HC Deb 11 August 1882 vol 273 cc1586-98

(14.) Motion made, and Question proposed, That a sum, not exceeding £90,000, be granted to Her Majesty, to defray the Charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March 1883, as a Grant in Aid of the Revenue of the Island of Cyprus.


said, he intended not only to oppose this Vote, but also to take a division against it; and he must crave the attention of the Committee for a few minutes with regard to it, as the subject was one of considerable importance. Shortly after the Island was taken over, the then Under Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs (Mr. Bourke) made an official statement to the effect that the Island would probably pay its own expenses, or, at all events, to use the right hon. Member's own words— It would leave an inappreciable portion of the charge to be borne by the taxpayers of this country. Well, last year the charge amounted to £78,000—that was the amount of the Vote which Her Majesty's Government then asked for. This year the Government made a claim for £90,000, showing an increase of £12,000 in a single year. That was the burden which the taxpayers of this country were asked to bear in respect of the Island of Cyprus; and he imagined, and in a few words would endeavour to show, that that was the average burden which the people of this country might expect to bear in regard to this Island, so long as it remained in its present political condition. With regard to the policy under which the Island was taken over, it was proclaimed at the time that the object of taking possession of Cyprus was to prevent the Russians from passing through the mountains of Asia Minor and Persia to India. That was a most preposterous suggestion; but it was made on the highest official authority. There was another plea put forward upon equal authority, and it was first heard of in the Guildhall of the City of London. It was said that the Convention we had entered into with Turkey was valuable, inasmuch as, before long, the City of Erzeroum would be the most powerful fortress in that part of Asia. From that day to this not a brick and not a stone had been put upon another in that fortress. If Russia were inclined to seize upon the City of Erzeroum, it was not the Convention that would prevent it; but our best assurance would be in the Concert of Europe, which Her Majesty's Government had done their best to build up and maintain. When he brought the subject before the Committee last year, and moved the rejection of the Vote of £78,000, they had another Under Secretary of State in Office; and it seemed to be the policy of Her Majesty's Government to provide them with a new Under Secretary of State for the Colonies every year. This placed those who stood in his (Mr. Arthur Arnold's) position under some difficulty. They could not find it in their hearts to attack the present Under Secretary, as they believed him to be as blameless as a baby in respect of this Vote. When he was addressing his hon. Friend the Member for Liskeard (Mr. Courtney) last year, he was obliged to make the same statement, and to say that he could not blame the hon. Gentleman, because he had only been in Office a month. But while he, for himself, repudiated altogether the policy of the Anglo-Turkish Convention, and desired from his heart that it had never been made, he did not take upon himself last year, and he had no intention of taking upon himself this year, to advocate that this Convention should be annulled and abandoned. He should not object to see such a policy adopted; but he did not last year, and he did not intend now, to press any argument on this part of the question. Last year he had ventured to lay before Her Majesty's Government and the Secretary of State, if he could reach so far, an alternative line of policy which, it appeared to him, might be adopted with advantage to the public purse. He had said that it was not for him to suggest the course which Her Majesty's Government ought to pursue with regard to Cypus, but that there were two courses left open to them, one of which was to compound with the Turkish Government for the tribute of about £85,000 a-year, and so end the most unfortunate agreement which had been entered into by the clever Grand Vizier of the Sultan; and, further, that Her Majesty's Government might lessen the terrible expense of carrying on the administration of the Island by assimilating the Government in some degree to that of the Ionian Islands belonging to Greece. The Government of the Ionian Islands was a liberal Government, the people were happy, prosperous, progressive, and the charge upon the Home Government was totally insignificant compared with the magnificent, but futile, and worse than futile, scale on which Cyprus had been administered. And what was the reply he received on that occasion? Why, Mr. Courtney stated that the Colonial Office had been endeavouring to carry out one of the suggestions made, and were setting their minds to the accomplishment of the other. Well, he must say that the mind of the Colonial Office moved very slowly indeed, because, not only were they without any shred of information as to what they were going to do with either one of these suggestions, but—and he thought the Committee had a right to find some fault with the Colonial Office for the fact—they were now bringing forward a Vote of £90,000 before the Report of the High Commissioner of 1881 had been presented to Parliament. That Report was not yet in the hands of Members; and, further, the Report of the gentleman from the Colonial Office who had visited Cyprus 12 months ago had not made its appearance. He must add that the statement made by Lord Kimberley on the subject of Cyprus had not by any means reassured him. The Prime Minister, in his Budget speech, had led them to hope that the charge for Cyprus in future would be £40,000 instead of £90,000 in one year. Now, the Prime Minister might do him the honour to correct him if he was wrong in supposing that the meaning of that statement was, that in future, by some arrangement made between the Treasury and the Foreign Office, in conjunction with the Porte, the payment of the interest which this country was under an obligation to pay in regard to her half-share of the guaranteed interest of the loan raised by Turkey during the Crimean War would be charged against the tribute which we had to pay for Cyprus. He should contend that was not a reduction of the charge. [Mr. GLADSTONE: It is not.] But Lord Kimberley had made another statement which, under the bellicose circumstances of the present time, had caused him some apprehension. Not long ago, in the House of Lords, the noble Earl stated that Famagousta might, at no great expense, be made available for the reception of a certain number of large vessels of war, but that it would be very necessary to construct protecting fortifications. Now, he would venture to predict—[Mr. WARTON: Don't.]—yes; in spite of the hon. and learned. Member for Bridport, he would venture to predict that if this Harbour of Famagousta remained in the hands of the British Government, and particularly if it remained in the hands of some other Ministry than the present, and actuated by the motives which seemed to influence Her Majesty's late Advisers, they would shortly see a repetition of the great failure of fortifications which they had seen in the Island of Alderney. If, in spite of their experience in the Island of Alderney, they should risk a similar failure in Cyprus, the cost of the Island of Cyprus to this country would be increased, and that was another reason why they should reject this Vote. The right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister, he hoped, would permit some subordinate Member of his Government to inform the House how, and by what means, it was that the Earl of Kimberley proposed to reduce the charge for Cyprus from £90,000 to £40,000 a-year. If it was not done by subtracting the interest on the Guaranteed Loans to Turkey, it would have a more satisfactory appearance; but it would not remove his feeling as to the utter want of economy in the manner in which the Island of Cyprus was governed. The scale of Government was monstrous. The proportion which the salaries of the Governor, the Chief Secretary, and the whole official Staff of the Island bore to the Revenue was simply ridiculous. When he read in the last Report that "the sanitation" of the towns was receiving considerable attention, those words struck him as being remarkably significant. In matters of sanitation, money went out with great rapidity. Scientific sanitation was nowhere inexpensive, and nowhere could it be less inexpensive than in an island where there were more goats than people. When Lord Salisbury most wisely abandoned, in his far greater knowledge of geography, the proposition his Leader had made as to the reason why the Government had taken over that Island, he stated that the great advantage to this country of the possession of Cyprus would be in connection with Egypt; and, no doubt, in time to come, they would hear a great deal about the immense benefit Cyprus had rendered to Her Majesty's Government during the present Egyptian campaign. Well, having the Island in their hands, if the Government did not make use of it he should censure such neglect, and the fact of their making use of it did not condone for one moment the means by which the Island was taken into our possession. And let him say that no single operation within the memory of any Member of that House, probably, had ever been conducted in the East of Europe without free use being made of adjacent territory for occupation by the belligerent of the West. There would have been no difficulty experienced by the English Government, if engaged in hostile operations in Egypt, as they were now, in obtaining standing ground which they could have used for hospital or other purposes, even if we had not had possession of Cyprus. That was the case in the Crimean War and in Greece. The vassalage by which we held the Island of Cyprus was of no advantage whatever. He had carefully noticed what had been done of late. He might be officially corrected; but he was under the impression that no British troops had made anything like a permanent landing or occupation of Cyprus in connection with the Egyptian Expedition. There had only been a rendezvous of British vessels such as took place at Suda. He hoped, therefore, the great mistake would not be made of supposing that the possession of Cyprus had been one of the advantageous incidents of the operations against Egypt. He doubted—more than doubted—the policy which had led to the occupation of the Island, and he felt very much dissatisfied at the absence of successful negotiations with the Porte for compounding the tribute, and at the absence of successful operations in Cyprus for bringing down the expenditure of the Government to a very much lower level. For these reasons, and because now and at all times he denied that the policy of the Anglo-Turkish Convention had been, or ever could be, beneficial to this country, he asked the Committee to reject the Vote.


said, that, though the hon. Member had imputed such designs to the Government, and had said that they changed the Under Secretaries of State for the Colonies so frequently because, having such a bad case, they thought it desirable, from time to time, to present a new cover, he presented himself to reply to two or three points the hon. Member had raised. It was not his policy, nor would he follow the hon. Member into the larger questions of the policy of retaining the Island, or of its utility. The hon. Member found fault with the Government for not having attempted to compound with the Porte for the payment of the tribute. The House had been informed last year that proposals had been made with that view. But, surely, the act of compounding was not so desirable a thing in itself that they should pay more than the thing was worth. The reason they had not compounded with the Porte was because the Porte had asked for a composition which was thought far above the proper price. When the Porte showed itself more reasonable, then, he had no doubt, the Colonial Office would entertain the question again. At the same time, while, to a large extent, the tribute money was being used for the payment of the Guaranteed Loan, it would be a losing game on our part to pay down a lump sum. Then it was asked why they did not assimilate the Government of Cyprus to that of the Ionian Islands. He (Mr. Evelyn Ashley) could not say of his own knowledge what the Government of the Ionian Islands might be; but this he would say—that Her Majesty's Government had thought it not only right, but absolutely necessary, to provide a Government for Cyprus that was infinitely superior to a Turkish Administration. He could only say that if his hon. Friend (Mr. Courtney) did last Session give what was called a pledge that the Colonial Office would march in that direction and attempt to improve the administration in the way of expense, the Colonial Office had amply carried out that pledge. The admirable Report by Mr. Fairfield would, he hoped—indeed he was sure—be the starting-point of a considerable reduction in the expenditure of the Island. The Government owed an apology to the hon. Member for Salford (Mr. Arthur Arnold) for not laying that Report upon the Table before now. If it had been possible, the Report would have been laid on the Table before this discussion to-day; but they had been unable to do so in consequence of their not having received Sir Robert Biddulph's observations upon it. That brought him (Mr. Evelyn Ashley) to th6 speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister, in introducing the Budget, when he said he believed that the payment for Cyprus would only amount to £40,000 a-year. If the hon. Member would follow the Estimate for the ensuing year, he would find that the payment would only be £27,000. The Revenue was estimated at £76,000, and if they added the tribute to that it would make up a total of £219,500. The deficit for the coming year would be about £43,000; but he was happy to say that if the proposal suggested to them by Mr. Fairfield in his Report, which the hon. Member would have an opportunity of considering during the Recess, were carried out, the expenditure, including the tribute, would be reduced to something like £205,000, which would then cause their payment, in respect of Cyprus, to reach only the amount of £27,000 or £28,000. The payment they were asking the Committee to sanction to-day was a payment on account of the deficits of past years. He would only give his hon. Friend round figures; but since they had occupied Cyprus the total receipts had been £612,823, and the payments had been £426,709, leaving an excess of receipts over expenditure of £186,114. Therefore, he would point out to his hon. Friend that if there was no tribute in the matter these figures would represent a very handsome balance, and would show that the administration of the Island had not been one that could be found fault with. But now came the tribute of £92,440 a-year, which, added up for the period they had been in possession of Cyprus, made a total of nearly £280,000. When they deducted from that the £186,000, it left a deficit for which the Committee was now asked today to vote £90,000. Now, he would only just remark as to the point his hon. Friend the Member for Salford (Mr. Arthur Arnold) had touched on about the expenses of administration. He did not know whether the hon. Member was aware that for the future the salary of the Governor was, at his own request, to be only £4,000 a-year. This, he ventured to say, was a very reasonable salary, and they owed their thanks to Sir Robert Biddulph for having consented to such a reduction. Without going into the question of the policy of the annexation of Cyprus, he would just remind the Committee that there had recently been some very bad harvests in the Island, which would account for the Revenue not coming up to the Estimate. When the hon. Member read the Report of Mr. Fairfield, he (Mr. Evelyn Ashley) trusted that he would take the same sanguine view that he did. A prosperous year in the cultivation of the vine, which was double the importance of any other cereal in the Island, would benefit the whole condition of the country. He could assure his hon. Friend that the Colonial Office was not neglecting the subject, and that they felt that this £90,000 was very much too large a sum to ask the House to vote for Cyprus. He believed that was the last occasion on which so large a sum would be asked for.


said, the hon. Gentleman who had just spoken had made too good a defence—he had proved too much. He had shown that they could not get rid of the Vote while they held the Island. He (Sir George Campbell) was afraid that the sanguine estimate they had heard described could not be carried out to the advantage of the Island while it was burdened with this enormous tribute to the Turk. This payment was one from which the Island received no benefit whatever—not a single penny of it was available for the purposes of Cyprus; and as long as we held the Island we were bound, in justice, to pay this tribute to Turkey ourselves for our possession of this place of arms, or whatever they might like to call it. The Under Secretary of State for the Colonies seemed to think that, by improved administration, we might manage to get a surplus out of the Revenue. Well, he (Sir George Campbell) had not paid much attention to the administration of Cyprus; but he had paid some attention to the administration of our other Colonies, and he found that some of them did not pay their own expenses. It was true that some did pay their own expenses; but his opinion of Cyprus was that, if it did so, it would be a very singular Colony indeed. He very much doubted whether we could manage to extract sufficient money from the Island to pay its expenses with justice to the inhabitants. Cyprus was not a very fruitful or a very productive Island, and if we managed to make it pay its expenses we should have reached a very satisfactory point. The Island was a kind of Old Man of the Sea. We could not hand it over to the Turks, for it would not be fair to the people; and whilst we retained it he was afraid we must lose money. He, therefore, earnestly hoped that Her Majesty's Government would get rid of it when they found someone who would take it, and in whose hands it would not suffer. Until they did do so, he thought they ought to be content to pay this money.


said, that whenever they got within a measurable distance of the end of the Estimates the House got impatient. Under the circumstances, the hon. Member (Mr. Arthur Arnold) must be thanked for having made a speech on the matter. He (Mr. Labouchere) trusted this Vote might never be allowed to pass without a protest from the Radical Benches, in order that the memory might be kept green of the monstrous and absurd policy that led to the acquisition of Cyprus. They were told that the Revenue was likely to increase; but that was stated last year. It was then said that it was too bad to protest or vote against this proposal, because the expenditure had already been incurred. That was precisely the answer that the Secretary to the Treasury (Mr. Courtney) gave last year, so that although the Under Secretaries of State for the Colonies changed their arguments did not change. It appeared to him that they never would have an opportunity of entering a protest against this Vote if they were to accept that stereotyped argument of the Colonial Secretary for the time being. He had no doubt if his hon. Friend the present Under Secretary of State for the Colonies rose to some higher Office by next year, the new Under Secretary who took his place would say the same thing. His hon. Friend (Mr. Arthur Arnold) had said that greater economy should be practised in Cyprus, and that by such means they would be able to avoid some portion of this enormous payment the Committee was now called upon to make. He did not agree with his hon. Friend in that statement. We had no right to raise taxes beyond the sum that Turkey had raised in the Island by taxation, and if any reduction were made in the expenditure let the Cypriotes have the benefit of it. As to the tribute, we might, he thought, make a bargain with the Turks with regard to it. The tribute was £90,000 a-year; but of that £50,000 a-year went against the guaranteed loans of 1855. There remained, therefore, about £40,000 a-year, and his belief was, looking at the impecuniosity of Turkey, that if Lord Dufferin were allowed to offer him £300,000 or £400,000 in ready money, Turkey would give up its right to the tribute in a moment. He believed that all the more because, if he could believe the newspapers, he saw that this impecunious person, the Turk, was now borrowing money at 50 or 60 per cent, which was the price he usually paid for it. But he (Mr. Labouchere) was not sorry we had to pay this £90,000 a-year, because he believed that in the end it would save us a great deal more money, for the reason that it would be a standing monument as to the folly of having Conservatives in power. Hon. Members who supported the present Government would every year be able to say to their constituents—"You, gentlemen, have to pay a portion of this £90,000 a-year, which was involved in putting the Conservatives in power; therefore, never put them in power again, but elect us." He thought the argument was a good one, and he really thought, in the long run, the possession of Cyprus would save the country a great deal of money. It would do so if the constituencies only took this advice, because he had not the slightest doubt that if the Conservatives were again in power they would not have to pay £90,000 a-year, but £999,000 a-year for some other folly of that sort. Therefore, let this Cyprus Vote remain on record, let them every year protest against the Vote and renew this discussion, and every year let it go forth to the people that they were paying £90,000 a-year for a wretched, miserable, pestiferous Island, bought by the Conservatives when they boasted "that they had come back to England with peace with honour."


said, he could not help taking notice of part of the speech of the hon. Gentleman who had just sat down, and that was the part in which he had suggested that we should acquire the Island of Cyprus. He was inclined at one time to say that it was of no use at all to us; but now he had suggested that we should buy it.


I want to buy this £90,000 a-year, and not Cyprus. I do not think Cyprus is worth 90,000 pence.


said, the hon. Member's desire appeared to be to buy up the tribute and then abandon Cyprus.


Yes; to the Greeks.


said, he did not think the present was a good opportunity of going back to the question as to what should be done with Cyprus. He thought that when the whole matter was brought up, there were some choice cuttings from the speeches of the Home Secretary which could be used. The Island of Cyprus was just now being very largely used by Her Majesty's Forces. ["No, no!"] Well, it was being used, and he (Mr. E. Stanhope) certainly did not wish to prevent its being used when required by Her Majesty's Forces by any discussion in that House, which would raise up a desire amongst hon. Gentlemen opposite to renew the discussions that took place two years ago. He should say that Cyprus was a very convenient basis for the operations that were going on in Egypt—[No, no!"] Well, that was a matter of opinion—["Certainly!"]—but if it should appear that Her Majesty's Government required a sanitorium and a place where reserves could be accumulated, Cyprus would be found of great convenience. He hoped it would not be required as a sanitorium during this campaign; but the experience of the campaign might possibly justify some further remarks upon the subject.


said, he did not think there was anything before the Committee at the present time which would warrant any expression of opinion as to whether Cyprus was of any appreciable value or not to Her Majesty's Forces in regard to the military operations in Egypt. The Government were certainly not prepared to admit that up to the present time anything had occurred which would lead, so far as he knew, any of those who sat on the Treasury Bench to retract what they said in former years in regard to Cyprus. He was really anxious that should be understood without, at the same time, saying anything which was likely to raise debate or unnecessarily stir up the embers of the old controversy, which might not be dead, but which need not be revived at this moment. It might with greater advantage be revived after the Committee had seen what the experience of the next few months produced. He could not find fault with those hon. Members below the Gangway who had used this Vote as an occasion for protest, because they felt themselves in a position of great security, which the Government did not share. They had an immense advantage over the Government, because the Government were responsible for the fulfilment of the engagements of the country, and amongst the engagements of the country was certainly that of the reasonably good government of Cyprus. If it be true that the government of Cyprus was extravagantly carried on, the Government would welcome the help of all Members of the House in cutting down the expenditure; but he must observe that the position of hon. Members who had objected to this Vote was peculiarly felicitous, because they were able to enjoy the satisfaction of repudiating what they deemed a mischievous Vote, at the same time knowing they were not running the slightest risk of involving the Government in that breach of faith which would occur if the Vote were not agreed to.


said, he hoped his hon. Friends would be satisfied with having raised this discussion. He felt it would be impossible to go into the Lobby with his hon. Friend (Mr. Arthur Arnold), although he felt strongly the force of the observations he had made. Upon a thorough examination he thought it would be found that Cyprus really cost not far short £150,000 a-year. The government of Cyprus was being carried on to the extent of about one-half by the taxes paid by the people of Cyprus, while the other half was paid by this country. The Committee was bound in justice to support the Government; but if these large Votes were to come up year after year, a decided stand would have to be taken and a reconsideration made of the whole question.


said, it was always to him a matter of great gratification to listen to the hon. Member for Salford (Mr. Arthur Arnold), because he never forgot himself. The hon. Member told the Committee he did not wish to annul the Convention, as though it was a matter of any importance whether the hon. Member for Salford wished to annul the Convention or not. It was not of the slightest importance, because the hon. Member's repudiation of the Convention would not have the smallest effect on the Committee. The hon. Member actually read his own speech of a year ago, as, on the last occasion this Vote was before the Committee, he referred to his speech of the year before. He (Mr. Warton) rose to follow up, to a certain extent, what the Premier said with regard to the impropriety of raising this question at the present time. The hon. Gentleman the Under Secretary of State for the Colonies (Mr. Evelyn Ashley) had said Cyprus had suffered from bad seasons; but the hon. Gentleman did not mention one of the most important products of the Island—namely, the olive. The greatest plagues were the locusts; but, through the efforts of the Governor in offering rewards for their destruction, they were fast disappearing.

Question put.

The Committee divided:—Ayes 59; Noes 21: Majority 38.—(Div. List, No. 329.)


This being the last Vote in Supply, the Question is that I report these Resolutions to the House.

Resolutions to be reported To-morrow.