§ [SECOND READING.]
§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ *(2.35.) THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER (Sir M. HICKS BEACH,) Bristol, W.
In moving the Second Reading of this Bill I have to make a short statement to the House in regard to some alterations in the Clauses. It is only right that I should call attention to the alteration at this stage, though as matter for discussion it more properly belongs to the stage of Committee. The form of the Appropriation Bill is well known, and is, I may say, stereotyped, and I do not think it right to make any alteration without giving full opportunity for consideration and for any objection to be raised. The Appropriation Act at the end of every session gives power to the Treasury to borrow temporarily on Ways and Means on the security of the I.O.U. of the Chancellor of the Exchequer of the day, and gives power to the Bank of England and the Bank of Ireland to lend sums required for temporarily financing the Exchequer during the course of the year pending the ingathering of taxes. Of course there is a proviso that any 796 sums so borrowed shall be paid off within a certain limited time, and they must be paid off before the close of the quarter succeeding that in which they have been borrowed. In the last two years we had in the third quarter to borrow very largely in this way because, as the House will remember, the expenditure in the first three quarters was very large, while the great ingathering of the income tax does not commence until the fourth quarter of the year. The result was inconvenience in the money market and to the Bank of England, because, as we have no marketable security to offer, we cannot go to the open market for these borrowings. It would be a great public advantage if an alteration could be made in the law which would, I think, facilitate matters by enabling the Treasury to alter the method of borrowing, with, of course, proper provision to secure the repayment of money borrowed within the financial year. This year also we have to meet expenditure which, up to this time, has been almost as large as that of 1901–2, on account of the carrying on and termination of the war. Towards the end of next quarter, no doubt, there will be large deficiencies in the Exchequer; they may even be as large as £15,000,000. Well, it is easy for the House to see that such an amount of borrowing on no better security than the I.O.U. of the Chancellor of the Exchequer might largely unsettle the money market, because the money could only be obtained in certain quarters. Now what I ask the House is, not that the powers of borrowing should be extended in any way, for they are amply sufficient, but that the House should sanction another method of borrowing beside that of the I.O.U. of the Chancellor of the Exchequer on Ways and Means. I ask that we should be allowed to borrow on Treasury bills—of course with the fullest safeguard that they shall be paid off before the close of the financial year and not be renewable. For this purpose, if Members will look at copies of the Bill, which are now obtainable, they will see that in the third Clause, beside the usual provision that the Treasury may borrow any sum or sums not exceeding the amount of supplies granted, and the further provision that any such sums shall be paid off in a 797 certain time, I propose to insert certain words providing that the Treasury may borrow by the issue of Treasury bills, and a sub-section is added providing that the payment of any bills issued under the section shall date not later than 31st March, 1903, so that they must be paid off within the year. There is a further provision that they shall not be renewed. I hope the House will agree to these Clauses. I may, perhaps, add that in order to give full notice to right hon. gentlemen opposite, I thought it right to communicate privately on the matter with the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Monmouth, and I am authorised to say that I have his assent to this proposal.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now road a second time.
§ MR. SYDNEY BUXTON (Tower Hamlets, Poplar)
said this was really a matter for discussion in Committee, and, without raising any objection or giving any definite opinion at this stage, he desired to further consider the matter. As he understood it, the proposal was to extend the basis for borrowing, enabling the Chancellor of the Exchequer to borrow at a cheaper rate. If that were so he had no objection to it, but, still, he would like to reserve his opinion until the Committee stage.
§ *SIR M. HICKS BEACH
I may be allowed to explain; it does not enable me to borrow a single pound more than the Act ordinarily does, but it does add another method of borrowing to that which now exists.
§ (2.50.) MR. WILLIAM JONES (Carnarvon, Arfon)
I am sorry to have again to trouble the House with a grave industrial question which has arisen in my constituency owing to the unhappy misunderstanding, which has been prolonged for a period of more than twenty-one mouths, in the Penrhyn quarry district. I do so now particularly, because of the memorial that was sent to the King some few weeks ago by a non-political organisation in London. They approached His Majesty on the matter in dispute, entreating him to intercede. The King sent a very gracious and sympathetic reply to the entreaty of the memorialists, regretting the continuance of the dispute, 798 and also his inability to intervene between Lord Penrhyn and his workmen, but, however, intimating that the letter would be sent to the Board of Trade. Naturally, those seriously concerned and interested, thought the answer implied an obligation, if not a willingness, on the part of the Board of Trade to take the matter up. With regard to the King's letter, I should like to know what is the attitude of the Board of Trade and of its Labour Department. We all know that in 1896 the Conservative Government passed a Conciliation Act in this House. In that Conciliation Act of 1896 several powers were conferred upon the Board of Trade, and I would like to know whether the Board of Trade in this present juncture have endeavoured to exercise any of those powers. Under sub-section D of Clause 2 is an arbitration power. On the application of both parties to the difference, the Board of Trade may appoint an arbitrator. Of course, in connection with this dispute at the present moment there has been no application from both parties: consequently, it is due to the Board of Trade to say that they could not very well move in the matter of the arbitration power. Then comes a sub-section dealing with conciliation. It declares that on the application of either of the parties (employers or workmen) interested, and after taking into consideration the existence and adequacy of means available for conciliation in the district or trade, and the circumstances of the case, they may appoint a person or persons to act as conciliator or as a board of conciliation. In this case, of course, the Board of Trade may say that neither of the parties has applied, and that there may be no means available. Of course, one would like to know what their answer would be if the workmen applied, as they did in 1897, when there was an unhappy dispute in the district, and what the attitude of the Board of Trade would be if such an application were made. The whole district is ripe for conciliation. Moreover, many attempts have been made by disinterested and impartial persons, who have nothing at all to do with the dispute on its merits, to bring about conciliation, so that the Board of Trade may rest assured that there are adequate means and persons to assist in trying to bring the parties together. But that will not exhaust the powers of the Board of 799 Trade under the Conciliation Act. Subsection B declares that they can take such steps as to the Board may seem expedient for the purpose of enabling the parties to the difference to meet together, by themselves or their representatives, under the presidency of a Chairman mutually agreed upon or nominated by the Board of Trade, or by some other person or body, with a view to the amicable settlement of the difference. That is with regard to the matter whether any of the parties have made an application. But even that does not exhaust the means. Sub-section A of the Clause, in view of all the other difficulties with regard to arbitration or conciliation, enables the Board of Trade to inquire into the causes and circumstances of the difference. I appeal to the Board of Trade whether any of these sub-sections have been enforced or any of the powers exercised. If not, why not? There have been attempts made outside Parliament and outside Government obligations. In fact, three attempts have been made, and all three attempts, I am sorry to say, have been signal failures. The last of all was made by the Carnarvonshire County Council, in February of this year. Feeling that, in view of the serious differences at Bethesda and the consequent loss to the parties concerned, as well as to the neighbourhood and the country generally there from, the County Council thought an attempt should be made to bring the parties together, in the hope that by personal intercourse and friendly discussion of the points at issue, an amicable settlement might be arrived at in the interest of all parties. Two gentlemen were deputed by the County Council. One was the Sheriff of the county, who was of the same complexion in religion and politics as Lord Penrhyn himself, and the other gentleman was a Liberal, and ex-chairman of the County Council. Both were magistrates, and men in whom not merely the County Council of Carnarvonshire, but the whole of Wales, had the utmost confidence. There was a correspondence with a view to bringing the two parties in this dispute together. In a letter communicated to Lord Penrhyn, these two gentlemen assured him that the sole object of the County Council was to offer their friendly services to both sides, 800 and they disclaimed any desire to interfere between employer and employee. They asked for an interview with the accredited representatives of the men. The men readily assented to the desire and wish of the County Council, placing no barrier or obstacle whatever in the way. They then communicated with Lord Penrhyn, and he replied thanking them for the courtesy with which they approached the subject, but declaring that he had, at the outset of the trouble at the Penrhyn quarry, declined to recognise the existence of any right of interference by any person or body corporate having no connection with the quarry. At the same time, Lord Penrhyn said—I fully appreciate the good intentions of the Council in wishing to take any steps in their power which might possibly conduce towards a settlement of this unhappy dispute, and if you think there is any good purpose to be served by an interview, as I am still unable, through illness, to leave my room, I have instructed Mr. Young, chief manager, to meet you.So the men and the general manager (Mr. Young) were interviewed. After that, there was a delay, through the illness of one member and illness in the family of another. Last April the correspondence was resumed, and the two gentlemen communicated a letter to Lord Penrhyn in the following terms:—We are now ready to resume the work entrusted to us by the County Council, and having again seen the men on the subject, and obtained generally their views, we would be glad if your Lordship would give us a personal interview at your early convenience,thus merely adopting the suggestion of Lord Penrhyn in his first letter. Lord Penrhyn, in his reply, said—I am convinced that an interview of that nature would be so mischievously construed into a declaration that I now recognise the principle of outside interference, that I regret being unable to give you that interview. But"— and these words are significant— "I am, however, far from wishing to interpose any obstacle in the way of your giving my late employees the benefit of your advice, and if you can assure me that you adhere strictly to your statement concerning non interference, Mr. Young will be glad to meet you at his office, and give you any further information which may assist you, on the understanding that any negotiations as to the resumption of work at my quarry by such of my late employees as I am prepared to receive back must come directly from the men themselves, and not through the medium of a third party.801 The deputation naturally expressed regret at Lord Penrhyn declining to give a personal interview after the deliberate hint he had given in the letter thanking them. Their whole object was to offer their friendly services to both sides. As to the behaviour of the men, the deputation have put it on record that they waived every point which might be an obstacle in the way of meeting Lord Penrhyn, and passed a resolution thanking the County Council for their kindly offices in endeavouring to bring about a friendly settlement. I ask, could it be possible to arrange any amicable settlement when the two parties—the deputation and the men—only met Mr. Young, a servant of Lord Penrhyn, who had been criticised during the dispute? Everybody must see that Mr. Young, having managed the quarry, the workmen, no doubt, had a dispute with him as to the management, and that the object desired was that the men should meet Lord Penrhyn himself, or if that could not be, that Lord Penrhyn and the men should meet the two gentlemen appointed by the County Council. The latter wrote to Lord Penrhyn—Your lordship writes as if you expected us to take sides, and advise the men only, whereas we have attempted to carry out the resolution of the Council by seeing both parties interested. We should not feel ourselves at liberty to give advice to your late employees more than we should undertake to advise your Lordship.The deputation also expressed regret that their friendly efforts to bring about a successful termination of the trouble had failed, and in their final letter to Lord Penrhyn, said—We attribute the want of success to your lordship's declining to give us a personal interview.The attitude of the men has been not only commended by the County Council, but by nearly every trades union in the country, which has come to their support with trades union funds. The men at Bethesda have said over and over again at their mass meetings that they are willing to place the whole mutter in the hands of an impartial tribunal, and yet that is how Lord Penrhyn treated them and their attempt to bring about conciliation. Of course, after twenty-one, months of striking, there has been a great deal of distress. Some of the men have gone bade, but 2,100 are still 802 out. Out of 2,800 who originally worked the quarries at the outset of the dispute there are 700 now at work, of whom not more than one-half were strikers. The others are old men and boys and other men imported from other districts. So practically the bulk of the skilled workmen are kept out of the quarry. Naturally, although they have a strong union, and although the British working-men and sympathisers have supported them gallantly, there is distress. The Federation of Trades Unions has sent deputation after deputation to investigate the facts, and it has been found that, although there is no actual suffering owing to want of bare necessities of life, the amount given out has been totally inadequate to do more than enable the recipients to keep body and soul together. A number of the skilled workmen have left their homes. Hundreds of those homes have been built by the workmen themselves. It is all very well to say that the men can go to England and South Wales in search of work, but is it likely that they will leave the homes they have built or in which they have invested the savings of years? Those who have gone to South Wales and elsewhere earn a precarious living. Hundreds get only casual employment, and out of the proceeds have practically to keep up two homes. It is only fair to say. too, that throughout the strike they have eked out of their small pittance contributions to keep up their schools and chapels. One witness describes a batch of those old workmen, who had never before left Bethesda, returning on Saturday night to spend a few hours with their families—It was touching to see old and wearied men with while or grey hair streaming over their foreheads, toiling up the village street to spend a few hours in the homes which they had never had occasion to leave since their birth. Rather them remain on the funds these old men would go away for such weekly sums as they could obtain.The situation, therefore, is unique. Owing to the incidents and exigencies of home life, many of the men have a kind of tribal instinct which keeps them around Bethesda, where they have built their institutions, their schools and chapels. Other disputes have been settled this year in Germany and America, where leading men on both sides have joined the organisation of 803 labour and capital in order to put an end to industrial war. These men want only the same rights and privileges as are enjoyed by their fellow-workmen in England. In fact, they ask for less than the miners of Northumberland, Durham, and Yorkshire had obtained. Everywhere else employers have come to recognise that the organisation of labour is more necessary now than at any previous time, not only for the purpose of securing industrial peace, but for the safety and progress of all concerned.
I will not detain the House by going in detail into the merits of the question. I simply desire to show the House that everything outside Parliament and Government has been done to bring this unhappy dispute to an end. All those efforts have failed. Yet, in this year of grace, which marks an epoch in the civilisation of the world—a year in which the troublous war in South Africa has been brought to an end, and, thanks to Lord Kitchener, a peace, which I hope will be abiding, has been attained—when next Saturday the King is to be crowned, amnesty proclaimed, and liberty hailed throughout the land— in the midst of it all, this dispute stands alone. Is it possible that all means are exhausted? Is it not right that I should ask today—and through this House claim the sympathy of the whole nation —that the Board of Trade or the Government, either in their official capacity or in an unofficial, private, or friendly manner, should use all possible means to bring both parties to an understanding, to restore thousands to their homes, to revive trade in this unsettled neighbourhood, and to cause prosperity once more to smile in the unhappy district of Bethesda?
§ (3.6.) THE PRESIDENT OF THE BOAED OF TEADE (Mr. GERALD BALFOUR,) Leeds, Central
It is only natural that the hon. Member should take an interest in this dispute, the circumstances of which, whatever view we may take of its merits, we all deplore. The hon. Member has gone at considerable length into the history and the course of the dispute. I will not follow him in that respect, but will content myself by stating the line taken by the Board of Trade in connection with the matter. 804 What are the powers of the Board of Trade under the Conciliation Act? They may, on the application of one of the parties, appoint a conciliator; on the application of both parties they may appoint an arbitrator; and without the-application of either party they may inquire into the circumstances of the case, and endeavour to promote a conference between the parties. No application has been made to the Board of Trade by either of the parties to this dispute. It was impossible, therefore, for us to appoint a conciliator or an arbitrator. We have, of course, kept ourselves informed of the circumstances, and we might have sent a representative to endeavour to bring the two parties together. The reason we have not done so is that we came to the conclusion that any action that was within our power was not likely to be attended with successful results. The hon. Member himself will admit that it is a remarkable circumstance that in the whole course of this long dispute neither party has appealed to the Board of Trade, and I think I am justified in taking that as a sign that the parties themselves do not conceive that in this instance the intervention of the Board of Trade would be productive of good results. Outside bodies have, in two instances, made application to the Board of Trade. On November 30th, 1900, the Bethesda Urban District Council passed a resolution that—the President of the Board of Trade be approached, beseeching him to bring his influence to bear upon the parties to the dispute, with a view to get them to adopt the provisions of the Conciliation Act.The reply to that letter was that we would consider the suggestion made, but—That the Board of Trade understand that the terms of settlement of the dispute which occurred at these quarries in 1896–7 contained detailed provisions for meetings between representatives of the workmen and the management for the settlement of disputes; and it is unusual for the Board of Trade (unless on application from both sides) to take such action as you suggest in cases in which machinery for dealing with disputes has been mutually agreed upou.We heard no more in connection with that application, but we received a further letter on May 11th, 1901, from the 805 Carnarvonshire County Council, forwarding a memorial to the President praying—That your honourable Board do intervene, acting under the powers vested in you by the Conciliation Act of 1896, with the view to a satisfactory determination of the dispute.To that we replied that we had not received an application from either of the parties to the dispute asking us to take action in the matter, and that we had no reason to suppose that any intervention on our part would be successful. The hon. Member referred to a petition to the King. There was a petition addressed to the King—not from the district, however, and still less from the parties concerned; but from the Swindon and District Trades Council; it was dated June 9th, 1902. That was sent to the Home Office, and forwarded thence to the Board of Trade. The petitioners prayed that His Majesty would be pleased to use his august influence with Lord Penrhyn towards the settlement of the dispute. Our reply to that was—With reference to the petition to His Majesty from the Swindon and District Trades and Labour Council, on the subject of the Bethesda quarry dispute, which has been referred to this Department, I am directed by the Board of Trade to say that they are always willing to exercise their good offices if the parties concerned so desire, but no application from them has been received.That is the only petition to the King that has been received at the Board of Trade, though I have seen a statement in the newspapers that another petition has been addressed to His Majesty.
I think, after what I have said, the House will agree that the Board of Trade exercised a wise discretion in not attempting to intervene in this matter, and that, if they had attempted to do so, that intervention would probably have done more harm than good. The hon. Member and I have had many communications on this subject, but I do not think he has ever pressed me very strongly to do what I myself think would have been an unwise act—viz., to thrust the intervention of the Board of Trade, on the parties, one of which, at all events, is not willing to accept it.
§ MR. WILLIAM JONES
reminded the right hon. Gentleman of the power to inquire into the causes and circumstances of the dispute. The workmen in the 1897 dispute did make application. 806 He was not authorised to ask that kind of intervention unless the workmen themselves felt disposed to repeat that application. But would the right hon. Gentleman give the workmen, through the House, an intimation that if they did make an application he would intervene?
§ MR. GERALD BALFOUR
I am afraid I could not undertake that, because, even though one party in the dispute did apply, it would still be for the Board of Trade to consider whether their power of intervention could be usefully exercised. The experience of the Board of Trade in previous disputes is an additional reason why they should be exceedingly cautious before they intervened.
§ *MR. KEIR HARDIE (Merthyr Tydvil)
If the workmen have not made approaches to the Board of Trade with a view to having this dispute brought to an end, it is not from want of desire on their part to have the matter referred to arbitration, but because they have the painful experience that any action which they might suggest for ending the dispute would be declined by Lord Penrhyn for no better reason than that the workmen had suggested it. That being so, it seems to me that the direct responsibility is thrown on the Board of Trade, Apart altogether from the power conferred upon it to intervene in these matters generally, it is the duty of the Board of Trade, to inquire into the circumstances of this dispute and make a report. If that had been done in this case, the position of Lord Penrhyn would have been so untenable that he would have been only too glad to agree to the intervention of the Board of Trade with a view to having this dispute settled. I do not agree with the hon. Member that this is the only case of its kind. There is an almost parallel case in connection with the coal mines of Yorkshire, where the dispute has lasted eighty-five weeks. There is this difference between the two cases—that in the Yorkshire coal mines case arbitration or conciliation was attempted and a report was given. The coal owners refused to accept the award of the arbitrators, whom they themselves had assisted in selecting; and, 807 although it is now four months since that award was given, the collieries are still idle. The action of Lord Penrhyn in refusing all arbitration raises the question of whether greater and compulsory powers of interference in these matters must not be given to some public body. I am myself against compulsory interference, but at the same time, if large employers of labour such as Lord Penrhyn are to be allowed to refuse to allow the intervention of the Government, then it appears to me that some form of compulsory intervention by a public body would be desirable in the public interest. It seems strange that a man like Lord Penrhyn, who is not a whit better than the 3,000 men he has locked out, is able to defy the strongest Government of modern times and a special Act of Parliament. When it is a question of sending soldiers to Bethesda, Lord Penrhyn is ready enough to call upon the Government, and the men are not consulted, and when it is a question of bringing on conciliation with a view to promoting peace and terminating a dispute, the Government appear to let Lord Penrhyn do as he likes then also. But I did not rise to speak of this dispute. I rose for the purpose of referring to another dispute, in which a Government Department, or, rather, more than one of our Government Departments, are interested, and which has not yet received the attention of this House which its merits require. I refer to the dispute at Gibraltar. I will not enter into the causes of dispute, because it would not be in order; but I may be allowed to say that the statement of the Colonial Secretary, in reply to a Question put to him by myself, that the cause of the dispute was the refusal of the men to take the old rate of pay, and their demanding double pay, must have been the outcome of mistaken information. A federation of employers, the Free Labour Party, has locked out the workmen, and the point of my complaint, is that the military and naval authorities, and Sir George White, the Governor, have not only taken sides with one party in the dispute, but have used the Government war ships, and the docks, and the soldiers and sailors, in order to assist the employers in defeating the workmen. Now this is a very serious matter. It 808 has been claimed for the State that its business is to make and keep a clear ring for a fair stand-up fight between the two contending parties, and where that rule is observed, I should be the last to complain, but in this case, when the Employers' Federation desired to import Moors to take the place of the men they had locked out, the Admiralty sanctioned the use of a gun-boat for the conveyance of Moors, and that when ships were laid up and unable to discharge their cargoes owing to the lockout the military authorities, presumably with the sanction of Sir George White, gave the use of the soldiers and sailors to discharge the cargoes, although the vessels were not Government vessels, and did not contain Government cargoes, but were vessels of private persons trading for gain. It is not the business of the Government to supply blacklegs, from the Army for the purpose of suppressing a trades union. Our soldiers and sailors are for quite another purpose, and should not be called upon to intervene in a dispute between employers and employed. Before the debate closes, I hope we shall have some statement from the Government Benches as to why this was allowed to be done.
*(3.25.) MR. GIBSON BOWLES (Lynn Regis)
The hon. Member who has just sat down has called attention to an important matter, and I so far agree with him, that I think, as a general rule, no one should interfere in a dispute between employers and employed on either side. My belief is that those engaged in such disputes should be left to themselves to fight it out till one side gets the upper hand, and if that were done I believe labour disputes would become far less numerous than they are. But these workmen to whom the hon. Member has referred are working in a fortress in which they are only allowed to live by the sufferance of the Governor, and the Governor is not only justified, but compelled, to take every step in his power to keep the fortress efficient as a fortress by clearing vessels which would otherwise block the way. In my opinion, the Governor was perfectly right, when he found work 809 stopped and stores accumulating and freights not being handled as they should have been, in intervening.
§ *MR. KEIR HARDIE
My complaint is that there were thousands of workmen to perform this service, and that the Government refused to employ them unless they abandoned their trade union, and that they imported Moors to do the work.
*MR. GIBSON BOWLES
I think there must be some confusion in the mind of the hon. Member. The Government surely would never do that.
§ *MR. KEIR HARDIE
That was the attitude of the Employers' Federated Trades Union, and the Governor of Gibraltar took the side of the Employers' Federation, and refused to employ the workmen until they abandoned their trade union.
*MR. GIBSON BOWLES
Still I cannot see that the Governor was wrong in the action he took, because he is the Governor of a fortress, and he is compelled to do things that it would not be right or desirable in ordinary circumstances to do Now, Mr. Speaker, the Appropriation Bill, I regret to find, contains an entirely new Clause, suddenly sprung upon us this day without any notice, and, although I am not going to discuss it at any length, it seems to me to be fraught with considerable danger, because it not only leaves the Chancellor of the Exchequer at liberty to borrow from the Bank of England on condition that he repays that borrowing in the next quarter, but it adds as an alternative the power of borrowing, not for three months, but a probable nine and a possible twelve months. It enables him to issue Treasury bills in any quarter which he need not pay off until the end of the financial year. I do not say that that is a power that ought not to be given, but I do say that it is a new and extraordinary power to give to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and that it will require the very close scrutiny of the House. Another new point about the Appropriation Bill is this. In the ordinary way 810 it is usually taken at the close of the session; it is the end of Supply, and when it is passed the session ends, and we go away. That is not the case here. Here we are in the middle of the session. We are about not to prorogue, but to adjourn. The end of the session, properly so called, will take place in November or December, and we shall then have no Appropriation Bill, and shall be without any, such opportunity as is usual of discussing matters of interest to the House which may arise between now and then. The two great tasks of the session—one the drastic alteration in the Rules of Procedure, and the other the Education Bill, both remain unfinished, and the hardest and most disputable part of both is yet to come; for, like the contractor who built the Turkish railways, the Government have built that easy part of the lines which lay along the flat, but have stopped short as soon as they got to the mountains, and left that harder part untouched. One blessing which this session has undoubtedly produced is the blessing of peace, and, in my opinion, much credit is due to the Government for the way in which at last they secured peace—so much credit as to outweigh what some of us think their serious faults in the preceding stage of the war, and the negotiations before the war. But in order to make this blessing effectual, we must regard the end of the war as the beginning of the lessons taught by it, and certainly the Government shows less eagerness to formulate and enforce those lessons than might have been expected. A Commission is going to begin, but when it is going to end, its inquiry I do not know. I suppose that before the conclusion is reached and finally applied in the shape of an improvement of the unimprovable War Office, we shall probably all be dead and gone. But there remains the settlement of South Africa, and that is a task which is perhaps harder than the war itself. The first act of that settlement has shown an absolutely proper spirit on the part of the Colonial Secretary. The despatch in which he refused the suspension of the Cape Constitution was, in my opinion, a manly, a statesmanlike, logical, and unanswerable despatch, and it gives good promise of wise and statesmanlike action in proceeding with the settlement. But you will not 811 gain from such action the fruits it ought to bear, so long as any contrary spirit to that of the despatch exists in any Government official in South Africa. It would be affectation to conceal that I am referring to Lord Milner. No doubt he is a very clever man. But he is a logical-minded, latin-minded man—a man who sees the end and not the difficulties, a man who runs his road straight across the hill instead of going round it, a man who sees the end to be attained and not the difficulties in the way, a man without great human sympathies or any great knowledge of human nature and weakness. I hold that for a settlement which turns on the dealing with such a people as the Boers he is not the best kind of man to be left there, and promises ill. Lord Kitchener, on the other hand, is a very human man, with a great knowledge of human nature; and if I had to choose, I should prefer to send him back to make the settlement with the Boers, whom he understands and who understand him, even at the cost of sending in his place Lord. Milner as Commander-in-Chief in India — a post which, with proper supplication, I have very little doubt Lord Milner would be prepared to accept. But if the end of the war is a blessing to the country, it is not an unmixed advantage to His Majesty's Government. During the war all their lukewarm allies became fast friends, and all the critics were muzzled and chained; but now that the war is over the allies are beginning to cool down to lukewarmness again, and the critics are loose and unmuzzled with no lack of subjects forcriticism. His Majesty' Government must remember that large as is the majority they command it not eternal. It will not last for ever in the country. It will probably no remain intact even until the end of the present Parliament. The Government may think themselves secure until the next general election, which they may think is certain not to be until four years hence. I am not so sure of that. A large number of the Members of which the Government majority is composed hold their seats by a very precarious tenure. Some owe their seats wholly to the war, others wholly to the union with Ireland, and many of the Conservatives hold their seats largely by the 812 votes of Liberal Unionists. But recent events, such as the corn tax and the Education Bill, may have had—certainly have had—an influence on those seats which perhaps was not anticipated, liberal Unionists are Liberals first and Unionists next, and the corn tax and the Education Bill have notoriously rendered many of them hostile to the Government. This is a serious element. Members of the present Government majority who hold their seats upon so precarious a tenure may feel it necessary to modify their conduct, to make terms with their constituents against the evil day to come, and to placate them by conduct which will not involve a continuance of blind and unreasoning obedience to the Government Whips.
Yet it is most important that the country should have a strong Government. There are movements in Europe of a somewhat ominous character, the common note of which is that they are movements for disturbing the status quo which we desire to maintain. Italy has not only left the status quo, but has gone over to the other side, and in my belief there will be but a short time before she takes the step of annexing Tripoli, for which she has long been preparing. But that step will undoubtedly raise again the whole Eastern question—not alone in Tripoli, but also in Macedonia and Albania, if not also in Anatolia and Mesopotamia. I think His Majesty's Government are not unaware of this. The First Lord of the Treasury the other day gave me the somewhat startling answer that the Government had issued no instructions to the Fleet. I presume he meant no new instructions, yet it is a fact that a very short time ago a large British naval force was found in the waters of Corfu, and for aught I know is still there, ready, I suppose, to take any part that might be required in the adjacent territory. Once the Eastern question is raised again, there will be raised what has been the Russian objective since 1871, when, to the eternal shame of England, we threw away the fruits of the Crimea, and agreed to allow Russia to build a fleet on the Black Sea. She has been building a fleet ever since, but in order to make it effectual as a menace, she has always wished to gain power for her own men-of-war to 813 pass through the straits outwards from the Black Sea while prohibiting the entrance of other fleets inwards. That, when it is pressed, will involve repudiation of existing treaties, and will be a serious matter whish the Government may have to face very shortly. I asked the First Lord of the Treasury a question about the proposed formation of a Latin League, and he told me that he knew nothing about it. The French papers know a great deal about it. They are full of it. The only people who are ignorant of it are our Government. We are told that by this League it is intended to form an alliance between France, Spain, and Italy, with Russia at the back of the whole three of them. If that alliance takes place, it will certainly raise the most momentous issues ever placed before the Government. In what position shall we find ourselves in the face of the serious matters arising? We have no alliance in Europe, and we scarcely have a friend. By a strange perversity, it is a most unfortunate fact that when we come to add up the debit and credit side of Lord Salisbury's policy we find that it is far from being the great success which some of his followers would have us believe, and that it has left a distinct balance of achieved disadvantage to us. Lord Salisbury has constantly shown personal antipathies and strong personal affections in politics, not alone to individuals but to nations. What is the result when you come to balance the accounts? He quarrelled with France, for which he never concealed a contempt as ill founded as it was impolitic. He quarrelled with Spain in consequence of a most ungenerous and impolitic speech which he made on the morrow of the destruction of the Spanish fleet at Manilla. Healienated Turkey. He deserted Persia and threw it into the lap of Russia. Finally, he failed either to resist Russia or, what would have been better still, to come to an agreement with her. These are all the results of Lord Salisbury's policy. On the other hand, he has persistently courted Germany with dangerous and undignified assiduity and with the most obsequious compliance. Even in the case of the South African War, when we succeeded in capturing one or two German vessels whereof one was certainly full of contraband of war, he ordered their 814 release without examination, and paid compensation to Germany, besides presenting a piece of plate to those who assessed this shameful tribute.
I am sorry that the First Lord of the Treasury does not feel it necessary to be here when the Appropriation Bill is being discussed. I have some serious matters to refer to which might, I think, be worthy of his attention. One of them is these concessions which we know have been made to Germany. What other concessions are there of which we do not know? We are aware, for it has been publicly avowed, that there is a secret treaty between England and Germany. I say this—I believe, and I have reason to believe it—that that treaty contemplates, in certain events, nothing less—and I commend this fact to the noble Lord the Under Secretary for Foreign Affairs, who is present—than a partition between England and Germany of the Portuguese possessions in South Africa. Is that so? If it be not so, will the Government lay that treaty on the Table? It is not a new treaty—it has been several years in existence. It certainly deals with most important and vital questions to this country, and I do say that Parliament and the country have a right to know what are the stipulations of the treaty of which I have received this very ominous account. Our only ally in Europe is Portugal, and it would seem that we are contemplating the partition of her territories which we are by treaty bound to defend! Portugal can hardly be content with that. I will do no more now than express the hope that our new Foreign Secretary, Lord Lansdowne, may prove less exasperating to our friends and more imposing to our enemies than his predecessor as Foreign Minister has proved to be. But if, in foreign affairs, we have cause for anxiety, still more have we with regard to that which is the final sanction of our power and the final source of our influence with all foreign countries—I mean the Navy. It is well-nigh twenty months since Lord Salisbury reconstructed the Government and appointed as the new head of the Board of Admiralty so promising a Minister as his own son-in-law must necessarily be. We did expect that some stop would be put to that process, which I can only call the sapping and 815 undermining of naval efficiency, begun and too long conducted by Lord Goschen; but it has long been made clear that Lord Selborne does not carry guns enough for the place. Old abuses are continued; new needs of the Navy have been neglected. We are told, and it is admitted, that there is a shortage of stokers, of engineers, and of artificers—in fact, we are short of everything. The Secretary to the Admiralty, after serving under the Administration of one of the most favoured families in England, has found and has avowed that there is an inadequate intellectual equipment, and a need of more complete preparation. The same thing, in short, is avowed to be true of the Navy that has been proved to be true of the Army before the Boer War, namely, that there exists inadequate capacity in its rulers and an inadequate preparation for action. If, in addition to the inadequate preparation in the Army, we have to admit inadequate preparation in the Navy, our influence in foreign affairs will become smaller and smaller. I will not now allude again to the question of Gibraltar, except to say that I think the House, as well as myself, was very badly treated in regard to it. A very important Commission was sent out to Gibraltar, consisting of persons selected for their high capacities; and, although many unworthy manœuvres prevented the Committee from doing what it ought to have done, they made a unanimous report, which, however, was thrown away with contempt on the advice of a local pilot.
Now I come to what is, in my opinion, a matter no less important than those to which I have already adverted. Four weeks ago all but two days. Lord Salisbury, for reasons which are still mysterious, but which must certainly have been grave, unexpectedly and suddenly resigned the premiership and returned to the Sovereign the seals of office—so suddenly, and, indeed, so secretly, that even his visit to the Sovereign was kept secret and was withheld from the usual public announcement until three days afterwards Lord Salisbury's Administration having ceased to be, and the First Lord of the Treasury having been charged with the formation of another Administration— very properly, charged, no doubt, because with his previous history and traditions the Colonial Secretary could certainly hardly have taken up as Premier the con duct of the Education Bill—the country is 816 still, after that interval of four weeks, without the smallest knowledge or hint as to what the new Administration is to be, or on what principles it is to be formed All we know is that two principal members of the old Administration are not to be embraced in the present one—Lord Salisbury and the Chancellor of the Exchequer have gone, and have left the rest sitting on the Front Ministerial Bench. It reminds me of the story told by Sheridan on a somewhat similar occasion—the story of the cobbler of Athens who had cobbled so diligently and well, and sat so long in the same place, that when he rose to go away the sitting part of him remained attached to the Bench.
But that will not altogether suffice. It will not do alone. Some addition, some change will have to be made, and. think the time has arrived when the First Lord should take the House and the country into his confidence. On what principle is this new Administration to be formed? The out-going Administration has outlived some and wearied many of its friends. It has certainly shown a cynical contempt for all those qualities which have hitherto been held to constitute Parliamentary, and to suggest administrative, ability, and, in fact, for all qualities except those founded on consanguinity. They took some and left others—like Providence, and as inscrutably. Why was the noble Lord the Member for Greenwich left? Why leave him out? He is full of ability and bursting with Parliamentary capacity. He is too independent perhaps, disposed to be too difficult and too little pliant for the administrative purposes of such a Government. That well-defined sharp profile which would represent his portrait, etched in with the very vitriol of ecclesiastical conviction, would ill consort with the tame gallery of family portraits of the late Administration. But of that gallery I will say no more; some of them are about to have their faces turned to the wall, others are to be clean cut out of their frames. It is as to who is to succeed them that I respectfully ask for information.
The First Lord of the Treasury has enormous advantages in his new situation. He is the First Lord of the Treasury, which is the only post that the Prime Minister ought to hold. He 817 sits in this House, which is the only House in which any Prime Minister ought to sit. He is, therefore, by the authority that his post gives him and by the support that he derives from this House, fitted to be the head of a new Administration. He will be in a position now to do that which has hitherto been lacking, namely, to exercise that guidance and co-ordination amongst the members of the Government which every Administration requires, and to prevent that dangerous system of Government by Departments, under which every Department is allowed to have its own way, and which has long existed with such mischievous results. The First Lord of the Treasury will now be in his proper, directing, commanding position. He will be the master of the Cabinet. But is the First Lord of the Treasury to be the real or only the nominal head of the Administration? Is the ruling policy to be ordained, and is its conduct to be dictated by him, or by the chiefs of the Party which contains the most extreme Socialists and Radicals? Is this to be his Administration or somebody else's? What sort of partnership is it to be, if it is to be a partnership? Are the old men to be kept on, and are the old ways to be pursued? Is this new Administration to be founded like the last upon the principle of the domination of one family, or on a similar principle—the domination of two families? Or, finally, does the right hon. Gentleman mean to take a broad survey, from Greenwich to Peru, of all the talent he can find on those Benches, and to adopt and utilise it in order to form an Administration with a capacity sufficient to conduct the arduous affairs of this great Empire? Is he going to make a hurried stop-gap, or seriously to form such a Government as will endure? If he is, I believe he will gain the favour of this House and will retain the support of his own Party.
But let me remind the right hon. Gentleman that upon the composition of the new Ministry some of the support of the Party will depend. Five-sixths of the Premier's supporters are Conservatives, and, although a proper proportion of power should be given to the other sixth, it should not be an undue proportion. Yet even if it be an undue proportion, we shall be satisfied if the men hoisted into the 818 new positions are men of capacity. Upon the formation of this Government depends the future of the Conservative Party and the future of the country, and I may also add, the future of the right hon. Gentleman himself. If the right hon. Gentleman will give us such assurances as will lead us to believe that he means to form an Administration which will conduct the affairs of the Empire with ability and with a sole view to the interests of the country, then we shall be satisfied; but if not, if any of the objectionable and inadequate principles to which I have adverted are to guide its formation, the right hon. Gentleman will prepare for himself and his colleagues a disaster more general and complete than has ever yet befallen any Minister or any Party, and for the country a period of unrest and uncertainty, of strife and confusion.
§ *(3.58.) MR. JOSEPH WALTON (Yorkshire, W.R., Barnsley)
I wish to make a few remarks about the situation in China. Unfortunately the time at the disposal of the Committee was too limited to enable us to receive from the Under Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, when the Foreign Office Vote was discussed, such information as I think we were entitled to have in regard to several most important questions connected with our foreign policy and our foreign affairs. I desire to ask the Under Secretary whether, in connection with the handing back of Tientsin to Chinese jurisdiction, His Majesty's Government have secured that Russia shall simultaneously hand back Neu-chwang to Chinese jurisdiction? It will be within the memory of the House how unfortunate was the course taken by His Majesty's Government in China at the outbreak of hostilities. It was the inaction and want of foresight on the part of His Majesty's Government which gave Russia the opportunity of entering into military occupation of the railway from Tientsin to Neuchwang, a railway a large portion of which was mortgaged to British bond holders, the net earnings of the Northern portion also belonging to them as collateral security. It was well within the power of His Majesty's Government at the time of the outbreak of hostilities in China to have effectually guarded and protected British commercial interests in North China. It had always been our practice to send a gun-boat to Neuchwang to remain there during the winter, and surely just as we 819 sent forces to occupy Tientsin His Majesty's Government ought to have sent a couple of gun-boats to Neuchwang in order to protect the interests of the British residents there at the commencement of hostilities, and also to protect our commercial interests. For in Neuchwang there is a British trade of no less than £3,000,000 annually being conducted, and it was well within the ability of His Majesty's Government, not only to have sent a gun-boat or two—such was the strength of the British squadron in Chinese waters at the time —to Neuchwang, but to have landed a force of blue-jackets to occupy Shan-hai-Kwan and other places, in order to protect the line of railway. Most unfortunately, that action was not taken by His Majesty's Government. We have a right to look to the Government, in the first place, to secure that Neuchwang shall be handed back to Chinese jurisdiction by the Russians simultaneously with the handing back of Tientsin by the Allied Forces; and in the second place that the railway from Tientsin to Shan-hai-Kwan shall be handed over simultaneously with the railway from Shan-hai-Kwan to Neuchwang. That, I think, would be a fair and reasonable method of dealing with these two important questions.
Then, I ask whether the Under Secretary can give us any further information as to the progress in the arbitration regarding the land at Tientsin taken possession of by Russia. The arbitration is being conducted by the British and Russian Consuls at Tientsin with Mr. Detring as umpire. I trust that the Under Secretary will be able to tell the House that the reference made to the arbitrators was limited. We cannot forget that when the Russians occupied the railway station at Tientsin there were documents in a safe in the station offices showing clearly the title of the Northern Chinese Railway Company to the possession of certain lands there; and that after the Russian occupation it was distinctly seen that it had been forced open and rifled of its contents I do not think this important fad should be ignored. It ought to be brought forward in connection with the settlement, and His Majesty's Government should effectually protect the rights of British subjects and British bond holders.
There is another important question and that is the conclusion of a new commercial treaty with China. Hon 820 Members on both sides of the House were, I am sure, immensely gratified by the news which came to us a week or ten days ago, which seemed to promise he conclusion of a commercial treaty between this country and China on equitable lines—on lines calculated to increase trade generally throughout the Chinese Empire, and which would be of a highly satisfactory character both to British merchants and to China. I wish to ask the noble Lord the Under Secretary for information on three or four important points which ought to be dealt with in connection with the conclusion of this new commercial treaty. In the first place, what steps are being taken to secure the insertion in the Treaty of what would call "the most favoured nation clause" in connection with the construction of railways. We have been informed in the House that British contracts have been entered into for the building of 2,800 miles of railway in China; but up to the present moment not a single yard of these 2,800 miles has been laid down. Preliminary contracts have been entered into; but no ratified agreement has been come to. Now, in my opinion, it is of the highest importance to the commercial interests of this country that some clause should be inserted in the new commercial treaty setting forth the terms of what I have called "the most favoured nation clause"—that is that the conditions for the construction of these railways in China should be as favourable to us as to any of the other Powers. Another point is the extreme desirability of trying to arrive at some agreement, as between the various Powers, undertaking the construction of railways in China—that equal railway rates should be accorded to all nationalities, irrespective entirely of those by whom these railways have been constructed.
There is another point of great importance in connection with the final conclusion of this commercial treaty, and that is the question of the regulations in regard to carrying on the trade on the inland water-ways of China. Three years ago it was announced in this House that an agreement had been come to between His Majesty's Government and that of China, under which, in the future, British ships would be able to take British goods to every riverside town in China. We all know that that 821 agreement has not been given practical effect to. Now, another opportunity has arisen of having a settlement, on the lines of that agreement to which I have referred, as announced" in this House. I hope that the noble Lord will be able to give tonight some definite assurance in regard to this most vital question. The regulations at present in force only allow British ships to trade between two Treaty ports, and they are not permitted to take in or discharge cargo at any intervening place on the rivers. It is obvious, therefore, that under such conditions they cannot make any profit, or develop the trade it is possible to do if they had freedom to take in or discharge goods at the intermediate riverside ports.
There is another question which, however, I do not see referred to in the information which we have read in the newspapers in regard to this Commercial Treaty. That is, that care must be taken that the same import duties should be levied on the land frontiers of China as on goods taken to China by sea. At the present moment Russia, France, and, for that matter, England, on her Burmese frontier, have the right to pay only two-thirds of the duty of 5 per cent. That did not much matter to England, because we did not have much trade in China over our Burmese frontier. But France from Tonking, and Russia from Manchuria are in a very different position. And if the duty is raised on imports over the land frontiers to 10 per cent., and they are only required to pay two-thirds of that duty, that will save them 3 or 4 per cent., which will handicap British traders very considerably. I hope that an equitable settlement of this important question will be insisted upon by His Majesty's Government. Then there is the question of the postal arrangements in China. Russia, France, and Germany have recently been establishing postal services in China, and they have been extending them in every direction. Lately these Powers have introduced, under their postal services, postal packets into China without paying Customs duties upon them, whereas British traders have had to pay Customs duties on all their postal packets. I hope that the British Government hold that the Chinese Government have the postal and telegraphic prerogative throughout the 822 Chinese Empire; and I would like to ask the noble Lord if our Government will discourage—in conjunction with the United States and Japan —any further extension of these foreign postal services in China, especially as they afford a preferential rate of trade to the merchants of these nations?
The only remaining point to which I wish to refer is the question of the likin. In the last debate the noble Lord said that His Majesty's Government had been compelled to abandon the idea of securing the abolition of the likin to any great extent, although he admitted that some changes of a very limited character might be made. I was, at that time, disposed to take the same view, and even now, from information derived from the press, I am not really sanguine as to what may be achieved; but the noble Lord should give the House some information as to what has been arranged on this important matter of the likin. What I cannot understand is how the provincial exchequers in China are to be recouped for the abolition of the likin. I am told that there is to be a surtax of 6¼ per cent.; but it is well within the knowledge of those who know, that that will not represent more than a tithe of the amount which the Chinese officials have wrung from the traders of China. I am very much afraid that a 6¼14 surtax will be so small a proportion of what they have been receiving that they will strive to draw as much as ever from the traders to China, although I believe that the great Viceroys of the Yangtsze region are honest men. When I had the pleasure of visiting them three years ago they expressed themselves as having a strong desire to put the administration on a sound financial basis. The officials should be honestly paid and have no temptation to appropriate money passing through their hands. These gentlemen pointed out the difficulties in the way of this reform which was eminently desirable, but we must be careful how we deal with this matter lest we raise a greater barrier to trade and the development of trade than now exists.
In regard to the payment of the indemnity in gold, we know that, owing to the depreciation in silver, the monthly payments for the indemnity have increased 823 enormously with regard to the number of taels that have to be paid in to cover the indemnity, and it is with the greatest pleasure that I heard the Secretary of State say in another place that the Government agree with many of us that the increase of facilities for trade with the interior was of infinitely greater benefit than the money received, and that they are proposing to accept payment of the indemnity at the same exchange value for the tael as prevailed at the time the protocol was concluded. That is highly satisfactory to the commercial community in this country. Turning to the question of Shanghai, in the very heart of the Yangtsze region which has remained in a perfectly normal condition throughout the whole of the disturbance in China—and where these great Viceroys preserved the life and property of foreigners. We have not conferred upon us by the protocol any right whatever to occupy Shanghai by a military force, and having regard to what happened and to the splendid and enlightened action of the great Viceroys in these regions and the fact that we are withdrawing from Tientsin, we are bound to evacuate Shanghai at the earliest possible moment. I quite agree that it would be undesirable for us to do so until the other nations withdraw theirs, but having regard to the fact that the Germans have erected brick barracks at Shanghai, and that they have stated through their Foreign Secretary that they regard Shanghai as a necessary base of operations, I feel some apprehension that in their action there is a danger of the permanent occupation of this district in the heart of the Yangtsze. I hope the Under Secretary for Foreign Affairs may be able to confirm the reports we read in the newspapers that the Governments of the United States, France and Japan have expressed their willingness to consider the question of the early evacuation of this place, and I hope the Government will be able to announce to the House that that is their view and policy and that they will do all in their power to carry it out at a not distant date There is another question with regard to Shanghai about which I asked a question three months ago—a question of the arrest of a Chinese subject in 824 the International Settlement at the instance of the French, upon a warrant rearing the senior Consul's signature. We have 250,000 Chinese in the International Settlement of Shanghai, and it has always been the recognised practice that before a Chinese subject can be arrested in the International Settlement a case against him ought to be, and should be, brought before the mixed court of the Settlement, and that the Court should decide that a primâ facie case had been made out for their arrest. In this particular case, under a warrant signed by the Senior Consul, at the instance of the French, an arrest was effected. What was the position? At Shanghai we had an exclusive concession, and America had an exclusive concession. We joined those settlements together and made the International Settlement, under which all people of all nations enjoy equal rights and privileges. The French settlement at Shanghai was conducted on totally different lines; they regarded it as a piece of France where they enjoyed sovereign rights, and they would not for a moment tolerate the warrant of the Senior Consul being executed there. The whole arrangement was therefore inequitable, and I hope the Government will see that all necessary steps are taken, in conjunction with America and Japan, to insure that a similar line of action shall be taken, whether in the French or in the International Settlement. I am sorry to say that the British Consul weakly became a party to this arrest, and I hope the Government will convey to him—he was temporarily in office at the time—their disapproval of his thoughtlessly giving way upon a question which is vital to the preservation of the just liberties and civil rights of the 250,000 Chinese subjects in the International settlement of Shanghai.
I do not wish to traverse ground already covered in the last debate on the Chinese question; to raise again, for instance, the important question of the recognition of respective spheres for railway concessions by the British and German Governments, but I would draw attention to the impossibility of reconciling the statement of the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs on the 25th of March last with the statement of Count 825 von Bulow as to the German commercial policy in Shang-Tung, Anglo-German Agreement. The stipulations in Clause 4 of the Treaty of 1896 applies to the whole of Shang-Tung, and secures to Germany all the cream, and to this country only the skimmed milk, of railway concessions. That Clause is incompatible with the treaty rights of other countries, and with the policy of the open door in the provinces of Shang-Tung, and it cannot be reconciled at all with the action and speech of the noble Lord the Secretary of State. It has been said that Germany has no intention of enforcing the stipulation in the treaty of 1896, and is prepared today to throw open Shang-Tung to the trade of all nations. I hope the Under Secretary will be able to confirm that view of the situation, so that British traders may have the satisfaction of knowing that Shang-Tung is as open to them and other nations as it is to Germany for the purposes of commercial enterprise. The question of our position in China has had more vigorous attention on the part of the Government recently than it had a year or two ago, and I can only assume that peace having been concluded in South Africa, our hands have been freed, and we are enabled, while avoiding agression, to uphold our just rights in China. Our commercial Members have agreed together, to the number of 120, drawn from both sides of the House, to support in every possible way the promotion of better commercial relations and anything likely to promote them all over the world, and the noble Lord the Under Secretary will have the consciousness that in any new departures he makes in the direction of upholding commercial rights and interests in any part of the world he will have our united support.
§ MR. TENNANT (Berwickshire)
With permission of the noble Lord, as I understand the Home Secretary is commanded elsewhere in a few moments, I should like to draw attenion to a question not so important as that which has just been referred to, but still an important question. It is with regard to the protection of our workers from fires such as that which unfortunately broke out in Queen Victoria Street, in which so many lives were lost. I asked the Home Secretary whether those premises came under his jurisdiction as a workshop, and he came 826 to the conclusion, after consideration, that they did not. What were these girls employed at when this fire took place? They were engaged in putting together the component parts of an electric lampholder. They were "adapting an article for sale," or else I do not understand the English language. If that was not clear enough to bring them within the provision of the Act, it is still more clearly established by the fact that one of the girls was proved to be engaged in putting ropes of artificial flowers round electrical wires. Is not that "ornamenting an article"? The right hon. Gentleman naturally and properly instructed his inspector to go down and see if these premises were used for any of these purposes which I have described, but the inspector did not think it necessary to ask any questions of any one except the managing director, whose interest it was to say they were not. The next question, which arises with regard to this unfortunate fire is, were there not forty persons employed? The place that was burnt, it is true, only contained twenty-five persons, but in the next premises there were 100, so that in the two occupances there were 125 persons. I would also remind the right hon. Gentleman that when the last Factory Act was before the House he had an opportunity of giving protection to places where less than forty persons were employed. What I want to ask is: Can nothing be done to protect people n future from such a ghastly death as that which overtook these unfortunate people? If that is not so, will the right hon. Gentloman look at a Bill which appears today and which contains provisions which, had they been in force during the past two months, might have prevented the recent loss of life.
§ *(4.40.) THE SECRETARY or STATE FOR THE HOME DEPARTMENT (Mr. RITCHIE,) Croydon
No one could regret more than I do the terrible accident which happened in Queen Victoria Street. As to whether the premises were a workshop within the meaning of the Act, the District Factory Inspector, who is one of the most highly competent inspectors, inquired into the facts, and made a Report leading to the conclusion that what took place on the premises was not an "adapting for sale." So anxious were we at the Home Office 827 to get to the root of this business that we were not satisfied simply with the view expressed by the inspector, but we had up at the Home Office samples o the work on which the employees were engaged, and every gentleman who was connected with the Act came separately to the conclusion that the processes which were gone through on the premises were not an adapting for sale. There was one single case where a woman did some ornamental work, but I am advised that that case did not bring the premises within the Act. The process gone through in the building was only putting together certain parts for the purpose of being sent away, when they had to be taken to pieces again in order to make them ready for sale, and that was considered by every Gentleman in the Department to be not within the Act. Even if the contrary had been their view, there could have been no interference by the Home Office as regards means of escape from fire, because there were only twenty or twenty-two persons employed in the place.
§ MR. TENNANT
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that there was only one entry to the two houses where 122 people were employed?
§ *MR. RITCHIE
I am not acquainted with the specific point mentioned, but I am informed by my advisers, on whom I must and do rely, that the facts did not bring the building within the Act. I am exceedingly sorry there is no law which seems to touch buildings of this kind, and I am inclined to think there ought to be some; law which would make it necessary that buildings of this sort, where people are employed, should have proper and efficient means of escape from fire, but that ought to be done, not by an Amendment of the Factory Act, but of the London Building Act. That is a matter which will receive consideration, and so also will the Bill referred to by the hon. Member, in order, as far as possible, to safeguard persons from the risk of death by fire.
§ THE UNDER SECRETARY OF STATE FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS (Lord CRANBORNE,) Rochester
I am well aware that many hon. Members desire 828 to speak on different subjects, and therefore my remarks shall be very brief. Every discussion on China divides itself into three great divisions:—(1) the old history of the war; (2) the question which arose at the conclusion of the war for restoring the normal state of things; and (3) the future policy of this country. With all these topics the hon. Member for the Barnsley Division has dealt. The hon. Gentleman spoke with condemnation of the attitude of the Government in old times in allowing the Russian occupation of Neuchwang. He apparently forgets the circumstances in which that occupation took place. We must remember that all the powers were agreed in common action in order to save the Legations and to avenge the outrages which had been committed against them; and each Power advanced in its own way. We advanced from the sea; the Russians advanced from the Manchurian frontier; and, naturally enough, as Neuchwang lay on the line of that advance, they occupied the place just as we occupied the points which lay on our line of route. That being so, the hon. Member asked when Neuchwang was going to be restored to the Chinese. I think the hon. Member knows as much about that as I do. In the Manchurian agreement the evacuation by the Russians of provinces in China is divivided into three divisions. A part is to be evacuated in the next six months; another part in the course of another period of six months; and the remainder in another period of six months. In the course of the first six months the Russians agree to evacuate all that part in which the railway from Shan-hai-kwan to Neuchwang lies; in the course of the next six months they agree to evacuate that province in which the town of Neuchwang is situated; and they agree in the third period of six months to evacuate the remainder. That is the present state of things. The railway to Neuchwang lies in that province of Manchuria which will be handed back n the first period of six months under the Manchurian agreement.
Reference was next made to the indemnity. The efforts of this country lave been directed as far as possible to restore the normal state of things in China as soon as possible and with, on he whole, as little onerous conditions as, 829 possible. No doubt the indemnity is a very large figure, a figure of course for which the Powers were severally responsible; and since then the fall in silver has made it difficult for the Chinese to pay; The Government have taken note of that fact, and they have made a proposition to the Powers to mitigate the severity of the debt which the Chinese have to pay. Whether that proposal will bear fruit or not I cannot at present say At any rate the hon. Member may be comforted by the thought that the British Government have done their best in that respect.
The same observation applies to the evacuation of Shanghai. The Government quite recognise that the sooner Shanghai is evacuated by the international troops the better. There is no reason why they should stay, and the Government have proposed to the Powers occupying Shanghai that there should be an evacuation. But the House will realise that it is impossible for Great Britain to evacuate Shanghai alone. We must have in that respect, as in all other respects, the most favoured nation treatment, and if we evacuate Shanghai, as we are anxious to do, it can only be on the condition that the other Powers evacuate Shanghai at the same time.
The hon. Member then asked about the arrest of certain Chinamen, and the demand of the French Government that they should be tried before a French Court rather than a mixed Court. That raises a question of interest and of some importance which is still under negotiation; but I may say that the French view apparently is that where the prosecutor or the plaintiff, as the case may be, resides, there is the place where the trial ought to take place. The Government, on the other hand, contend that where the prisoner or defendant resides there is the place where the trial" ought to take place. That is a question which must be decided after negotiation, and these negotiations are proceeding.
The hon. Gentleman proceeded to ask me about commercial treaties. That is a subject which belongs to future policy, to the policy of re-construction in China which this country is pursuing. It is impossible for me to tell the House, as I had hoped to do, fully what the commercial treaty 830 entails. We had entertained hopes that before now the negotiations would have arrived at a successful result. I may say, however, that we were to some extent surprised at finding that the difficulties which presented themselves in arriving at a conclusion on the commercial treaty did not appear so formidable as at one time they seemed to be. This was largely due to the intervention of the two great patriotic Viceroys to whom the hon. Member has referred; and I should like to join in the terms of commendation which he used in regard to them. The difficulties, however, are great, and the-first suggestion made by Sir James Mackay certainly did not meet the views either of the Chinese or of the commercial community in this country. In the first place, under the scheme originally presented to the Government there was no practical redress in case the Chinese made default. The most important object of the commercial treaty is the abolition of the illegal charge of likin, which was imposed on all merchandise in transit through China: The method which Sir James Mackay originally proposed was that in return for the abolition of the likin there should be a certain increase in the Customs which are imposed on foreign goods at the ports of entry. But if the Government had agreed to that, and if there had been no practical redress in the case of Chinese default, clearly the last state of things would have been worse than the first. Another difficulty was that, as the proposal stood, it was Protective to Chinese industry against British industry, because it imposed heavy duties against foreign trade and no corresponding excise against the Chinese home trade. Lastly, there was a want of proportion between the amount of money which the Chinese were to lose by the abolition of the likin and the amount of money which would be gained in lieu thereof by the increase of customs duty. The disparity was so great that it was evident that no solid arrangement could be made on that basis. These three difficulties constituted the problem for which Sir James Mackay had to find a solution, and the Government have every hope that he has found it. There are certain difficulties in the final conclusion of the treaty, and if they are overcome I think the House will agree that it will be an accomplishment which reflects no slight credit on Sir James 831 Mackay's skill as a negotiator, and his Knowledge as commercial representative of Great Britain in China.
I would like to take this opportunity of saying that it is not accurate to run down the position of Great Britain in China as some hon. Members do. The proportion of trade which we held in China in 1900 was almost exactly the same as we held in 1898. There was a slight diminution, but it amounted to little: so that in spite of all the troubles through which we have gone, in spite of the assertions made by hon. Members and other critics of the Government that the position of Great Britain is always retiring further into the background, our trade maintained almost the same percentage in 1900 as in 1898. If I had time I might show that in the amount of railway concession which this country has obtained we stand at least as high as any other competing Power in China. The hon. Member wants us to have a most favoured nation clause in regard to railways. I am not at all sure that such a thing is practicable, but the matter shall be considered. Every railway has features of its own which are the subject of special bargaining in each case; and I am not at all sure that it would be practicable to lay down the proposition that whenever any advantages were given to any country in respect of a particular railway concession those advantages should be extended to every other railway concession throughout China.
There was another notable speech delivered earlier in the debate, in which the hon. Member for King's Lynn touched on the subject of foreign affairs. For the most part of the hon. Member's speech was a criticism of the late Prime Minister and of the present Prime Minister, but I do not think that the defence of those exalted personages is a subject with which I have anything to do. There were, however, one or two observations of the hon. Member which require a sentence from me in reply. The hon. Member will have it that we have quarrelled with every country in Europe and Asia. I can assure the House that that is not so. We have not quarrelled with France, or Spain, or Persia, and we have certainly not 832 quarrelled with Turkey. The hon. Member has also suggested that there is a secret treaty between this country and Germany. If there is such a treaty it is secret, and therefore it follows, ex hypothesi, that the terms cannot be given. The House need not think for a moment that our position in Europe is at all insecure. On the contrary, we stand very high, and we are on very good terms with our allies in every part of the world.
§ *(5.0.) MAJOR SEELY (Isle of Wight)
It is with much diffidence that I raise a matter of great importance, but its great gravity makes it necessary to discuss it at this late period of the session—I refer to the lack of organisation in our Naval and Military services and to our unpreparedness for war. A recent occurrence has brought the matter forward in a very strong light. No real attempt has been made to grapple with the question since the Hartington Commission. As the result of that inquiry two widely different shades of opinion were expressed. The majority of the Commission, which include the present Leader of the Opposition, declared that no case had been made out for a complete change in the organisation of the services. The opinion of Lord Randolph Churchill and the minority was that, unless a change were made, we should find ourselves unprepared for war owing to the lack of a body bound to study strategic questions. The views of the majority have been utterly disproved by every military event in the last fourteen years. It was pointed out in the memorandum of the present Leader of the Opposition added to the Report that it was not necessary for this country to have a department corresponding to the office of Chief of the Staff in other countries, because our position was such that India could take care of herself, and in the event of a European conflict the problem, from the nature of the case, would be confined entirely to the Navy.
Recently we have been involved in a war, which was not a small one, although perhaps it was not a very large war, in which the lack of preparedness foreshadowed by the late Lord Randolph Churchill, has been shown to a startling degree; and I submit most respectfully that now is the time when peace has been restored and when we are at peace with 833 all foreign nations, that we should consider the matter and take up the question which was settled wrongly by the Hartington Commission, and we should at once, before we are forced into it by panic and disaster, set our house in order. I do not wish to dwell now upon certain instances of the lack of foresight revealed during the late war, because they are all fresh in the memory of hon. Members, and they will be amply dealt with by the Commission of Inquiry; but it is necessary to say that a certain class of the mistakes which occurred in the war, were such as were not likely to have been committed by any other Power in the same circumstances, and they were entirely due to lack of the Department which I and others desire to see established. In every war there are mistakes of organisation and of detail, but the great mistake, the almost fatal mistake, of not being equipped with the latest modern inventions is due alone to our present system.
I wish to call attention now to what took place very recently with regard to the Navy, upon which we are informed alone depends the safety of this country. I do not myself subscribe to that view, although I think we might very well spend more money on the Navy and less on the Army. I do not subscribe to the views that the Navy is our only defence. The Navy ought to be reasonably well able to cope with any likely enemies; but it appears that on May 23rd last the Lords of the Admiralty went to Barrow to inspect some submarine boats and to witness some tests of a recent invention for increasing the armourpiercing power of shell. This invention has already been adopted in the navies of all our possible enemies, and all that is claimed for it has been found to be true. It was found that whereas without this Johnson cap a shell penetrated only three inches of a twelve inch armour plate, with the cap and with the same velocity the shell penetrated twelve inches of the same plate. I do not wish to enter into details, but it does seem to me that this is a graver matter than any of the kind which has been brought before the House for many years, for it means that if, in the past months, we had gone to war with any of our probable enemies, our ships would have gone to the bottom, while theirs would have remained afloat. This matter has 834 appeared in the public press and is well-known to everyone outside this House, and so there can be no objection to bringing it before the House. Unless some satisfactory explanation of this matter can be given, it is proof positive that something is wrong. Unless some new Department is formed, or the existing Departments are reorganised, we shall continue to be behind other nations in adopting new inventions. It is not as though we are ever likely to reach finality in this matter, for the ingenuity of man in finding means to destroy his brother man seems to be illimitable.
What I desire to know is are we to continue, as we have continued for the last fourteen years, to be always anything between two years and a few months behind our probable enemies? Therefore I would most respectfully ask the Prime Minister who has, I understand, given sympathetic answers to the questions that have been addressed to him on this subject, to consider this question at once, so that we may have established some kind of Department which shall fulfil the functions we seek. And what are they? The first thing is that this body shall have power to consider these matters and together with that power full and absolute responsibility. The second thing which is often lost sight of is that this body should have nothing else to do but consider strategical problems and investigate new inventions if necessary. New inventions will play so great a part in the efficiency of the Navy in the future, that I am certain the representative of the Admiralty will agree with me when I say that this is a question which is well worthy of the serious consideration of the Admiralty. Who should form this body? I do not venture to suggest the exact constitution of this Board or Department. It is obvious that the suggestions made by Lord Randolph Churchill would probably fulfil all that was needed; but if we continue the haphazard method under which any recommendation for the adoption of a new invention meets with the reply that there is no money, we shall be finally landed in disaster. We shall not always fight against a nation enormously inferior to ourselves in numbers, and it is perfectly certain 835 that if we engage in war with a nation nearly equal to ourselves we shall feel the want of such foresight as was lacking at the commencement of the late war more bitterly than ever we felt it before. The proposal of the late Lord Randolph Churchill was that there should be a Secretary of State for both services: that under him should be a Lord High Admiral for the Navy, solely responsible under the Secretary of State, and also a Commander -in-Chief of the Army, solely responsible. Under the heads of the Army and Navy should be a Chief of the Staff, whose duty it would be to investigate every new invention and every possible combination of our enemies, and to lay the result of their investigations before the heads of their own Departments, who would lay them before the Secretary of State. Then, in consultation with the heads of the Departments, the Secretary of State would decide what money could be spared to each, and would come to a decision which would be based on the real necessities of the case. Every one knows that the present system does not carry out the scheme as we should wish to see it carried out, and as the late Lord Randolph Churchill wished to see it carried out. At the very time when we were omitting, on the ground largely of expense, to buy quick-firing guns for land services and high velocity guns, of the value of which there are hon. Members in the House who can speak—we were building great Barracks, the utility of which was certainly doubtful, and the urgency for which was obviously none at all. I cannot, at the moment, refer the Prime Minister to the particular barracks, of which I speak, but they will be found in the Estimates for that year. Some of them were barracks on Salisbury Plain, for which I should have thought the reasons were very much more against than for. But I do not wish to press the matter with regard to the past, because it wants no pressing. I suppose nobody will contend for a moment that under our present system we always employ the money this country can afford to the best advantage. I would humbly suggest to the First Lord of the Treasury, that if he could state to the House that this matter shall receive his consideration he will bring back to the minds of many persons in this country, 836 on all sides of politics, a feeling of confidence which they now have not. I believe that most of his countrymen see that minor mistakes in war are inevitable, and are not prepared to judge hardly any mistakes made in the late war, but they do say that, in regard to the large and more urgent problems, we fall behind other nations. They say we do not set ourselves to grasp the problems we have in hand to the best advantage, and I ask, therefore, that the First Lord should, if possible, give some indication that the matter will be dealt with.
§ (5.18.) MR. A. J. BALFOUR
I was not aware that my hon. friend was going to bring forward this subject; but everybody will admit that it is one of the deepest interest to this House and to the nation at large. Certainly I am the last person to complain of the tone of my hon. Friend's speech, or of anything he said in the course of it. At the same time, I cannot help feeling that possibly he takes too dark a view of what has been done and is being done and is in process of accomplishment in the direction which he desires. He tells us that the lessons of the South African war show clearly that we have fallen behind foreign nations in dealing with the larger-problems of military defence. I do not deny his statement that we may be behind other nations; it is very difficult to deny it, because, let him remember, no foreign nation has been tried. Let me remind him that no foreign nation has been asked to send 250,000 troops 8,000 miles from their shores to deal with warfare under conditions which, up to the present time, no nation has really had to face. I am not quite certain that if my hon. friend, were to criticise, as he is well able to do, the very much smaller operations which some of the great military nations have had to perform in the course of the last ten years, he would not find a deal of food for reflection, and might not come to the conclusion that the errors which he has charitably, but I think truly, reminded us are always found in the conduct of military affairs, were to be discovered in the arrangements and proceedings of some of our military rivals in not less abundance than, I am afraid, they have been found in the course of our own recent experience. My hon. friend appears to suppose that, by having 837 a fixed Department for the purpose of considering strategical problems and projects of invention, all these mistakes would be avoided. I do not think the South African war bears out that view. The opinions that were given on that subject before the war broke out came from probably the largest body of military experts this country has ever possessed, most of whom had had actual South African experience. I am not going over the names, or into the details of the matter. But, as everybody knows, military opinion was practically unanimous. I am not aware that a single discordant note can be found in the utterances of any responsible soldier on the subject of the number of troops that would be required to deal with the Boers, or of the character of the operations. [Nationalist cries of "Sir William Butler."] I have contradicted that statement before, and I repeat that contradiction now. There was no discordant note. If it be true, as certainly it is true—everybody will admit it to be true—that the magnitude of the task was underrated by the Government at the time the war broke out, it was not underrated because we had failed to consult military experts on the subject, or because we had obtained from those military experts any large divergence of opinion.
Then, my hon. friend thinks that we greatly lag behind in the matter of inventions, and he specially mentioned a particular method of dealing with shells—the Johnson cap—as an illustration of our backwardness in these matters. It is for my hon. friend the Secretary to the Admiralty rather than myself to deal with details of administration; but I will venture to point out to my hon. friend, without attempting to make any survey of what we have done either in the way of inventing ourselves or adopting the inventions of others, that so far as my judgment goes, the body of gentlemen who ought to consider the great strategic problems presented by this Empire are probably not the same body of men who would be able properly to invent the best kind of powder, or the best shells, or the best guns. You cannot centralize the "brains" in these departments. Probably the strategical problems are widely apart from the problems presented by successive inventions; and I do not think anything would be gained by attempting to take these problems out of the 838 hands of the War Office and the Admiralty, who have the machinery for dealing with them and for experimenting upon them.
There is one other point in my hon. Friend's observations which I should like to criticise, and that is connected with finance. If I understand him rightly, his idea is that when you have got this joint Department for dealing with strategical problems and with inventions you are to give them, as it were, an unlimited power of drawing upon the national purse. They are to lay down what is necessary in order to deal with the military defence of the Empire, and the Chancellor of the Exchequer of the day would have no other office than that of finding the money by which their drafts upon the national Exchequer were met. I do not think that is a practical suggestion. I do not think the House would ever tolerate it. I think, if they did tolerate it, the consequent disorder in our financial system would alarm even those who most courageously look forward to the inevitable increase of expenditure brought upon us by modern Imperial conditions. So much by way, not of criticism, but of comment on my hon. friend's speech. Now let me say I entirely agree with him in thinking that we cannot pay too much attention to the larger problems of strategy, partly military, partly naval, which the defence of this Empire involves. I do not think there is any responsible statesman at the present time who would endorse the simple account of our national responsibilities which my hon. friend quoted with great disapproval from some early authority. I do not think he mentioned the authority. But, at all events, I do not think any responsible statesman will now say that India can take care of herself, and all we have got to do is to see that we have a sufficient Navy to look after these islands, and, when the storm breaks upon us, to protect our vast commercial interests in all parts of the world.
The problem of Imperial defence is one of the most difficult and one of the most complicated problems that any Government or any body of experts, can face. The problem which other nations have to solve is in most cases one of extreme simplicity. They have not a great Colonial Empire to defend; they know with absolute precision what are their dangers, from what quarter those dangers 839 come, what is the magnitude of them, and by what organisation of counter arrangements these dangers can be met. I do not care to mention names. Everybody can put in the names, and fill up the outline I have given. Everybody knows that while the problems of foreign Governments may be onerous in respect of the amount of financial contribution required, and may be difficult in consequence of the difficulty of providing an adequate force, the intellectual and speculative elements of those problems are incomparably below those of the problems presented by the British Empire. In these circumstances I entirely agree with my hon. friend that we cannot leave this matter to one Department, or to two Departments acting separately. It is a joint matter; it must be a joint matter. I hope my hon. friend will take it from me that the Government are fully alive, and have, if I may say so, for long been fully alive, to the difficulty of the problem which presents itself to his mind, and which he has explained to the House; and that that problem is one always present to our minds. It is one which we certainly do not mean to neglect to meet and grapple with to the best of our ability.
§ (5.30.) SIR CHARLES DILKE, Gloucestershire, Forest of Dean)
I wish to thank the Prime Minister for the statement he has just made. I am sure my hon. and gallant friend, the Member for the Isle of Wight, has secured the object he wishes to attain so far as it can be attained. The responsibility must rest on the Prime Minister, who is the only person in this country who has the authority over the two Departments primarily concerned, to impose that co-ordination for the defence of the Empire which is so much desired, and the necessity of which the right hon. Gentleman himself has admitted. The gravity of the circumstances must force these considerations more and more upon the House, although I do not think they are more strongly re-inforced by mere points about particular inventions. The right hon. Gentleman has spoken j of financial control. Now, while no one would desire to break down the principle of financial control, it has been stated over and over again, without contradiction, that the Intelligence Department of one of the two services is 840 undermanned, and that proposals for strengthening that Department by an additional man for each sub-division have been made and vetoed. That may not yet have come to the knowledge of the Prime Minister, but the responsibility of the Prime Minister must be complete. There marks of the hon. Member for King's Lynn strengthen the urgent necessity for dealing with this subject. The hon. Member has told the House that we are isolated as regards our policy; that such alliance as we had with Italy for the maintenance of the status quo is; gone. Under the circumstances existing in Italy, as mentioned by Signor Prinetti when he last spoke on the subject, I cannot but think that the whole House must have felt gratified that the Prime Minister evidently has his mind filled with this subject. In re organising his Cabinet the right hon. Gentleman must take into view the necessity of immediately increasing that co-ordination of the two services which the House of Commons so earnestly desires.
§ MR. DILLON (Mayo, E.)
I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that it is with the utmost reluctance that I interrupt the enormously important debate initiated by the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for the Isle of Wight. If I had had any assurance that the debate tonight on the Appropriation Bill would have been allowed to take its normal, its invariable, course I would have been the last man in the House to interrupt the debate, but in view of the rumours that are current, I must take the earliest opportunity of bringing before the House some very important and urgent matters in connection with the administration of Ireland, and which ought to be debated on the Second Reading of the Appropriation Bill. The first is the persistent refusal of the Irish Executive to deal, by way of criminal prosecution, or by any other means, with the case of Sergeant Sheridan. ["Oh, oh!" from the Ministerial Benches]. Yes, I mean to raise it again. I can quite understand that some hon. Members opposite are sick of the case. So were the Irish Members, but so long as the Government allow this criminal to remain at large, we mean to demand, in season and out of season, some explanation of their extraordinary procedure. The second is in relation to the use of the Court Houses in Ireland by the 841 County Councils of Ireland which have built them, especially in regard to what has taken place at Cork and Castlebar. The third has reference to a matter of smaller importance, but still of very great importance in so far as it is typical of a great and growing evil; I mean the frightful and ruinous delay to hundreds of poor tenants in Ireland of the sale of estates in the Land Court. In reference to this last point, I propose to call the attention of the Chief Secretary to the special case of the MacFarlane estate in South Tyrone. This delay is ruining hundreds of farmers, and leading, in many parts of the country, to hundreds of evictions.
Let me come to the case of Sergeant Sheridan. I was not surprised to hear the groans in some quarters of the House when this chronic case was brought up, but I think I am justified in again alluding to it, because since the last debate on the subject in the House I have discovered some very important new facts. The first of these new facts is that in the previous day's issue of the Dublin Independent newspaper there appeared two whole columns from Sheridan, giving his address in America as Lower Massachusetts, and renewing his defiance of the Castle authorities, asserting his innocence, and challenging the Government to take action. I ask is it to be tolerated that this mail, who has been denounced by the head of the Irish Executive as a criminal of the darkest dye, and against whom they had ample civilian evidence, if they never put a policeman in the box, is to be allowed to remain in his safe retreat at Lowell, Massachusetts, continue his defiance of the Government, and assert that all the statements of the Chief Secretary are falsehoods, thus giving the Chief Secretary the lie? In this letter Sheridan goes through the charges against him seriatim. I am only giving a paraphrase of his words, but Sheridan winds up by saying that he was made the victim of a superior officer; that his sole offence was that he had reported five constables for drunkenness, one of whom was a Protestant. The officer—I suppose it was District Inspector Irvin—said, "You will suffer for this yet." Sheridan says—I wrote to my brother who is a head constable in Tubbercurry, asking him for advice, and he advised me against doing it.842 Sheridan goes on—I am anxious to get a public hearing in the matter, and I hope to return home and be cleared of all the charges that have been made against me.Sheridan, who gave the lie to the Irish Executive, is in Lower Massachusetts, which is just as much within the jurisdiction of the Government as if he were residing in Dublin. He asserted that he was an innocent man, and that the Government were afraid to put him on his trial. They had heard, in the course of previous discussions, of the case of Sergeant Keegan, who was one of the confederates of Sheridan, and was induced by the terms of indemnity to make a statement. Keegan was granted a compassionate allowance of £200. Now, Sergeant Keegan also, has something to say on this matter in the Cork Examiner on the 26th of July. A letter written by Keegan was published in that journal and it is quite a propos of this debate. Keegan, in that letter, described his connection with the Limerick (Hospital) case, and said—I am now prepared to give the facts in this case, together with the way in which this secret inquiry was conducted, either before a Court of Justice or any Special Committee composed of the most advanced Nationalist, Liberal and Conservative Members of the House of Commons, provided they are independent of the Irish Executive.Here is a letter published in the Cork Examiner, and written by one of the policemen who received the indemnity. Here is an answer to the Chief Secretary, and the miserable crutch on which the right hon. Gentleman hobbled through the last debate is knocked from under him.
I ask the Chief Secretary, now that he is face to face with these conditions, what he means to do. We are told by the Irish Executive that they were debarred as a matter of honour from putting Keegan into the box. I should mention that Keegan is at present residing in Ballindary, within two or three miles of the town of Roscommon, and there is no difficulty in getting at him. But if these constables are not available as evidence, the Government has complete civilian evidence to obtain the evidence he requires. He can have it from a confederate of Sheridan, who says he is prepared to make a clean breast of the whole affair. But, even apart from the police evidence, the right hon. Gentleman can get ample 843 civilian evidence for the purposes of the case. It is perfectly true, and it may interest the House to know, that at the secret inquiry the witnesses who were examined were not confined to the police. On the contrary, a number of civilians came forward and gave most damaging evidence against Sheridan, and expressed their willingness to repeat it in a Court of Justice. The Chief Secretary has never referred to the civilian evidence. He has never told us why it should not be used if necessary. The Attorney General, it is true, gave a lame explanation by endeavouring to make out that the evidence of Dan Magoohan, one of Sheridan's victims, would not be sufficient. Dan Magoohan was sent to gaol for two years, but his evidence was quite sufficient to prove perjury. But he need not rely on Magoohan alone. I have a letter here from a trustworthy gentleman in the County Leitrim, in which he mentions the names of more than one civilian witness who gave damaging evidence against Regan and Sheridan. Yet the Chief Secretary makes no attempt to proceed with the case. The civilian evidence against Sheridan is, in my opinion, superabundant for the purposes of the case. I have it on the testimony of a respectable man, Patrick M'Loughlin, that Sergeant Sheridan took charge of Drumcowra police barrack in June, 1898, and that, from that date, a series of outrages occurred. The National School windows were broken, animals were mutilated, carts were broken, and Sheridan asked a man named Farrell to moonlight a man named Curran, a cousin of Dan Magoohan's, because Curran had gone about saying that it was Sheridan committed the outrages for which Dan Magoohan was arrested. M'Loughlin asks me in his letter to ask the Chief Secretary where was Constable M'Dermott, who was barrack orderly on the night Dan Magoohan was arrested by Sergeant Sheridan. Magoohan was brought into the barrack at 10.30 on the night of his arrest, and not as sworn by Sheridan at one o'clock, and I ask did M'Dermott make a false entry in the barrack books in order to corroborate the false evidence of Sergeant Sheridan. M'Loughlin further said that people were summoned and fined for drunkenness during the period of Sheridan's stay in this district, although they were well known to be 844 teetotalers. This was a peaceable neighbourhood until this ruffian Sheridan came into it. Crimes broke out when he came, and it is absolutely free from crime ever since he left it.
I put this to the Government. I say that no matter how wearisome and disgusting to the House of Commons may be this case, it will come up again and again until we have a fair and satisfactory answer. Will the Government do either of two things—either will satisfy me—will they extradite Sheridan and use the evidence they have against him, or will they appoint a Committee of this House to investigate the whole matter? Can they maintain that a strong prima facie case is not made out, that the public mind is not full of suspicion, and that from the point of view of their own interest and that of the police force in Ireland, it is for their interest to leave this police force under a heavy cloud of suspicion? I cannot help contrasting the attitude of the Government in this matter with their attitude at the time of the Parnell Commission, when the forgers were at work in an endeavour to blot the character of the Irish representatives. Although the charge against the Irish Members rested upon lying and forgery, the Government forced through this House of Commons the appointment of a tribunal to try the charges, and denied to us the commonest justice and fair-play, so much so that the whole Opposition protested against the action of the Government. Now here is a crime affecting their own honour and the whole character of their administration in Ireland. Here is a criminal whom they admit to be a criminal, who left the country with their connivance, who is still in their power, because he can be extradited, who defies them and challenges them, and says they are afraid to touch him. The Government display, what I think I am justified in saying is a most sinister and suspicious unwillingness to open up this matter and let the public mind be satisfied as to this case. I tell the right hon. Gentleman, in the interest of his own Government, he should abandon that attitude and let the light of day in upon those proceedings. What is he afraid of? He may be perfectly satisfied that the 845 public in Ireland and a large section of the public in this country will be convinced, unless he takes that course, that there is a mass of dirt and evil involved in the whole of this Sheridan business which the Government are afraid to allow the House of Commons to unearth.
Now, Sir, the next point to which I desire to address myself is the policy of the right hon. Gentleman in refusing the County Council the use of the Court-houses. I was amazed when I heard the right hon. Gentleman get up and declare the other day that an outrage had taken place in the city of Cork because the County Council of Cork gave their Council Chamber for the purpose of a political meeting. Had not these Court-houses been used for years for Orange and Unionist meetings by the old Grand Juries, and are they not still used for political meetings? Why, I have addressed many political meetings in the Court-houses of Ireland myself. Political meetings in the agitation for the redress of the financial relations were held in Court-houses, and I spoke in Longford in the Judge's seat at a political meeting held in the Courthouse and a great many meetings on the Catholic University question have been held in Court-houses also. But now suddenly the Chief Secretary for Ireland sends down a High Sheriff to clear out the County Council and their friends the moment they do anything of which he does not approve. Was there ever anything, even in the annals of the Irish Government, more outrageous, more gratuitously offensive, more idiotic than what happened in Castle-bar? In that Court-house last week the County Council and the District Councils had arranged to present Mr. William O'Brien with an address. I am perfectly confident if the proposal was to present the Chief Secretary with an address we would have no Sheriff and no police. This was not a political meeting. It was a meeting of the County and District Councils. Just as they arrived in the Court-house they discovered Lord Bingham, who arrived from Bryanston Square, in London, and who had been kicked over to Mayo to perform this job by the Chief Secretary. They found him 846 in possession, and all the galleries and stairways and half the Council Chamber in possession of the Royal Irish Constabulary, and packed, in this small town of 2,000 inhabitants. The Chairman of the County Council requested Lord Bingham to withdraw, and Lord Bingham refused. He was asked what was his business there, and he said, "My business is to clear you out if you indulge in political work." The Chairman asked Lord Bingham, "Who is the judge of what is political work?" "I am," said Lord Bingham. Here was set up a tribunal as compared to which anything in Russia sinks into insignificance—Lord Bingham, with 300 police at his back, watching the County Council of Mayo to pounce upon them when, in his opinion, they said anything political. Out of Alice in Wonderland, was there ever anything like this? Now, this action of the Chief Secretary in reference to the Court-house was a distinct breach of faith on the part of the Irish Government. Could anything be more silly, or more calculated to bring the Government of Ireland into contempt, than this action of the Chief Secretary? How would the Chief Secretary deal with Mayo, or any other County Council who wished to present me or any other Member of Parliament with an address, if they did not give public notice of their intention? Lord Bingham would not be there; the disaster would take place, and I suppose the British. Constitution would collapse. But let me make good my contention that the Government were guilty of a breach of faith. This question of the Court-houses was debated at considerable length on the Local Government Bill of 1898, and the Attorney General claimed that the custody of the Court-houses in Ireland should be put into the hands of the High Sheriff for one reason, and one reason only. He said if it was not in the hands of the High Sheriff, it might be in the power of the County Council to deny facilities for the holding of Courts of Justice. That was immediately met, by saying we were quite willing to have provision put into the sections securing that that could not be done; and then the late Irish Secretary, Mr. G. Balfour, said—Hon. Members appeared to be under the impression that the Government were endeavouring to take away from the County Council powers which had been exercised by 847 the old Grand Juries. That is not so. What we are doing is to give them the management of the Court-bouses in exactly the same manner as the Grand Juries managed them.The Grand Juries were never interfered with when they held political meetings, and these were the words upon the faith of which this House gave its consent to the portion of the Act dealing with the control of the Court-houses. And it goes on—For some of these other purposes—these had been mentioned in the debate as political debates and charity concerts—application would be made to the Sheriff, and the Sheriff would naturally grant the necessary leave.I went on to say in a subsequent speech—We were told the Sheriff would grant the necessary leave. We know be would do so to his own friends, hut when we ask for the Court-houses for the purpose of holding Nationalist meetings, of course we will probably be refused.Well, I say now that faith has been broken. It is almost inconceivable that the Government should be guilty of such an outrage. These Court-houses were built by the ratepayers' money, the, Government contributing nothing to them; and nothing is more calculated to provoke passion and ill-feeling than that gentlemen like Lord Bingham should act in this way. And when the Chief Secretary begins to lecture us about devoting our oratorical gifts to inflaming the passions of the people, I throw back the charge that by such proceedings as this he is doing far more in that direction than was ever done by all our oratory.
The other matter I have to refer to is the MacFarlane (Co. Tyrone) Estate. I asked the other day what was the cause of the delay in the sale, seeing that a Receiver had been appointed in 1883, and the Chief Secretary replied that the obstacle was the obstinacy of three tenants, who refused to agree to the reservation of the sporting rights. One-fifth of the whole rent of Ireland, £800,000 a year, was collected by receivers, of whom we have had a sample in Mr. Studdert, let loose on the unfortunate people, with the Court at their back. I take this case because I want to give one instance which shows the intolerable evils of the system which keeps these people in the Land Court for thirty years, not for the sale of the land 848 but for the collection of the rents. These Courts were created for the purpose of selling the land, and they had been perverted now to rent-collecting Courts. I do not attach undue importance to this case, but I give it as a specific illustration of a crying and intolerable evil. I have the correspondence between the solicitor who carried through the sale and the solicitor acting on behalf of the tenants. [The hon. Member read two extracts from the correspondence stating that Mrs. Judge Boss could not be induced to buy her portion of the property unless the entire shooting rights were secured to her.] What does that mean? It means that it is absolutely untrue to say that the refusal of any one tenant blocks the sale of the estate. The sale of the estate is blocked because this person who has the shooting will not allow the estate to be sold unless the shooting is assured to the family. Inasmuch as the person who has the shooting over the estate is Judge Ross himself, I say it is nothing short of a scandal. Without pursuing the subject further, I think I am entitled to urge the Chief Secretary to bring this matter under the notice of the Land Judge's Court, and that, unless a proper assurance is given that such transactions will not be repeated in future, he should give facilities next session to a measure putting an end to the monstrous scandal of the Land Judge's Court in Ireland.
§ (6.18.) MR. DUFFY (Galway, S.)
called attention to the case of a policeman named Muldowney, who twenty years ago was committed to prison for a political offence. It could not be denied that many of the crimes committed at that time were terrible and abominable, but he hoped, if he made out a reasonable case for reconsideration, hon. Members, would not allow their feelings to prevent a generous view being taken of the matter. If one thing more than another had been proved by the history of British rule in Ireland, it was that if a man identified himself with the cause of the people, and endeavoured to combat the powers that be, he was at once marked out by the Crown as an object of attack; whereas, if he chose the path of the slave or cringing hireling, he was elevated into the position of a demi-god or an immaculate saint. The facts of this particular case were that on November 2nd, 1881, an agrarian murder was committed 849 in the parish of Craughwell. The usual means were resorted to by the Government to secure a conviction, and after the accused had been dragged to a distant county they were, after a second trial, convicted, and the dread sentence of death was passed upon them. That sentence was not carried out. No doubt, powerful reasons induced the Lord Lieutenant to commute the sentence, but if the man to whom he desired particularly to refer was guilty, he ought to have been hung; while if he was innocent, he should have been liberated, and in that case no man had ever suffered a greater cruelty at the hands of the British Government than this unfortunate policeman. The conviction was secured on the suborned testimony of two dissolute characters— one a drunken tailor who had never been sober, and the other a degraded creature who was out of employment because he thieved his masters' property. Under the circumstances which existed twenty-three years ago, it was preposterous to suppose that a policeman would enter into a conspiracy with two such degraded creatures to take the life of another man. But there was another aspect of the case. A great deal had been said about Sergeant Sheridan, but he ventured to say that the hand of another Sergeant could be traced through this Craughwell business. Recently one of the men concerned was liberated on ticket-of-leave, and was accorded a public welcome at Craughwell, where he declared he was absolutely innocent of the charge for which he had been sentenced. This unfortunate man, who knew perfectly well what he was talking about, believed that the entire case was concocted and thrown together by a policeman, and in that belief he did not stand alone, because the entire countryside believed that this man procured and coached and taught these informers to swear away the lives of those unfortunate men. Why did he say that? [Ministerial cries of "Hear, hear!" and Nationalist cries of "Order!"] There were some very good reasons upon which he based that opinion. There was a gentleman named Sullivan who prepared a map of the district where the alleged murderers had been that night. Sergeant Reddington pointed out to Sullivan where the informer was alleged to have been ambushed. It was a most extraordinary thing that from the place 850 pointed out by Sergeant Reddington it would be as easy for a policeman to see the British House of Commons as it would be to see the place where Muldowney and his confederates were ambushed. Sullivan was sent down again, and was told by Sergeant Reddington that on the first occasion he had made a mistake; and he took him to another spot, which exactly suited his purpose. There was another mistake made by the Sergeant, in which he said the informer was sitting upon a certain stone on the night of the murder. He did not know where Sergeant Reddington went after securing the conviction of these persons. In the light of the statement made by the poor prisoner after his release, it was a wonderful and extraordinary coincidence that this same Sergeant Reddington, whom the unfortunate prisoner alleges was instrumental in securing his conviction and that of the other unfortunate man now putting in a life term of imprisonment, was a district inspector in the barracks on the night that Sergeant Sheridan brought in the cow's tail. It might appear to Members on the Ministerial side a matter not worthy of their attention; but there was a suspicion throughout Galway that this affair, from start to finish, was started and carried on by the police.
He hoped the Chief Secretary would take some steps to find out what the relationship in this matter was between Sergeant Reddington and Sergeant Sheridan. Assuming that the prisoners in this case were really guilty, it was a very significant thing that seven men were brought to trial in Sligo twenty years ago, and five of them were let off scot free, though the same evidence was forthcoming against them all. At the first trial the jury disagreed, but during the interval between the first and second trials the Crown were apprehensive that they would not be able to secure a conviction, and they caused a message to be sent to the unfortunate men in gaol who had been tried in the first trial that if they would plead guilty to the crime alleged against them they would be leniently treated and let off with a nominal sentence. These men were perfectly innocent of the crime alleged against them, and, of course, they scorned the idea of pleading guilty. They said that, no 851 matter what happened, they would stand their trial, and they went into the dock, and the dreadful sentence of death was passed upon them. Assuming that the men were really guilty, surely, in face of the feeling all over the district, not only in Galway, hut throughout the country, eighteen, years imprisonment ought to have been considered sufficient for this crime. In the face of this kind of thing they blamed Irishmen for not being loyal to the Crown, and not assisting in the administration of the law, but how could they expect Irishmen to revere or respect the law when such things as this conviction for murder could be carried out within the administration of the law. What was the state of public feeling in the county of Galway? All the public bodies had moved in the matter throughout the ength and breadth of the county, headed by the County Council. He had not yet touched upon a, remarkable incident which threw a flood of light upon the strength and sincerity of public opinion in regard to this matter. At the last general election in Ireland, when the candidates were being selected for the constituency which he now had the honour to represent, a person was selected, but the fact that he was a felon precluded him from taking his seat. That man came before the electors and denied all knowledge or complicity in that frightful crime. Quite recently the Government released one of these prisoners, and the very first thing ho did was to deny all knowledge of the crime, and on emerging from the prison; this man swore an affidavit that he knew no more of the crime than a child unborn. In Ireland, the conviction was universal that this unfortunate policeman was absolutely innocent. Why did the Government differentiate between the two prisoners? Why not extend equal clemency in both cases? He asked the Chief Secretary to make it his business to investigate the matter, and if he could see any reason to suggest to the Lord Lieutenant that the sentence should be commuted, hon. Gentlemen in this part of the House would be very grateful indeed. He understood that a sentence for life generally meant twenty years. He would appeal to the right hon. Gentleman to consider whether 852 this man, who had already been in prison eighteen years, had not now been sufficiently punished. The continuance of this punishment could only have for its object the wreaking of vengeance on an individual, and not the purpose of being a deterrent. There were special reasons for making this appeal at the present moment. In a day or two London would witness a marvellous outpouring of the nation's sympathy towards the King. No matter what the views of hon. Members from Ireland might be in regard to the laws or the administration of Ireland, he ventured to say that they were glad to see that a good sportsman had been, restored to health. On such occasions he understood it was usual for an incoming monarch to signalise his accession to the throne by acts of mercy and compassion. If the Government hearkened to his appeal on behalf of this unfortunate man he was perfectly certain that it would have a profoundly good effect upon the hearts of the people in the west of Ireland.
§ MR. TULLY (Leitrim, S.)
supported the appeal made on behalf of Muldowney, and expressed the hope that the Chief Secretary would not be prejudiced against this man because he was a policeman who was convicted of an agrarian outrage. The murder took place at Cranghwell on 2nd November, 1881. It was a mysterious murder, and fourteen months after it took place Sergeant Reddington succeeded in working up what ho conceived to lie a chain of evidence, and the policeman Muldowney was arrested. From interviews he had had with the relatives of Muldowney he was convinced that the man was illegally convicted, and that he was innocent of the crime for which he had been eighteen years in prison. The evidence against Muldowney was discreditable evidence. The first man put up was an informer named Rattray, who had been dismissed by his employer because he had been guilty of theft. Another witness was a discharged soldier, who was drummed out of the Army and actually branded with the letters "B C." Muldowney was tried at Sligo at the Spring Assizes, but the first jury disagreed because it seemed to them such an incredible thing that a policeman, who had no connection with that part of Galway, should be one of those concerned in 853 the shooting of a land-grabber in the district. It was only when Sergeant Reddington had had an opportunity of amending the case that at the second trial this man was found guilty with Finnigan. The case was put before Lord Spencer, who was Lord Lieutenant at the time. If he had been sure that Muldowney and Finnigan were guilty of this terrible assassination, they would have been hanged. Lord Spencer was not convinced, and the sentences were commuted. Finnigan was released the other day, and on his release he immediately declared his innocence. He had investigated the case of Sergeant Sheridan. He went over the ground with Dan Magoohan where the cattle were houghed. Anyone who saw the ground and compared the facts with the evidence could see at once that Sheridan's story was a "fake," and that Magoohan was innocent. Who was the district inspector there? He was told it was Reddington, who had formerly engineered the Muldowney case. He thought that probably explained some, of the mystery in the Sheridan case. Why was Sheridan not extradited? Ho had no hesitation last winter in bringing forward this connection of Sergeant Reddington and Sheridan. The result was that he was brought up under the Crimes Act and sent to prison for an offence of which he was not guilty. He had been sent to prison six times, and on four of those occasions he was not guilty. The hon. Member condemned the constabulary system in Ireland by which rewards and promotion were given to the men who were most active in getting convictions in agrarian cases. The Chief Secretary spoke of Sheridan as a man of great ability, who dazzled the constables under his charge. The information he had about Sheridan from those who knew him intimately was that he was not a man of great ability. He was what the people called a "bad rogue" and not a clever rogue. The Government were keeping up in Ireland a system by which a premium was placed on the manufacture of outrages by the police. He thought it was quite clear that if the case of Sheridan were properly probed to the bottom very much would come out that would not be pleasant for the Castle system of Government in Ireland.
§ (7.0.) THE CHIEF SECRETARY FOR IRELAND (Mr. WYNDHAM,) Dover
The speech delivered by the hon. Gentleman opposite consisted of an appeal to me for the exercise of the prerogative of the Crown in the case of Muldowney. I will not attempt to argue upon the merits of a trial that took place twenty-one years ago. Mr. Reddington's name has been mentioned, and I think it is most unfortunate that a plea, for the exercise of the prerogative of mercy on behalf of Muldowney should be based upon the insinuations against other men. Much of the matter introduced has been for the purpose of prejudicing the case, but I think we ought not to be swayed the one way or the other by these irrelevancies. It has been suggested that doubt in Lord Spencer's mind led him to commute the death penalty to a life sentence; but in fact it was because the Judge who tried the case recommended the convicted man to mercy on the ground that he was a young man, and had been inveigled into joining a secret society and instigated to the commission of the dreadful crime. That plea of the Judge was entertained, mercy was accorded, and the death sentence was commuted to penal servitude for life. A commuted sentence is never treated upon all tours with a sentence of penal servitude. In the latter case a prisoner can earn some diminution of his punishment, but when a man is sentenced to be hanged and that sentence is commuted, the same rule does not apply. Such cases are separately considered, but they are considered, and at long intervals they are brought up under a general rule and the whole circumstances are investigated. It is not for me to say how the prerogative of mercy should be exercised: but I may say that I deprecate most earnestly, most sternly, some of the pleas that have been urged. The hon. Member for East Mayo has once more raised the oft-debated question of Sergeant Sheridan, complaining that my statements on the subject have been inadequate. What the hon. Member means is that the course taken by the Government was unsatisfactory to himself and his friends. But my statement has been full. I have stated everything that the Government have done and what they have not done. That statement may be objected to, the 855 hon. Member may think things have been done that should not have been done, and things should have been done that were left undone, but it cannot be said that I have not laid minutely before the House everything that has or has not been done.
§ MR. WYNDHAM
The hon. Member was not satisfied with the course taken, and was therefore not satisfied with the statement. If new facts were adduced no man would be so obdurate as to refuse to consider them, but the hon. Member has not adduced any new facts. The civilian evidence to which he has alluded had been before the Government, and they have taken their course with full knowledge of that evidence which upon examination proved to be not actually evidence, but the assertion of strong suspicion of certain people in relation to events that occurred a year ago. One "important fact," as the hon. Member termed it, was a letter from Sergeant Sheridan published in a newspaper. I do not call that a new fact; in all probability, and I may even say with certitude, it is fiction. I attach no importance to an assertion of innocence on the part of Sergeant Sheridan and I am sorry to find the hon. Member balancing the question of Sheridan's guilt or innocence. I believe Sheridan to be guilty, and in that belief the Government have taken a course for which they may be blamed, but for which I have given a defence. And I refuse to balance between the proof of Sheridan's guilt and the proof of Sheridan's innocence. The next subject to which the hon. Member referred was that of the use of Court-houses in Ireland.
§ MR. DILLON
; The right hon. Gentleman has not referred to the all-important fact that Sergeant Keegan has published a letter expressing his willingness to give evidence before a Court or a Committee.
§ MR. WYNDHAM
That is, not a new fact. It is a letter from a police officer who has accepted the stigma of retiring from the force and now wishes to try the officers who conducted the secret inquiry. The secret inquiry may have been right 856 or wrong, but it would certainly be wrong, having taken the course of holding that inquiry, to subject that inquiry to investigation by Committee. To take that course would prevent a secret Departmental inquiry being again held. [Nationalist cries of "Oh, oh!"] I cannot hope to satisfy hon. Members, and must be content to remain under the ban of their disapproval. The hon. Member has complained that there was a breach of faith in supporting the high sheriff in the custody of the Court-house vested in him; but if this is an accusation against the Government for having passed the Bill giving that authority, so is it against Members opposite who accepted it. Section 72, Subsection 3, of the Act declares that the Court-houses are to be given to the County Councils for the execution of their duty, and for no other purpose. Even on that narrow issue, the execution of their duty, there is an appeal to the Lord Lieutenant if the high sheriff thinks, that the other purpose for which the Court-house exists, the administration of justice, would be likely to be trenched upon by the duties of the County Council. This was accepted by hon. Members opposite, and clearly it was never contemplated that the Court-houses should be used for political demonstrations. No change has been made in the status of County Councils as successors to grand juries, and in 1867 a judicial decision declared that Court-houses are vested in the high sheriff. I cannot pass from this subject without paying a tribute to the-discretion and firmness displayed by Lord Bingham. I should like to note the terms in which Lord Bingham has been referred to by hon. Members. Lord Bingham, is an Irish gentleman who not many weeks ago walked into the office of the Congested Districts Board and, without being solicited, said he would be prepared the moment he was vested with control of his estate to sell it to the Board in order to effect some amelioration in the land system of the county in which he lived. Lord Bingham has done more to solve the land difficulty in Mayo than all the hon. Members opposite. As to the other points raised by the hon. Member, I have to say that it would be improper for me to review the action of the Land Judge or the slowness or speed with which the business of his court is conducted. If the special case brought forward has 857 been in the Court for many years, that does not prove that the case came within the fortieth section, but, having come within it, all the tenants agreed to an arrangement with the exception of three who refused to buy unless they acquired the sporting rights. They have never enjoyed the sporting rights; no tenant ever had. The House extended the credit of the Exchequer to assist tenants to acquire their farms, and because tenants are not to have shooting rights the transaction is not to go forward and the Court is to be held up to obloquy? The case needs no argument. If a remedy were needed it can be provided in the Bill which has been introduced.
§ MR. ASQUITH (Fife, E.)
There is a passage in the speech of the right hon. Gentleman which I cannot pass unnoticed, a sentence in which he alluded to the case of Sergeant Sheridan. The right hon. Gentleman is under a complete misapprehension if he supposes the dissatisfaction with the course taken by His Majesty's Government, and with the reasons assigned for taking that course, is not shared by many other than Irish Members on this side, and, as I suspect, by not a few sitting opposite. What is the case the right hon. Gentleman has now once more laid before the House? In its present situation it is a most extraordinary case. Sheridan was, according to the right hon. Gentleman, a guilty man. Over and over again he has reiterated his belief in the man's guilt; and it must be assumed that when a responsible Minister made such a statement there were good grounds for it. If Sheridan was assumed to be guilty, in language not a whit too strong, in view of the nature of the crimes attributed to him, why, I ask again, was he not to be prosecuted? Sheridan was at large, but his whereabouts were known; he is said to be in a country with whose Government we have an extradition treaty, and undoubtedly there was primâ facie evidence that he had committed an extraditable offence. Why was not an effort, at least, made to bring Sheridan to justice? That is a question which I must put again and again until a satisfactory answer is returned. The Chief Secretary has spoken of the difficulty of securing legal proof of Sheridan's guilt. It seems that in the circumstances which the right hon. Gentleman has disclosed, there was sufficient material evidence to secure the conviction 858 of Sheridan. But, at any rate, in a matter which affects the very foundations of justice, it is better to have tried and failed than never to have tried at all. Here is a man guilty of offences as fatal, not only to the administration of justice, but to all respect for law in Ireland as it is possible to conceive, walking about scot-free and unpunished. That is serious enough. But in addition to that there is the suspicion that the Government are afraid to bring Sheridan to trial, lest in the process of securing his conviction other disclosures should be made, which would throw a still more lurid and condemnatory light on the Irish administration. I believe these suspicions to be unfounded, but so long as the Government pursue the extraordinary course of allowing Sheridan to remain at large they will be rife in Ireland. I appeal once more to the Government, in the interest of public confidence in the just administration of the law in Ireland, to put into operation against this man, who, on their own showing, was guilty of the most nefarious crimes, the ordinary machinery of justice.
§ *MR. WEIR (Ross and Cromarty)
complained that the Congested Districts Board of Scotland was remiss in carrying out one of the objects for which it was constituted—the assisted migration of crofters and Cottars in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland. In the Island of Lewis there were 30,000 people, and the congestion was alarming. The Lord Advocate had said the Congested District Board was doing admirable work, but as a fact it did nothing at all until disturbances had occurred and the law defied. Not a single man, woman, or child had migrated in Lewis. All that the Board had done was to buy seven acres of land and divide it into twenty-eight quarter acre holdings.
It being half-past seven of the clock, the debate stood adjourned till this evening.