HC Deb 27 March 1896 vol 39 cc336-59

called attention to affairs in Siam, with special reference to the recent Anglo-French declaration and its influence upon this country. He reminded the Committee of the position in 1893, when the treaty was entered into between France and Siam, by which a certain part of the latter country was surrendered to France. The British Government, by means stronger than words, asserted its interest in the integrity of Siam. We sent more than one gunboat into Siamese waters, not only to protect British industry in Bangkok, but to demonstrate British interests in the integrity of Siam. He quoted a letter, addressed by the Singapore Chamber of Commerce to Lord Rosebery, warning the late Prime Minister that if the two provinces of Siem-rap and Patabang were wrested from Siam, a serious blow would be dealt at our trade, and heavy-duties would be imposed. The present Under Secretary, too, speaking in 1893, after a personal visit, stated that the possession of the provinces was essential to Siam, and that the independence and integrity of the country would be irretrievably injured if they were allowed to pass into the hands of any foreign Power. It was perfectly true, he said, that under the Anglo-French declaration the provinces of Siem-rap and Patabang had not been in so many words surrendered to France; but, to show that they had been practically surrendered, he had only to point to the words of the right hon. Gentleman the Under Secretary. He found that in 1893, when the French were already in possession of the town of Chantabun, the right hon. Gentleman was considerably afraid that the possession of Chantabun by the French would lead to the acquisition of those provinces by that country. Now, the position as it existed then, however bad it was, had at any rate this advantage for the Siamese, that the British Government had declared its interest in the integrity of Siam. But, under the declaration in question, the British Government had withdrawn its interest in the integrity of Siam as far as those two provinces were concerned. A forecast made by the right hon. Gentleman that, if Great Britain did not preserve her interest in the integrity of Siam, those provinces would be lost to her, appeared to have been verified. The right hon. Gentleman used words in a prophetic sense when, speaking of the occupation of Chantabun, he said:— I respectfully invite him (that was the late Under Secretary for Foreign Affairs) to keep his eye on Chantabun during the next few weeks and to pause until it has been evacuated before he congratulates the Government and the House upon having saved those provinces for the Siamese Government, and upon the fact that the French and Siamese question has been satisfactorily settled. He appealed to the right hon. Gentleman to explain that language, in view of the fact that the French had still not evacuated Chantabun. He asked him whether, under these circumstances, he could reassure the House that the Anglo-French declaration did not, as a matter of fact, amount to an actual surrender of the two provinces mentioned. He also wished to bring before the attention of the Committee the complete surrender of the upper reaches of the Mekong into French hands. They still retained control over the river-way. They had, for the purposes at any rate of bargaining, a direct means of communication with the Province of Yunnan, but they had sacrificed territory undeniably in their occupation on the banks of the Mekong without receiving any compensation whatever in return. It was true that the treaty purported to open to this country the trade in the three Chinese towns which, under the Franco-Chinese Treaty, were devoted exclusively to French trade. But when he reminded the Committee that these three particular towns in the Province of Yunnan were upon the borders of Annan, and consequently were only open to Annanist trade, they would see it would be idle to say that it was compensation to this country, if they were to sacrifice a great water-way, that they should receive freedom of trade with three towns in Yunnan, which were nowhere near their borders, but which were in immediate proximity to the French border. By Article 7 of the present Convention this trade was expressly excluded from the general favoured nation clause upon the ground of special circumstances, those special circumstances being that those three towns in Yunnan were upon the borders of Annan, and consequently the direct trade between them and Annan gave rise to special circumstances which did not affect other countries. When he reminded the Committee that the course of the Mekong lay between these towns and their possessions in Burma; that the trade of Yunnan must of necessity pursue either one or the other of the two great waterways, one of which was French and the other of which they had made French; that this arrangement further gave to the French facilities for building railways which they did not before possess, the Committee would see that they were handicapped in a way that did not exist before in regard to developing the trade with South West China, and he asked them to agree that this Declaration had not given them any compensation for the sacrifices they had undeniably made. He also wished to refer to the commercial stipulations with Tunis. Was it proposed that those commercial stipulations were to be revised in any sense unfavourable to this country? If it were not so proposed, he could only tell the right hon. Gentleman that the French expected it would be done ["hear, hear!"], and it was surely not calculated to lead to better terms of friendship between the two countries if they raised hopes in their minds upon a trade subject which they had no intention of realising. If, on the other hand, it was intended to sacrifice their trade interests in Tunis, he would ask the right hon. Gentleman to point out to the Committee what compensating advantage they were to get by the surrender of these privileges.


In reply to the Question which has just been put to me by the hon. Member about Tunis, I would remind him of the actual words of the Agreement. I think he will see, in Article 6, that our agreement with the French Government is governed by the stipulations of Article 40 of the treaty of 1875, which provides only for the revision of that treaty in order that the two contracting parties may have an opportunity of hereafter agreeing upon such an arrangement as may tend still further to the improvement of their mutual intercourse and the advancement of the interests of their respective peoples. That is a clear definition of the objects we have in view, and we shall certainly not lose sight of them in any negotiations we have with regard to Tunis. I welcome the opportunity of being permitted to say a few words upon the question of Siam. I am glad at last that the Government have been challenged in this House. ["Hear, hear!"] We have had a great deal of outside challenging by distinguished personages, and, notably, by the late Prime Minister, who, commencing with a moderate statement at the beginning of the Session, has emboldened himself speech by speech until, during the last few weeks, he has reached the point of talking of "the surrender of Siam." [Laughter.] If we had been guilty of any surrender of Siam I want to know what the deputy of the late Prime Minister, the hon. Gentleman opposite, has been doing during the last three months. ["Hear, hear!"] Parliament has been sitting since February 11, and if we have been guilty of this surrender of Siam, or even of British interests in Siam, why have we not had this question brought before the House——


I myself and two other hon. Members raised it on the Address.


Yes, but why have we not had it raised by official representatives on that Bench; why have we not had a formal Vote of Censure moved; why have we not had a day asked; why have we not had the adjournment of the House moved? [Cheers.] Why am I now to get up in the House and answer the mild and mellifluous harangue which we have heard from the hon. Gentleman opposite? [Laughter.] I wait to hear repeated in this House, or anywhere else where we can answer, not on the public platform, the charges against Her Majesty's Government for having sacrificed either British or Siamese interests, and when those charges are made I shall be ready to answer them. It is my duty, however, to deal with the specific points raised by the hon. Member. His Question is— Why was the guarantee of Siam secured by the declaration limited, why did it not extend to the whole of the Siamese dominions? We should have been glad to have guaranteed the whole of Siam; we were willing to give such a guarantee ourselves, but we were unable to procure it. The obstacle was that by the Treaty of 1893 Siam had ceded to France certain privileges and had deprived herself of other privileges in that part of the country which lay outside the Menam basin. We accepted the status quo; but there Were special reasons why the Menam basin was selected. It was stated by Lord Salisbury in his accompanying Dispatch that it was a part of Siam in which British trade is chiefly interested. Out of the whole of the British subjects in Siam, of whom there are over 10,000, a large proportion are miners, pedlars, shopkeepers, and small traders engaged in that part of the country. If we look at the question from the point of view of Siam itself, it is true that on the map the superficial area of the Mekong basin is perhaps greater than the Menam basin. But maps give no idea of the value of territory; they only give a notion of its extent. In order that the Committee may learn what the Menam watershed is as against the Mekong watershed, let me point out that, out of 7,000,000 people in Siam, 5,000,000 live in the Menam basin. The export of rice from that part of the country is £2,000,000 a year, and of teak £75,000; so that the area which we have guaranteed to France is on the one hand that part of the kingdom which is most important to British interests, and, on the other, most essential to the security, prosperity, and development of Siam. I pass to the next point. The hon. Member in speaking of the provinces of Battambong and Angkor gave currency to a popular illusion, which it is most desirable should be corrected in this House. It is the illusion that under this Agreement there has been what may be called a partition of Siam, that is to say, the creation and guarantee of a central zone and the erection of two spheres of influence, possibly at some future day of possession, on either side, by the French on the east and the British on the south-west. I have often heard of the faculty that is possessed by ingenious persons of reading interpretations into treaties and Acts of Parliament which were not in the minds of the original designers; but I defy the most ingenious, or even the most unscrupulous exegesis to read any such interpretation as that which the hon. Member has suggested into this declaration before the House. Siamese rights remain intact over the whole of their dominions. They have not been added to and they have not been impaired by this agreement. France has not gained and Great Britain has not gained a single right under this agree- ment beyond that which either possessed before. If there should be any doubt I would refer hon. Members to the view of Lord Salisbury as declared in his accompanying Dispatch: — It might be thought that because we have engaged ourselves and have received the engagement of France not under any circumstances to invade this territory, that therefore we are throwing doubt upon the complete title and rights of the Siamese to the remainder of their kingdom, or, at all events, treating those rights with disregard. Any such interpretation would entirely misrepresent the intention with which this arrangement has been signed. We fully recognise the rights of Siam to the full and undisturbed enjoyment, in accordance with long usage or with existing treaties, of the entire territory comprised within her dominions, and nothing in our present action would detract in any degree from the validity of the rights of the King of Siam to those portions of his territory which are not affected by this treaty. Further, the French Minister for Foreign Affairs, in a speech made in the French Chamber on February 24, said:—— If certain parts of the kingdom of Siam remain outside the clause of reciprocal neutralisation the omission must not be interpreted as implying the idea of a formal partition of these regions between the two contracting Powers. Whilst, in his speech closing the Debate on February 27 he spoke as follows:—— All the territories of the kingdom of Siam situated outside the basin of the Menam remain in exactly the same position as they were before. If, therefore, those were the declarations of the two Ministers who signed this Agreement, I fail to see where the opportunity for the interpretation of the hon. Member comes in. Then I come to the surrender of the trans-Mekong possession of Keng-Cheng. The hon. Member spoke about the sacrifice of this great waterway. What did he mean? The great waterway of the Mekong is a waterway which, in its upper reaches, no steamer has ever mounted or ever will mount, because there are rapids in every few score of miles of its course. It has never there been navigated, and never will be navigated; but even if it were navigable we have not sacrificed it, for under this Agreement we retain the right. Then the hon. Member says, "Why have you surrendered Keng-Cheng?" and Lord Rosebery in his speeches has made a great point about this surrender of British territory. Why, with reference to this small slice of territory, about the sacrifice of which so much has been said, Lord Bosebery himself was prepared to give it away in 1893 as part of the buffer State; indeed, he proposed not only to give away that part of the district over the river, but also the part that lies on this side of the river. Let the Committee consider what is the character and extent of this territory alleged to be so wrongly surrendered. It is a small physical protuberance on the frontier of India; no trade route runs through it; it is from 14 to 21 days' distant from the nearest British military post, and 7 weeks distant from the nearest point on the railway; and it is cut off from communication with Burmah and India during the rains. On the other hand, this trans-Mekong possession had certain attractions for France; it was contiguous to her territories and she also had claims to it which she was unwilling to give up. In order, then, to secure an easy and intelligible frontier between the two countries this small excrescence of territory was surrendered. It is 1,250 square miles, mostly composed of mountains, with very few plains scattered between, and is inhabited by about 3,000 people only. This is the full extent of the great sacrifice and of the terrible surrender of British interests which has supplied Lord Rosebery with more than one platform peroration during the last two months. ["Hear, hear!" and laughter.] Next, the Government have been asked why they did not by this Agreement secure the evacuation by the French of Chantabun. Assurances have been previously given in this matter, and I am sure those assurances will not be lost sight of by the French Government. But I would again point out to the Committee that the question of Chantabun was regulated by the Convention between France and Siam in 1893. Our object was not to revise that Convention; it was a matter of agreement between France and Siam themselves. We accepted the conventional status quo, and the object we had in view was, not the supercession or even the execution of that Convention, but the future security of Siam. The hon. Member then went on to throw scorn upon the reciprocity of commercial advantages that have been granted in the provinces of Yun-nan and Szu-chuan, but I do not think that either England or France derives any special advantage from that part of the Agreement. In one province France will have a slightly superior position, and in the other England will have a corresponding advantage. Commercial arrangements and reciprocity are the best possible guarantee that we can have for the development of this remote and interesting country without friction arising between two great countries trading with it. ["Hear, hear!"] I hope that in the few words I have said I have shown the Committee that in this matter there has been no sacrifice of British interests on the one hand and no surrender of Siamese rights on the other. ["Hear, hear!"] I would here remind the hon. Gentleman opposite that, while we have had Lord Rosebery going up and down the country talking of the surrender of Siamese territory and the sacrifice of British interests, the other night the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Montrose Burghs, in his speech about Egypt, made the very important remark that he for one was delighted with the agreement relating with Siam. ["Hear, hear!"] In regard to British interests we have done that which ought to be the object of our policy in Siam. We abandoned the idea of creating a small and fictitious buffer State in the remote region of the Upper Mekong—which was the object of the late Prime Minister—and we have constituted a genuine buffer State between France and England in the shape of the core and centre of Siam itself; and this has been done without abrogating one tittle of the rights of Siam. ["Hear, hear!"] After all, who are the persons qualified to criticise or to express approbation of this Agreement? I imagine they are three in number—the Siamese Government, the British traders in Siam. and the Indian Government. Well, the Siamese Government welcome the conclusion arrived at, and, on the whole, are satisfied with it; I have been in communication with British merchants and traders in Siam, and I can say on their behalf that they are gratified with the Agreement; and I have reason to believe that the Indian Government are equally content. I do not wish, however, the remarks I have made to be taken as implying that this Siamese Agreement is to be regarded as a British victory. I should be sorry to suggest any such view as that. For my own part I would prefer to eliminate from the consideration of the question all idea of conflict between two rivals, such as England and Prance, in which one must necessarily be the gainer and the other the loser. I would regard it rather as a compromise, achieved, as all compromises must be, in a spirit of good will and concession. I think we may quote this Siamese Agreement as a fair example of the methods by which great countries which sometimes find their interests opposed can, in circumstances of rather acute division, by a conciliatory attitude on the one side and the other, compose the, difficulties that threatened a short time ago to split them asunder. ["Hear, hear"!]


I must say a few words in answer to the challenge which the right hon. Gentleman has addressed to me. The right hon. Gentleman has shown himself somewhat sensitive to the criticism which has been passed upon the Agreement with the French Government about Siam. I think he might have borne in mind that the action of his predecessors with regard to Siam was frequently made the subject of criticism by himself and other hon. Members opposite both inside and outside this House. Where the conduct of his predecessors has been the subject of very acute criticism from himself and his friends he must, at least, be prepared to meet with criticism in return. Under this Agreement the Government have undoubtedly made very large concessions, and I cannot help feeling surprise that the right hon. Gentleman should have been a party to making them. The buffer State which was proposed has gone. It was never in our opinion the only expedient, but we thought it was a good expedient at the time when it was first proposed because it appeared to be acceptable. The right hon. Gentleman told us on a former occasion that he did not attach very much importance to the so-called buffer State because, British interests could be maintained in another way, but the alternative scheme which he favoured has disappeared. Remembering the speeches of the right hon. Gentleman in the last Parliament, and the importance which he then attached to Kiang-cheng, it is surprising to us that he should have spoken to-night in so different a tone. The object of the policy which the right hon. Gentleman pressed upon his predecessors when he was in Opposition was that there should be a joint guarantee of the integrity of Siam, but he has only achieved that object himself very partially. He used to tell us that Chantabun was of considerable importance to British trade, and in Opposition he never admitted the right of the French to remain in possession of Chantabun. I think he might at least, have made some condition with regard to the occupation of Chantabun before he made the concession with regard to Kiang-cheng. When the right hon. Gentleman says that it cannot be supposed that the existing title to Patabang and Ankor has been weakened, I admit that he is right as regards the terms of the Agreement, but when he says that it is only persons possessing an ingenious faculty who could put another interpretation upon the matter, I may point out that there is a great excuse for that interpretation. I read a speech delivered by the Foreign Minister in the French Chamber a short time ago, and he used words to the effect that there was a zone of protection and influence which embraced the province of Patabang and Ankor. These words, I think, supply an excuse for the interpretation to which the right hon. Gentleman has referred. Under this Agreement the control of the waterway of the Mekong has been handed over to the French Government. The French desire this because they believe that this waterway will be an avenue to trade and can be used as an entrance into certain provinces of China. I do not quarrel with that part of the Agreement, unless by its operation we have prejudiced our own rights of access to China and our own avenues of trade. If our opportunities of trade with China have not been prejudiced by what has been done, I should not grudge this concession to France. But I ask for an assurance that our access to China has not been prejudices. Our true policy is not to shirk competition in trade, to obtain most-favoured-nation terms, to have our own routes, and not to be jealous of other Powers. We are rather surprised that the right hon. Gentleman should have been the person to make these great concessions, but, if they bring about a better feeling between ourselves and the French Government, we shall have a quid pro quo. You cannot measure the merits of an agreement of this kind by reckoning items and striking a mere business balance. I would judge it by larger considerations, and, in as far as it promoted better relations between us and the French Government, it must meet with our approval. I believe it did promote better relations at the time, but I regret to say that recent policy has tended to make the relations that were then formed less fruitful and less fertile than they promised at one time to be. However, I hope that the difficulties to which I allude may pass away. We wish to clearly understand what the policy of the Government is; we wished to be assured, not necessarily now, that we are not making these concessions as a part of a hand-to-mouth policy merely to suit the convenience of the moment, but as part of a large and consistent policy in which we shall get a quid pro quo and increase our friendly relations with foreign Powers.

*SIR E. ASHMEAD - BARTLETT (Sheffield, Ecclesall)

did not propose to go into the questions debated between the two eminent Gentlemen who represented the present and the late Governments on Foreign affairs; it was quite apparent that both those Gentlemen took somewhat different views of the duties of this country in regard to Siam when they were in Opposition to when they were in Office. There had undoubtedly been great concessions made to France in the last Siamese Convention. When the subject was raised in the first Debate of the Session he refrained from going into any details because he hoped the concession to France was, to use the words of the hon. Baronet, part of a large settlement. By making it he hoped we were on the point of obtaining some corresponding concessions from the Government of France, and were doing something to ease and mitigate the various European and other difficulties with which England was confronted. He objected to the cession of the district of which Mongsin was the capital because, only a few months ago, the British representative in Burmah promised the tribes around that country that their country should never be given up. Sometimes promises of that kind had to be broken, and he did not propose to go, on this occasion, closely into the questions of the various points of the concessions to France made in the last Siamese Convention. He was, however, much surprised to find that the hon. Baronet (Sir E. Grey) objected to the policy of the Government on this point, because he remembered the period for which the Government that included the hon. Baronet was responsible, made concession after concession with regard to Siam, and got absolutely no quid pro quo. In fact, it was undoubtedly the very grave blunders made by Lord Rosebery's Government in 1893 which had led to the present unfortunate condition of affairs in Siam. During the last two or three years we had made concessions to France in almost every quarter of the globe. We had abandoned not only this great territory in Siam, but the late Government gave up the whole Hinterland of Sierra Leone. We allowed the French to make encroachments on our Niger territory, and we had made enormous concessions to France in Madagascar. To-night they heard there was a good prospect even of our commercial rights—under existing treaties— being abrogated. We had followed the French and Russian lead in Armenia, to our great loss and to the injury of the Armenians. In the Far East, the late Government allowed France and Russia to have their own way. As to the settlement of the war between China and Japan, Lord Rosebery allowed our natural ally—Japan—to be crushed out of the advantages she had gained in Northern China, to be driven out of Port Arthur, and probably out of Korea also. We allowed great advantages to be obtained by Russia in the north of China, and we allowed equally great advantages to be gained by France in relation to her trade in South-Eastern China. We had made all these concessions to the Government of the French Republic. He was not prepared to say that some of them would not have been worth making if there was the slightest evidence that we had got anything in return; but he could not find a trace of any quid pro quo. As to their new Egyptian policy, he heartily congratulated the Government, because by the advance to Dongola we were endeavouring to undo in some degree the appalling results of the greatest crime and blunder which was ever committed by any Government in this century, viz., the evacuation of the Soudan in 1884 and 1885. That blunder had cost the Soudan loss incredible and indescribable, and horrors and sufferings almost unparalleled in the history of the world. No one could read the accounts given by Father Ohrwalder and Slatin Pasha without realising the horrible suffering which our cowardly policy in 1884 and 1885 inflicted upon the unfortunate people of the Soudan. The Government proposed under the stress of necessity to try to undo a portion of the misery inflicted by that surrender. It might have been supposed that this would have been an occasion on which we should have had the congratulation and support of the Government of the French Republic. Quite the contrary. The moment we undertook a necessary and humane policy of this kind, every difficulty was thrown in our way by the French Government. He would not deal with the Dongola question in detail, but that expedition and the conduct of the French Government with regard to that advance had been of great use to this country in one respect. It had been the touchstone which had shown them who were their true friends and where their true support could be found. They were embarked on, perhaps, an expensive and prolonged enterprise in the interest of Egypt and the Soudan, yet they found themselves harassed at every point by the French Government assisted by Russia. Where did their support come from? The Governments of Italy and Austria heartily supported them, and Germany, though with less enthusiasm, perhaps, joined in supporting the policy of the Government. That was a point he bad often endeavoured to impress upon the House—that their true allies were the great stable monarchies of Central Europe, and that it was impossible to hope for any satisfactory alliance or any considerable understanding with France or Russia in matters of European policy. He hoped this lesson would not be lost on the country. Their only hope of recovering their position in Europe, and, above all, defending the general peace was to rely on the support of what is known as the Triple Alliance. He wanted to say a few words about the position of affairs in the Far East. Although not at the moment attracting great public notice, and although not openly menacing at the present time, affairs in the Far East might develop an early crisis. The Japanese were deprived of the position which they had won by their courage and skill by a combination of Great European Powers, and he contended that the only way in which England could uphold her enormous interests in the Far East, in China and in the Northern Pacific, was by an understanding with Japan. The late Government allowed Japan to be deprived of the main results of its victory over China. It was in the power of this country, without challenging a contest with any Great Power, but simply by her moral influence and support, to give Japan on the seas that protection which alone Japan required in order to hold her own in the North-East of Asia. That was a matter to which he ventured to call the attention of the Government. The late Government were confronted by the crisis, and they had it in their power, by raising their hand, to prevent the coercion of Japan by France and Russia. As a matter of fact, they abandoned Japan to the Franco-Russian coercion, and then, forsooth, tried to take credit for not joining the coercers of Japan. He trusted nothing of the kind would be allowed to happen in future. A close entente with the gallant and progressive Japanese nation was the true policy for this country in the Far East.


said, the Under Secretary of State, in his reply, had referred to the speech of the hon. Member for Monmouthshire as a mellifluous speech. He thought that speech was a very good one, and put the case admirably. The right hon. Gentleman had actually denied that night that the river Mekong flowed through the province of Yunnan; he thought the right hon. Gentleman, since he had come into office, must have lost that accurate knowledge of Siam which he once possessed.


said, the right hon. Member had misunderstood him. He had said that the river rose in Tibet.


said, the right hon. Gentleman might forget what he had said; but it was as he had stated, and his hon. Friend beside him was perfectly accurate in the statement he had made. He agreed with what had fallen from the late Under Secretary for Foreign Affairs as to this Agreement. The right hon. Gentleman the present Under Secretary had said that this Treaty was popular with the Government of India, the Government of Siam, and the British merchants, and that those were the parties principally concerned. The Indian Government might be to some extent satisfied with that part of the Treaty which dealt with their side of Siam, but as regarded the other two parties, he doubted if the right hon. Gentleman had represented the facts of the case. Although one or two traders having financial interests in the centre of Siam might have professed satisfaction with the Treaty, he very much doubted whether the Chambers of Commerce were satisfied with the arrangements which had been made. He had read translations of the publications of the Siamese Government as to this Agreement, and, so far from expressing their satisfaction with this Treaty, they said that they hoped for the best because they were advised by their Legations in Paris and London that nothing better could be done for them. The tone of that statement was not that of satisfaction. There were several clauses which were peculiar and exceptional in this Treaty. There was the clause about Tunis, and about the Lower Niger, and it was difficult to explain why those clauses appeared in this Treaty at all. Who was to be pleased by these clauses being put in? Arrangements with regard to the delimitation of our territory on the Lower Niger were taking place before this Treaty was signed. The reason why the Tunis Clause, and the Niger Clause were put into this Siamese arrangement must have been to make this thing more pleasant to French feeling than it would have been without these clauses. Of course, there were make-weights in the Treaty in our favour. For instance, there were those clauses in it which gave us rights in China which France had obtained for herself under her Treaty with China. His hon. Friend had read to the Committee the actual words of the clauses, and showed that the rights conferred upon France by the terms of her Treaty with China were rights that were geographically peculiar to France and limited to her alone, and that therefore they could not be transferred even by France herself to Great Britain. France had annexed to the Treaty a Declaration intended for home consumption, which showed that we could obtain no advantages under those rights so transferred to us. No doubt these clauses, which purported to embody the agreement arrived at between the two countries had been considered by Her Majesty's Government and the French Government, and had been drawn up with the view of pacifying the French, but he was afraid that that object had not been attained. With regard to Siam, the Treaty had been entered into, and all that we could do now was to endeavour to make the best of it. One complaint he had to make was that the Foreign Office did not give the country the information with regard to the territories under its control that the Colonial Office did. If they had received as much information with regard to the Niger as they would if the territories had been under the control of the Colonial Office, they would have known more of the communications which had passed during the last few years between the Niger Company and the French Government. As it was, however, there was a total absence of information on the subject. No such information was given by the Foreign Office as the Colonial Office would and did give with regard to the territories under their control. No account had been given of the revenues derived from these territories. An undertaking had, however, been now given that the boundaries of the territories on the Lower Niger should be settled. That in itself was a matter much to be desired, because, during the last few years, the delimitation of these boundaries had almost led to war.

MR. H. LABOUCHERE (Northampton)

said, that he did not know that he so entirely agreed with the right hon. Gentleman sitting by his side with regard to the Siamese question as he did in regard to some other matters. This question of the frontiers, to use a vulgarism, never caught on in England, and, indeed, no one cared very much about it. Inasmuch as nobody seemed to know whence the Mekong came and whither it flowed, it did seem absolutely ridiculous to think that under the late Government we were within an inch of war upon some question as to the frontier that should be drawn on one side or other of this river. The right hon. Gentleman opposite asked why it was that a vote of want of confidence had not been proposed from the Front Opposition Bench in regard to the action of the Government upon the Siamese question. The reason was that if anyone had got up on that Bench and moved a vote of want of confidence in the Government because they had come to what he called a reasonable settlement of this question, he would find himself in a minority even on the Bench on which he sat. He congratulated the Government on having been wise in this matter, and his only regret was that they had not applied to other parts of the world the principle they had applied to the settlement of the Mekong difficulty. Complaint was made that although better relations had been established with France in Asia, the effect of that had been weakened by the action of the Government elsewhere. He was sorry that was so; but still, he thought, so far, so good, and he was glad to think that if we were not entirely in harmony with France in Africa, at least, thanks to the present Government, we were in harmony with her in Asia. As to Siam, we had no more right to Siam than the French. First we took Lower Burma, then we took Upper Burma, and because we did so we came to the conclusion that we had special rights in Siam. If we acquired any rights in Siam for having stolen a province on one side, surely the French had acquired the same rights by stealing a province on the other side. [Laughter.] He would have preferred to see both the French and English Governments leave the Siamese to themselves. He was altogether opposed to European Governments going about in this grandiose way and annexing territories nominally in the interests of civilisation or Christianity, or for the purpose of putting down plurality of marriages—[laughter]—whereas, in reality, they wanted to steal other persons' goods. Both the English and French Governments had cast their eyes on this Naboth's vineyard, and he was, therefore, very glad that instead of foolishly going to war, the Government had come to a reasonable agreement in the matter. He had not the slightest idea as to the merits or any of the details of the question. He could not even follow the names of the different places alluded to; but he did say that whenever a Government—he did not care whether it was Liberal or Conservative—substituted for bullying and threatening and declarations of possible war, a fair and reasonable negotiation based on the give and take principle, with an ultimate proposal for arbitration, that Government would have his support.


said, that the right hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Curzon) had attacked him for asserting that the Mekong was a possible waterway for commercial purposes. He now held in his hand a book, to a passage of which he would call the right hon. Gentleman's attention. The book was published this year by a gentleman who had been in Siam and had been upon the Mekong himself, which was more, he believed, than the right hon. Gentleman had done. He said:— Bordering on the three Chinese provinces of Yun-nan, Kwang-si and Kwang-tung, and within easy reach of Szu-chuan, they possess in the two important waterways of the Mongka and the Mekong unrivalled facilities for penetrating into the heart of China.

MR. W. ALLEN (Newcastle-under- Lyme)

called attention to certain grievances of the natives of the Niger Company's territory. These grievances arose out of the right of the natives to trade in their own markets. It appeared that complaints were made by the natives to the Home Government as far back as 1876, when certain proposals were made to which the natives objected, and a long dispute ensued, extending over a period of six years. Then, Consul Hewitt went up the Niger and opened the question again with the natives, and they signed an agreement with him which assured to them the sole trading rights in their own markets. This did not satisfy the natives, and in 1884 and 1885 the French Government made advances to them and tried to induce them to sign certain commercial treaties with the French to the exclusion of the English merchants who had before been in possession of these markets. The natives declined to sign the treaties, and in 1886 they entered into an important trade treaty with this country by which it was agreed that all the markets should be absolutely free, and that the natives and European traders should be able to use them equally. Article 6 of the treaty laid this down perfectly clear. But very soon after the treaty was signed Consul Hewitt again went back to the Niger territory and acquainted the chiefs with the fact that the Government had granted a Charter to the Royal Niger Company. By the rules of the Charter and the regulations enforced under it, which were approved by that House, the natives were prevented trading in the markets which had been guaranteed them by their treaty with this country only a very short time before. The Report of Sir John Kirke, and the disturbances in the Brass district, conclusively proved that, under the present regulations, it was absolutely impossible for the natives to trade in their own markets. In order to be able to trade equally on the Niger, any native of Brass had to pay, in the first place, £50 for a licence to trade, then £10 a year extra for every trade station at which he carried on his trade, and £100 annually if he carried on a trade in liquor. Without making these payments it was absolutely impossible for the natives to do any business in the Niger territory. In consequence of being thus deprived of their trade the natives had been obliged to take to smuggling. They had practically to choose between smuggling and losing their trade in the markets which they had been using for generations. Sir John Kirke himself said that under existing conditions there was and must be smugglers if the natives were to trade at all in these markets. It seemed to him most unjust, after this country had guaranteed the natives free rights in all the markets of the Niger territory, that then the House should approve of regulations which practically compelled the selfsame natives to have recourse to smuggling in order to keep from starvation. Their canoes were seized by the Company's servants, and without being challenged the natives were shot on the assumption that they were engaged in smuggling. It seemed rather a strong punishment to be shot for smuggling, but to be shot without even being challenged, without any contraband goods being found upon them, but when they were simply carrying goods from one part to another, was a high handed proceeding, and one which the Government ought to render it impossible for the Niger Company to carry on any longer. There were also allegations that the Company ill-treated native women in these districts, and whilst they had not attempted in any way to meet many of the charges, they had answered others by the evidence of servants in their own pay which, he contended, was the most unsatisfactory testimony it was possible to obtain. He would ask the Under Secretary for Foreign Affairs to ascertain if the regulations of the Niger Company could not be revised so as to prevent the natives being unjustly treated in the future as they had been in the past.

MR. VESEY KNOX (Londonderry)

asked if the Government had come to any conclusion as to the Niger Protectorate being transferred from the control of the Foreign to that of the Colonial Office. It was essential that if any control was to be kept over a Chartered Company like the Niger Company it should be transferred to the Colonial Office, which was better equipped for dealing with it than the Foreign Office could be. The latter had so many things of a different nature to deal with that it could not keep proper control over the Niger Company. On the Opposition side of the House it was recognised that the Colonial Secretary, in dealing with African matters, had shown an energetic and powerful spirit, and that he had dealt in the spirit of a strong man with the Chartered Company. It was eminently desirable that the same spirit shown in South Africa should be shown in West Africa to the Niger Company, and that the transfer of the Niger Coast Protectorate from the Foreign Office to the Colonial Office should be carried out.


explained that the transfer could not be carried out. A Conference relating to the Niger Protectorate was even now taking place in Paris. It was essentially a Foreign Office Conference, held under Foreign Office auspices, and all the negotiations had been through the Foreign Office. The other matter that had been alluded to was under the consideration of the Foreign Office at that moment. Sir George Goldie had been in communication with our representative at Old Calabar. ft was hoped to prevent a recurrence of recent events, and to take steps which would tend to the consolidation of the Protectorate in the future.

MR. SYDNEY BUXTON (Tower Hamlets, Poplar)

appealed to the Under Secretary for Foreign Affairs and the Colonial Secretary to give the suggested transfer of the Niger Protectorate from the Foreign to the Colonial Office their attention. His own experience at the Colonial Office, and seeing something of the working of the Niger Company, decidedly led him to the conclusion, not necessarily that it was badly administered, but that there was a strong suspicion on the part of merchants dealing with West Africa that the Niger Company was treated in a different way from others, and that the Company had a monopoly from which a great deal of evil resulted.


said, he wished to address to the Secretary for the Colonies questions which concerned his Department. Was there any truth in the statements which had appeared in the last few days reporting the immediate retirement of Sir Hercules Robinson from the post he occupies; what precautions, if any, are taken in South Africa to keep the Colonial Office better informed than the officials appear to have been during certain recent occurrences in that part of the world? Without referring to those occurrences, he was justified in asking whether the Colonial Office had taken any steps to improve the character of what he might term their Intelligence Department so far as South Africa was concerned. There was a widespread feeling that the Colonial Office were, to some extent, in the dark as regarded these occurrences; and he asked for an assurance that steps would be taken to improve the method of obtaining information for the Colonial Office. Another point he wished to mention was one on which at Question time a Question was addressed to the Under Secretary for Foreign Affairs, and the answer he gave was not, under the circumstances, a surprising one; he asked that notice should be given of the Question. It related to Delagoa Bay; the character of the reply was calculated to give rise to one interpretation only, and that was that he was not prepared to deny the statement which had been published in the newspapers. There were reasons why the House ought to know at the earliest possible time whether or not there was any foundation for the statement respecting the alleged purchase of Delagoa Bay.


The hon. Gentleman asks me whether there is any truth in the report about the retirement of Sir H. Robinson. I have not seen any such report, and I have not heard anything about it either from Sir H. Robinson or anyone else. The hon. Member asks me whether any change will be made in the Intelligence Department of the Colonial Office. The speaker who preceded him was anxious that very large additional territory should be transferred to the Colonial Office. If the Colonial Office is already so badly served I am afraid we shall not be able to put in a claim to larger responsibilities. But I am not aware that the Colonial Office has been badly served with regard to its intelligence from South Africa; on the contrary, I am perfectly satisfied with it, and I think there is no occasion to make any change. As to the matter of very great importance referred to by the hon. Member respecting Delagoa Bay, I am very glad to be able to give a reply. I understand that in some papers a definite statement has appeared to the effect that the purchase of Delagoa Bay has been concluded, and that even the sum said to have been paid for it has been stated. Sir, there is not an atom of foundation for the statement. [Cheers.]


urged that the Report stage of the Vote might be taken at an hour when there would be time to raise questions which had not been discussed in Committee.


made a similar appeal.


said, the Education Bill would be brought in on Tuesday. On Monday, the first Order would be the Naval Works Bill, which ought not to take long; then would come the Motion to get the Speaker out of the Chair, and then the Report of the Vote on Account, when there ought to be time to discuss any questions left unconsidered.

Original Question put, and agreed to.

Resolutions to be reported upon Monday next; Committee to sit again upon Monday next.