Clause I. — (Application of China Indemnity.)

Orders of the Day — China Indemnity (Application) Bill. – in the House of Commons am ar 4 Mai 1925.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Mr Arthur Ponsonby Mr Arthur Ponsonby , Sheffield, Brightside

I beg to move, in page 1, line 13, to leave out the words "or other."

I have no desire to delay the further passage of this Bill, which is already very much belated, but I use this occasion to move my Amendment in order to allow the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs an opportunity of telling the House the constitution of the Committee which has been set up under the Bill, and its personnel, which has not yet been made public. I also desire once more to ask my right hon. Friend to tell the House as emphatically as he has done on former occasions that the intention of the Government is that this money shall be devoted to educational purposes primarily. The Amendment would make the purposes to which the money is devoted exclusively educational purposes. I have pressed that in Committee, as I do now, although last year, when I was responsible for the Bill, no such Amendment was accepted by me. But since that time, and since various changes have been made by the present Government in the Committee set up by us, a suspicion has arisen, and I think it is justifiable, that there is some intention of devoting the money to other than educational purposes. Indeed, both in previous stages of the Bill and on occasions when Members interested in the Bill have had the matter before them, we have felt the pressure of the commercial interests. Members of the House have been circularised and pressure has been brought upon the Government to allow loopholes by which the money could be devoted to commercial purposes.

. Nothing could be more fatal than that this gesture that we are making, and which other countries have made before us, should be in any way desecrated by a desire on our part to make a profit out of it for individual British subjects. Therefore, I want to emphasise the fact that we hope very much that the instruction to the Committee, and the. purpose that the Government have before them, will be made clear, in order that the money may be devoted to educational purposes, of which there are many in China which will he beneficial to the Chinese, and, incidentally, to ourselves. It is a matter for regret that this Bill has been hung up for two, if not three, years. I certainly hope that in China there will be no misunderstanding on that point. The delay in connection with this Bill has been due to circumstances over which neither side of the House had any control. The political exigencies of the last two years cut short the progress of this Bill on three different occasions, and I hope that circumstance will not he misunderstood in China and that the people there will not think there was any reluctance on our part to take this step. I am sure the Under-Secretary for Foreign Affairs will feel that he has the unanimous support of the House in asking for the passage of this Measure.

Photo of Mr Ronald McNeill Mr Ronald McNeill , Canterbury

I gather from the way in which the hon. Gentleman has moved this Amendment—and I hope I am right in my inference—that he does not mean to press it to a Division, but that he uses it as a convenient way of giving me an opportunity to make the statement which he wishes to draw from the Government. If that be so, I have no hesitation in giving him the assurance he wants. I entirely agree with him that it would be disastrous if we utilised this Bill as a means of extracting any commercial or other profit for this country. The desire of this Government as of the last Government and of the Government which preceded that, is that this money, in the circumstances in which it comes to be at our disposal, should be used in the very best possible way we can devise for the benefit of the Chinese people. That is our object. The hon. Gentleman said he wished to know the composition of the Advisory Committee. May I make one observation with regard to that point? The hon. Gentleman when he was in charge of this Bill spoke with emphasis against this very Amendment and the reason he gave for changing his attitude now that the Bill comes up on our responsibility, was that he had desired to give greater freedom to the Advisory Committee in the earlier period, because he had then complete confidence in that Advisory Committee, but that he had less confidence in the Committee which we are attempting to set up. I can only assure him again, as I have done before, that any change made by us in the personnel of the Committee was intended, rightly or wrongly, simply for the purpose of strengthening it as an educational Advisory Committee. I cannot give him the complete personnel. As he will remember when the Bill was in Committee, I moved an Amendment to increase the Advisory Committee from 10 to 11, and I said my object was to strengthen the Chinese element, and to have two Chinese members instead of one. I am not yet, I regret to say, able to give the names of the two Chinese members. It will he understood that a longer time is required to negotiate with them than with people at our disposal at home.

9.0 P.M.

With that exception, I shall be glad to gave him the names of the members, almost all being the same as those selected by the Labour Government. The Chairman is Lord Buxton, and the other members are Sir John Jordan; Sir William Clark; Mr. Waterlow of the Foreign Office; Sir Charles Addis; Professor Soot-hill, Professor of Chinese, the University of Oxford; my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Dover (Major Astor), Sir Christopher Needham; Dame Adelaide Anderson; and two Chinese members with whom we are in negotiation. That is really all I have to say with regard to the personnel of the Committee. My hon. Friend has intimated that he does not intend to press the Amendment, and therefore I should be wasting the time of the House if I went into the merits of the particular proposal which he has mentioned, but I may say in a few words that we entirely agree with him that the purpose primarily is education. The only reason why we seek to retain the words "and others" is that we do not want to tie the Advisory Committee too closely and possibly compel them to reject some beneficial endowment or some work of benefit to the Chinese people which might not strictly come within the definition of "education." In Committee I intimated that there might be some agricultural work, possibly even some conservancy or engineering work of immense benefit to the population in districts now subject to floods and that it was possible that serious grievances might be remedied by some ordinary engineering process while there were other questions of that kind which might arise, but we have nothing of the sort in view.

At the same time we are anxious to retain just sufficient elasticity to enable the advisory committee if such cases did arise to devote money at their discretion to objects of that kind. I take the opportunity of expressing my entire concurrence with the hon. Member regarding the main purpose of this Bill. As he said, it has been too long delayed by political vicissitudes in this country. Successive General Elections have delayed the passage of the Measure which ought to have been carried at least two years ago. Of course those obstructions to the passage of the Bill may not be so clearly understood in China as they are here. There is the danger that people in China may misinterpret them and may suspect our good faith and think we are giving false reasons for the delay in passing the Bill. Therefore, I am glad that we have now reached what I hope is the final stage of the Measure. I would like to say that the Government—and I am certain I voice the views of hon. Members in all parts of the House—most earnestly hope that this will be taken as a gesture of friendliness from this country to the great Chinese nation in the circumstances which have given rise to the Bill. We offer it to the Chinese people with the earnest desire that their great nation may really benefit by what I think I may call the generosity of the British people in this respect. We offer them this endowment, for what it may be worth, with our best wishes for the prosperity and the future of that great and ancient civilisation, and we do it with the assurance that the British people feel towards China and the Chinese no sentiment except one of true friendliness and respect.

Photo of Sir Annesley Somerville Sir Annesley Somerville , Windsor

I beg to move, in page. 1, line 13, after the first word "purposes," to insert the words of direct social advantage to the Chinese people. There is no desire on the part of my Noble Friend the Member for Shrewsbury (Viscount Sandon) and myself to delay proceedings on this Bill, whose main object is to create a feeling of international good will between this country and China. There are strong social reasons for doing this which have been fully debated on the Second Reading and in Committee. There is a very strong trade reason also. At present there is something like a boycott of British trade in China, and it is only long-established businesses, such as tobacco and soap, that are able to carry on at all, and if we can succeed, by a wise use of this money, in convincing the Chinese that what we have in view is good will between the two countries, and not the furtherance of any special commercial interests but of commerce as a whole, then I think a great advance will have been made in the relations between the two countries. The Under-Secretary for Foreign Affairs has given most satisfactory assurances, but I wish he could go one step further, and look favourably upon such an Advisory Committee of Chinese in Pekin as has been established by the United States and Japan, so that the Committee which he is establishing in this country would he kept in touch as far as possible with Chinese opinion. If the right hon. Gentleman can give some assurance on those lines, there will be no desire on the part of my Noble Friend and myself to press the Amendment.

Photo of Mr Ronald McNeill Mr Ronald McNeill , Canterbury

I hope that my hon. Friends will not press, this Amendment, which was proposed in Committee. I then explained why it appeared to me that it would be perfectly useless, and that, if accepted, it would add nothing to the Bill as it stands. It would be extremely difficult to give any definition of what was "of direct social advantage to the Chinese people," and I gave examples in Committee to show the way in which I thought difficulties might arise in its interpretation. I do not believe my hon. Friend himself thinks that it would really add anything to the security which is supplied by the Bill as it stands, and it would not even act as any real guide to the Advisory Committee. He has also referred to another matter, which is not strictly relevant to this Amendment at all, but which was proposed in Committee in another Amendment, when he asked me for some assurance with regard to an Advisory Committee in China itself. I also explained in Committee, with regard to that matter, that it would, in my judgment, be a fatal mistake to put in the Statute itself that there must be an Advisory Committee in China to communicate with the Advisory Committee in this country, because that is obviously a, matter that might be very useful at one time and quite useless at another time, and it might involve a very considerable amount of expense.

The Advisory Committee which we are setting up under this Bill is composed of men of very great sense, many of them men with a very great knowledge of China, and we shall have two Chinese members on it. I have not the slightest doubt that they will take every possible step to make themselves thoroughly familiar with Chinese opinion and the best methods of carrying out the policy which is entrusted to them. If they think that the best way of doing that is by having some Committee out in China itself, with whom they may keep in correspondence, there is nothing in the world to prevent them doing it, but I certainly think it would be a very great mistake to put anything of the sort in the Bill. I notice that, whoever it was who proposed the Amendment in Committee, he has not thought fit to put it down on the Paper at the present time. Therefore, while I cannot give my hon. Friend any assurance that the Advisory Committee will adopt that particular procedure, I can, I think, give him an assurance that they will keep themselves thoroughly in touch with the best Chinese opinion on the subject, without which, indeed, it would be almost impossible for them to perform their task.

Question, "That those words be there inserted in the Bill," put, and negatived.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read the Third time."

Photo of Mr Ronald McNeill Mr Ronald McNeill , Canterbury

I do not think, under the circumstances, it is necessary for me to say much in asking the House to give the Third Reading to this Bill. I will only repeat in a single sentence that we offer this Bill to China as a token of good will, in which there is no division of opinion in the House of Commons, and I hope that note will be taken in China that this is a matter in which the ordinary play of party spirit has had no part. It is a Bill which was proposed originally by a Conservative Government; it was then re-proposed by a Labour Government, and it has been taken up now by another Conservative Government. We have all had our share of responsibility for it, and we have all, I think, shared the pleasure of passing this Measure. Therefore, it can be truly said that it comes, with whatever benefits it may confer upon China, as a gift, not from any Government nor from any party in this country, but from the British people as a whole.

Photo of Mr Arthur Ponsonby Mr Arthur Ponsonby , Sheffield, Brightside

I should like to endorse in a couple of sentences what my right hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs has said, and, if I may, to congratulate him on having at last steered this small Measure successfully through its Parliamentary career. Also, I should like to thank him for having, in Committee, improved the Bill as it stood last year by adding one extra Chinese representative to the Committee. I fully appreciate all that he has said, and I feel sure that just these few words will show the Chinese people that the un- fortunate occurrences which prevented the passage of this Bill sooner have in no way had anything to do with the unanimous spirit behind the proposal, and that we offer this sum of money and this method of administering it for the benefit of the Chinese people with a message of the greatest good will from the British people.