HC Deb 24 June 1861 vol 163 cc1527-33

Sir, in putting a question to the noble Lord the Secretary of State for the Foreign Department as to the critical state of affairs upon the coast of Morocco, I may be permitted to refer to the importance of the reply of the noble Lord, because it has been admitted by him, on the part of the Government, that this question is one of the greatest importance as affecting the interests of British trade generally, and more particularly in the neighbourhood of our great fortress of Gibraltar. At this late hour of the evening I shall not venture to trespass upon the patience of the House by any lengthened speech, but, perhaps, I may be permitted to qualify my remarks by one or two preliminary observations. It will be in the recollection of the House that when hositilities broke out between the Government of the Sultan of Morocco and that of the Queen of Spain, in consequence of hostile aggressions of the Moors against the fortresses of Melilla and Ceuta—which had been very much provoked by the attitude of the governors of those fortresses—Her Majesty's Government demanded in writing of the Spanish Government an assurance that when hostilities were concluded no occupation of any portion of the territory of Morocco west of Ceuta—nor, in fact, any portion whatever of the territory of Morocco—should be occupied as a guarantee for the payment of any indemnity which the Spanish Government might be inclined to demand for the payment of its war expenses. I think the British Government very wisely demanded that assurance, believing that the trade and commerce of the Mediterranean might be interfered with by the occupation of the opposite coast by Spain, and, moreover, that the interests of Gibraltar might be seriously affected by a successful conquest and the annexation by Spain of any portion of the territory of Morocco. The quarrel was got up in the most novel way imaginable—but I will not now enter into that. I will only say that nine-tenths of the trade of Morocco is in the hands of British subjects, and the cause of quarrel between Spain and Morocco was of the most futile character. The Spaniards extended their lines outside of Ceuta. A wild tribe in the neighbourhood removed the landmarks. The Spanish Government complained to the Government of Morocco, who yielded. The Spanish Government then made further demands and the Government of Morocco again yielded; and so it went on until at last the Government of Morocco told the other Powers of Europe and the British Minister that it was impossible for them to go on acceding to the propositions of the Spanish Government, and that if they were forced into war the responsibility must rest with the Spanish Government. Hostilities did break out, and the Spaniards were victorious. They lost 20,000 men in the course of a few months. They marched a few miles and a desultory warfare took place, but they succeeded in obtaining what they wanted—an indemnity in money—20,000,000 of piasters. The Government of Spain have already succeeded in getting 7,000,000 of piasters from the Government of Morocco but the latter Government now say that it is impossible for them to go on paying these large sums of money; and then what does Spain do? The House will hardly believe it. There is at this moment an immense army collected in the south of Spain, and there is also prepared a large fleet or squadron, the commander-in-chief of which has visited the port of El Araiche and has threatened to occupy Mogador, which is the port of the capital of Morocco. There are numbers of British merchants not only in Mogador, but throughout the whole empire of Morocco—for, as I have said, nine-tenths of the trade of that country passes through British hands. I put it to the House and to the Government whether this interference of the Spanish Government to compel the payment of the indemnity for Morocco is not likely to have a contrary effect, because it must disturb the whole position of the Government in that savage country and the payment of the ordinary revenues is interrupted. We find from the events of 1844, as well as from the occurrences of two years since, that directly an enemy's flag arrives off the coast there are certain barbarous tribes which rise for the purpose of plunder, and all trade is at once annihilated. I ask, if British merchants are entitled to that protection which the noble Lord assured the country would be given them in case of misconduct on the part of the Spanish Government, whether occasion for it does not now exist? The House would hardly credit the amount of force that has been collected by Spain. The noble Lord the Prime Minister just now, in his usual pleasant manner, sneered at what he called not a large expedition of 3,000 men; but what does the House think is the expedition which Spain has prepared against Morocco? There are 15,000 Spanish troops at this moment upon the coast of Africa. There are also 10,000 troops collected in the south of Andalusia, and the whole Spanish navy is in the waters of Algesiras, ready to act against the coast of Morocco, and get up a squabble with this country, perhaps at the instigation of a neighbour. The Governor of Gibraltar has visited the Spanish squadron at Algesiras, and has reported the excellence both of the ships and crews. Now, I wish to ask the noble Lord whether her Majesty's Government has at all interfered with the object of effecting a settlement of the dispute between Morocco and Spain? I have recently heard that Her Majesty's Government has made some proposition for an arrangement. A peaceful settlement of the dispute will be most satisfactory, and the noble Lord will gain great credit with all persons connected with the trade and commerce of that part of the world if he arrives at a satisfactory solution of the difficulty. I believe that the French Government has also offered its services for the same purpose; but it will be better if Her Majesty's Government, so excellently represented by our Minister at Tangier, Mr. Drummond Hay, can effect it unassisted. From the great influence Mr. Drummond Hay possesses in the Empire of Morocco, I believe, if he has the treatment of the matter, he will be able—if any man can—to bring it to a satisfactory conclusion. The noble Lord, before the commencement of the last war, obtained from the Spanish Government an assurance in writing, twice repeated, that on no account whatever would Spain even occupy any part of the coast of Morocco. I ask the noble Lord to hold Spain to that pledge, given in 1859, and not permit the Spanish Government, to the detriment of British trade, to occupy any portion of the Morocco coast. And I will ask the House if the Government of Spain is one that ought to attack the Empire of Morocco in the way it is doing? Because Morocco has not exactly kept a treaty, is Spain, therefore, justified in sending an enormous army to invade a State at this moment in convulsions? We know that the Spanish Government itself has not been so very strict in its adherence to treaties. The noble Lord at the head of the Government lately spoke of the disgraceful bad faith—those were his very words—of Spain in reference to her treaties with this country. England entered into an agreement with Spain for the suppression of the slave trade, and paid money to the Spanish Government for that purpose. Spain not only entered into a solemn engagement by treaty to suppress the slave trade, but received a sum of money to do it. What was the consequence? Spain took the money, but in every way fostered and propagated that infamous traffic. At this moment the Captain-Generalship of Cuba is the most lucrative appointment in the gift of any Government in the world—and why? On account of the head money levied by the Captain General for every slave imported into the colony. Spain, therefore, is not the Government that ought at once to proceed to such extremities against Morocco for the non-observance of a treaty. Again, has Spain always been so very punctual in her own money transactions? She is going to war on account of the non-fulfilment of a money contract by Morocco; but how has Spain acted towards the poor Spanish bondholders in this country? How-does she treat them? I believe in 1834 the Spanish Government actually owed to British subjects no less than ninety millions sterling! How did it settle the claim? Did the British Government force Spain to pay the debt, as Spain is forcing Morocco? In 1834 a compromise was made, by which the debt was reduced 33 per cent, besides the loss of many years' interest. In 1850 another arrangement was made, and by an arbitrary act of the Government the interest on the debt was reduced from 5 to 3 per cent, with the confiscation of seven millions of interest overdue. Again, the House will recollect that last year the payment of a debt of £400,000 was required from Spain by the British Government; that sum had been due for twenty years; it was never demanded for twenty years; yet it was paid with the worst possible grace, and in Spain much ill feeling and ill blood was excited towards this country. I ask the noble Lord also to consider this: there is a system of annexation being pursued, not only by France, but by Spain, that requires his vigilant and active attention. The annexation of San Domingo is a most serious and dangerous precedent. We have heard no opinion from Her Majesty's Government on that subject. The noble Lord read the other night a despatch, in which Marshal O'Donnell told him that the slave trade is not to be introduced into that island. [Lord JOHN RUSSELL: No; not only not the slave trade but not slavery.] I am glad to hear it; but considering that Cuba is the hotbed of slavery and the slave trade, and that St. Domingo is only sixty miles distant, there is some danger of the traffic being extended to it. But now that the coast of Morocco is threatened by the Spanish Government I hope the noble Lord will give an assurance to the country, and to those British merchants through whose hands nearly the whole commerce of the country passes, that these Spanish forces will not arrive off the ports of Morocco and excite a feeling among the barbarous tribes that may cause them to make attacks on those towns. I hope the Spanish Government will be prepared to treat these questions in a generous spirit, and not press the Government of Morocco to extremities.


The question put by the hon. Baronet may be separated into two parts, and in replying to it I think it will be most convenient if I refrain from entering into the merits of the former war between Spain and Morocco, or into the question of the Cuban slave trade, and the manner in which Spain has fulfilled her engagements with respect to it with other Powers. With regard to the hon. Baronet's question referring to Morocco, I may state that the war between that empire and Spain was terminated by a treaty containing a stipulation that Morocco should pay to Spain an indemnity of 20,000,000 dollars and that, till 12,000,000 of that sum were paid Spain should continue to occupy part of the territory, including the city of Tetuan. In the course of time the engagements of that treaty have given rise to disputes and differences between the two countries. On the one hand the Government of Morocco states that the Moors, regarding Tetuan as a holy city, have become dissatisfied and disaffected at its occupation by a foreign and Christian Power. On the other hand, the Spanish Government complains of a want of good faith on the part of Morocco as to the payment of the indemnity. Her Majesty's Government have asked the Government of Spain what is the cause of its assembling these land and sea forces? The Spanish Government states that some of its troops in the territory of Morocco are surrounded by barbarous tribes, who are constantly breaking out into acts of violence, and that Morocco refuses to pay the instalments of the indemnity. They say they would have borne any delay in the payment of the debt, as they knew the Government of Morocco to be surrounded by difficulties, but what they will not tolerate is that Morocco should repudiate its obligations altogether, and refuse to pay the indemnity. On this explanation being given, Her Majesty's Government proffered its good offices to the Government of Spain with the view of obtaining a settlement of the dispute. At the same time we entered into communication with the Government of Morocco through Mr. Drummond Hay, to whose services the hon. Baronet has alluded. We have received from the Government of Morocco the assurance that nothing but its inability to raise the money at this moment has prevented it from paying the instalments of the indemnity, that the interruption of the payment is not the fault of the Government, nor is it caused by the want of inclination, but that the disturbed state of the country renders the Government unable at this moment to pay the 4,500,000 dollars that are due out of the 12,000,000 dollars of the stipulation. The Government of Spain, on its part, has accepted the good offices of Her Majesty's Government, and certain terms have been discussed between them. When those terms were sent out to Morocco Mr. Hay was desired to prepare himself to go to the Court of Morocco, if necessary. A message was received from the Sultan stating that it would be very agreeable to him if Mr. Hay would proceed to his court; and it is believed that his presence there will have considerable effect. On the other hand, the Spanish Government appears quite willing to wait till the terms thus proposed have been considered by the Government of Morocco. And I must say that the Spanish Government has declared—and I believe with sincerity and truth—that the occupation of Tetuan by 15,000 troops is an inconvenience and a source of considerable expense; and that she would be glad to come to some terms by which they might hold some other security for the payment of the indemnity, or have the proceeds of the customs assigned to them. The Spanish Government are quite willing to consider any reasonable terms; but it is obvious that they cannot, consistently with the dignity of the Spanish nation, consent that the treaty, in which it is stipulated that a sum shall be paid by Morocco should not be carried out. I cannot deny that Spain has not always fulfilled her treaty obligations; but for my own part, I confess I look with satisfaction on the thriving resources and increasing prosperity of Spain, and I trust that our country and Spain may always be on terms of cordial friendship and alliance. If we can contribute in any way to prevent a new war breaking out between Spain and Morocco, I think that the good offices of Her Majesty's Government would be well bestowed on the effort.

Main Question pat, and agreed to.