HC Deb 13 April 1885 vol 296 cc1478-99

Her Majesty's Most Gracious Message considered.

Message again read.


The formal Resolution which I have to move, that Her Majesty's Gracious Message be considered, will only make it necessary for me to make a short statement to the House. I had hoped, when at my request the consideration of Her Majesty's Message was postponed, that to-day I should have been able to make a full statement of the measures proposed to be taken in consequence of the Proclamation which Her Majesty has been advised to issue. Since that date, however, as the House is aware, events of very considerable importance have occurred—events which have, to a certain extent, qualified the views of the Indian Government as to the amount, character, and time of the reinforcements they desire to be sent or to be prepared, either immediately or within a short period. We are in constant communication with the Government of India, but we are not yet in full possession of their views on these points; and it would not be possible for me to enter into any detailed statement of the measures which we propose to take under the Proclamation. I do not, therefore, think that it would be convenient to make a partial statement on the subject. I think I may also add that it would probably not be desirable at the present time that the measures recommended by the Government of India, and proposed to be adopted by the Government, should be fully stated until there is an absolute necessity for such statements, and until we are in a position to take action upon them. An opportunity for making such a statement possibly will not long be delayed. It has already been announced that the Budget Statement is to be made by the Chancellor of the Exchequer on Thursday week; and it has been promised that the Vote of Credit which the operations in the Soudan will make necessary, and which will also be necessary with relation to the preparations being made in regard to India, will be in the hands of the House before that date. That Vote of Credit will, I believe, also be laid on the Table on Monday or Tuesday next. An opportunity will be taken of making a statement in connection with it. That probably will be the most convenient time for making a more general explanation of the intentions of the Government and the measures proposed to be taken than on the occasion of the present formal Motion. I have examined the recent precedents on the subject, and I find that the course we shall take is entirely in accordance with them. The Reserves were called out on the advice of the late Government in 1878. The right hon. Gentleman opposite, in moving the Address, made no statement whatever as to the measures proposed to be taken under it. It is true that the right hon. Gentleman did on that occasion make a statement of the policy of the Government, which, in their opinion, made necessary the calling out of the Reserves; but the circumstances were, I think, different. In the opinion of the Government of that day explanations of that kind were required, in order to prevent misconception as to the object with which the Reserves were to be called out. On the present occasion no one, I think, will doubt that the state of affairs is such as to make it obviously desirable that the military resources of the country should be somewhat increased, in view of any eventuality that may occur. On the second occasion, in 1882, the Motion which I am now making was made as a purely formal one, without any statement whatever, and the measures to be taken by the Government were stated and discussed upon the Vote of Credit, which is the course I am now recommending the House to take. Therefore, I trust the House will agree with the course proposed, which is in accordance with precedent, and which will, I think, be most convenient, and will enable the Government to make a fuller statement than they are now able to make, and as full a statement as the circumstances of the case will admit of, at no very distant day. The only further statement it is desirable I should make is, that as it is probable it will be necessary to call out a very considerable portion of the Reserves, the present intention of the War Department is to call out those Reserves regimentally, and not by classes of years. That course possesses very great military advantages. The objection to it is that it bears with a certain amount of inequality upon the Reserve, even pressing somewhat hardly upon the older classes of the Reserve. If it were a question of calling out only a very small portion of the Reserves it would probably be desirable to call them out by classes corresponding to the particular years. But when there is a probability that the services of a large proportion of the Reserves may be necessary there is great military advantage, which I shall be able to explain more in detail on a future occasion, in calling them out regimentally. Under these circumstances, I trust that, inasmuch as the present Vote is of a perfectly formal character, and does not pledge the House to any opinion of policy whatever, and as an opportunity will shortly be given for making a fuller statement of the measures the Government propose to take, the House will be content to take this matter formally, and to postpone any fuller discussion until a more convenient occasion. In conclusion, I beg to move the Resolution which stands in my name.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, thanking Her Majesty for Her Most Gracious Message communicating to this House that Her Majesty was about to cause Her Reserve Force, and Her Militia Reserve Force, or such part thereof, as Her Majesty shall, from time to time, think necessary, to be called out for permanent Service."—(The Marquess of Hartington.)


I agree with the noble Lord that, under the circumstances, there is reason for postponing a full discussion of this question; but I think he is hardly justified in apparently assuming that when we are informed so important a step as the calling out of the Reserves is to be taken we should not call upon Her Majesty's Government to state the policy which renders such a step necessary. Although we were perfectly prepared to hear that the Government would require a large force, and that it would be necessary to have recourse to this method of increasing those Forces, we ought to have had—especially having regard to the Egyptian Force—some statement of a more full and detailed character, which would show us the policy of Her Majesty's Government with regard to the employment of our troops. There is much that we require to know, and it would have been quite reasonable to have taken this opportunity of affording a full discussion on the subject. The noble Lord has, however, pointed out that we may expect, in the course of the next week, the presentation of a Vote of Credit, and when that is presented we shall have a full opportunity of discussion. Under those circumstances, I do not myself intend opening up questions which naturally suggest themselves at the present moment, but rather reserve them till that opportunity shall arise. I understand there is no doubt we shall have the Vote of Credit before the Budget, that we shall have an opportunity of discussing it before the Budget, and that that opportunity will occur in the beginning of next week. That being so, I will not offer any opposition to the Motion, or ask for further explanations.


In reference to what has fallen from the right hon. Baronet there is one slight explanation which I wish to make. The right hon. Baronet says, and says truly, that next week, before the Budget, it will be our duty to present to the House the Vote upon which the whole policy of Her Majesty's Government will appear, and which, of course, will have to be duly explained and defended. The only ex- planation I wish to make is this—I do not assume that the actual moment when the Vote is laid upon the Table will be the moment when the House would wish to discuss it at large. I should think it more probable that the House would wish to take some early day for the discussion; and it would, undoubtedly, be the duty of Her Majesty's Government to promote and facilitate that object by all the means in their power. The Budget will be brought forward on Thursday next week. The Government have assumed that the actual debate on the Vote of Credit would follow the Budget; but should there be any strong or decisive opinion to the effect that it should have precedence, there would be nothing to prevent the raising of that question, and the Government, of course, would give it full and respectful consideration. Whether the discussion is taken before or after the Budget, I hardly think that the House would wish to go fully into the matter at the very moment when my noble Friend states the effect of the Vote of Credit to the House.


asked the Judge Advocate General whether there had been any alteration in the law which enabled Her Majesty's Government to call out the Reserves regimentally instead of by classes? The system adopted afforded great opportunities for favouritism and undue pressure on the part of the permanent officials at the War Office, and would enable the greater number to be called from Ireland. If the men were called out in classes the whole Kingdom would be necessarily treated alike.


said, he hoped, when the further statement came to be made, the noble Lord the Secretary of State for War would be able to assure them that the stores and armaments supplied to the men would be sufficient and efficient. It was understood that there were a great many arms in the Ordnance Department of the War Office which were not actually efficient; and had they not a recent example of swords being supplied to Cavalry one-half of which were unfit for service? He asked the noble Lord to satisfy the country that the armaments were sufficient and of proper quality. He was assured also by officers of great military experience that the number of officers and non-commissioned officers at the depôts were wholly insufficient to cope with the great impending influx of recruits and Reserve men. He hoped, therefore, the noble Lord would be able to make a statement on that point as well as with regard to the arms.


said, that as the Secretary of State for War could not speak again, he might, perhaps, be allowed to answer the question of the hon. and gallant Member for Galway (Colonel Nolan). The hon. and gallant Member laboured under a mistake. The recent Army (Annual) Bill did not give Her Majesty any such powers in regard to the calling out of the Reserves; in fact, it dealt with an entirely different subject—the prolongation of Army service. Her Majesty had already power under the Army Act, 1881, and the Reserve Forces Act, 1882, to call out the Reserves as she thought proper, and under this power they were now acting. At the proper time the reasons why the present course had been adopted would, no doubt, be stated.


asked whether it was in contemplation to call out the Militia Reserves?


It is probable that every regiment of Militia will be embodied whose two battalions of the Line are abroad.


asked whether all the Militia Reserves would be called out?


said, this was not at present contemplated.


in rising to move, as an Amendment to the Address, to add the following words:— And at the same time expressing a hope that the available Forces of Her Majesty will be speedily strengthened by the prompt withdrawal of the troops from the Soudan, said, this was a matter which exercised the minds and consciences, he believed, of the majority of the intelligent people of this country. Large meetings had been held in the Metropolis, and demands loud and strong had been made that the Radical Members of the House should bring pressure to bear on Her Majesty's Government to withdraw the troops. How was it they came to send this Expedition to the Soudan? They got into it when General Gordon was shut up in Khartoum; but it was dis- tinctly understood then that there was to be no occupation of the Soudan. Then came the unfortunate news of the death of General Gordon; and Lord Wolseley, on applying for instructions, was told to advance. The Lord Privy Seal (the Earl of Rosebery) in his recent speech went through the usual reasons for that advance, and it struck him that the Lord Privy Seal gave these reasons rather contemptuously. The Lord Privy Seal stated, however, that in the then public feeling of the country the Government could do nothing else but tell Lord Wolseley to advance. But public opinion had very much changed since then. There was then a very great deal of excitement and passion. The newspapers wrote advocating revenge. The newspapers were supposed to represent public opinion. But that was not his view. He thought if they wanted to know what was not the public opinion of the country they ought to go to the London newspapers. He believed if the Government remained in power they would not go to Khartoum. But accidents might happen, and if Gentlemen opposite came into power they would go to Khartoum, and they would annex it to Egypt. ["Oh!"] That was the policy of Lord Salisbury. [An hon. MEMBER: Quote.] What was the present position? Lord Wolseley's troops had retreated nearly to Wady Haifa. There were military operations going on in the neighbourhood of Suakin. They seemed mainly to consist of advancing one day and slaughtering, coming back the next, then another advance and another slaughter, then another withdrawal. The Lord Privy Seal had told them when the railway between Suakin and Berber was made, it was to be handed over to a Company, something like the North Borneo Company. He did not suppose that this was any part of the business of this country, even if the Arabs were in favour of the railway; but they were opposed to it, and they were ready to sacrifice their lives that this railroad should be stopped. The fact seemed to be that the Government did not like to wipe off a bad debt; they made a mistake when they went to Egypt, but now, after wasting many English lives, and destroying the lives of countless Arabs, they did not like to retire, and thereby admit they were in the wrong all along. The Government wanted this miserable little railway to show against the large sacrifice they had made in the Soudan. The latest news was that Osman Digna was retiring; but Osman Digna had a habit of coming back, and then the whole thing began over again. We had spent a very large amount of money in Egypt, and we had not much to show for it. We were now going to keep a garrison in that country at an expense of some £400,000 or £500,000 per annum; and what were we to gain by it? We were also committed to the policy of defending Egypt from all foreign aggression. But why, in addition to all this, should we incur a further expense in the Soudan—why should we throw good money after bad? By remaining in the Soudan we should gain nothing for ourselves, and we should certainly gain nothing for the Soudanese. The only proper course for us to pursue, therefore, was to withdraw our troops from that country as soon as possible. A large number of people in this country took a wider view of this question than the mere money one; they looked upon the matter as one of conscience, because they objected to unnecessary slaughter. At the last General Election the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister had raised his voice against the warlike policy of right hon. Gentlemen opposite; but it was impossible to describe the present policy of Her Majesty's Government as anything else than a "Jingo" policy. He believed that such a policy was altogether opposed to the principles held by the Prime Minister; and therefore it was that he begged to move his Amendment, the object of which was not adverse to the Government, but to strengthen the good intentions of the right hon. Gentleman for the future. He was not going to carp about the money which had been thrown away in the past; but what he wanted to obtain from the right hon. Gentleman was a declaration of the intention to withdraw our Forces from the Soudan as soon as possible, and not to interfere further with those independent men who the Prime Minister himself had stated were rightly struggling to be free. He begged to move his Amendment.

Amendment proposed, To add, at the end of the Question, the words' and at the same time expressing a hope that the available forces of Her Majesty will be speedily strengthened by the prompt with- drawal of the troops from the Soudan."—(Mr. Lahouchere.)

Question proposed, "That those words be there added."


I think that the House in general will be disposed to agree that it will be convenient to limit this discussion to those provisional matters—the Constitutional question not having been raised—which may call for remark, and to postpone, until an occasion which will very soon arise, the discussion of the policy of Her Majesty's Government at large with regard to the restricted use in the Soudan of the Military Forces of the Crown. That is a subject which I cannot disguise is of importance, and is one which may be properly discussed at a convenient season. With regard to that subject, the senior Member for Northampton (Mr. Labouchere) has exercised a great deal of self-denial, but not quite enough. The hon. Member has not made the speech which he intended to make, because he has not dealt with this question with that incisiveness and force which usually characterize his utterances when discussing interesting topics such as he has just now merely glanced at, or, perhaps, I should rather say, has skimmed over. I have often observed that much injury is done by attempting partially to anticipate a discussion, and I venture to hope that hon. Members will see that it would be impossible to deal effectively with this question now. With regard to the speech which we have just heard I wish to maintain an absolute reserve, neither admitting nor denying anything it contains, nor expressing approval or censure of the statements it contains. At the same time I must enter a caveat against any disposition to interfere with the right of any hon. Member to draw any inferences he may think fit from it. Having said that, I must assert the absolute responsibility of Her Majesty's Government for both what we have done and for what we intend to do in the Soudan; but I hope that it will be understood that it is not open to us to enter partially into a discussion of the subject. If we enter into it at all we must go through with it and declare our whole intention, and must give the House and the country the clearest view of our policy in Egypt that it is in our power to convey. At present there is no course open to us but to remain silent, and to ask for a short postponement of the discussion. I hope we shall be excused if we retain within our own breasts all that we have to say on this subject until next week, when it will become our duty to place before the House in a form perfectly intelligible our views upon the question, so as to enable the House to deal with it in any manner they may think fit, according to the recognized rule with respect to the responsibility of Ministers in Office.


said, that it appeared to him that the attitude taken up by Her Majesty's Government upon this question would, under any circumstances, be an unusual one. He imagined that when the Government of the country made a demand upon Parliament for a large increase of our Military Forces, if no statement of policy had been made to the House before, it was the invariable rule that the statement should be made when such an increase of our Forces was asked for. But even if that were not so the Government should not endeavour to put pressure upon the House to prevent hon. Members from expressing their opinions with regard to the question before them. If the attitude of the Government would be unusual at any time he certainly thought it was especially unusual when the position of Her Majesty's Government at the present time was considered, because it must be recollected that Her Majesty's Government no longer occupied the position of a powerful Government commanding an immense majority in that House and possessing the confidence of the country. ["Oh, oh!"and Opposition cheers.] He could only judge upon that point from absolute recorded events. It was beyond dispute that it was only by a majority of 14 upon this very question of the Soudan that Hoi-Majesty's Government had been able to retain the Offices which they now held. He hoped that this fact would be regarded as some excuse for his not altogether yielding to the demand of the Prime Minister that no discussion should be raised with respect to this question at this particular moment. The Prime Minister had said that it was not necessary to discuss this question now, because the House would have an excellent opportunity of discussing it when the Vote of Credit came before it. On this point he must remark that although the Vote of Credit was to be laid upon the Table of the House on Monday or Tuesday next, the Prime Minister had intimated that the discussion with regard to it would come on more conveniently after the debate upon the Budget had been taken. Such a course would allow of very considerable delay before the House could discuss the question of the Soudan, and the question was not one which permitted of long delay, it being a vital and a pressing one. In these circumstances he felt bound to run the risk of doing what the Prime Minister had said might be done—namely, of doing injury by partially discussing this question. The Message now before the House was given Notice of in connection with the campaign in the Soudan, and he desired to make a few remarks with regard to the policy of that campaign. The policy of our large military operations in the Soudan had never yet been debated in that House. The matters that had been discussed related exclusively to the past conduct of the Government, and not to their future policy in that country. Although he was in India at the time, he was aware that the death of General Gordon had created a profound and an unparalleled expression of opinion in this country; and not only was the country deeply moved at the failure of the Military Expedition for his relief, but the country was justifiably and legitimately alarmed as to what might be the course of conduct pursued by the victorious Mahdi. He could easily understand how the House, under the influence of such feelings, had readily acquiesced in the despatch of a large Military Force to the Soudan; but the first blush of that great popular excitement having passed away it might be that the House might now be inclined to reconsider with greater judgment and deliberation the policy of committing the country to a large military expenditure in that part of the world. The House was aware that the original policy of the Government at the time of the defeat of General Hicks was the evacuation of the Soudan; and that was pressed, in fact forced, upon the Egyptian Government. He did not know that the policy of the evacuation of the Soudan had ever been condemned by any Party in Parliament, though he understood that the policy which led to that step being taken, and the manner in which it was to be carried out, were condemned. But, whether that policy had been condemned or not, that was undoubtedly the policy of the Government, and it was accepted and ratified by Parliament. General Gordon was thereupon despatched to Khartoum, and expeditions despatched for the relief of Sinkat and Tokar; but the garrisons were not rescued, and the House was now face to face with the fact that the rescue of the garrisons had not been accomplished, and could not now be accomplished. He thought that sometimes the greatest disaster arose to individuals in private life, and also to nations in their public life, by an obstinate refusal to recognize what might be called a fait accompli. He would have thought that, however great might be the popular excitement at the fall of Khartoum, it would be the duty of Ministers at such a time to take a calm view of the situation, and instead of yielding blindly to popular impulse, to determine what was most in the interest of the country. He had himself the most profound conviction that the despatch of a large Military Force to Suakin was an immense error. He believed that it was not too late to remedy the error, and he believed that no special or particular blame would attach to Her Majesty's Government if they chose to reconsider the policy of the Expedition to the Soudan. But he maintained it was the duty of any Member of Parliament who did happen to think strongly on the point to take the earliest opportunity of endeavouring to arrive in some way or other at the opinion of the House upon the point. He was glad the hon. Member for Northampton (Mr. Labouchere) had moved his Amendment; and if he took the sense of the House upon it he should support him. The Military Force now being maintained at Suakin consisted of the flower of the British Army. There were three battalions of British Guards, and two or more first-class regiments of British Cavalry; and the Government must be aware that the climate was perfectly deadly to a British constitution. That was why he pressed these matters on the House, because the health of the Army was deteriorating, and must deteriorate every hour. When he was on his way to India he visited the encampment of the Marines at Suez, which was called a sanatorium for invalided soldiers from India When there he ascertained from an officer who had just returned from Suakin—an officer who was in every way calculated to give a sound opinion, but whose name he would not give, for the Military Authorities had a strange way of repressing the giving of information by officers—that since April last, when General Graham evacuated the Soudan, up to the month of December, Suakin had been held by a Force of Marines, averaging from 700 to 900 strong; and the effect of thus holding Suakin had been that for all military purposes two entire regiments of Marines had been wiped out of the Army List, the men having been invalided from Suakin at the rate of 100 a month. The same officer had told him that, in his opinion, no Englishman under the age of 40 had a chance of preserving his health there after a very short residence. So great, in fact, had been the drain upon the Marines that there were no reliefs to send out; and the Force at Suakin had to be reinforced by Regular Infantry. But the public did not know all this, though Her Majesty's Government knew it quite well; and he wished to know how, with their knowledge of the effect of the climate upon the Marines, who were all seasoned soldiers, they ever sent the flower of the British Army to Suakin and were keeping them there? If the Army were kept at Suakin, the loss by sickness would, perhaps, amount to a decimation of the Force. He did not think it was at all inappropriate to consider the desirability of not in any way weakening at the present moment the Military Forces of the country; but if these troops were maintained at Suakin, they would be weakened, and desperately weakened, and the day might come when the Government would be prepared to sacrifice anything almost to have these troops by them. If there were any large armies threatening to join the Mahdi at Khartoum and to pour down on Egypt, then, perhaps, something might be said as to the operations now being carried on at Suakin; but, though he could understand there was at one time a fear of the Mahdi pouring down on Egypt, there was absolutely now no fear. From all reliable accounts the Mahdi was at Khartoum, or occupied in settling some differences with some little spurious Mahdi who had arisen in the rear. Then, again, where was Osman Digna? Heaven only knew. If he was near Suakin, he had no great army with him, and the Government were keeping a force of 10,000 men there to keep at bay a mere fugitive vagabond chief, of whom all reliable rumours said that he was not surrounded by an army. Then the Government said they were going to make a railway. He was surprised that so much importance was attached to the construction of such a railway. He had had an opportunity of acquiring information as to the purposes for which the railway might be useful; and he could inform the House that for all commercial purposes, for civilizing purposes, for purposes of profit, it was absolutely useless. It was quite true, too, that the Arab tribes were opposed to it, for they depended for their living upon carrying on their camels the slender trade that existed between Suakin and Berber; neither was the railway of any use from a military point of view. For it could not advance at any but a snail-like speed, and could not be ready by the autumn for an advance on Berber. Seeing, therefore, that there was no enemy in the neighbourhood of Suakin, that there was no intention of making an immediate advance on Berber, and that when it was made it must be in the nature of a dash, and seeing that the conquest of the Soudan was undoubtedly a policy that would never be sanctioned, he asked the Government for what purpose they were retaining that force at Suakin, and whether the Message from the Crown represented an intention on their part of maintaining that force there for any considerable time? If that was their intention, then he should vote with the hon. Member for Northampton; but if that was not their intention, he could not see why Her Majesty's Government should not announce to the House their minds on the subject, and say that they would take the question of the Soudan into their immediate consideration, and would be prepared to place these troops in such positions of climate and locality as would enable them when the moment came to be effectually utilized for the defence of the country. He did not mean to speak about another subject which he felt it was dangerous almost for anybody to discuss at the present moment; but they knew that matters were now at issue between the great Russian Empire and the British Government which had reached a very critical stage. He did not believe that there was a man in the House who did not hope from the bottom of his heart that peace might be preserved. But if they wanted peace to be preserved, their best chance of that would be in their strength from a military point of view; and if the Russian Government observed that with the sanction of Parliament the British Government was obstinately dissipating the best of its military resources in the centre of Africa, it would be more than human if it did not take advantage of that fact, and if it did not press with greater pertinacity claims of which it would, under other circumstances, be likely to take a more reasonable view. Unless the House was given a more satisfactory statement than it had yet had from the Government, he should support the hon. Member for Northampton if he went to a division; and he hoped that the hon. Member would receive a considerable amount of support, at any rate, from the independent sections of the House.


admitted this was hot the time to discuss the policy of Her Majesty's Government in the Soudan; but he thought the noble Lord opposite was quite justified in calling attention to the Suakin Expedition. Every hour and day was important, for at the present moment the Crown and flower of the British Army was carrying on this miserable bush war in the Soudan, and that circumstance itself appeared a sign of weakness. Up to the present the health of the troops had been good; but as the summer advanced we must be prepared for long lists of invalids. A growing mistrust of General Graham now prevailed among many officers in Suakin; in their opinion the troops were being moved unnecessarily, and he was glad to hear that Lord Wolseley was going there. He earnestly hoped that in the grave circumstances in which this country was now placed the Government would not leave its splendid troops in the Soudan.


said, he thought the Prime Minister had dealt with the subject with undue levity. The Amendment of the hon. Member for Northampton deserved something better than the frivolous remarks of the right hon. Gentleman. He had on several occasions asked the Government to declare their policy in the Soudan; but they had over and over again refused. He should like the noble Lord the Secretary of State for War to state what was the object of the Government in extending the Suakin-Berber railway. Summer was rapidly approaching, when the heat would be very great, and when the number of invalids would be very many. Did the Government intend to remain in the Soudan, and to erect any kind of Government in Khartoum? He hoped that some Member of the Government would answer the question, and that the right hon. Gentlemen on the Front Opposition Bench would not remain silent. He hoped the Leaders of the Opposition would tell the House what they were going to do, and whether hon. Members below the Gangway on that side of the House should follow the hon. Member for Northampton, or troop into the Lobby under the guidance of the noble Lords (Lord Richard Grosvenor and Lord Kensington).


I do not rise to attempt to answer the questions put to me by the hon. Gentleman who has just sat down; but I desire to point out that the noble Lord the Member for Woodstock fell not unnaturally into an error from his absence from the House when he said the measures now under the consideration of the House wore connected with the operations of the Government in the Soudan. That is not the case. The measures that were necessary for the present operations which are in progress at Suakin and on the Nile were explained in this House some time ago; and the House, by voting the Supplementary Estimates which were laid on the Table at that time, sanctioned the continuation of those operations. The Forces at the disposal of Lord Wolseley and General Graham are at present sufficient, in our opinion, for all they have to do for the present. The Reserves were not called upon for the purpose of undertaking these operations — they were called upon only to a limited extent. In addition to calling upon certain Militia regiments, the Reserves were called upon to this extent—that the transfer of men from the Colours to the Reserves was checked during the continuation of the operations, and a certain number of Reserve men were also permitted to volunteer from the Reserves to the Colours. The measures that were taken in connection with the Soudan operations did not go beyond this, and there was no intention of calling out the Reserves for the purpose of the Soudan operations. The Proclamation of Her Majesty, which appeared a short time ago, was in connection with a subject of quite a different character, as the House is aware, and had reference to military operations, the necessity for which is perfectly well understood. We are, therefore, in this position — that the House has already discussed, at great length, and has sanctioned, all the measures which are required for the present operations in the Soudan. We are in the further position that it is impossible that those operations, to which the noble Lord and the hon. Member for Northampton object, can be prosecuted without the Government calling upon the House to afford the means, and a Vote of Credit will accordingly be laid on the Table in a short time. It is upon that occasion that the House will have a perfectly legitimate opportunity of learning what the views of the Government are in regard to these operations in the Soudan, and of expressing the sense of the House as to the wisdom or unwisdom of those operations. The question of the policy of the Government in the Soudan is only very remotely connected with the measure now under the consideration of the House. The House is not asked to express any opinion on the policy of the Government in the Soudan. That has, up to a certain time, received the approval of the House, and another opportunity will be shortly afforded. The noble Lord called on us to consider our position, not only in the Soudan, but in relation to other affairs in other parts of the world. I need scarcely say that that is a subject that has been constantly engaging the most anxious attention and consideration of the Government. My right hon. Friend has stated that it would not be expedient to make any statement on that subject at present; but he has promised that it shall be made on the earliest legitimate opportunity.


It seems to me that we are in a position which rather reverses what was said by the hon Member for Portsmouth (Sir H. Drummond Wolff) just now. He spoke of the Government treating this matter with levity; but I am afraid if we were hastily to tack on, in answer to the Gracious Message from Her Majesty, the words proposed by the hon. Member for Northampton we should expose ourselves, and the House would expose itself, to the charge of levity in dealing with matters of such great and such immense importance as those which are involved in this question. With regard to the particular measures that have to be taken in the circumstances of the country, we observe that they divide themselves into two classes. There are the steps that are taken on Her Majesty's responsibility, by Her Majesty's command, and which are communicated to this House with regard to the calling out of the Reserves, and there is the request which Her Majesty will address to Her Ministers through Parliament to provide the funds which are necessary for the purpose for which those men are to be used. Unquestionably it is far more expedient that the House should discuss these questions upon the demand which has to be made for the money over which we have control, rather than upon an Amendment of any kind in answer to Her Majesty's Message. I think anything in the nature of a discussion upon the answer to Her Majesty's Gracious Message is much to be deprecated. I think it would produce a false impression as to the want of heart or unity in this House with regard to that which we are told is the principle and main object for which the Reserves are to be called out. I think it would be undesirable to let it go abroad that there was any difference of opinion on such a point as this. I shall be told that the Motion made by the hon. Member does not come within that category, and that it does not expose him or the House to any such charge, because he deals with a matter of a different kind. No doubt the matters are different; but the Amendment raises without Notice the great question of what the course of the Government should be in the Soudan and Egypt, and on a question of a proposal to add words to the Address does not seem to me to do justice to the importance of the question itself. Everyone must feel the weight of those words which fell from the noble Lord the Member for Woodstock (Lord Randolph Churchill). He has not had the opportunity of taking part in these debates this Session, and it is not to be wondered at that he has taken an early opportunity of expressing an opinion on the matter, and in such a manner as to cause the House, I am sure, to feel thankful to him for the assistance he has given it. But I think it would be a great misfortune if we now attempt to come to a decision which must be preceded by a full discussion of the whole question of the Egyptian policy of the Government; and when we know that we shall have before us next week, or the week after, the opportunity of a full and careful discussion of the matter with power in our hands to give effect to the decision we may arrive at. We must bear in mind that if we make feeble and ineffective attacks on the Government we only strengthen their hands—we give an appearance of large majorities when really there are no authorities in their favour. I do not think it is expedient as a question of tactics to raise this question on such an occasion as this. I think when we have a full explanation of what the Government policy is that explanation will require to be very carefully sifted and very carefully examined, and the House must come to a careful conclusion upon it; but I am not of opinion that it is desirable that anything in the nature of the words mentioned by the hon. Member for Northampton in response to Her Majesty's Message should be added.


said, he was one of those who, in the last debate on the Vote of Censure, ventured to express an opinion that the Soudan Expedition, from first to last, was a mistake, and that it was the true business of this country to withdraw from this unfortunate enterprize. The noble Lord the Member for Woodstock (Lord Randolph Churchill), who had contributed very materially to this debate, had come on the scene some two months later than other Members were obliged to do, and had had longer time to make up his mind on the Soudan question. While the noble Lord was speaking what he believed to be sound sense on that question, he was curious to observe what support he might got on the other side of the House; and he was bound to say there was very small response from Gentlemen above the Gangway on the Conservative side; but before they came to the genuine discussion, possibly what the noble Lord had stated that night might influence those right hon. and hon. Gentlemen; and he was quite sure that if, besides the expression of opinion given by many Radical Members as to the policy of the Soudan Expedition, they could only have a confirmation of the noble Lord's views on the other side of the House, the course of the Government would be very clear. [Ironical laughter from the Opposition.] He expected there would be some laughter at his remark; but he did not disguise the fact, nor did the people of this country disguise it, that right hon. and hon. Gentlemen on the other side of the House wielded the military spirit of the country, and that, whatever Government was in power, when a question had arrived at a certain critical stage, it was they, and not the Liberals, who were really able to dictate the policy. He did not think that would be so long; but he confessed, and was humiliated by the fact, that whereas on the Liberal side of the House they represented the great majority of the people of the country, Gentlemen on the other side, representing small, influential, and select classes, were omnipotent on such an occasion. He did not wonder that the noble Lord on the Treasury Bench (the Marquess of Hartington) was candid enough to say that the calling out of the Reserves had no direct relation with any additional Forces wanted in the Soudan. Compared with a foreign war we might be called upon to engage in, the Soudan business was only child's play; but he was glad to hear the expression of opinion of the noble Lord opposite (Lord Randolph Churchill), than whom no other man on the Conservative side of the House was more competent to offer an opinion which would be valued by Parliament, because he had been disentangled from the earlier stages of the controversy during this Session, and he believed that right hon. Gentlemen opposite would find it to be politic to support the view expressed by Radical Members, that the sooner we escaped from the entanglements of the Soudan business the better. If we wished to impress either Russia or any other Power with our determination, the wisest thing we could do was to call away the flower of our troops from the Soudan, and not have them destroyed in that pestilential climate. He was afraid that when this Soudan chapter of our history came to be written, it would be said that, from first to last, it was a mistake and a discredit to the Empire. Whatever might have been the advice given by Lord Wolseley when Khartoum fell, the Government and the people of the country must now, at all events, see there was no excuse for the continuance of this conflict. There was no foe to fight; and as to our remaining at Suakin in order to make a railway, he agreed with the noble Lord that there was nothing about that which would make the House of Commons for one moment hesitate in coming to a decision. He might add a word as to the graver question which was now troubling them. It had been intimated, on a previous evening, that Parliament and the country were united as to the necessity of our supporting the Ameer, and so forth. He only wished to say, at this moment, that many of his hon. Friends would like to give expression to their views, so that no misunderstanding might arise as to that supposed unanimity. He would not go into the question as to whose side the fault lay on; but he said it would be a melancholy thing if in this country, through the military spirit which pervaded certain quarters, the Government found itself in as helpless a position as the Russian Government seemed to be. They were told, on all hands, that the Russian Government was dominated by the military power. He hoped this country, at any rate, would keep its head cool, and would not be driven by rash councils, or even by a London Press, to any extreme course. If things arrived at such an acute point as to render hostilities almost certain, he hoped that even then, depending on the righteousness of our position and our cause, we should have the moral courage to appeal to an independent Power, in order that this conflict between two great Empires might, by some means or other, be avoided.


said, that hon. Gentlemen opposite were always declaring that the Conservative Party was never satisfied unless it was feasting on bloodshed. He could not but repudiate, in the strongest manner, the language used by the hon. Member who had just sat down. The vast majority of the Members of that House had been horrified by the proceedings of Her Majesty's Government in Egypt since the first shot was fired; and to assert that hon. Gentlemen on the Opposition side of the House approved of those proceedings was to assert that which could not be supported by facts. There was a great deal in the speech of his noble Friend with which he most heartily concurred. At all events, he ventured to say that no Tory Government could have done as the present Government had done—namely, keep a large British Force in the Soudan without giving a single sketch of its policy as regarded the future. Her Majesty's Government had done that up till now, and whether they would continue to do so or not would depend on the votes of hon. Members opposite. They had had opportunity after opportunity of deciding whether this was a right course or not; but in every case they had been content with accusing the Conservative Party of bloodshed, and then had invariably supported the Government. He thought it would be well if the hon. Member (Mr. Labouchere) were content with this discussion. He could not support the Amendment, much as he was horrified with the proceedings of Her Majesty's Government in the Soudan; and for this reason—that if it were passed it would place the House in the ridiculous position of directing the Government to close a campaign after a debate so brief that the Secretary of State for War was not even allowed to communicate with his Department.

Question put.

The House divided:—Ayes 39; Noes 148: Majority 109.—(Div. List, No. 95.)

Main Question put, and agreed to.

Resolved, That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, thanking Her Majesty for Her Most Gracious Message communicating to this House that Her Majesty was about to cause Her Reserve Force, and Her Militia Reserve Force, or such part thereof, as Her Majesty shall, from time to time, think necessary, to be called out for permanent Service.

To be presented by Privy Councillors.