HC Deb 30 March 1894 vol 22 cc1060-4

hoped he should not be out of place if he once more pressed upon Her Majesty's Government the question of the production of the Papers relating to Siam. They had been promised from time to time that these Papers should be produced, but the hope deferred by the Government made the heart of the Opposition sick. This question of Siam was one on which large sections of Her Majesty's subjects felt considerable anxiety. They feared the British interests had to some extent been sacrificed, that the commercial interests especially had not been safeguarded, and that France had been allowed to obtain a position with regard to Siam that might seriously compromise the independence of that country in the future. He was sorry the Under Secretary for Foreign Affairs was not in his place, but it was well known that they intended to raise this question, as their object was to obtain the production of the Papers so as to enable them to judge how far their Foreign Office had been able to go with the Government of France in this matter; whether the Siamese had really been victimised, and whether the independence of the Kingdom, which was coterminous to the south-eastern portion of our Eastern Empire, had been properly protected or not. The extraordinary delays on the part of the French Government in bringing matters to an issue had, he would not say been viewed with suspicion, but had caused grave apprehension as to whether or not Franco contemplated the ultimate absorption of Siam. They were 1oth to take an unkindly view of the motive and conduct of our gallant neighbours, but there had been so much high handedness in the conduct of France, such undue precipitancy in proceeding against Siam, such excessive severity in the execution of terms, that our French neighbours must not be offended with them if they desired to make a stand on behalf of the British side of the question, and endeavour to press the matter forward. He was glad the hon. Baronet had now come to his place, and be hoped the hon. Gentleman would be able at once to inform them whether there was a chance of these Papers being soon delivered. They were told before Easter that immediately after Easter the Papers should be presented, but Easter had come and gone, and yet they did not obtain the Papers. If they seemed unduly hasty in the matter their answer was that they were the only parties who had not got these Papers. Their French neighbours had got their Papers; the French Parliament, the French public and French politicians all knew the French view of the question; but the British Parliament and public did not yet know the views of their own Government. They did not know how these Papers would affect the general question between the two nations, how far they would be able to vindicate their own rights and position, or whether or not they ought to be satisfied with the position of Siam. All interested in this really burning question, which might be of enormous importance in the future, were unaware what considerations were hung up until they could understand what the Papers would show. The future independence of Siam was really the main object, and he would warn the Government that, unless some joint understanding could be arrived at between France and England in respect to the future of Siam, that India would probably not be safe. This was becoming a double pressure; it was a double-barrelled opposition to the progress of the British Empire in the East. There was a war-cloud hanging over both Continents, one on the side of Russia and the other on the side of France, and he did not know which cloud was darkest or the most menacing; but it would be a most dangerous concatenation of events for England if ever there should be a war in which France and Russia were on the one side and England on the other. Just imagine India between two such fires, but that was what they were being threatened with by Russia on the one side and Franco on the other. He had no doubt all this was as well known to Her Majesty's Government as it was to them, but they would like this knowledge to show itself in such vigorous action as might keep back those two advancing Powers, that should keep Russia in check on the one side and Franco in check on the other. There was no doubt this matter of Siam had greatly increased the risks and peril of India which, Heaven knows, were great enough before. He did not think anything so serious to the future safety of India could have happened than this matter of Siam. It had long been foreseen by Anglo-Indian statesmen, and warning after warning had been given. After ail, what did the British Government say? That England had no immediate concern in the quarrel between France and Siam. England had the most vital concern, and to say that, on the part of the British Government, was entirely to give the case away and throw it to the wolves. That was what had happened, and he said it with great regret, because in all other respects he was one of those who greatly admired the manner in which our foreign affairs had been built up. The hope that after all some remedy might he found to mitigate this danger must be the excuse for troubling the Government in the matter. No doubt, it reminded them of the hammer and the tongs, but they were obliged to go on hammering. Those warnings from Anglo-Indian sources ought to be far more respected by the British Parliament than they were. Every one of the misfortunes that had happened in Central Asia had been predicted. Every single prophecy in regard to the advance of Russia had been verified. Now similar warnings were given in respect to the advance of France, and they saw how little they were regarded. Still, they would go on warning and warning in order that the perils that threatened India might be somewhat mitigated. If a sound and conciliatory policy on the one hand, though firm and resolute on the other, were adopted, it would be still possible to preserve the independence of Siam.


said, he did not propose to follow the hon. Baronet in the discussion of the general question because it had been discussed in the House on previous occasions, and since it was last discussed nothing new had happened in the situation to render it desirable that it should be again discussed on the part of the Government. The hon. Baronet's views had often been expressed, they were always received with attention, and they were well known to Her Majesty, but he must dissent from one statement, which was, that the Government had declared that this country had no interest in Siamese affairs.


said, he had not said that; what he said, and still said, was that Her Majesty's Government declared that when the quarrel arose between France and Siam on the banks of the Mekong that England had no immediate interest in that quarrel.


said, that if he remembered aright he did not think anything more was said than this, that England had no immediate interest in certain incidents of that quarrel. But another statement was made last year, to the effect that the Government considered this country had considerable interest in the maintenance of the independence and integrity of Siam, and, of course, those two statements must be taken together. With regard to the production of Papers, he had explained about 10 days ago that the Government were delaying because they thought it desirable that a final settlement of the points at issue between France and Siam should be arrived at before Papers were presented. He understood that now there only remained one point outstanding and still unsettled. That point was the question of the trial of a Siamese official accused of the murder of a French officer. One stage of the trial had resulted in the acquittal of the official. They were not quite certain, but what they heard rather went to show it was probable that there would be further proceedings. He hoped and expected, however, that the final result of this trial would not be long delayed. It was thought desirable still to refrain for a time from publishing Papers, in the hope that a satisfactory settlement of this outstanding point would be arrived at shortly.

Main Question, as amended, put, and agreed to.

SUPPLY,—considered in Committee.

[Mr. MELLOR in the Chair.]

(In the Committee.)