§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed "That the Bill be now read a second time."
§ 4.0 P.M.
§ Sir MAX AITKEN
I wish to draw attention to the Treasury Chest Fund, and the operations with respect to that Fund by the Treasury in a manner which seems to display a lack of business capacity. Having had perhaps more leisure than most Members of this House, I have read the Report of the Controller and Auditor-General for 1910–11. The. point I wish to bring to the attention of the House is not merely the financial loss caused by the Treasury operation, but to the gross departure from constitutional practice in the extraction of that sum of £340,000 odd from the Treasury Chest to serve political purposes. That is formally condemned by the Controller and Auditor-General in his Report, in which he seeks to lay down to the Public Accounts Committee that the Treasury Chest Fund exists for the purpose of carrying on the public service generally, and he condemns the use of the Fund for purposes at home. It is quite clear that the Government, to serve political purposes, deliberately deprived the Treasury Chest Fund of half its capital for purposes at home, notwithstanding that 47 the Treasury Chest Fund is to serve the widespread oversea interests of the Empire, and not to serve the Government for either the Post Office Service or other Services at home. How did this come about? In March, 1910, when the House met after the General Election, the Government was obliged forthwith to introduce the Budget. The House of Lords rejected the Budget, but, in the words of the right hon. Member the then Home Secretary, the Government were forced to put it through without the alteration of a comma—"We shall ram it through," were the words used. When the Election was over it was found that the Government majority had disappeared, and that they were dependent upon the Irish vote. In 1909 these Irish Members had declared against the Budget, and had voted against it on the Second Reading. The hon. Member for Waterford at the Gresham Hotel, Dublin, said he was opposed to the Budget unless more favourable terms for Ireland were granted in regard to the Whisky Tax, and unless several other matters were eliminated. That was not done.
Attacks were made on the House of Lords, and the time of the House was spent in discussing the relations between the two Houses of Parliament, while the hon. Member for Waterford negotiated with the Government. From the alliance which resulted there came the degradation of national finance to which I am now about to call attention, and which has been thoroughly condemned by the Controller and Auditor-General. I would point out that the Controller and Auditor-General is responsible to this Empire for its book-keeping, just as is the auditor of a company to its shareholders. Let us see what was the position in March, 1910. The Government were short of money and they required a Vote on Account. They had been in office for four years, and had followed the practice, established by the Conservative Government in 1896, of applying for three, four, or five months' Supply. Yet in March, 1910, the Chancellor of the Exchequer came to this House and asked, not for three, or four, or five months' Supply, but six weeks' Supply, which amounted only to the sum of £8,000,000. The Chancellor of the Exchequer, in doing this, stated that he was only reverting to the practice which had been established previous to 1896. I would like to quote from the Chancellor 48 of the Exchequer's speech made at that time, in which he elaborated very fully his reasons:—We are simply reverting to the practice which was the established practice in this House up to the year 1896. when Votes on Account were taken, as a rule, for six weeks, or in some cases for a month, and in some a couple of months, the reason being that it was very desirable that the House of Commons shall have control over the Executive. In 1896, the party to which the right hon. Gentleman for East Worcestershire belongs, being in office at that time, for the first time departed from what I still think was an excellent practice, and they made the Votes on Account for three, four, or rive months. We thought that was weakening the control of Parliament. We protested strongly against it at the time. …. And the reason why we depart from what has been the practice, which was not introduced until 1896, and is not a very old one, and why we have taken this occasion for reverting to the older and better parliamentary practice, is because the financial position is quite an unusual one.The right hon. Gentleman went on to say:—With a view to restoring the complete control of the House of Commons over the Executive. I think that the House of Commons ought to have another opportunity … of expressing its opinion about the Executive.The Chancellor of the Exchequer went on to say:—For these reasons, we do not think it expedient to invite the House of Commons at this stage to arm the Executive with funds that will make it practically independent of the House of Commons as far as funds are concerned for more than that very crucial period in its history. That is the real reason why we make this departure, not from a very old-established precedent, but from a very bad precedent that was set by our predecessors in office, by the party to winch the right hon. Gentleman belongs.Of course, the real object of the Government of the day was to cripple and harass their successors in case they were unable to make arrangements with the hon. Member for Waterford, and to put the country in a position in which they would be able to charge the House of Lords—if they threw out the Budget—with having left no money in the hands of the Executive with which to carry on our financial business. That they estimated far short of the public requirements is now not a matter of rhetoric, but a matter of history, and the practice of raiding the Treasury Chest Fund, as I have said, was condemned by the Controller and Auditor-General in his report. The Treasury Chest exists for the service of the Treasury Chests overseas. A month after the Vote of £8,000,000 on account for six weeks only had been obtained, in fact, on 12th April, 1910, the Chancellor of the Exchequer who had assured the House that this six weeks' Supply was ample for his purposes proceeded to make use of the Treasury Chest Fund, and withdrew from it money for the operations of the Postal Service of the United Kingdom to the amount of 49 £340,000, and for the salaries of the National School Teachers in Ireland to the amount of £50,000. This manipulation of the accounts, if it had arisen in a normal way, or because of some non-political exigency, might possibly have passed by without too much discussion, and might have been regarded simply as an offence against book-keeping; but, when it can be shown that it was perpetrated for political reasons, and to serve political exigencies, I think the country will be astonished. The Chancellor of the Exchequer has been attacked for the methods by which he has filled the Government's purse. In order to obtain this advantage over political opponents who, he expected, might come into office, he deliberately, in order to cripple his opponents, applied for a short amount of Supply, and when confronted with the results of his operation, in order to make up for that short Supply, he raided the Treasury Chest Fund to meet the deficit.
I assert that the deficit was artificially created, and in doing this what did the right hon. Gentleman say to the House of Commons? He said he only wanted £8,000,000 of Supply, and he gave reasons why he asked for that amount of Supply, limited to six weeks only. He said his object was to restore to the House of Commons control over the Executive, which had been weakened by practices adopted by his predecessors, whereas the fact is that in the following Session, or about one year after, he took only the six weeks' Supply, he came to this House, differences having been settled with the hon. Member for Waterford, and reverted to the very practice which had been in existence previous to 1896, and which had been in existence during four years before this memorable case in March, 1910. He asked for three months' Supply, for a Vote on Account for £20,000,000, instead of £8,000,000, demonstrating that it was a hypocrisy and pretence in 1910 to ask for £8,000,000 only. This is not a matter of mere book-keeping; it is not a matter of the technical keeping of accounts; the Treasury Chest is a real and necessary institution in connection with the Empire. All over our Empire we have established Treasury Chests for the maintenance of our financial stability. To recite the names of the places where a Treasury Chest is established is enough: Bermuda, Jamaica, Ceylon, Egypt, Gibraltar, Hong Kong, Malta, Mauritius, Sierra Leone, South Africa, in fact, nearly everywhere that a British warship may call or the British Army may 50 need funds. I may be told that the Government's credit stands so high that no injury would have been done to the Imperial Service by the conversion to home use of funds set apart for services abroad. But that explanation does not lie in the mouth of the Chancellor of the Exchequer and that can only be so long as British book-keeping retains its good name for integrity and honour. The only analogy by which we can be guided in connection with the Treasury Chest is that you should only issue notes so long as the gold reserves are maintained at a statutory level. Treasury Chests abroad are permitted to-draw bills so long as the Treasury Chest capital is intact. The Chancellor of the Exchequer departed from that practice, and depleted the Fund which Parliament set aside for the protection of Treasury Chest Bills drawn at the various points where Treasury Chests are maintained abroad. On 17th March, 1911, the then Financial Secretary to the Treasury stated that the Treasury Chest Fund was used to deal with money required for the pay of troops and the Admiralty, and to meet losses entailed by variations in exchange; but the Chancellor of the Exchequer did not deplete the Fund for any of those uses, but for an unworthy and, I think I am fair in saying, a partisan purpose. Are banks to be told that they may deplete their gold reserves as the Chancellor of the Exchequer depleted this Fund? There was no emergency, nothing to precipitate a financial crisis; but it was merely a ruse to embarrass his opponents, and that was the largest game the Chancellor of the Exchequer was after at that time. The Chancellor of the Exchequer is the guardian of the public fund, and he has no business to use the Treasury Chest for home purposes, and that says the Controller and Auditor-General. This is not due to any mistake or to any misdirection, but it is a deliberate shortage brought about in the public service for political design. In a Debate in March, 1910, the action of the Chancellor of the Exchequer was very severely condemned. What the critics would have said on this side of the House if they had known he was going to employ the Treasury Chest Fund to eke out his book-keeping account I cannot conceive. At the time that he was pretending to return the control of its finances to the House of Commons, he was actually depriving the House of Commons of that control by resorting to the Treasury Chest Fund. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for East Worcestershire, 51 in the course of the Debate in which the Chancellor of the Exchequer applied for six weeks' Supply, said:—What has occurred, then, within the last few days? What fresh comings and goings, what new threatening letters have the Government received that they again alter their programme, and now settle that means are to be found for carrying on the King's Government for six weeks and no longer. I believe it has been pretty clear what the Government had in their minds. I think it has been pretty clear from the moment when they declined to take the Budget, in accordance with the statement of the Prime Minister, as the first Act of this new Parliament. They are threatened men; they hold their official life by a precarious thread that may be snapped at any moment, and they know it.… They propose to provide just enough to go into the middle of May. By that timet hey think their own life will be about coming to an end, and the one thing on which they have determined, and the only object that, amidst all these twistings and turnings they are steadily pursuing, is to leave the greatest financial confusion behind them they can. That is what I call a shabby game. The Prime Minister talked solemnly of carrying on the King's Government with credit as long as the right hon. Gentlemen beside him were Ministers. There is little credit for their present proceeding, there is little thought for the dignity of the Crown, for the due conduct of public business, and for the convenience of the public service. Everything of that kind is made subservient to their party, and in the hope that they may stave off defeat, if fortune is kind to them; but that, at any rate, they may leave a financial morass behind them for anybody who tries to follow in their foot-steps." - [OFFICIAL REPORT, 10th March, 1910, cols. 1653–4, Vol. XIV.]I cannot conceive what additions my right hon. Friend would have made to that description of the Government if he had known they were shortly going to apply to the Treasury Chest Fund. My right hon. Friend the Member for the Walton Division of Liverpool (Mr. F. E. Smith) intervened in the Debate and said:—In other words, it is one step and one stage in the policy of evasion and chicanery which the Government has been pursuing. They are trying to make a deal with Irish Members below the Gangway."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 10th March, 1910, col. 1658, Vol. XIV.]The Noble Lord the Member for Oxford University (Lord Hugh Cecil) continued the Debate and owing to the stress of criticism, particularly of my right hon. Friends, whom I have quoted, and the Noble Lord, the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer defended himself. He attacked the Noble Lord for lecturing him on the Constitution and declared he was going back to the unbroken practice of Parliament. He stated that the Noble Lord and his Friends wanted to go on without the financial control of the House of Commons and stated that he and his Friends wanted to get on without the financial interference of the House of Lords. He neglected to add that he intended in a measure, at any rate, to get on without any financial control at all. The Chancellor of the Exchequer, I submit, is the trustee to the British Empire and of 52 the Treasury Chest. He is bound, beyond and above all other Members of this House, to act in conformity with the opinion of the Auditor-General and the Public Accounts Committee, and they condemn the use of the Treasury Chest Fund for services at home. The Chancellor of the Exchequer, on the occasion of the Debate to which I have referred, in the course of his speech, said:—The Noble Lord for a whole week has been saying that we have not got the cash for the purpose of paying these Supplies. Very well! We are limiting the amount which we are voting to the cash we have in hand. That is not a bad practice. It is what every business community practices. If the Noble Lord were Chancellor of the Exchequer, he would know perfectly well that all the money I have got is what I have said, and it is just enough for six weeks;."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 10th March, 1910, col. 1665, Vol. XIV.]There is no mention at all of the £340,000 to be drawn from the Chest Fund for the Post Office service, or of the £50,000 for the payment of national school teachers in Ireland. The right hon. Gentleman went on:—I can assure him that all the great financial authorities of the House, like the late Sir William Harcourt, were exceedingly shocked at the departure which was made at that time. They protested in the strongest possible manner against it. My recollection is that Lord Courtney, also a great authority, protested against it, though I am not quite clear about that.Thus, although the Chancellor quoted all those opinions in defence of his application for six weeks' Supply, in the following year he reverted to his original practice, and that of his party for four years previous, by taking three months of Supply. In that way the right hon. Gentleman convicts himself when he declared that that was all the money he had got. Within four weeks, instead of coming back to this House and declaring a mistake in his Estimate, he departs from precedent and seizes the Treasury Chest Fund. Need he have resorted to that if he desired to restore to the House of Commons its control over finance? The hon. Member for the Scotland Division of Liverpool (Mr. T. P. O'Connor) rushed in to the aid of the Chancellor of the Exchequer at that time and supported his application for a six weeks' Supply. He said:—For my part, I think the Chancellor of the Exchequer has returned to constitutional precedents of the past in keeping in his possession all those large Votes on Account that for a lengthened time were followed by every great Liberal statesman in this House. Sir William Harcourt opposed those lengthened Votes on Account; Mr. Gladstone was a determined and inveterate enemy of large Votes on Account; and it is astonishing to me to hear gentlemen who claim to be constitutionalists complaining that the Chancellor of the Exchequer is keeping the control of this House over the finance of the country. What is finance? It is the instrument by which the House of Commons is able to control the Executive and policy of the nation."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 10th March, 1910, col. 1670, Vol. XIV.]53 While those noble maxims were being thrown about the House and were being poured upon the Opposition, and while the Ministerial virtues of the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer were being referred to by his Friends and colleagues, he went, without the knowledge of the House, without precedent, and without authority, and seized upon the Fund set aside for the special purposes of and for the credit of the Empire. Having thus dealt with the constitutional issue, I turn for a moment to the actual operation of the Treasury Chest Fund. During the year in which the right hon. Gentleman raided this Imperial hen-roost, and in which he exercised the return to the House of Commons of its control over the Executive, he made a loss of £42,000. I have looked into the operation of the Fund, and if any ordinary city banking institution or any ordinary merchant was to behave in the manner in which the Treasury behaved as to the Treasury Chest Fund, that merchant or institution would long since have landed in bankruptcy. I assert that all of that £42,000 was money deliberately thrown away. It was an unavoidable and unnecessary loss, and a loss brought about by reason of the refusal of the Treasury to accord with Imperial practice. The Treasury Chest Fund is merely a bank with a capital of £700,000. At the end of each fiscal year the bank's profit, limited almost entirely to exchange operations, should be, if there is any profit, surrendered to the Auditor-General; and the loss, if there is a loss, should be made up in Parliament by a Vote taken at the time of the Supplementary Estimates. Obviously a bank with a capital of £700,000, dealing only in exchange and wihout any interest or dividends to pay, ought to show a very handsome profit. Yet, on the contrary, in the year ending 31st March, 1911, there is a loss of £42,000. That whole loss is due to the operation of the Treasury Chest at Hong Kong, and it amounted there to £50,000, or nearly so. Obviously the profit or lass is due to rates of exchange which, I admit, are an ever-varying quantity and also depend upon the skill and capacity or upon the negligence and incompetence with which the business is carried on. The conversion of sterling in Hong Kong, where, as the accounts disclose, there were dispersements amounting to £800,000, is a complex transaction, and in the year ending 31st March, 1911, on the conversion of £800,000 sterling into Hong Kong dollars, the Government made a loss of £50,000. 54 That is, a loss of 6 per cent., or about 1s. 2d. on every £. That is a very considerable loss. Any ordinary exchange clerk could make a conversion of £800,000 into Hong Kong dollars at a cost of 2d. in the £. So that a service for which the Treasury paid 1s. 2d. an ordinary individual could get for 2d. The Financial Secretary to the Treasury explained all that. He said:—It is entirely due to the loss on the Treasury Chest at Hong Kong, and that is owing to the official difference between the value of the dollar we have to pay at Hong Kong and the exchange on Treasury Chest Bills. The system under which we act was laid down by the late Lord Goschen, and it has always been followed since, namely, that the rate should be calculated on the price of silver in London a quarter before the money was to be paid. Sometimes we get from year to year advantages from that, and at other times we get disadvantages. This year, owing to the rise in the price of silver, which has continued almost consistently, we have lost, and owing to that rise we have been paying to the Army and Navy more than we should otherwise have done to the extent of the sum of £42 666."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 28th February, 1911, col. 1443.]The Financial Secretary gave three explanations. He said—first, that the loss was owing to the official difference between the value of the Hong Kong dollar and the exchange on Treasury Chest Bills; secondly, that it was due to a system laid down by the late Lord Goschen; and, thirdly, that it was due to an overpayment. As to the first explanation, I cannot follow the reason exactly, but, if I am right, the Financial Secretary says that it is the custom to value the Hong Kong dollar on the basis of the price of silver for the quarter before the date of payment. That is surely a very bad basis of calculation. Does the Financial Secretary value Consols purchased for the Sinking Fund on the basis of the price of Consols when the Chancellor of the Exchequer came into office. It would be just as reasonable as a valuation of the Hong Kong dollar on the basis of the price of silver for the quarter before the date of payment. The proper basis would surely be the price of silver on the date of payment, and not for the quarter before. But the Financial Secretary says, "That is all right. We are not responsible for that. The late Lord Goschen laid down the system." The late Lord Goschen may have laid down the system, but it is difficult to realise it when one considers his great reputation, particularly in exchange. But even admitting that that is the fact, the late Lord Goschen sat on the Treasury Bench twenty-five or thirty years ago, and the reasoning which applied thirty years ago hardly applies to-day. I do not think it is necessary to labour that point at all. In any case, the attempt to fix the 55 responsibility on the late Lord Goschen will leave us cold, because in the six years that he was in office the late Lord Goschen made out of the operation a profit amounting to £33,000. The last and the most amazing explanation is that he paid out in Hong Kong £42,000 more than he owed. Why? Because he paid for the Hong Kong dollars 1s. 11½d. but they were worth only 1s. 10½d.
§ The FINANCIAL SECRETARY to the TREASURY (Mr. Masterman)
Does the hon. Member say that that is the explanation I offered?
§ Sir MAX AITKEN
That is the explanation the hon. Gentleman offered on 28th February last, when he said, "Owing to that rise we have been paying the Army and Navy more than he should otherwise have done to the extent of £42,000." I submit that there is no other explanation except that he paid £42,000 more than he ought to have done.
§ Sir MAX AITKEN
That is not the explanation of the Financial Secretary. He said, "We have been paying the Army and Navy more than we should otherwise have done to the extent of £42,000." That is perfectly clear. In other words, he says that in Hong Kong the Treasury Chest was selling sovereigns for 19s. I am sorry I did not get an opportunity on the Supplementary Estimates to work the matter out, but I have given the closest attention to the explanation, and if there is anything more to be said I shall be glad to hear it. I think the Financial Secretary has beaten the 9d. to 4d. He has paid these Chinese gentleman 21s. 2d. every time he owed them £1. According to the Financial Secretary, the Treasury Chest at Hong Kong was paying out Hong Kong dollars on the basis of 1s. 10½d. when they were really worth 1s. 11½d., and they were receiving such sums as are received for the Treasury Chest at Hong Kong for remittance to London in Hong Kong dollars at a valuation of 1s. 11½d. These are approximate figures. So that the Treasury Chest at Hong Kong was paying out Hong Kong dollars, asserting that they were worth only 1s. 10½d., and receiving Hong Kong dollars for remittance to London, asserting that they were worth 1s. 11½d. In conclusion I appeal for sup- 56 port to financial Gentlemen opposite—to that band of financial gentlemen referred to by Lord Crewe who have never been frightened from the Liberal road by the hobgoblin figure of the Chancellor of the Exchequer.
§ Mr. MASTERMAN
I have no intention of chewing the cud of dead controversy concerning any action alleged to have been political action in connection with the year 1910, or of ransacking the OFFICIAL REPORT for various statements made on either side in connection with the action of my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer; because for every statement from our side of the House that there were arguments for taking a short Vote on Account, there were the strongest arguments advanced by Gentlemen on the other side to the effect that short Votes on Account should not be taken and that we should resort to the practice we are now resorting to of taking a longer Vote on Account. In all seriousness, when we are dealing with financial questions, I do not think we are much aided by bringing in political controversies which are entirely irrelevant to the question at issue. The hon. Member opposite has raised two points: first, why should money have been temporarily used from the Treasury Chest for purposes at home instead of for purposes abroad; and, secondly, why was a substantial loss made on the transaction under consideration, especially in connection with the Treasury Chest at Hong Kong. The fact that the Treasury Chest advanced for, I think, eight days, £390,000 supplementary to the Civil Contingencies Fund, when the Vote on Account proved to be in two of its Votes insufficient, has nothing whatever to do with political considerations at all. It has nothing really to do even with the question of taking a Vote on Account for six weeks or two months or four months, because, whatever Vote you take, there may be an underestimate in the amount required for a particular Vote, and until an additional Vote can be passed it is necessary, if you are going to keep within the law, to supplement the Vote. The Civil Contingencies Fund has been used and is always used for that purpose, if necessary. But in this instance sufficient money was not available in the Civil Contingencies Fund. The hon. Member made one or two statements not entirely correct. He first of all assumed that this was an illegal practice and that the law which created the Treasury Chest forbade its application for 57 home use. That is not the case. The Treasury Chest is described as being provided for making temporary advances for any public service, to be repaid either out of money appropriated by Parliament to such service, or out of other money applicable thereto. When therefore the Treasury, finding that the Vote on Account was insufficient in two cases, supplemented the Civil Contingencies Fund with a temporary advance from the Treasury Chest, they were doing something that was perfectly legal and could not be challenged. The hon. Member also stated that this was condemned by the Auditor-General and the Public Accounts Committee. That also is not the fact.
§ Sir MAX AITKEN
Will the hon. Gentleman read the report of the Public Accounts Committee in 1902, and the report of the Auditor-General in relation to the use of the Treasury Chest for Civil Services at home?
§ Mr. MASTERMAN
I do not think there is any real ground for the suggestion of the hon. Member. I may say that the Auditor-General has called the attention of the Public Accounts Committee to this use of the Treasury Chest, which, although it is not illegal, is not the normal use of the Treasury chest.
§ Mr. MASTERMAN
The Public Accounts Committee has discussed the question with the Auditor-General, but has not yet reported upon the matter. I am inclined to suggest to the House that the whole question would be far more properly raised when we see what the Public Accounts Committee do report. It is not true, however, to say that the Public Accounts Committee have condemned the system, nor is it true to say that the Auditor-General condemned it. What are the actual facts? The hon. Gentleman suggested—I do not think he intended to suggest it—that this temporary advance of £890,000 was part of the scheme of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, for I think he said, keeping the control of finance from the House of Commons with a view to certain political exigencies. He has a right to argue, if he likes, that the taking of only a six weeks' Vote on Account for £8,000,000 is part of such scheme. But he has no right to argue that the fact that 58 £8,000,000 proved insufficient is any part of the scheme at all. It was a miscalculation that may arise on any Vote en Account, taken at any time.
The hon. Member also said that the Chancellor of the Exchequer used this money instead of coming back to the House for a further Vote. That also is entirely incorrect. The allowance for the Post Office service was found to be insufficient about the second week in Apri. On 14th April the Chancellor of the Exchequer took an additional Vote on Account in order to pay for these services, and it was only between the Committee stage and the Report stage, eight days, of that Vote on Account that this money was advanced from the Treasury Chest, after which it was repaid. So far, then, for the Chancellor of the Exchequer using the Treasury Chest in order to continue using moneys without coming to Parliament. As soon as there seemed the least degree of possibility that the money voted by Parliament—the £8,000,000 for the six weeks' Vote on Account was being exceeded, the Chancellor of the Exchequer came to Parliament for an additional amount. The amount was voted, and the money was replaced in the Treasury Chest. Under these circumstances, I think all this stuff about the Chancellor of the Exchequer using this £390,000[HON. MEMBERS: "Stuff?"]—well, all this argument, if you like to call it, that this £390,000, less than one day's average expenditure of the nation, was taken in order to keep Parliament away from Supply may be regarded as a figment of the hon. Gentleman's imagination.
§ Mr. MASTERMAN
I think the money has been sufficient before. The right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition knows that every year the expenditure of the country is increasing, or at least has increased over twenty or thirty years. The margin allowed on account on the Civil Contingency Fund is fixed, and continues as time goes on to bear a less proportion to the total of the public services. It is quite likely that whatever Government is in power it may be necessary to ask this House of Commons to increase that margin for the Civil Contingency Fund. As to the other question, I am sorry I did not make it clear—but the hon. Gentleman recognises I only had three minutes to reply before the Vote was passed. I think he will see that Lord 59 Goschen was not so foolish as he imagines when he laid down the system. It is quite impossible—the hon. Member who has intimate knowledge of these matters will agree with me—to strike a precise daily rate for the dollar when you are paying out to your troops day by day. Not only would that be an elaborate and intricate operation, but it would also cause something like a mutiny in the Army and Navy. If the Army and Navy were being paid a variable amount in dollars for their income week by week, they would not understand why the amounts varied. I take it that the principle followed by all Governments alike was that laid down in 3850. In fact, two principles have been laid down.
The first is that the Army and Navy shall be paid in the currency of the country in which they are at the time serving. The second is that they shall be paid at a rate of exchange which shall be a definite amount ranging over a period of some months. Lord Goschen's system was this: He estimated the value of the Mexican dollar, in which the Army and Navy are paid at Hong Kong, at the price of silver in London in the quarter preceding, and the Army and Navy are paid on that basis a dollar for each 1s. 8d., 1s. 9d., or 1s. 10d., as the case may be. In Hong Kong silver is bought as required. It has never been the practice of the Treasury to allow the Treasury Chests scattered in various parts of the world to have more than one or two months' supply in hand; but to say that we bought silver at 1s. 10d. and sold it at 1s. 8d.—the statement made by the hon. Member—is a statement altogether remote from any possibility. What happened was that the price of silver was rising, and that the dollar that we paid the men in, translated into gold currency—not legal currency—was worth more than it would have been had we taken the price of silver when it was paid. To that extent the Army and the Navy, in a sense, gained something like £49,000. Nor is this a scheme devised by the Chancellor of the Exchequer to give 9d. for 4d. If the hon. Gentleman will look through the various transactions which have taken place under this system since 1889, he will see that in a good many cases the price of silver has fallen and the Treasury has gained, whilst the men of the Army and Navy have been the losers. Roughly, I think he will find that the thing balances from year to year. It is not true to say 60 either that we are living on the memory of a great financier of other times. The Public Accounts Committee—I think my hon. Friend behind me will bear me out in this—a few years ago called the attention of the Treasury to this system, and asked that a further and careful consideration, should be given to the matter. The Treasury gave a most careful consideration. They considered the possibility of alternatives, and they came to the conclusion that Lord Goschen's plans still held in spite of change; that, on the whole, it is the fairest system, both for the Army and Navy, on the one hand, and, on the other hand, for the Treasury Chest. The hon. Gentleman talks as if this money went to Chinese junk men. It is not so. If we strike a rate in London and then buy dollars at a higher value in Hong Kong the soldier and the sailor get more dollars than they strictly should get; if the price of silver goes, down then the sailor and the soldier get fewer dollars than the market rate would give.
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
May I ask what system is adopted in paying the contractors who supply the Army and the Navy at Hong Kong?
§ Mr. MASTERMAN
I am not certain that they are paid in Mexican dollars at all, but if the right hon. Gentleman will give me notice of that I shall be happy to make inquiries. I do not think they are paid from the Treasury Chest. But I shall be quite willing, as the representative of the Treasury, in this or any other Debate, to hear what hon. Gentlemen have to say to promote economy. The system that I am speaking about has been the invariable system since 1889. It has been investigated since then, and the Treasury are quite convinced, as at present advised, that it is far the fairest, and most satisfactory system.
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
I am sorry that the Chancellor of the Exchequer is not here, because I really cannot regard this as a matter of such very slight importance as the hon. Gentleman the Financial Secretary has hinted. First of all, with regard to the question of whether or not this arrangement has been carried out as a business-like transaction, I am bound to say that I could not believe—I am talking now of the loss which the Treasury Chest incurred at Hong Kong—that the loss was exactly occasioned in the way that my hon. Friend has described. On the other 61 hand—I understand the Financial Secretary had only a few minutes—taking the words of the Financial Secretary then there was no other explanation possible. The Financial Secretary to the Treasury told us that last year we paid in Hong Kong about £42,000 more than we ought to have done if we had taken the rate at the time of payment. That seemed to me, and seems to me still, to be an arrangement for which I can see no explanation possible. But now that the hon. Gentleman has given the explanation, it takes away a great deal of the blame which one was inclined to give. It still, however, leaves the impression to my mind of being very unsatisfactory. It is perfectly right that there should be some approximate steadiness in the payment of our soldiers and sailors month by month. It is perfectly right also that the Treasury should not make any attempt to make money out of the exchange in dealing with our soldiers and sailors. On the other hand, when we find that we made last year a loss of 1s. 2d. in the £—that is admitted—when we find on turning to the year previous that we made a loss of fully half that amount—then it ought to have become evident to any business man that the system is not right. However generous we may be to our soldiers and sailors we ought not to pay more than the approximate amount due in accordance with the terms of their contract. I think, therefore, that this matter requires reconsideration. Taking the system which is in force as one under which constantly we are paying more than we ought to do, it ought to be reconsidered, and we ought to adopt some system which, allows us to pay approximately the amount due, and not more, to our sailors and soldiers. That is, I say, simply a question of business.
When you come to the other part of the transaction it is a question of Parliamentary decency. The House of Commons will remember the exact position in which we stood. It was just after the election. The Government had won the election. They had told us that they were going to make the Budget their first object in meeting Parliament. They did not do it. For something like two months we sat here, not being even allowed to smell the Budget, while negotiations and subterranean negotiations of all kinds were going on; while Parliament and the Government were turned into stock exchange, and a system of bargaining went forward for the Government to buy a majority by which they could carry their 62 schemes. That was the position. As part of that system of bargaining, and in order not to allow the House of Commons, to assume control over finance, in order to make sure that the Gentlemen below the Gangway had control of the Gentlemen who sit opposite, a Vote on Account was brought in—a thing absolutely unprecedented since 1893. It was brought in, too, for a six weeks' Supply instead of for the ordinary time. It was brought in with a purpose, which everyone understood at the time, of making it impossible for any other Government to be established, because there would not be the majority which would give them Supply. That was the object. If at that time the Chancellor of the Exchequer had openly told us that that was the object, we should have told him what we thought of it. [An HON. MEMBER: "You did."] We knew that was the object. What happened—this is where the Parliamentary decency comes in—the Chancellor of the Exchequer told us it was not the object. These were his words:—What is it he complains of? He complains that we have reverted to the practice which was the unbroken practice of Parliament to 1896.And later on he says precisely the same thing:—What do they complain of? That we reverted to this practice which we think a better practice as it enables the House of Commons to retain control over its finances.5.0 P.M.
He led us to believe that the object was to enable the House of Commons to retain control over its finances, yet the moment the temporary object—the trickery, for that is what it was—was carried out, that moment he reverted to the previous practice which he then condemned, and showed that the whole thing was simply a case of Parliamentary manœuvring and nothing else. I do not think this thing can be passed over as lightly as that. I think also that something has to be said about the use of the Treasury Chest Fund at all. The hon. Member says that was no part of the manœuvring. Neither was it. It was the effect of the manœuvring and the result of the manœuvring. The hon. Gentleman says we made a great fuss about nothing, that it might have happened to any Government that the amount of money would run out. Is not that an extraordinary way to speak in face of this sentence in the Auditor-General's Report?—The employment of the Treasury Chest as a fund supplementary only for special contingencies for the purpose of temporary business of the Civil Service at home would not seem to be in accord with the des- 63 cription of the fund contained in Paper No. 5, namely, that it exists for the purpose of laying down funds abroad to carry on the public service generally.It is not we who are condemning the Chancellor of the Exchequer. It is the Auditor-General who in the most emphatic and clear way condemns him. Of course, I know the Chancellor of the Exchequer says that the object was not what my hon. Friend behind me says it was. The Chancellor of the Exchequer would maintain that the object was to retain the control of the House of Commons and not the House of Lords over finances, but what he really meant was that he was going to retain control over them without regard to the House of Commons or anybody else. It is not the first time he has done that. We all remember the very interesting Debate in this House which arose out of the Chancellor having given instructions to delay the collection of Income Tax for the purpose of robbing the Sinking Fund of money to which it was entitled. In neither case do I assert or suggest for a moment that he was making an improper use of the money, but I do say, in both cases he was resorting to an irregularity which even in private business would deserve the severest condemnation. In regard to the finances of a great country like this, the one service, or, in my opinion at least, the greatest service which was rendered by Mr. Gladstone to the finances of this country was to establish a system within which you are bound. What the Chancellor has done is to show that he does not recognise any of these bonds, and he has destroyed all the consciousness of regularity upon which our finances really depend.
§ Sir FREDERICK BANBURY
The hon. Gentleman the Secretary to the Treasury usually makes a very clear explanation of any charge brought against him, but I venture to say the explanation he has given with regard to the charge of the appropriation of money out of the Treasury Chests for purposes here at home has not satisfied a single Member on either side of the House. If we were sitting upon the benches opposite and our Chancellor of the Exchequer had done what the present Chancellor of the Exchequer has done the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Islington (Mr. Lough), instead of indulging in gossip, would be fuming at the terrible manner in which the wicked Tories were playing with the finances of the country. I do not believe we shall have a word of intervention from him on 64 this particular occasion. What is the explanation of the Financial Secretary to the Treasury? He says that it was only for eight days. That is like the excuse that it was only a little one. That does not make it any better. He has done what was wrong, and because it was only done in a small way and for a short period does not alter the fact that the doing of it was wrong. As my right hon. Friend has reminded us, this is not the first time that the Chancellor of the Exchequer has laid predatory hands upon the finances of the country. Only last March he laid hands upon the Sinking Fund, and therefore it is no answer to say that this is only a small matter which only lasted for eight days.
Does the hon. Gentleman say that the application is not illegal? Has he any answer to the interruption of the hon. and learned Member (Mr. T. M. Healy)? He admitted it had never been done before. I am sorry the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor for the Duchy of Lancaster is not in the House, because, in answer to a question by me after this infringement of the custom of Parliament had been made, the right hon. Gentleman, who was then Financial Secretary to the Treasury, informed me that the only possible use to which the Treasury Chest Fund could be put was the financing of obligations undertaken abroad. I understand that is correct, and therefore so short a time ago as March, 1911, after the little lapse from virtue by the present Chancellor of the Exchequer, the Financial Secretary to the Treasury said that the Treasury Chest could only be used for financing of operations undertaken abroad. Let me point out what it is we object to. I do not raise this question because I want for a moment to make a party score. I raise it because I think it is a most important question, especially when one bears in mind what the right hon. Gentleman said in answer to an interruption by my right hon. Friend that the expenditure of the country was increasing at such a rate that this sort of thing may have to be done by any Government. It is because expenditure is increasing with such enormous rapidity that it is absolutely necessary that the Rules laid down from time immemorial by the House of Commons for the guidance of its finances ought to be observed. If we were back in the old days of economy, and not spending in the reckless way we are now, it might be said there was not so much need for strict investiga- 65 tion of the methods in which the finances of the country are conducted, but when we are now approaching something like an annual Budget of £200,000,000, there is nobody, I venture to say, except, perhaps, hon. Members on the Labour Benches opposite, who would suggest that it is not absolutely necessary that very great care should be taken of the manner in which these large sums are dealt with. It is, however, much easier—and I use the word in no offensive sense—to juggle with large sums than with small ones. And when you get into these vast figures it is almost impossible for the House of Commons to see what is going on, and all we can depend on is that we trust the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Financial Secretary to observe the rules laid down by the great financiers of the last century and follow them out.
That is exactly what they are not doing, not only now, but in tampering with the Sinking Fund some time ago. Hon. Gentlemen opposite, and one or two at this side, have sought to set up an Estimates Committee. What we shall have to do is to appoint a Committee to investigate the proceedings of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and to go into his private room accompanied by an accountant and see what he is actually doing with the money. We cannot trust the right hon. Gentleman at the present moment. We have twice in one year found him out in evading the customs of Parliament, both times for party purposes, and eluding the Rules always laid down for the guidance of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Let me now deal with the question of the Vote on Account for six weeks. The hon. Gentleman found his excuse for going back in 1911 to a four months' and now to a five months' Supply because, as I understand, we on this side of the House objected to his taking a six weeks' Supply. It is the first time since 1906 that hon. Gentlemen opposite ever shaped their policy according to the desires of the Opposition.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
Nothing, I think, emphasises more what I am saying than that interruption. The question of the expenditure of £180,000,000 is in the mind of the Financial Secretary a little thing. I do not think, when the Chancellor of the Exchequer comes to read the OFFICIAL REPORT to-morrow and finds the Financial Secretary has made that remark, he will 66 thank him. We know perfectly well the meaning of the whole transaction. It was a Parliamentary trick, as my right hon. Friend said, in order to make certain that if the party opposite were defeated at the last Election they would be able to prevent the new Government coming in from carrying on the finances, and then, last year, when they had a safe majority, they reverted, regardless of their hypocrisy, to the old system. This year they have gone beyond it and taken £59,000,000, which is nearly five months' Supply. I am not sure they have not made a mistake, for, if by good fortune they should receive their deserts in a few weeks, they will have provided us with sufficient money with which to continue the finances of the country in a sane and proper way. I am sorry so few Members on the other side of the House seem to regard financial questions as of any importance. I have long ago given up any hope of hon. Gentlemen opposite, and therefore the country must rely upon the industry of hon. Gentlemen upon this side in order to expose the bad and the unsound efforts of the Chancellor of the Exchequer.
§ Mr. T. M. HEALY
But for the fact that the House is overshadowed by a great industrial crisis, I think the question which has been raised in the remarkable speech made by the hon. Member above the Gangway would have attracted universal attention upon this question of Parliamentary procedure. I am not competent to deal with the questions of exchange which were handled by the hon. Member for Ashton-under-Lyne, and therefore he will excuse me if I decline to go into the question of the loss or gain on silver. I congratulate the House, however, upon having an hon. Member able to deal so capably with that question, and perhaps I would suggest that the Opposition have had no reason to be sorry because the electors have made what I may call a Colonial preference. But that is not the question which I wish to deal with. Whenever the Controller and Auditor-General strikes a blot it deserves the attention of every Member of the House of Commons. For my own part I have never failed, whatever Government has been in power, to deal with such matters. What I am saying now is not by way of criticism of the present Administration, but I am speaking, having regard to what we all ought to feel, namely, the necessity of proper administration in our public accounts.
67 The Controller and Auditor-General is given the position of a judge. That is to say, he is given the power to pass his opinion upon the accounts of this Empire, and he is in such a position of independence that he cannot be removed by any Government, and for his removal a Vote of both Houses is necessary. Accordingly a man invested with great powers of this nature is not likely to misuse or abuse them. I do not even know the name of this Gentleman, and I am wholly uninformed as to his personality or his past. He has, however, laid down, founding himself upon a Report of the Public Accounts Committee, that this Treasury Chest money has been used for a purpose which, practically speaking, is illegal. May I take this opportunity of congratulating the Financial Secretary to the Treasury upon his promotion, which has given universal satisfaction in all quarters of the House. The hon. Gentleman said the use of this money was perfectly legal, and he read out a line from the Statute of 1877. May I point out that that is not the governing Statute in the matter. If you want to see where the language which the hon. Gentleman used comes from, and if you want to get the language applicable to the case, you must go to the Act of 1861. The Public Accounts Committee founded itself upon the use of those words which appear in the Preamble of the Act of 1861. Here are the words upon which the hon. Member relies:They may employ from time to time the Treasury Chest Fund or the balances and so on to purchases of specie and so on in making temporary advances for Public and Colonial services.The Preamble of the Act of 1861 says:—Whereas various sums were granted by Parliament from time to time, up to the year 1832, for defraying certain services denominated 'The Extraordinaries of the Army.' And whereas a Fund, now called 'The Treasury Chest Fund,' the available balance of which amounted on the 31st day of March, 1860, to the sum of £1,330,701 3s. 3d., has arisen out of the said Grants, and from the receipt of other moneys on the Public Account, and the said Fund has been employed, under the direction of the Commissioners of Her Majesty's Treasury, as a banking fund for facilitating remittances, and for temporary advances for public and Colonial services, to be repaid out of the moneys appropriated by Parliament or otherwise applicable to those services; and whereas it is expedient to 68 maintain in the Treasury Chest Fund a sufficient available balance for supplying the several Treasury Chests with moneys for carrying on the public service, to limit the amount of such balance, and to make other provisions in respect of the said Fund.Where are the Treasury Chests established? It is not at home, and it may be in Bermuda, Gibraltar, Malta, or Hong Kong for aught I know, and the purposes for which the Treasury Chest Fund is made applicable is necessarily an oversea purpose. To tell me that you are entitled to construe the words "public service" except in relation to where these Treasury Chests are situated is an absurdity which the hon. Gentleman will not get any lawyer on his own side to support. The Treasury Chest is an oversea chest, and it is not a home chest. It is a Colonial Chest and not a United Kingdom Chest. Therefore when you are using these words which the hon. Gentleman employs you must use them, and construe them in relation to the services with which the country is dealing. These Treasury Chests are in every instance undoubtedly beyond the sea. My next proposition is that the Public Accounts Committee, before this use of the Treasury Chest was made, set the signet and the mintage of their approval on the contention and the construction for which I am now arguing. The Public Accounts Committee is a body of respectable and influential hon. Members who are trusted by us to an enormous extent, because we scarcely ever challenge their decisions. They overhaul the whole of the public services of the country. I do not know whether they overhaul the Secret Service Fund, but probably with that exception I suppose there is not a single account connected with the expenditure of this country from the cats' meat account of the Treasury to the accounts of the Royal palaces which they are not entitled to inquire into. Eight or nine years ago, and before this question had arisen, and before any question of the abuse of the Treasury Chest arose, the Public Accounts Committee—that is to say, the trustees of this House, drawn impartially from both sides, laid down that the Treasury Chest Fund was an overseas fund. So that when, owing to the shortage of the Vote on Account two years ago you drew on this Treasury Chest, you did it in the teeth of the Preamble of the Act of 1861, and you also did it flouting the decision of your own Grand Committee.
69 The hon. Gentleman says we shall get a fresh Public Accounts Committee, but will you? Probably you will, but will you have a majority on it, I noticed immediately this matter was mentioned an hon. Member opposite was ready to get up in order to defend the Government. Is that the kind of Public Accounts Committee we have got now? The Public Accounts Committee are our trustees appointed without challenge and we accept their decision and to reconstitute this Committee and rake up what has been done to serve the exigencies of a particular party is no function of a Public Accounts Committee. I have dealt with the position of the hon. Gentleman and with the position of the Public Accounts Committee, and now I come to consider what has been done as a matter of fact. I suppose there is no man in this House who hates and despises the Treasury gang as I do. They have robbed my country for 112 years, and I fully believe they are trying to rob it again. I regard them with hatred and loathing, and, what is more, I regard them with contempt. They pretend to be great economists, and they are continually niggling and attacking other Departments, but when you find them out in a mistake they give you all kinds of beautiful explanations, which are generally false. We have not a single body engaged in watching these gentlemen at the Treasury. We accept everything they do and state, and they are regarded as a sort of fetish.
As an Irish Member, I am specially interested in this matter for this reason: One of the things they have done with the Treasury Chest is that they have paid the salaries of the Irish national school teachers out of it. It will bring joy to the national school teachers of Ireland to know that somebody in Connemara has been paid the money which should have gone to Hong Kong. This is, to my mind, a matter of grave seriousness, because we are dealing with the procedure of Votes on Account. Let us consider the position of Votes on Account. Those of us who were brought up under the Gladstonian tradition always regarded a Government with respect which gave us short Votes on Account. It showed they intended at the time to put down their Supply whereby you could debate every Vote of Supply, and that they intended not to deprive the House of its financial control. As long as Gladstone lived, he was a man for short Votes on Account. I am sure the late 70 Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Balfour) will not think I am needlessly censuring him, because we all respect him and are glad at his return, and personally I greatly grieve at his loss, when I say I, for one, bitterly condemn the system which he established, and which gave us I think it was twenty or twenty-one days, I forget exactly which, for effective Supply, which effective Supply, remember, included the days on Votes on Account. If you put down a Vote on Account you rob the House of one of its effective days of Supply. Accordingly, therefore, the right hon. Gentleman, having been driven by his Parliamentary exigencies into that position said, "I will take Votes on Account for longer periods, instead of having the Gladstonian tradition, which gives you short Votes on Account. It will not be fair now to take short Votes on Account, because I shall be robbing the House of one of its twenty-one days." There was some reason in that position. He said, "I will give you twenty-one days, but it would not be fair if I put down short Votes on Account, because I should be robbing you of one of them." If you look at it strictly from the point of view of the logician, that was a fair proposition.
When the present Government came into office with its huge majority, having complete power to overhaul that position, it maintained the Tory policy, it maintained the twenty-one days' policy, and it maintained the policy of long Votes on Account. Who changed it? When was it changed? Is that change going to be a permanent one? When the Chancellor of this Exchequer declared, in 1910, that he was departing from bad Tory precedent and was going back to the ancient principle of Gladstone, I want to know whether it was for that year only? It is not a matter, I respectfully tell the right hon. Gentleman the Financial Secretary to the Treasury, which is to be tossed aside by saying, "Oh, I am not going back on worn-out Parliamentary Debates of two years ago." It is nothing of the kind. This is quick, vital matter affecting the year 1912, and all the years we may sit here, and for my part I hope they will not be long. I now come to consider what he did, why he did it, and what is the result of it. I was amazed to hear from the hon. Gentleman above the Gangway, the Member for Ashton, the statement he made, namely, that the right hon. Gentleman, having said he was taking six weeks' Supply, and that he was restoring to the House its 71 power of control over the Executive, proceeded to subtract from, the House of Commons the power of controlling the Executive by resorting to a fund which never practically comes up for Parliamentary discussion at all. The answer of the right hon. Gentleman is this, "Oh, he only did it for eight days. The baby is only a little one. Just overlook it. He only committed sin for eight days." Is this to be drawn into a precedent? If a Minister is hard pressed for his Vote on Account, can he resort, not for eight days but, for aught I know, for eight weeks, to a sum of something like £750,000, a handy nest-egg he has there under his control; and can he leave Honduras, Jamaica, the Straits Settlement, and the Cape without a shilling whilst he is escaping Parliamentary control? That is the importance of the position, which the right hon. Gentleman has evaded. Why, Charles I. lost his head for something very like this! He said he would levy his Supply by the aid of Ship-money. I think it was Sir Harry Vane who said that those who try to break Parliament generally end in getting broken themselves. The Chancellor of the Exchequer has tried to break Parliament and has tried to break Parliamentary control to the extent of £800,000. It does not matter to say that he has only used £300,000, and to say he has used it for eight days appears to me immaterial.
The position of the right hon. Gentleman opposite is this: I can do it now as often as I like. I have not broken the law. It is quite legal. "Everything I have done is absolutely legal. The twelve stations where the Treasury Chest has formally been established have now been transferred to Charing Cross. Bermuda has become Downing Street, and I can use this money," as he has, "for the General Post Office at St. Martins-le-Grand and for Irish National Teachers at Ballaghaderin. That is amazing to one who takes a keen interest in anything affecting the financial control of this House, and who is sensitive on any matters in which the Treasury are concerned. That is an extraordinary position, and, if it is taken up by a Minister, however able, we have to ask him: Is he the mouthpiece of the Cabinet on this question? Has he declared the constitutional position of His Majesty's Government on this question? Has he had the advice of the Attorney-General upon it? We are entitled to know. I do not know how long £800,000 would carry 72 on the Government. Let us see what the view of the Chancellor of the Exchequer was when he did this. I am satisfied that he never did this off his own bat. I am satisfied it was some Treasury necromancer, who said, "Do not bother about going to Parliament, I have £800,000 lying here I never told you about at all. Do not trouble the House of Commons." Let us see what the Chancellor of the Exchequer said, because I accept his good faith in this matter. I am satisfied that a busy Minister, who had the words of the Section of the Act of 1877 read out to him, without being told what its genesis is, would say, "You tell me it is legal, and I will do it." What was his position in April, 1910. He said:—The Noble Lord for a whole week has been saying we have not got the cash for the purpose of paying these Supplies. Very well. We are limiting the amount which we are voting to the cash we have in hand. That is not a bad practice. It is what every business community practices. If the Noble Lord were Chancellor of the Exchequer, he would know perfectly well that all the money I have got is what I have said, and it is just enough for six weeks."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 10th March, 1910, col. 1665.]That is a very remarkable statement of the right hon. Gentleman, and it is not met by the reply of the Financial Secretary who says, "Oh, well, really, I am not going back to the weary stuff we talked two years ago. It is all dead and gone. It has no relation to the living present, the year 1912." Is that so? A Minister comes down to the House and says, "Six weeks Supply will do him. Eight million of money, that is all I want; that is all I have got," and he has all the time what I call a Secret Service Fund of his own which enables him to evade his Parliamentary obligations. I do not for a moment believe the Chancellor of the Exchequer is personally a party to this. I believe that he would cut off his hand before he would do it. What we want to get at is the name of the Companion of the Bath that supplied him. Some Gentleman of the Treasury for a very long time, who has several Orders and Garters and Ribbons, has informed the right hon. Gentleman that his course was a legal one. Now we know that it is not a legal one, because it has been condemned by the Controller and Auditor-General, because it has been condemned in alvance by the Public Accounts Committee, and because the words which I read out from the Act of 1861 show, and it cannot be denied, that this Treasury Chest was invented, created, and intended, and can only be used for public services abroad.
73 In these circumstances, I do think the Debate raises many points of constitutional importance. It raises the whole question of the control of this House over its Executive. It raises the question of the honour and of the credit of Ministers who are advised by Treasury experts, who, having said that £8,000,000 will do them for six weeks, when they find it will not, turn round and resort to this unheard-of fund and tell them they can employ it. It is, to my mind, especially objectionable, because Parliament foresaw that exigencies would arise when there would be a shortage of funds, and created for that very object what is called the Civil Contingencies Fund. The Civil Contingencies Fund was the fund from which this money for the Post Office and the National Teachers should have been drawn. Instead of drawing it from the Civil Contingencies Fund, a home fund, a proper fund, and a Constitutional Fund, they go and draw it abroad, at a time when, for aught you know, your Navy may be requiring the very moneys that you are disbursing in Connemara. Therefore, I think, under these conditions we are entitled to know if the Government, as a whole, maintain the position the Secretary for the Treasury occupies, and, if not, whether it would not be fair and proper that some expression of regret should be made to Parliament for having committed an unconstitutional act which has been condemned by the only public officer independent of the Treasury whose views the House can rely upon.
§ Mr. WEDGWOOD
I beg to move, as an Amendment, to leave out the word "now," and at the end of the Question to add the words "upon this day six months."
I do so in order to enter a protest against the institution by the Government of prosecutions of the Press. I would remind this House it has not been the practice for many years for prosecutions of this nature to be indulged in. Prosecutions by the State are always risky business. Prosecutions of the Press have long been notable by their absence. It is true that in Ireland and India we have seen such prosecutions, but they are unknown in England, and for a very good reason. Before the Government under-take a prosecution of the Press there are many risks to be considered. First, there is the risk of increasing the evil by giving wider publicity to printed matter in an obscure publication. There is the classical case of the prosecution instituted 74 against Paine's "Age of Reason," and Paine's "Rights of Man," Lord Campbell said of these:—Its circulation was infinitely increased by the Attorney-General filing an information against the author.6.0 P.M.
Then, secondly, there is the risk of interfering with the open expression of opinion however violent or detrimental to Society and so driving it underground. Besides, there is the risk of giving the writer publicity for his libel. I come to the third risk, that of inflaming the opinion, both of those prosecuted and of their friends. There have been some recent prosecutions and certain unfortunate printers have gone to prison. They are not even Socialists; they are men who have no interest in politics; they will come out of prison red-hot revolutionists. Their friends through-out the length and breadth of the country feel the injustice done by the Government to them. Once you begin prosecutions of this kind it is difficult to draw the line and stop. It was said that Grenville issued 200 injunctions against the Press in six months. The learned Attorney-General is beginning to learn the lesson. You have already the cases of the Syndicalists, the "Labour Leader," "Huddersfield Worker," "Forward," "Justice" and "Freedom" on your hands. How many more? We are beginning to see that by reason of the arrest of Mr. Tom Mann, and possibly that of Mr. Victor Grayson, there are others to come. The Government has great powers, but it is not always expedient to exercise them. There must be no feeling that they are pandering to panic. There must be absolute impartiality, not only of intention, but it must be conveyed to the public mind. Everyone knows the unlimited powers of the State in matters of this nature, but before exercising such powers it is always wise to bear in mind the expediency of the application of any Act of Parliament. It should be the duty of the Law Officers of the Crown to consult the Crown before instituting prosecutions. Was it done in this Case? This is a regular Phœnix of a struggle coming up in every age. It is a question whether prosecutions of the Press have ever been justified. The best men in every age have been against them. Milton, Erskine, and Macaulay were against them. There has always been the same provocation, the same fears inspiring the prosecution. The clamour of propertied classes has again and again deafened the Government to 75 the still, quiet voice of reason and liberty. What did Erskine say:—I will not say which party is right, but God forbid that honest opinion should ever become a crime.There is a curious similarity between the present position and 1797, a curious propriety in basing prosecutions now on the Act of 1797. Then there was the real danger of the mutiny at the Nore. The Bill of 1797 was not merely the outcome of the anti-Jacobin terror: the mutiny was fresh in their memory, and the Bill was introduced to put a stop to inciting to mutiny. Yet even then in this House Sheridan got up and opposed the Bill. When one looks back on the history of the country under Castlereagh and Pitt one cannot help looking on it as a redeeming feature in an age of tyranny that Fox, Grey and Sheridan night after night led their little band in the Lobby against such Bills. We are carrying on their traditions; hon. Members opposite are carrying on the traditions of their ancestors, when they go into the Lobby for coercion and tyranny. Then the prosecutions took place. The same State prosecutions that we are enjoying to-day. Hardy, Horne Tooke, Gilbert Wakefield, and others, were prosecuted, and, of course, not only the principals but the printers as well. The only difference is that some of them got off in those days. Those who did not get off had fourteen years' hard labour at Botany Bay. Those who did get off, got off because in those days they were defended by men with magic voices like that of Erskine. I want to quote one short passage by Erskine directly affecting the problem before us, and dealing with the subject of the freedom of the Press:—Tempests occasionally shatter our dwellings and dissipate our commerce; but they scourge before them the lazy elements which without them would stagnate into pestilence. In like manner Liberty herself, God's last and best gift to his creatures, must be taken just, as she is. You might pare her down into bashful regularity, and shape her into a perfect model of severe, scrupulous law, but she would then be Liberty no longer; and we must be content to die under the lash of this inexorable law that we had exchanged for the banners of freedom.These words are as true to-day as they were then. They are as practical in their application at the present juncture as they were then. I ask all Liberals who know when they read history that Erskine was right and the Government wrong, to express Liberal views now and say that the Government ought to be regarded as wrong now, as it was then. There was the 76 case of the prosecution of Muir, of Edinburgh, who was tried in 1793, and this is what Erskine May says of the trial:—Every incident of this trial marked the unfairness and cruel spirit of his judges.The same might be seen to-day, as I saw it the other day at the Old Bailey. How do we judge the trial of Muir? If anybody goes to Edinburgh he will see on the Calton Hill the Martyrs' Memorial. Are these people who are being prosecuted now more extreme than those who were prosecuted then? Let me quote from Charles James Fox. He said in the House of Commons—I do not think he could have said it outside—If his opinion were asked by the people as to their obedience he should tell them that it was no longer a question of moral obligation and duty, but of prudence.Is not that the position to-day? I do not wish to go about the country saying that the people who issued that pamphlet were right, but I do not intend to go about the country and say it is wrong. I will tell them that it is dangerous to say it so long as the prosecutions are carried on in this way by the Government. The rage of the Government for prosecuting the Press went on till 1831. It was revived in the famous prosecution of Cobbett, and at that time there was the same solid ground for the prosecution that there is at the present day. There was the same terror among the upper classes. There had been the riots at Merthyr Tydvil, when seventy or eighty men who had struck for higher wages were shot. It must be remembered that Cobbett had already spent two years' hard labour in prison before that time. He thundered against these iniquities in the "Political Register," and directly a Whig Government came into power in 1831 he was prosecuted by the Liberal Attorney-General, just as the Liberal Attorney-General is now the prosecutor in this case. I should like to read the passage from the "Political Register" of 1831, which, I regret to say, is thoroughly applicable to the present circumstances:—I may say for myself that I wrote and published under the party of Peel for twenty-one years and under six Attorneys-General called Tories; that I never heard of a prosecution all the while from any one of them; and that the Whigs had not been in power more than about twenty-one days before a deadly-meant prosecution of me was begun; and now, at the end of only six months, there have been more prosecutions against the Press than during the three years that the Duke of Wellington was in power.I may mention that Cobbett was tried, like Bowman, at the Old Bailey. He was acquitted. It is noticeable that from that 77 date to this—from 1831 to 1912—prosecutions of the Press of this nature have ceased. Erskine May is emphatic in his History that it was from the trial of Cobbett that the freedom of the Press really dates. This is what Erskine May says about it:—However small a minority, however unpopular, irrational, eccentric, perverse, or unpatriotic in sentiment, however despised or pitied, it may speak out forcibly in the full confidence of toleration. The majority, conscious of right, and assured of its proper influence in the State, neither forces or resents opposition.That was the position until this year. Now we see a change. I can quote John Stuart Mill on the same question. He writes in "On Liberty":—If all mankind minus one were of one opinion, and only one person were of the contrary opinion, mankind would he no more justified in silencing that one person than he, if he had the power, would be justified in silencing mankind.These are the opinions of Liberalism today, just as they were the opinions of Liberalism in the time of John Stuart Mill. I come to the consideration of this "Open Letter," which has been the cause of these prosecutions. I do not want to read the whole of that letter to the House, but this is the material passage:—When we go on strike to better our lot, which is the lot also of your fathers, mothers, brothers and sisters, you are called upon by your officers to murder us. Don't do it. You know how it happens. Always has happened. We stand out as long as we can. Then one of our (and your) irresponsible brothers, goaded by the sight and thought of his and his loved ones' misery and hunger, commits a crime on property. Immediately you are ordered to murder us, as you did at Mitchelstown, at Featherstone, at Belfast.That is the strongest paragraph in the whole of this letter. It is for printing that paragraph that these prosecutions have been undertaken. I do not want to tell the soldiers who have taken an oath that it is their duty under any circumstances to break that oath, but we all know that it is their duty to break that oath under certain circumstances. No man would be justified in shooting his father or his brother at the order of any of us. To show the spirit of the people who are writing these protests, who have been sent to prison, or who are being prosecuted, I am going to read to the House the defence of the man Crowsley. He was a common fireman, employed by the London and North-Western Railway Company, and an absolutely sober, honest, working man. I have met him since, and I know him very well. He is getting about 33s. per week wages. At his own expense he takes this "Open Letter" and has 3,000 copies of it made, paying 15s. for the privilege. He gets home at three o'clock on Sunday 78 morning, and goes by an early train to Aldershot and distributes these leaflets. This is his defence:—I am not guilty of any crime. Had I been guilty, my conscience would tell me so. The law you say I have broken was made over one hundred years ago, when the middle and working classes had no voice in making the law. It was made by a class who live on the labour of another class. But if passed yesterday, I would still tell you that there is a higher law which says, 'Thou shalt not commit murder.' I have simply made an earnest appeal to the honour of soldiers not to shoot their brothers who are fighting for the right to live. If that is breaking your law, so much the worse for your unjust law. You say my action was undermining society. If society will not stand the attacks of truth, does not that prove the rottenness of your society, and the sooner a more just state exists the better? Your prison missionary called me a traitor for calling attention to the creed he preaches. You and he are entitled to your opinions, and I to mine. But you are traitors to your creed. You say with your mouth, 'Love one another.' In your heart you say, 'Shoot, and shoot straight!' Why are you prosecuting me for distributing leaflets which preach what Tolstoy preached all his life in Russia undisturbed. You may send me to prison, I shall not be the first or the last to go there unjustly. But you will have to sand many more before you can hope to suppress the truth. And you will stand condemned for ever before the eyes of all truth and freedom loving people. I know and believe every word on the leaflets to be true. Why are you so afraid of the truth?Is that the sort of man you want to send to prison? Is that the sort of man that is worth the Government's breaking a tradition of sixty years in order to prosecute? God forbid that honest opinion should ever be made a crime.
§ The ATTORNEY-GENERAL (Sir Rufus Isaacs)
On a point of Order. Sir, I desire to raise the question, for guidance from you, as to how far we are entitled to discuss the merits or demerits of cases which are sub judice. The difficulty I shall be placed in is this, that if my hon. Friend refers to cases of this kind, which he knows are actually sub judice at present, and others, it places me in the position, if I reply to the case made against me, of having to deal with evidence which has not yet been sifted, and upon which I have had to act merely as primâ facie evidence. I have been careful always to state that that is the view of the case. I find it difficult to deal with the whole of the evidence relating to these matters whilst the cases are still pending trial. I thought the rule of the House was that we could not discuss the details of cases which were sub judice, and I submit we cannot go into them.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
I think the House has always set its face against discussing any question which is still sub judice. Up to the point the hon. Member has reached I understood those cases were disposed of.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
I thought the hon. Member referred to six months' hard labour. I think the hon. Member will see that in the interests of that particular individual and any others whose cases are coming on, it would be most undesirable to refer to it except just incidentally. Of course, what he says on one side may be contradicted on the other, and it would be very undesirable that observations should be made with reference to a case which is still going on. As to any cases which have been concluded, and which have not been appealed against, of course the hon. Member would be entitled to make any comments which he thinks right.
§ Mr WEDGWOOD
I certainly accept that. The case of Crowsley is a little peculiar because he offers no defence except one which is of no value in a Court of Law. It is not really a new thing in this country for people to be urged not to shoot under certain circumstances when they are in the Army. In the American War of 1780 it was quite a common thing for officers to resign their commissions sooner than go out to the United States and shoot their brothers there, and at the present date we have the case of the hon. Member (Mr. Hamersley) saying that under no circumstances would he allow his son to go and shoot down Unionists in Ireland—a very proper position to take up. May I say, in the absence of the hon. Member (Mr. MacCallum Scott), that he gave me this case to speak about, and gave me the extracts from the speech of the hon. Member (Mr. Hamersley). I do not think it is necessary to say more about it than that those of us who are against these prosecutions would be equally against any prosecution of the hon. Member (Mr. Hamersley) or anyone else who said anything of a similar nature. I will not refer to the prosecution of Mr. Tom Mann except to say that there was no question of the soldiers coming in at all. The soldiers were not at the meeting. There you have a case of interference with simple freedom of speech alone, and no direct incitement to anyone. After the outburst of public opinion all over the country among the working classes over that case, I think hon. Members can begin dimly to imagine what is going to happen 80 if this series of prosecutions goes on. Already the working classes have a very shrewd suspicion of the judiciary of this, country. They do not think they are getting fair play. Are all these cases which, are coming before us likely to increase the respect of the working class for the judicial bench? We have the extraordinary ex parte statement of the Recorder the other day in the charge to the jury. I was very glad that he made that charge to the grand jury, because it merely expressed in words what we know all the people who have to try these cases are feeling. However judicial and impartial they may be, they are all human beings like ourselves, and they all, naturally, take either one view or the other in politics. I consider it quite natural that Sir Forrest Fulton should think in that way and should speak in that way, but I am quite certain that the people who read that speech and who see the extraordinary severe sentences which were given will put two and two together and recognise that the working classes have no chance under existing circumstances of getting justice if they give expression to Syndicalist views.
I come now to the present state of affairs and the difficulty in which the Attorney-General has put the Government. They have proceeded against the Syndicalists and against Mr. Tom Mann, well-known politicians, but people who have no personal friends in this House. Are they going to proceed against people who have personal friends n this House as well? I asked a question to-day about the "Labour Leader." The "Labour Leader" is not indeed the organ of the Labour party, but it is intimately associated with the Labour party, and the chairman of that party, Mr. W. C. Anderson, is, I think, chairman of directors of the "Labour Leader," and Crowsley is also one of the directors. They have no editor at present. The "Labour Leader" came out on 22nd March with this in its leading article on the front page:—Before the present prosecutions were instituted, we urged the soldiers to refuse to shoot their kinsmen who are battling against poverty if they were ordered to do so, and we repeat that advice now.You know what that moans. The "Labour Leader" intends either to share the fate of the "Syndicalist" or to show that the Government is partial in the selection of those people who are to be prosecuted. The "Labour Leader" is not by any means the only paper that is putting in paragraphs like that. Are they all 81 going to be prosecuted? Is every man who sells one of Tolstoy's penny pamphlets, and the Free Age Press who are the publishers, to be prosecuted by the Government for making use of paragraphs exactly like that? Really, it was madness that the Government should start on this scheme of prosecution. Almost more unpleasant to deal with than the case of the "Labour Leader" is the case of hon. Members opposite who sit for Irish constituencies. I have neither the time nor the taste to scavenge in the old speeches of hon. Members opposite. I do not know whether they have ever specifically made speeches urging that soldiers should not shoot upon the men of the North of Ireland, but hon. Members opposite may be quite certain that the Incitement to Mutiny Act of 1797 was not the only Act passed in those years of Tory re-action. There were the Treasonable Practices Act, and the Seditious Meetings Act. Is the Government going to confine its attentions to the Syndicalists and the Labour parties, and let off the right hon. Gentleman (Sir E. Carson), Privy Councillor, ex-Law Officer? Let me read an extract from a speech by the hon. and learned Gentleman (Mr. Moore). In September, 1911, he said:—You need not be a bit afraid of being prosecuted for sedition or rebellion. Let the Government try to lay a finger on any man for asserting the principles of freedom in civil and religious matters, and they would light a fire in Protestant Ulster which would never be put out.I should be the last man to suggest for a moment that it would be an advantage to the State to prosecute the hon. and learned Gentleman for making a seditious statement.
§ Mr. WEDGWOOD
"Let the Government try to lay a finger on any man for asserting the principles of freedom, and they would light a fire in Protestant Ulster which would never be put out." "You need not be a bit afraid of being prosecuted for sedition or rebellion."
So far as we are concerned we repeat, the statement in this House and take all responsibility.
§ Mr. WEDGWOOD
I was quite certain the hon. and gallant Gentleman would. He would repeat it outside too, with perfect safety, I believe; but whether it would be perfectly safe a month or two hence, when we have had a few more of 82 these prosecutions, and when, public opinion is beginning to be a little afraid of hon. Members opposite, as they are really afraid of the Syndicalists now, I am not quite so certain.
§ Mr. WEDGWOOD
We know the hon. and gallant Gentleman. Let me now give a quotation from the Rev. Wm. Wright—I do not know who he is, but it seems to me that he likewise incurs risks for the free expression of his opinion. He said at Newtownards, county Down, on 10th November:—In a very short time they would have taught their young men to resist Home Rule and also to handle arms. He thought there was no hope for them except the hope of using arms.I do not think for a moment he has not a perfect right to say that, just as much as Mr. Tom Mann had a perfect right to make his speech, just as much as the "Syndicalist" has a perfect right to publish the open letter. It would be very difficult for the Attorney-General to be able to distinguish between the Rev. William Wright and Mr. Tom Mann.
MARQUESS of TULLIBARDINE
Is it right that Mr. Tom Mann's name should be brought in? He is under trial.
§ Mr. WEDGWOOD
The Noble Lord must really understand that Mr. Tom Mann and Frederick Crowsley are made of the same material as the hon. and gallant Gentleman (Captain Craig). They are quite willing to stand the racket. They are out to fight for freedom just as much as the hon. and gallant Gentleman.
§ Sir RUFUS ISAACS
The hon. Gentleman is under a misapprehension. He has several times stated that Mr. Tom Mann was being prosecuted for a speech that he made. That is not a point in the prosecution at all. The only use that is made of the speech is that therein he stated emphatically that he was, according to our view, responsible for the publication of the "Syndicalist," and he made other statements of that character. The speech in itself, however violent, is not the subject of the prosecution.
§ Mr. WEDGWOOD
I am very glad of the right hon. Gentleman's interruption. That means to say, I take it, that it is only printed words which are prosecutable, and that a man may say what he likes. It 83 seems to me that there are three courses open to the Government. They may stop where they are and leave the prosecution at the "Syndicalist," in which case they will incur, justly, the charge of partiality. It will be said of them that they are afraid to prosecute the "Labour Leader" on account of the Labour vote, and that they are afraid to prosecute hon. Member's opposite because of arousing the fury of Ulster. These accusations will be made and will have, at least in the public mind, something of the savour of truth about them. Or else the other course open to the Government is to prosecute in every case, to proceed against every newspaper, and to see that they all get six months' and nine months' hard labour, and in order to carry out their policy to the logical conclusion, they should include speeches as well as publications in newspapers. Or else the other course open to them—the course which I think they ought to adopt—is to amnesty the prisoners, Messrs. Bowman and Buck, and to cease prosecuting Tom Mann. Let them fairly recognise that they have made a mistake. Let them fairly recognise that on no principle of English tradition ought these prosecutions ever to have taken place, that a man is still able in a free country to express freely his opinions, however detrimental they may be considered to be by the vast majority of mankind. Let them recognise the position, and cease these prosecutions. Let them amnesty the prisoners, and then at last we shall have put an end to all those prosecutions of the Press and all this interference with the liberty of Englishmen, which we have fought for in past generations and which we pride ourselves upon still. Class feeling is strong enough in this country. You may embitter it. There is no sign of the bitterness wearing down. Are you going to embitter it by having the working classes smarting under an obvious injustice? Put that matter right, and start afresh with the clean slate which you are so often talking about. I plead with the Government, not in the interests of these men—they do not ask mercy, and they do not want mercy—I plead with the Government in the interests of Liberal tradition and in the interests of the traditions of our country, of which we all, on whichever side of the House we sit, are justly and rightly proud.
§ Mr. LANSBURY
I wish to second the Amendment moved by my hon. Friend. 84 The subject that we are discussing is one which has excited a certain amount of levity among hon. Members, and I beg to assure them that it is a very serious one—serious in view of the general unrest there is in the country. I suppose that every hon. and right hon. Member will agree that at this moment there is more unrest among the working classes than at any period within the knowledge of any of us. It is at this moment that the Attorney-General, acting, I suppose, quite within the law, has thought fit to single out a quite obscure little journal which had a circulation that did not come up to hundreds, even if it went to that, and to take these men and put them on their trial practically for sedition. I would like to say with regard to both sides of this House, if I may do so without offence, that I do not think hon. Members on either side come into court with very clean hands from the point of view of law-breaking and advising the breaking of the law. A good many hon. Members on this side, when the Conservative Government passed the Education Act, went into the country and quite as deliberately incited their friends in the Passive Resistance League to break the law so far as that Act was concerned, and they were not prosecuted for so doing. I am not standing here to say anything in judgment upon them. If they believed in what they were doing, I think they were entitled to do it, but they must remember that in Ulster hon. Gentlemen opposite are doing something which, though not applicable at this moment, is going in their judgment to apply after a few months' time. They are organising the importation of arms, and they are raising a tremendous amount of money, running into hundreds of thousands of pounds, for the purpose of arming men. [Indications of dissent.] Well, they are either telling lies in the Press or it is true. You are doing that for the purpose of meeting certain emergencies in regard to Home. Rule. I contend that no one here belonging to either party can say that it is a very wrong thing when people feel strongly for them to give expression to their views, even if those views happen to be opposed to the law. If you are going to claim the right to rebel against Home Rule, then those people who are starving can appeal to their fellow men—men sprung from the same class—not to use arms against them and shoot them down.
I think the House and the Attorney-General will admit that in the case of the 85 "Syndicalist" what was done was not to meet a condition of things taking place, but to meet something that might take place. The men who wrote the "Syndicalist" letter are in exactly the same position as the hon. Member from Ulster. There might have been some justification—which I do not admit—if the troops were being used, or if there was a likelihood of their being used, but everyone knows that there has not been any likelihood during this strike of soldiers being used in this way, and therefore the case is on all fours with the Ulster case, and our case against the Government, or rather the Attorney-General, is that he has allowed men in the high position of Privy Councillors in the State to advocate rebellion under certain conditions and has not prosecuted a single man, and that then he comes out and lays hold of men like those connected with the "Syndicalist." We are told we should respect the law. I want to respect the law, but I cannot respect the law when it is administered like that. I cannot respect the law which discriminates between Privy Councillors and men who have to earn their daily bread. If you were right in prosecuting Bowman and the Bucks, you ought also to prosecute the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Dublin University (Sir E. Carson) and his colleagues behind him. Not having done that, I wish to ask Liberals in this House to retain some of the sort of regard for the rights of the individual they used to express when the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the City of London (Mr. Balfour) was Chief Secretary for Ireland. Over and over again I have sat upstairs and heard him denounced for doing things in Ireland similar to those which you are doing at this moment in England. What was always the answer by Mr. Gladstone and Sir William Harcourt? It was that it was the most futile thing to put down the expression of opinion as to the condition of Ireland, and that the right thing to do was to find out why people said these things and to get rid of the causes, and when they committed out-reges it was stated that the right thing to do was to find out what led up to the outrages. That is what should have been done in regard to the Syndicalists.
An hon. Member interjected the remark that we who sit over here are traitors. I want to say to all Liberal Members I do not know what you mean by patriotism or being a traitor. [An HON. MEMBER: "You 86 are not English."] I am English, or British at all events. I am a bit of Welsh; but that is not the point. The point is that we are all citizens of this country, and so far as I am concerned there is no country in the world I love like England. Whenever I go abroad and come back, I am very glad indeed to feel that I am again at Newhaven or some other port. I say that I yield to no hon. Member opposite in love of my native country, and if you mean that I am a traitor because I protest against the perpetuation of the condition of things now prevailing, I say, just now, then I am a traitor. I am in positive rebellion against the condition of things under which our people are living. What is going to happen if this conference fails? The "Observer," which I believe is edited by an ex-Fenian, told us yesterday that strong measures are going to be invoked, and we were told by other Tory journals this morning—I hope the Liberals like them—that the Government are going to use the forces of the Crown, and, generally speaking, they are going to be marched about the country for the purpose of over-aweing the miners. I am going to do everything I can to make the miners realise that they have a right to sell their labour on their own terms, without being dictated to by Governments, and if any Government think they are going to put down unrest and crush out this spirit of unrest by taking hold of a tiny little journal like the "Syndicalist" they are making the biggest mistake that any Government has ever made in our time. What are we asking? That unarmed people should not be attacked by armed people. That is what you are all shouting about at question time. You protest that the Army should be used against these people. Is there any man here, any single hon. Gentleman opposite, who would attack with a revolver an unarmed man under any cireumstanses—a man who was not attacking him at all? What is going to happen, that you are supposed to be obliged to use the Army? Well, perhaps a house is burned down or a factory is burned down. I am one of those to whom property does not matter, but to whom human life does matter. Yes, I say here in this House that in my opinion a human being is worth all the property I know of. You can rebuild a factory, and you can re-make a machine, but you cannot bring back a human life under any circumstances, and without any reservation whatsoever? I associate myself with those men when they 87 appeal to the troops not to fire on unarmed people, and I say if men be called upon to fire at unarmed people it is a most cowardly and wicked thing. It may be asked what are you to do? I was in Colchester the other day, and I was speaking to some men in the Army—I do not mean publicly, we were walking about—who came from the colliery districts of this country, and they were in mortal terror that they might be sent down to places where their own fathers, brothers, or cousins might be residing, and that the officers might call upon them to fire upon their own relations. It is against human nature to ask men to do anything of the kind, and if I were the only man here I should protest against anything of the kind being done. Hon. Gentleman will say what are we to do if we are in a riot? I have been in a great many disturbances, and I have read the whole of the Debate connected with Mitchelstown. Every argument the Attorney-General can use to-day the right hon. Member for the City of London used then, and he was contradicted by the Liberal party out-and-out. I supported the Liberal party then, and I would like to do so now. The argument was that the crowd was too tumultuous and riotous, that they could not be kept in order, and that shots had to be fired. The whole strength of the Liberal party took the other side.
It is perfectly well known as regards crowds that if you want to terrorise people you will use arms; if you want to prevent them carrying on their agitation you will use the military; but if you only want to put down a momentary disturbance you will confine yourself to the same kind of weapon which the people have in their hands. Here in London we have had a great number of disputes with great crowds of people, and those of us who have been round about in the disturbances outside this House have remarked how the police, no matter what the temper of the crowd, were able to keep them in order and keep them moving without any violence at all. The proper course to adopt is simply to allow the police to employ the ordinary means, and not to have them armed with weapons that will kill people, but just to get them out of the road for the time being. What is it these people are fighting for? Exactly the same thing that the Irish people fought for at Mitchelstown and other places—for the right to live. Why is it that you are not on their 88 side as you were on the side of the Irish, people when they were struggling? It is because you have not got enough people who are yet interested in it. When we have, then I venture to say that the same kind of change of opinion will take place that took place over that. The workmen who are out on strike are out to get more of what they earn each week. The plan of campaign in Ireland was to enable the tenants to get more of what they earned each week. There is really no difference in principle about it at all. Let the House think of what this manifesto says. Some men commit an outrage. Then police or soldiers are let loose. Are you realising at this moment the vast numbers of people who are not connected with this strike at all, the six or seven hundred thousand men and their women and chidren who are living on partial strike pay? And what is their condition? If we realised that, I think we might understand that they feel a little rebellious under these conditions. They are fighting for their very existence so that they may have what is a subsistence for their women and children. The Government tell us that they must preserve order. I deny their right altogether to bring armed troops against these people. I am an old anti-militarist; I used to come to this House to listen to the late John Bright. One thing I honour him for is the stand he took during an unpopular period against wars that took place which were popular. I honoured him for being the apostle of peace that he was for the most part of his life, and I learnt from him, and a good many more people in this House, the impression that war was a very bad thing. One man helped me to believe war wrong by writing about it in another nation, and I invite the Attorney-General to consider whether the publishers of the Biglow Papers should not be at once prosecuted. It might help the House to remember that James Russell Lowell, who was American Ambassador here, held these views which I hold, and that I am proud to be a follower of his. He was laughed at for a time, but later on we were proud to welcome him as one of the most distinguished ambassadors who ever came to St. James'. Here is what he says:—Ez fer war, I call it murder,—There you hev it plain an' flat;I don't want to go no furderThan my Testyment fer that.God hez said so plump an' fairlyIt's ez long ez it is broad.An' you've gut to git up airlyEf you want to take in God.89'Taint your eppylettes an' feathersMake the thing a grain more right;'Taint a-follerin' your bell-wethersWill excuse ye in His sight.Ef you take a sword an' dror it,An' go stick a feller thru,Guv'ment aint to answer fer it—God 'll send the bill to you.Tell ye jest the eend I've come toArter cipherin' plaguey smart,An' it makes a handy sum, tu,Any gump could larn by heart;Labourin' man an' labourin' womanHev one glory an' one shame,Ev'ry thing thet's done inhumanInjers all on 'em the same.Those are the sentiments I stand by in this House. You call upon one set of the working classes to murder another set of the working classes, for the soldiers are drawn from the working classes, if you set out to shoot down their fathers and their mothers. You know perfectly well that you are calling upon them to murder their loved ones. It is nothing else. I am sure I am not here to say that I approve of that. I hope that British soldiers will have manliness and pluck enough to say, "We are ready to defend the country if need be against foreign invasion, but we are not ready to shoot down our brothers, our sisters, our wives, and our friends in defence of the capitalist, who are trying to starve us into submission." Remember that is what it all comes to. [HON. MEMBERS: "NO."] That is what you are counting on. The Noble Lord opposite the other night was quite cheerfully hoping that the Government would not interfere until the strike would reach its end in the ordinary way. The ordinary way means to starve them into submission, to break their spirit by starving them. I hope the British Tommies wherever they are—
§ Mr. LANSBURY
I accept the Noble Lord's contradiction, and take it back unreservedly. I understood him to say so. I interjected a remark, and Mr. Speaker pulled me up and told me that I ought to wait until I could speak, but I unreservedly withdraw the imputation. I hope that the British Tommies will have too much British spirit in them to allow themselves to be used in this great crisis against their own class, and, further, I hope that this House will compel the Attorney-General not to discriminate in this business, and will say to the Government, "If you are going to prosecute people for preaching rebellion, then everybody has got to be treated on equal terms." And I say, 90 further, I hope the next time, if people are put on their trial, that such a wicked judge as the Recorder for London will not be in charge of the trial. And of the things that one learns in public life, one of them is that the worst method of getting a good judge is to draw him from either side of this House. I hope to see the day—
§ Mr. SPEAKER
If the hon. Member desires to indulge in an attack on judges, he must do it in the ordinary way, by giving notice and putting a Motion on the Paper.
§ Mr. LANSBURY
I will do that; but as the Recorder for London has been mentioned, as we discussed his charge to the grand jury, I only want to say, if I may say—I do not want to get out of order on this, because the thing is much too serious—that the Recorder for London did make a most iniquitous charge, and I think it is time that some method was adopted for appointing men to the Bench who do not hold such strong political biassed views.
§ Mr. LANSBURY
I know he is not a judge; I also know that he was appointed by the Corporation of London, but the Government has jurisdiction over all people. [HON. MEMBERS: "NO."] I believe they have. I believe that the Government has to sanction an election by the Corporation. I only wish to say, in conclusion, do not let the House think that this is a small thing. If you knew the kind of letter-bags that some of us are getting on this subject, you would know that feeling is very strong indeed, and I want to join in asking the House at any rate to say that this sort of prosecution shall stop, and also to say that you will not lock-up, as many of the workmen believe, the best of their organisers outside on a technical offence, for something that is said, because you want to take him away from the men during this period of crisis. That, at any rate, is what the men are feeling, and they are giving expression to it outside. I hope that the Attorney-General will not go off the main point, but will tell the House why these other men who have preached rebellion in the future—and remember that this was only mutiny in the future—have not been prosecuted.
§ Sir RUFUS ISAACS
I am very glad indeed that this opportunity has been taken of raising the questions referred to 91 by my hon. Friend who moved and the hon. Gentleman who seconded this Amendment, because I cannot help thinking that there is a vast amount of misunderstanding of the offence that is charged and of the reason for these prosecutions. I have certainly no wish to complain of the tone of the speeches made by either of my hon. Friends, both of whom I know are actuated by the highest motives, but there has been a complete delusion, so far as the arguments enabled me to understand, as to the point on which they think the prosecution rests. The hon. Gentleman who moved stated that this prosecution was an attack upon the liberty of the Press. None of these prosecutions touched in any way the liberty of the Press. It is a misapprehension to think that they have done that. If the statements of the "Syndicalist" or any other newspaper consisted merely of advocating that the soldiers should not be allowed to interfere in cases of industrial unrest there would certainly be no prosecution. I think I am justified in stating that this is the freest country in the world for the expression of political opinions. Political opinions are expressed sometimes very violently and very forcibly, sometimes going, it would seem, almost beyond the range of what should be allowed, and nevertheless prosecutions do not take place. I receive almost daily, and for some time I have been receiving, letters and complaints as to statements which are said to be seditious and speeches which are said to be very violent, upon which I am asked to sanction prosecutions? The view I have taken hitherto, and the view which I shall always take, is that in the expression of political opinions a man is entitled to the fullest freedom, and no prosecution should be instituted against him for the expression of any such opinion. But it is a totally different thing when it is not an expression of opinion you are dealing with, but an inducement which is held out, and intentionally held out, to seduce men from the duty which they have undertaken to perform.
§ 7.0 P.M.
§ Sir RUFUS ISAACS
I am going to point out what the inducement is. The attempt is to seduce men from their duty. That is the point upon which I rest. That is the reason for the prosecution, and, as I shall show the House, if the soldiers were induced to refuse to obey orders, 92 the result would be that they became amenable to the gravest penalty, because under the Army Act, passed by this House of Commons year by year, if the men wilfully refuse to obey the orders of their superior officers, even now I say they would be liable to the penalty of death, or other grave penalties after inquiry by a court martial. The whole effect of the article in the "Syndicalist" is to incite men to commit that very act of disobedience. It is not written in order to deal with the question of the use of military in industrial unrest, except to create among the men of the Army the determination that if called upon to shoot they should not shoot, but should refuse to obey, and thereupon incur these grave penalties. It is a very grave offence to incite soldiers to commit that act. It is for that offence I have taken these proceedings, or, to be quite accurate, I have authorised these proceedings, and I accept the whole responsibility.
§ Mr. W. THORNE
May I ask the Attorney-General whether there was the same evidence in the Ilkeston case?
§ Sir RUFUS ISAACS
That is a different case. No one in this House will say that is a justifiable practice.
§ Mr. O'GRADY
Is it not a fact that none of these appeals made to the soldiers deal with the case of men who may be rioting, but that the appeal to the men is not to shoot down peaceful citizens on strike.
§ Sir RUFUS ISAACS
I do not understand what my hon. Friend means. Does he mean that soldiers would be called out to shoot down peaceful citizens who are not rioting?
§ Sir RUFUS ISAACS
I do not think it can be suggested that a Government from either side of the House, or whatever side it might be, would order soldiers to fire upon peaceful men who are not rioting. That really is a case about which we need not trouble. My hon. Friend the Member for West Ham asked me a question just now, but I hope he will forgive me if I do not reply in detail, now that the case is actually sub judice. My impression is, however, that the charge there is a different one, a graver one, even than this. It is not one which I think could be discussed 93 at the present moment, and I do not think anyone could form an opinion on it without the facts. The point on which I have been attacked is that I authorised these proceedings. I want the House to follow exactly what happened. My hon. Friend asked me whether I had consulted the Cabinet. I think that is not a question which he is entitled to put to me. But I must certainly state, as I have already stated and repeated to this House, that I alone, in the course of my official duty, am responsible for authorising these proceedings, and the full responsibility rests upon me. Let me just tell the House exactly what did happen. The article in the "Syndicalist," of which a portion has been read, is familiar, I have no doubt, to hon. Members. The effect of it is to say to the soldier that, at a time of riot, either to shoot or obey the orders of his officer, is to commit murder if he fires on rioters on strike.
§ Sir RUFUS ISAACS
Surely it means nothing except that. That is what my hon. Friend the Member for Bow and Bromley quite admits.
§ Sir RUFUS ISAACS
Then not to fire upon strikers. The only question that arises is whether the soldiers should fire when called upon. They are never called upon except for rioting, and I really do not think it is fair, either to the House or to the men outside to whom speeches may be addressed, to suggest that they will be called upon to fire upon men who are doing nothing wrong, who are merely, as my hon. Friend the Member for Bow and Bromley said, asserting their right to strike and to cease work if they agree to do so. Of course they have that right, and no one has ever suggested that it should be restrained. If the case is to be put to the men outside, I do hope that it will be put honestly. I am sure that hon. Members of this House will put it quite fairly and honestly to the workmen who look unto them. It is so very easy to raise a storm of passion by telling men who are unfamiliar with our Parliamentary or judicial procedure, that what is intended is to call out the soldiers to shoot down men because they will not go to work. The man who states that, if he has any knowledge of politics, must be aware that he is stating that which he knows to be untrue. He is taking 94 upon himself the gravest responsibility, because he may be inducing the men to commit acts of violence in consequence of what they thought, and could only think, was the grossest act of injustice, and then when the time for the reckoning came these men would, of course, have to bear the penalty. It would be no use then asking them why they were misled. From the documents that come before me—I hope no one will understand that I accuse any Member of this House—I cannot help knowing that the statements made outside with reference to this matter are not only misleading, but wicked and dishonest. It has been stated by some, and I think thought by many, that these men have been prosecuted because they hold Syndicalist opinions. Really, again, that is quite untrue. I have seen a great many publications, or, at least, a number of Syndicalist opinions. There are some in this paper, there are some in others with which, perhaps, some of my hon. Friends are more familiar than I am. I have never thought of prosecuting any man for advocating Syndicalist opinions any more, of course, than for the most violent Socialist opinions. A man is entitled to his opinions. But that is not the point of this prosecution at all. I was going to say to the House what actually happened when I was interrupted. The "Syndicalist" newspaper was brought to my notice containing an open letter addressed to soldiers, which was calculated to do infinite mischief. Whilst I was considering that article a man called Crowsley, to whose case my hon. Friend referred, was arrested, not by my order nor on my authority. He was arrested by the military authorities at Aldershot, and he was arrested for doing the very thing which the article in the "Syndicalist" was bound to bring about—that is, he was arrested for distributing among the soldiers this very open letter the object and intention of which was to induce the soldiers to refuse to obey orders when called upon in time of riot. The military authorities arrested him, and the man was prosecuted. He is now committed for trial, and I cannot now say anything more about him, except—
§ Sir RUFUS ISAACS
The military authorities started the prosecution, and they asked if the Director of Public Prosecutions would assist in conducting the proceedings. I have no doubt many hon. Members are aware that often a case is 95 started by the police, and then later it is seen that it is difficult and complex and thereupon application is made to the Director of Public Prosecutions, whose duty it is to refer the matter to me for my directions as to whether or not he shall take up the case as Public Prosecutor for the purpose of conducting it and putting the matter properly before the authorities. The Crowsley case was put before me, and I took the view that the Director of Public Prosecutions should take it up on the application of the police, and conduct the proceedings. Thereupon I also took this view, that this man who had either printed, or had received—I do not really know—a number of leaflets—
§ Sir RUFUS ISAACS
I do not know, but my hon. Friend may be more familiar with the matter than I am, I can only say that this man apparently was led to believe when he saw the article in the "Syndicalist," that this was a proper appeal to the soldier, and he took this printed leaflet and he himself went about distributing this very thing that is put into his hand by the "Syndicalist." I ask my hon. Friend the Member for Bow and Bromley, who has said, quite rightly, that we ought not to let great people escape when we prosecute little ones, does he think that if Crowsley was to be prosecuted for distributing these leaflets among soldiers, that those who printed and published its text in the "Syndicalist," and were responsible for its initial publication, should be allowed to go free?
§ Mr. LANSBURY
I quite agree we should prosecute all for the same thing, including those hon. Members on the other side.
§ Sir RUFUS ISAACS
I will deal with the case of "other hon. Members" directly. Let us at least go step by step in the matter, so that the House may realise, as I am anxious it should realise, the true facts. When the question of prosecuting the "Syndicalist" arose, I determined that there should be a prosecution in order to stop men like Crowsley from getting themselves into difficulties, and being prosecuted for this very thing. I then had to consider against whom there was sufficient evidence. Although, I may say it now, I strongly suspected that there was a person of much greater prominence 96 directing this publication than either Bowman, the publisher, or the brothers Buck, the printers, yet I had no evidence to justify my starting a prosecution on the chance of being able to prove when the time came that this other person was responsible. Consequently, in the end, I had to prosecute the only persons against whom I had evidence. There was evidence against them because their names appeared on the paper itself, and therefore it was quite plain that they were the persons to whom we could bring home the responsibility. If papers in this country appeared without the name of the publisher or printer we would never be able to bring home responsibility to anybody. Consequently by law they were bound to put their name on the publication, and they are the persons who ultimately must be made responsible. Anybody knows that the printer takes responsibility when he puts his name to a publication. Consequently, in order to stop that kind of publication, I authorised this prosecution. When I had done that my hon. Friend the Member for Bow and Bromley interrogated me, and, if I may say so, quite properly and rightly, as to why I prosecuted the publishers and printers, and did not prosecute those who were somewhere behind (he did not disclose the names), and against whom I had no evidence. He said, "Why do you prosecute these men when there is somebody else who is at the head of it and against whom you ought to take proceedings?" My answer was that I had no evidence except against those three men, and consequently a prosecution was launched against them.
Let the House follow now what happened. The prosecution against Crowsley and against Bowman and Buck Brothers had been reported in the newspapers, and many questions had been put to me in this House by many hon. Members and the matter had been discussed, to some extent as that is only possible, at question time, and after all that Mr. Tom Mann makes a speech. Of course I am not going to quote the speech or going into the details, as I do not think it would be right as the case is sub judice. I can only speak from the primâ facie, evidence put before me. It may be that he will be able to show that he did not make any such statement, but all I can do is to act on the evidence put before me. He made a speech in which he distinctly affirmed that he was responsible for the publication, 97 that the Government was prosecuting the small men because they did not dare prosecute him—either he or somebody else at the meeting said this—and why did they not prosecute the person who was really responsible, and then some voice cried out in the crowd at the meeting, "Oh, because the Government is frightened." It was upon the speech made at that meeting, that the evidence was obtained from which it was quite plain that Mr. Tom Mann, on the evidence before me, accepted the responsibility for the publication, and challenged the Government to prosecute him for it, and said that now they knew, or the effect of his words was that he had published it, why were they going on against Bowman and others and why was he not being prosecuted? I refrain from enlarging any further on the speech except to add that he said that he would continue to publish the "Syndicalist," and there and then at that meeting sold and distributed it. The House will remember that I stated I had instituted this prosecution with the object of impressing upon those who might be affected the gravity of the offence and the serious character of incitement to mutiny, so that we might induce them to stop publications of this character, although, of course, they are entitled to advocate Syndicalism as much as ever they please, and so that they should not attempt to incite soldiers to mutiny. That was the object. Some of my hon. Friends have said to me, "You put into force an obsolete Act of Parliament passed in the year 1797." My hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mr. Wedgwood) gave us a short history of what had happened with regard to that Act in earlier years. He might have continued it, and had he been so minded give us the history of it to the present day.
§ Sir RUFUS ISAACS
I think I might have assumed that the hon. Member was not aware of how the matter stands. Perhaps he will allow me to tell him how it stands. It is quite right to say that there has been no prosecution since 1804. There has been no prosecution because it is an extremely rare offence. There has been no such offence, and it has not been necessary to have recourse to the Statute. When the hon. Gentleman says this is an old Act of Parliament, let me tell him two facts which 98 will cause him to see that, although it is an old Act of Parliament, it is not obsolete. You will find this Act of Parliament in every modern text-book on criminal pleadings. In the book used by all practitioners, "Archibald's Criminal Practice," you will find, not only the Statute set out, but a copy of the indictment, the evidence which is necessary, and also the punishment which can be meted out. That punishment is so severe that the maximum is penal servitude for life. In 1837 there was an alteration made in the punishment. Thus we have got the Act referred to in the text-books, and the law always stated in regard to it. More important still is the fact that it is in the Army Regulations. In paragraph 461 of the King's Regulations with regard to the Army (1908) there is the provision that the notice shall be read once in every three months at the head of every unit, and that notice is a notice as to the existing law of the Incitement to Mutiny Act, 1797. It was quite a short paragraph, and it gives the effect of the Act in a few sentences:—Under the existing law any person who shall maliciously and advisedly endeavour to seduce any person or persons serving in His Majesty's Forces by sea or land, from his or their duty and allegiance to His Majesty or to incite or stir up any such person or persona to commit any act of mutiny, or to make or endeavour to make any mutinous assembly or to commit any traitorous or mutinous practice whatsoever may, on being legally convicted of such offence, be sentenced to penal servitude to the term of the natural life of such person.I think at any rate it will be quite clear to my hon. Friend, although they may have thought this Act is obsolete, that it is very much in force, and actually in use every year. There is one other fact to which I must call the attention of the House, while I am not in the slightest degree attempting to divest myself of any shred of responsibility which rests upon me in this matter, yet I must tell it in order that the House may understand why the prosecution of Mr. Tom Mann was undertaken. I do so for this reason: I think it was the Member for Bow and Bromley who suggested that Mr. Mann had been singled out from the rest because he is prominent in the world of Syndicalism and had taken a leading part in labour unrest.
§ Sir RUFUS ISAACS
I am sorry to hear it. I hope my hon. Friend will at least 99 do the justice—I will not say to me, but to the Government—to point out what I am now going to state, and from which he will see that it was not at the instigation of the Government that Mr. Tom Mann was arrested. What took place was, after he had made those speeches in the north, the police authorities at Salford desired to arrest him and to prosecute him for having published the "Syndicalist" up north. An application was then made in the same way to the Director of Public Prosecutions for assistance in the prosecution. He then just in the same way as in the other cases to which I have referred applied to me for directions, as it was his duty to do. I, in the course of what is in my opinion a judicial duty as Attorney-General, decide whether or not the assistance of the Public Prosecutor should be afforded.
§ Sir W. BYLES
Do I understand that the initiative in the arrest of Mr. Tom Mann was taken by the police at Salford—the first step?
§ Sir RUFUS ISAACS
Yes, certainly. The steps are perfectly plain and perfectly easily traceable. Of course, I had no control over the Salford police at all. What happened? The Salford police, having come to the conclusion when they got those speeches, that they would prosecute, then asked for the assistance of the Public Prosecutor, and it is when they ask for that assistance my jurisdiction steps in.
§ Sir RUFUS ISAACS
The police authorities undoubtedly. I do not quite understand my hon. Friend's question.
§ Sir W. BYLES
I am sorry to interrupt, but I represent this borough, and I want to know who in that borough set the wheels of the law going.
§ Sir RUFUS ISAACS
I really cannot tell who set them going in the first instance. All I can say is that the police authorities of Salford made an application, and I convinced myself of the existence of evidence before I authorised the Director of Public Prosecutions to intervene. I should just like the House to consider for a moment what the state of things is at that time. You have got these three comparatively small 100 men being prosecuted. You have Mr. Tom Mann stating openly at a meeting that he is responsible, that he will do it again, that he defies any Government to arrest him or take proceedings against him. I am not sure that he used those words, but certainly the effect of them was stated by persons at the meeting at which he was present. Will any hon. Member, however violent his views may be, and I am sure the Member for Bow and Bromley will not misunderstand me when I say that I will take him, because he has expressed very strong views and feels them honestly, I will ask him to put himself in my position for a moment as Attorney-General, and assume that he is then asked by the police authorities for authorisation to the Director of Public Prosecutions for assistance in the prosecution of Mr. Tom Mann and I want to know what would he do.
§ Sir RUFUS ISAACS
Whatever political opinions he may hold ought not to influence him in the discharge of his duty. I am quite sure if my hon. Friend held my office he would be very reluctant, but I have no doubt he would take the course I was bound to take, and would give the assistance of the Director of Public Prosecutions, an official placed there for the purpose by Parliament in order to assist in these prosecutions. That is how it is that I, as Attorney-General, am in the slightest degree concerned with the prosecution. I do hope my hon. Friends who hear the facts when they speak outside the House, will take care to impress on those who hear them that this prosecution is not at the instigation of the Government, but that the person responsible for the authorisation is myself, and that what I have done is done simply in the ordinary course of my duty. May I just pass to two of the points raised by my hon. Friend.
§ Sir RUFUS ISAACS
The Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme asked where are you to draw the line? I should have thought that that was clearly shown by this prosecution. You may have, and no doubt do have, words which are capable of being deemed to be seditious. I think I am justified in saying that it is not the policy of the law to 101 prosecute for these seditious utterances. They have to be serious—very serious indeed—before any step is taken. That is what has taken place again and again. It is certainly what has happened under my jurisdiction, and I have not the slightest doubt under that of the right hon. and learned Member opposite (Sir R. Finlay) when he was Attorney-General. You cannot help these questions arising. They come before the Attorney-General, and then he has to decide them. I can only say that my policy all along has been to refuse either to sanction prosecutions or to authorise assistance for prosecutions for seditious utterances, for violent expressions of opinion of either one kind or another. But I do think that here is the point at which I draw the line. I draw the line at inciting a number of men who have sworn allegiance and whose bounden duty it is to obey their superior officers, with the intention of seducing them from their loyalty. Do not let us make the mistake of thinking that this prosecution is in any way interfering either with the rights of strikers or with the question of whether soldiers should be called upon to interfere in strikes. That is not the point with which we are concerned at all. That is a real question of political opinion, upon which, no doubt, many different views may be expressed and strong views may be held; but it is not the subject-matter of this charge.
I want the House to think for a moment what would happen. Supposing you have grave unrest, and during that time you have a number of men on strike. I am sure I shall have the approval of the whole House in saying that as a rule you do not find that it is among the strikers that violence takes place. It is not as a rule from them that outrage occurs. When there is unrest and there are large numbers of men in the streets, and disturbances occur, you always get, first of all, unfortunately, a number of the criminal class, who seize the opportunity to collect amongst a number of innocent persons. You get also a number of wastrels, who indulge in some kind of horse-play, and very often in something very much worse. But generally speaking, it is not the strikers at all who are the cause of the disturbance. You have riot and violence. You are unable to cope with it. You have not sufficient police force to quell the disturbance. What is to happen? What, in the 102 view of hon. Members who are saying that this letter ought to be published and ought to have its effect, is to happen under these circumstances? What can happen? [An HON. MEMBER: "Mitchelstown."] What is the only possible result? The only possible result is anarchy. I am entitled to ask my hon. Friends, and particularly my hon. Friend the Member for Bow and Bromley, is that what they desire?
§ Sir RUFUS ISAACS
Then, if that is not what he desires, I want to know what he means by saying that the soldiers are not to shoot if called upon to quell a disturbance or riot.
§ Mr. LANSBURY
I mean exactly what I tried to convey to the House, and what the late Mr. Gladstone and the late Sir William Harcourt meant when they told the right hon. Gentleman that, instead of using the troops, he should remove the causes of the discontent.
§ Sir RUFUS ISAACS
In that expression of opinion there is not a pin's difference between my hon. Friend and myself. In those opinions, of course, I entirely agree, but that is a totally different thing from that with which we are dealing. My hon. Friend will forgive my saying that it is not an answer to the question which I put to him. He is quite justified in saying that it is the answer he wishes to make, but it is really not an answer to the question. I am glad, and I am not surprised, to hear that he does not mean to create anarchy.
§ Sir RUFUS ISAACS
The hon. Member wrote recently to the "Daily News" a letter upon this subject, in which letter he expressed himself very strongly. Although his opinions were somewhat violently expressed, he is quite entitled to express them in that way, and no one will suggest that he ought to be prosecuted for expressing those opinions. Nor ought anyone else to be prosecuted for so doing. The mistake he makes is in thinking that for the expression of those opinions anybody is going to be, or has been, prosecuted. He completely misunderstands the object of the prosecution. Let me remind the House of the defence that was set up in regard to these men. It is not unimportant. The 103 defence set up at the Old Bailey recently was that there was no intention to seduce soldiers from their loyalty. I am quite entitled to ask the hon. Member for Bow and Bromley, though I do not press for an answer, does he agree with that? The defence set up was, and I call the attention of the House to this, that it was mere argument to prevent the use of the military in times of industrial unrest. If that was all that this open letter to soldiers meant I should not have dreamed of authorising a prosecution for it, and no one would have been prosecuted.
§ Sir RUFUS ISAACS
I will deal with that presently, but let me, first of all, finish what I am saying on this point. I think the House ought to bear well in mind that the defence was that it was an argument, and that there was no intention to seduce soldiers from their loyalty or to tamper with the soldiers in any way. As I understand the argument of the hon. Member for Bow and Bromley to-day—and this is perfectly relevant to the point—that is not his view at all. He would disagree with that.
§ Mr. LANSBURY
If I had written the open letter, or was in any way responsible for writing it, I should not have employed a solicitor; I should have stood up and taken the responsibility for writing the letter, and stood by my view. But a lawyer was employed, and, like a lawyer, he had to get an excuse.
§ Sir RUFUS ISAACS
I am perfectly certain that if my hon. Friend had done anything which brought him within the law—I am sure I hope he will not, and I do not think he will—he would assuredly have taken his stand like a man, and would have said that he intended what every word of that letter does mean, and no honest man can read it without being convinced that this meaning was intended. The hon. Member for West Ham (Mr. Will Thorne) asks about the printers. I thought I had dealt with that, but I will go into it a little more fully, as I think it is worth while. The prosecution against them I have already explained. I agree that if the printers were really innocent of any intention to incite, and only printed the paper as a commercial venture, the matter requires consideration. As I stated to the House, my object was by proceeding 104 against those responsible and whom I could make responsible to bring clearly home to the minds of persons who might be in igorance of the law that they must commit this offence and that if they did, they would become liable to grave penalties.
I authorised the prosecution, but certainly I think the case of the printers does require some consideration. I have not yet been able to get the shorthand notes of the proceedings. I have asked for them, and shall have them. The learned judge seems to have considered that there was a difference between the case of the publishers and of the printers, and to have been very much impressed—I really cannot help thinking that he must have been impressed—by the fact that the printers did not go into the witness box. If the printers had gone into the witness box and stated on oath that they knew nothing at all of the nature of the publication, that they merely got the order to print, that they printed the paper without taking any responsibility or without realising that they were publishing something which could be made the subject of a prosecution, in my view they would have had a complete defence for the prosecution. It was always open to the printer to say, "I did not know I was printing anything illegal; I did not know what was actually in the paper." That really was very much the view apparently that the learned judge took. I will not discuss any point of law. I have not looked into the question very carefully, but my impression is—I will not say more than that—that if they could have made that out, if they could have made out their complete innocence of any knowledge of the subject-matter, the mere fact of printing it would not have brought home guilt to them and they would have been acquitted. Whether it is a complete legal defence I have not carefully considered, but I cannot help thinking that if that had been the case presented to the jury, the jury would have seen their way to deal with it and the men would not have been sentenced as they were.
But they did not go into the witness box; they took their stand upon the defence stated by their counsel. I do not wish to visit upon their heads too severely the fact that they did not go into the witness box. It may be, it is quite possible, that by going into the witness box they would have had to make some statement which they did not wish to make. All I desire to 105 do is to impress this upon the House. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has already said to me that he intends to rely upon the advice which I may tender to him upon the case in determining whether any recommendation should be made by him for the exercise of the Royal Prerogative. If the matter comes to him he will ask me to examine into the circumstances, and I can only assure the House that I shall carefully consider it. Upon the materials which come before me, and which were not actually before the learned judge, it may be possible to come to a more lenient view of the case and to deal with it in a different way. I am sure that every Member of the House will agree with that view. [Several HON. MEMBERS: "No"] Surely that is so. If these men are responsible in the proper sense of the word, and not merely technically responsible, of course they must take the result. But if they cannot be said to be completely innocent, if they have published with a knowledge that they were publishing something which was questionable, but yet were not taking any active part, and did not intend the result of their acts, I think different considerations should apply.
A matter I have not yet dealt with is that which has been raised at various times, namely, the statements which have been made by Privy Councillors and others in reference to Ulster. Let me remind hon. Members, and particularly my hon. Friend the Member for Bow and Bromley, who I will not say attacked me, but said that I should have interfered there as well as in this case, that so far as I am personally concerned, I have nothing whatever to do with Ireland. I am not Attorney-General for Ireland, and I have no jurisdiction there. But I am not going to ride off on that plea. He cannot bring home to us—for I am speaking not only for myself, but for the Government—that we were unmindful of this. I do not think the speakers always devoted careful thought to their utterances before they made them. I pointed out within twenty-four hours of the occurrence in a speech on the public platform that hon. Members and right hon. Members, or Noble Lords holding high position, took upon themselves the gravest responsibility when they chose to use inflammatory language in Ireland with reference to Ulster, and with reference to the meeting in Belfast. Whether or not the words were seditious is, of course, a different matter.
§ Mr. C. CRAIG
I am going to ask the right hon. Gentleman a very simple question, and that is, what particular utterrances or statements does he refer to? In the case that we have been discussing we have been dealing with specific utterances. I submit we ought to have the specific utterances in this case.
§ Sir RUFUS ISAACS
I am a little surprised, I must say, that the hon. Member should ask me what the particular utterrances were. I am not saying that the utterances were seditious. In order to say that I must have the exact words and their context before me. I am dealing with the inflammatory language used. Surely the hon. Member does not wish me to quote words for that? Does he dispute it?
§ Sir J. LONSDALE
What does the right hon. Gentleman say were the seditious words—these seditious statements?
§ Sir RUFUS ISAACS
I stated quite plainly that I would not express an opinion as to whether the words were seditious or not without seeing them and their context. I do say that inflammatory language was used, and that—I repeat it—I am surprised that any hon. Member who sits for any Ulster constituency should question what I have stated. I thought that Ulster gloried in it.
§ Sir RUFUS ISAACS
However, I cannot help thinking that many of these wild utterances really were nothing else but bombast, and that in spite of the high authority or high authorities who chose to utter them, no one takes them too seriously. No one really imagines that behind lurks anything else but a desire to use strong language in a cause in which they feel very strongly.
§ Mr. C. CRAIG
If these statements were so bombastic or nothing but bombast, why did the Government, of which he is such a distinguished ornament, think fit to send 5,000 troops to Belfast?
§ Sir RUFUS ISAACS
The hon. Member's attention is directed to quite another aspect of the matter. He apparently is thinking only of the Belfast meeting. I thought that was a comparatively trivial affair.
§ Mr. DEVLIN
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that these troops were brought to Belfast against the will of the promoters of the meeting, and if the promoters of the meeting had been allowed to deal with the opposition they would not have required troops.
§ Sir RUFUS ISAACS
I cannot help thinking that in this instance it was perhaps just as well to have had recourse to the military, for they served a very useful purpose. But I really was not thinking of what happened in connection with that affair. I was thinking of other utterances to which my attention had been called. I do not want to discuss this matter in any detail. I only referred to the question because the hon. Gentleman alluded to it. There were references, for example, to the formation of a provisional government, and the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Down, no doubt if he were in his place, would probably state that he quite agreed with what was said—
§ Captain CRAIG
I have already said so. I have already stated in the House, when my right hon. and distinguished Friend was not present, that everything I have said outside I stick to. If we get the opportunity sought for by the hon. Gentleman the Member for West Belfast the Government and the right hon. Gentleman would see that there is no question of bluff about it.
§ Sir RUFUS ISAACS
The result of it all seems to be that, at any rate, some of these utterances still find favour with some hon. Members opposite. I do not wish to deal any further with that. All I do wish to emphasise is when grave complaints are made of the violent speeches or utterances of hon. Gentleman who sit below the Gangway or above the Gangway on this side, that a little more attention should be paid to certain speeches which have been made during the last twelve months, and also to express the hope that a little more responsibility had been felt by those who gave utterance to them. I have dealt with the whole of this matter, I am afraid at greater length than I intended, but I was very anxious that the House should really understand what the position is. I ask the House to realise that it is no pleasant part of my duty as Attorney-General to authorise the prosecution, either of these men or any other man in connection with these matters—but I do regard it as my duty. I regard it as 108 a trust imposed in me, to see that in these matters the law at least is respected. I can only say that I am entirely unrepentant for any part that I have taken in connection with this prosecution. What I have done I would do over again. If I did not act the part which I have acted I should be entirely unworthy of holding the distinguished position of Attorney-General in His Majesty's Government.
§ Mr. KEIR HARDIE
The right hon. Gentleman who has just sat down has given a very good justification for our action if we accept his statement. With all respect to him, though, and without meaning in any way anything offensive, he has been reasoning on a false basis. I would say at the outset that this issue is not to be taken as that of an isolated act. There is growing up in this country, and in other countries, a strong anti-military spirit. It has found its post positive expression in the ranks of the Socialist movement, but it exists to a considerable extent outside that movement. Men have gone to prison in France for advocating anti-militarism and calling upon the soldiers not to shoot. The same has happened in Germany. Now a beginning is being made in this country. I would like to point out to the right hon. Gentleman what I consider has been the false basis upon which he has been conducting his argument. He has asked us and my hon. Friend the Member for Bow and Bromley why he wishes to seduce soldiers from the duty they have undertaken to perform. I respectfully submit that firing upon an unarmed crowd is no part of the duty which soldiers have undertaken to perform. They are enlisted to defend the country. I would ask the right hon. Gentleman—he can correct me if I am wrong in this—"is not the responsibility of the soldier for quelling riots exactly the same, neither more nor less, than that of an ordinary civilian?" There is no more responsibility resting upon the soldier because of his profession than there is upon the civilian to suppress a riot. I make that the basis of my remarks. If it is wrong it can be challenged here and now. If what I say be so, then how can anyone be charged—
§ Sir RUFUS ISAACS
The hon. Member puts a question to me. The soldier has two duties: he has civil duty as a citizen to aid in suppressing riots, and he has a military duty, which is to obey the lawful orders of his superior officer.
§ Mr. KEIR HARDIE
The right hon. Gentleman has put the thing in better language than I was able to do without altering its meaning. The duty of the soldier to suppress a riot is the duty of the ordinary citizen, neither more nor less. I want that point clear. I want to emphasise that point. His duty to obey his officer does not free him from his liability to the law if by obeying his officer he commits an illegal act. If that be so, this attempt on the part of gentlemen who have been convicted or accused of seeking to seduce soldiers from their duty has no foundation. I would like to ask the right hon. Gentleman whether, when a soldier enlists, he is informed that part of his duty will be to shoot down his fellow workers during a strike? The Emperor of Germany was honest in this matter. He told his troops that their business was to shoot down whosover they were commanded to shoot down, even if it were their own brothers or their own father. A soldier enlisting In the British Army is not told, and has no means of knowing—
§ 8.0 P.M.
§ Mr. KEIR HARDIE
Therefore it is simply obscuring the issue when we are told that we are seeking to seduce the soldier from his duty. Just one other point upon that head. The right hon. Gentleman has said that the soldier is never called upon to fire except in a riot. Surely that is to forget the most recent case, of which a good deal was made in this House, that is the Glenetley case, during the recent railway strike, when two men who were not participating in what happened, and when there was no riot in any legal sense of the word, were shot dead, and where the jury found that the order to fire ought not to have been given until other means had been tried for quelling the disturbance. Here is a case where the soldiers by firing killed two men, and where the jury subsequently found they ought not to have been shot at until the powers of the civil law for quelling the disturbance had been exhausted. Undoubtedly in giving advice to the soldiers not to shoot their brethren who are on strike, we are trying to save them from the commission of murder. It is always murder, sometimes justified and sometimes not.
The point is, this leaflet did not ask the soldiers to refuse to fire in face of the 110 enemy—the duty for which they are enlisted; it did not suggest anything of that kind. What it did suggest was that if they were called out to perform strike duty, they should refuse to shoot. The right hon. Gentleman wants to know whether, in the event of strike riots or any other, and the civil authorities being overpowered, we would say anarchy should be allowed to prevail, and that nothing should be done. Certainly not. What we say is, the civil law is there to prosecute. After the disturbance at Tonypandy and Rhondda Valley the civil law was called in, and there are men lying in gaol tonight who were prosecuted months after the event, having been found guilty of taking part in these disturbances. I strongly regret the action of the Government for this reason among others. If this prosecution had stood as a solitary instance it might have been regarded as a mere incident and allowed to pass almost unchallenged, but anyone who knows anything of the history of the past is aware that having once entered upon this perilous course you are bound to proceed. It is a case of facilis descensus. First the man who distributed the leaflet was arrested, following him the manager of the paper was arrested, and following him the two young workmen who printed the paper were arrested, and now Mr. Tom Mann, chairman of the committee responsible for the paper, is arrested. Where is it going to stop? You only want to get beginning this kind of thing.
The next step will find our working-class movement, which has hitherto been so free and clean and above board in all it has done, transformed into a semi-secret association with the police spy and agent-provocateur in our midst. Where is this thing going to end? Cannot the Attorney-General advise the Cabinet that because of the favourable experience of the past they are entering upon a wrong course, and that these proceedings should be stopped before more harm is done? The Attorney-General, with his great legal and historical knowledge, knows prosecution has never yet stopped a movement. It stimulates a movement. What has happened at this moment? One prominent Labour leader is in gaol, and from every part of the industrial field come resolutions of protest demanding a general strike until he is released, calling upon Labour Members to stop the proceedings of this House until something is done. That is what your prosecutions are leading you to. 111 Had this been allowed to pass not one single soldier would have been seduced from his duty. The mischief has been begun. Let us stop it as soon as can be. At any rate, let us know the reason why class distinction has been shown in these prosecutions. In January of this year a leaflet was distributed at a meeting in Armagh addressed by the right hon. Gentleman who sits on the Front Bench opposite as Member for the University of Dublin, and who is a Privy Councillor to boot. In that leaflet this language was used:—If the British Government persists in placing us, loyal Protestants of Ulster, under the heel of Rome by forcing through Home Rule, we will consider ourselves absolutely justified in asking for assistance at the first opportunity from the greatest Protestant nation on earth, Germany, to come over and help us once again to break the power of Rome in Ireland, and thus maintain our civil and religious liberty.
§ Mr. KEIR HARDIE
It is not signed. Our men have the courage of their convictions, and they sign their statements.
§ Mr. KEIR HARDIE
Suppose it was not, that only strengthens the point I was going to make. The authorities found out who printed and circulated it, and they prosecuted them. Why was not similar action taken in this case? This is a bit stale, and I perhaps should not have referred to it but for something that came out of it. The "Catholic Herald," of Glasgow, reproduced this leaflet. With what result? With the result that a letter was received by its editor, Mr. D. J. Quinn, Glasgow, written—and I ask the attention of the Attorney-General to this because we may have more prosecutions—by a gentleman who signed himself Major A. Bingham Crabb. That gentleman who, according to that description, holds the King's Commission, or did hold it. What does he say about this invitation to the Germans to come over and save Ireland from the dominion of the Pope. He says:—What is wrong with the leaflet? German martial law would give Ireland a better Government than it could expect under that pot-bellied papist John Redmond.112 I apologise to my hon. and learned Friend for having to use that language, but possibly he has seen it before.The only loyal party in Ireland are the Unionists—the remainder are traitors—and do not deserve to be governed by Redmond, and his gang of corner boys from Waterford, Tipperary and Limerick We shall fight them and lick them.Is this Gentleman who holds His Majesty's Commission, or has held it, being prosecuted? Surely as an example of sedition or disloyalty there never was a more flagrant case than this leaflet, and the advice contained in it. That is our case. We say first of all that the issue of this leaflet, for which our men are being prosecuted, and the advice it contains was drawn and derived directly from the teaching of Jesus of Nazareth. Every day we open the proceedings of this House with prayer. We repeat the Lord's Prayer, and we profess ourselves disciples and followers of Him who said, "thou shalt not kill"—there is no exemption for soldiers—and to-night we are discussing the prosecution of men for no other offence whatever than that they have gone to the soldiers and said, "Comrades, when your brothers are fighting for better conditions—conditions for you yourselves when you return to work—do not shoot them down, even if your officers command you to do so. Take the consequences of refusal to shoot them down, but do not murder your brother and your comrade who is fighting your cause as well as his own." I ask the Attorney-General and the Government to be guided by the past as to the danger of the path they have entered upon. If I was speaking at this moment in the interests of our own party I would say, "Go on, the further you go, and the faster your pace, the better for us. Every prosecution is worth tens of thousands of votes to us at the elections." I do not want to see violence and reaction reintroduced into the working-class movement. We have kept it free from that. If the Government will allow us we are prepared to keep it free from it still. We shall take the responsibility for carrying out our strikes peaceably without interference from without, and we ask the Government to pause ere it be too late, because once the fires of revolt are let loose in this country, there is no saying where they may end or what the results may be.
And, it being a Quarter-past Eight, and Private Business having been set down by 113 direction of the Chairman of Ways and Means, under Standing Order No. 8, further proceeding was postponed without Question put.