HC Deb 20 February 1885 vol 294 cc923-6

asked the First Lord of the Treasury, If he can inform the House what offers have been made by Colonial Governments to send troops in aid of Her Majesty's Forces now engaged in war in the Soudan; and, what replies have been made to these offers by Her Majesty's Government.


The offers to which the Question refers have attracted much attention in this country, and likewise on the Continent of Europe. I am glad this Question has been put, because it tends to give an increased interest in the public mind to the offers themselves, which, in truth, are not to be regarded as casual events, but which appear, in the view of Her Majesty's Government, to have a real historical character. When I recollect that just 100 years ago this country had scarcely ceased to reel under the shock of a great dismemberment of the Empire—which dismemberment of the Empire had been brought about by unfortunate attempts to force on what were then the most important Colonies of Great Britain contributions in aid of the public Revenue for the military charges of this country—it is certainly a gratifying contrast which is now presented, to us. Such attempts on these free communities have now become entirely obsolete; and the consequence of that abandonment of untenable claims has been to open a fountain-head of loyalty, patriotism, and public spirit, and of liberality in the Colonies themselves, which has led to these most gratifying and most important offers. Sir, I think the object of the Question of my right hon. Friend is rather to draw forth an expression of the sentiments of the Government on the general character of the transaction than to place the House in possession of particular details; because, although I will make a short statement on the subject, the Correspondence is not yet ripe for our doing that which will eventually be done—placing on the Table of both Houses of Parliament the Correspondence and telegrams. I will name the Colonies from which these offers have proceeded, and in doing so I will remind the House that the time within which it is possible that the idea could be suggested and transmitted to this country has as yet been extremely short. Therefore I do not think it is to be inferred that we have yet gone through the whole of the developed sentiments of the different Possessions of the Crown. The Colonies from which offers—varying in form, but one in spirit—have been received are, in the first place, New South Wales; in the second, Canada; thirdly, Victoria; fourthly, South Australia; and, fifthly, Queensland. I will only speak in particular of one of these offers — namely, Now South Wales — not merely because it was first in point of time, but likewise because it was more completely formulated than most of the other proposals, and consequently admits of more expeditious proceeding. The offer from New South Wales may be described in these words—The Colonial Government propose that they should provide for service in the Soudan, for the military operations now in contemplation, two batteries of Field Artillery and 500 Infantry, to be landed at Suakin within 30 days after embarkation. I may say we are given to understand that that embarkation could be effected very promptly almost at once—and all expenses attendant upon this expedition to be defrayed from the Colonial funds. That certainly is a most remarkable offer; and if I refer to one other Colony in particular, and not to the rest, it is for a reason which the House will readily understand —I mean the Colony of South Australia, which has offered to provide a force of 250 Infantry upon the same footing with the offer from New South Wales. I am not quite sure that they are absolutely in the same state of preparedness, but they are upon the same footing; and the reason I mention this offer on the part of South Australia, which proposes to bear the military charges of its expedition, is because the population of that Colony is comparatively small, being only between 200,000 and 300,000. I have stated the purport of the offer of New South Wales, and I have only to add that the offer has been received by Her Majesty's Government with feelings of the liveliest gratification, and is accepted by them with those acknowledgments of the public spirit of the Colonies, and with those feelings of thankfulness on the part of the United Kingdom, which everybody will feel to be required by the occasion. The House will understand that there are many considerations of time, of place, of distance, and of climate, with respect to pending operations, which require to be made the subject of careful military correspondence; and upon all those details the Correspondence is now in the hands of my noble Friend (the Marquess of Hartington). But I may say that this offer of New South Wales—I do not think that matters have proceeded so far, as yet, with respect to the other offers—has been made known to Lord Wolseley, and has been accepted by him with the liveliest satisfaction. I do not propose to enter into so much detail with respect to the other Colonies; but I may say that as the whole of these proposals—perfectly spontaneous on their part—have proceeded from one and the same spirit of loyalty and attachment to the Throne and the Empire, so they will be considered by us, and dealt with by us, I trust, in one and the same spirit of thankfulness. I do not know when we can present the very interesting information in due form. It will be laid before the House. I will not attempt to go further into the matter upon the present occasion, except simply to say that these proposals, while they are very instructive in their historical character, and in comparison with events of former times, so they at once bear testimony to the unity of the British Empire, and likewise powerfully tend to draw closely together the bonds of that union.


Might I ask the right hon. Gentleman, after the statement which he has just made to the House as to the beneficial effects of self-government, whether he would be prepared to ask his Party to support the Irish Members if they brought forward a similar measure for Ireland?

[No reply.]