« 上一頁繼續 »
[33 signed to England, but to Continental neutral ports like Hamburg, Antwerp or Ostend, and no enemy would dare to attack neutral ships carrying a neutral cargo. The only risk would be run when the cargo was brought across the Channel to this country, and at that point we must trust to our fleet. A fatal objection to corn storage spread over a long period would be its enormous cost. On this point Mr. G. Balfour (Leeds, Central), President of the Board of Trade, agreed with Sir W. Harcourt. He also maintained that a prohibition, such as had been suggested, of the export of corn to this country by a belligerent Power could not be effective unless it applied also to other countries, which thus would suffer as much as ourselves, and so be made hostile to our enemy. The effect of corners upon price, he argued, could be gathered from the Leiter operations, which affected the price for about a month in America and for a very short time in this country. So in time of war there might be a rapid rise in price, but that would at once attract corn from all quarters of the world, with the result that the price would again fall. In the opinion of the Government there was nothing to inquire into. The outbreak of a war would not in their opinion cause real scarcity or panic prices as long as we had a Navy adequate to the needs of the country. If we had not such a Navy the Government should not be asked to grant an inquiry, but should be impeached. After some further speeches, including one in its support from Mr. Chaplin (Sleaford, Lincs) and against it from Mr. Gibson Bowles (King's Lynn), the amendment was withdrawn.
On the same day there took place a discussion of the affairs of Malta, Mr. Boland (Kerry, S.) moving an amendment to the Address, representing that the people of Malta had been restrained from exercising the right to hold public meetings, at which the proposed substitution of English for the Italian language in the law courts and the increase of taxation were to be discussed, and that the abrogation of the order with regard to the language and the restoration of complete civil rights were essential to the re-establishment of peaceful conditions in Malta. Mr. Boscawen (Tonbridge, Kent), from personal knowledge of Malta, maintained that Italian was certainly not the colloquial, nor even the literary, language of the people of the island, and the amendment was also opposed by Sir F. Flannery (Shipley, Yorks). Mr. Buxton (Poplar, Tower Hamlets) expressed himself as having been in general accord with the policy of the Colonial Secretary in regard to Malta, though he had not quite agreed with all the steps he had taken. He desired fuller information as to the situation.
Mr. Chamberlain then made a statement of considerable fulness and elaboration. It was not the fact, he said, that the people of Malta had been restrained from exercising the right of public meeting. On the contrary, the Executive had assisted the people to hold meetings, although at some of them seditious
things had been said. There had been nothing in the nature of a riot, as had been alleged, and it would be a great mistake to imagine that there was any serious discontent among the Maltese people, who were loyal subjects of the Crown. Malta, he reminded the House, was held as a fortress, which was essential to our position in the Mediterranean, and in a fortress anything in the nature of seditious agitation could not be tolerated. Having given a short account of the growth of the Constitution of Malta in order to show that under our rule the tendency had been to sanction greater and greater representation, he said that since 1887, when specially generous treatment was accorded to the island, there had been almost continuous friction between the elected members and the Imperial Government. The most serious difficulty arose in connection with the marriage question, which was now fortunately in abeyance. The vast majority of the people did not vote for the elected members, and the more highly educated inhabitants could not be induced to present themselves for election or to vote, and so were not represented.
With regard to the language question, the Colonial Secretary said it was absurd to imagine that Italian was the national language of Malta. The real language was an Arabic patois. Italian was not understood by one in seven of the population, and the people on the island who spoke and read English outnumbered those who read and spoke Italian. The Italian language was certainly the official language formerly, but in recent years the English visitors, military and civil, to Malta had largely increased in numbers, rendering a change in the language regulations necessary. Since 1899 parents had been given the right to choose either English or Italian as the language which their children should learn. The real grievance of the elected representatives was that the people had been given a free choice. Until the agitation began 98 per cent. of the parents chose English ; after the agitation the percentage fell to 75, and now it had risen again to 80. At all hazards the Government were determined to preserve to the parents their freedom of choice. Then a proclamation had been issued declaring the intention of the Government to make English at a subsequent date the official language of the courts, if it should be desirable to do so; but this proclamation had no binding force on future Governments. Coming to the taxation question, he said that the elected members had abused their powers by refusing to pass estimates for necessary purposes. Where the interests concerned were purely local, the elected members had been allowed to act as they pleased; but in regard to matters of Imperial concern the Government had imposed by Order in Council the necessary taxation. The greater part of this taxation, however, would fall upon the British and not upon the Maltese. The avowed determination of the elected members was to wreck the administration of the island unless
1902.] Malta.-Electoral Anomalies in the United Kingdom. [35 the Government gave way on the language question. If this opposition was to continue the time would come when it might become necessary to do away with the Constitution or to modify it so as to give the Government a controlling voice in the administration. Before concluding, however, Mr. Chamberlain announced a concession. The action which the Government had taken had caused, he was sorry to say, through misunderstanding of its real character, some irritation and pain in Italy. He deeply regretted this, and was most anxious to remove the feeling of discontent, for friendship between Italy and England was for both countries a national asset. The relations between the two countries had always been friendly, and their interests, especially in the Mediterranean, were mutual. Therefore, as the Italians took exception to his proclamation with regard to the official use of English in the law courts fifteen or twenty years hence, he was prepared formally to withdraw it. He hoped also that this concession would have a favourable effect on the attitude of the elected members of the Council of Malta.
Sir H. Campbell-Bannerman having said that he thought the concession of the right hon. gentleman would have satisfactory consequences, the amendment was withdrawn.
A debate was then begun, and concluded on January 29, on an amendment to the Address moved by Mr. L. Sinclair (Romford, Essex), urging the desirability of remedying the defects and anomalies in our electoral system by a measure providing for a redistribution of seats, and also for the permanent representation of the British dominions beyond the seas in the Imperial Parliament. In the course of an interesting speech the mover pointed out that at present the representative strength of Newry was to that of London in the proportion of eighteen to one; and that while in England the average number of electors to a constituency was 10,897, in Scotland it was 9,600, and in Ireland only 7,144. On the basis of population Ireland was only entitled now to forty-four members, or, on the basis of contribution, to sixteen members. In the present House of Commons 270 members represented more electors than the other 400 members. With regard to the second part of the amendment, his object was, not to ask that Colonial members should attend that House, but to create in this country an Imperial defence council, to which eminent Colonials should be invited, to consider what could be done to make the defence of the Empire efficient.
The amendment was seconded by Mr. Coghill (Stoke-uponTrent), and supported by Mr. Kimber (Wandsworth), who argued that under our present system if the majority in the House of Commons really represented the will of the nation, it did so by accident. England was entitled, he maintained, to be represented by 499 members instead of by 465, as at present. The electorate of Scotland numbered 700,000, and that country sent seventy-two members to Parliament, while Ireland with an
electorate of 735,000 was represented by 103 members, an excess of thirty-one.
The debate was noteworthy for the tone in which the subject was dealt with by Mr. Balfour, which was distinctly at variance with the stress laid in recent writing, as well as speaking, by some Unionists on the excessive representation possessed by Ireland. He acknowledged that the anomalies of our representation were growing and likely to grow, and would require treatment, but pointed out that legislation upon this subject ought not to be undertaken in the earlier years of a Parliament. He said that he did not approve of basing a scheme of redistribution merely upon numbers. The character of communities, the history of localities, and other considerations had always been taken into account. He distrusted arguments upon this subject which were founded upon nationalities. Members represented constituencies and not nationalities, and the controversy as to the redistribution of seats ought not to degenerate into a struggle between the three countries for the greatest relative amount of representation. The consideration of the question to which his friends had drawn attention could not be postponed indefinitely, and it was his confident hope that before this Parliament came to an end the House would have an opportunity of discussing the subject in a practical spirit.
Mr. Asquith (Fife, E.) expressed satisfaction at what Mr. Balfour had said in deprecation of a controversy between nationalities or countries on the question of representation. They had also, he urged, to remember that in any scheme of redistribution the question of the representation of the Universities and of plural voting would have to be dealt with. In the course of the debate, Mr. Bryce (Aberdeen, S.) insisted that any reduction of the Irish representation would be a breach of the compact made at the time of the Union. In the end Mr. Sinclair offered, but was refused permission, to withdraw his amendment, and it was negatived by 302 votes to 23. The subject of Colonial representation was very little referred to in the debate.
The last of the multitude of amendments to the Address elicited an announcement of some domestic importance on the part of the Government. Major Evans-Gordon (Stepney, Tower Hamlets) moved, and Mr. S. F. Ridley (Bethnal Green, S.W.) seconded, a declaration of the urgent necessity of legislation to regulate and restrict the immigration of destitute aliens. Both speakers dwelt earnestly on the social and industrial evils caused in the poorer parts of London by the immigration in question. In reply Mr. G. Balfour (Leeds, Central), President of the Board of Trade, acknowledged that the evils following unrestricted immigration could not be gainsaid; and that it was anomalous that in this country alone there was no power to exclude or expel aliens, however injurious their presence might be to the community. He pointed out, however, that mere provisions for the exclusion of destitute aliens would not
[37 seriously reduce the evils complained of. Into America, where such provisions existed, the influx of poor Russian and Polish immigrants was considerably larger than into this country. Any proposed remedy, therefore, must be more drastic than the remedies hitherto contemplated; but the Government did not think that drastic measures would be justifiable without further inquiry. Such an inquiry, he announced, the Government were prepared to sanction. At present the alien immigration laws of America were inoperative and ineffective; but should they be made effective the immigration into this country would certainly increase largely; and, therefore, he held that we must adopt betimes some measures of self-preservation.
In view of this statement the amendment was withdrawn, and the Address in answer to the Speech from the Throne was then at last agreed to without a division.
Before proceeding to the business of the session ensuing on the manifold, and, in some cases, interesting and important, preliminary discussions described in the foregoing pages, it may be recorded that the question of old-age pensions was considered, on January 14 and 15, at a conference in London called by the Parliamentary Committee of the Trade Union Congress and the Committee of the Co-operative Congress. The discussions of the assembly issued in the adoption, with great enthusiasm, of resolutions affirming the urgent necessity of the establishment of a national system of old age pensions, the cost to be entirely defrayed by the Imperial Exchequer, which should secure to every citizen, male or female, a pension of at least 58. a week on attaining the age of sixty years. Replying to a correspondent on this subject a few days later Mr. Chamberlain wrote that it was impossible for him to anticipate in any way the possibilities of legislation in future sessions. He went on to say that he regarded the results of the recent conference of co-operative and trade union delegates as distinctly hurtful. The conference had unanimously voted in favour of universal pensions, absolutely independent of character and thrift. No such scheme, in Mr. Chamberlain's opinion, was ever likely to be accepted, while the extraordinary views expressed at the conference were, he thought, not calculated to make converts to the principle.
A question of considerable ecclesiastical interest was before the country in January and the early part of February. In November, 1901, the Rev. Charles Gore, Canon of Westminster, a liberal High Churchman and Church Reformer, wielding very wide influence by reason of the spirituality of his character, the extent of his learning, and the breadth of his sympathies, was nominated by the Crown to succeed Bishop Perowne, who, on account of age and infirmity, had resigned the See of Worcester. Canon Gore was duly elected to the bishopric by the Dean and Chapter, and the only remaining preliminary to his consecration was the “confirmation ” of the capitular election