HC Deb 24 February 1898 vol 53 cc1576-605

On the Supplementary Estimate of £5,000 for the Mission to inquire into the Fur Seal Life of the Behring Sea and the North Pacific,


I do think it is a little late in the day to ask us now to agree to a Mission to inquire into the habits of the seals. Had the Mission been one, for instance, for practical sailors to see how the regulations made in consequence of the Paris Award were working, and whether they inflicted—as I know they do inflict—enormous hardship upon Her Majesty's subjects in the Canadian Dominion, I for one would have found no reason to complain. Several years have been spent and whole reams of paper have been printed in describing the habits of the fur seal from the natural history point of view. It is absurd to send out the Mission when we have professors like Professor Darey Thompson, and men of that sort, and it is the more absurd, considering that we have been treated with great roughness by the United States. I must say I was horrified to find that the only thing the Mission did was to capture a young seal and shut it up in a box to see how long it could live. It is very sad to know that we should send out a Mission, and that one of its first acts should be to perpetrate this harm upon an unoffending animal. It may be that the right hon. Gentleman can show that we have had some permanent information as to the habits of these animals, but I cannot see how it is possible that it should be so. The whole history of this is founded on the allegation that these animals were on the point of starvation, which this Mission has disproved. I cannot see why any mission of this sort was required, and I hope we shall have an explanation which will satisfy us.


AS the House knows, there are certain regulations for the control of the seal fisheries in the North Seas which were laid down by the Paris Award of 1893. Those regulations came into force in the following year, 1894, and they come up for revision under the Paris Award at the end of the fishing season in the present year, 1898. The United States Government have in the interval constantly urged on Her Majesty's Government that we should undertake at an earlier date the revision of the regulations, and that in the interim special regulations should be made for stopping pelagic sealing because, as they allege, there is danger of complete extermination of the seals. To these representations the Government have always replied that the question of amending the regulations must rest upon the evidence of experts as to the exact state of the fisheries before the termination of the original period, and therefore we suggested an inquiry by experts into the state of the seals upon the Russian and American islands. The experts' first report was presented to the House in 1896, and they found that there was no fear of the extermination of the seals, but that some modification of the regulations would be necessary at the end of five years. Representations for an immediate suspension of pelagic sealing were then received from the American Government. It was felt, however, by the British Government that a longer period of observation than a few months was necessary before the regulations under the Award could be revised and before we could take the matter in hand, and we asked the American Government to allow experts to pay another visit to the islands last year. The report of this second mission has also been laid before this House, and it shows that there has been a considerable decrease of seals since 1896. My hon. Friend is not quite right in saying that it was the duty of the experts to examine into the habits of the seals. That was not their object at all. They were not deputed to inquire into the nature and habits of the seals, because these were perfectly well known. The inquiry was as to the number of the seals. Well, Sir, they have conducted this second inquiry, and have provided us with the information; which is requisite for the revision of the regulations when the time comes, and which, I hope, will enable us to arrive at an agreement in the matter.

MR. SYDNEY BUXTON (Tower Hamlets, Poplar)

I want the Under Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs to answer a question in reference to one item—that of the British Guiana boundary question. When is this question likely to go to arbitration? What is the Commission engaged in doing—whether the matter is likely to be soon settled? I think every Member of this House will rejoice that this question, which threatened very serious consequences, is now in a fair way to be settled in a peaceful manner.


I rise simply in consequence of the remarks made by the hon. Member for King's Lynn, who thinks, evidently, that on this subject he can attack Professor Thompson without attacking the United States. He declared that this country had been badly treated by the United States, but I think the United States has been badly treated by this country. The United States carried out the conditions imposed upon them by both Governments, that they were to control the seas properly, whereas England did not. Consequently, I think the hon. Member is wrong. Therefore I think it is the United States Government that has been badly treated.


I did not know my hon. Friend was going to ask that question, or I should have been prepared for it. As regards the British Guiana Boundary Commission, the money asked for—£6,000—is required to cover the expense entailed in making inquiries, translations, and so on, by those who have been responsible for preparing our case. Our case is now complete. The fifth arbitrator has been appointed; but, as anyone acquainted with the practice of arbitration must know, a very considerable amount of time must be spent in delivering statements and replies and counter statements and counter replies. We are desirous of pushing matters forward, but I should only be deluding the House if I led the House to think that they would only occupy a short space of time.

SIR CHARLES DILKE (Gloucestershire, Forest of Dean)

I move a reduction of £100 in the item which concerns the recent mission to Abyssinia. The amiable giants who composed this mission to the Emperor Menelik, have brought back a Treaty with which the Government are perfectly satisfied; but I confess that my own opinion is a very different one, and one which concurs with that of persons who know the country and have been there, and are well acquainted with it. Several questions have been put to the House with regard to matters which are not in the Treaty, but I will deal with them after I come to deal with what the Treaty actually is. The very astute Prince who has made himself "the conquering Lion of Judah," has in this Treaty received an accession of territory, which I ventured yesterday to describe as 15,000 square miles, or a third or a fourth of the Somaliland Protectorate. The Under Secretary of State said at the time that he had not the figures with him, but that my figures were not accurate. I remember he told us in the course of the present Session that an account which I ventured to give of certain proceedings in Madagascar was one of which he could not admit the accuracy. In the same way his reply yesterday was that they were not well founded. He was wrong in his evident belief that a map accompanied the Treaty. There was no map laid before Parliament, but I have had the opportunity of seeing an official map showing the cession which has been concluded. I have, with two of the highest authorities, gone into the subject, and both of them made it out to be 15,000 miles. I was wrong in suggesting that it was one-third or a fourth of the Protectorate, but it is a fifth. The total amount is about 15,000 square miles. There are provisions in this Treaty against ill-treatment—as far as provisions can be enforced—of persons who, for a good many years, have enjoyed, not only British protection, but a considerable amount of British rule. That stipulation is to the effect that they are not to be losers by the transfer. After talking about the advantages of British rule, as some Members of this House have done, it does seem rather startling that such a power as Abyssinia can secure the rights of these people for the future. There was, some years ago, an unfortunate cession of territory, which had never been ours, but which, in some respects, answers to this case. I mean the case of Kafristan, and the Ameer of Afghanistan. We all know that in that case it had not been anticipated that those persons would be offered the alternative of death or conversion to a religion which was not their own. I am very much afraid that the facts I have to bring forward will show that these people have been virtually British subjects, and have enjoyed a certain amount of absolute British rule. The facts I shall lay before the House will, I think, show that there is reason to believe in this case also the people may be offered the alternative of death or the adoption of a religion of which they do not approve. The Abyssinians are now in the habit of converting people by force, and they carry on this practice at the present time. Apart from this stipulation to protect British subjects, which, I fear, we have no power to enforce the observance of in the future, by this cession of the back of the Somaliland Protectorate, we cut ourselves off from a country, in one sense, which is likely to assume considerable importance very soon, under circumstances which I will describe. Our Somaliland Protectorate, although in the Eastern half of Africa, does not face the east at all. It faces towards the north-west, and the strip we have given—this 15,000 square miles which we have given to Menelik—brings Abyssinia right across this as a sort of bar on the south side of our Protectorate. Now, Sir, when I asked the other day what was going to be the future, and what was the present extent of the Italian sphere of influence, the Under Secretary replied that it was a matter for Italian negotiation; but I think I shall be able to show that it concerns ourselves, and does not concern Italy at all; in fact, the Abyssinians have been all the time that this has been supposed to be an Italian sphere of influence in occupation of almost the whole of that sphere. Now, Sir, so far as the rest of it goes, we have not improved our position by bringing Abyssinia right across from the north. The country faces the north-west. It is turned round, and thus the strip goes across the southern part and forms a bar. Now, immediately south of the Italian sphere comes the British sphere of influence, connected with the British East Africa Protectorate, and it is with that I wish mainly to deal to-night. Let me only say upon the other side that we have got from the Emperor Menelik the assurance that he will not allow arms to be supplied to the Mahdists, who have always been his enemies. Well, Sir, the Mahdists have always been, his enemies, because he has been in the habit of baptizing these strict Mahomedans by force. Of course, they are his enemies, but that he has any intention, or has shown the slightest sign of joining us, or taking any part as an ally with us, I must most positively deny. What is much more important than what is in this Treaty is what is not in the Treaty, relating to this territory which may become so important to us in the future; and the reason why I trouble the House with these observations, and bring the matter before it at all, is that in the enormous territory which lies behind there are great dangers, and there is every prospect, and, indeed, every probability, that if we do not try to regulate the boundaries, we shall soon be face to face with exactly the same kind of difficulty, in an aggravated form, as occurs in West Africa.. When this Mission was sent with great pomp and circumstance to this Prince, who is very powerful in his dominions, we naturally expected that some attempt would be made, and possibly some attempt was made, to deal with these important questions to which I allude. I will try to describe what they are. When this Mission went to the Court of Abyssinia, Count Leontieff the Russian and M. Lagarde the French diplomatist had already concluded written engagements with Abyssinia. We are not acquainted with the terms of those arrangements, and only learn the general effect of them from Mr. Thomson, a French Deputy with an English name, who is the reporter of the Foreign Office Budget, and has described them in his report on the French Foreign Office. He alludes to them as being very highly satisfactory to the French, but there is no description of their actual contents, so that, we are left to mere surmise. From the speeches of unauthorised Deputies in the French Chamber, we gather what their sense may be; but there are certain documents, to which I do not wish to attach too much importance, which have been published in Paris, which are of a very startling character. I mean, for example, the alleged charter granted by the Emperor Menelik to the so-called Franco-Russian Company, in which Prince Henri of Orleans and a Russian adventurer were the principal persons concerned. It purports to be a charter giving to these gentlemen the government of an enormous country down to the second degree of north latitude, which is almost entirely over the region composed of the British sphere of influence. A portion is Italian, but the great bulk of it is British territory, and certainly, if this Treaty has been made with Abyssinia, it is of the first importance that some attempt should be made to regulate the boundaries and to provide for the future in this direction. Now, Sir, there is a Native question also to be considered apart from the Treaty itself. In this 15,000 square miles handed over to French rule or Abyssinian rule, we had disarmed the Natives, and yet we hand these people over to a kingdom armed to the teeth in recent times. We all know that 120,000 stand of the best arms are in the hands of the Abyssinians at the present time, and this Treaty gives them power to have as many arms as they please, so that there can be no doubt that we are handing over an entirely unarmed Native population to a people armed to the teeth, who are likely to overcome them, whatever resistance they may make. And there is much danger that a Native question lies behind in the vast territory which is not subject to this Treaty, and which would not be subject to any arrangement of this kind. From the recent information laid before the House you will find that the territory which has been ceded in this Treaty includes the trade routes, and the routes which Mr. Cavendish followed on a former occasion, and is about to follow again, where there is the great Borani tribe alluded to by Mr. Cavendish, who are among the tribes probably most friendly to this country, and who are being raided at this time by Abyssinian troops. Surely this was the first place to which the attention of our Mission ought to have been called; but it seems to me that the facts relating to the British Protectorate were ignored, as well as our duty towards the Native races. I have here a report of the lecture delivered to the Geographical Society by Mr. Cavendish. It has not yet appeared in print, but I have a proof of the lecture here, that I should like, with the leave of the House, to quote a few sentences from the report with regard to this portion of the British East Africa Protectorate, which the Abyssinians are raiding now. The Under Secretary has been questioned by several of my hon. Friends, one of whom knows the country himself, and is the only Member of this House who has been in those parts. In his reply, the Under Secretary said that these important matters "remained for future discussion" and were "left for subsequent settlement." My point is that these questions ought to be settled now, because they are threatening as to the future. The annual report for British East Africa shows that the rich and friendly Boranis were being raided within the sphere included in the unorganised districts of the Protectorate. Mr. Cavendish says he found Abyssinian parties "looting all the villages" and "driving off the live stock," and that was on the direct route which Mr. Cavendish is about to follow again through the Rudolph depression towards the Nile. He says the Natives mistook him "for an Abyssinian force," and added: "they have been so badly treated by the Abyssinians that the mere mention of such a force is enough to make them desert their villages and disappear." "The Borani-Gallas treated us in the most friendly manner, pressing every kind of present upon us, and we had the greatest difficulty in making them accept a return present. We found these people, undoubtedly, the most friendly Natives whom we met during the whole expedition; they besought us to stay with them, and when we refused to do so, they begged us to lay a petition before, the great chiefs of the English, begging them to extend that protection to them which they had afforded to Somaliland. One of the chiefs said, 'The Somalis are happy, and we want to be under your chiefs.' Well, just at that time, the great chiefs of the English nation were concluding a treaty with the Abyssinians, who were raiding these people who were actually under our Protectorate. Mr. Cavendish goes on to say— They brought us numbers of people who had been horribly mutilated by the Abyssinians. The Boran King, hearing that Englishmen were in the country, sent his son 100 miles to us with a present of 30 oxen and the best pony we saw in Africa. The son refused to take the present we wished to send to the King. The Borans were the most industrious, thriving, and richest race we encountered. In spite of the fact that these people are nominally under British protection, and carry on a trade in rubber, fibre, rope, honey, gum, and ivory, the Abyssinians levy tribute to the extent of half every caravan that leaves the country. Behind this country, in the British sphere, which the Abyssinians are raiding, and the sphere which the Under Secretary seems to think is Italian, lies this enormous territory, which we claim as a British sphere of influence, which we have arranged with Italy to be British territory, and which is regarded as being British territory. But we know for a fact that leading colonial authorities in Paris and great numbers of French Deputies have acknowledged the existence of this charter which the Abyssinian Emperor has granted to the Franco-Russian Chartered Company. Of course, the French Government has taken no public action, one way or the other, upon this question, and all we know is that when it has been brought before the French Chamber the French Minister for Foreign Affairs has used vague and general language, saying that written engagements have been concluded between France and Abyssinia which are perfectly satisfactory to French interests. He used only those phrases, and, of course, we cannot say that the French Government is at present an actual party to the grant of the whole Italian sphere and the greater part of the British sphere of influence. But this is a matter which the mission to Abyssinia ought to have dealt with, because it is certain that, looking to our vast indefinite claim to that district and to the French claims, we shall soon have a state of things even worse, and affecting a larger and more important district in future, for other reasons, than the trouble that is now upon us in West Africa. It is because I feel that the Mission has failed altogether to deal with the question that ought to have been dealt with that I have made the Motion I have brought forward tonight. It is quite certain that if we allow these questions to drift, we shall reach a most dangerous state of things. In view of the merely vague language of the Under Secretary, that all these matters should be left for future discussion, and especially in regard to the Italian sphere of influence, I consider that this is a matter which deserves to be brought to the notice of the Government, and that the treaty with Abyssinia, of which they seem to be somewhat proud, ought to be denounced to the House as being altogether unsatisfactory.

MR. A. E. PEASE (York, N. R., Cleveland)

I should like to add a word or two to the remarks made by the right hon. Baronet. I think the right hon. Gentleman the Under Secretary for Foreign Affairs has scarcely recognised the position in regard to the British Protectorate. If, as the right hon. Baronet has described, all the territory formerly occupied by us has been ceded to Abyssinia, and if we are to recognise their claims to the south as well as to the west of the Frontier, then I think the position is very serious, as this would cut us off from our British East Africa Protectorate permanently. Something has been said in the Press with regard to the nature of the country which has been ceded, and which we have practically abandoned. It has been stated in the public Press that this country which we have abandoned is practically worthless, and our concessions are of no material value, and do not prejudice our interests there; that with this territory we have purchased real advantages in the Nile Valley, and in regard to trade. I do not pretend to know what the area of the abandoned territory is. I have crossed it on two or three occasions. I have traversed it from east to west, as well as from north to south. This territory is important to us because across it you have all the most important trade routes, the keeping open of which depends upon the access to the water places on those routes which were formerly in our possession. Those we have now ceded to the Abyssinians, or abandoned, and we have therefore handed over the key to those routes in case of any difficulty with the Abyssinians. With regard to what we have gained by this treaty, I do not pretend to know what the value of the friendship of Menelik in the Nile Valley will amount to. I am not certain that he is able to prevent the passing of arms to the Mahdists in the Nile Valley. It appears to me that the treaty is all "Give," on our part, and very little "Take." But I will say it is the first attempt to come to a proper understanding with Menelik, and it is better than nothing at all. I congratulate the Government on at last sending a representative to Abyssinia, and upon the choice they have made. Lieutenant Harrington, who will be our representative, is a man who we can be confident will preserve what British influence there is in Abyssinia, and will increase it. I hope great things from his presence at the Court of Menelik. I should like to say I think the whole question with regard to the cession of our territory and the abandonment of our Protectorate is a theoretical one with regard to its effect on Native opinion there. It should be remembered that during the Italian and Abyssinian war, that our attitude was something more than an attitude of benevolence towards the Italians. It was known that we had given the Italians facilities in Somaliland and elsewhere with regard to their warlike operations. It was known throughout that part of Africa that our sympathies had been with the Italians with regard to their conduct in Abyssinia. When they were defeated at Adowa, we suffered in our prestige ultimately, because we were also associated with the Italian policy. It was known that the Italians had been allowed to purchase their camels in Somaliland, and it was known that if it had not been for representations that were made to the Government greater facilities would have been given them. After the Italians had abandoned all pretence to a Protectorate over Southern Africa, after they had been defeated, we also go to Menelik, and are despoiled of part of our Protectorate. It may be rather a theoretical view to take, and crediting the Natives with more intelligence than seems probable, but I assure the Committee that is the general effect of our attitude towards Abyssinia. I think the whole question as to the treatment of the large regions between the British Somali Protectorate and our British East African possessions is a very difficult one when we do not know whether the Italians claim it as part of their sphere, whether the Abyssinians claim it as part of their Ethiopian Empire, or whether we intend to maintain our influence in that country. I assure the hon. Gentleman we have a very far-reaching influence throughout these regions. I do not know whether it was with the acquiescence of the Italians, or their tacit acquiescence, but we did to a certain extent administer the country within the Italian sphere. Certainly, the tribes on the far side of Abyssinia constantly referred their disputes to Berbera, and I believe Italy acquiesced in the settlement of those disputes. There were very few tribes on the south of British Somaliland who did not always urge the representatives that when they returned to the Coast they would beg their Chief or Sultan to take them into the Protectorate that they might enjoy the advantages which the British Somali tribes enjoy. It is a most unfortunate thing that in this treaty we give every facility for the arming of the Abyssinians, and we have done nothing to put the Somalis in a position to protect themselves. I am altogether of opinion that we have promoted a wise policy in forbidding the importation of arms with regard to the Somali tribes, and the French are bound as we are not to admit arms to the natives, but we have no power, so far as I can see, to prevent Abyssinian raids. I know very well myself what the Somali suffer at the hands of the Abyssinian raiders. I cannot describe the country as occupied by Abyssinians, for they do not occupy it; they simply raid it, and exact large levies from the Somali people in the shape of cattle and sheep. The people of that country have long looked to us to help them against the descents of the Abyssinians, and the Abyssinians have on no occasion, so far as I am aware, claimed that territory as part of their Ethiopian Empire until, I think, 1891. It is difficult to know who is going, in future, to be recognised as the master of it. If it is the Abyssinians, I trust we shall use all our influence at the Court of Menelik to protect the Somali. If it is the Italians, I hope they will make their occupation effective, so as to protect their trade. It is a mistake to think the country is worthless. It has a large population, and their requirements, though simple, are numerous. Before I sit down I should like to say I quite agree "with the opinion of Mr. Percy Aylmer, who may be described as an expert, who was one of the first men to reach the interior of Somaliland, and who has been there lately, who also knows a good deal about the Abyssinian boundaries, and who may be regarded as an unprejudiced and impartial observer. That gentleman, in a letter, expressed the opinion that, with regard to Article 6 of the Treaty, the Abyssinians would have observed that, without any concessions being made on our part, and that a great injustice had been done to the Somalis. Now, I support the reduction moved by the right hon. Baronet, because I do hope that an opportunity will be given to the House for a debate on this Treaty, and that the right hon. Gentleman will be able to clear up some of the points to which the right hon. Baronet has attended, and be able to tell us what is the exact position with regard to the undefined territory between the new boundary and the boundary of the East African Protectorate.


I do not think that the correspondent of the hon. Member need regret that he is not a Member of this House, for he has certainly succeeded in putting before us, in very forcible language, his views upon the subject through the medium of the hon. Member who has just given both pleasure and information to the House; though he did not as it seemed to me, agree with the right hon. Baronet who initiated this discussion in the very severe and sweeping denunciation which he passed on everything, I think, without exception in this Abyssinian Treaty. I will follow his own order, and will take in the first place that which is in the Treaty and then that which is not. The first point on which the Treaty has been attacked is in reference to the rectification of the Frontier of the Somali Coast Protectorate. Now, the Frontier of our Protectorate which has existed up to the present time is one which was fixed by us with the Italian Government by Protocol, in May 1894; but that Frontier had never been communicated to or recognised by the Emperor of Abyssinia; and, indeed, the account of it given by the right hon. Baronet does not tally with the facts as reported to us. One might imagine, from the speech of the right hon Baronet, that there were a number of tribes inhabiting the Frontier in settled and peaceful conditions, and accepting the British Protectorate; but that is not so at all. Upon this Frontier a number of these tribes, although within our boundaries, as defined by Treaty, have for some time practically been under Abyssinian control. They have been constantly raided by the Abyssinians, and, I am sorry to say, our resources have not been equal to securing them the protection which their presence within the British boundary entitled them to receive. When Mr. Rodd approached King Menelik, and commenced to discuss the matter, he found that the King complained also of the pushing forward of the triangle of British territory in close proximity to Harrar. Now, we have had the opinion of the hon. Member opposite, who is an expert, but I think he will admit that Captain Swayne, an officer who has spent many years in the Somali Protectorate, is also an expert, whose opinion is worthy of consideration in the matter. It was the opinion of Captain Swayne that the request made by Menelik with regard to the rectification of the Frontier might be granted. Now, what is the nature of this concession? The right hon. Baronet says it amounts to 15,000 square miles, and I am unable to accept or disprove that statement. He further says that it is one-fifth of the entire Protectorate. I do not believe that to be the case. That is a point, however, which we can determine, and which I can bring before the hon. Baronet more clearly when we are able, as I hope we may be, to lay a map before the House, showing the whole Frontier; but, surely, a more important thing than the actual square mileage of the district under discussion is the nature of it. Mr. Rodd reported to us that this territory was sparsely populated, that it was not under permanent occupation at all, and that it merely consisted of temporary grazing grounds visited by a certain number of Native tribes at certain seasons of the year. All that our Envoy was, therefore, concerned to do in satisfying the desires of King Menelik as to this strip, was to secure that no tribe should lose its right of frequenting any grounds that it had been in the habit of visiting, and if hon. Members will look at page 7 of the Treaty, they will find that it is stipulated that the tribes occupying either side of the line shall be at liberty to graze on grounds on the other side of the line, and that during their migrations they shall be subject to the jurisdiction of the territorial authority. Free access to the wells is equally reserved to the tribes on either side of the line. That was one stipulation which it was necessary to secure in their interest. The other was to secure guarantees from Menelik that these tribes should not suffer from the transfer of authority. And that object we endeavoured to secure by a provision on page 4 of the printed Treaty, containing an assurance given by King Menelik that any Somalis who may become subjects of the Ethiopian Empire shall be well treated, and be orderly governed. That is the account so far as I am able to give it, and that is the whole of the information in our possession with regard to this so-called cession of Swayne territory. I venture to submit that Captain Swayne and Mr. Rodd were quite right in thinking it was a small price to pay for the determination of a fixed Frontier, about which there cannot be any dispute in the future between the Abyssinians and ourselves, and for the cessation of the Abyssinian raids which have rendered the country so unhappy in the past. While I am on this point I may inform the Committee that in the negotiations undertaken by the French Representative at the Abyssinian Court for the delimitation of their Somali Frontier, France has submitted to a very much more considerable reduction and restriction than we have done. Now, the right hon. Baronet proceeded to give his version of the Treaty, and he said that all we had got in return for this cession of territory was an assurance that King Menelik would regard the Mahdists as enemies of his Empire. That is not all that we have got. We have also got an engagement from King Menelik that he will do all in his power to prevent the passage through his dominions of arms and ammunition to the Mahdists, which, I think, is an engagement of very considerable value. Now, the right hon. Baronet said that the Mahdists always have been, and must always be, the enemies of Abyssinia through the conditions of their life and religion—but I do not know whether the hon. Baronet is aware that there have been constant communications between the Mahdists and King Menelik. Applications had been made to King Menelik by the Mahdists for assistance long before this event, and this assurance from King Menelik as to the Mahdists is one for which we must be grateful. The right hon. Baronet also omitted to refer to the Article under which we have secured most-favoured-nation rights in Abyssinia, which must be regarded as a distinct feather in the cap of the envoys who negotiated the Treaty. I could not help thinking, when the right hon. Baronet attacked this Treaty, that his ideas of compromise were that we are to get everything and to give nothing. But people in different positions take different views. It is very easy for anyone in opposition to get up and to pick any Treaty to pieces, and to prove that on the two sides the balance is against his own country; but when one is engaged himself in making the Treaty one has different views which, perhaps, upon the whole, are rather more just. That remark of mine must not be looked upon as a rebuke, but rather as a criticism, which more especially applies to that part of his speech in which the right hon. Baronet attacked us, not for our sins of commission, but those of omission. He seemed to argue that more ought to have been got, and, in particular, that some agreement should have been arrived at with reference to the boundaries of the British Protectorate in the far interior of East Africa. But, Sir, what is the information with regard to those regions upon which the right hon. Baronet has relied? It is based, as he has told us, upon the report of a lecture recently delivered by Mr. Cavendish, who has been travelling in these countries, and which is not yet in print; and upon statements in the recent report upon the East African Protectorate by Sir Arthur Hardinge. Neither of these statements had appeared, or were available, to Mr. Rodd when he went up to Addis Abbaba; and to contend that he should have made an agreement as regards the British Frontier in the Interior, when neither he nor anyone else at that time was in possession of the information requisite for doing so, is surely absurd. The right hon. Baronet, from his great experience, will know that there is nothing more dangerous than to settle questions relating to Frontiers when you are in complete ignorance of the local conditions of the country. We have too often suffered from boundary Treaties which have been made in similar ignorance in the past. I hope that the statement I have made is satisfactory; but I may add that, in the very countries abroad—I do not think I need specify them—where it might have been expected that this Treaty would have been depreciated, there has been a chorus of praise as to what has been described as a triumph for British diplomacy.


The speeches of hon. and right hon. Gentlemen who have taken part in this Debate to-night have been full of special knowledge, and I am sure that the House has listened to them with pleasure.

DR. TANNER (Cork, Mid.)

"I beg to call attention to the fact that there are not 40 Members present."

Notice taken that 40 Members were not present, the CHAIRMAN counted out the House, and 40 Members being in their places:


As I was saying, the speeches with which this Debate was initiated have proved full of interest. The right hon. Baronet the Member for the Forest of Dean always speaks on these subjects with very great force, and what he says is deserving of the great attention which is shown to those who combine intellect with industry. The hon. Gentleman who followed him, the hon. Member for the Cleveland Division, spoke with even greater knowledge, for I believe he is the only Member of this House who has had an opportunity of visiting these places. The Abyssinian Question is a very difficult one, for while it seems very hard to declare that, on the face of it, the Government do not appear to have accomplished much, yet it would, perhaps, be unjust to deny that they have done as much as was possible of accomplishment at the time. This case of Abyssinia is a striking illustration of the evils of neglect and delay in dealing with these foreign difficulties. For the last five years—ever since the fatal change of policy in 1893—this country has suffered in every quarter of the globe from what appears to be a rooted system of indifference, neglect, and procrastination with regard to dangers that threaten it from abroad. My reason for starting this proposition is that, until it is realised by the Government and the country that these misfortunes do not come upon us by haphazard, or by accident, but are the result of rooted errors in British policy, we shall have no improvement in a policy which leads to these retreats, reverses, and disasters abroad. The causes of these rooted errors are twofold: first, they arise from neglect and delay in dealing with questions which seem a little awkward, and which are put off in the hope that they will disappear, instead of which they become ten times more difficult; and, secondly, there is the alienation of the old allies of this country. It is not fair to charge the responsibility for this upon one Government more than another.


Order, order! The hon. Member is now dealing with general principles of policy.


Of course, Sir, after your remark, I will not go further into that question, and I only referred to it because it is impossible to deal with any one of these difficulties, or to suggest a remedy, unless the cause of the trouble is removed. Our difficulties in Abyssinia are part of the great scheme of Russo-French encroachment which began in 1893. When the right hon. Baronet attacked the present Government he was practically obliged as more or less a Party man, to pass over what happened under the previous Government. The difficulty really began in 1892–93, when the Foreign Office was represented in this House by the hon. Baronet now sitting alone on the Front Bench (Sir E. Grey). It began when Colonel Leontieff was first sent to Abyssinia. I, at that time, endeavoured to call attention to the danger which threatened our interests there. I ventured to ask a question on the subject, but I obtained no support, although if the right hon. Baronet had seen, as we did then, the result might have been different. But the right hon. Baronet simply told us, in airy and indifferent tones, that the Russian Mission was simply a scientific and geographical one. What actually occurred? Colonel Leontieff was away many years, and in that period he reorganised the Abyssinian Army, which was soon armed with French rifles. The movement was aimed, not so much against the Italians as against us; its real object was to embarrass us on the Upper Nile. It was part of a great Russian-Franco scheme of encroachment which has since developed itself in China, and, indeed, in every quarter of the globe. This recent cession of territory and the Treaty we have been discussing to-night can only be judged by results. There is a distinct conflict of opinion between the right hon. Baronet and the Under Secretary for Foreign Affairs as to the precise effect of this cession of territory upon our Treaty rights, and upon our communications from Somaliland with the interior portion of these regions, and in that conflict of opinion I am not able to decide between the two right hon. Gentlemen. We have one thing, however, to bear in mind, and that is that the tribes look to us for protection. We have prevented those tribes from being armed, and they are, consequently, open to attack from tribes which, although nominally Christian, are really most cruel and savage. They are practically semi-savages. We have heard of the troubles in Bulgaria, but if hon. Gentlemen will read the reports of massacres and outrages committed by the Abyssinians on the unfortunate Somalis they will see that the crimes said to have been committed by the Turks in Bulgaria are trifling in their nature when compared with those committed against the Somalis. I do trust that the Government will take special measures to protect these unfortunate Somalis. The inhabitants of the territories to the west and south-west of Abyssinia are well armed, and mostly well mounted, and they are constantly making raids on the Somali villages, killing the men, carrying off the women, and desolating the whole country. The Government would do well to look after the interests of these unfortunate victims. My opinion was that a certain amount of unpopularity would attach to the occupation of this country. I do not lay so much stress as the Under Secretary for War on the value of this declaration as against the Mahdists. We know that the most desperate antagonism has existed between the Dervishes and the Abyssinians for many years. I trust it will prove, however, that the pledge of King Menelik will be observed. There is one very interesting point which the right hon. Baronet referred to more than once, but which the Under Secretary has not touched upon at all, and that is the alleged cession by the King of Abyssinia of an immense tract of territory southwest of his dominions, and which is said to extend to within two degrees of the equator. This territory is said to have been ceded by Menelik to Russia and France—to have been granted in a charter to that Colonial adventurer, Leon-tieff, and to Prince Henri of Orleans, who is no friend of British interests. If these two persons, who are most pronounced and active enemies of England and of British interests, possess this charter giving them rights over, a vast territory, the greater portion of which lies within the acknowledged British sphere of influence, it is a very serious fact.

AN HON. MEMBER: What is it worth?


It is very easy to ask what is that concession worth, but that is not the question we have to consider. We have seen these encroachments going on in every quarter of the globe—in Siam, in West Africa, in the Transvaal, and in China, and this affords a striking illustration of the way in which our enemies go to work. The great danger the Government has to guard against is the neglect of these apparently trifling matters, and I do say that this is a point upon which our Government should obtain the clearest information, and the most definite assurances from the French Government, for the time may soon come when, if this charter has really been granted, it may prove a source of danger to British interests. Indeed, we know, from statements by means of the French Colonial party, and from declarations by the French Government, that they consider that they, possess arrangements with Abyssinia which cannot but prove very satisfactory from their point of view. As I said before, it is very difficult to assert that our Government have not done their best under the circumstances. The late Government neglected the beginnings of this difficulty; they passed them over and concealed them from the public. Then, for some period, the present Government followed the same course and pursued the same policy. They did so for a year, or a year and a half, but at last they woke up in the matter, and sent a Mission to Abyssinia. Mr. Rodd did the best he could for us. In view of the enormous influence which the French and the Russians had obtained there, and of many other circumstances which I need not refer to, I think it is pretty clear that Mr. Rodd did his best to produce some sort of peaceful arrangement between this country and Abyssinia. We, naturally, do not like the position in which these unfortunate Somalis are placed, exposed as they are to the raids of enemies cruel and savage to a greater or less degree; we do not like the fact that great districts in the North-East Soudan are exposed still to the raids of the Abyssinians; these are disagreeable and perhaps humiliating facts, but it would be very unfair to blame Mr. Rodd for them. He had everything against him, for he was sent there very late, and, under the circumstances, I do not think he could have concluded a more satisfactory Treaty with regard to the danger to Abyssinian attack or encroachment upon what we consider to be our district. I think the right hon. Gentleman gave a most effective answer. He suggested, or rather stated, that Major Macdonald had been despatched to look after this important region, and to forestall any Abyssinian attack. That, of course, is a very important fact, but it is a great misfortune that the expedition has been almost broken up and destroyed by the mutiny of some Soudanese troops in Uganda, which was never for one moment anticipated. Still, we know that every effort is being made to repair the disaster, and that troops are being hurried up to undo the result of the Soudanese result.


The topic which the hon. Member is now discussing is very remote from the Question before the Committee.


I have to beg your pardon, Sir, but perhaps you did not catch the statement of the Under Secretary that Major Macdonald's expedition was sent in order to look after these territories.


I caught the expression, and was aware of it, but the hon. Member is not entitled to discuss the revolt of the Soudanese in Uganda, although reference to it is admissible.


I did not intend to discuss that. I will only conclude by repeating what I said at the beginning—that if difficulties like this with Abyssinia are to be avoided, and if British policy and British control are to be established successfully, the only way to secure that end is to revert to the old alliances and arrangements, and then we shall be enabled to hold our own against the attacks of foreign Powers.

SIR EDWARD GREY (Northumberland, Berwick)

The hon. Member who has just sat down has devoted most of his speech to criticisms, most of which were directed not against me personally, but against the Government of which I was a subordinate Member. I have so often spoken in this House when I have had the blame of the hon. Member for Sheffield directed entirely against the side of the House on which I sat, that I cannot help feeling rather relieved at his criticism on this occasion of hon. Gentlemen opposite.


It was because they followed your policy. Whatever policy was pursued was pursued in common by both Parties.


The hon. Member says that it was pursued in common by both Parties, and I gather that he is not satisfied with the policy. There are some considerations which I think do modify some of the criticisms which have been passed on this Treaty. At the same time, I cannot say I regard it as entirely satisfactory. But I won't detain the Committee very long, because I am not in a position of an expert who would do what I should like to see done if possible—reconcile the conflicts of opinion as between Gentlemen on this side of the House and Gentlemen on the opposite side. The question of importance seems to be as to the tribes which by this Treaty have been transferred to the Government of Abyssinia, who in previous years have been living under the protection of the British Crown. There is great conflict of opinion on that point, but I gather that there must be some tribes who are being transferred from the protection of British authority to Abyssinian authority, according to the note at the top of page 4 of the Treaty under which His Majesty the Emperor Menelik binds himself as to the Somalis particularly. He promised they should be well treated. Unless a transfer has taken place I do not see why that question should be put and answered. What is their treatment likely to be? I cannot suppose that in a question of this kind any mere verbal provision would be likely to have very much effect unless a careful eye is kept on it. And I think it is most likely to be the case. Some of the Natives have been transferred to the British protection, and those in authority should, at any rate, report carefully what their treatment is, and, if need be, it should receive the most urgent attention of the Government. Now, as to the other Natives who have been under the Italian sphere, one argument has been raised in this Debate, that Natives living under the Italian sphere will find their position very much worse, that they will in future be recognised as being under the Abyssinian rule in a way that they have not been before. As regards Natives who have been under the Italian sphere, I think these will find that there is a sensible change for the worse in their condition. I gather that the Italian influence in some parts of this sphere has been somewhat remote, and that many Natives in the Italian sphere have relied rather on British influence, or on their neighbourhood to British influence, than on the active interference of Italian officers. But, Sir, if they were in the Italian sphere of influence, and if the Italians were no longer going to give them their protection, we have been spared the responsibility of this. As regards the Italian sphere, I can only suppose we have done nothing under the Treaty which can be a matter of complaint by the Italian Government itself. We have no direct assurance to that effect—perhaps it is impossible it could be given—but the right hon. Member for the Forest of Dean did make a point—viz., that we had introduced a bar of territory ceded to Abyssinia which had been previously recognised as an Italian protectorate. But, however, the question is really one for the Italian Government, and if they have no objection to what the Britsh Government has done, then I cannot see how any objection can be taken, as regards the Italian sphere, to the provisions of this Treaty. But there is one reservation on this point, and it is as regards the clause touching the importation of arms. In Article 5 it says that the importation of arms into Ethiopia through the territory of Her Britannic Majesty is authorised. Now, Sir, would the Somalia have the same facilities for obtaining arms as has been granted to the Abyssinians. It has been stated that there are Natives, weaker tribes, on the borders of Abyssinia, who are continually subject to raids from the Abyssinians. Now, Sir, this Treaty puts us in the position of being bound to facilitate, or, any rate, permit, the transit of firearms into Abyssinia, which, I suppose, we should be bound to prevent in the case of tribes who are liable to incursions from Abyssinia. That is an extremely unpleasant position, and I suppose the best defence that can be made for this provision is that if the Abyssinians do not get a full supply of firearms in that way, they could obtain it easily in another way. That certainly is an element which very much qualifies the satisfaction one feels in reading the provisions of this Treaty. Now, Sir, the Treaty has been criticised on a ground which is not connected with the welfare of the Natives but which is connected with the future of the British possession in Africa generally, and that is, that under this Treaty we are cutting off the Somaliland protectorate from access to the British sphere of influence in East Africa further inland. Now, Sir, I do not attach much importance to that objection. I am quite at one with my hon. Friend the Member for Cleveland, who has stated with, I think, unique advantage that there are important trade routes of which we shall lose the control under the provisions of this Treaty. He said, I think, from the wells which were necessary for trade routes, that two of those wells had passed from British control. That may be so, but even if we had retained those wells, what should we have obtained? If we are going to regard this Somali Protectorate as valuable because it would afford access to the British sphere of influence in East Africa, then I think it ought to be our policy to occupy and develop the whole of these routes. We have been promoting means of access to these parts of Africa from different quarters. Advance has been made up the Valley of the Nile, and a railway has been begun from the coast to Uganda. It is possible that through Somaliland there may be another means of access to these trades routes, but we could only have made use of them if we had been prepared for a great territorial expansion until we had occupied and developed the whole length of these routes till they joined our East African sphere of influence. That, Sir, it seems to me, would be a tremendous operation—a tremendous addition to our responsibilities in Africa. I think it would have been beyond our strength, to say nothing of further political complications, to have seized upon these other trade routes, and, at the same time, to have endeavoured to have developed them. In developing those routes we never contemplated joining this Protectorate to our British East African possessions. Therefore, I think, it is better that we should recognise facts rather than leave the question open to further difficulties. There is one thing lacking in this Treaty which the Member for the Forest of Dean pointed out. In making a Treaty of this kind it would have been most valuable if there could have been some recognition of our sphere of influence in British East Africa. The right hon. Gentleman said it would have been impossible to obtain this boundary because there was not enough influence, but that sphere of influence has been recognised before by other Powers in British East Africa, and I do not see why that same recognition might not have been obtained from Menelik in this instance. I quite admit that the actual definition of the boundary might have been impossible for lack of information, but we do not find that a lack of information has been a bar in other cases to the recognition of our sphere of influence, a recognition which has already been given to other Powers, and which, I think, might have been asked for or negotiated for this country. Of course, the right hon. Gentleman can speak with fuller knowledge on the subject, but I say that it would have been a great acquisition to the value of the Treaty if such a recognition could have been obtained, more especially in view of the statement that a charter has been given by Menelik himself, which apparently authorises certain persons to penetrate well into the British sphere of influence. I do not know whether that is true or whether the right hon. Gentleman opposite is in a position to make any statement on that point; but, at any rate, in discussing this Treaty I cannot help feeling that it is a serious drawback to the satisfaction with which we should like to regard any Treaty with this country that it has left an open question future difficulties in what is, perhaps, the most important matter of all that will have to be dealt with in the future. Now, Sir, I should like to have it stated what the real reason is for the making of this Treaty. I do not suppose that the real reason was the readjustment of the boundary, and I do not think the Treaty can be fairly judged by merely reading the actual provisions. I think the real justification of the Treaty must lie not in the mere balance of advantages to be found in these separate articles, but in reasons of policy and State, which cannot, perhaps, be fully explained to the House. I do think, as my hon. Friend the Member for Cleveland has said, that it is important that Menelik should be recognised, but I would rather this Treaty should have been made than no Treaty at all. The question of this part of Africa is an important question, and it may be a very critical question in the future. Abyssinia is undoubtedly a great factor in that part of Africa, and must be a great factor in any future settlement; and I think the real justification of this Treaty is to be found in the fact that as other nations have entered into relations with Menelik, and have had an understanding with him, it became vital that we should also have an understanding to recognise him, and under this Treaty we have recognised his authority. Possibly there is an understanding not defined which may have an influence extending beyond the mere provisions of the Treaty. On the ground that I am not in a position to judge of the merits as fully as those who have the full official information, I think the Committee may accept the Vote for this Treaty, and on those grounds I certainly shall not oppose it.

MR. R. MCKENNA (Monmouth, N.)

The right hon. Gentleman has covered the ground pretty fully as to some considerations directed against this Treaty. Certainly, the points which he has chiefly touched were points which were not answered in the first instance by the right hon. Gentleman the Under Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs. I propose to direct attention to another matter which the right hon. Gentleman did not answer, and that is the question of the cession of Somaliland territory to Menelik. Now the Under Secretary used these words: he said that the territory was surrendered because it was raided territory, which had been raided by the Abyssinians, and a little further on he referred to the cession as "the so-called cession." The case made out by the right hon. Gentleman, as I understand him, is this: that, although we have this Treaty with Italy recognising a certain line of demarcation between our sphere of influence and the Italian sphere of influence, yet Menelik, the Abyssinian Emperor, has never recognised our Treaty, and that our claim to the territory—so called—ceded has not been recognised by the Abyssinians. In making that statement he appears to have ignored altogether the terms of the particular: Treaty which he was defending in this Committee. I find that the Emperor Menelik himself speaks of the territory as something we have a right to cede. He gives us his assurance that those subjects who hereafter become his subjects under the new boundary arrangements shall be well treated. This territory is inhabited by tribes who have formerly accepted and enjoyed British protection in the British Protectorate, and there is further in this Treaty itself definite allegation that this territory was in the British sphere of influence and Protectorate, and there is a general acceptance of that view by Menelik himself.


I think the hon. Gentleman is confusing the two parts of the arrangement. The tribes there referred to are the tribes who had been under British protection.


There is no distinction about the particular tribes. Clearly, the words I am referring to referred to the whole of the tribes. Now, Sir, the Committee will remember that the Under Secretary in his observations rather appealed to us to make the best of the Treaty, and take it as it is; but we cannot forget that this last of a series of "graceful concessions" was re commended to us, earlier in the Session, as a triumph. We know now that the right hon. Gentleman defends him self upon the ground that our power in that part of the world was insufficient to enable us to get better terms. I will appeal to him, and to the Government of which he is a Member, when he makes this confession of our inability to properly look after the protectorates and spheres of influence which we take upon ourselves in Africa—I will appeal to him to remember this confession when he is extending the sphere of British influence into the heart of the Soudan. The very same difficulties which the Government have found in Abyssinia they will find there. Before I conclude let me remind the Committee that the concessions which we have obtained under this Treaty are only concessions which might be called mutual. We have got nothing except the trade concessions, and every concession that we have received is a concession of a mutual nature—we give something corresponding directly to what we receive. There are only two unilateral concessions, and in both cases they are made by us. One is the surrender of territory, and the other is the cession to which the hon. Baronet referred, and as to which no reference has been made by the Under Secretary for Foreign Affairs—the cession to Menelik of the right to import as much arms as he pleases.

MR. JAMES BRYCE (Aberdeen, S.)

I think, if there is no strong reason to the contrary, if the right hon. Gentleman can answer the question asked, with reference to this agreement, it will certainly help to clear up the matter. It is clear as to the relation, and the agreement made with Italy in 1894, by which we gave a line separating our protectorate. Anyone who reads the whole treaty will clearly see that it is a question of the continued recognition by us of the Italian Protectorate to the south of the Italian sphere of influence, and to the south of our Protectorate; and that is where, in the second paragraph, they establish on each side a dividing line. The previous part contained a recognition by Menelik of the boundary of our Protectorate, but its provision with regard to the tribes recognises the other side of that line, and the question is: what has become of our obligation towards Italy? I think we may consider that Italy is out of the matter altogether; that we have neglected or contemned the rights which, in 1894, we acknowledged to belong to her. And what is the position that Her Majesty's Government have taken up with regard to Italy? They have consented to this abandonment to us of a right which we formerly recognised in them; or, if not, what is the meaning of the arrangement? Upon the main issues raised by the hon. Baronet I agree. Although I am far from thinking, as was well pointed out by the Member for Keighley, the treatment is in many respects very disappointing, and not certainly what we should have expected; there may be reasons why it has been thought desirable that the House should not be informed upon this question, and, therefore, I shall, for that reason, not join in any opposition to this Vote.

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

I beg to ask whether Mr. Curzon can inform the Committee concerning the terms of the Charter alleged to have been agreed upon between the Emperor Menelik and Prince Henry of Orleans? I think it is important that we should hear from the Government, before coming to a decision on this Vote, the exact position in which we stand with regard to the Charter. It has been constantly referred to in the French Press and in the French Chamber, and there seems to be no specific ground for the Charter entered into. I do think, before coming to a vote on this subject, we should hear what the views of Her Majesty's Government are upon that concession.


In reply to the last question, I can only say that we know nothing of this Charter, except what has appeared in the papers. In reply to the right hon. Gentleman opposite, the terms of our arrangement with Menelik were communicated to the Italian Government, and they raised no objection.

The Committee divided.—Ayes 76; Noes 162—(Division List, No. 19).

Vote agreed to.