HC Deb 27 June 1889 vol 337 cc893-4
EARL COMPTON (Yorkshire, N.R., Barnsley)

I beg to ask the Under Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether he can give the House any information with regard to the present negotiations with Portugal as to the Zambesi and the territories lying to the north of that river, and south of the sphere of Germany and the Congo State; whether the Zambesi has been treated by the British Government as a free and open river by the action of our men-of-war in pursuit of slaves, and by the British Government defraying the expenses of the Livingstone Expedition in 1859, when H.M.S. Pioneer constantly used the river without permission from any other Government; what are the diplomatic methods employed by Her Majesty's Government in order to protect the lives and properties of British subjects on and in the neighbourhood of Lake Nyassa; whether Her Majesty's Government are aware that the Portuguese Government, in carrying out the provisions of the blockade, prevent arms being sent to British subjects, while they allow weapons to be introduced which can only be intended to arm the slave dealers; and whether a complete surrender to the claims of the Portuguese Government, which would inevitably lead to an extension of slave trade in South Africa, is contemplated by Her Majesty's Government?


There are no negotiations at present with the Portuguese Government on the subject of the noble Lord's question. We have no record to the effect that any of Her Majesty's ships have pursued slavers on the River Zambesi. H.M.S. Pioneer navigated the river, and Her Majesty's Government have maintained the right of Her Majesty's subjects to do so, as on an International highway. The danger to British settlements arises entirely from the hostility of the Arab slave dealers, and therefore there is no question of protection by diplomatic methods. Her Majesty's Government have no such information. There is no ground whatever for such an imputation. We have no intention of surrendering any right that we have claimed in those regions.


The reason why I used the words "diplomatic methods" in the third paragraph of the question was that they were the words used by the Prime Minister to a deputation. I understood that the Government had promised to use diplomatic methods, in order to secure the safety of the Scotch missionaries. Is nothing being done at the present moment for the safety of the subjects of Her Majesty in the district of Lake Nyassa?


I would refer the noble Lord to the full statements which have been made, both in this and the other House of Parliament, and to the Prime Minister's explanation upon the subject. They go much further than I could do in an answer to a question. Her Majesty's Government are not indifferent to the rights which Her Majesty's subjects have gained in connection with these rivers; but, as I have intimated, no negotiations are going on at present.


Is it not the case that Arabs and native Portuguese subjects can obtain arms and ammunition, whereas British subjects are prevented from importing either arms or ammunition?


We have not been so informed.


When did the Government receive their last information? Will they ask for further information from the British Consuls as to whether it is a fact that large quantities of arms and ammunition are now passing through the Portuguese Colony of Mozambique into Central Africa?


If that is the case Her Majesty's Government will be informed by their agents.