Order read, for resuming Adjourned Debate on Amendment proposed to Question [23rd February],
That an humble Address be presented to the Queen, humbly representing to Her Majesty that the course pursued by Her Majesty's Government in respect to the affairs of Egypt and the Soudan, has involved a great sacrifice
of valuable lives and a heavy expenditure without any beneficial result, and has rendered it imperatively necessary in the interests of the British Empire and of the Egyptian people that Her Majesty's Government should distinctly recognise, and take decided measures to fulfil, the special responsibility now incumbent on them to assure a good and stable Government to Egypt and to those portions of the Soudan which are necessary to its security."—(Sir Stafford Northcote.)
And which Amendment was,
To leave out from the first word "That" to the end of the Question, in order to insert the words "this House, while refraining from expressing an opinion on the policy pursued by Her Majesty's Government in respect to the affairs of Egypt and the Soudan, regrets the decision of Her Majesty's Government to employ the forces of the Crown for the overthrow of the power of the Mahdi,"—(Mr. John Morley,)
§ Question again proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."
§ Debate resumed.
§ SIR JOHN LUBBOCK
Sir, while fully recognizing the extreme difficulty and complexity of the problems which confronted Her Majesty's Government; that they have had sources of information, and must have been influenced by considerations, which even now they cannot completely bring before us, I am anxious to place before the Prime Minister certain considerations, which I am sure he will accept in the spirit in which they are made. My right hon. Friend very justly observed, that Khartoum stands in a separate position from the rest of the Soudan. It is a new city, the creation of commerce; it has not been under any Native Sultan; it stands in a peculiar position with reference to Egypt. For my own part, I cannot but feel that on many grounds Khartoum is of great importance to Egypt. That was the view of Thothmes III., whose proud boast it was that he placed the Frontier of Egypt where he pleased. It may be true that the Romans preferred the limit of Wady Haifa; but since then circumstances have changed; if they had had railways and telegraphs perhaps they would not have done so. If, then, Her Majesty's Government came before the House and said that while excluding the rest of the Soudan they considered that Khartoum and the country round should form part of Egypt, there might be 1195 much to be said for their resolve to retake it from the Mahdi. "What I cannot understand, the policy against which I would venture to protest, is their intention to retake Khartoum and then give it up again. The right hon. Gentleman states that he is anxious to establish a strong Government in the Soudan. But we must remember the dictum of General Gordon himself, that—The sacrifices necessary towards securing a good government would be far too onerous to admit of such an attempt being made. Indeed, one may say that it is impracticable at any cost."[Egypt. No. 7 (1884), p. 3.]No language could be stronger or more decisive. Any Government there must either be English, Egyptian, or Native. The Prime Minister has already told us that it is not to be English. As to a re-establishment of Egyptian authority over the Soudan, I need only remind the House of the admirable Report drawn by the late lamented Colonel Stewart, who was specially deputed by Her Majesty's Government to inquire into the question. Colonel Stewart said—I am firmly convinced that the Egyptians are quite unfit in every way to undertake such a task as the Government of so vast a country with a view to its welfare, and that, both for their own sake and that of the people they tried to rule, it would be advisable to abandon large portions of it. The fact of their general incompetence to rule is so generally acknowledged that it is unnecessary to discuss the question.Indeed, the Prime Minister implied on Thursday, if he did not say so in so many words, that no re-establishment of Egyptian authority was in contemplation, though, that being so, I confess I do not understand the nature or object of Prince Hassan's mission. A Native Government then alone remains. But a Native Government already exists. Are we to spend millions of money and sacrifice thousands of lives to replace one Native Ruler by another? The tribes of the Soudan are staunch adherents of the Mahdi. One strong proof of their devotion and their determination to support him has been the impossibility for months past of communicating with Khartoum. Suppose we go forward and occupy Khartoum? Our troops then will, as General Gordon was, be surrounded by a bitterly hostile population. Suppose we defeat the Mahdi and he retires? What 1196 then? Are we to follow him still further across the burning deserts of the heart of Africa? The right hon. Gentleman alluded to the desirability of putting down the Slave Trade. But this will not be effected merely by going to Khartoum. To do this you must not only go there, but stay there. I regretted to hear the Prime Minister state that, in his opinion, no negotiations could be opened with the Mahdi. Indeed, I have never been able to understand why that was not done long ago. This whole war has risen out of misunderstandings. But even if it is impossible or undesirable to negotiate with the Mahdi, surely a Proclamation might be issued stating our intentions. It is true that Lord Wolseley has issued one, but it does not bear on this point. He says his object is to restore peace, and that he will pay for all supplies. But that is no statement of policy. General Gordon proclaimed his object to be to smash the Mahdi; and the Prime Minister also has told us that the policy of the Government is to overthrow the power of the Mahdi. No doubt, in that ease, negotiations are impossible; but how is that consistent with Lord Wolseley's statement that his object is to restore peace? A great deal has been said about the moral effect of a retreat. But what was the object of our Expedition? The relief of General Gordon and his garrison. The fall of Khartoum and the massacre of the garrison has, unfortunately, rendered that object unattainable. To proceed under such circumstances would show that the relief of General Gordon could not have been our real or main object. But we are told that to retreat would have a bad moral effect. Well, but that will be as true next year as it is now. If you do not mean to hold Khartoum it would be far better not to go there at all. Our advance on Khartoum is dictated by political, not by military, considerations. This seems clear, because Lord Wolseley telegraphed to know the political intentions of the Government with reference to Khartoum, in order that he might act accordingly. He did not decide himself to advance on Khartoum, but telegraphed home, as the right hon. Gentleman told us, to know whether the Government desired to attack the Mahdi or not, so that he might frame his plans 1197 accordingly. This shows that the decision has been made, not on military, but on political grounds. The present views of the Liberal Party astonish me. I can see no justification for attacking any districts which we do not intend to hold permanently. In doing so we not only lavish many of our best lives, and millions which we can ill spare, but inflict suffering and misery on a people who have risen against a Government which we ourselves admit to have been both corrupt and oppressive. Khartoum is, indeed, in many respects, in a different position from the Southern and Western Soudan. Her Majesty's Government have not told us how much of the Soudan they propose to take from the Mahdi. If, as I infer, Khartoum is not to form part of the Egyptian Dominion, they have not told us what form of Government they propose to establish there, or whom they intend to set up as a Ruler. After the announcement made by the Prime Minister, I do not see how the Mahdi can be expected to open negotiations, nor any end to the struggle on which we are entering. Is it the interest of the Mahdi to negotiate? Our presence in the Soudan unites all the Native tribes in his support. The right hon. Gentleman told us yesterday that, in Lord Wolseley's opinion, the fall of Khartoum on the very day before our arrival was no accident—that the treachery was planned long before, and postponed purposely. Now, why did the Mahdi defer the seizure of Khartoum until the last moment? May he not have wished to lead us on, knowing that the presence of Infidel enemies in the Soudan would induce all the tribes to sink their differences and rally round him against the common foe? My right hon. Friend condemned the Resolution of the right hon. Baronet, because he said, with great force and truth, that it—Means committing your gallant Army to a struggle from year to year in a tropical climate with people who are courageous by birth and courageous by fanaticism. It means a despotic Government to be established and upheld by British hands against those who hate it.But does not this description also apply to the policy of the Government? Are they not "committing our gallant Army to a struggle in a tropical country with a brave and fanatical people?" Are they not going "to put up a despotic Government to be upheld by British hands 1198 against those who hate it." This policy will involve us in a terrible loss of life and immense expenditure, without either any necessity or any possible advantage to this country; and I shall, therefore, take the earliest opportunity of moving—That this House, while ready to support Her Majesty's Government in any steps which may be necessary to protect the dominions of Egypt from attack by the Mahdi, would regret the extension of offensive military operations beyond the limits which may be adopted as the permanent frontier of Egypt.
§ MR. STUART-WORTLEY
Sir, the Government, as it appears from the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister, have nothing to reply to the grave charges contained in the Motion of the right hon. Baronet (Sir Stafford Northcote), except, first, that up to a certain time it was open to General Gordon to have escaped to the South by the Equatorial route; secondly, that the determination of the route by which he could best be rescued was a long and difficult process; thirdly, that the physical obstacles to the rescuers were great; fourthly, that the news of his being in danger took a long time to reach England; and, lastly, that the whole question was res judicata, having been practically disposed of by the House of Commons last May. All these excuses, except the last, were capable of being very summarily answered. When we are told that General Gordon could have escaped to the Equator we need only remember that from the first he declared that, in order to save himself, he would not desert the people who had trusted in him, and whom he had been sent to save. Let the House not forget his words of the 3rd of March—How could I look the world in the face if I abandoned them and fled P As a gentleman, could you advise this course?The Government stand convicted of having made their Envoy's life depend upon his doing that which they knew was repugnant to his noblest instincts. This part of the Government defence seems to come nearer than anything else to that "climax of meanness" with which General Gordon, in the same despatch, refused to be a party. It is not possible to listen with much more patience to the right hon. Gentleman when he pleads that the choice between the Nile route and that from Suakin to Berber was a decision that required a long and 1199 difficult inquiry. Why was that inquiry not sooner begun? Why, indeed, was it not begun before the mission of General Gordon was decided upon? I was never much in love myself with the idea of sending an Envoy unarmed and practically alone. That was a step for winch this House is in no way responsible. When Parliament first assembled in 1884 the despatch of General Gordon to Egypt was announced in Her Majesty's Speech as an accomplished fact. It may be that the Opposition did not expressly include that step in the Vote of Censure with which they were not last Session slow to attack the Government. The right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister must, however, be a sufficient master of Constitutional doctrine and principles to know that even if the whole House, Opposition and all, had joined in an unanimous chorus of approval, that would in no way have lessened the responsibility of the Government for sending out General Gordon alone into the enemy's camp. We are now told, moreover, that all these accusations were disposed of by Parliament last May. Does the right hon. Gentleman seriously mean to make this plea? Does the Prime Minister think this a happy occasion for such an argument? It may be true that the Motion of the right hon. Baronet (Sir Michael Hicks-Beach) was voted down last May; but would that adverse majority, small as it was, be taken to now represent the opinion of the House of Commons, or of the public, on the question then and now in dispute? There was a great deal that was special in the circumstances of the time when that Motion was made last May. The Franchise Bill was not then out of danger, and faithful Liberals could indulge in the insinuation that the Soudan question and the Vote of Censure were being made use of to avert Reform. Since then, however, not only has that terror to Liberal consciences been removed—not only has the Opposition given the most substantial proof of its sincerity about Reform, but events of far graver importance have occurred, and throw upon this inquiry into the conduct of the Government a livid and ghastly light that did not exist before. So much for the defence which the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister has not been ashamed to put forward in answer to the Vote of Censure. There is, indeed, it must be 1200 confessed, little else that could be put forward in excuse for errors so gross. With respect, however, to the future, I believe that no Government will be able to successfully grapple with these difficulties that is not willing to run the risk of incurring unpopularity in order to act vigorously or fearlessly in whatever direction their duty may seem to point. We have had enough of this angling for popularity. There are far nobler objects for English Ministers than the union of a distracted Party. At this moment we are in doubt whether we are to regard the policy of the Government as expounded by the Prime Minister's warlike words of Thursday, or by his Machiavellian silence of Monday. Let him not hope to solve Egyptian questions by the same means by which ho unites his Party in his support. He may win warlike Liberals on Thursday by breathing fire at the Mahdi, and he may secure hon. Gentlemen below the Gangway by hinting on Monday that his truculent words had no meaning. Sooner or later he will have to address his mind to the Egyptian Question itself, and to take his attention away from watching the motions of political sections here; otherwise he will once more, and for the ninety-ninth time, be making up his mind too late. I challenge the Government to say categorically, before the end of this debate, whether they adhere to their determination, failing accommodation with the Mahdi, to overthrow his power at Khartoum without remaining at Khartoum themselves—in other words, whether they seriously intend to give to the Soudan all the horrors of conquest without the palliatives of order and settled government; whether they mean the British Army to be remembered in the Soudan, not for any of the blessings by which British conquest is known to be tempered elsewhere, but only for blind and purposeless slaughter? I have said that, in such a crisis as this, the unpopular course may have to be faced. A British occupation of Khartoum would be rightly unpopular; but it may yet turn out to be necessary. Can any Government altogether reject the opinion that the master of Khartoum can make himself, if he chooses, also the master of Egypt? Is it so very sure that the holder of Berber has it not in his power, by the diversion of waters, to stop the fertilizing inundations of Egypt? Is it 1201 inconceivable that under a Government joining the Soudan to Egypt the warlike qualities of the Soudanese may be turned in some way to the advantage and defence of Egypt herself? Is there no solution of these questions save such as will leave Egypt in such daily fear of an Arab invasion from the south, that, as a consequence, she will require the indefinitely prolonged support of British troops? If an English occupation of Khartoum be, indeed, necessary, it can only be because it may tend to the solution of some of these questions? The hon. Member for Leicester (Mr. Picton) reminds us, in language with which I have much sympathy, that England is great enough to have no need to think of prestige. I have nothing but admiration for the love of the English people for peace; but, unfortunately, it is not as if we had to deal all over the world with the strong common sense of the British democracy. We have to consider in our actions the effect upon savage or fanatical races, who, all the world over, are living either as subjects or as neighbours of British Colonies. To these Colonies the question of prestige is one of very serious reality. The acceptance of the splendid offers by the Colonies of military assistance to the Mother Country has so far advanced the question of Colonial Confederation that soon the electors of these Islands will have lost the legal as well as the moral right to a sole voice in questions concerning the Empire as a whole. When that day comes, it will be no longer possible for the Imperial or Federal policy to disregard considerations of prestige. The Prime Minister appeals to the House not to present the spectacle in this crisis of a "disparaged Government." I believe that, so far from its being an evil, the best thing of all at the present crisis, with all the other tasks on our hands, of which the Mover of the Amendment speaks, would be the spectacle of a changed or reconstructed Ministry in England, following upon a vote of this House; for that would prove to the world that there are limits beyond which you cannot safely try the patience, even of the good-humoured and pacific democracy of England. The interest of England abroad will not be served by its appearing that England prefers a Minister like the Prime Minister, who is always at war without gaining 1202 his point, to such a Minister as his great Predecessor, who gained his point without making a war.
§ MR. BORLASE
I am sorry that the hon. Member who was the last to address the House (Mr. Stuart-Wortley) has left it, because I was desirous of congratulating him on the extremely moderate tone of his speech—a speech with many points in which I find little matter for difference. I am sorry, also, that my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle (Mr. John Morley) is not in his place, as I wished to assure him how truly I sympathize with him in the spirit which has dictated the Amendment which we are now considering. That Amendment, and the straightforward speech in which he proposed it, gives expression to a feeling in the country far more widespread and deep-rooted than is supposed by those who think they gather the views of the marketplaces in the country from those of the Jingo agitators of the London Press. In my own part of England, where the teachings of Wesley have indelibly impressed on the hearts and on the character of the people the duty of advocating peace, the feeling, as far as I can gauge it, is one of sincere sorrow—I might even say, in many cases, of silent humiliation—that, owing to the fact that Her Majesty's Government have followed on the lines of the Egyptian policy laid down for them by their Predecessors, they have been once and again entrapped into war. The public anxiety is, of course, to be rid of this war in the Soudan, and to have some assurance that the Forces now being sent out are not to be employed in any permanent retention of these Provinces. Aye, but it is something more than this. If the truth be known, it is to be rid also of that country in which, as a nation, we never should have set foot at all—to be rid of the responsibilities in Egypt itself—in that country where history repeats herself with fatal accuracy; that selfsame Egypt which contributed not a little to the decline and fall of the most firmly-established Empire that the world has ever seen or known—and which seems to hold out a like fate to those who, allowing themselves to be allured up the waters of the Nile, find themselves at last in a spot where the inanimate powers of Nature on the one hand, and the bravery and the pa- 1203 triotism of the inhabitants on the other, are arrayed against them; and where, oppressed with responsibilities whose origin is obscure, and weighted down with engagements, whose end is purposeless, they have, in the long run, sooner or later, either to fall victims to that valour which, in the British soldier, is something far more than the mere concomitant of despair, or to retreat without the accomplishment of one single object which can accrue to the good of mankind. It is an old proverb, the truth of which has often occurred to me, that "Egypt is a broken reed, on the which, if a man lean, it will go into his hand. "I believe, then, that the expression of public feeling contained in the Amendment of my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle, in favour of a new departure at this juncture in the direction of peace, rests not merely on a desire to leave Khartoum alone, but to take now the first step towards clearing out of Egypt altogether. For that new departure there are, doubtless, many special as well as general reasons. I listened, with the greatest attention, to the speech of the right hon. Gentleman at the head of Her Majesty's Government yesterday; but—probably it was owing to my own stupidity—I failed to gather, in any one categorical statement, what is the precise object, intention, ultimate destination, and duty of the very large Expedition now leaving our shores. The old objects are gone. They have flown on before us, like the sand-storms in the Desert, until they have vanished from our view. The object of the Expedition of Lord Wolseley ceased with the death of him whom he was sent to rescue. The objects of General Gordon had well-high ceased before his death. With his death they all—save one of dubious utility, to which I will presently refer—ceased too. Instead of being a messenger of peace, as it was the primary object of the Government that he should be, circumstances over which he had no control transformed him into an instrument of war. And as to the particular objects. Where are the garrisons ho was sent to relieve? Where are the wives and children and employés? Where that mass of people which were the real millstone, which, because of his great humanity, he allowed to be hung round his neck by the Cairo authorities in February, 1884;—that weight of responsibility, 1204 which was the real cause of his declining to accept the alternative of what he considered would have been a base and cowardly flight. It was a task of Hercules which he undertook; and, as it was one which never should have been imposed on him, I cannot, in this respect, hold the Government perfectly free from blame. I said—" Where are the garrisons?"—Tokar, Sinkat, Berber, and the rest? It is truly horrible to contemplate the destruction which, once again in the history of Egypt, a race of utter barbarians, actuated by fanaticism, has inflicted on the half-civilized and effeminate people of the Lower Nile! All these objects, then, are gone; and, as to the Slave Trade, it is as flourishing as ever; and never can be repressed in the Soudan, except by the presence of garrisons and cruisers on the Red Sea. I said—"These objects are all gone, save one." That one is the establishment of some control at Khartoum. In a strange sense, that object has been gained by the death of General Gordon. Looking at the matter for a moment in this light, I wish, Sir, to call the attention of the House to a telegraphic despatch, dated February 18, 1884, in which Consul Power wires to Sir Evelyn Baring, from Khartoum—To-day Proclamations up everywhere from Gordon, acknowledging Mohammed Ahmed (that is, the Mahdi) as Sultan of Kordofan, remitting half taxes, and saying buying and selling of slaves will not be interfered with. This," he adds, "has had the best possible effect among the Arabs."—[Egypt. No 12 (1884), p. 68.]It is true that this appointment of the Mahdi may have been nothing but a passing thought in General Gordon's mind; that it was soon found that another course was preferable; that the Mahdi cared to receive nothing from us; but it proves to us that the idea crossed General Gordon's mind, when he was canvassing the various methods by which a secure Government could be formed, that the Mahdi might be a man capable of bearing rule. Now, this is the same man who has now gained for himself the possession of supreme power at Khartoum. Is it, then, quite beyond belief that in him we may see some glimmering of a hope for a peaceful solution of the difficulty? It is one of the extraordinary circumstances of our position that we absolutely know nothing of him against whom we have 1205 turned our arms—nothing of his capacities; indeed, I am not even aware that we know anything authentic even about hi8 personal appearance at all. But this is by the way. The question is, what is the object of our present Expedition to Egypt? Is it to take Khartoum, with the object of remaining there, and bolstering up a Government in contradiction to the wishes of the people? If so, I, for one, am against it. Is it to retire? If so, we had better not go; for we shall only be upsetting an existing form of Government, which may right itself, in order to produce absolute anarchy. There is, on this point, a true saying of General Gordon's, which, in one sentence, hits off exactly what the situation was with regard to himself, and which would be equally applicable to us if we try to organize a temporary Government with the intention of retreating. On March 10 he says—"It is evident that no one will throw in his fortunes with a departing Government." In saying this he admits also what he distinctly states in another place, that "perhaps it was a mistake to send him." But, although I have said all this in favour of my hon. Friend's Amendment, there is an object which occurs to me for placing a large Force in Egypt just now. The function of power is to protect; and the protection of our Forces, already out there, is our first duty. We hear to-day, in the papers, that it is probable that the Force under General Braekenbury will spend the summer at Abou Hamed, and that that of Lord Wolseley will do so at Korti. They cannot descend the river. They are too late for that. Now, neither of these positions is enviable, especially the former. There are no hills to go to to escape the heat. The flat, boundless, burning Desert is around them. The climate is against them; the river is against them; the ammunition and guns captured in Khartoum are turned against them; even the friendly tribes must bend to the storm which is upon them. The Mahdi's position is that of Cœsar when he crossed the Rubicon. He has only to stamp his foot on the ground, and men for the Army will spring up from the earth. Now, Sir, if we place ourselves in force at Suakin, I contend that we shall be, at all events, within reach of our men by that route. 1206 Our very presence there—no matter what we may be able to effect—would have, at least, a good moral influence in checking any attack or blockade which might be attempted; and, a3 the summer goes on, the Mahdi will have time to consider whether he will elect to possess the Soudan, and govern, as best he can, on terms which secure the safety of Egypt, or to confront the British Forces, with the certainty of ultimate failure and annihilation. It is because, then, I believe that the sending of this Force—which, indeed, now we cannot stay—may rather operate in the direction of peace than in that of war, that I cannot—though I regret it, for in the abstract he has my grateful sympathy—go into the Lobby with my hon. Friend. I know that there is much force in the question which is perpetually asked—which he, indeed, asked in his speech—Is it safe to tie our right arm behind our back? Is it safe to lock away so large a Force of our best men in the Lybian Desert? Are things so smooth at home? Does not the bravado of the insurrectionist intrude itself on us even here in this House? Are our foreign relations so extremely pacific? Is it not an open secret that a very near neighbour of ours indeed, and one who should ever be our best friend, was prepared to take a very strong step indeed the other day, if the Egyptian financial question had not passed a particular turnstile in its course? Are there not those opposite us in this House, who, by their importunity, may succeed in disturbing our relations with Russia? Well, Sir, supposing all this is so, and suppose a large Force to be on the shore of the Red Sea. My contention is, that it would be so much nearer to those vital centres where disturbance might arise—so much nearer, for instance, to the Suez Canal—and therefore so much the more capable of preventing a hostile intention, should there be one on the part of any nation, from being carried out. Now, I wish to make a few remarks on a point or two in the speech of the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Launceston (Sir Hardinge Giffard). He twitted us, as we are so often twitted, with not carrying out General Gordon's wishes; and he especially referred to three things. That we did not send Zebehr; that we did not advance Graham's Force from Sua- 1207 kin to Berber; and that we did not send 200 Indian troops to Berber, and a like number of English ones to Wady Haifa. Now, with respect to Zebehr, I do not want to go over all the ground again. I merely wish to prove the wisdom of the Government in not sending him, by reminding the House of what has happened since. Who was it that betrayed Gordon? Who was Ferhat Pasha? The same man of whom we read in a despatch from Gordon, dated Berber, February 12, as follows:—The number of applications for appointments, some 400, show that the people evidently contemplate nothing hut peace. Ferhat Bey, late Mudir here, kept up his nefarious doings even after Hicks's defeat. One can scarcely understand such madness."—[Egypt, No. 12 (1884), p. 89.]Well, Sir, Gordon forgave him, as he had forgiven Zebehr; but he betrayed him for all that. He and Zebehr stood, in this respect, in the same relation to Gordon. But there was this difference in the cases—Ferhat had no grudge against Gordon, except that he had been found out. Zebehr had a grudge against Gordon, the greatest a man can have, since Gordon had caused his son's death for an act of treachery. Here, then, was the result of forgiveness. Would the Government have been justified in placing Gordon in the hands of such a man? Now, the next ground of complaint is as to the Suakin-Berber advance. Lot me read to the House a despatch, which I have not yet seen quoted in the debate, from one whose advice, above all others, the War Office was bound to listen to, especially when, as we know, it was supported by Military Authorities at home—I mean that of General Stephenson. Writing to the noble Marquess the Secretary of State for War (the Marquess of Hartington), from Cairo, on March 5, he says—Graham telegraphs suggesting that Gordon Pasha ho asked if he would recommend force under Graham operating on line Suakin Berber; if so, how far he would he prepared to cooperate? …. Baring tells me that Gordon attaches importance to this route being opened. I am not prepared to recommend Graham's force marching to Berber, owing to scarcity of water on road."—[Ibid., p. 141.]Now, I appeal to right hon. Gentlemen opposite, who may have occupied, or might have been occupying at that date, the post which is now filled by my noble Friend. Would they, could they, have 1208 taken any other course, considering the source of the advice and that it was backed up by Sir Evelyn Baring, than that taken by the noble Marquess, when he telegraphed at once as follows to General Graham:—Yours 5th forwarded by General Stephenson. Operations at considerable distance from Suakin not to be undertaken."—[Ibid.]Well, I know that I shall be told "Yes; but General Stephenson changed his opinion." Did he; and to what extent? I know the despatch. It is one from Sir Evelyn Baring to Earl Granville on March 24. He says—An effort should be made to help General Gordon from Suakin, if it is at all a possible military operation. General Stephenson and Sir Evelyn Wood, whilst admitting the very great risk to the health of the troops, besides the extraordinary military risks, are of opinion that the undertaking is possible."—[Ibid., p. 186.]Possible! A blank possibility of getting through; with an overwhelming probability of disaster. Again, I say, if right hon. Gentlemen opposite had had to deal with this matter, I give them the credit of thinking that the wise course adopted by Earl Granville would have been that which would have commended itself to them. He writes—Having regard to the dangers of the climate of the Soudan at this time of the year, as well as to the extraordinary risk from a military point of view, Her Majesty's Government do not think it justifiable to send a British expedition to Berber."—[Egypt. No. 13 (1884), p. 1.]Later on, when asked his opinion, Mr. Egerton, on the 23rd of April, telegraphs to Earl Granville—It would be almost madness to run the risk of sending an English or Egyptian force now to Berber by the route suggested."—[Ibid., p. 15.]In the face of such evidence on the spot, what course was open but refusal? Now, the third complaint is that, when subsequently General Gordon asked that a Force of 200 Indian Cavalry should be sent to Berber, and a similar Force of British Cavalry to Wady Halfa—["Hear, hear!"]—this request was also refused. The hon. Member opposite me (Mr. Ashmead-Bartlett) thinks they ought. What! Send away into the Desert two squadrons to form fresh centres of attack! Has it not been bad enough to lose the garrisons we have lost, without incurring the danger of setting up fresh ones? From a military point of view, it was impos- 1209 sible. On the 10th of April, Sir Evelyn Baring telegraphed to Gordon as follows:—General Stephenson thinks the proposed step of sending English troops to Wady Halfa (as he—Gordon—suggests) is open to strong objections on account of the climate during the summer months; and he also considers it unwise to leave a detachment at so great a distance from its hase."—[Ibid., p. 10.]Here is the full justification of the Government. Enough, then, has been said on these points. The fact remains that Gordon's rescue was impossible. Once more in the history of the world one man has died for the people. He has laid down his life, not even for his friends, hut because of his sacred engagement to protect the wives and families of those who were strangers in race and religion to himself. If any man ever did so, he has died a Christian hero's death. It was unwise; it was an act, indeed, of inconceivable temerity ever to have allowed him to take over those Cairo instructions at all. But we must remember that the truth of the situation was not known at that time. His first duty was to report. Much less could the sequel have been foreseen. If it could have been, the action of Her Majesty's Government would indeed have been criminal. As it is, the Government, in my opinion, deserves our sympathy rather than our blame. They sowed the wind unwittingly. They have reaped the whirlwind, and on none has it fallen, you may depend, half so heavily as on themselves. It is useless for my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle, in his Amendment, to say in effect—"We will say nothing about the seed-sowing, but we object to the harvest coming up." It was in that seed-sowing that the origin and source of all our subsequent complications are to be found—complications from which it was impossible to extricate either Gordon or ourselves. The Government have not altered their policy; and for the attitude they are taking, now that the storm has fallen on them, they seem to me to deserve—rather than a Vote of Censure, no matter how mild may be its terms—thanks similar to those which, on a memorable occasion, were accorded by the people of Rome to one who, desperate though the situation was, would not and did not "despair of the Republic."
§ MR. LONG
said, that he entirely sympathized with the feelings to which the Resolution of the right hon. Baronet the Leader of the Opposition (Sir Stafford Northcote) gave expression. All on that side of the House would agree with hon. Members opposite that it was very desirable to get rid of the war in the Soudan; but few would he ready to do so, unless our troops could be withdrawn in a manner honourable to the nation, and upon the lines distinctly laid down by the distinguished man who had sacrificed his life in the service of his country; nothing could be more unsatisfactory than for this country now to desert people who had been favourable to us during this trying time. It was clear that there was one idea with General Gordon from the beginning to the end, and that was to do nothing that would appear, in the slightest manner, to be a desertion of those who were loyal to him during his difficulties. Hon. Members opposite declared that it would now be easy for us to withdraw from the Soudan; but he (Mr. Long) did not hear one word of sympathy for the people who had suffered for their friendship to us, and who, if we were to withdraw from the Soudan hastily, would suffer still more heavily. As regarded what we had done in the past, no one could more strongly condemn the Government than the hon. Member who had last spoken (Mr. Borlase). He said that if anyone could have foreseen the result of the policy of the Government, then the Government would indeed have been criminal. But Her Majesty's Government were warned from time to time in the strongest manner possible, by speakers in the House and out of the House, that unless they adopted a more vigorous and determined policy in the Soudan, the consequences would be such as had now happened. On that side of the House they told the Government this so often, that they brought down rebukes on the Leader of the Opposition. They lost no opportunity of impressing the Government with their conviction that the want of a more vigorous and determined policy in the Soudan would produce trouble there and disgrace to this country. The Members of the Opposition were justified now in claiming that the prediction they made had now been literally ful- 1211 filled. They now charged Her Majesty's Government with having been guilty of the worst possible offence that any Government could commit—with having taken no precautions and neglected every word of advice and warning given to them, and thus having deliberately brought upon the country the shame it now had to endure. Notwithstanding that hon. Members opposite said that they regarded everything that had been done in Egypt since our interference there, and since General Gordon was sent out, as wrong, yet these Liberal Members were prepared to go into the Lobby in support of the Government, because of their fear of others whom they liked less than they did the present Government—a Government which, notwithstanding the state of affairs, had not yet indicated what their future policy would be. The time, however, was one when hon. Members ought not to think of the welfare of a Party, but of the welfare of the country. The whole history of the Soudan business was melancholy in the extreme and greatly to be deplored; but there was no more unhappy portion of it than the speech they heard last night from the Prime Minister. They would have been glad if the policy of the Government had been consistent, and if they had heard who it was they wore fighting, and for what they were going to fight. Those who were called upon to part from their nearest and dearest, who were going out to the Soudan, might feel that they grudged the lives of our gallant soldiers when they were sent in this cause loss war, brought about by a Government which declined to say what they were fighting for. It might be that the Government had a clear policy, and knew what they were about; but, if that were so, they had not thought fit to make the House a party to it, and he thought that the Opposition, and the country, which was behind the Opposition, were justified in asking Her Majesty's Government to tell them rather more clearly what their policy was going to be. It seemed to him that, from beginning to end, the despatches of General Gordon pointed to one line of action. They had been told by the Prime Minister that Gordon could have escaped from Khartoum if he had liked, but that his patriotism and devotion to his country prevented 1212 him from exercising that power. But on March 3 he had asked—As a gentleman, could you advise this course? It may have been a mistake to send me up; but having been done, I have no option but to see evacuation through; for even if I was mean enough to escape I have no power to do so."—[Egypt, No. 12 (1884), p. 156.]That was a plain answer to the statement of Her Majesty's Government. When the Government had found themselves in a position of difficulty, on account of their weakness and vacillation, they had turned to the one man who might save them from the consequences, and, having sent him out, as a scapegoat into the Desert, laden with all their sins upon his head, they had deserted him. That was a charge which could not be brought too often against Her Majesty's Government; and, with all the rhetoric that the Government could bring to bear on the matter, they could never acquit themselves of that charge. They might be told that on that side of the House they welcomed this as an opportunity for a Party triumph; but, for himself, he disclaimed any such feeling, and there was nobody on the Conservative Benches who would more gladly see a Conservative Government replace the present incompetent Administration than he would; but he, and he believed all other Conservatives, would gladly have foregone that triumph, if he could have foregone the present national disgrace and the national shame. Representing as he did an agricultural constituency, he would much have preferred the Government should have been strong enough to preserve the national honour, for there was nothing which men of all classes felt more deeply than the national and individual disgrace of this desertion of our gallant hero through the want of policy and vacillation of a Government which even now declined to realize the position.
§ MR. ARTHUR ARNOLD
said, that he was inclined to express a hope—which he trusted was not too late—that this debate would have a practical character; that they would remember that it was their duty not to mourn over the circumstances of the past, but rather to turn to the future, and endeavour, as far as they could in the light of the Papers before them, to give their best counsel and aid to the Government in the difficult position in which the affairs of Egypt 1213 were now placed. They all knew the historical part of the case. Even if it were true—That the course pursued by Her Majesty's Government in respect to the affairs of Egypt and the Soudan, has involved a great sacrifice of valuable lives and a heavy expenditure without any beneficial result,he could only say that he was not disposed to add to that sacrifice any waste of the time of Parliament. They were rather concerned, he thought, with the latter part of the Motion; but that was so queerly composed that its meaning could only be guessed at. Literally, the Motion bound those who supported it to undertake the security of the whole of the Soudan, which he was sure was contrary to the wish of the House. But that was not the meaning of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for North Devon (Sir Stafford Northcote). It was only the fault of his draftsman. The right hon. Gentleman meant, he (Mr. Arthur Arnold) took it, that they were to do, in the Soudan, what might be necessary for the security of Egypt. He did not gather, however, that the right hon. Gentleman, by his policy, would do more in that way than the Prime Minister proposed to accomplish; and, that being so, there was nothing left of the Resolution except the retrospective censure—a most vain and useless proceeding, even if it were just. It seemed to him (Mr. Arthur Arnold) that there had been a series of mistakes made in regard to Egypt; but they had not been those of the Government only. A year ago they had heard the Prime Minister speak of General Gordon as "the highest authority on the subject," yet everyone now knew that Gordon made a terrible mistake when he set out alone upon that dangerous and perilous journey to Khartoum. If they were to adopt the spirit of Gordon, ho could understand that one, who had his implicit faith in the great purposes of an all-governing and beneficent Power, might well believe that such a life and death were designed for our instruction; that they might be set up before our eyes as a model of courage and endurance, of piety and virtue, such as made the human race illustrious, and such as elevated mankind. He could not find it in his heart to do nothing but mourn over a death so enviable and glorious, nor could he consent to say that that death was attributable to the fault 1214 or neglect of those who had not earlier sent relief when he read the messages which had come from Gordon, and especially those of the latest date, and when he remembered that treachery was never at any time absent from his dwelling in Khartoum. It was evident that the Government had been slow to enter the Soudan, and eager to leave it. Remembering Gordon's words, that "the Soudan is a useless possession, ever was so, and ever will be so," who could wonder at their avoidance of what Gordon called "its fearful monotony and deadly climate?" It was said that General Gordon was neglected, because his requirements were not carried out; but, before the House agreed to that view of the subject, they must go through all the suggestions which came from General Gordon, and they must apply to those suggestions the test of experience. For example, General Gordon suggested that 400 or 500 English Cavalry should be taken to Berber; but, as a matter of fact, no more than 400 men could, under any circumstances, have crossed at any time from Suakin to Berber, and at each stage of the Wells they must have had two and a-half days' travelling without any water at all. Then General Gordon asked for 200 troops to be sent to Wady Haifa; but did anyone believe, from recent events, that the Cavalry would have been safe at Berber, or that such a demonstration would have stayed the progress of the Mahdi? He honoured the memory of General Gordon as a possession precious to all Englishmen; but he thought he saw now that Gordon's estimate of the Mahdi movement had been throughout erroneous. When the Mahdi was at El Obeid, in February, Gordon was for destroying or smashing him; and, for the work, asked for £100,000 and 200 English troops at Wady Haifa. Was there anyone who now believed that an advance to El Oboid, for the purpose of smashing the Mahdi a year ago, with such a force as General Gordon possessed or suggested would have been effective? It was said that whereas the Government then refused to send 200, they had now to send 20,000. It was taken for granted that the 200 would have smashed the Mahdi. He could only say that, after reading the Papers just issued, he was most thankful the Government of the country had not been in the hands of those who 1215 were so credulous. He had said in May last that he wished Gordon had never left Jerusalem, and the wish had only been strengthened in the anxious mouths that had since elapsed. When General Gordon entered Khartoum, ho entered into a trap from which it was almost impossible for him to escape alive. His presence in Khartoum seemed to have increased the power of the Mahdi's movement. His presence there seemed to have acted very much as a foreign body did in a wound, by increasing the inflammation. With reference to the Proclamations issued by General Gordon, and particularly that one in which he denounced the person styling himself the Mahdi, he (Mr. Arthur Arnold) had, he thought, visited most of the Mahommedan States of the world, and he had often heard the word "Mahdi" on the lips of the people. There wore millions of Mahommedans who, in their daily prayers, never forgot to pray for the coming of the Mahdi, and with whom it was their principal tenet to accept the advent of such a person. The title of Mahdi was one of wonderful power; but its power when associated with success became enormous and overwhelming. The civilization of Egypt was such as the followers of the Mahdi had no idea of, and was infinitely greater than anything they had ever known or seen. He thought it was as certain as sunrise that but for the presence of English troops such civilization—and it was not inconsiderable—as existed in that country would be at the mercy of those ignorant and fanatical hill tribes. If they saw but the Suez Canal, it was his belief, as well as his fear, that they would destroy it, because they would regard it as a means for the introduction into their country of the infidel whom it was their great desire to keep out. With regard to a people so helpless as the Egyptians, he considered the intervention of some Foreign Power useful, and, indeed, inevitable. The Amendment of his hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle (Mr. John Morley) he regarded as insufficient and inaccurate. He thought that not the Government only, but the independent Members of the House would deserve a Vote of Censure if, in the circumstances in which the country was placed, they refrained from expressing an opinion upon the policy of the Government, and did not conceive it to be 1216 their duty to form the best judgment the opportunity afforded. They need not be historical; but they were bound to express their opinion upon that policy, so far as it was concerned with the present position of affairs. For example, their troops were going to clear the way to Suakin from Berber. It was plain, ho thought, from the Papers lately distributed, that they had not before them all the communications from Lord Wolseley to the Government. They gathered from the Prime Minister that the movement from Suakin, in order to open up the road to Berber, was needed for the security of our troops. That was in accordance with general belief. He thought they were compelled to give some opinion upon it. If it was needed for the security of Lord Wolseley's Force, then, and then only, he thought it deserved the approval of the House of Commons. It seemed to be imprudent and unnecessary on the part of the Government to announce their determination to overthrow the power of the Mahdi at Khartoum. It might be needful for the protection of Egypt to overthrow the power of the Mahdi; but it might not be necessary to do it at Khartoum. On the contrary, the time might not be distant when it would be both expedient and desirable for the Government to make an accommodation with the Mahdi at Khartoum. The Amendment of his hon. Friend imputed to the Government that which they had never announced. The Amendment charged the Government with a general intention to overthrow the power of the Mahdi. The Government, as he understood, declared no such intention. They would, indeed, be a Government of imbeciles if they had made such a decision; and ho should not then hesitate to join in his hon. Friend (Mr. John Morley's) Vote of Censure. If the Mahdi were to return to Darfour or Kordofan, the Government would not, he was sure, propose to use the Forces of the Crown for the overthrow of his power. Therefore, if he were to vote for the Amendment of his hon. Friend, he should be regretting a decision of the Government which the Government had never formed. But the fault of his hon. Friend's Amendment was two-fold. It imputed to the Government that which the Government had never asserted—an intention to overthrow the Mahdi wher- 1217 ever he might be. He should certainly support an Amendment in the sense of that of his hon. Friend, if the Government had decided to follow the Mahdi anywhere, even to the Equator. But they had done nothing of the sort; indeed, if they had done so, they would not have received the support of any intelligent Member of the House; they had expressly limited their operations against the Mahdi. It was unfortunate that they had mentioned Khartoum, where they might hereafter be ready to recognize the Mahdi's power. If his hon. Friend had placed the words "at Khartoum" at the end of his Amendment, then they should have known what they were voting for. The Amendment had another fault, and this fault was equally grave. Suppose that in three months the Mahdi was at Dongola or at Wady Haifa, in what position should he (Mr. Arthur Arnold) be if he had supported the Amendment of his hon. Friend? He should have consented to the entry of the Mahdi and the tribes which followed him into Egypt. To that he was not prepared to consent. Suppose the power of the Mahdi had reached Cairo, as it most surely would were there no British troops in Egypt, the hand of the Government would be stayed were the Amendment of his hon. Friend adopted. He was convinced that the power of the Mahdi would be ruinous to Egypt; and he was quite willing to use the Forces of the Crown to protect the feeble yet industrious people of the Delta against invasion by these Desert hordes. Such civilization as existed in the Delta could not be saved by the Egyptian people themselves. All the evidence went to show the truth of Lord Northbrook's Report that—The Natives of Egypt do not appear to possess the qualities which are required to form really reliable troops.Much as they admired General Gordon, they must not blindly accept his statements. Experience had proved this. He had told them that as soon as troops were sent, or even with the mere rumour of troops, the movement would end. The Mahdi's siege of Obeid in 1883 was as difficult as his siege of Khartoum. They saw that Gordon was mistaken. Our troops, unconquered and unconquerable, reached the Nile far above Berber, yet the Mahdi's movement was a long way from being ended. Neither the Motion 1218 nor the Amendment touched upon that most important decision of the Government—namely, the construction of a railway from Suakin to Berber. He regarded that as of equal, if not of greater, importance than any other decision. He agreed with Lord Dufferin—That the completion of this enterprize would at once change all the elements of the problem.He supposed they were committed to the execution of this railway; he supposed the contract had been concluded, and that the nation was bound by its terms; he supposed that nothing would have induced the Government to give their consent to its construction otherwise than that it was essential for the safety of our Army, and that there was no escape from this costly work. The construction of this railway was one of the most important factors in the ease with which they had to deal; and, if constructed with English money, he would not willingly be a party to handing it over to possible destruction. Instead of the point of command being from Egypt or the Nile, the point of command of the Eastern Soudan would be entirely changed; the base—the power of command—would be changed to the Red Sea. If they tapped the Nile by this railway, the Government would certainly be wrong if they did not establish a Government in the Soudan which would endeavour to protect so enormous and costly a work; for possibly in the future it might be that this railway would bring such prosperity and civilization to the Soudan as to illustrate once more that war, which was mischief on the largest scale, sometimes carried advantages in its train.
§ MR. ASHMEAD-BARTLETT
said, that he had pleasure in congratulating the hon. Member for Salford (Mr. Arthur Arnold) upon his statesmanlike speech. It was, however, a pity the hon. Member did not deliver his speech six months ago, and then give his support to the Opposition. At that period the Conservative Party gave in good time the warnings which the hon. Member advanced now, though too late to be of effect. He regretted, however, that the hon. Member should have put words in the mouth of General Gordon which he had never uttered. General Gordon had never said he could overthrow the Mahdi with 500 men. What he had said last 1219 March was this—that if he had 500 determined men he could nip in the bud and destroy the incipient revolt around and North of Khartoum, which soon developed to such a terrible extent, owing to the neglect of General Gordon's warnings by Her Majesty's Ministers. The hon. Member for Sheffield (Mr. Stuart-Wortley) had said that we were face to face in Egypt with a greater crisis than ever before. About that he (Mr. Ashmead-Bartlett) thought there could be no doubt. Never since the Forces of England overcame the French tyrant 70 years ago had England been confronted with so serious a state of affairs. While our Forces in the Soudan were struggling against the savage fanaticism which the neglect of the Government had allowed to reach its present dimensions, the traditional perfidy and aggression of our great rival in Asia was unmasking itself, and threatening the very existence of our Indian Empire. The French "Ally" of the Government was counter-working them in every quarter of the globe, sapping up to Hindostanon the East, paralyzing our valuable trade with China, and unscrupulously intriguing against British interests in Egypt. In vain did the Ministers of the Crown shovel loadfuls of sacrifices down the throat of the French Republic. The cry was ever "more!" At a moment when the friendship of the Head of the Mahommedan faith would be invaluable to England, as the largest Mahommedan Power in the world, the British Ministry were driving the Ottoman Government and its 300,000 valiant warriors into the arms of our foes by the absurd injustice and persecution which had its origin in the factious ravings of 1877. And, worst and most monstrous and fatal blunder of all, the Prime Minister and his Colleagues had deliberately alienated the splendid and invincible support of the German Powers, the natural Allies of England. Austria, Germany, and England could have stood against the world. All the machinations of those perpetual disturbers of European peace—the restless and anarchic Republic of Paris and the dark and treacherous despotism of St. Petersburg—would have been futile against such a peace union. Still he did not think the situation hopeless. It was very far from it; but in order that it should not be rendered hopeless it was absolutely 1220 necessary, if the country was to be rescued from despair, that the Government should display those qualities of vigour and statesmanship in which they had thus far been so singularly and absolutely lacking. They must show that they had the head to conceive, the heart to carry through, and the hand to strike, in place of the aimless, divided, and, disastrous counsels that had up to now paralyzed the arm of England. It was necessary to have statesmen who could govern, and Ministers who could rule. The retrospect of the past three years in Egypt was dreary enough; but it became appalling when it was remembered that all this frightful sacrifice of blood and treasure, all this accumulated slaughter, enslavement, outrage, misery, and black ruin, had been absolutely without fruit, devoid of all beneficial result. £10,000,000 of extra burdens had the blundering and shuffling of the British Cabinet laid upon those harmless and docile Fellaheen, whose claims they had trampled under foot. £10,000,000 more of our Imperial resources had they flung away into the abyss of their purposeless ineptitude. Heaven alone knew how many millions further would be sunk in the tardy and panic-stricken attempt to retrieve the disasters caused by their delay, feebleness, and shirking of bounden responsibilities. Most horrible of all was the tale of the needless butchery and wholesale massacre, the hecatombs of human victims that had been offered up to this Moloch of blindness and cowardice. Never since the days of Tamerlane had such a mass of human agony been known as that which the Mahdi of Kordofan and the Mahdis of the Treasury Bench had piled up throughout the Soudan. Yet once again the apostles of sham philanthropy and retreat were trying to make capital out of all that had happened, and once more urging their craven and sanguinary policy of surrender upon the nation. Those men who had done their best to bring about "red ruin and the breaking up of laws" in Asia, South Africa, Ireland, and Egypt were once more at their disintegrating work. Those so-called friends of peace, who had caused more bloody wars than all the Jingoes and Imperialists that ever lived, were again preaching their base and craven gospel of "scuttle" and anarchy. But the nation had had enough and too much of them. It was 1221 weary of that mock morality which meant devastation, slavery, and woe; it was weary of that sickly sentimentalism which carried ruin and disgrace in its wake. It was sick to death of that sham humanity, which meant wanton bloodshed and fruitless massacre. It would have no more of that fatal policy of war without honour and peace with shame. The Prime Minister had based his defence—if defence it could be called—upon two grounds, the first that General Gordon could have escaped when he pleased; the second, that the Government had no reason to believe that he was in danger in Khartoum. But if it were true that Gordon could have escaped, how could it be supposed for one moment that a British officer, much less a Christian hero, would have been guilty of such cowardice and baseness as to be willing, in order to save his own life, to abandon the mission upon which he had been sent, and to desert the people whom he had gone out to rescue? Gordon had not only stated that he would not be so mean as to leave those people, but that he could not if he would. General Gordon said—I stay in Khartoum, because the Arabs have shut us in and will not let us out. The people, also, would not let me go unless I gave them some Government or took them with me, which I could not do.The Prime Minister had frequently told the House that Khartoum was in no danger; but he thought the country was already convinced of the extraordinary perversity of the Prime Minister's views on the subject. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bradford (Mr. W. E. Forster) had said that the Prime Minister could persuade most people of most things, and himself of anything; but he (Mr. Ashmead-Bartlett) was perfectly sure that even the Prime Minister could not convince the people of England that Khartoum had not been long in imminent danger. The hon. Member opposite (Mr. Arthur Arnold) thought, with the Prime Minister, that there was no effusion of blood at Khartoum. But upon what evidence was such an opinion founded, for all the evidence had pointed to the contrary? Dismissing, for the sake of argument, the circumstantial accounts of barbarous slaughter, which correspondents at Gubat had gathered from the lips of the refugees that came back with Sir Charles Wilson, there was 1222 ample other evidence. There was the testimony of Gordon's trusted messenger, George, who stated that all the notables and inhabitants that had been so long faithful were, with their families, cruelly butchered, and their bodies thrown into the Nile. The families of the soldiers on Gordon's steamers were also killed; and piteous accounts of the intensity of the soldiers' grief had come home to us. He never could understand how, with the knowledge of what was going on in Khartoum, the Prime Minister could at any moment say that Gordon was not in deadly peril. Gordon informed them of the dangers of his position by implication in his despatches. They knew that he stood alone in a city surrounded by savage fanatics; that he had no reliable troops with him. The great city, that his courage and genius alone guarded, was poorly fortified. Gordon had no money, no officers, consolers, friends, save only the gallant Stewart. Within seven weeks of his arrival he was attacked and surrounded. His wretched troops were badly defeated in March, and Khartoum was at once closely beleaguered by savage foes. Yet Ministers had the head and the heart to say he was in no danger. Gordon in no danger! He was alone in that far-distant land, threatened by savage and triumphant fanatics, surrounded by an ignorant and largely hostile population. The story of General Gordon's long desertion is too well known, too indelibly branded on the mind of the English people to need repetition now. Every suggestion he made, every advice he offered, every help he asked for was neglected, contemned, and refused. Zebehr, the five officers, the 200 British soldiers at Wady Haifa, the Indian troops at Berber, the opening of the Berber road by Graham, the £200,000, and 2,000 Turkish volunteers, for which, in despair of British help, he prayed, were all deliberately and heartlessly refused to him. Insolent and idiotic messages about his pacific mission, and denying him military aid, were sent by the Cabinet to their devoted officer at Khartoum. He had exhausted every effort to bring about a peaceful settlement; he was in deadly peril, attacked and beleaguered by savage fanatics. Yet Ministers could say that he was in no danger and under no constraint to remain at Khartoum. Mr. Power's 1223 able and pathetic despatches were also treated with cold contempt. The Prime Minister spoke of the reference to them by the Leader of the Opposition as "a farce." Just so he derided the references to the gallant but ill-starred General Hicks in these words—"I thought we had had enough of General Hicks." Yet, in face of this knowledge, the Prime Minister had distinctly asserted that neither Khartoum nor Gordon was in any danger. The result was well known. The Government said that Gordon could escape; and yet Colonel Stewart, the only man who tried to escape, or rather who was forced by Gordon to make the attempt, came to an untimely death on his way down the Nile. Then the Prime Minister said that Gordon could escape by the Equator, as if that were an easy thing to do. Had the Prime Minister any idea of the dangers of that route? Had he thought of the difficulties of the hundreds of miles of desert, of the immense difficulties of the rivers, of the savage tribes that would have to be traversed? Gordon himself never spoke of the retreat to the Equator as an easy matter; but, on the contrary, he spoke of it as a last resource in that memorable telegram in which he declared that indelible disgrace would attach to the Government if they deserted the garrisons. He (Mr. Ashmead-Bartlett) would not do more than refer to the interesting telegrams of Mr. Power. One extract he would make. Thus, on April 7, Mr. Power telegraphed—Khartoum is at present the centre of an enormous rebel camp. Our store of Krupp ammunition is rather short. The situation is now very critical. We are trying to run a steamer through the rebel lines to Berber. Today arrived an unciphered telegram sent from Sir Evelyn Baring to Berber, saying that no English troops would be sent to that place—in a word, clearly indicating that General Gordon and the others who have been faithful to the Government are thrown over. To retreat on Berber is impossible. Sir Evelyn Baring's unciphered telegram to that place will quickly be spread abroad, and the Arabs will learn that the members of the English Government have turned down their thumbs while General Gordon is struggling here. A retreat on the Congo will entail great hardships.Mr. Power's messages were full of information as to the dangers at Khartoum; they told Gordon's mind more clearly than Gordon himself would have told it; and they showed how impossible it was, in 1224 the face of the abandonment by England, that the garrison, or the people, or any portion of them could escape. That was a point with regard to the action of the Government which was worth the attention of the House. The Prime Minister had dwelt on the fact that there was no delay on the part of the Ministry; but he (Mr. Ashmead-Bartlett) would like to have the delay that took place between August 3 and August 23 explained a little better. He asked for a Vote of Credit on August 3; and yet, down to August 23, the Prime Minister prevented all action being taken in spite of the urgent remonstrances of his Colleagues. He had caused the Vote to be practically worthless until August 23; and, if that were so, then those three weeks were responsible for the death of General Gordon; for those three weeks would have saved him, and halved the cost of Lord Wolseley's Expedition. Lord Wolseley himself had repeatedly said that his Expedition was started from England a month too late. It was quite true that the Prime Minister tried to make out that the cause of Gordon's loss was treachery alone on the part of the Soudanese troops, and that treachery was inevitable under any circumstances; but that supposed that the Mahdi and his accomplices in the garrison were the greatest idiots that ever breathed. If Khartoum was in their hand, would they have deliberately put off its conveyance till the last and most dangerous moment? A more extraordinary and puerile argument was never addressed to the intelligence of the House of Commons. Did the Prime Minister mean to say that the Mahdi and the traitors were such absolute fools as to run the enormous risks they ran by delaying their treachery; that they would have deliberately incurred the enormous loss that took place in the assaults on Khartoum in December; and that they would have run the risk of the sudden advance of the British troops? The idea was preposterous and absurd. Lord Wolseley himself had stated repeatedly that the Expedition started a month too late, and the House knew whose fault it was that this precious month was lost. What was more astonishing than all was the Prime Minister's attempt to prove, in the face of the Blue Books he had issued, that Khartoum was not suffering privation, 1225 and was well-provisioned. Never was there so transparent a misrepresentation, for there was the clearest and most direct evidence to show that Khartoum was in dire distress. On December 14 came Gordon's important and mournful message, which was sent to Lord Wolseley—Our troops in Khartoum are suffering from lack of provisions. Food we still have is little; some grain and biscuit. We want you to come quickly. … In Khartoum there are no butter nor dates, and little meat. All food is very dear."—[Egypt, No. 1 (1885), p. 132.]"All food is dear; come quickly." From the lips of a hero like Gordon that message meant that the garrison was starving; that the hearts of the troops were failing them at the long and inexplicable delay; that a state of suffering and despair was being engendered, in which treachery would find its fertile opportunity. As against that solemn and pathetic message of General Gordon himself, the Prime Minister quoted the verbal report of a messenger who left Khartoum on December 28, having been only one day there. He said Gordon was in perfect health, and the soldiers on the five steamers he saw were well and happy; that the steamers had seized cattle and grain and were taking them up the river to Khartoum. What on earth does this prove—thatKhartoumwas provisioned, that food was plenty? Nothing of the kind, but only that five steamers picked up a certain amount of provisions. How far would that go among 20,000 people? By this message of Dec. 28, Gordon repeated the starvation message of Dec. 14. Yet this all important fact the Prime Minister suppressed till an intimation compelled him to refer to it. "Oh, no;" said the Prime Minister, '' the idea that Khartoum was starving is utterly absurd." It was his own statement that was purely and utterly unserving of serious notice. Then came what he thought was the worst feature in the Prime Minister's speech—his use of Gordon's slip of December 29—"Khartoum all right. Can hold out for years." Why did he not tell the House, what was well known, that Gordon had informed Lord Wolseley that certain of these written messages of his, which the Mahdi almost always intercepted, were to be taken in the exact reverse sense to which they read? The moving cause of the betrayal of Khar- 1226 toum was the announcement by Her Majesty's Ministers that Khartoum and the Soudan were to be abandoned. Those who betrayed Gordon felt it to be their only chance to make terms with the Mahdi before the British troops appeared to take Gordon away. So the hero of Khartoum perished. There was "little effusion of blood at Khartoum," said the Prime Minister. All the evidence was against him. Those troops who were faithful to Gordon were slain. All the notables and their families were butchered. What right had Ministers to assume that the savage destroyer who massacred the defenders of El Obeid and Hicks's 10,000 men; that the butchers of Sinkat and Berber would spare the loyal people of Khartoum? He (Mr. Ashmead-Bartlett) was astonished at the indifference which hon. Members opposite, who were such professed humanitarians, showed towards those horrible and unparalleled scenes of carnage and ruin which that human butcher the Mahdi, was producing throughout the Soudan. The country now realized the hollowness and hypocrisy of the crocodile tears which were shed over the Bulgarian atrocities. Last night the right hon. Gentleman had affected to display an interest in putting down the Slave Trade; but that interest came very ill indeed from the right hon. Gentleman, in view of the policy of abandonment which he had been endeavouring to carry out in the Soudan. The Government knew perfectly well that the policy of abandonment they had been forcing upon Egypt, and preaching throughout the country, was a direct encouragement to the Slave Trade. What did General Gordon write on February 21? He wrote to Sir Evelyn Baring—I answered (questions regarding the liberation of slaves) that the Treaty of 1877 would not be enforced in 1889 by me, which, considering the determination of Her Majesty's Government respecting the Soudan, was a self-evident fact.And Sir Evelyn Baring himself wrote to Lord Granville—It was obvious from the first that a revival of slavery in the Soudan would result from the policy of abandonment.So that, in addition to all the other human misery which the Government policy had caused, "a revival of slavery" was its clear and proclaimed result. Yet, with these words before them, the Go- 1227 vernment had persistently followed a policy which they knew was a revival of the Slave Trade. Now we were told that Egypt and the Soudan were not worth the trouble and expense they were costing us. The apostles of sham philanthropy and retreat were trying to make capital out of all that had happened. "Why all this cost and trouble?" they cried; "let us have done with the Soudan and Egypt. Let us scuttle and run, and leave these peoples to stew in their own juice." Apart from the utter baseness, the un-English cowardice of such a policy, it was impracticable and impossible. They might wish to leave the Mahdi alone; but that savage conqueror would not leave them, or Egypt alone. He would follow our retreat and harass our Armies in Egypt. The bloody sponge which Ministers had allowed him to pass over the Soudan would inflict like horrors upon Egypt, upon Arabia, and North Africa. A world-wide conflagration might easily be kindled. The echoes of Mahommedan revival were already reverberating throughout the East, and we should have to pay in India for abnegation of duty in Egypt. But it was not Egypt or the Soudan; it was not Arabi or the Mahdi that had cost England, no less than the suffering peoples of those distant countries, so bitter a penalty. It was the present Ministers of the Crown and their policy that were responsible for this waste of blood and treasure. It was their persistent inaction, their ingrained indecision, their rooted resolve to shirk responsibility, their shuffling, their absolute lack of courage that had brought all these calamities upon Egypt and England. Their policy and their action alone were responsible for all this misery and trouble; and until that policy was reversed the country could not hope for a discontinuance of it. Hon. Members might ask what policy would be advocated by the Opposition. Well, the policy which he advocated was that from which he had never varied. It was simply this—that Egypt should be taken in hand clearly and consistently, and administered by British officials for a certain number of years; but only on this condition—that it was done by arrangement with the Sultan of Turkey, the Sovereign of Egypt. Thus alone, too, could a permanent settlement of Egyptian finance be achieved. The Sultan was the legiti- 1228 mate and recognized Sovereign of Egypt. With his countenance and support our position in Egypt would be legally and materially unassailable. The Sultan and the Ottoman people were most anxious for the friendship of England. If only the British Cabinet would treat them in a just, honest, and cordial spirit, all could readily be arranged. Then, if Turkey broke up, England was in possession, and would become her natural legatee in Egypt. To secure our position there and throughout the world we must regain the alliance of the German Powers, which so recklessly we had thrown away. As to the Soudan, we were bound to establish a stable and honest Government over, at all events, that portion of the country lying between the White Nile and the Red Sea, under a capable European Governor. Of such men our Indian Service possessed scores. He protested against this cruel and shameful policy of "massacre and retreat" propounded by this Government. They owed it even to these gallant Arabs to show them that England had something to offer them besides the withering blast of her rifles and the fierce thrust of her bayonets. This fatal policy of abandonment had already cost us a bloody penalty. It paralyzed Baker last February at Suakin. It ruined Gordon at Khartoum; it deprived Lord Wolseley of all Native help. It would hurl every friendly and wavering tribe against our hard-pressed Army. Khartoum must be retaken; and, retaken, it must be held for civilization and for the safety of Egypt. They owed it to their national honour, to the cause of humanity; above all, to the memory of their martyr hero, who gave up his life for the cause, to secure to the suffering peoples of the Soudan the blessings of a civilized, free, and beneficent rule. If the policy he recommended were carried out, supported by the alliance of the German Powers, the difficulties in which Her Majesty's Government were now placed would disappear; we should find the Mahdi's movement, which now appeared so formidable, could easily be put down; and we should regain the strong position abroad which England held under the late Administration, and which the present Government had lost.
§ MR. TREVELYAN
I certainly do not intend, in the few words I am about to address to the House, to turn my at- 1229 tention to Party topics, and the example of the hon. Member who has just sat down is not likely to attract me in that direction. This is the first occasion on which I have had an opportunity of addressing the House on the Egyptian Question; and I do not think it is necessary for me to inquire whether the words of the gallant and Christian hero who has died for the whole of his country can be so interpreted and twisted as to elicit cheers from this or from that side of the House. I have also very little inclination to enter seriously into an argument against the hon. Member's contention that the Government, who are in great difficulties—which is of far less importance than that the country should be in difficulties—in consequence of having sent a great Expedition into the centre of Africa, have deserted General Gordon. I may, however, be permitted to reply to the argumentative assertion of the hon. Member that desertion, or, in other words, abandonment, implies intention. I have further yet to discover the authority which supports the hon. Member's contention that the words of General Gordon to Lord Wolseley should be taken in an inverse sense from that in which they were written. There are graver cares upon us at this moment, and it is to those that I shall address myself during the short time that I shall occupy the attention of the House. But before I do so let me say one word upon Party politics in reference to the capital speech which was delivered from the back Benches opposite by the hon. Member for North Wilts (Mr. Long) who shows very considerable sympathy with the views of hon. Members who sit below the Gangway on our side of the House, and appears to understand those views very well. The hon. Member appeared to find some inconsistency in the fact that those hon. Members who profess to disapprove of every step which the Government have taken have expressed their intention of supporting us on the present occasion against the Motion which has been moved by the right hon. Baronet opposite (Sir Stafford Northcote). I must confess that I do not see any inconsistency in the conduct of hon. Members below the Gangway; because every step which the Government have taken in Egypt has been taken, I do not say under the pressure, but, at all events, with the encourage- 1230 ment of hon. Members opposite. The support of the Khedive, which was the natural outcome of the Dual Control set up by our Predecessors; the bombardment of Alexandria; the attempt to relieve the garrisons in the Soudan; the sending out of General Gordon—["No!"]—I am going to qualify my statement in a manner which I think will make hon. Members opposite agree with its drift—and the sending out of an Expedition to relieve General Gordon, were all approved in principle—I am not speaking of the steps by which that principle was attempted to be carried out—by hon. Members opposite. But those are exactly the steps which are disapproved of by hon. Members below the Gangway on our side of the House. I can, therefore, easily understand that those hon. Members below the Gangway are unwilling to place in Office those who have consistently advocated the taking of those steps, and those steps only, of which they disapprove in the action of the Government, to which on other points they are ready to give their support. There are some words which were used by the hon. Member for East Cornwall (Mr. Borlase), in the very eloquent and finished speech with which he delighted the House—which was too thin at the time to deserve it—to which I feel bound to refer. The hon. Member said that although he was not inclined altogether to approve of the past—while, at the same time, he was equally disinclined altogether to blame it—he was more inclined to look to the future; and in saying that the hon. Member was evidently in sympathy with the majority of those who have as yet taken an active part in this debate. At the present moment, there are before the House one Resolution and two Amendments—if I am in Order in saying so; because the hon. Member for the University of London (Sir John Lubbock) has referred to, and has advocated, a second Amendment, which must, therefore, be taken to be under the consideration of the House. In that Resolution, and in those Amendments, there is only one line and a-half which refers to the past; and it is that which states that the course pursued by Her Majesty's Government has involved great sacrifice of valuable lives and a heavy expenditure without any beneficial result. Every word of the Amendment of the hon. Member for Newcastle 1231 (Mr. John Morley) refers to the future, and so does the Motion of the right hon. Baronet opposite. In these circumstances, I shall confine myself to the future, and to one single point in the future, but that all important—it being one with regard to which, if I were a private Member, I should require to have the most complete elucidation and the most perfect satisfaction in order to guide my course in the vote I should have to give on Thursday or on Friday next; and that point is this—were the Government right or wrong in the decision to which they came when they received the news of the fall of Khartoum? That news reached the Government late on the night of the 4th or 5th of February, and the effect of that news was to determine the Cabinet to pursue the war. What were the grounds for that determination? Were they such as to commend themselves to the mind of the House, and to the mind of the country, and, what is much more serious, were they such as to justify the Government in being influenced by them? I can well understand that this is a question which greatly troubles the minds of hon. Gentlemen below the Gangway, and troubles the minds of the people of the country; because I never took part in any decision which more greatly troubled my own mind. That trouble did not arise from any doubt or hesitation as to the propriety of that decision, but because that decision involved a departure from those general views of policy which we believed to be of advantage to the country, and because it might lead those who hold those views with us to believe that we hold them no longer. Those views were most eloquently expressed by the hon. Member for Newcastle in the one ornate passage of his speech, in which he stated that it would be detrimental, in the highest degree, to the welfare of the nation if we were to extend our Possessions or our responsibilities beyond our fighting power. If that is adopted as a general principle of action, if we did increase our responsibilities beyond what increased our fighting power, if we looked for the appearance of strength and not for the reality of it, then the nation is going in a downward direction, and has embarked on a course which will imperil her. Is the decision to continue and push on the war in the Soudan 1232 a justifiable decision by persons who hold these views? In order to vindicate that decision it is necessary to ask the House to put itself in the position in which we were when we made it, with the facts which we had then before us, and candidly and frankly I will expose the grounds of that decision. When the news of the fall of Khartoum reached us, what were the facts before us? Six thousand fighting British soldiers were in the heart of Africa. The distance they had traversed, which, if they had done nothing else—and they had done a great deal else—would alone entitle them to the fame of having completed a great undertaking. They were 1,400 miles from the city whence they originally started. They were divided into three bodies, small in number, however heroically valiant, one at a distance of 160 miles from the central body, the other half that distance away. They were in the face of a powerful enemy, flushed with a recent success—an enemy of that nature whom success rendered much more powerful, not only by means of the material advantages in the way of ammunition, and weapons, and food, and military positions, but in the immense effect which success made on the question whether he was to be joined by great multitudes of people who were half soldiers already. In this strait, and with all these real enemies around them, and with 1,400 miles already behind them, there still was what I should call the certainty that such troops under such leaders should make head even against this situation, but only on one condition, and that was that they should know promptly and even instantly that their countrymen at home would spare nothing to make their position secure, and, if it were needed, doubly secure; that they should not be allowed to ride at single anchor, but should have another line of retreat if the existing line should possibly fail; and that, above all, their General should not be tied down to this species of retreat or retirement; but that he should be allowed full discretion to take what is the only means of extricating an army from a dangerous position, and especially a dangerous position in the face of an uncivilized foe—that is to say, to resort to vigorous offensive tactics. Now, I have a right to ask hon. Members to put themselves in our 1233 position then, and to look at this matter with our eyes; and I have especially a right to ask my hon. Friend the Member for Liskeard (Mr. Courtney) to do so, because he has taken a leading part in protesting against the action of the Government. The difficulty in which our Army was placed arose, to a great extent, from the march across the Bayuda Desert that was led so gallantly by my dear personal friend, Sir Herbert Stewart. This march, as long as General Gordon held Khartoum, was, if a civilian may be permitted to express an opinion on a military subject, a most bold, but a most judicious proceeding; and I am certain, from what Sir Herbert Stewart told me of Soudanese warfare, that it was the sort of proceeding in which he would be very glad to be engaged. But it was quite another thing when Khartoum fell. As soon as Khartoum fell the Army was in a position not adapted to its then circumstances. That position was the result of the undertaking which was set on foot by the Government to which my hon. Friend the Member for Liskeard belonged. There is no question so difficult as to settle what difference of judgment it is which constitutes an obligation on a Member of a Government to leave that Government. But on one question there is no doubt whatever, in my opinion—namely, that we must accept the necessary consequences of the action taken by a Government at the time that you were in it. Now, the hon. Member said that the particular things which were most obnoxious to himself, and to at least one of his Colleagues—and I believe when he said that he referred to the late lamented Mr. Fawcett, though I am bound to say I object altogether to any deduction being drawn as to what opinion Mr. Fawcett would have held at this crisis—were done, as he said, completely before they knew anything about them. But that cannot be said about the Expedition for the relief of General Gordon. That was a thing which was not done in a corner. The Government to which my hon. Friend, exactly as much as I, then belonged, placed these 6,000 men in the heart of Africa; and it seems to me that if the Government, with the facts before them, and with the best military advice they could get under their eyes, thought that, in order to place these men in a 1234 position of safety, measures stronger and more energetic than my hon. Friend quite approves ought to be taken, I must say, I think my hon. Friend ought to be slow and very chary indeed to blame the Government for taking those steps. Well, Sir, it was the bounden duty of the Government to take a decided course; and what was that course to be? I understand there is a widespread wish, which the hon. Member for the University of London (Sir John Lubbock) put into a very short and effective speech, that we should have instructed General Wolseley to withdraw down the Valley of the Nile to Wady Haifa, or Korosko, or Assouan, or to some other point which is imagined to be a point of military safety. Now, I do not hesitate to say that, from a military point of view, no Government would have been justified in giving such an order to a General of an army. A retreat, and especially a retreat before an uncivilized foe, who is so very easily moved, and in case of disaster becomes ubiquitous and covers the whole country, is the most hazardous of all operations; and it is safe only on one condition—namely, if you are retreating to a point so secure that when you get to it you are certain you are in safety. There was the retreat of Wellington to the lines of Torres Vedras, a point where he was in safety. Then there was the retreat of General Moore upon Corunna; but at Corunna he found the sea and ships, and consequently safety. But these places which people name down the Valley of the Nile are not places of safety at all. They are not at all stronger than the position our Army at present occupies. I do not like to speak in detail of the difficulties of transport; but this is a matter of immense importance. The position our troops occupy at this moment they can defend, and they have food; but if they retreated, how could they carry their food with them? The river is absolutely impassable, and there are 240 miles along which boats cannot pass at all. This constitutes a formidable obstacle indeed. Then there are all the Arab tribes which, if we left the country as fugitives, would very soon be upon us. These tribes be all along our line of retreat. My hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle (Mr. John Morley) talked about the retreat from Moscow, and asked what destroyed the Grand Army of Na- 1235 poleon. It is not the Mahdi and his forces that we have to fear; but the rainless deserts and illimitable distances. As long as our Army stay where they are—they cannot stay there always, and that is the strength of the position of the Government—holding their position towards the front, we are afraid neither of the rainless deserts nor of the illimitable distances; but the place to which it is said our Army should retreat is more than 500 miles from our front. If we were to give from Downing Street an absolute order to a General to commence such a retreat in that climate and under these circumstances, we should take a step which no Government has any right to take. But it is said that there is another course, and that the Government might have telegraphed to Lord Wolseley to take such measures as would enable him to retreat with security and with dignity—I think the words which my hon. Friend the Member for Liskeard (Mr. Courtney) used were "quietly and calmly"—and that we should assure him of our support, whatever those measures might be. Now, Sir, that is a proposal which reads very well as a peroration to an extremely effective speech; but it would read much less well if it were read by a General in an African desert. Just think what it means. It means that the Government, who with such military light as they can obtain at home are satisfied that the safety of our Army lies in a vigorous defensive, is to telegraph—"Our object is to get away. If you can only get away by hard forward fighting then you must do it on your own responsibility; but do not put it upon us. Let the suggestion come from you if you think it is necessary to open up the Suakin-Berber route and to break up the Mahdi's power. Take the whole responsibility and the unpopularity, and let us be able to say—'All we did was to order you to retreat.'" Hon. Members may read such a message otherwise; but that is the only interpretation I can put upon it. We took the right course. Without dictating military details, we laid down our main policy—namely, that the war shall be conducted as a war shall always be conducted—that is to say, with a broad, vigorous, and energetic offensive. That means keeping back the Mahdi on his line of advance, and opening up the Berber-Suakin route, with the military 1236 operations necessary for that purpose. As for the construction of the railway, it is a military operation of an absolutely necessary order. It is for military reasons that the railway is to be made a broad-gauge railway; and for the present I refuse to be bound to any future policy by the existence of that railway, just as much as I should refuse to be bound by the ^Resolution of the right hon. Baronet opposite (Sir Stafford Northcote). And here I come to what is almost my last point; but it is one which weighed very much with us in coming to a decision. Some hon. Members are desirous of entering into negotiations with the Mahdi. Now, that point of view was not out of our minds. We respect the Mahdi as an enemy; and we think it possible—we hope it may be possible—that it may lead to a pacification of the Soudan. [Ironical cheers.] I hear a right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Goschen), who is going to give us an extremely authentic discourse on the Soudan, laugh at that proposal. Sir, I am proud to say that I enjoyed the intimate acquaintance of the late Colonel Stewart, who accompanied General Gordon to the Soudan, and who was murdered on the Nile. He used to tell me that, in his opinion, the only means of pacifying the Soudan was to take the Mahdi into our counsels, and while placing Khartoum under a settled Government to give him great authority in other parts of the Soudan, for which his rule was better fitted. That was the policy, not only of Colonel Stewart—it was the policy also of General Gordon himself. Well, then, if you want to negotiate in time of war the only way to do so is to negotiate while you are fighting, to advance boldly in the direction in which you are advancing militarily, and then to accept overtures which will go on more quickly and effectually than if you checked your course. I would ask the House to consider the grave calamities which befell the British Army in another war. I do hope we are not going to repeat the story of Sir William Macnaghten and the calamity of Cabul, which, if we remain in military inaction during negotiation, will too likely fall upon us. That policy certainly the Government cannot adopt. I lay most stress upon the arguments which affect us most strongly. But I cannot forget likewise that in leaving 1237 the Soudan we shall leave those whom the Mahdi suspects of being our allies to a fate which I do not like to contemplate; and then if we do get safely away it is only a question of time—and no very long time—before we shall have another invasion. It is not four years since the Mahdi first announced his intention of gaining the whole of the Soudan to his cause, and then in the same Proclamation of conquering the whole of Egypt, overthrowing the unbelieving Turk, and converting the world, the unbelieving Turks being the Mahommedans who do not believe in his supremacy. During those four years he has upset the power of Egypt in the Soudan. He has caused a great deal of slaughter. He has pretty well destroyed the agriculture and entirely ruined the commerce of the Soudan. He has taken several great towns, including Khartoum and Berber. What do hon. Members think will stand in the way of his taking Dongola, Korosko, and Assouan when they have no defenders whatever? We know very well what in an Oriental mouth this talk means of converting the world. It means a good deal, even in a country like the Soudan; but in the fertile Valley of the Nile it means dreadful cruelty, the ruin of all prosperity, the destruction of all organized society. My hon. Friend the Member for Leicester (Mr. Picton) compares the fanaticism of the Mahdi with the fanaticism of Christianity, and says there is a good deal to say for both. But in truth there is no analogy between the mild and mitigating effects of Christian enthusiasm and the stern and grim effects of Mahommedan fanaticism. I am surprised that a well-known historian like the hon. Member for Newcastle (Mr. John Morley) should talk of such an Oriental Government as one under which the people could enjoy a great deal of quiet and prosperity. My hon. Friend cannot have so read history as to expect such results from an Oriental Government of warriors and shepherds, or think that Egypt could safely be entrusted to it. I know my hon. Friend has adopted such an argument from motives which I honour—motives of indignation at what he conceives to have been a national misdemeanour. My hon. Friend is actuated by feelings which I think I understand, and which, if I understand them, I heartily share; but I do not think he has gone the right 1238 way to carry them into effect. I believe if the course he recommends be adopted by the Government we shall in the long run have more bloodshed, and undertake more permanent and extensive responsibilities, than we shall if we take the course recommended by the Government. My hon. Friend stated that if the questions raised in this debate were questions merely of the military situation there would be no difference of opinion on either side of the House. I have endeavoured to answer his appeal. I have concealed nothing. I have magnified nothing. I may not have persuaded his judgment or those of my hon. Friends who sit round him; but I am sure I have convinced him that I have straightforwardly attempted to deal with the arguments which he has urged.
§ MR. GIBSON
Mr. Speaker—Sir, there is a very wide contrast between the way in which the opposition to the Motion of my right hon. Friend has been presented by the Prime Minister, and by the right hon. Gentleman who has just sat down. The right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (Mr. Trevelyan), having been but a very short time a Member of the Cabinet, has thought it only necessary to deal with such portions of the action of the Government as were covered by his own connection with that august Body, and he limited himself to a rather narrow statement of the military decision arrived at in the crisis which presented itself after the fall of Khartoum. But I am not aware that from beginning to end of his interesting speech the right hon. Gentleman indicated by one syllable anything to show what, in his view, was not only the military exigency, but the policy which in future is to sway the Government. The only indication that I could see or gather in the speech we have just listened to was presented obscurely, that in the not remote future the Mahdi would become an element in the pacification of the Soudan. I do not press that topic. It is a curious topic, curiously presented, and it struck upon our ears with a strange sound. It possibly meant something that cannot be immediately grasped. The Prime Minister was not in the happy position of having been in the Cabinet for only a few months. The responsibility of the Prime Minister is covered by a duration that commands respect, 1239 and carries with it vast responsibility, and he was therefore unable to confine himself either to the future or the present. He had to deal with the past as well; and I venture to think there never was a performance of his which was more characterized by the remarkable versatility of his genius. He showed a bold courage which in others might possibly be called audacity. He occasionally showed also much gracious humility in the way in which he presented his topics. We have had the pleasure, on Thursday, of hearing his views from what we learn to-night was a written memorandum prepared in connection with his Colleagues—a strange fetter on the Prime Minister's power of speech. We then heard with fulness, but not with more amplitude of definition, an explanation of the meaning of "abandonment." We have heard to-night, in reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Eye (Mr. Ashmead-Bartlett), what kind of abandonment was meant. [Mr. GLADSTONE: A re-statement.] Yes; a re-statement, which presented to some people in this House a meaning different from that of the earlier statement. Well, the position taken by the Prime Minister last night, in the course of the debate, was very clever, and, if it could succeed, would be very successful. The whole matter, he assumes, is decided; it was decided last May in the Division which took place in this House on the Vote of Want of Confidence; it is not possible to re-open the matter again; we are estopped by the then vote of the House, and we have no business to go behind it. Surely it is rather a strong assertion, even for a Prime Minister to make, that, notwithstanding all that has happened since, that vote of this House, carried by a small majority of 28 last May, is to bind us now. Last night he used words about a covenant being then entered into between the Government on the one side and the Parliament and the nation on the other. Our contention is that that covenant has been broken; and in the immense fact that Khartoum has fallen, and that Gordon has lost his life, we have, at all events, overwhelming proof that the covenant has not been fulfilled. The contention of the Prime Minister, which, as I have said, was marked by a bold courage, is that there was no danger to Gordon that the Government knew of. 1240 How is one to apply himself to argue against a proposition so plainly disproved that if put forward by anyone else it would not have obtained audience in this House? If the House was so satisfied of the gravity of the crisis and of the imminence of the danger last May that the Prime Minister, using all the weight of his personal influence and all the pressure which Party ties could give him, was only able to get a small majority of 28, to give the Government a further chance of showing that they were in earnest, it is impossible to follow the Prime Minister in this suggestion of the absence of danger. Take Gordon's own words on the 1st of March—"I feel certain I shall be caught at Khartoum." You are asked in one part of the Prime Minister's speech to remember that this was a hero of heroes, whoso word was to be accepted as that of a truthful, experienced, and able man; and in another you are asked to disregard this statement, and to take it as that of a man who, if he knew the gravity of his danger, did not know what he was saying. On the 19th of April, in the last telegram that was received from General Gordon before the interruption of communications with him—that which was sent, not to the Government, but to Sir Samuel Baker, and published in the newspapers, he said—"We are hemmed in." This is the language of an Engineer officer of whom the Prime Minister stated in an earlier speech that he knew better than anyone else how to indicate the way in which he could be helped. Gordon said—"We are hemmed in." Notwithstanding this the Prime Minister asks the House, after Gordon has fallen a victim to the danger which threatened him for so many months, to believe that he was in no danger at all, and that we had no business to know it. This extraordinary power of the Prime Minister not to see what everybody else sees is not confined to Khartoum. We have the case of Berber to illustrate his action about Khartoum On the 15th of April the Prime Minister's attention was called to Berber by General Gordon, and by a Memorial from all the inhabitants of Berber, which was of the strongest, the most pathetic, and the gravest character. On the 24th of April the Prime Minister said he had no reason to believe that there was any risk of Berber sustaining the fate of 1241 Sinkat. In two or three weeks it fell, and 5,000 then were massacred. Like case again—Khartoum and Berber. It did not suit the Prime Minister to recognize the looming danger in the case of Berber. He did not see it, and he would not see it. He disregarded the wail—the melancholy, despairing wail—which proceeded from the merchants and inhabitants of Berber. He said he knew Berber better than they, and on the 1st of June, according to Gordon's own subsequent statement, 5,000 were murdered on the capture of Berber.
§ MR. GIBSON
The Prime Minister asks me for a statement about these 5,000. Well, I say it is to be found, and I pledge myself to give the Prime Minister the reference to-morrow, which shows that Gordon stated that on the 1st of June 5,000 lost their lives after the capture of Berber.
§ An hon. MEMBER: He never was there.
§ MR. GIBSON
Whoever interrupts me has not, at all events, the same knowledge of the matter as General Gordon had. Still, taking his stand on the assumed res judicata of the decision of May, the Prime Minister asks—What is your new fact since May to show that the Government has been remiss? There is the lapse of time. By that lapse of time you have been too late. The Government make the defence, through the Prime Minister, that there was no delay between May, which was the time they entered into the covenant with the House for the safety of Gordon, and the time they moved in August. How does the Prime Minister attempt to bridge over that interval of three months? If these excuses did not come from the Prime Minister they would not obtain audience from anyone else. It is said there was no delay because this period—not of weeks but of months—was taken up by an anxious examination of the comparative merits of different routes, that by the Nile, and that from Suakin to Berber. Remember, these are not my words, but those of the Prime Minister, and there was an examination so anxious and critical that it took months. Any Intelligence Department that took months to present a Paper containing a clear decision on the matter ought to be swept off the face of the earth. I venture to 1242 say, however, that if any officer of our Intelligence Department, with a right of audience in this House, had liberty to dispose of this statement, he would have dealt with it in the most clear and concise manner. I notice that the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (Mr. Trevelyan), who spoke this evening, confined himself to the period of the last few months or weeks, and that he did not attempt—he was far too wise—to give a particle of explanation of that fatal lapse of time which made the subsequent Expedition of Lord Wolseley a death march against time. The Prime Minister says there was nothing to indicate that there was urgency in this matter. I point again to the lapse of time. The vote, on which he relies as stopping us almost from the right of debating the matter at all—that vote took place in the month of May. At that time General Gordon had been "hemmed in," to use his own words, for a considerable time. The Government had failed for over a month to get their despatches into Khartoum, and Gordon, during the same period, was unable to pass any despatches out to the Government. Does not this damning fact increase the urgency of the case against the Government? This cutting-off of communication between General Gordon and the outer world that in May had existed for a month lasted for months after that, and during those months the only explanation given by Her Majesty's Ministers for their deadly torpor and fatal apathy is this—that they were not able to make up their minds. [Mr. GLADSTONE: Not at all!] If I can demonstrate anything in the world to my own mind, I can demonstrate that. The Prime Minister said distinctly and plainly that the examination of the contending merits of the routes by Suakin and by the Nile occupied months. These months must have preceded the 5th of August, when the money Vote for £300,000 was taken; because, after Lord Wolseley's instructions were sent—on the 23rd of the same month—there was not time for months of examination; therefore, the examination must have preceded, and the sole explanation is that the Government had not made up their minds. ["Oh!"] Well, if you have not that excuse, you have none. The Prime Minister yesterday paid Gordon a tribute in very eloquent words; but the substance of 1243 some of his statements was not so complimentary. He conveyed by innuendo that Gordon partly brought his own fate upon himself by his own rashness. It is plain to me, on reading the Papers that have been presented, and it must be plain to anyone else who reads them fairly, that Gordon would not have escaped and retained the character which the Prime Minister gave him at any time after the 13th of March. On the 9th of March General Gordon, according to the Papers with which we are now familiar, preferred a request that he might be allowed—he saw the difficulties increasing, and he was beginning to understand the Government—to send Stewart and part of the employés to Berber, to surrender his commission, and go to the Equator. That request was refused by Sir Evelyn Baring, who told him to stay at Khartoum, and not go to the Equator. Two days after the route was blocked, and then, for the first time, on the 13th of March, Earl Granville, in one of his interesting despatches, tells Gordon that he is at liberty to escape if he can. At no time, however, after the 13th of March, was it possible for Gordon to have effected his escape. Sir, these are painful things in this matter for anyone to have to realize. It is appalling for a Government who are directly and primarily responsible to reflect upon what has occurred in consequence of their action and non-action; and I know not of one single alleviation for their feelings. It is an alleviation when sorrow and trouble come if one can say that he has done all that human power can do in the way of what is right and proper. But in all these anxious 12 months, during which Gordon was at Khartoum, the Government are unable to point to one single thing that they have done to support him. Literally, until Gordon died, or until his fate had reached its most supreme point, they hardly appear to have stirred at all. I repeat, that the Government are unable to point, in all the 12 months that Gordon was alive in Khartoum, to one solitary request of his that they complied with. They are unable to point to one single expedient that General Gordon indicated that they did not oppose; and Gordon has died never obtaining at their hands while he lived, and while concessions might have kept him alive, the tribute of having, in any parti- 1244 cular, acted upon his advice. Her Majesty's Government adopted the humble, but comtemptible, rôle of opposing everything and proposing nothing. They refused everything at a time when each refusal increased their responsibility, and unfulfilled responsibility involves criminal disgrace. And now as to the Prime Minister's "no danger"—the great fallacy he put forward yesterday—I will just make one quotation, the only one I shall make from any of these Blue Books. Sir Evelyn Baring, in a despatch of March 24, 1884, says—There are only two possible solutions. The first is to trust Gordon's being able to maintain himself at Khartoum till the autumn…. This he might, perhaps, he able to do; but it, of course, involves running a great risk. The only other plan is to send a portion of General Graham's Army to Berber with instructions to open up communication with Khartoum."—[Egypt. No. 12(1884), p. 186.]Well, Sir, Her Majesty's Ministers deliberately elected to run what their own Agent pointed out to them was a great risk, and we are asked now to hold indemnified, blameless, and spotless, a Government which deliberately gambled with the life of "a hero of heroes." The Government acted in that way throughout, deliberately, notwithstanding the increased and fearful pressure of their obligations. They were warned in Parliament, they were warned in the Press, and every single thing that has occurred was a matter that must have been present to their minds, because they were told of it in this House, in the Press, and by Gordon himself. The Prime Minister has relied upon the treachery which apparently waited on the final scene of the unfortunate Gordon's life almost as matter for the exoneration and justification of the Government. Why, dealing with an Eastern people, treachery is one of the every-day risks against which any position is to be guarded. Gordon himself told you of it in March. You were told of it in this House by my right hon. Friend who moved the Motion on the 12th of May. It was obviously one of the risks which Sir Evelyn Baring told you you were deliberately running when you refused to adopt the Berber-Suakin route. The Prime Minister, in the course of his interesting speech yesterday, referred to a telegram—an opportune telegram—that came on Saturday last from Lord Wolseley, and which 1245 referred to the extraordinary theory that, maybe, the Relief Expedition, after all, was the cause of Gordon's death. Really that is the argument. That is to say, that if there had been no Relief Expedition, there would have been no treachery. But Gordon was killed by treachery, and therefore the Relief Expedition killed Gordon. In the name of common sense, what did the telegram mean? General Lord Wolseley concluded that despatch by words on which I rely, in which he said that he bewailed the loss of Gordon, and bitterly regretted that he had not been in the Soudan a month before. On that I rely, because we know Lord Wolseley. We know he is a man who understands the exigencies of his position, and when he said that, he must have believed that if he had been given a month's start: in the death race to Khartoum he would have saved Gordon. But that is not what the Prime Minister relies on. He- relies on the statement of the anonymous Colonels of Gordon. Who are they? These men either must have left Khartoum before Gordon was murdered, and therefore it is from the richness of Oriental imagination that this theory of theirs, which is a peculiar one, must have proceeded, or else they must have known who were the traitors before they came away, and what they intended to do, and they must have come away leaving Gordon to his fate. The Government may take their choice in that dilemma. Either these men are the victims of an illusion—to put a mild construction upon it—or else they are guilty of something far worse. [Mr. GLADSTONE: Hear, hear !] The Prime Minister is good enough to cheer that statement, but I do not know whether he cheers the dilemma generally or only a particular part of it. The Prime Minister appears also to labour under an extraordinary delusion with reference to the food supply at Khartoum. I throw out this challenge. I say that whoever is going to reply for the Government later in the debate will be unable to adduce any trustworthy evidence, under Gordon's hand or otherwise, to show that he had food to last up to a month before the time he met his death. In one of his letters he alludes to five months' supply, in another to four months'—periods which would end weeks before the fall. [Mr. GLADSTONE: No.] I 1246 may be contradicted, but again I say that I am giving my own statement of this matter. I again say that not one single piece of trustworthy evidence can be pointed out to show that Gordon had a food supply that would last up to within a month of the time at which he met his death. ["No!"] Hon. Members opposite can speak after me, and may deny it, but that is my proposition. There is a period at which he speaks of five months' supply, another at which he speaks of four months' supply, then of 40 days'; and then come the extraordinary communications of the 14th and 18th of December, which the Prime Minister dealt with in a peculiar way. What is the meaning of those despatches? One of them, which Lord Wolseley calls a "tiny despatch," contains the words, "Khartoum is all right." That was sent by a confidential agent, who carried with him confidential instructions to Lord Wolseley, and who knew what was confidential and secret, and what was not. He appears to have carried two sets of instructions—one of which was not covered by the seal of secrecy and confidence, while the other was covered both by the seal of secrecy and confidence. This trusted messenger conveyed a tiny written message saying "Khartoum is all right," and then the confidential messenger gave a secret oral message of the gravest purport. What was that message? It was—Our troops are suffering from want of food.—Secret and confidential.These are Gordon's words in December last, and he proceeds to emphasize that by saying—"We want you to come quickly." The "hero of heroes" does not ask for aid until it is very necessary, and yet the Prime Minister asks us to forget this despatch—this grave and secret message from Gordon on the 14th of December—and asks us to believe that it was overridden by the message of the 18th. [Mr. GLADSTONE: The 28th.] Well, of the 28th; but nothing turns upon that. The governing date is the 14th, when there was certainly a message from Gordon, showing what his position actually was. Was there any message after the 14th to override the statement that General Gordon and the troops shut up in Khartoum were in perilous straits? Nothing of the kind, and the inference deduced by the Prime 1247 Minister appears to have been arrived at from a casual statement of some anonymous messenger who brought the message of the 28th. When the Prime Minister says that the statement of the 28th should override the despatch of the 14th, he asks us to prefer the loose statement of an anonymous messenger, of whom nothing is known, to a despatch sent by an accredited agent. The conduct of the Government appears to be entirely without either justification, excuse, or palliation. Gordon did his best, and the Cabinet did their worst. If it were simply a question of the Government and its fate, it would be one of comparative smallness; but the loss which the country has sustained materially and in repute is grave and very serious. I know of no question that calls more for grave and anxious consideration at the hands of the Representatives of the people than the crisis in which we are involved, the way in which it has been forced upon us, and what may be the best mode of escaping from it. The Government ask once again to be trusted because they have broken covenants in the past. They ask us to believe that they will keep this new covenant better in the future, because they have broken every promise they made to Gordon and the House of Commons. They ask us now to believe that we can trust their lightest promises as covenants. It is not my word; it is the Prime Minister's. We might trust a fresh, untried Government; we might trust a Government that had not broken covenants and outraged promises; but a Government that is disparaged and discredited cannot be trusted. What is now your policy? We have listened, on more than one occasion, to discussions upon this subject, and still the question awaits something like a clear answer. The right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (Mr. Trevelyan) said that the question which presented itself was this—"Was the Government right in what it did on hearing of the fall of Khartoum?" That is not the question; but it is the narrow way in which a man who wants to minimize his own responsibility presents the question. The right hon. Gentleman speaks almost like a Field Marshal when ho takes credit for the military operations that have taken place and may- take place. But the policy 1248 which the Government have let out is due somewhat to the action of Lord Wolseley, and not to the initiative of the Government. It is perfectly plain and manifest that the action which took place was this. The Government, for those high reasons of State which are sometimes so convenient, have not printed a most important message to Lord Wolseley, nor his reply. But enough has come out to show this—that the Government first heaped upon Lord Wolseley's devoted shoulders a discretion of an overwhelming character, wishing that he might find out not only what military exigency, but also what political exigency required. I am giving my own impression of documents which some day we shall all be able to road. It is plain that Lord Wolseley would not accept the discretion that you gave him, that ho asked what you meant, and what your policy was, and it was not until you were subjected to the pressure of the insistence of Lord Wolseley that, at last, you were compelled to arrive at something in the shape of a decision. Let me again refer to the fact that the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (Mr. Trevelyan) has not, from the beginning to the end of his speech, indicated, by suggestion or hint, what he believes or understands the policy of the Government to be. Again, I ask, what is the policy of the Government? The statement of the Prime Minister on Thursday becomes doubly important from the fact that it was in writing, and that it had been prepared in consultation with his Colleagues. Therefore, it must be assumed that every vagueness, every uncertainty, and every elasticity which have been put into the words in which their case is contained are studied and elaborate ambiguities. And now that we know that, are we not entitled to say that this statement, if it is to be called a statement, of policy is vague, disappointing, contradictory!' It is a policy framed to win, if possible, the support of contrary opinions. The Government, in fact, say—"We will go to Khartoum and overthrow the Mahdi to please the Whigs; we will run away from Khartoum to please the Radicals." I pity either one or the other of those two great classes, for one or the other is doomed to be disappointed. I do not care particularly for that; but I do care very much for this—that in this process of elaborate and studied vagueness it 1249 may be that the nation will be compelled to lose thousands more of its best lives, and to spend millions more of its hard-earned money. At all events, we have this from the Prime Minister—that they have a basis of policy, and that that basis is the overthrow of the Mahdi at Khartoum. Now, that is a very grave and serious basis, that, if adopted, should be the foundation of a well-considered policy; but if it is the basis of nothing except of a platform on which to join the Whigs and Radicals together, it is something which I should not like to christen with the name of policy. I can understand and realize that, after what has occurred in the East, it is necessary to do something to re-establish our credit, which must be seriously impaired in the Eastern mind. The Prime Minister indicated on Thursday the methods by which he proposes to carry out the basis of his policy—namely, the making of a railway from Suakin to Berber, so as to open up the Suakin-Berber route. The basis of the policy of the Prime Minister was the overthrow of the power of the Mahdi at Khartoum; and it is a basis of policy laid down in conjunction with his Colleagues. Tonight the suggestion of the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster is that the governing principle of the military operations is the opening up of the Suakin-Berber route by the construction of a railway. Many objects, some of them very interesting and philanthropic, were stated by the Prime Minister as the result of the war. What we want to know is, how far the Government consider that they are pledged to carry out all or any of those objects? Is it competent for the Government, on the plan they have drawn up for themselves on paper, and guarded and fenced round with conditions to satisfy their basis, to spend millions of our money, to lose thousands of precious lives, and then to proclaim that they are unable to carry out the objects for which they went, and to announce that forthwith they must withdraw from the country? How long do they intend to pursue the Mahdi? Do they intend to seek him at Khartoum, or beyond it? Is Khartoum the governing principle of their policy or is the Mahdi? Is the going to Khartoum their object, or do they intend to seek the Mahdi wherever he may be found? I should like to know what is 1250 the object the Government seriously intend to carry out? If the Government have no fixed or settled policy—if the Government have no fixed and steady purpose which they have adopted and are in a condition to proclaim to the House of Commons, then they have embarked on a career—I will not say of vengeance, but on that of a very rash and ill-considered spending of blood and treasure. Last night the Prime Minister did not unsay a single portion of his statement on Thursday; and, therefore, we must take it that that deliberate n written statement is still to be regarded as the basis of the policy of the Government. He applied to it a process of mild attenuation; but this is too grave a matter for us to permit it to be attenuated. They must stand upon their words, that the basis of their policy is the overthrow of the Mahdi, or they must withdraw them. We cannot allow these things to be left to doubt, uncertainty, or vagueness. Some words used on the subject by the Prime Minister appeared not inconsistent with, but somewhat to weaken, the previous statement. But I presume the basis I have mentioned must be taken to be the one adopted and intended. The obscurity is as to how far their objects are to be sought, and how far they are to be realized. The Prime Minister has been anxious to explain that he is consistent; but I do not care to go into that subject. I think he said that the Government had never varied in their policy of abandoning the Soudan, and that their policy had been entirely consistent. [Mr. GLADSTONE dissented.] I do not think the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister need take me up for suggesting that he was adhering to his consistency, because I am not aware that at any time in his long and honoured career he has ever admitted that he was inconsistent. Now, Sir, if there was no past for us to remember; if we had not the wretched experience of the last two or three years in Egypt, and the miserable experiences of the past year, I could understand the Government meeting this Motion by asking once more to be trusted. We might hope, if this were a question of a fresh occasion, that there would be in the future some resolution and purpose about the Government; but the past career of the Government indicates that the future under the control of the Go- 1251 vernment must be absolutely hopeless. They have been unreliable in the past, and they will be unreliable in the future. They have been tried and found wanting, and there is no guarantee whatever upon which any rational man can rely that, no matter what pledges are now given, the Government policy will not be again one of useless expenditure and wanton bloodshed.
§ MR. GOSCHEN
Mr. Speaker—Sir, I hope that in the course of this debate we may have reason to convince ourselves whether the taunt which has been levelled by the right hon. Gentleman who has just sat down at the Government is, or is not, without foundation—namely, that they intend to go to Khartoum to please the Whigs, and that they intend to retire from Khartoum to please the Radicals. I trust that the Government, by the most explicit declarations, will be able to show that for such a statement there is absolutely no foundation. I am sure that I express the almost unanimous view of this House when I say that if there is one thing for which we are all anxious, it is that we may thoroughly understand what the policy of Her Majesty's Government is. I will venture to implore Her Majesty's Government, even more than has hitherto been done, to take the House into their confidence, and to let us see what the ultimate objects are at which they are aiming. We have to remember this—that we have not only to decide these matters in this House, but that the country has to be called upon to make considerable sacrifices; that it will not be sufficient to place before our constituents vague statements and problematical contingencies; that it will not be enough to say there are some objects which under certain circumstances we must use reasonable efforts to secure; but we must be able to show that there is something vital to the interests of this country at which the Government are aiming by the sacrifices which the nation will be called upon to make. At this time of the evening I will certainly not dwell on the retrospective part of this case. I will not go over ground which the right hon. and learned Gentleman opposite (Mr. Gibson) has touched upon—whether there was danger to General Gordon or not. I will confine myself on that point to one single remark—that if it was incomprehensible to some persons in May 1252 and August that the Government did not recognize that there was danger to General Gordon, it is not likely that subsequent events will have changed their minds in that respect. Nor do I think it fair that the danger should be calculated in this matter by the single test—whether heroism was able to avert the danger. A man may have been in tremendous danger for many months, and it is no proof of there having been no danger that by stupendous efforts—with almost impossible means—he succeeded in averting the danger which threatened him. None of us can be surprised that many hon. Members in this House, and the whole country out of it, should review the circumstances connected with the death of General Gordon with the greatest indignation. But it is still more important in the situation in which we find ourselves to know what are the responsibilities we are about to undertake, what will be the ultimate sacrifices we may be called upon to make, and what are the difficulties that will be encountered in this matter. The question cannot be confined, as in the eloquent speech of my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (Mr. Trevelyan) it was almost confined, to the military operations, but it touches some of the most important political considerations ever submitted to an Assembly such as this. Now, I am bound to say that I do not find, as regards my own mind—and I should like to know what is the case with hon. Members who sit both below and above the Gangway—I do not find that my own mind has become clearer as to the ultimate intentions of the Cabinet as this debate has proceeded. I think there was one surprise this evening for some hon. Members below the Gangway. They erroneously imagined that Her Majesty's Government had pledged itself to the evacuation of the Soudan; but if they had followed accurately the language of my right hon. Friend at the head of the Government, they would have plainly seen that he had certainly said no such thing. But why do these misapprehensions occur? Because the important point of evacuation or non-evacuation was simply treated by that one phrase, which was quoted to-night, and was never expounded or placed clearly before the House of Commons. We were unable to gather, except from 1253 that one phrase, what the intentions of Her Majesty's Government were with regard to the Soudan, after they had made these forward offensive operations to which they are pledged. I should wish to be permitted, before I make some remarks upon the policy of the Government as regards the Soudan, to say a word or two on some other political points connected with our position in Egypt, to which scarcely any allusion has hitherto been made in the statements of Ministers. I wish to show how little we really know, even at present, of our situation in Egypt and the Soudan. I want to know what it is that Hassan Fehmy Pasha, the Turkish Envoy, is negotiating at present with the Government in London? Are there negotiations in progress which touch the Eastern portion of the Soudan? Are there operations contemplated with regard to the occupation of Suakin, or has it occurred to Her Majesty's Government that the Sultan is the Suzerain of the Soudan, and that, if we do not wish to stay there, or if we wash our hands entirely of that country, he may think it wise to take our place? I know nothing about this; but we see matters going on of which we know absolutely nothing. Take, again, that queer incident of Prince Hassan. These things puzzle hon. Members on both sides of the House. I am glad to see that my right hon. Friend acknowledges we have a right to be puzzled. But why does my right hon. Friend not give us somewhat clearer glimpses of his policy? It seems to amuse my right hon. Friend; but I was extremely puzzled the other day by a journal not unfriendly to Her Majesty's Government which suggested that Hassan was going into the camp of Lord Wolseley, because, possibly, Lord Wolseley would find something for Hassan to do ultimately at Khartoum. How are we to understand a hint of that kind? I have seen the Papers presented to the House; but whether this ultimate intention is in the breasts of any of Her Majesty's Advisers I am unable to ascertain. A third point to which I should like to call attention is this—what are the Italians doing at Massowah? What is our position with regard to those ports of the Red Sea which have been partly occupied by the Italians? Is there any understanding with that gallant and friendly nation that they will be of some 1254 assistance to us? Do we look to them to garrison Massowah; or is it simply an extraordinary coincidence that the Italians should occupy that port at such a time? Let me suggest a fourth point, about which, for my part, I know very little, and of which I do not know whether hon. Members know more, and that is that, coincident in time with all these difficulties in which we find ourselves in the Soudan, we hear of Germany and Russia and other Powers claiming more power and greater locus stands in Egypt Proper than they have done for some time past. Therefore, when this country is to be called upon to make great sacrifices to protect Egypt Proper, I should like to ask what is to be the future of that Egypt which is to be protected by the money of the British taxpayer, and by the bayonet of the British soldier? Now, we know that the Government have pledged themselves to a distinct policy; but there are two alternatives. There is an international Egypt, and there is an autonomous Egypt. We may soon see, in these negotiations with the Powers with regard to finance, what the view of the Government is as to the autonomy of Egypt, the development of her institutions, and leaving her to stand alone, as far as she can possibly be allowed to stand alone. Is that principle to be sustained in its absolute integrity? It is suspicious that Foreign Powers have been so extremely eager to give an international guarantee. I should hope that we shall soon hear, and I trust and believe that Her Majesty's Government maybe able to give, a satisfactory answer on that point—at all events, an assurance, that in the coming years, while we are making these efforts, which will have to be as great as the Government have sketched out, we shall retain as free a hand in Egypt as we have now, and have even a clearer position in relation to the Egyptian Government. Some time ago it was a policy of neutrality for Egypt towards which the Government were tending. Is that still their policy? It would be wrong of me to elaborate these points now in any degree; but I wish to suggest them to Members of the House of Commons, to show how ignorant we still are of the whole situation, and how much we must learn still before we know what the real policy of Her Majesty's Government is, as a whole, in regard to 1255 Egypt, because I think we shall be justified in assuming that the policy of Her Majesty's Government as regards Egypt will more or less influence them in their policy as regards the Soudan. According to our position in Egypt Proper, so will be the attitude we take in the Soudan. I wish now to call attention to the policy of the Government, so far as we know it, in the Soudan, in consequence of the disaster which has recently occurred. The first announcement of policy was made almost immediately after the great disaster at Khartoum, and it is on that we have definite information from the Government—namely, that they intend to break the power of the Mahdi at Khartoum. To that I understand they have pledged themselves. Other subsidiary objects they have suggested; but to that one point they have pledged themselves. Hon. Members will remember that soon after the news arrived there was no uncertain sound in any Governmental quarters. Lord Wolseley was instructed that the power of the Mahdi must be broken at Khartoum. The Earl of Rosebery made an eloquent speech at Epsom; he joined the Cabinet upon what was believed to be a declaration of a strong and vigorous policy in Egypt; the Colonies responded to the general note which had been struck; and my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (Mr. Trevelyan) also made an eloquent and somewhat martial speech. Then came the Thursday on which my right hon. Friend at the head of the Government made his statement of the intentions of the Government—a written statement, as it has been explained to us—and I am bound to say that most of us who listened to the statement of my right hon. Friend did not recognize in its tone the same ring that had characterized the previous utterances of some of his Colleagues, and the declarations that had been previously made. As has been said by the right hon. and learned Gentleman who has just sat down, several matters were stated in that declaration as lying within the intentions of Her Majesty's Government. There was the obligation to the persons for whose safety General Gordon had forborne to escape; there was the possibility of establishing an orderly Government at Khartoum; there was the subject of the Slave Trade; there was the 1256 matter of the Egyptian garrisons in the Soudan; and, besides that, there were the important and serious general consequences to Egypt and the East. And we must attach considerable importance to this document, because, as we now learn, it was a written document, and it expressed the views of the Government.
I do not wish to be misunderstood. I did not go so far as to call it a written document; I stated that there were written notes affecting the material parts of it.
§ MR. GOSCHEN
I would not wish for a moment to push my right hon. Friend further; but I take it that, in the main, the statement represented the carefully-expressed views of the Cabinet, and it is extremely important for us to note that point. As to the extent to which the Government intend to stand to these objects, that is a matter on which I confess that my own mind is at present a perfect blank. It was in the same speech that my right hon. Friend at the head of the Government said they were pledged to the evacuation of the Soudan by Egypt. [Mr. GLADSTONE assented.] I am glad to see that my right hon. Friend assents to that. That is one of the points on which there is no doubt. But the curious point is this—that when my right hon. Friend spoke, on the following Monday, nearly all those points which were introduced on the Thursday before vanished from the enumeration that he then made.
who rose amid cries of "Order!" said: I rise to Order. I must correct my right hon. Friend. I distinctly referred to those points. It was not necessary for me to go over all of them again.
§ MR. GOSCHEN
That is a point upon which I distinctly join issue with my right hon. Friend. I think that it was necessary to refer to them again, because it was done before only in the way of allusion; it was a simple allusion to those points; and I want my right hon. Friend to remember that, as I have suggested before, hon. Members have to go to their constituents on these matters; and we wish him to give us the key-note in this House, and to expand these points, as he expanded some of the points in his reply to the right hon. Gentleman opposite (Sir Stafford Northcote). Take the one subject of the Slave Trade. The Slave Trade was 1257 referred to in the first statement of my right hon. Friend, but not in the second. He did not refer to it again. [Mr. GLADSTONE: Yes; I did.] Of course, I accept the statement of my right hon. Friend at once; but I do not think we have had any other answer than this, nor did my right hon. Friend distinctly develop the point, although, on a previous occasion, the President of the Local Government Board (Sir Charles W. Dilke) had stated in debate that there was no good whatever in attempting to stop the Slave Trade at Khartoum, but that it must be stopped on the East Coast. I assure my right hon. Friend that I allude to these matters only that we may have a clear case, and know precisely where we are, and not for one moment in any controversial spirit. Now, I ask my right hon. Friend, since he has alluded to this subject of slavery, and since he says he alluded to it again in his second speech, whether we may take it for granted, and put it before the public, that a part of the object of Her Majesty's Government, and a serious part at a moment like this, is to assist in suppressing the Slave Trade? Is that going to last? Is that a motive which is to operate on our minds? In the speech which my right hon. Friend made in reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle (Mr. John Morley), he did not allude to the difficulties which have been started in regard to the Slave Trade. I want to clear up this important matter. May I take it from the Government, and will some subsequent Cabinet Minister, when speaking, tell us, that we may fairly go to the country with this as one of the objects of the sacrifices they are called upon to make. But if they are not in earnest, and if it is not intended that this is to have any weight at all, let us withdraw at once frankly from the position, and say that the Slave Trade is not one of those matters for which we are going to Khartoum. I object to these philanthropic aims if they are only put forward for the time. Although my right hon. Friend told me I was wrong upon one point, and consequently lengthened my remarks, his correction has enabled me to put before the House this one point as one of the objects for which we are going to Khartoum. But to return to the declarations of my right hon. Friend. 1258 In his first speech the question was as to whether there was a possibility of establishing a Government at Khartoum. I notice that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (Mr. Trevelyan) has repeated that statement this evening, in connection with his somewhat extraordinary remarks with regard to negotiations with the Mahdi. It appears that we are to utilize the Mahdi in the Soudan after we have broken his power at Khartoum. "We are first to attack and smash him, and then we are to utilize a smashed Mahdi for those purposes for which we may, in that condition, still find him useful. But let the House note this—that the recommendation of General Gordon was that the Mahdi should not be utilized for Khartoum, but that he should be utilized for Kordofan.
§ MR. GOSCHEN
Yes; and my point is that if we are to establish a Government at Khartoum the very quotation in which the use of the Mahdi was recommended shows that for Khartoum he should not be utilized, and therefore there is to be some other form of Government at Khartoum. Let me put before the House the statement of the Prime Minister in his second speech with regard to establishing a Government at Khartoum. It is this—We are not prepared to say that there is no obligation upon us to use, according to circumstances, reasonable efforts, if we go there, to leave behind us an orderly Government"—that is to say, this statement contains a double negative, and three hypotheses. There are three "ifs" and two "noes," and it is upon that statement that we are to go forward and break the power of the Mahdi at Khartoum. Now, it appears to me that this is far too shadowy a statement for us to be able to utilize it as an argument that there is a real object in going to Khartoum. Do we mean or do we not mean to establish an orderly Government at Khartoum? It appears to me that my right hon. Friend was infinitely more eloquent in denouncing the proposition of the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition, which much more resembled his own policy, than he was in denouncing the policy of my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle (Mr. John Morley), which struck at the key-note of the Go- 1259 vernment policy. What is the key-note of the Government policy? We are to break the power of the Mahdi at Khartoum. To that my hon. Friend is thoroughly and decidedly opposed. The Prime Minister dealt very gently with my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle; but he was extremely strong in his answer to the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition, who proposed toassure a good and stable Government to Egypt, and to those portions of the Soudan which are necessary to its security.Now, the proposal of the Government is that we should try and leave behind us an orderly Government at Khartoum, and the proposal of the right hon. Baronet opposite is that we shouldassure a good and stable Government to Egypt, and to those portions of the Soudan which are necessary to its security.I must say that I thought my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister went too far when, he said, in reply to the right hon. Baronet, that that must mean the whole of the Eastern Soudan. Why should the whole of the Eastern Soudan be necessary to the security of Egypt? I do not think that was laid down by the right hon. Baronet, and surely my right hon. Friend himself cannot think the whole of the Eastern Soudan is necessary to the security of Egypt, because he has himself said that such measures as are necessary for the security of Egypt must be taken by Her Majesty's Government. I wish to call the attention of the House to that point. I do not think that the wordsassure a good and stable Government to Egypt, and to those portions of the Soudan which are necessary to its security,bear the very wide interpretation put upon them by my right hon. Friend. Now, in answering my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle (Mr. John Morley), what did the Prime Minister say? He joined issue with my hon. Friend mainly on the military operations. He did not join issue with him on the objections made to the breaking up of the power of the Mahdi at Khartoum. And I say this—being anxious to support a vigorous policy—that we have not had sufficient arguments presented to us in this House, so far, to justify that pledge of the Government, that we are necessarily to break up the 1260 power of the Mahdi at Khartoum. I do not say that it is not necessary—I do not say that the Government have not exercised a sound judgment in coming to that conclusion. I doubt it; but all I say is that they have not placed before the House sufficient arguments to justify that course, especially if there is no other good to flow from it than a military retreat. I would ask any Members of the Cabinet who are going to speak in this debate to tell us, if they can tell us in no uncertain manner, this—Do they attach, or do they not attach, importance to the argument that we must break the power of the Mahdi at Khartoum in order to influence the East generally with regard to the omnipotence of our arms? Is that, or is it not, the argument of Her Majesty's Government? They cannot be silent upon points like that; they must tell us, if we are to make further sacrifices, whether there is in this more than the military question; whether their policy is to assert our influence generally; or whether it is simply to assist General Wolseley in retreating in the most creditable manner? These are issues which cannot be evaded, and with which it is the bounden duty of the Government to deal. Now, I will frankly state to the House my opinion that this programme of going forward to break the power of the Mahdi at Khartoum, without any more definite objects than those given in the shadowy declarations of the Prime Minister, is both too much and too little. I am not sure whether it is not too much. The Government have pledged themselves to a much more difficult task than some of the other objects referred to by them. But how long during the months of weary waiting will the country stand by them and insist on the breaking of the power of the Mahdi at Khartoum, relying only upon this shadowy argument, and without anything tangible before them? I say it with as profound a conviction as I have ever held on any subject in my life, that it would be disastrous if in the end we should fail in the performance of the task we have undertaken, and have to bear the ignominy of retiring from the position we have taken up. Let us, while there is still time to deal with this question, pause and see whether the House of commons will exact from the Govern- 1261 ment that they should absolutely pledge themselves to this task. In my opinion, there are tasks less heavy and more useful which would equally assist the honourable retreat of our Army, and, at the same time, secure certain ends in which I am sure Her Majesty's Government will concur as being desirable, and which, I believe, are more possible than the course which they propose. Now, there are two objects which, to my mind, ought to be almost an irreducible minimum in what we are about to undertake. I gathered with great pleasure from the speech of my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (Mr. Trevelyan) that the Government recognized the responsibilities we have incurred to those tribes and to those men who have supported us in our operations in the Soudan. Now, that is a tangible point upon which the country would, I believe, be unanimous; it is a point on which you can appeal to every sentiment by which it ought to be inspired. We must stand by those who have stood by us, and therefore we must consider especially what is the position of such a Province as Dongola and the tribes in that neighbourhood who have assisted us; and I should consider that any scheme for the settlement of the Soudan which did not afford some security to those who have assisted us would be unsatisfactory in the highest degree. But there is another point which I would humbly submit to the consideration of my right hon. Friend and the House. We are to construct a railway from Suakin to Berber. Am I to understand that that railway is for military purposes alone? In that case, what is to be the fate of that railway? Is it to be broken up, or is it to be handed over to the wild hordes of Arabs? Again, I have no information as to what steps have been taken with regard to slavery, and whether any precautions will be taken to prevent it at Khartoum; but I want to know whether we are also going to leave Berber unprotected, and is the railway to be in such hands and in such a condition that fourth-class carriages will be attached for the conveyance of slaves from Khartoum to the coast? What is to be the fate of the railway? Now, I say there is a clear—I will not say an easy policy, because Heaven knows that I thoroughly recognize the great diffi- 1262 culties which beset Her Majesty's Government—but we have to choose; and I say it strikes me it would be a better policy to put our grip on the Nile by holding Berber and the railway from that place to Suakin, than to march forward and break the power of the Mahdi at Khartoum. It appears to me that this is a simpler policy, and one which places us nearer to our true base—namely, the sea. If I am asked—"Do you propose to garrison Berber with English troops?" I reply by another question—"How do you intend to deal with Suakin; how do you intend to deal with the littoral of the Red Sea? What is your policy there?" You may hold Berber, not by British troops; but I do trust that, in any case, it will be held as the outpost of Western civilization on the Nile, and not in any selfish interest of England alone, but as signifying that civilization is not entirely to be driven out of the Soudan, and that arrangements may be made in that way to secure the route from Suakin to Berber. Of course, I can imagine that most of my hon. Friends below the Gangway may be opposed to that idea; but are they more opposed to it than to the idea of the Government that we must crush the power of the Mahdi at Khartoum? I submit that it is a simpler policy; that it is an easier policy; and, more than that, that it is a policy which does not leave us open to the fearful reproach that we are simply to move forward to conquer and fight battles, without being able to point in the Soudan to one single object which we have attained. For I do not believe in the establishment of a stable Government at Khartoum, unless the Government hold much stronger language upon the subject than they have held hitherto. I say, again, that it is not only necessary to convince us that they will do it, but that it is necessary to convince the country; and unless they can do that they will not have the country with them. Sir, I have endeavoured to place before the House the difficulties in our way, and the various issues which cannot be put aside. I am not prepared myself to support the policy of pledging ourselves absolutely to break up the power of the Mahdi at Khartoum, without any further pledges and without any stricter declarations of intention from Her Majesty's Government than we have 1263 received up to this moment. If Her Majesty's Government will say how far they really intend to go; if they can say that they will at least hold Berber, even if they do not go to Khartoum; if they will say they will not leave the Soudan until they have ensured the safety of those who have stood beside us; if they will make these declarations in clear and unmistakable language, and not surrounded with too many contingencies; not putting it as that one declaration has been put, with a double negative and three "if's;" if they will put such an object clearly before us, then I shall be prepared to support Her Majesty's Government. But if they will not pledge themselves to anything more than to break the power of the Mahdi at Khartoum; if they will not say that there is anything more to which we shall be able to point before we retire, then I cannot see my way to support Her Majesty's Government, and shall be bound to vote for the Motion of the right hon. Baronet opposite.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Debate be now adjourned."—(Mr. Chaplin.)
§ Motion agreed to.
§ Debate further adjourned till Thursday.