Page images

perial credit, they undertook to meet thirteen-eighteenths of the cost of what would be an “all-British ” line of telegraphic communication from home through Canada with the Australasian Colonies. The Board controlling the cable would have three Treasury representatives, two Canadians and three Australasians, one of the Treasury representatives being chairman, with a casting vote. The Irish Nationalist members opposed the bill at its principal stages, evincing an interesting anxiety to retain the effective control entirely in the hands of the Treasury, which was most readily explicable to cynics in their case by an unwillingness to see Imperial bonds more closely woven. The measure was passed through all its stages and became law.

In connection with Imperial defences, sanction was obtained for considerable further outlay by the Naval Works Bill, which was read a second time in the Commons only on August 14, and passed into law within three days, not without natural protests from Lord Spencer and Lord Tweedmouth against having measures of such magnitude rushed upon the Peers in the last moments of the session. In moving the second reading in the Commons, Captain Pretyman (Woodbridge, Suffolk), Civil Lord of the Admiralty, made a statement as to the progress of the naval works sanctioned under previous bills, and explained the reasons for the additional undertakings now proposed. Justifying the expenditure for which these bills provided, he said it was necessary to make up various arrears and to adapt our harbours and docks to the size of our ships, and to render them safe against torpedo attack. Another cause of expenditure was the decision to provide largely for the accommodation of the personnel of the Navy in barracks on shore. The great improvements in the naval hospitals had also entailed heavy expenditure. He explained elaborately the principles upon which these Works Biīls were based, and reminded the House that the bill of 1899 provided for a total estimated expenditure of 23,500,0001. The present bill would sanction an addition to that sum, which would bring it up to 27,500,0001. The House was asked to vote 6,000,0001. on account, five-sixths of that amount being expenditure to which Parliament was already practically committed. As to the items in the present bill, Captain Pretyman said that the committee that inquired into the subject of dock accommodation at Gibraltar had come to the conclusion that a barbour on the western side of the rock, even if risk was involved, was better than no harbour at all. The needs of the fleet necessitated the existence of three graving docks, which were superior to floating docks. He reminded the House that when the Gibraltar Committee issued their final report, they estimated that a harbour on the eastern side could be constructed for about 5,000,0001, in ten years. His own opinion was that these figures ought to be doubled, and our

Varal and Military Works Bills.

[189 fleet could not wait for twenty years before adequate harbour accommodation was provided for it. A project which would take so long a time to execute could not be accepted as a substitute for the Admiralty scheme. But the expediency of providing additional harbour accommodation on the eastern side was being considered. He next informed the House that the Hong-Kong dockyard was not to be transferred to the mainland, there being strong strategic reasons against the change. Owing to concessions of land made by the War Office and to reclamations, the Admiralty would have at their disposal 34} acres of land, an amount of space sufficient for all the works already projected and for the construction of an additional dock, if it should be required. There was an item in the bill for defraying the cost of deepening harbours and of improving the river approach to Chatham ; and for additional buildings and accessories at Keyham a million was required—the extension of work already sanctioned. Then it had been found necessary to provide more berthing accommodation for our ships in consequence of their length and size, and expenditure was also to be incurred in enlarging our magazines in various parts of the kingdom ; 170,0001. would be spent in constructing a large magazine inside the rock of Gibraltar. The only new items of expenditure which the House was asked to sanction were 1,000,0001. for a breakwater at Malta, which was a very urgent work, as it was necessary to protect the harbour against torpedo attack, and a corresponding sum for increasing the coaling facilities for the Navy. There had been no substantial improvement in the coaling appliances and facilities for the fleet for the last twenty years, and naval officers were of opinion that the next great naval war would be largely a fight for coal. At the great home ports arrangements were being made which would enable our ships to procure a sufficiency of coal at any moment when war was apprehended ; and at Gibraltar, Malta, Hong-Kong and other stations abroad large storage accommodation was to be provided. In taking this step the Admiralty were following the example of the United States and other countries. However desirable economy might be, we could not afford to stint the Navy in coal.

Besides Nationalist resistance to this bill, its second reading was opposed by Mr. E. Robertson (Dundee)—who objected to the House being asked to sanction costly new works so late in the Session-and by a few other Liberals. Sir C. Dilke, however, gravely deprecated this opposition, and the minority was only 82.

The coaling question also loomed largely in connection with the Military Works Bill, in which provision was made for the expenditure of some 6,300,0001, for defence works, barracks, and ranges. On the second reading of this bill (Aug. 14) Lord Stanley (West Houghton, Lancs), Financial Secretary to the

War Office, explained the reasons which had induced the War Department to make this further demand upon Parliament. He stated that the defence works for certain ports and coaling stations, the utility of which had been questioned, had been undertaken on the advice of naval and military experts whose advice the War Office was bound to accept. For the safety of our fleet, our first line of defence, coaling stations were of vital importance. It was undesirable to specify the exact amount to be spent on any particular port or coaling station, as the information would enable other countries to guess what the intentions of the Government were. As to the proposed expenditure on barracks, he thought the House would agree that our troops ought to be properly housed.

This measure also went through, after encountering the same kind of opposition, supplemented, however, in this case by some responsible criticism of the financial aspects of the measure, and the character of the contemplated expenditure.

Malta was brought before the Commons, not only in respect of its proposed breakwater, but in regard to discontent in the island, said to be due to recent action of the Imperial Government on the language question, and in putting taxation into effect by order in Council. This subject is dealt with in a later chapter. It is sufficient to mention here that the alleged grievances of the Maltese having been raised by Mr. Boland (Kerry, S.), Mr. Chamberlain (Aug. 17) strongly denied that the Government were forcing any language on the Maltese people against their will. On the contrary, they were securing to them the liberty to make their own choice, and it was only because that choice seemed to have been against the feelings of the elected members, who were chiefly lawyers, that this agitation arose. The elected members of the Council at Malta, the Colonial Secretary went on to say, in their desire to revenge themselves on the Imperial Government for the action they had taken, had refused all taxes. Of course, it was perfectly absurd to allow that kind of thing to go on, as it had a most injurious effect on the industries and prosperity of Malta. Where Imperial interests in the shape of the health of the island and the security of a great fortress were concerned, the Government had thought it necessary to intervene ; and he did not believe there would be any serious or lengthened objection to what they had done.

On the previous day (Aug. 16) the Indian Budget had been taken in an almost empty House. Indian finance is treated, in sufficient detail, in a later chapter, and it will be enough to record here that the situation expounded by Lord George Hamilton (Ealing, Middlesex), the Secretary of State, was unexpectedly pleasant. In spite of a famine which had cost the people 50,000,0001. and the Treasury 15,170,0001. in three years, the surplus for the past year had amounted to 1,670,0001. In salt, Excise, Customs, Post Office, and telegraphs there had been

Indian Budget and King's Speech.

[191 a substantial increase, and in railways a gain of 640,0001. The alteration of the currency standard had been a great success, the profit to the Treasury being 3,000,0001., which would be applied to maintaining a gold reserve fund. A stock of gold had been accumulated of some 7,000,0001. The average income of the people had risen from eighteen rupees in 1880 to twenty in 1900, the cultivated area had increased from 194,000,000 acres to 217,000,000, while the yield of food crops, which in 1880 was 730 lb. per acre, was in 1900 840 lb. In twenty years the railway mileage had advanced from 6,500 to 25,000, yielding a profit to the State of 600,0001. a year, while irrigation, though not so rapidly pushed on, had still advanced. Lord George Hamilton, touching on the subject of land assessment, admitted that the assessments might be too high in some places and that there was a want of elasticity about the system. But the cultivators could pay the charge when they were not in the grip of the money-lenders, and in order to help the cultivators it was in contemplation to establish agricultural banks—at first experimentally. He also mentioned that Lord Curzon had determined to institute an inquiry into the existing systems of education with a view to the development of industrial and technical education.

In the course of the discussion which ensued, Mr. Caine (Camborne, Cornwall), though cordially commending Lord Curzon, administered censure and warning with regard to the general course of Indian administration over many years. Sir E. Vincent (Exeter) took a favourable view of the financial future of India, while enlarging on the importance of promoting the flow of European capital into the dependency.

In his reply, the Indian Secretary explained that large irrigation schemes, such as some members wished to see undertaken, could only be carried out in certain districts where favourable conditions prevailed. To Mr. Caine's suggestion that the Indian military establishment should be reduced he could not agree, for that establishment was really very small in proportion to the number of the population.

On August 17 Parliament was prorogued by Commission. The King's Speech, after a reference to the continuance of friendly foreign relations, ran thus :

“The nature and extent of the reparation to be given by China for the unexampled outrages committed last summer have been the subject of protracted discussion among the Powers. I am glad to be able to inform you that, by a general agreement, in which China has concurred, the extent of the indemnity to be provided by that Government and the security for its payment to the various Powers have been determined'; and the punishment of the guiltiest of the offenders has also been insisted on.

The progress of my forces in the conquest of the two Republics by whom my South African Colonies have been

invaded has been steady and continuous; but, owing to the difficulty and extent of the country to be traversed, the length of the military operations has been protracted.

“The signal success which has attended the visit of the Duke and Duchess of Cornwall and York to the Colonies has afforded me the greatest gratification, which, I am convinced, is shared by all classes of my subjects throughout the Empire. The opening of the first Parliament of the Australian Commonwealth by the Heir to the Throne is an event of wide significance and deep interest, and the enthusiastic welcome which has been given to my son and his wife in every Colony they bave visited is an additional proof of the patriotism, loyalty and devotion of the people of my Dominions oversea.”

After a reference to the lateness of the Indian rainfall, as to which, however, reassuring intelligence had been recently received, the Speech proceeded :“GENTLEMEN OF THE HOUSE OF COMMONS,

“I have to note with great satisfaction the liberal provision you have made for the naval and military services during the current year. I thank you for the arrangements you have made for the maintenance of the honour and dignity of the Crown; and especially for those which affect the state and comfort of my Royal Consort.”

The legislative output of the session was then briefly reviewed. Much of it related to the "special circumstances of the year.”

The King, however, had observed with great satisfaction that Parliament had “passed a bill to amend and consolidate that code of factory law from which so much benefit had already been derived by the working classes of this country; and that the law relating to youthful offenders had been amended in such a manner as would prevent the imprisonment of young children."

Ministers were, doubtless, right in advising his Majesty to lay stress upon these measures of social reform. The former has been dealt with. The latter was a well-conceived bill and had been passed by the Home Secretary with little trouble. On the whole the Speech made the best of what had been, without doubt, a disappointing session, and, so far as it had gone, in many respects a disappointing year.

« PreviousContinue »