HC Deb 25 March 1884 vol 286 cc752-82

, in rising to move, as an Amendment— That this House is of opinion that it would be inexpedient to assent to the Third Reading of the Consolidated Fund (No. 1) Bill, before receiving further information as to the military operations in the Eastern Soudan, the position of General Gordon at Khartoum, and the policy of Her Majesty's Government in Egypt Proper, said, that when he gave Notice of the Amendment last night the Secretary of State for War made use of some kind of menace to hon. Gentlemen on the Opposition side of the House, and said that the Motion would be made on behalf of the Conservative Party. He (Lord Randolph Churchill) should have thought that the noble Marquess was aware that whenever he asked the indulgence of the House, either to address the House or to submit a Motion to its consideration, he had always done so on his own behalf, and on his own behalf alone, representing no one but himself, claiming to represent no one but himself, and accountable to no one but himself inside that House. Therefore, if the noble Marquess had not, with his experience of the House, mastered that elementary and A B C House of Commons fact, the noble Marquess displayed a want of knowledge which he regretted to say was a very deplorable augury for the success of his future Leadership. the noble Marquess also said that he (Lord Randolph Churchill) would be imperilling the position of the Contagious Diseases (Animals) Bill. Now, he had observed that when Liberal Members brought forward Motions about Egypt they were told that they were imperilling the position of the Representation of the People Bill, and that when Members on the Opposition side brought forward Motions about Egypt they were told they were imperilling the position of the Contagious Diseases (Animals) Bill. It appeared to him that Her Majesty's Government were under the impression that because they had introduced into that House two extremely indifferent measures, therefore they wore to be enabled to perpetrate in every quarter of the globe every kind of atrocity with the utmost im- punity, and that every Member of that House was to be precluded from calling them to account. That was a plea which was quite nonsensical. It would not be tolerated by the Opposition, and he did not believe it would be tolerated on the other side of the House. All this raised the question whether the continual protest of the Government against discussing Egyptian and other foreign affairs was not founded upon the utterly erroneous idea that legislation was the first Business of the House of Commons. He did not think hon. Members ought to lose an opportunity of protesting against that idea. Legislation was not the first Business of Parliament; it never had been, and he hoped it never would be. The first Business of Parliament was to grant Supply to the Crown; and it was the duty of the House of Commons, when that Supply was asked for, to inquire with care for what purposes that Supply was required, in what manner that Supply would be expended, and by what methods that Supply would be raised. That was, undoubtedly, the first duty of the House of Commons; and it was because of the persistent, continual, and studied neglect of this principle by Her Majesty's Government that the finances of this country were in such disorder. It would be well for the country if the House were to recognize this Constitutional practice in a Standing Order, and to lay down that legislation should not be proceeded with until Supply had been almost entirely disposed of. Such was the contempt of so distinguished a master of Constitutional law as the Home Secretary for this most ancient Constitutional doctrine, that when a few isolated and independent Members below the Gangway on both sides of the House, a little more than a week ago, chose to act upon this principle, and to inquire for what purpose Supply was wanted, he stigmatized such a proceeding as a "dirty trick." He dared say that if he were much pushed the right hon. and learned Gentleman would describe his conduct to-day in venturing to put a few inquiries about Egypt as a dirty trick. The full recognition of the doctrine that Supply was the first Business of Parliament was quite as essential to Parliament and the country as ever it was at any time. He did not believe the Commons of England had ever been treated with more studied contempt by Elizabeth, Henry VIII., or Charles I., than it was now by Her Majesty's Government. He laid down tins in utter indifference to the mockery of the Radical Party opposite—that the guarantees afforded to the British people by the doctrine he had alluded to about Supply were quite as necessary for the House of Commons to preserve as a defence against an arbitrary Minister as ever they wore against the most arbitrary Monarch. He would always protest against the slightest want of recognition of what must be called the foundation-stone of English liberty. He ventured to make these remarks on account of the extraordinary charges made against Members who ventured to interfere with the rapid progress of the legislation brought forward by the Government. In moving his Resolution the House would perceive that he asked for information under three heads. As it were, he gave the Government three chances of affording to the public some information as to what was going on in Egypt. With respect to the military operations in the Eastern Soudan, the situation was still extremely critical. Four weeks had passed since it was announced that troops were to be sent to Suakin. Two battles had been fought; the troops were still at Suakin; and no tangible result, as far as they know, had been derived from those battles. the House had heard of a telegram from Suakin just before they met, to the effect that General Graham had started on what might almost be called another hunting expedition after the unfortunate Osman Digna, and intended to deliver, if possible, a third bloody battle. In the face of those events hon. Members ought not to lose the opportunity of asking the Government the object of these military proceedings. It could not have escaped the notice of hon. Members that in the papers that morning it was stated that after General Graham had chased, possibly captured, or probably killed the unfortunate Osman Digna, he would immediately re-embark for Cairo, leaving Suakin to take care of itself. He did not believe that military operations of so fruitless, wanton, and bootless a kind had ever before been undertaken by a British Government. At any rate, it should not be said that the House of Commons, as a whole, had allowed those operations to be carried on without persistently asking for information. What were the troops doing at Suakin now? What were the intentions of the Government with respect to their detention in the Soudan and the retention of Suakin? It was perfectly clear that if General Graham re-embarked from Suakin the tribes would receive notice of that re-embarkation; and the effect produced—whatever the effect was—by those battles would be utterly lost. Suakin would again be surrounded, and possibly fall into the hands of those whom the Government were pleased to call "rebels." In a very few weeks' time he would venture to prophesy that Suakin would be in exactly the same position as it was when the expedition of General Graham was first despatched. What, then, was to be the position of the Government with respect to the House of Commons? But there was a much more serious matter which he desired to bring before the House of Commons, which was referred to in the morning newspapers. Were the forces j of this country, the flag of this country, the name of this country, to be used to keep in force that most odious of all institutions, slavery, in Egypt? It was stated, on the authority of every newspaper Correspondent at Suakin, that the British Admiral and the British authorities considered it their duty to enforce laws permitting slavery in Egypt, and that they absolutely considered it their duly to use their forces to re-capture slaves who had been fortunate enough to escape. It was said at the battle of Tamanieb our forces had as allies certain Abyssinians, who rendered valuable services to the troops as scouts. It was discovered that an Abyssinian woman was a slave, and the Abyssinians took the law into their own hands and liberated their fellow-countrywoman. It would hardly be believed that Sir William Hewett had actually disbanded the Abyssinians, confined them in prison, and refused to avail himself of their services. He had referred over and over again to the atrocities committed last year and the year before under the British flag; but it did not appear that anything had any effect upon the Government. They seemed utterly callous to what extent and in what manner the British name was associated with the most monstrous acts that could disgrace humanity. He wished to know if the Government had given up all intention of opening up the communication, between Suakiu and Berber this year? The Secretary of State for War, last Saturday week, stated that he could not at that time say what they were going to do on that point. Ten days had now elapsed without any further Questions being asked on the subject, and there was nothing unreasonable in repeating the request for information, because 10 days in these times was equal almost to an ago. Had any instructions been issued to General Graham on this matter? The House had a right to pronounce an opinion on the policy of re-embarking the troops at Suakin, or of leaving them at Suakin to open the road to Berber before either of these steps was taken. The question was of apolitical rather than of a military nature. Military reasons might be adduced in support of either course; but the matter was one of politics, and ought not to be settled until the Representatives of the British people had had an opportunity of expressing an opinion upon it. He then came to the second head of his inquiry, which was Khartoum and the position of General Gordon at Khartoum. That was the most serious feature of the whole question in Egypt at the present moment. General Gordon was sent to Khartoum as the last card which the Government could play. It was exactly the case of the ruined gambler who found by chance that he had a piece of gold in his pocket, and chucked it on the table to see whether it would bring back some of his lost credit and his lost coin. He had often watched that operation at the gaming tables of Europe, and he had never seen it succeed. It had always appeared to him that General Gordon had been discovered and utilized by Her Majesty's Government much in the same way as the stray piece of gold. The House had now the knowledge absolutely before them—and he defied Her Majesty's Government to contradict it,—that General Gordon had failed. The mission of General Gordon was now an acknowledged and accomplished failure. That being so, the question at once arose, What did the Government propose to do? There had been no Papers issued since the meeting of Parliament as to the proceedings of General Gor- don. No information had been vouchsafed to the House except that which came from newspaper Correspondents. Fortunately, however, The Times news paper had a Correspondent at Khartoum, who was Tier Majesty's Consular Agent, who had daily, hourly communication, with General Gordon, and who had been able to furnish the British public with considerable information as to General Gordon's proceedings. It was idle for the Government to say it was inconvenient for them to furnish official information when the public bad received a few days ago information that was almost as good as official. It was idle to say they could not disclose General Gordon's plans to Parliament when there was an official at Khartoum who had constant interviews with General Gordon and telegraphed the result to England. Was it not inconceivable, was it not intolerable, that the Government should, under these circumstances, say that on political and military grounds they would rather not make any communication with respect to General Gordon? The excuse was simply ridiculous. The fact was that General Gordon's mission had conspicuously and utterly failed. The Prime Minister had stated that General Gordon had been sent on a mission which was essentially pacific. They now know that what remained of General Gordon's mission was a mission which was essentially warlike. General Gordon had already commenced military operations; was now probably carrying on military operations—operations which might possibly be over, and possibly Gordon himself might be no more. He did not know whether the House had observed that Colonel Coetlogon had stated, on his arrival at Cairo, that Khartoum could be very easily taken by the rebels. That being so, and General Gordon being surrounded by hostile tribes, and being utterly cut oil from all communication with Cairo or London, they had a right to ask what everybody in the country was asking—what the Government was going to do to relieve General Gordon, or to rescue him? Were they going to remain indifferent to the fate of the one man on whom they counted to extricate them from their embarrassments? Were they going to let him shift for himself? Were they going to let him trust to traitorous troops, and to the weak de- fences of Khartoum, or did they intend to relieve him? The reason why he asked that question to-day was because it was the last opportunity he or anyone else would have before Easter of eliciting information from Her Majesty's Government, except in reply to Questions which Her Majesty's Government might or might not answer. Having before them the dangerous position of General Gordon and the failure of his mission, he thought they had a right to criticize the stops which the Government had taken. Her Majesty's Government had taken, so far as he could make out, the surest and most certain course to insure the failure, and perhaps the death, of that distinguished man. They despatched him on a mission which was essentially pacific, and he proceeded to Khartoum. General Gordon entered into negotiations with the Leader of the enemy's forces, and at the same time the Government authorized offensive military operations against a portion of those forces. Did the Government imagine that General Gordon's mission would be successful while they themselves, in a region not far distant, were carrying on military operations of the most bloody and offensive character? He thought it was obvious to everyone, even to the benighted minds of those who at present presided over the destinies of this country, that there was no precedent that while peace negotiations wore being carried on one of the negotiating parties should attack and slaughter the troops which were commanded by the enemy's General. Such a thing had never happened—that was to say, where boná fide peace negotiations were pending. The expedition of General Graham was sent to relieve Tokar; but before it started the Government knew that that garrison had fallen. In such a case as that, why did they not, after having instructed General Gordon to negotiate for peace, abandon military operations and confine themselves strictly and solely to the defence of Suakin? He made the remark in the House a short time ago that it seemed to him that the Government was a Government of "blood at any price." [Murmurs from the Radical Members below the Gangway.] He could not undertake to interpret the inarticulate noises of hon. Gentlemen opposite; but he supposed he would be right in saying that these noises were signs of discontent. Since he had made that statement its truth had boon borne out by facts, because, having failed to rescue Tokar, they suddenly altogether changed the character of their military operations in the Soudan, and those operations assumed a character which was at once offensive and vindictive. They fought two bloody battles without any object at all. Certainly, the object had never boon stated to the House, and the result had been to place General Gordon in his present position. These operations had, as far as we were concerned, had no result; but they appeared to have had a very decided result as far as General Gordon and the Mahdi were concerned. After General Gordon had left this country the whole of the region, about Berber and Sennaar was in a state of quiet, and continued so until shortly after two bloody battles were fought by Her Majesty's Government. Then in this country they hoard for the first time that the telegraph wire had been cut; that it was mended, cut again, and remained cut; and that the whole country between Berber and Khartoum was in a state of rebellion. He thought there was something like cause and effect there. At all events, there was nothing illogical in the displeasure of the Mahdi at the conduct of Her Majesty's Government towards his Lieutenant, and his consequent determination to enter upon a course of reprisal. Why had military offensive operations been carried on at the same time as negotiations—boná fide negotiations—for peace? Had anything more unnecessary or more ineffably silly over been brought under the notice of Parliament? General Gordon's mission had deservedly failed, over if he had not supported the Government, in undertaking military operations. The Government did not toll them much; but this they did know—that the first act of General Gordon on arriving at Khartoum was to proclaim free trade in slaves. The Government did not telegraph to him at once, as they had done to Admiral Hewett, in the case of the latter's Proclamation, to the effect that such a measure would never be tolerated by the British Parliament. General Gordon's second act—also admitted by the Government—was to demand that, for the pacification of that part of the Soudan, that most abandoned scoundrel, Zebehr, the slave dealer, should be sent to him, in order that he might be made King or Governor of Khartoum—a wretch whoso record and tale of crime could not be surpassed even by those bag bears of the Prime Minister—Achmet Aga and Chefket Pasha. He (Lord Randolph Churchill) admitted the gallantry of General Gordon and the devotion with which he had come to the rescue of a dying Government; but General Gordon occupied exactly the same position towards the House of Commons as any other man employed by its authority. General Gordon was subject to the British Parliament, and those two acts of his deserved the severest censure of that House, as any mission supported by such acts deserved to fail. Such a policy as that of permitting free trade in slaves and setting up the most notorious slave dealer in the East to be King over the countries Her Majesty's Government intended to abandon had never before been undertaken in the name of Great Britain; and any British officer owing allegiance to his country and to Parliament who could ratify such proceedings as these must be either utterly incompetent to be employed in a position of authority or must have been bereft of all the reason he over possessed. What had been the result of the policy of the Government up till now? They had perpetrated massacre and perpetuated slavery; and the House wanted to know, before parting with that handle of offence against the Government, what they were now going to do? Which of the two policies was going to be adopted—the "rescue" or the "retire"? There was one rescue which the Government, if they did not adopt it very soon, would be compelled to adopt, or they would have to make way for other people—the rescue of General Gordon. He did not believe that hon. Members, who were in favour of a pacific policy carried to an extravagant degree, would object to strong measures being taken without loss of time for the rescue of General Gordon. [An hon. MEMBER: Some of us.] If the matter were left to chance, and the life of General Gordon was sacrificed owing to the neglect and indifference and callousness and heartlessness of the Government, then they would not keep their seats for 24 hours after the news was known in England. In asking Her Majesty's Government for information on these questions, he quite admitted that, in ordinary circumstances, the House ought at critical moments to have confidence in Ministers, and leave them a large amount of discretion. But these wore not ordinary circumstances, and this was not an ordinary Government. The Government had proved utterly incapable of foreseeing catastrophes which the most ordinary spectators could not fail to foresee, or of taking the most ordinary precautions to provide against those catastrophes. They never foresaw the results of the overthrow of General Hicks and Baker Pasha, and how the whole of their plans would be hopelessly upset by those catastrophes. The Government left the defence of Sinkat to Baker Pasha, and Baker Pasha was defeated and Sinkat was taken. And so it was in the case of General Gordon. All the Government plans had been founded on the supposition that General Gordon must succeed in the maddest journey ever undertaken since Mahomet made his journey to the Seventh Heaven. The Government left everything to General Gordon. General Gordon had failed, and Her Majesty's Government had made no provision either for the safety of General Gordon or for something else which they declared to be a cardinal point of their policy—the rescue of the Egyptian garrison. Under these- circumstances, they had a right to take airy course—aye, and even to adopt "dirty tricks"—to bring the Government to some sense of their responsibility with regard to the situation. Perhaps the House would allow him to quote a few lines from Henry VI., of Shakespeare. He did not often, like Mr. Silas Wegg, "drop into poetry;" but he thought the quotation was so appropriate a description of the present position and policy of Her Majesty's Government that he ventured to read it to the House— Among the soldiers this is muttered— That here you maintain several factions; And, whilst a field should be despatch'd and fought, You are disputing of your "policies. One would have ling'ring wars, with little cost; Another would fly swift, but wanteth wings; A third man thinks, without expense at all, By guileful fair words peace may be obtain'd. One word before he concluded with regard to the third head of his Motion— Egypt Proper—because the crisis there was just as serious. What was being done to carry out the policy announced to Parliament by Her Majesty Government—to set tip in Egypt a stable Government which would enable them to retire from that country? Was anything being done to deal with the financial embarrassments of Egypt?—for upon that the whole question of Egypt Proper turned. The whole thing was a question of finances. Until they liberated and re-arranged the finances of Egypt it was impossible for a stable Government to be established there. The Rothschild million advanced a while ago had probably by this time been spent. The Egyptian Government was absolutely without resources, as they had learned on good authority. They had also learned that those large Alexandria indemnities had got to be provided for, an also the very awkward fact that the Great Powers of Europe were getting extremely impatient for a settlement. It was announced in the papers that morning that those Mixed Tribunals, which were the curse of Egypt and the obstacle to anything like a definite arrangement of Egyptian affairs, had pronounced in favour of the claims against the Government with respect to the Alexandria indemnity—no doubt instigated by French intrigue. Let them look at what a difficulty was at once being raised—a difficulty which Her Majesty's Government had shirked and evaded for months, but which was now absolutely before them and must be settled in a short time. Was there anything unreasonable or unpatriotic, then, in asking the Government now, after so many months, whether they could give an outline, a slight sketch, of the policy they meant to pursue with respect to the financial embarrassments of Egypt? Was Her Majesty's Government going to propose anything in the nature of a guarantee, or of relief to the Egyptian finances, by exempting the country from the payment of the Army of Occupation, or from the payment of interest on the Suez Canal shares held by England, or by abolishing the Native Army? Or, on the other hand, would Her Majesty's Government announce that they were endeavouring to carry out a policy which would have for its object the repeal of the Law of Liquidation, and the total abolition of the Mixed Tribunals? They ought to have some indication that Her Majesty's Government were not allowing, as they had allowed, things to drift. He had stated before that it was impossible to settle these matters without a Congress of the European Powers. He believed that the first originating fatal mistake of the Prime Minister was when he abandoned the policy which he laid down before he came into Office—the Concert of Europe. Unless England secured once more the Concert of Europe no definite settlement with regard to Egypt could be made. He thought they had a right, to require some statement of the policy of the Government. He did not expect to got much information from the noble Lord the Under Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs (Lord Edmond Fitzmaurice), as he dared say the noble Lord occupied the same position that he did himself—namely, a position of hopeless ignorance with regard to the intention of Her Majesty's Government. He was painfully and sorrowful by aware that it was useless for any independent Member by himself to expect to elicit information on any one of those matters from Her Majesty's Government. The noble Lord the Secretary of State for War might say—"What, then, is your object is taking up the time of the House? Your object is probably to embarrass the Government, or to do what you can to destroy them." If anyone advanced any such supposition they were hopelessly wrong. He had no wish whatever just now to do anything which would destroy the present Government. He was quite content that the present Government should sit where they were. There were some silly people who had supposed, and other silly people who had said, that there was a want of cordiality between those right hon. Gentlemen who sat there (the Front Opposition Bench) and himself, and that there was no love lost between them. Such a statement was too idiotic to require comment. He would only say that if he were the bitterest, the deadliest enemy of those right hon. Gentlemen, lie could not wish for them a worse fate; he could not prepare for them a greater feast of mortification; he could not sow for them a more bountiful harvest of curses and anathemas and ruin, and disgrace, than by imposing upon them, or causing, contriving, or procuring to be imposed upon them, the odious responsibility of succeeding to the task of clearing up the mess and the muddle which the noble Marquess (the Marquess of Hartington) and his Colleagues had so mischievously manufactured on the banks of the Nile, by imposing on them what he might call the abominable enterprise of letting in some daylight upon, of introducing some order into, the chaos and confusion which the noble Lord and his Colleagues day by day and hour by hour had rendered darker and worse confounded. No; he would be no party to joining any who would lead those blameless and respectable right hon. Gentlemen on the Front Opposition Bench into such a pit of perdition. His object was, not to elicit information, because he knew that to be useless; but to do what little he could to arouse and stimulate public opinion. He know that Her Majesty's Government had the greatest and most ineffable contempt for the House of Commons; and he could not blame them, considering the attitude winch the House of Commons had adopted towards Her Majesty's Government. But there was one power which had some little influence over Her Majesty's Government, and that was the power of public opinion. It was by discussions, by debates, by questions, that they did, more or less, contribute to arouse and to excite public attention, and to form public opinion. For those interests which were now called in question in the East, interests more vital to the existence of this Empire than any that had boon called in question since the Indian Mutiny or the Crimean War, public opinion was their only safeguard, and their only hope. It was with the object of arousing public opinion that he had laboured since the Session began. It was for that object he would continue to strive—whenever the noble Marquess, in regulating the conduct of Public Business, should afford him an opportunity of so doing—perfectly regardless of any denunciation or censure that might be heaped upon him from any quarter, on the ground that he was interfering with the progress of public measures, for which neither he nor the country eared two twopenny bits. The noble Lord concluded by moving his Amendment.


seconded the Amendment.

Amendment proposed, To leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "this House is of opinion that it would he inexpedient to assent to the Third Reading of the Consolidated Fund (No. 1) Bill before receiving further information as to the Military operations in the Eastern Soudan, the position of General Gordon at Khartoum, and the policy of Her Majesty's Government in Egypt proper,"—(Lord Randolph Churchill) —instead thereof.

Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."


said, that the noble Lord, in the course of his observations, had distributed throughout the House a very great number of blessings of a very doubtful character. He talked about anathemas, but he also used them. He attacked his own Friends on the same side of the House, and he proclaimed, in an ostentatious manner, that he had very little to do with their collective action. He washed his hands of it, and then he went on, as was to be expected, to address a few complimentary observations to Her Majesty's Government, and also to express—what he had already done on the public platform—his great dislike to the Radical Party. It really seemed to him that the noble Lord's principal object in making this speech that day was that it might be publicly known that he belonged to no Party at all, being superior to all Parties; and the Business of the House and the country had been interrupted simply and solely in order that the House should listen to that interesting declaration. It seemed to him that the circumstances of that day somewhat resembled those of the memorable Sitting of Saturday week, when the Business was interrupted by the famous debate which now lived apparently under the name of the "dirty trick debate." [Cries of "Oh !"]


I rise to Order. I wish to know, Sir, whether the noble Lord has any right to use such an offensive epithet in regard to a debate in this House, especially when he is aware that the expression itself was withdrawn and apologized for?


I think the expression had better not be used.


Then, Sir, I withdraw it at once; but I was merely quoting what fell from the noble Lord the Member for Woodstock.


I never called it "the dirty trick debate."


said, he was within the recollection of the House that the noble Lord so alluded to the debate on Saturday week—[Lord REANDOLPH CHURCHILL: No.]—and in connection with that question to the observation which had been made by the Home Secretary.


That is quite different.


continued. He was replying to the observations the noble Lord then made. The noble Lord used expressions showing his own political independence; but that was evident enough, as the Leader of the Opposition on the previous day had come down, with some circumstance, to put a Question to his noble Friend the Secretary of State for War, and was apparently satisfied with the answer. His noble Friend stated that it would be impossible at present to make any further statement regarding the policy of the Government in Egypt, and the right hon. Gentleman gave Notice that he would repeat the Question on Monday. Under these circumstances, he (Lord Edmond Fitzmaurice) was surprised the House was not allowed to proceed with the Business of the nation. But to-day the noble Lord came down to the House and made a speech, in the course of which he said he did not care whether he was answered or not. Therefore it came to this—that the whole Business of the House was to be interfered with in order that the noble Lord might make a speech to which he did not much care whether an answer was returned or not. The noble Lord, indeed, concluded his observations by a great appeal to the people. The phrase "appeal to the people" was now to be the watchword of the Party opposite. The noble Lord said that he did not care very much about the House of Commons, because it showed an improper servility to Her Majesty's Ministers. He was not sure that the state of Public Business was such as would quite cause Her Majesty's Ministers to indulge in a similar belief; but, letting that be, all he could say was that they on that (the Ministerial) side of the House had no objection whatever that the attention of the people should be called in the fullest manner to the proceedings of the noble Lord that day and on other occasions, and not only to the proceedings of the noble Lord, hut to those of many of his Friends. The way in which debates on foreign policy were beginning to be interposed to prevent Public Business was exciting the alarm and indignation of the country; and he echoed the words of the noble Lord, and hoped the question, would not be looked upon merely as a House of Commons question, but that it would be discussed in the newspapers, and that the British public in general would take it up. If debates like this were to be raised on every Vote at every stage of the Consolidated Fund Bills, legislation would become impossible; and it struck him that the real sting of the noble Lord's observations, notwithstanding his plea that legislation was not the most important duty of the House, was that the House of Commons might sit from beginning to end of a Session without passing any measure of legislation of importance for the good of the country, except, perhaps, Provisional Orders. That was a dangerous doctrine; and he hoped the public outside would take the noble Lord at his word, and would thoroughly understand what the policy of the Party opposite was in regard both to foreign and homo affairs. Now, although the noble Lord had said that he did not expect an answer, or care whether he received one, there were one or two points in his speech which he wished to notice. In the first place, the noble Lord touched upon the points mentioned in a telegram which bad appeared in the newspapers that day in regard to certain alleged occurrences at Suakin—namely, the rescue of a slave woman and the mutiny of certain Abyssinian troops. The First Lord of the Admiralty had immediately telegraphed for au inquiry into the circumstances, and for a statement of the facts to be sent homo, and until that had been done it was not in his power to make any further statement upon the subject. Then the noble Lord inquired as to what was the object of the reported movements of General Graham's troops. He would remind the House that the object of General Graham's operations in the neighbourhood of Suakin was to relieve that town from the danger in which it lay from the presence in its neighbourhood of a large force of rebels. Hitherto, these operations had been successful in their object. In two encounters the rebel Army had been defeated, and a great blow, both materially and morally, had been struck at their power. But, nevertheless, it appeared that Osman Digna and a certain body of his followers, not believed to be very considerable, were still in the neighbourhood; and it had been decided that it would be wise not to allow the Chief to gather Ins forces to a head, and that General Graham should advance on Tamanieb, and should disperse the small and disheartened force which Osman Digna had gathered around him. the operation, it was believed, would have a very important result in this way—that from the information which had been received it was believed that when the force was dispersed there would be no great difficulty in opening the road between Suakin and Berber by means of communications with friendly Sheikhs and others, who, no doubt, would be brought into communication with the British Commanders by the force of success. When they saw that Osman Digna's force had been finally dispersed they would be ready, not only to interfere with the road between Suakin and Berber, but to enter into communications, and even into engagements, by which they might be able to keep that most important communication open. He did not need to point out to the House the great importance of this subject in connection with the position of General Gordon. One thing was perfectly certain, that it was of the very greatest importance, with a view to keeping open communications with Khartoum, that the road between Suakin and Berber should itself be open. The noble Lord ridiculed the conduct of Her Majesty's Government in being engaged in these operations, because, he said, they were a source of danger to General Gordon. He (Lord Edmond Fitzmaurice) did not believe that they were; but he was satisfied to leave the noble Lord opposite to settle that question with his own Friends, with whom it was a common-place to say at the beginning of the Session that if the Government would send a force to relieve Tokar it would not involve the smallest danger to Khartoum or to General Gordon. The noble Lord had again pressed for information with regard to General Gordon. A Question was asked at Question time, of the Secretary of State for War, by the hon. Member for Eye (Mr. Ashmead-Bartlett), and the noble Marquess replied that it was not in his power to make any additional statement. It was not, therefore, in his power to reply to the question of the noble Lord. The noble Lord also asked whether Her Majesty's Government would send au expedition to Khartoum to relieve General Gordon, and stated there was a great deal of anxiety in the country with regard to that gallant General. Well, the noble Marquess had said that until the time came when it would be in the power of Her Majesty's Government to place before the country a statement of their intentions and operations, with regard to this part of the question, it was not in their power to give small snippets of information from day to day. Whenever such a statement was made it must be full and complete. It had been an old and immemorial practice of Parliament to trust Ministers in their foreign policy, and to wait until the day of reckoning came, and then judge them by their policy. Ministers would not shrink from that day; but until that day came when they could make that statement there must be a certain amount of trust shown in her Majesty's Ministers. The noble Lord concluded his speech by drawing a harrowing picture of the condition of Egyptian finance, and he asked for information with regard to it. The noble Lord knew perfectly well that if there was any Egyptian subject at this moment on which it was perfectly impossible to make any statement it was Egyptian finance. [Mr. LABOUCHERE: Why?] Why? Because it was a large and complicated question; and because Mr. Edgar Vincent, Financial Adviser to the Egyptian Government, had come to England to consult with Her Majesty's Advisers on the question. [An hon. MEMBER: Why?] Why? Because they had asked him to come here with that object; and it was quite clear that pending the result of the communications passing between Mr. Vincent and Her Majesty's Ministers it was not possible to make a partial statement either of his or their views. The noble Lord had alluded to the necessity of gathering together a European Congress on the Egyptian Question. How long had he and his Friends been converts to the Prime Minister's doctrine of the European Concert, which formerly was a favourite subject of their attack and ridicule? [Sir H. DRUMMOND WOLFF: What about the Treaty of Berlin?] He did not know what the hon. Gentleman meant. The Berlin Treaty was not a matter before the House. The subject on which they were engaged was the Egyptian Question. The noble Lord said that the International Tribunals were the curse of Egypt. Those Tribunals wore the outcome of the European Concert which he now asked for; and therefore he was in the position of advocating the application to Egypt of machinery that had produced results which he said were the curse of the country. The amount of care and attention which the noble Lord had given to the subject were shown by the fact that in the same speech he made remarks which were mutually destructive, lie hoped the noble Lord would now be satisfied, and that he would allow the House to proceed with the Business before it. If they were not allowed to proceed, he, for one, and he believed everybody upon his side of the House, would hope that the attention of the country would be called in the most marked manner to the way in which these irrelevant discussions were introduced by the noble Lord and others, with the view of showing, what the noble Lord had told them, that legislation was not the business of the House, and in order to interfere with the course of Public Business, and thereby to gain a short electioneering advantage over Her Majesty's Government.


said, there was no mystery as to why the noble Lord who had just sat down showed peevish anger. The Government had no policy which he could announce. There was nothing more aggravating than that. One important statement, however, had been extracted from the noble Lord which alone amply justified the course taken by his noble Friend (Lord Randolph Churchill) in extracting that information. This was the first time the Government had hinted to the House that they intended to open the road to Berber.


In explanation, I did not use that expression. What I stated was, that it was hoped that the result of these operations of General Graham would be the dis- persal of Osman Digna's followers and the bringing of the Sheikhs into communication with the British Commanders on the Berber road, and thus clear the way. I did not say that General Graham was going to send a force.


said, he could not follow the noble Lord through all his qualifications, and he knew it would be quite contrary to the genius of the Foreign Office to say anything so straightforward as he (Mr. Gorst) was saying it. But it came to this—that the Government were thinking of opening the road to Berber, and that was the reason why the Government were keeping their forces at Suakin. The Government put on a sort of virtuous air of martyrdom, as if they wore being hardly dealt with by that side of the House; but surely after their extraordinary vacillation in regard to Egypt and the Soudan they did not expect to be treated as a Government deserving of confidence. Each of their explanations with regard to their policy in occupying Suakin had been false. First, they said they went to Suakin in order to relieve Tokar. Did anybody now believe that statement? Next, they explained that they remained at Suakin because Osman Digna was threatening the place; that explanation also turned out to be false, for when Osman Digna ceased to threaten Suakin they still remained there; and now the explanation was that they remained at Suakin because they wanted to open the road to Berber. The noble Lord had not only failed to answer the speech of his noble Friend the Member for Woodstock, but had failed to understand it. The noble Lord was one of those officials who never looked beyond their own noses, and seemed to think that the Concert of Europe was an invention of the Prime Minister; but if there was any sort of patent right in the phrase which described the intervention of the European Concert it was to be claimed for the late Lord Beaconsfield. The noble Lord seemed to know very little about the International Tribunals in Egypt, or he would have seen that, though the present arrangement was bad, is was yet an improvement on what preceded it, and had been instituted with some success, notwithstanding the opinion of so eminent an authority as Nubar Pasha, who held that there were great obstacles in the way of instituting a sound system of judicial proceedings in Egypt. If they did not know by sad experience that in a few days hence the Government would have to confess that they had been throwing dust in the eyes of the House of Commons, such a statement as that which had just been made by the noble Lord was a sufficient justification of the debate which had been raised. The Government must expect, so long as they exhibited vacillation and reticence in their Egyptian policy, that every opportunity which the Forms of the House would allow would be used to help them to extract information from Her Majesty's Government. They had extracted a little information that afternoon, and now he thought they might, perhaps, rest and be thankful. If nothing else was gained out of this debate than the information that the Government intended to open, up the road to Berber, that alone was a great point gained.


said, he wished to make one remark. At first he was disposed to condemn the action of the noble Lord (Lord Randolph Churchill) for raising another discussion on Egypt. It struck him as likely to be ineffective, as well as inopportune and inconvenient. That was the opinion he held while listening to the noble Lord's speech. But he altered his opinion after hearing what the Under Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs had said. The noble Lord had made a most important announcement—nothing less than a new departure in the Egyptian policy of the Cabinet. He said it was the intention of General Graham to fight another battle with Osman Digna, with the view of opening out the road to Berber. In other words, General Graham was about to make another move in the march to Khartoum. No one could deny the significance of such a statement. It was commencing a now chapter in their Egyptian enterprize—a chapter that might contain untold and far-reaching liabilities. He was not condemning what the Government had done. There was a good deal to be said in support of the action they seemed resolved to take. Certainly, there could be no conceivable justification for the carnage they had caused, if they had not meant all the time to reconquer the Soudan. They could not have killed all the people they had killed if they simply meant to remain at Suakin. This tardy announcement was only wrung from the Govern- ment by the action of the noble Lord (Lord Randolph Churchill), and it had been communicated in a very faltering and hesitating manner. But that did not weaken its importance. He thought the Leader of the Opposition would have some ground for complaining that when he asked for a statement of the Government policy on Monday, they did not then frankly avow what their designs were. They concealed them until after the speech of the noble Lord the Member for Woodstock. He did not see the force, and certainly he did not recognize the application to hon. Gentlemen beside him, of the censure that the Under Secretary of Stale for Foreign Affairs had passed upon them. If Members were not to be permitted to obtain from the Government information as to their foreign policy when the means for carrying out, that policy were being voted, he would like to know when they were to get it. The threat that public opinion would be arrayed against the critics of the Ministry had no effect upon him. He respected public opinion when it was genuine. It was a useful, and in some instances a potent, factor in political life. It had shaken Constitutions, and had overturned Thrones. But public opinion might be wrong, and in some instances it was very far wrong. What he had to say was that he was there as a Representative of the people to speak his mind on public matters, and he would neither be browbeaten nor intimidated by the Ministers or Opposition. Instead of being afraid of the public knowing what was done, his main anxiety was that the public should know everything that was going forward in their name, not only in that House but in distant lands. He had never been a party to factious or ill-timed opposition; but he protested against the everlasting threat to bring some invisible outside influence to prevent any Member expressing his honest opinions candidly and straightforwardly. The country would learn through the action that had been taken by the noble Lord what the Government meant to do; and they would not have learned it if that action had not been taken.


urged that the noble Lord (Lord Randolph Churchill) should be satisfied for the present, and should allow the Contagious Diseases (Animals) Bill to by brought forward. The agriculturists would not understand any further delay with that measure.


said, he did not think the Contagious Diseases (Animals) Bill very necessary, nor, judging by the course taken by the noble Lord (Lord Randolph Churchill), was it so regarded by many Members of the Opposition. He (Mr. Labouchere) protested against the remarks which had been made from his side of the House respecting what they were pleased to call Obstruction. At the last General Election the issue turned on two points—the reversal of the foreign policy of the Government, and the reduction of the franchise in the counties. Both were considered of equal importance. Now, perhaps, he was a more simple and ingenuous person than most Members of the House; but he could not admit that, because Her Majesty's Government had brought in a Bill for the reduction of the franchise, they had a right to do what they liked abroad, and to violate every pledge and assurance given in the Mid Lothian speeches of the Prime Minister, and then to toll them that if they, in this crisis, wished to protest against this, they were not sound Liberals or sound Radicals. The noble Lord had asked for information on three points—the policy of the Government in Egypt, its policy in the Eastern Soudan, and its policy at Khartoum. He had, however, chosen the wrong moment to do this, because of the absence of the Prime Minister. He (Mr. Labouchere) confessed there had been a certain, amount of obscurity on the part of other Members of the Government in regard to Egypt, which led him to question whether they could have absolute confidence in any statement the Government might make. He thought they did know from the Prime Minister what the policy of the Government was to be. The Prime Minister had told them at the end of last Session that his policy was to place the Khedive on his legs, and then withdraw entirely from Egypt. Since that the terrible occurrences had taken place in the Soudan, and the Prime Minister had said this Session that these had delayed the immediate evacuation of Egypt, but that the Government had not changed one iota their policy in Egypt against the establishment of a Protectorate or the annexation of the country. Until the House had some more specific statement from a responsible Minister of the Crown than had yet boon vouchsafed, they might rest assured that the policy enunciated by the Prime Minister would be carried out. With regard to Khartoum, Her Majesty's Government were right in refusing to give any information, because, in the first place, they knew nothing. The fact was, however, unquestionable that General Gordon was. In a very difficult and even a dangerous position there; and everyone was anxious that, he should be got out of that position. They knew, at any rate, this much of the policy of the Government as regarded Khartoum and that part of the Soudan—that General Gordon was to withdraw himself and withdraw the garrisons. He presumed that was the main policy of Her Majesty's Government in regard to Khartoum and the part of the Soudan surrounding Khartoum. With reference to the Eastern Soudan, the Prime Minister had stated that the policy of the Government was to rescue the garrisons and then retire; hut that policy had since been modified to some extent, and now it appeared to be to ravage and remain. The noble Lord (Lord Edmond Fitzmaurice) had said that it was intended to push forward and to disperse the forces of Osman Digna. He did not know whether that was entirely in accordance with the policy of rescuing and retiring; but after the first battle which took place they were told that Osman Digna had dispersed. Then there was another battle, and they were again told that Osman Digna had disappeared, and that his forces had dispersed. Consequently, he did not ascribe any great importance to the statement of the noble Lord that if they once more dispersed the forces of Osman Digna the road from Suakin to Berber would be open. But was that the intention of the Government when they sent out that force? He distinctly asserted it was not; indeed, the Prime Minister said they did not intend to go beyond the necessary of defending Suakin. The Government had no right to complain of discussion being raised if every day they came down with a now story as to what they were going to do. He thought the noble Lord the Member for Woodstock was justified in calling attention to this subject after the statement they had read in The Times of that day with respect to the action of General Graham and his forces in Suakin itself. The statement was that certain Abyssinians had gone there to aid us; that they had boon employed by us; that they found in the town an Abyssinian girl who had been abducted and sold into slavery; that they endeavoured to free her from slavery; and that for this crime and misdemeanour they had been disarmed by officers serving under General Graham. If an English force were to go into any town in the world, and if they found that an English girl had been abducted and sent into slavery, would they be blamed if they attempted to release that girl? Then they were told that General Graham, when not occupied in dispersing Osman Digna's troops and in slaying the Arabs, was engaged in taking care that the slaves in Suakin did not escape from their masters. That was also stated in The Times, whose Correspondent knew his business, and was well informed. The noble Lord the Under Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs had stated that telegrams had been sent to General Graham and Admiral Hewett for information concerning these Abyssinians. Nothing, however, had been said about inquiries being instituted respecting the slaves. Could anything be more monstrous, or more contrary to Liberal principles, than that an English Army should be employed in forcing back these people into slavery when they attempted to escape? The Government, instead of merely asking for information, ought to telegraph, to General Graham and Admiral Hewett ordering them to put a stop to it at once. He (Mr. Labouchere) had risen for two objects mainly. One was to protest against the course of action of Admiral Hewett; and the other was to protest against the Government meeting all objections to their policy by saying that those who called it in question were obstructing either the Representation of the People Bill or the Contagious Diseases (Animals) Bill.


said, these questions were raised again and again, because the Government were never able to announce that they had a definite policy at any stage of these Egyptian complications. They were once more drifting into a fresh line of polity. If the Government were pre- pared to tell the House that they really intended to open the Berber road, and to despatch a sufficient force in order to rescue General Gordon, no more questions need be asked, and no more debates would be raised on this question. These debates were caused by the dissensions in the Cabinet. It was the fact that Egypt was being plunged into anarchy, that the Soudan was drifting into ruin and slavery, and that disgrace was being brought on this country because the Cabinet could not make up their minds as to a policy. From the deserted appearance of the Front Ministerial Bench at that moment, it would seem that the Members of the Cabinet were engaged elsewhere in squabbling over their internal dissensions. The Government were waiting for something to turn up. The noble Lord the Under Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs had said that the patience of the Government and of the country was exhausted. Most assuredly the patience of the country was exhausted with regard to the conduct of Her Majesty's Ministers. The Government were bound to relieve General Gordon. They had sent him on a difficult and dangerous mission, and had taken advantage of his courage and chivalry in order to shelter themselves behind those qualities in him which they showed they did not themselves possess. The Government sent General Gordon alone, without a force, and thereby compelled him, for his own protection, to issue a Proclamation which was disgraceful, not to General Gordon, but to the Government which sent him out. He trusted the Government would no longer continue in this helpless, helter-skelter course of inaction. If they were to give General Gordon £250,000 and 2,000 or 3,000 good troops, he would restore peace, develop trade, and save the honour of this country. Let them at once tell the House and the country what they meant to do; and if they were paralyzed by some Members of the Cabinet, particularly by one who formerly embarrassed the Conservative Party, let them get rid of him without delay. If the Ministry wished to put an end to Egyptian discussions, let them at once determine upon a definite and manly policy, and adhere to it.


believed that the Representation of the People Bill and the Contagious Diseases (Ani- mals) Bill were both very good measures; but he thought that the lives of men were of more importance than cattle, and it was because the lives of men were now in jeopardy that Members of the House were entitled to raise the question of our Egyptian policy whenever they had an opportunity of doing so. It was all very well to talk of a Representation of the People Bill and of enfranchising people at homo when they were sending out Armies to enslave and destroy people abroad. The House would abandon its first duty if it did not take every opportunity of finding out why the Government were calling for the money of the nation, and for what object they were carrying on that war. It was all very well to shut their eyes and bury their head in the sand like the ostrich; but if they continued to do that there would come a very unpleasant day, both for the House and the country. That was not a military but a political Motion, and its supporters did not wish to interfere with the military operations. Let the Government kill those unfortunate people in their own way and at their own time; but let them state what they were killing them for. While in that House he had never before known the case of a war—and they had had plenty of wars—in which the House was not told some reason or other why it was carried on. He had been strongly opposed to the Afghan War; still hon. Gentlemen opposite, when in Office, gave a reason for it; they told them that they wanted a scientific frontier. Then they had the Zulu War. Which he also opposed, in common with everybody who sat near him; and the President of the Local Government Board explained that the reason for that war was that the Zulus had stolen a pipe and a pocket-handkerchief. Then the reason for the war in the Transvaal was that they had stolen that country and they wished to keep it. But in the present case they had no reason at all given why the Government had sent their Army to slaughter and massacre those unhappy Arabs with whom they absolutely had no quarrel. It was said that in this discussion they were going over old ground; but they must do that until they got some answer from the Government as to their policy. When General Gordon went out they were told that lie was sent on a peaceful mission; he went to the Soudan unarmed, and I was hailed with enthusiasm because he I vent out like a gallant, noble hero with his life in his hand to do good. But all the romance about him was gone if an Army was now to be sent to Khartoum. He, for one, was opposed to any troops being sent to rescue General Gordon if he got into a mess. General Gordon went on his own responsibility, and on that of the Government; and the people of this country ought not to be saddled with the expenditure of large sums of money and the shedding of torrents of blood, as General Gordon had undertaken his mission at his own risk. The House had been told by the Government that General Graham's Force was sent to rescue Tokar. When Tokar fell, their next excuse was that they must disperse the rebels, and they accordingly killed thousands of people who were quietly inhabiting their own country. Having twice committed that horrible slaughter, they now saw from the papers of that day—and that fact made this Motion justifiable—that another attack was contemplated upon those unfortunate tribes, whom they seemed to be pursuing for the sake of slaughter and nothing else. They were all Englishmen in that House, on whatever side they sat, and their blood must boil when they heard of what the troops were going to do. A newspaper correspondent at the seat of war the other day stated that, unless they were prepared to take it definitely in hand, all their could do now was to make raids all about the country—one of which raids on a large scale was now in contemplation—and to capture the cattle and even the women; and they might then drive the population away from the neighbourhood. Did not hon. Members feel ashamed at the idea of their troops being employed in that way against a people who had done them no harm? All that was done without explanation; and they were thought impertinent persons below the Gangway if they dared to ask what the policy of the Government was. It was really a most extraordinary state of things; he had never known the House to be in such a position before. They had a war, or, if they preferred so to call it, a warlike operation, and no information was given them for what it was carried, on. He I appealed to the Government to take the House info its confidence—to be leaders in that matter, and not to follow the newspapers and the Jingoes with their outcry for glory, prestige, revenge, and all that sort of thing. Let them lead the people aright. He knew it would not be easy for the Government, after they had once embarked in this evil course, to retrace their steps. There was an old Scotch proverb which said,—" If you take the devil on board, you must cross the Sound with him." Having; taken the devil on board, it was difficult for the Government to get rid of him. He did not condemn the Government only, but he also condemned the people who had supported them during the last two years in those extraordinary proceedings, which the right hon. Member for Birmingham (Mr. John Bright) had described as a violation of International and Moral Law. The right hon. Gentleman told them that in the House of Commons; but nobody cared two straws about what he said. It seemed at the time as if its only effect was to make the Government policy more popular than ever. Nobody followed the right hon. Gentleman, not even his own Friends—not even his own religious Friends—of whom there were about a dozen in the House. Did they raise their voice against slaughtering Arabs? No; when it came to a vote, they took the patriotic and prudent course of walking out of the House. Public opinion was in a very unsound state, because he was afraid everybody was now against them. The Press was against them—the Press was always for bloodshed; the great speakers, Liberal as well as Tory, were for war, and so was even the pulpit itself. They got very little help from the Christian ministers of this country. He read in a religious paper, The Christian World, the other day, an article which, after a violent attack on anybody who dared to talk of peace, concluded thus— Let us take no part with the screaming chorus of objectors, but trust in God and His Ministers—Gordon and Gladstone. They had heard lately a good deal about political blank cheques. He thought the people of this country had given a political blank cheque to the present Government, who had filled it up with letters of blood. What a horrible state of things they were living in the midst of now! What must their children think of the slaughter of those brave savages who were defending their country? Let them look at The Illustrated News of last week. Had they seen the pictures with the indications of the different parts of the battlefield printed underneath? Here were "heaps of dead and dying rebels," and there "English troops shooting wounded rebels." For such things to go on in a Christian nation was absolutely disgusting and sickening; and yet they talked about this murderous work being clone for Christianity and civilization! If he were a savage in one of the tribes in the Soudan, he would pray day and night to whatever Deity lie supposed ruled over his life, that he might to protected from Christianity and civilization. But he was disposed to hope that a discussion such as that might help to bring public opinion round to the right side. Surely that had been satiated with slaughter. The people who had held great meetings to denounce the Bulgarian atrocities were surely not so dead to shame as not to do something to stop these British atrocities of which they had so many. The House was doing its duty in discussing these matters; and he asked some Member of the Government to tell them something about what their policy in the Soudan was, where all that slaughter was to stop, and why their troops were engaged in it. The noble Lord (Lord Edmond Fitzmaurice) told them nothing. He never did; but he was not to blame, because he knew nothing, lie asked some other Member of the Government to do it. [Cries of "Dodson!"] Well, he would not press the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, because he knew the right hon. Gentleman was occupied with the Contagious Diseases (Animals) Bill; but he wished to hear from some authoritative source what their future proceedings in the Soudan were to be. By making those appeals they had at least cleared their consciences. He did not know that they could do anything more, because the House was subservient to the Ministry. He was quite sure that the noble Lord (Lord Randolph Churchill) had done great service in calling attention to this matter, and trying to find out why the torrent of blood had been poured out for entirely inadequate reasons.


said, after what had passed he did not wish to put the House to the trouble of a Division, and he would, therefore, ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Main Question put, and agreed to.

Bill read the third time, and passed, with a New Title.