HC Deb 16 June 1871 vol 207 cc179-85

, in rising to call attention to the local revenue and expenditure of Gibraltar, and to move— That, in the opinion of this House, it is expedient to take measures by amendment of the tariff, or otherwise, to put an end to the contraband traffic now carried on between Gibraltar and Spain, said, that his object was to indicate that very important reforms might be effected in that military colony, if certain changes were made in the method of raising the revenue, without either increasing or diminishing its total amount. Little, indeed, could be urged against the amount of civil expenditure in a colony which had no Debt, and which had for years shown a good surplus, that of 1869 being £8,108, out of a Revenue of £37,833. The salary of the Civil Governor—£;5,000 a-year—did, however, appear to be excessive; and it was not easy to see what duties he could have to perform among a civil population of 20,000, aided as he was by a colonial secretary, engineer, auditor, collector of Revenues, inspector of Revenues, supervisor of markets, all drawing fair salaries. On the other hand, the item for Education was £222 16s. 2d. There was one special matter in which a great reform might be carried out by the suppression of the numerous low wineshops, where drink of the worst quality was obtained by the sailors and soldiers. A discretionary power was enjoyed by officers commanding regiments on foreign stations, of permitting the sale of spirituous liquors in the regimental canteens, which were, of course, under strict regulations; but at Gibraltar that power was frustrated by local regulations. The rates for spirit licences were so high that it was almost impossible to afford one for each canteen when a regiment was divided, as at Gibraltar, among three or four barracks, and licences had actually been refused to regimental canteens upon the ground that "if granted a number of wineshops, licensed for the soldiers only, would be closed, and the revenue thereby diminished." Those who know the nature of these wineshops, the company who frequented them, and the quality of the liquor there furnished, would no doubt consider any increase of revenue derived from their maintenance as very dearly purchased at the expense of the health, and morals of their soldiers. More than £5,000 a-year was raised at Gibraltar from licences, but a Government financially so properous, had no excuse for maintaining such a system; and even if the money was required, a reasonable duty on tobacco, now free, would answer the two-fold purpose of raising revenue, and checking the contraband traffic now carried on with Spain. The fact was, that the position of Gibraltar, a free port, except as regarded wines and spirits, rose a very grave international question affecting the character of Great Britain as a good neighbour not merely to Spain, but to the many great nations whose neighbour she was by virtue of her island fortresses and other outlying possessions. The present time seemed peculiarly appropriate for considering their position as possessors of Gibraltar, the only territory which, they held upon the Continent of Europe. Many thought that they were bound to show cause not only to the British taxpayer but also to friendly foreign Powers, why they kept possession of any European territory beyond the limits of the United Kingdom, but upon so wide a question he would not now enter. It might be doubtful how far Gibraltar was necessary to us as a coaling depôt, a naval station, or a connecting link with India; but all those points might fairly be urged in favour of its retention. On the other hand, it would hardly be maintained in that country, that although Gibraltar did not pay for any other purpose, it was well worth keeping as an entrepót for smuggling—an assertion freely made by foreign writers. No imperious demand had been made, nor was likely to be made, for the surrender of Gibraltar, but now and then they heard of rumoured proposals as to purchase, or exchange for Ceuta, the Spanish fortress in Africa. Such proposals could not be for a moment entertained; Ceuta would simply be Gibraltar, without strength or prestige, and if they ever parted with the Rock it must not be by sale or barter, but as a free gift from one great nation to another. The present question was whether, admitting the necessity of their retaining the great fortress, they could not prevent its being more than a sentimental grievance to the proud, high-spirited people, from whom they wrested it, and against whom they had held it for more than a century and a-half. They were told that at Gibraltar the sight of their flag and the report of their guns were painful to Spanish feelings, and that was not surprising, when they recollected that that flag and those guns had long protected a system of contraband traffic, injurious alike to the Spanish revenue and the British reputation. Spain had recently shown herself worthy of the esteem and sympathy of free nations, and in no way could they better prove their friendliness towards her and her Government than by exerting themselves to repress smuggling, as they were bound by treaty to do. In Spain, as in all countries where the Press was free, great stress was laid upon the public opinion and the conduct of that country. Their journals were constantly quoted in Spanish newspapers, and particular satisfaction was produced by the friendly sentiments towards Spain expressed in the gracious Speech from the Throne. There was reason to believe that the kindly feeling of Spanish Liberals towards England had conduced to their recent silence upon a question which touched every patriotic Spaniard so nearly as did the foreign occupation of Gibraltar. It was true that smuggling was no longer so crying an evil at Gibraltar as it once was; and that was due chiefly to amendment of the Spanish tariff, a process which, carried out conjointly with their own Government, might put an end altogether to the traffic. As a free port, Gibraltar afforded special facilities to smugglers, in spite of lines of sentries and squadrons of guarda costas. It was, of course, impossible to obtain accurate statistics of smuggling; but it was a significant fact that within three years 30,000 cwt. of American tobacco was imported into Gibraltar, according to recent Returns, and of that more than 29,000 cwt. again exported within the same period, finding its way undoubtedly into Spain, where tobacco had long been a Government monopoly. The Spanish tariff was vexatious, and there was corruption in the preventive service, so that a large proportion probably passed with official connivance; but many smugglers preferred taking their chance to giving a bribe, and not unfrequently they paid the penalty with their lives. Great recklessness of life and property, and general demoralization had resulted from that traffic throughout a large portion of Andalusia; and the brigands, of whom so much had lately been heard, might be nearly identified with contrabandists. Not long ago a similar state of matters existed on the northern frontier of Spain. An old douanier, who was his guide on the Pyrenees, described armed bands of contrabandists as so numerous that it was impossible to resist them, but added—"Since the Emperor altered the tariffs there have been no smugglers to speak of in the Pyrenees." He believed that, in the South the same results would follow from a similar policy; but without joint action on their part all efforts of the Spaniards would be fruitless. Smuggling was hardly an offence which could be made the subject of an extradition treaty; but it was difficult, if not impossible, to draw the line between organized smuggling and piracy, or brigandage The existence of an asylum within the "Neutral Ground" for various sorts of outlaws was a grievance repeatedly urged against them by the Spanish authorities, as in the recent case of the supposed capture by brigands of the British subjects, where serious suspicions of collusion were entertained. If Her Majesty's Government would co-operate heartily with that of Spain in this matter, a great injustice might be redressed, and much might be done towards establishing a cordial understanding between two nations, who had in common many great interests for the future, as well as glorious traditions in the past. In conclusion, he would say, that although the forms of the House would not allow him to make the Motion of which he had given Notice, he trusted that the Government would give him some assurance that it was their wish to meet the Spanish Government at least half way in the matter.


said, he could not agree with the hon. Baronet (Sir David Wedderburn), that the salary of the Governor of Gibraltar was too high; because they must not judge from the number of the population, but from the geographical position of the place, the number of troops stationed there, its essential importance to this country, and the necessity of its being under the command of a man of high character. With regard to the cession of Gibraltar, he would not enter into that subject, except to say that he believed the opinion of that House and of the country would be very much against such a step. All, therefore, that could be done was, that while they hold Gibraltar they should endeavour to make their occupation as little offensive as possible to any friendly Power. No doubt, the contraband traffic spoken of by the hon. Baronet did exist; but he did not know that they were to blame for that, for the high protective duties of Spain were principally responsible for the encouragement of contraband dealing. Gibraltar was commonly spoken of as a free port; but it was only so in the sense that duties were only levied on wines and spirits. Upon wine the duty was 7½d. per half-dozen bottles, and upon spirits $1 a gallon. In 1869 about £11,000 was raised from these sources; and he doubted whether either lowering or raising the duties would exercise a beneficial effect in repressing contraband trade, because the smuggling arose rather from the tariff of Spain. With high protective duties there was sure to be smuggling, and in Spain the ad valorem duty of from 30 to 35 per cent pressed heavily upon merchants. He was not sorry that the hon. Baronet had called attention to that contraband trade, and, as far as Her Majesty's Government were concerned, they would do all that they could to put it down, and to promote a friendly feeling between that country and Spain. A check on the traffic was at present in operation, vessels of a certain size trading from Gibraltar being required to have a licence, which could be revoked on misconduct. Already the attention of the Admiralty and the Foreign and Colonial Offices had been directed to the subject, and it would not be the fault of the Government if they did not succeed in their efforts.


said, he was glad to hear from the hon. Gentleman who had just spoken (Mr. Knatchbull-Hugessen), that he was not prepared to give any encouragement to the idea that we wove about to give up Gibraltar, which had been bought so dearly by this country, and which was associated with some of the most glorious episodes of our history. He knew something of Gibraltar, and wished to express his dissent from much which had fallen from the hon. Baronet who had brought the subject under the notice of the House. It was perfectly well known that when a contraband trade was profitable to a certain extent it was almost impossible to put a stop to it. We had abundant proof of that at home, notwithstanding the integrity and effectiveness of our preventive force; and what, therefore, must be the case in Spain, where the smuggler had a friend not only at the port from which he sailed, but in that at which he arrived, it was easy to imagine. When it was borne in mind that the Spanish colonies produced some of the finest tobacco in the world, it was somewhat strange to find that a Spaniard could hardly get a good cigar at any price. The fact was, that the profit was so large that a great smuggling trade was almost necessarily created. He quite agreed in the opinion that the tariff should be reformed; but it was not that of Gibraltar, but that which prevailed in Spain. The laws were fairly carried out in Gibraltar; and if Spain put her laws into execution with equal fairness smuggling would soon disappear. He also concurred with the hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Knatchbull-Hugessen) in thinking that the Governor of Gibraltar was not paid too high a salary. The post was a very delicate one, and had generally been filled in a manner well calculated to maintain the character and honour of England.