§ Order read, for resuming Adjourned Debate on Question [19th February], "That an humble Address be presented to His Majesty, as followeth:—
§ "Most Gracious Sovereign,
§ "We, Your Majesty's most dutiful and loyal subjects, the Commons of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, in Parliament assembled, beg leave to offer our humble thanks to Your Majesty for the gracious Speech which Your Majesty 532 has addressed to both Houses of Parliament:"—(Mr. Dickinson.)
§ Main Question again proposed.
§ Debate resumed.
§ Mr. FORSTER (Kent, Sevenoaks)
moved the following Amendment—But we humbly regret that your Majesty's Ministers should have brought the reputation of this country into contempt by describing the employment of Chinese indentured labour as slavery, whilst it is manifest from the tenor of your Majesty's gracious Speech that they are contemplating no effectual method for bringing it to an end.He said he thought it very desirable to focus attention on this question which had been prominently before the public during the last two years and especially during the last two months. It had been said over and over again by members of the present Ministry and their supporters, that the late Government had been guilty of a great wrong, and had been instrumental in casting a slur upon the honour of this country, in sanctioning the introduction of Chinese labour into South Africa. That was a serious charge to make. It was a charge that ought not to have been made unless the people who made it believed in it, and it ought not to have been made unless it was capable of proof. One of the most astounding things in the whole of this agitation was that there had been no proof to back up the assertion. On the contrary, the whole body of opinion entertained by people who really knew the conditions and had seen the coolies at work went to prove that hon. Gentlemen opposite were wrong in asserting with so much confidence that the conditions were tantamount to slavery. Business men, working men engaged in the mines, trade union officials, ministers of religion, the members of the British. Association visiting South Africa last autumn, and even some supporters of the present Government themselves who had been out there, all said there was no element of slavery in the conditions under which the Chinamen worked, and that the arrangements were healthy, humane, and admirable in every way. Yet, in spite of this great body of evidence from those who had been on the spot, various 533 Ministers still persisted in their allegations that the conditions amounted to slavery. The present Minister for Education, for instance, speaking at Bristol last September, said Liberals had a grave responsibility in this matter; they must wash their hands of it entirely, for it was part of the creed of Liberals that under the British flag slavery in whatever for, and under whatever guise should no exist. This right hon. Gentleman had been closely associated with, even not primarily responsible for, the literature which had been designed to educate the electors during the past two of three years; and if he proposed to apply to the education of the children of the country the methods which he had applied to the education of their parents, they would be hard put to it to tell right from wrong, justice from injustice, fact from fiction. Then there was another right hon. Gentleman who, in spite of everything that had been published to the contrary, still adhered, so far as he knew, to his opinion that the conditions under which the Chinese worked amounted to slavery. The right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade in his election address expressed his opinion that Chinese labour was unnecessary for South Africa, especially in the enslaved, underhand abominably created form in which it did now exist. He added—I am against slavery, coolie, indentured, contract, or coloured labour for British South Africa,At the time that address was issued, colleagues of the right hon. Gentleman were making it clear that they did not regard the conditions under which the Chinese laboured as tantamount to slavery, and it certainly appeared that as their hopes of office came nearer realisation they were modifying their language, and probably their opinions. But the right hon. Gentleman had had the courage to stick to the opinion which he had expressed from the first, and to which no doubt he would adhere to his dying day: viz., that the Chinese in South Africa are slaves.
§ THE PRESIDENT OF THE LOCAL GOVERNMENT BOARD (Mr. JOHN BURNS,) Battersea
Is not the hon. Gentleman referring to myself, 534 rather than to the President of the Board of Trade?
§ MR. FORSTER
said he was addressing his remarks to the President of the Local Government Board. He was sure the right hon. Gentleman opposite would forgive him if he had wrongfully addressed him. He would now quote what was said by the President of the Board of Trade. He regretted having to quote the speeches of hon. and right hon. Gentlemen who were not in their places. He wished to remind the House of the opinions they expressed in their speeches because he thought it was desirable that the country should not forget the kind of speeches they made. In view of the contents of the Blue Book which had been published within the last two days, the country would be able to realise the real and proper worth of the opinions which hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite had expressed. The right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board, of Trade, speaking at Pwllheli in reference to the treatment of Chinese coolies, said—They were kept like dogs in a kennel; they were treated as very few men treated their beasts, and if you treated a man as a beast, he became a beast.In the same speech the right hon. Gentleman went on to say that—Those people who were trying to use the unemployed statistics of this country in support of a new fiscal system were the very people who introduced 65,000 Chinamen on cheap terms to South Africa, which was as integral a part of this Empire as Carnarvonshire, under conditions tantamount to slavery.That was one of the exuberant exaggerations of the right hon. Gentleman, because at the time he was speaking he overstated the case by something like 20,000. The right hon. Gentleman would probably say that that did not affect the argument. He himself did not think it did. The argument would remain the same if it was applied to only one Chinaman. He only mentioned it to show the kind of exaggeration in which the right hon. Gentleman had so often indulged.
§ MR. FORSTER
said he would not argue that matter. The right hon. Gentleman used the word "introduced," and the argument remained the same. The President of the Board of Trade in the same speech asked—What would they say to introducing Chinamen at one shilling a day to the Welsh quarries? Why, Chinese labour could make the gold mines of Merioneth do what Mr. Pritchard Morgan once said they would do—extinguish the National Debt. Slavery on the hills of Wales Heaven forgive him for the suggestion.That was a prayer in which all would agree, for nothing could be more misleading than for a man in the right hon. Gentleman's position to suggest to his constituents that there was the slightest risk of the importation of cheap Chinese labour into this country to displace our own workmen. [Cries of "Why not?" and "We have Poles in Scotland."] Was the hon. Member who said "Why not?" so blind to the force of public opinion? [Cries of "No."] Then he would know why there was no danger of Chinese labour coming into this country. If the President of the Board of Trade had adopted the same line as the hon. Gentleman below the gangway, and, instead of suggesting to his constituents that there was grave risk of Chinamen coming into this country, had pointed out that public opinion would never tolerate them in this country—.
§ MR. SPEAKER
I must ask the hon. Member for East St. Pancras not to keep interrupting. It is one of the great boasts of this House that we listen to the speeches and then reply to them.
§ MR. FORSTER
said he made no complaint of the way in which the hon. Gentleman had treated him. He knew that this question excited strong feeling, but he was sure that hon. Gentlemen opposite would bear with him although he might 536 say things with which they did not agree. At the very moment when these hon. and right hon. Gentlemen were making these speeches to their constituents they must have known that the conditions which they were describing in such hard terms were in reality of a milder, far fairer, and far juster character. What was the system which they had so fiercely attacked and denounced? It was a system under which the labourer enlisted in his own country and at his own will for a limited period of service. It was a system under which all the conditions of this employment had to be clearly and adequately explained to him before his service was accepted. It was a system under which he was able to terminate his engagement at any moment. It was a system under which he was able to earn far higher wages than he could earn at the same class of labour in his own country. There was not an element of slavery in any one of the conditions. But he would be told that the coolies had to live in a compound. It was, he thought, the Postmaster-General who, in describing the conditions of the Chinese coolie, referred to them as living under lock and key. He referred to that as showing the exaggeration which could be employed in describing a Chinese compound. He asked the House to take the testimony of people who had been in these compounds and who had seen the Chinamen there. So far from it being fair to say that the Chinese were kept in these compounds under lock and key, with all the restrictions described, it would be found that life in the compounds was far more tolerable and contained a far greater element of freedom than many of our own soldiers enjoyed. [Cries of "No."] The country had rung with denunciations of the compound system which the late Government had tolerated for four or five years. Did hon. Members forget that Kaffirs lived in compounds? If the compound system was so monstrous and iniquitous at the present moment why did they not denounce it years before? Why was it that they were content to allow the compound system to grow up and develop when the compounds were occupied by Kaffirs, and only became so tender in their consciences when they were inhabited by Chinese? Some hon. Members opposite said that although it might be true that the 537 actual conditions of employment and life in compounds were not tantamount to slavery, yet the ill-treatment to which the Chinese had been subjected was so barbarous and so horrible as to amount to one of the conditions of slavery. He maintained that the Blue Book just published contained an absolute refutation of that charge. [An HON. MEMBER: "No."] He was expressing his own opinion. The Colonial Secretary on 16th January telegraphed for information with regard to the treatment of the Chinese coolies because he felt that the time had come when Parliament would demand further information. Lord Selborne replied that—The inspectors are carrying out the instructions which have been given to them to the best of their ability, and no complaint by any coolie ever remains uninvestigated.He thought one of the things which had animated the minds of hon. Gentlemen opposite was the feeling that these coolies might be ill-treated by their employers, and that the facts would not be brought to light. Very well, the object which Lord Selborne had in view, and which the late Government had in view, as to appoint inspectors to take every step that could be taken to ensure that no coolie should ran the risk of harsh or unjust treatment without having his case investigated and the offender brought to justice. Lord Selborue was able to say that—No complaint by any coolie remains uninvestigated. The chief difficulty with which the inspectors have to contend is that in many cases where grievances ate believed to exist the aggrieved person himself prefers to maintain silence. It is obviously impossible to expect the inspectors fully to elucidate the facts with regard to such cases.And then his Lordship went on to say that—Proclamations in Chinese setting forth the machinery provided by law for the settlement of disputes are posted in every compound, mid the Superintendent of Foreign Labour has good grounds for believing that they are carefully studied. Petitions duly lodged by the coolies in the petition boxes provided under Government regulations on every mine or sent in to the Superintendent in town are closely investigated.These petition boxes, he might remind the House, were introduced in order to meet the danger which coolies might feel in making complaints. The coolies 538 might put their petitions in those boxes, and they ran no risk of any evil consequence following by so doing. It would be interesting to know to what extent they had availed themselves of this privilege. The Colonial Secretary wanted to know something about the Chinese native police employed in the compounds, what their functions were, and what kind of men they were. Lord Selborne had given that information—The Chinese compound police are men recruited by the mining companies as indentured labourers. For the most part they have served either in the British Army at Wei-hai-Wei or in the Chinese Army.It might be presumed that they understood and were able to deal with their own fellow-countrymen whom they got to know on board ship before their arrival in South Africa, and Lord Selborne justified their use as satisfactory. His words were—It speaks very highly indeed for the police and for the coolies that order has been maintained as well as it has been.And his Lordship pointed out that although these—Chinese police were no more perfect than any other human beings … all things considered, I am not of opinion that they have on the whole acted in an oppressive manner towards the coolies, nor do I believe that it is the opinion of the coolies that they have done so.And he pointed out that if two Chinamen had a quarrel they settled it amongst themselves, and if one of them got beaten, the beaten party declined to give any information to the inspector in regard to the matter. Lord Selborne called attention to this matter because he thought that some allegations which had been made in the Press in this country and had been repeated in speeches by right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite, had been founded on the treatment by the Chinese themselves and not on any treatment which the Chinese coolies had received at the hands of their employers or their representatives. Lord Selborne said—and in this he shared his Lordship's view to the full—I feel bound to add that although I fully recognise your anxiety to receive specific assurances that the arrangements for the protection of the Chinese coolies and for ensuring their proper treatment are as perfect 539 as it is possible to make them, the Superintendent of Foreign Labour deeply resents the insinuations made by irresponsible persons that the coolies are ill-treated, which insinuations imply that he fails in his duty of seeing that their treatment is good.He was not surprised that anyone holding a position of responsibility and authority in South Africa should feel and deeply resent the insinuations made against him in the speeches delivered by right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite. He himself felt deeply the line which right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite had taken up on this question in the past few years. He, however, was able to exchange views with them personally face to face; but the officials who were engaged 6,000 miles away in carrying out the Ordinance, and whose business it was to see justice done to the coolies in South Africa, had no means of stating their side of the case to right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite. He was accordingly not surprised that these officials keenly and strongly resented the imputations freely cast upon them during the last few years. Now, they all knew, and he thought that the country would very soon find out, why it was that this great outcry about Chinese labour had been raised, and why it had commended itself so strongly to right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite. They had never heard before about other Ordinances regarding coolie labour in other Colonies. They had never heard any outcry against the people of Australia when they dealt with Kanaka labour. [MINISTERIAL cries of dissent.] Was the British Government then charged with sanctioning slavery in a British colony? No, not for one moment did hon. Gentlemen opposite attach the same importance to the Kanaka question as they did to the Chinese question because, they did not realise what a strong and potent weapon it would be in their hands for party purposes at a general election. It had been interesting to see the course of events operating on the minds of hon. and more especially right hon. Gentlemen during the past few years. They had seen that the violence of their opinions and of their speeches had gradually moderated until hon. Gentlemen, who had started by asserting frankly and plainly that they regarded Chinese labour 540 as slavery, had now come to the conclusion that in all the circumstances of the case they would leave the settlement of the question to the Transvaal itself. If they really believed that the condition of the Chinese labourers amounted to slavery it was their business to deal with it—[MINISTERIAL cheers]—yes, and to deal with it in a way which would be commensurate with the gravity of the charge made. The right hon. the Prime Minister, speaking in this House only two or three days ago, said that His Majesty's Government felt it their duty as long as any responsibility rested with them for the administration of the Ordinance to secure, as far as possible, that no Chinese coolie who honestly and genuinely desired to return to his home should be retained in the Transvaal against his will and at work in the mines. That was a statement of policy with which, he should think, the whole House would agree. No one wanted to keep the Chinese coolies in South Africa against their will; and a special clause was put in the Ordinance which gave the coolies the right to terminate their engagement at any time on condition only of finding the money for their return to China. [MINISTERIAL ironical laughter.] Hon. Gentlemen opposite quarrelled with the means, but they did not quarrel with the intention of the Ordinance. He thought that all of them could agree with the object which the right hon. Gentleman had in view. And there was a passage in the despatch of Lord Selborne which showed that those who were responsible in South Africa fully agreed with the view expressed by the right hon. Gentleman. But while Lord Selborne agreed with that policy, he pointed out the dangers that would undoubtedly be connected with it when an effort was made to put that policy in force; and he most wisely proposed to limit it to those cases in which the Government and the Lieutenant Governor were fully satisfied that the coolie who was going to be sent home, to a certain extent at the public cost, should not return to South Africa under any new engagement. On page 106, paragraph 4, Lord Selborne said that—There may be exceptional oases in which it would be reasonable for the Government to incur this expenditure, but they ought to be cases recommended by the Superintendent 541 and approved by the Lieutenant-Governor in Council.He entirely agreed with the reservation that Lord Selborne made, and he gathered that the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister approved of it also. Lord Selborne pointed out also the feeling which undoubtedly would be aroused in the minds of the people who, from the Blue book, it appeared, were apparently to pay the cost. The right hon. Gentleman said that the charge was to be met out of public funds, but he did not tell them what those public funds were, and whether the charge was to come upon the Transvaal or this country. He hoped the hon. Gentleman the Under-Secretary would tell them what was intended, as it would have a very distinct bearing upon the point, and his explanation might go a considerable way to alleviate the danger which Lord Selborne felt might arise by the refusal of the Transvaal Government to vote the necessary money. Again, as Lord Selborne pointed out, if they once recognised the principle that any man who had gone to South Africa under a contract of any sort was to be able to come to the Government and say, "I am tired of it; I am tired of working in South Africa; I hate the country; I want to go back to my own country, and I have not got the means to do it,"—if they once admitted the principle that these men were to be assisted out of public money, where would the practice stop? He hoped the Under-secretary, therefore, would tell them whether he proposed to adopt the recommendations of Lord Selborne that this power should only be exercised in cases which were recommended by the Superintendent and approved by the Lieutenant-Governor in Council. They now knew the policy which the Colonial Secretary had adopted after all the cry which had been ringing through the land during the past two years. Ministerialists had denounced the late Government in every possible way for having sanctioned what they declared to be an immoral thing and a great wrong, but they now knew that the way in which the right hon. Gentleman proposed to cure that great wrong was to pay the passage home of a certain number of coolies who wished to go home, and to make some very small alterations in the judicial and punitive measures contained in the amending Ordinance of last 542 year. He though that a perusal of the Blue-book would show that the administration in force at the present moment was working justly and fairly. He considered that the Blue-book proved beyond doubt that, so far from there being any idea of injustice, oppression or slavery, the coolies had ample, fair and easy opportunities of reporting any injustice under which they suffered, and of securing redress for any wrong which might be inflicted upon them. These two things were the only items in regard to which the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister proposed to alter the policy which he had denounced with such vigour and with such invective. Was it worth while to go to all the trouble and expense, to incur all the moral damage, for the sake of such a little result as this? They were aware that hon. Gentleman opposite knew—although perhaps they could hardly expect them to admit it—that the fact that they found themselves on the Ministerial side of the House instead of on the Opposition side was responsible for the change that had come over their attitude. No effort was spared to induce the people of the country to believe that the conditions which the late Government had sanctioned were so degraded and immoral that they cast an almost ineradicable stain upon the honour of our country. Leaflets, placards, and posters were seen everywhere. Hon. Members poisoned the minds of the people, who either had not the time or had not the opportunity to learn the true state of affairs for themselves. Slavery in the literal sense of the word it was not. ["It was."] He heard, at any rate, that there were two hon. Gentlemen there ["200"] who were really so honest as to believe what they said. Was it slavery to engage a man of his own free will in his own country, to take him free of expense to the country in which he had undertaken to serve? Was it slavery to give him the opportunity of returning to his own country at any moment when he so chose? Was it slavery to enter into an obligation to restore him to his own country at the end of his period of service? Slavery meant the taking of a man from his own home against his will. ["No."] Did anybody ever find a slave in the old days 543 freely and voluntarily going into slavery? He believed that there were very few people who really and honestly believed that under the conditions which had been laid down in the Ordinance there was any real element of slavery. Hon. Gentlemen opposite at the election might have used the words metaphorically; but why should they publish pictures of Chinamen in chains, driven under the lash to work which they loathed; why should there be representations of Chinamen in chains parading the streets? There was one fact in the agitation which had to a certain extent been left out of account. It was that, in trying to persuade the country that they took a right and their opponents a wrong view of the matter, their opponents had succeeded not only in persuading their fellow-countrymen of the truth of the charges, but they had succeeded in persuading people who lived in foreign countries that the British Government had made itself responsible for a system which any right-minded man must inevitably condemn. They had succeeded in inducing foreigners to believe that the late Government had cast a dark stain upon the honour of our Empire, and now the Government were showing that, although they had led them to believe that if they came into power they would forever put a stop to this system, they really intended to do nothing. That, he had no doubt, would cause hon. Members opposite small concern. They had never been careful to maintain the high honour of our own country. [Cries of "Withdraw," "Oh," and "Shame."] He had nothing to withdraw, but he would say that he doubted if the course which the right hon. Gentleman had seen fit to pursue would strengthen the hands of the Foreign Secretary in conducting negotiations with foreign countries. Ministerialists had brought charges against the Opposition which had been refuted by the newly published Blue-book; they had been refuted by the evidence of people who knew from their own experience on the spot the real conditions under which the Chinamen laboured. If the Ministerialists were still not satisfied that they had made a mistake, he thought the least the Government could do was to appoint a Royal 544 Commission, which should ascertain and publish beyond any doubt the real facts of the case, so that the people of the country might be able to come to a right judgment upon everything that hon. Gentlemen opposite had said. Such a Royal Commission would be welcomed by Lord Selborne and by the mining managers, upon whose integrity so strong an imputation had being cast, and he hoped that such a tribunal might be appointed to inquire into the whole question upon the spot. He hoped that the right hon. Gentleman would now admit that he and his friends were mistaken in the views they expressed. That, he thought, was only due to the late Government, whom they had maligned, but above all they owed it to the people of this country whom they had misled.
§ SIR GILBERT PARKER (Gravesend)
said that this was not the first time he had addressed the House of Commons upon this question, and he understood how difficult it was to speak upon it. He was bound to say that, on the last occasion upon which he addressed the House, those who took an opposite view to himself were, if he could tell their attitude by their speeches, somewhat impressed by the fact that he had lately come back from South Africa, having had some little experience of that country, and having seen the conditions under which the Chinese worked on the Rand. He remembered urging at that time that the word "slavery" was not the proper word to apply to the coolies, work, and he remembered that the hon. Members for Camberwell and the Abercromby Division of Liverpool said "agreed." Therefore, he could only assume that they did not mean to convey the impression they conveyed to the House, but that they agreed that the conditions under which the Chinese lived and worked in the Transvaal were not conditions of slavery. [Major Seely dissented.] At that time he put forward the argument that, in the first place, the Chinese were needed there as the Kaffirs were needed; and that the conditions under which the Chinese worked were not different from those under which the Kaffirs laboured, except that they were to some extent better, inasmuch as 545 their food was better, that their housing was better owing to the fact that new buildings had been put up for their accommodation. The House now required to get back to first principles in this regard, and at the risk of wearying the House he would recall to their recollection, and to the recollection of those who were not present at the last debates on this question, what the conditions in South Africa were which called for this legislation. Everybody who knew South Africa agreed that the basis of all unskilled labour in the Transvaal was black labour. It was not a matter with which any white man had ever had to do; it was not ordained by anyone of mortal birth. A higher Power had ordained in this matter. In Africa below the Zambesi there were six black men to one white. Let them suppose that in Guildford or Reigate, or any town in England, there were six black men to one white, that some citizen wanted a ditch dug, and that the digging of that ditch was open to competition. Would any Labour Member of this House suggest that the white man would enter into competition with the black? White men never had and never would do so. There was no Labour Member in this House nor any Member who knew South Africa who did not know that. There was not a man who went from this country to South Africa, whether he was a skilled or an unskilled worker, who did not refuse to do unskilled work except when driven to desperation, and then they would only do it for as short a time as possible. The whole of the unskilled work had been done in that country by black labour; by the natives of Cape Colony, Natal, the Transvaal, Basutoland, the Orange River Colony, or by imported labour from neighbouring States. Everybody knew that 80 per cent, of the black labour employed in the Transvaal was not native to the Transvaal or even British Africa, but that it came from Portuguese Africa and other sources, and that the interruption of the work at the mines and the interruption of the output was due to the fact that there was insufficient native labour. There was an insufficiency of labour in the time of Kruger, and from time to time appeals were made for permission to import more. At the Bloemfontein Conference it was decided that 546 there was not enough native labour to be had from available sources and that labour must be obtained from others, by which no doubt was meant China or Japan or elsewhere. Then a Royal Commission was appointed, and that Commission published a Majority and a Minority Report. The Majority Report set forth the number of black men who would be required for the mining and other industries and also for agriculture in the country. A curious mistake had occurred with regard to that, which had an indirect bearing upon this particular point. Lord Elgin said in his Despatch to Lord Selborne that a supply of 250,000 labourers would be required for the mines, because the Commission found that 129,000 were required at once and 196,000 would be required five years later. Upon that the Colonial Secretary built up an argument to show how impossible it would be for this Government or any other to admit 250,000 indentured labourers into South Africa.
He noticed that the Despatch had not been answered by Lord Selborne, and he wondered whether it was because Lord Selborne conceived that the question was one which did not show that knowledge which a Colonial Secretary ought to have of the needs of the Transvaal. The Under-Secretary perhaps would enlighten the House upon that. What the mine-owners asked for was for 129,000 labourers at the present time, and during a period of five years 196,000, that was, altogether. At the present time there was still a demand for more labourers. Suppose the Liberal Party had been in power when the needs of the Transvaal had been presented with all the information which the late Government had at its disposal from the Transvaal, would they, he wondered, have taken such a large responsibility as they did now. Would the cry of slavery have been raised then, because he noticed that the cry of slavery was not raised strongly until just before the election, except perhaps by the hon. Member for the Abercromby Division of Liverpool, who had been consistent in this matter throughout. But that hon. Gentleman was as unsound in his ideas as to slavery as he was sound in his definition of citizenship. The hon. Gentleman knew perfectly well that the 547 Chinaman was an alien and that, therefore, not being a citizen under the British flag, he had a perfect right under the laws of his own country, of which he was still a citizen, to make such bargains as he pleased. There were legal Members of this House who would admit the accuracy of what he said—that the conditions of the contract between the Chinese and the Transvaal Government were such as could properly be made.
It would be possible to make such a contract in this country. As for his definition of slavery, according to Wharton's Law Lexicon, slavery was a state in which one man had absolute power over the life, fortune, and liberty of another. When they laid sentiment aside and gave anything like close attention to what the word "slavery" meant in the English language, the use of the word in connection with these conditions was absolutely unsound, to say the least. It was absolutely unsound, unfair, unjust, and untrue. The cry had produced its result, and the result was seen in this House. He hoped hon. Members were satisfied. He believed, however, the time would come when they would look back upon the election, and the means by which it was won, with regret. He hoped so. He had too much confidence in the commonsense of his fellow-citizens, and of his fellow-Members of this House, to doubt that. He did not blame the British working-man for having believed the tissue of falsehoods which had been disseminated throughout the country, which had taught him to think as he had thought, to turn the late Government out of office, and to put the present Government in. He did not blame him. Candidates who fought the late election had the same means of information, but some did not use those means of information as they should have used them, and it was upon their heads that the future judgment of this country would fall. As Ms hon. friend who moved the Resolution had said, the Liberal Party had won its position by a general condemnation of the clauses of the Chinese Ordinance, and out of that general condemnation had come one or two little things which amounted to this that the Ordinance might continue until the Transvaal was able to pronounce judgment upon 548 it for itself. But it seemed to him that that was only shifting the responsibility, and that it was only leaving to the Transvaal what the public of this country believed would be a responsibility borne by this Government. They who thought they were right in permitting the Chinese to be imported into the Transvaal would have no fear regarding the judgment which would be passed by the Transvaal. From first to last the people of the Transvaal had been practically united upon its necessity. There was, a few weeks ago, a statement in the public Press that an immense meeting of miners had been held in the Transvaal to protest against Chinese labour. But other resolutions had also been passed by other bodies. The paper from which he had cut the illustration he now showed the House was a paper which he thought all would respect, namely, the Daily Graphic. It was a picture taken of that vast assemblage of miners—between 300 and 400 people. But there were on the Rand 18,000 white skilled workers, and those 18,000 white skilled workers were there by virtue of the fact that there was a sufficient supply of black and yellow labour to give them work to do. He hoped hon. Members would recognise the fact that this country did not always demand that the raw material for the hands of British skilled workmen should come from white labour alone. If they were to establish that principle he wondered where Lancashire would be. He wondered where all the sugar refineries, the rubber manufactories, and a hundred other manufactories in this country would be if this country had to depend solely upon white labour for the raw material of the skilled white workmen in this country. The mines of South Africa have the whites skilled work by virtue of the raw material got by unskilled labour. These views were once held to some extent by the Under-Secretary for the Colonies. They owed him no grudge, but he wondered why it was the hon. Gentleman had changed his views so completely during the last few years regarding the Transvaal and the attitude his country ought to take up towards the Chinese question. He did not blame him for changing his mind. They once ad the honour of thinking alike, but the hon. Gentleman had travelled faster than 549 he had, or had retreated, perhaps, faster. At Grosvenor House in July, 1903, Mr. Churchill said—We are not living in South Africa; we are not the people of South Africa; we are not entitled to dictate to South Africa what arrangements she is to make in regard to the labour she employs. We don't wish to rule South Africa as we do a Crown colony. I am all for countries minding their own business. It would be very undesirable to interfere with the condition of labour in South Africa, and I think myself it would be equally undesirable if the Colonies were to press us to alter our economic conditions at home. … Of this I am quite sure that supplies of labour will have to be obtained from the natives of the country or from Indian or Chinese sources it ever the mining industry is to be completely rehabilitated, and if ever South Africa is to turn her back on the dark shadows of the past and march steadily and firmly towards the rising day.
§ SIR GILBERT PARKER
I have not the whole speech with me, but this has been quoted again and again. I think my right hon. friend the Member for Dover has the whole speech here, and will probably give the House the advantage of it.
§ MR. CHURCHILL
It is the fact that the passage has been quoted again and again, but an important omission has always been made in what follows after the words just quoted. I said "Provided the conditions are humane, and provided that South Africa consents."
§ SIR GILBERT PARKER
My statement was perfectly accurate, "Provided the conditions were humane and provided South Africa consents." But surely the hon. Member meant the Transvaal?
§ SIR GILBERT PARKER
said he supposed then if Natal and Cape Colony and Rhodesia and the Orange River Colony and the whole of South Africa met in a Conference of their representatives, as they did meet, and there said that there was not sufficient native labour to be got, and that they must go to outside sources for it, then the hon. Gentleman would consider that the whole of South Africa consented. If it came to that, the Dutch in South Africa had committed themselves to Chinese labour. They themselves passed while in power, two Resolutions in favour of the importation of Chinese labour, and the reason why they did not carry them out was the expense. He submitted to the hon. Gentleman that he had placed himself in a considerable difficulty, but he only wished to say to him that if the advocates of Chinese labour thought, no differently from what they did when he (the Under-Secretary for the Colonies) thought as they did, why should they be blamed now for consistently holding to their opinions and for having consistently fought for what they believed was the good of South Africa? As for the charges that had been made against the Chinese and against the conditions under which they worked, the whole Blue-book was a refutation of anything like violence or maltreatment of the Chinese. Undoubtedly the Blue-book did show that sanction was given to illegal flogging. He did not think there was any Member on the Opposition side of the House who, had he known flogging was going on in the mines, would not have been in favour of abolishing it. Flogging in itself, however, was not slavery, else what had been pursued in the British Navy and public schools was slavery. There could not be a case of slavery upon that basis. The treatment by individual managers or overseers of individual Chinamen by flogging was a matter which the late British Government and the Transvaal Government did not directly control, because a certain amount of option was given to the Chinese superintendent. It had been done away with. The amended Ordinance issued at the end of last year was an Ordinance the terms of which, as it seemed to him, no Member of the House could object to. If they admitted at all 551 that the Chinamen were to come in, that that was a question by itself, but if they admitted at all that the Chinamen were to come in there must be those natural restrictions with which the natives were surrounded. They should not be allowed to wander abroad and affect the social conditions of the country. The evidence of the Blue-books was sufficient to convince him that the importation of Chinese had had no ill effect upon the social condition of the Transvaal. The conditions under which the Chinese were working at present were as favourable and fair as those under which the Kaffirs worked, and yet the Party opposite had never raised any objection as far as the Kaffirs were concerned. They had heard no protests against the employment of Kaffir labour in the mines of Kimberley. He wished to remind the House that their Convention with China concerning the importation of Chinese into British dominions was made by a Radical Government, with Lord Palmerston, Lord John Russell and Mr. Gladstone as some of its members. Chinese had been working in English dependencies ever since without protest from any member of the Liberal Party so far as their public utterances were concerned The Prime Minister admitted that, if Chinese were imported, compounds and conditions of restraint were necessary, and that took away from hon. Gentlemen opposite one of their strongest arguments. To the credit of the Liberal Party be it said, that up to three months before the election they did not use literature which was disgraceful, but there appeared certain articles in a paper in London with photographs representing Chinamen undergoing torture, and although they had been absolutely refuted, those pictures and posters practically won the election. [Cries of "Oh, oh!"] Those posters were based upon articles written by Mr. Frank Boland and Mr. Pless, who had a Chinaman strung up in his room all night, and the next morning he had a photograph taken which he intended for a book to expose the slavery on the Rand. It was upon Mr. Frank Boland's statements in the Morning Leader that those cartoons and the slavery campaign were built, and they all proved to be untrue. [An HON. MEMBER: "Not all of them. Lord Selborne said that a portion of them were true!"] Lord Selborne said that before June of last year there was flogging; 552 but he did not defend flogging, nor did Lord Selborne. It would have been far better to have had no flogging at all, but it had been removed. He wished to point out, however, that it was not upon flogging that these posters were built, for they depicted Chinese with chains around their necks and manacles on their hands. The Prime Minister had stated in a letter that he would not be a party to slavery in any form under the British flag, but the right hon. Gentleman did not say that the Chinese Ordinance was slavery, although hon. Gentlemen opposite drew that inference from the Prime Minister's statements. A combination of things of this kind had gone far to place the Opposition in the position in which they found themselves to-day. They had much to fight for, and they had much to defend, and plenty of time to defend it, but that would never prevent them from raising their voices against what they believed to be an unfair agitation upon a question important to the welfare, not only of this country, but also of one of our Colonies. The Liberal Party were now in power, and they had long been out of power, and he hoped that power would give to all the members of the Liberal Party a new conception of their duties towards the Colonies. ("Why?") He had never said that the Liberal Party lacked an appreciation of the Colonies, but their position was one which the Colonies themselves could not understand, because when things which were nearest and dearest to them were put forward, they were not received with cordiality, to say the least of it. [Cries of "Oh, oh!"] It was so in South Africa to-day. At a meeting of the Progressive Association in Johannesburg not long ago, Mr. James Leonard said they had been calumniated upon every platformand upon every hoarding, at every by-election and every election during the general election, and now that the battle had been won those calumnies were repudiated by the central organisation of the Liberal Party. He ventured to say that those words represented the views of 99 per cent, of the British citizens in South Africa. [Cries of "No."] They also represented the views of many of our Dutch fellow citizens, who were anxious for the development of their country. He hoped the Government would take good care to see that they did nothing in regard to the present 553 labour conditions of the Transvaal which would bring to bankrupty and ruin not the Transvaal alone, but the whole of that country—Cape Colony, Natal, and the Orange River Colony—which lived by virtue of that one industry. If by any act of this Government Chinese labour were taken away in an attempt to give white unskilled work to the Transvaal, if the Ordinance were seriously altered in a way which would prevent the development of mining in the Transvaal, they would be doing an act which would be treachery to the Empire itself. The present Government could not afford to do that. He did not know whether the Government would listen to an appeal from him for a Royal Commission of Inquiry. Mr. Leonard had pleaded for an inquiry. Lord Selborne also asked for a Royal Commission in the interest of British justice. If the late Government were to be condemned for bringing Chinese labour into the Transvaal he asked that there should be established a court and jury which would try them. They should not be condemned on ex parte statements in the Press and in this House. If the Royal Commission brought back the report that slavery existed and that every man who had visited the mines of the Transvaal was wrong, then the Members of the Opposition would take their punishment. [An HON. MEMBER: "You have got it."] No, they were punished without being tried. They were punished by the misuse or lack of use of evidence He appealed to the Prime Minister and those who sat beside him to do themselves and the Party to which they belonged the justice of granting a Royal Commission to inquire into the circumstances which hon. Members on the Opposition side of the House had defended, and then to abide, as the Opposition would loyally abide, by the judgment of that Commission.
Amendment proposed—At the end of the Question, to add the words, 'But we humbly regret that Your Majesty's Ministers should have brought the reputation of this country into contempt by describing the employment of Chinese indentured labour as slavery, whilst it is manifest from the tenour of Your Majesty's gracious Speech that they are contemplating no effectual method for bringing it to an end."—(Mr, H. W. Forster).
§ Question proposed, "That those words be there added."554
§ THE UNDER-SECRETARY OF STATE FOR THE COLONIES (Mr. CHURCHILL,) Manchester, N.W.
There is very little to complain of in the tone of the two speeches to which we have listened, though I think I must make exception in respect of one remark which fell from the hon. Member for Sevenoaks. I think it extremely undesirable that comparisons should be drawn between the conditions of Chinese labour in South Africa, and the conditions under which British soldiers serve the Crown, and I am surprised that the hon. Gentleman, who not so long ago was associated with one of the great services in this country, should have been led into a comparison of what is, after all, to put it at its best, the lowest form of labour hitherto tolerated in modern times under the Union Jack with the most honourable service a private man can render the Crown. I have one observation to make in regard to the Amendment and the tenor of the speeches. The Party opposite, or rather the Party who sit in that corner of the House opposite, have taken up a clear position on the subject of Chinese labour. They are its authors, its admirers and its champions, they believe with all the sincerity of the hon. Gentleman who has just sat down that it is necessary for the welfare of South Africa, and that without it the British Empire would collapse. Yet I think the tendency of their Amendment and speeches, and certainly the tendency of some remarks made by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham the other day is to urge His Majesty's Government on to courses more extreme than those upon which they are resolved and to precipitate the very catastrophe which the right hon. Gentleman professes himself so anxious to avoid. Do not let us judge this too harshly. We have been in Opposition ourselves and we know very well that the Opposition is always seeking for opportunities to embarrass the Government, not always successfully seeking, and we know very well that an Opposition is bound in regular custom to oppose and to criticise the Government, and has no real measure of responsibility for anything it may say or do. I will only venture to congratulate the great Imperial Statesmen who sit upon that bench upon the ease and celerity with which they have exchanged the responsibilities of office for the irresponsibilities of Opposition. I must 555 confess that I listened with very great pleasure the other day to the speech of the right hon. Member for West Birmingham in which he so strongly condemned anything in the nature of electioneering misrepresentation. I am sure we all agree that every effort should be made to raise the standard of our electioneering contests and to keep out of them any aspersions upon the humanity, the loyalty, or the patriotism of the candidates who may be engaged in them. The Prime Minister will welcome the co-operation of the right hon. Gentleman in anything that may tend to raise the standard of our Party life, and I can assure him that his departure upon so praiseworthy and new a course will be watched with sympathy and respect in all quarters of the House I took occasion during the elections to say, and I repeat it now, that the conditions of the Transvaal Ordinance under which Chinese labour is now being carried on do not, in my opinion, constitute a state of slavery. A labour contract into which men enter voluntarily for a limited and for a brief period, under which they are paid wages which they consider adequate, under which they are not bought or sold and from which they can obtain relief—I shall have to say a word about that later—on payment of £17 10s., the cost of their passage, may not be a desirable contract, may not be a healthy or proper contract, but it cannot in the opinion of His Majesty's Government be classified as slavery in the extreme acceptance of the word without some risk of terminological inexactitude. If Chinese labour be not described as slavery the right hon. Gentleman should not readily assume that it is for that reason a proper contract. I have often heard it said that it is a contract not less proper than that permitted under the British Guiana and Trinidad Ordinance which was introduced by Lord Ripon, the Leader of the Liberal Party in the House of Lords. I am amazed to find that persons who have had the advantage of access to official information commit themselves to and persist in a statement so woefully inaccurate. My hon. and gallant friend the Member for the Abercromby Division of Liverpool stated to the House the other day that there were no less than five points in which the Transvaal Labour Ordinance differed from the Guiana Ordinance, and in every case differed for the 556 worse. He showed that under the Chinese Ordinance a labourer contracts himself out of the right to hold real estate, and out of the right to dwell in the country after the termination of his contract. He contracts himself out of the right to dispose of his movements in his spare time, and of the right to rise by any skill which he may have to any more lucrative and satisfactory terms of employment. He contracts himself into the liability to be; arrested without warrant, and he did suffer from the disability of not being tried in open Court. Now, I do not say that any one of these conditions in which the Transvaal Ordinance differs from the Guiana Ordinance is necessarily indefensible in itself; but, taking them all together, as they should be taken, cumulatively and collectively, they undoubtedly constitute a notable and melancholy derogation from any standard of Labour Ordinance, even the lowest hitherto tolerated within the British Empire. I hope that that is a statement of the case which commands the support of my hon. friend the Member for the Abercromby division, than whom no one has been more active in drawing public attention to this question, or deserves in greater measure the gratitude of this House.
Let me say at the outset that no responsibility for this system rests upon His Majesty's Government. We are not concerned to defend it, or to justify it. It was passed in spite of our votes and in spite of our protests. We have nothing to conceal, nothing to palliate, nothing to deny. The whole burden of this subject, whether it be a cause of glory, or of discredit, rests, and can only rest, upon the Conservative and Protectionist Party. We, the present Government, are the heirs to their evil inheritance; but we are doing the very best we can to undo the harm which has been done. We ask the support and confidence of the House, not in reference to matters which we could not deal with from the beginning, but in regard to measures that are projected. We ask for confidence and approbation for what we do ourselves upon our own responsibility, and upon our own initiative. I am sorry on general grounds that Mr. Lyttelton is not here, although I am very glad, from another point of view, that we have a very worthy representative of the constituency of Leamington. I am sorry that Mr. 557 Lyttelton is not here, just as I am sorry that Lord Hugh Cecil is not in his old place. I am sure that every one—that is to say every one who is not unduly apprehensive of a sharp tongue—would wish that statesmen and politicians who have taken a considerable part in the affairs of this House, and whose actions must be criticised and brought under severe review, should be in their place, and should have some opportunity of defending themselves. In the absence of the right hon. Gentleman I cannot easily find words to characterise as I should have desired that great and cardinal error of which Mr. Lyttelton was guilty in sanctioning, in the first instance, the policy of the Transvaal Labour Ordinance. He bad no mandate from South Africa. No plebiscite was taken, and I myself remember that a very distinguished and wealthy gentleman connected with the mining industry admitted to me that it would have been a very good thing to have had a plebiscite. He said—We were perfectly willing to have a plebiscite, but the difficulty wag that it would have gone the other way.[OPPOSITION cries of "Name."] It would not be fair to mention a private person's name.
§ MR. CHURCHILL
You can judge of its value as it stands. The pretext that the Legislative Council in South Africa could give any authority—a nominated council of gentlemen who owed their position and existence to the will, even to the caprice, of the Secretary of State—the pretence that such a council could relieve the Government of any responsibility, or could speak in the smallest degree with the authority of South Africa, was among the sorry farces which we were forced to witness in the closing days of 1904–5. I say, that to subject a Colony still in a state of tutelage to this sordid experiment; to introduce a new and sinister element into the racial complications in South Africa; to flout the opinion of all the self-governing Colonies to whom such passionate appeals had been addressed; to degrade the status of labour all over the world; and to do this without the slenderest authority from the people of the Colony concerned, and in defiance of every 558 section of disinterested public opinion in Europe, was a reckless and wrongful act, an iniquity for which the Party opposite have suffered and richly deserved to suffer. It was characteristic of the late Administration that they plunged into this far-reaching and momentous experiment without any clear idea of how far they meant to carry it. No stopping-place was defined, and no limit to the number of Chinese to be introduced was fixed. In the first instance we were told that the number of Chinamen was to be limited to 10,000; a little later we had 55,000 as the utmost limit of those who would be required; and quite recently, just before the Government changed, all sorts of arguments and assertions were put forward to show the desirability, I think, of importing something like 150,000 Chinese into South Africa, and maintaining them on that great scale until the gold mines were worked out. By October, 1904, there were 20,000 Chinese in South Africa, and by October, 1905, they had increased to 47,000. On the 27th of October the late Colonial Secretary telegraphed to South Africa an inquiry whether the time had not come when the mine owners should agree voluntarily to limit the importation of Chinese labourers to the Rand. Between November 12th and 18th last applications were made for no less than 16,199 new licences, and on November 18th 13,199 were granted and signed, and 3,000 were signed but not delivered. On the 24th November the expectant nation was informed through the columns of The Times and the Daily Telegraph that the Ministry was about to resign. It would almost seem from these figures as if the Rand had had even earlier information, and that it was feared the new Government would stop all further issues of licences. That, of course, was regarded as a foregone conclusion. Everything alike indicated that that would be the earliest exercise of the newly acquired Executive power. I think it was one of Lord Elgin's first acts to inquire how many new licences were outstanding. No answer had come to Mr. Lyttelton's telegram, and there seemed every reason to believe that the number outstanding would be very small indeed. It was therefore with some surprise that my noble friend learned that no fewer than 16,000 licenses, or three, four, or five times as many as had been applied for in any other month had 559 been granted in the fortnight preceding the change of Government! The question whether to revoke these licences or not was anxiously considered by the Cabinet. The Law Officers, here and in South Africa, expressed the opinion that these licences could not be revoked without an open breach of equity, or an arbitrary suspension of the law. However these licences may have been obtained, and whatever we may think of it, the word of the Crown had been passed, and the warrants to import the labourers had been issued on the authority of the British Government; and on the faith of these warrants money had been spent. It is quite true that the Crown cannot be sued for damages, but His Majesty's Government are bound by the laws which they administer. They are not above the law. Furthermore His Majesty's Government will not fall below the ordinary accepted standard of common equity. It was therefore quite clear that the licences could not have been revoked without admitting large and indefinite claims for compensation from British funds. The Cabinet consequently decided that the 13,199 licences which had been issued must stand, and they decided, furthermore, that no just ground existed for differentiating between these licences and 3,000 licences which had been granted, but which had not been formally delivered.
So much for the past. Let me turn to the future. Here, I think, I shall carry the right hon. Member for West Birmingham with me when I say that it is not very easy to retrace a wrong step in politics. One of the strongest arguments against a system of protective duties is that once they have been imposed, once the industry of the country has adapted itself to them, it is almost impossible to remove them. Those who were with us in the last Parliament know that in the case of the remission of agricultural rates, of which every Member of the Liberal Party disapproved, that once that provision was passed into law and the counties were receiving the grants, it was found that the pressure was such that it was impossible to repeal the Act. That is true of any improper dole or grant which may be obtained by any interest in this country from the Government of this country. Once an improper or unjust contract has received the sanction of law it becomes the basis on which all 560 manner of perfectly healthy and unobjectionable agreements are founded. Bargain is added to bargain, plan is built on plan, and a whole economic structure rises, tier above tier, upon the faulty foundation. If in erecting some great building it is found that a girder in the lowest story is defective, the building becomes a cause of peril and danger to the public, but it is not possible immediately to withdraw it. To wrench it away would be to involve the certainty of ruin; but to whom? The jerry-builder might have decamped. The contractor might have made a fortune from the job and retired. It is upon the humble occupants that the miseries of the downfall would descend. It is my duty to lay before the House all the facts and materials of this grave matter, and I cannot but doubt that the sudden and arbitrary deportation of a third of the labour supply of South Africa would produce an utter economic collapse. We need not waste our sympathy upon the Rand magnates. Whatever we may do or whatever n ay take place in South Africa, many of them will still retain as many millions as the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydvil would consider it desirable that any individual should enjoy. But to thousands of small people, to honest investors, to shopkeepers and trades people in Johannesburg, to British miners and Boer farmers, to railway servants on South African railways, to hard-working colonists and others, there might come, if any violent or immediate action were taken and 60,000 coolies were deported, the harsh and unexpected pinch of poverty and suffering. The progress of Colonies struggling feebly forward out of the agony of the war would be rudely thrown back; the finances of every State in South Africa would be embarrassed, the whole course of South African trade would be dislocated, and something very like famine on a considerable scale might ensue in Johannesburg, and the great mining district connected with it. If such a catastrophe resulted from our action, however benevolent our intention was, however benevolently right in principle that action might be, we could not escape the most grievous responsibilty; and let me remind the House that when this country incurs a grievous responsibility the discharge of that responsibility takes the form of a serious financial payment. It is not beyond the resources of engineering to remove the defective 561 girder by means of levers and other mechanical appliances. The lever which His Majesty's Government desire to use to carry out their policy and to bring to an end the present system of indentured labour in the Transvaal, is, first of all, the opinion of the people of the Transvaal. We have good hopes of that opinion. I do not think for a moment that any Parliament in the Transvaal would violently and immediately expel the Chinese, but I most firmly believe that a Parliament fairly elected and representative of all classes and both races in the country will decide against the continuance of this experiment in a permanent form, and will certainly reject the impudent demands—I can call them nothing else—now being put forward vastly to extend its scope. I read in the interesting letters which Mr. Massingham has contributed to the Daily News—hon. Members on the other side are perfectly entitled to laugh at that authority, but it is nevertheless an authority which on this side of the House will carry weight—Mr. Massingham shares very closely the views which we hold; and I observe that in those letters he states that if the opinion of the Transvaal is fairly consulted, and a really representative assembly is brought into life, the opinion of that assembly will be, as I have indicated, against the perpetuation of the system. I believe that the maxim: "Trust the people" ought to follow the flag, and a very considerable body of evidence which we have been able to collect, shows that a representative assembly which has never yet been consulted will probably effect a termination of this experiment. I would say also in the second place that the mineowners themselves are beginning to realise that Chinese labour is economically a failure, that it is expensive and uncertain, and exposes them to an amount of criticism and vexation which greatly unsettles their business, and that it is likely to be more expensive, more uncertain, and more liable to expose thorn to criticism in the future. There is no greater delusion than that low wages mean high profits. No labour is so dear as cheap labour, and the labour which costs nothing is the dearest of all. I am fortified in that paradoxical reflection by the enormous depreciation which I observe to have taken place in the prices of South African stock since this policy was initiated. If only the late 562 Government had had the courage to stand firm and refuse their sanction to this Ordinance, hard and increasing pressure would have enforced the employment of more machinery and more skilled white labour, A telegram has arrived too late to be included in the Blue book from Lord Selborne in answer to inquiries which we addressed to him on this point. He says—The points you make are of great importance and interest. I have on every possible occasion urged on mine-owners the value of labour-saving appliances, and I have every reason to believe that the mine managers are constantly alive to the urgency of the matter.We are going to make them more alive. The telegram continues—I have of course, no technical knowledge on that subject; but what I most hope is that labour saving appliances, where applicable, would at once and at the same time reduce the demand for unskilled coloured labour and maintain the demand for skilled white labour. I will place the subject before the mine-owners without delay.If the Chinese are gradually withdrawn and no collapse takes place, if by cutting off the possible supply of Chinese labour to South Africa, the whole experiment is forced to "peter out" by the natural process of exhaustion, as that operation is effected that pressure of which I have spoken will revive. The expectation that the unrestricted supply of cheap Celestial labour will never end will be abolished, and in its place will come that more manly alternative, more skilled and educated men, and more perfected mechanical appliances. It is quite true, as has been said by an hon. Member, that the gold mines of the Witswaters-rand, although not the only industry in South Africa, are nevertheless the mainspring of its commercial development, and that Johannesburg is the great stage upon which all South African dramas are played out. But Chinese labour is unpopular, and the pro-Chinese party are losing ground steadily in South Africa. If we handle this matter delicately, gently, and patiently they will be beaten at the election, but we must be very careful not to send them reinforcements. If Chinese labour is unpopular in South Africa the interference of this country is also unpopular. I was talking to Mr. Creswell on this subject the other day. ["Oh!"] Hon. Members may say "Oh," but Mr. Creswell is an honest man, and let me 563 say that it takes a good deal of courage for a mining engineer to live in South Africa for two years and fight the great capitalists. I was struck by Mr. Creswell's opinion on this point, and we must take care not to reinforce the dwindling pro-Chinese party by a formidable band of those who would stand up for Colonial autonomy and self-government and who would resent our interference in what they regard as their local affairs. I observe that Mr. Wybergh, who used to be Government Commissioner of Mines, and who owing to his extreme opposition to Chinese labour has terminated his employment with the Chamber of Mines, in a long letter to Mr. Creswell said that it would be extremely inadvisable simply to repeal the Ordinance, as such action would be most resented by those most strongly opposed to the Chinese. The House will see that we have to walk very warily in the matter if we are to attain the ends which we hold most earnestly in view. It has been said that our policy is to leave the decision of this question to a Transvaal Legislature. Broadly speaking that is true, but the statement requires to be much more carefully defined. The hon. Member for Gravesend has embarked on a very long and technical argument showing how necessary is Chinese labour for the prosperity of South Africa. I do not propose to follow that argument, and I advise the House not to be enticed into the technical aspects of this question. Such a discussion would be perfectly endless.
§ *MR. CHURCHILL
No doubt the right hon. Member for West Birmingham is supplied with masses of highly technical information which he is prepared to use in a highly controversial manner. But I respectfully submit to the House that the question whether Chinese are cheaper than Kaffirs, whether white men and machinery can work the mines at a profit, whether the Chinese are on the whole a law-abiding people or a terror to the countryside, whether the importation of Chinese was in the true interests of the white people in South Africa, whether the product per stamp was less or more and why, whether the big houses discouraged Kaffir labour when they wished to establish a case for Chinese, whether it would really make a difference to South 564 Africa if the mines are worked out in ninety years instead of in forty-five—all these questions are, no doubt, very interesting and important, but they are not the business of the House of Commons. This is not the place to thrash them out with advantage. They are questions that can be fought out in the Transvaal Assembly, and it is there that the material and political issues should be fought out. It is in a Parliament of their own that the people of the Transvaal must make up their minds on social, technical, and economical grounds whether Chinese labour is a good foundation on which to build the permanent welfare of the land in which they live. But there is another set of considerations which, without exciting the derision of the Party opposite, I might perhaps call humanitarian and moral considerations. On those this House is fully competent to pronounce, and is entitled and even bound to pronounce. On these great matters of principle the opinion of the House of Commons must always be expressed as a guide to the practice of other Legislatures all over the Empire. The fact that there will be a greater delay than the Government had anticipated before the Transvaal Assembly can meet together forced these considerations on the Government with irresistible weight. We have been forced to examine the Transvaal Ordinance with searching and attentive eyes. I think the hon. Member who sat down last expressed his entire approval and commendation of the Transvaal Ordinance of 1905. That view cannot be shared by the House.
§ *MR. CHURCHILL
There are certain clauses in the Ordinance of 1905 to which His Majesty's Government cannot consent, and which they have taken steps to remove. Clause 3 says—Whenever a fine has been imposed by the superintendent or inspector under the jurisdiction by this Ordinance conferred, the superintendent or inspector, as the case may be, may notify the fact to the employer of the labourer who has been convicted, and it shall be the duty of such employer, on receiving such notification, to withhold the amount so imposed as a fine from any wages due or to become due to such labourer, and pay it over to the superintendent or inspector for the benefit of the Colonial Treasury.That section provides that an employer should deduct from the wages of the 565 labourer the amount of the fine to which the labourer has been condemned, and His Majesty's Government cannot approve of that principle. It is a vicious system which might easily lead to the gravest possible abuse. Clause 6 provides that—It shall be the duty of every importer to divide the labourers employed by him on any mine into so many gangs or sections as he may think necessary for the proper conduct of work and for the maintenance of discipline and good order, and to appoint a labourer hereinafter referred to as a head boy in charge of each gang or section. The name and passport number of each such head boy shall be notified by the importer to the superintendent, and thereupon it shall be the duty of such head boy to report forthwith to the manager of the mine at which he is employed, any offence committed by any labourer in his gang or section, and on failure to do so he shall be guilty of an offence against the said ordinance and shall be liable on conviction to a fine not exceeding £5.That is an attempt, I suppose, to introduce the monitorial system into South Africa, and no doubt it is a reminiscence of the public school days of those who were responsible for this Ordnance. His Majesty's Government have directed that this provision shall be abolished. Subsection 2 of Section 6 I will not read at length; its object is to assert the principle of collective fines. A gang of labourers accused of any offence may be punished collectively. That is an odious system, that persons should be punished for acts not specifically alleged against them, the truth of which has to be ascertained by process of law. That provision has also been abolished. Subsection 30, Section 6, says—Any importer refusing to carry out the duty imposed on him by this section, shall be guilty of an offence against the said ordinance, and shall, on conviction, be liable to a penalty of £100 for every day he is in default.
§ MR. CROOKS (Woolwich)
Why, they will soon be able to pay some of the £30,000,000 back at that rate.
§ *MR. CHURCHILL
That is to say, if the importer refused to divide his labourers into gangs, and appoint monitors, he would also be liable to punishment. That clause will go with the others. Section 17 provides that any labourer who shall practice any fraud or deception in the performance of any work which he is bound to perform, or who shall wilfully or negligently lose, or throw away, or damage the property of his employer, or 566 who shall use threatening or insulting language towards his employer, or to any one in lawful authority over him, shall be liable to a fine not exceeding £5, or to imprisonment not exceeding one month, or to both such fine and such imprisonment. That is to impose criminal punishment for offences which are not of a criminal character, and which happen in the ordinary conduct of a manufacturing establishment. In the opinion of the Government this provision was inadmissible and has been abolished. The Government have also directed that all trials shall in future be held in open Court. None are to be held in the mines, although it is intended to allow a mine inspector who knows Chinese to exercise the functions of a magistrate. That is permitted, as being in the interests of the Chinese labourers. These are the provisions to which most marked objection is taken—provisions indeed "calculated to bring the reputation of this country into contempt." Now let me come to a more serious aspect of the ordinance. We are all agreed that cruelty and illegality must be suppressed whenever discovered. Flogging was bad enough, and I gladly recognise the work accomplished by the right hon. Member for West Birmingham in reducing the annual number of lashes administered under the British flag. But here is the logging without the safeguards of the law. The hon. Member for Sevenoaks said there was no proof of the charges of inhumanity which have been brought.
§ MR. FORSTER
I said there was no support for the language in which Gentlemen opposite who condemned the conditions of the Chinese work as slavery.
§ *MR. CHURCHILL
The hon. Member or South Kerry has been mentioned particularly. I quite admit that Mr. Boland's charges are exaggerated. Very often when a private individual brings charges against a great system they will be exaggerated, but even if a small part of his charges are true, and they are the means of bringing about reforms, he has, in spite of exaggeration, rendered a public service. Lord Selborne says in the Blue-book, page 21—It is not denied, and, indeed, I have already informed you that prior to June 1905 illegal corporal punishment after trial by the mine 567 authorities was widely resorted to as a disciplinary measure in the mines of the Wit-watersrand; and it cannot be disputed that it was administered in the manner described in Mr. Boland's letter, namely, in a manner borrowed from the practice of the Chinese Courts of Justice.That, in the words of the Amendment, constitutes a state of things calculated to bring the reputation of this country into contempt.
§ MR. CHURCHILL
Some one says it is a lie. Well, I am reminded by that of the remark of the witty Irishman who said, "There are a terrible lot of lies going about the world, and the worst of it is that half of them are true." It is not enough that the Government should endeavour to put down these illegalities. Of course, it goes without saying that persons guilty of such things would be put down by any Government with all the rigour of the law, but in the vast area over which these mines extend, cases of cruelty might occur without the knowledge of the inspectors, and it is that consideration which has induced His Majesty's Government to take the third important step in their policy as regards the Chinese Labour—I mean what is commonly called repatriation. That is a system by which we hope to undercut cruelty. I do most earnestly urge the House not to underrate the importance of this provision. Its importance is not underrated elsewhere. If anyone will study the fall in prices that I regret to say has followed the declaration of the policy the Government have thought it their duty to carry out, they will see that we are not playing with words in this matter, that it is not a sham fight in which we are engaged, hut that, on the contrary, it is ball cartridge that is to be fired. This provision of repatriation comes strictly within the general policy of observing the law, which I say is one of the limitations in which the Government action will be confined. Under Clause 14 it is open to any coolie who tenders £17 10s. to return at once to China.
§ MR. CHURCHILL
My hon. friend has defined the weak point of the provision. The right hon. Member for 568 Croydon seemed to indicate the other day that there was no difference between the effect of the clause in the contract and the proposals of the Government in regard to repatriation, and when he said that, an hon. Member wittily interjected, "Only the expense." That is true. Why, there is no difference between protection and free trade—only the expense. I have had a calculation made to show how long it would take a coolie to save the £17 10s. necessary to pay his passage home. Last year the average wages were 33s. 6d. per month, and during the present year they were 37s. 7d. per month. It takes a long time to save £17 10s. out of that. The cost of extra food or clothes, or the money the coolie might wish to remit to China, must be deducted, and we must also make a deduction for the fines which might be easily imposed on coolies who were known to be intending to leave the mine. How enormous the sum derived from these fines is may be judged. In July, 1905, the amount was £1,844; in August, £1,793; September £2,154; in October £5,200; and in November £3,419.
§ MR. CHURCHILL
I am told that the utmost a coolie could save by the most rigid self-denial would be 20s. a month, in which case it would take him, roughly speaking, eighteen months to earn the amount necessary, and, of course, any accident or illness would delay his power of earning that money; and observe, that the very men who would most want to leave are those least suited to the work, and, as payment is made by piece-work, they are men who would probably earn much below the average wages. Altogether it is not untrue to say that the average time it would take a Chinaman to earn the money necessary for his repatriation under the Lyttelton Ordinance would be between eighteen months and two years, and if he did not make up his mind as to whether he wished to leave until he had been in the Transvaal six months, he would be brought to within six months of the expiry of his contract before he could avail himself of the clause. That shows how farcical and nugatory is this provision, which looks so elegant on paper. But our system which 569 has been introduced by the Prime Minister and Lord Elgin operates almost immediately. No doubt a short period of notice would be required in order to; make sure that the labourer was sincere, in his desire to return home, but if a Chinaman expresses the desire to return for any good reason, or without giving "any reason at all, his right will be sustained by the forces of the Crown, and the funds to return him to his country will be provided from the British Exchequer. I cannot but think that this decision, to secure which Lord Elgin has exerted himself, will carry relief to many hearts throughout this country. [Some OPPOSITION laughter.] You may laugh, but I had the good fortune to address as many meetings in the country as anyone, and I know there was no subject which caused greater and more genuine sorrow among the people than the belief that Chinamen were being kept in the mines against their will by forces of armed constabulary, and were hurled back to their compounds when they tried to escape. Many of them went to South Africa in the belief that they could pursue their own handicrafts in a rich land—an Eldorado; but instead they found themselves compelled to do nothing but drill so many inches of rock at the bottom of a deep level mine, and I say the spectacle of the Chinaman wandering over the veldt, his hand against every man and every man's hand against him, with half the world between him and his home in China—I say that spectacle is as degrading, hideous, and pathetic as any this civilised and Christian nation has made itself responsible for in modern years. At any rate, that spectacle is gone, and gone for ever. The Chinese are free to be free. If they are kept in South Africa by compulsion it shall in future be compulsion on the voluntary system, and if they consider these conditions unpleasant they will be mitigated by the operation of a conscience clause. If they are ill-treated, unhappy, or brought to South Africa by misrepresentations, the way is open, the field is clear, and the door has been unbarred. So long as His Majesty's Government are forced, through no fault of their own, to administer this Ordinance, no man will be held to such a contract as the Ordinance embodies unless of his own will.
I must say one word more to complete the circle of this argument. The 570 steps which the Government have taken remove all danger of cruelty, of impropriety, or of gross infringement of liberty. I believe they remove the practical objections which have been urged against the Ordinance, but they do not, of course, remove our fundamental objections in principle to this system of labour. In these days, with every important nation of the globe in communication, and brought closer together, with Asiatic labour fluid as it never was fluid before, I think it is necessary to state the clear principle by which we should be guided so far as possible in the future. What is the cause of the innate and instinctive aversion which is maintained by this; Parliament and the country to the system of Chinese indentured labour? It is that underlying that system there is the idea that men are to be treated as if they were implements. Are the Chinese necessary to Africa, to the development of the gold mines, to the fertilisation of its fields? Is it really true, as those who sit opposite say, that their co-operation is necessary for the prosperity of the country? Is it true that without their co-operation, collapse, stagnation, and bankruptcy must ensue? Does your great business really depend upon the laborious industry of these strangers? Is your empire to be maintained, are your fortunes to be amassed by the day to day consumption of their vital energies? Then, at least, receive them with that gratitude and respect which you owe to persons having it in their power to render such indispensable and inestimable services. Is it not an unworthy thing to accept wealth and security at their hands, and at the same time to shrink from the contamination of their touch? I lay down this principle in this democratic Parliament, that no man should be imported into a country as a labourer unless you also accept him as a human being. A great matter of principle like this affects not only the particular colony chiefly concerned, but it affects the working of our whole colonial system. That system can only rest upon the basis of self-government—or Home Rule, whichever name you prefer. Home Rule implies within broad limits the right to govern or misgovern, manage or mismanage, for good or for ill, the community upon which it is conferred. No one can watch the unceasing flow of business transacted through the Colonial Office 571 without seeing that many things are being done, by persons to whom the Government has been forced to give wide discretionary powers, of which the people at home would not approve. Laws which are hard and narrow are being applied in certain British dominions. There are instances of the treatment of native races and the infliction of punishments and penalties which do not commend themselves to the sense of this House or the people of England. We have got in some cases to put up with those things, but there is no reason why we should cease to keep over South Africa the same regulating control that we do over other great self-governing colonies like Canada, New Zealand, and Australia. I believe that, generally speaking, given free institutions on a fair basis, the best side of men's nature will in the end surely come uppermost.
But this doctrine has its limits. Honestly, I do not believe that the Transvaal Parliament, fairly elected on a reasonable basis, will decide in favour of the retention of the Chinese. I think they will bring the experiment gradually, but surely, to an end. But while believing that, it would be un-reasonable not to face the other alternative, however remote the contingency of it may be. What if the colony should decide to continue the importation of Chinese? I must point out that while the responsibility of the Imperial Government would be lessened, our objections to the present conditions under which Chinese labour is carried on will not be removed by any vote of the Transvaal Assembly, however unanimous, however representative. Nor should we be altogether without our remedy, quite a part from the power always reserved to the Crown. Anyone who knows the Acts and Conventions under which this system of Chinese labour is obtained and maintained will see how vital Imperial co-operation is and how fatal Imperial opposition would be. In Lord Elgin's original telegram he expressly says:—While reserving their opinion and form of action in the whole matter His Majesty's Government," etc.Those are words to which a real and serious significance should be attached. It should not be taken for granted for one moment that while the conditions of Chinese labour continue to be repugnant 572 to the opinions and feelings of the people of this country, Imperial sanction for the extension and maintenance of such a system would be forthcoming. This is the policy of the Government. For this policy I invite and claim the confidence and support of the House of Commons. It is a policy of integrity, a policy earnest, yet not violent, a policy which, without being impatient in its beginnings, will in the end prove very sure.
§ MR. WYNDHAM (Dover)
The Undersecretary for the Colonies has had a hard task to perform this afternoon, but he has discharged it with vast ability and great courage amidst the deepening silence of his supporters below the gangway. [Cries of "Oh, oh!"] His speech has had to be a versatile speech. He began by saying that Chinese Labour is not slavery, and he went on to show that its undesirable characteristics can be removed by altering the regulations and fines, and by helping the labourers with a fare. That is very different to the advice tendered at the recent election. The Under-Secretary has, in fact, boxed the compass of every view expressed before the election and since the election. But what of his followers in this House, who, until he rose, have declared that Chinese labour is "slavery?" [Cries of "It is."] The Government do not take that view now.
§ MR. WYNDHAM
If the hon. Member for Woolwich had waited and allowed me to put my case he would have heard that I was about to point out that there were many in this House who said it was slavery and who still adhered to that opinion.
§ MR. WYNDHAM
If you do, then why does not your Government whom you support stop this thing? The Under-Secretary has girded at Unionists for trying to drive the Government on to an extreme course, yet that course is the one which the majority of their supporters have, during the election, said must be taken. In their opinion it is slavery, but in ours it is not. We were not ashamed of defending the steps which had been taken to develop South Africa, but 573 you ought to be ashamed of it if you believe what your followers have said, and what some of your colleagues in the 'Government said at the last election. When the late Ministry were in office we used to hear a great deal about the "collective responsibility of the Cabinet." I should like to measure the collective responsibility which combines the President of the Local Government Board and the Secretary for Education, who, in spite of their election pronouncements, sit in happy unison with those members of the Government whose mouth-piece the Under-Secretary has been this afternoon. Throughout the country Chinese labour has been called "slavery." The electors were asked to "vote for so-and-so and no slavery." [Cries of "And they did."] That is an important admission, because it has been said by some Ministers that the country voted for free trade, and last night it was claimed the election had been fought on Home Rule. Now, it appears the country has given a mandate for no Chinese labour. The Under-Secretary has had to fight a rearguard action this afternoon, and it seems that the whole of the general staff of the great Liberal army has bolted and left the army on the field to shift for itself.
The Under-Secretary for the Colonies, before he came to the great policy with which he concluded his speech, declared that the whole responsibility for Chinese labour rested apparently upon the Opposition. The responsibility did rest upon ray right hon. friends when they were the Government, but that responsibility now rests on His Majesty's present advisers. And how do they propose to discharge that responsibility? I think we can guage their sense of that responsibility when I remind the House that the Under-Secretary proceeded immediately, not to explain the policy of His Majesty's present advisers, but to make an attack upon Mr. Lyttelton. He seemed to have forgotten for the moment that he was now on the Treasury Bench and therefore was no longer called upon to criticise members of the last Government. This charge of slavery in the country became mere descriptive reporting, and according to the Under-Secretary it was not a good example of exact terminology. We have been held up to odium throughout the country. Why? According to the Under-Secretary for the Colonies it 574 was because Chinese labour is not a wholly desirable form of contract. At one time he said it was the least desirable form of contract, but he abandoned absolutely the whole charge of slavery which has so often been preferred.
§ MR. WYNDHAM
It is the point which is now made by the Minister who has to meet this Amendment, but it was not the point made in the country by his followers. They believed Chinese labour to be slavery we do not believe it, and when we were in office we were prepared to defend it. You tell us that you' do not believe it, and you seek for a middle course. There is no middle course open to you. You have either to withdraw and apologise for the charge or you have to prove it, and the only way in which you can prove that you do indeed believe it is by stopping the use of Chinese labour in South Africa. The Under-Secretary for about the third time in his speech told us that he would turn to the future. I hoped to hear this precious policy expounded, this middle course, but we had instead a long disquisition on the philosophy of building with a pretty imagery about a girder. The charge made against your countrymen by your supporters is that they have been guilty of moral obliquity. Well, you must alter your imago founded upon the building trade. It will not do to take the jerry-builder. If anybody in building a house offends against the law, that house is shut up. [Cries of "No."] But the policy of the Government is not to shut up the house according to this metaphor, but to enter it and carry on the business themselves. The Under-Secretary says, and we agree with him, that if they took the course of deporting these Chinese labourers, the whole of South African trade would be dislocated and that there would be a famine in Johannesburg. I need not elaborate that argument. I was surprised to hear it from the exponent of the Government policy. Did it not occur to hon. Member who have been so ready in the country to bring those accusations against their fellow-subjects, that these considerations might also weigh upon the people in the Colony? Did they not believe that we 575 believed this labour to be necessary to the whole social structure of life in South Africa?
§ MR. WYNDHAM
If Ministers shared the ideas of their followers they would see no difficulty in this matter, but they see a difficulty, and they see that you cannot deport the Chinese labourers from South Africa without provoking an immediate catastrophe in that country. Then the hon. Member explained his intellectual position, and I am bound to say that I could not quite follow all that was contained in that enigmatic phrase. They are to apply three remedies in South Africa. The first is that they are to give advice to the people in that country, to send out models of labour saving machines, and to try to teach them how to conduct their own business, and if, as he puts it, they handle the matter delicately enough, they have very good hopes that they will persuade the party in South Africa with whom they agree to vote there in the manner in which they desire. What a heroic remedy for a national stain! But they do not stop there, although I thought it pretty cool for the Under-secretary to arrogate to his Party all humanitarian considerations when all the elections were conducted on very different lines at home. A little advice to the electors of South Africa is all for the present that is going to be done, because I cannot take very seriously those Amendments now proposed in the second Ordinance of 1905. They may be all admirable, I dare say they are; as described by the hon. Member they appeared to elicit assent from many parts of the House. By all means do away with any abuses in the fining system. But does that alter what your followers called slavery? It is trifling with the House and the country and your own supporters to pretend for one moment that you can meet our Amendment by an argument of that kind. But let me argue fairly. You are going to pay the fares back in the case of any labourer who can prove to the satisfaction of a number of persons that he is dissatisfied with South Africa and really desires to go home. But that is proposed in the 576 face of the information in your own Blue-book that more than 1,900 of these labourers have been repatriated at their own expense, and that 1,500 of them are trying to get back to South Africa. The Under-Secretary has, with all his ability, quite misconceived the purport, of the Amendment. It is not enough for the spokesman of the Government to get up and explain alterations made in the conditions of Chinese Labour, and to state that excellent advice will be tendered to the electors in South Africa. You have got to justify that libel, or, if you cannot justify it, you have to withdraw it and to apologise for it. We do not approach this matter from a Party point of view. From a Party point of view I should say that you were only liable to the charge of eccentricity. It was eccentric on your part to anticipate for your own election a subject which was to be shortly referred to an election in South Africa, while at the same time you postponed the date of that election.
But from a national point of view we have a deeper ground of quarrel—the quarrel of every man who has voted for us in this country, and of every man who has defended the use of Chinese labour in South Africa. If you persist in making this charge without proving it you are committing a greater wrong. If you persist in your Party debates in stating that Chinese labour is a form of slavery, while at the same time you could have a better form of contract, and yet postpone the election in South Africa, that is an outrage on decency and will alienate the sympathy of every man, whether Boer or Briton, in South Africa. Moreover, if you pursue this course you will deserve the contempt of your own followers. The Under-secretary expressed the pious hope that South African opinion would decide against the employment of indentured Chinese labour. Why should he think that? You have got to prove that Mr. Quin, who led the Opposition to Chinese labour, but who afterwards assented to it, was in favour of slavery, or that he condoned it for the sake of a quiet life. You have got to prove that any number of men in South Africa are in favour of slavery. Your own Blue-book contains evidence to the contrary. The right hon. Member for Morpeth made a speech in this House in which he said that while in South Africa nearly all the 577 people he met were in favour of Chinese labour. [An HON. MEMBER on the Labour Benches: He said the very opposite.] I am not criticising the opinions of the right hon. Member for Morpeth on Chinese labour, but that right hon. Member said that he had met a number of people in South Africa who were in favour of Chinese labour. If you persist in your charge without proof your opinion amounts to a condonation of slavery in South Africa. Then what are we to say of the Free Churches in South Africa? I could quote letter after letter written by ministers of the Free Churches there begging their co-religionists in this country not to impute to them the horrible charge which you are not afraid to prefer against them and against so many of your fellow countrymen. Attempts have been made to justify that charge by Creating prejudices. Recently, attention has been almost exclusively directed to alleged flogging and torture in the mines on the Hand. No one would condemn in this House with deeper feeling than I would any use of flogging in the mines in South Africa? but these charges are being made to create a prejudice, and you have got to prove them. In the body of the Blue-book there is evidence, which I accept, to show that those charges, as originally made, were grossly exaggerated and inaccurate in the majority of cases, though not in all. But how did the Blue-book begin? It began with flaming journalistic headlines:—"The price of gold;" "Flogging of the Rand yellow serf;" "Horrible cruelties;" "Barbarities practised in the mine compounds;" "Terror on the Rand;" "Measures for preserving life and property." I think if the Under-Secretary and those who acted with him desired to secure a cool and practical consideration of this matter they should not have begun this Blue-book with such flaming headlines. Flogging or any form of torture has always been illegal under the Ordinances for which the late Government were responsible. I concede that the law was in some cases broken, but, if we are to believe the evidence in the Blue-book, no such infractions of the law have occurred since June last. Is that denied? Then came the Morning Leader in September with those flaming headlines, and they appeared first in the Blue-book, whereas the evidence 578 that these practices had been discontinued in June was buried where nobody but an ardent student could find it.
§ MR. CHURCHILL
The documents in the Blue-book are printed in chronological order, which is the invariable practice.
§ MR. WYNDHAM
After the general searching inquiries instituted by Lord Selborne and Mr. Lyttelton, there is no shirking the demand by Lord Selborne that a Commission should be sent out, if the Home Government are not satisfied that all these evils, if they ever existed, have come to an end. Then we have, in the order of time, Lord Elgin trying to persuade the mine owners that they will not want so much labour as they think they require. Then we have, the postponement of the election which will decide the issue, and, failing that, the declaration of the Prime Minister about the impossibility of interfering in this delicate matter—how the delicacy has increased since the raw assertion of atrocities which stained the honour of the British flag were made! Then comes the printing of these accounts, which are now admitted to be exaggerated. We are told that slavery existed before, because the Chinaman paid his own fare back to China, and that slavery ceases now, and all evil features are eliminated from the system, because the Government in certain cases are prepared to take that charge upon themselves. During the course of the Under-Secretary's speech, I noticed that in this matter, which he claimed to be one of humanity and morality, he twice advanced the argument to his supporters that it would cost a great deal of money to bring this system to an end. If a tenth or a hundredth part of what has been said in the country had been true no price would have been too dear to repurchase the country's honour. It is because those who constitute the Treasury Bench do not believe what their followers believe that they are prepared to think of economy and the Exchequer.
But supposing this is not slavery and they are content to continue it, they have libelled their countrymen here and libelled their countrymen in South Africa. The Government abolish some forms of summary jurisdiction, but do not do so entirely. They alter the scale of fines, and say that a fine is not to be imposed 579 in certain cases. They do not abolish summary jurisdiction, because possibly they think it may be the better plan not to do so. This amending Ordinance was drawn up upon the responsibility of the Attorney-General of the Transvaal, and the chief law officer of the country is far more likely to know what regulations are best calculated to give effect to the object to be attained than any man in this country. I do not think anyone will accuse us of a desire that any Chinese labourer should be subjected to injustice. I remember when these Ordinances were being discussed how insistent with all sincerity were the humanitarians that all the policemen should be fellow countrymen of the Chinese. If they have read the Blue-book they will find that the Chinese policemen have their Chinese ways, which we cannot tolerate. An attack has been made upon the reputation of this country, and that attack has been believed in foreign countries. You cannot meet that attack, or justify that libel, by such paltry expedients as those with which the Under-Secretary concluded his speech. The proposal to pay the passage back of those who wish to leave South Africa does not justify the libel, and it ought to be withdrawn. If it is true, the only course is to put an end to this employment of Chinese labour. The Under-Secretary says he has put an end to it. How? By leaving it to be decided by a general election which is to be postponed, by advising the electors to handle the matter delicately, and by the help of a somewhat shadowy threat. The South African nation know their own business, but if they claim the right to employ this labour, which every self-governing colony would have the right to do, the hon. Gentleman held out a threat that the Government would make diplomatic difficulties with the Court of Pekin. A more contemptible policy after the charges which have been preferred has never been presented in this House. Suppose that you succeed in that policy, are you sure that South Africa will always insist upon Chinese labourers being repatriated. I believe that you are drifting towards a great danger and a great disaster in South Africa. Supposing that under this system you get rid of Chinese labour, if the revenue falls do you not think that people will not follow the course which followed in the Western States of 580 America, and have the Chinese back with out the conditions now imposed? I put this in all seriousness to the Prime Minister. If you get rid of Chinese labour for a time in consequence of this action and the country suffers, will the colonists love you for that? May they not have the Chinese back without the condition of repatriation, and without the conditions framed by Lord Milner and Mr. Lyttelton to prevent any breaches of humanity. Instead of supervised ships. Chinese coolies will come in ocean tramps. There will be no Imperial control in the compound. The Government will then have lost the regard of our British fellow subjects in South Africa, and the respect of our Boer fellow subjects, and posterity will say once more "was all South Africa worth so many tears?"
§ MAJOR SEELY (Liverpool, Abercromby)
said that before proceeding to graver matters he would like to say that the right hon. Gentleman opposite had unintentionally misquoted the right hon. Member for Morpeth. What the right hon. Member for Morpeth stated in this House was that when he visited the Transvaal he attended many of the workmen's trade union meetings, but he could not find any workman who was in favour of the introduction of Chinese labour.
§ MR. WYNDHAM
said he would accept the correction so far as it related to any speech made in the House, but the speech to which he referred was made outside the House.
§ MAJOR SEELY
said he did not rise to put the matter right, but rather to say that he would be glad if the Government could make a little plainer the words used by the hon. Gentleman the Under-Secretary for the Colonies. The Government stood on an impregnable rock, as it seemed to him, when they said that hon. Members opposite who introduced Chinese labour could not lay any blame on them with regard to the precise time in which these men, brought over under improper conditions, should be got rid of. No one would suggest that the whole 50,000 should be shipped off in a week, but, on the other hand, twenty years would be too long a time for their repatriation. The essential thing for the honour of this country was 581 that the last indentured Chinese coolie should be taken out of the Transvaal without undue delay. If he understood the Government aright, and especially the Under-Secretary of State for the Colonies, to whose eloquent speech the House had listened with pleasure, that was absolutely secure, but in order that there might be no mistake he would call attention to the words used. The hon. Gentleman said—With reference to the question as to whether we shall or shall not leave this matter to the Transvaal to decide—and that was the crux of the question—we will refuse to, so far as we can control it, and we will forbid the colony to re-introduce a state of slavery.What was left to the colony was the re-introduction of free labour and not a system of servile labour. The hon. Gentleman said that their objection to that system would not be removed. Imperial sanction and assistance would not be forthcoming, and if Imperial sanction and assistance were not forthcoming it followed that such a system could not be re-imposed. When he heard those words he believed the end of Chinese labour under this pitiful system of indenture was settled for ever, and that being so there was an end, so far as he was concerned, of the matter. He trusted and hoped the Government would not permit re-enlistment, by which these men might be kept there for six years. But even that might be permitted if the words to which he had called attention meant what he understood them to mean. He might be permitted to point out a further reason why the right hon. Gentleman could not be fairly accused of inconsistency in this matter. The right hon. Member was perhaps not aware that the prerogative of the Crown applied to all legislation which was repugnant to the laws of England, and that all colonial enactments were submitted to scrutiny to determine whether they contained any provision which interfered with the exercise of any prerogative of the Crown, or was repugnant to the law of England. These were admitted by His Majesty's Government to be provisions repugnant to the law of England.
§ MR. WYNDHAM
said that could hardly be said after the speech of the Under-Secretary for the Colonies. He 582 had not for a moment contended that they were repugnant to the law.
§ MAJOR SEELY
respectfully submitted that they were. He had again and again referred to the report of the highest legal authority that they were repugnant, and he had never been able to get any contradiction from any authority on the other side of the House, and he did not suppose that the right hon. Gentleman would deny that such contracts as those were repugnant to the law, and that they could not possibly be enforced in this country. Therefore, the right hon. Gentleman's contention fell to the ground, and such contracts as these must be disallowed if ever they were re-enacted. How they came to pass was a matter which might well be inquired into, for undoubtedly the spirit, and, he believed, the letter, of the constitution had been violated. There were many ways in which this matter could be made plainer. A provision could be put in the Transvaal Constitution stating that no contract or apprenticeship partaking of the nature of slavery would be permitted. A more specific statement of that kind might also be made—as in the case of many self-governing Colonies, in the instructions issued to the Governors of the Cape and South Australia at the time of their constitution, and subsequently—as to the legislation which could not be permitted under any circumstances. If the Government were considering this matter they might look into this precedent, for they would find that certain things were stated to be contrary to the spirit of the English law, and must therefore receive the veto of the Governor. It would be more satisfactory to some Members if they could have an undertaking that the statement made should be amplified by proclamation, or by a more definite and emphatic statement on the floor of the House, or by inserting some such provision as he had suggested in the constitution of the Transvaal. It was not a matter which could be delayed, but was one which pressed for solution. If it were once fairly and emphatically stated that their motto throughout the British Empire with regard to alien labour should be "free, or not at all," Chinese indentured labour would come at once to an end, because no mining magnate would care to import any more Chinese on such conditions, the need for repatriation would 583 immediately become less, and all the restrictions and various instructions which might cause some dissent in South Africa would become unnecessary. The country had expressed an emphatic verdict, which it was not likely they would ever revoke, and, therefore, if the matter were plainly stated, he believed that there would be reason to rejoice and that His Majesty's Government would find more unanimous support in this matter even than they had at this moment.
§ LORD R. CECIL (Marylebone, E.)
said he desired to say a few words in support of the Amendment. He, and he was sure the rest of the House, listened with the greatest admiration to the eloquent speech made by the Under-secretary of State for the Colonies, but he could not help feeling that a large part of that speech was not directed towards the true issue raised by the Amendment. The Under-Secretary was at pains to prove that there was much that was objectionable in the Ordinance which had been under discussion, but the question raised by the Amendment was not that at all. The question was whether the accusations that had been made throughout the country about the effect of that Ordinance were justifiable, and, if they wore, how could the Government excuse their conduct in not instantly withdrawing the Ordinance, and repatriating the Chinese. In one respect he ventured to claim some degree of impartiality in considering this question, because in his constituency he had not to meet the question of Chinese labour to any extent. He did not know whether it was thought by his opponents that the neighbourhood of Harley Street, and Portland Place was not a favourable ground in which to sow their seeds of misrepresentation, or whether he was fortunate in having a most scrupulous opponent, but where the question was raised at all, it was raised more as a matter of cheap labour than as one of slavery. He observed that, in the debates that had already taken place in the House on this subject, the aspect of the question which depended upon the objection felt by certain members of the working classes to the competition of cheap labour had not been put very prominently forward, and the reason, of course, was very easy to see. He thought that with the publication of the Blue-book it was im- 584 possible to maintain that the importation of Chinese in South Africa competed with the white labour in any degree. If it competed with any labour at all, it was with the labour of the black natives. The real charge that had been made throughout the country, and which they on the Opposition benches very bitterly resented, was the charge that the late Government was guilty of introducing slavery into South Africa. The Member for the Abercromby Division of Liverpool was at pains on a previous occasion to describe what he considered to be the notes of slavery, and he quoted with great approval from—he would not say the words—but the opinions of a legal textbook. He did not know whether the hon. and gallant Gentleman was forced to consult legal text-writers, as some of them were, but he could not help thinking that, if he were, he would not have quite so high an opinion of their value. He said that because the very instance the hon. and gallant Member gave of that text-writer appeared to him to be a very typical fallacy. The very first note of slavery he suggested was that under the Ordinance the Chinese labourer was precluded from holding or enjoying property. He did not know whether it had occurred to the hon. and gallant Member that prior to 1870 every married woman in this country was in that position. Was that a mark of slavery?
§ LORD R. CECIL
thought every hon. Member would be surprised to hear that prior to 1870 their wives were slaves.
§ LORD R. CECIL
said that many slaves had the right of holding property. But all that was really by the way, because the charge was that they as a Party had been guilty of introducing slavery into South Africa, and it was not a charge that they had introduced a mere technical description of slavery at all. They had been charged with introducing what he might describe as the mediæval and the melodramic type of slavery. It was manacled, tortured, and chained slaves that were implied, and it was therefore irrelevant to tell them to examine closely 585 this Ordinance. The real charge was that they had introduced slavery in the ordinary and popular sense of the term. He did not deny for a moment that several right hon. and hon. Members opposite who sat on the Treasury Bench were more moderate in their charges He thought he was right in saying that the Prime Minister described the conditions of Chinese labour as servile labour, and of course that was a much more moderate expression than those which they had to meet. But even these moderate expressions must all be taken with the context in which they were used and the circumstances under which they were employed, and therefore hon. Members opposite could not now say that they were free from the guilt of having charged the Unionist Party with introducing Chinese slavery because they only used those moderate terms. The real test of what was charged was what was understood, and the only way they could get at the meaning of language was by seeing what the people to whom it was used understood by it. No impartial person could doubt that the charges of slavery made were understood by those who heard them to have the ordinary popular meaning of slavery. He would give the House an example of his meaning from the celebrated case of the cartoon. What happened? At first there was issued an unauthorised cartoon, with the Chinaman manacled and bound, and being driven from the compound to the mine by the whips of the slave drivers. Its sister cartoons portrayed them being hung by the arms and other forms of torture, and then followed a semi-authorised cartoon, not issued by the official organisation of the Liberal Party, but by an organisation which was in some way connected with it. [Cries of "No; not at all!"] At any rate it was used very largely by the candidates connected with the Liberal Party. In this cartoon a little change was made, for the manacles were struck off; although the labourers were still bound they were not exactly manacled, and the same attitude was preserved. Then came the official cartoon, and although the manacles had disappeared and the Chinaman was not bound, the same attitude was again preserved, and the general arrangement of the cartoon was preserved, and it could not be doubted that it was intended to 586 convey precisely the same meaning as the original unauthorised cartoon. It was simply a more moderate way of conveying the same accusation, for there was no qualification and no warning addressed to the audience. They were not told, "We do not mean slavery in the sense of the other cartoon," for nothing of the kind was said. They felt very bitterly on the Opposition side of the House that this kind of tactics was not fair fighting, and they felt also that matters had been made worse by the belated repudiation and withdrawal made by some of the official chiefs of the Liberal Party. While the elections were in progress no public withdrawal or repudiation was made of these cartoons, but as soon as a political advantage had been definitely secured the repudiation appeared, and they felt very strongly that that was not the way in which elections should be conducted. Some reference was made by the Under-Secretary for the Colonies to the election of 1900. [MINISTERIAL cheers.] Hon. Members opposite cheered that, but they would remember how loudly they complained because they were accused of being pro-Boers and not loyal to their country. After that experience hon. Members opposite ought to have been more careful what they said. [MINISTERIAL cries of "Oh, oh!"] As far as he was concerned, he said that, whether such a method of controversy was right or wrong, it was highly injudicious. These kinds of charges excited passionate resentment in the breasts of those against whom they were made, and sooner or later a reaction came and the people of this country would decline to listen to any charge of the kind; and just as they did in connection with the war, so they would in future decline to listen to any such charge in connection with Chinese slavery. He ventured to appeal even at this moment to the underlying fairness which he believed existed in the breasts of every British partisan, however bitter, to condemn this gross misuse of electioneering weapons, and he asked them to consider whether what they had done in this matter with such a light heart to secure a transient majority would not in the end tend to the destruction of their Party.
And, it being half-past Seven of the clock, the debate stood adjourned till this Evening's Sitting.