HC Deb 07 December 1900 vol 88 cc303-22
* MR. JOSEPH WALTON (Yorkshire, W.R., Barnsley)

I rise to propose the Amendment to the Address standing in my name. Having regard to the grave crisis still confronting us in the Far East, at appeared to me incredible that neither in the speech of the hon. Member who moved the Address, nor in the speech of the hon. Member who seconded it, was there the slightest reference to the situation in China. Although Parliament has been called together in special session for the sole purpose of providing the necessary money for the carrying on of military operations in South Africa and in China, even the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Treasury concluded his -speech and sat down without making the slightest reference to the important crisis with which we are face to face in the great empire of China. It is true that when the right hon. Gentleman's attention was called to this grave omission he did make some slight reference to the I question. He said: "Oh, yes; papers will, I suppose, be laid on the subject of China. Meanwhile, I do not know that there is anything bearing on policy to mention, or upon our military operations, the digest of which was thoroughly explained to the House when the former Vote was taken." But since the House separated a great deal has taken place in China. We have had the Anglo-German Agreement concluded. The object of that agreement is stated to be the desire on the part of Great Britain and Germany to maintain their interests in China and their rights in existing treaties. It sets forth in that agreement that— It is a matter of joint and permanent international interest that the ports on the rivers and littoral of China should remain free and open to trade, and to every other legitimate form of economic activity, for the nationals of all countries without distinction; and the two Governments agree on their part to uphold the same for all Chinese territory as far as they can exercise influence. If the Anglo-German Agreement conferred equal rights and privileges upon both of the contracting parties then, speaking personally, I should say that it was a step in the right direction. But when we come to examine that agreement, and try to gain some knowledge of what is meant by the maintaining of their rights and their interests in existing treaties; when we come to interpret that by the language used by Count von Bulow in the German Reichstag, we find that it does not confer equal rights and privileges. Count von Bulow said— It is our desire, and it is our intention, to stick to the basis of the Treaty of 6th March, 1808, and not to go beyond this Treaty. When we remember that that is a secret treaty between Germany and China, and that it has reference to the great province of Shantung, with its 30,000,000 of population, then we begin to see and wonder whether those equal and mutual rights throughout the Chinese Empire are secured to England as well as to Germany under this Anglo-German Agreement. The full details of the agreement between Germany and China have not yet transpired, but we do know that that agreement secures for Germany exclusive preferential rights in the matter of railway construction and industrial and commercial enterprises. When this Anglo-German Agreement was announced to the world, the two Governments sought to get the adhesion and the concurrence of the several great Powers interested in China to the principles laid down in that agreement which I have cited. If I may I be allowed, I wish to offer my congratulations to the Under Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs upon his appointment to that most important and responsible position, in which I am certain he will give his most conscientious and earnest efforts to the duties with satisfaction and benefit to the Empire. We need in this House more information in regard to the present commercial and political situation in China, and I would ask the Under Secretary to-night to give, as far as he can, information to the House in regard to the several matters which I am now raising. I wish to know how far the Anglo-German Agreement and the seeking of the assent of Russia to the principles laid down in that Agreement affect the Anglo-Russian Agreement concluded some time ago, which conceded to Russia exclusive rights in the matter of railway construction north of the Great Wall of China, and which equally conceded to Great Britain similar exclusive rights in the matter of railway construction in the Yang-tsze region. Under this Anglo-German Agreement we accord to all the nations of the earth who become parties to it equal rights with ourselves in the matter of railway construction, in the undertaking of industrial and commercial enterprises, and trade generally by what we know as the open door. Therefore, it appears to me that so far as the assent of Russia to the principles of this Anglo-German Agreement is concerned, and to thepolicyindieatedinit—the policy of equality of trade and of territorial integrity in China—I am afraid those principles are evaded by the fact that it is only a partial obligation with Russia under her existing treaty rights with China. She will enjoy preferential rights in the great districts of Manchuria on the one hand, and Germany will continue to enjoy preferential rights in the province of Shantung on the other hand. Therefore, as far as we are concerned, all this Anglo-German Agreement does is to give I away something on the one band, and; receive nothing back for it on the other hand. We have accorded to all the nations of the earth equal rights in our special sphere of influence, whereas we have confirmed by this agreement preferential rights in favour of Germany in Shantung, and in favour of Russia in Manchuria. We have had, on the part of France, a general statement in favour of the open door. On the part of the United States of America we have had a declaration which, I venture to say, is of the most satisfactory character. It is a clear and definite announcement of a policy which I hope will be followed by Her Majesty's Government. The American policy in regard to China is-stated to be— To seek a solution which may bring permanent safety and peace to China, preserve Chinese territorial and administrative entity, protect all rights guaranteed to friendly Powers by treaty and international law, and safeguard for the world the principle of equal and impartial trade with all parts of the Empire. That is a declaration of policy which represents exactly what Great Britain desires to have in China, and I only hope that there will be concerted action on the part of Her Majesty's Government, especially with the United States of America, in furtherance of this just and equitable policy. Now the Americans also hold a strong view in regard to the question of indemnity. It appears to me that it would be a short-sighted policy on the part of Her Majesty's Government if they supported Germany, or any other nation,, which makes excessive demands in the matter of financial indemnity from the Government of China. It is of much more importance to us that in the settlement of the China question which concerns us to-day, we should have such a rearrangement of commercial treaties as would give the Chinese Government a largely increased revenue that would enable them to pay their officials properly, and thus prevent the necessity of them appropriating funds passing through their hands. We could very reasonably ask China to allocate a certain proportion of money for the improvement, under an international Conservancy Board, of the great commercial arteries, of China, the great waterways, by the removal of obstructions to navigation. Not only this, but we should have as one of the main conditions of the final settlement in China the opening of the inland waterways of that great Empire freely and completely to the trade of all nations. We well know that it was announced in this House with a flourish of trumpets that an agreement had been come to with the Chinese Government that the inland waterways of China were to be opened so that British ships could take British goods to every riverside town and station in China. But now it is within the knowledge of the House that that agreement, so excellent as it appeared to be, has proved to be practically a dead letter. When the late British Minister at Peking was entertained before he left England, he spoke very strongly of the great advantage of the opening of the West River to the trade and commerce of Great Britain. I have just received a communication from on leading commercial firm interested in trade on the West River, which states that owing to the restrictive regulations and differential treatment accorded to British vessels on the West River, the shipping companies of Hong Kong have withdrawn all their vessels and have sold them, and that that has left the British flag practically unrepresented in these waters. That is a very serious position of affairs, commercially considered, for the British subjects who have invested a considerable amount of money in the building of steamers especially to conduct commercial operations on the West River. What I would urge upon Her Majesty's Government in connection with the settlement which they have to make in China is that their best endeavours should be used, so that the opening up of the inland waterways to trade should be fully accomplished on just and equitable lines, in order that the trade of the civilised world with the Chinese Empire may be developed and increased, and that we, as Britishers, may enjoy a fair share of the increase which is possible in connection with that trade. There is another question that I should like to refer to, and regarding which I desire to have as much information as the Under Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs is in a position, with due regard to the public interest, to give to the House. It is the question of the railway from Tong Ku, through Tientsin to Peking, and from Tong Ku to Shan-hai-Kwan and Niu-chwang. It is within the knowledge of the House that this railway was built with British capital, and that the original agreement which gave to those who advanced the money a mortgage over the line which was being constructed from Shanghai towards Niu-chwang was, by the intervention or interference of Russia, altered, so that by the agreement with Russia the security of British investors was limited to that portion of the railway south of the Great Wall of China. What came to many as a great surprise was that. Her Majesty's Government should in some way or other have so weakly upheld the rights and interests of British subjects that the-manager of that railway and his officials have been entirely pushed on one side, and that the railway to-day is under the control of Russians and Germans. Though we understand that in case of military exigency some arrangement of this kind might be temporarily necessary, what I cannot understand is the information which comes to me that the Russians have actually painted engines bought by British capital in the Russian colours; that they have altered the names of the railway stations and signal cabins into the Russian language, and any person travelling to-day over the railway would naturally regard it as a Russian line. I hope that the Under Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs will be able to reassure us that this control by Russia of that railway is a very temporary matter, and that the Government have received the fullest assurances that when military exigences disappear the railway will be restored to the control of its rightful owners. A telegram appeared in The Times on December 4th, which stated that by the imperative order of the Czar the Russians were handing over the Shan-hai-Kwan Railway to the Germans. If that is so, it may be a convenient way of having the railway passed over to the control of the late manager and the officials under him. That would be a very satisfactory ending to this matter. I only desire to have information on this very important question because I cannot forget that the Russians interfered and altered the terms of the contract under which money was advanced to the Chinese Government for the construction of this railway, and that the Foreign Office took a note of the transaction and allowed the fact that it had taken a note of it to be introduced into the prospectus on the strength of which the British public were asked to invest their money. Therefore, in regard to this railway, there rests upon Her Majesty's Government a special responsibility to support the just rights and interests of British subjects who have invested their money in it. I do not say that they have not taken all reasonable steps to uphold these rights and interests, but that at the present moment we are without information on the subject, and it is information, so far as it can be given, that I desire. Not only are the Russians in control of the Shan-hai-Kwan line, but it is also reported that they have transported railway material and rolling stock bought with the money of British investors to Manchuria, and that they are utilising it there for their own purposes. There is another question upon which I should like some information from the Under Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, and that is the question of the Niu-chwang. It is the only treaty port, unless we consider Talienwan a treaty port, that there is in the great province of Manchuria, where there are enormous possibilities of trade expansion. With Niu-chwang British subjects already do a trade amounting to £3,000,000 sterling a year. What has happened there? I may say, Mr. Speaker, that one advantage of the trip I recently made to China is that though we have had no Papers laid on the Table of the House for months and months, I have had weekly letters from the best informed men in various parts of China, and I am in a position to know something of what has been occurring in Manchuria, in Peking, in the Yang-tsze Valley, and in Southern China, beyond, perhaps, what is in the possession of any other Member of the House. What happened in Niu-chwang? We had it from the Under Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs last night that the Boxers were active in the neighbourhood of Niu-chwang, and that there arose a military necessity for the Russians to enter on the military control of Niu-chwang, and that they were justified in assuming the civil administration of the city. But all I can say is that the treaty consuls in Niu-chwang drew up a strong protest against the action of the Russian military authorities in attacking a stockade without their knowledge and sanction. What were the facts with regard to the attack of the Russians on Niu-chwang? The Russian soldiers opened fire without any attack whatever having been made upon them by the Chinese soldiers, who were men lent by General Hu to the taotai of Niu-chwang, and who had been the garrison in that stockade ever since the time of the Chino Japanese war. The Russians attacked that stockade, they shelled the city of Niu-chwang, and I have it from residents in Niu-chwang that but for the strong intervention and protest not only of the foreign residents in Niu-chwang but even from the Russian residents themselves, the inhabitants of the city would have been practically massacred by the Russian soldiers. One letter stated that the Russian behaviour was simply revolting, and that had it not been for the intervention of the English and of a few Russians there would have been a general massacre in Niu-chwang, and that in the villages round innocent people had been killed and violated on all sides. I am sure that in view of information like this the Under Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs will modify his view as to the origin of the Russian occupation and administration of Niu-chwang. Another letter from one of the most responsible merchants in Niu-chwang states that the Russian soldiers, especially the Cossacks, were worse than wild beasts; that women were butchered, that children three or four years of age were bayonetted, and that men, women, and children were slaughtered indiscriminately. When demands are made on China for the cutting off of the heads of generals and high officials I would have it remembered that at any rate there are many Europeans who are not in a position to throw stones at the Chinese. The accounts which I have read are from men on the spot, who know all about what has taken place, and whose statements I can confidently rely upon. With regard to the assumption of the civil and military administration of Niu-chwang I have already read to the House the fact that the treaty consuls protested against the action of the Russians, which was taken without any consultation with the consuls of the other Powers, who have equal treaty rights with Russia. The following proclamation was issued by Vice-Admiral Alexieff on the 9th of August, 1900— I have the honour to inform you hereby that Mr. Ostroveskhow has been intrusted with the temporary civil administration of the city, with the title of Civil Administrator this appointment to be submitted to Imperial sanction. Mr. Ostroveskhow has received from me the necessary directions for this purpose, as well as written regulations… Captain Clapier de Colongue is appointed Commandant of Niu-chwang. He will command the garrison, and have charge of the land and river defence of the city. The details of this organisation are exposed in special regulations for the provisional administration, and Mr. Ostroveskhow will not fail to communicate them to you in due time. This was done without any previous consultation whatever with the consuls of the other Powers enjoying equal rights with the Russians in the treaty port of Niu-chwang. The House will notice that the appointment of the Russian Civil Commissioner was made subject to the sanction of the Russian Government, and not subject to tin consent of the consuls of other Powers. It will be seen that the necessary regulations for the civil administration of Niu-chwang by the Civil Commissioner were to be framed by the Russian admiral on his own initiative entirely. The House will also notice that the proclamation announced the appointment of a Russian military commandant to take charge of the city, and that the detail of this organisation was exposed in special regulations which had been drawn up by the Russian admiral without any consultation with the other consuls. Thus the House will see how completely the British Consul at Niu-chwang has been ignored by the Russians, and that this important treaty port, with which the British Empire does a trade of not less than three millions sterling annually, has passed not only under the civil administration, but also entirely under the military control of Russia alone. The merchants of Niu-chwang repeatedly telegraphed to the admiral on the station to send a British gunboat to Niu-chwang to uphold the just rights and interests of England. A gunboat was eventually sent, but it remained in Niu-chwang only two days, and with its leaving the power of the British residents to uphold their rights and interests naturally suffered. Then as to Manchuria itself, it is known that the Chinese have been invited by the Russians to resume the civil administration of Manchuria under Russian protection. Now the question is, what does that mean? My own belief is that Russia to-day is in military occupation of Manchuria, and will remain in military occupation of Manchuria for all time. What we have to face is the fear that the Anglo-German Agreement, contravening as it does, as far as Russia is concerned, the Anglo-Russian Agreement, and the principle of the open door or equality of opportunity for trade, and for undertaking all commercial and industrial enterprises equally on the part of all nations in China may be rendered applicable to only a portion of China. I hope the interpretation which I have put upon that agreement may be shown by the Under Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs to be a mistaken one. It is supported, however, by the evidence I have and by the policy declared both in the German Reichstag and also in the French House of Assembly and by the references in the German press which state that the agreement is not intended to cause Germany to interfere with Russian aims and aspirations in Northern China in the slightest degree. We have a considerable number of troops in Northern China. We have nearly 20,000 Indian troops in the whole of China, and we are told we have some 7,500 troops in Northern China. What I should like to know is, when the Government is seeking from this House further money for the conduct of operations in China, why it is that these 7,500 troops in Northern China were not occupied in protecting the property of British subjects instead of being engaged in pursuing companies of Boxers all over the country? This question of the upholding of our just commercial and political interests in China is no small question. We have been told by the late Under Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, in answer to a question, that a total foreign trade of £70,000,000 sterling is done with the Chinese Empire, and that the British Empire has not less than £43,000,000 sterling of that trade. We know that with a population of 400 millions—almost a quarter of the world's population—in China there is practically, under proper conditions, an almost unlimited possibility in respect of the extension of trade. We have heard a great deal since Parliament met about South Africa. I recognise the difficulty that Her Majesty's Government have had to contend with in that country. I recognise and do not wish to minimise how crippled they have been in regard to dealing effectually in the matter of upholding our just lights and interests in China by the fact that at least 200,000 soldiers are locked up in South Africa; but though our soldiers are locked up in South Africa I say it is discreditable to us, doing as we do more trade with China than the whole of the other nations put together, and professing as we do profess that with the naval forces at our command we have control of the seas of the world, that our naval force on the China station to-day is only third, instead of first, in point of power. And if our soldiers are kept in South Africa supporting our interests there, I say it is neglect on the part of Her Majesty's Government that our naval force in China was not equal to the occasion, and that when our interests ought to have been upheld in such an important commercial centre as Niu-chwang that port was left for months together without even a gunboat. I think when the House is now asked to find this money for the conduct of operations in China that we have a right to require that Her Majesty's Government shall give us an assurance that more adequate measures will be taken to uphold our vast commercial interests in that great empire, and that in connection with the settlement which we hope will be speedily arrived at Her Majesty's Government will take care that no unjust demands are made on the Chinese, who, after all, have shown themselves patriotic. The Russians and the Germans have seized Chinese territory, and can we blame the Chinese when, even under the name of Boxers, they band themselves together and endeavour to expel the intruders? We know that when the allied forces entered Peking, practically unresisted, most shockingly disgraceful outrages were perpetrated by the so-called civilised and Christian forces of Europe. Therefore, I say we are not in a position to throw stones at the Chinese, even though they have treated missionaries and even women in a manner which we must all deplore. I hope, however, that in the settlement which Her Majesty's Government have to effect they will make no demands on the Chinese for the decapitation of generals or high officials in that empire. We ought to seek to include in that settlement measures to advance the commercial interests of this country by the opening up of China to trade. Our policy ought to be as was announced by Her Majesty's Government, the preservation of China for the Chinese and the opening up of their country equally to the trade of all nations. I am sure that if Her Majesty's Government pursue that policy and exercise a wise moderation in their action and attitude towards the Chinese in this particular crisis they will have the support of the whole British nation irrespective of party. I beg to move the Amendment which stands in my name.


The importance of the subject and the extent of the operations which have taken place in China deserve a rather more lengthy reference than was made either in the Queen's Speech or in the remarks of the Under Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs. The fact that the Under Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs only referred to one isolated part of these operations is all the more remarkable, because in the Parliaments of the other countries chiefly interested——


Why were not questions put to me?


In each of the foreign Parliaments the Minister responsible for the Foreign Office availed himself of the opportunity afforded by a question having reference to one or two matters to dilate at some considerable length on the policy which his country had thought fit to enter on with regard to the position in China. The Under Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs did not take any such opportunity, and it is, I say, all the more remarkable because the Ministers of other countries had dilated on their policies at considerable length. In the German Reichstag the Minister not only made a detailed and lengthy statement of what the German policy was going to be, but in the German House of Representatives a memorandum was issued dealing at great length with the objects with which the German expedition had been sent out. It was stated, first of all, that the policy of the German Government would be directed to promoting the interests of Germany; no matter what might be the interests of other countries, that particular attention would be given to the interest of German commerce generally, and that particular care would be taken of German mining and railway interests. These promises have been practically fulfilled to the letter. A very few weeks ago the Germans entered into what we have always regarded as our particular sphere of interest—the Yang-tsze Valley—and appointed consuls for commercial purposes in that region. While we have always claimed almost exclusive interests in the Yang-tsze Valley, the Germans have been very particular in refusing to acknowledge our special influence in that region. But the German Reichstag is not the only House of Representatives in Europe in which Chinese policy was declared during the last few weeks. Take the French Chamber of Deputies. M. Delcassé went out of his way not only to state at great length French policy in China, but he also detailed at considerable length the military operations in which the French troops were engaged. We in this country have been obliged to be content with despatches sent from the seat of war relating to more or less isolated achievements of the troops themselves, whereas the French people are told not only details of the engagements in which the French troops were concerned, but also what the future military operations were to be. No such information has been given to this House, either when the expedition went out to China or when the Under Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs spoke on Thursday. But the French Foreign Minister has even gone further. Not only has he told the French Chamber what the French Government are going to do, but he has made a special proposal to the allied forces in China as to what the policy of the Concert of Europe should be. The principles of that proposal were four in number: that proper reparation and punishment should be dealt out for past offences, that adequate compensation should be paid, that such offences should not take place in future, that sufficient indemnity should be paid for the losses sustained by European residents in China, and that a sufficient force should be retained to prevent the recurrence of the late unhappy events. The British Government have given no indication beyond the Anglo-German Agreement to the Concert of Europe as to what they propose to do. The French and German Governments have each laid down their policy, and America has not been behind in that respect. The American President in his address dealt at very great length on the policy of the American Government with regard to China, and I cannot for the life of me see what considerations there are which can prevent the English Government following suit in this matter. I wish to draw attention to the circumstances under which the Vote was granted last session. The Chancellor of the Exchequer asked the House to vote him three millions of money, and he divided that sum into three portions—one portion amounting to one and a half million was to be devoted to the expenses of the war—the second portion of half a million was to provide for any contingencies which might arise with regard to the expeditions from India to China —and the third portion of one million was to be what he termed his second line of defence. That line of defence has been swallowed up by the expense of the present expedition, and I think it is worthy of notice by this House that the same want of provision which prevailed with regard to South Africa has also been noticeable in connection with the Chinese expedition. Everyone will admit that the despatch of forces was imperative, but I venture to submit that an approximate estimate of the cost of the expedition was not less imperative. Certainly, pledges were given on the 2nd of August last as to what the policy of the Government should be with, regard to this expedition. We were told that we wore to maintain a leading position in China due to our past position in that country, to the enormous trade we did with the Chinese, and to the general interests which we had in the development of Eastern countries. I do not think that anyone who has listened to the hon. Gentleman, and who has closely followed what has occurred in China during the last four or five months, can contend that we hold a leading position in the Concert of Europe. We were also told, and it was a very curious contrast, that while on the one hand we were to hold the leading position in China our policy was to be a negative one. If the Government have not carried out the first part of the policy laid down by the late Under Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, there is not the slightest doubt that they have fulfilled to the letter the second part. We were also told that the Government would resolutely oppose any partition of China. That was satisfactory as far as it went, but as a matter of fact, portions of China have been already dealt out to various countries. We have taken possession, at great cost to ourselves, but with no result to our policy, of Wei-hai-Wei. There is not a gun mounted there. One of the forts we were to build is only half finished, and the other does not contain any defensive armaments at all. Russia has practically occupied Manchuria, that occupation being, according to themselves, only temporary. Twenty years ago an expedition was sent from this country to take "temporary" possession of Egypt. We are still in Egypt, and twenty years hence Russia will still, be in Manchuria. What we ask is that what has been done by Germany, France, America, and Japan should be done by this country, and by a responsible Minister. There is grave danger lest the prolongation of negotiations should lead not merely to the dissolution of the European Concert, but also to the dissolution of European peace.

Amendment proposed— At the end of the Question, to add the words—' And we humbly represent to your Majesty that it is essential that more adequate measures should be taken for the safe-guarding of the vast commercial and political interests of the British Empire in China; and we further humbly submit that no demand should be made on the Chinese Government for the punishment of Chinese officials which would not be equally imposed in the case of a European Power, and also that reparation should be sought in increased facilities to trade rather than by a money indemnity.'"—(Mr. Joseph Walton.)

Question proposed, "That those words be there added."

* Viscount CRANBORNE

The hon. Gentleman who has just sat down has complained very much that the Government have taken no opportunity to make a general statement with regard to their policy in China. It was not my good fortune to trouble the House of Commons with my presence very much in the last session, but from the usual channels of information I gathered that the subject was not absolutely ignored during those months, and by referring to records I find my right hon. friend who preceded me in this office made a statement as late as 9th August, and a very long and detailed statement a few days before that. It is really going a very long way to complain of the silence of the Government in respect of their policy in China. The hon. Gentleman expressed surprise that I had not taken an opportunity to make a general statement of policy. I will be quite frank with the House. I do not think that this is a suitable opportunity for making a general statement of policy. If any hon. Member desires information, of course it is my duty to answer him to the best of my ability. That is what I am here for. But I am also entitled to imagine that if no hon. Gentleman does ask me a question it is because everyone feels, as I do, that the present moment, when negotiations are pending, is not the moment to go into detail with regard to what is passing in China. The hon. Gentleman pointed to the utterances of foreign statesmen. I do not think that this House has anything to learn from the French Chamber, but if the hon. Gentleman will examine the statements made by French statesmen he will find, as a general rule, that their utterances are of a very general character, and when looked at very closely do not amount to very much. The hon. Member quoted with approval the observations of the German statesman who said that the German Government would study the interests of Germany. If that is anything, I will repeat the statement in this House, and say that the English Government will study the interests of England. I do not think any hon. Gentleman doubts that for a moment. I am afraid, therefore, that my observations must be of a very general character. With respect to Niu-chwang, I did not say last night that there were great popular disturbances I said that the Boxer propaganda had reached there, and that there were considerable disturbances. I said that the missionaries had retreated there, and that the railway officials had been driven back within fifteen miles of the city. That may be said to have constituted a state of things in which military operations might be necessary. The hon. Member for Barnsley says that I declared that those operations were thoroughly justified. I was very careful not to express an opinion on the subject. I am quite aware that differences of opinion may exist on that point; but it would be very rash, without further information, to condemn the action of the Russian officer in command. The hon. Gentleman said that England had been ignored in this matter, but he himself told us that the English representative in company with the representatives of the other Powers at once approached the Russian officer.


My statement was that the proclamation assuming for Russia the military and civil administration of Niu-chwang was issued without the slightest consultation with the consuls of the other Powers.

* Viscount CRANBORNE

I know that when representations were made to the Russian officer he told the representatives of the other Powers that the occupation was a purely temporary one, and would in no way prejudice the rights of other Powers. How can it be said, therefore, that England was ignored? Why should hon. Gentlemen try to embitter matters by bringing charges which I do not think can be substantiated? The hon. Gentleman also asked me questions on many other matters of detail. I venture to think he was engaged in what was quite a legitimate proceeding in pressing his views on the Government, but it is not possible for me to tell him what will be the outcome of the railway difficulty in China. I myself am not entitled to take anything but a sanguine view, but I certainly cannot tell the hon. Gentleman what will be arranged finally as a result of the concerted action of the Powers with regard to that matter of the opening of the waterways and the adjustment of the revenue. I believe the hon. Gentleman is an authority on these matters, and if he seeks to lay his views before the Government I can assure him that they will receive every consideration. He has spoken of the great political and commercial interests of England, which he says ought to be safeguarded. We are doing our best for the commercial and political interests of England, and being, as we are, a great commercial country, the first and far away the most pressing matter is to restore tranquillity in China. That tranquillity can be restored alone by the concerted action of the Powers. We have proved by experience that concerted action is possible in the course of the recent military operations. I do not deny that there are difficulties about concerted action, but I venture to say that the difficulties of concerted action diplomatically pall before the difficulties of concerted military action. Yet we have succeeded in carrying out most difficult military operations by concerted action among the Powers with the result that in a very brief period, relatively speaking, the Legations at Peking were relieved. But concerted action must lie undertaken, in the first place, in a spirit of conciliation—a spirit rather different from that which my hon. friend the Member for the Ecclesall Division of Sheffield applies to these subjects. The hon. Member who moved the Amendment said he wondered why British troops, instead of looking after the Boxers, had not been engaged in defending British interests in China.


In protecting the property of British subjects in the first instance.

* Viscount CRANBORNE

It is only by adopting a very conciliatory attitude that we can hope to obtain the result we desire—namely, the restoration of tranquillity in China without loss to British interests. No doubt this must be accompanied by a firm determination to protect British interests. I do not deny that, but what right has the hon. Gentleman to suppose that this firmness is not being, displayed? The hon. Member declares that he knows this that and the other, and he hopes, perhaps, that he may draw from me a detailed statement, but I must disappoint him. It is not possible for ma to go into details to justify the action that has been taken. I repeat, the restoration of tranquillity is the first and most important way of preserving the commercial position of England. The next most important way is by preserving the territorial integrity of China, and I. stated last night that the Government have done their utmost to effect with the other Powers the safeguarding of that integrity. Perhaps it would have been wiser if the hon. Member had awaited the Papers which I promised to lay on the Table before he went further into the matter. Lastly, there is the other method of protecting, the commercial interests of Great Britain—there is what is called the policy of the open door. There, again, he knows that in the Anglo-German Agreement steps have been taken, perhaps not very great steps, but distinct steps forward, in placing on record in the most formal manner that the English Government and the German Government and the other Governments who have adhered to that agreement are determined to make one of the main planks in their policy the maintenance of the open door in China. I say, therefore, that the Government have been engaged, and I think with some success, in studying the highest commercial interests of Great Britain in that country. The hon. Member is in such a hurry. He thinks all this can be done so quickly and so easily. Of course that is not the case. He must be content. I am afraid, to wait for the very slow, but I hope effective, development of the policy in which the Government are engaged. Then, at the end of his Amendment, he says that no demand should be made on the Chinese Government for the punishment of Chinese officials which would not be equally imposed in the case of a European Power. I think that is asking far too much. If the Chinese Government are to be treated like a European Power they must behave as a European Power. We know perfectly well that they have committed the greatest outrage, and in a manner which no European Power would think of for a moment. I refer to the fact that they have absolutely ignored the sacred character of diplomatic envoys, and have, m a time of peace, allowed the Imperial forces of the Chinese Government to unite with rebels in order to bombard the envoys of friendly Powers. That is not behaving like a European Power, and it is quite impossible to treat a Government which behaves like that upon the same footing on which a European Power would naturally be treated. I think that the European Powers are well advised to exact just and due reparation for the wrong which they have sustained. If the Chinese Government expect to be treated in any other way they must behave differently. Before I sit down I might be allowed to say that I hope to lay the Papers on the Table on Monday, but they are not, as I said last night, complete. We have not had time to arrange and publish a full Paper, but I have no doubt the House will forgive that. With regard to the Anglo-German Agreement, that will be laid on the Table together with the answers of the Powers as soon as the necessary leave from the foreign Powers concerned has been obtained. That I look for in a few days.


I think the noble Lord quite misunderstands my attitude on questions of this kind. I may be mistaken in my estimate of the correctness of my own views, but perhaps I see a little further ahead sometimes than the members of the Government, and I wish to prevent them from entering on courses which may have very serious results to this country. That is my view of the Concert of Europe. I do not uphold the so-called Concert because I am opposed to other Powers protecting their own interests. Very far from it. I object to the Concert because I believe it has no real existence, because I believe it cannot exist, and never has existed, and that, as in China, it has only led us into a position of enormous peril, where we and other Powers are day by clay in danger of coming into collision. The House is to be congratulated on the two speeches which we have heard from the other side of the House. I wish, as a member of the Conservative party, and as one professing Imperial views, to congratulate the House on having two Radical Members able to make speeches so full of useful knowledge and intelligence as the speeches which have been delivered by the hon. Member for Barnsley and the hon. Member for East Bristol. I am sure that every hon. Member who listened to these speeches will agree with me in my estimate of them. They dealt with questions of enormous interest to this House and the country, and for my part I am very grateful to the hon. Gentlemen. I do not propose now to criticise the foreign policy of the Government in China. I am aware that we must wait for further information, but I will say this, that the Chinese question is at this moment of infinitely more importance to this country than the South African question, because the South African question is, in my opinion, practically settled. The Chinese question is of infinitely more importance than the miserable personalities on which a great part of last night and to-night have been absolutely wasted. I have never known the time of the House more wasted than it was by the speeches delivered last night, and I am sure it is of more advantage to this House and to the country that we should have subjects of real importance brought before us as we have had to-night. The noble Lord assured the House that the Government were protecting British interests, and challenged us to show any case in which the Government had failed to protect British interests. I am rather sorry that he made that challenge, because——

It being Midnight, the Debate stood adjourned.

Debate to be resumed upon Monday next.

Whereupon, in pursuance of the Order of the House of this day, Mr. Speaker adjourned the House without Question put.

Adjourned accordingly at one minute after Twelve of the clock, till Monday next.