HC Deb 09 August 1890 vol 348 cc425-41

Motion made, and Question proposed, That a sum, not exceeding £46,326, be granted to Her Majesty, to complete the sum necessary to defray the Charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1891, for the Salaries and Expenses of the Department of Her Majesty's Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs.


I think this Vote ought not to be allowed to pass without some reference to affairs in Africa. Lord Salisbury has said we think of nothing but Africa. A few weeks ago it was "curiously enough" the centre of our interests, although a little earlier it required the efforts of Major Serpa Pinto, Consul Johnson, and the Scotch missionaries to make our Foreign Minister think we had any interest in those regions at all. A step is now being taken in the right direction in regard to the recognition of our African interests. At the same time, it is not Africa alone we think of. I should like to hear something about the progress of affairs in connection with the Behring Sea seal fisheries, about which there has been a very remarkable correspondence. There is also the unhappy conditions of the relations between Great Britain and France in Newfoundland to be considered. There have been some disquieting rumours in regard to matters in Samoa, where America was recently able to effect a settlement which promised some hopes of stability. Great disposition has been shown to treat the Government magnanimously with regard to the Anglo-German Agreement, but it is desirable, now that Heligoland has been finally ceded, that there should be no further reticence. I have never been opposed to the cession of Heligoland, which I considered a fit subject for barter. The only consideration was, seeing the Germans wanted it, that we should get our quid pro quo. What we contend is, that there has been no such quid pro quo. We cede a European territory to Germany, while Germany flings us back the most worthless part of Zanzibar, a country over which, until a few years ago, we had supreme influence, and which nobody, except perhaps the Under Secretary for Foreign Affairs, believes will retain the trade it has had in the past. It is somewhat remarkable that the first paragraph in the German exposé des motifs is to the effect that the first object of their policy has been to obtain a good Customs system. It would be interesting to hear what motive Her Majesty's Government was actuated with in concluding these arrangements. The disadvantageous terms of our occupation, as compared with those of the German occupation, have been shown. I wish to compare the position of German trade with that of ours on the Zanzibar coast. Germany takes the mainland Sultanate which lies outside the Congo zone. She can bring this territory within the zone of free trade if she desires to do so; but she is likely to retain the mainland strip of the Sultanate outside the free zone, and to hold it under the Treaties of Trade by which the Sultan of Zanzibar was bound. Hitherto there has been free trade between the Sultan's subjects on the island and the mainland of Zanzibar, but now that Germany has assumed the suzerain rights of the Sultan on the mainland, the subjects of the German Emperor will in future have the power of free trade as between the free ports and the mainland of Zanzibar which was formerly enjoyed by the Sultan's subjects in the island with the mainland strip, while goods which enter by the island of Zanzibar will be subjected to the tariff by which the Sultan levies his duties. If German goods, therefore, enter the mainland strip free, our goods entering viâ Zanzibar will enter under the tariff. Unless this has been strictly guarded against in the Agreement, it will, I think, be so, and without an internal system of Customs duties it will become applicable to the whole of the German Protectorate. There will, therefore, be a differential duty against British goods. If so, I do not see how it can be contended that free trade with Zanzibar is not a thing of the past. As to the area handed over to Germany behind the Sultanate, I have very little to say. I would only ask whether, if we are to influence the Sultan of Zanzibar to cede his territory to Germany, we are to influence Germany, if necessary, to give fair compensation to the Sultan for what she takes from him? It is also a matter of regret to many in Scotland that the sanatoriums of the Scotch missions have not been retained under the protectorate of this country. When we remember the fate of the Baptist missions in the Cameroons, which were supposed to be perfectly sacred when the Germans entered that district, there is some ground for alarm, to which the Scotch missionaries have given expression, in regard to this district. Since the discussion on the Anglo-German Agreement, a protest has been signed by the Cape Government, against that portion of it affecting Southern Africa, as to which the Cape Government was not consulted. The Under Secretary said the African arrangement was no business of the Cape's. That answer reminded me of the action of Lord Derby in regard to New Guinea—an action which has imperilled the feeling of Australia towards the Mother Country to a material degree. As a former Australia Governor, the right hon. Gentleman will, I hope, to some extent, appreciate the analogy. I think the Cape's protest was perfectly justifiable. The Cape knew very well that European territory was being ceded for nothing in particular, and it could very reasonably suppose that Damaraland might have been restored to British protection. The protest was partly based on the subject of Walfisch Bay. The hinterland doctrine was applied vigorously by the Germans in the case of Zanzibar, but they forgot that the doctrine was equally applicable to the case of Walfisch Bay and also to the northern boundary of Bechuanaland. In the discussion of this subject considerable attention was given to what was called the "Wasp's nest" between Uganda and Lake Tanganyika. If this was within the Congo free zone, and there was no necessity for negotiation, why was there a special clause in the Agreement specifying that the passage of goods should be free from all Customs dues between Uganda and Lake Tanganyika? I maintain that such a clause could also have been inserted in the Damaraland Agreement. I am afraid this question of Walfisch Bay and the Zambesi belt will be full of trouble in the future. Walfisch Bay is the only point where imports can be brought into the country, and the Zambesi belt may form a very serious obstacle in the way of a future South African dominion. Successive British Governments have been excessively careless in regard to African affairs. For years we remained without a policy, whilst other nations were pursuing the even tenour of their way. When the Foreign Secretary was forced into action by Major Serpa Pinto, we had France and Germany upon us at the same time. Germany, as usual, came very well out of it. She has, indeed, done marvellously in the position she occupies. We hear a good deal of the value of German support, but I believe our support is very much more essential to Germany in all matters outside her own borders. Germany sometimes appeals to force, which indeed she sometimes exercises in a somewhat brutal manner, but taking her at her own valuation, her position in Africa is much less strong than that of England. Many of us believe that procrastination and indecision have ended as usual in concession and loss, which has generally been regarded as unnecessary, and for which the Foreign Office can alone be held responsible.

(5.50.) MR. S. SMITH (Flintshire)

I think it may be convenient for me at this stage to bring before the Committee our Treaties with France regarding Madagascar. The Anglo-German Agreement has been followed by an Anglo-French, and then an Anglo-Portuguese Agreement. I think we have some reason to complain that during the discussion on the Anglo-German Agreement the arrangement with France with regard to Madagascar was kept entirely secret. Many of us have a very strong opinion about it, and if we had expressed that opinion at the time the decision of Parliament on the Heligoland Treaty might possibly have been different. I was one of those who, in the main, supported the Government in regard to Heligoland. With me the only question was whether we got a sufficient equivalent for Heligoland. Knowing nothing about the arrangements with France I thought it was a tolerably fair agreement. But I am bound to say the case appears very different now, when we hear that the Government have virtually consented to hand over Madagascar to the mercies of France. I have attempted on several occasions to extract from the Government some information with regard to France and Madagascar. The answers of the right hon. Gentleman the Under Secretary for Foreign Affairs were ambiguous, and I may almost say misleading. I make no charge against the right hon. Gentleman personally. Of course he was acting upon the instructions he received from his chief, but I do think he was throwing dust in our eyes. Within the last few days the French claim that they have received from us a complete acknowledgment of their rights over Madagascar. Some of the French papers are going so far as to declare that they will soon get a happy riddance of these Congregational Ministers in Madagascar, who have been giving them so much trouble. The people of this country take a great interest in Madagascar, and I feel sure that when the arrangement we have made with France comes to be generally known throughout the country it will excite great dissatisfaction. Madagascar presents one of the most remarkable examples of a savage and heathen race becoming a civilised and Christian nation. Everyone who is acquainted with the history of the island knows that at the beginning of the century it was under a horrible despotism, and that the early efforts to introduce Christianity were met by most relentless persecution. The spread of Christianity through the exertions of British missionaries was not carried on without much bloodshed. The country now, however, is in a most flourishing and progressive state, with over 1,200 churches and 1,200 schools. No country in the world, with the exception possibly of Japan, has shown such a progressive character during recent years. It forms the most beautiful spectacle of missionary effort in modern times. The success of British missionaries excited the envy of France, and in 1883 certain frivolous claims were set up on the part of France. An invasion took place, and for about two years a state of hostility existed between France and Madagascar. France bombarded the sea-port towns of the island, and insulted our missionaries, for which in one case—that of Mr. Shaw— she had to pay an indemnity. The Malagasy people repelled the French at every point, and apparently the French invasion was a complete failure, but for some inscrutable reason the Malagasy Government signed a Treaty with France in 1885, one of the Articles of which required that the foreign relations of Madagascar should be placed under the charge of France. This was a very unfortunate concession on the part of Madagascar. I ought first to have mentioned that Madagascar sent an Embassy to Europe, and it travelled to England, Germany, and the United States.

SIR HENRY TYLER (Great Yarmouth)

Is the hon. Member in order in going into the whole of the history of the French connection with Madagascar?


The hon. Member is questioning the conduct of the Foreign Office.


I consider that these facts are essential, as showing the relations in which we stand to Madagascar, and the obligations we lie under to the people. This Embassy was received with open arms by England, Germany, and the United States, and the sovereign rights of the Queen of Madagascar was acknowledged by these countries. Nevertheless, Madagascar was compelled to acknowledge French control over her foreign relations, while she retained control over her own domestic concerns. Her Majesty's Government did not recognise the Article whereby the foreign relations of Madagascar were handed over to France. That is proved by the fact that an exequatur was obtained for our Consul direct from the Government of Madagascar. However, the ignominious concession which was made has at last been ratified by the present Government. And now I wish to call the attention of the Committee to this most important fact. Whenever France has obtained ascendency, as, for example, in the South Sea Islands, which had been civilised by the British, her first action has been to exclude our missionaries. It is only two years since France expelled from one of the Society Islands a well- known missionary of the name of Mr. Jones, and she has done this sort of thing times without number. She has expelled the missionaries, and brought pressure to hear upon the natives for the purpose of compelling them to give up their faith, and so keen has the feeling of this country been as to the action of France, that 50 years ago we were brought to the verge of war on the question of Tahiti. Mr. Jones was expelled from an island in the Pacific under circumstances of indignity, and the representations which we made to France on the subject were treated with indifference, if not with contempt. We know from this what we are to expect for the Christian community in Madagascar, and the 1,200 churches and 1,200 schools there, and this splendid machinery of civilisation, which we are virtually handing over to France. We know what to expect, for all the past history of France has shown how she acts under such circumstances. I am glad to hear from the right hon. Gentleman opposite, the Under Secretary for Foreign Affairs, that in the Treaty Her Majesty's Government have entered into with France, we have taken guarantees for religious liberty and protection of the missions.


I have stated that no consent will be given to the exclusive French claims over Madagascar which do not provide for the complete freedom of religion.


I am quite convinced it is the intention of the Government to provide that, but I maintain that if we are obliged to treat with France as an intermediary, we practically lose all efficient control over Madagascar. We may begin with a certain plausible right of making representations regarding the native Christians; but as the French become more and more supreme, the time will come when they will snap their fingers at us, as they did in the case of Mr. Jones and the South Sea Islands. That is the general belief of the Madagascar missionaries. They know the hostility with which France has followed British Protestant missionaries all over the world. France has been hostile, as we know, to all forms of Christianity at home. We know that its action towards the Catholic schools at home has been unjust and cruel. It has absolutely secularised education at home. In no school-book issued under the control of the French Government does the name of God appear, or any allusion to religion at all, whilst the publication of atheistical books—even for children—goes on in that country very extensively. But, strange to say, whenever France comes into possession of a country where there is a form of Protestant Christianity practised she attacks and damages it as much as she can. Every person familiar with the policy of France will agree with me that the reason is not that the French Government cares more for one form of Christianity than another, but because she knows that whenever the natives of any of these islands have received from British Missions their first attachment to Christianity they have a kindly feeling towards this country. Her object is to supplant the kindly feeling of the natives towards this country by drawing them to another form of religion. It is a question of political ascendancy. Looking at what France has done in the past, have we any reason to doubt that she will do the same in the case of Madagascar, and it would not be a most melancholy result if this large island of signal promise—which exhibits one of the most remarkable instances since the days of the Apostles of the acceptance of Christianity—should be thrown back because this country has, in a somewhat base and cowardly way, refused to stand up for her missionaries? One effect of the French control of Madagascar may be a revival of the coolie trade, which is a kind of white slavery. Some of the accounts I have recently read of coolie labour in the South Seas are enough to make one's blood run cold. These are the prospects we have in handing Madagascar over to the French. We have plenty of national sins to confess and atone for, but we try to follow a higher moral standard. The French, however, wherever they have the control of a lower race, sink down to the level of that race. This had been their experience every- where. The conscience of the British nation at home is always in favour of justice and fair play in dealing with inferior nations. It is not so in France. Moreover, questions can be raised in Parliament about any case of harsh treatment in the administration of British government, but such questions are not raised in the French Legislature. I look with misgiving on handing over that beautiful island, with its growing civilisation, to a country which is entirely unsympathetic, and which will much rather see that Protestant Reformation abolished than advanced. The people are perfectly capable of looking after themselves. There is a kind of excuse for parcelling out savage regions like the continent of Africa among civilised nations, civilised, but in a country on the same level as Japan European countries have no right to interfere. I hold the interests of Madagascar a hundredfold more important than those of Zanzibar. I am afraid it is too late to make any effective appeal, so far as the alteration of the terms of the Treaty is concerned. I will, however, urge that the Government should take care that this country has an Agent at the Madagascar capital, with ample power to keep his eyes upon all events in progress in that country; that he should be accessible to complaints either by natives or missionaries; and that these complaints should be duly inquired into, and France bound to give reparation for any wrongs done. The Treaty should give this country the right of interfering on behalf of the natives in all such cases of hardship and oppression. Any attempt at persecution or at stamping out religion in Madagascar would raise such a storm of indignation in this country as would bring us to the verge of war with France. I beg to move the reduction of the Vote by £100.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That Item A, Salaries, be reduced by £100, part of the Salary of the Secretary of State."—(Mr. Samuel Smith.)

(6.26.) MR. BUCHANAN

It is, I think, most unsatisfactory that we should be called upon to discuss this Vote on a Saturday afternoon, so near to the end of the Session. I desire to call attention to the question of Madagascar. What do we know of the terms of the Treaty which has been concluded in regard to that island? Hon. Members probably observed in to-day's morning papers—the Morning Post and the Times—that the French Foreign Office were just going to issue a Memorandum on the subject. The Anglo-German Treaty came under the notice of the French Ministry, who called Lord Salisbury's attention to the fact that the Agreement of 1862, between France and England, with respect to the independence of Zanzibar, had——


Order, order! The hon. Member for Flintshire has moved a reduction of the Vote with special reference to Madagascar, and that must be disposed of before any general discussion can proceed.


My intention was to call attention to the conduct of the Government in connection with the Anglo-French Agreement, and I think you will find that my observations are germane to that. Lord Salisbury said he had forgotten all about the 1862 Agreement.


The special question before the Committee is the Protectorate of Madagasgar.


But surely, Sir, we have to consider he conduct of the Foreign Office in relation to Madagascar and the Anglo-French Agreement. We have derived our sole information in regard to it from the newspapers. Have we no right to ask the right hon. Gentleman for information with regard to the Agreement and the terms made, particularly with reference to Madagascar? The Committee must know how deeply this country is interested in that part of the world, and yet we are apparently giving France a free Protectorate over the island. This, no doubt, is one of the consequences of the negotiations carried on with other Powers. However, I will not pursue that subject. But I must impress upon the Government the unfairness of asking this Committee to pass this Vote before we have been officially informed of the terms of the Agreement, one of which terms is, no doubt, the cession of Madagascar to France. Then, again, what terms have been arranged with regard to the trade of Madagascar? I certainly shall support the reduction of the Vote.

(6.33.) MR. T. M. HEALY (Longford, N.)

It is impossible to discuss this Vote to-night. I am reluctant to interpose, but I would suggest to the Government whether, in view of the many important questions raised, it is not expedient to postpone the Vote, and take a few non-contentious ones?


It is impossible now to concentrate the discussion on this Vote, which has been taken in the order in which it stands on the Estimates. I would suggest that the hon. Member for Flintshire should withdraw his Amendment, and then I could reply on some subsidiary questions which could thus be disposed of.


I cannot do that until I receive a satisfactory reply from the right hon. Gentleman.


If the the Foreign Office Vote is allowed to stand over until Monday, perhaps the Committee will dispose of some non-contentious Votes in Class II.


I should be glad to go on with a few more Votes, but for the solemn pledge of the First Lord of the Treasury that the Votes will be taken in their order. On that assurance many hon. Members have already left the House for the day. As to proceeding with other business, the question is, which are the non-contentious Votes? As to Madagascar, I think my hon. Friend the Member for Flintshire has made an admirable speeech; it has convinced me that the French have the least possible right to Madagascar. But, unfortunately for his argument, he is a subject of a country which has seized Egypt and Bechuanaland, and other places, and, therefore, we do not approach this question with clean hands. On the whole, however, I am glad that an amicable arrangement has been made with France, so that she will get her share in the dividing up of the world by the Great Powers, to which the Prime Minister referred the other evening. I entirely agree with my hon. Friend that it is absurd to set Madagascar against Zanzibar. One is a small island and the other a great one. It must be remembered, however, that France has long exercised some rights in Madagascar. I can only say, in conclusion, I hope that France will act in a liberal spirit towards the missionaries, and give them free scope for their labours.


I appeal to the Committee whether the discussion at this time is not a fruitless one? I may remind hon. Members that the Government cannot state the terms of the Agreement made with France until Monday, and it must be evident that there is an understanding to that effect with France. If accounts creep into newspapers as to what is supposed to be the nature of the Agreement, of course the Government cannot be blamed for that. The statements I have seen in the Press regarding this subject considerably differ. They, therefore, cannot all be correct, and seeing that it is impossible to discuss the question on its merits, I suggest that hon. Members should abstain from doing so until Monday.

(6.43.) MR. SEXTON (Belfast, W.

It is evident the discussion on this Vote cannot be closed to-night. My hon. Friend the Member for North Longford has suggested that the Vote should be withdrawn, and I will just indicate what we think are non-contentious Votes. They are the Votes for the Privy Council Office, the Exchequer and Audit Department, the Lunacy Commission, the Registrar General's Office, and the Stationery Office.

(6.44.) MR. RITCHIE

If the hon. Member for Flintshire will be good enough to withdraw his Amendment I will propose, on behalf of the Government, to withdraw the Foreign Office Vote and take some non-contentious Votes.

(6.45.) MR. CHANNING (Northampton)

Before the Vote is withdrawn we ought to have a full assurance that we shall not be precluded from challenging the action of the Government on Monday. If that is forthcoming I do not think hon. Members will object to the taking of non-contentious Votes.

(6.46.) MR. A. O'CONNOR

I think that anyone who has noticed the way in which Supply has been dealt with this year, and the conduct of the Government during the last 48 hours, will agree that nothing more unseemly and unworthy the House of Commons could be conceived. Anything more improper on the part of the House of Commons as regards the public purse could scarcely be imagined. I had representation made to me earlier in the day that it was not intended to proceed with the Foreign Office Vote this afternoon. Sometimes these communications are not made with the personal knowledge of those sitting on the Front Bench, but I submit that these partial communications and semi-understandings with individuals, made by pre-arrangement, are altogether unsatisfactory, and never can be satisfactory. I shall make a stand against them, even if I am alone.


Order, order! This discussion is altogether irregular.


I intend to put myself in order by moving that the Chairman do now report Progress. It is admitted by the Government that they cannot give a satisfactory answer to the questions put to them in the course of the discussion. It is asked that the discussion be adjourned until Monday. Well, let it be so. If we are to wait until Monday for more information, I do not object to the adjournment of the Debate. But what I want to know is why are we to pick and choose among the other Votes, seeing that a good many Members have already left the House on the understanding that the Votes will be taken in the order in which they stand. I do not see why we should play a game of "blind hookey" with the Votes. The Government have intimated that Parliament is to meet again in November. What is the use of having a prorogation? Why should we not merely move the adjournment of the House, and bring the financial questions on again in November.


Order, order! This discussion is altogether out of order.


All I desire, Sir, is to enter my protest against playing fast and loose with the Estimates, and, in order to emphasise that protest I beg to move, Sir, that you report Progress, and ask leave to sit again.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Chairman do report Progress, and ask leave to sit again."—(Mr. Arthur O'Connor.)

(6.50.) MR. SEXTON

My hon. and learned Friend as suggested that the proposals made across the floor of the House, both by myself and the hon. Member for North Longford, were made by pre-arrangement. I do not really know what the hon. Member was referring to, or to whom he referred, but I believe any hon. Member who heard the observations, or who will read the report in the newspapers, will infer that they had reference to myself and the hon. Member for North Longford. My hon. Friend the Member for North Longford having just entered the House suggested, in order to avoid the inconvenience of further proceeding with the Debate which was then going on, that it would be better to take a number of Votes which were practically non-contentious. I wish it to be clearly understood that I had not, a moment before, the slightest intention of intervening in the Debate, and I deny that there was anything whatever in the nature of pre-arrangement in the matter. Unless the hon. Member intends to impute pre-arrangement either to me or to the hon. Member for North Longford, I am at a loss to understand what meaning is to be attributed to the words of the hon. Member.

(6.52.) MR. RITCHIE

I am not cognisant of any pre-arrangement whatever. I regard the suggestion of the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for North Longford as a perfectly reasonable one, and I may remind the House that at the end of the Session there is nothing unusual in adopting such suggestions.


I think the suggestion was aimed at some other hon. Member. As to the course which it is now proposed to take, I am afraid it will be necessary to hold the Government to the performance of the pledge which they gave to take the Votes in their order. It was a pledge given to the House, and, as many hon. Members have since left, I must protest against its being broken. Personally, I should be very glad if the hon. Member for Flintshire could withdraw his Amendment, as there are other important subjects to be raised on the Vote, including the question of Sir Lintorn Simmons's Mission. If the House is willing we might go on and dispose of other subjects connected with the Vote.


I appeal to the Government to assent to the Motion for reporting Progress. There was a distinct promise that the Votes should be taken in their order, and while I favour the suggestion of my hon. Friend the Member for North Longford, I think there might be a squabble as to what Votes are non-contentious. There is the strongest objection to Votes on Supply being forced through at such a late period of the Session and scamped. I do not think the Government will gain anything by keeping us here any later.


Inasmuch as we are now wasting time by discussing whether we shall report Progress or not, I will assent to the Motion for reporting Progress. There is no doubt that the First Lord of the Treasury agreed that the Votes should be taken in their due order, but I may point out it is often arranged that when the debate on a given Vote cannot be concluded other Votes are taken out of their order.


I regret that my hon. Friend the Member for West Belfast should have imagined that my observations were in any way personally directed against anybody on these Benches. They were observations of a general character. With regard to the non-contentious Votes, it is obvious that if they are non-contentious they cannot take very long at the next sitting, and therefore there is no reason for pressing them forward.


I think the observations of my hon. and learned Friend do not dispose of this question, and that he still owes an explanation to my hon. and learned Friend the Member for North Longford.

Question put, and agreed to.

Resolutions to be reported upon Monday next.

Committee also report Progress; to sit again upon Monday next.