§ [MOTION FOE ADJOURNMENT.]
MR. PRITCHARD MORGAN (Merthyr Tydvil)
rose in his place, and asked leave to move the Adjournment of the House for the purpose of discussing a definite matter of urgent public importance—namely, "the present position of the British Legation at Peking, and the necessity of taking immediate and definite steps in the matter "; but the pleasure of the House not having been signified, Mr.. SPEAKER called on those Members who supported the motion to rise in their places, and not less than forty Members having accordingly risen:—
MR. PRITCHARD MORGAN
I am sure the whole of the House will regret 417 to hear from the right hon. Gentleman the Under Secretary for Foreign Affairs that the gravest possible fear exists with regard to the safety of British residents in Peking, and especially with regard to the Legation. I am not altogether without hope that there is a probability that the Peking Legation can hold out until some relief comes, but in the meantime we are face to face with this very grave difficulty: We do not know who is the ruling power in China to-day; we do not know whether it is the Dowager Empress, or whether she has been removed; and we do not know whether it is Prince Tuan or his son. That being so, and there being such a terrible state of confusion, I think that Her Majesty's Government ought to consider the advisability of taking some step, in conjunction with other Powers, to consider the question of creating a Regency in China. With Peking, at the present moment, it is impossible to hold any communication, and even if it were possible, matters are in such a disturbed condition that it would be impracticable to arrive at any solution of this very grave difficulty. I would like the House to follow me in one or two observations with regard to these disturbances. They exist only in one part of China—that is in the extreme north in the provinces of Shantung and Chihli. There are various causes given for these disturbances, and causes which perhaps it would not be well to remind the House or the country of at the present moment. But the Chinese have had some causes of complaint, not least among them being the demands of the various foreign Powers for concessions of railways throughout their Empire, and not only for concessions for railways, but insisting upon the Chinese Government undertaking to pay interest on the capital which was required for the building of these railways. That was one of the causes, perhaps, which led to these disturbances. I am not defending the Chinese in any way, but do not let the House misunderstand me. I want the House to understand that the disturbances have arisen in those particular districts where these concessions have been insisted upon from the Chinese. It is impossible, probably, to change the form of Government or the Constitution of China. The status quo should, perhaps, in the opinion of those best able to judge, be maintained. But, 418 in the meantime, we have this danger—a danger to the lives of British subjects at Peking, and also a danger to the lives of all foreigners, which, of course, their respective Governments will probably also consider. I do not think it is generally known to the House or to the country that there is a provisional Government already appointed in China. That provisional Government consists of Li Hung Chang (who is at the head of it), Chang Tsi Tung, Lien Quan Yih, Yuen Chili Kai, and Yu Lien Chan. I think Her Majesty's Government is aware officially of the existence of this provisional Government, and these Gentlemen are Viceroys of the most important provinces in China. But these provinces are situated at great distances from each other, and it is utterly and absolutely impossible for them to enter into communication with each other daily or hourly, as the importance of the subject would necessitate. I would suggest—and I am not doing this for the purpose of embarrassing Her Majesty's Government—that a Regent should be appointed. I suggest that you should have one man with whom you can deal in China, and the experience of all those who know Chinese affairs points unmistakably to one man as the strongest man in China, who is head and shoulders above everybody else, and who some thirty years ago was considered the most eligible man to occupy the throne of China. He is the man whom General Gordon picked out for the throne, and Gordon would have put him upon that throne if one of the Powers had not found out what Gordon was going to do, and the result was that Gordon was recalled upon the particular day he was going to do it. That man is Li Hung Chang. He is the most prominent statesman in China. He has more influence there to-day, for his mere name strikes terror into the heart of every Chinaman, and I say that in this extreme emergency, having regard to the fact that you do not know who is on the throne to-day, that Her Majesty's Ministers do not know to-day who is the Emperor or who is the Empress of China, it is the duty of the Government to consider the question of creating a Regency and communicating with other Powers to find someone in China who can be dealt with at this critical moment, and who may even now save the lives of British subjects and others in 419 Peking. From the year 1860 up to the Japanese war Li Hung Chang was looked upon as the heir apparent to the throne. I hope that the Government will not for a moment consider that I am making this suggestion in order to embarrass them, for I am only doing it in order that it may be made known to the other Powers that there is a possibility of saving the lives of the foreigners who are in Peking, and I do not hesitate to say that Li Hung Chang would do it. It is not only my opinion, but also the opinion of the highest Chinese authorities, that Li Hung Chang is the man who can probably put an end to these disturbances, and I would beg and pray of Her Majesty's Government and the other Powers in Europe and America to consider the question of creating this Regency at this critical moment, and later on consider the question of whom you are going to put on the throne. It is necessary that changes should be made in order that peace and prosperity may attend that mighty Empire. I appeal to the House, having regard to our being in ignorance as to whether there is at present any head of the Government, to consider whether one should not be created. I believe that if Li Hung Chang were to go north there would be a rising of the Cantonese and Southern Chinese against the Manchu dynasty. Leave him where he is for the present; terms can be made, and then Li Hung Chang can proceed to Peking, accompanied by troops if necessary. I am certain that this is the only possible means of restoring order. I beg to move that this House do now adjourn.
§ *MR. JOSEPH WALTON (Yorkshire, W.R., Barnsley)
I beg to second the motion as a matter of form, because, though there has not been a stronger critic in this House of the policy pursued by Her Majesty Government in relation to affairs in China than I have been, yet I am bound to say that I believe in the present crisis they have done all in their power to protect the lives and property of British subjects in China. I have the honour of personally knowing Admiral Seymour, and I feel certain that all that courage, determination, and ability could do was done by him and the 2,000 troops under him when they attempted to reach Peking to relieve the foreigners there. My opinion is that long before any such an arrangement as that foreshadowed by 420 the hon. Gentleman who has just spoken could possibly be given effect to there would be no foreigners in Peking to be relieved. From all I gathered during my visit to the districts where the rebellion, now is, a few months ago, and from my somewhat extensive journeys throughout China, I believe it is a fact that the great bulk of the inhabitants throughout that country have no sympathy with the present rising. I believe that the great hope of staying the rising and preserving the integrity of the country lies in intimating, distinctly—in concert with Japan, the United States, Germany, and any other Power interested in China that would join in the intimation—to the great Viceroys of Nankin and Wuchang that they can rely on no attempt being made by any of the Powers to seize territory in that great heart of China—the Yang-tsze region—and that the Powers will co-operate with the Viceroys in the interests of order. With regard to the suggestion of the hon. Gentleman that Li Hung Chang should be made Regent of the great Chinese Empire, my own feeling is that it would be much wiser on the part of Her Majesty's Government to intimate to Li Hung Chang that they would hold him responsible in purse and person for any outrages committed on foreigners in the districts under his governorship. I hope the Under Secretary for Foreign Affairs will be able to give us some information that will show that the opinion I have expressed that Her Majesty's Government are doing all that is humanly possible to relieve Peking is true. I certainly do not think that this is an opportune moment to raise any further question than that which has been declared to be of urgent and definite public importance—namely, what has been done and is being done to reach Peking with an expeditionary force in time to save the lives of the foreigners there. I must say, knowing as I do personally many of those now cooped up in Peking surrounded by those hordes of Chinese, that one's heart goes out to them and is sad when one thinks that even at the present moment, while we are discussing this question here, it is. seriously possible that there may be none of them alive for relief to be taken to.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."— (Mr. Pritchard Morgan.)421
MR. GIBSON BOWLES (Lynn Regis)
It is a matter of concern, in view of the most serious, sudden, and unexpected events that have occurred, that notice should be taken of them in this House, even by way of moving the adjournment—always an unsatisfactory method. The events which have occurred are undoubtedly not only of a most unexpected character, but are of the greatest possible importance and fraught with the greatest issues—issues which concern not only the relations of the Powers to China but the relation of the Powers towards each other, which is, perhaps, the gravest and most serious difficulty that may arise out of this rising in China. But we must also not forget that on these events and the turn they may take will depend also the future of so large a portion of the earth's population as one-third. I agree with the hon. Gentleman opposite that this is not a popular rising in China in the sense of being a rising of the whole people. It is a small provoked rising, but none the less serious for that. I believe Her Majesty's Government are once more at the parting of the ways, as they were when they were called upon to remove Her Majesty's ships from Port Arthur. There are two courses to be initiated at the Foreign Office, and upon the wise choice between these courses will depend, I believe, the future of China and the whole future of British prospects in the East. I think there can be no doubt that the Imperial Government at Peking as we knew it a fortnight ago has disappeared. It no longer exists, and in its place there is chaos, accompanied, as the hon. Member opposite said, with the most awful danger to Europeans in Peking. I am convinced I am not exaggerating the situation when I say that chaos reigns in the Chinese capital, and that there is no form of Government to appeal to. The only question that I think we ought to consider now is, the Chinese Government we have known having disappeared, what is to be done to carry on our relations with China, to secure law and order and the observance of treaties. I cannot for a moment agree with the hon. Gentleman opposite that. England ought, in company with other Powers, to intervene with the Government of China by nominating a Viceroy, I care not whether he be Li Hung Chang or anyone else. Not only have we no 422 right to impose a Viceroy on China, but I will undertake to say that we have no power to do it. I therefore entirely repudiate the suggestion made to that effect, but I repudiate still more strongly the suggestion that Li Hung Chang should be held personally responsible for events over which he has no control and which he could not have prevented.
MR. GIBSON BOWLES
No such occurrences have taken place in those districts, nor are any expected, and I am sorry, therefore, that the hon. Gentleman should have made such a strong suggestion on a mere possible contingency which I believe will not arise. I need not recall to the House that China consists of eighteen provinces governed by nine. Viceroys and nine Governors, who have always been the real Governors of China. The Imperial Government of China is a shadowy something not after our idea of government. There is no central Government for taxation, and the government of the country is carried on by the Viceroys. I have information which I believe to be absolutely true, and which comes from a very serious and well-informed source, to the effect that of the nine Viceroys six have already met together and have practically formed a provisional Government. These Viceroys are the Governors of the central and southern provinces.
MR. GIBSON BOWLES
I do not know how late the hon. Gentlemen's information may be—whether it is information he brought from China or information he received since his return, but my information is that there has been common action between the six Viceroys I have indicated. It is possible they may not have all met, but by inter-communication they have achieved this result. They have practically formed a provisional Government, which at this moment exists, and they are prepared and are in a position to guarantee good order and the safety of foreigners in their own provinces, and are also prepared to guarantee the execution of treaties with foreign Powers. 423 They are, in other words, a de facto Government, with powers much more real than were ever exercised by the Imperial Court, and they are ready to undertake the government of the country. That is a more natural arrangement than one Viceroy or one Regent, and they look for—and for my part I trust they will obtain—the support of Her Majesty's Government. We have lost one Government, but we have got another. I am not sure whether it will last, but there it is for the moment, and it is for the moment that we want some controlling power able to take charge of an abandoned Empire. Assuming that my information is correct—and I am pretty certain that it is—this Government does exist. It is not a Government de jure but it is a Government de facto. It has been the tradition of England to recognise de facto Governments, and I hope this tradition will be carried out in connection with China. That tradition always seems to me practical and useful, and should be pursued by Her Majesty's Government. We do not know what awful vistas of war, confusion, and trouble may be opened up in these Eastern parts. We do not know on what conditions the Powers are going to intervene. Are they to elect a Regent, or any other new form of Government? I am most profoundly convinced that if Her Majesty's Government attempt to invent a form of government for the Chinese and impose it upon them, they will undoubtedly meet with a most ignominious failure. Twenty-one times has China been invaded, and twenty-one times has China absorbed the invader, and the invader has become a Chinaman. Do not let us make the attempt. [Laughter.] I am sorry that on this grave emergency hon. Members should laugh. Do not let us attempt, in our position, to invent and to impose any new form of Government on the Chinese. Her Majesty's Government should at once recognise the de facto Government and give them such support as to carry with them, at any rate, the central and southern provinces over which the Viceroys hold sway, in the terrible emergency with which they are confronted.
§ MR. DILLON (Mayo, E.)
I only desire to ask one question of the Under Secretary for Foreign Affairs on the subject before the House. Is it the fact, or is there any foundation for the statement, 424 that the American Admiral in Chinese waters objected to the policy of the other Powers in attacking the Ta-ku forts, and pointed out that an attack on those forts was calculated to force the regular Chinese army into alliance with the "Boxers"? And also, if that report be true, what is the present relation existing between the American forces and those of Great Britain, and whether the Americans are co-operating with the other Powers in the other stops proposed to be taken, or if America has declared a policy of its own in China.
§ *SIR E. ASHMEAD-BARTLETT (Sheffield, Ecclesall)
The hon. Gentleman the Member for King's Lynn has furnished the House with a very important statement in regard to the action of the Viceroys of the southern and central provinces of China; but I fear that these Viceroys will not be able to secure the restoration of order in the north. There are two great questions which we have now to consider. The first is the immediate question of the safety of the British Minister, and the other British and foreign residents in Peking. The other is the future settlement of the Chinese problem. I will only say one word in regard to the first, which is the cause of the very gravest anxiety. I wish to know why the Government have not invited three weeks ago, when they first knew the gravity of the situation, the only Power which is able to relieve the Legations in Peking, and possibly the only Power which is able to put an end to these disturbances in China—I refer to the Empire of Japan—to take action. There is not the slightest doubt that the Japanese have sufficient troops to march to Peking and put down any Chinese force which they may encounter between the sea and the capital of China. They have mobilised an army of 50,000 of the best disciplined troops in the East, and these could do all that is required. If Her Majesty's Government have allowed themselves to be pushed away from asking Japan to do what Japan alone is able to do efficiently and quickly, by the opposition of any European Power jealous of Japan, then they have incurred a great responsibility. I do not believe in this chimera of a European concert. I have never believed in it. I have watched this farce for years. I have seen its utter effeteness in Turkey, and I do not believe 425 it will be any more successful, in the long run, in China. What this country wants in China is a clear and definite policy resolutely carried out—a British policy supported by all the support which Great Britain can obtain. I see no other way of relieving the Legations except by an immediate appeal to Japan. Whether Russia or Franco agrees or not, England and the other Powers should insist on urging Japan to interfere. That is what we owe to our Minister, to our fellow subjects, and to the Christian inhabitants in the north of China. I now go to the greater question, that of the future. What is to be our policy towards China? Well, I am afraid that neither of the two Front Benches have much ground for attacking each other upon their policy towards China. On that side I see right hon. Gentlemen who seven years ago, in 1893, allowed the greatest chance ever offered for settling the Russian menace against China——
§ MR. SPEAKER
Order, order! The hon. Member will not be in order in discussing the general policy of this country towards China. The motion before the House only allows him to discuss the present position of the Legation in Peking.
§ *SIR E. ASHMEAD-BARTLETT
I was unfortunate in not hearing the words of the motion. I understood the hon. Gentlemen who preceded me had been permitted to refer to the future arrangements in China. I was going to say that the loss of the opportunity of settling the Chinese question in 1893, and a similar blunder in 1898, when our ships were driven out of Port Arthur, is to be deeply regretted. But I will say no more about those lost opportunities. In regard to the saving of the Legations and the strengthening of the Government of China—questions of the greatest importance—the hon. Gentleman who moved the motion distinctly referred to the establishment of some kind of fresh Government in China, which should prevent the recurrence of these fatal disturbances and these attacks on foreign Ministers and foreign subjects. I believe that under a kind of tutelage by Great Britain, Japan, Germany, and the United States, a Government might be set up in China which the Chinese themselves would allow to be a national Government, and which might 426 be encouraged for the cause of civilisation. We have heard a great deal of the good policy of the young Emperor. We do not know whether he is living or not, but we might do something to encourage him. And if we go to Poking, and if the Dowager Empress is willing to be the centre of reform, we might induce or even compel her to a beneficent policy. But the most fatal policy which we could adopt—a policy which has been openly avowed in some quarters of late—is that of the disintegration of China. That would be a fatal policy, would do us no good, and would alienate Japan, the United States, and probably Germany, and would unite the whole of China against this country. The suggestion that we should have a sphere of influence in the Yang-tsze valley——
§ *SIR E. ASHMEAD-BARTLETT
I again apologise. While I do not, Mr. Speaker, dispute your ruling, I am sure I have the sympathy of many hon. Gentlemen, who rarely have an opportunity of discussing this kind of question—an opportunity, however, which we have a right to exercise. Therefore, if on occasion when the great question of China is raised in a modest form, I think that even you, Sir, will allow me your sympathy at being restricted in my remarks by the rules of the House. The question before us, then, is the safety of the Legations and the restoration of order in China. The more this question is looked at the more it will be seen that the means I have suggested— namely, the intervention of Japan—is the only way of securing it. I know that the Government think a great deal of the Concert of Europe in this matter. But the Concert of Europe is a will-o'-the-wisp. The European forces may have fought together, but they are only small in number; and the most difficult questions will arise later. We know that there is the greatest jealousy on the part of Russia of any interference by Japan. But Russia itself is unable to send a sufficient force for the relief of the Legations. We hear a good deal of the great armies Russia has in North-eastern Asia. I doubt whether Russia has in all 80,000 troops there; and it is very doubtful 427 whether she could send 20,000 for the relief of Peking, or even half that number. On the other hand, Japan could immediately put 50,000 or 60,000 troops, with artillery, transport, and everything complete, in the field. I venture to say that the result of that operation on the part of Japan would not only be the relief of the Legations in Peking, but would place in Peking a Power upon whose thorough friendship and fairness this country could rely.
§ *THE UNDER SECRETARY OF STATE FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS (Mr. BRODRICK,) Surrey, Guildford
The hon. Gentleman who has just sat down has alluded to the difficulty private Members are in of bringing on questions of this character. I make no complaint of any advantage which may be taken of the rules of the House in order to elicit information with regard to China at this particular juncture. No one is better aware than I am of the grave anxiety which exists throughout the country at the present time as to the safety of the Legations, and also as to the preparations that Her Majesty's Government may have made. So far as it has been possible we have made no concealment from the House of Commons. We have from day to day given, as fully as we possibly could, the unfortunately very scant information which has reached us; but I very much doubt whether any good can be gained at this particular moment by an attempt to draw the Government into any discussion of policy with regard to the position in China. At the very moment when military operations are going on it is usually considered injudicious to forecast what may be the next step. At the best of moments the Government of China, or the position of affairs in China, or its Constitution, is not an exact science. At the present moment we are in a maze of uncertainties with regard to the position at Peking, and any forecast we may make as to the future must be based very much on information which must render it altogether unreliable. I doubt, therefore, whether it would be well for me to follow my hon. friend into some of the suggestions he has made, more especially as those suggestions are not altogether calculated to preserve that full concert and accord of the Powers which it is the great desire of Her Majesty's 428 Government to secure at the present, moment. But the hon. Member who moved the adjournment made one practical suggestion. I was a little surprised when he went back to the causes of this. outbreak—I think that at this moment, no discussion of those causes would throw very much light on the procedure which it is now desirable to adopt—and attributed it to the efforts of the concessionnaires and the pressure they wished should be brought to bear on the Chinese Government, seeing that there is no Member in the House who has invoked the good offices of the Foreign Office more frequently than the hon. Gentleman himself. But, speaking with a considerable experience of China, he urges us to consider the propriety of conferring on Li Hung Chang some special authority to act on behalf of the Powers in the preservation of order. I think it may be the duty of Her Majesty's Government to consider that among many other possible alternatives; but I certainly think it would not be our duty to pronounce any verdict on the feasibility of it, seeing that nearly every consideration, as to the probable effect of it is at present, hidden from us. My hon. friend has, in. some respects, impeached the Government. His fear is that we have not taken sufficiently vigorous measures towards obtaining the support of the only Power which is, at this moment, capable of coming up in large numbers for the relief of the Legations. The question of calling; in any particular Power is of itself a difficult one. The Government have, from the very first, from the 6th of June, when they gave full power to Sir Claude MacDonald and to Admiral Seymour to act according to their discretion for the relief and preservation of the Legations, communicated to other Powers consistently their desire that as full a force as was desired by the officers on the spot should without any delay be brought to bear. The hon. Member for East. Mayo asked me whether the American Admiral had dissented, from the other-Powers in regard to the attack on the Ta-ku forts. We have no reason to suppose that there was any division of opinion between the Admirals on that point. Our information goes to show that the attack on the Ta-ku forts was not begun by the ships. The forts were being rapidly manned, by soldiers, and their position would have made the 429 position of the ships untenable, and, as a matter of fact, fire was opened by the forts on the allied fleet. So far as we are aware, the Americans, who had landed men already, and were proceeding to the relief of Peking with Admiral Seymour's force, took the same part as the other ships of the squadrons in resisting the forts.
§ MR. DILLON
Was not the fire opened upon the fleet only in reply to the ultimatum of the Powers that if the troops were not removed they would attack the forts in the morning?
§ *MR. BRODRICK
There is no doubt the Admirals originally made some communication to the forts; but, so far as we are aware, they acted entirely in concert. I believe the American Government are averse, as a rule, from entering into technical and diplomatic joint action; but they are acting in co-operation, exactly in the same way as the other Powers, with ourselves. My hon. friend asked why Her Majesty's Government had not called in the Japanese, and why they had not taken advantage of the proximity of Japan to urge them to throw in an overwhelming force at once for the relief of Peking. Her Majesty's Government have been in communication with all the Powers, including the Japanese Government. Their view has been throughout to give encouragement to any Power for the prompt despatch of any body of troops which they could send to meet the existing emergency at Poking. We made it perfectly clear to the Japanese Government that we hoped that they, having it in their power, owing to their proximity, and the circumstances which enable them to throw in a large force within a comparatively small number of days, would see their way to supplement considerably the contingent they had already landed. That communication was made to them some time ago.
§ *MR. BRODRICK
We have no reason to think that any influence has been exerted by other Powers to discourage the Japanese Government from undertaking this work. My hon. friend has probably considered to some extent the military character of the problem. He 430 will recollect that, while it is one thing to put troops on board ship, it is another to provide them with the commissariat and transport necessary for marching more than 100 miles through a hostile country. I need not remind the House that the circumstances in China at this moment may vender it extremely difficult for a relief force to penetrate to the capital within a reasonable time. The period of rain has begun, the roads are practically impassable owing to the rains, and the railway has been rendered useless for the greater part of the way. Therefore the problem is not merely one of bringing a sufficient number of troops on the scene, but of providing them with all the details and the equipment necessary to convey a large army through a difficult country in the face of the enemy. Therefore I will ask my hon. friend to remember that the problem which we have to face, and have been facing for the last three weeks, is not so easy or so simple as, I think, he seems to imagine. I should like in a few words to explain to the House what has been done by Her Majesty's Government from the first in this matter. Practically the first warning of a serious crisis having arisen was on 20th May, when there was a meeting of the Corps Diplomatique, at which they decided that, unless the Chinese Government showed more vigour in bringing the existing state of disorder in Shantung and about 90 miles from Peking to a close, it would be necessary to send for guards. Those guards were provided on 28th May. On 6th June full discretion was given to the Admiral and Sir Claude MacDonald; and on the 9th the admiral marched. Before that had taken place the Admiral had already anticipated possible difficulties by calling up seven ships to Ta-ku. Her Majesty's Government have since then made the following provision to meet the difficulty which has arisen: In the first place they called up nearly 1,000 troops from Hong Kong, and ordered them to be immediately replaced by 1,000 from India. Those troops have been landed, and there are now nearly 2,000 men on shore, making with the contingents of other powers about 13,500. They have with them, I think, fifty-three field guns and thirty-six maxims. We have at this moment nine ships at Ta-ku, and twenty-five other ships on the China station. In addition to that other ships have been brought up 431 from Manila and Singapore. The "Goliath" battleship, the "Dido," and "Isis," first-class cruisers, have all passed Aden on their way to China; the "Argonaut," first-class cruiser, has sailed from home; three ships have been ordered from Australia; two destroyers have been put in commission at Hong Kong; two further gun-vessels are being commissioned and will sail in a day or two; the second-class cruiser "Prospero" has been ordered to Hankau and will be there in a very few days; the transport "Jelunga" has started from Southampton with 800 seamen and marines, and arrangements have been made to utilise her as a hospital ship if necessary. No doubt that is a force, so far as naval power goes, and so far as the object of protecting isolated treaty ports where foreigners are resident is concerned, that ought to enable us very shortly indeed to carry out any work that may be required of us in that respect. Beyond that the Government have put under orders 10,000 men from India, and the Indian Government, acting with their proverbial promptitude, have already succeeded in despatching four or five transports. Some of those troops will be at Hong Kong early next week. Therefore, so far as meeting the emergency with all the means in our power is concerned, I think the House will agree with the hon. Member for Barnsley that there has been no remissness on the part of Her Majesty's Government. But my hon. friend the Member for King's Lynn asked us to take a definite step in regard to our relations with the Viceroys on the Yang-tsze. He asked us to commit ourselves to them—to establish them, as it were, as the Government of China for the time being—and to give them any support they may stand in need of. The latter part of my hon. friend's request has already been done. We cannot at this moment decide what is the Government of China, or what persons may be trusted in regard to the Government of China, but before Sir Claude MacDonald was isolated in Peking he received instructions from Her Majesty's Government to do all in his power to place as full a force as the Admiral could supply him with in support of any Chinese authority in restoring law and order. The announcement made to Sir Claude MacDonald has also been made to the Viceroys of the Yang-tsze and the 432 south. They have been informed that so long as they use their efforts for preservation of law and order Her Majesty's ships and Her Majesty's forces will, to the full extent which the officers in command consider possible, co-operate with them and use their power in that respect. It is impossible for us by any measures which we may now take short of the progress of the expedition which we still hope the Admirals may find it possible to undertake—it is impossible for us to do more than that towards the preservation of the lives of those who are isolated at different spots in China, and more especially at the Peking Legations. We cannot go further. The safety of the Legations and the preservation of order are the only points to which we can at this moment direct our attention. All other questions of policy, all the questions of the future government of China, must necessarily stand aside until we see what may be the result of the next few days or weeks. We may, of course, be on the eve of the complete disintegration of China from within. I am not speaking of any action by the Powers from without. We may have to face the problem of 400 millions of people either in civil war or, at all events, not obeying the central authority at Peking; but all those points must wait. We can at this moment do but one thing, and that is to direct all our energies to meeting the present emergencies to the best of our ability; and I believe, notwithstanding what has fallen from my hon. friend the Member for the Eeclesall Division, the House of Commons will agree with the Government in thinking that to meet those emergencies as they have arisen the first and most cardinal and most important point is that there should be the most complete accord between all the Powers. Our labours for the past few weeks have been unremittingly directed towards that end. Up to this moment there has been complete accord between the Powers as to the steps to be taken. We believe that the united forces belonging to six different nations have co-operated in the most loyal manner in each other's support. We believe that the officers in command of them have with the forces at their disposal done the very best they can to carry through a difficult and an almost impossible task. Beyond that I hope that the House will not expect me to go this afternoon. I only hope that the 433 House will continue to have confidence in the Government. We will spare no effort and will strain every nerve in order to secure the relief of the Legations and also to prevent the trouble which has arisen in the north of China from spreading to the other provinces.
§ SIR EDWARD GREY (Northumberland, Berwick)
China has been so much in our thoughts in the last few days that it is not unnatural that this debate should have arisen; but, although I feel it is not unnatural, it does seem to me that the present time is a peculiarly inconvenient one for speaking on the subject. I sympathise entirely with the right hon. Gentleman opposite in his reluctance to enter into details on any question of policy at the present moment. Her Majesty's Government have always told us that, so far as they are concerned, there will be no heart-burning, no jealousy, no reluctance to see any one of the Powers which is most capable of forwarding the work of rescue at Peking undertake a large share of responsibility. That is the utmost they can say, and it is the one thing needful to be said at the present moment. And I am sure, in the face of the news which has come to-day, all civilised Powers must feel that it would be a discredit to any one of them to adopt any other attitude. A few days ago our anxieties were concentrated upon the sufferings and the uncertainty of the fate of Admiral Seymour's force. To-day our sympathy has been aroused by the news of the blow which has fallen on Germany, and that news has quickened and painfully heightened our anxiety as to what may be the fate of our own Minister and others in Peking from whom we have no news. In face of that, we surely must feel that the one thing urgent is the work of rescue. That cannot be otherwise than impeded if there be any difference amongst the Powers. The one thing for the moment is that they should all be united in forwarding that work; and it is because I feel that the discussion of any further question of policy might possibly, by raising afterthoughts in the minds of others, impair their agreement and concentration upon the work of the moment, that I think this is a time at which to say as little as possible. After the work of rescue is over, which mercifully we hope may still be done in time, there will come the question of reparation; and I will only 434 say that I hope the Powers will be able, when the question of reparation does arise, to so adjust their measures that the burden may fall upon the guilty parties who are really responsible. When we come to the further question which may arise in the future I would only say this much—that,, although, of course, we expect Her Majesty's Government, considering our great interest in China, to be more than a lay figure in the concert, yet we are anxious that they shall do everything in their power to preserve that concert beyond the need of the present moment. And when they do exercise their influence in the concert I trust it will be in the direction of doing all in their power to avert anything like the partition of China, which, if it were the outcome of present disasters, would I am sure be a calamity to every one interested.
§ Motion, by leave, withdrawn.