HC Deb 06 February 1895 vol 30 cc133-76

SIR E. ASHMEAD-BARTLETT (Sheffield, Ecclesall) rose to move the following Amendment to the Address:— That this House regrets the neglect of Her Majesty's Government to call attention in the gracious Speech from the Throne to the injustice with which British subjects in the Transvaal are treated by the Boer Government and to the abandonment of the claims of our Swazi allies to independent security. He said, that, if the answers of the hon. Gentleman who represented the Colonial Office in that House had given any reasons for the belief that there was anything in the Papers that were being prepared for presentation, he would have been ready to wait until those Papers were in their hands; but, after all the parade that had been made in the speeches of Members of the Government, and the statements that had been made through the Press, on the occasion of the visit of the Swazi Envoys to this country, that Lord Ripon had made some fresh, definite, and important reply to their representations, and that some conditions of value for their protection and security were to be inserted in our Convention with the Powers; it appeared from the statement just made, so far as the Under Secretary was willing to make any communication to the House, there was nothing fresh since the Convention of 1893, when the Government for the first time agreed to surrender the Swazis to Boer domination. It was against that Convention that these unfortunate people and every inhabitant of the land had been protesting. It was to protest against that very Organic Proclamation that the Swazi Envoys came to this country to lay their case before Her Majesty's Government. In the newspapers last-November there appeared elaborate statements which apparently came from official sources. The Times published them as being official statements of the Colonial Office—that is to say, of the Under Secretary and of his chief, Lord Ripon. They are to the effect that the Envoys were told to go home for the very answer for which they had come 7,000 miles to this country. And what was the official answer? What were the provisions for their assured protection? What was to save them from the fate of all subject races who had been brought under Boer rule—from being practically enslaved and having their persons and property placed at the mercy of a people who could not be excelled in the history of the world for the inhumanity with which they treated subject races? There were speeches of President Kruger in which he boasted that the Boers would be able to deal as they pleased with the Swazis and with Swaziland. He asked the House to consider the claim the Swazis had upon us; and that claim was twofold. It was based upon honour and upon gratitude—gratitude for actual services rendered to the country, and honour because the pledged word of England had been given under successive Conventions to support their independence. The Swazis were a native people belonging to the finest race in South Africa—the Kaffirs. They had been for sixteen years the allies and friends of this country. They had fought side by side with our soldiers against Sekokuni. They sent help to us against Cetewayo. Though the Swazis, of Swaziland, were not actually engaged in that campaign, they held an important Laager on the Transvaal frontier, which was then British territory. There were Swazis fighting under Sir Evelyn Wood, but these, though of the same race, were settled at the time in Natal. They refused the invitation of the Boers in 1881 to join them against the English, and offered to help the British troops in their conflict, with the Transvaal. In three solemn Treaties, to which the signature of Great Britain was affixed, the independence of Swaziland had been affirmed. By Article 24 of the Convention of 1881, the independence of Swaziland was affirmed. That affirmation had been repeated in Article 12 of the Treaty of 1884. Both these were made by a Radical Government, under the Premiership of the right hon. Member for Midlothian. In the third Convention, that of 1890, made by the late Conservative Government, these words occurred:— The independence of the Swazis is affirmed, and no inroad on that independence shall be allowed, even with the consent of the Swazi Government, without the consent of both Her Majesty's Government and the Government of the South African Republic. It was not until the deplorable and disgraceful Convention of 1893, one of the last acts of the Government of which the Member for Midlothian was chief, that a direct attack upon the independence of the Swazis was sanctioned. But even then it was laid down that the South African Republic would have to obtain a Convention or Organic Proclamation, conveying to them the rights of jurisdiction, protection, and administration over Swaziland, signed by the Swazis' Queen's Regent and Council, and that no such Organic Proclamation or Convention would be recognised by Her Majesty's Government unless they were satisfied that the Swazis understood its nature, terms, and conditions. In spite of this, it was understood that a Convention still more disgraceful than that of 1893 was signed last month by Sir Henry Loch at Volksrust, under the shadow of Majuba, by which the Swazis were directed to sign a Proclamation, handing themselves over to the Boers, and by which, if they failed to do so by next May, President Kruger and his commandos would be given carte blanche to deal with the Swazis as they pleased. It was impossible to conceive a more humiliating and disgraceful betrayal than that of the Swazis by Her Majesty's present Government. These unfortunate people, from the Queen's Regent down to the humblest member of the race, were determinedly opposed to annexation by the Boers. With regard to the promise alleged to have been made by Sir E. Wood, to protect the Swazis, his first statement implied that he never made any promise at all, but afterwards he modified that by saying that in his interview with the Swazi Council, he adhered strictly to the instructions he had received from Her Majesty's Government. Sir E. Wood did not say what they were, and the Swazis said he only read out to them the Convention of 1881. Sir E. Wood appealed to the record of the Convention existing at the Colonial Office. He had asked to be allowed to read it, and permission had been refused, and the document, although it was thus appealed to, had not been communicated to the House. One of the Blue Books furnished another curious piece of evidence. In 1887, the British Agent in the Transvaal wrote to Sir Theophilus Shepstone, in Natal, that the Swazi King had been told that if he was in difficulty he might rely on British assistance. That statement had been published for seven years, and had not been contradicted. Article 24 of the Convention of 1881 between this country and the Transvaal distinctly affirmed the independence of the Swazis. This was read out by Sir Evelyn Wood, representing the British Government, to the Swazi Council and people, and, even if he had not made further distinct promises, almost any people—much more unlettered people not accustomed to the byways of diplomacy, or the various shuffles by which responsibility was shirked—would be justified in concluding that a statement made by the Government of Great Britain, and the Transvaal in solemn Convention was intended to be binding, and would be the basis of their protection in the future. Ever since that time the Swazi King and Council had acted as if they owed allegiance to this country, and believed that they were under the allegiance of Great Britain. The Convention of 1884 repeated the article of 1881, and the Convention of 1890 undoubtedly affirmed the independence of the Swazis. No serious attempt was made to deprive them of their independence until tins miserable Convention of 1893, by which the British Government endeavoured to abandon the Swazis. Anything more distressing than the position of these unfortunate Swazis could not be imagined. In the portion of Swaziland transferred to the Boers in 1884 the Swazis had been so much persecuted and oppressed that there was hardly a Swazi who dared live there. The Boers attacked others, upon whom they imposed unjust taxation, with a force of 2,500, and war ensued, which was conducted with great barbarity. When the Swazis were subdued the Boors reduced them to slavery. The appeal of the Swazis to Her Majesty was one of the most pathetic documents he had ever seen. They implored Her Majesty to save them from the destruction which being handed over to the Boers would mean for them, and they even asked Her Majesty if Great Britain could not take over their country to keep the Boers from entering it and destroying them. In the face of the claims of the Swazis upon our honour and gratitude, the Government were deliberately refusing, not merely to accept the allegiance of the Swazis, but trying to put them under compulsion to submit themselves to the accursed domination of the Boers, which they dreaded and detested. The Convention of 1881, as far as the protection of the natives went, had been absolutely a dead letter. The natives had enjoyed no protection, and the chiefs who had aided the natives had been, persecuted and ruined, and many of their followers killed and their property destroyed. The Swazis said, with truth, that whatever verbal conditions were put in our agreements with the Boers for their protection would be worth nothing if once the Boers got the control of the country. He had brought the matter before the House because he thought the honour and interests of the country were involved. President Kruger, at a great banquet the other day at Pretoria, said the Transvaal Government intended to establish a seaport, and a Navy whose flag would fly among the Navies of the world, and the suzerainty of the Queen no longer existed. Yet the Convention of 1884 did not, contain a single word abrogating the suzerainty of the Queen. While last Session the Under Secretary for the Colonies said, in reply to a question, that the suzerainty of the Queen still existed, President Kruger now publicly boasted that it no longer existed, and that, if Great Britain ventured to assert her Treaty rights, the Transvaal Government would have the protection of France and Germany. It might involve serious trouble, and even danger, to this country if we allowed the Boers to obtain a footing on the sea-board, because a time might arise when certain foreign Powers might not be unwilling to assist the Boers against us. He desired to say a few words as to the condition of things in the Transvaal. Last year, when he had brought this question before the House, he had been asked by the Colonial Minister whom he represented. He might say, in reply, that he represented all those who took an interest in the position of Englishmen in South Africa. Since he had spoken on the subject last, year he had received an enormous number of communications from those who represented non-Boer inhabitants of the Transvaal, asking to press Her Majesty's Government on this question. The position of Englishmen in the Transvaal at the present moment was, he was happy to say, unique. It was the only place in which Englishmen were treated like felons and were refused the franchise and the right of public meeting. The Boers themselves only numbered some 14,000 or 15,000, while the Natives numbered 700,000, and the European non-Boer population 60,000, of whom about 35,000 or 40,000 were British-born subjects. It was the latter who had made the country what it was. It was their capital, their labour, and their enterprise which had been the cause of the present prosperity of the country, had developed its wonderful mining industry, and had thus turned a barren land into a flourishing one. Five-sixths of the revenue of the country was paid by the non-Boers, and it was to them that the Boers owed their surplus revenue of £1,000,000 per annum, which they expended in advancing Boer interests. He wished to impress upon Her Majesty's Government that there was no hope of the disputes in the country being settled peacefully unless a change were brought about in the Boer policy. The Boers had passed a law which deprived non-Boers of all hope of obtaining the franchise, and therefore of having any voice in the imposition of the taxes which they were called upon to pay. By their action the Government were giving rise to a feeling among British born subjects in the Transvaal that they were being neglected. A Nonconformist clergyman of moderate views writing from the Transvaal, said: It is just this execrable 'scuttle' policy which is alienating the minds and hearts of Englishmen. To sum up all, I say it just depends on how the Home Government act during the next few years whether we have an Imperial or Africander South Africa. Multitudes of Englishmen are wavering in their loyalty simply because they have ceased to believe that England still has it in her to act with a firm hand. There exists not the slightest faith in the foresight or patriotism of the Home Government. No value is attached to their professions or pledges. Pride in the old country is changing to disgust. Englishmen here will in time get all political rights. I am not so sure that they will get them as Englishmen. Apparently our Government prefer to lose some 70,000 to 100,000 subjects to the Crown, though if they had half the firmness of a French or German Government they would intervene, and not only keep these subjects, but recover with them the best and wealthiest of the South African States. It was one of the greatest dangers of the time that we were alienating the affections of our fellow subjects in South Africa, and thus would dispose them to become Africanders rather than Imperialists. Last year a law had been passed depriving the non-Boers of the right of either free, public, or private meetings, and the Boer police were instructed to attack those present at such meetings if they refused to disperse. It was a significant fact that President Kruger had been endeavouring to make the Judges of the Transvaal subservient to the Executive; and, so serious was this, that Chief Justice Kotze protested in the strongest manner against, the attempt. Our countrymen there knew full well that if the Judges of the Transvaal, the chief ones of whom were honest men, knew that if the Judges were put under the control of the Executive, there would be absolutely no justice for any Englishman in the country. A law was proposed last year that nobody who had taken part against the Boers in the struggle of 1881 should exercise jurisdiction in the country. That was only defeated by a majority of 1. If it had been passed, a great number of Magistrates would have been swept away. Another measure that was being proposed was to give to the Government of the Transvaal the right of compulsory exile, and this was chiefly aimed at the independent British Press in that country. The House would recognise how serious it would be if such a measure were to become law. In conclusion, he wished to call the attention of the House to certain statements lately made by President Kruger in his public speeches. The President's avowed intention to obtain a sea-port and establish a Navy had already been referred to. In a remarkable conversation with a gentleman named Rutherford, who had objected to the policy of the Transvaal Government in spending money in buying up certain concessions, the President said distinctly:— You cannot have two masters: you cannot serve the Queen and me. That was an audacious statement for him to make in regard to his Suzerain. But in his next speech, at the banquet given in honour of the German Emperor last month, the President said distinctly that the British Suzerainty no longer existed; that, since the Convention of 1884, it had ceased to exist; and, that now there only remained simple treaties between this country and the Transvaal. That was a still more audacious statement, and it called for immediate protest from Her Majesty's Government. He hoped that the House would hear that such statements had not been allowed to pass unnoticed, and, that Her Majesty's Government had made a distinct and emphatic protest in regard to them. Many very insulting things had also been said by President Kruger and his followers against our countrymen in the Transvaal, but he did not propose to trouble the House with them in detail. They were constantly being sent to him. While the condition of our people in large towns like Pretoria and Johannesburg was comparatively secure, it was very different with those who lived in outlying parts of the Republic. In those parts Englishmen had to submit to constant insults and affronts. He would only give one example. When Sir Henry Loch went to Pretoria to inquire into the subject of Commandeering, he was greeted by the British subjects there. That meeting was dispersed by the Boer police, and the Boers, when the meeting had been dispersed, said:—"We are quite ready for you. Next time we come, we will thrash you with sjamboks." That was not a pleasant thing for Englishmen to have to listen to. As a further illustration of the spirit of the Boer Government, he would mention that, whereas at Johannesburg not 5 per cent. of the population could speak the Boer language, a Ukase had been issued that the debates of the Municipal Council should be conducted in that language alone. Summing up the case, be would remind the House that all this injustice and this denial of constitutional rights was being inflicted upon our countrymen in South Africa by a people whom, 16 years ago, we saved from bankruptcy and massacre. When we took over the Transvaal in 1877, the Boers were absolutely at the mercy of the natives. They had been disastrously defeated by Sekukuni, and were being threatened by Cetywayo. They had only 2s. 6d. in the Treasury. We were rewarded for our intervention in their behalf by the rebellion of the Boers in. 1881. The Conventions of that year and of 1884 had become entirely a dead letter in regard to native rights, and largely so in regard to the rights of British subjects, whom, he would remind the House, were murdered by the Boers in cold blood in 1881, while those who, at Pretoria and Potchefstroom, had resisted the rebellion were deprived of all their rights in the country. In view of these facts, the Boers to-day were behaving with the greatest injustice to our native allies and to our fellow-countrymen. They denied to the latter all constitutional rights, and all right of public meeting; they repudiated the Suzerainty to which they were pledged in 1881; and they threatened to call in the aid of other powers if Her Majesty's Government asserted its Suzerain power. Such a state of things was intolerable. If the Government possessed the smallest foresight, they would take steps to deal with this matter while most of the evils might yet be remedied by peaceful influence and the moral power of this country. Undoubtedly the British Government were now in a position, if only they would speak firmly, to enforce a statesmanlike policy on the Boer Government without force of arms. It was in the interests of our native allies in South Africa, and of our fellow-countrymen in the Transvaal, that he asked the House to bring pressure upon Her Majesty's Government in terms of the Amendment which he now had the honour to move.

Sir R. TEMPLE (Surrey, Kingston)

in supporting the Amendment said, the charge that was brought against the Government was that they were abandoning to the Boers a tribe who had been under their protection, and against their will. In the Session before last the Government promised the House of Commons that the rights of the natives should be protected in Swaziland. Possibly it might have been then said that the Boers had a right to establish a seaport on the coast and to make a railway joining the coast to the upland of the Transvaal, but it was stated that the rights of the natives should be protected, and that they should have a local autonomy which should preserve their lands and customs. They were not to be placed under the domination of the Boers without their consent. That consent had never been given, and pressure amounting to compulsion was being put upon them to enforce their acquiesence in Boer domination. The records of the House would show whether that were true or not. Had there not been agreements with the Swazis that their rights should be protected, and was there not proof that their dissent was not only being set aside, but was being compulsorily put down? How did the Government propose to escape from the dreadful accusations which this implied? Diplomatic statements, of course, were made from the Treasury Bench alluding to this Convention or that official Paper, but it was impossible for hon. Members, unless with Blue Books in their hands, to follow these official references. It was not by official references that these accusations should be answered, but by plain, straightforward English which everyone might understand. He hoped for the honour of England that the Under Secretary of State for the Colonies would be able to give such a reply, because unless these specific charges were replied to the Government must rest under what he must call a dreadful imputation. England all over the world had hitherto been the protector of the weak, the friend of the natives, and the helper of the helpless; she had never sacrificed the natives to her own countrymen, and much less should she sacrifice them to an alien domination. He did not call it a foreign domination, because he did not admit that the Boers were a foreign Power; but they were an alien Power, and according to latest accounts most disloyal to the sovereignty of England, if the words of their own President were to be trusted. Were we to make over our allies to these men? Were we not bound to consider the character of the Boers? He did not pretend to have persona] knowledge of the Boers, as he had of the Swazis, but the Boers had yet to establish a character for treating the native tribes with justice. If we were making over our people to them we were bound to ascertain what their character was, and they could not disregard the fact that the Boers had been persistently and consistently accused of cruelty and inhumanity towards all the natives under their authority, and to those accusations they had never succeeded in replying. He knew that Her Majesty's Government would say that they were under no positive Treaty engagements, or any specific Convention or pledge in writing to protect the Swazis. Possibly there might be some ground for that contention, but when dealing with native tribes was a great Imperial Power like England to take refuge in such excuses as that? Our moral obligation was proved to the very hilt, over and over again, by a chain of evidence extending over many years. In such a case we ought not to hide ourselves behind the thinly-veiled excuse that there were no specific declarations which could not bear the test of a Judicial Tribunal. He believed that such Judicial Tribunals as we happily had in England would undoubtedly decide that—morally, at all events—such a claim had been established on behalf of the Swazis. There was a great difference, too, between the case of the Swazis and the case of the Transvaal natives. It was quite true that the natives of the Transvaal had been utterly sacrificed to the Boers, and that we had allowed them to be harried and plundered and subjected to all manner of physical violence; but there was, perhaps, this excuse: that these people lived in the uplands beyond the reach of the strong arm of England. When once we had scuttled from the Boers in 1881 and lowered the flag of England upon Boer territory, the claims of the natives of that territory were past praying for. But no such excuses would avail us here. The Swazis lived on the plains, and were within reach of the coast; they were entirely within the protecting power of England, and, morally speaking, we had undertaken to protect them. Nothing could be easier if we were so minded, and had a true sense of British honour, than to interfere on their behalf. What could be the reason for the Government thus holding back? There must be some motive at the back of it. They were entitled to ask the reason. Dare the Government state that reason? He believed they dared not. Of course every one knew what that reason was, though very few liked to say it openly, because it was so deeply discreditable to the Government.


What is it?


said he would adumbrate that reason. There were reasons connected with what was supposed to be Imperial policy in South Africa. He greatly sympathised with the Imperial ideas of the present Government of the Cape Colony, but if that Imperial Policy required the sacrifice of any body of native tribes, he must protest against it. He sympathized as much as any one with the acquisition of Matabeleland, and he believed that it had been justly and fairly carried out. Were we, for the sake of these things, to sacrifice the Swazis? He challenged the Government to explain why it was they were throwing the Swazis overboard. Every one knew it was done on account of certain tacit agreements, agreements that were of so serious a nature that they could not be committed to writing—on account of some tacit agreements in reference to South African Imperial policy. Was that true? Would the Government deny it? [Mr. S. BUXTON: Certainly.] If the hon. Gentleman would deny it specifically they would have gained one or two steps in the argument, and if the hon. Gentleman did deny it he further challenged him to say what conceivable reason, before man and Heaven, there was for the conduct of England towards the Swazis. The Swazis were a gallant people, they had done good service, they were industrious, they were not barbarous, they were rather to be called semi-civilised, they had a natural eloquence, to which no hon. Member could pretend: there was hardly a man in the House of Commons who could make off-hand a speech so well as one of the Swazis could make in his own language; they were a people worth conciliating, they had every possible claim upon the English, a claim we could not ignore, and it was sad to think that England was now deserting them in order to subserve some Imperial policy of its own. He earnestly hoped that the days of Boer domination and Boer insolence were numbered. A great English popu- lation was growing up in the Transvaal, for where there were 1,000 Boers there would before long be 10,000 Englishmen. One knew what the result of that would be. But, in the meantime, the poor English there were being oppressed; it was wonderful to think they submitted to the oppression. But, of course, they were engaged in such a lucrative industry, and an industry which had so many delicate complications connected with it, it was so critically important for them for the moment that they should keep the peace at any price, that once and away they were compelled to submit to that which Englishmen, had never before submitted to, either at home or abroad. It was quite clear there was yet a Suzerainty of England over the Boers. The Boers admitted it in reference to Swaziland. They did not claim they could take Swaziland without our consent; but they claimed that we should compel the Swazis to consent. The House of Commons would do well to listen to the appeals now made, because it was quite clear that before long the Englishmen in the Transvaal would somehow, by force if necessary, establish their political privileges. In the day of their triumph they would remember who sympathised with them, and who did not. He hoped they would recollect that, all events, one great Party in the House were with them, that in one quarter of the House voices were raised on their behalf. He trusted they would be able to say voices were raised on their behalf in all quarters. He did not wish to involve the Government in any unpopularity with our countrymen in the Transvaal. He would rather every British Government was popular with our people abroad; but, at all events, if Her Majesty's Government would not take, up their proper position it was the duty of the Opposition to do what they could to see that right was done. He was sure that, when the Englishmen in the Transvaal had established their proper status and position there, they would remember the help that was given to them in the days of their danger and adversity, and that that would render them willing to look to England as their Alma Mater, and willing to come under the Imperial sway of the British Queen and Empress.


said, the hon. Member for Sheffield had dealt with the questions of the Transvaal and of Swaziland. He would first take the question of the Transvaal, which was quite separate in regard to substantial matters from that of Swaziland. He had no hesitation in admitting that the position of the European population in the Transvaal was to a large extent an invidious one, and was one that was entitled to due regard by any British Government. It was no part of his duty to defend the South African Republic in regard to internal administration. He could only regret, as a democrat and an Englishman, that the authorities of that country had thought fit to restrict their franchise in the extraordinary way in which it was restricted. He could only regret as an Englishman, also, and as one in favour of personal liberty, that they should only last year have further restricted the liberty of the subject, and as a Free Trader that they should have placed their trade and commerce under such a system of crushing monopolies. All he could say was that their ways were not ours. But in regard to these internal matters it was very difficult to know in what respect the hon. Member proposed that the Government should act. The matters to which the hon. Member referred were, after all, matters of internal administration; and a principle had been laid down very clearly and definitely by the late Government in a sentence, with which the present Government felt themselves in accord. It was written in February, 1890, with reference to a question regarding the internal affairs of the Transvaal, and whether the Imperial Government was practically entitled to interfere. This was the answer which Mr. W. H. Smith gave on that occasion— The Convention of London, made, in 1884, between Her Majesty an the South African Republic, contains no express reservation of the Queen's right of suzerainty, and although Her Majesty retains under the Convention the power of refusing to sanction treaties made by the South African Republic with foreign States and Nations and with certain native tribes, it is a cardinal principle of that settlement (and this is the point) that the internal government and legislation of the South African Republic shall not be interfered with. That was the interpretation of the existing relations between England and the Transvaal, which, he thought, very clearly laid down the principles to guide our conduct in the matter. Though they might differ from the way in which the Transvaal carried out their principles of administration, he did not see that in existing circumstances the Government had the right to forcibly interfere with regard to these questions. If by means of friendly communications at any time, in regard to the Convention of 1884, or in other ways, they could improve or alleviate the lot of their fellow-subjects in the Transvaal, the Government would be glad to see something of the kind occur. He agreed largely with what the hon. Member said with reference to the question of the franchise. Though that franchise was unduly restricted, the hon. Member was not quite logical in his argument. The hon. Member argued that the wish of this large European population in the Transvaal was to remain British subjects, while at the same time they wanted all the restrictions removed. But he would point out to the hon. Member that the question of the franchise and the question of allegiance had been somewhat misunderstood, both by those who were seeking an extension of the franchise, and by those who were advocating the cause of British subjects. Having looked into the question as carefully as they could, the conclusion the Government had come to with regard to the local aspect of the matter was this, that the acceptance of the franchise would necessarily involve the acceptance of some oath of allegiance. But the English law did not permit dual allegiance. Apart from the law of the South African Republic, those subjects who took the oath of allegiance to the South African Republic would, ipso facto, lose their English citizenship. Therefore it was not competent for those who urged the extension of the franchise to also urge the argument that those persons could remain British subjects. He said, however, that every European in the Transvaal ought to have the option of obtaining the franchise and of accepting the oath of allegiance. But the proposals of the hon. Member involved practically the alienation of a certain number of British subjects, and to their ceasing to remain British subjects. He pointed out that, with regard to internal administration generally, the Government thought they had no right of active or forcible interference. But where any question arose of differential treatment between British and other subjects, or any question of a breach of the London Convention of 1884, they could interfere. They had interfered in the question, for instance, of commandeering. Again, the question which had been raised as to the tribe and its Chief Malaboch, mentioned by the hon. Member, had been carefully considered; because it appeared as though the question did involve a breach of certain clauses of the London Convention with regard to slavery. In looking into the matter, however, it was found that there was a precedent in the action of the Imperial Government with regard to what was done in 1878. With regard to the question of money, it was true that the terms were less now than in 1878. [Sir E. ASHMEAD-BARTLETT: What about the breaking-up of families?] As far as he could gather from the Convention, there was no difference with regard to that subject. It was not intended under the law of the tribe to break up the families. The question, however, was one of administration, and, as regarded the principle, the Government came to the conclusion that they had no right of interference. As to the foreign relations of the South African Republic, something had been said about President Kruger, and the hon. Member wanted to know whether the Government had made any protest with reference to the language which had been used by him. The hon. Member would agree that before making any protest with regard to a man's language it was desirable first of all to know what had been said; and, as the report of the statement came by telegraph, it would be better to wait and see the text of what was really said. But he was prepared to say at once, that, as regards Article IV. of the London Convention—under which the foreign relations of the South African Republic were regulated—the Imperial Government considered that the South African Republic was distinctly within the sphere of British influence in regard to its foreign relations, and it was not competent for it to make any treaties, engagements, or arrangements with other foreign Powers without their being first sub- mitted to the Imperial Government for approval. He denied that the hon. Member had any authority to say that the Government was not as fully alive to the position of British subjects in the South African Republic as any Government could be, or that they were not as anxious to improve their position as any previous Government had ever been. The hon. Member said that he was in communication with a large number of persons in the Transvaal, and that he represented the large demand of public opinion out there. That might be the case, but the European population in the Transvaal did not consider that the hon. Member gave expression to their views, or that he was in agreement with them as to the way in which the question should be dealt with. As far as he could judge from the independent Press of the South African Republic, the hon. Member did not represent the general views of the English population there. The information the Government had received in regard to this matter was not that they desired that the Imperial Government should actively intervene in their internal affairs; they desired that the Government should give them a friendly support when opportunity served, which we shall always be ready to do. They must abide by their treaty engagements and the arrangements of previous Governments, and he could assure the House that they would not, fail in taking any legitimate steps to improve the position of British subjects in the Transvaal or in other parts of South Africa. Now, he turned to Swaziland, and he feared he must deal with that question with some detail, as it involved a historical survey of the position, He was glad to find that in the House the hon. Member did not repeat the tittle-tattle in which he indulged in the Press and elsewhere with regard to the Colonial Office and the deputation. All he could say was that the story about the Queen's message and about the deputation being hurried away had not a shadow of foundation. It was a mare's nest, and he repeated that he was glad the hon. Member had not reiterated his fictions in the House. The Colonial Office was very sorry for those poor men, coming all the way from Africa; for we knew exactly what they had to say, and they said nothing new. It was not the fault of the Government that they came at all. As regarded the message they brought they received an absolute and complete answer. The only message they brought was to offer their allegiance to the Queen of England. That allegiance England was not entitled, under treaty obligations, to accept. The hon. Member shook his head. He hoped he would admit that the Government did their best to give the deputation a full and fair hearing.


asked that the hon. Member should read the petition of the Queen Regent and the Council of Swaziland, in which it was stated that, if their allegiance could not be accepted, they hoped that their independence would be accepted.


said, that petition was not brought by the deputation, but was written over here for them. Then it was said that the Swazis had a claim that the honour of England was pledged as to their independence, and that on the ground of gratitude they should allow this Convention to be carried out. He had no desire to minimise any claim which the Swazis might have on the Imperial Government, but their claims should not be exaggerated. The hon. Member said the Swazis were twice their allies, and once offered their services. As to the Boer war no such offer was made at all. As to the Zulu war it was also untrue to say that they were in any sense their allies when that war was going on. Captain M'Leod confirmed that, and the difficulty was not to get them as allies, but to prevent them siding with the Zulus. After Cetewayo's defeat they did look after the borders, but that was all. As regards the Secocoeni campaign, they were, he fully admitted, our gallant allies. But it must be remembered that Secocoeni was one of the most threatening dangers which the Swazis had lived under for years; and, therefore, when they came forward as allies it was their own cause the Swazis were fighting for. They recognised that the British Government was coming forward to give them peace. It was the Swazis who gained more than the British Government from the result of that war. At the same time the Swazis were their allies, and they had some claims to their consideration. He repeated that the Government had given the greatest possible consideration to their claims, and they had done—they believed they had done—what was, under the circumstances of the case, the best to preserve for the Swazis what they had left for them. No one reading the Conventions of 1881, 1884, and 1890, and bearing in mind the circumstances of the time, could believe for a moment that England had guaranteed the independence of Swaziland to the Swazis. The interpretation of the clauses referred to was that they recognised that the question of Swaziland was one of mutual concern, and that neither party to the Convention could intervene forcibly in Swaziland without the assent of the other. It is quite certain that the Boers, claiming as they did Swaziland, would never have assented to an "independence" greater than this. Moreover, the Conventions expressly invalidate "independence," by providing for interference by the two countries if they mutually agree. And, as a matter of fact, of course, the independence of the Swazis has been already infringed and practically destroyed by the mutual intervention of England and the Transvaal. Even if it were true that England and the South African Republic had guaranteed the independence of the Swazis, the Swazis had so bartered away all that was of value in land, minerals, and administration, that they had absolutely destroyed any probability of maintaining their independence. The independence which the Government desired to maintain was tribal independence, and he thought they had been successful in maintaining that. That was the full extent of independence which under the circumstances and in consequence of their actions the Swazis could claim, and so far Her Majesty's Government desired to proceed. The hon. Member for Kingston asked why the Government dealt with this matter at all, and he thought there was some underhand intention of handing the Swazis over to the Boers—that the Government were actuated by some nefarious purpose in the matter. He would assure the hon. Member, as regarded the late Government no less than the present Government, that whilst, of course, Imperial questions must always be dealt with on Imperial lines, there had been no intention, no desire of any kind, to sacrifice the Swazis for any Imperial purpose. He was bound to point out to the House that the present Government had not wantonly raised this question. It was entered upon by them only because they found when they came into Office two and a-half years ago that the matter had been dealt with by previous Governments and was still pending, and they proceeded to deal with it on the same lines. Both hon. Members who had spoken on this matter seemed to think that the South African Republic practically had no rights or interests in Swaziland, and as if England could have dealt with the matter irrespective of that Republic. But they could hardly have been aware that our Treaty obligations prevented our annexing Swaziland or even declaring a Protectorate over the country. They were, in fact, under a misapprehension as to the position of the Boers in regard to the country. The Boers had been in possession of it for some time under a system of joint government, had spent many thousands of pounds in it, and had practically got all of what was of any value in the country. The Boers, therefore, had considerable interests in Swaziland, while the Imperial Government had none at all, except to see that native rights were properly protected. The question, of Swaziland first arose in 1881, when the Transvaal was handed back to the Boers. The Boers then claimed sovereignty over the country, but Her Majesty's Government of that day resisted the claim, and, in order to show that the question was one of mutual arrangement, the Government entered into the clause in the Convention of 1881. While the Imperial Government had never claimed an actual right of Protectorate or annexation of Swaziland, they had, ever since the question arose, acted conjointly with the Smith African Republic. That went on until 1889. He would here point out to hon. Members that the present position of this question was not due to the action of one Government, but to the policy pursued by three successive Governments. Between 1884 and 1889 England remained apathetic in the matter, and during that interval graziers, concession seekers and other European speculators entered the country and secured from King arid chiefs all that was of value in it. So that while in 1884 Swaziland was practically unknown and unoccupied, by 1887 or 1888 it had become the happy hunting ground of graziers, concession seekers, and others, and was rapidly falling into a state of disorder and anarchy. The position became so bad that in 1887 the High Commissioner, Sir H. Robinson, recommended to the Government that the only solution of the difficulty was to place the administration of the country wholly under the care of the Transvaal. But nothing was done under that recommendation; the matter was allowed to slide. It got worse and worse, and by 1889 the position had become so intolerable that Sir Francis de Winton was sent out to enquire, jointly with an officer of the South African Republic, into the matter. Sir Francis recommended that the South African Republic, should be encouraged to take over the government of the country as far as possible; and meanwhile he set up provisionally, as a result, a Tripartite Government. It was then proposed by the English Government to continue this system at least for three years. The Republic strenuously objected to this arrangement, and the position became so difficult that the Government of the day authorised Mr. Hofmeyr to communicate with the Transvaal Government to see whether some arrangement could not be brought about, between the Republic and England. The result was that the negotiations were only carried through on the understanding, as stated in Mr. Hofmeyr's letter of July 17, 1890, to the State Secretary of the Transvaal, that— Her Majesty's Government will be prepared. when the joint Government in Swaziland has been established and the concession claims have been settled, to consider such questions as the Government of the South African Republic may bring before it, with the desire to meet the wishes of the South African Republic as fur as possible. The Volksraad assented to the arrangement on this understanding, and that the arrangement was a purely temporary one. In the next year occurred the great trek to Mashonaland, which threatened to jeopardise our possessions in that country. The Government of the day put great pressure on President Kruger to prevent the trek, and, in this connection, the Secretary for the Colonies, Lord Knutsford, tele- graphed in May, 1891, to the High Commissioner that— If the trek is stopped Her Majesty's Government will not refuse discussion as to Swaziland sooner than the time originally understood. Sir H. Loch reported on June 17 that the trek had been stopped; and that under such circumstances earlier and greater consideration would be given by Her Majesty's Government to the Swaziland question, in order, as far as possible, to meet the wishes of the Republic in the matter. As to what these wishes were there was no concealment. Dr. Leyds, the State Secretary, in a letter to the High Commissioner on March 12th, 1891, after detailing the history of the case added— The course of events and of the before going negotiations and discussions have all led up to cause not only the Government of this Republic, but the whole of South Africa to expect a solution of this Swaziland question favourable to the Republic. The Government over Swaziland, such as is now in force as a measure of transition, urgently requires alteration by the addition of Swaziland to the Republic. And it was after this deliberation that the late Governor arranged that Sir H. Loch should meet President Kruger to settle the future of Swaziland. Therefore, the position when the present Government came into office; was that a promise had been made to discuss the question with the view of meeting the views of the South African Republic as far as possible. They found that the three years' Convention was of a preferredly temporary character, and was rapidly running out; and they knew that it could not be renewed because the Republic intended to denounce it. It, was absolutely essential, however, that some form of civil government should be introduced into the country, and, according to the pledges which had been given, it was fully understood by the Government of the South African Republic that under any new system introduced, their influence would be very largely extended in Swaziland. At all events the Boers claimed further rights in the country, and it should be pointed out that, geographically speaking, while Swaziland was surrounded on three sides by the Transvaal it was almost inaccessible to our troops or power. The Government found also that if they took over the administration of Swaziland they would have had to pay the whole cost of its administration, without any power of developing the country; all the revenues belonging already to the South African Republic; and everything else of value to concessionaires. Thus, without being able to do anything for the country, they would have run the risk of causing great friction between the South African Republic and England. The Government had to recognise the logic of events and to make the best of what he might perhaps call "a bad job," and it was thought better, in the circumstances, to allow the South African Republic to publicly retain what they already practically possessed, but without actually allowing incorporation into the Republic. The Government had, at the same time, to consider how they could best safeguard the rights of the whites and guarantee the tribal rights of the Swazis, and they believed that under the Convention of 1893 they had attained those objects. With regard to the whites, they had obtained full protection for personal and proprietary rights. They had also provided that the whites could at once become burghers of the South African Republic, and they had provided against the enlargement of the Customs duties. With regard to the Swazis, they had secured that their king should remain their paramount Chief, and that their laws and customs and rights of inheritance and succession should be respected. The Swazis were also to continue in possession of all land grazing and agricultural rights of which they had not already divested themselves. The Government, looking to the fact that our interests in the country were very small, and that those of the South African Republic were large and increasing, and taking into account the pledges by which they were bound, he asserted that the Government had really little choice in the matter, but they had done the best they could in obtaining the guarantees to which he had referred for the tribal independence of the Swazis. The Government hoped that the Swazis, who they thought had been ill-advised, might still be induced to agree to the proposals that had been made. The Government had done their best to secure for the Swazis what independence was left to them, and to preserve the rights which they themselves had not bartered away. He believed that the arrangement which had been made, if agreed to by the Swazis, would benefit them, the whites, and the whole South African Republic. It had been said that one consequence of the arrangement would be to bring the Boers nearer to the sea, but he was of opinion that by the Convention of 1893 we should keep the Boers really further from the sea. They could have approached nearer to it under the Convention of 1890, which was negotiated by the Government of which the lion. Member on the Front Bench opposite was such a distinguished feature, because, under that Convention, the South African Republic had the right of making a railway to the east coast. Under the Convention negotiated by the present Government, that right was not continued, and disappeared. Further, the hill territories lying between Swaziland and the sea were distinctly within our sphere of interest, and would, he thought, before long be brought more directly under British control. The result, therefore, of the Convention of 1893 was that our naval and military position was stronger than before. He denied emphatically that there was any truth in the suggestion of the hon. Member for the Kingston Division that the Swazis had been betrayed for a material or political gain. In all these South African questions it was absolutely necessary to take into account the opinion of those living in South Africa, and it would be ridiculous if, in considering questions affecting Swaziland and the Transvaal no regard were paid to the opinion of the South African Republic. On the subject of Swaziland that opinion was unanimous, and this, as he had indicated, the Government were bound to take into account. At the same time they had striven to do what they could for the Swazis.

SIR J. E. GORST (Cambridge University)

thought that the Under-Secretary for the Colonies must be conscious that the story which he had just unfolded was a very sad one. One felt a little ashamed when one considered the treatment which in these modern times a civilised Government meted out to native races that trusted in its honour and looked to it for protection. The hon. Member had tried to minimize the obligations which we owed to the Swazis, and with that object had made little of the services rendered by the Swazis in the Zulu war. But that war was brought to a termination by the capture of Cetewayo, and the Swazis, by impeding his retreat, practically threw him into our hands. In those days they could hardly have rendered a more important and effective service to the British Empire. It was clear that the Swazis for a considerable number of years were under the impression that their independence was guaranteed by the British Power. The Convention of 1884 declared that the independence of the Swazis within the boundaries of Swaziland would be "fully recognised," and the Article of the Convention of 1890 was still stronger, because it said— The independence of Swaziland as recognised by the Convention of 1894 is confirmed, and no inroad on that independence shall be allowed, even with the consent of the Swazi Government, without the consent of Her Majesty's Government and the Government of the South African Republic. When terms of that kind were put into a convention, he did not think the Government should turn round and say that these people had no right to suppose that England had guaranteed their independence. If, when they were told that the two Powers had put such strong words into a convention made between them, the Swazi Government came to the conclusion that their independence had been guaranteed by Great Britain, we could not be very much astonished. His position was this—that the Swazis having rendered great services to our forces, having been in alliance with us, not unreasonably came to the conclusion that they could look to us for the maintenance of their independence. But then came a sad story. When these Swazis became of no value to us, then the protection and support of their independence became inconvenient, and we found out that we had not guaranteed their independence, that they had no right to look to us as supporters, and we gradually dropped them in the most humane way we could. Such a course of policy as that he considered discreditable to our civilization. In dealing with a people of this kind, the Government should be a little more careful as to the expectations they raised and the pledges they were supposed to give, and, perhaps, a little more scrupulous in afterwards sticking to those pledges and in not allowing any people to think that they have been thrown over and abandoned by a Government they had trusted. In every one of the despatches, telegrams, and public utterances the Under-Secretary had read to the House, words were contained to the effect that the Government would meet the wishes of the South African Republic as far as possible. He would have thought that "as far as possible" might not unreasonably be interpreted to mean "as far as the honour and credit of the country and the engagement the Swazis supposed we had entered into would allow"; and he could not see in the various documents referred to anything which would pledge Her Majesty's Government to the entire abandonment of these people if they chose to adhere to their independence. The Swazis appeared desirous of maintaining their independence, and although conventions had been entered into with the South African Republic, he did not understand that Her Majesty's Government had as yet gone so far as entirely to abandon them. Tribal independence appeared at least to be secured to them, and that might practically mean a real and virtual independence. He did not wish to say a single word about the South African Republic which might be injurious to the action which Her Majesty's Government were taking; but he did not think that England had any right to hand over to other people obligations she had taken upon herself. If the South African Republic were famed throughout the whole world for its treatment of native races, he did not think Her Majesty's Government had any right to wash their hands of the obligations entered into by this country. It seemed to him perfectly clear, after listening to the speech of the Under Secretary and the quotations he had made from previous Governments—Governments of which he had had the honour of being a Member—that the whole matter substantially resolved itself into this, that while we were very glad to accept the alliance of the Swazis when it was valuable to ourselves, we entered into an undertaking on that occasion to protect them and to preserve their virtual independence. In his opinion that was an undertaking which any British Government ought to carry out.

DR. CLARK (Caithness)

said, that the speech they had just listened to did require one or two words in reply; otherwise he would not have taken part in the Debate. The right hon. Gentleman told the House that the Government of which he was a Member was so dishonourable as, after making an alliance with a people, when that alliance ceased to be valuable, to repudiate it and pitch them overboard. That would be very disgraceful on the part of any country; but England never, at any time, entered into an alliance with the Swazi people. The facts of the case were simply these: Up to 1871, when England annexed the Transvaal, Swaziland was as much a portion of the Transvaal as Kent was a portion of England. During the time that we held the Transvaal the Swazis were governed by us, as inhabitants of the Transvaal, and in 1881, when we handed over the Transvaal to the Dutch Settlers, a Convention was made, and by that Convention Swaziland was for the first time separated from the Transvaal. A Commission was appointed, and the original proposal made on behalf of the British Government was that the extent of the Transvaal should be limited to that territory where white men had their farms, and that a large district, West and North, should be cut off altogether from it. Matters were fully discussed, and a compromise was arranged that both Bechuanaland and Swaziland should be excluded from the Transvaal State, because there were no white men in those territories. The experiment was tried from 1881 to 1884, unfortunately as far as Bechuanaland was concerned, for wars began there. In 1885 a Scotchman went to Swaziland and obtained from the King a Concession by which he maintained the whole of the mineral rights were given over to him. Shortly after, the King began to grant other concessions, and nearly every right of every kind was handed over to Concessionaires. He spent three days in urging the King to grant no concessions, pointing out to him that he had a unique chance of showing what a Native race could do in South Africa. He attempted to effect an arrangement between the Transvaal and the Swazi King, under which no White men should obtain privileges in Swaziland. The Transvaal Government did all they could to prevent White men getting concessions, and nine-tenths of all the concessions were obtained by British subjects. It was hardly fair to say that the Swazis assisted us because of the iniquities perpetrated upon them by Sekokuni, because he was never powerful enough to attack the Swazis, and there was a considerable distance; between the two tribes. When the war began in 1876 between Sekokuni and the then Transvaal Government, the Swazis acted as allies to the Boers, and aided them in defeating Sekokuni. When a Conservative Government was in power Sir Henry Barkly and Lord Carnarvon wrote strong despatches protesting against one Native Tribe being used in war with another Native tribe; and yet two years after, when we took over the Transvaal, the very thing occurred against which we had so strongly protested; we brought the Swazis to our aid in crushing Sekokuni. The only arrangement made was between the British Government and the Transvaal Government, and it was that both would respect the independence of Swaziland and neither would take it over. The Transvaal wanted it because they said that we had taken over Bechuanaland. He did not understand exactly what it was we were going to do now. We were going, it was said, to protect the rights of the Whites; but no White man had any right at all in Swaziland. In obtaining concessions from the King, resort had been had to such practices as turning 9 years into 99 and 3 into 30, and no consideration, except perhaps some champagne, had been given for the concessions.


explained that the rights and concessions to be upheld were those settled by the Convention of 1890.


maintained that there were rights that we were bound to uphold; there were no rights we ought to respect but those of the Swazis. He did not know what was meant by protecting tribal rights. The greatest rights of all were those of the people to their lands; their grazing lands and mealy lands—and the waters by which they were irrigated. He did not, admit that Europeans in the Transvaal were in a perilous position, and he maintained that we had no more right to interfere in the Transvaal than we had to interfere with the Government of the United States of America. Foreigners went into the Transvaal of their own accord, and they must obey the law. There were two Chambers, and the qualification for voters and members was higher in the case of the Second Chamber than in that of the First. The hon. Member for Sheffield had settled in this country and had been able to enter the House of Commons; but probably in no period of time could he become a Member of the other House. The same men could not be citizens of the Transvaal and British citizens at the same time. The bulk of the people were content with the Government, and life and property were as safe as in the British Colonies. Nothing could be more contemptible than the hypocrisy of the complaints about the system of apprenticeship which prevailed in South Africa. He did not like it himself, and admitted that it was a bad system, but when we had the Transvaal, there were ten times as many apprentices in it than there had been during the time the Boers held the country.


desired to explain that the hon. Member had misrepresented what he had said, which was that apprenticeship under the British rule was genuine apprenticeship, whilst under the Boers it was practically slavery.


said it would be interesting to know in what capacity the hon. Member for Caithness spoke, and whether if was as the representative of a not always friendly Power.


said, he had nothing at all to do with the Transvaal Government. For some years he represented them as an honorary officer. That was when the country was poor and weak, but when it became rich he told the Government they had better appoint a paid officer. He never got a shilling from them. He merely acted for them because they were poor and badly used; and he was proud of having done so.


said, that all he meant to suggest was, that the hon. Member, having represented a foreign nation at a time when it was at war with this country, he would naturally have a sympathy which would influence the expression of his views and affect the value to be attached to them. He was personally reluctant to take part in the Debate until he had heard the Under Secretary, whose speech it might have been expected would have been a reply to that of the hon. Member for Sheffield. The speech of the Under Secretary for the Colonies could not by any stretch of imagination be considered a reply, either in form or in substance, to the speech of the hon. Member for Sheffield. His hon. Friend (Sir E. Ashmead-Bartlett) dealt with two points—that a series of laws were being passed by the Transvaal Republic which were specifically directed against British subjects. The hon. Member for Caithness said the Transvaal Government were only doing what was done in the United States. That was inaccurate, because one had only to go over to New York and register himself as belonging to one Party or the other and he would obtain the rights of citizenship next day. There was no parallel between the condition of things in the Transvaal and in the United States. It was notorious that those who were not burghers in the Transvaal far outnumbered those who were, and that the laws he had referred to were being passed with the direct object of putting obstacles in the way of the enterprise and just claims of British subjects. He was aware that it was not our business to interfere with the internal administration of another State, but if deliberate insults wore offered to British subjects because they welcomed their own representative in the town in which they lived they should be resented. The Under Secretary for the Colonies had overlooked the pith and kernel of the whole matter. Let hon. Members look at the map, and they would see what would happen if the Boers got into possession of Swazi territory. They would be within 30 or 40 miles of St. Lucia Bay, and there were at least two foreign Powers who, if they could get anchorage there, would consider they had obtained a great acquisition. We were now, by our own act, putting the Boers on the sea, and the moment they were within 30 or 40 miles of St. Lucia Bay they would be in a position to say to France and Germany: "Come, put up your flag here." In that event we should be face to face, not with the Transvaal Government or Swaziland Conventions, but with great civilised European Powers, who would say: "We are here by your own act, accepting from a people who have renounced your suzerainty, territorial rights and sovereignty over a portion of South Africa." It was upon the recommendation of Mr. Cecil Rhodes, Chairman of the British South Africa Company and Premier of Cape Colony that the High Commissioner in South Africa recommended that the Boer trek to the north-west of the Transvaal should be stopped. It was enormously to the interest of the Chartered Company that this should be done, and a state of things unparalleled in the history of this great Empire—that the High Commissioner, who was absolutely all-powerful over the whole of British South Africa, outside the self-governing Colonies, should have as his adviser a man who had a vast pecuniary interest in the disposal of land outside Cape Colony. While he admired Mr. Rhodes and the operations of the Chartered Company, he submitted that the position of Sir H. Loch was one that no servant of the Crown should be in. If Lord Lawrence, immediately after the subjugation of the Punjab, had floated a Company for the disposal of land in the Punjab, what would public opinion have been? The position of our High Commissioner in South Africa was one that it was impossible for us to regard with equanimity. The bargain seemed to have been made that, as a quid pro quo for the stopping of the Boer trek, the obligations of this country towards the Swazis would be set aside, and the Swazis handed over to the Boers. The House knew what the fate of the Swazis would be directly they were handed over to the Boer Republic—a Republic, the whole able-bodied population of which was only 15,000—and which was powerless to harm us if we held our own in South Africa, but capable of infinite harm to the Swazis if we gave the Boers power over them.


asked leave of the House to make an explanation. If his hon. Friend would refer to the Convention of 1890 he would see that the three-miles railway and the ten-miles radius to Amatongaland was intended to form a portion of the South African Republic, and that the sovereignty over the three-miles railway and even the ten-miles radius was given specifically to that Republic. As far as the Transvaal was concerned, it would be seen, therefore, that they would be not nearer, but a good deal further from the sea than they were before.

The Amendment was, by leave, withdrawn.

MR. JEFFREYS (Hants, Basingstoke)

rose to call attention to the depressed condition of Trade and Agriculture, and to move the following Amendment:— To add at the end of the Address the words, "That we humbly represent to Your Majesty that we view with the greatest apprehension the disastrous condition of the Agricultural Interest and the prolonged depression of the Textile and other Industries, and the consequent increase in the number of the Unemployed; and we humbly express our regret that Your Majesty's Ministers have shown no appreciation of the extreme; gravity of the present situation. In his opinion, Her Majesty's Government ought to have made some proposal for remedying the state of things that existed with regard to this very important subject. Not only were the effects of the depression very severely felt by Farmer and Landowner, but a great deal of land had gone out of cultivation in consequence of that depression, and, unless some steps were taken to prevent it, still more of the land would go out of cultivation in the future, with the result that an enormous number of people would be thrown out of employment. The acreage of wheat had been decreasing year by year, with the result that within the period of a single generation that acreage had fallen from over 4,000,000 to below 2,000,000. That was a sufficient answer to those who urged that if wheat growing in this country did not pay our farmers ought to leave off growing that description of corn. Then, again, the numbers of cattle and of sheep in this country were decreasing very rapidly—in fact, in the case of the latter, by millions a year. This subject was a matter of the greatest importance, not only to those who produced food, but to the people who consumed it. If we were unfortunate enough to become engaged in a war, what would be the consequence to our people, who would then find out how foolish they had been in not taking steps to prevent Agriculture from dying out in this country? He should like to lay before the House his view as to what were the real causes of agricultural depression. The first cause was that corn, cattle, and sheep could be produced so much cheaper in new countries, where the land was free from the excessive burdens it had to bear in this country and which rendered it impossible for agricultural produce to be grown at remunerative prices. In order to bring this matter into a dear light, he would show the relative amount of taxes and other charges paid by realty as compared with personalty in this country. In the case of farms that were owned and occupied by the same persons the average amount of tithe paid was 3s. 6d. in the £, the land tax amounted to 9d., the rates to 2s. 6d., the Income Tax under Schedule A to 8d., and under Schedule B to 3d., while the Death Duties on a yearly average would amount to 1s. 9d., making a total of 9s. 5d. in the £. The amount paid by personalty was far less. Comparing what realty has to pay with what personalty has to pay, there was an excess of 7s. in the £1 in favour of personalty, upon which latter the Death Duties and Income Tax only amounted to 2s. 5d. in the £1. This sum was, in his view, one of the main reasons why land could not be cultivated to advantage at the present time. It was a most unfair thing that land without any buildings upon it should have to pay rates for such purposes as school boards, sanitation, and even for lighting. Rates were intended for the benefit of occupiers of houses, and he would go so far as to say that, in his opinion, a great deal of the agricultural land of this country should be altogether free from such rates. He would give, as a concrete case, a farmer holding 400 acres at the low rental of 10s. an acre, who would have to pay at the rate of 2s. 6d. in the £1 in rates alone, which would amount to £25 a year; and he would compare him with a small shopkeeper or professional man earning the same income in the same village or town. The latter would probably live in a house rated at about £24 a year, and he would have to pay in rates 24 times 2s. 6d., equal to £3 a year only. This farmer and professional man, living side by side, would have to pay in the one case £25, and in the other only £3 a year in rates. Surely that was a most unfair state of things, and one which required some redress at the hands of the Government. The sooner that the country was made aware of the great difference which existed between occupiers of land and occupiers of houses, in regard to rating, the better it would be for the agriculturists and for the country at large. He was sometimes told that it was a matter of small consequence in many cases, as the difference only amounted to a shilling or two per acre; but he would point out that there was a great deal of land to which that difference involved the question whether the land as such should be kept in cultivation or should be allowed to go out, of cultivation. He contended that the rates should be readjusted. He believed that many hon. Members on the Government side would agree that agricultural land was overburdened with these rates, and that the sooner its occupiers were put on an equality with the occupiers of houses, the better it would be for the country. In addition to the matters which he had already mentioned, he would point out that, not only did the occupier of land now pay these rates, but since the Act of last year the owner of the land had also to pay increased Death Duties. Surely, then, before death the owners of real and personal property should be placed upon the same footing. He was aware that it would be difficult to get at personal property in order to rate it; but he urged that, at all events, the rates on land should be reduced, and then the country would find out a mode of getting the rates out of the occupiers of houses. The whole assessment should be reduced as the Board of Trade advised that it should be. As to the remedies, he would like local taxation to be so reduced as to considerably diminish the amounts collected from agricultural land. This was his chief point. Next he contended that where the land tax was collected in the county—and this tax still amounted in the aggregate to £2,000,000 a year—it ought to be applied to county purposes. Why should that money come up here and be put into the Imperial Exchequer? Why should it not be given to local authorities to spend on local rural matters? Another remedy was to be found in the redemption of tithe. Why should such an immense, burden as that rest upon the land in these days? Why should not a sum of money be advanced, by the use of public credit, as in the case of Ireland, to the owners of land in order to enable them to redeem the tithes at a fair rate? He did not wish to say much about the proposal as to light railways until he had seen the Bill, but he protested that none of the cost of construction or maintenance should fall upon the counties in which those railways were to be made. If the Government proposed to lay the burden of them upon the local rates they would indeed be giving a stone when bread was asked for, and the last state would be worse than the first. Something might also be done by putting the Adulteration Acts more into force. The Government should take over the administration of those Acts, and should appoint their own inspectors. They would thus confer a benefit not merely upon the agriculturists, but upon the inhabitants of the Metropolis and other large towns. He had brought forward these arguments in the interests of the agriculturists as well as in the interests of the thousands of poor people who were thrown out of employment through laud going out of cultivation. Whereas 100 acres of land in cultivation gave employment to three or four men and a team of horses, when it went out of cultivation no horses were required, and one man was sufficient to look after it. If the present unfortunate state of things were to go on, people would continue to be driven out of the rural districts to swell the numbers of the unemployed in our large towns; and, if for no other reason than that, hon. Members should concur in endeavouring to preserve and improve the agricultural industries of the country. They deeply deplored that no mention had been made of the prolonged depression in the Textile and other Industries in Her Majesty's Speech. Capital, it seemed, was hoarded up owing to the want of confidence prevailing, or was going out of the country, and this caused a great many people to be thrown out of employment. He therefore confidently appealed to the House not to make this a Party question. He concluded by moving the Amendment.

MR. J. L. WHARTON (Yorkshire, Ripon)

seconded the Amendment. He said the present depression of our Agriculture; had not been known before within the memory of man. He entirely agreed with the remedies which his hon. Friend had suggested, because, although the lessening of the burden of local taxation and a readjustment of assessment would in many parts of England be but a flea-bite in dealing with agricultural depression, even a small amount of relief would, perhaps, enable the Farmer to live, whereas now he was on the point of bankruptcy. Last year, he believed, satisfaction had been expressed at the fact that Labourers' wages were being maintained although Landlords and Tenants might be suffering. But if no improvement in the present state of affairs took place there would be a rapid drop in Labourers' wages, and the Government would be wise if they adopted some remedy in time. He recollected that the Chancellor of the Exchequer told them last year that they were to have the Parish Councils Bill and asked what they could want more. He was not inclined to under-rate the value of that measure, but, at any rate, the establishment of Parish Councils would not effect a lessening of the rates, nor could it be regarded as a panacea for the depression in Agriculture. Indeed, the original cost of the elections of those Councils was no small item on the rates at the present time. Then, again, the effect of the Chancellor of the Exchequer's Budget could not be looked upon as a cure for this depression, but in many cases as the reverse. He was very glad that the Government had seen their way to bring in a Bill in regard to the establishment of light railways. He suggested that the term cheap railways should, however, be used, because the general idea of light railways was that they were lines of narrow gauge and light carriage. If they were to have cheap railways which were to be workable, and a benefit to the country, they must have railways on the ordinary gauge, with ordinary trucks constructed in a cheap way. What was absolutely necessary in such undertakings was that they should have some modification of the present requirements of the Board of Trade with regard to platforms, signalling, and all the other costly precautions which now accompanied the working of a line. He did not think he was overstating the case when he said that at present an ordinary light railway cost something like £13,000 a mile. Any such line as that in an agricultural district would be ridiculous. Indeed, if they were to make a cheap railway such as would meet the case it should not, he thought, cost more than £3,000 a mile. Such a railway would have to be made more on a French than an English model. He believed the agricultural population would readily assent to do away with the present costly requirements of railway travelling. He would never believe for a moment that the Government would make such a foolish suggestion as that there should be a system of these cheap railways paid for out of the rates. The cost of those railways thrown on to the rates would entirely overshadow any benefit which might accrue from them to Agriculture. A great diminution of speed would of course he necessary, and he would suggest that in the country the rate of speed should not exceed ten or twelve miles an hour. He thought these; lines should he put as far as possible in the hands of the great Companies, under an agreement with the Board of Trade as to their working. But these lines could not be looked upon as any general remedy although they would be a great convenience to those fractions of the country through which they ran. He was glad to have had this opportunity of making these observations on this particular remedy, which he was pleased Her Majesty's Government had introduced. In regard to the protection to cattle, he was glad the present Minister of Agriculture had seen his way to continue that protection, but there was one matter which some people might think small, but which was not in reality small, and that was the protection to the consumers of our meat against foreign imported meat. It was, of course, impossible to stamp a mutton chop or to engrave something on a beef steak, but they could follow imported meat from the port of landing and make it penal for a man to sell foreign meat in his shop without advertising it as such. By a system under which a man's books should be open to inspection they could do a great deal to prevent a man from selling, wholesale, foreign moat as English. The English grazier, butcher, and cattle-dealer would get a large benefit provided there were means of securing the advertising of that, as foreign meat which was foreign meat. He trusted the Government would look upon these, matters in a serious way.

*MR.CHANNING: (Northamptonshire, 170 E.)

was glad, as Chairman of the Central Chamber of Agriculture in the previous year, to follow the hon. Member for Hampshire (Mr. Jeffreys). He wished to congratulate him on the moderate and temperate way in which he had laid his case before the House of Commons. The hon. gentleman had dwelt upon the depressed position of the wheat industry in this country. That was largely, if not entirely, a question of price, and he did not gather from the speech of the hon. Member that he gave support, in any very definite form at any rate, to either of the remedies with regard to price which had been, in the past and which were now put forward as panaceas for agricultural depression. As to Protection, those who had sat upon the Agricultural Commission during the last two years had noted the striking evidence from practical tenant farmers who had engaged in the fattening of cattle, and who had pasture land, to the effect that, cheap feeding stuffs from abroad had been one of the best helps they had had during the great depression, of Agriculture. The other remedy, of which he supposed they were likely to hear a good deal in the course of the debate and in the course of the Session, was an alteration of the currency. That was obviously one of those remedies which, if it were a remedy, if it were not likely to prove a source of far greater evil and disaster to the industries of the country, was a remedy which could only be looked for after prolonged negotiations with other countries and after prolonged discussion by experts in this country. It was not a remedy of to-day or to-morrow; it might conceivably be a remedy far in the next century. No one would contend that wheat could be grown with anything like even a fair balance sheet except perhaps in the neighbourhood of large towns to which there was ready access. The Seconder of the Amendment (Mr. Wharton) had touched upon a very practical remedy which the present Government was placing in the hands even of the wheat farmers. He was confident that, if the hon. Member for Ripon and the hon. and gallant Member for Essex (Major Rasch) had read the Report and evidence of the Committee appointed by the. Board of Trade to deal with the question of Light Railways, they would know that the practical and sensible suggestions they had made were substantially the same as the Committee had arrived at. The hon. Member for Hampshire would not deny that it would be a great economical advantage to the wheat farmer in outlying districts if he were able by means of cheap transit to send Ins straw into a large town and carry out manure to his farm, and thus be placed in the same position as a man who was farming close to a large town. The hon. Member for Hampshire referred to the great diminution in the stocks of cattle and sheep. Of course that was largely due to the exceptional season of 1893. Before the Agricultural Commission it was clearly shown that the terrible diminution of the live stock upon farms was also greatly due to the fact that the tenants' capital had been whittled down year by year. He was driven to the conclusion that, although the landlords of England had dealt very generously and wisely in many ways with their estates, they had been exceedingly shortsighted in one respect— they had not met the initiatory stages of the acute form of depression in the country by sufficiently prompt reductions of rent. [Cries of "Oh, oh!" and "Hear, hear!"] If hon. Members would have the goodness to examine the facts, which he had very patiently done, as disclosed by evidence before the Royal Commission, they would find the reductions of rent in many parts of the country, and especially in those districts where agricultural depression had been worst—in Essex and in other counties—they would find the reductions of rent did not begin till several years after the acute stage of the depression. We knew from the calculations which had appeared in many agricultural newspapers, the losses by tenant farmers in many districts in those years of depression had been from £1 to £2 per acre; in some cases even more. The rents had not been proportionately reduced. The real fact was that farmers had been paying their rent out of capital, and, therefore, their capital had been diminishing year by year. As a consequence, they had not been able to place on their farms an adequate stock of cattle and sheep, and so keep up the fertility of the soil. He advocated a settlement on just lines of the question of tenant-right, so as to prevent a tenant losing the value of his improvements and paying his rent out of capital. There were other points on which he was in agreement with his hon. Friend. There was, for instance, the question of the rating of agricultural land. In the County of Essex and in other counties where depression was most prevalent some of the assessments had not gone down in proportion to the annual value of the land. He therefore, heartily supported the Mover and Seconder of the Amendment in asking the Government to institute a full and impartial inquiry into the incidence of Local Taxation upon Agricultural Land. Indeed facts which had come to his knowledge led him to the conclusion that in many Unions of the country the assessment on agricultural lands and agricultural buildings was not so equitable or just as the assessment on house property in urban districts. The question of the division of the rates between owners and occupiers—a reform for which the farmers of the country had long been asking the Governments of both political parties—was also of great importance to agriculturists. One of the most interesting pieces of evidence given before the Agricultural Commission was that of the Duke of Richmond, one of the best and most generous landlords in the country, who stated that, having weighed and considered the evidence which was laid before the great Commission over which lie had most admirably presided ten or twelve years ago, he had introduced on all his estates the principle of division between owner and occupier in regard to all new rates. That concession was asked by agriculturists of the Conservative Government in 1888, and was not granted. He ventured to say that the tenant farmers would be deeply grateful to the present Government if it could see its way to take a step forward in that direction. He also thought that the Government ought to favourably consider the proposal to allow loans at a low rate of interest—3½ or 3¾ per cent.—to landlords, or landlords and tenants combined, on some form of joint security, for the erection and repair of agricultural buildings and the improvement of the fertility of the land. In many districts large areas of land had sunk into condition that a heavy outlay was necessary for what might be called the physical reconstruction of the soil, if Agriculture were to have any chance at all. The question of the development of agricultural co-operation was one in which hon. Members interested in Agriculture naturally took a deep interest; though perhaps it was hardly a matter for legislation. Again and again witnesses representing the great dairy interests of England before the Agricultural Commission were asked why the dairy farmers did not combine and work their industry as it was worked in Denmark. Owing to the thorough organisation of the trade in Denmark the great importing firms in London could wire for butter to Copenhagen and rely on having any amount of the most suitable butter, all to one sample and standard of quality, put on board ship within a few hours for the London market. Such a system was almost unknown in this country. In Derbyshire there was a great dairy association, but it confined itself almost altogether to the question of railway rates, instead of combining to produce the class of butter that would get control of the great market of London, and thus benefit dairy farmers and give employment to large numbers of the working classes. With regard to the question of Tithes, he hoped the Government was prepared to deal with the matter in a favourable and prompt manner, and relieve agriculturists of some of the unfair incidence of that Tax. He was bound to say that no case could be, made out against the Government of neglecting the interests of Agriculture. Indeed, the arguments of the speeches of the Mover and Seconder of the Amendment were in favour of the, Government. It was admitted by those hon. Gentlemen that the Minister for Agriculture had carried out the Cattle Diseases Legislation in a most effective manner. It would not be denied also that the President of the Board of Agriculture had carried through the House of Commons two Bills which were of great advantage to agriculturists. The losses from swine fever through the country had been estimated at an enormous amount, and, as the epidemic mostly affected small holdings, it was gratifying to know that the provisions of the Act were put into operation in a very vigorous manner. The other Act which his hon. Friend had carried was one in which great interest had been taken for years in the House, and which he had the honour of having brought forward in the first instance—the Act for checking frauds in fertilising and feeding stuffs, which, if effectively put in force, would prove of very considerable value to agriculturists who largely used those essentials of good farming. He therefore ventured to say that the Government had dealt in a generous, sympathetic, and practical spirit with some of the more urgent needs of agriculture. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Sleaford, would remember that at the beginning of the Session of 1893, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Midlothian proposed to have a Select Committee to deal with the question of agricultural depression. Several hon. Members who took an interest in agricultural affairs, himself included, knowing the habits and ways of Select Committees, and the long delays which took place in bringing their investigations to a close, desired that the reference to the Committee should deal with the Agricultural Holdings Act or some other specific matter. But while he had no desire to introduce the evil spirit of party animosity into the Debate—for he had always, and would have always the greatest pleasure in co-operating with hon. Gentlemen opposite in Agricultural matters—he should point out that the appointment of the Committee was deliberately delayed throughout the whole of the Session of 1893, by an adverse motion which had been put on the paper by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Sleaford. The Liberal County Members approached the right hon. Gentleman and invited him to formulate proposals to which the Select Committee might be limited in their investigations, and so bring about an agreement between the two sides of the House as to what the Committee was to do, but the invitation was refused by the right hon. Gentleman. The Government then took the only course available to them, and that was the appointment of a Royal Commission to deal with the whole question of agricultural depression He did not know whether or not hon. Members opposite thought that was a wise step; but having sat on the Commission for two years, he could say that it afforded the fullest and amplest opportunities for giving evidence on every point with regard to agricultural depression. The appointment of the Commission was, he thought, a great and useful administrative step on the part of the Liberal Ministry in dealing with the difficulties of agriculturists. But what had happened in regard to that Royal Commission? He had hopes, when it initiated its inquiry, that it might be directed to the most practical issues; that it might examine at once the most important witnesses, and so arrive at its Report in the early stage of its proceedings. He had just the same feeling about the Royal Commission as he had about the Select Committee suggested by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Midlothian, in 1893, namely, that it should be directed specifically to consider the most urgent and essential matters, and so provide the materials for effectual legislation for the benefit of Agriculture at the earliest possible moment. But the Commission had not yet concluded; it was about to resume its sittings, and its Report was not yet in sight, which he thought was a fact most disastrous to the interests of Agriculture. It was a lamentable loss to the agricultural community that the Royal Commission had not reported and had not placed its recommendations in the hands of the Government to deal with at the beginning of this Session. In the past Session of Parliament there was one satisfactory piece of work attempted for the benefit of Agriculture. They had recently lost many Members of the House whom they greatly respected, and no hon. Member was more respected among those interested in Agriculture than the late hon. Baronet who represented the Evesham Division. Sir E. Lechmere introduced a Bill last Session to provide better security for the capital and improvements of market gardeners. That Bill passed a Second Reading in this House with the cordial co-operation of every section of it. It was sent to the Standing Committee Upstairs, where it was carefully considered, and its progress was greatly facilitated by the co-operation of his right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Agriculture. The result of those discussions was the production of a Bill which carried out in the best and most effectual way a reform giving full security to the market gardeners and fruit growers for their capital and improvements in every part of the country. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Sleaford, however, insisted on an Amendment to that Bill, which took away the real value of it in the opinion of Sir E. Lechmere and of all who were interested in the question. The Amendment which the right hon. Gentleman suggested would have placed it in the power of a landlord of such a holding to prevent the tenant from carrying out the improvements contemplated, and would have defeated the purpose of the Bill, as agreed upon in the Standing Committee, which would have enabled the tenant to carry out those improvements if an arbitrator under the Agricultural Holdings Act considered they were suitable to the holding and added to its value.

MR. CHAPLIN (Lincolnshire, Sleaford:

The hon. Member is inaccurate; he is making a statement for which there is no foundation.


said, it was stated by Sir Edmund Lechmere that the Amendment of the right hon. Gentleman practically destroyed the value of the Bill, and that it was an Amendment which reduced the Bill to a permissive form. He was glad to learn from the speech of the Prime Minister that the Government did not confine their proposals with regard to Agriculture to the proposal for light railways. The Prime Minister had added that if the Royal Commission had reported and the facts had been in the possession of the Government, he would have been in a position to make an attempt to carry out the reforms recommended. He submitted that the facts lie had brought forward showed that the Government had not neglected Agriculture; on the contrary, they proved that the Government had done their utmost to carry out a beneficial as well as a many-sided policy with regard to it. Not only was there a good record of performances on the part of the Government, but there had been a sound declaration of policy which al] practical agriculturists in the country would recognise as beneficial to them and full of hope for the future of Agriculture.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Debate be now adjourned"—(MR. Chaplin).

Motion agreed to.

Debate adjourned till To-morrow.

House adjourned at twenty-five minutes past Five o'clock.