§ SIR WILLIAM HARCOURT (Monmouthshire, W.)
I wish to ask the First Lord of the Treasury whether the Government propose to make to the House of Commons any statement with reference to the advance of troops in the valley of the Nile which has been announced in the public papers; and whether they will make a statement as to the facts and the object of such a movement, if it is about to take place?
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY
My right hon. Friend the Under Secretary for Foreign Affairs will make a statement on behalf of the Government.
If my answer to the right hon. Gentleman is swollen to somewhat unusual dimensions, I hope the House will pardon me, because of the importance of the question to be raised. ["Hear, hear!"] The House is justly entitled to somewhat full information on a matter of such great interest, and I promised on Friday last, to make a statement on the subject. The right hon. Gentleman asks what are the facts and the objects of the reported advance of Egyptian troops in the valley of the Nile. For some weeks past the Government have received rumours of a contemplated advance by the Dervish troops in large numbers into Upper Egypt. [Ironical laughter from below the, Opposition Gangway and Ministerial cries of "Order"]. These advances were heard of as threatening three separate objectives. The first was in the direction of Murad Wells, between Korosko and Abu Hamed; the second upon Kokreb, midway between Berber and Suakin; and we also heard that Osman Digna [Mr T. M. HEALY; "Hear, hear," and cries of "Order"] was advancing with considerable forces in the direction of Kassala. Simultaneously 1028 news reached Cairo that reinforcements were being pushed forward to Dongola. This news reached the Government at the end of February; and it portended, in the opinion of our advisers in Egypt and of the Government at home, a serious advance on the part of the Dervish forces, the immediate objective of which was, or at any rate might be, Kassala, but the ultimate danger of which could not fail to react upon Egypt itself. Considerable anxiety was naturally felt at this serious news, the more so as already at that time the Italian forces were known to be in difficulties on the western shore of the Red Sea. Then came the unfortunate events at Adowa; and I hope I may say in passing that I believe there is no one in this House or in this country who did not learn with sincere sympathy and regret—["no, no!" vehemently from Mr. T. M. HEALY and other Nationalists, mingled with cries of "Served them right," and Ministerial cheers]—a regret that is not broken by a few dissentient voices in this House—[loud cheers]—of the misfortune that had befallen a nation of gallant soldiers and staunch allies. [Cheers and Nationalist dissent.] We have, I am sure, all of us, that belief in the recuperative power and the courage of the Italian troops which convinces us that they will rise again from the misfortune which they have suffered to vindicate the honour of their flag. [Nationalist cries of "Oh!" ironical laughter, and Ministerial cheers.] These events and this disaster were attended with a double danger. The Italians had not only been engaged in conflict with the Abyssinian forces, but, as is well known, they have a large force in occupation of the fort of Kassala. That position is threatened, if not beleagured, by a body of Dervishes believed to amount to 10,000 men. It has been obvious to every man who has studied this question—and I think it will be obvious to everyone who considers it in this House—that there are at the present moment influences at work and forces unchained in Central Africa which, if flushed by victory and if swollen by any perfectly possible combination of arms, may constitute a serious danger, not merely to Italy, to Egypt, and to the British position in Egypt, but I will go further and say to the cause of Europe, which is the cause of 1029 civilisation in Africa. [Cheers and ironical laughter.] If Kassala were cut off, it is perfectly clear that the forces detached from Kassala would be free to move as they liked. They might descend either upon Tokar and Suakin, or pour down the valley of the Nile; and in either case the frontiers of Egypt would be confronted with no slight risk. The Government have been in constant communication with the Egyptian Government and their military advisers at Cairo; and it was the opinion of the military authorities, both there and here, that immediate action required to be taken. Of course various suggestions were put forward and discussed, and it was decided that it would be for both the present and permanent interest of Egypt that an advance should be made up the valley of the Nile. ["Hear, hear!"] An advance has been ordered to Akasheh, which is on the river at about one-third of the distance between Wady Haifa and Dongola. I have seen a great deal in the papers about an advance upon Dongola. It seems to me to have been assumed that such an advance had already been ordered and was in process of taking place. The British advance may ultimately extend to Dongola, the importance of which, as one of the granaries of the Upper Nile basin, is familiar to everyone who has at all studied the question of Egypt. But it is not quite usual to publish your plan of campaign beforehand. ["Hear, hear!"] It might not on this occasion be wise, and in any case the future action of the Government must be regulated by considerations not merely military, but also political and financial—["hear, hear!"]—which it would obviously be improper for me to enter into in answer to a Question in this House. The Government firmly hope that the step on which they have decided will have this twofold advantage—on the one hand, that it will act as a diversion for the help and it may be for the relief of the Italians in their sore stress at Kassala, and, on the other, that it may save Egypt from a menace which, if left alone, would grow and swell, and before long might reach most formidable dimensions.
§ SIR WILLIAM HARCOURT
The right hon. Gentleman has made a very clear and, it will be admitted, a very important statement—a statement 1030 which, unquestionably, the House would desire to have an opportunity of discussing; and, therefore, I rise to ask the Leader of the House what opportunity will be given to the House of discussing this very grave matter? I understood certainly on Friday that such an opportunity would arise in Committee upon the Army Estimates, but it has come to my knowledge that that will not be allowed. We are in this curious position with reference to the Army Estimates apparently, that, although a vote for 10,000 or 20,000 men is put down, we cannot inquire what is to be done with them or where they are to go. Therefore, some other opportunity must be vouchsafed to the House, more particularly as I observed the phrase in the Under Secretary's statement that this was not merely a military movement, but that there were political considerations underlying it—a very important adjective in connection with this question. I only rise now for the purpose of asking the right hon. Gentleman, what opportunity the House will have of discussing this matter?
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY
The demand which the right hon. Gentleman has made for an early opportunity of discussing the statement, the very able statement, just made by my right hon. Friend, is one the justice of which everybody will recognise. As the right hon. Gentleman has told the House, that opportunity will not be afforded on the Army Estimates this evening. There remain, therefore, so far as I am able to judge, only two alternatives—either that the adjournment of the House should be moved to-night upon an urgent matter of public importance, or that the House should wait till Thursday or Friday, when, I believe, a day might be arranged for a more regular and, in some respects, a more convenient opportunity of discussing the question. There is no doubt that if the Vote on account is put down for Thursday or Friday, and if the salary of the Foreign Minister were first, among the Votes to be taken, a very full opportunity would be given to the House of dealing in Committee of Supply with the whole subject. On the other hand, the second plan has the disadvantage of delaying for two or three days a discussion on which the House might be eager 1031 to enter at the present moment. It is not for me to say which of those two courses will be the better. As far as the Government, as a Government, are concerned we are indifferent. But I should rather be disposed to say that the regular course would also be the best.
MR. HENRY LABOUCHERE (Northampton) rose in his place, and asked leave to move the Adjournment of the House, for the purpose of discussing a definite matter of urgent public importance, viz.:—
The steps which are being taken by Her Majesty's Government to direct a movement of Egyptian troops in the direction of Dongola.
The pleasure of the House having been signified,—
§ MR. LABOUCHERE
said he had intended, on going into Committee of Supply, to have gone into the entire question, of how we went to Egypt and why we had remained there; but the statement of the Under Secretary for Foreign Affairs was so exceedingly important that he should put aside the, general question in order to address himself to this contemplated action. The right hon. Gentleman seemed to be under the impression that we were going there in the name of civilisation and of Europe. Every expedition into Africa, every attempt to massacre free men [Irish cheers], was made in the name, of civilisation; but as to Europe, if he could gather aright from the expression of opinion of French, German, and other countries' newspapers, Europe did not at all appreciate the mission which we had taken upon ourselves. Proceeding to explain the position in regard to the Soudan, he remarked that, when it was said that Ismail Pasha conquered the Soudan, he did not mean it in what we should consider the proper acceptation of the word. Ismail Pasha himself—and he had an opportunity often, of talking to him on the subject—always told him he never had conquered the Soudan. What he said he had done was to place garrisons in some large towns or fortress stations, and that he maintained communications with the garrisons by paying blackmail or road-money to the independent tribes. Practically, most of the Arab tribes when Ismail Pasha was there were independent, and, 1032 in addition to their independence, they received certain sums of money for allowing the then Khedive to place garrisons within the limits over which they ruled. After Ismail Pasha had ceased to be Khedive, as they knew, there was a rebellion in the Soudan, and Hicks Pasha was sent to reconquer it, but, as they also knew, he was defeated. Then we sent General Gordon, to the Soudan, not to maintain the rule of the Khedive, but to evacuate as soon as he could the whole Soudan. General Gordon apparently did not understand his instructions, and sought to maintain himself at Khartum. We then had to send out an expedition, which, unfortunately, did not reach Khartum in time; but we definitely withdrew, and Egypt withdrew, from all connection with the Soudan. But along the coastline of the Soudan there were two or three different towns—Suakin, Massowah, and one or two places which had been held to be under Egypt. We undertook—perhaps it was a mistake—when we went to Egypt, not only to defend Egypt proper, but also the position in those particular towns. Since we went to Suakin a new element had been imported into the politics of that part of the world—he alluded to Italy. Italy, when every country was looking for spheres of influence in Africa, came to the conclusion that she ought to take Assib, in the vicinity of the mouth of the Red Sea. Afterwards she became anxious to increase her territory, and we, in that benevolent way with which we liked to deal with property that did not belong to us, bestowed Massowah, one of the Egyptian ports, upon Italy. Besides this, Italy insisted, he believed with the consent of England, upon, regarding the Hinterland as within her sphere of influence. In this Hinterland was Abyssinia, which had always sought, and wisely sought, to have a port on the seaboard. The Italians were not satisfied with Massowah; they wanted practically the whole of Abyssinia. They made a treaty with one of the Kings—the King of Tigré—by which he conceded a portion of the country to them, and recognised their protectorate over the whole of Abyssinia. This made the Abyssinians angry, and they deserted the King of Tigré, and rallied to the other King—Menelik—who was now regarded as 1033 Negus or Emperor; and who protested against the concessions made to the Italians. No one, the hon. Member said, was a warmer friend of Italy than, he was; but it was Italy in Italy, not Italy in Africa. His sympathies were with the men to whom the country belonged, and who were struggling against a foreign invasion. [Cheers.] And he had with him all the Radicals of Italy. There were riots and disturbances going on there in protest against this war, which was forced upon Italy by Signor Crispi in order to divert attention from the internal affairs of the country. ["Hear, hear!"] The right hon. Gentleman alluded to the condition of Kassala. But Kassala belonged to the Soudanese; their garrison was driven out by the Italians, and what was more natural or more proper than that they should endeavour to recover the town? And no one could reasonably complain that they seized upon Italy's difficulty as their opportunity. They had been told that the expedition was only going one third of the way to Dongola; but it was absolutely certain that the advance would be continued until Dongola was reached. This was a very serious matter. The distance was 500 miles, and we knew the difficulties we experienced when we sought to go from Wady Halfa to Khartum. The House was told that the expedition would consist of Egyptian troops, but the right hon. gentleman did not deny that practically, to all intents and purposes, it was to be an English force. It was true that the Egyptian troops under English officers would be pushed on in advance; but the report was not denied that a large force of English troops was to be collected at Wady Halfa in readiness to advance if necessary. One reason given for the advance was the fear that the Dervishes, supposed to be collected at Dongola and in the neighbourhood of Kassala, might sweep down on Egypt. There had only been two attempts by the Dervishes to attack Egypt since we had been there. The first was in 1885, and was immediately suppressed. The second was in 1889. General Sir Francis Grenfell, who was then in command of the Egyptian troops, described the Dervishes as a poor weakly crowd, dying of thirst and hunger. The consequence was they were routed by a small force of Egyptian troops. There 1034 could be no better defence of Egypt than to have the frontier at Assuan and the advance post at Wady Halfa, and to put the desert between Egypt and the Soudan. It was perfectly absurd to describe the Soudanese as menacing Egypt. It was a mere pretext put forward by the Government; and his complaint always was that they were so abnormally hypocritical in regard to these raids and attacks upon Africa. At one moment it was the slave trade, though there were more slaves in the Island of Pemba, which was under our protectorate, than in the whole of the Soudan. Then it was the question of commerce and civilisation. We might get a little commerce by these raids, but really it was that mania for grabbing which seemed to distinguish us at the present time that was at the bottom of the whole matter. The financiers were exceedingly anxious that we should take the Soudan. They had always been at the bottom of our interference in Egypt. The first Lord of the Admiralty went as the representative of these loan-mongers, of whom he was one, and made the arrangement which led to our being in Egypt. These financiers always had their grip upon the Government; they always insisted upon our doing something to remain in Egypt. Then there were the ultra-jingoes, who wished to establish our rule from Alexandria to Cape Town. Proceeding, the hon. Member said they were told by the Government organs that Dongola was a fertile province. It fed the Soudanese, and it was hoped, by destroying the crops, to starve the Soudanese into submission. Did we suppose that the brave Arabs would submit to that. We knew what had happened at Suakin, and if we plunged into their country in this fashion the war would last not only months, but possibly years. What was the ultimate end? We should go from Dongola to Khartum. [Ministerial Cheers.] He read a very interesting article that morning in The Times which explained the happy future before the Soudanese, the Egyptians, and ourselves. The Times said:—It is now quite possible to give the Soudan good government through Egyptian officials trained in English ways and supervised as they are in Egypt itself, by Englishmen." ["Hear, hear!"]1035 The Times, and the gentlemen who cheered, said that, while we were to remain in Egypt because the Egyptians could not govern themselves, we were to aid the Egyptians to go to the Soudan in order to enable them to govern the Soudan. Could anything be more absolutely absurd? He was perfectly certain that, if the Under Secretary attempted to lay down the western frontier of the Soudan he would probably get into considerable difficulty with the Great Powers of Europe, who would not be likely to assent to his view of the boundaries of this new State, which was to be put under Egyptian officials with Englishmen to supervise them. The right hon. Gentleman said one reason for going to Dongola was to help the Italians. But why were they to help the Italians, and against whom were they to help them? The Abyssinians were a very ancient and a very Christian people. They had a considerable measure of civilisation, and he had no doubt that their mode of civilisation was far better for their country and their climate than any civilisation which would be imposed upon them by an Italian Protectorate. But the Italian Government, warned by the Radicals in Italy, was prepared to treat with King Menelik; and was it not encouraging the Italian Government not to treat, and, against the wishes of the majority of their own people, to send a quantity of miserable Italian troops to be vanquished again, possibly, if this Government came forward and said they were willing to aid and abet them in this thing? It was all pretext to say they were defending Egypt by going into the Soudan. It might be that the Government was anxious to hold out a helping hand to Italy, but that was a mere pretext for going into the Soudan. The real object that they had in going there was to place themselves in such a position that they would be unable to fulfil the pledges they had given to Europe. How long were they going to remain there? They had said they were going to remain in Egypt until they had established and brought into proper order the government of Egypt. ["Hear, hear!"] Were they going to remain in the Soudan until they had done the same in the Soudan, and were they going to 1036 remain in Egypt until they had done that in the Soudan? Who did not know perfectly well that the Great Powers of Europe were shocked and disgusted with their violation of their pledges. [Ministerial laughter.] Did hon. Gentlemen opposite deny that they were violating their pledges? Did hon. Gentlemen opposite deny that they pledged themselves that their occupation would be merely temporary; and did anyone pretend to say that, when one country went into and occupied another country and remained there for 14 years, without at the end of 14 years having the slightest appearance of any intention of withdrawing, that was, in the ordinary acceptation of the word, a temporary occupation of the country? He said their occupation had become permanent, and it was in order that they might continue it and remain there until they had established the "Alexandria to the Cape" doctrine that they were undertaking this Soudan expedition, which would oblige them to remain there for the next 100 years. The fact was that the pleas for remaining in Egypt on tins ground and on that ground were entirely played out with Europe, and they wanted to find some fresh reason. He should have thought that the Soudanese might at least have been recognised, as they were described by Mr. Gladstone, as "brave men rightly struggling to be free." [Nationalist cheers.] They were conquered by Ismail, and he established garrisons among them, but they rose against Egyptain domination, and for 15 years they had had a de facto Government among themselves. Why they had always refused to treat with that Government he had never yet understood. ["Hear, hear!"] But they shut them up. They told them they would allow no imports to go into the country and no exports to go out of the country, whereas if they were simply to let exports go from the country they would do infinitely more to civilise and conquer the Soudan than by sending such an expedition. The grounds for the maintenance of their rule in Egypt had been reduced to such a pass that it was actually urged, as one reason why they should take and occupy the Soudan, that it was possible that some great engineer would arise in 1037 the Soudan and say, "I will divert the course of the Nile; nothing simpler," and the great engineer would at once do it, and Egypt would be ruined. The Nile was a very old river. [Laughter.] It had flowed in its present course for a very long time, and really, before engaging in this expedition on such a ground, they might wait until the great engineer commenced his operations. The First Lord of the Admiralty had boasted of their "splendid isolation." Did he want to add to their "splendid isolation?" There was a feeling that they had not kept their faith with regard to Egypt. That feeling harmed them wherever they came into negotiation with foreign countries. Did they wish to increase that feeling by throwing down in this way the gauntlet to Europe, and telling them they were going to remain, not only in Egypt, but in Egypt and the Soudan, as long as they pleased? And, to add insult to injury, the right hon. Gentleman told them they did that in the name of Europe. Had they a mandate from Europe? No. [Nationalist cheers.] Let them go and get their mandate from Europe. Let them go to some conference and obtain an agreement with Europe, but let them not, when they knew perfectly well that Europe was opposed to their remaining in Egypt, tell the House that they remained there, and were going further, for the sake of Europe and civilisation. [Cheers.] He should have thought they had enough upon their hands at the present moment. ["Hear, hear!"] But he contended they were under pledges to Frances which precluded them from going to the Soudan without the assent of France. In 1893 a Yellow-book was published containing a vast mass of correspondence between this country and France and between France and the Porte and Egypt from 1884 to 1893. He saw that in 1886 the Government of Egypt wanted to reconquer, or wanted to get this country to reconquer for them, the Soudan. At that time the Turkish Government opposed the increase that would have been required in the Egyptian Army, and the French Government supported the Turkish Government because they, too, were opposed to the Egyptian Army being practically a British Army. Monsieur Waddington, 1038 who was then Ambassador here, wrote on 15th March 1886:—I have just seen Mr. Gladstone. He authorises me to inform you that his Government definitely renounces all attempt to retake Dongola,There was a definite announcement given to the French Government that they refused definitely ever to retake Dongola. [Ministerial cries of "No!"] Well, if they liked to quarrel with France and to declare that they repudiated the assurance given by Mr. Gladstone, of course they could do so at their own risk and peril. In a memorandum to Mukhtar Pasha, which was communicated to the French Government, Sir Henry Drummond Wolff wrote that—the Government of Her Majesty regrets not being able to find itself in accord with the views of Mukhtar Pasha as to the necessity or the propriety of re-occupying Dongola by Egyptian troops under actual circumstances. The advice given by Her Majesty's Government to the Egyptian Government in December 1883, after the defeat of General Hicks, was that all the territory south of Assuan, and, in any case, south of Wady Haifa, should be abandoned. Recent circumstances have confirmed this view, and the Government of Her Majesty cannot consent to associate itself directly or indirectly in an enterprise which would lead to an effort too severe for the material and financial resources of the country without securing proportionate advantages.Therefore, he claimed that the French Government had a right to understand that they were going absolutely to limit their occupation in Egypt proper, and that unless they obtained the assent and concurrence of France and other Powers they ought not to make this advance into the Soudan. Statements had been made by Liberal and Conservative Governments that they were anxious to withdraw not only on account of their pledges, but because the occupation of Egypt was a source of permanent danger to themselves. He had always thought Lord Salisbury to be relatively a cautious statesman. Lord Salisbury had never said his mission was to peg out claims for posterity in Africa; when they spoke of spheres of influence, Lord Salisbury sneered at it, and when some ardent spirits on his own side were anxious that this country should go to war with Russia in regard to some district in Central Asia, his 1039 Lordship told them to go and study big maps. [Laughter.] No doubt Lord Salisbury, after a little trumpeting, was going to agree to arbitration with regard to Venezuela. ["Hear, hear!'''] In a certain way he had a great respect for Lord Salisbury in his acts as a Foreign Minister. But Lord Salisbury, like most Leaders, had to count with very foolish men. [Laughter.] He therefore paid them in words, but when it came to action he knew nobody, except himself, who was more of a Little Englander than Lord Salisbury was. He could not understand why he had agreed in this new course, which seemed contrary to all his traditions and statements, and contrary to what they might have expected from his intelligence. He wanted to know what baleful influence Lord Salisbury was under. [Laughter.] Was there somebody in the Cabinet, powerful in the Cabinet, with a following outside the Cabinet in this House, who was insisting on his own way? [''Hear, hear!"] They knew there were Gentlemen in that House who were always insisting on having their own way and who were very troublesome. He could conceive their being troublesome in the Cabinet, and he could not help thinking the Conservative Party was being treated very unfairly, and that there was someone—a Liberal Unionist, let them say—of influence, position, and determination who himself took very strong views in regard to what they ought to do in Africa and elsewhere, and who was using the influence he possessed over Lord Salisbury. [''Hear!"] If so, he sincerely hoped Lord Salisbury would emancipate himself from this influence. Lord Salisbury had always been strongly against the occupation of Egypt, and he could not be in favour of this occupation of the Soudan. [''Hear, hear!"] He recalled Lord Salisbury to his wiser moments; he asked him to trust to the Conservatives behind his back, to crush out any of these attempts on the part of those who would not call themselves Conservatives, but who were allies of the Conservatives and helped to keep them in office, to divert him from the policy of wisdom and moderation which he pursued in the main when he was last in power, and to substitute for it that very policy which he had been the very first himself to protest against 1040 over and over again. [''Hear, hear!"] For his part, as he opposed and resisted every single Vote for money in aid of the Suakin expedition, whatever others might do he should oppose and resist to the best of his ability every single shilling proposed to be spent in regard to this Soudanese expedition. ["Hear, hear!"] He believed himself it would lower their name in the whole of Europe. They might be certain that sooner or later the Great Powers of Europe would unite and insist on England's fulfilling her pledges in regard to Egypt, and this was why he was anxious they should not compromise their position, and should not do anything of no possible advantage to them or the inhabitants of the Soudan, but which would put them entirely in the wrong with the whole of Europe. [Cheers.]
§ SIR CHARLES DILKE (Gloucester, Forest of Dean)
was glad to have the opportunity of rising to support this Motion, though from a slightly different point of view from that taken by his hon. Friend. There was no subject upon which he had had a stronger opinion than this. His hon. Friend did not in military or naval affairs take the same view as he did, for he went much further than the Member for Northampton in the matter of what was necessary in the way of military and naval provision for the defence of the Empire. But, holding that view, he only held the more strongly the unwisdom, the imprudence, and the folly of the expedition that was being prepared at the present time. ["Hear, hear!"] If their dangers in Europe were as great as many of them thought, this moment of all moments was the most peculiarly unhappy for a new departure such as that which was being taken by the Government. [''Hear, hear!"] The way in which the matter had come before the House was peculiar, and in his experience unparalleled. The importance of the subject—suddenly sprung upon them, unheard of until four days ago—was admitted by the Government in their Statement and by the House in the leave to bring this Motion for Adjournment. He associated himself entirely with his hon. Friend in saying that there was no desire to give a Party character to it. Although since the present Government had been in office their dangers in the world had 1041 become more apparent, he did not believe that until a few days ago they had become more real. But this new step which had been taken by the Government did enormously increase the dangers of their situation in the world, and was likely to hamper them in all their International actions and any dealing with any power for many years to come. ["Hear, hear!"] His hon. Friend in making this Motion had spoken of the defensibility of the Egyptian frontier. The Under Secretary based the earlier portion of his case for the advance of the Egyptian army to Dongola on the possible danger to Egypt of an advance on the part of the Dervishes of which the Government had heard only in the last few weeks. They had advanced in four directions, very diverse, being about 800 miles apart. Egypt was in the position of having one of the most easily defended frontiers at this particular side that any Power in the world possessed. The late Khedive, Ismail Pasha, who knew the Soudan and the Soudanese, always stated that it was entirely unnecessary on the grounds of safety that Egypt should hold anything beyond Wady Halfa. Wady Halfa was a perfectly defensible position, which when they considered the tribes to the South of it, had been defended for some years past with extraordinary cheapness and ease. At the time when the Dervishes were at the height of their Power, when the Madhi was stronger than he had ever been before or his successors since, at a moment when the population of the Soudan was not dying of starvation as they were told they were now, the Khalifa, when he, was all-powerful, sent his best generals with instructions to conquer Egypt. He marched against the Egyptian forces 16,000 or 18,000 of his best men. They knew of all the fine troops in the world for desert fighting, the Dervishes were the best. The best of their generals at the head of their finest troops were sent against Egypt. But what were they able to accomplish? Many died of starvation and of thirst in the desert, and the remnants were easily overcome by the Egyptian army, before the English troops had arrived. They had thus a safe frontier against an enemy of this kind which they ought not to quit in order to march across the, desert in which so many of the Dervishes died of 1042 starvation on the occasion to which he referred. With regard to Italy, her best friends in Europe were those who most regretted the adventure upon which she had recently embarked. His hon. Friend had spoken as though in Italy itself the adventure was condemned only by the Radical Party, but every party in Italy had in turn disowned it, and the present composite Ministry on coming into office at first tried to make the terms that they should be allowed to agree to a peace and discontinue this expedition. ["Hear, hear!"] Were we sure Italy would thank us for the diversion made in her support? Italy was likely to say, as her newspapers had already said—If you want to help us, send troops from Suakin in the direction of Tokar, somewhere near the neighbourhood where we shall be engaged, not 700 or 800 miles in the opposite direction.If they considered the enormous distance which separated these different portions of the Soudan, and the time it took a Native army, or any army, to travel, they would know the fate of Kassala would have been decided ten times over before the rumour of our advance had reached the Dervishes. This expedition towards Dongola could hardly be put before them as a diversion in favour of the Italians. What was the real reason for the advance? He was sorry to say he could not believe that either the safety of Egypt nor a diversion in favour of the Italians could be the real ground why this advance had been decided upon. What would be said throughout Europe by our enemies—and we had not many friends—was that the advance was obviously indefensible from the point of view put forward in its favour, and was being made really in order that we might have an excuse for remaining in Egypt for all time. He feared there was a different view underlying this advance on the part of those in Egypt who advised it. Dongola was not on the way to Kassala, but it was on the way to Dar Fur. It was also on the way to Khartoum and somewhere else, and there was a great trade route which led across the desert from Dongola. The Egyptian forces had lost that route. Dar Fur was in the heart of Africa, and led into a country which had been the subject of dispute between this 1043 country, the Congo State, and France. There was a certain lease made by Lord Rosebery and torn up by France, Lord Rosebery leased certain territories on the west side of the Nile to the Congo State, and France stepped in and forced the Congo to destroy that document. Now, it was to some extent no man's land. We claimed it as Egyptian and partly within our sphere of influence. On the other hand, the French had shown they did not recognise, that claim by the manner in which they treated the Congo State. Dar Fur lay in front of Dongola, and he could not but fear that those who had advised this advance had in view the necessity establishing our position in Dar Fur as the centre of a great African kingdom to which they looked forward in the future. We were entering on this expedition—his feeling of the gravity of which he only wished he could adequately express—with obviously insufficient means. If we were merely going to cross a strip of desert 100 or 200 miles in advance we should be doing what was not necessary for the defence of Egypt, and would be useless as a diversion in favour of the Italians. If we were only going to do this useless thing it might possibly be done without great danger. If the feeeling of the country should be roused and people should show what their opinion was with regard to this policy of reckless adventure, possibly the matter might stop there. It might turn out that we had taken up a defensible instead of an indefensible frontier, and no great harm might be done. But was it not likely that we should be drawn on step by step, that the Egyptian forces would be attacked, and the 79 British officers who were with them sacrificed? Was it not likely that they would be attacked, and if not attacked, elated by apparent success at first, they would press on towards Khartoum and Dar Fur, and ultimately a British force would have to be sent to their support. It would be a mean thing to throw Egypt into this financial and military confusion by our orders and instructions, for no one could say that the Egyptian Government was a free agent in the matter. It would be a mean thing to do this if we were not prepared to back up the Egyptian forces by the whole force of British arms. [Cheers.] There 1044 lay in front of the Egyptian army which was going into Dongola an awful desert, inhabited by the most frightful fighting power that existed in the whole world. For what end or sufficient object were we risking this great danger? It was demonstrably not the case that the tranquillity of Egypt depended on the Soudan. That had been disproved for years. The view was held at one time by many distinguished men, but the experience of the past few years proved that the Egyptian frontier could be easily and cheaply held from the base of Wady Halfa, and if they went beyond that for reasons which could not be the safety of Egypt or a diversion in favour of the Italians, but which must be with a view to an empire in the Soudan—the existence of which was opposed to the very conditions of British power—he was convinced that it would only lead us into an adventure of a most dangerous kind. [Cheers.]
§ SIR WILLIAM HARCOURT
I entirely agree with my right hon. Friend who has just spoken, and I believe of all the occurrences—many and serious as they have been—which have come to the public knowledge in the course of the last few months, none is more grave and pregnant with dangerous consequences for the future than that which has been announced by the Government to-night. The Government, as I understand, desire to represent that this is only a small necessary move of a military character for the purpose of avoiding passing dangers arising out of recent occurrences. I agree with my right hon. Friend that, if this is the true interpretation of the matter, it may pass off without serious consequences; but, if this is merely the first step in a policy of advance—of what is called a forward policy—in Egypt, in my opinion that is a policy of a most perilous character, one which ought to be strongly condemned, and which, I venture to say, by the Party on this side of the House, will be met with the most strenuous resistance. [Cheers.] If there is any contemplation of making this occupation of the Soudan permanent in character, that is a policy which we have always opposed, and which we shall always resist. My hon. Friend the Member for Northampton, in commenting upon the possible policy of the Government in this matter, expressed 1045 his opinion that Lord Salisbury's views on this matter were not to be feared; he indicated that there might be other influences on the Cabinet that were of a more adventurous character and would desire probably to make a move, in a political sense, in that direction. The only fault I have to find with the hon. Member for Northampton is that he is, perhaps, a little too suspicious. For my part, I feel that the views which Lord Salisbury has so often expressed of his Egyptian policy have a strong supporter in one of the most distinguished members of the Cabinet, because I remember very well, in years gone by, when the disasters in the Soudan were fresh upon us, a very eminent politician of that day expressed views in which I, who had the honour of being his colleague, entirely concurred. I will read them to the House, because I trust they are still the views of the Colonial Secretary. Speaking of the pledges that we should retire from Egypt, the right hon. Gentleman said:—The fulfilment of the pledges has been delayed by circumstances which could not have been foreseen. Now there has grown up, in certain quarters, a demand that our policy shall be changed, and that we should make ourselves permanently responsible for the government and protectorate of Egypt. I should be inclined to pay some attention to the advice if it had not come from a suspicious quarter. It comes from those who have always been in favour of annexation. There is a great party in this country—these are words which we should do well to remember—''which seems to have learnt nothing by experience, which is always eager for the expansion of an Empire already, I should think, vast enough to please the most inordinate ambition, and which taxes our resources to the utmost in the attempt to govern it wisely and well.Well, then, if there were any attempt on the part of the Government to embark upon the policy of extending an Empire already, in the opinion of the Colonial Secretary, "vast enough to please the most inordinate ambition," and which already taxes the resources of the country almost beyond their power, we know that in him we shall have a strong supporter of a moderate and a peaceful policy. Therefore, I will 1046 not for the present assume there is any intention on the part of the Government to give to this movement on the Nile any other significance than that which is contained in the statement of the Under Secretary. We have seen in the Press, which is generally so well informed, statements that we are going to advance to Dongola. The Under Secretary denies that they are going to advance to Dongola, and says they are going to advance to only one-third of the distance. We have also seen in journals which are supposed to represent the policy of the Government that what is intended ultimately is the occupation of the Soudan. That I understand to be repudiated by the Under Secretary for Foreign Affairs; and I take note of that repudiation. If anything of the kind were intended, I am confident that anything more injurious to this country, anything more fatal to the peace of Europe than an attempt of that character, it is impossible to conceive. Therefore, until we have further information on this subject, we are bound to assume that the statement on the part of the Government is that this is simply a move intended for military purposes to meet a present and temporary situation, that it has no connection whatever with any intention to advance upon the Soudan with a view to its permanent occupation. It is impossible at present to go behind the information given us by the Under Secretary, but we still have, I think, an early opportunity of discussing this matter in its larger bearingson a Vote of Account it may be, or on going into Committee on the Civil Service Estimates. Then it will be open to any Member to discuss this Egyptian question in its wider aspect. I only rose for the purpose of saying what I understand to be the statement made on the part of the Government—that there is in it no confirmation of the idea that this is a step in the direction of the occupation of the Soudan. If any indication of that kind were given on the part of the Government, of course it would be absolutely necessary that we should take some measure to offer all the resistance we could to a policy of that description. [Cheers.]
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY
In the latter part of the speech of the right hon. Gentleman, he rather indicated the opinion, as I understood him, that the larger points raised by this Debate had Letter be discussed, not on this Motion, but later in the week, on the Vote on Account. If that be the view of the Opposition, as it appears to be the view of the Leader of the Opposition, I hope we may soon bring this particular Debate to a conclusion. If that be done I shall be glad to carry out the arrangement, which I indicated earlier in the evening, and to put the Foreign Office Vote first on the Vote on Account. But the House will see that to have a Debate on the Motion for Adjournment and also on the Vote on Account is, I will not say unreasonable, but it is going a good deal beyond the proposition I made to the House. Assuming the right hon. Gentleman to represent generally the views of others on his side of the House, I shall deal briefly with the speeches which have been addressed to the House, and shall then ask it to come to a decision on the question of Adjournment, and to defer further discussion to Thursday or Friday. The right hon Gentleman has informed us that he listened with attention to my right hon. Friend the Under Secretary, and has taken note of his statement with regard to the ultimate object of the expedition. What my right hon. Friend stated was this—he stated that an advance was to be made immediately to Akasheh, and that it was premature to discuss any further steps to be taken, for that would depend upon financial and military considerations which we could not now have before us, and, therefore, could not possibly discuss. I think that the repetition of what my right hon. Friend said may make it perfectly clear what the position of the Government is upon this question—a view which may perhaps be misunderstood if Gentlemen were to take their impression of what the Government had stated solely from the reflection of that statement as seen in the speech of the right hon. Gentleman who has just sat down. ["Hear, hear!"] If I understood the Mover of this Motion rightly, he rejoiced at the defeat sustained by the Italians in Abyssinia. 1048 In that certainly I do not think he expresses the view of a single Member on this side of the House—[cheers]—or the view of the vast majority of Gentlemen sitting on the other side—["hear, hear!"]—and I am sure he does not faithfully reflect the convictions of the English people. [Cheers.] I go further, and I say that those nations in Europe whose policy may seem most divergent from that of Italy will agree with us in expressing genuine and profound sympathy with Italy on account of the reverse which her arms have recently sustained. [Cheers.] The hon. Member is not content with rejoicing over the defeat of Italy; he also rejoices in the recrudescence of the fanatical violence which characterised the earlier forms of Mahdism, and of the anarchy which prevailed in the country over which the Mahdi ruled. As regards the character of the rule of the Mahdi, it is not necessary for me to enter into controversy with the hon. Member; I hand him over to the tender mercies of the right hon. Baronet sitting near him. I doubt whether the world has ever seen a crueller or a worse rule than that exercised over the provinces of the Soudan by those of whom the hon. Member for Northampton speaks as a nation struggling to be free.
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY
It is not my business to enter into controversy with Mr. Gladstone. It is sufficient for me that the hon. Gentleman has expressed, as I understood on his own responsibility, that view with regard to the Soudan; and from that view I express my absolute dissent. I can conceive of no change that would be more beneficial to the Soudan—I say nothing of England and nothing of Egypt—than that the allegiance of those Arab troops should be transferred to a Government acting under English influences; I can conceive of nothing which would more conduce to their freedom and real welfare, or to the prosperity of this nation of which the hon. Gentleman professes to be the advocate. When the hon. Gentleman tells us he would see with regret any modification in the existing state of anarchy and tyranny under which the Soudan groans, I do not believe that even.
§ MR. LABOUCHERE
I said I should prefer that brave men struggling to be free should be left to enjoy their own independence, rather than be subject to the rule of England.
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY
What the hon. Gentleman described as a very small incident is the enforced subjection to a tyrannical and anarchical régime, for whoso real characteristics I refer him to the right hon. Gentleman (Sir C. Dilke) sitting next him. [Cheers.] The latter right hon. Gentleman has spoken with a great deal of obviously genuine emotion on this subject, and has expressed a view which I listened to with the respect with which I listen to every genuine expression of feeling; but, I confess, with, the greatest surprise. The right hon. Gentleman has told us that no event which has occurred in his long political experience had ever filled him with such alarm as the decision which the Under Secretary for Foreign Affairs has just announced. I confess I listened to the statement of the right hon. Gentleman (Sir C. Dilke) with amazement; and that amazement was not diminished when I listened to the grounds upon which he based the expression of his views. If I rightly represent the right hon. Gentleman, there were, four grounds. He said, in the first place, that Europe is jealous.
§ SIR C. DILKE
I described what would be said by our enemies throughout the world; but I did not speak of Governments—I spoke rather of the popular opinion.
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY
It is very difficult to gauge popular opinion in foreign countries, and I am sure that no accurate measure of public opinion can be derived from the trend of the foreign Press, which certainly has not always conduced to the maintenance of agreeable relations between the different Powers of Europe. ["Hear, hear!"] So far as the Governments themselves are concerned, nothing has reached our ears that would induce us for a moment to believe that the gloomy anticipations of the right hon. Gentleman and the Mover of the Amendment are correct. Nor am I able to see any ground upon which the Powers of Europe are likely to object, Certainly those Powers that are favourable to Italy have no reason to object; 1050 and I do not think that any of the Powers who desire—whatever else may happen in Egypt—that Egypt should remain prosperous and secure would have any grounds or any wish which would lead them to object to the step the Government have taken. But, perhaps, the right hon. Gentleman, will say that Europe shares the view which he takes that Egypt is absolutely secure behind the frontier of Wady Halfa, that practically she need not look beyond those limits—that it is not necessary for her to watch the movements in the Soudan, or take account of any recrudescence of disturbance, however formidable it may at first sight appear. That is a military view of the situation in which I think the right hon. Gentleman stands alone, or almost alone. I have had the opportunity of hearing many military authorities speak on the subject of Egypt, and never yet have I ever heard any military authority assert that Egypt was so insular—if I may use the term—or cut off from the forces upon her southern frontier, that she may regard with absolute indifference whatever goes on in the Soudan or the districts bordering on it. I dissent totally from the military view of the right hon. Gentleman, and necessarily, I differ from the conclusion he has so confidently based upon it. The third argument of the right hon. Gentleman was that, while this expedition would be perfectly innocuous, and in his opinion perfectly useless, even if it went as far as Dongola, Dongola could not, and was not intended to be its ultimate goal, but that the further southern limit of Dar Fur would have to be reached before the policy of the Government obtained its natural conclusion. The right hon. Gentleman drew a blood-curdling picture, which, if it were, true, would, no doubt, be a condemnation of our policy. He drew a picture of the Egyptian Army, officered by English officers, and having behind it the responsibilities, more or less, of this country, being drawn step by step into the southern districts until it was surrounded and overwhelmed by that great fighting force of the Mahdists, as Hicks Pasha's force was overwhelmed more than ten years ago. This nightmare of Dar Fur is entirely the creation of the right hon. Gentleman's own fears. I can assure him that in ordering the advance along the 1051 valley of the Nile we have no dream of extending our responsibilities down to Dar Fur. It has not entered as a determining factor into our policy. Certainly, if there was any chance of the evils which the right hon. Gentleman predicts becoming actualities in Egyptian history, no responsible Government of this country or of Egypt would ever enter into the policy of adventure which he so eloquently condemned. There remains the argument that this advance, whatever else it may do, will do nothing for Italy. The right hon. Gentleman gave us some geographical statistics as to the distances separating Dongola and Kassala, and he said:—How can you expect that military operations carried on at such a distance from the town you profess a desire to relieve can have the slightest influence on its fate?He added, that long before these rumours of an advance would have reached the troops before Kassala, the fate of Kassala would be decided. Here, again, I am compelled to differ from the right hon. Gentleman on matters of fact. I believe that the rumour of our advance will spread with lightning rapidity through all the regions governed and controlled by the Mahdists. Experience has shown that they are by no means callous to any movement, on the side of Egypt, and I believe it will be known at Kassala within a very brief space of time that a forward movement is being made, even at many hundred miles distance, in the valley of the Nile. It constantly happens in military operations that if you want to press upon one part of the enemy's position, you ought not to direct your military operations there, but from some other part, which will require him or induce him to divide his forces, to detach his troops, and to make efforts in other directions than those in which he would otherwise be disposed to do. If we can attach confidence to the opinion of our military advisers, as I am convinced we can, there is no better method of producing a diversion in favour of the Italian forces now beleagured in Kassala than the forward movement we are now discussing. [''Hear, hear!"] If that be the case against us I ask, Are we not amply justified in the steps we have taken? ['' Hear, hear!"] We do not see any 1052 great risks either for Egypt or for England. We do not believe that the burden thrown on the military or financial resources of Egypt will be of the overwhelming character suggested by the right hon. Gentleman and the Leader of the Opposition. We do think that it is not a loss, but a gain to civilisation, that Egyptian influence should be extended southwards in the way we propose; and we do think that it is not a loss but a gain both to civilisation and to Europe that some relief should be given, if possible, to the sorely-pressed forces of Italy, now fighting for their lives far to the eastward of the districts to which we propose to advance. [''Hear, hear!"] These seem to us to be adequate reasons for the by no means adventurous and quixotic policy which we have adopted, and we trust that the House will support us in the course of action, we have taken. [Ministerial cheers.]
§ MR. LEONARD COURTNEY (Cornwall, Bodmin)
I think we find ourselves in a very embarrassing situation. We are, speaking on a Motion for the Adjournment of the House. We are, therefore, debarred compulsorily from entering in detail upon the subject we are discussing. We are also, I am sorry to say, embarrassed by the language used by my hon. Friend who moved the Adjournment of the House. If he had seriously at heart any desire to prevent the movement which he denounced, surely he might have resorted to other methods than those of stirring up some of the most bitter Party feelings, and of relying upon arguments in which he himself can have no confidence. I desire, in the few remarks I intend to make, to speak as one disconnected from Party, and to put before the House for its consideration what the rule is that should govern us in examining the attitude of the Government. I think we are in a situation that justifies all the anxiety of my right hon. Friend the Member for the Forest of Dean. [Opposition cheers.] I think we may consider this subject quite apart from the question of the occupation of Egypt to which the Leader of the Opposition referred. It does not depend upon that occupation. Take it upon either of two hypotheses—either as a purely Egyptian question or as a question to be considered by us as the sole masters 1053 of Egypt now and for ever. On whichever line you approach the subject, if the movement means an attempt to resume the conquest of the Soudan, it must be condemned immediately. [Opposition cheers.] Let us suppose that Egypt itself is making this movement. Is there anyone on the Government Bench who would not condemn the folly of Egypt's making such an attempt? Surely they must themselves know that the situation of Egypt in its present frontier is a situation of extreme strength. The Leader of the House dissented from the view of the right hon. Member for the Forest of Dean. But it struck me, having in view the two speeches made, that the right hon. Member for the Forest of Dean spoke with more assurance, with more knowledge, and with more confidence. [Opposition cheers.] I happened to be in Assuan at the end of last year; I had some opportunity of seeing the forces there; and I had some conversation with the Governor and with the military men there. They were rather wishing to have the opportunity of making a punitive expedition into the Soudan to punish a raid which had happened a little while before; and they were ready to admit that, if they started on that expedition, they might find themselves, in the interests of the friendly tribes, remaining in the place to which they extended their operations. But they never said that the frontier which they had was not a frontier of extreme strength. ["Hear, hear!"] Surely its strength is tested by experience. We had something like this Debate 11 years ago; and at the bottom of the Debate then raised lay this question—Whether the barrier from this Assuan to Wady Halfa was not a complete protection against the incursions of the Mahdi, who was then in the height of his power. Well, since then what attempts have been made to break through that barrier, and with what success have they been made? The House knows how the Mahdists started from the Soudan in order to enter into Egypt, and how only a miserable remnant of them, weakened and exhausted, succeeded in reaching the comparatively small force that met and defeated them. And now you have the Khalifa and not the Mahdi, and with weakened power; and there is really no reason whatever for apprehension, apart 1054 from what has recently happened, that any hostile attack will be made on the Egyptian frontier. [Cheers.] Why, we have before us the words of Lord Cromer himself, written on February 6th last. He told us that there may be a raid or two in the future, but that the forces of the Khalifa have maintained a strictly defensive position. [Cheers.] Apart from what happened to the Italians, would there be any kind of suggestion why the Egyptian Government itself, if master of its own destinies, should risk its strength and resources upon an attempt to reconquer the Soudan? [Cheers.] But, then, we are told that there is this matter of the failure of Italy; and I confess that, though I disapprove of Italy's attempt to make a lodgment in Abyssinia, I am one of those who sympathise with Italy in her recent disaster. But is there any reason to apprehend that out of that disaster we shall have a recrudescence of attacks by the Mahdi forces directed against Egypt? If such attacks were made we could meet them at the moment; but there is no reason for expecting them; and, therefore, if Egypt alone were concerned, Egypt would be unwise to attempt such action as the Government, on the part of Egypt, are now proposing. It is because we are in Egypt that this matter can be undertaken at all; and, therefore, if the expedition goes it is you that go, not Egypt. [Loud Opposition cheers.] If the labour of defending the advance arises, it will be yours and not Egypt's. Is such a thing to be regarded with complacency—that we should plunge into the wilderness and cross 300 miles of country which yields nothing but distress to the forces which traverse it, in order to encounter continued opposition on the other side of the desert barrier? [Cheers.] From a strategical point of view, it would be unwise to leave Wady Halfa to cross that barrier. From the point of view of England occupying Egypt, and remaining there without question or let or hindrance, the engagement on our part to enter upon the reconquest of the Soudan would be a blunder. [''Hear, hear!"] Let it be only Khartoum and the Soudan which are aimed at, and I denounce that policy, if it be entertained, as fatal in the interests of Egypt, and in our own interests if we are associated with Egypt. 1055 [Cheers.] ''Oh, but we are going to relieve the Italians," it is said. "We can relieve the strain on Kassala." The Leader of the House said, with great truth, that the rumour of our advance would spread rapidly to Kassala. Yes, Sir, but the people who are attacking Kassala will know the conditions and possibilities of our advance also. They may hear of our advance, but what fear will it excite in their minds? They will hear that we are moving some 800 or 900 miles away, on the other side of the desert, and that we do not even propose to come to them. And if we did, we could not arrive for some months. It is at, the beginning of the hot season that this movement is proposed; and the natural result would be that the efforts of the besiegers of Kassala would relax, and that they would very kindly come to meet you—could anything more ludicrous be supposed?—[cheers]—but that they would simply make the best of their time before you arrived. If you want to relieve Kassala, send your troops down the Red Sea. That would be a bad policy, but you might achieve something. But the hypothesis is that Kassala is on the point of being taken, and that the besiegers are going to relax their efforts because you are going to send a few thousand men a quarter of the way to Dongola. The thing is incredible. [Opposition cheers.] If you proceed in an attempt to get back the Soudan, it is your military power and it is your honour that will be pledged. [Cheers.] We have had, during the last few weeks, very unpleasant revelations of the view taken of us in other countries, and of the possibilities of collisions with other Powers. If any such danger existed of war with a European Power, where would be the prudence and the policy of having our military forces engaged in Egypt in an attempt to reconquer the Soudan? [Cheers.] You are throwing away all your resources; you are tying up your best forces in an absurd and fruitless attempt to get back that which is valueless if you succeed in getting it—[cheers]—and you expose yourself to all the weakness of that situation. We are weak now through our position in Egypt, and if we add to that weakness by engaging in this exploit, if we lock up our troops in the Soudan, our weakness will be such that I do not 1056 know to what we should not expose ourselves. National humiliations far beyond anything we have been accustomed to suggest might possibly occur when we found ourselves attacked by powerful neighbours while we were engaged in this business at the other end of the Mediterranean. The Leader of the House attenuated the importance of this expedition. There I gladly listened to him. I hope it means nothing but going back again. [Opposition cheers and laughter.] If that could be secured, then this short Debate would not be without importance. But I do urge upon the right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues that this is a matter on which they will find a great diversity of opinion among their most faithful followers. [Ministerial cries of "No!"] Not, perhaps, in this House; but this House, after all, is not absolutely identical with the whole force and following of the Government in this country. Hon. Members on this side, no doubt, represent the majoirity of the constituencies; but let them beware lest they lose the support of an important section of the constituencies. Looking at this question from a totally different point of view from that of the hon. Member for Northampton, dissociating myself entirely from the attempt to make political capital out of this in any way, dissociating the question from any question as to whether we are bound to remain in or to go out of Egypt, I could not sit silent, but was bound to rise and express the grave apprehension which filled me in contemplating the future, when this policy which has been adumbrated I before us comes to be seen in what, I believe, are its true proportions. [Opposition cheers.]
§ SIR JAMES FERGUSSON (Manchester, N. E.)
said, that the right hon. Member for Bodmin had deprecated the extreme idea of the right hon. Member for the Forest of Dean that the real objective of the expedition was Dar Fur. But the right hon. Gentleman had reached an equally extravagant conclusion in imagining that this small expedition would be likely to lead to British troops being locked up when most required by the occasion of some serious European complication. Any one who had paid attention to Egyptian affairs must be aware that the defence of the 1057 limited frontier of Egypt was a matter of considerable difficulty. It was no light matter that Egypt, which was under the protection of Great Britain, and whose military forces were disposed of by this country, should have continually to submit to raids from barbarous Powers in the Soudan; that the villages in the immediate neighbourhood of the Egyptian frontier should be constantly invaded and plundered. It was well known that for years past, whenever the dates had been gathered and stored, these plundering bands had swooped down upon the poor people and cleared them out of almost the whole of their possessions. It had long been known that a further slight advance could not be long delayed. What was there in the announcement of Her Majesty's Government to lead to the extravagant conclusions and dismal prophesyings of the right hon. Gentleman opposite and the right hon. Member for Bodmin? Surely there was in the simple explanation of Her Majesty's Government ample justification for the action which had been determined upon. The right hon. Gentleman spoke about the Khalifa's broken power, but the views so expressed could not be put in competition with the opinions of Lord Cromer, who had so worthily represented England in Egypt for so many years, and who possessed such unrivalled means of judging the circumstances of the case. When Her Majesty's Government stated on their responsibility, and with all the information in their possession, that there was real danger of a hostile attack on the Egyptian frontier, and deliberately resolved—he was sure with reluctance considering the season of the year—to authorise an advance, the House, he was certain, would not assume the responsibility of hindering their action. He did not attach the slightest weight to such a speech as that which had been delivered by the right hon. Member for Northampton. It was not a serious speech. He was only sorry that any Member of the House should stand up in his place to advocate the cause of the enemies of England. On the other hand, such a speech as that made by the right hon. Member for the Forest of Dean was descrying of the utmost attention and respect. The right hon. Gentleman had always been against an advance in 1058 Africa, and always for withdrawing from a position which, in his opinion, we never ought to have occupied. He was sorry we had drifted into that position, but having before all the world undertaken and discharged with singular success the responsibilities which in 1882 we took up, we were bound to incur some risk, and, if necessary, make some sacrifices to fulfil the mission which we then assumed. He rose, however, chiefly to ask whether any good would be gained by the prolongation of the Debate. The question could not be discussed piecemeal with any advantage. If the policy of Her Majesty's Government was to be seriously challenged, it should be done with full deliberation, and not on some sudden suggestion sprung on the House with no seriousness, which could have no possible result except to lead to an idea in Europe which he strongly deprecated, that we were at all divided in this matter.
§ MR. WILLIAM REDMOND (Clare, E.)
uttered an emphatic protest against this demand on, the part of the Government. If they carried forward this expedition it would be against the solid mass of opinion of the Nationalists of Ireland. Some gentlemen had expressed great sympathy with Italy in the disaster which had overtaken them. He did not hesitate to say that Irishmen had not the slightest sympathy with Italy, because there never was a more flagrant or outrageous attack on freedom and liberty than the whole expedition to Abyssinia. How was it that the other members of the Triple Alliance did not come to the rescue of Italy? If troops were to be dispatched to the relief of Italy they might have been Austrian or German troops, for unless this was a prelude to an announcement that this country was about to join the Triple Alliance, it was impossible to understand why any risk should be run by this country in the interests of Italy. The real object, of all these expeditions was simply to seize rich and fertile lands, and this object was sought to be concealed under a cloak of hypocrisy. If they wanted to restore order, to rescue people from tyrannical rulers, why did they not risk blood and treasure in an attempt to do something for the persecuted people of Armenia? At the same time he admitted that by Irishmen 1059 the Government's policy was not altogether regretted, for nothing was more certain than that this policy steadily pursued would lead this country into disasters as great as that which had overtaken the Italians. Their discomfiture would be hailed with satisfaction by the great bulk of the Irish people. [Laughter.] Hon. Members laughed, but he remembered such a time when at every public gathering in Ireland cheers were raised for the enemies of England. [Laughter.]
§ MR. SPEAKER
said, the hon. Gentleman was not adhering to the Question which was raised on the Motion for adjournment.
§ MR. W. REDMOND
said, as he stated, he did not intend to go into the Question fully. That, he hoped, would be done by every Irish representative on Friday next. Every opportunity that was given to him, at least, would be availed of by him to show that a large and important section of the people, inhabitants of these islands, were completely against this policy. If the Government continued their present policy and disaster overtook them, the Irish people would rejoice, and their sympathy would be upon the side of those people who, in the estimation of hon. Gentlemen opposite, were uncivilised because they were not English, but who were, in reality, more civilised than hon. Gentlemen themselves.
§ MR. JOHN MORLEY (Montrose Burghs)
desired to put two questions to the First Lord of the Treasury. The first was whether it would be consistent with the interests of the public service to lay before the House any evidence the Government might have of the rumours as to probable approaches to the Wells of Murad referred to by the Under Secretary, and which induced the Government to enter upon this policy. The Opposition understood there were two foundations for the advance—the one to ward off the menace to Egypt, and the other to effect a diversion in the interest of Italy, and, therefore, his second Question was whether the whole of the expense of the advance was to be borne by Egypt?
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY
said the right hon. Gentleman had not quite accurately apprehended the position of the Government, because 1060 he had distinguished the two grounds, which were real grounds, and led the House to believe they were absolutely distinct. They were, on the contrary, mutually interconnected. It was because of the menace to Egypt that it was important this diversion should take place. With regard to the rumours which had reached them, he would consult the Under Secretary as to whether the telegrams which his hon. Friend had in mind could be read to the House tomorrow at Question time; he imagined there would be no difficulty in the matter.
§ MR. T. P. O'CONNOR (Liverpool, Scotland Division)
inquired whether, on Friday, the right hon. Gentleman would say whether the action of the Government was in consequence of any communication from the Italian Government?
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY
said, any Question of that kind, if put on the Paper, would, probably, receive an answer on or before Friday.
§ Question put, "That this House do now adjourn."
§ The House divided:—Ayes, 126; Noes, 268.—(Division List, No. 55.)