HC Deb 19 January 1897 vol 45 cc112-20
MR. JOSEPH A. PEASE (Northumberland, Tyneside)

begged to move the adjournment of the Debate, as he had an important Amendment to move. (Cries of "Oh!" and "Go on!") Then he would withdraw that Motion, and would proceed to move the Amendment to the Address which he had placed upon the Table. The Amendment he moved was to add at the end of the Address the following words:— And we humbly express our regret that, having regard to the repeated and definite declarations made by your Majesty's advisers that the legal status of slavery in the Zanzibar Protectorate should be terminated, no statement appears in your Majesty's Gracious Speech that slavery has ceased to exist in that Protectorate. It would be in the recollection of the House that in March 1895 he had moved a reduction in the salary of the Under Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, with the view of raising the question of slavery in the Protectorate. On that occasion the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary for the Colonies had stated that it was quite time that slavery in the Protectorate should come to an end. Two years had since elapsed, or to be more accurate a year and ten months, and yet they had no knowledge that slavery had ceased to exist there. It would also be in the recollection of the House that in August 1895 the present Government had declared that they intended to adhere to the pledge given by their predecessors in this matter, and to put an end to slavery in the Protectorate. Last March the definite pledge had been given on behalf of the Government that immediately Mr. Hardinge returned in the autumn slavery would be immediately abolished, and upon that understanding he had withdrawn his Motion on the subject. He would not attribute to the Government any breach of faith, if the emancipation had merely been postponed from the autumn to the present moment, but a serious breach of faith would have occurred if the abolition was not now to be complete. He should be quite satisfied if the Government would state that Mr. Hardinge, who had lately returned to Zanzibar, had received full instructions to take steps to carry out the immediate abolition of slavery in the Protectorate. The question was, "Was Mr. Hardinge going back with definite instructions to carry out the immediate abolition of slavery throughout the Zanzibar Protectorate? He did not ask the Under Secretary to detail these instructions, because he quite appreciated the position that Mr. Hardinge had not yet reached Zanzibar on his return journey, but what the House ought to be assured of was, that there was going to be no attempt to introduce an apprenticeship system in these islands, but that the immediate abolition of slavery was about to take place. Since Parliament had been dissolved certain Government Dispatches had been published which appeared in Africa, No. 7, 1896. The character of the Dispatches gave the impression that those published had been specially selected with a view to support a gradual process of abolition. He would give an illustration: Dispatches were published from certain missionaries, some of whom even admitted they had not studied the question, which favoured some gradual method of manumission, whilst the views of Bishop Tucker, Archdeacon Jones-Bateman, and many other missionaries, whose views were in favour of immediate emancipation, had been entirely suppressed. And it appeared special weight seemed to have been attached to any views tending in the direction of delay in the abolition of slavery. The right hon. Gentleman, in speaking to the deputation which waited upon him at the Foreign Office in November last on this question, stated that Mr. Hardinge would "very likely" go back with instructions. The House was ignorant as to whether instructions had or had not been given; if they had not been given he would hold the Government had been guilty of a broach of faith with the House. The right hon. Member further alluded to the Mahommedans not being prepared for immediate abolition. He was afraid the Government had been considering the views of the Mahommedan population rather than the condition of the slaves, but in the circumstances the Government ought rather to look to the abolition of slavery than to the interests of the Mahommedans. The Under Secretary for Foreign Affairs, in addressing the deputation to which he had referred, stated that the apprenticeship system had run out its course after the Debates in that House in 1838, in the West Indian Settlements. He believed that was not so. In only one case did the apprenticeship system run out its course, and the local legislatures in every case came to the conclusion that it was expedient to terminate the apprenticeship system, as its evils had been so pronounced and were so obvious to everyone in the Colonies as well as in this country. Again, the right hon. Gentleman stated that there was no cruelty perpetrated upon these islands, and that, therefore, there was no analogy between the apprenticeship system in the Zanzibar Protectorate and the apprenticeship system which existed in the West Indian colonies. But Mr. Sullivan, the representative of Her Majesty's Government in the island of Pemba, writing only last May, in a Dispatch published last autumn, indicated that there was considerable cruelty at times in the island. Mr. Sullivan stated in a Dispatch which appeared in Africa, No. 7, which was written as recently at last May, that the life of a plantation slave in Pemba was a hard one at best. The Arab was a stern and exacting taskmaster, often a cruel one. Beyond allotting the slave land on which to build a but, and sufficient food to keep him alive, he gave himself no concern about the welfare of his chattel. In the punishment of their slaves the Arabs showed little mercy. For offences of a trivial nature savage floggings were administered, and for running away the wretched slaves were treated with the most ruthless severity, and in some instances were subjected to the most barbarous cruelties. Mr. Sullivan instanced a monstrous case of cruelty where a slave had for six months been tethered by iron chains, which had eaten into the bones and flesh of the poor creature's ankles, and that he had been fed by one cocoa-nut a day. This was what occurred on an island which we protected, and the instance was only discovered by Mr. Sullivan in going his rounds. Cruelty had existed and did exist wherever there was plantation slavery, and it was idle for the Government to pretend that slavery could continue in either the apprenticeship form or any other form without being accompanied by some amount of cruelty. We had in Zanzibar practical control over the country. In 1890 executive power was given to this country to deal with any question concerning the Zanzibar Protectorate with all Foreign Powers, and in 1891 Sir Gerald Portal appointed English officials over every Government department within the Zanzibar Protectorate. The very fact that all recent Sultans had been appointed by us, and that the other day the Government deposed one Sultan and put another in his place, showed that we had absolute control over the islands, and it was idle for the Government to try to escape abolishing slavery there on the mere technical quibble that Zanzibar was only a protected State. It would have been very easy for the Government to have approached the new Sultan on the subject, and made it a condition of his appointment that all slaves within his Sultanate should be freed forthwith, and he did not understand why this had not been done. On the mainland in this same Protectorate the condition of things, if somewhat different, were if anything worse. There was not even a Sultan to stand in the way as a buffer. The Foreign Office itself ruled over the district, and there, they were given to understand by the speech of the Under Secretary delivered at the Foreign Office last November, the Government had been contemplating a system of apprenticeship rather than total abolition. There, where our control was direct and absolute, the disgrace must be patent to all. At the Foreign Office the Under-Secretary had referred to the case of India as being no precedent; it was admitted no two countries were absolutely alike, yet slavery had not only been abolished there, but in the Protectorates of Cyprus, Gold Coast, and Malay, by a thorough and complete measure. With regard to the fear of disturbance following abolition, it was a very curious fact that in the island of Madagascar the very same evils were anticipated as were now contemplated at Zanzibar, yet a million slaves had been recently liberated there, and there had been no disturbance whatever; and he would further point out that when, in 1858, 8,000 slaves belonging to Indian subjects had been liberated on these very islands, no disturbance occurred, and he did not see why any disturbance should be likely to occur now. If there were any danger of it, there was an ample force on the spot to maintain law and order until the island settled down; or troops, if they were required, could easily be temporarily introduced from India or elsewhere, or the bluejackets landed from the vessels of war stationed in those waters. Sir John Kirk, Sir Gerald Portal, Consul Smith and others well acquainted with the facts, had all advocated immediate abolition, and the Government ought to consider their evidence, for no one spoke with greater authority than Sir John Kirk after his 20 years' residence in that district, rather than that of Mr. Hardinge and Sir Lloyd Matthews, who advocated the continuation of the status quo. He did not believe there would be any difficulty about keeping the slaves in the plantations. If proper precautions were taken they could be induced to remain wherever they had been employed by kind masters, and only those who had been employed by cruel masters, and therefore desired to run away, would have to be looked after. There was certainly no prospect of ruin falling upon these islands if the step he advocated was taken. For 23 years the owners had had notice that England intended to abolish slavery. Speaking of the qualities of the soil of the island of Pemba, Dr. Sullivan said that its possibilities were positively boundless. It was of amazing fertility. The sun's rays, acting upon the rich, moist, soil stimulates all kinds of vegetation to an extraordinary degree, and the island was, in fact, a vast forcing house and would alone serve as a granary for the whole of East Africa. The right hon. Member for West Birmingham said two years ago that it was not a question of money, and that the House would willingly vote the money required if only slavery were immediately abolished. He himself did not believe that compensation was necessary if slavery were abolished. Every slave imported into Zanzibar since 1873 had been illegally admitted contrary to treaty, and no man had a right to a single one of these slaves. Those recently born were also legally free, but, inasmuch as few births occurred on the plantations, and the average life of the slave did not exceed from 9 to 14 years, few, if any, could be now said to be even legally held in bondage. The slave estates were mortgaged to the utmost, and the money paid over to the Arabs would ultimately find its way into the pockets of British Indian subjects, whose claim for compensation in respect of slaves should not be indirectly acknowledged. All recent precedents, too, were against compensation. No compensation had been paid in Cyprus, the Gold Coast, and elsewhere where slaves had been freed, and in the West Indian Colonies compensation had proved to have been a huge mistake. If compensation were admitted at Zanzibar it would create a precedent for the whole of East, West, and Equatorial Africa, and wherever domestic slavery existed, and would establish a vested interest, which it would be almost impossible to cope with in the future, and he besought the Government not to entertain any proposal to pay any compensation to the nominal owners of slaves in this British Protectorate. He would have preferred to have raised this subject when Mr. Hardinge was back in Zanzibar. But those interested in the matter wanted to strike the iron while it was hot. They feared that Mr. Hardinge had not full instructions. The Government could telegraph to Zanzibar the intention of the Government, so that slavery should be immediately abolished. He hoped the House would speak with no uncertain sound on the subject, and that the Government would understand that the people of this country and the Members in that House who represented the people were determined that the foul stain of slavery should no longer exist under the British flag. ["Hear, hear!"]

MR. T. BAYLEY (Derbyshire, Chesterfield)

, who seconded the Amendment, said that when the subject was debated last March, the Under Secretary for Foreign Affairs was understood to say that when Mr. Hardinge came to this country in June he should return in the autumn with clear and strict instructions from the Government that the legal status of slavery under the British Protectorate should be abolished. They wanted to know whether the Government had kept faith with the House in this matter. If the Government were able to tell the House that Mr. Hardinge had received the instructions he had indicated he would advise his hon. Friend to withdraw his Amendment. ["Hear, hear!"]


hoped that within the limits of a very few sentences he should be able to satisfy the hon. Members who had brought this Question forward. He, therefore, should not follow the hon. Member who had moved the Amendment into some of the questions which he had raised, and to discuss which there might be an opportunity later on. The Government had arrived at a decision of policy, and that decision was in strict fulfilment of the engagements which he had entered into more than once in that House. The pledge which had been given was that Mr. Hardinge would receive instructions to abolish the legal status of slavery in the Islands of Zanzibar and Pemba. Those instructions had been communicated to Mr. Hardinge, who was now on the high seas, and would not arrive at Zanzibar until the end of this month, when he would put himself into communication with the Sultan of Zanzibar, and would discuss with him certain details which the Government had been unable to settle over here. In those circumstances it was not desirable that he should make an ampler statement at the present moment. It was essential that our representative should be on the spot to discuss with the Sultan the points of detail to which he had alluded. It would not be wise for him to make a fuller announcement, which would be subject to the inaccuracies of telegraphic communication, and it might be some time before he would be in a position to state to the House the various steps of the proceedings. That there would be a complete fulfilment of the pledges which he had given the House might rest assured.

MR. SYDNEY BUXTON (Tower Hamlets, Poplar)

asked whether the abolition of the state of slavery was to be immediate, in accordance with the pledges given by the right hon. Gentleman some time ago, or whether it was to be gradually effected under some system of apprenticeship. If the right hon. Gentleman could assure the House that the abolition would be immediate or would take place within a very limited time, his hon. Friends, he thought, might rest satisfied. If the Government were really going to abolish the status of slavery that policy would cause great satisfaction throughout the country.


said that the point about which the hon. Member desired information was just one of those matters of detail as to which he could give no information to the House whilst Mr. Hardinge was absent from Zanzibar.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Mr. PATRICK O'BRIEN (Kilkenny)

moved the adjournment of the Debate.


hoped the hon. Member would at any rate begin the speech which he intended to deliver.


said that he should prefer not to do so at that hour. He intended to draw attention to the important subject of amnesty. ["Hear, hear!"]


intimated that if it was the wish of any section of the House to adjourn, he should not oppose the Motion.

Debate adjourned till to-morrow.