grave question of principle. The facts briefly are as follows:—Certain irregularities existed. The superintendent-in-charge repeatedly warned the delinquent who was responsible for these irregularities, both verbally and in writing, in writing on 5th September, 1919; on 29th January, 1920; and on 6th February, 1920; and on 9th February, in view of the fact that the conduct of this particular individual did not improve, the Superintendent asked for the removal of this gentleman, whose name was Mr. Stevenson, on the following grounds: First, taking his subordinates into licensed premises during working hours, after being cautioned against so doing; second, conduct subversive of discipline; thirdly, the removal of important documents from the Ministry without permission, and, when reprimanded, using insulting language to the Superintendent. The Superintendent was informed that the official whose removal he demanded could not be dismissed without an inquiry, and Mr. Hankinson accordingly welcomed that in quiry, which was held on 14th February.
The principal evidence in this case came from the female staff, and the inquiry into the female staff was, as has been admitted by the Deputy-Minister, carried out by Miss Stevenson, the sister of the accused, and whom the Deputy-Minister has himself described in this House as the appropriate officer to inquire into the conduct of this case where her brother was concerned. Neither the Superintendent nor his deputy was called into this inquiry and asked to give their side of the question. It was an inquiry which was one-sided, and, as I think, I may say without fear of contradiction, in view of the fact that the sister was employed for this purpose, it was an improper and im- 1352 partial inquiry. On 16th February, Mr. Hankinson, by Minute, called attention to the partiality of the afore-mentioned inquiry. I venture to think that his communication was couched in most proper terms. I am not going to trouble the House by reading it, but it was written in a most correct manner, respectfully asking that there should be a further inquiry of a different description. On 20th February, Mr. Hankinson received notice of the termination of his engagement, to take effect on 16th April. I do not think that anyone would be surprised at that, because we all want to see all those gentlemen who have been described as "limpets" got rid of at the earliest possible date. He was given notice that his services would be dispensed with on 16th April. On 25th February, Mr. Hankinson put his request for another inquiry before Mr. Boland, an official who has carried out his duties most efficiently. He instructed Mr. Hankinson to obtain evidence and forward it to him through Mr. Biggs, who is another official, the immediate superior of Mr. Hankinson. On 28th February, a Saturday, that evidence was duly forwarded to Mr. Boland. On 1st March, the following Monday, Mr. Hankinson, instead of being allowed to serve his time until 16th April, was summarily dismissed. That was a very extraordinary fact, in view of what had been happening. Someone was sent down immediately to take over the keys and the cash and everything else in his place, and he was turned on one side. In other words, in view of the whole of his staff, this superintendent, who had done his duty, was suddenly degraded. That was an extraordinary thing, when his sole object was evidently efficiency. The Deputy-Minister, in Debate, stated with reference to myself thatIf the hon. and gallant Gentleman had only been informed, he would not have touched this case with a barge pole.I agree. A barge pole is hardly long enough to touch this case, when one comes to examine it and understand the methods that have been, employed. The Deputy-Minister, further, when the question was raised on the Adjournment of the House, camouflaged, if I may say so, the whole case, by saying that I was making this attack upon these ex-Service men. The hon. Gentleman knows that I made no attack upon the ex-Service men, but only upon one man, who 1353 happens to be an ex-Service man, who was in charge of all these ex-Service men. The hon. Gentleman will hardly suggest that I could blame any of those porters, whom Mr. Hankinson has never complained of as individuals, and who were led astray by the man' put over them—the official against whom we are complaining. The Deputy-Minister was very ready, I understand, to take the evidence on one side, but what I cannot understand is why he did not take the evidence of the trusted official to whom he has paid tribute in this House. He has tolerated and condoned a most partial and irregular procedure with regard to the method of inquiry, in the first place, in attempting to justify it in this House. At the same time, whilst the hon. Gentleman admits the behaviour of the accused, he has stated on the floor of this House that there was no evidence of drinking in Ministry hours, of card playing, or of other irregularities; and he turned and trounced me for having made these disgraceful suggestions against one who had served in the Army. I invite the Deputy-Minister, as he has told me that there was no evidence, to state whether or not it is a fact that the signed evidence of eight or nine witnesses was in his possession at the Ministry of Munitions? In order that the House may see that my charges were not wild threats, I am compelled, in view of the fact that there has been so many inaccurate answers on this matter at Question Time, to tell the House that if the Deputy-Minister had not this evidence before him it was withheld from him, for it was in the possession of the Ministry of Munitions. I do not intend to quote the names unless the hon. Gentleman demands it, but here is what the first witness said:I have seen the men playing cards with Mr. H. G. Stevenson in the afternoon during Ministry hours.The Deputy Minister said it never happened—To my knowledge the men have been drinking during business hours, and on Friday, January 2nd, in my opinion, several of the men in the middle of the afternoon were the worse for drink. I have personal knowledge that Mr. H. G. Stevenson on many occasions was rude to the Superintendent, and was in the habit of making disparaging remarks concerning the Superintendent to the staff.The second witness says:I myself, when putting a call through to Mr. Hankinson for Colonel Macnaghten, was 1354 asked by Mr. H. G. Stevenson to listen to it. He said to me, 'Just listen; I want to hear what they are talking about.' I also am aware that the men, including Mr. H. G. Stevenson, used to play cards in the Ministry hours. On the occasion to which I refer, I myself saw Mr. H. G. Stevenson in the hut at the time. I also am personally aware that the men used to go out to get drink through the emergency door during Ministry hours.That absolutely substantiates what I said, and what the hon. Gentleman denies any evidence of. The third witness says:There are many times that the men have been known to be drinking during office hours, and Mr. Stevenson on more than one occasion has boasted that he could obtain drink at any hour of the day; in fact, as far as I can remember, Mr. Durrant himself found the men worse for drink when he paid a visit, and they were sent for from the public-house because he was there.This was the Mr. Durrant who superseded Mr. Hankinson. The fourth witness states:I am aware that Mr. Stevenson played cards during the Ministry working hours in the afternoon, and during Ministry hours I am also aware that Mr. H. G. Stevenson and the men on occasions went to the public-house down the street for drinking, and that Mr. H. G. Stevenson said that he could get drink at any time, oven at prohibited hours, by going in at a side door.The fifth witness states:It is to my knowledge that the men have been in the habit of going out for drink in Ministry hours, and it is common knowledge among the staff that the men, to escape notice, made use of the emorgoncy door at the far end of the premises leading into Sumner Street.The sixth witness states:It was common knowledge among the staff at Archives Registry that Mr. H. G. Stevenson and the men were warned when Mr. Biggs was coming down to inspect the Archives or Mr. Hankinson was going his round. It is to my personal knowledge that several of the men were the worse for drink on the afternoon of Friday, January 2nd.The seventh witness says thatOn one occasion Mr. Stevenson made the following remark: 'I am going to fight Hanky now and beat him. He will soon be out of it. I am in charge of the papers here. It will not be very long before Mr. Durrant is here in his place!That was a truly prophetic utterance. Then there is an eighth witness, who says:During my working hours at the Archives Department I have spent more than one afternoon in a neighbouring public-house with Mr. Stevenson and some of the other men, while Mr. Hankinson was led to believe we were out on a Government lorry or at work in one of the huts. We have played 1355 cards in some quiet corner, and brought in bottles of beer to consume during the afternoon. This was always done quite unknown to Mr. Hankinson, and always at the suggestion of Mr. Stevenson.I think the House will be satisfied that I was on firm ground when I said that these things have been going on. The Deputy Minister has solemnly declared in this House that there was no evidence of the irregularities to which I call attention. Those statements have now all been sworn to before Commissioners for Oaths. Does the hon. Gentleman still maintain that no irregularities took place, and does he still maintain that this trusted Superintendent should have been treated in this disgraceful manner? I would also ask him a further question. Was Mr. Stevenson appointed originally on the recommendation of Mr. Durrant, who has taken Mr. Hankinson's place? Mr. Stevenson openly boasted that Mr. Hankinson would be got rid of and Mr. Durrant placed in his post. I would remind the hon. Gentleman, in spite of what he said to me during the last Debate, that Mr. Durrant is not an ex-service man. Mr. Hankinson has done his duty as a servant of the State, and the hon. Gentleman came down here and said there was some question of his not being able to make the luncheon hour ten minutes later, and that any man with "nous" would have put that right. The hon. Gentleman knows, however, that Mr. Hankinson had repeatedly called attention to what was going on, and that he had every ground for asking for Mr. Stevenson's dismissal. What is the reason? The man who is guilty of these irregularities is still retained in the Ministry of Munitions whilst the man who did his duty to his country has been summarily dismissed. Unless the hon. Gentleman can disprove this evidence, which was not obtained under any sort of pressure whatever, what is he going to do to see that the character of this official is restored? What reparation is he going to give him, and is he going immediately to reinstate him in his office, even if it is only for the completion of the time, in order that justice may be done to this most honourable man who did his duty to his country and did not fear to say what was going wrong?
§ The DEPUTY MINISTER of MUNITIONS (Mr. Kellaway)
I find some dis- 1356 proportion between the strength of my hon. and gallant Friend's language and the facts.' I had to make a somewhat similar observation when he raised the question on the Adjournment. The facts were then given and there is very little which can now be added to them. Broadly the position is this. A number of ex-service men employed in one of the Ministry's warehouses under another ex-service man were carrying on extremely unpleasant and arduous work. They were working under Mr. Hankinson. Mr. Hankinson was not successful in getting the work to run smoothly. I make no criticism of him, but that is quite obvious from the facts to which the hon. and gallant Gentleman refers. The complaints made by Mr. Hankinson against these ex-service men were that they had been drinking in Ministry hours and had been playing cards in a corner of the warehouse, and that Mr. Stevenson, the man in charge of the ex-service men, had been discourteous to his chief. Two inquiries were held into these statements. The first was vitiated, in the view of Mr. Hankinson, because the woman official whose duty it was to examine evidence was a sister of Mr. Stevenson. The second inquiry upheld the first. All these statements, this tittle-tattle, to which the hon. and gallant Gentleman has lent his authority, were before the second inquiry and they came to the conclusion that the first inquiry properly dealt with the situation.
§ Mr. KELLAWAY
He was quite well aware of what was done. The hon. and gallant Gentleman has not repeated the suggestion he made before, that Mr. Hankinson was dismissed because he asked for this inquiry.
§ Mr. KELLAWAY
In spite of the fact that Mr. Hankinson was told last November that his job was coming to an end. The House demands that Departments shall be demobilised as rapidly as possible. It is a general demand, and I quite understand the impatience with which the House sees War Departments continuing long after the War has passed away. It also demands that if you have to retain staffs the largest 1357 possible proportion of them should be ex-service men. The hon. and gallant Gentleman says, "Reduce as rapidly as possible, but do not dismiss Mr. Hankinson." Retain the largest number of ex-service men, but retain Mr. Hankinson and get rid of an ex-service man. No Department could possibly be run if we were to give attention to a criticism of that kind. In the course of a rapid and extensive demobilisation there must be inconvenience and hardship caused to individuals. If every Member of the House is going to take up every trumpery tale which is brought to him in regard to a demobilised friend of his, it will be impossible to carry on. I do not propose to make any change in the decision which is come to, but I want to make it clear, since the hon. and gallant Gentleman seems to be in doubt about it, that there is no reflection on Mr. Hankinson's character or capacity. That is all that is necessary to be said.
§ Sir R. COOPER
It is very deplorable to me to notice the different mental atmosphere in the speeches we have heard from the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Kellaway) and the Under-Secretary for the Colonies. In the former case, we heard these words, "If there is anything wrong going on, the sooner we expose it the better." In this case there is no doubt about the charge made by my hon. and gallant Friend that there is something very wrong and very undesirable going on at the Ministry of Munitions, and yet in answer to questions which have been put to him and in answer to the statement which has been made this afternoon, the hon. Gentleman clearly tells the House that it is a trumped-up case, and that he proposes to take no action whatever. There is no hope of honesty in administration if that is going to be the attitude of Members of this or any future Government. The hon. Gentleman did not reply to a categorical question, namely, was he aware, when he was answering questions within the last two weeks, that there were in his Department eight statements made by members of his staff supporting the Superintendent and bearing testimony to the undesirable practices which were going on? Copies are here. They have since been sworn to. Eight officials in his Department swear that in that section there were undesirable practices going on which, in their judgment, were sufficiently bad to drive them to give evidence and 1358 to try to get the evils removed. Anyone who knows anything of State administration knows how extremely difficult it is for anyone in a State Department to give evidence or to do his duty to remove evil and corrupt practices because he is always victimised, or fears that he is going to be. For these eight people to make these statements and to swear to their accuracy is surely not a primâ facie case. It is absolute definite proof and the hon. Gentleman has been misleading the House in answer to questions, and his answer today is one of the most deplorable which could be given.
To the hon. Gentleman it does not seem in the least strange that Miss Stevenson should be the proper person to take evidence against her brother. That is not an honest or impartial inquiry. It savours by its very nature of being an attempt to hide up something that ought to be exposed. Again, the hon. Gentleman made a reference to the dismissal of Mr. Hankinson. It was not intended that Mr. Hankinson should be dismissed on the particular day he was. Within 36 hours of this matter being prominently brought to the notice of the Department Mr. Hankinson was summarily dismissed. A question was put to the hon. Gentleman in this House about a fortnight ago, and he replied that Mr. Hankinson was dismissed in the ordinary course, and the reason given was the need for reducing the staff. Yet within a week of that being said, the staff in that section was actually increased by five people. What then becomes of the value of statements which the hon. Member is making to the House, and the value of his discretion in this matter in refusing to go any further into it? The last point made by my hon. and gallant Friend was that the first inquiry was apparently recognised as not being above board. Therefore, a second inquiry was held. That second inquiry was not a bonâ fide, honest inquiry, because the man who brought the accusation should have been present, or at least he should have been examined and enabled to put his case fairly before those who ultimately had to give a decision. He was not allowed to do that. The second inquiry was a corrupt inquiry. It was not honest. The attitude which the hon. Gentleman takes this afternoon, in face of the evidence of his own Department beyond any question, can lead me and lead the House to no 1359 other conclusion than that the Ministry of Munitions is wanting very seriously in the atmosphere in which it is administered, that there is direct evidence that it is the policy of that Department to hide corruption and evil practices when they are alleged, and when evidence is brought forward in support. There is great anxiety in the country as to the administration of the Ministry of Munitions. I am not going into that to-day, because I shall have an opportunity of dealing with it on Tuesday week, and I shall not fail to do so. If these matters are to be dealt with in the manner in which the hon. Gentleman is treating them, one can only feel that the public will be justified, when it reads the account of the decision of the hon. Gentleman, in concluding that there is something very gravely wrong. When one evil happens and it is exposed, and it is then hushed up, we have every reason to suppose that there may be hundreds of corrupt practices going on, every one of which is equally being hushed up. Until the hon. Gentleman takes a different line in administration as a State official, I do not see how the House or the country can have the slightest confidence in him.
§ Mr. NEIL MACLEAN
I wish to draw the attention of the Secretary for Scotland to a matter which has taken place in Scotland, and upon which I was speaking last night when the House was counted out. I do not wish to go over the same statements which I made last night, but I wish the Secretary for Scotland to remember in his reply that if it is unsympathetic to-morrow morning several Scottish crofters, to whom promises were made prior to the War, will go to gaol. These crofters rely upon the word of the then British Government. A farm was scheduled for them in order to be cut up into small holdings, so that they might occupy the land and follow out their own inclinations, as smallholders; but the War suspended the plans which had been made both by the men who wished to have the small holdings and by the Government, and in the interval the whole of the island of Lewis has been bought, including the farm which has been scheduled for small holdings, by Lord Leverhulme. Lord Leverhulme evidently does not feel inclined for this farm to be split up into small holdings, but desires to retain all the island of Lewis in his own possession, or at least in the possession of the com- 1360 pany which he has formed, of which he is chairman and director. He wishes to retain the island of Lewis for certain purposes. The men desire the farm to be split up into small holdings and they will not take the refusal of Lord Leverhulme. They have taken possession of the farm. They are, I understand, building, or have built, houses upon that farm. Most or all of the men have been born or reared in that island. They are Lewis men. The majority of them fought for their country. Many of them have been decorated for bravery on the field, and now when they come back to their own land, they find that the island belongs to an Englishman, that they are aliens, and that if they wish to live upon the island on which they were born they must do whatever Lord Leverhulme or his managers say, so far as earning their living upon the island is concerned. They must either go into a fishing fleet, they must work upon the farms, or go into the canning factory.
I submit to the Secretary for Scotland that this is a reversion to the period in British history when the enclosures of the common land of the English villages took place, and when the peasantry of England, owing to those enclosures, were driven into the factory towns to compete with the factory workers, and when wages fell because of the competition of the unemployed workers who surrounded the gates. That is going to take place in Lewis. There is to-day a large body of imported workers who are erecting factories where people are to be employed. These crofters, if they must go into Stornoway to work in the canning factory, will go there to compete with the labour already there. If they refuse to work in the factories in Stornoway, or if they refuse to go in the fishing fleet, or if they wish to work upon the land, and they can find no land in their own island to work upon, then they must leave the island of Lewis and cross to the mainland into some of the large industrial towns. This is no time, after having appealed to these men to fight for their country, to throw them into gaol, as they are likely to be tomorrow, because they have gone back on the 1914 period and taken the Scottish Board of Agriculture at its word. They cannot see why, if the land could be given or promised to them then, that it cannot be given to them now. If Lord Leverhulme, the new proprietor, says that he must have the whole island, and that he 1361 cannot give them this particular farm, or these two farms, to be split up into small holdings, of what use has been the two Acts passed for the Scottish Land Holders and for the Scottish Small Holder? What use are those Acts if you cannot insist upon a proprietor, especially a new proprietor, respecting an agreement already entered into between the Scottish Department and these men to enter into occupancy of the land? What use is the law of the land if these men cannot be placed upon the land for which they fought and on which they were born?
I know that, apart from his official position, these men have the entire sympathy of the Secretary for Scotland. He knows as well as I do that there is no Scotsman who will allow himself to be put back into the days of feudalism, into which Lord Leverhulme evidently wishes these men of Lewis to be placed. To own the land so that he may control the destinies of the men, the women, and the families who live upon that land is a return to feudalism. To be able to compel these men to go into the factory and work at whatever wages or under whatever conditions he imposes is industrial feudalism. The Highlanders of Scotland will submit neither to be feudal slaves nor wage slaves. Instead of that, these men will go to prison to-morrow. As we go on holidays, as we speed in our trains to the places where we will spend our Easter vacation, a number of men will come down from the Island of Lewis to appear to-morrow before a Court, and if they refuse to recognise the interdict placed on them going back to the land of their fathers, and submit to be kept from that land, and become virtually the bond-slaves of Lord Leverhulme in Scotland, these men will go to prison while we are enjoying ourselves.
As this question affects a part of the country with which I am acquainted, I wish to make a few observations. I am glad that my hon. Friend has brought this forward, but I hope that that will not in any way prejudice what I know to be the very delicate and difficult negotiations which are at present going on between the Secretary for Scotland and those who own the Island of Lewis. It was for that reason that I did not raise the question for some little time. I raised this point in my first speech here, and on many occasions since, and on the last occasion my right hon. Friend informed 1362 me that these negotiations were going on, and that the Board of Agriculture were anxious to bring them to a final issue. I am quite sure that the Secretary for Scotland cannot in his official position approve of what has been done. This is, I may say, a little bit of a strike in itself. It is a way the people have of showing their displeasure at the slowness of the negotiations, but I know that the Secretary for Scotland is as anxious to see a satisfactory solution effected as any Member of this House.
It is not quite a simple matter. A great portion of the population of Lewis are willing to go into Lord Leverhulme's industrial scheme's, and neither I or anyone else whom I have met in Lewis desires that these schemes should in any way be interfered with. Those men want to stay upon the land, and demand perfect freedom to live in the way in which they want to live, and work out their own economic salvation. Though we cannot express direct approval of an illegality, there is a great deal to be said in excuse for these men. There has been a great deal of delay, perhaps necessary delay—I do not know—in carrying out the scheme, but the Board of Agriculture and the Government are pledged up to the hilt to have land given to these men so far as the land will go, and there is not only this farm, but there are also three or four other farms on the Island of Lewis where the question is quite as urgent. These farms have been scheduled by the Board of Agriculture for the purpose of smallholdings, and were simply held up until the War was over. In one instance, to show you the confidence that the public authorities in Lewis had that these farms would be divided up, I may mention that a schoolhouse was erected a few years ago 1½ miles from a certain village because it was believed that a certain farm on the other side of that schoolhouse was to be divided up, so that the schoolhouse would cater for the existing population and the prospective population in the new village, which was to be created on the other farm.
When the War was over these men came on the scene and sent in applications. Not only the Government promised, but every political candidate promised this. Among the three political candidates up there there was no difference on this matter. Even the candidate supported by Lord Leverhulme promised to get the 1363 land divided. So we are all pledged up to the hilt, and those of us who are in this House can do no other but support it, and I do so without in any way criticising Lord Leverhulme's other operations on the island. I am quite willing to credit him with doing a great amount of good on the island of Lewis, although to certain aspects of his methods I cannot assent. But on this particular question, I believe that he is wrong. If the Secretary for Scotland finds any difficulty with Lord Leverhulme in cutting up these farms, I think he can appeal from the Company, as it is now, which owns the Island of Lewis, to Lord Leverhulme him self. If you read what is called the co- 1364 alition programme that was submitted to the country in November, 1918, you will see that the first plank in that programme was, land for soldiers and sailors. It was submitted at a great meeting of representatives from all parts of the country; it was moved by a Member of the House of Commons and seconded by a Member of the House of Lords—Lord Leverhulme himself.
§ Notice taken that Forty Members were not present; House counted, and Forty Members not being present,
§ The Mouse was Adjourned at One-Minute after Six of the Clock till Monday, 12th April, pursuant to the Resolution of the House this day.