« PreviousContinue »
1901.) Large Majority for Reorganisation Scheme. [133 proposals. Sir H. Campbell-Bannerman's amendment was then negatived by 327 to 211, and Mr. Brodrick's motion carried by 305 to 163.
It was in the speech just mentioned that Mr. Balfour made the astounding statement that in 1899-1900 there were in the country, at a critical juncture, not more than 3,300 rounds of small-arm ammunition, although the war had found the Government with a supply of 170,000,000 rounds, and the factories, Government and private, were working without cessation. He would do his best, he said, to secure that no Minister should ever again go through such an experience. The effect of this surprising acknowledgment, on the part of administrators who had turned their predecessors out of office on a charge of having insufficient cordite in store, was somewhat modified, but not removed, by a subsequent explanation from Mr. Brodrick (May 23) that the scarcity had been in part produced by the necessity of withdrawing a supply of Mark IV. bullets which might be regarded as explosive.
So far as the House of Commons was concerned, the way was thus clear for the prosecution of the Government scheme of military reorganisation. It may be mentioned here that a few weeks previously the War Secretary had appointed a wellchosen committee to consider the education of candidates for commissions in the Army and the system of training at Woolwich and Sandhurst, and to report whether any changes were desirable in the present methods of entrance into the Army.
The Government were still a very long way, notwithstanding the considerable discussions already recorded on the Budget resolutions, from obtaining the final sanction of the House of Commons to their financial proposals. A full-dress debate, spread over two sittings, took place on an amendment to the second reading of the Finance Bill embodying the Budget resolutions. The amendment, which was moved (May 20) by Sir H. Fowler (Wolverhampton), set forth that the House, while ready to make adequate provision for the naval and military requirements of the Empire, was of opinion that the financial proposals of the Government were objectionable both in regard to taxation and debt, were calculated to affect industry and commerce injuriously, and did not exhibit that regard for economy which the recent alarming increase in the normal expenditure of the country demanded. Sir H. Fowler made a speech of considerable ability in support of this amendment, in the course of which he dwelt on the fact that the peace expenditure of the country had risen under the present Unionist Government from 108,000,0001. to 120,000,0001. sterling. Apart from the war, our military expenditure seemed to him to have increased to an unnecessary and alarming extent. He thought, too, that there was room for economy in the Education Department. As to the methods of raising the money wanted, he held that too much was being borrowed. He agreed that
spirits would not have borne any further duty, but could not allow that that was the case with wine, beer and tobacco. As to the coal tax he considered it a great mistake to levy an export duty on an article of which the country had not a monopoly. Defending the Government proposals, Sir M. Hicks-Beach argued that they had imposed a sufficient burden on the taxpayer in a year when trade was not in a very prosperous condition. The coal duty was justified by the very test Sir H. Fowler had supplied, for our export coal trade might be regarded as almost a monopoly. As to the possible reductions of expenditure, a cutting down of the educational estimates would be extremely unpopular, while he believed a reversal of the policy of the Agricultural Rating Act, which Sir H. Fowler had suggested, would be quite as distasteful to the Radicals as to the Unionists in rural constituencies. Mr. Labouchere said he should abstain from voting for the amendment because it contained no condemnation of the war expenditure, and Mr. J. Redmond ridiculed it as a sham.
The amendment was, indeed, not of a sufficiently fighting character to attract enthusiastic support on the Opposition side, and there was not much life about the debate. Several members from mining constituencies renewed their objections to the coal tax, but there was nothing new to be said on that subject. Mr. Hanbury (Preston), President of the Board of Agriculture, said (May 21) that the present Government had come to the conclusion that we had lingered too long in dreamland, and that a serious effort was needed to secure national safety, our neighbours being armed to the teeth. The working classes, he maintained, were well able to contribute towards Imperial expenditure, and were proud of the Empire. Sir H. Campbell-Bannerman held that military and naval expenditure could not be regarded with approval if necessitated by a pushing and "bouncing” policy. He objected, as Sir H. Fowler had not done, to the sugar duty as being a tax, not on the working man, but on his wife and family. Mr. Balfour, of course, denied that the Government's policy had been of a bouncing character, but maintained that they had settled peacefully great international issues left over to them by their Radical predecessors, any one of which might have led to war. In the division the Government secured the large majority of 177–300 votes to 123--the Nationalists walking out. Some Liberals also refrained from voting. Among these was Mr. Morley, who moved the adjournment of the debate on the main question, and delivered (May 23) an earnest and impressive speech, not in denunciation of the new taxation proposals of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, which, under the circumstances, he said he rather approved, but in enforcement of his well-known position in regard to the war. Retribution, he maintained, must follow the “stupendous folly ” committed by the Government in engaging in this conflict. He calculated that there had been fastened upon the shoulders of the nation an annual obligation
1901.) Mr. Morley on the Burdens of the War. (135 to pay 13,000,0001., which was equivalent to an addition of 470,000,0001. to the National Debt, and ridiculed the idea that the new colonies would contribute substantially to the cost of
It was neither financially sound nor safe, Mr. Morley further contended, to have recourse to the income tax to meet our increasing expenditure. This could not go on indefinitely, and if the country was to be ruled by military Imperialists a time would come when free trade would be given up to the great disadvantage of the people. In a brief but spirited reply Mr. A. Chamberlain (Worcestershire, E.), Financial Secretary to the Treasury, while welcoming Mr. Morley's speech as giving a clear issue, pointed out that he had approved the last despatch sent to the Transvaal Government, and had recommended its acceptance by Mr. Kruger and his advisers, who, however, had forced a contest on us. The second reading of the Finance Bill was carried by 104—236 votes to 132.
The Opposition, it was clear, had gained nothing in Parliament, or in the country, from their resistance to the Budget, on which there had been a great attempt to combine the divergent sections of Liberals, any more than from the passing of another compromise resolution about the war, spoken to by members regarding it from the most opposite points of view, at the annual meeting held at Bradford (May 14) of the Council of the National Liberal Federation. Addressing a mass meeting of Liberals at Bradford (May 15) Sir H. Campbell-Bannerman urged that the party should close up its ranks, dwelling upon the ninety-nine things on which they agreed rather than the hundredth on which they differed. But unfortunately for them and for the country that hundredth thing bulked larger in national importance, for the time, than all the ninety-nine put together, and all attempts to ignore or cover over differences about it were bound to fail. At the same time there was a widespread feeling that on matters of real moment in regard to domestic reform at home the Unionist Government were disunited, or indifferent, but in any case lacking in initiative, energy and resource. It was so with regard to education, as to which the limited hopes raised by the Government bill soon began to vanish, although the Duke of Devonshire assured a sympathetic deputation (May 17) from the Incorporated Association of Head Masters of Endowed Schools that the Government had every intention of passing the bill as it stood. It was so with regard to temperance reform, and Lord Rosebery expressed the sentiments of many people who were not extreme partisans on that subject when, apropos of a speech by the Prime Minister in the Upper House against a bill of Lord Camperdown's to set up a new licensing authority, he confessed to a "feeling of despair. It was impossible, he said, to catch the Government on this question. They would not have the report of a Royal Commission, they would not have a big bill, they would not have a little bill
. There was much truth in this, even if with a slight touch of exaggeration. One “ little bill ” of a really useful character
dealing with habitual drunkards was adopted by the Government from the Bishop of Winchester, and substantially strengthened by amendments introduced by them (May 7) in committee in the House of Lords. They also allowed to pass that House, but in a somewhat reduced shape, a small bill brought in by the same prelate, in pursuance of the united recommendations of the Peel Commission, affecting the qualifications and disqualifications of certain persons to act on or in connection with licensing authorities and Watch Committees. Both these measures ultimately passed the Upper House (June 20), but never obtained consideration in the Lower, although the first was adopted by the Government, and both were practically non-contentious.
Another social question of importance was raised in the Upper House (which in the mid-session had singularly little occupation) by the Bishop of Hereford, who moved (May 20), with the support of the Primate, the new Bishop of London, and the Earl of Aberdeen, for a select committee to inquire into the increase of public betting, and whether legislation could wisely be resorted to in order to check the abuses connected with it. Lord Salisbury assented, not altogether unsympathetically, but was careful to issue a warning against any idea that the Government would be bound to legislate in accordance with any conclusions at which the select committee might arrive.
There was comparatively little of Parliamentary debate directly on South Africa between Easter and Whitsuntide, pending Sir A. Milner's journey to this country for the brief holiday which he had solicited; though there was a curiously obstinate tendency shown in quarters opposed to the war to interpret his temporary return home as a virtual recall, based upon a recognition by the Government that his policy was a mistaken one, or in any case that he was not the right man to carry through the re-settlement of South Africa when overt resistance to our arms should at last have ceased. On May 13 Lord Salisbury availed himself of the opportunity of a banquet given by the Nonconformist Unionist Association, at which he was the principal guest, to deliver with considerable emphasis the opinion that the war had demonstrated both the strength of England and her readiness to use it, on adequate occasion, in such fashion as to enhance the effective respect of foreign countries for her. The events of the contest had also shown, he maintained, beyond the possibility of mistake, that it was the outcome of a long conspiracy which had to be confronted, and might, had we further delayed action, have had to be confronted in less advantageous circumstances. The day of the adjournment for the Whitsuntide recess (May 24) was marked by a discussion, raised by Mr. Lloyd-George in Committee of Supply on the Army Estimates, on the condition of the refugee camps in the Transvaal and Orange River Colonies. He referred to the appalling mortality among the Boer children in
(137 the camps, as shown by a recent statement of the War Secretary, in reply to a question, that between some date in February and March 21 there had been 261 deaths out of 1,100 children in the camps.
Mr. Brodrick allowed that the accommodation had not at first been all that could be desired, but the difficulties of making temporary arrangements for many thousands of Boers with little previous notice were enormous. But there had been the most strenuous efforts after improvement, attended by a great amount of success, and the people in the camps received the same rations as those received by our soldiers, or even superior ones. More than that the military authorities could not undertake to do, but they would welcome the distribution of subscriptions from any benevolent persons who might desire to secure for the refugees more than the necessaries of life. By means of local committees, on which the Dutch element might be represented, valuable work might be done. But in existing circumstances the military authorities were not desirous of seeing many outside visitors up country. Lord E. Fitzmaurice (Swindon, Wilts) thought Mr. Brodrick's statement reasonable, and advised the withdrawal of the amendment moved by Mr. Lloyd-George, who, though he insisted on a division (in which only 46 members supported him) as a protest against the policy of the refugee camps, acknowledged with thanks the War Secretary's assurance of his intention to see that the war should be carried on with all possible humanity.
Three days previously (May 21), before the rising of the Cpper House for Whitsuntide, Lord Lansdowne had given a moderately satisfactory review of the position in China, Lord Cranborne making a similar statement in the Commons. The Foreign Secretary said that we were considerably nearer the termination of the entanglement than when he last addressed the House (before Easter). Certain demands for the punishment of persons who had been concerned in atrocities in the provinces had yet to be complied with, but there was every prospect of reasonable satisfaction being obtained. Possibly the retribution fell short of what might have been desired, but the Government were not prepared to keep our troops indefinitely in China merely for the sake of adding to the tale of heads to be counted. With regard to the indemnity, the Powers had presented a collective claim amounting to 450,000,000 taels, which the Chinese were endeavouring to beat down, though they had not professed themselves unable to meet the demand. By way of making the settlement easier for them, Great Britain had suggested that they should give bonds, gradually extinguishable by payments of interest and principal, which should be made to an international board--the idea being to avoid the private pressing of its own claim by any separate Power. It was hoped that certain sources of Chinese revenue could be ear-marked for the discharge of this obligation; but Lord Lansdowne intimated that his Majesty's Government could not agree, in existing cir