House Of Commons
Tuesday, 2nd. December, 1919.
The House met at a Quarter before Three of the Clock, Mr. SPEAKER in the Chair.
Oral Answers To Questions
Hungarian National Army (Socialist Arrests)
asked whether Sir G. Clark has threatened to leave Buda Pesth if the Socialists recently arrested by the Hungarian National Army are not immediately released and safeguards against a recurrence of this kind of policy given; and whether these Socialists have yet been released?
Yes, sir. Sir G. Clark reported that he had to take this action, and that as a result the attitude of the Hungarian Government was perfectly satisfactory and the prisoners were released.
Casualties Among Population
asked what is the number of casualties to date among the Egyptian population and our own troops in connection with the present disorder in Egypt?
I would refer the hon. Member to my reply to the hon. Member for Rothwell on 11th November, which contains all the information received concerning casualties in Egypt up to 3rd November. Demonstrations of a minor character took place on 13th November in Cairo and Alexandria, and were dispersed by the police and Egyptian troops, who inflicted a few casualties among the rioters.On 16th November more serious riots occurred in Cairo, and the police and Egyptian troops were compelled to use their rifles. Finally, it was found necessary to call for the assistance of British troops in order to restore order. The total casualties are reported as thirteen Egyptians killed and eighty-seven wounded, most of which occurred before the intervention of British troops. Minor disturbances occurred in Cairo on 18th November and in Alexandria on 19th November, when a few casualties occurred among the crowds. On 22nd November Captain Cohen, of the Egyptian Labour Corps, was shot from behind, near Shoubra Hospital, in Cairo, and subsequently died, and on the following day four shots were fired at five British soldiers, wounding one of them slightly. On 26th November six shots were fired at two British soldiers in Cairo, wounding both of them, and also a Greek girl who was with them. On two other occasions British officers have been fired at in Cairo, but have escaped unhurt.
4 and 6.
asked the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs (1) whether Captain Kristich has formed a regiment of Serbian volunteers to help General Denikin; whether the Serbian Government is financing the expedition;(2) whether, in addition to a regiment already formed by Captain Kristich, two Serbian regiments will shortly be embarked at Salonika and dispatched to South Russia to help the volunteer army, as is stated in a Reuter message; and whether this country is financing the expedition?
I have no information regarding the dispatch of Serbian volunteers to assist General Denikin. The British Government is not financing any such expedition.
What business is it of ours whether the Serbians enlist or not?
I do not think we have any interest in the matter.
asked the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether 15,000 Galician troops are now aiding General Denikin; and whether this country is financing or supplying munitions to these troops?
I have been asked to reply. The answer to the first part of the question is in the affirmative. As regards the latter part it will be open to General Denikin to make use of the general supplies furnished to him.
asked whether any passports have been issued, or will be issued in the near future to persons desirous to enter Soviet Russian territory for trade or other purposes?
No passports have been issued for British subjects to travel to Soviet Russian territory, and there is no present intention of altering the Regulations under which all such applications are refused.
Is it not a fact that the blockade has been raised, and, if so, why are passports being refused?
I do not think that point arises out of this question.
Embassy In London
asked whether financial support is still being given to the person or persons occupying the former Russian Embassy in London; whether that support is to be indefinitely continued; and whether he will arrange with the Prime Minister for the opinion of the House being taken on the present arrangement?
The answer to the first part of the question is in the negative. The second and third parts do not therefore arise.
British Trade With Soviet Russia
asked the Prime Minister if he is aware of the extensive preparations made by foreign merchants to open up trade with Soviet Russia as soon as communications with that country are open; and will steps be taken to see that British merchants have a fair opportunity of sharing in the export and import trade with Soviet Russia, in view of the likelihood of the present Government in Moscow surviving?
I have been asked to answer this question. The answer to the first part is in the affirmative. As regards the second part, the possibilities of resuming trade with Central Russia, when relations with that country are resumed, are not being lost sight of.
Siberian Operations (Russian Volunteers)
asked the Secretary of State for War whether four Russian subjects from Alexandria, among whom were Wager and Kaletsky, joined the 1/9th Hants, formerly in Siberia, as volunteers, and served with our troops in Siberia as privates; whether these men were brought to Vladivostok in charge of Captain M'Cormick and there handed over to the Russian authorities; what has been their subsequent fate; and whether the War Office will instruct the British Military Mission in Siberia to see that these men, who have served with a British regiment, are treated with consideration?
Inquiries are already being made, and I will write to the hon. Member as soon as possible.
His Majesty's Consul-General, Hankow
asked whether, in view of the fact that it was not in the general interests of the service nor on account of age that Sir William Wilkinson was called upon to retire from the position of His Majesty's Consul-General at Hankow, China, he will state the reasons why such compulsory retirement was insisted upon and carried into effect?
As I informed the hon. and gallant Member in reply to his question on the 20th November, Sir-William Wilkinson was called upon to retire, in company with other Consular officers, in connection with the reorganisation of the Consular Service. As I stated on the same occasion, Sir William Wilkinson had, at the time of his retirement, completed the requisite number of years' service qualifying him for full pension, and that pension was actually awarded to him.
Royal Army Medical Corps
asked the Secretary of State for War when Private Fryer, No. 85981, 11th Company, Royal Army Medical Corps, Military Hospital, Canterbury, who has been in the Army since November, 1916, will be released, so that arrangements can be made for the resumption of his studies at college as a student of pharmacy?
Private Fryer has been retained owing to the difficulty of finding a suitable substitute and because his services were essential at the Military Hospital, Canterbury. Instructions have now been issued for his immediate demobilisation.
Royal Army Ordnance Corps
asked the Secretary of State for War whether he is aware that Private William Pechstone, Royal Army Ordnance Corps, No. 0/50932, Regimental Records Office, Red Barracks, Woolwich, was demobilised on 31st August and received his official discharge paper some weeks later, and that as yet he has not been paid the credits and gratuity due to him and can receive no satisfactory reply to his inquiries in relation thereto; whether this unsatisfactory state of affairs arises from faulty records regarding this man's transfer from the Royal Garrison Artillery while serving with the Army of the Rhine; and will he state how long a discharged soldier has to wait before his gratuity is paid to him?
Private Pechstone, Royal Army Ordnance Corps, received two payments on account of the sums due to him and has now received a final payment including war gratuity. Delay occurred in effecting a final settlement with him owing to the failure to report certain information as to the payments made to him abroad.
Troops At Basrah, Mesopotamia
asked the Secretary of State for War if he is aware that a large number of British soldiers at Basrah, Mesopotamia, are employed as clerks keeping Indian records, many of whom joined the Army under the Derby scheme, between 1st January and 1st July, 1916, and were with their units in the field until April, 1919; and whether he will issue orders for men of the class stated to be demobilised at the earliest possible date?
The instructions at present in force provide for the dispatch from the port of embarkation of the men referred to by the hon. Member to be completed by 1st November, 1919, subject to the necessary transport being available. Instructions have already been sent by cable to Mesopotamia that men whose release is overdue are to be sent home by the first available ships.
Can the right hon. Gentleman say whether there is any difficulty in obtaining transports to bring home these men, who are long overdue?
There are a considerable number of ships on the way, and they may arrive any day.
asked the Secretary of State for War whether men who enlisted in 1914 and 1915 are still serving in Mesopotamia and in India; and whether he will cable instructions for their immediate release?
Instructions have already been cabled to Mesopotamia that men whose release is overdue are to be sent home by the first available ships. With regard to India, all 1914 men have been warned for embarkation en route for the United Kingdom, and the majority have embarked. All 1915 men have now proceeded to camps and should have embarked for the United Kingdom by third week of November.
Release On Compassionate Grounds
asked the Secretary of State for War whether he can now state the result of his inquiries into the case of Corporal Charles F. Field, No. 124562, Royal Army Medical Corps, Military Hospital, Galway, Ireland, who has applied for release on compassionate grounds on account of the serious state of his wife's health?
A preliminary report on this case has been received, and instructions have already been issued for Corporal Field to be demobilised as expeditiously as possible, having regard to the Regulations and Orders at present in force. A further report is awaited, and I will write to the hon. Member later.
asked the Secretary of State for War whether he is yet in a position to make a statement with regard to the reconstitution of the Territorial Force; and if not, will he state when he expects to be in a position to do so?
I regret that I can add nothing at present to my reply on the 4th instant to my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for the Stone Division. I hope to make an announcement before the Adjournment.
Army Transport Lorries
asked how many lorries there are still in use between the Channel and Cologne; whether any of them are not needed by the Army; and, if so, how many, and when, in that case, it will be possible to re-ship these to alleviate the transport congestion in this country?
Two thousand two hundred and fifty-two lorries are still in use between the Channel and Cologne. They are all needed at present, but reductions will be made as rapidly as the needs of the Service permit. I may add that up to the present the Army has been able to dispense with lorries more rapidly than they can be shipped to this country, and I understand that this state of affairs is likely to continue for some time to come. Lorries that are dispensed with are handed over to the Disposal Board, and any inquiry regarding them should be addressed to the Ministry of Munitions.
asked the Secretary of State for War if he will give the number of British railway wagons still in France, the number sent back since the Armistice, and the present rate of reshipment; and if, in view of the shortage of rolling stock in Great Britain, he will endeavour to expedite the return of these wagons?
There are at present in France nearly 18,200 railway wagons lent to the War Department by British railway companies, and about 4,700 wagons belonging to the Depart- ment, all of which are being returned for use in this country. Besides the above there are about 20,900 wagons belonging to the War Department which are being sold locally, as they are unsuitable for use on British railways. The total number of wagons (railway-owned and Department-owned) which have been returned since the Armistice is 11,677. The latest weekly shipment of wagons is 605. The temporary priority accorded to motor vehicles at the time of the railway strike has now ceased, and the full capacity of the train ferry service to Richborough is allocated to wagons.
Can the right hon. Gentleman tell the House when all these wagons will be returned to this country, as there is a great shortage?
I certainly could not. I have stated the rate, but I cannot say when they will all be returned.
Basingstoke And Alton Light Railways
asked the Minister of Transport whether his attention has been called to a petition which was forwarded recently to the President of the Board of Trade with reference to the reopening of the Basingstoke and Alton Light Railway, and which was signed by many of the residents in that neighbourhood; whether he is aware of the great inconvenience caused by the closing of this line to the inhabitants of the neighbourhood as well as to the general public; and whether, in view of the promise made by responsible Ministers at the last General Election to develop transport in rural districts, he will take immediate steps to have the line relaid and worked as formerly?
asked the Minister of Transport whether he is aware of the great inconvenience which is caused to the public by the delay in the reopening of the, Basingstoke and Alton Light Railway; and whether he will take steps to reopen it as soon as possible?
asked the Minister of Transport if it is proposed to re-lay the Basingstoke and Alton Light Railway; and, if not, if he can give a reason?
asked whether it is intended to reopen the Alton-Basingstoke Light Railway; and, if so, when?
The question of reopening the Basingstoke and Alton Light Railway is now under consideration, and I hope that a decision will be arrived at shortly.
asked whether the Army, in view of the extreme shortage of hay, can take steps to reduce waste in feeding stuffs to a far greater extent than at present?
I am not aware of any waste in the Army in this respect. If my hon. and gallant Friend will furnish particulars of any specific instances I will have inquiries made immediately.
Young Soldiers (Egypt And India)
asked the Secretary of State for War if soldiers under twenty years of age and under nineteen years of age, respectively, are being sent, or have recently been sent, to Egypt or India; and, if so, when it may be expected that they will be relieved by older men who are volunteers for the Regular Army?
The answer to the first part of the hon. and gallant Member's question is in the affirmative, but I would explain that all troops now being sent abroad are voluntarily enlisted Regular soldiers.
Might I have an answer to the last part of my question?
It, is not proposed to renew the Conscription Act.
When will these men be relieved?
They must be relieved before 30th April, when the Act expires.
Will that apply to India and Egypt?
In regard to men who are not conscripts, but volunteers, we shall relieve them as soon as our recruiting situation is sufficiently favourable to enable us to do so.
May I ask whether the young men under twenty recently sent to India will be relieved?
Of course, as time passes they will cease to be under that age.
5Th Dragoon Guards
asked the Secretary of State for War how many men of the 5th Dragoon Guards from the Curragh were sentenced to imprisonment for asking to be demobilised; whether the sentences have been revised; and when clemency can be extended to those still in prison?
I am making inquiries.
Home Service Battalions
asked the Secretary of State for War whether, in view of the fact that it is under consideration to select the Scots Greys as a home-service regiment, in order to give satisfaction to Scottish national sentiment, he will state what other three regiments are being considered, with a view to their stopping at home, to give satisfaction to the national sentiment of England, Ireland, and Wales, respectively?
I am afraid I can add nothing to the replies which I gave to my hon. and gallant Friend a week ago on this subject.
Deputy-Assistant Directors Of Remounts
asked the Secretary of State for War for what reason twenty-three deputy-assistant directors of remounts, serving at home, are at present employed, in view of the fact that the same number were employed on the 11th November, 1916, and the number of horses in charge of the Army is very much less than it was then?
The appointments of deputy-assistant directors of remounts were created in 1912, their duties being mainly the administration and co-ordination of the arrangements for the purchase of horses on mobilisation. At the outbreak of War there were twenty-three deputy-assistant directors in charge of remount circles. During the War they were mainly concerned with the purchase of horses, the administration of remount depots, and the maintenance of units. They have now resumed their former duties with the addition of the administration of the boarding-out scheme.
Troops In France
asked the Secretary of State for War the number of officers and other ranks, respectively, of the British Army now in France?
According to the latest Returns, which are dated 15th November, the number of officers is 3,500, and of other ranks 50,000.
asked the number of officers and other ranks, respectively, of the British Army now stationed in the Paris area?
The present strength is twenty-five officers and 146 other ranks. It is expected that this will be reduced by the 31st December to twenty officers and twenty other ranks.
Trade Union Secretaries, Monmouthshire
asked whether the action of the military authorities in Wales in securing the services of the Chief Constable of Monmouthshire to obtain the names and addresses of secretaries of trade union branches in the district has been approved by him?
No communication expressing either approval or disapproval has been issued, but as I informed the hon. Member last Monday week, I do not propose to pursue the matter.
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the Chief Constable has been severely criticised by the county council for his action, and will he see that no such action will be taken without the sanction of the War Office in the future?
No, Sir; I am not prepared to take any special action in this case. I do not consider that I should intervene one way or the other.
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that this has a tendency to create industrial unrest?
If people are going to get unrestful over a matter of this kind they must be looking about very far and wide for it.
Will he allow people to make inquiries on his behalf?
I have already dealt with the merits of the question and I do not intend to take any steps one way or the other.
What are the names and addresses of these people?
As I understand it, the local command thought it was a good thing for them to know the names and addresses of these men in case they wished to get into touch with there. They made this inquiry, which was unique, and not in the least derived from any general direction. I am not going to say they were wrong any more than I am going to say they were right.
Will the right hon. Gentleman say what he means by "a good thing?"
A desirable course.
London Offices (Military Occu- Pation)
asked the Secretary of State for War if commercial firms cannot obtain offices with vacant possession in the City of London because many offices in the City are still occupied by the military authorities; and when these offices will be made available for business purposes, either by the termination of the work or by the removal of the staffs to premises outside the radius of a. quarter of a mile of the Bank of England?
I am aware of the fact stated in the question, and we are doing our best to find other accommodation. Until this is done I am afraid I cannot name a date by which the offices now occupied will have been given up.
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that there is a great need of office accommodation in the City?
Every effort is being made to vacate these premises. The Office of Works is always pressing the War Office to move to less crowded areas, and I will do everything in my power to facilitate it.
Can the right hon. Gentleman say how many offices are at present occupied by the military authorities in the City of London?
The hon. Member must give notice of that question.
Royal Air Force (Boulogne Depot)
asked the Secretary of State for War what transport still is maintained at the port depot of the Royal Air Force at Boulogne; what work is done by the lorries; how many officers and other ranks are there still employed; and whether there is any other reason for this depot being kept open except that it forms a convenient booking-office for officers going East by way of Paris?
I have been asked to answer this question. The reply to the first part is that the mechanical transport at the port depot of the Royal Air Force at Boulogne consists of one touring car and one light tender; to the second part, that there are no lorries; to the third part, that the staff consists of one officer and four airmen; and to the fourth part, that this depot is being kept open to deal with the drafts of airmen arriving from England daily and with the evacuation of airmen from France.
Will this depot be closed down?
As soon as it has served its purpose.
Civilian Air Service (Parts- London)
asked the Secretary of State for War whether there are at present any facilities for the repair of British aeroplanes or the supply of spare parts in connection with the daily Paris-London air service at any aerodrome in France except the terminus at Le Bourget?
I have been asked to take this question, the reply to which is in the negative. Certain emergency landing-grounds exist between Gris Nez and Le Bourget. The importance of establishing a civil aerodrome with full facilities in the vicinity of Gris Nez is known to the French authorities, and it is understood that they intend to provide such an aerodrome.
Is it not a matter for the British authorities? Is the hon. Gentleman aware that there are now three different British types of machine flying this route of 130 miles over French ground, and is it not obviously impossible for these companies to provide the necessary facilities for small adjustments before crossing the channel?
This question is complicated by the fact that we are dealing with a civilian service and not a military service, but the Department is in communication with the French authorities on the subject?
May we be told when we shall have an Under-Secretary able to answer for the civilian service?
Royal Air Force
asked the Secretary of State for War whether he can make any statement as to what will be the constitution and strength of the Air Force in the year 1920?
asked the Secretary of State for War whether he can make any statement as to what will be the constitution and strength of the Air Force between the years 1920, 1921, and 1922?
I propose at an early date to lay before the House a Memorandum by the Chief of the Air Staff showing the proposed strength and composition of the Royal Air Force for the next few years.
Will an opportunity for debate be given?
Opportunities for debate are fixed in the regular course of the Parliamentary Session and do not arise in consequence of any announcement of this kind. I propose to give a very full and clear indication of the whole of the changes in the air service.
During this Session?
Is it proposed to appoint a new Minister or anyone to answer for the Air Service?
That does not arise out of the question.
Wireless Communication (London And Paris)
asked the Secretary of State for War whether, owing to the interruptions caused by the Eiffel Tower wireless station, messages in connection with the London-Paris air-mail service can be received by the wireless installation at the Paris terminus at Le Bourget; and whether, in view of the importance of reports as to British and Channel weather conditions being received before the departure of the mail service, he is taking any steps to make arrangements with the Eiffel Tower station?
I have been asked to reply to this question. Routine times of transmission from London to Le Bourget have been arranged so as to avoid the interference referred to by my hon. and gallant Friend. In cases when it is doubtful if the message has been received by Le Bourget, a second message is always sent; during the last week these messages have been received regularly, and no repetition has been required. Air route reports of the British and Channel weather conditions are sent from London to Le Bourget between 8 a.m. and 3 p.m.
Has an arrangement actually been made with the Eiffel Tower Company, and is the hon. and gallant. Gentleman aware that last week these messages were not getting through because, by mistake or misunderstanding, they were regularly jammed by the Eiffel Tower station?
I am informed this afternoon that an arrangement for a special allowance of time has been made in regard to the Eiffel Tower station.
Civilian Clerks, York
asked the Secretary of State for War whether his attention has been called to the terms of A.C.I. 1,280, of 1919, which states that the wages of civil subordinates of the War Office will be based on local conditions; whether he is aware, that the wages of the civil subordinates of the War Office at York are not based on local conditions and that the wages of the civilian clerks of the War Office at York are very considerably lower than those of the clerks employed by firms and companies in the locality; and whether he will take immediate steps to remedy this state of things?
The policy of the War Department is governed generally by the Fair Wages Resolution of the House of Commons, which is reproduced in the instructions referred to. If the wages paid to any classes of employés at York are not in accord with the Fair Wages Resolution, I shall be happy to look into the matter on the receipt of particulars. The pay of the civilian clerks referred to is already under consideration.
asked the Secretary of State for War whether a Report of the proceedings of a meeting of civil subordinates of the War Office in York was forwarded to the War Office on 5th March, 1919, for consideration; whether any decision has yet been reached on the questions raised by that Report; if so, whether such decision has been communicated to the parties concerned; and, if no such decision has been reached, what is the cause of the delay and when a decision may be expected?
The report was received and dealt with, and my information is to the effect that the committee has long ago been informed of the contents of the War Office reply.
In view of the fact that my information with regard to this matter is different from that of the right hon. Gentleman, could he tell me when the decision was conveyed to the people in York?
I think my hon. and learned Friend and I had better exchange confidences afterwards.
asked the Secretary of State for War whether questions in dispute between the War Office and their civil subordinates can be referred to a conciliation and arbitration board for their decision; and, if so, what is the method and procedure by which such questions can be so referred?
If the classes in question fall within the terms of reference of the Civil Service Arbitration Board, they may refer differences to that board. The Secretary of the board will give any information as to procedure on application. For other classes certain machinery has been provided by the Industrial Courts Act, 1919, regarding which application should be made to the Ministry of Labour.
General Staff (Organisation)
asked the Secretary of State for War whether, seeing that the organisation of the General Staff and of the War Office, adopted in 1904 upon the recommendation of the War Office (Reconstitution) Committee, was substantially altered during the War, e.g., as regards the General Staff, by the creation of a directorate of military intelligence, and, as regards the other military Departments, by the transfer of duties to improvised Departments, it would not be desirable to ascertain by inquiry from the officers concerned, while the facts are fresh in their memory, whether, in their opinion, the revised organisation was superior to that recommended by Lord Esher's Committee and in every respect adapted to the needs of modern war?
These matters are engaging my attention, and I will, of course, avail myself of any and every source of information that presents itself.
Naval And Military Pensions And Grants
asked the Secretary of State for War if he is aware that Captain T. Stanley Smith applied for a wound gratuity in February, 1919; that he received no acknowledgment of his application till 29th April; that he has himself written again to the War Office; that his solicitors have written three times; that up to date the War Office has taken no decisive action; and when it is likely that this claim will be settled?
I understand my right hon. Friend wrote to the hon. and gallant Member on Saturday last regarding this case.
War Decorations (Volunteer Force)
asked the Secretary of State for War whether the members of the Volunteer Force who served during the whole period of the War are to receive any medal for the same; and, failing general recognition, are those officers and other ranks who gave up three months at personal sacrifice to act as the mainstay of the national defence on the East Coast from June to September, 1918, to receive any recognition for their services in a time of great need?
I would refer my hon. Friend to the reply on the 5th November to my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for South Tottenham, to the effect that the matter is now under consideration.
United Services Fund
asked the Secretary of State for War whether he is aware that the National Union of Ex-Service Men has not been represented on the Executive Committee of the United Services Fund; and whether he will take steps to have representatives of this organisation included before the Royal Charter is published?
In the constitution of the Committee efforts have been made to secure an adequate representation of ex-Service men, and it is considered that this object has been sufficiently attained through the medium of the three great societies, namely, the Comrades of the Great War, the National Federation of Discharged and Demobilised Sailors and Soldiers, and the National Association of Discharged and Demobilised Sailors and Soldiers. It would be manifestly impossible to provide for the representation on the Committee of all the associations of ex-Service men which are at present or may in the future be formed.
In case of the union obtaining greater strength, is it possible to co-opt extra members from it on to this body?
I cannot say, but the management of the fund will have considerable powers to meet any new situation that may arise.
Policy Of Allies
asked the Prime Minister whether, in view of the indications of a monarchist and militarist reaction in Germay, the Allies will do all in their power to strengthen the hands of the existing democratic German Government?
I do not know in what way the hon. Member would suggest that the Allies should intervene in such a matter.
Airships (Berlin And Friedrichshafen)
asked the Secretary of State for War whether a service of dirigible airships is being maintained between Berlin and Friedrichshafen; how many airships are so employed; and will he say whether the establishment and maintenance of a fleet of airships in Germany, whether by the state or private individuals, was a matter laid down in the Peace Treaty?
I have been asked to reply. The answer to the first part of my hon. and gallant Friend's question is in the affirmative; to the second part, that, so far as is known, only one airship—the Bodensee—has been so employed. As regards the third part, I would suggest that the question should be addressed to my right hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs.
asked the Parliamentary Secretary to the Shipping Controller in what circumstances the contract for the repair of thirty-three German ships interned in South American waters has been given to German instead of Canadian firms tendering for the work; what were the prices of the contracts, respectively; what will be the cost of towing the vessels to Germany; and whether the present arrangement will involve a year's delay?
I would refer the hon. Member to the reply which I gave on this subject to the hon. Member for Eastbourne on the 27th November. The vessels which could not be properly repaired on the spot are being towed to German yards to be repaired, the expenses of towage and of repair being met by Germany. With regard to the last paragraph of the question, no delay such as is suggested should be occasioned, on the contrary, the work should be expedited by this arrangement, as the majority of the ships were built in Germany and the German shipbuilding firms are in possession of the drawing patterns, etc., of the damaged parts. I must again point out that even if it had been possible for any British or Colonial firm to have undertaken the repairs, the cost would have amounted to a very large sum of money, which would have had to be financed in cash by the British Government.
The hon. Gentleman says the cost of these repairs is to be borne by Germany. Do I understand, therefore, that the ships are to go back to Germany, and, further, are these steamers or sailing vessels?
Steamers—about 250,000 tons—and the cost of repairs and towing will be borne by Germany. The vessels will be handed over for allocation by the Reparation Commission.
Margarine And Butter
asked the Prime Minister whether he has received a communication from the Monmouth County Council enclosing a report upon the relative values of margarine and butter; and whether he will consider altering the law so as to compel the makers of margarine to ensure that it shall contain the vitamines similar to those in natural butter, and to which much of its food value is due?
I have been asked to reply to this question. I have seen a copy of a resolution of the Monmouthshire County Council on this subject, and I should be glad to receive a copy of the report therein mentioned. The presence or absence of what are known as vitamines in various articles of food is at the present time the subject of active research. I am afraid, however, that the knowledge at present available is not at present sufficient to make the hon. Member's suggestion a practicable one.
asked the Food Controller whether, in view of the value of pigeons as food, he will consider the desirability of urging the revenue authorities to waive the Entertainments Tax on country shows held to improve the breed of pigeons?
I do not in all the circumstances consider that I should be justified in urging the Commissioners of Customs and Excise to make an exception from their general practice in favour of pigeon shows.
Frozen Meat (Prices)
asked the Food Controller if the Ministry of Food, in charging the public high prices for the frozen meat imported from Australasia, has been prompted by an endeavour to amass a fund out of which the losses the Department is making on their purchase of American and home-killed meat is to be covered; whether he will consider the desirability of discontinuing the policy and taking steps to place the cheaper meat on the market at something nearer cost price, so that it may be at the disposal of the public who are not now willing or able to pay for the higher-grade home-grown meat; and whether, as the Ministry of Food have publicly stated that it is proposed to discontinue the control of meat very shortly, he will consent to give up the control of distribution forthwith, and so permit free trade in meat, retaining only the present maximum prices Order?
During the War and entirely as a result of war conditions the price of meat imported into this country was averaged, and it was sold sit a figure which was somewhat in excess of the cost of Australasian meat. No Government purchases were, however, made in North America, after the end of 1918; and since that date no imported meat has been bought by the Government at a price in excess of the figure at which it is sold in this country. The price of Australasian mutton and lamb was reduced by 2d. per lb. on the 10th November, and this meat is now being sold at its economic value. As regards the last part of the question, no restriction is now imposed on the quantity of meat which a registered customer may obtain from his butcher, but I do not consider that it is practicable to remove the control of distribution unless control is discontinued entirely. On this point I am now in consultation with the President of the Board of Trade and the President of the Board of Agriculture.
Is it not a fact that Australian meat bought at 5d. per lb. and landed here at 9d. is being sold at 1s. 10d. a lb.?
I think that statement does not differ from the admission I have made in my reply. That was the case during the War, when rationing was in existence and the meat was pooled and sold at a flat price, but we are coming back to economic conditions.
Therefore, will not the right hon. Gentleman allow people to buy cheap meat if they require it, and at economic prices, and not have to pay 1s. 10d. a lb.?
That involves the whole question of control, and I am, in conjunction with the President of the Board of Trade and Board of Agriculture, considering whether we shall not decontrol.
Is it not a fact that there has been a loss of something like £5,000,000?
asked the Parliamentary Secretary to time Board of Agriculture if he is aware of the impossibility of obtaining basic slag of a higher percentage of total phosphates than 24; and whether, in view of the inferior quality, he will make arrangements in order that it may be possible for agriculturists to obtain slag of a pre-war standard?
My hon. Friend has been misinformed. It is quite possible to obtain basic slag of a higher percentage of total phosphates than 24 per cent. During the five months, ending 31st October, 1919, the total deliveries of basic slag containing upwards of 24 per cent. total phosphates amounted to 66,200 tons. The real cause of any shortage that may exist is the greatly increased demand. The production of high-grade slag is not directly dependent on the agricultural demand, but is primarily a question of steel works practice. Over this practice the Board have no control.
Can the hon. Gentleman tell me where I can get it?
If my hon. Friend will write me, I will endeavour to direct him into the proper direction.
Government Newspaper Propaganda
asked the Lord Privy Seal whether he has received letters from printing and kindred trade federations protesting against the establishment of a Government Department for the distribution of newspaper articles, and asking that the names of those financially interested shall be disclosed?
Questions To Ministers
asked the Lord Privy Seal whether his attention has been called to the fact that, notwithstanding the recent limitation to four of the number of questions for oral answer which may be asked by any one hon. Member on the same day, the questions put down for oral answer are generally greatly in excess of any number that can be so replied to; and whether, in order to give equal opportunity to all Members of obtaining oral answers to their questions, steps will be taken, either to further limit the number of such questions put down for any one day, or to limit the number of days per week for which any one Member may put down questions for oral reply?
I think it might be desirable that each Member should be limited to two questions each day, but this is a matter for the House to decide.The House will remember that Mr. Speaker, after assuring himself that his action had the approval of the House, limited the number to 4, and I suggest that my hon. Friend might, with advantage, ask Mr. Speaker, after questions, whether he would be prepared in the same way to still further limit the number.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that although many Members may have the maximum of four questions down on one day it may only be on one day a week? Will he consider the fact that the number has already been reduced from eight to four, and make that the average for the week rather than for one day?
As I have said, this is really a question for the House, and it is the general wish that has to be taken into account rather than the view of individual Members. Perhaps if my hon. Friend will put the question I suggested to Mr. Speaker it may be possible to ascertain what the view of the House is.
Will the House have an opportunity of expressing its views before any change is made, seeing that there are many hon. Members who would resist most strongly a further reduction of the number?
I cannot add anything to what I have said. On the last occasion a change was made by Mr. Speaker when he had satisfied himself it was the general view of the House. I suggest a question can be put to him and he will be able to judge what the wish of the House is.
Does not the right hon. Gentleman remember that Mr. Speaker specifically asked at the beginning of this Session that questions should not be put down referring to individual cases? Will he do what he can to influence the House as far as possible to act upon that suggestion?
May I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he will have regard to the fact that a number of hon. Members put down questions and do not take the trouble to ask them, but get them put by a deputy, thereby preventing questions in the name of hon. Members on the Paper who may be present from being reached. Will he see that Members who put down questions are here to ask them?
Has the right hon. Gentleman considered the alternative method contained in the question, as to a limitation in the number of days per week on which any one Member may put questions down for oral reply?
As regards the last question, I do not think it would be found practicable to work it. As regards the suggestion of the hon. Member (Mr. Rose), it seems to be an eminently reasonable proposal, but I cannot hold any hope that anything I might say would influence hon. Members in that direction. In reply to the hon. Member (Mr. Billing), it would appear to be obvious that questions on the Paper should be put by hon. Members in whose names they stand.
Will the right hon. Gentleman give the House an opportunity of declaring its opinion whether an additional fifteen minutes should be allowed for questions? Is he not aware that perhaps ques- tions are the most important business of this House, and that even more useful and more important are the supplemental questions? Can he therefore give the House an opportunity of discussing this matter in its entirety, so that its will may be declared on a matter which is essentially one for the House itself?
I agree with most of what the hon. Member has said, but I do not see any easy method of having such a discussion as the hon. Gentleman suggests. It would be difficult to give a day, and we have no time before the Recess. With regard to the suggestion that a further quarter of an hour should be allowed, the Government have no objection to that if it is the wish of the House. I would suggest the hon. Member should himself get Memorial signed. If it were signed by half the Members of the House, that would settle the question.
Is the right hon. Gentleman not aware that I am not the proper person to do that? I am only one amongst many.
I am not in the least aware of that. The hon. Member, I think, is one of the, most competent Members.
Will the right hon. Gentleman put down a Motion to amend Standing Orders, and leave it to a free vote of the House?
May I call your attention, Sir, to the matter as to which the Leader of the House said that I should ask your guidance, and that is as to whether there should be a further limitation of the number of questions which might be addressed any afternoon orally by a Member?
Before you give an answer, Sir, may I draw your attention to the fact that to-day there were ninety-seven questions on the Paper actually got through. In view of the fact that private Members have so few opportunities of questioning the Government, I would ask before you give your ruling to give the House an opportunity, to which the Leader of the House already alluded, of deciding whether a, better solution of this matter would not be an extension of the time for questions?
If as I understand you are bound to take the sense of the House on this very important matter, may I very respectfully put it that it would be as well to postpone this until all Members of the House have an opportunity of knowing what is the question that will be decided?
The question put by the hon. and gallant Gentleman shows the impossibility of my taking the sense of the House now. It is quite clear that, although possibly a majority may be in favour of limiting the number of questions, a considerable minority would be opposed to it. I cannot possibly undertake to decide the matter. It must be a question for the decision of the House. It might be better to go on for the rest of this Session with the arrangements we have got now, and at the commencement of the new Session, when we generally overhaul our procedure to some extent, we might then consider the question whether it would be desirable to limit the number of questions which any Member can ask on any one day. There is also the possibility of extending the time allowed for questions. In that connection I would remind the House that in 1916, by Resolution of the House, the period was extended from a quarter to four to four o'clock for that Session. That is one solution of the difficulty, but I very respectfully must decline to pronounce ex cathedrâ any decision. On a former occasion the House almost unanimously were favourable to a reduction, and there was no difficulty in introducing the change.
Might I suggest that a large number of questions on the Paper, which relate to individual eases, might quite reasonably be put down as unstarred questions, and if the Member regarded the answer to the unstarred question as unsatisfactory he could have it repeated as a starred question?
May I ask, Sir, whether you would be prepared to consider the suggestion that any Member who puts a question down, must be present to ask that question himself? In the case of personal matters, would it not be better that the general practice should be to write to the party concerned when the answer would be much more full and will thus avoid wasting public money by putting the question down on the Paper?
That, again, I think, is a matter which I must leave to hon. Members who know what motives actuate them in asking questions.
Imports And Exports Regula- Tion Bill
Procedure: Mr Speaker's Ruling
asked the Lord Privy Seal if it is the intention of the Government to appoint a Select Committee, with power to send for witnesses and papers, to report on the Imports and Exports Regulation Bill before the Committee stage of that Bill, as was done in the case of the Government of India Bill?
The Government are not prepared to adopt my hon. Friend's suggestion.
asked the Lord Privy Seal whether it is the intention of the Government to leave the Second Reading of the Imports and Exports Regulation Bill to the free vote of the House?
On a point of Order. Does not the Imports and Exports Regulation Bill, in effect, impose taxes, though they are called fines and fees? Ought it not, therefore, to originate in Committee of Ways and Means? Does not the Bill, in effect, empower someone other than Parliament to levy taxes, and under the common law of Parliament is not the Committee of Ways and Means the only body which can impose a tax? It is not necessary to call attention to the decision of the Chairman of Ways and Means on the 2nd of July, which lays that down. It is the well-known common law of Parliament. Will not the Bill, in effect, create taxes the proceeds of which have not been demanded by the Crown for the public service and have not been granted by the Commons in response to that demand? May I make the following observations? This question of the imposition of taxation is, of course, one of the most important parts of our constitutional machinery, and one of the most delicate parts of that machinery. For that reason it has always been hedged around by a variety of safeguards which I apprehend, it is of the utmost importance should be preserved. I submit that among those safeguards is the rule that no tax should be imposed without the special procedure indicated in my question. This is not a charge on the public which will afterwards become the subject of a tax, if necessary, but it is the actual imposition of a tax. Where it is the actual imposition of a tax, I submit that no tax has ever been imposed except with a prior Resolution; no Bill to impose a tax has ever been considered by this House except on a prior Resolution in Committee of Ways and Means. I submit, secondly, that it is a fundamental rule that this House doss not delegate its power of taxation; and, thirdly, that no tax may be raised except to meet actual financial need. If these two last principles are to be infringed it ought to be done only by the most solemn procedure of this House, which has always been a Resolution first and a Bill following the Resolution. For these very short reasons I submit that this Bill is out of order.
Before you give a ruling, Mr. Speaker, may I ask two questions? The first is whether, in view of the fact that by the common law of Parliament no taxation can be imposed unless it is imposed to meet the necessity and the financial needs of the year, and whether as those financial needs of the year are voted by the House in the Finance Bill, and as the Finance Bill in this House has already been passed, if taxation is imposed will not a new Finance Bill be required? The second question is whether this Bill, as far as Clause 17 is concerned, does not impose taxation? It is true that it says certain things are to be prohibited, but it goes on to say that that prohibition need not take place if people pay in order to be let off. The second part deals with the expenditure of money. Is it possible to combine in one Bill a part which imposes taxation and which should originate in Committee of Ways and Means, and another part imposing expenditure which should originate in Committee of the Whole House?
I am obliged to the Noble Lord for having given me notice of the question. I have, therefore, been in a position to prepare a considered reply. I will take the first two questions together. For the purpose of Second Reading, to which alone my attention is now being given, I have to look at the Bill without seeing the Clauses in italics. Being in italics, they are supposed not to be there, and I look upon them as blank spaces to be filled in later. I have to ask myself whether the Bill can stand without them. I think so, and to the first question my answer is that the Bill is one designed in the exceptional circumstances of the day, in respect of foreign exchanges, to regulate and stabilise the industries of this country by forbidding certain exports and imports, and other purposes with the same object. The main purpose of the Bill is to exclude dumped goods and goods competing with key industries, and the imposition of charges in the nature of Import Duties is incidental to the adoption of such a policy. The Bill, therefore, need not originate in Committee of Ways and Means.(2). The second point is whether it requires a Resolution in Ways and Means to impose the fines for importation and sale under Clauses 3 and 4: and fees under Clause 10. My answer is yes. These fines, being in the nature of Import Duties, require Resolutions in Committee of Ways and Means. (3). The third question is whether the House of Commons can divest itself of the responsibility of fixing the rates and amounts of these fines and fees and hand that duty over to an outside body such as a Trade Regulation Committee. It has been part of the unwritten law of Parliament that the goods upon which and the rates at which taxes are to be levied shall be fixed and determined by the House of Commons itself. I am not prepared to say that the House cannot delegate that power to some other body such as the Trade Regulation Committee. I will only say that at present I am not aware of any similar case. It may be urged that if Parliament is desirous of altering its practice it should be done in some definite, specific and formal manner, and not a mere adjunct to other proposals, just as when we desire to alter our common law we do so by passing a Statute for that express purpose. In this connection I might refer the House to a recent ruling of the Chairman of Ways and Means on 2nd July, 1917, when he declined to countenance any departure from the rule that the authority to impose taxation is the Committee of Ways and Means. I understand, also, that when it was proposed that a luxury tax should be imposed on articles, and at rates, to be fixed by a Select Committee, the Chairman of Ways and Means took a similar objection and declined to admit the proposal. But, upon the assumption—an assumption which I am bound to make —that the House of Commons desires to impose these fines and fees, which, owing to the nature of the circumstances in which we now find ourselves, may vary from week to week, or, at all events, from month to month, how can it be done? It is evidently impossible to bring in a Bill ever, month to deal with a fresh situation. It seems to me to be reasonable to fix either certain limits, or a ratio which the fine is to bear to the cost of the article, and to give to some authority the duty of fixing the price and applying the-ratio or determining the exact figure of the fine, or in some similar fashion. As to the question whether the proceeds of these taxes have been demanded by the Crown for the service of the year, in my view that point does not arise at this stage, because, for the purpose of Second Reading, there is no such proposal in the Bill.
I am very much obliged for that answer. May I put this question? I do not know whether it is beyond the function of the Chair. When it is desired to make a great departure in our constitutional practice has it not always been the practice to proceed first by Resolution, and, after the Resolution has been passed, to bring in a Bill? If I recollect rightly, that was the practice on questions of franchise, and in any questions of great moment, I submit, that has always been the practice. Since you have been good enough to tell us that this provides for an entirely new departure in our taxing machinery, something which the House has never seen before, I submit that it would have been more regular, and therefore more proper, for the Government to have proceeded by Resolution in the first instance, rather than by introducing the Bill without a Resolution.
I know that the system of starting by Resolution was one that obtained at one time, and that it was very frequently adopted, but of late years it has not been so often adopted. I think the tendency of the House in late years, certainly during the last fifteen or twenty years, has been to proceed directly with Bills and not to found them on a Resolution.
May I respectfully say that I entirely agree? But where you have an entirely exceptional measure, then, I submit, the old practice is the proper one to resort to, because it is the most formal way in which this House can proceed to make alterations in the law.
For the purpose of making it clear to one or two Members like myself who would wish to have a very clear view on this most important question, may I ask whether I am correct in deducing from your ruling that you regard this Bill simply as an ordinary Bill containing Clauses in italics which, therefore, cannot be regarded by you on Second Reading, but which will require at some time or other a Money Resolution; that you do not regard this as a Finance Bill in the recognised and proper acceptance of the term; that you do not differentiate it at all from, say, a Land Bill for Scotland, which requires money to back it, or any other Bill of that kind, but that it simply requires a Money Resolution?
I do not consider it needs a Money Resolution in the ordinary sense. There is one Clause which does require it, and that is Clause 17, I think. That will require a Money Resolution in the ordinary sense of the term. I think that the whole Bill hangs together with one purpose. The so-called taxation purposes are incidental and adjuncts to that.
When the Second Reading has been obtained, will it not be necessary to have a Finance Bill, so that the various taxes may be confirmed by this House?
In a Finance Bill it would be necessary to set up a Committee of Ways and Means for the purpose of taking certain Resolutions in Ways and Means. I should not like to commit myself as to whether those Resolutions would require an Instruction or not. Possibly it might require an Instruction to the Committee on the Bill that they should have power to embody those Resolutions in the Bill.
Is it not the constitutional practice to found such Bills upon Resolutions in this House, and is this not an analogous case to many which we have had?
I do not deny that sometimes legislation is founded on Resolution. I rather think that the Representation of the People Bill was founded upon simply one general Resolution. I am not quite sure about that, and all I say is that it can be done both ways. It is not for me to say which way should be adopted.
Is it your opinion, since this Money Resolution is one which, you have pointed out, must arise in Com- mittee of Ways and Means, that this Bill therefore is a Bill which will have to be considered by Committee of the Whole House, and not go upstairs?
I think that is a matter for the House to decide.
Cotton And Woollen Goods (Prices)
asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer whether his attention has been called to the high retail prices of cotton and woollen goods and to the large profits now being made by manufacturers; whether these high retail prices are due mainly to foreign demand; and, if so, whether, as in the case of coal, it is possible, as a temporary measure until more normal times, to reduce the home retail price as compared with the foreign price?
I have been asked to reply. I am aware of the high retail prices of cotton and woollen goods. The present high prices are mainly due to the high price of raw material and a general increase in the cost oi production, and the foreign demand has probably only a secondary importance. The adoption of the proposal contained in the last part of the question would involve the re-establishment of a large measure of control, and my right hon. Friend is not inclined to recommend such a step. We are, however, at the present time investigating the question of profits in the industries referred to through machinery established under the Profiteering Act, and so soon as we know the facts we shall be in a position to decide what action can usefully be taken.
Can the hon. Gentleman give any indication as to when the Report of the Profiteering Committee is likely to be available?
I am afraid I cannot.
Will the Committee have access to Coats' dividends later?
Women's Corps (Education Grants)
asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer whether, in view of the admirable services rendered by the women forces, he will consider whether Grants can he made for university and technical education of suitable officers of the Women's Royal Naval Service, of Queen Mary's Women's Army Auxiliary Corps, and of the Women's Royal Air Force, on the same lines as educational Grants are made to officers of the Army, Navy, and Royal Air Forces?
I would refer my hon. Friend to the answer which I gave yesterday to my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Durham.
War Stock (Conversion Of Consols)
asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer whether he is aware of the sense of injustice felt by ex-soldiers who, owing to their absence abroad on service, were unaware of the right to convert Consols into War Stock, thus suffering both capital and annual loss; and what steps he can take in the matter?
I fear it is quite impossible to allow conversions of Consols into Four and a Half per Cent. War Loan at the present date. Full notice was given in the Press, and every possible step was taken by extensions of time to enable Consols holders abroad to exercise their option to convert.
Does that apply to soldiers serving in France who were out of the reach of papers or anything of that kind; and would soldiers serving in France have been likely to be able to see these notices?
The question refers to matters which took place long before I became Chancellor of the Exchequer, but I believe that every effort was made at the time to give serving soldiers notice of their rights. In any case I fear it is too late to reopen the matter.
Motor Car Licence Duties (Ireland)
asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer whether the sum of £28,799 15s. 2d. levied in 1918 by the county councils in Ireland, under Section 89 of the Finance (909–10) Act, 1910, in respect of Motor Car Licence Duties represents the actual amount, due for that year; whether the Irish county councils do not strictly enforce the collection of this particular tax; and, if so, what is the cause?
The sum of £28,799 15s. 2d. was collected in respect of the licences issued during the year 1918. It is not possible to state the exact amount of Licence Duty due in respect of any financial year. As regards the remaining part of the question, the county councils in the administration of the Motor Car Duties in Ireland are not subject to the authority, direction, or control of the Treasury, and I have no precise information on the point.
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the general opinion in Ireland is that it is quite immaterial whether you pay the tax or whether you do not?
Is the hon. Member referring to Wales?
It is Within my knowledge that there have been suggestions that the duty is not collected. I only saw the question this morning, and I have not had time since I saw it to ascertain with whom rest the duties in this matter, or to whose benefit the produce of the duty accrues. I think it is wholly a matter within the discretion of the Irish county councils, and that the Treasury is expressly excluded from any control.
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that every county council in Ireland issues a public return of the amounts collected, and that in at least two cases the return shows a bigger average percentage collected than in any county in England?
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that that procedure is not adopted in Wales?
I am not aware of that.
Income Tax (Relief)
asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer whether he can take steps to extend the relief provided by Section 27, Sub-section (2) of the Finance Act, 1919, to a woman who has no fixed income beyond what she earns, and being entirely responsible for the upkeep of her home, has a female relative residing with her in the capacity of housekeeper?
I would refer my hon. Friend to the answer, a copy of which I am sending him, which I gave on the 27th ultimo in, reply to a question on this subject by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for York.
Excess Profits Duty
asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer whether, in view of the considerable advantages derived by companies from the retention of arrears of Excess Profits Duty owing to the delay in adjusting the accounts and appeals, he will take an early opportunity of asking the House to impose interest on outstanding obligations in accordance with his suggestion?
In the cases to which the hon. Member refers, it is the practice of the Commissioners of Inland Revenue to require substantial payments of duty on account where it is evident that liability will arise. Subject to this, I have nothing to add to the reply I made to the hon. Member on the 25th of November.
Does the right hon. Gentleman realise that this means that we are contributing some millions per year of 5 per cent. interest to those companies which have failed to settle their accounts?
If the hon. member will look at the answer which I returned some time ago or even at the earlier statement I made in the course of the Financial Debate, he will see that my attention was directed to this matter before he put any questions on the subject, and that I indicated that if I found there were any unnecessary or improper delays, I might find it necessary to ask Parliament to impose interest.
Surveyor Of Taxes, Elgin
asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer if it is proposed to remove the office of the surveyor and assessor of taxes from Elgin and to station a surveyor at Buckie for the county of Banffshire and another at Inverness for the counties of Moray, Ross, and Cromarty; if the carrying out of such a proposal will cause dissatisfaction locally in view of the fact that Elgin is most conveniently and centrally situated for serving a wide area between Aberdeen and Inverness; and if the matter will receive further consideration before it is definitely decided to make such a change?
The answer to the first part of the question is in the affirmative. The new arrangements are designed to meet the convenience of the largest number of taxpayers, and it is feared that it will not be practicable to retain a permanent office at Elgin. It is, however, intended to provide for the reasonable requirements of that burgh by arranging for the inspector to give periodical attendances there.
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that Elgin is the centre of six railways? The convenience of the inhabitants there is surety worth consideration.
There is a general re-arrangement going on which affects two or three collecting districts, as a result of which the present Elgin district, which comprises the counties of Banff, Elgin, and Nairn, will disappear. Buckie has been selected as the seat of the new district owing to the fact that it is the headquarters of the local fishing industry, and it is the most convenient centre from the point of view of communication for a considerable majority of the taxpayers in the counties. Buckie itself has a population of 9,000, and is much more convenient to the ports of Cullen, Portsoy, and Banff, with a population of nearly 8,000, than is Elgin.
Captain Rev T J O'donnell: Court-Martial
asked the Secretary of State for War whether, in view of the finding of the court-martial in the case of Captain O'Donnell, he is prepared to make suitable reparation to that gentleman for the ordeal he had to undergo and for the treatment received before trial; and is he prepared to admonish Lieutenant Chambers for bringing unfounded charges against Captain O'Donnell?
Captain O'Donnell was originally arrested by the military authorities in Ireland on charges which subsequently formed the subject of court-martial proceedings. As he was an Australian officer, the Australian military authorities, in accordance with the usual practice, took him over from the British military authorities, and from that moment the War Office were not concerned in his disposal. The decision to try him by court-martial was taken by the Australian military authorities. I am not prepared to admit that because a court-martial finds an accused person not guilty of the charge there is a case for reparation. I am aware that there have been suggestions that the arrest and detention of Captain O'Donnell have not been conducted in accordance with the Army Act and Rules of Procedure. I am making inquiry into these suggestions in so far as they relate to the period during which he was in the custody of the British military authorities, but, from the reports now before me, it is clear that his arrest and detention were carried out strictly in accordance with the law. In regard to the latter part of the question, I am not pre-pared to admit that because the proceedings of a court-martial resulted in an acquittal for that reason alone the charges which may have formed the subject of proceedings can be deemed to have been unfounded.
When this gallant and reverend gentleman was arrested was he dragged to Dublin, thrown into a cold and dirty cell, surrounded by soldiers with rifles, and treated with the greatest possible indignity before he was tried at all?
I have said that I am inquiring into the facts as to whether the Rules of Procedure under the Army Act were strictly enforced with regard to his treatment.
Do we understand from that answer that the inquiry promised yesterday is also to proceed?
As far as I am aware, the only inquiry consists in asking the various authorities what took place.
What steps are going to be taken with regard to the witnesses who gave evidence that was proved not to be true?
If witnesses who give evidence in support of charges against parties who are afterwards acquitted of those charges are to be held guilty of some offence in regard to which they themselves are to be held to be the subject of inquiry, it would be perfectly impossible to carry on the administration of justice.
Am I to understand from the right hon. Gentleman's answer that, notwithstanding all the indignity and humiliation brought upon this gallant and reverend gentleman for an offence which he never committed, the right hon. Gentleman, who is the custodian of the honour and dignity of the Army, is not ready to repudiate and offer reparation for it?
I do not think I am called upon to do anything except inquire into the conditions under which this officer was arrested, and what happened while he was in charge of the British military authorities. After that, in accordance with the regular practice, he passed under the jurisdiction of the Australian authorities.
May I ask the leave of the House to call attention to a definite matter of urgent public importance, namely, the humiliation and indignity placed upon a gallant Australian officer who was proved not guilty by a military tribunal?
I beg to ask leave to move the Adjournment of the House to call attention to a matter of definite and urgent public importance, namely, the arrest of the Rev. Father O'Donnell of the Australian Forces, and the refusal of the Government after his acquittal to take the necessary steps to deal with those who are responsible for his arrest and subsequent ill-treatment.
The hon. Member raised exactly the same question yesterday. I then said that. I thought that until the House was in possession of the facts it would not be proper for me to accept a Motion of this kind. I do not think that to-day matters have advanced any further. Yesterday the Financial Secretary to the War Office announced that he would institute an inquiry. To-day the Secretary of State for War has said that he has instituted the inquiry, and as soon as the results of that inquiry are to hand I shall be quite prepared to consider any Motion which the hon. Member may desire to make.
Yesterday the Leader of the House, I think it was, gave me an assurance that this was so important a matter, not only to the Army, but to the great Australian Commonwealth, that the Government could not take any action in the House until they would have a report. Then the right hon. Gentleman, the Minister for War came to the House this afternoon without notice to me who put the question yesterday and read a long report, a considered statement of the whole case in which he not only gave details of the things themselves, but drew his own conclusions. I take it, therefore, that the report which you considered necessary for presentation to the House before you would allow discussion is contained in the statement which was made by the right hon. Gentleman, and therefore I claim the right, about the last right that is left to any Irishman in this House or elsewhere, for the one, or two, or three Members from Ireland who are still left in this House to have an opportunity not only of discussing this matter, but of erasing this stigma which has been put upon this gallant Australian officer who represents the heroes of our Australian Forces abroad, and I say that it would be, in my judgment, a scandal before the whole world if the House of Commons is not given now an opportunity of dealing with this question.
May I explain—
The Secretary of State for War has not had the Report. He has asked for the Report. He has given instructions that it shall be made, and when it is received and he is informed of the particulars involved in this matter, I have no doubt that the right Eon. Gentleman will communicate the facts to the House, and it would then be for the hon. Member and the House to take such action as they think fit.
On the point of urgency may I submit, in view of the fact that much notice has been taken of this case in Australia, where this officer was very prominent in advocating conscription on Australia entering into the War, and, in view of the impending Australian elections, that it would be well for this House to have an opportunity of expressing its view in order that no misconception should arise in Australia as to the way in which we intend to treat people who come over to fight for us.