HC Deb 24 March 1898 vol 55 cc781-820

Order for Third Reading read;

Motion made, and Question proposed— That the Bill be now read the third time.

MR. JAMES LOWTHER (Kent, Isle of Thanet)

I think, Sir, it may perhaps facilitate procedure on the next Bill if matters connected with the Foreign Office portion of Votes included in this Bill are discussed under conditions which admit of the foreign relations of this country being considered in a collective form. Our foreign affairs, I think it will be granted, must be considered by Parliament as a whole, that is to say that the discussion of the attitude of this country with regard to foreign affairs is apt to land the House and the country in confusion, in consequence of those who wish to form a judgment upon them not being able to obtain any intelligent view of the situation as a whole. Now, Sir, one word upon the position in which this House now finds itself with regard to any discussion upon foreign affairs. Her Majesty's Ministers have, as I venture to think, very properly declined to be drawn into any statements which in their judgment would be contrary to the public interest. But that course ought to be observed not only in this House but elsewhere, and I will go so far as to say that I think Ministerial utterances in the country have been in some instances calculated to convey an erroneous impression to the public mind both at home and abroad to a far greater extent than any answers to questions put in this House could do. Ministers have from time to time made public statements regarding the condition of our relations with China and with other countries in connection with Chinese territory which have occasioned considerable confusion and misunderstanding. Now, Sir, we have been told that Her Majesty's Government has decided upon a clear and distinct line of policy with regard to China. I, for one, should be very glad to know what that line is. We have seen it stated by the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Treasury that he adheres to the statement he made some two years since to the effect that he regarded without fear or dislike the idea of a Russian outlet for commerce below the line of winter ice. That is an intelligible proposition which I, for one, most cordially endorse; but my right hon. Friend went on to make it clear that while he adhered, as I am glad to find he does, to that very sensible declaration, he associated himself, to my surprise, with an attitude of uncompromising opposition to the acquisition of any portion of Chinese territory by any foreign Power whatever, which was certainly inconsistent with his own previous language, because we know perfectly well that a "Russian outlet for commerce"—I quote the words of my right hon. Friend—"below the line of winter ice," will be absolutely useless unless there were some means by which Russian trade could reach that port. The concession to Russia of a right and of a legitimate claim to an ice-free port obviously necessitates an agreement with the proposition that Russia must have some means of reaching that port. Well, the means of reaching that port would only be by a railway in the North of China, which we are officially informed has been long under consideration, and, in part, at any rate, has already been carried into effect. Now, that being so, I think it is most desirable that it should be made known, not only to public opinion in this country but outside, what are the legitimate demands of Russia in that respect which have been recognised by Her Majesty's Government, so that they may not be confused with matters affecting other parts of China where Russia has no rights whatsoever, and where we ourselves have very substantial interests which the Government, as we have reason to believe, intend energetically to defend. Now, China, although a somewhat large locality, is treated, I regret to say, sometimes in Ministerial speeches, as well as in newspaper articles, as if it was a comparatively limited area, and the word China is used in a general sense as including large areas to which the language of Ministers, I venture to think, is not intended to apply. We hear a great deal about open ports. There is also another favourite expression. I think it is called the "open door." Well, Sir, the "open door" appears to me to be a very ambiguous phrase. The "open door" is interpreted, I see, in some quarters, and, I think, in some Ministerial quarters, to mean that the whole of China, including Manchuria, is to be open to the free and unfettered advance of all nations, and that no foreign State, Russia included, is to be allowed to exercise exclusive sovereignty over any portion thereof. This House, moreover, has, under the leadership, for the nonce, of my hon. Friend the Member for the Ecclesall Division of Sheffield, committed itself unanimously to the declaration that the acquisition by any Power in the world other than China itself of a single inch of Chinese territory was against the interests of this country—a most astounding proposition, which I, for one, certainly am not prepared to endorse. Well, that being so, it seems to me that it would very much strengthen the hands of Her Majesty's Ministers, in insisting upon the points which are of vital importance to this country, if they could be dissociated from suppositions and ideas which are entirely at variance with some, at any rate, of their own previous declarations, as well as with what is obviously inevitable in the near future. To mix up the vital interests of this country in Southern China with the inevitable acquisition by Russia of large tracts in the North of China appears to me to weaken our position and to be calculated to do very serious injury to this country. And I would point out that the newspapers not only construe this language in that sense, but announce to their readers that the country is absolutely, by the words that fall from the mouths of Her Majesty's Ministers, committed to this preposterous doctrine—that not a single inch of Chinese territory shall be acquired by any other Power, and that English goods must have equal facilities afforded them from a commercial point of view to those of any foreign Power throughout the length and breadth of what has hitherto been known as the Chinese Empire. Now, Sir, that doctrine, I must own, is a very startling one. It is further put forward seriously in Ministerial language, that in the case of a Treaty between any two countries, notwithstanding the alienation of a portion of territory by one of the high-contracting Powers, that Treaty, so far as the other high-contracting party is concerned, remains in force over those portions of territory which have been expropriated. That is a doctrine, I think, unknown to international law, and which no authority would for a moment support. Take, for instance, the case of the restoration of the Reichland to Germany after the war of 1870. Does anybody contend that French Treaties continue to operate over the whole of what was formerly part of the French Empire? Take again the case in which the late Emperor of the French recouped himself for his aggressive action in the war of 1859, by appropriating to himself two provinces from the King of Sardinia. Could it be said that treaties previously made with the King of Sardinia continued in force, notwithstanding that change of territory? I might refer to the case of the Ionian Isles and many other instances; but I do not wish to weary the House. There is, I venture to say, no authority which could be listened to for a moment which would contend that such views were in accordance with the law of nations, and that being so, we may well ask whether the language understood to have been used by Her Majesty's Ministers tends to support a doctrine which has no authority whatever in support of it? I should take the line, rather, that they do not intend their language to bear that construction, and that they perfectly admit in principle that if any territory around Hong Kong was taken by ourselves for the purpose of protecting that dependency, any Treaty rights affecting that portion of territory possessed by France or other countries with China would, of course, be abolished. This doctrine, therefore, requires to be brought within the reach of ordinary common sense. But I must further point out that the doctrine of the "open door" has been propounded in a manner which certainly renders extremely difficult by this country the adoption hereafter of the policy which has been strongly urged by practically all the important colonies which form portions of the British Empire; that is to say, the accordance of preferential trade facilities within British territories to members of the British Empire, and upon that point alone it appears essential that this country should dissociate itself from any such ideas as are involved in this absurd doctrine of the so-called "open door." Now, Sir, I have touched upon these points because I think it is desirable that we should understand exactly where we are. If the Government say that the continuance of a position of uncertainty in this respect, having regard to the difficulties by which we are surrounded, is desirable, I, for one, shall feel bound by their decision, and will say no more upon the point. But, without anticipating, in any way, other questions about to come before the House, I will just point out that we are not in a position to consider what responsibility this country will incur in connection with the Greek loan until we know how that matter affects our relations with other countries in the world; that is to say, the question must be considered not only in connection with Greece, but with regard to our foreign affairs at large. I could quite understand the Government saying it is desirable to give in to Russian susceptibilities in the Near East, with a view to obtaining some compromise in the Far East; but if, in a matter like this, we give way to Russia in the Near East we thereby give considerable offence to other Powers who have an interest in the maintenance of the status quo in the Near East, while, at the same time, we fail to derive any advantage from our concession to Russian demands. In that position of our foreign affairs it appears to me that any proposal to give the guarantee of this country to a foreign loan is a matter requiring very anxious consideration, though I do not intend to oppose it, because I am glad to find that the principal object to which this loan is to be applied is the refunding of money which the Turkish Empire was, by the unjustifiable action of Greece, compelled to spend. I will remind the House that the guarantee of this country diminishes the rate of interest to be paid, because, had this country not joined in the guarantee, the other Powers would not have commanded the money at quite so low a rate as is now secured. But I find that, after Turkey, the largest slice is to go to one of our co-guarantors. The Russian Government is credited with the intention of taking a very large slice of the loan about to be proposed to be guaranteed by this House; or, in other words, we are to guarantee a subsidy to the Russian Government, doubtless to be expended in the fortification of Port Arthur, and therefore I think that the House ought to inquire what our relations are with that country in all quarters of the globe. That consideration, I think, justifies the inquiries I have made; but, as I said before, if the Government consider that it is undesirable that these questions should be answered, I will accept their decision as final. There may, no doubt, be some little suspicion that it was the refusal of Her Majesty's Government to join in the blockade of certain portions of Greece and of Crete that brought this war about. That blockade was, I believe, very anxiously desired, even in the interest of Greece itself, and by nobody more strongly than the unfortunate King of Greece and his advisers. Nothing was more desired by them than that the Powers should assent to the proposition of the German and Austrian Governments to blockade the coast and prevent them from making extreme fools of themselves, and from following the advice of, at any rate, 100 Members of this House, who must feel keenly also their grave responsibility in connection with this war. I will not intrude any further in reference to this loan, and I will only ask whether the Government can throw any further light upon these matters.

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

I concur, Sir, with much that my right hon. Friend has said in the earlier portion of his remarks, but there is one point with regard to our relations with foreign countries which I think the Government may be fairly congratulated upon, and that is, there is a distinct improvement not only in the feeling of the country and of this House, but also of the Government, towards the Turkish Government. The miserable and constant nagging which was indulged in by Members on the other side of the House towards the Turkish Government has been abandoned, and I hear from Constantinople that our Ambassador, who has been largely responsible for many of the misfortunes which have happened there, is now behaving as an envoy of this country should. I repeat, he is behaving as an envoy of this country should behave towards a sovereign to whom he is credited. Whatever may be the private opinion of the Ambassador, there is not the slightest doubt as to what his duly is when he is accredited to a foreign Court. That duty is to maintain friendly and courteous relations towards the Sovereign of the country to whom he is accredited, and if he cannot do that it is his duty to retire. I am, of course, glad to see from the papers that our Ambassador has resumed those friendly and courteous relations with the Sovereign of Turkey which it is the duty of every Ambassador to observe. On this subject I will say no more than this, that the sooner the House and the country and Ministers realise that we cannot possibly do without the support of the Ottoman Power—and events which have recently happened in the Far East and the Near East have proved it—the better, for this country cannot maintain itself without the co-operation in time of need of the Ottoman Army. Without that co-operation we cannot hold India, and cannot possibly meet an attack from Russia. Of course I understand the meaning of the cheers from the hon. Members opposite, but I am stating facts which it will be just as well to realise, and I again say that to this country, with its small and utterly inadequate military force, the support of the Ottoman Army is absolutely necessary. Sir, I believe that the salary of the Under Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs is included in this Appropriation Bill, and I wish to say a word or two with reference to the right hon. Gentleman's manner of answering questions. The right hon. Gentleman is perfectly well within his rights in inviting Members to show reserve in asking questions about certain subjects, and, Sir, that request of his I individually have respected, for since he made it I have only put one question upon the Paper, and that was a question as to a matter of fact, and not a question of policy. I asked him if he could inform the House as to the terms of the French demands upon China, and not only did I put this question in the most general way, so that it was perfectly open to the right hon. Gentleman to decline to answer it, but I asked him if he could answer it, because it is quite obvious that events might have so progressed that the right hon. Gentleman might have been in a position to answer it, and if the right hon. Gentleman had said, "I cannot answer it in the public interest," I should not have dreamed of pushing the matter further, but, in addition to declining to answer it, he thought fit to deliver a homily—


May I inform the House, and remind the hon. Gentleman, that I told him two days ago, when he put the Question on the Paper, the exact nature of the reply that I should give, so that it was with an ample foreknowledge of what I should do that he persisted in putting the Question again to-day?


The statement of the right hon. Gentleman exactly confirms what I have said. I expressed my regret to the right hon. Gentleman that I was unavoidably absent, and he informs me that he could not conveniently answer that question. In consequence of that statement, I asked him whether he could answer it. This happened two days ago, and I thought events might have changed. I do not think that the right hon. Gentleman will find that his method of answering questions will advance public business, or will increase his own personal influence. I do not wish to refer to what happened afterwards, as that is a matter of great delicacy, and concerns a ruling from the Chair, which can be raised on another occasion. I will only say that I think it is desirable that the old practice of the House, which makes Ministers themselves responsible for each act which they perform in this House, should be as far as possible observed. I should not think of saying anything about the Far Eastern question at this moment, because we have been told by the Government that the negotiations are in a critical state, and we all hope that these negotiations will end in a way which will result in maintaining the prestige, the commerce, and the honour of this country. Hon. Members on either side of the House who wish for information have a right to have that information, and I would remind the right hon. Gentleman the Under Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs that questions are the only means open to private Members by which they can obtain information. The liberties of private Members have been greatly restricted in late years. A very few years ago a question of this sort would have immediately given rise to a Motion for the adjournment of the House, and Ministers would have been compelled to give an answer to such a question as this, which now the Under Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs is able to refuse to answer offhand. We have a right to obtain the information, and we are perfectly willing, if Ministers tell us in the usual way that an answer to an important question would be prejudicial to the public interest, to at once accept that statement, and decline to press the question. The anxiety which now exists with regard to this foreign question is not without cause. I would remind Ministers, and especially the Under Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, of this fact, that we have seen the interests of this country affected, and prejudicially affected, in every quarter of the globe. We have seen failure after failure to assert the rights of this country abroad, and the instances are innumerable of the truth of that statement. There is hardly a case in which our interests have come into collision with those of other countries but what there has been a retreat, and a very considerable surrender and loss of prestige to us. That being the case, when such grave questions as the crisis in the Far East have arisen, when the Germans are occupying Kiaou Chau, and Russia is occupying Port Arthur, the greatest anxiety is felt to know what is going on; and that anxiety is mixed with considerable alarm. I therefore hope that the right hon. Gentleman and other Ministers will consider that there is reason for the anxiety of hon. Members to have full information when events are happening involving the most vital interests of this country in the Far East and elsewhere—information which at present they are unable to get.


My right hon. Friend the Member for Thanet has taken the opportunity, perfectly within his right, upon a Consolidated Fund Bill, which, after all, is only an occasional Appropriation Bill, to raise a very important question. There is no more important question, I think, in the interests of this House or of the country than the question of the limits within which we should allow the power to Ministers to give or refuse information. On the one hand, no doubt, they have a discretion—a discretion which ought to be exercised under a sense of great responsibility and of great reserve before refusing that information. On the other hand, we should be very wrong if in any respect we parted with the great privilege of the House of Commons to question the Government of this country upon all occasions, and I quite admit that the course of conduct followed in recent years has been very largely to restrict the liberties of Members of the House of Commons in this regard. We ought to be extremely jealous of the refusal of opportunities to the House in its action with regard to the Executive Government. I only say this with regard to the general principle. I certainly cannot charge myself, and I do not think that I shall be charged by the Government, with having endeavoured to extract, from them any information which they might think prejudicial to the public interest. I quite understand and I should certainly always respect the discretion of the Government, but I think that there ought to be a little more consistency on their part in the exercise of that discretion. I confess I observe that discretion is not by any means universally exercised. I will say nothing of speeches before dinner and after dinner which have been made by Ministers upon the most critical public affairs whilst negotiations were going on—speeches which, in my opinion, have very often seriously compromised the relations of this country with other States, and which contained statements of policy which have not always been reconcilable one with another. And then, when we ask for an explanation in this House how one statement is to be made to conform with another, we are told that it would be contrary to public interest to answer, although we have two contradictory, or, at all events, not altogether reconcilable, statements from two different Members of the Government, and therefore, to that extent, the Government are responsible for a curiosity which they may find it inconvenient to satisfy. But I observe that, with regard to discretionary matters connected with the Colonies, there is no reserve whatever. I might even say that questions are provoked. I have known occasions when at midnight telegrams have been read to the House upon matters relating to the most dangerous and delicate questions at issue between us and France. The Government have not been satisfied to wait for questions to be asked, but the questions have been actually invited. I observed that in another place, only two days ago, questions were asked upon specific matters which everyone knows are the precise questions at issue between this country and France, and answers of what I can only call a most controversial character were given by the Under Secretary for the Colonies. That is not consistent with the adoption of the position that no answer will be given with reference to negotiations now pending. I am myself in favour of the exercise of the largest discretion in respect of negotiations pending; but, as we know, there are the most difficult and critical negotiations going on between this country and France, and no discretion has been exercised at all. Statements are made and answers given which, in my opinion, are not the least likely to lead to a favourable termination of these negotiations. Then there is another matter. I think the hon. Member for Sheffield is difficult to satisfy. [Sir E. ASHMEAD-BARTLETT: Oh, no!] I am well aware that his ambition is unlimited, because he has been accepted as the Leader of Her Majesty's Government in matters of foreign policy, and especially of Far Eastern policy. We may have had some difficulty in ascertaining what is exactly the policy of the Government with reference to China; but, after having made rather ambiguous and not altogether consistent statements upon that subject, they waited for the hon. Member for Sheffield to bring forward a Resolution which comprehensively dealt with all the matters at issue, and with avidity they accepted it without difficulty as a vote of confidence in their policy. Is the hon. Member not satisfied with a unanimous vote of confidence accepted by Her Majesty's Government? What more can he desire? It was a Resolution dealing with all the critical questions at issue in China which are going on at this moment between Great Britain and Russia and Germany and France, and it was propounded ex cathedrâ by the hon. Member for Sheffield—if you can speak ex cathedrâ from a seat below the Gangway. It was a unanimous determination, and it was a determination which, I confess, greatly astonished me—indeed, I may say that I never was so astonished in my life as in that Debate, when the Under Secretary for Foreign Affairs got up and said, "We accept unanimously this Resolution." [Mr. CURZON: No.] The right hon. Gentleman said he accepted it with no difficulty. [Mr. CURZON: No.] Yes, "No difficulty," was the phrase. He had no difficulty in the matter. I will not discuss the policy of that extraordinary Resolution, because I do not desire to go into the general policy of the Eastern Question. I am only pointing out to the Government upon this matter that if we are to respect their discretion they ought to be a little more discreet themselves. They ought not to contradict one another in their speeches after dinner upon Far Eastern policy; they ought not to contradict one another as regards the treatment of these delicate questions in the Foreign Office and Colonial Office; and they ought not to seek guidance below the Gangway and offer to accept cheerfully Resolutions which, in my opinion, they will find of a most embarrassing character in their future dealings with this matter. They have practically made a declaration upon the whole question, although, no doubt, it came from the mint of Sheffield—a declaration dealing with the desirability of maintaining the integrity and independence of the Chinese Empire as well as of the Ottoman Empire. That may be a policy in the long run quite as difficult to carry out in the case of China as it has been, and will continue to be, in the case of Turkey. I think it is time that we should ascertain the limits of this discretion, and I hope we shall not be subjected to Resolutions of this character, involving as they do most serious consequences, and accepted, as it seems to me, in a most inconsiderate manner—Resolutions which bear most seriously on pending negotiations. If Resolutions of this character are to be carried in this House we must know the meaning of them, and the effect they may have upon negotiations that are pending with other Stares. There is one other point, alluded to by my right hon. Friend the Member for the Thanet Division of Kent, as to which I should like to ask a question, and that is, in what relations do we stand to Greece in connection with the evacuation of Thessaly contingent on the settlement of the Greek Loan? There is also the position of Crete with reference to what I suppose me may now speak of as the deceased Concert of Europe. The Under Secretary was asked, the other day, by my hon. Friend what course the German Government had taken with reference to Crete, and he said they had withdrawn the ship or ships which they had there. We ought to know a little more, I think, as to the consequences of that withdrawal. That is not a pending negotiation; it is an accomplished fact. We had there in Crete, under what is called the Concert of Europe, an armed force of all the Powers who constituted the Concert. It is a very strange thing that one of those Powers should have withdrawn her ships. We ought to be told what is the meaning and what is the consequence of that action with reference to the administration of Crete, of which we, in common with the other Powers, have taken upon ourselves the charge. Does the situation remain the same as before the withdrawal of the German forces? We are also told that the withdrawal of the Austrian force is imminent. I think we are entitled to be told what the situation of this country, and other countries with whom we may be acting in concert, is with reference to the administration of Crete. Is it the fact that at this moment we are acting with France and Russia alone in regard to Crete? I should be glad were the answer to the question in the affirmative, because I have always thought that that was the natural, as it is the traditional combination. It is the combination by which the emancipation of Greece was effected by Mr. Canning just before his death in 1826 or 1827, I think. We ought to be told whether or not that is our situation at the present time, because the question bears upon a still more important one—namely, the evacuation of Thessaly, which is closely connected with the Greek loan. I should like to ask whether the Concert of Europe—that is, all the Powers together—have determined to effectuate the evacuation of Thessaly. Are they acting together with reference to the Greek loan, which is the preliminary, the condition precedent to the evacuation? Are they guaranteeing, or, rather, acting in common for the purpose of securing the evacuation of Thessaly in favour of Greece upon the payment of the loan? We really do not know what is the meaning of the change which has taken place with reference to what we used to call the action of the Concert of Europe. Because it is a very striking fact about this supposed harmonious co-operation of the Powers that one of the Powers should have openly withdrawn its forces, and that another is expected to do so. My noble Friend the Member for Cricklade put another question; he asked whether measures for the establishment of Prince George in the governorship of Crete were in progress, and I was extremely surprised at the definite answer of the Under Secretary, to the effect that there would be no difficulty in answering that, because there were no measure in progress. Then what are you doing? we first ask. Who are you in Crete? Who do you consist of? And, secondly, what are you doing? We have been told that all the Powers have been agreed for more than 12 months that the first thing to do was to establish a Christian Government in Crete; and now, in the month of March, 1898, I ask, who are you who are now taking measures to establish a Christian Government in Crete; and what measure are you taking for the purpose? And the answer given is, "No measures are in progress at all." I think before we go on to the next stage, which is the matter of the Greek Loan, we ought to have some much more definite information upon the relations which Her Majesty's Government occupy with reference to the other Powers in the Near East, as well as in the Far East.


The speech of the Leader of the Opposition has been divided into two very dissimilar parts. The latter part consisted of mild and very proper questions about the Concert of Europe, the state of Crete, and the evacuation of Thessaly; and to those questions I think I shall have no difficulty in briefly replying. The right hon. Gentleman has asked what difference is caused in the situation in Crete, and in the attitude and responsibility of the Powers, by the withdrawal of the German forces from Cretan waters. As far as I know, there is no difference whatever. Germany had quite a small contingent of land forces at Canea and one ship of war. The German Emperor having withdrawn those forces, the island remains, as it has done during the last year, a deposit in the hands of the other Powers, who, as far as I know, are not likely to deviate in the least from their former attitude of responsibility, because they have not the armed force of Germany on the spot. Then, as regards the evacuation of Thessaly, the right hon. Gentleman asked if all the Powers were actually acting together, or likely to act together.


It is said that Germany has ceased to take any interest, and does not intend to interfere in the fate of Crete. Does the hon. Gentleman say that?


I have not said that, and I have no right to say it.


They gave notice of their withdrawal.


As to the evacuation of Thessaly, the right hon. Gentleman asks whether all the Powers are acting together with absolute unanimity. I can give the right hon. Gentleman the assurance for which he asks, not only as to the Powers who are giving the guarantee, but as to all the other Powers who are quite unanimous upon the question. I need not, I think, go into the conditions determined by the Treaty of Peace and the negotiations which have been since conducted, as to the time when and the conditions under which the evacuation will take place. But it is obvious that the position of advantage occupied by the guaranteeing Powers, and acquiesced in by all the other Powers, will put them in a position to enforce the conditions. That being so, I think we may look forward with confidence to the continued co-operation of the Powers in this respect, and may believe that the evacuation of Thessaly will be carried out by the Turkish troops under the terms of the Treaty of Peace. Next, the right hon. Gentleman expressed surprise at an answer which I gave to the question put by the noble Lord the other day with reference to the candidature of Prince George. I said, in answer to that question, that the negotiations were not at present proceeding, and the explanation of that answer must be obvious to the right hon. Gentleman, and, indeed, it was suggested in his speech. We regard for the moment the question of the evacuation of Thessaly as the paramount question in Europe, and when that question has been decided then I hope that the Powers will take up again the candidature of Prince George, which has not been abandoned, but which is only in abeyance for the moment. Now I pass to the earlier part of the right hon. Gentleman's speech, which was of a very different character. I do not know whether it was intended to assist the Government in the attitude of reserve which they have been obliged to take up, or to injure the Government in the estimation of the House and the country. The right hon. Gentleman commenced his attack by referring to certain after-dinner speeches made by certain members of the Government. [Sir W. HARCOURT: I include speeches before dinner.] I do not know to whom the right hon. Gentleman referred, and I wish he would name the speakers. This general charge, made without reference to individuals, is one that I need not and cannot take notice of. Then the right hon. Gentleman fell foul of the Colonial Office—an attitude on his part with which we are familiar, and which is always easier to adopt when the exponent of the policy of the Colonial Office is not in his place. Finally, the right hon. Gentleman denounced in unmeasured terms the conduct of this House in passing unanimously, three weeks ago, a Resolution against which the right hon. Gentleman himself did not vote. His chief charge against the Resolution about China, moved by the hon. Member for the Ecclesall Division of Sheffield, was that it was unanimously accepted by this House. He did not see that he was including himself in that charge. [Sir W. HARCOURT: It was due to my astonishment.] The right hon. Gentleman explains his vote in favour of that Resolution on the ground of his astonishment—a most inadequate defence from the leader of one of the great Parties in the House. Then the right hon. Gentleman asks, what are the limits of the discretion which the Government propose to exercise in respect of declarations referring to their Chinese policy? I can answer that question very easily. The limits of the discretion which the Government think it necessary to observe have not yet been reached, and the Government have no intention of over-passing them. My hon. Friend below the Gangway, the Member for the Ecclesall Division, made this evening an ingenious attempt, characterised by his customary subtlety, to extract from the Government the very information which I have for some days declined to give at Question time, and the comment of the Leader of the Opposition was this: that the Government must, of course, accept full responsibility for the attitude they adopt in giving or withholding information. That is the case, and, as far as I am concerned, I do accept full responsibility for every answer I have given in that sense. I quite admit the right of any hon. Gentleman to put any question he pleases, subject, of course, to the judgment of you, Sir, and the Gentlemen at the Table, in accordance with the orders and procedure of this House. I also admit the natural desire entertained by hon. Members on both sides for information. But I am bound to say, in qualification of that, that I am not certain that the majority of the questions put to me are mainly or exclusively intended to extract information. Sometimes I think the questions are of a character, and are asked with the purpose to extract information from the Government which it may not be to their convenience to give, and I do not think it can be said that a simple and unadulterated desire for knowledge can be said to lie behind all these questions. With regard to questions, I can honestly say—though I do not know whether the House will give me full credence in the matter—that, since I have held my present post, I have had the utmost desire to give the fullest information possible in my answers. I have carefully abstained from sheltering myself behind a vague official formula, and I do not like to quote the public interest unless it is really involved. The hon. Member for Sheffield says to me: "If you only said you could not answer on those grounds, I would never bother you any more." I am much obliged to the hon. Member for the hint. In future I shall bring this hitherto unused weapon out of my armoury, and I have no doubt that he will give me abundant opportunity of using it. If I have been compelled to adopt this attitude of reserve with regard to questions, I do not think it can be said that it is an attitude which we have adopted on other occasions in this House. The right hon. Gentleman looks this afternoon with disquietude and censure upon the whole of our proceedings three weeks ago, but will he allow me to remind him that in that discussion it was solely in deference to the request made by the right hon. Gentleman with all his authority, that I did on that occasion endeavour to make a full statement of the grounds on which the Government were acting.


That is quite true, but I devoted all my energies to speaking against the Motion of the hon. Member for Sheffield, and I fully understood from the statement of the Under Secretary that he was against it, too, and I was very much astonished when the right hon. Gentleman ended by accepting the Resolution.


I am not conscious of any discrepancy between the terms of the Motion and my speech on the occasion to which the right hon. Gentleman refers. I certainly did not give my vote under the influence of the astonishment of the right hon. Gentleman. We thought it was a policy we might recommend the House to adopt, and the House having been unanimous upon the matter, we need not, I think, now go into it further. But I only referred to the point to remind the House that the Government cannot be accused of any reluctance in putting their views before the House with regard to this Chinese question. That ample statement having been made, I must decline to accept the opportunity now given for repeating or amplifying it. It is not according to usage, and it is not right that hon. and right hon. Gentlemen should come down here without notice of any kind, and upon the discussion of a Bill of a general character of this description invite and press and urge the Government to make public statements on delicate matters of policy which the representative of the Government on foreign affairs has previously stated that he cannot give. If I were to respond to the invitation of the right hon. Gentleman I should be departing from the attitude we have advisedly taken up, and, in response to a particular question which he put to me at the close of his speech, I do not hesitate to say that any such premature discussion as he has invited this afternoon might be fraught with serious consequences—more serious consequences than he perhaps contemplates—to the public interests of this country.

MR. SAMUEL SMITH (Flintshire)

Mr. Speaker, perhaps the House will allow me to say a few words in connection with this matter. I have felt, and others have felt, during the last few weeks, that many unfair questions have been put in connection with China and West Africa, and that the object of some of these questions was to embarrass the Government at a time when it would be much wiser to keep silent. I wish to say that we have no sympathy with this policy of attempting to extract statements of an extremely delicate nature from Ministers, the result of which might tend to involve this country in war. I think this is one of the worst practices of modern times in democratic assemblies, and it makes the position of any Government difficult in the case of delicate and serious negotiations going forward. Now, Mr. Speaker, I wish to say a word or two on the peculiar circumstances of the present time. I do believe that, never in the life-time of any here, has our country been more likely to head towards a dangerous crisis than at present. With regard to China, Mr. Speaker, I, as a commercial man engaged in business all my life, and with every desire to maintain the full rights of this country, think that we have no right to take up the position that other Powers shall not acquire Chinese territory. China is an independent but moribund country which, sooner or later, will come under the control of civilised countries, and we, with our hands absolutely loaded with territory all over the world, have no right to take up the position that foreign Powers shall not be allowed to touch China. It is a position which we should not be able to maintain, except at the risk of engaging in gigantic wars. We control, at present, one-fifth of the whole territory and one-fourth of the whole population of the globe, and yet we look with tremendous jealousy on any Power who is attempting to gobble up some small portion of the globe still left. This is a position which is perfectly intolerable, and it is clear to me that if public opinion in this country is going to ratify this line of action, we are committed to a policy which will test the strength and powers of this country to the fullest extent. Now, with regard to the trade of China, I wish to say a word on the exaggerated ideas which prevail as to our business with China. I have heard many statements, and read many speeches, which, I think, are simply ridiculous. The trade with China in which we are chiefly interested is our exports, which last year amounted to eight millions, out of a total of nearly two hundred and forty millions to all parts of the world. About one-thirtieth of the British exports went to China last year. That is not a very serious matter, and let me say that if China were likely to fall under the control of civilised Powers, even with high tariffs and under decent government, our trade would increase. If the four hundred millions in China were divided between three or four of the European Powers our trade with China would probably be much larger than now. With regard to these large territorial acquisitions—gained in recent years, and which are frequently mentioned by the Secretary to the Colonies, and others—I do not believe that the two millions of square miles we have added to the Empire during the past thirty years would give occupation to the people of this country for twenty-four hours. It is, in fact, an almost worthless territory, with an almost worthless trade, and it is an absurd idea which is being propagated in this country that these savage regions have been taken for the purpose of getting employment for our labouring classes. It is an absolute delusion. They give almost no employment, and their trade is almost valueless. What we should look more to is the development of our trade, much the largest portion of which is home trade, and that trade is growing. It is quite true that our exports to foreign countries are not growing to any appreciable extent, but yet the people of this country have never been more employed, never better paid, than at present. What is the reason of the immense increase in our home trade? It is that this country spends an enormous income and gives enormous employment in making articles of home consumption. Look at the surprising number of small trades which are springing up in London and the other towns in articles of luxury which more than com pensate for any falling off in foreign trade. I am glad to have the approval of the Leader of the Opposition. I say that the people of England have never been better employed, or better paid, than at present. The immense number of minor trades which have sprung up in recent years, and which depend upon the peace and prosperity of the country, cause an enormous expenditure. Therefore I say we have no occasion to look with such envy at foreign acquisitions of territory as we are doing. It is an obvious mistake. All these acquisitions would not give employment for a hundredth part of the population of this country. If we get into war with France and Russia combined, it seems not at all improbable that, before it is finished, we will have sunk in capital a hundred times as much as the whole value of this trade we are fighting for. I believe, as a practical man of business, that the country is being misled by the newspapers during the past few months as to the immensity of our trade with China. Our trade can take care of itself, and does not require to be bolstered up by an arrogant policy. We have a way of taking it for granted that we have a right to dictate to the rest of the world as to what it ought to do. I believe in a more peaceful policy. The great mass of the people of this country do not want war. They will not approve of an arrogant policy intolerable to other nations. We want peace with all mankind, and I make an appeal to Members of this House, seeing the great peril on every side, to urge a milder, calmer, and more reasonable attitude, and I say that any Government which drags this country into war will go out of power, and not return for many years.

MR. W. H. K. REDMOND (Clare, E.)

Mr. Speaker, I desire a few minutes in which to call the attention of the Under Secretary for Foreign Affairs to recent questions, and I refer to those questions now, because, in accordance with a ruling given, they are not allowed to be put in the ordinary way at Question time. The right hon. Gentleman the Under Secretary for Foreign Affairs says he has got no objection to answer any legitimate questions which are put to him with reference to the affairs of his Department, but he did not confine himself to that statement, which was, perhaps, true enough. He took it upon himself to inquire, in what I may call an exceedingly unwarranted way, into the motives which inspired gentlemen who put these questions to him. Well, Sir, I am bound to say that I think it is at least the business of Members of Her Majesty's Government in this House, when questions are directed to them, to answer those questions to the best of their ability, or not answer them, as they think fit, but to refrain from casting any reflections on the motives which may have induced hon. Members in putting them. I do not desire, Mr. Speaker, to use any language unbecoming to debate in this House, but I must say that I feel strongly inclined to use language of a very emphatic nature with reference to what I may call the haughty lecture delivered by the Under Secretary for Foreign Affairs to private Members who have what appears to be in his opinion the audacity to address a single question to him with reference to his Department. Now, Sir, those private Members, although they may be humble people in their way, many of them, although some of them who desire information may come from Ireland, and be not in any way superior people, are all entitled to information when they ask for it. When the right hon. Gentleman was speaking with reference to the withdrawal of Germany from Crete I asked him a question in perfect good faith whether Germany had given notice to Her Majesty's Government and to the other Governments taking part in the joint occupation of Crete that it intended to withdraw. Surely that is a question of a legitimate kind, and of sufficient interest to demand an answer; but the right hon. Gentleman, in the exercise of his opinion as to how an Under Secretary ought to conduct affairs in this House, was not sufficiently courteous to give me a reply, and he will see at once that, so far from saving time in refusing to answer that direct question, he has necessitated me taking this opportunity of asking more fully on the point.


I really did not know that the hon. Member had put the Question. I have no recollection of it.


I put it to the right hon. Gentleman immediately after a question addressed to him by the Leader of the Opposition. If the right hon. Gentleman says he did not hear it—I uttered it very loudly—of course, I accept what he says. Before dealing with the withdrawal of Germany from Crete and the action taken by the other Powers of Europe I desire to say a very few words with reference to the action of Her Majesty's Government in matters regarding China. It has already been stated that a Resolution was adopted unanimously in this House some few weeks ago, placing it on record that it was the deliberate opinion of this Parliament that the integrity of China should be respected, and that it should be respected was to the interests of the people of this country. A Resolution to that effect is sufficiently serious, coming unanimously from this House, and the least we might expect would be, after a Resolution of that kind had been unanimously passed, that it would have some binding effect on this Government, and that they would act up to it. Have they done so? Since that Resolution was passed we find that, so far from the integrity of China being maintained, there is actually a race going on for breaking up China and for seizing various portions of it. We have asked repeatedly if the Government have uttered any protest against the action of Germany in seizing Kiaou Chau and other portions of Chinese territory. A question to that effect was put down on the Paper in the ordinary way, by an Irish Member to be sure, but still a Member entitled to ask a question of the kind. That question was ruled out of order. I put it now: Have Her Majesty's Government opposed the German Government in any way in seizing in the most warlike way a large portion of Chinese territory? That is a question certainly which is quite legitimate. It has a direct bearing on the Resolution unanimously passed in this House in reference to the integrity of the Chinese Empire, and yet that question, all-important as it is, dealing with a matter which has engaged the attention of the whole civilised world, we are told here is one that a British Member of Parliament is not entitled to ask; that that is a subject on which he may not demand any information whatever from Her Majesty's Government. I beg leave to say I differ altogether from the view which is held by people who believe that a Member of this House is not entitled to ask such information from Her Majesty's Government. But then we have been given in a roundabout way certain information with reference to the action of Her Majesty's Government in regard to Russia in China. The right hon. Gentleman the Under Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs is also masterful enough to say in this House more than once that he does not think it for the public interest that questions with reference to Russia in China should be answered in this House. But, in spite of that attitude of reserve on the part of the right hon. Gentleman, it is a notorious fact that Her Majesty's Government have made, or are making, protests of some kind against the demands made by Russia for Port Arthur and Talienwan, and other demands which have been made upon the Chinese Government. I protest against the action of Russia in regard to Port Arthur and other parts of China; but what we want to know is, has any protest been entered against the conduct of the Germans in their wholesale robbery—I must call it that—of the Chinese people? Are we to understand in this House that, whereas protests are made with reference to Russia, this country is afraid to utter one word of protest when the German Emperor makes speeches of a high-falutin' nature about "mailed fists," and striking people here and there, and sending his Royal brother across the seas with ironclads to conquer China? Are we to understand that when these warlike declarations and actions are made by the German Emperor this country is afraid to utter one single word of protest, and Germany is to do as she likes, and work her own sweet will in reference to this Chinese question? I say, if that is the situation, it is a situation that ought to make any Englishman, any native of this country who has any regard for national pride, blush for the action and conduct of his Government. Personally, I am opposed, whether it be by Germany or Russia or this country, to the wholesale interference of European Powers in places like China. The Chinese people may not be civilised in accordance with the ideas of civilisation held in this country, but I say that you have not yet proved that any European Power by establishing itself in China can make the people of that country happier by your appeal to civilisation than they are under the system under which they were born, and under which they live at the present time. As far as I am concerned, as an Irish Member, I utter the strongest protest I can against this partition of China, and I ask the right hon. Gentleman the Under Secretary for Foreign Affairs, unless he wants the name of England to become a byword in the East—I want him to say whether the Government have had sufficient courage to utter any protest against the conduct of the Germans and their Emperor in regard to China. Yes; the right hon. Gentleman said the Germans had gone away from Crete. What a great respect the people of Germany have for the people of this country! On this question of Crete a Concert of the European Powers was entered into. France, Russia, Germany, and this country sent ships and men to Crete in order to try and bring about some satisfactory settlement in reference to that unfortunate country; and without, so far as we know, a single word of notice, without as much as "By your leave," or "With your leave," when it suits them the Germans take their ships and men away, and leave Her Majesty's Government practically in the lurch in Crete. Was the Concert entered into upon these terms by the Powers taking part in it, that any one Power, without giving any notice, or the shortest possible notice, could break away from the Concert as Germany has done, giving no notice or warning to the other Powers? I say if those are the terms upon which the Concert of Europe in Crete was entered upon, it is not very wonderful that up to the present time that Concert of Europe has not succeeded in doing much good for the people of Crete oppressed by the Turks. I desire to ask the right hon. Gentleman the Under Secretary for Foreign Affairs two or three plain and straightforward questions, and I shall take every opportunity in this House of repeating those questions at every time that I am at liberty to do so. I altogether repudiate—it is not only myself, but I feel sure there are numbers of Members in this House of all Parties who repudiate—the monstrous proposition of the right hon. Gentleman the Under Secretary for Foreign Affairs that he is only bound to answer such questions as seem good to the clerks at the Table of this House. Well, the right hon. Gentleman said so, the right hon. Gentleman used the very words that I am now repeating. Perhaps he will be good enough to tell us what he did say. [Mr. CURZON: I did not say so.] The right hon. Gentleman distinctly in my hearing said this, but he did not use the word "clerks." I beg his pardon; he said "subject to the approval of the gentlemen who sit at the Table." Well, now, I ask what is in the slightest degree different in that statement from what I have said? I do not wish to labour the point, but I do think the right hon. Gentleman is not justified in deliberately contradicting me on a trivial point of that description. He is obliged to admit that the statement that I made is practically on all fours with the statement he made. I do not take that view, and I believe lots of Members of this House do not take the view that when we put questions here, subject to our rights and privileges in this House, we are not entitled to an answer; and as my hon. Friend the Member for County Roscommon was not allowed to put questions on the Paper, I will put them here now, as I am at liberty to do. The questions are these: In the first place, what action has Her Majesty's Government taken with regard to the demands made by Russia in China; secondly, what action has been taken by Her Majesty's Government in regard to the unwarrantable action of Germany in China; and, thirdly, did Her Majesty's Government receive any notice or warning whatever that Germany intended to withdraw from the Concert of Europe, and withdraw her ships and men from Crete? These are three questions of a simple character, and I think the right hon. Gentleman is bound to reply to them. He will tell us that it is not in the interests of the public service that he should do so. Well, the interests of the public service are made the cloak for a good deal of reticence from time to time in this House; but, really, I think we are fast approaching a period in statements of this kind about the necessities of the public service when it will be more honest and straightforward for Her Majesty's Government to lay down the proposition, and act upon it, that in foreign affairs the Cabinet is entitled to do what it likes, to reveal just as much as it likes, and to withhold all information from Members of the House and from the country. If that is the position taken by the right hon. Gentleman, it is an intelligible position. No doubt it may solve some difficulties in this House, but I am certain there are numbers of Members of this House who utterly deny the proposition that any Government, in a time like the present, is entitled—I will not use any language of a strong character—but, I say, which is entitled scornfully to refuse demands made by private Members of this House for information. After all, it is not only private Members who ask for information. The right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition has asked for information more than once in reference to these matters, and I say that if private Members are not entitled to an answer he, at least, is. I ask the right hon. Gentleman now to be good enough to answer these questions that I have put to him, and if he does not do so I can only attribute it to the fact that the foreign policy of Her Majesty's Government at the present time, in face both of France and Germany, is a policy of cowardice—yes, a policy of cowardice—such as people in this country would not tolerate; because I believe that when the people of this country thoroughly come to understand what is this policy of truckling under to Germany and other Powers, but especially to Germany, which is being indulged in by this so-called strong Tory Government—when that is thoroughly realised, I believe the mass of the people of this country will repudiate the Government and their policy at the same time.


A great deal of heat has been introduced into the speech of the hon. Member who has just sat down. Undoubtedly this is a very important matter. Reduced as we are now as private Members to the two subjects of Estimates and questions for the consideration of foreign affairs, it is most important that our rights should not be more interfered with. With great deference and humility I would submit that possibly a little more charity and condescension on the part of Ministers, and some remembrance that even Members below the Gangway are human beings, might be acceptable. What we cannot but feel in this House is this, that the newspapers know everything. Intelligence is published in the newspapers; intelligence is known to the man in the street; it is published in foreign Green Books and Yellow Books—I have myself cited serious dispatches published in the French Yellow Books which at this moment the House of Commons has not got; and we do think that information should be given with more consideration. I must speak one word as to the Resolution which this House passed unanimously. Having seconded that Resolution, and taken a certain share in the Debate which secured its unanimous acceptance by this House, I naturally feel an interest in it. I think it is not quite fair for the right hon. Gentleman opposite to complain that that Resolution was adopted by Her Majesty's Government. Her Majesty's Government adopted it because they felt quite sure that the right hon. Gentleman himself would adopt it.


I beg pardon. I distinctly stated at the beginning of my speech that my object was to assist the Government to resist that Resolution and the Gentleman who moved it and the Gentleman who seconded it.


Well, but then, how very strange was the conduct of the right hon. Gentleman! Of course, we know that whether he has a Party or not may be questionable, though, when we look at the forlorn derelicts sitting in rows on those benches, no further doubt should exist; but we are quite certain that he can always find a teller. If he had challenged a Division affirming what he now tells us was his position towards this Resolution, and the two unfortunate Members responsible for it, he would have had no difficulty in showing the world that he was against it. He sat absolutely silent. He made no challenge, nor did any Members of his Party; nobody said a word. The proposition was so self-evidently true, so absolutely undeniable, so completely unexceptionable, that even the right hon. Gentleman himself was converted from his original purpose, as expressed in his speech, of opposing it. The result was there was no challenge. The Resolution was passed unanimously. Is it not right that it should have been passed unanimously? It only reaffirmed the desirability, the necessity of maintaining the independence of Chinese territory—not integrity, as the right hon. Gentleman, I think, inadvertently said. Well, but that is not only the policy of this House, it is the policy of Her Majesty's Government. The Chancellor of the Exchequer many days before this Resolution was passed, more than a fortnight, I think—at any rate, a full fortnight—declared in a public speech that Her Majesty's Government intended to maintain the open door in China for England even at the cost of war. The Resolution did not go so far as to suggest war; it did not even go so far as the open declaration of policy by Her Majesty's Government. I will make one admission. I may frankly say I did not anticipate the acceptance of the Resolution. It is true, Sir, that I helped to drug the dose, but I had imagined that a wry face or two at least would have been seen on the Treasury Bench, and I was highly pleased and gratified to hear the right hon. Gentleman state that he accepted it. That Resolution, in the face of all that had occurred, was undoubtedly a pledge on the part of Her Majesty's Government that rather than allow the dismemberment of the Chinese Empire they would go to war. That is the only logical outcome of the acceptance of that Resolution by Her Majesty's Government, that, if necessary, they would go to war to maintain their position. Well, Sir, what has happened since? We do not quite know what has happened, but much has happened. What is quite clear is that in China we have banded against us in the north Germany and Russia, and in the south France. They are entirely agreed as against this country. That is quite certain. I believe means may be found, not, perhaps, such violent means as have been suggested; not a raid on Port Arthur on our part, which would get no support from others, and would mean a permanent occupation of Port Arthur by a British army—I do not suggest that—but I do believe that means can be found of maintaining British interests, and of supporting British honour in the Far East in spite of the combination, now avowed—not denied—of the three Great Powers against us. I do believe that. Well, Sir, one other point. The right hon. Gentleman has criticised the conduct of the Government with regard to their recent policy. All their difficulties arise from the fact that they have followed his policy, that being what is called continuity in foreign policy. And it is in consequence of having followed the right hon. Gentleman's policy in the name of continuity that all the difficulties have arisen. These mistakes, in my opinion, have occurred too often, and are too serious. They are the mistakes of a Government that have chosen to adopt the policy of their predecessors, wrongly, as I think, and with bad judgment, I believe; but it does not lie with those predecessors, when that policy has failed to secure the desired results, to reproach the Government with having adopted such a policy. I may say that I have observed this, that whereas this country appears, if one may judge from the dispatches, to have gone into this Cretan question with the settled desire to abase Turkey and exalt Greece, the result has been that Greece has been abased and Turkey has been exalted. In fact, we put our money on the wrong horse. We now give a guarantee for a loan, which seems to me to be a more extraordinary loan than has ever been suggested to be raised before. I rose mainly in order to make an earnest appeal to the Government to interfere as little as they can with the liberties of private Members in putting questions, to be as kindly, as amiable, and as communicative as they can in answering these questions, and to put into their answers a little of the tone of Christian charity. I think they will find the Members not disposed to abuse their privileges in asking those questions. They may remember that there is never any indiscretion in asking a question; it is only in the answer that the indiscretion can lie.


I wish to say a few words about the terrible condition of the Christian population of Crete. It is a subject on which I have endeavoured to enlist the sympathy of the right hon. Gentleman opposite. I would remind him that when we spoke on this subject a year ago he answered in a sort of sneering way, saying that he felt sure that the Christian population in the interior of the island would be better off than ever they were, inasmuch, as they not only would have their property, but the property of their neighbours. Yet I believe that the reports published within the last few days in the Manchester Guardian are well founded. I do not believe everything I read in the newspapers, but some things I do believe. The right hon. Gentleman informs us that the Foreign Office has no information about the condition of these people, and he assumes that they must be well off, that they have not only their own property, but the property of their Moslem neighbours, which they have stolen. I would ask the right hon. Gentleman to read a few of the accounts that have been published in the Manchester Guardian concerning the condition of things in regions which can be visited by British soldiers, or by the admirals, chiefly in the province of Canea. The writer gives the names, mentioning large districts where the population are, and have been for a considerable time, living to a large extent on roots and what they can pick up out of the fields, that they are being starved, and that they have in a great many instances died. This is a horrible state of things; yet the right hon. Gentleman, neither upon this occasion nor upon any previous occasion, has tendered any hope to the House that we are within measurable distance of an end being put to the horrible chaos and disorder in Crete. I hope he will feel that there is an obligation on the part of the Government, to take some active steps with a view to bringing relief to these starving people. This testimony I speak of comes from an Englishman, and it is borne out by telegrams which have appeared in the Times. It is to the effect that the greatest suffering which exists to-day in Crete exists in the province of Canea which is garrisoned by English troops. The suffering is not so great where the Russian and French troops are. If this be so, it is a great disgrace to the English troops. There is one other point to which I wish to direct the attention of the right hon. Gentleman. I remember a year ago, in a Debate in this House, I suggested that the only course to adopt would be to put outposts of the international troops at certain points. That has been done, and it has been recommended to the case of Canea. Anyone who reads a description of what has been going on will come to the conclusion that this is the only sensible thing to do, and the only plan which will give any hope of relieving the population. It is not more than a year since the English troops went to Canea, and yet a system of skirmishing and firing is going on at present all round that unfortunate town. The right hon. Gentleman alluded to the question of a Christian Governor for Crete, and stated that the negotiations are now in abeyance. The reason he gave was that the primary question at present in Eastern affairs is the evacuation of Thessaly. As long as the Sultan believes that he can put off the settlement of the Cretan question by delaying the evacuation of Thessaly, the greatest possible inducement is given to him for delaying that evacuation. I rise to make one more appeal to the right hon. Gentleman to take some steps to relieve those unfortunate people who are starving.


I only wish to say one word upon the China question. Having had an opportunity of being in the country, and visiting Pekin, I was astonished to hear the statement that the Chinese trade is valueless to this country. Now, in the opinion of the whole of the export houses in this country, and in the opinion of the manufacturers and artisans, China is one of the best foreign markets we can possibly have. Therefore, it is of the greatest value to this country that every possible support should be given to the Government in dealing with this question. The Under Secretary for Foreign Affairs said the other day that 82 per cent. of the whole of the foreign trade of China was in British hands. Not only that, but I am able to bear personal testimony to this fact, that the great majority of the foreign residents in China are English and the large houses in China are English, moreover the great mass of the carrying trade of China is in British hands, and even on Chinese ships the officers and engineers are nearly all English, because, if they are not English, the rates of insurance are always increased, if they are not prohibitory. If the hon. Member for Flintshire had not relied entirely on the letter of Sir Robert Giffen in the Times he would not have made the statement. The hon. Gentleman distinctly said he did not attach much importance to the Chinese trade. I heard that statement from the lips of the hon. Member. In 1896 China took of British goods nearly £9,000,000 worth. [Mr. DAVITT: How much of the British trade is opium?] We do not export opium. That has nothing to do with the condition of Chinese trade at this moment. I can say this, Mr. Speaker, representing as I do an industrial constituency, that the working men of this country attach the greatest importance to keeping open the Chinese market, and are determined to afford every possible support to the Government in this matter. At this moment a very large number of Members are sitting in one of the Committee Rooms discussing the Chinese question, and I am certain that a great portion of the Members of this House are determined to give all possible support to Her Majesty's Government in the extremely difficult negotiations they are conducting at this time. It would be impertinent for me to say anything in praise of my right hon. Friend the Under Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, but his courtesy and the desire he has shown to give all possible information is appreciated by the great majority of private Members. Anybody who has the slightest experience in the conducting of difficult negotiations knows how impossible it is to conduct them if questions are repeatedly asked on those difficult and intricate matters. Although hon. Members may not think their questions of great importance, more weight is attached to their queries in foreign newspapers than we in this country assign to them. I do protest in the most emphatic manner against the declaration of the hon. Member for Flintshire as to the Chinese trade. I hope hon. Members will not base their faith on the extraordinary letter in the Times from Sir Robert Giffen, but will inquire for themselves from the exporting houses and manufacturers as to the immense value of keeping open the Chinese market to British trade.

MR. H. LABOUCHERE (Northampton)

Practically, the figures given by the hon. Gentleman opposite are almost precisely the same as those given by the hon. Member for Flintshire, who stated that our export trade to China was £8,000,000. The hon. Gentleman opposite said the trade was something under £9,000,000. Really, was it worth while making that speech when it was only a question of a few hundred thousand pounds? The fact is, I believe, that my hon. Friend the Member for Flintshire exaggerated a great deal, because I have the greatest respect for Sir Robert Giffen, and when I read the Times this morning I saw that he stated that our export trade to China was something under £2,000,000 or £3,000,000. [Sir HOWARD VINCENT: I do not believe it.] My own impression is that our trade is larger than is supposed, because Hong Kong is a place like Gibraltar, where a great deal of smuggling goes on, and, in all probability, what is smuggled into China from Hong Kong is not found in any statistical abstract. The hon. Gentleman the Member for King's Lynn seemed to be under the impression that that remarkable Resolution, which has been the result of the collaboration of the hon. Gentleman with the hon. Member for the Ecclesall Division of Sheffield, had received the unanimous assent of the Liberal Party. It never received any assent on this side of the House. I do not know why it is, but sometimes the House is not so anxious as it ought to be to listen to the hon. Gentleman the Member for the Ecclesall Division. Everybody thought that it meant a count-out; I myself thought so; and when I looked at the Resolution I thought it extremely absurd, and that in all probability there would be a count-out, and I would take my chance and go. Many Members on this side and the other side of the House followed my example. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Monmouthshire, as the Leader of the Opposition, sat watchful and prepared, if there was no count-out, to express his contempt for the Resolution. In doing so he spoke for the entire Party on this side of the House. My right hon. Friend having expressed his contempt, shrugged his shoulders and walked out. Now, Sir, we admit that the Resolution was adopted by Her Majesty's Government, and, therefore, I do think we ought to have some explanation from the Government as to what they precisely mean with regard to that Resolution. Here, we are in no difficulties with foreign countries; this is a domestic matter, and one upon which we may surely ask for some information. Do they mean by that Resolution that they object to leases? Do they mean that we protest against Germany and France obtaining leases in China after we ourselves have made a declaration that, under no circumstances, would we obtain from China any accession to the territory of Hong Kong? I do think we have a fair right to demand this of Her Majesty's Government, because, undoubtedly, the Resolution may be misunderstood in foreign countries; and we see ourselves that France has been so anxious to tread in our steps that she at once obtained an assurance from the Chinese Government that they themselves would not alienate any territory just as we had obtained an assurance that the Chinese Government would not alienate any portion of our territory. Sir, I speak here as one of the supporters of Lord Salisbury's foreign policy. I am bound to say that I have always thought that there are only three truly sensible persons in regard to foreign policy in this Kingdom at the present time, or, rather, that the three most sensible persons are Lord Salisbury, my right hon. Friend the Member for Monmouth, and, I must add, my own name. I am not criticising or complaining of Lord Salisbury's action, I consider that Lord Salisbury is the one man who saves us from war. I believe that were it not for Lord Salisbury hon. Gentlemen on the opposite bench would drag us—or drift us, if you like to call it so—into war with foreign countries, and they would be backed up by the large jingo sentiment which exists behind them, and which, to a certain extent, I am sorry to say, exists on this side of the House. Sir, Lord Salisbury's policy in China appears to have been, as far as I can see, a thoroughly sound and sensible policy. Lord Salisbury fully recognises that we must not lay down that China belongs in any exceptional manner to us. He recognises that there must be, in our arrangements in regard to China with foreign countries, a certain amount of give and take. Lord Salisbury, and the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Treasury, whom, I presume, shares the view of his illustrious uncle, said that it was only reasonable that Russia should have a port free from ice, and, of course, we know perfectly well that if he stated this he was aware that the object of obtaining that port was to connect it with the Siberian railroad, and, consequently, he gave a free hand to Russia to make that railroad. Sir, whatever may be the amount of our commerce with China, we have exceedingly little commerce with Manchuria, and I see no reason, anxious as I am to maintain our treaties with China, why we should quarrel with Russia or any of the Powers. It is obvious that Russia, from her geographical position, will acquire, not absolute dominion over Manchuria, but paramount influence both politically and commercially. We may regret it, but it cannot be helped, and we must accept facts as they are. Then, as regards Germany, it seems to me, admitting that Russia was going to acquire a foothold in Manchuria, that it was sound policy on our part to agree to Germany also acquiring a port in that direction, on the general principle of divide and rule. Now, we clearly have a right to complain of the reticence of the right hon. Gentleman the Under Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs in regard to answering questions. I quite admit that there are questions, when negotiations are going on, that it is undesirable to answer, and I am perfectly certain nobody would think of pressing him in this matter. We have agreed to the position of Germany in Northern China, and surely we have a right to know what has been the action of Her Majesty's Government on the subject. The question of the withdrawal of German men-of-war from Cretan waters might also have been answered; there is nothing mysterious in that. I confess, myself, it is of very little interest to me whether the German Government have given that concession or not, but I cannot see on what ground the right hon. Gentleman chose not to answer that question.


The reason why I did not answer that question was because the speech containing it was delivered after my own. The questions to which the hon. Member has alluded never appeared on the Paper. I have never declined to answer them. They were asked in a speech after I had already delivered mine. How, then, has it been in my power to answer them?


I would point out that one of the questions was not allowed to be put on the Paper.


That has nothing to do with me.


One of the questions was not allowed to be put on the Paper because the right hon. Gentleman had stated that questions of this kind—


The hon. Member must not go into questions not put on the Paper. That does not arise in this Debate.


I am only stating a fact. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will make it clear to the House of Commons that he personally has no sort of objection to questions being put down on the Paper, and that he himself will exercise his discretion whether he will answer them or not.

MR. M. DAVITT (Mayo, S.)

May I ask whether I should be in order, to give the Under Secretary an opportunity of speaking, in moving that this Bill be read this day three months?


It would be in order, but very unusual to do so.

Amendment proposed— To leave out the word 'now,' and at the end of the Question to add the words 'upon this day six months.'"—(Mr. Davitt.)


In the interest of the rights of private Members replies should be given to the questions addressed to the Under Secretary by the hon. Member for East Clare (Mr. W. Redmond). I understand that the right hon. Gentleman said that he is precluded from replying because these questions were addressed to him after he had made his speech. To give him an opportunity of replying, I will move the Motion I have indicated.

MR. J. J. SHEE (Waterford, W.)

In seconding the Motion I desire to suggest that perhaps this would be a convenient opportunity for the right hon. Gentleman the Under Secretary for Foreign Affairs to inform the House at what time his interdict as to answering questions addressed to him on certain subjects will expire, and how hon. Members are to know that his attitude of reserve has come to an end. If questions as to foreign affairs are not allowed to be put on the Paper, what means has the House of ascertaining when the right hon. Gentleman will be prepared to depart from his present attitude of refusal to answer such questions?

Mr. SPEAKER then put the question.


I am much obliged to the hon. Member for moving his Motion, and for giving me the opportunity of saying a few words. There seems to be, on the part of some hon. Gentlemen, an idea that I have refused, or am reluctant, to answer questions on which they seek information. As regards these particular questions, I may state that I was not even aware that they had been handed in at the Table. I entered the House, and I found a heated discussion going on apparently on my inability to answer a question I had never seen. As to the question of the hon. Member for Clare, I can only ask him to observe the usual practice of the House and to give notice of his question. It is not fair to hold a pistol at our heads and to accuse the Government of improper reticence in not answering questions of which no warning has been given. If the hon. Member will put his question down, I will endeavour in this, as in any other matters of public interest, to give a reply.


That is very fair and reasonable. Then we are to understand that questions on China, the Far East, and these important matters under negotiation, will come under the notice of the right hon. Gentleman, and he will decide whether he considers it consistent in the interest of his office and the country to reply? [Mr. CURZON assented.] I beg leave to withdraw my Motion.

Question proposed— That the word 'now' stand part of the Question.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Main Question put, and agreed to.

Bill read the third time, and passed.