HC Deb 24 February 1898 vol 53 cc1605-35

On the Supplementary Vote for £161,500 for Sundry Colonial Services, including certain grants in aid,

MR. H. LABOUCHERE (Northampton)

I think it will be in the recollection of the House that the other day the First Lord of the Treasury promised that an explanation should be given to us—I do not know whether he meant by the Colonial Secretary or the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs. But I certainly think we ought to have some sort of explanation, in order that we may fairly consider what are the reasons given in favour of it.


The Vote, as it stands on the paper, explains itself; it is explained on the paper.


I beg the right hon. Gentleman's pardon; the right hon. Gentleman contradicts me. The First Lord of the Treasury gave a distinct pledge that the information should be laid before the House.


My right hon. Friend has promised that when the Vote comes before the House he himself will be able to defend it. So he is. But before he can defend the Vote it must first be challenged. I saw, with some surprise, that the hon. Member for Northampton, as well as another hon. Member, has given notice of a Motion to reduce the Vote, and I am here to listen to any objections that they may offer in that case. In the meantime, I may say that these Colonies on the West Coast of Africa are being extended by way of protectorates and spheres of influence into the interior, and the Government wish proper notice to be provided.


The right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Treasury undertook to "explain" the Vote. I cannot say that the explanation of the right hon. Gentleman can be said, in any sense of the word, to be an explanation. Under these circumstances, I am obliged to take these statements that I read in the newspapers. I am one of those who are not very much in favour of Colonial expansion in South Africa, but I fully admit there are exceptional circumstances in regard to the coast. On the Bight of Benin a number of countries claim a large amount of Hinterland, and as they do not allow free trade in their Hinterland it is most desirable that we, having the coast, should have a fair proportion of the Hinterland, in order that we may be able to trade with the natives for our benefit, if not for theirs. I doubt whether it has been a wise policy to establish a Protectorate over the kingdom of Sokoto. I don't believe in these Protectorates. I don't believe the game is worth the candle. We have, in many parts of the world, a vast number of races subject to our rule; I think I am not wrong in saying that there are nearly 400 million persons subject to our rule. In Africa the objection is stronger than anywhere else, because, as a matter of positive fact, the African will never work for himself or others unless he is made to do so. We then found that we had assumed very great responsibility in Africa when we took under our Protectorate a large portion of the country; for instance, with regard to slavery or serfdom. Either you have slavery among the Africans themselves—as is the case in Pemba and Uganda at the present moment—or where there is not slavery among the Africans themselves, we established, as in Rhodesia, or tried to establish, a species of serfdom to make them work for us, which is only slavery under another name. In this case there, is the further objection that the portion taken over is in the hands of the Niger Company, a chartered company, and we know perfectly well that these chartered companies are apt to get into quarrels with their neighbours and to pursue an agressive policy, and when they get into a mess they are apt to call upon us, at considerable liability to ourselves, to come to their aid. It is somewhat remarkable that the right hon. Gentleman should be anxious to take over the vast territories in Africa, considering he has asked us to give some dole to the West Indian Colonies, which have so long been in our possession, and yet, though the majority are of the black race, they have paid us so badly that we have to come to their aid to save them from absolute ruin. I put aside, however, the general question of expansion in Africa. The great country of Sokoto is brought under our Protectorate. We have a great Hinterland there; but the great question of interest is not in regard to the tribes, but in regard to France. The matter at issue is a comparatively small strip of country. There is a Commission sitting at the present moment in Paris discussing this question. As I understand it, the question is whether there have been prior treaties or not, and the whole thing is in a perfect tangle. We have gone there, or we have sent persons there, to make treaties with divers chiefs. The French, also, have made treaties with divers chiefs. I myself do not attach much importance to these treaties. Generally speaking, somebody goes to a village, and gets hold of the headman, and asks him whether he will receive French or English assistance. He is given a bottle of gin, or something of that sort, and he is at once asked what he owns. He says he owns the whole country. Then the French go to the country and meet the savage or black man, and they go through the same thing. The chiefs will sell it to a dozen persons, and the whole thing is an absurdity. The question of title cannot arise upon such vague powers. I know perfectly well that it is sometimes urged that we ought to have the Hinterland behind our own territories. I am rather of that opinion myself, but we are precluded from using this argument, because we have laid hold of a considerable portion of the Hinterland between the French, colony of Dahomey and the German colony of Togoland. It is an unfortunate thing that, while this disturbance has arisen between the French and the English, the right hon. Gentleman should be the Secretary of State for the Colonies. I have the greatest admiration for the right hon. Gentleman as a speaker. I have often heard him make the best case out of the worst materials. I do not know a better speaker in this House; but there my admiration begins and ends. During the vacation the right hon. Gentleman went about the country as a sort of Ajax defying the lightning, talking a vast amount of Bobadil trash. The right hon. Gentleman laid down many grand theories as to the expansion of the Empire. I think the right hon. Gentleman will not deny that he did hold language which laid down that the British Empire must exist by expansion, and that we must go on and expand. In one of the right hon. Gentleman's speeches which I read, he said that he dreamed of an Empire so vast, that it could not be dreamed of by any other person.


I never said anything of the kind. I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman cares to be accurate.


If it be a matter of choice, I always prefer to be accurate. At any rate, it was something about dreams. Now, the right hon. Gentleman, I admit, is in a somewhat difficult position. The right hon. Gentleman is a Unionist—a Liberal Unionist—and the right hon. Gentleman is a Member of a Conservative Government. I can perfectly understand that the right hon. Gentleman has a legitimate ambition to be the head of the Party opposite.


I rise to order, Sir. I was rather severely treated just now, and I wish to know whether this elaborate discussion is à propos of the question before the Committee?


On the point of order, Sir, I was giving some of the reasons why I am unfortunately unable to vote in favour of this money, and one of the reasons is that the right hon. Gentleman is the Colonial Secretary. It is all very well for Gentlemen to cry "Oh!"


I must remind the hon. Member that in dealing with Supplementary Estimates the rule of the House is very strict. Only those matters which appear in the Estimates are open to discussion, and I must, therefore, ask the hon. Member to deal a little more closely with the subject.


Anyhow, the right hon. Gentleman has adopted a policy of expansion in Africa, and in the West of Africa he has practically defied France. I say the right hon. Gentleman had defied France. There does not seem to be unity of views among the Government. I judge that that is so from the utterances of Lord Salisbury, who is at the head of the Government, and I judge that also from the utterances of the Press, because the Press have continually contrasted Lord Salisbury with the Colonial Secretary. The Press seem to prefer the right hon. Gentleman; they may be right or wrong, but they seem to prefer the Colonial Secretary to Lord Salisbury. Now, last week we had a singular instance of this. The right hon. Gentleman the Secretary to the Colonies came down to the House on Friday and read two dispatches which he had received from Africa. One of these dispatches stated that they had claimed a place called Wa, behind the Gold Coast, where the French had raised their flag, and that, in another place on the right bank of the Niger—that is to say in the disputed territory—a body of Hausa troops, commanded by an English officer, were in possession.


No, Sir, the right hon. Gentleman is lamentably inaccurate, and as he is now raising questions which have some international interest, I venture to tell him that he is wholly wrong in everything he has hitherto said.


There was a dispute with regard to flags and possessions between the French and the English, one in this town of Wa, which was behind our Gold Coast Colony, and the other in a village on the right side of the Niger, in the territory which is disputed between us and France. I think that is perfectly correct, and I have no doubt that these disputes very frequently take place. You have in these places no clearly defined lines of delimitation between them. Behind the Gold Coast you have no clear definition of what is ours and what is French by treaty. You are actually discussing in Paris now what is the line of delimitation respecting the right bank of the Niger. Therefore, it can hardly be said that either Party ought to be blamed for what took place. It is a necessary consequence of sending troops about there—a lamentable consequence, no doubt, but one which has taken place again and again under similar circumstances. Well, on Monday the right hon. Gentleman came down to the House with a further dispatch, stating that the French had invaded the empire of Sokoto, which was stated to be undoubtedly ours. The right hon. Gentleman used the word "invasion" in regard to this matter, and undoubtedly great attention was paid to his statements, because I saw in the paper that a panic took place in the City at once upon those statements. Now, this was while negotiations were going on. It is remarkable that these incidents do occur before a Vote for additional troops is asked for, but I should certainly have thought that in order to keep up a friendly feeling with France pending the negotiations, it would have been better for the right hon. Gentleman not to accentuate, as he did, those particular telegrams. Fortunately, Lord Salisbury saved the situation. Lord Salisbury had already dealt with the speeches of the right hon. Gentleman during the Vacation in the excellent speech which he himself made upon the Address—a speech which my right hon. Friend the Member for Monmouthshire rightly said ought to be written over the doors of the Primrose League, and, he might have added, ought to be written over the doors of the Colonial Office. Lord Salisbury, when he heard of this incident, at once telegraphed to instruct Sir Edward Monson to ask for some explanation from M. Hanotaux, whose reply was to the effect that he did not believe any Frenchmen had invaded Sokoto, but that if any were there they were there against the wishes of the French Government, and he would recall them. But at the present moment we are asked to vote a large sum of money to increase the forces at the command of the right hon. Gentleman in these colonies. We hear, as a matter of fact, that there are already forces there—nominally, it is true, a police force, but, nevertheless, what I should look on as something of a military force. Then we see in the newspapers that a large number of officers are being sent out there from day to day for the purpose of enlisting men; and I am surprised to hear that the proposed force is to be entirely under the control of the Secretary for the Colonies. The First Lord of the Treasury was asked to-day under whose direction it would be, and he said it would be under the direction of the Secretary of State. I asked who the Secretary of State was, because really I was under the impression that he meant the Secretary for War, and I was informed that it was the right hon. Gentleman the Colonial Secretary. The last information we have been vouchsafed is that Imperial troops have been ordered to go to the front. Whether they are to go to the front or not I do not know, but I hope the right hon. Gentleman will be good enough to tell us. Now, what is all this collection of troops in this place for? It is true that we have taken this empire of Sokoto, or, rather, the Niger Company have taken it for us, under somewhat peculiar circumstances. It is placed under our Protectorate, but the whole circumstances are decidedly vague. Sokoto is surrounded by States which, the Emperor claims, are feudatory to him, but this they deny. However that may be, we know perfectly well that these forces of ours will probably be used to join in the different quarrels that may take place in this territory, which has practically become ours; but I cannot help thinking that another object in sending troops so openly to these colonies is to weigh upon France—to convince her that we are really serious, and that we are not going to let what we consider our rights be interfered with. Well, I say it is a great mistake to do this at the very time when you are in negotiation with a foreign country. Take a parallel case in Europe. Say there was a dispute between France and Germany; well, the sending out of an army would, to say the least of it, not be conducive to peace. I must say, with all my admiration for the ability of the Colonial Secretary, that I regard the right hon. Gentleman as a very dangerous man, and I am therefore not inclined to entrust him with these vast powers or with the money which he desires. We hear a good deal at the present day about markets, especially in China; and I should say that our trade with one province in China is worth what we could obtain by getting hold of the whole of Africa I am not in favour of yielding what is ours, and I trust the Commission which is sitting in Paris will come to some rational arrangement. I think there should be some clear and specific arrangement as to the Hinterland belonging to us and that which belongs to France, but, if we cannot agree as to it, why did we not go to arbitration1? I find, by the way, that these colonies obtain their revenues in the main by a tax upon drink, and if you are able to run a, whole Government upon a tax on drink it is very clear that a large amount of it is imported, and is drunk by the inhabitants of the country. I vote against this increase of our forces on the clear ground that I do not believe in increasing our forces in this district at the present moment, since I do not think it will tend to aid in keeping the peace between France and England, a matter of very much more importance to us than a few miles of territory in the centre of Africa.


Since this Estimate is not asked for to cover the cost of arming and maintaining the troops which we keep in the Niger territory, I must take it that it is for raising a different force from that which we maintain at the present moment. We gather also that this force is to be under the control not of the local Government upon the spot, but of the Colonial Office at home. It is described, by the way, as the West African Frontier Force, and if that be so I am entitled to assume that it is not a police but a military force, since it is presumably a force for the protection of the Frontier. The reason why I have put down an Amendment for the reduction of the Vote by £100,000 is, first, because of the refusal of the Government to give us that information for which I think the House was entitled to ask before it was called on to vote for a sum of money apart from the ordinary Supplementary Estimates. This is, as it seems to me, the initiation of an entirely new policy, and it certainly would appear that the House is entitled to, at least, as much information as was given in the case of the Venezuela Frontier dispute. When an hon. Member asked the Government the other day for Papers giving the history of the transactions which have led up to the present dangerous situation of things the answer given was that, the matter being under negotiation with the French Government, it was not in the public interest to give the information requested. It appears to me a strange thing how it can be maintained by the Government that it was in the public interest to give the information which would enable the House to approach the consideration of the question with full knowledge in the case of the Venezuela dispute, which was just as dangerous a dispute as this, and is against the public interest to deny similar information in the present case. However, both sides of the House, being anxious not to exacerbate the situation supposed to exist between this country and France, acquiesced in the refusal of the Government to give this information, and then what occurred? An unprecedented series of events took place. The Government, having refused to give information extending over the last few years and leading up to the present condition of things, suddenly certain telegrams were read out in this House—telegrams of the most exciting and dangerous kind, which went round the whole of the country, and, indeed, of Europe, and inspired in the whole Press of Great Britain a series of articles of the most offensive and aggressive character against the Republic of France. Now, I should like to know why it was against the public interest to deny to the House, before this Vote was presented to the Committee, full information which would have enabled it to approach the matter in a reasoning spirit, and why it was for the public interest to read out, as they came, telegrams which were calculated to create a panic on the Stock Exchange and to lead people to believe that we were on the verge of a war with France? No one can deny that these telegrams have excited—and, I think, reasonably excited—a very dangerous feeling in France. Throughout this controversy the tone of the French Press has been characterised by very much greater forbearance and dignity than the British Press has shown, and until these telegrams were read the French Press was almost silent as to the condition of things in West Africa, being content to leave the matter in the hands of the Joint Commission. Hon. Members opposite have said that the French Press was silent, because France was going on. That is your way of stating the case, but there are always two sides to a case, and I have heard the same thing said with regard to England. The Débats says— France is obliged to take these precautions because of the constant forward movement of England in these regions. Of course, it is the easiest thing to stir up passion between two great nations, and that is the effect which is undoubtedly produced in Paris when these inflammatory telegrams are read out to the House of Commons. And there is another point. A very influential deputation of British merchants waited on Lord Salisbury yesterday, or the day before, and, though it was private, it is stated in all the papers that the Prime Minister gave an assurance that affairs in West Africa were in a thoroughly satisfactory condition, and that the members of the deputation retired expressing themselves thoroughly satisfied. I put it to the House of Commons—is that the impression produced by the telegrams that have been read here? That, I submit, is not the way in which to deal with a country like France. Some people have oven suggested that, as France is in domestic difficulties, now is the time to press her; but I must express my opinion, and that of many on these Benches, that the Republic of France has been unfairly and offensively treated in this matter; and if for no other reason, I should protest against this Vote, because, in view of the telegram by which it was prefaced, I think it is a menace and a threat to France. Every ship which leaves Liverpool is crowded with officers and stored with ammunition for these West African forces; yet, surely it would be desirable, almost at any sacrifice of pride, to preserve these two great countries of England and France from coming into collision over a few square miles of semi-barbarous country in the centre of Africa? It would be a monstrous thing if war were to break out over such a matter as that; but I say that language has been used in the Press of this country, and especially in the Times of last week—and it should not be forgotten that war often has been provoked by newspapers—language calculated to goad the French Press and the French people to retort in like kind. If that were to take place, and telegrams were to be read out in the French Chamber similar to those which have been read in this House, I fear that a condition of things would be brought about under which it would be very difficult indeed to prevent war. I felt bound to say these few words, because the Irish people have a great respect and regard for France, and because they cannot and will not remain silent when, under the pretext of defending British interests, uncalled-for taunts and threats are levelled against that country.


I have no doubt that the House will be grateful to the hon. Gentleman who has just spoken for the efforts he has made to avoid a conflict between this country and France; but though in strength of language he has quite exceeded the hon. Member for Northampton, I do not think his arguments were much better. The hon. Member for Northampton did not rise even to the height of vituperation, and when he did have something of a case, he did not know how to deal with it, and has left me to say that there is something to be said as to this matter of the Frontier. But what there is to be said is not to be said against the Colonial Secretary, who is driven at last, at the eleventh hour, to take certain steps for maintaining the rights of England. It is, perhaps, desirable that the Committee should remember what took place in Madagascar. Surely it is necessary that some stand should at last be taken, and it is the duty of the right hon. Gentleman to take the steps which he is able to take. If there is a case against anyone, it is against the Foreign Office, not the Colonial Office. From 1890 up to the present day this Frontier question has been allowed to remain undecided so far as the Western and Northern boundaries of the Niger Protectorate are concerned, and no effort even seems to have been made to define it. The suggested Northern line, clearly, could not define itself, because it did not follow any parallel; but no effort has been made, either by the right hon. Baronet opposite or by any other Government, to send out delimitation Commissioners. Again, the Frontier to the West remains unfixed to this day. Under these circumstances, I think collisions and disputes and misunderstandings were almost inevitable, and I hope we shall have some explanation of the fact that no effort has been made during these eight years to settle the Frontiers on the West and North, which settlement would, in all probability, have prevented these misunderstandings. Having said that, I am bound to add that there is no man in this House who would regret more than I should anything which would tend to bring France and England into anything approaching war, because I believe it is in a good understanding between England and France that the best hope for the destinies of Europe is based. I, therefore, should regret most profoundly anything which would lead to a war between the two countries; but I am perfectly convinced that England's game is not to retreat whenever France advances, but to show occasionally what is called a stiff upper lip—to say— When we can fairly concede we will, but when we have reached a point where concession is impossible you must excuse us. I have stated the argument which the hon. Member for Northampton rose to state, but forgot to state.


I do not propose to detain the House at any length. I think the House will realise that it would have been imprudent on my part to have defended this Vote until I knew exactly on what grounds I was to be attacked. It will be seen that no good would have been done had I attempted to anticipate the line of argument of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Northampton and the hon. Gentleman who sits behind him. To my mind the greater part of the speeches of the hon. Gentlemen appeared to be absolutely irrelevant to the case at issue. But, as the hon. Gentleman the Member for Mayo says, this is in a sense a new proposal—the development and military defence of the West African Colonies—and, therefore, no doubt the House is entitled to claim some explanation of the lines upon which we are proceeding. But the greater parts of the speeches of the two hon. Gentlemen have been taken up with an endeavour to bring into this matter something else which has nothing whatever to do with it—namely, the differences of opinion which have arisen between ourselves and a great friendly Power. The time will come, no doubt, when it will be possible for the Government, and when the Government will be delighted to give the fullest possible information in regard to those differences; but that time has not come at the present moment, and I think that if the hon. Gentleman who have spoken really desired to prevent any exacerbation of feeling between two great nations, they have been particularly unfortunate in the method they have taken to secure that result. The hon. Member for Mayo complains that we have refused to produce papers, while, as he said, we have produced inflammatory telegrams. We did not produce those telegrams. The hon. Gentleman appears to think that we have, in some way or other, manufactured the telegrams. As a matter of fact the news contained in the telegrams was public news, which either had already been, or was about to be, published in every newspaper in the country; and, that being the case, I took the course usually taken under such circumstances and gave the House, in the baldest possible way, without criticism or comment, the exact facts, so far as they were known to me. Beyond that I did not go, and to have refused to go so far would have been altogether improper in anyone holding my position. If any hon. Member says that we ought to have gone beyond that and produced papers, that hon. Member has, I imagine, given only a very casual attention to this very important matter. If he had given it proper attention, he would have known that the papers, if ever they are produced, will, of course, contain a full account of all the negotiations, and these negotiations, which have been proceeding for a very considerable period, which have been continued from time to time, and which were renewed in October of last year and have continued down to the present time, have been undertaken with the French Government with the distinct understanding with that Government, pending the negotiations, that nothing whatever should be printed or published with regard to them. The desire of the Government would naturally be to place everything at the disposal of the House, but it is not possible for the Government to keep faith with the French Government and publish anything in regard to these negotiations. Are we, under those circumstances, to be called upon to go into these matters which have been referred to with so little knowledge by the hon. Member for Northampton? Is it expected of me that I am now to lay before the House of Commons the British case as opposed to the case which may be put forward by the French Government? Sir, it is perfectly absurd. The negotiations are still going on. We have reason to hope that they may result in a friendly and satisfactory settlement, and until these negotiations come to an end we shall not be in a position to give the House further information with regard to their progress. But as regards the remarks of my hon. Friend behind me, the Member for Lynn Regis, I am afraid that I cannot congratulate him on having shown more knowledge of the facts of the case than the hon. Gentleman opposite, because it seems to me that my hon. Friend is under the impression that the whole difficulty has arisen from the non-delimitation of the Saye-Barruwa line. On the contrary, no difficulty has arisen from that cause. The general trend of the Saye-Barruwa line is recognised by all parties; the exact curve of the line has to be determined in accordance with the ultimate delimitation of the northern part of the boundary of Sokoto. But there has not been, up to the present time, any approach to the northern boundary of Sokoto by France from the north, neither has there been any approach to it from the south by us. Under those circumstances, both the Great Powers being a considerable distance from this line, which has not hitherto been delimited, no difference has arisen, and there is no prospect at the present time of any difference arising. The differences have arisen, not on the delimitation of the Saye-Barruwa line, but on the delimitation on the west of the Niger, and I do not think our earlier delimitation of the Saye-Barruwa line would in the least have relieved us of the difficulties in which we now find ourselves.


May I explain to the right hon. Gentleman that I pointed out that not only was the Saye-Barruwa line not delimited, but the Western Frontier had also been left un-delimited.


Well, Sir, the negotiations which we are now carrying on have for their object, among other things, to determine the boundaries between the possessions of the two countries to the west of the Niger. That, then, is all I have to say. I regret as much as anyone that it is so little, but it is all I can say about the burning question of differences which have arisen between ourselves and the French Government, but which have nothing whatever to do with the proposal which is now before the House, which is independent of that altogether, which was provided for and put forward before these later negotiations took place, and which would have been pressed on the House whether the negotiations came to a satisfactory or unsatisfactory issue. The fact is, that the circumstances with regard to these West African Colonies have most materially changed in the course of the last few years. If I am not wearying the House, I will very briefly recount the recent history of these Colonies. The whole thing is most interesting, if we had time to go into the history. The House must know that for a very considerable period these Colonies were valued by this country, and similar possessions by other countries, chiefly because the stations which were formed along the coast were convenient stations for carrying on the slave trade. Slaves were brought down from the interior and from these stations were distributed to America and other parts of the world. When the slave trade was abolished entirely the apparent value of these possessions seemed almost to have disappeared, and although they were carried on a considerable time afterwards, it was more because they then became stations from which the slave trade could be opposed than from any particular profit, or expected profit, to this country. In the year 1865 a Committee of this House actually advised that we should reduce, and even, if possible, altogether get rid of, our responsibilities in this neighbourhood, and that, if we were to retain any position at all on the West Coast of Africa, it should be confined to Sierra Leone, which was thought to be of importance as a naval station. The decision of that House of Commons' Committee, which was a very strong Committee, consisting of both Parties, at the time, shows how little it is possible to predict the future of these undeveloped countries. Up to that time these possessions on the West Coast of Africa had been rightly denominated "West Coast" Possessions. They were purely and simply coast possessions. No attempt had been made to penetrate into the interior, and, as late as 1874, the position of things still continued. So little did people understand that there was a large and fruitful country in the interior, that practically the whole of it was at our disposal—practically the whole of it, from the Gambia to the Cameroons, might have been taken by Great Britain, and no other country would have said us nay. That, however, was not our view. There was a considerable party in the country at that time who shared the views now held by the hon. Member for Northampton, against the expansion of our Empire. Rightly or wrongly, those opportunities were lost sight of, and it was not till ten years later—in 1884—that we found ourselves confronted with a newly-born ambition on the part of other Great Powers, which threatened our Colonies in that part of the world—threatened, I do not mean to say the Colonies actually in our possession, but their possible future extension. We found the Colony of the Gambia, which I look upon as having been at one time the most promising of these Colonies, and the Colony of Sierra Leone had been hemmed in, and there was a probability that in the case of the Gold Coast that would be also hemmed in by the territories of other countries which, from the moment they were placed under the flag of those countries, would be absolutely closed to British trade. That is an important element in the whole of this argument. If other countries had adopted the policy we have adopted with regard to these and other Colonies, I do not say that it might not still have been our policy, as it was in 1865, to have allowed to these other Powers the gratification of their territorial ambition, and to have satisfied ourselves with the possibility of extending our trade. But under existing circumstances every inch of territory placed under a foreign flag is closed, and apparently closed for ever, to the introduction of British trade. In these circumstances it became necessary in 1885 to come to some arrangement, because disputes and differences appeared to be likely to arise, and accordingly a Conference was called at Berlin in order (as has been well said) to establish the rules of the game. It was quite clear that if there was to be this prosecution of rival claims in Africa, a general agreement between the competing Powers must be come to. Events, however, move with such rapidity that what was settled in 1885 has already become antiquated. What that Conference did then was not enough for the future. They settled matters of great importance, and they laid down certain conditions, as, for instance, that coast positions could only be properly held against rival claims if they were accompanied by effective occupation. They laid down also the freedom of navigation of the great continental rivers, and they also determined certain broad lines of demarcation between possessions as far as up to that time they had been established. But very much was still left undone, and in the course of the next ten years—that is to say, the last ten years with which we have been dealing—there has been a most remarkable and extraordinary display of enterprise on the part of our competitors. Up to the present time the policy of this country with regard to these extensions has been altogether different to the policy of foreign countries. Our policy has been to establish, if we could, a sphere of influence generally of a very moderate character in proportion to the vast territories with which we were dealing—to establish a sphere of influence in the Hinterland of the Colonies, not to occupy it, but to leave it afterwards for gradual development, the idea being that the enterprise of commerce and the gradual spread of civilisation would result ultimately in bringing these territories under sufficient and satisfactory control. On the other hand, any attempt prematurely to occupy them by a military force would not only be very expensive, but would also tend to bring us into conflict with the Natives, and cause much bloodshed and slaughter, which we would gladly avoid. Accordingly, our Colonies have been self-supporting, and no demand has been made on Imperial funds for the Gold Coast or the Gambia, or for Sierra Leone—none is likely to be made for Gambia or Sierra Leone. The history of these Colonies has been written. We have allowed them to be shut in, and it is absolutely impossible to contemplate any future extension. I confess that, whatever may have been the opinion of those who dealt with them at the time, I cannot doubt that everyone will say that it is a most lamentable fact that in the case of these two Colonies we allowed ourselves to be anticipated in the way that has actually taken place. We do not intend that the history of the Gambia and Sierra Leone shall be repeated on the Gold Coast. As I said, these Colonies have up to the present been self-supporting, and their extensions have been measured by their revenue. Considering that they are even now little more than settlements on the coast, they have been extraordinarily prosperous. At the present moment the trade with West Africa is very considerable. Every year they take from us two millions sterling of British and Irish produce. Independently of those goods which pass in transit from foreign countries, the actual trade with this country, which employs British and Irish artisans, already amounts to two millions a year, and it is capable of indefinite extension. A force of military police has been established, and gradually these forces have been pushing their way into the interior; and if we had been alone in this matter—if we had had no foreign competitors to deal with—I have no doubt that this progress into the interior would have continued to be very gradual, and would have been conducted at the expense of the Colony and without any demand upon Imperial funds. But we have not been let alone; the policy of our competitors has been wholly different. Germany and France—especially France—have been carrying out during the last three years military expeditions at enormous cost, and have been spreading all over the Hinterland, to a part of which, at any rate, we consider we have a most undoubted right. I confess I cannot look at this action on the part of France without admiration. Granting their point of view, I have nothing but praise for the enterprise, for the devotion, for the courage, and for the persistency of aim which has been shown by French policy with regard to this great question, and the result has been that, whatever may be the ultimate decision on the matters of difference which have arisen, in any case France will have carved out for herself an enormous Empire in Africa, from which I have no doubt she will derive in the future well-deserved profit and advantage. But if this extension which France has undertaken were to be allowed to go on without any corresponding extension on our part, the result would be that the Colonies of the Gold Coast and Lagos would be strangled in the same way as the Colonies of the Gambia and Sierra Leone have already been strangled. An hon. Member said we were acting in regard to the Hinterland of the French Colonies in the same way as they were acting in regard to the Hinterland of ours. This is absolutely inaccurate. To my knowledge, we are not at present in any way on the Hinterland of any of these French Colonies—on what may be called the geographical and legitimate Hinterland of these Colonies. They, on the other hand, taking the same definition, are on what may be called the geographical and legitimate Hinterland of ours, and it is against this that naturally we are seeking to protest. Therefore, under the circumstances which I have detailed to the House, without abandoning our old policy, which is the policy of cautious and gradual expansion, we are obliged to develop it somewhat. We are obliged to go forward more quickly than we should have done if we alone had interests there. We have proceeded by steps. In the first instance, what we did was to send agents into our Hinterland—not that of the French or the Germans—in order to make Treaties with the Native Chiefs, which, we thought, would secure us against any foreign competition. If that policy had succeeded we might have continued as before to hold these Colonies as claims pegged out for futurity, but to refrain from developing them until the resources at the disposal of the Colonies enabled us to do so without any demand on the taxpayers of this country. But, Sir, we have found that that was not sufficient security; we have found that, in spite of these Treaties, which have been, of course, communicated to our allies and the friendly nations on our borders, France and Germany thought these facts did not preclude them, under International arrangements, from coming into our borders and endeavouring to make Treaties which, though they were subsequent to ours, nevertheless, were set up against us. At the same time, great expeditions had been sent out from the French Colonies on the North, from the French Colony of the Ivory Coast on the West, and from Dahomey on the South, and these expeditions have spread out like a fan all over these territories; so that if we had remained as the hon. Gentleman wished us to do, and had taken no action on our own part, the whole of these prospective advantages, which we are anxious to secure for our successors, would have been taken from us. Sir, that is a position which, with our present knowledge, it is absolutely impossible that we should accept; and, accordingly, we have thought it necessary to raise what has been called a Frontier force. The present forces on the Gold Coast and Lagos are almost entirely required for the mere policing of the coast districts, and if we are to occupy, as evidently it is necessary that we should occupy, these territories over which we have assumed a protectorate, we must have a force capable of that duty. Accordingly, it has been decided to create and establish such a force, which, on the Lagos side, will be under the command of Colonel Lugard. That force is now rapidly being recruited, and it is for its officering that the drafts to which the hon. Member has referred have taken place. But, as I have said, the creation of that force was necessary, and will be necessary whether the differences with the French are arranged satisfactorily or not; because, if we are to assume these responsibilities, hon. Gentlemen will bear in mind that our obligations are reciprocal. When we make a Treaty with a Native State, we accord it our protection. At the same time we are bound as a civilised Power to accompany that with certain conditions. We expect, for instance, that the practice of slave raiding, and the observance of these fetish superstitions, which has caused so much bloodshed in Africa, and which—slave-raiding especially—has desolated the country, and has destroyed for centuries the possibilities of trade—we expect that these practices wall be given up. In return, we have to guarantee the security and the order and peace of these districts if they are threatened from outside. We do not intend to interfere with Native customs where they are not of the barbarous character of those to which I have referred, but we are bound to preserve peace and order as between the different tribes. Under these circumstances, therefore, for the proper government and control of the country over which we have assumed a protectorate, and for the proper performance of the obligations which we have entered, it is absolutely necessary that we should have the moderate force for which we are now asking, and for which this vote is proposed to-day. I believe that this force, besides being, as I have said, a necessity and an advantage to the district, will also prove, in the long run, to be a most economical force. It is impossible, in dealing with these Native territories, that we can always avoid difficulties, and expeditions, from time to time, probably, will have to take place, especially if we are going to interfere with the customs of the Natives themselves. But what happens now? Whenever an expedition is required, it is necessary to go outside for a military force; we have to go to the West India regiments—a most admirable military force, but, as they are not Natives of the country, they require, in the way of transport and other particulars, very much more expense than anything that would be required for a purely Native force. If the West India regiments are insufficient, we have to go, as we have had to go in the case of the last as of the first Ashante war, to British soldiers, and although they are most satisfactory, no doubt, so far as their military value is concerned, yet I do think that it is cruel and wrong if it can be avoided, to expose British soldiers to the terrors of the malarious climate of that country. Now, if this force of which I have been speaking is established, and if it answers the expectations we have formed with regard to it, we believe we shall be able, in the future, in carrying out whatever expeditions may be necessary, to dispense altogether with the employment of British forces, and, probably, to a large extent, if not altogether, with the employment of the West India regiments. Now, Sir, I think I have said all I need say in support of the policy of Her Majesty's Government in reference to the difficulties which have arisen on the Frontier between ourselves and the French. I cannot help thinking that the opposition to this vote on the part of the hon. Gentlemen opposite, is motived by another cause. It was not so much to show that we were wrong in any differences we may have with the French; it was not so much to put on record, that opposition to all expansion of the Empire, which it is quite unnecessary for the hon. Member for Northampton to advertise, as we have long recognised his consistency in that respect; but it was to show that there was a serious difference within the ranks of the Government—that there was a policy of Lord Salisbury which is different from the policy of the Colonial Secretary, and possibly another policy different from either. I need not say that if this were a matter of merely domestic interest, I should not think it necessary to allude to that, or to utter a single syllable upon it. But, Sir, circumstances have arisen which, whatever we may think about them, are at all events, circumstances of considerable gravity, and it is above all necessary that there should be no misunderstanding abroad as to our position. Therefore, I venture to say that in regard to the whole of this policy, from the beginning to the end, there is one policy of the Government only. The Cabinet is absolutely united—and, I believe, that in this they have the whole country behind them—in the determination that while they will exhibit the most conciliatory disposition in dealing with disputed matters, and will be ready even to make concessions of what they think to be their rights, in order to secure the friendship of the great nation with which they desire to remain in cordial unity; on the other hand, they will not allow the important interests of this country to be sacrificed.


The right hon. Gentleman has given an interesting resumé of a very large and important question, and I do not think he has said anything which can be fairly construed as likely to prejudice the peaceful solution of this question. Nobody can have been at the Foreign Office and have been cognisant of what has passed between the two Governments most concerned in this question within the last few years without being deeply impressed with the importance of the point which we have now reached. You have only to look at the sub-head of the Vote, on page 12, which is to cover the initial cost of raising, arming, and maintaining a force to be at present employed in the Niger territory. It is there that the chief difficulty has arisen. I will not travel over the whole of the ground, or attempt to do so, but what has been the history of the last few years? They have been years of pressure—years during which other countries, and ourselves, too, have been obliged to go at a faster pace than we desired. I think it would have been better to have proceeded more gradually, and it might have been possible to do so if what the right hon. Gentleman has properly called the rules of the game, had been understood in the same sense by all those who were interested in the question. Take the Hinterland doctrine. The Hinterland doctrine was understood by us, at any rate, to provide a certain sphere behind our own recognised and occupied possessions, in which there need be no haste, because, so far as other countries were concerned, it would be looked upon as a natural sphere, in which our right of action was recognised if at any time we chose to exercise it. But there was more than that. There was the doctrine of treaties made with native chiefs within, that Hinterland, which was supposed doubly to secure our rights. Had those "rules of the game" been understood by everybody in the same sense, I think it would have been much better for all; responsibility would not have been extended so fast, and dangers would not have been incurred. But that has not been the sense in which those rules have been interpreted. They have been called into question. There has not been that general consent which we expected to the principle that questions of dispute should be settled solely on those lines, and a remarkable activity has been shown by small expeditions traversing large tracts of country. That, I think, has not been without its effect on the Natives themselves. It has produced among them a feeling of unrest, and, apart altogether from our difficulties with the French, the number of small expeditions, whether British or French, which have gone at a great pace over large tracts of country, have produced that amount of unrest in the Native mind, which has, I think, in some cases, already led to troubles, and which may possibly lead to more in the future, and which makes it absolutely necessary for us to have a larger force to protect our own interests; I do not mean against any European Power, but against possible Native disturbances. If that is so, I think it is absolutely necessary that we should support this Vote, if only on that ground. Then there was a further ground alluded to by the hon. Member for Northampton. He said he took this as intended to convince others that we were in earnest on this question. Sir, I hope that this Vote is not needed to convince others of that; it is the consequence of our being in earnest. I sincerely hope, as the right hon. Gentleman said to-night, that the solution of this question will be the natural outcome of friendly negotiations, and I see no reason why it should not be so, and we certainly hope that the Government will be conciliatory and patient in the conduct of these negotiations; but we know that they have no choice but to be firm. And it is because I feel that the worst public service which anyone could render at the present time would be, either by speech or vote, to give an impression in any quarter that public opinion in this country was not united, and not firm, that I think we ought to support this Vote.

MR. W. ALLAN (Gateshead)

I have listened to the speeches on this Vote tonight with a certain amount of pain. Although I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Northampton on a great many subjects I differ with him in his notions of expansion—I mean by that Imperial expansion. I hold it to be the fundamental principle of national existence in any country to expand. That country, or nation, that cannot expand is moribund. I plead guilty during the Recess to attacking the Government on many platforms for a spiritless foreign policy, and there are many Liberals who agree with me in condemning them for not adopting a more spirited policy in the questions that have arisen with regard to Tunis, Siam, Madagascar, and China. I condemned them, and I should do it again; and now that we come to this West African business, what is the question? I want the House to bear in mind this. Of all the countries in the world, to my way of thinking, that have claims on that coast, there is none that will stand equal to Britain. What has it cost Britain? When we put down the slave trade, we had cruisers there for a long time, we spent hundreds and thousands of pounds, and many gallant lives of sailors and soldiers, in the course of those operations. Yet what do we find? If you look at the map, you will see that we are hemmed in completely. All the way down to Senegal, and the other reaches of the Niger, is now practically French territory, and we are hemmed right in. Where are your markets now? I do not want the right hon. Gentleman to go to war. I hope, and believe, that he will be able to settle this amicably, the Government succeeded in settling the questions of delimitation at Herat and Penjdeh, but we know that there is a syndicate of empires, or countries, all working against Great Britain at the present time. There is no disguising the fact that at every quarter of the globe we are being attacked, and what will be the result? It is all very well to say, do not expand, but let me ask this: Suppose you had withdrawn your troops from this portion of West Africa, what would have been said in this House? Why, the very Gentlemen who now complain would have been the first to denounce the Government for that. If that is so, what is our duty to-day? Our duty to-day is—at least I think so—to have our Frontier police, and look after the interest of the Natives in a quiet way; we should have our own markets, and we should on no account allow ourselves to be surrounded with France on the other side, and Germany on the other. Therefore, when I look at the whole question, I look at it from a national point of view—not from a parochial point of view. We are a commercial nation. Cripple our commerce, and we are done. It is the duty of our statesmen to ensure that our commercial position is unimpaired. Without our commerce, we must decay. The moment our commerce is weakened or destroyed, that will be the beginning of the decadence of the Empire of Britain. Therefore, if the hon. Member for Northampton moves a reduction of this Vote I shall certainly vote with the Government.


We have heard a great deal to-night about French interests and English interests, but we have heard nothing about the interests of the inhabitants of this part of Africa. Nobody has ventured to say a word in support of the interests of these dark people of this African continent. I want to know when the inhabitants of these regions invited either England or France to steal their country and rob them of their liberties. No such petition from these people has been presented to this House, and I am sure I am stating what is true when I declare that you have gone to these parts of Africa despite the protests of these people, whom you declare you want to civilise. The coming expedition is not the only one that has been sent to Africa by the Colonial Secretary. There was the expedition sent out to arrest King Prempeh. As the right hon. Gentleman the Colonial Secretary has boasted to-night, like my hon. Friend who has just sat down, of the benefits conferred upon these people by being brought under English rule, or within the English sphere of influence, let me for a few moments quote the opinion of a man on the spot, an Englishman, who has the courage to write and denounce the work done by this expedition. This is what he writes in the Lagos Weekly Record. He is speaking of the conduct of Governor Maxwell in requiring the King to pay the cost of the expedition, and the unpaid balance of the indemnity due for the Ashanti War of 1876, and this writer says— On King Prempeh intimating that it was beyond his power to pay such a large sum of money down at once, and requesting that time should be allowed him to do so, he was answered by being promptly put under arrest with a number of his family, including both males and females. There was no justification for such treatment of the King, and the action of Governor Maxwell—in the absence of any malfeasance on the part of the King, or menace on the part of his people—was an outrage upon civilisation and the bonâ fides of H.M. Government. But this gross violation of the rules and principles governing civilised methods appears to have been but the preliminary or prelude to more flagitious acts of Vandalism, inspired by a spirit of excessive cupidity, which seems to have seized upon every one connected with the expedition. We are informed, upon very reliable authority, that while the King was tendering his submission, and before he had finished doing so, his house, and even other royal residences had been invaded by avaricious officers on the hunt for treasure. And here followed a general system of looting, spoliation, and desecration, more worthy of a ferocious and barbarous people, than of the subjects of a civilised and Christian Government. That is how you go about the work of civilising and Christianising the Natives who have not invited you to go into their country at all. As one who believes in the right of every people to govern their own country, and to resist by every means in their power the unjust invasion of another nation, I venture to say a few words for these poor blacks who are not represented in this House. Then let me quote an opinion that hon. Members opposite will not laugh at. General Gordon, in his diary, writing about some other parts of Africa, has used stronger language than I could venture to use. When describing some of his operations in Africa he tells about an intelligent Native speaking to him and saying, "We do not want beads, we want our own land, and you go away." Then again, General Gordon says— They would seem to get on well without any regular laws, and to live out their span in comparative quiet. No country presents such a field to a philosopher as this country does, with its dense population, quite innocent of the least civilisation. I should say they are singularly free from vice. Their wars are generally very harmless affairs, and seldom cause bloodshed. I do not want to prolong my remarks, but I regret that in the concluding part of the speech of the Colonial Secretary there was a concealed menace to the French nation. I think in all this trouble the French people have shown better temper than has been shown in this country, and while I am not an upholder of French aggression any more than English aggression, I think if we are to remain on friendly terms with the great French Republic you ought to stop your expeditions in this part of Africa until you have finished your negotiations with your French neighbours in Paris.


I beg to propose a reduction of the Vote by £130,000.

Motion made and Question proposed— That a Supplementary sum, not exceeding £161,500, be granted to Her Majesty, to defray the Charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1898, for sundry Colonial Services, including certain Grants in Aid.

Whereupon Motion made, and Question put— That Item I., of £130,000, for the West African Frontier Force, be omitted from the proposed Vote."—(Mr. Labouchere.)

The Committee divided.—Ayes 27; Noes 234.—(Division List, No. 20).

Original Question put and Agreed to.

And it being after Midnight, the Chairman left the Chair to make his Report to the House.

Resolutions to be reported this day.

Committee to sit again this day.

House Resumed.

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