HC Deb 04 June 1880 vol 252 cc1227-81

, in rising to call attention to the Revenue of India, derived from the cultivation of the poppy and the traffic in opium, and the duties levied thereon; and to the position of the relations between this country and China in relation to the trade in opium, said, that he was precluded by the Forms of the House from moving the Motion which he had placed upon the Paper—namely— That this House is of opinion that Her Majesty's Government, whilst asking admission into China for all exports from Great Britain, India, and British Possessions on the terms granted to the most favoured nation, should not, in carrying out existing or negotiating new Treaties, insist upon terms facilitating the introduction of opium, which the Government of China is unwilling to grant; and this House is also of opinion that Her Majesty's Government should encourage the Government of India to take steps for their gradual withdrawal from participation in the cultivation of the poppy and manufacture of opium, and dependence on a revenue derived from its cultivation and transit. He should offer no apology to the House for again bringing before it the question of the opium trade. The difficult position of the Indian Government with regard to the revenue derived from opium was pretty well known; but he was compelled to make it part of the case which he proposed to lay before the House. The subject had come before the House, from time to time, in connection with recent transactions with Burmah and China, and occasionally in the debates upon Indian finance; but there had been no specific opium debate since the one which took place at the instance of the hon. Member for the Wigtown Burghs (Mr. Mark Stewart), in the early life of the last Parliament—in the year 1875. If his hon. Friend had not been subjected to those exigencies which were inseparable from representa- tive institutions he would have introduced the question that night; and, as it was, his hon. Friend would supply any omissions that might be made in the statement which he (Mr. Pease) was about to make. Putting Party feeling aside, he was glad to see his hon. Friend back again in his place in that House. The controversy upon the opium traffic had not been the inheritance of any one particular Government. It had been before various Administrations, and had not been, he was glad to say, the monopoly of either side of the House. Hon. Members on both sides of the House had taken part in it, and none more effectually and with greater advantage to the House than his much lamented Friend, the late Mr. Russell Gurney. He admitted that, having regard to the present financial position of India, the question was a difficult one to deal with. At the same time, our position towards China and the Chinese people had been and was one which it was impossible to justify. It was opposed to the precepts of the religion we professed, and at variance not only with international, but moral law. Many statesmen had, from time to time, indicated their feeling in regard to the question. The right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Government, in speaking of the first China War, said— Although the Chinese were undoubtedly guilty of much absurd phraseology, of no little ostentatious pride, and of some excess, justice, in my opinion, is with them; and whilst they, the Pagans, the semi-civilized barbarians, have it on their side, we, the enlightened and civilized Christians, are pursuing objects at variance both with justice and religion. In 1879, in the debate upon the Indian Budget, the Prime Minister made use of the following words:— The revenue from opium is not to be counted upon like the revenue from land, or like that from salt, which, be it objectionable or not, is under our control. The opium revenue we may accept with more or loss compunction and regret as ministering to our present necessity; but we have no right to reckon upon its full continuance."—[3 Hansard, ccxlvi. 1744.] This very year, in reply to the hon. Member for Guildford (Mr. Onslow), the Prime Minister said— The Indian revenue never can be solid and substantial so long as it is largely dependent on the opium revenue."—[Ibid., ccli. 932.] Again, in a letter written this year the right hon. Gentleman said— I have witnessed three wars in China. The two first of these wars were directly connected with the opium traffic, and grew out of it; and I was among the most earnest and, I may say, the most determined opponents of both those wars. Lord Salisbury, the late Minister for India, addressing a deputation in 1876, said— The Government does not view with any favour an extension of the system, and there is no project of the kind in existence. Without taking the view as to its moral condemnation which is held by many persons present, I feel that there are inconveniences of principle connected with it which would have prevented any Government in the present day from introducing it. I entirely disclaim any intention to push the Bengal system farther. The late Under Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs (Mr. Bourke) said— The opium question had often been debated in the House, and he never heard anyone say aught in favour of the traffic from a moral point of view. The present Under Secretary of State for the Colonies (Mr. Grant Duff) admitted that— There was a great deal to be said against this Bengal monopoly on politico-economical grounds. He supposed no one would invent such a system now-a-days; but we did not invent the system; we inherited it from the East India Company, and carried it on in the same way. We had even carried it on to a greater extent than the East India Company, and had brought to bear upon it the result of our advanced civilization in the way of transit and of trade. For years we had been steadily increasing the cultivation of opium. The Indian Government derived a revenue from opium from two distinct sources—one from Bengal opium, in regard to which the Government practically subsidized the cultivators; and the other, from a transit duty, which had varied from 400 rupees up to 700 rupees, or £70 per chest, upon the opium which found its way to the port of Bombay. He could not better describe the cultivation of Bengal opium than by giving a few words from the evidence of Mr. Cecil Beadon. Mr. Beadon was asked before the East India Committee— In what mode is the land then selected for cultivation?—When any ryot wishes to cultivate opium, he goes to the sub-agent and asks to have his name registered, his land measured, and to get a cultivation licence and the usual advance. The sub-agent makes inquiries, ascertains that the man is really bonâ fide an owner of the land which he proposes to cultivate with opium, has the land measured, and then makes the advance upon the security of the person himself to whom the advance is made and his fellow-villagers. The advance is made shortly before the sowing season. The ryot then sows his land, and when the plant is above ground the land is then measured by one of the native establishments, and if the ryot has sown all that he engaged to sow, he gets a second advance; if he has not sown so much he gets something less in proportion; or if more, he gets a little more. There is a sort of rough settlement at the second advance. Nothing further takes place till the crop is ripe for gathering, and when the ryot has gathered the crop, he collects it in vessels and takes it to the sub-agent's office, there he delivers it to the sub-agent, as the agent of the Government, and receives the full price for it, subject to further adjustment when the opium has been weighed and tested and examined at the agent's factory. The opium is then collected at the sub-agency and forwarded to the factory; there it is exposed for a considerable time in large masonry tanks, it is reduced to a uniform consistency, and made fit for the market, some for home consumption, and some for sale in Calcutta for exportation—the greater quantity for exportation. It is there packed in cases and sent to Calcutta, and in Calcutta it is sold by auction at periodical sales, and exported by merchants for consumption abroad.—Is there any regulation by which the Government limit the extension of land so cultivated, or do they always accede to every request?—It is limited according to the financial needs of the Government; it is limited entirely upon Imperial considerations. The Government of India, theoretically, at least, if not practically, decide how much opium they will bring to market; and, of course, upon that depends the quantity of land that they will put under cultivation and make advances for.—Are great precautions taken to prevent any person cultivating the land with opium without a licence?—It is absolutely prohibited. In 1835 the net revenue derived from the trade was £838,000; 10 years afterwards it had increased to £2,181,000; in 1854–5, 10 years later, to £3,333,000; in 1864–5 to £4,984,000; 1874–5 to £6,215,000; and in 1877–8 to £6,521,000. The estimate for 1878–9 was £7,584,000; for 1879–80, £6,500,000; and for 1880–81, £7,250,000. Thus, in less than 40 years, there had been an advance from £2,181,000 to £7,250,000, or more than £5,000,000. The percentage of the Indian Revenue derived from opium was in round figures from 1800 to 1820, 4.77 percent; 1820 to 1840, 7.66; 1840 to 1860, 14.69 percent; 1860 to 1870, 16.17 per cent; and last year it was nearly 17 percent. The Bengal Revenue for 1877–8 was £3,773,960. The land, against the wish of the ryots, had been more and more occupied by poppy cultivation. In 1872–3 there were 517,000 acres under cultivation; in 1873–4, 456,069; and in 1874–5, 543,541 acres. The trade had been almost entirely with China. In 1833–4, out of 22,785 chests exported, China got 21,000; in 1843–4, 30,000 out of 34,800; 1853–4, 60,000 out of 66,900; in 1863–4, 62,000 out of 70,800; and in 1873–4, 80,000 out of 88,600. These figures showed that the Indian Government had been more and more dependent upon the income derived from fostering this trade, and less dependent upon its own legitimate sources of Revenue. He came now to the most important part of the subject—namely, our dealings with the Chinese in reference to this traffic. He declined to judge our transactions with the Chinese by the low standard of the financial wants of our East Indian Empire. As a Christian nation we must deal with such a question on certain laws laid down by that Gospel in which almost everyone in the country believed — by that high moral law and International Law which civilized nations observed or ought to observe. In our dealings with China he was prepared to prove that we had violated every principle of the Christian religion, of International Law, and of moral law. In 1840, we went to war with China because the people of China, after protesting against the traffic, at length seized the opium at Lin-tin belonging to English merchants. They only did that which we did every day in the Thames when we seized smuggled tobacco and destroyed it. They seized the opium illicitly brought into Chinese waters and destroyed it, and in retaliation we went to war with them—burnt their ships, destroyed their buildings, killed their people, and then, as usual, we made a Treaty. By that Treaty we acknowledged the power of the Chinese to prohibit the introduction of opium. Speaking in 1840, the present Prime Minister said— They gave you notice to abandon your contraband trade. When they found that you would not, they had a right to drive you from their coasts on account of your obstinacy in persisting in this infamous and atrocious traffic. You allowed your agent to aid and abet those who were concerned in carrying on that trade; and I do not know how it can be urged as a crime against the Chinese that they refused provisions to those who refused obedience to their laws whilst residing within their territories. A war more unjust in its origin, a war more calculated to cover this country with disgrace, I do not know, and I have not read of. The right hon. Gentleman opposite spoke of the British flag waving in glory at Canton. That flag is hoisted to protect an infamous contraband traffic; and if it were never hoisted except as it is now hoisted on the coast of China we should recoil from its sight with horror. The second war arose out of the smuggling of opium. The Chinese seized the lorcha Arrow, a vessel of the pirate class that was engaged in smuggling. It was distinctly proved that she was not under the protection of the British flag at the time she was seized; but we, nevertheless, went to war with China and destroyed her ships, her people, and her buildings, as usual, and simply because she had done that which by the law of nations she was clearly entitled to do. He declined to enter into a history of that war, detestable as it was in its origin and its effects. We sent out Lord Elgin to China, and he made a Treaty in which he insisted on opium being received as an article of traffic. The smuggling trade was to be done away with; but only by forcing China to take that which she had formerly prohibited. She was forced to take it at the point of the bayonet. The Chinese Commissioner, Keveilang, pleading with Lord Elgin for some forbearance as to carrying into execution certain of the Articles, wrote as follows:— When the Chinese Commissioner negotiated a Treaty with your Excellency at Tien Tsin, British vessels of war were lying in that port; there was a pressure of an armed force, a state of excitement and alarm, and the Treaty had to be signed at once without a moment's delay. Deliberation was out of the question; the Commissioners had no alternative but to accept the conditions forced upon them. That was taken from the Correspondence relative to Lord Elgin's Mission. Lord Elgin himself freely acknowledged the correctness of this description of the situation. He said the concessions obtained in the Treaty from the Chinese Government were not in themselves extravagant; but in the eyes of the Chinese Government they amounted to a revolution. They had been extorted, therefore, from its fears. Sir Rutherford Alcock, the late British Minister at Pekin, confirmed this view— To keep as clear as possible of all foreign Governments is a very natural desire on the part of those who have thrice in a single generation had objectionable Treaties imposed upon them at the point of the bayonet. Our present Minister in the Chinese Metropolis, Sir Thomas Wade, expressed himself most emphatically to the same purport— Nothing that has been gained was received from the free will of the Chinese. The concessions made to us have been from first to last extorted against the conscience of the nation in defiance—that is to say, of the moral convictions of its educated men—not merely of the office-holders, whom we call Mandarins, and who are numerically but a small proportion of the educated class, but of the millions who are saturated with the knowledge of the history and philosophy of their country. In 1869 the Chinese Government desired the English Government to put in force one of the Articles of the Treaty of Tien Tsin, made at the close of the second war, which stipulated that the Treaty might be revised every 10 years; but we had steadily declined to do anything of the kind, and, having got our pound of flesh in the bond with China, we steadily adhered to it. Sir Rutherford Alcock and the Chinese Government held lengthened negotiations, and in a despatch the Chinese Government said— The Chinese merchant supplies your country with his goodly tea and silk, conferring thereby a benefit upon her; but the English merchant poisons China with pestilent opium. Such conduct is unrighteous. Who can justify it? What wonder if officials and people say that England is wilfully working out China's ruin, and has no real friendly feeling for her. The wealth and generosity of England is spoken of by all; she is anxious to prevent and anticipate all injury to her commercial interest. How is it, then, she can hesitate to remove an acknowledged evil? Indeed, it cannot be that England still holds to this evil business, earning the hatred of the officials and people of China, and making herself a reproach among the nations, because she would lose a little revenue were she to forfeit the cultivation of the poppy. The writers hope that his Excellency will memorialize his Government to give orders in India and elsewhere to substitute the cultivation of cereals or cotton. Were both nations to rigorously prohibit the growth of the poppy, both the traffic in, and the consumption of, opium might alike be put an end to. Sir Rutherford Alcock took that despatch to Calcutta. What happened to it we know not. All we know is that it came to England, and that it was produced before the East India Finance Committee. There, however, the whole matter seemed to have rested. The Chinese, in order to rid themselves of the burden we had imposed on them, did not end here. In 1876, owing to circumstances to which it was unnecessary to allude, a new Convention was made with China by Sir Thomas Wade, which was known as the Convention of Chefoo. The 3rd Article of that Convention re- ferred to the opium trade as follows:— On opium, Sir Thomas Wade will move his Government to sanction an arrangement different from that affecting other imports. British merchants, when opium is brought into port, will be obliged to have it taken cognizance of by the Customs, and deposited in bond, either in a warehouse or a receiving hulk, until such time as there is a sale for it. The importer will then pay the tariff duty upon it, and the purchasers the li-kin. In order to the prevention of the evasion of the duty, the amount of li-kin to be collected will be decided by the different Provincial Governments according to the circumstances of each. But that article up to that moment had never been ratified. Worse than that, they had availed themselves of those Articles of the Convention which were to the advantage of English trade, and we had abstained from ratifying those of which we did not approve. In May, 1879, Lord Salisbury, replying to a Question of Lord Carnarvon in the House of Lords on the subject, said— The li-kin is not the ordinary taxation of the country; it is a species of octroi levied at the boundary of every Province; it is levied very-much at the discretion of the provincial Governors; they can raise it or lower it as they please, but there is always this security for the foreign trader—that as long as the collection of the duty is left in the hands of Chinese officials, smuggling, when the duty becomes high, is not a very difficult matter; and, therefore, there is a natural check upon these provincial Governors which prevents them raising li-kin to an extravagant amount. With respect to opium, this Convention proposes what undoubtedly would be a very drastic remedy—that the collection should be placed in the same hands as that which collects the Customs—that is to say, European hands. In that case smuggling would he absolutely barred, and the tax upon opium might be raised to any amount provincial Governors pleased. That would be a result which, practically, would neutralize the policy which hitherto has been pursued by this country in respect to that drug."—[3 Hansard, ccxlvi. 6–7.] Thus, a Convention by which the Chinese sought to get rid of a drug that was demoralizing their country had not yet been ratified by the English Government, because it would be subversive of the policy of our dealings with China, which were based upon the facilities afforded for smuggling. He had now shown that in 1840 we levied an unjust war upon China, and extorted $18,000,000 from her in payment of the expenses of the war and of the opium she had destroyed; that we extorted it from China for doing that which she had a perfect right to do; that in 1860 we again made a Convention by which we forced upon her a tariff duty for opium, which she desired, above all things, to treat as a contraband article; that in 1869 we declined to revise the Treaty of Tien Tsin, and that as lately as 1879 the Minister of this country for India went down to the House of Lords and declined to ratify the 3rd Article of the Convention of Chefoo, because to do so would be to neutralize the policy we had previously pursued. We had done this wrong to China at the expense of our honest trade, because we had prevented the merchandize of England from going into China—our trade, other than opium, having shown no vitality and no extension. The Chambers of Commerce of Liverpool, Manchester, and Glasgow, had memoralized the Government to ratify the Convention of Chefoo, under which the opium trade would be put down, and our manufactures taken into China. Again, we had done this evil at the expense of our missionary enterprize with China. Since he placed the present Notice on the Paper, he had been told by a distinguished member of the Roman Catholic faith that their Missions as well as the Protestant Missions were stagnant in China. The name of a missionary was most unpopular in China. The Chinese people simply said —"You brought us opium." What could we expect when we inundated a country at the point of the bayonet with poisonous drugs and then asked her to enter within the Christian fold? And they even refused to baptize the people who used the drug that the Christians imported. He might be asked why did not China take the same line as a European country would—as Germany, France, or as America, under similar circumstances? The simple answer was that she dare not. Having had three wars with England in which we had burnt, destroyed, and bombarded her towns, they were afraid of doing more than enter a simple protest. He urged that if the Article enforced by the Treaty of Tientsin had been a blessing instead of a curse to China, we had no right to force it upon her. We were doing the people of that country a double wrong; first, in asking them to take an article which we knew to be positively injurious to them; and then, in forcing it upon them against their wishes and contrary to International Law. Should we feel disposed to enforce such a claim against America or Germany by force of arms? He might be told that it was far better to have an open trade than a smuggled trade; but we were not the people to say whether it was to be an open trade or a smuggling trade, or whether they preferred 30,000 chests of a smuggled trade to 80,000 chests of an open trade. Another argument was that, if we did not supply China with opium, somebody else would. All we had a right to insist upon was to trade with the Chinese upon the same terms as the most favoured nation. Even if other people would supply them with the drug it was no reason why we should; if other people chose to do wrong that was no reason why we should. It was almost equal to saying that we were to take blood-money because, if we did not, somebody else would commit murder. Then they were told, especially by the right hon. Member for the Elgin Burghs (Mr. Grant Duff), that this was a case of stimulants, and that we in this country had no right to find fault with the Chinese for wanting stimulants. The real question, however, was whether the Chinese wanted our stimulants, and they said they did not. Then, again, opium was a poison. The English people called it a poison, and put it in an Act of Parliament, which did not include brandy, whisky, or gin, as a poison. In Japan, we entered into an arrangement with the people, who did not wish for our opium, that they should not have it. It was altogether a forbidden traffic. It was said to be a regulated trade, and that it was regulated very beneficially. He confessed that he had not yet seen the benefit that had risen from the regulation; but he had seen and read a great deal which convinced him that it was anything but a benefit to the people of China. There was a curious despatch of the Directors of the East India Company to Lord Cornwallis as far back as 1817, which stated— The sentiment expressed in our despatch of 18th September, 1816, will have prepared you to expect our approbation of the measures adopted by you for the purpose of supplying from the Government stores a quantity of opium for the internal consumption of the country. We wish it, at the same time, to be clearly understood that our sanction is given to these measures, not with a view to the revenue which they may yield, but in the hope that they will tend to restrain the use of this pernicious drug, and that the regulations for the internal sale of it will be so framed as to prevent its introduction into districts where it is not used, and to limit its consumption in other places as nearly as possible to what may be absolutely necessary. Were it possible to prevent the use of the drug altogether except for the purposes of medicine, we would gladly doit in compassion to mankind. Sir Thomas Wade, in a Memorandum of the revision of the Treaty of Tientsin, writes thus— It is to me vain to think otherwise of the use of the drug in China than as of a habit many times more pernicious, nationally speaking, than the gin and whisky drinking which we deplore at home. It takes possession more insidiously, and keeps its hold to the full as tenaciously. I know no case of radical cure. It has insured in every case within my knowledge the steady descent, moral and physical, of the smoker, and it is so far a greater mischief than drink that it does not, by external evidence of its effects, expose its victim to the loss of repute which is the penalty of habitual drunkenness. There is reason to fear that a higher class than used to smoke in Commissioner Lin's day are now taking to the practice. Missionary experience extending over a long series of years gave exactly the same account of the effects of opium; and it was only this morning that he had found an extract from a paper which showed how completely the Chinese were setting themselves against the further introduction of this drug. The London and China Telegraph of May 18th, said— It is reported that a rising has taken place on the southern confines of Shantung, about 600 li from Chinkiang, owing to the authorities insisting on the destruction of the poppy plants. A body of cavalry was sent down the river from Chinkiang on the night of the 29th March, with instructions to proceed as quickly as possible to the seat of the disturbance. And the same paper for June 1st gave amongst the Shanghai news the following:— The Provincial Governor Tan seems determined to continue his fight against opium smoking. He is the man who ruled Soochowfoo before he was promoted to his present office. He has issued proclamations, shut up opium dens, punished offenders; in short, done all that he could to put a stop to the vice. He has recently ordered a census to be taken, for the purpose of finding out the name, residence, and employment of every opium smoker in the city. He has ordered the smokers to break off the habit, and gives them three months in which they must do so. If at the end of that time they are still offending, they shall be punished. Unfortunately, the Indian Revenue was becoming more and more dependent upon the opium trade. A few years ago it only formed 5 per cent of the Re- venue, and it had now reached 18 per cent. As soon as money was wanted the Indian Government sent out Circulars containing injunctions to "grow opium." [General Sir GEORGE BALFOUR: No, no!] His hon. and gallant Friend said "No, no;" but he could show him clearly that it was the fact, and could give him high authorities for it. On the 22nd April, 1869, the Hon W. Grey, Lieutenant Governor of Bengal, writing from Barrackpore to Mr. C. H. Campbell, said— I have a telegraphic message from Simla, urging that every possible expedient that you can approve should be used even now to extend the opium cultivation next season to the greatest possible extent. Sir Richard Temple, in a Minute dated 27th April, 1869, wrote— I am clear for extending the cultivation and for insuring a plentiful supply. If we do not do this the Chinese will do it for themselves. They had better have our good opium than their own indifferent opium. There is really no moral objection to our conduct in this respect. Mr. Grey, again, on the 29th April, 1869, urged increased cultivation, remarking— This would just suffice, and no more, to put us on smooth ground again. Sir John (then the hon. J. Strachey) wrote from Simla on the 20th April, 1869— It seems to me that immediate measures of the most energetic character ought to be taken with the object of increasing the production of opium. The hon. Member for Kirkcaldy (Sir George Campbell), in a remarkable speech, said that we regulated the trade, and by regulating it we served both God and Mammon. [Sir GEORGE CAMPBELL: I spoke, not of regulating, but of taxing the trade.] He supposed that taxing would have the effect of regulating the trade. But as to serving both God and Mammon, that seemed to him to be one of those problems which a censorious world often suggested that the countrymen of his hon. Friend were endeavouring to solve; but a higher authority than his hon. Friend had declared it impossible. It was difficult to understand how God was served in any shape or way. He contended that we did regulate the trade, and that our regulations were entirely dependent upon the wants of the Indian Government. We sent out 42,000 chests in 1874, 45,000 in 1875, 45,000 in 1876, 47,000 in 1877, and 49,000 in 1879, and we had been accumulating stock all the time. Our stock rose from 34,000 chests in 1874 to 88,000 in 1878. When India wanted money, and the finances of India were low, out came more opium. The stock in hand on the 1st of January, 1880, was 81,000 chests, and the sale in 1880 was to be 56,000 chests, instead of 49,000, and there would be 70,000 or 80,000 chests in hand at the end of the year. India was in a very dangerous position in regard to their Revenues. If China took upon herself to-morrow to say that this opium should not be brought in, and that they would be free from the Treaty of Tientsin, the English Government, even with India at its back, dare not go to war with China again in the face of the public feeling of the people of this country and of the world. No Minister who took that course could rely upon the support of the people of the country. Another risk also was run —namely, that the people of China might undertake the cultivation of the drug for themselves. If China said—"We will no longer pay you the £10,000,000 we are paying yearly for this drug, and instead of buying it of the East Indians we will cultivate it ourselves;" although they would probably produce an inferior article they would have it in their power to damage the trade essentially, and make a large inroad upon the Revenue of India. There could be no doubt that this view of the uncertainty of the Revenue had been taken by Indian statesmen from time to time, and a very remarkable Minute of Sir William Muir went into that question. Hitherto we had never dared to do right to China from a fear of losing our Indian Revenue. The noble Lord the Secretary of State for India had entered upon Office with the Revenues of India in a very disorganized condition. They were not asked this night to go into the question of the Afghan War, and to consider whether that war had been necessary or unnecessary, just or unjust. In dealing with the question now before them, they knew that the Afghan War bad to be paid for, and the noble Lord could only solace himself with the reflection that if there had been no Afghan. War there would probably have been a large surplus Revenue in India, by means of which he might have been able to deal with the question, and to limit growth and exportation of opium. The noble Lord would have to turn his attention to the finances of India; probably they had been turned in that direction already, during the comparatively few days he had held Office. He asked for no impossibilities from the noble Lord. There was a way, and comparatively a simple way, of beginning to deal with the matter; and that was to begin to do right. These great moral evils could not be redressed in a moment. A revenue of £7,000,000 could not be given up without a thought. But if the3rdArticleof the commercial section of the Convention of Chefoowere ratified, or ratified to such an extent as to give the people of China some power of suppressing the traffic; if they could gradually bring themselves to the point when the Foreign Office of this country should say to the people of China—"We shall no longer force upon you an Article of the Treaty of Tien Tsin to which you object," the desired object might be attained. If the horrid war with Afghanistan were over, and the cost paid for, the matter would soon be made to right itself, and there would soon be a surplus Revenue in India. All that he asked from the noble Lord was that he would give his best consideration to the question, and the moral evil and wrong we had been doing towards the Chinese for a period of 40 years. There could be no argument in favour of the traffic; no man could argue in favour of it upon moral grounds. The only difficulty was the financial difficulty; and the financial difficulty would have in the end to give way before the moral difficulty; because, in his humble opinion, it was impossible for a country to continue that course of injustice towards a people which had so long characterized our dealings with China. As he could not divide the House upon the Motion which stood in his name, he would be satisfied with having called attention to the subject.


My hon. Friend the Member for South Durham (Mr. Pease) has treated the subject in the most exhaustive manner, and has taken up almost every point in connection with it. Since I brought the matter forward in 1875 it has grown in importance, and ought now to engage the serious attention of the Government. I am heartily glad that it is not a Party question in any sense of the word, for hon. Gentlemen are to be found on both sides of the House who condemn the traffic in opium. I wish the noble Lord the Secretary of State for India had been in the House at the commencement of my hon. Friend's speech, in order to hear it in its entirety. Now, Sir, this question presents itself in two aspects—moral and commercial —and both these aspects have been already touched upon. I will therefore chiefly endeavour, in the remarks which I will venture to lay before the House, to take up one point which has not been touched on. It is a very important point—in fact, one of the most important points in dealing with this question—it refers to Burmah. The point is this. The Indian Government are the agents, practically speaking, through whom opium is sent into Burmah and used there. By the laws which they have made, they are responsible for permitting opium to be sent to that country; and although it is said to be done in the main to prevent smuggling, and therefore is made lawful, still on that account even we cannot, on examining the question, approve of the manner in which the traffic is carried on. Before our annexation of the country, and up to the year 1826, it was a penal offence in Burmah to grow or have anything to do with opium. It is still so in that part of the country which is not under British sway. What our Government do is this. They establish depots at various centres, and there they farm out licences to different individuals. Whoever is the highest bidder is the individual who has the advantage of selling opium and establishing a central depot himself, and these farming-out officials practice a very lucrative business. The amount which is paid to the Indian Government is 14s. 6d. for two pounds weight, or one seer. The sum for which it is sold is £3 18.?. 6d., and £1 is to be allowed for licence duty payable to the Government of Burmah. There can be no doubt that since opium has been permitted to be circulated and consumed and eaten throughout Burmah a vast amount of crime has ensued. We need only turn to the official Reports, and those of private individuals, to arrive at the truth of the statement. In the month of January, 1879, a Petition was got up to the Chief Commissioner by a very large number of inhabitants, praying that they might be relieved from this traffic. That Petition was couched in strong language: — If you must have revenue to this amount, take it in any other form; double the capitation tax; hut do not raise it by encouraging the spread of a vice, for the sake of indulging in which our sons are converted into robbers of their parents. The meaning of that is simply this: that when a man once indulges in this low and base appetite, he will even rob his own family to satisfy his craving. Politically, the consequence of this state of things to us is very bad, and our rule is much disliked in Burmah. Ought we not to make our commerce with that country a blessing rather than a curse? Or are we to go forward on the same lines that have already been pursued in China? I should like to ask the noble Lord when he looks into this question, especially with regard to Burmah, if he would give the House some information —more information than we have at present— which is obtainable from our officials in that country? We cannot blame the officials in that part of the world if they share the opinions held by their superiors. There are strange stories as to the spread of the opium trade; but if the orders come from headquarters, and if the head-quarters believe that they are acting wisely in not gradually suppressing the trade, but in gradually extending it, then you cannot blame those officials who are working under this Government and reflecting their opinion. It is all important that this House should take the matter into serious consideration. If it is anxious to see this nefarious traffic extended, it is perfectly justified in allowing the continuance of the present state of things; but if, on the other hand, we lay down an absolute rule that we are not going to extend this system, but are going gradually to withdraw from the trade in as fair and equitable a manner as possible, we ought to speak with a clear and not uncertain voice, and show the officials in Burmah and the Indian Government what our views on this question really are. And, Sir, if you take the Native officials, as compared with the British officials, in that country you will find they are to a man against the extension of the opium trade. They see the dangers of it, they feel how it is degrading their countrymen, and they are more anxious, therefore, than any one in this country can possibly be, to see it entirely put a stop to. Mr. Crossthwaite, the present officiating Judicial Commissioner, attributes the increase of crime to the consumption of opium, yet you will find that very few officials will go out of their way to oppose its extension. There is only one district in Burmah in which these opium farms do not exist, and that is entirely owing to the people themselves, who have petitioned more than once against the extension of the farms to their neighbourhood. That district is Shive-gying. The opium revenue may be said to be automatic; it increases quicker than any other tax, though the increase is limited by the means of the people who tax themselves heavily. It is a very difficult matter now to get tax collectors for the ordinary Revenue. Poverty arises chiefly from opium smoking. The people will not pay their taxes, and what is a collector to do? This tax, no doubt, is more easily collected than many other more sober taxes would be; but it has this disadvantage—that there is a limit to the means of the persons buying opium, and, therefore, they cannot continue to buy the drug, except for a very short time. So that, although you may raise a large revenue for this and next year, your revenue ultimately will fall away, because the persons whom you have pauperized by this odious traffic are no longer able to come forward with money to purchase the means for their self-gratification. Then, what are the main arguments for the opium trade? It has been said by my hon. Friend that the main argument is that it is a stimulant. There is no doubt about that, or that it is a good medicine. But there is this distinction between it and alcoholic liquor—that while in one case you do not necessarily drink in order to become intoxicated, in the case of opium you do smoke it or eat it in order that you may become intoxicated. It is often said that if you object to the use of opium you ought to object to the sale and consumption of ardent spirits; but we know perfectly well that the consumption of ardent spirits does give a stimulus, and is extremely useful at times, hut opium simply intoxicates, and the unfortunate creature cannot get out of its thraldom. When once the smoker acquires the habit, his craving for opium becomes stronger and stronger, day by day. He can do nothing but smoke, and the consequence is that in time he is unable to pay his taxes, and he is imprisoned. But an opium smoker would sooner suffer death than go to prison in order to be deprived of his pipe for five or 10 days consecutively. There is another point connected with it, and that is the way in which in Burmah this drug is fostered and is diffused throughout the country. It is not done admittedly by public officials; but it is done in the way I am about to describe. Chinese pedlars get hold of a small quantity, and they go and tempt the youth of the country, and in that way a craving is formed. Now, why should not these persons be repressed, if, as it is said, the old mode of smuggling would be far better than the way in which the traffic is at present managed? We do not wish that the penalty of death, as was the old law, should be imposed for the sale or consumption of opium; but we consider that if some severe penalty were provided you would put a stop to persons trading throughout the country in the way I have mentioned, and you would have opium sold purely and solely for medicinal purposes. The Government practically say that if these persons must 6moke opium they must smoke Indian opium; they must not be allowed to smoke Chinese or any other—in short, "if they have opium at all, they shall have ours, so that the State may profit by it." There is no crime in the estimation of the Burmese greater than that of opium smoking. They view it with the greatest disapprobation. They think that the man who has once been contaminated with this vice is utterly lost, and when you see whole families ruined by it you cannot wonder at it. These Burmese are said to be a very noble people; they are, perhaps, the most noble and manly—full of strength and vigour—of any nation in that part of the world. There is another point I should like to press on the noble Lord, and that is that the Indian Blue Books should tell us a little more than at present about this matter. We find it extremely difficult —those who are interested in this subject—to ascertain what extension the sales are making, and what are the views of the officials on this subject. We hope there may be a decline and a gradual withdrawal of Government monopoly, for it all depends upon that. Would a Government monopoly in this country in ardent spirits be tolerated for one moment? Why, the first thing you, Sir, would have to do, would be to call on some hon. Member who would be in this place to bring in a Bill to abolish such a monopoly. There is a marked difference between the time that I had the honour of first introducing this question and to-night, and it is this—that since then we have had a very serious famine in China, especially in the Northern parts, and we have had whole Provinces there practically devastated and left in the most wretched possible condition. Many of the Chinese attribute that to Divine vengeance; they believe it is partly owing to growing opium in such large quantities, and now there are large tracts of country in the Province of Shan-si in which the cultivation has been almost entirely stopped. Again, in Honan and Chihli the same has happened, according to Mr. Davenport, our Consul. In the two large Provinces, Sze-chuen and Yun-nan, it is still being grown. We know one reason why it is grown. Allusion has already been made to the complaints made by Sir Rutherford Alcock, when he first came home from China. After representing the zeal and anxiety on the part of the Chinese Government to do away with the forced introduction of opium in China, he told the Viceroy of India and his Council— He had no doubt that the abhorrence expressed by the Government and people of China for opium, as destructive to the Chinese nation, was genuine and deep-seated; and he was also quite convinced that the Chinese Government could, if it pleased, carry out its threat of developing cultivation to any extent. On the other hand, he believed that so strong was the popular feeling on the subject, that if Britain would give up the opium revenue and suppress the cultivation in India, the Chinese Government would have no difficulty in suppressing it in China, except in the Province of Yun-nan, where its authority is in abeyance' Yun-nan, as everybody knows, is very far removed from the central seat of Government. It is also well known that the poppy in Yun-nan produces opium inferior in strength to the Bengal opium; therefore, while it is a great deal smoked by the poorer classes, the upper classes are always anxious to get the stronger opium which comes from India. A great deal of the finest land is taken up with this cultivation. It is reckoned that 1,000,000 acres in India alone are sowed with the poppy; and the whole argument against the Motion of my hon. Friend is this—that if you do away with it in India, the Chinese will grow far more in China. That is not our business. We want to do what we believe to be right. We want to act upon principle, and do let us try to be logical, when we have principle to guide us. What will be the consequence if the trade is stopped? We shall find ourselves deprived of that large Indian Revenue without which at present India would be, practically, bankrupt. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Elgin Burghs (Mr. Grant Duff), a year or two ago, called this India's "magnificent estate," and said he should be sorry when it was swept away, and suggested— That the British Government might prevail upon India to diminish her import of opium into China by, say, 1,000 chests a-year until it ceased altogether. Now, that is just the Motion before the House. We know it would be the most impracticable thing to come forward to-night and ask the Government to sweep away this great monopoly, which brings into India a revenue of between £7,000,000 and £8,000,000 a-year. But we know it can be done gradually. We know that would satisfy any reasonable Member of this House, or any reasonable individual outside; and, therefore, we hope this may be taken into consideration by Her Majesty's present Government. The Prime Minister made use of words, some time ago, which I thought at the time predicted a happy ending of the question. He said— We have no right to reckon upon the opium revenue as if it were a domestic revenue, because it is so largely dependent on the policy and legislation of a foreign country.… The opium revenue we may accept with more or less compunction and regret, as ministering to our present necessity; but we have no right to reckon upon its full continuance."—[3 Mansard, ccxlvi. 1744.] Sir, if we do not make a stand now, where are we to stop? It has already been pointed out to the House that thousands of chests are now being sold in comparison with the first imports about 1775. First of all, 2,000 chests of opium were sent to China by way of speculation. About 4,000 chests were exported to China in 1800; in 1824, 12,000 chests; in 1834, 20,000; and then passing on, taking an average of five years between 1834 and 1854, they were about 58,000; taking another period of five years, between 1854 and 1859, they were 74,000; between 1859 and 1864, they were 67,000; between 1864 and 1869, they were 81,772; and since that time the import from India to China has been between 80,000 and 90,000 chests. It is impossible to ignore the feeling of irritation and bitterness which exists between this country and China. Why should it exist? What did Mr. Cobden say? He said—"We do business with China easier than with any other nation." What is the case now? We are ignoring the old ground of friendly feeling with that great Empire—an Empire containing 400,000,000 inhabitants, willing to take our cotton goods, and we simply stultify our own position by adopting a position which we believe—or, at least, many of us believe—to be entirely wrong. Again, we have been reminded that the trade in opium is a great barrier to missionary work. We have undoubted testimony from gentlemen, many of whom are at this moment in this Metropolis, who assure us that the great difficulty they have in propagating the gospel of our common Christianity is this opium trade. It is a reproach levelled against them wherever they go; and the only answer they can return is that, although we send it, they are not compelled to smoke it. We know that is a very feeble answer to China. Allusion has been made to the Chefoo Convention. I do not think it will be necessary for me to go into that Treaty to-night; but I do urge the noble Lord to try and clear up, if he possibly can, this question. It has been in abeyance since 1877. We must not ignore the fact that the Chinese Government have done what they could in opening the Treaty ports and admitting freely our merchandize. I do not propose further to occupy the time of the House; but I do sincerely ask the House to give the matter their best consideration. It is a far more important question, and I believe it has ramifications far wider than any of us can now conceive. We know great complications are threatened; we know Russia may possibly come to China, and induce a vast revolution. With Russia's aid, China might be able to show a firmer front than hitherto; and therefore viewing this question commercially, morally, as well as politically, I ask the House to give its best consideration to the matter, and, when it is called upon, to give a warm and cordial support to any logically-framed proposition that may be brought before it.


said, he sympathized with a considerable part of the speeches they had heard; but he wished to correct the statement that the Government of India were striving to increase the area of the Government cultivation of opium. That was the case eight or nine years ago; but it was not the policy now, and he trusted the former policy would not be reverted to. Some injustice had been done himself in regard to his views on restricting the traffic. His idea was that there should be some check on the trade in that article. He entirely agreed with the representations that had been made as to the evil effect of opium consumption. The Government check upon the sale of opium, by raising a revenue upon it, restricted the supply, and prevented so much reaching the Chinese as would be the case under a system of Free Trade. As to Burmah, the system of sale was the same as that in India. There was, in fact, no difference between the system of granting licences at a heavy price for the sale of opium there and the system of granting licences for the sale of drink here. So long as we, did not prohibit the manufacture and sale of spirits in this country, we had no right to find fault with the Indian Government for not stopping the manufacture and sale of opium under restriction and taxation in the East. He could not justify the opium wars with China; but he argued that the Indian Government was not responsible. They arose from quarrels at the Chinese ports, which might as easily have arisen with respect to other merchandize as with respect to opium. The result of our recent policy carrying out the"Civis Romanus" idea, was to make foreign nations unwilling to receive us, our goods, or our religion. Before Englishmen were supported by English guns they were allowed by strange nations to trade with and. travel among them. But of late, and since they came to know us better, they were anxious to exclude us. Coming now to a matter more open to controversy—namely, the clause of the Treaty by which we insisted on the Chinese taking our opium at a fixed tariff, whether they liked it or not, he must leave the justification of that to Her Majesty's Ministers. The matter, however, was not so very simple as his hon. Friend seemed to suppose. He was very much struck with what he saw at an interview with a Chinese Ambassador some time ago. The Ambassador did not at all jump at the proposal to stop the opium traffic altogether, but rather seemed anxious to get the revenue from it into his own hands. He did not see that there was any real desire to induce Her Majesty's Government to abandon the traffic. If that were so, then, having the welfare of the people of India at heart, he was not prepared, out of mere Quixotic feelings, to take a step which would have the effect of depriving them of the revenue arising from this traffic without lessening the traffic. If the Chinese must be poisoned by opium, he would rather they were poisoned for the benefit of our Indian subjects than for the benefit of any other Exchequer. ["Oh, oh !"] He was by no means in favour of their being poisoned; but he repeated, that if they must be poisoned, he would rather it was for the benefit of the Indian than the Chinese Exchequer. He agreed with his hon. Friend that it was very desirable that the Indian Government should try to free themselves from dependence upon this traffic, as it was very precarious, and political events might bring it to an end. But, taking this opium revenue as a mere transit or export duty, he did not think it a source of revenue which the Indian Government should divest itself of so long as the Chinese took it. If they should, in a Quixotic spirit, limit the cultivation of it in India, they would have an increased cultivation of it arising in Persia, Turkey, and America. Speaking confidently from experience, he could say that the cultivation of opium was not injurious to the people of our own opium districts. The matter depended very much upon ethnological considerations. Some races of mankind had a natural appetite for opium, and some had not. The people of the districts where opium was grown in India did not consume the drug to a large extent. The physical and moral nature of the opium consumers was deteriorated by its use; but that was not the case with the people in the Indian opium districts. The question which, in his mind, was the real, crucial, and at present the only practical question, was the direct Government connection with the cultivation, manufacture, and sale of opium. He looked upon the direct Government connection with the traffic with great dislike. He wished to get rid of it. But, on the other hand, he believed if we raised this revenue by means of Government agents, in a manner less injurious to the people of India, to producers, and consumers than could otherwise be done, it would be rash to fly from evils that we knew to others that we knew not of. Whether it was possible for the Government of India to divest themselves of all connection with the trade was a question of extreme difficulty. We had not sufficient information on the subject. Having been connected with one side of India, and made diligent inquiry into the matter as regarded the other side, he, if anyone, had. the means of understanding the question; and yet he would not say he had been able to understand it. The Bengal side raised objections to the abandonment of the Government connection with the traffic; but in Bombay, where the Government had no connection with it, the system had succeeded, the quality of opium that went to poison the Chinese was as good, and the revenue from it, if not quite so large as in Bengal, was very large indeed. He thought, therefore, that an attempt should be made to free ourselves from direct connection. The Government withdrawal from it, however, must be gradual. Comparing the cultivation of indigo and opium, indigo was raised under a system which was free as far as British merchants were concerned; but, so far as the ryot was concerned, the system was not free, and in Behar, very great abuses had been found to exist in connection with it. Indigo was grown to a great extent under a system of compulsion. Opium growing, however, was carried on under a different system, the relations between the Government agent and the ryot who grew opium being such as resulted in benefit to the latter. Therefore, he should hesitate before agreeing to an extension of the system prevailing as regarded indigo to the case of the ryot, who devoted himself to the growth of opium. He did not think that the export of opium from India could be restricted without the imposition of a heavy duty. The direct connection of the Government might, however, to a certain extent be diminished. With this object in view, he would like to try the effect of introducing a freer system in certain districts. Let a system of free enterprize be tried in some places. Then, if the opium proved to be successfully manufactured, the revenue well collected, and the ryot were fairly treated, the system might be extended. If the system proved unsuccessful, they could always revert to the Government system. In his opinion, the Government should neither pledge themselves hastily to a complete change of the present systern, nor bind themselves to its maintenance, but should engage themselves to inquire into the whole subject.


wished to call the attention of the House to the fact that it was admitted that spirits produced very great evils; but, on the other hand, medical men were constantly found prescribing spirits for medicinal purposes. Had the hon. Member for Kirckaldy (Sir George Campbell), who referred to this question, ever known a medical man prescribe opium-smoking for similar purposes? The question of the moderate use of spirits and the question of opium-smoking stood on distinct grounds. The action of the Government also in regard to spirits was distinct in character from their action in regard to opium. Our legislation in reference to spirits interfered with the consumer; a heavy duty was imposed upon the article, and its sale was prohibited except under licence from the authorities constituted by Parliament. Now, our course of action with regard to opium was of an entirely different character, for its tendency was distinctly to encourage the consumer. We made advances to the ryots to cultivate, and then manufactured opium for the Chinese market at Patna and Ghazeepore, which was the system we pursued in Bengal. In Bombay we raised a transit duty on Malwa opium. We placed ourselves in the position of producers and manufacturers of opium. Before the cases could be parallel, the Government must become the producers and distillers of spirits, and have a gigantic monopoly of those luxuries. In that case, what would be said if the Government proposed that they should in future exclusively manufacture gin? Against the views expressed by the hon. Member for Kirkcaldy he might quote those of Sir William Muir, almost, if not quite, as great an authority as the hon. Member himself, who was of opinion that the country should cease to cultivate and manufacture opium, and should levy a transit duty instead. This was a very serious question. We were trustees for the people of India, who were unrepresented in that House. The Indian Revenue, in times of peace, was derived mainly from three sources, none of which, to his mind, was altogether satisfactory— namely, from the land, which yielded a high revenue; from salt, which was one of the necessities of life; and from opium. This opium revenue was the most objectionable of all. We were raising a large revenue by pandering to the immoral and depraved taste of a foreign people; but the worst was that we had produced that taste in that foreign nation. If, in 1843, when Lord Shaftesbury brought this question before the House, they had been prepared to deal with it, he believed it would then have been in the power of the English Government to put an end to this evil. He was afraid that that power had passed away, because the Chinese had got a great taste for opium. But that was not a justification of our gratifying their depraved taste. He did not think that the House would consent to abandon altogether the revenue derived from the trade in opium, and he would, therefore, urge upon the noble Marquess the Secretary of State for India to consider whether, without loss to the Revenue and with great advantage to the feelings and conscience to the people of England, he could not introduce into Bengal the Malwa system of raising a transit duty.


Sir, I do not rise to make a speech on the the general policy, but merely to state to the House what is the present position of the negotiations upon this question. There have been several allusions in the course of the debate to the existing position of the Chefoo Convention, and I think, therefore, it would be right, at this stage of the debate, that I should lay before the House the existing position of this question. I think, Sir, it is the more necessary that this should be done, because there seems to be some slight misapprehension on the matter in the minds of some hon. Members of the House. The hon. Member who placed the Notice on the Paper (Mr. J. W. Pease), asks the House to say— That Her Majesty's Government, whilst asking admission into China for all exports from Great Britain, India, and British possessions on the terms granted to the most favoured nation, should not, in carrying out existing or negotiating new Treaties, insist upon terms facilitating the introduction of opium, which the Government of China is unwilling to grant. Now, the negotiations which have been taking place within the last three years have been rather the negotiations in which the opium question was dealt with on the Chinese side, and, so far as any change has been made or contemplated, it has been a change proposed by the Chinese to suit their ideas. Therefore, you must not suppose that any steps have been taken of a nature to increase the opium trade with China. On the contrary, the steps which have been proposed and considered would, if carried into effect, be likely to decrease it.


I beg pardon for interrupting; but did not the English Government delay or refuse to ratify the Treaty in accordance with the wishes expressed by the Chinese?


I do not say the hon. Member has made a mistake; but I think what he said with regard to the actual position rather seemed to imply that we had been engaged in negotiations which were intended to force a large quantity of opium upon the Chinese. But no change has been made. Any dealings with the question of opium have been dealings by the Chinese instead of by us, and no proposals have been made by us. The negotiations are still going on. The hon. Member behind me has said that we have refused to ratify the Opium Article of the Chefoo Convention. That is not the case. There has been no refusal on the part of the Government to ratify that Article. He now qualifies his statement by saying there has been great delay; and I cannot deny that. He possibly was thinking of what was said last year by Lord Salisbury in the House of Lords. Lord Salisbury said, what was undoubtedly true, that there had been great differences of opinion as to the exact meaning of the Article, and what its working would be. He said a view was taken of this Article that it would enable the Chinese Government to do as they pleased; and some persons had supposed that, practically, it would prevent the importation of opium into China. He also said the Government proposed to wait until the clause was put into a less ambiguous form; and he pointed out that it was best to wait till further particulars were received from the Chinese Government, and the matter was free from doubt as to its exact position. From that no departure has been made. There has been no refusal to ratify the Chefoo Convention. There has been great delay, I admit; but Pekin is a place where negotiations have never progressed very fast. It should be remembered, too, that these are not isolated negotiations between this country and China. We had to take into account the whole of the foreign Ministers at Pekin, and consult them. It is true that our trade with China is enormously greater than that of all other countries put together; but the whole of the Powers had to be consulted at every step, and every Power had to refer home for every step which was taken, to get instructions. Therefore, immense delay has taken place in these negotiations. But these negotiations are still proceeding. I wish it to be understood that, in so speaking, I am not using a mere phrase. Conferences were held in the autumn of last year, and there are Conferences between the Ministers of various Powers almost every week. We have notes of what takes place at these Conferences, but we have not full information of what has passed up to the latest date. We have proposals made by the Chinese Government and by Sir Thomas Wade; and I have reason to suppose that the French mail, which left Shanghai on the 19th of May, will firing to this country a compromise Agreement between Sir Thomas Wade and the Chinese Government, in which the Representatives of the other Powers have concurred. They have been very prolonged negotiations; but we have reason to believe that those negotiations will lead to a general Agreement. That being so, I will only, on behalf of the Foreign Department, make this further observation. That, when we have the Agreement before us, the Government will have to decide whether they will ratify the Convention, or whether they will agree to the fresh proposals made by Sir Thomas Wade. That is a matter of policy upon which I cannot speak tonight; but we shall have the advantage, before the debate closes, of hearing the views of the Indian Secretary on the subject, and it is only for me to state the exact position of the negotiations.


Sir, the promoters of the present Motion have no reason to find much fault with the speech of the hon Member for Kirkcaldy (Sir George Campbell). Indeed, the very clear and emphatic opinion he has expressed against the participation of the Indian Government in the opium traffic must be held to be of great value as coming from so experienced and distinguished an Indian statesman. But there was one expression that fell from my hon. Friend which I heard with great surprise and regret. He said that if China was to be poisoned, they might as well have the profit to be derived from such poisoning, It is much as if one said, if there is to be murder, we may as well have the blood-money. I cannot but contrast that sentiment with one which fell from a Chinese statesman. In 1869, at the time when the revision of the Treaty of Tientsin was under discussion between England and the Chinese Government, Prince Kung, the President of the Foreign Board in China, wrote a very remarkable despatch to Sir Rutherford Alcock, from which I ask permission to cite two or three sentences He is referring to a suggestion that had been made that the Chinese Government might check-mate the British Government in regard to the opium trade by removing the prohibition against the growth of the poppy in China. He says, writing in the name of the Board— Those who make that suggestion argue that, as there is no means of stopping the foreign (opium) trade, there can be no harm, as a temporary measure, in withdrawing the prohibition on its growth. We should thus not only deprive the foreign merchant of the main source of his profits, but should increase our revenue to boot. The Sovereign rights of China are, indeed, competent to this; such a course would be practicable; and, indeed, the writers cannot say that as a last resource it will not come to this; but they are most unwilling that such prohibition should be removed, holding, as they do, that a right system of government should apprehend the beneficence of heaven, and seek to remove any grievance which afflicts its people; while to allow them to go on to destruction, though an increase of revenue may result, will provoke the judgment of heaven and the condemnation of men. I venture to think that, in this instance, the principle laid down by the heathen statesmen is "sounder," and I may say more Christian, than that of my hon. Friend. I am very glad that my hon. Friend the Member for South Durham (Mr. Pease) has brought this question forward. For though I am afraid it is rather a forlorn hope to expect that, in the present condition of Indian finance, the Government can deal with the question of the revenue derived from opium, it is right not to let the public conscience go to sleep in the presence of what I cannot but regard as a great national sin. I pity the noble Lord the Secretary of State for India (the Marquess of Hartington), upon whom devolves the miserable duty of finding some defence for this nefarious traffic. If he, or anyone, thinks I am using too strong language in reference to it, I can shelter myself behind the example of the Prime Minister, who, speaking in this House 40 years ago, in reference to the first Chinese War, which was called, and justly called, "the Opium War," said, in language already cited by my hon. Friend (Mr. Pease)— The Chinese gave you notice to abandon your contraband trade. When they found that you would not, they had a right to drive you from their coasts on account of your obstinacy in persisting in this impious and atrocious traffic. The right hon. Gentleman had since then spoken in a different tone of the trade; for, when the question was brought forward in this House some years ago by my hon. Friend the Member for Carlisle (Sir Wilfrid Lawson), the right hon. Gentleman undertook a defence of the trade which I heard with regret and pain. For, I fear it is true of statesmen as of other men, perhaps of statesmen more than of other men, that familiarity with evil has a tendency to deaden the moral sense. There is one fact that can never be sufficiently emphasized in connection with this subject, and that is, that this trade has been forced by us upon the Chinese against the persistent and earnest remonstrances of their Government, The right hon. Gentleman, on the occasion to which I have just referred, speaking of the Treaty of Tien Tsin, said— The Chinese Government arrived at the wise resolution that, under all the circumstances of the case, it was not possible for them to struggle against an appetite so strong and a tendency so decided as that which possessed a large portion of the Chinese people; and, consequently, they determined to deal with opium as a commercial commodity, and to admit it into the country upon payment of a duty. But the fact is, that the Chinese Government came to no such resolution, adopted no such determination. They were compelled to yield by force. This is the account given of the matter by the Chinese Commissioner Kweilang, when pleading with Lord Elgin for some forbearance in carrying out the Treaty of Tien Tsin— When the Chinese Commissioners negotiated a Treaty with your Excellency at Tien Tsin, British vessels of war were lying in that port; there was a pressure of an armed force, a state of excitement and alarm, and the Treaty had to he signed at once without a moment's delay. And, indeed, Lord Elgin himself admits, in the most explicit manner, that the concessions of that Treaty "were extorted from the fears" of the Chinese Government. There is something to me inexpressibly humiliating in the fact that for 40 years the Christian Government of this country has been persistently insisting upon thrusting a deleterious and poisonous drug upon the Chinese, against all the objections and remonstrances of its Government renewed again and again. The truth is, that nothing can be advanced in defence of this trade but that it is a profitable iniquity. I have listened to several discussions on the subject in this House, and have read much that has been said of it out-of-doors, and all that really is said in defence is this— we want the money. All other defence is virtually abandoned. Almost everything we allege against the trade is admitted; but there is always one reply. It is true that opium spreads demoralization, disease, and death among the Chinese. It is true that the trade disturbs our relations with the Chinese Government, and breeds ill-feeling and bad blood between us continually. It is true that it shuts out legitimate commerce which might otherwise find scope in China. It is true that it hardens the heart of the Chinese against Christianity; as the uniform testimony of all Christian missionaries of every Church and Sect is that it forms by far the most formidable obstacle to the success of their efforts. All this may be true; but we want the money for the Indian Exchequer. I do hope that the noble Lord, though, in the present deplorable condition of our finances in India he may not be able to deal immediately with the subject, will say something which will hold out a hope that, at some future time at least, some effort shall be made to be rid of this traffic, which dishonours the British name and lies heavily on the conscience of many members of the community.


I somewhat regret that my hon. Friend has thought it necessary to bring forward this important question at so early a period of our tenure of Office. The present Government has as yet had very little time or opportunity to examine many important questions with which it has to deal, and it can hardly be expected that it has been in our power thoroughly to examine the present position of this great, complicated, and, at the same time, most important question. This is a subject which has engaged the attention of the Governments of Great Britain and of India, and from time to time the attention of this House, during a very long series of years. It is one about which there has always been considerable difference of opinion, and one as to which that difference of opinion does not seem in any degree to diminish, but rather to increase. In the circumstances, it is hardly possible that the Government should have had time to make up its mind upon a subject of so much importance and complexity; and although my hon. Friend has to-night only asked me to give my best consideration to the subject—and I have no difficulty in promising to do so to the best of my ability—still I think it was his intention, if he had had the opportunity, to invite the House to agree to a Resolution which lays down principles of policy that are certainly very different from any which have yet been accepted by the Government or by Parliament. From the very slight and inadequate examination I have been able to give to this question, it is not my intention on this occasion to assent to any Resolution, or to say anything which would have any tendency to disturb, to endanger, or even to diminish, so important a branch of Indian Revenue as that derived from the opium trade. This is not a time at which we can afford to tamper with any branch of the Indian Revenue. The House has had before it within a very few days statements showing the unexpected and very serious cost of the war which has been waged, and which, I am sorry to say, is still continuing—a war entered into in the supposed interests of the people of India, and the cost of which is at present altogether uncertain. At such a time as this it is not desirable to ask the House to express an opinion which might have the effect of diminishing prospectively the amount of any source of revenue that the Indian Government at present enjoys. But, whether the subject is brought on at this time or at any other, I must make some protest against the invitation, addressed by my hon. Friend and some of his supporters to the House, to consider this question entirely from the point of view of the dictates of morality, as they are entertained by some Members of this House, and to altogether neglect the subject as it relates to India and Indian policy. My hon. Friend says he should be sorry to be suspected of judging this question on the low standard of Indian finance. But it is a question of Indian finance. Among all the eloquent declamations on this subject I have not yet heard any suggestion that any but the Indian Government and the Indian people should bear any loss the Indian Revenue may sustain from the cessation of this tax. No one has suggested that, in deference to our moral feeling, we are to recoup the Indian Government for the loss it would sustain. Of course, I do not mean to say that we, being charged with the government of the great Empire of India, can discard the dictates of morality; but, on the other hand, I say that we must consider this question as an Indian question, and not be led away solely by those feelings of morality in which we might justly indulge if we were dealing with our own interests, and not with the interests of the millions of India. Morality of this kind is extremely cheap; and we should, perhaps, hear less of the immorality of this traffic and of the expediency of putting an end to it, immediately or prospectively, if these speeches had to be accompanied with a demand made on the English taxpayer for the £6,000,000 or £7,000,000, or some part of it, which it is proposed so lightly that India should surrender. It is acknowledged by my hon. Friend that the Indian Government cannot now dispense with that revenue; but he says— "Avoid unnecessary and expensive wars and reduce expenditure, and the Indian Revenue may soon be in a position to bear the loss of this revenue." I entirely agree with my hon. Friend that we ought, in the interests of India, to avoid unnecessary wars. But I cannot say I am very hopeful of making at present a large reduction in the ordinal Indian expenditure; and even if this were done, I cannot concede to my hon. Friend that the abandonment of this source of income would be the first thing to follow an improved condition of Indian finance. Is my hon. Friend perfectly sure, looking at the question from an Indian point of view, that there are no taxes which weigh upon the people of India, and which it is our duty to get rid of and remit before we surrender any source of income which does not so oppress and retard the development of the country? Is he quite sure that there are no profitable and necessary modes of investing capital for which this revenue might find means, but which we cannot undertake if we are to abandon a source of income which, whether it be objectionable or not, is, at any rate, not drawn from the pockets of our Indian subjects? My hon. Friend contends that we ought not to prevent China from prohibiting the opium trade, and I will not follow him in a retrospect of the history of our China Wars and of our Treaties with China. I am willing, however, to concede to him that some of those wars and part of our transactions with that country may not have been strictly defensible; but when he tells us that we ought to surrender the advantages extorted by the Tientsin Treaty, and to allow China to return to the policy of prohibition, I must remind him that that policy was tried for many years with results satisfactory neither to China nor to ourselves. From the beginning of the century to the year 1860 that policy prevailed, and I ask my hon. Friend and the House with what results? They were an enormous illicit trade, accompanied by the demoralization and degradation of all concerned in it—the demoralization of the merchants engaged in it, of the sailors, of the Chinese officials, and, in short, of everyone connected with that trade. It further resulted in conflicts between the Chinese and the merchants who embarked in that illicit trade, and who, I am sorry to say, were mostly men of our own nation. These conflicts led to diplomatic quarrels, which usually ended in war. What is there to show that a return to prohibition now would not again be followed by the same state of things? And does my hon. Friend think that any such policy can be effectually prohibitive, and that the prevention of smuggling is possible? I hold that it is not likely to be absolutely suppressed, and that it will produce all the injurious consequences of which we have had more than enough experience in former times. It is far better, if the trade must continue, that it should be conducted under recognized regulations and under proper control, and that it should be so managed as to be made to furnish a revenue not only to the Indian, but also to the Chinese Government. My hon. Friend referred to the Chefoo Convention and the right of the Chinese Government to levy a duty. It appears to him to be an unwarrantable interference with the rights of any nation to attempt to lay down the exact amount of duty it may levy. My hon. Friend the Under Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs has explained the position in which the negotiations with reference to that Convention now are. I admit that there has been great delay in the ratification of the 3rd Article, to which my hon. Friend has referred. The Government of India have not refused the ratification of the Article, and are willing to concede to the Chinese Government some re-adjustment of the import duties; but we have a right to contend that the readjustment should be on some fair and uniform principle. If it is reasonable for us to protest as vigorously as we can against a return to the policy of prohibition, we may protest, with equal logic, against anything in the shape of a prohibitive duty. Such a duty, I am confident, would have the same effect as a prohibitive policy, and would encourage that illicit trade from which so many evils have always resulted. But it is said that the effects of the opium trade are so demoralizing that we ought to assist China in resisting it by prohibiting the exportation of opium from India. In the first place, it should be proved that opium is really so demoralizing not only in its abuse, but also in its use, that the sale of it ought to be absolutely prohibited all over the world. That, in my judgment, has not yet been proved. There is great difference of opinion and a great discrepancy of evidence as to whether the use of opium in moderate quantities is so hurtful, after all; and till it is proved to be more injurious than other stimulants, it cannot be urged that it is the duty of the British Government to assist the Chinese Government in the total prohibition of the trade. And, even if we did prohibit its exportation from India, it is by no means certain that we should very materially assist the Chinese Government in the prevention of its use in China; for it must be borne in mind that much of the opium consumed in that country is grown by the Chinese themselves. It is very difficult, dealing with a country so little known as China, to estimate what amount of opium is produced in China, as compared with that which is imported into it. But if hon. Gentlemen will take the trouble of consulting the Consular Reports from China which are laid on the Table of the House, they can satisfy themselves that a very large proportion of the opium which is consumed in that country, although authorities differ as to its exact amount, is grown in China; and when we are told that the Chinese Government really and seriously desires to put a stop to the use of this drug alogether, and is only waiting for us to assist in prohibiting its importation, and will then take steps to prevent its production in China, I think they are asking us to proceed on a very doubtful assumption. It is well known that the use of opium imported by sea extends but a very short distance into the interior of China; that it is mainly confined to the ports and their neighbourhood, while that which is used in the inland districts is raised in China itself. And when it is seen that, in spite of all the regulations of the Chinese Government to prevent its growth, it is grown in large quanti- ties there, I can hardly believe that they are animated by that ardent wish to abolish the use of opium altogether; but I think they are much more likely to be influenced by some economical theories, or by some desire to make a larger profit themselves out of this trade, in their negotiations with us. Sir, I cannot discuss the different practical suggestions which, from time to time, have been made for either suddenly or gradually withdrawing from this traffic. My hon. Friend has not proposed any this evening. He has only asked that the Government should take measures with a view to such a gradual withdrawal. I certainly should be glad if I thought that the Indian Government were in such a position that they could afford to dispense with this source of revenue; but I do not at present see any great prospect of that happy result. The hon. Member for Kirkcaldy (Sir George Campbell) has discussed at considerable length the subject of the opium monopoly of the Indian Government. That is a point on which I do at present desire to give any decided opinion. It is a question which has been discussed for many years in India itself, and as to which a great difference of opinion exists among Indian officials. But I do not think that the simple abolition of the monopoly, and the levying of an export duty at the port of shipment, is a practical measure. A monopoly of some sort there must be; and it does not appear to me a matter of principle of any great importance whether, if there should be a monopoly, the Indian Government conducts it or leaves it in private hands. The production of opium would be immensely increased if the cultivation were altogether free; and not only would the exportation probably be greatly increased, but our own dominions in India would be flooded with cheap opium, to the demoralization of our own subjects. Therefore, the simple retirement of the Government from the monopoly, and the levying of an export duty at Calcutta, as at Bombay, would not at all accomplish what the hon. Member for Durham and his Friends have in view. Whether in the regulations a change could be effected, I do not at this moment venture to express a confident opinion. But, in my opinion, there must be a monopoly of some descrip- tion. I have already discussed, to a certain extent, the suggestion that we ought to prohibit the exportation altogether. I think it would not be desirable, not only in the interests of the Indian Revenue, but also because it would simply have the effect of increasing the Chinese production of the drug. I ought to add that there are other countries which produce opium, and they would do so to a greater extent if we retired from the trade. In Persia, opium is produced to a considerable amount, and probably Persian would replace our own opium in China, if we prohibited its exportation. At all events, it appears to me that the subject is one which the Government ought not to approach without the most careful consideration and the deepest reflection. My hon. Friend asks me to give the question my consideration. It has, I know, long received the most careful attention of the Government of India. They have had the subject of the Chefoo Convention before them. All that I can do to induce them to do their part to bring the negotiation which is going on to a satisfactory conclusion I am prepared to do. But I certainly am not prepared to say anything, or to assent to anything, that would endanger or tend to diminish this source of revenue in the present state of the finances of India. It might be very easy for us to utterly destroy the revenues of India, and thereby to ruin her finances for an indefinite period. But it is much more doubtful whether it would be possible for us to do anything that would check the consumption of opium in China, or to confer upon the Chinese people some of those benefits which my hon. Friend thinks it is in our power to bestow. I am glad that my hon. Friend will not be able to take the sense of the House on this Motion to-night. I think there is no doubt that the attention of the House should be called to this matter from time to time; but I do not think it would be desirable, until we have had a fuller opportunity of considering the subject in all its details, that the House should be asked to express its opinion on this question.


thought that the noble Lord rather reckoned without his host in saying that they would not be able to take the sense of the House on that occasion; for so dissatisfied were he and those who sat near him with the statement of the Government that, for the purpose of enabling them to express their opinion, they intended to divide the House on the adjournment of the debate. He must, for himself, say, that nothing lower in tone than the speech of the noble Lord had he ever heard in all his life. The only thing he could compare it to was the speech of John C. Calhoun, in defence of slavery, in the Congress of the United States, which the noble Lord and other Members of the Government might have seen summed up in The Bigelow Papers, in these words— John C. Calhoun, sez he, Human rights ha'nt no more Right to come on this floor No more'n the man in the moon, sez he. That, he regretted to say, was really very much the tone of the speech of the noble Lord. The noble Lord had said he could not afford to tamper with this source of the revenue; but he forgot that it was a source of revenue which might any day be taken out of his hands, and which he might not be able to deal with at all. In the last Session of the last Parliament the present Prime Minister, referring to some remarks made by the hon. Member for Guildford, said— I marvel at the sanguine temperament of a Gentleman, who, upon looking at the excess which has come to our revenue from opium, is able to describe that as solid and substantial. Money is money, and its solidity is the same from whatever source it is derived…. but with regard to the future, the whole nature of our opium revenue ought to be a perpetual warning and caution to us. The Indian Revenue never can be solid and substantial so long as it is largely dependent on the opium revenue."— [3 Hansard, ccli. 932.] Those were the views of the Prime Minister. Now, they did not ask the noble Lord to direct the Chinese or control them. He must say, so far as this country was concerned, the subject appeared to him to lie much more within the Department of the Foreign Office than the Indian Office. The immorality of our traffic consisted in this—that we forced our opium into the ports of China. The noble Lord had said this was not an oppressive mode of raising the revenue. Did he not consider it in that light when they send their Fleets and their Armies to insist upon this opium traffic? The late Mr. Cobden had said that if we took the whole value of all the exports to China during the last 40 years, and put against it the cost of the armaments and Consular Service to foster the opium traffic, we should be found to be heavy losers in the transaction. Therefore, if ever there was a revenue that was wrung out of our pockets it was this revenue. We did not enjoy it, the Indians enjoyed it, and we paid for it. As to the objection, that when the Chinese Government enforced, the policy of prohibition the result was universal demoralization, constant collusion, and all sorts of evils—why was that? Simply because on every point Great Britain had frustrated the Chinese influence to enforce the policy of prohibition. From the beginning of the century the Chinese did their best to enforce the prohibition, and the whole history of the trade showed that. It had been said that the Chinese were not sincere in their efforts to put down the traffic. The fact was, that the Chinese again and again attempted to do so, and again and again protested against our action. Sir Rutherford Alcock, our own Plenipotentiary, had expressed his firm belief in the sincerity of the Chinese to suppress the traffic. As to assisting the Chinese, he did not want us to assist them. He wanted this country to let the Chinese alone—to allow the Chinese to govern their own country in their own fashion. He felt sorry that he had to speak in this manner, and was sorry it had not sufficed the Representatives of Her Majesty's Government to say that they could not be expected on so short a tenure of Office to pronounce an opinion on this subject; but when they found the leading Member of the Government denouncing at one time this opium traffic in the most unmeasured terms, and the noble Lord that night coming forward with a statement which might perfectly well seem as a prelude to a permanent retention of the tax, it was time to protest against the retrograde movement which appeared to be threatened. It was idle to argue about Indian finance without having in view some plan by which India would be able to support itself without having this opium traffic. The salt tax had been referred to, and also the land tax; but those were taxes within India itself and under our control, and we could alter or retain those taxes as we liked. But the opium traffic was dependent on the Chinese. In consequence of the most unsatisfactory statements of the Under Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, and the noble Lord the Secretary of State for India, and in order to give the House an opportunity of expressing an opinion, he begged to move that the debate be adjourned.


I must point out to the hon. Member that there is no Amendment before the House, an Amendment having already been negatived. The Question before the House is that I do now leave the Chair.


moved that the debate on that Question be adjourned.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Debate be now adjourned."—[Dr. Cameron.)


desired, as one recently charged with some responsibility for the government of India, to make one or two observations on this Amendment. He could not think that any advantage could possibly be gained by the adjournment of this debate. As he understood the Mover, and those who supported him in this debate, their object was to press on the Secretary of State for India this subject as requiring his care and attention during the next year. The noble Lord might have sheltered himself with simply saying that he would give the subject that attention; but, instead of doing so, he told the House that, after three or four weeks' experience, he could not say that he was prepared to give up altogether, or take steps little by little to abandon, the opium revenue. They must remember that it involved no less than £7,000,000 or £8,000,000 sterling. It was a source of revenue which was not a burden upon the people of India. If, therefore, they were going to abandon it, either all at once or by degrees, they must make some provision for imposing other taxation on India, or they must do what would be more just under the circumstances — namely, require the people of England to take upon themselves that charge. It was, therefore, a very serious question. But, perhaps, he was addressing those who were prepared to take up the fiat justitia, ruat cœlum principle, and who said the opium traffic was demoralizing, and must at all costs be abolished. But if they were to consider that point, should they not also consider the question of alcohol in this country? What must be the effect of abolishing the cultivation of the poppy in India? The Chinese would continue to grow it. Its cultivation would be increased in Persia. If they adopted that extreme step, which would deprive the people of India of that important branch of revenue, they would not be abolishing the traffic. On the whole, he thought the noble Lord had been well advised not to abandon that source of income or pledge himself to take any step towards its abandonment. He had told them he would look into the subject with the utmost care, and that he would enter upon the question without prejudice. It seemed to him that the central object put forward by the hon. Mover had been gained; the noble Lord had undertaken to look into the matter in the course of next year, and therefore he did not think anything would be gained by the adjournment of this debate.


said, the Motion for adjournment had not been made because the Government refused at once to abolish this system, but because the excuse of the Government had been put forward in a speech that must have filled the breasts of many hon. Members with pain and humiliation. He did not say it was a speech abounding in cynicism; but he must say he had not in the last six years heard a speech from a Statesman and responsible Minister of the Crown projected from so low a level of political morality. Revenue, revenue, revenue, rung throughout the whole speech of the noble Lord. He almost sneered at the doctrine of justice and morality. He put these aside, and told them to treat the question as a matter of revenue and finance. He did not know whether the hon. Member for Northampton (Mr. Bradlaugh) had been listening to the debate, whose entrance into the House was to destroy all their ideas of Christian morality; but it seemed to him that Member might almost be Minister for India. He did not know whether the "Heathen Chinee" was in the Gallery of the House. If he was, he must be edified by our superior Christian morality, which put revenue above justice. For his (Mr. A. M. Sullivan's) part, having listened to that passage quoted by his hon. Friend the Member for Merthyr (Mr. Richard) from the despatch of a Chinese Minister, he would prefer the moral principles therein nobly expressed to the cynical doctrines he had just heard from the Treasury Bench. No defence had been, or could be, offered for this hideous iniquity by which Great Britain sought to put money in her purse. For 2,000 years no nation in Europe had had a greater blot upon her in the pursuit of mere wealth at the price of popular degradation than this opium traffic had put upon the name of England; and it was to the honour of this country that on the present occasion men bound to the newly-born Government by the strongest Party ties, impelled by conscience— for, after all, conscience was still a power in the House of Commons—desired to show their sense of indignation at the character of the defence, if defence it could be called, put forward by Her Majesty's Government. The Ministry might have said that they were inheritors of the errors of the past; that while every Government had a noble opportunity of retrieving the mistakes of its Predecessors, no one expected that the serious policy of such Predecessors would be precipitately reversed. He could have understood a plea of that kind coming from a Ministry whose public utterances had led everyone to believe that they felt strongly the iniquitous character of this opium traffic; but all the noble Lord had to say was that if England did not profit by this abominable trade, some one else would. This was a petty excuse for a moral crime to be put forward by the Government of a Bible-loving nation like England, which sought to convert the "Heathen Chinee" from Paganism to Christianity. He could point out many means of obtaining wealth which were defended by the criminal classes on a plea such as that which had been put forward. The Chinese had struggled against the continuance of this immorality; but the military power of England had defeated their struggles. He should like to hear an English Minister say that while the Government of the country deemed revenue to be useful, it valued much more the greatness of the national name—a greatness which rested upon something higher and nobler than the triumph of her arms in defence of an iniquitous system like the opium traffic. He felt no doubt that the people of England would prefer themselves to be taxed, rather than revenue should continue to be derived from the system which had been defended from the Treasury Bench of a Liberal Administration. The doctrine of fiat justitia had been mentioned, but only to be cast aside; and he should, therefore, like to ask whether the India Office demoralized its occupant, and whether the touch of this opium revenue could affect with moral torpor a Liberal Statesman who ought to be impelled by the ardour of youth? He, in this connection, commended to the consideration of hon. Members the words spoken by the Prime Minister many years ago before he wore official bonds, and, he had almost said, entered upon a life of official slavery. It might be too much to struggle on the present occasion against a combination of the two front Benches; but he hoped this debate would have an effect in the country and create a public opinion which would justify Her Majesty's Government, if not next Session, certainly in the one that would follow, in removing this hideous blot from the escutcheon of the British nation.


said, that the hon. Member for Glasgow (Dr. Cameron) had stated that he had very seldom heard in that House a speech of such a low tone of morality as that of his noble Friend the Secretary of State for India, and the hon. and learned Member for Meath (Mr. A. M. Sullivan) had expressed a similar opinion. The hon. Member for Meath said that he thought it would not be going too far to describe the speech as discreditable, both to the House and to the noble Lord. For his part, however, he was bound to say that, so far from entertaining the opinion of those two hon. Gentlemen, he thought that the noble Lord the Secretary of State for India was just as anxious for the well-being of China as they were themselves, and that he had simply shown caution and prudence in the observations he had made, which, if he had not done, might have led to incalculable evil to the people of India, whose interests he was bound to consider. Let them consider for a few moments what this matter amounted to. The practical sense of that House knew well that, at that moment, India had not a single sixpence of revenue to spare. The amount of taxation raised was not sufficient to meet the demands now made upon her Exchequer. He was not going that evening even to allude to the causes which, had placed an exceptional demand upon her. He had, on more than one occasion, come forward in that House and asked that India might be given some relief; but he had never yet succeeded. Now, that being the case, if she had not a single sixpence to spare, and the noble Lord well knowing that England would not come forward with a single sixpence to help her, it was of no use for him to disguise the fact. It was very well to talk of the English people being willing to make up the financial loss that the abolition of this revenue would cause. But what proof had the noble Lord that, even if he did away with this £8,000,000, he would get a single sixpence to replace it? If this £8,000,000 of revenue were sacrificed, the noble Lord knew that it would be impossible at the present moment to raise it in any other manner in India. The sources of taxation in India were very small and limited. No one knew better than the hon. and learned Member for Meaththattheycouldnotraise£8,000,000 additional from the land in India. It would be much the same as a proposal to make every Irish peasant cultivator at the present time pay twice his rent. They could not get a sixpence more from land. What were the other sources of revenue? They had recently increased to the greatest possible extent the salt duty in those Provinces; but to raise £8,000,000 more taxation would double the salt duty throughout India. That would, in effect, mean taking food from the starving people, and bringing upon them suffering so great that he would not attempt to describe it. Could it bo raised from the Income Tax? They knew that if they wanted to raise £8,000,000 in England, it would be easy to do so by simply increasing the Income Tax 3d. or 4d. in the pound. But in the case of India, when the Income Tax was 2½d. in the pound, instead of raising £5,000,000, as in England, so poor was India that only £500,000 was produced. At the same time, that tax gave rise to such great discontent from one end of India to the other, that the great Statesman who was then responsible for the government of India, said that although he knew they had not one surplus European soldier in India, yet, taking danger for danger, he would rather reduce the European Army in India by one-half, than take the responsibility of again imposing an Income Tax. To raise £8,000,000 in India they would require an Income Tax of an enormous amount. Why did not the hon. Member for Glasgow and the hon. and learned Member for Meath, when they attacked the morality and the good feeling of the noble Lord the Secretary of State for India, come forward with some definite proposal with regard to Indian Revenue? Why did they not come forward and tell the House how £8,000,000 additional revenue could be raised? Why did they not say that they were prepared to have the Income Tax of this country increased 3d., 4d., or 6d. in the pound, in order to meet the deficit in the Indian Revenue to be caused by the abolition of the opium duty. If they formulated a proposal like that it would be a practical proposition, and would have more effect, and would be much more worthy the consideration of the House, than all the vague declamation they had listened to that evening. They had heard a great deal about the immorality of their traffic with the Chinese; but, for his part, he could not see that there was much difference between raising a revenue from opium and raising £26,000,000 as they did in England, to a great extent from the intemperance of the people. No one was more opposed than he to many of the proposals for temperance legislation brought forward in that House, although he was as much a friend of temperance as any man could be. But he had no hesitation in saying, that in Ireland, or even in the back slums of Glasgow, he could find as great immorality traceable to the traffic from which the spirit revenue was raised, as they could find in China produced from opium. Then, again, it must be remembered that if they abolished the revenue from opium, no one could doubt that the effect would be to cheapen opium in China. It could not be kept out of China, and its growth would be encouraged. If the duty were removed from an article, the effect would be to reduce its price; and, in reducing the price, how could they possibly say that they would restrict the sale? On the contrary, he thought he could prove, beyond all possibility of dispute, that by the abolition of the opium revenue in India they would unquestionably reduce the price of opium in China. By so doing, they would increase its use, and intensify every evil which they so greatly deplored. He could not but think that, considering the recent accession of the noble Lord to Office, he would have been guilty of the greatest imprudence if he had come down to that House and pledged himself to sacrifice nearly one-fifth or one-sixth of the entire Indian Revenue without seeing his way to replace it by some tax less burdensome to the Indian people. He was aware that it was said that the opium revenue was uncertain, and that the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister had been quoted that evening upon the subject. But when the right hon. Gentleman made those remarks upon the opium revenue, he did not make them with the slightest idea of saying that the Secretary of State for India ought to come down to that House and abolish it. So far as he understood the drift of the observations of the Prime Minister, when he made his speech his sole object was to show that, whether we wished it or not, a change in the policy of China might affect the demand for Indian opium, and might materially affect the revenue derived from opium in India. He made that observation, not with the idea of asking the Secretary of State to abolish the opium revenue, but to point out to those who were responsible for the administration of the Indian Finances that one source of their revenue was uncertain, and, that being so, there was greater reason for exercising prudence, caution, and economy, with regard to the finances of India. He believed that he was not misrepresenting the arguments of the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister. Of course, the noble Lord the Secretary of State for India, in making the observations he had done, knew very well the sort of things that would be said about him in consequence of the speech he had made that evening. Knowing that, he was more entitled to their respect for his courage in being willing to face this amount of odium rather than to do anything by want of caution which he felt would do harm to the people of India, or throw the Indian finances into a worse position than they were at the present time.


said, that he should like to be allowed to say a few words before the Motion for the adjournment was put to the House. If there was one man. more than another who disliked to go into the Lobby against the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister it was himself; but they had had again that evening a melancholy instance of a man coming down to that House after dinner, without having been present earlier in the evening, and without having heard a single speech in the debate, and then answering the arguments which he himself alone had raised. The right hon. Gentleman the Postmaster General had excused the noble Lord on the ground of his recent accession to Office; but he thought that the right hon. Gentleman had not done him the honour to listen to what he said at the end of his speech. He said, emphatically, that he did not wish a sixpence of that revenue to be taken away from India at the present moment; but he said that, in his opinion, a Christian, moral country like this ought not, year after year, to enforce the Treaty of Tien Tsin, when beseeched by the Chinese to modify it, and froml876 to 1880 refuse to ratify the Convention of Chefoo. Heasked simply that the Convention of Chefoo should be taken into consideration, and that the Chinese, by municipal duties, or by other means, should be allowed to hold the opium traffic in check. He said, also, that if that were done the noble Lord would probably, in the meantime, be able to re-adjust his Indian finances. He was perfectly aware that they could not take £6,000,000 from India without providing that amount of revenue from other sources. He was not the man to put the Government of India or the noble Lord in that fix. But the noble Lord's speech was a defence of that which he considered to be a moral wrong towards the Chinese. That wrong could not be redressed in a single moment. It had, however, been declared a wrong by the voice of a great number of people in England and Scotland. He believed it to be wrong; and if the noble Lord had admitted that, he should not have wished to divide against the Government. But he felt that they had a duty to perform; and when they believed a thing to be morally wrong, they must obey the voice of religion and the convictions of their consciences.


Sir, the division which will take place will be for the adjournment of the debate upon the proposal for going into Committee of Supply. My hon. Friend who made the Motion, and who supported the adjournment is, I am sure, the last man who would desire to prevent us from going into Committee of Supply. But he has indirectly made this a method of giving expression to his feelings of dissatisfaction at the opium revenue. That being so, what are the terms upon which the division will be taken? I am very desirous that there shall be no doubt as to what is meant by those who will vote for the adjournment, and also as to what is meant by those of my hon. Friends who will vote against it. I will venture to state the interpretation which I put upon the position in which I stand, and upon that of those who support the adjournment. This is not the first time, even during the present Session of Parliament, in which Members of this House, and bodies of Members of this House, have felt it their duty, for reasons honourable and laudable in themselves, to act against the dictates of that judgment which I should hope would have restrained them. That is my opinion of the position in which those Gentlemen stand who now feel disposed to support the Motion for the adjournment. Let us see whether that is the case or not. I have listened very carefully to the speech of my noble Friend near me (the Marquess of Hartington), and I will give the purport of that speech. He began with a statement as to his sense of the embarrassed position in which he was placed in being called upon to give distinct pledges to the House upon a subject of the utmost difficulty and complexity at that time when he had been but a very few weeks in Office, and when, during that time, he had been called upon by considerations of duty absolutely imperative to give his mind and attention to other matters yet more urgent, involving human life as well as the honour and credit of the country, in such a way, that it had been impossible for him to give proper examination to this subject. Having stated that, and having made that plea, then, with the ingenuous courage which distinguishes him, almost beyond any other man in the House, he proceeded to point out the character of the difficulties which surrounded him, and which were so many reasons against his giving a promise that he might find himself eventually unable to fulfil. We have heard much of the painful questions connected with the revenue derived from the opium traffic. I most fully concur that this is not only a difficult, but a most painful, question. We have already had two, I may almost say three, wars upon this subject. Let us consider what is the position taken up by the people of England with regard to these wars. On the first occasion no distinct appeal was made to the people; but it was unquestionably true that, as has been truly said, I, for one, denounced, in the strongest terms, the opium traffic. The nation, however, did not take the part of those who protested against that war. In 1857 we were launched by the acts of one of our agents into a war with China, and the steps taken by Sir John Bowring were the subject of much debate. In the House of Commons the Government of Lord Palmerston was divided, and from the opinions which I then expressed I have not in the slightest departed. What then happened? The House declared its judgment, and the noble Viscount, then the head of Her Majesty's Government, took a course he was constitutionally entitled to take, and appealed to the people. In that appeal he was emphatically sustained, and many Members were dismissed from their seats in that House upon the vote which they gave, and the country returned a very large majority to support an Administration pledged to carry on a second Opium War. It is material that it should be understood that, whatever may be the amount of painful reflection caused by the part this country has taken, that what took place upon this matter was not done clandestinely, but was approved of by the people upon the only occasion on which a distinct appeal was made to them. The next point is, that a very great change has taken place in China. The Government has substituted for the old system a totally different one. Down to 1860 the opium traffic with China was subject, not only to all those objections which the supply of such a drug entails, but there was added, in addition, all the mischief and corruption of a contraband traffic. A contraband trade is bad enough and demoralizing enough in all conscience, under any circumstances. Under the best circumstances, and the best circumstances are those in which the country where the trade is carried on exerts itself to the utmost to prevent the importation, the trade will be bad enough. But that is not the case in China. In China, although it is doubtful whether the Central Government is sincere, yet it is certain that the provincial Governments and the local agents are in collusion with the contraband trade. Therefore, all the moral evils which result from this traffic are supplemented, and amplified enormously by the distinct moral evils which belong to a contraband trade. It has been charged against me in this debate, that I have been led to describe the decision of the Chinese Government to admit the importation of opium as a wise one. So far as I can form a judgment, I am inclined to believe that it was wise on the part of the Government of China to legalize the importation of the drug, rather than allow it to go on as a contraband traffic. Therefore, Sir, I am by no means prepared to admit that, after further consideration, no improvement can be made. It appears to me that one very large, and very grave, and very serious group of evils has been got rid of. While I do not deny that much remains for very grave, and serious, and painful consideration, do not let it be understood, Sir, that I am a person viewing this subject with indifference, any more than I think the speech of my noble Friend justified, in the slightest degree, the imputation that he viewed it with indifference. What is the imputation against my noble Friend? It is, that his speech was projected from a very low level of morality. Let us see, then, whether we can escape from the mischiefs supposed to belong to this low level of morality by a resort to that high level of morality which is now recommended. If we are told that considerations connected with the financial condition of India, and the impossibility of supplying this income, or of undertaking to supply this income from another source, are not admissible to this debate, that allegation can have no meaning at all, unless it be that we are to assume the obligation on the part of the people of England. We must be prepared for one of two things. Either you are to assume the obligation on the part of the people of England, or else, as we are told by my hon. Friend the Member for South Durham (Mr. Pease), we are to content ourselves at the present moment with giving a promise of something to be done in the future. Well, Sir, it would be a very I high level of morality, indeed, from one point of view, if we were prepared, on behalf of our constituents, to add 3d. or 4d. in the pound to the Income Tax, and to assume the payment of these £7,000,000. That, I admit, would be to take our stand on a very high level of morality. But nobody is prepared for that. That is not in question. It is no part of the debate, and, consequently, it is not that high level of morality by which we are to escape from the low level of morality on which my noble Friend is accused of standing; it must be some other level of morality. Let us see what that other level of morality is. It has been described very fairly by my hon. Friend the Member for South Durham, a Gentleman whose clearness of mind, whose soundness of judgment, and whose uniform moderation in all these proceedings entitle him to be heard with the utmost respect, and, as he knows, he is heard with the utmost respect. But is not my hon. Friend in danger of falling, and of letting us down upon a level of morality which I affirm to be not higher, but lower, than the level of the morality of my noble Friend? There is a kind of morality which, in my opinion, is the lowest of all, and it is the morality of a Government which makes promises without knowing that it has the means of fulfilling them The real offence of my noble Friend is that he has refused to make a promise, being three weeks old in Office, and having had questions which I need not now even name, the consideration of which would have been sufficient of themselves, I venture to say, to supply an incoming Government with work enough to fill all its time—being in that condition, my noble Friend has declined to make any promise whatever upon this subject. He has admitted it is a subject which has the strongest claim upon him for full and thorough explanation. But what are we asked to do? The hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Meath (Mr. A. M. Sullivan), to whom I give — do not let him question it for a moment — the fullest credit for the sincerity and earnestness of all those sentiments he has so eloquently expressed, asks why we cannot, at any rate, give a promise for the Session after next? These are very easy terms to offer to my noble Friend. In my opinion, no more dangerous seduction could be offered to a Government to propose such terms. It is hard enough that we should be encouraged to deal in promises for next Session; but, Heaven help us if we are to be encouraged to dispose of our present difficulties by promising that we will do something in the Session after next ! My hon. Friend the Member for South Durham is not so definite. He does not ask us to do this; but he wishes to express inarticulately the same sentiment, if I may say so, by voting for the adjournment. He wants Her Majesty's Government to encourage the Government of India to take steps for their gradual withdrawal from participation in the cultivation of the poppy and the manufacture of opium. I will first, Sir, just take leave to get rid of that part of this Resolution which speaks of our encouraging the Government of India to take steps for their gradual withdrawal from participation in the cultivation of the poppy and the manufacture of opium. Sir, if we ought to encourage the Government of India to do a thing, we ought to compel that Government to do it. It is not really a matter of encouraging the Government. The Government of India is subject to the Government of this country, and whatever we really want that Government to do we have the power to make them do. Therefore, the real question is that we are asked to say that Her Majesty's Government will promise to take steps for the gradual withdrawal from participation in the cultivation of the poppy and the manufacture of opium. Can we promise that? Many is the thing a man wishes to do which, notwithstanding, he dare not, consistently with his duty, promise to do, for he must not promise to do it till he sees the means and can measure and estimate the means by which he is to do it. And that is really the question at present in issue. If a division is to be taken on this adjournment, why do we vote against it? By doing so, we mean that, with our present knowledge, and in our present condition, we decline to make such a promise. For myself, I may say truly, that I am not ashamed of the strong language in which I have spoken of this subject on former occasions. I spoke then of a system in which the evils of the opium traffic were combined and concentrated in the evils of the contraband traffic; but still I admit that much remains. I entertain the sincerest, the most earnest desire, and so does my noble Friend, that it may be in our power, safely and with justice to the people of India, to take steps for the gradual withdrawal from connection with this traffic; but I cannot give a promise upon it until I see the means by which that process is to be effected. Therefore, let it be understood on the part of Her Majesty's Government that, while we resist this adjournment on account of the construction that has been put upon it, it is simply upon that ground that we desire to reserve to ourselves the free and deliberate examination of this question. I have no doubt that my hon. Friend opposite the late Under Secretary of State for India, would wish himself to take his stand upon the same ground. What he said was perfectly consistent with such a view. None of us, I hope, in this House view this matter with indifference. I am certainly of opinion, as I said at the close of the last Parliament, that this opium revenue, instead of being a sound and solid, is a slippery and a dangerous, part of our Indian Revenue. India cannot be economically safe as long as she is dependent upon it. These are the feelings which I endeavoured to express in a speech which, as has been said by my right hon. Friend the Postmaster General was not a speech on the moral aspect of the case, but was one dealing purely with its financial aspect. I do not know whether I myself have given room for any of those severe strictures which have been applied to the frank and manly statement of my noble Friend. In my opinion, it was a frank and manly course to set out fully before the House all the difficulties which impede it in a path which may be admitted to be one of philanthropy and justice. I do not believe, if we were declaring the principle of an ultimate policy in regard to this question, that we should take a very different view. It is, in our point of view, a narrower question. It is, whether our present position, according to our present means of dealing with the subject as a responsible Government, justifies us in giving a pledge before we can feel a reasonable certainty of being able to redeem it. But, on the other hand, it is a very broad question; and I am quite certain there is no principle which lies nearer the root of political morality, and is more necessary to be strictly clung to by every Administration in this country, than the principle which dictates that no promise shall ever be given by a responsible Minister, or a responsible Government, to the House of Commons until that Minister knows that it will be in his power to accomplish that to which he has engaged himself.


intended to oppose the Motion for adjournment, because it seemed to him to be an anomalous one. The arguments against this traffic, as it existed some 30 years ago, no longer applied, and the objections to the trade in opium were now on the same level with the objections to trade in rum, whisky, bang, and other substances used by different nations for the purpose of intoxicating themselves. There was no security that our withdrawal from this traffic would not result in an increased sale of opium in China; and for his part, if they were now merely examining how the least possible injury could be done to the human race by the opium traffic, he believed that they would arrive at the conclusion that the removal of the duty would merely have the effect of increasing the consumption of the traffic, or else of transferring a large revenue from our Exchequer to that of the Chinese Government.


said, with the permission of the House, he would withdraw the Motion for adjournment. He and his friends had no wish to embarrass the Government; and had the noble Lord the Secretary of State for India spoken in a tone in any way resembling that used by the Prime Minister, they would never have thought of moving the adjournment at all. The noble Lord might not have intended it, but his speech appeared to be a defence of the opium traffic, and to commit him to a policy which the Prime Minister now assured them was never intended.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.

Main Question again proposed, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair."

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.

Committee deferred till Monday next.