HC Deb 31 May 1895 vol 34 cc752-64
*SIR E. ASHMEAD-BARTLETT (Sheffield, Ecclesall)

wished to ask the Under Secretary for the Colonies two questions with regard to South African affairs. Before doing so, he had a word to say with regard to the speech of the hon. Member for King's Lynn. The hon. Member, and those who agreed with him laboured under a misconception and inability to see the great issues which depend upon the whole Uganda question. The hon. Member said he regarded Madagascar as of no importance to this country, and he said the same thing in regard to Uganda. Now, what was the issue in regard to Uganda and our occupation there? It was the future of the whole of Central Africa, the control of the Nile Valley, and the ultimate establishment of a British Trans-African Empire. He was amazed that an hon. Gentleman like the Member for King's Lynn, who had a wide but rather superficial knowledge of many subjects, should show such ludicrous inability to see the important issues involved in this matter. He was sorry the hon. Member was not in his place to hear the exposure of the fallacies which underlay his views. His hon. Friend told them we should follow the analogy of India, but the occupation of Uganda had exactly followed that analogy. Our position in India grew out of the operations of our traders; our occupation of Uganda had grown out of the operations of our traders and missionaries. They were told that the true way of settling the Uganda question was by making a railway from Suakin to Berber, but those who made that suggestion overlooked one main factor, namely, that another great European Power was pressing on towards the upper waters of the Nile, and that the railway from Suakin to Berber, although it might develop the trade of the Soudan, would do nothing to prevent that great European Power from getting control over those important regions of the Upper Nile. With reference to recent events in the Transvaal, the Under Secretary was disposed to find fault with some of them for using the term "Boer Government," but he would remind him that it was Lord Kimberley himself who objected most strongly to the expression "South African Republic." He insisted on its being known as the Transvaal State, and it was only by the process of pushing, at which their friends the Boers were adepts, and by the process of surrender, at which Her Majesty's present Government were equally adepts, that the use of the term "South African Republic" had sprung up. He had tried to obtain information in the usual way about the position of a well-known South African Chief who was threatened with practical extermination or slavery, but whenever any question was raised as to the dealings of the Boers with native races, they were invariably met by the answer that this was a matter of internal policy, and that we had no business to interfere with what the Transvaal authorities saw fit to do. Now, in giving that answer, the Under Secretary was oblivious of the obligations of both this country and the Boers with regard to the native races. He was amazed at the indifference of the humanitarian Radical section of the House to the fate of these unfortunate native races. When the Transvaal was transferred back to the Boers in 1880, the natives sent a unanimous delegation to protest against the transfer. This delegation represented 500,000 natives, and they were not satisfied even by an emphatic assurance that in a Convention their rights would be protected. This promise was confirmed in the Convention of 1881, but it had been a dead letter ever since. This assurance had not been carried out, and our native allies had been practically abandoned. When native chiefs endeavoured to see that their rights and the rights of their people were not invaded, they were subjected to brutal treatment by the Boers. This was the fate of the unfortunate Malaboch and his tribe in August, 1894. That Chief was unjustly taxed by a dishonest Boer Laiddrost. He and his tribe were ordered to move from their ancestral homes to the most unhealthy part of the Transvaal. They resisted, and after a gallant defence were overwhelmed. The survivors were then distributed throughout the Transvaal in a state of practical slavery. It was because Magato was threatened with the same sort of treatment that he was pressing for that information which he contended they had a right to receive on the subject. The Government had no right to tell them they would not ask for information. No Government had ever before deliberately refused to give the House information on important questions of this kind, or taken the course of saying that they would not do so unless their representative in Pretoria saw fit first to send them such information. With regard to the position of the Swazis, he had brought their case before the House on more than one occasion and the Government had done everything they possibly could to avoid giving in formation and to prevent discussion The point he wished to bring before the House was this: The Convention of December 1894, by which that unfortunate people, our allies, were abandoned to their bitter enemies, had not yet been carried into effect. We were bound to the Swazis by the three Conventions, by their services to us, and by the solemn guarantee given Them by Sir Evelyn Wood. But we threw all these things to the winds and abandoned the Swazis to the Boers by the Convention of December 1894. But when that Convention was made the Government asserted in this House that they had taken precautions for the protection of the Swazis against injustice and robbery. The most important step that could have been taken for the protection of the Swazis would have been the formal delimitation and demarcation of their land, pasture and agricultural, and water rights, but no such step had been taken. An independent Commission, on which a British representative of high standing could have been placed, should have been sent to formally delimitate and mark out the rights of the Swazis. That had not been done. Moreover, it was of the utmost importance that a British officer of high position and standing should have been appointed in Swaziland to look after the interests of the Swazi people and report to this country. The Gentleman who had been so appointed was one against whom he did not wish to say anything, but he was not of that position or rank that would be expected in a man filling such an important post. He was a Civil Service Clerk of inferior grade, or rather an Interpreter, and he was suddenly placed in a position of very critical importance in Swaziland. A British officer of high rank, Colonel Martin, with whom the Swazis were acquainted, and in whom they had confidence, was removed from his position, or rather he left it, being apparently unwilling to serve a day longer than he could help under a Government that had betrayed their allies. The second point he wished to raise was this: So far there had been no interference with the practical independence of the Swazis. So long as that was the case the Swazis would be satisfied. But that state of things might not last, and the least interference by the Boers with the rights of the Swazis, especially their grazing and water rights, would lead to desperate conflicts and cause great loss of life. The interview between the Swazi King and the Boer Generals was purely formal. The Boer proclamation had not been translated to the Swazis at the time. The King had steadily refused to accept the £1,000 monthly offered him by the Boers, because he regarded it as a kind of tribute. There was as yet no attempt by the Boers to exercise administration over the Swazis. The Swazis were just as determined as ever to maintain their independence, and they had emphatically refused to accept, or admit that they had accepted, Boer rule. He must ask the Under Secretary to give them an assurance that Her Majesty's Government would oppose the use by the Boers of force to interfere with the liberty and rights of the Swazis, and also to give them some information as to the steps that might have been taken, or be in contemplation, by the Boer Government against the Chief Magato and his tribe.


observed that he should only say a few words in reply to the hon. Gentleman, as he had had an opportunity of discussing this question on many previous occasions, and the hon. Gentleman had had a full opportunity of stating his views at great length during the present Session. With regard to the question of Magato, he was a chieftain within the territory of the South African Republic, and, being such, he was within the jurisdiction of the South African Republic, and we had no control over him. It would be the duty of the English Government, under certain conventions they had with the South African Republic, if any question arose with regard to the treatment of the natives which in any way infringed the conventions, to interfere in the matter, and they should do so. But it was not their duty wilfully and wantonly to interfere in the internal administration of the Transvaal. That was the position taken up by previous Governments, that was the position that had been taken up by the present Government, and no strong expressions on the part of the hon. Gentleman would induce them to depart from it. He was glad to believe, from the latest reports they had received, that Swaziland was at the present moment in a very peaceful condition. Their Acting Consul, Mr. Stewart, in a despatch received only the previous day, and dated April 26, stated that Swaziland had not been in such a peaceful state for the last twelve months, and the only thing that was at all likely to give rise to disturbance there, was the frequent attempts on the part of the hon. Gentleman in this House to disturb the amity between the Swazis and the Boers. He believed the Swazis were not going to take the hon. Gentleman's advice, and he trusted that they and the South African Republic would continue to act as they had done, with tact and discretion in this matter, and, if so, the Convention of 1894 would be carried through peacefully. He was sure that was the view of every Member of the House, including, he hoped, the hon. Gentleman himself, for he could hardly believe that he, in spite of his inflammatory speeches, desired that there should be bloodshed or difficulties in regard to South Africa. The hon. Member stated that the Government had appointed as Acting-Consul in Swaziland a man who was not of sufficient rank to take up that position. The position, however, was a very simple one. After the Convention of 1894 was passed, and the new administration of Swaziland came into force, Colonel Martin, who had so well and efficiently represented the Government in Swaziland for many years past, desired, in the most natural course, his present position having come to an end, to obtain some other position and take up some other appointment. Colonel Martin desired, therefore, to retire from Swaziland, and it became necessary to appoint an Acting-Consul. The Government were anxious to obtain the services of a good and competent officer, and they thought that the final appointment had better stand over until Sir Hercules Robinson had arrived in the country. Under these circumstances Mr. Stewart was appointed Acting-Consul. The Government had full confidence in him, and he had done his work remarkably well. The hon. Member had told them that no officer in the English service could continue to serve under this cowardly Government. The hon. Member insinuated that Sir Henry Loch and Mr. Martin had retired to avoid serving under this Government. That was totally and absolutely untrue. That was all he had to say in regard to the speech of the hon. Member, and he did not think, at this period of the Session, after the many discussions they had had, that he need pursue the matter further.

MR. T. M. HEALY (Louth, N.)

called attention to the action of Mr. M. S. Constable, Her Majesty's Consul at Stockholm, in publishing in the "Fortnightly Review" an article on the political crisis in Sweden and Norway. He said that Mr. Constable was a gentleman of considerable experience, who had represented that country in Russia and some other foreign countries, and therefore was not ignorant of the duties of a Consul. In spite of the fact that there was in existence a Foreign Office rule which prevented any gentleman holding the position of British Consul from writing in the Press on subjects of a controversial character or corresponding with private persons on public affairs, Mr. Constable had intervened in an acute manner in the exciting constitutional struggle which was going on between Norway and Sweden. He (Mr. Healy) did not propose to enter into the merits of the question, which he sincerely trusted would be settled in an amicable manner between the Swedes and the Norwegians. It was a matter of so much delicacy and gravity between the two countries that a Member of that House would not be justified in giving expression to his sympathies on the one side or the other. If that was the correct attitude for a Member of that House with regard to the question, what was to be said of a gentleman who was practically a member of Her Majesty's Government, drawing a salary for representing Her Majesty in one of those countries, taking an attitude hostile to Norway; and not only that, but doing so with every circumstance of bad judgment and misinformation. There was no subject on which the Norwegians were keener than the accusation that they were in league to surrender one of their northern ice-free ports to Russia in exchange for Russian help to attain separation from Sweden, and yet Mr. Constable, in the current number of the "Fortnightly Review," had written an article containing the following remarkable words:— Although Russia during a period of 80 years has made no openly aggressive movement against Norway, she has, nevertheless, pursued her well known methods of preparing a way beforehand. She has done all within her power to encourage her subjects to emigrate into Norrland and settle there, with the result that there are at the present date considerable numbers of Russian Finns inhabiting the neighbourhood of the Varanger. She has also, with the permission of Norway, bien entendu, constructed a railway which connects Russia with the eastern margin of the fjord. Should the Norwegian Separatists get their way, a step, and a very important one, would be gained by Russia. Members of the Party have before now openly advocated the surrender of the Varanger Fjord to Russia. It has even been suspected that they may have entered into negotiations with a view of ascertaining if Russia would be willing to lend them her support in their efforts to obtain a separation, and offering the fjord as the price to be paid for it. Russia was building no such railway, and consequently Norway could have given no sanction to the building of such a railway. The only railway that Russia was making was towards the Gulf of Bothnia, in an entirely opposite direction. It was not the first time that one of Her Majesty's Consuls to Sweden had come out in public in this way. Her Majesty's Consul at Gothenburg had taken a part which had got him into trouble with regard to the Gothenburg licensing system, with regard to which there was a long correspondence in The Times; but this being a purely social question, there was not much harm, perhaps, in this gentleman giving his views. What was Mr. Constable's explanation for his conduct? He wrote a letter, dated 7th May, which should not have been written by a gentleman in his position at all. He (Mr. Healy) did not see what business British Consuls had writing letters to the newspapers at all. If they had been wronged they should look for vindication to the heads of their Departments, and not rush into print. In the letter referred to, Mr. Constable stated that his authority for the statement that he made with regard to the construction of the railway was the London Spectator. Fancy a man in Stockholm stating that his authority for the assertion that this railway was being made was a London newspaper. Mr. Constable said, that the periodical had such a high reputation in England for carefulness and accuracy that he did not consider it necessary to make any inquiry into the matter. On the 24th of May, Mr. Constable sent a telegram which put either himself or the editor of the Fortnightly Review in a distinctly unpleasant position. This was the telegram— It is not unusual, neither is it forbidden by the English authorities, for British Consular Officers to publish articles in native periodicals concerning those countries to which they are accredited on the assumption, however, that they write anonymously, and do not give them an official stamp by attaching their names. Mr. Constable's name has been added to the article in question through a mistake on the part of the editor of the Fortnightly Review without Mr. Constable's authority or knowledge. He (Mr. Healy) did not propose to decide as between the editor of the Fortnightly Review and the British Consul, but looking at the form in which the article was signed, he was inclined to take rather the side of the editor. The article was signed "M. S. Constable," and in brackets and italics "Her Britannic Majesty's Consul at Stockholm," and on the whole he was inclined to doubt that the editor of the Fortnightly Review forged the name of Mr. Constable or attached it without his authority. His (Mr. Healy's) object in rising was not merely to condemn this action on the part of Mr. Constable; it went a little further. The hon. Baronet the Under Secretary for Foreign Affairs had been good enough to state in his condemnation of the attitude of Mr. Constable that no apology had been demanded by the Norse people. The Norse people had no representative at the Court of St. James. It was a Swede who was their representative there; and, of course, it was impossible to expect that a Swedish Minister at London would demand an apology for an article written in the pro-Swedish sense and insulting to the Norwegian Parliamentary majority. He (Mr. Healy) thought it only fair that in justice to the Parliamentary majority in Norway, Mr. Constable should be requested to publish a letter to Her Majesty's Government or elsewhere retracting this entire article and apologising for having written it, and also apologising for its incorrect statements. This was an insult to the entire Nationalist Party in Norway, and while he thanked the hon. Baronet for the very fair way in which he had met the question, he thought the circumstances of the case required a fuller statement, and he trusted the hon. Baronet would see his way to demand a more formal retractation and apology from the British Consul.


said that, in answer to the allusion which was made incidentally respecting a Report on the Gothenburg system, published some time ago, he should like to say his impression was that a Report on the question was asked for because information was desired over here. He believed the Report was prepared with very great trouble and pains. Whether the view taken was right or wrong, it was a bonâ, fide view. They were continually asked to get information from abroad, sometimes upon more or less controversial subjects. All a Consul could do was to form his own opinion. As to the publication of the article in question by the Consul at Stockholm, he had already admitted that not only was it not wise, but it was not right, that officers in the Consular service should publish articles dealing with controversial matters in the countries in which they resided. They had already conveyed the intimation to the writer that the publication of the article was an indiscretion, and that it should not be repeated. They were also taking some steps to inquire into the accuracy of some particular statements made in the article. He was told that the Consular Officer in question had done very good work in the public service. At any rate, the hon. Member might rest content with the assurance that they had already pointed out the indiscretion and insisted that it must not be repeated.


said, there was a strong feeling that in the course of vivisection experiments cruelty was done to the animals operated upon. Doctors were believed to get callous as to these things, and not to take the same view as people outside. He did not make any complaint against the present inspectors, but he had to ask the Home Secretary whether he would allow persons who were interested in the matter to witness the operations carried on? If that were done the public would be assured as to whether there was any unnecessary cruelty or not. Until that was done he did not think people outside would be at all satisfied with the present state of things. There was a great difference of opinion amongst doctors as to whether vivisection was useful. Parliament, however, had gone so far as to say there ought to be some supervision. He trusted that the supervision would be such as would give confidence to the public.


said, he had no power to order that the public should be admitted to vivisection experiments. The experiments were carried on in private places, and he had no more right than his hon. Friend himself to go into those places. [Mr. ALPHEUS MORTON: "Your Inspector has."] The Inspector visited the places under Parliamentary authority, but neither the Inspector nor he had any authority to authorise anyone else to go there. The experiments were often of a very delicate nature, and could not be carried on properly if the operators were liable to be intruded upon at any moment by representatives of the public. When occasion arose, he would be glad to see the system of inspection was thoroughly efficient. At present there was no real ground for apprehending any cruelty to the animals, but if the hon. Member had any specific case to bring before him he would be quite prepared to inquire into it.


said, that last year certain very grave charges were made against a school in Essex. Those charges were afterwards made the subject of Inquiry at the direction of the Home Secretary, arid the Inquiry resulted in the establishment, to a very great extent at least, of the charges. He was informed that the officer who was then in charge of the school was still in charge. He desired to know whether the money had been issued to the school, and whether, if the issue had not been made, it would be withheld until the right hon. Gentleman had satisfied himself that his own requirements had been met.


was sorry the hon. Gentleman had not given him notice of the question. He was satisfied, however, that there had been a very great improvement in the condition of the school since the Inquiry was held. The school was inspected only the other day, with very satisfactory results. The evils which had undoubtedly grown up had been put a stop to. In his judgment the responsibility for those evils rested quite as much with the Committee as with the superintendent; and there was now every chance of the school becoming prosperous and useful again.


asked the Home Secretary whether he had any information about some of the Irish political prisoners. He was informed that some of them, notably Dr. Gallagher, were in a very serious state of health. It was a positive fact that there was a widespread feeling in many parts of Ireland that Dr. Gallagher had lost his mind. It would be satisfactory to the prisoner's friends and to a large section of the public if the right hon. Gentleman would say whether he had any special information with regard to Gallagher and another prisoner named Kent, whose condition had given rise to anxiety.


regretted that the hon. Gentleman had not given him notice of the question, because then he should have been very happy to make inquiry and to give the hon. Gentleman the benefit of the most recent information on the subject. That, of course, he could not do at a moment's notice. But, taking care, as he did, to keep himself constantly informed as to the physical condition of these prisoners, he could say that he did not think there was any foundation whatever for the suggestion of which the hon. Member had made himself the mouthpiece. He would make inquiries, however, and give the hon. Member the latest information after the recess.


said, that he was careful to guard himself from making the suggestion as his own. It was an opinion which was widely held in Ireland. He would address a question to the right hon. Gentleman after the recess.

Whereupon, in pursuance of the Order of the House [30th May], Mr. Speaker adjourned the House without question put.

House adjourned at Five minutes after Three o'clock till Monday, 10th June.