HL Deb 24 March 1899 vol 69 cc288-307

My Lords, I rise to call the attention of the House to the inefficient action of the magistrates and police in Ceylon in the cases of the deaths of Mr. Tewson and Mr. Talwattee; to the oppression and extortion taking place there under the Waste Lands Ordinance; and to the persecution of Mr. Le Mesurier; and to move for Papers. In the beginning of February the "Spectator" said we could govern some place—I forget where—well, as we govern Ceylon well. I accepted this statement, in my own mind agreeing with it and believing it to be true. I had been in Ceylon in 1858 and 1859 during Sir Henry Ward's Governorship, and had been in a position to hear any complaints that could be made. I only heard of two against magistrates; one was not very recent, and had not been made publicly; the other was of a magistrate who had ignorantly inflicted a fine that was not deserved, and the Chief Justice had rectified the matter and ordered the return of the fine. Indian civilians were occasionally taunted with the greater number of complaints arising in India, and their usual reply was that it was easy to govern well so small a country. I had a conversation with Sir William Gregory on this subject, and asked him to what he attributed this apparently better government of Ceylon, and he said it was owing to the Governor having a tighter hold over the officials than that which existed in India; but this implies that the Governor should be efficient. I had, therefore, no prejudice against the Ceylon Administration. But these illusions were soon to be shattered. On the 14th of February two columns appeared in the "Morning Post" on the case of Mr. Tewson, followed on the 18th of the same month by letters from a planter and an English rector, who signed his name and wrote on behalf of his relatives in Ceylon. Other letters followed, reflecting on the administration of justice in that Colony. At the same time numerous newspaper cuttings relating to the Waste Lands Ordinance and other matters were put into my hands. I have brought many Indian cases before this House, but I have never done so upon what are called individual allegations, but only after the subjects had been threshed out in the newspapers. When I spoke in this House of the persecution of the Uniates in Poland, I did not make use of the Polish pamphlets I possessed, but founded all my statements upon the Russian official newspapers. Last week I wrote to Mr. Chamberlain to tell him I could not delay, and had put my Notice down for Monday last; that I had no questions to ask, but statements to make, and that the only answer I desired was a promise of a searching and independent inquiry. If that is made, I feel confident that several officials will have to be superseded or removed. It was clear from the account in the "Morning Post" that Mr. Bertram Hill, who conducted the inquiry into the death of Mr. Tewson, had been dilatory and inefficient. This is proved by the fact that the Governor has been compelled by the pressure of public opinion to order a fresh inquiry. In the case of the death of Mr. Talwattee, a Kandyan clerk of a magistrate's court, Mr. Kin-dersley, the magistrate who performed the office of coroner, returned a verdict of "Accidental death." Here, again, the Governor has been compelled to order a fresh inquiry. There are other cases, presumably of murder, in which the police have failed to make any discovery. I will now ask the noble Earl the Under Secretary for the Colonies to make a note of an article of the 10th of February in "Ceylon Native Opinion" on Mr. Justice Felix Dias on the Badebaddee case, and on the Hindu Solicitor-General, Mr. Ramanathan. This newspaper openly accuses Mr. Ramanathan of fraud; and it ought to be prosecuted by the Government for libel in open court, or else the incriminated officials should be removed from their posts. It cannot be said that Mr. Le Mesurier had anything to say as to these four officials I have just mentioned. I now come to the Waste Land Ordinances. The first of these was issued in 1840, but its action was checked by the Supreme Court, which about 40 years ago especially condemned an erroneous idea of the Revenue officers that land not used for 30 years reverted to the Crown. This was in a case called the Udasyiriya Kanda case; notwithstanding this, this idea survives among the Revenue officers and lends itself to extortion. This Ordinance was also checked by the writings of Miss Martineau. That Ordinance and the recent one of 1897 were contrary to public policy, checking the increase of cultivation. Some years ago the coffee plantations failed, and tea plants had to be substituted, so that some lands would fall out of cultivation, get confounded with the adjoining jungle, and afford means of extortion to the Revenue officers. The last Ordinance was founded and justified upon an assumption that all land belonged to the Crown. This argument, supposed to be founded on Feudal Law, has been put forward by Socialists and land nationalises in this country, though it never was a fact in England, and I have never read of it except in Socialist writings. Lord Curzon has just received a check from the Indian civilians. He, as well as Mr. Cotton, had recommended that in parts of Assam the Zemindary system should be preferred to the Ryotwary. The Indian "Spectator" says of this, that without any euphemism, the Indian Government has preferred the Ryotwary, and that an impecunious Government is as bad for the Ryots as a rapacious landlord. It may be said that it is worse for the country, since in India it takes away the money which a, Zemindar would spend in it; and in Ceylon the revenues either go into the Treasury or are expended for the benefit of the planters, whilst nothing is done for the natives. A Waste Land Ordinance is a dangerous weapon to put into the hands of fiscal officials; it necessarily leads to extortion. Let me refer to some of the provisions of the Land Ordinance of 1897. Government agents have a, summary power to declare such land to be Crown land without any right of appeal. It is a criminal offence punishable by fine and imprisonment for a man to go on his own land after the Crown has claimed it. I may here add that when this Ordinance was passed in the Legislative Council the Governor promised easy access to the Dutch registers, and to all documents proving the rights of claimants. This promise has been violated; and in some places the old registers are said to have been burned. The Supreme Court has saved many persons from extortion; but much money is wasted in litigation, and in publishing the notices of claims by the Crown, which practically are blackmailing notices. It is not necessary to go to Ceylon to see how such Ordinances work. The same results occur in England. The Woods and Forests claim that the Crown is Lord of the Manor in Wales, and on that ground are constantly making claims for small enclosures of waste. I know by personal experience in 1870 small bits of land enclosed by tenants had to be paid for— 5s. and 7s. in two cases—but, for these, additional payments of £1 and £2 had to be made for conveyances where receipts would have sufficed. This would have been a severe charge had these tenants been small freeholders. In Ireland the same office made claims, going back sometimes 200 years; and in 1893 Lord Morris brought in a Bill to limit these claims, and to amend the Act of 1876 nullum tempus. The conduct of the Woods and Forests was severely blamed by several Law Lords, and the Lord Chancellor (the late Lord Herschell) supported the Bill. Lord Morris, however, was advised to withdraw it, because the office of Woods and Forests, which usually claim to be trustees for the Crown, on this occasion elected to be a taxing department, and got the House of Commons officials to represent that this Bill was an infraction of their privileges. If these things can be done in the United Kingdom, what may not be done in Ceylon? All your Lordships will rejoice at the recovery from illness of Mr. Rudyard Kipling. As he appears to be out of danger of any relapse, I may refer to his last public utterance, "Take up the White Man's Burden," especially as I do not intend to cavil at this attempt to inveigle simple-minded United States citizens into deserting the best principles of the Pilgrim Fathers of the "Mayflower," nor to discuss whether this burden is not self-imposed and assumed, and whether these words are not an attempt to justify negro slavery, which this country has so long struggled against. I hail these words of Mr. Kipling as an admonition to the Colonial Office not to neglect the misrule in Ceylon, and not to neglect the interests of the West Indies, nor those of Her Majesty's Indian subjects in Natal. I hail them as an admonition to the Colonial Secretary manfully to take up this burden on his shoulders, and not to drag it behind him through the mire and brambles of the Waste Lands in Ceylon. I may here observe that the Colonial Office is undermanned for its increased work, and that it has lost many of its veterans. Sir Robert Herbert retired from ill-health; Sir Robert Meade and Mr. Fairfield have died; Sir John Brampton retired two years ago, and it has been stated lately that Sir E. Wingfield will retire shortly. The Colonial Office might do well to induce Sir Robert Herbert to again take the helm, at least during the summer months. Your Lordships will all know the lines of Bishop Heber's beautiful Hymn— What though the spicy breezes Blow soft o'er Ceylon's isle. I discovered about a fortnight ago that this hymn had been garbled in the collection of Church Hymns published and sold by the Society for the Promotion of Christian Knowledge, and that "Java" had been substituted for "Ceylon." This was rather singular, since spicy breezes do not blow from Java, and there are no idolators in Java. I wrote to the secretary of the society for an explanation. His reply was unconvincing, and, as inquiry at the British Museum proved, erroneous. Bishop Heber's manuscripts and editions published during his life all contain "Ceylon." After his death four editions, between 1827 and 1834, contained "Java." "Ceylon" was restored in 1835, but since then the society has continued to print till recently, and perhaps still prints, "Java." it will be admitted that neither the Buddhists nor the Hindus, Mussulmans, Catholic Portuguese, nor even the planters, who are not, in general, literates, would care for or trouble about Heber's hymn: the only class that remains that would resent Heber's imputation of vileness must then be the officials, who have endeavoured to shunt the Bishop's imputation on to the Dutch administrators of Java. If the noble Earl the Under Secretary has any better explanation to offer, I shall be glad to hear it: and I hope he will use his influence with the society, and get Ceylon restored to its place. I now come to the persecution of Mr. Le Mesurier. It has been asked, Who is Mr. Le Mesurier? He was one of the best Civil servants in Ceylon, and one who, for the time he had served, had obtained an unusual quantify of letters of approval from the officials under whom he had served. In 1887 he received the thanks of the Government for a gift of waterworks and two fountains to Nuwara, Eliya. In 1880 he was thanked by the Governor, Sir J. Longden, and by the Colonial Secretary, for the translation of a book on Kandyan Law, and in 1888 he deserved credit for having succeeded in introducing trout into the streams at Nuwara Eliya. If Lord Stanmore had been here to-day I should have appealed to him to confirm what I have said of Mr. Le Mesurier's service, as he is well acquainted with him. Unfortunately, Lord Stanmore's medical adviser will not allow him to leave the house, but the noble Lord has written me the following letter on the subject—

"The Red House,

"Ascot, Berks,

"March 24th, 1899.


"You have told me that it is your intention to appeal to me in the House of Lords to-night to bear witness to the services of Mr. Le Mesurier during the time that I was Governor of Ceylon, and also to express my opinion of the Waste Lands Ordinance passed in that Colony last year. I should, for obvious reasons, have preferred to keep silence in any public discussion as to the administration of Ceylon; but I hold it to be the right of all who have served under one, to call for one's testimony in their favour, if it can be conscientiously given; and it had, therefore, been my intention to respond to your appeal. But my health does not permit me at present to leave the house, and I must, therefore, meet your wishes by a letter instead of by speech, which, for many reasons, I much regret. I can truly say that during the unusually long period for which I was Governor of Ceylon Mr, Le Mesurier was one of the most able, most hardworking, active, and successful public servants in the Colony. Nor was he only this. He was generous and munificent almost to a fault, and spared neither money or labour in promoting the welfare of the people in the districts in which he was from time to time placed. He supplied the town of Nuwara Eliya with water, entirely at his own cost. He expended large sums on fish culture. He supported schools, and helped individuals, with large but unostentatious charity. He was always keenly alive to the welfare of the native population, and that even at the expense of his own interests. No one knows this better than myself, for at a time when he was aware that I contemplated promoting him to an acting appointment of a higher class, he, in defence of what he deemed to be native interests, deliberately published opinions and advocated a policy which he knew would render such an appointment impossible. But if Mr. Le Mesurier has, as I think he has, a right to expect this testimony from me, it is not less my duty to Sir West Ridgway unequivocally to declare that, had I been Governor of Ceylon, I should equally with him have considered Mr. Le Mesurier's retention in the public service of the Colony to have become impossible. I should have required him to leave it, not because he had become a Mohammedan, nor because he had contracted a marriage of doubtful legality, but not- proved illegality, but because his relations with the European community on the one hand, and the profound incredulity with which the Buddhist population would have regarded the impartiality of a Moham- medan convert in the constant disputes between themselves and the Moslems on the other, had destroyed all chance of his further usefulness. As regards the Waste Lands Ordinance, you are right in supposing that I consider it to be a measure which, if rigidly enforced, may inflict great oppression and injustice. Nor do I think it is any defence to say that no such rigorous enforcement of its provisions is intended. Generations of officials succeed each other rapidly. There have been in the past, and may again be in the future, Government Agents, and even Governors, quite capable of pushing the exercise of the powers conferred on them to their very utmost limits, and in any case it is difficult to exaggerate the unscrupulousness with which inferior native officials will act in order to carry out what, rightly or wrongly, they believe to be the wish of their employers. Should the question be again brought forward, I shall be ready to give the grounds on which my opinion is founded. But here, again, I apprehend I greatly differ from you in some respects, for I recognise the evil which the Ordinance was meant to meet to be real and serious, and such as to call for legislative interference, and I am thoroughly confident that in framing it the Governor had in view, and desired to promote, the interests of native proprietors, as well as those of the Crown. I know nothing, and shall, therefore, say nothing, about the charges you bring against the police, but I have known intimately for more than five-and-twenty years the present Inspector-General of Police, Major Knollys, and I know that from him natives and native interests will receive every consideration, and that he is not a man slow to detect crime or likely to permit his subordinates to be guilty of oppression.

"Yours truly,

(Signed) "STANMORE."

Mr. Le Mesurier, however, was dismissed the service on irrelevant grounds, which had nothing to do with the public service. It has been erroneously stated that his first wife was an Englishwoman. This is not the case. She was a. Frenchwoman. It has been said that he could not obtain a divorce from her. This also is not the case. He did get a divorce. There were four co-respondents, two proved in respect of this wife, the other two it was not necessary to pro duce. But Mr. Le Mesurier was deprived of this divorce by a legal quibble, to the effect that a Ceylon divorce was not valid against a marriage in England. If an inquiry is held, such as is called for by the extraordinary persecutions to which Mr. Le Mesurier has been subjected by the Ceylon Government, I believe it can be proved that Mr. Laurie, a Judge of the Supreme Court, hastened the trial of Mr. Le Mesurier's suit, in which he was plaintiff, during his absence from the Colony, and that Mr. Laurie corresponded during that time with the defendant. It will not be believed in England that an English judge could correspond with one of the parties to a suit that he had to try. What is certain is, that although Mr. Laurie had openly shown himself to be hostile to Mr. Le Mesurier, he has frequently sat on the Bench and given decisions against him,—in opposition to the other two judges, whose decisions have been in Mr. Le Mesurier's favour. Another mis-statement has been made—namely, that Mr. Le Mesurier opposed the Waste Lands Ordinance and assisted or advised Singhalese to do so since his dismissal. He had done this before the dismissal, and had done no more than he did when opposing the paddy-tax, for which he was temporarily suspended, and which opposition was subsequently justified by the abolition of that tax. The persecutions to which Mr. Le Mesurier has been exposed commenced with proceedings against him which dispossessed him of the only land which was giving him some return; another threw 250 coolies out of work. He was refused access to the Dutch Registers, although that had been promised by the Governor. The time of the House will not permit me to go through all the means taken by the Government to harass him. It is enough to say that the Government, instead of proceeding against him through the courts, sent 30 police, without any European to superintend them, to eject Mr. Le Mesurier by force. These men set upon him, hustled him, robbed him of all the property he had upon him, and would have proceeded to further violence had he not been rescued by two English assistants. These police professed to be acting under Government orders, and were sent by Mr. Wace, the Government Agent, and apparently with the sanction or tacit approval of the Governor. Is this tolerable in a Crown Colony? Is it right that such violence should be used, and that legal procedure in Ceylon should be reduced below the level of that of Harrar, a town in the interior of Africa, at the back of Somaliland? for when Captain the late Sir Richard Burton went there, he found that when debtors did not pay their dues to the ruler, the only constraint put upon them was to take off the doors of their houses and to place them against a wall of the king's palace. The state of tyranny and misrule in Ceylon at the present time recalls Dean Swift's satire in "Gulliver's Travels" on what he says is called a modern colony. Lastly, the Ceylon Government has interfered with property of Mr. Le Mesurier indisputably his, and upon which no Crown claims could be founded, and have stopped the working of a plumbago mine, thus cutting off all his means of subsistence. Mr. Le Mesurier has addressed a request for compensation to the Secretary of State, to which he has a full right, and the amount asked for seems to be very moderate. In its dealing with this matter the Colonial Office cannot be congratulated on its method. It has condescended to arguments more fitted for Little Bethel, and obscured the pleas for justice that were addressed to it by fanning bigotry and prejudice. An attempt was made to discourage its opponents by an insinuation that the discussion of Ceylon affairs in this House would not come off. Somebody of considerable importance told me the postponement from Monday to Friday had spoiled the noble Earl's Sunday. How this could be I was rather puzzled, since the stream of time could not run back from Monday to Sunday, and it looked like a wolf and the lamb complaint. Perhaps it might be that a Notice for Monday obliges Under Secretaries to get up their case on Sunday, and as the advocates of peccant departments have, like Belial, to make the worse appear the better reasons, such an occupation is not a fit one to precede or to follow Divine Service. If that is so, I tender my sincere regret to the noble Earl, the Under Secretary. A public scandal has also been mentioned: It is a public scandal that the Government should follow in the wake of the French Government and be blatantly Christian abroad whilst it is agnostic, not to say atheistic, at home in respect of the education of the children of the nation. It is a scandal that persecution should be encouraged in the case of Mr. Douglas Gordon. The papers have announced that he has been ordained by the Buddhist Archbishop. He has now shaven his head completely, and goes about with a yellow robe, and is limited to one meal a day. He has to carry a shell and beg for victuals. It is probable that the very good Christians of Ceylon will give him stones instead, and will say they are following a Gospel precept. He is either a bonâ fide convert and can get no worldly advantage, or he is not—in which case he can only seek to learn some points on which the Buddhist priests are reticent; but at any rate ho is entitled to protection, and Europeans in Ceylon ought not to be encouraged to maltreat him. Whatever blame may attach to Sir West Ridgway for his conduct in disorganising the judicial and police administration of the island, it seems to me that that blame must be shared by Her Majesty's Government for placing him in that position. One of the earliest maxims that I learned from my father was the general unfitness, on account of their training and education, of military men for civil government. No doubt there are brilliant exceptions, but this was not one of them. Sir West Ridgway's career ought to have ceased at, or after, Penjdeh. That exploit did not prevent his being appointed Chief Secretary at Dublin, from which the late Government had to remove him. The principle of continuity of Government in securing good administration ought to have kept him in private life. It was a mistake to send him to Ceylon, and the best way out of it is not to suffer him to return there. I do not wish to press the point against Her Majesty's Government too much, because the greater part of the country is grateful, and I am grateful, to the noble Marquess at the head of the Government for his having saved France and England from the calamity of a war, the danger of which was increased by the speech of another Member of the Government.


My Lords, I presume you will be content if I confine myself to answering those portions of the noble Lord's speech which affect the Department I have the honour to represent, and if I abandon the attempt to defend the Society for the Promotion of Christian Knowledge from the accusation of misprinting Bishop Heber's hymn, I must ask your Lordships to allow me to reply somewhat fully to the speech of the noble Lord. The matters he has touched upon have aroused a good deal of public attention, both in the other House of Parliament and in the Press. The noble Lord began by alluding to the cases of Mr Tewson, an Englishman, and Mr. Talwattee, a native of Ceylon, both of whom met their death by a fracture of the skull. The death of Mr. Tewson occurred in December 1897, but we in the Colonial Office did not hear of the case until an article was published in the "Morning Post" on the 14th of February this year. That article, I may say at once, was a very carefully and skilfully drawn statement of the case; it was calculated at once to arrest our attention, and Mr. Chamberlain, without delay, called on the Government of Ceylon for a Report on the case. That Report has not been received, and therefore I am not in a position to make any statement about it. The case of Mr. Talwattee is more recent, and in that case Europeans are accused of having caused his death. In the case of Mr. Tewson the accusation lies against natives of Ceylon. The Governor himself has ordered a further inquiry into this case, and we are still waiting for a final report upon it. Therefore, I am not in a position, in this case either to give any immediate information to the House; but I protest entirely against the noble Lord's insinuation that the Governor only moved in this matter because he was compelled to do so by the pressure of public-opinion. That is an unfair insinuation against the Governor of Ceylon, who has acted in this matter with his usual circumspection and sense of responsibility. The greater part of the noble Lord's speech was directed to the Waste Lands Ordinance of Ceylon, and the personal affairs of an ex-civil servant called Le Mesurier. I may say the whole of the noble Lord's speech has been constructed—I could follow it as it went along—from the writings and memorials of Mr. Le Mesurier. The accusation against the Government of Ceylon, in connection with the Waste Lands Ordinance, is to this effect—that the enormous number of acres of forest, jungle, and waste lands in Ceylon are presumably in the possession of private individuals, and not the Crown. That position is traversed en- tirely by the Government of Ceylon, and we support the Government of Ceylon in that contention. We say that in the case of this class of land the burden of proof lies upon the private claimants, and that the presumption is that lands of this character belong to the Crown. I would remind your Lordships that when the word Crown is used in this connection, what is meant is the people of Ceylon—the taxpayers. The Government of Ceylon champions the rights of the whole of the population against the rights of private individuals in this matter. Unless private individuals can prove that they have a superior claim over these lands to the public, the presumption is in favour of the public. This is no new policy on the part of the Government of Ceylon, but one that has been steadily maintained ever since the days when Ceylon belonged to the Dutch, and the recent Ordinances that have been passed on the subject have been merely passed to improve the procedure and to make it cheaper and more effective. The noble Lord said the Ceylon Government claimed that all the lands of the Colony belonged to the Crown. That, of course, is a completely erroneous statement. The presumption claimed is in favour of waste lands, not of all lands; and in this connection there is a special class of land called "cheena" land. A native goes into the forest, cuts down the timber, clears pieces of jungle, and on the ground so cleared grows crops for a year or two. He does nothing to improve the ground, and the soil is quickly exhausted. He then leaves it and goes elsewhere, and perhaps only comes back after 15 or 30 years. One of the contentions of Mr. Le Mesurier is that in such cases the presumption is always in favour of the man who first cleared that patch, and that it lies on the Crown to prove that it does not belong to him, and not on him to prove that he is the lawful possessor by right of beneficiary occupation. Mr. Le Mesurier has stated over and over again that the first ordinance, which is known as the Waste Land Ordinance, No. 1, 1897, was passed in the Legislative Council of Ceylon in the face of the unanimous opposition of the unofficial members, and I have seen that statement repeated in the Press of this country. Nothing could be further from the truth. There are seven unofficial members of the Legislative Council of Ceylon. The Second Reading of the ordinance passed without a division, and on the Third Reading three unofficial members voted "Aye," and three "No," and one was absent. As regards the amending ordinance, which is now under consideration, the Government of Ceylon informs me that it is practically meeting with no opposition in the Colony, except from Mr. Le Mesurier himself. As regards these ordinances, I think I may state distinctly that no ordinances could ever have been subjected in any Government Department to a more careful scrutiny than these ordinances have received in the Colonial Office, and from the Governor of Ceylon before they reached the Colonial Office. The amending ordinance, which has been violently attacked, was prepared not on the initiative of the Governor of Ceylon, but on the direct instructions of the Secretary of State for the Colonies, and therefore if that ordinance is an ill-timed or an ill-conceived Measure, the first responsibility rests not with the Governor of Ceylon, but with Her Majesty's Government. I admit that there is a clause in the amending ordinance which does require explanation. It is a clause which makes valid certain proceedings that the High Court have pronounced to be invalid. Now, the reason for this clause being inserted is as follows: In connection with the previous ordinance, a great many notices of proceedings had been served. The notices were, in some cases, pronounced by the Court afterwards to have been served in a manner which rendered the whole of the proceedings invalid, but the Haw was purely technical. The notices had been received by the persons entitled to receive them; the persons entitled to receive them had appeared and taken their proper part in the proceedings, and an amicable arrangement had been made with the great majority of these people, with which both parties were perfectly satisfied. It would have been a great waste of public time and money if these proceedings had been entirely invalidated by the flaw to which I have alluded. This is what the Governor says on the subject— As has been explained in my previous dispatch, the informalities in the original notices which have been discovered by the Supreme Court were purely technical, and where persons have come forward in response to those notices, and arrived at an amicable settlement of their claims against the Government, it is most desirable that those settlements should be rendered valid and conclusive. Mr. Le Mesurier's proposals would, of course, invalidate such settlement and cause delay, trouble, and expense both to the individual and to the Government, and are, consequently, purely vexatious. It was never suggested that any irregularities of notice should be condoned in the ease of contested claims. As regards the assertion in paragraph 5 regarding the large sums alleged to have been wasted, if all the work under the ordinance had to be done over again, as Mr. Le Mesurier desires, there would no doubt be a considerable waste of public money. The record of transactions up to date has been stated as follows by Mr. Le Mesurier. In a Memorandum to the Secretary of State of 30th November 1898, he says that 280 notices in respect of 700 different lands and 140,000 acres have been dealt with, and that agreements have only been come to out of all that number in regard to 61 lands and 318 acres. The facts which the Governor sends us give an idea of the care with which it is necessary to sift the statements of Mr. Le Mesurier on this subject. Instead of the figures being as given by Mr. Le Mesurier, the Governor states that from the statistics which the Government Agents and Assistant Agents have furnished it appears that out of 149 lots of land which have been dealt with under the ordinance 107 claims were amicably settled, and 42 referred to court. Of these 42 no less than 28 were claims on the part of Mr. Le Mesurier, thus leaving only 14 contested claims, or less than 10 per cent. for the whole of the rest of the island. The investigation of those 42 claims showed that the claimants had no satisfactory title to the lands claimed. The responsibility of bringing this question forward must rest on the friends of Mr. Le Mesurier. As they have chosen to bring it forward, it becomes my duty to show how, in this campaign that is being organised against the Governor and the Government of Ceylon, Mr. Le Mesurier cannot at any rate be considered a purely disinterested witness. Mr. Lewis, Special Commissioner on the Tenures of Land in the Southern Province of Ceylon, states that Mr. Le Mesurier has been engaged in buying up thousands of acres of forest lands for a rupee an acre, and even for much less. In fact, he has entered into the business of a land speculator. The Governor writes— Mr. Le Mesurier is, in short, the only person in the Colony who has taken objection to the proposed legislation, and he naturally objects to any legislation which will interfere with his unscrupulous lands speculations. Mr. Le Mesurier's modus operandi is as follows: He selects a valuable piece of unoccupied land, generally with plumbago on it. He then finds some villager or other person who has no claim to the land and induces him, possibly for a consideration, to grant the land by deed to him (Mr. Le Mesurier), and then enters into possession and abstracts the plumbago. There is no legal redress for the Government—the real owner—until the grant to Mr. Le Mesurier is found to be invalid, and meanwhile he removes the plumbago or other produce. Natives in the Matara district are beginning to follow his example, and I have been obliged to give orders that any Crown lands which are likely to be thus occupied and despoiled should be preoccupied by the local headman, supported, when necessary, by the regular police, to prevent breach of the peace, and for the protection of public property. That is the explanation of the accusation that has been made against the Governor, that he has entered into forcible occupation of land which Mr. Le Mesurier claims. It is all very fine for Mr. Le Mesurier to claim land and tell the Government to wait till the case is settled in court, and, in the meantime, to be free to remove the valuable products of the land. In preventing that the Governor is merely fulfilling his public duty, and the use of police, if necessary, must be resorted to. I do not deny that ordinances dealing with so wide a question as the tenure of land in Ceylon must require the most careful working. I can assure your Lordships' House that the Governor is fully impressed with that fact, and the Colonial Office will do all that it can to assist him in preventing subordinate officers abusing an ordinance, the necessity for the principle of which was admitted in the letter from Lord Stanmore, read to the House by the noble Lord who brought this matter forward. So much for the general question of the Waste Lands Ordinance: but Mr. Le Mesurier has laid some specific and clearly-framed charges against Government officials in connection with the working of the ordinance. He has accused these officials—some of them occupying very high positions—of arbitrary, unjust, and even violent action towards himself and his ser- vants in respect of his claims. Such charges require a full report from the Government of Ceylon. Quite apart from Mr. Le Mesurier's own position in this matter, any such charges brought forward in the specific manner in which Mr. Le Mesurier has brought them forward require careful investigation. The Secretary of State for the Colonies has called for such a Report, but there has not yet been time to receive an answer. I pass away from that question to what the noble Lord called, and what in certain public newspapers has been called, the "persecution" of Mr. Le Mesurier by the Government of Ceylon and the Colonial Office. Again, the responsibility of dragging this question to the front rests on the friends of Mr. Le Mesurier. Mr. Le Mesurier was a civil servant of the Government of Ceylon and District Judge of Badulla. In 1895 he publicly announced that he had become a Mohammedan. He sent an announcement to the Government, further, that he intended to avail himself of the privileges of his religion and to marry a second wife. At that moment Mr. Le Mesurier had a wife and children already in the Colony. The Secretary of State gave directions that if he did so marry a second wife he was to be dismissed from the public service. Mr. Le Mesurier did so marry a second wife, and was dismissed. The excuse put forward for him, amongst others, is that he had tried to divorce his first wife, and had failed to do so. I think your Lordships will agree that it is perfectly impossible for this House or public opinion to go beyond a decision of a court of law. The Court refused to grant a divorce, and there the matter rests. But it is really necessary, to fully appreciate the position Mr. Le Mesurier took up, that I should inform your Lordships of the position that he assumed. He made communications to the Press, in which he put forward quibbles about his previous religious opinions, as to whether or not he had been a Christian, and as to whether or not he had been married in a Christian manner. He then proceeded to give dissertations on the great advantages of Polygamy, and his words were— As regards the morality of Polygamy, I would observe that many enlightened European writers of the present day advocate it as a remedy for the increase in unmarried men, fallen women, and women who have to toil for their living, to say nothing of those men whose homes have been wrecked by unhappy first marriages. This appeared in the "Ceylon Observer" of 13th November 1895. The letter is signed by Kadija Alice Rivett-Carnac, Mr. Le Mesurier's second wife, but it is not unfair to attribute these words to Mr. Le Mesurier, because in another case prepared by him I find the same sentiments expressed. Finally, Mr. Le Mesurier took up the position that by the Code of Mohammedan Laws anyone in Ceylon professing to be a Mohammedan was entitled to four wives. Therefore, the precedent that Mr. Le Mesurier wished to set up was this, that a man who was professedly a Christian might marry a girl in England, might take her out to Ceylon as his wife, might there turn Mohammedan, and marry three more wives as a Mohammedan. I think your Lordships will agree with me that there was only one answer that the Secretary of State could make to the position assumed by Mr. Le Mesurier, and that was to dismiss him from the public service. But in doing that, Mr. Chamberlain did not forget that Mr. Le Mesurier had done good service in previous years, and on Friday, 10th July 1896, he replied as follows to a question put by Mr. W. Redmond— He (Mr. Le Mesurier) has a good record for useful and diligent service for a considerable time in the service of the colony. Under those circumstances, if he should think fit to make an application for consideration in regard to his past services, I should be willing to give it my best attention. Mr. Le Mesurier on 18th August of the same year sent in a Memorandum demanding to be reinstated, or, if not reinstated, to be allowed to retire on the pension to which his past services had entitled him. He wrote— While I claim nothing but justice for myself, I would draw your attention to the absolutely unmerited punishment you have inflicted on my first wife and her children by my dismissal I think, my Lords, this language can only be characterised as a piece of effrontery. Here is a man who has tried to divorce his first wife, and who, having married a second wife as a Mohammedan, thereby inflicting great wrong on his children, accuses the Government of having inflicted punishment upon his wife and children. However, he refused the offer of the Secretary of State to give him a compassionate allowance in respect of his past services in these words— I beg that His Excellency the Governor will be good enough to convey to Mr. Chamberlain my emphatic refusal to enter into the arrangement he proposes, insulting alike to the faith of Islam, to my fellow Moslems, and to myself. A question has been raised as to the legality of the proceedings by which Mr. Le Mesurier was dismissed. That, my Lords, is now a settled matter, the Privy Council having held, on the 11th of this month, on an appeal to them, that he held office only during the Queen's pleasure. The Privy Council refused to annul his dismissal, and stated that the action of the Governor of Ceylon in dismissing him must be held to be the Queen's pleasure, signified through her Secretary of State. I think, my Lords, I shall be interpreting the unanimous opinion of your Lordships' House when I say that the Secretary of State could not possibly have done otherwise than advise Her Majesty that Mr. Le Mesurier could no longer remain in Her Majesty's service in Ceylon. I have only one more word to say. In all these matters the Governor has been held up to attack. The noble Lord who introduced this Motion recommended that, as he was coming home on leave, he should not be allowed to return. Sir West Ridgway is a public servant whose record speaks for itself. In India, in Ireland, and elsewhere his record is one of long, honourable, and meritorious service, and his work in Ceylon is on a par with his previous record. The Secretary of State has confidence in his integrity, in his ability, and in his power to govern the Colony which Her Majesty has entrusted to him, and I can only express my regret that the noble Lord should have thought fit, in bringing forward this Motion, to imply censure on a Governor who has done so much to earn the gratitude of his Sovereign and his country. I must ask your Lordships to refuse to accept the Motion of my noble Friend.


I did not say the Crown claimed all the land in Ceylon, but if the noble Earl bad read the Government Papers carefully he would have seen that instead of claiming waste lands only, the Crown has claimed a, quantity of gardens. There are many people who remember the Maori wars in New Zealand, in connection with which the Colonial Office were largely blamed. There is another complaint against the Governor, that he is forcing on the construction of a railway in the North of Ceylon through an unpopulous country at a cost of two millions. Does the noble Earl know how and when this scheme originated? It was due to the Duke of Buckingham, when he was Governor of Madras, but part of the plan was the annexation of Ceylon to the Madras Presidency, and people are beginning to say that Ceylon would be much better governed by India than by the Colonial Office.

Question put.

Motioned negatived.