HC Deb 21 November 1884 vol 294 cc187-90

who had the following Notice on the Paper:—To call attention to the neglect of British Interests in the China Seas by Her Majesty's present Ministers; and to move— That this House is of opinion that the British Government should, in conjunction, if possible, with the Governments of Germany and the United States, make proposals to the French Republic and China with a view to putting an end to the present War, said, that he had put the Motion on the Paper in consequence of the insufficient information upon the subject which the noble Lord opposite the Under Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs had recently given him in answer to a Question. The action of Prance in the China Seas at the present time was a very important question, because of the large amount of British trade which was affected by that hostile action. Twenty-five million pounds a-year, he believed, was the amount of commerce in this country which was affected, or likely to be seriously affected, by the present French hostilities. The position of affairs was very unsatisfactory. Legally, he had no doubt that France was in a state of war with China, although the French denied it. At the same time, it was well known that unless these hostilities were brought to a speedy conclusion they must inflict the gravest injury upon British commerce. The French were taking no practical measures either to make peace or to carry out an effectual attack upon the Chinese Empire. They were simply hovering about here and there, injuring trade, and practically, by their half-measures, encouraging the Chinese to fight. The Government had been guilty of great neglect in this matter. They had clung to the vain hope of coming to a satisfactory alliance with France on other questions, and they had deprived themselves of the valuable alliance of Germany, which would have enabled them to settle this question with the greatest ease, much in the same way as the late Government were enabled, some five years ago, to settle the threatened attack by Russia on China. On that occasion the late Government made overtures to Germany and to the United States, which resulted in a communication on the part of the Powers being made to Russia that the Treaty Ports should not be attacked. Russia, seeing by that statement that she was debarred from injuring China, did not begin the menaced war. This Government, however, instead of taking action of a similar character on the present occasion, had allowed this affair to drift until a state of hostilities now existed which was very injurious to British trade. He had warned the Ministry, when the French aggression upon Tonquin began, that it would lead to serious complications with China, and to great disturbance to English commerce. His remarks were ridiculed at the time, when timely action would have checked aggression. In regard to this war between China and France, he must say that after reading as carefully as possible the respective statements with regard to the original claim upon Tonquin, with regard to the affair at Langson, and with regard to the circumstances connected with the terms of the Treaty come to between the French and the Chinese Plenipotentiaries, he thought that right appeared to be on the side of the Chinese. They were not the aggressors, but the party attacked and injured; and, that being the case, the British Government ought to have taken some resolute measures to let France know that this state of hostilities must be brought to an early close. If the Government had remonstrated with France in the friendly and determined way in which Lord Palmerston addressed that Government on similar occasions, those hostilities would have long since come to a satisfactory conclusion. He would remind the noble Lord of the greatness of British interests at stake in China, and of the importance of maintaining the strength of the Chinese Empire in Asia. We had two great rivals in Asia—namely, Russia on the North West, and the great dominion which the French were seeking to build up on the Eastern side in Cochin China, Annam, and Tonquin. These were also signs that France might soon encroach upon Burmah. Her Majesty's Government ought to bear in mind the possibility of France and Russia agreeing to divide China between them. He hoped Her Majesty's Government would take action in time, and avail themselves of an opportunity to interfere effectually to put a stop to these very injurious, and still more threatening, hostilities that now prevailed. He was surprised, in view of the weakness of our Squadron in the China Seas and other important stations, that the Government should still continue to neglect the subject of the Navy, which was of infinitely more importance to the nation than 20 Franchise Bills.


said, that, whenever it was proposed to go into Committee of Supply, the hon. Member for Eye (Mr. Ashmead-Bartlett) brought forward a Motion on some question of foreign policy; but he (Lord Edmond Fitzmaurice) was inclined to think, from the small amount of support which the hon. Member received from his own side, and especially from his own Front Bench, whose policy he was always propounding in their absence, that they were of opinion that the time when the hon. Member brought forward his Motions was not always well chosen. In reply to a Question by the hon. Member the other day, he had given him information which was of interest and importance; and he thought the hon. Member would see that it was impossible for him to say more than he had done. What he had said was that communications had been proceeding with the Governments of both France and China in regard to the subject of mediation, but that, unfortunately, hitherto it had not been possible to bring those communications to any practical result, and that it was not possible for him for that very reason to make any further communication in regard to them. The House would see that for the same reason that closed his mouth the other evening on this very important and delicate subject, it must have remained closed this evening also, not from any desire to keep back information from the House, but because he felt that any premature state- ment that he might make to-night would only defeat the object the Government and the hon. Member had at heart—namely, the establishment of peace between France and China, which was so desirable in the interest of the world in general and the trade of this country in particular. The hon. Member asked why did not Her Majesty's Government use strong language in order to promote pacific relations between France and China?


I never said that. What I said, Sir, was friendly but determined remonstrances.


said, he had taken down the words; and did the hon. Member expect that peace between France and China was to be promoted by the use of this strong language? Most certainly it would not have accomplished the object in view. The hon. Member might rest assured that the Government were fully sensible of the importance of doing all in their power to restore friendly relations between France and China; and if any opportunity for mediation occurred that opportunity would not be lost.

Main Question, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair," put, and negatived.

Committee to sit again upon Monday next.