HC Deb 17 February 1903 vol 118 cc59-105
MR. GRETTON (Derbyshire, S.)

(who was heard with much difficulty) said: In rising to perform the onerous task which has been allotted to me to-day, I will ask the House to extend to me the courtesy and toleration it always gives to one who addresses it for the first time on an occasion so important as the present. I pause merely for a moment in order to refer to the great sorrow which I know is felt on all sides at the loss which the House has sustained by the terribly sudden death of Colonel M'Calmont, who last year so ably moved the Address in reply to the Speech from the Throne.

The House, I believe, will learn with satisfaction and rejoicing that the blockade of the coast of Venezuela has terminated in the accomplishment of the objects with which the Government had undertaken it without the loss of a single life, or the destruction of any personal property during the operation. During the whole of these transactions I think I am right in saying that the most cordial relations have been maintained between His Majesty's Ministers and the Government of the United States. It is a cardinal point in our policy that the friendly relations now happily long existing between the people of this country and the United States should be minatained, and this policy is founded on the broad basis of national detrimentation and mutually sincere sentiment. The principle of the Monroe Doctrine has always received the unwavering support of successive Ministries in this country, and no temporary inconvenience will cause us to waver in our adhesion to the policy established by the American people.

This time last year the war in South Africa was yet unterminated, and the Boer commandos were still maintaining their heroic but useless struggle in the field. I think the House will rejoice with me that at last the efforts of Lord Kitchener and Lord Milner secured the acceptance of terms which were honourable to both parties. Now that the war has ended, however, our task is by no means ended, for out of the discordant elements and dying embers of strife we have to set ourselves to the task of raising up a united and loyal people. Great progress has already been made with the settlement after the war. The Boer leaders have been, almost without exception, loyal to their undertakings, and we are determined that, in the performance of our share of the bargain, we shall not fall behind. I am convinced that this House will support His Majesty's Ministers in carrying out those large financial operations in South Africa which are necessary to the establishment of peaceful industry in that country. Roads, railways, personal security, irrigation, and the impartial administration of justice in the Courts of law, will do much to convince the Boers that under the British flag there are benefits worth having cherishing. It is to be hoped that the progress of the settlement may be so rapid that popular representative institutions will be established at no remote date. The House and the country are rejoiced to see the effect of the tour through South Africa undertaken by the Colonial Secretary.

His brilliant success in South Africa has done much to hasten the settlement we all desire. He has met with the representatives of the various schools of opinion in South Africa, has discussed with them their differences, shown sympathy with their troubles, and at the same time explained in clear and firm terms the intentions of the Government. The progress that has been thus made will be welcomed by the people of this country, and the success of the right hon. Gentleman has justified his departure from all previous precedents. He has shown that we intend to show consideration and to act justly to our late opponents. The history of the past, I fear, shows examples where we have not taken such a course; the history of our dealings in South Africa has been a history of changing policy. We have not in the past adhered to any particular line, but on this occasion we are determined not to abandon our principles.

Turning to another question dealt with in His Majesty's most gracious speech, the House will learn, I think with satisfaction, that the Government are taking action to forward reforms with regard to the Turkish possessions in Europe, and particularly Macedonia. We remember what took place in Macedonia last year, and the calamities under which these people have suffered has reached such a stage as to become a question for the Governments of Europe. Russia and Austria are the two nations most interested in settling this question, but I think the other nations of Europe will support their action on humanitarian grounds if on no other.

The great ceremony which has just passed in India, the recent Durbar, has offered another demonstration of the proof of the loyalty of the feudatory princes and the people of India to the Crown and Empire, and we heartily welcome the stupendous burst of loyalty which greeted His Royal Highness the Duke of Connaught. Turning to another question, legislation is necessary to carry into effect the agreement come to at the Brussels Conference with regard to the abolition of the sugar bounties. The bounty system has ruined the cane sugar industry in the West Indies and also all those industries which were connected with it, and it has checked the development of the cane sugar industry in other parts of our Empire.

With regard to another question near home: the problem of the Local Government of London has always demanded and received special attention. The normal condition of the vast area and the enormous population of the metropolis render special legislation necessary to deal with it, and, therefore, a special measure is necessary to complete the great scheme of national education, and to carry out with regard to London the great principle discussed in the Education Act which was passed last session. A measure dealing with the licensing laws of Scotland is included in the most gracious Speech from the Throne, and we shall all be agreed that some, at any rate, of the principles of the Act which we passed into law last year for England may be adopted in the Scotch Licensing Bill with advantage. The important subjects of the improvement of the law of valuation and assessments; the regulation of the employment of children; and the questions of the sale of adulterated dairy produce will receive the attention of the House, and we shall all welcome gladly the measures it is proposed to introduce with regard to them. I cannot sit down without thanking the House for the kind and patient attention it has given me.


Mr. Speaker, in rising to second the Address, so ably moved by my hon. friend the Member for South Derbyshire, I am profoundly conscious of my own inability to do justice to the task which lies before me without a large measure of that generous toleration that the House always accords to those in my position. I am also greatly encouraged in my attempt by the thought that the honour done me is really a compliment to the constituency that I am so proud to represent, the working class constituency of a great manufacturing city, distinguished alike for its municipal energy and intellectual activity.

The exceedingly welcome news contained in the paragraph relating to the recent complications in Venezuela will be received with the utmost satisfaction by every shade of opinion in the country. Recent events have shown how patient and considerate the action of His Majesty's Government has been through bout the deli cate and difficult negotiations that have taken place between this country and Venezuela. And it is a source of satisfaction to know that in all the steps incidental to the exercise of the measures which were employed, His Majesty's Government were most careful to advise and consult with the Government of the United States, and that in the conduct of the blockade throughout, no action was taken by this country in excess of what the circumstances of the case required, or considerations of humanity demanded. If the United States could see their way to the adoption of some effective course by which these almost periodical difficulties arising between the great Powers and some of the States of South America could be prevented, I think I may say it would meet with cordial concurrence in this country.

The House will hear with pleasure the announcement of an Arbitral tribunal for the settlement of the long standing and troublesome dispute over the exact boundary that divides the United States territory of Alaska from His Majesty's Dominion of Canada, which we all trust may have a successful issue. The whole point turns upon the interpretation of the loosely expressed geographical terms used in the Treaty of 1825 between the British and Russian Governments, to the latter of which Alaska then belonged. For a long time this uncertainty caused no inconvenience, as the precise meaning was never put to the test owing to the distance of the country from the general current of business life, and it is only since the influx of miners to the Yukon gold fields in the beginning of 1898 that the question has become acute. It is not necessary to trace where the chief obstacles to a settlement have occurred, but it will probably be agreed that any English Government would do all within its power to come to an amicable settlement of this long standing controversy, consistent with the material interests of Canada, and the Government deserves our congratulations at having arrived at such an arrangement with the Government of the United States.

With regard to Aden and the difficulties which have arisen in relation to the Hinterland of that important port, and in dealing with the tribes in the neighbourhood, it is much to be regretted that the efforts made by His Majesty's Government to arrive at an agreement with the Turkish Government for a joint delimitation should not, so far, have been successful. I hope, however, that the rumour which obtains that the Porte has at last given orders for the evacuation of the disputed territory is correct, as such action on the part of the Porte would greatly facilitate a settlement, which in the interest of all concerned, and of the peaceful development of that portion of the country, is earnestly to be hoped for. In the meantime it is satisfactory to note negotiations are being urgently pressed forward, so that all danger of collision and friction may be permanently removed.

With reference to the larger expedition to Somaliland, which has been rendered to necessary by the conduct of the Mullah Abdullah, it is gratifying to note that a small body of mounted infantry recruited from the Boers of the Transvaal and Orange Colonies is forming part, and I trust it is significant of a time not far distant when the two races, having learned to respect each other in the field, may forget entirely their differences in the past, and co-operate in advancing the interests of the Empire to which they both belong. The House will note with cordial appreciation the friendly co-operation of the Italian Government in forwarding the great object of the expedition.

The same call for watchfulness and vigilance in the interests of the Empire occurs also in northern Nigeria, where the work in connection with the delimitation of the boundary between the British possessions and those of France has been seriously interfered with by the hostile action of the Emir of Kano, and we are all, I am sure, glad to hear of the complete success of the expedition which that action had rendered necessary, and which has been conducted in the most brilliant manner by its gallant commander, Colonel Morland. The result has been the fall of Kano and the flight of the Emir, at happily small loss to our forces.

To turn to matters nearer home, amongst measures promised is one relating to the tenure of agricultural land in Ireland. It will be the earnest desire of every one in this House that the Government should, if possible, find a solution of this difficult and distressing problem, which has for so long baffled the statesmen of all parties, and which has thrown back the development of the country, and handicapped it in the race for prosperity.

If it becomes a question of compromise, let there be compromise, and if of "give and take," may there be "give and take" on both sides; I trust I may venture to impress this upon those responsible for the conduct of affairs in Ireland; may we all see the end of dissension, and a larger portion of prosperity and happiness to the fair land of Ireland.

In the paragraph dealing with the Port of London, the words are used of "National Concern," and when the Report of the Commission, on the recommendations of which, possibly, the Bill will be framed, is studied, it is at once apparent that the matter, though of vital consequence to the trade of London, yet is so stupendous in character, so far reaching in its effects, concerns so many interests and so many public bodies, and otherwise deals with so many financial questions, that no other words could fitly describe it. It is undeniable that the Port of London is possibly in danger of ceasing to be the chief distributor to the coasts of England, and even partially of the supplies of London itself The reasons for this are not difficult to find. The existing authorities are many and various, and consequently over-lapping. In many cases they are not bodies endowed with sufficient elasticity or powers to grapple with the difficulties which have arisen, and to initiate the necessary reforms and alterations necessitated by The larger tonnage of ships and the altered conditions of maritime commerce, such, for instance as the large outlay involved in deepening the river channel and increasing the dock accommodation, which the existing authorities are not in a position to meet. These reforms are of so urgent a character if the Port of London is to maintain its place amongst other competitors, both English and foreign, that the Commission have no hesitation in strongly recommending the formation of a single public authority for the Port of London. It would scarcely be fitting at this juncture to touch, even lightly, upon the mass of detail, financial and otherwise, that a measure of this magnitude will of necessity involve, but perhaps enough has been said to show the urgent necessity of legislation in connection with this subject, in the interests not only of London but of the country at large.

Amongst the minor, but nevertheless urgent measures mentioned in the latter part of His Majesty's gracious Speech is the reconstitution of the Royal Patriotic Fund Commission. The necessity of such a reconstitution is admitted generally, and, thanks to the attitude taken up by H.R.H. the Duke of Cambridge and his colleagues in not allowing their Charter to stand in the way of reform, His Majesty's Government should have no difficulty in placing the fund upon a popular and effective basis that will allow of the good work now being done for the widows and orphans of our soldiers and sailors being carried out in a manner more in accordance with the views of the public.

In conclusion, I have only to thank hon. Members for the courteous and indulgent manner in which they have listened to one who today has had the honour of addressing them for the first time.

Question put.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That an humble Address be presented to His Majesty, as followeth:—

"Most Gracious Sovereign,

We, Your Majesty's most dutiful and loyal subjects, the Commons of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, in Parliament assembled, beg leave to offer our humble thanks to Your Majesty for the Gracious Speech which Your Majesty has addressed to both Houses of Parliament."—(Mr. Gretton.)


It would hardly be becoming, and certainly not in accord with the prevailing sentiment of this assembly, if in commencing the debate on this Address I failed to give some expression to the satisfaction and joy with which we have observed that His Majesty in addressing his Parliament today did so with all his wonted vigour, and gave evidence that he had perfectly recovered from his serious illness of last year, and from any more temporary indisposition which the familiar uncertainties of our climate may have induced. The whole country will rejoice in this fact, and earnestly trust that the king and Queen may be long guarded from any such season of trial as that through which they passed last year.

Now, Sir, we are so accustomed to the form of procedure at the opening of a session that possibly few Members have considered what a very singular procedure it is. We have all come here full of anxiety not only to be informed as to the legislative intentions of the Government, but to receive a full explanation—and, if necessary, a defence—of their conduct of affairs. We have indeed listened to the gracious Speech from the Throne. But a speech from the Throne is necessarily instinct with the spirit of reserve. If it lifts the curtain, it is only a very little. While it gives a recital of measures to be introduced and of accomplished facts in our relations with the world, it does not explain or solve, it does not even touch, the great problems that underlie them. We have here Ministers who can perfectly well step beyond the guarded limits of a Speech from the Throne and could give the information which the country desires. We have, for instance, the President of the Local Government Board and the Under Secretary for Foreign Affairs, who would throw into some such explanation the most refreshing and unaffected candour. But above all, we have, I am glad to say, as things are now constituted, the presence of the man of all others who knows all about everything—the Prime Minister himself—who is no doubt burning with desire to tell us all that we wish to know. But none of these rise to address us. We have instead two Gentlemen, whom I am glad to congratulate on the part they have played, who have no responsibility and no knowledge beyond that which the Minister has thought it discreet to confide to them. They give us a pale echo of the speech from the Throne, which, as I have said, is already pale enough. They may indeed add to that plain and unadorned web some embroidery of their own invention, and the chief interest we have in their speeches arises from our endeavour to discriminate between the part which represents the instructions of the Minister and the part which may represent the indiscretions of the Member. I am sure I shall have the whole House with me when I say the hon. Members have discharged their part well. They have shown that among the silent, or almost silent, Members who, either from modesty, or discreetness, or that spirit of self-sacrifice which we ought all to cultivate, do not often obtrude themselves upon the attention of the House, there are Members just as capable of taking an effective part in debate as many of our more practised or—shall I say—more frequent speakers. But these two Members have not given, and could not give, the information we require, and now, forsooth, it is expected that the Leader of the Opposition should get up and, in the twilight in which we are groping, discuss, criticise, and even answer the Government case which we have not yet heard. This order of procedure has often seemed to me to give a certain formality and almost unreality to the early part of this debate, which is only dispelled when the Leader of the Government in this House rises, makes a clean breast of it, and enlightens our darkness.

I have indulged in these prolegomena in order to account for the fact that my observations will be cast mostly in an interrogative mould. I have a great many questions to ask. I thing there never was an occasion when we have had greater subjects occupying the public mind with regard to which Parliament, and especially the House of Commons, was so partially furnished with the facts. There are several quarters of the globe in which our interests are closely and critically involved. I take that part of the subject first, because the questions arising in connection therewith are instant and urgent, whereas projects of legislation are always subject to conditions afterwards. Even after a Bill has been announced in the Speech from the Throne there may be changes in the mind of the Government or the disposition of Parliament, and there may be accidents of Parliamentary time, and other disturbing influences.

The questions I will speak of first are urgent, and we ought to be informed upon them. There is the question of Venezuela, there is Somaliland, there is the small but important question of Kano, there is the condition of affairs in Macedonia, and, above all, there is the great vital question of the settlement in South Africa. I propose, with the leave of the House, to say a word or two upon each of these questions in turn. As to Venezuela, the cloud has happily passed over, but it was a very black could, and most of us think it was a cloud that might have been avoided. It was a cloud fraught with the most serious consequences. If we have now emerged from that difficulty, it is none the less our right and our duty to inquire why it was, and how it was, that we were led into it. Minister after Minister has made some sort of apology for it, but I find it difficult to reconcile the one apology with the other. Today there has been furnished to us a great Blue-book, full of despatches and Papers which, I venture to say—except the most recent of them—ought to have been in hands of hon. Members weeks ago. It is not enough on the very morning of the day when a question is to be discussed to fling on the Table of the House, or the tables of hon. Members, documents such as these. I confess at once that I have only given this Blue-book the most cursory examination. I have not had time to do more. It was perfectly well known that the House would meet on the 17th of February, and it ought to have been so arranged that the Papers up to date, or at least up to about ten days ago, should be placed in our hands in order that we might be able to come to a fair decision upon the questions involved.

There are two main points upon which, barring this new Blue-book, no real definite information has been given — the nature, quality and extent of our own claims, and the nature, quality and extent of the claims of Germany. I am not going to repeat what I said in the short debate we had in the month of December last. I then made the same demand that we should be informed, firstly, of our own claims in regard to Venezuela, and secondly, and I would say almost with more necessity, of the claims for another country—claims which we have undertaken to prosecute until the whole of them are settled. Now, Sir, we have heard of the fishermen of Trinidad. They have a certain kind of claim, and we now gather—this seems to appear from the protocol—that their claims are more than covered by the sum of £5,500. The fishermen of Trinidad certainly, if they were ill-treated, deserved to be compensated. All of us will agree that when a British subject in the ordinary and legitimate exercise of his calling suffers unjustifiable damage on the part of the officers of a foreign Government reparation is due. But the noble Lord who represents the Foreign Office went down to Sheffield, and he assumed at once the grand air over these fishermen—what I may call the Civis Romanus sum air, the Don Pacifico air. He made this rather remarkable statement. He said— It was said that Trinidad was a very small and out-of-the-way colony. I do not know that anyone has ever said that. The noble Lord proceeded to say— It might be said that the assaults upon British property and British liberty were small interests. I am certain that nobody said that. And he went on— That might be so, but we are just as much bound to the poor fishermen of Trinidad and to maintain the interests of commerce in those seas as to protect South African millionaires. South African millionaires! Who has been protecting South African millionaires? We have been almost at war over these Trinidad fishermen, but when were we at war over South African millionaires? I am quite aware that there were a number of people who, being of a suspicious temperament, imagined that there had been an overdue regard for South African millionaires in some of the proceedings and negotiations connected with the South African war, but those persons were immediately put down, and even shouted down, as "lewd fellows of the baser sort" and altogether unworthy of account. But here is the noble Lord, the spokesman of the Government, who goes down to Sheffield to a solemn dinner of the Sheffield Chamber of Commerce, and not only admits that we have been going to war for the protection of South African millionaires, but he assumes it to be a matter of common knowledge, and institutes a contrast between their case and that of the fishermen of Trinidad.

Well, Sir, one thing is clear. I believe there are certain habits which are regarded as being in the blood, and one of these habits is evidently that of blazing indiscretions. But really in a case like this, where the steps taken involve, or many involve, war and involve also—remotely and improbably it may be, but still do involve—the possibility of setting not two nations only but two hemispheres in arms, I think we ought to have been told what the actual value of the claims we were going to fight about amounted to. We gather from the protocol that £5,500 covers not only the claim of the fishermen but any other claims on account of damage and outrage. There is great difficulty in finding out the facts upon this matter, because of the settlement that has been come to. A friend of mine who has looked into the Papers tells me that this is made even more doubtful by the Papers which were delivered this morning, but in the Papers December 2 there is a despatch of Lord Lansdowne where he says— His Majesty's Government will require the immediate payment of a sum equal to that which may in the first instance be paid to the German Government. The German Government have put in a claim on the first line ground of some £68,000, but they are to be paid £5,500 in cash, in order, I presume, to meet this assumed equality. The rest is to be paid practically immediately in bills spread over some months. The whole effect is now fully disclosed. Behind these poor fishermen, who were so convenient for the noble Lord and the Government, there lies the great body of financial claims culminating in the claims of the bondholders. I venture to say that nothing could be more mischievous than that we should even seem to accept the doctrine, if it deserves to be called a doctrine, that when our countrymen invest in risky enterprises in foreign countries and default follows, it is a public duty to rescue them. Every man who invests money in a country like Venezuela knows what he is doing. It would, I suppose, not be quite accurate to say that great risks always mean high dividends, but it is more nearly accurate if you put it the other way about—that high dividends generally involve great risks; but if the whole power of the British Empire is to be put behind the investor, his risk vanishes, and the dividends ought to be reduced accordingly. So much as to our own claims.

But here I notice an extraordinary printer's error in the King's Speech. In the Clause affecting Venezuela there is no mention whatever of Germany in this matter. That must have dropped out in printing the Speech, because we know that we are not alone in this venture, for we have been closely and inseparably associated with Germany. Let me say at once, that if there are those in this country—and I fear there are—who are of opinion that we ought not in any circumstances to be associated with Germany, I regard that view with no sympathy whatever. No one can be blind to the fact that in recent years in Germany, with regard to this country, there has been a strong and ever keener commercial rivalry; there has been, to a limited extent, a certain feeling of antagonism, amounting in some quarters to antipathy; and there have been in some sections of the Press common abuse and slanderous vilifications of our county. But are we to allow our temper to get the better of us? Are we to retort in like fashion—and I am sorry to see in some journals of which one might except better things a tendency in that direction—are we to retaliate with similar weapons? No, Sir. What is the proper course for a great self-respecting country in these circumstances? The only effective course, the only course consistent with dignity, is to meet the rivalry with more active, more intelligent, and more instructed competition; to beat down the antipathy by showing that while you always preserve your own interests you are anxious to show the utmost reasonableness and friendliness towards yourneighbours; and as to the abuse, treat it with the contempt it deserves. I believe myself that on the part of the great mass of the people of this country there is nothing but friendly feeling towards the great Power Germany, and this friendly feeling is withstanding the mischievous efforts of some persons who are trying to undermine it. I read with great pleasure some words used by the Prime Minister on Friday last, and I not only agree with what he said, but I thank him for having said it. These are his words— Let us remember that the old ideal of Christendom should still be our ideal; and all those nations who are in the forefront of civilisation should learn to work together by practical means for the common good, and that nothing can militate against the realisation of that great ideal so conclusively as the encouragement of these international bitternesses, these international jealousies, these international dislikes. But where I part company with the right hon. Gentleman and with the Government is in the nature of the arrangements they made, the adamantine bonds with which they bound us, in ingorance of the nature of the German claims. At least I assert that it was in ignorance, although we hear contradictory information gathered from these different Papers and the statements in the House. But certainly the country has been and is in ignorance of the nature of the German claims, and yet we promised never to desist except by common agreement. I say there is some inconsistency as to the nature of the claims. On page 11 of the Blue-book, Lord Lansdowne, writing to Mr.Buchanan, says "that the German Government recognised" that there was a sharp distinction between the character of the British and the German first-line claims. Nevertheless, they ought to stand or fall together. But Count Bülow, in the Reichstag, spoke of "the perfectly identical injury to the interests of both countries," as being perfectly identical to the interests of both countries. The right hon. Gentleman, in the debate we had in December, said that he could not give any precise information on subject. I am therefore left unaware of what is the nature of the information the Government has on the subject, but at all events, whether they knew or whether they did not know, it was a rash and unwise undertaking that they entered into when they said they would not desist until the last of these claims was settled. I would also venture to question the policy of any close co-operation with Germany in such a matter as this, and for two reasons—firstly, because it is known that the German hand while it is strong is sometimes rather rough, and these are very delicate situations with which we are dealing; and, secondly, because, as we know, there is an impression, I believe rightly founded, that Germany is not so favourable as this country is to that doctrine of immunity from interference which is so passionately held among the people of the United States. Our action was not so likely to be suspected in any way if we had not been so closely interwoven with the Germans. The right hon. Gentleman said, and again I am quite in agreement with him:— We welcome any increase of the influence of the United States of America in the Great Western Hemisphere.… We have not the slightest intention of interfering with the mode of government of any portion of that continent. The Monroe Doctrine, therefore, is really not in question at all. I have left out one sentence because, although I entirely agree with the sentiment it expresses, from the peculiarity of its phrasing I think it rather requires that it should be quoted separately. The right hon. Gentleman said:— We desire no colonisation, we desire no alteration in the balance of power, we desire no acquisition of territory. There is a familiar ring about this phraseology. To everyone who has been watching the history of the last year or two I think that these words are, not by the nature of the sentiment expressed, but by the phraseology, calculated to strike terror into his breast, or at any rate to create suspicion. But I reciprocate, if he will allow me to say so, I homologate, the sentiments he expressed, but by the phraseology, calculated to strike terror into his breast, or at any rate to create suspicion. But I reciprocate to create suspicion. But I reciprocate, if he will allow me to say so, I homologate, the sentiments he expressed towards the United States, and I am sure that as an instance of friendliness we are glad that the treaty on the Alaska boundary has been ratified, from which we hope good results may follow.

Now as to the course of the negotiations, with which I cannot deal fully because I have not had time to examine the Papers, there is a further question I should like to address to the Prime Minister. When we discussed this question in December, we heard nothing of any other claims. Now the negotiations were largely protracted at Washington, on account, apparently, of the discovery—it was at least a discovery to the people of this country—that there were other claims, nay, that one country, namely, France, had actually a treaty engagement with Venezuela for the early satisfaction of its claim. I wish to know from the right hon. Gentleman whether, when they entered into this business, his Majesty's Government was aware of the existence of these claims, and especially of this arrangement with France? Was he aware of it at the time that we discussed the matter in the House of Commons, because I think we ought to have been informed of so material an element in the case? Apart from all these points, I have something to say that goes deeper. If ever there was a case, it seems to me, for settlement by arbitration, this was one. There ought to be some proportion between the sum involved and the means employed. Why should not so easy a method for so small a case—the easy method of arbitration—have been used? But besides that it was we principally who set up this standing tribunal at The Hague. It was the proposal of Lord Pauncefote; it is one of the many things that the world owes to that eminent man. He was them an who brought forward the proposal for a standing tribunal. The proposal was supported by this country and accepted by the other country and accepted by the other Powers. Why, therefore, should we not have used it, and there by gained a double advantage? In the first place—I must use the word, although I have tried to avoid the use of it — we should have avoided the present "mess;" and, in the second place, we should have established a precedent and set an example, which would have been a great forward step towards the peaceable settlement of international questions. I will not say any more on the question of Venezuela.

I now come to Somaliland. The Prime Minister told us last week that the public had not taken the smallest interest in it. Well, the public ought to take an interest, and the public would take an interest, in it if they had any knowledge of it. I am bound to say that it is rather a cruel argument for the Prime Minister to use, practically to say, "Why bother about the cost of Venezuela when Somaliland will cost so much more?" It is not only the cost of this Somaliland imbroglio, but also, he says, it will have more serious consequences far beyond the time when these military operations are brought to a conclusion. Will the right hon. Gentleman give us some idea of what the cost of the Somaliland business will be, and what these ulterior consequences will be, because there is not much in the Papers regarding Somaliland calculated to inspire confidence? The Papers, in fact, show what a hap-hazard business it is. The whole proceedings, according to the papers, are seriously based upon and fortified by the analogy of the Soudan. There was a Mahdi in the Soudan; there is a Mullah in Somaliland. We for many years in Egypt tried a defensive policy, which led to increase of the Mahdi's power, and then came a series of campaigns by which he was finally crushed. The Mullah, they say, is following in the Mahdi's they footsteps—a Curious phrase to use—and therefore, they say, "Advance against him." But surely there is a vital difference between the two cases. The Mahdi was in possession of the whole of the Soudan, which was claimed by Egypt as belonging to her; she had no occupation of it, but claimed to have original possession of it. And the greatest argument in favour of pursuing the Mahdi was that it was necessary,—whether a good argument or a bad one, it was at all events a strong argument that it was necessary for the prosperity of Egypt to have control of the upper waters of the Nile. But what is there behind this Mullah? According to the right hon. Gentleman himself, a waterless waste peopled by nomad fanatics. That is his description of the country. How are we going to pursue the campaign against the Mullah? May I ask the attention of the House to this?

The Papers state that "it seems clear that, upon whatever scale operations against the Mullah are undertaken, we cannot predict with certainty that they will result in his capture. He may even deny us an opportunity of trying conclusions with him, and of inflicting on him exemplary defeat. In these circumstances our object must be, if possible, to take some step which will, at any rate, strike a blow at the Mullah's prestige, restore our own authority, and perhaps compel him to come to terms with us.

"It is admitted that these objects are most likely to be obtained by the occupation of the Mudug oasis, and that this can be most conveniently effected by a column using Obbia at its base.

"How soon it may be wise to leave Mudug must depend upon our success in getting touch with the enemy during our advance on that place, or upon our arrival there. In that case, we may be able at once to inflict the necessary punishment upon him. It would then be possible, if such a course recommend itself to the Italian Government, to restore Yusuf Ali to the control of the district under their authority before we move on to the north. For this purpose it would be necessary to provide him with a fort, suitable armament, and sufficient supplies, so that he would be strong enough to hold his own, and to deny Mudug to the Mullah should the latter reappear on the scene. In this event, however, it would seem to be indispensable that, at any rate until it could be seen whether an arrangement could be come to with the Mullah, Yusuf Ali should receive a certain amount of support."

The House will observe how much depends upon Yusuf Ali, the chief man of Obbia. But already, before the expedition has started, Yusuf Ali has been found to be an enemy, he has been deposed and placed on board a man of war, and is now at Aden under observation, in a sort of open captivity. But the plan of campaign goes on:—

"I have indicated the later conduct which we contemplate for the expedition in the event of our successfully punishing the Mullah in the course of our advance upon Mudug, It is, however, very possible that he will have removed his cattle from the oasis and will retire in front of us, so that we cannot bring him to an engagement, or inflict serious damage upon his herds. In that case it may be necessary for the expedition to remain a longer time at Mudug, whilst small forces of mounted troops sweep the surrounding country. Even so, he may escape punishment at our hands, and we shall have to be content with an unopposed march through the heart of his country to our own Protectorate. Though a defeat of the enemy would be much more useful, we may hope that even this operation will have a salutary effect in destroying his prestige in the eyes of his followers and of raising our own."

I have read these extracts that the House may see what a haphazard business it all is. This amateurish way of carrying on war may lead us into serious difficulties, and I do certainly hope that the right hon. Gentleman will be able to give a little more information so as to reassure the public mind on the subject.

And now, for a moment or two only, I have a word to say about Kano. I shall not go into the whole of the case. Kano is a most important commercial centre in the kingdom of Socoto between the Sahara and the Niger, and we have had an expedition there which has, fortunately, been sucessful. But the Emir has run away and is being pursued. One of the effects of many of these proceedings may be to drive both trade and influence over the frontier of our sphere of influence into the French domain. But what I particularly wish to call the attention of the right hon. Gentleman to is this: that on the 9th December Questions were asked on the subject of Kano. My right hon. friend the Member for the Forest of Dean, said to the Postmaster General, who was in charge of the matter: "I understand there is no present intention of attacking Kano." This was following up some more formal Question on the Paper by a personal appeal to the right hon. Gentleman to say exactly how the matter stood. The answer given was "That is certainly my understanding. The military preparations that are being made are only preparations for the protection of the Commissioners"—that is of the Boundary Commissioners "and their supplies." That requires a little more definite and immediate explanation, because it is perfectly evident that the right hon. Gentleman had been completely misinformed, for it is not possible to reconcile his statement of that day with the facts as they have occurred.

I have only a word or two to say on the subject of Macedonia. Both the hon. Gentlemen who spoke, I think, referred to that question in very proper terms. But the condition of Macedonia has been for a very long time a European scandal; it is a scandal that it should be in such a state after all the efforts made to introduce good government, order, and reasonable conditions of life among the unfortunate people of that province. At the same time it must be remembered that this Macedonian question contains the seeds of disturbances which will go far beyond the Balkan Peninsula. We are glad to know that the Government are addressing remonstrances, and I trust that they will make their remonstrances stiff and effective, and that they will not be merely content with words of course in dealing with it. In a curious paragraph in the King's Speech, there is almost an implication that the Government are not aware of what the scheme of reforms of Austria and Russia is. It is a very fortunate thing that Austria and Russia, who are so deeply concerned, have agreed on a scheme of reforms; but the words of the paragraph rather imply that we are not aware of the nature of that scheme. I trust that the right hon. Gentleman will see that the whole force and influence of this country are thrown †See (4) Debates,cxvi., 449. in the direction of making the changes as thorough-going as possible.

Lastly, Sir, before coming to domestic questions, I turn to the familiar question of South Africa. Sir, the war is over and past. We are making a new departure in South Africa and we are we are laying, we are building, the foundations of a new life and a new history in that part of the world. I desire to say emphatically, and from the bottom of my heart, that I believe we have all but one wish and one hope, which is, that these foundations should be solid and sure, and that that departure should advance from success to success. We may have had differences of opinions, but the grounds of differences are past and over. Let us work for our common purpose honestly and openly. While I say this I make the demand on the other side, which we are surely entitled to make, that we should all be free to speak out our minds frankly, and to discuss without taunt or reproach the policy which may be pursued. Sir, the Colonial Secretary has been journeying through these colonies in the most laudable endeavour to see for himself, with his own eyes, what is going on. He has shown all the energy and ability that we expected in him when addressing many assemblies of our fellow-citizens, old and new. We all of us most cordially concur in the conciliatory sentiments he has expressed, and in the desire he has evinced for the fusion of the two white races in a common citizenship. But he knew before he left this country, as well as any man, how immense were the difficulties in the way; and I believe that as the result of the conferences and meetings which have taken place in South Africa, the people of this country have begun to see these, too, more clearly than they did at first. We are debarred from discussing the questions involved in what he has been saying and doing on behalf of this country, until we have an authoritative report of what was really said and done, because we have only the fragmentary and sometimes contradictory reports in newspapers, which are almost always of a partisan character on one side or the other. When we receive the authoritative reports of all that has occurred, then we shall be in a position to form a judgment upon it. But there are two points on which I would make inquiry of the right hon. Gentleman. First, of course it was a novel situation, and I want to know what position exactly the Colonial Secretary occupies, with what authority does he act and speak in South Africa? Is what he says subject to the review of his colleagues, or is he entitled, as it were, to act on his own account? I think that is a most important matter, and a situation so novel surely requires defining. Arrangements are being made which imply the approval of the Government, and which imply the approval of Parliament—though we do not hear much of Parliament in them. But when these arrangements and promises are made and exchanged, a more important point still is this: What is the authority on the other side if a bargain is being made? I do not mean to be offensive when speaking of a bargain; we are not dealing with Bishops. Laymen and, above all, public politicians live in an atmosphere of bargain, so that I do not think the word implies anything unhandsome at all. But when a bargain is made which may be a permanent and binding arrangement, who is there that has the authority to make it? Who speaks for the community in making a bargain of that sort? I will give an instance. We read of the possibility of a loan of £30,000,000, chargeable not on the mines, not on the mine owners, not on the capital of the old mines, but on the revenues of the Transvaal. Who is there just now that can pledge the revenues of the Transvaal? That is to me a mystery, and I think here we have a strong argument in favour of the earliest possible application of self-government to these colonies, as against the prolongation of the irregular and irresponsible Government which immediately on peace being declared was for some time necessary. That Government has one weakness which, of itself, invalidates its authority. It is a Government which enforces an arbitrary coercion law. Until we get rid of that state of things and ascertain what the wishes of the people, of our fellow-citizens in the colonies are, I do not understand quite how these bargains can be made. But one thing is abundantly clear. The British people cannot rid themselves of responsibility and obligations to the coloured races of the Empire; and we can be no party to any compulsory labour, be the compulsion direct or indirect. It is satisfactory to read the most explicit assurance on this point by the Government of the Transvaal itself. There is a despatch by Lord Milner, dated 6th December, 1901, in which he says— I desire once for all formally to disclaim on behalf of this Administration any desire or intention to compel natives to enter into the service of white employers by any means whatever. Nothing could be more categorical than that. Then the Secretary of State for the Colonies, on 21st January, 1902, telegraphed— I concur generally in your statement of the principles which are to guide the native policy of your administration. Therefore, I cannot understand the references which have been made to a them to labour, because such a policy would be directly contradictory of these declarations; and I trust that on this, so vital a matter, the Government will take the opportunity of reassuring us.

Now, Sir, I wish to apologise to the House for occupying it so long, but before approaching home questions, I would just say one word of satisfaction at the success of the great pageant in India, the Durbar at Delhi. I hope it may have all the effects that are expected from it, but I do not think that even the Viceroy himself can think that the success of this State pageant can have a beneficial effect on the weather and the crops. Reading the Speech, one would think that the two things were post hoc, ergo propter hoc, but I do not think that even the Viceroy himself would hold that opinion. Now, I want a bridge by which to return from those foreign parts of the earth to the consideration of our domestic questions, and I find it in the Sugar Convention, which is partly foreign and partly domestic. I am not going to repeat the arguments advanced in the short debate on this subject last autumn. No doubt we shall hear more of the matter when the Bill in reference to it is brought before the House; but, really, all our arguments appear to be untouched, either in fact or in theory. The outstanding facts are these — that this policy was adopted mainly to benefit our West Indian Islands, but it is very doubtful whether it will not do more harm than good; in the first place, because it will prejudice their interests in their nearest and best market, the United States; and, in the second place, because, according to the arrangements made, as I understand, in future if any subsidy or charitable relief is given to the sugar industry in the West Indies that will be part of a bounty, and we shall be obliged either to raise a tax against them, or to shut our ports against them. As to the effect at home, no one can tell what it will be on the price of sugar. We have already seen that the Cartel is in full operation in Austria-Hungary, and all the other subsidiary means of keeping down the price of exported sugar, and keeping up the price of sugar consumed in those countries. Of course, if the price of sugar is raised, you punish the consumer and you check a most flourishing industry. That is a direct consequence. But the third effect is the most remarkable—you place the financial and fiscal arrangements of this country in the hands of a foreign Commission in which we have only one vote as against ten. Now, there are two particular points on which I hope the right hon. Gentleman will be able to give us information that we did not fully obtain in December. First, what is the effect of this Convention upon the treaties which have a Favoured-Nation Clause? There were a great many questions asked and answered on this subject before we separated, and we were left in great doubt as to the attitude of Russia upon this subject, which is the principal indication of what will be the general view.

Here we have the reply of the Russian Government— The Russian Note repudiates the idea that another State may in its own interest press for a change in Russian internal legislation, and that that State connected with Russia by a commercial treaty has the right, in the event of Russia not agreeing to its proposals, to apply penal measures against Russian products imported into that country without violating commercial treaties. That is an explicit expression of the views of the Russian Government. I should like to know how that matter now stands. I have quoted from the Daily Telegraph or some other newspaper; but it is most essential that we should have this despatch and all the Papers bearing on this subject. Then there is the question—How does the Convention affect our self-governing colonies, some of which give bounties? Are we to be under an obligation to shut our ports against their products? And a very delicate question that is. We know the opinions of Germany, Holland Belgium, and Austria. They are all to the effect that we cannot exempt from the operation of the stipulation our self-governing colonies. I have here a report of a remarkable speech by Baron von Richthofen, the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs in the Reichstag at Berlin a few days ago.

It would be too great a tax on the patience of the House to quote it in full; and for that I am sorry, as it is particularly picturesque and effective. He laughs to scorn the idea that we can do as we like with our self-governing colonies, and he describes all the manŒuvres by which they drove us into the position in which we are. He discusses the question of forcing the British delegates to recognise their obligations before concluding the treaty, and says— England, who holds nearly all the trumps in this game, would not have consented, and the Convention would not have been signed. Or the non-English delegates had the alternative of avoiding a definite settlement of this question since no practical necessity existed for any such settlement. This was the course adopted by all the delegates of the European Powers, including the Germans. These Powers considered this the right course all the more, because by leaving the question open they were enabled to bring it before the Commission which was about to be held in Brussels. That is the Commission upon which all our rivals in trade have ten votes against our one. I am reading this for the sake of a phrase which will amuse and interest the House. Referring to the debates in various Parliaments on the subject of the Convention Baron von Richthofen said— The consequence of these debates undoubtedly was that, if I may use a somewhat vulgar expression, the lion's tail was trodden upon. When I read that I thought it was rather singular, because when we speak of a lion we generally mean the British lion, and I thought, here is the Minister of a friendly Power congratulating himself that he had managed to tread on the tail of the British lion. But the expression really means that by treading on the tail of a sleeping lion you engage his attention. He says— The lion stretched himself in consequence, and the question was thus discussed in greater detail in the British Parliament, and the British Government was thereby compelled to take up a more decided attitude than would otherwise have been the case. Nobody in England had displayed any special interest in the question; it was only brought to the front after it had been discussed in various Parliaments, even in that of Holland," and so on. Practically it amounts to this — they winked at it, and allowed it to stand as it is, because if they had pressed their view too strongly they would have frightened us out of the Convention. Baron von Richthofen says:—"It is all right; we will go before the Convention at Brussels, and you all know what that means." But here again when we want the naked truth on anything we have always to go to the Under Secretary for Foreign Affairs. At the same sober and solemn meeting at Sheffield to which I have referred he talks of the Sugar Convention, and says the object of it was to help "those wretched West Indian colonies"—not a very nice phrase—and the noble Lord went on to say that he "claimed that the Sugar Convention was conceived in an Imperialistic spirit." Now we know what an Imperialistic spirit really is. It means that the Chancellor of the Exchequer, not to speak of the House of Commons, is to be the humble servant of a tribunal in Brussels in which there are ten men against our one representative; and it means that if Queensland or Canada sends sugar here we must either charge them a heavy duty or shut our ports against them. That is the Imperialistic spirit. One is inclined to exclaim:—"Oh, Empire, what strange things are done thy name!" Is this the end and outcome of the Zollvereinic dream? These, at all events, are important matters on which I think the House and the country are entitled to have a definite statement from the right hon. Gentleman.

Now I will come nearer home. There is to be a London Education Bill, of course. The controversies of last year are still fresh; they have not been crusted over by the desiccating effects of time. These controversies will be renewed from time to time as occasion offers or requires.

They are not idle disputes on random points, they are episodes in the great perennial battle in favour of democratic government and intellectual and spiritual freedom. They will be renewed as far as the character of this Bill will admit and with such variations as the circumstances of London may contribute. One thing, no doubt, is pretty sure. It will be proposed that the School Board should go. You have massacred the others, and you can barely leave this one standing—one of the finest, the most easily working, most effective and most successful machines ever created by the popular voice—it is necessary to destroy in order to gratify the hostility of reactionary rivals, and the whims of one or two theorists. What are you to put in its place? There is the rub. What is to come in its place? We wait to see; but I am not without hope that there may be some advantageous quarrelling among those who would divide the spoil, and that in the end the County Council, which is the only competent body to take up those duties, will be charged with them in addition to those which it so efficiently undertakes at present. The other great measure to be brought forward, of whose nature there is no indication, is the measure dealing with Irish land, a measure designed to bring a long and angry struggle to an end, and to give peace and contentment to the cultivators of the soil in Ireland. The better acquainted any one of us is with the intricacies and difficulties of this question the more chary will he be of forming any judgment of the scheme in anticipation. We look with the most intense interest for the production of the Government proposal, and in one sentiment we all cordially agree—in congratulating the people of Ireland, and in lesser and more remote degree the people of England and Scotland as well, on the bringing together in friendly deliberation and co-operation of classes which have long been in disastrous antagonism.

Now I must refer to one or two omissions at which I am astonished—one or two Bills conspicuous by their absence, to use the classic phrase, in the King's Speech. The first of these omissions is that no attempt apparently is being made to deal with the great and urgent question of local taxation. There is a Bill mentioned in the omnibus clause in the Speech at the end, to improve the law of valuation and assess- ment, but as that is grouped with the Patriotic Fund Commission, and other matters of that kind, I do not fancy it is intended to cover the great subject of local taxation. But the Government is pledged, and has been year after year, to deal with this problem. We were told seven years ago that one part of it was so urgent that it must be dealt with, and that the rest might be put off; then we were told that the Royal Commission must report. The Commission has reported. Why, then, after promise after promise, do we not find this included in the Speech from the Throne?

There is a still more serious omission—a question of the very first importance—and that is some attempt to deal with the grave state of the law regarding trade combinations. We all know what has happened. There have been varying decisions causing uneasiness in the labour world, both among employers and those employed. It arises from the fault of Parliament and it is for Parliament to remedy that fault and to relieve the Judges from the difficulties in which they have found themselves owing to the fault of Parliament. The workmen of this country, whatever may be said of them, are, I believe, the best workmen in the world, and it has been their habit, in truly British fashion, to endeavour to win their way not by violent means but by combination within reasonable limits. It has been the accepted policy of a generation to facilitate and to regulate such combinations for men and employers greatly to the common advantage of both. If they have the right they have the responsibility, masters and men alike, but let the law define what the rights and responsibilities are. I had hoped that the Law Officers of the Crown would have urged on the Government the necessity, and I think the crying necessity, of dealing with this matter, but as this is not to be, I regard it of vital importance that those interested should have an opportunity of putting forward their case in the shape of a Bill in order to have a public discussion in the House—a Bill whereby they think such defects may be remedied. I trust if there is such a Bill introduced the Government will give all proper facilities for its discussion.

As I am on this question of workmen and employers let me say one word as to the degree of want of employment in the country. It may be partial, but in many districts it is intense. But I am sure there is universal sympathy in this House with those who are suffering, and a desire that their sympathy should not take the form of bringing more men under the influence, and as we think the degrading influence, of charity. The government know better than we do what the exact position of affairs is, but I remember in 1892, when my right hon. friend the Member for Wolverhampton was at the Local Government Board, he issued a circular which attracted general approval, pointing out to the local authorities what they could do in the matter. Have the Government really considered whether the time has not arrived for, at all events in some districts, following the example of 1892? It is infinitely more important to secure the health and comfort and employment of men at home than to occupy all our energies however well directed, in remote quarters of the globe.

Now, Sir, the last paragraph to which I shall refer is the ominous paragraph on Finance. I can quite understand that it is true, as the paragraph says, that a large expenditure is inevitable; the expenditure has advanced and bounded up beyond the dreams of extravagance. No one knows that better than the Chancellor of the exchequer himself. I believe myself it is more than the people of this country can reasonable and without damage bear, and we must find some means of relieving it. I believe at present there are a great many sources of increasing expenditure. I have jotted down some that occur to me. There are payments for compensation in South Africa on a much heavier scale than was anticipated. I do not know about the garrison in South Africa, whether that is reduced so much as can be ultimately expected; and there will probably be more for repatriation. Again, there is the cost of all those little enterprises and luxuries which we have afforded ourselves in Venezuela, Somaliland, and Kano, all in their several degrees. I do not know whether there will be additional expenditure on the Army Corps system or the new recruiting plan of last year, of which, of course, India will bear her share, although the financial relations between this country and India have been much affected by what has happened in the last few years, and I doubt if we can go on charging India so much as in the past. There are the new colonies in South Africa, whose civil government, outside the loan, will probably cause a large expenditure. Then there are the new grants for education, and let me add the Scottish and Irish equivalents, and when we have a Scottish Prime Minister and a Scottish Chancellor of the Exchequer as well, the people of Scotland are no doubt regarding that money as if it were already in their pocket, and they cannot give it to us without giving it to the Irish people, so that it is a benefit all round. I am not speaking of the financial situation generally, but of the public expenditure, and the point in that expenditure on which, undoubtedly, public opinion has been most fastened, is the expenditure on the Army. No one can say the position at present is satisfactory; there is a good deal of the melting pot, and a good deal of indeterminate energy has been displayed without any great knowledge of what result will ensue. I put aside the deplorable incident in an individual regiment, which has attracted so much attention, and which, I have no doubt, will come before the House, but which is a thing entirely by itself and will be treated by itself. The general question is much more serious, and I hope it will not be prejudiced by loss of time in consequence of discussing the smaller question. A year or two ago the Secretary of State brought in, in a hurry, a great scheme of panic reform—the Army Corps system. I really do not know whether the Government consider that to be the backbone of their organisation, but I confess that I have gone about through the country in ordinary life and I have not met a single man who believes in it or who has a word to say in its favour. I remember at the time I moved from this Bench a Resolution condemning it as unsuitable, and though we had good support from the Unionist side, it was given rather by voice than by vote. Of course we are always thankful for what we can get; if the debate is good, though the lobby is poorly filled. The truth is that these things are not to be done, and ought not to be done, in a hurry. The excuse then was that we should apply the lessons of the war; but at the time the final lessons of the war were not ascertained. We were in the middle of the war. There is a perspective in these things; matters which then were very prominent would at the end of the war fall back to their proper place; and the officers whose opinion it would have been best to take as to the real lessons of the war were most of them in South Africa. I believe the Commander-in-Chief was intercepted by this scheme at Madeira on his way home; he gave his approval of it, and like many other things it has been ever since held up under the ægis of that distinguished soldier. But this is a thing which requires much more deliberation and serious consideration, and I invite Members to brush away all theories and fancies. What we have to do is first to ascertain what our requirements really are. I am not going to examine the Army question tonight, because, I believe, there is to be an Amendment moved on the subject; but I say, let us remember that it is no question of merely adding to or taking from this arm or that force; what we ought first to do is to ascertain the military requirements of the Empire. That is a business for politicians, acting with the help of professional advice. You must do that first. Then, when you know your requirements, call in your experts and be still more largely guided by their advice as to what the particular constitution or organisation or framework of your Army is to be. But the first thing—and we have not got it yet—is to know what in future are the requirements of the British Army, not in the vague way in which we speak after dinner of the protection of these islands, the garrisoning of our great dependencies, the protection of our coaling stations, and the provision of a well-equipped force to be despatched wherever it is required— you must be more definite, and until you are, the rest is all leather and prunella. A distinguished soldier whom I met in the street the other day put it to me in this way. I told him that I was going to say this to the House of Commons, and he said that he had been wanting to see this counsel acted on for many years. He said— Take a business man. If he is setting up in business he calculates what the extent of his business will be, and what it will require. Then he takes his premises and engages his staff. We want to know what our business will require before we set to work to reorganise the Army. The necessities of the country and the public interest given this question the foremost place among public topics. We are all at one in our object. It is to make our country and its interests secure. It is to lay no unnecessary burden on our people; and lastly, it is to make certain that if they sustain the burden which is imposed they will obtain what they require.


The right hon. Gentleman began his speech by uttering some criticisms upon the mode of procedure by which we begin the work of the session; and I confess that I feel in considerable difficulty at the present moment. I cannot help feeling that the task which our customs impose on the Leader of the House on this occasion is rather a weighty one. He has put me through a catechism which, however else it may be described, cannot be called a Shorter Catechism; and I feel it not only difficult, but absolutely impossible, in the time at my disposal before half-past seven [OPPOSITION cries of "Go on."] to deal adequately with all the topics which the right hon. Gentleman has raised. I am quite aware that there are a large number of Gentlemen who would hasten down at nine o'clock to hear my peroration if I were to go on speaking over the dinner-hour, but I shall endeavour not to trouble them. The right hon. Gentleman's criticisms of our methods of procedure were based on the fact that the debate was begun, according to our ancient habits, by the speeches of the mover and seconder. I think that is the one consolation which we have on these occasions, and I congratulate my hon. friends on the manner in which they have fulfilled a function which, in my opinion, is one of the most difficult and delicate to be performed by the Members of this House. They restrained their observations within the limits of the King's Speech. The right hon. Gentleman, though I make no complaint of it, has not restrained his observations within the limits of the Speech, but has travelled over a vast number of topics, including Army reform, legislation for trade combinations, local taxation, and local government administration, on which it is really impossible that I should follow him. The right hon. Gentleman thinks that we ought to have added to the list of meas- ures in the King's Speech. I notice that there are always two theories and two distinct modes of criticism applied to any Government in respect of its legislative programme. Through all the debate on the Address, and through all the earlier part of the session, the poverty and barrenness of the legislative fare proposed to the House is the constant theme of hon. Gentlemen opposite. Towards the end of the session, the enormous burden thrown upon the House by the ambition of the Government, the congested state of the Government's programme, and the difficulty of getting legislation through is the constant theme of hon. Gentlemen opposite. It is quite impossible for human ingenuity to frame a King's Speech which shall be rich and full enough to satisfy the Opposition's appetite at the beginning of the session and make is sufficiently jejune and thin to meet their criticisms six months later. In these circumstances I make no apology for not having increased the number of Bills which we are asking the House to consider. If the right hon. Gentleman will project himself in imagination into the month of July, he will see, I think, that we have asked the House to do quite enough in the course of one session.

I hasten over these legislative criticisms, and the right hon. Gentleman's observations upon Army administration and local government administration, to what I think the House is more interested in—namely, the questions which he has asked on foreign and colonial affairs. In regard to the Sugar Convention, the right hon. Gentleman asked what view the Government take of the effect of that Convention on the Most-Favoured-Nation Clause. The view we take is that it does not interfere with that clause. The Russians take a different view, and we have offered in these circumstances to denounce our commercial treaties with them. The Russians, I believe, now state that they regard the question as an academic one for the present. Then the right hon. Gentleman asks me what is to happen in respect of the action we have taken to bounty-fed sugar from our own colonies. The line we have taken is perfectly clear and definite. We have never wavered in it from the beginning of the negotiations, and we made the statement of our view and emphatic condition before ratifying the treaty—that in no circumstances will we consent to penalise sugar from our own colonies. Then the right hon. Gentleman asks whether other nations agree with that view. Other nations have been told the only conditions on which we would ratify the Convention, and they have been asked to signify any dissent they may feel from the position which we have taken up. No intimation of dissent has been received; and, therefore, our condition of ratification stands. But the right hon. Gentleman goes further and says: "When the time comes, and colonial bounty-fed sugar comes into the markets of Great Britain, will you not be taken before the Commission in Brussels, and overruled by a hostile majority." There is no such possibility. We have informed foreign countries that we do not mean to have this matter tried before the Commission; and if they, in despite of that observation, were to attempt so to try it, it is evident that they would be helpless and would have no means of coercing us to do that which we have given them fair warning we do not mean to do. Nor would they have any ground of complaint as to the clearness with which we made our views known. We waited until the very last moment before ratifying, in order that if any foreign country did desire to enter a protest at this stage they might do so.


Did not five of them enter a protest?


No, my hon. friend is mistaken. The right hon. Gentleman asks about the position of the Colonial Secretary in South Africa and about the loan. As regards the loan, I really do not understand what the right hon. Gentleman's difficulty is. It is true that there is a distinction to be drawn between a Crown colony and a self governing colony. But a Crown colony is perfectly in a position to borrow money; and I do not understand that the right hon. Gentleman suggests either that the new colonies are incapable of borrowing money or that they could have done it for a better purpose than that of bearing some share of the cost of recent military operations. As to the Colonial Secretary, I hope that he will be back with us at no distant date, and he will be able to give the House fuller information than I am in a position to do. But I may say that, of course, the Colonial Secretary has consulted his colleagues on all the important decisions which he has taken; and we entirely endorse and make ourselves responsible for the general policy which he has declared in South Africa.

Then the right hon. Gentleman asks me about Macedonia. This question has given anxiety—sometimes acute and sometimes sub-acute— to all statesmen in Europe for many years. The condition of wretchedness and mis-government under which the population of these provinces suffer makes them a constant menace to the peace of Europe. The Governments most closely interested by proximity to the scene of difficulty are, of course, Austria and Russia; and these Powers are specially qualified to take the lead in dealing with this problem, because they have the greatest influence over the other Balkan States whose action—or, I should say, the action of some of whose inhabitants—is no small element in the difficulties from which we are now suffering—from which the population primarily, and Europe in a secondary sense, is now suffering. The right hon. Gentleman said he hoped that the reforms which Austria and Russia would suggest to the Powers would be of a thorough-going description. I do not echo that hope, if I rightly interpret the phrase. What Europe wants immediately in that region is not some elaborate constitution which would, if carried out, remedy all the evils and introduce a period of freedom and enlightenment throughout Macedonia, but some improvement in the actual and practical methods of government. I do not believe the law is so utterly defective. It is the administration of the law by Turkish officials and the invasion of the country by Macedonian bands from the neighbouring territories of Bulgaria; these are the to scourges under which the Macedonian population are now suffering; and what we want is a strong and effective and incorruptible Government, so far as such a thing can be obtained, which shall introduce the primary elements of government into those districts, where too often, I am afraid, even the primary elements of good government are absent.


Is the Government aware what the nature of the Russian and Austrian scheme is, and can the right hon. Gentleman say anything about it to the House?


No, Sir, I am not in a position to say anything about it at the present moment. I think it would be most inexpedient for me to say anything about it just now. There will be no long delay before we are in a position to give full information to hon. Gentlemen. I do not think I need, or indeed can, with advantage at the present stage of affairs say anything more about Macedonia. The general principles which we desire to see carried out in all these reforms I have sufficiently indicated, and I hope in thus indicating them I carry the general sense and approval of the House with me.

The right hon. Gentleman has asked me about events in West Africa. He did not dwell at great length upon it, but he indicated one supposed danger which I really think has no existence. He seemed to suppose that the military operations being carried on there would drive over the border of the British sphere of influence, into the limits of the French sphere of influence, the trade and commerce which would properly belong to Upper Nigeria. I think that fear is illusory. One important result of the recent military operations will indeed be to clear a great trade route and to make commerce more secure than it is at present. The right hon. Gentleman complained—and I am not surprised at his complaint—of an answer given by the Government about December 9, *in reply, I think, to a question put by the right hon. Baronet opposite. No doubt the terms of that answer would have been different in their character had we then had the information which we received a very few days later. It was, as the right hon. Gentleman will remember, an answer given by my right hon. friend the Post master General in reply to a supplementary question, and was based on the imperfect information which we then had. As the House will see when the Papers are before them, we do not think that we had been kept quite sufficiently informed by the distinguished public servant who has done so much for that region, and * See (4) Debates, cxvi., 449. it was not really until December 19 that we sent a telegram approving under certain conditions of the expedition to Kano. The House was up at the time, and it was impossible, of course, for us to take them into our confidence.

The right hon. Gentleman passed from West Africa to East Africa, and put some very pertinent questions about Somaliland. Those questions were, however, largely based upon a misconception of the meaning of something which fell from me in a speech last week at Liverpool. What I stated there is absolutely the fact—namely, that the military operations in Somaliland, taken by themselves and without the collateral issues he raises, were of much greater importance, measured either by cost in treasure or, I fear, possibly by cost in life, and would have more permanent consequences as regards the districts in which the operations occurred, or with reference to which they were undertaken, than the military operations in connection with Venezuela, and I hope my meaning was not obscure. As regards the cost of the expedition, I am afraid that experience shows us that it is perfectly impossible to carry on military operations in these waterless expanses without cost in proportion, and without a force which, if it is to be adequate, cannot be otherwise than expensive; and though it is impossible for me at this time to give any estimate of the cost, undoubtedly that cost is a thing which cannot be ignored, and which I for one, in the present state of our finances, cannot but deeply regret. Well, then, the question arises, Was such an expedition necessary? I fear it was necessary. I can assure the House that no one was more reluctantly driven to that conclusion than I was; but I think it is a conclusion to which everybody would be driven who examined the facts. It was impossible to allow this fanatical Mullah to raid tribes in Somaliland who were under actual engagements of protection from us, to render the whole of that district practically uninhabitable, to lose all prestige with the natives, and to abandon a country on which our fortress of Aden in a large measure depends. We could not allow the unchecked raids of this fanatical Pretender, and since, as the House knows, our first operations against him were not crowned with the success we could have desired, it was absolutely necessary to organise another expedition on a larger scale. We have done it, with the help of the Italians, in such a manner as, I hope, cannot end in military disaster, and will, I trust, permanently check any raids of the invader upon tribes that depend on our friendship, our protection, and our support. Well, I believe that, with a rapidity which I am sure the House will commend, I have answered all the questions of the right hon. Gentleman about foreign affairs, excepting the question he put to me with regard to Venezuela. In respect to Venezuela, he begged the Government to make a clean breast of it, and he bitterly complained that we had not laid Papers before parliament six weeks, I think he said, before the meeting of the House.


Ten days.


Well, if the negotiations had concluded ten days before the meeting of the House, of course we should have laid Papers before Parliament. But it was contrary to precedent. It would have been most inconvenient—I venture to say most improper—that in the very crisis of the negotiations, of the difficult and anxious negotiations which had not been brought to a successful termination—we should throw on the Table of the House an unconcluded story of the labours of the Foreign Office in this anxious affair.


I am told that a large number of those Papers which are issued this morning are of dates antecedent to 19th December.


I have no doubt the right hon. Gentleman is perfectly correct, and if he thinks that that would have satisfied him it could have been done; but would it really have illustrated any matter in which the House is interested? What the House is interested in is not in the least what happened before December 19.


Oh, yes it is.


There are some most important despatches.


Well, of course it is not or me to say what hon. Gentlemen wanted; but if I had been in their place, what I should have wanted would have been the whole story, and not merely the first chapters of it. We followed accurately the ordinary practice on this occasion, and I do not think it is worth while spending any time in arguing the point. Hon. Gentlemen have their Papers, and I am sure they will be able to master them before the debates on the Address come to a conclusion. If and when the subject comes up again I may perhaps deal with some of the points which the right hon. Gentleman started, but the questions that seemed to perturb him most are the character of our claims and the character of the German claims, and the grounds and nature of the engagement between the two countries with regard to enforcing those claims.


Of which we know nothing at the present time.


Those are, I think, the main points on which he asked for information. As the right hon. Gentleman is aware, the occasion of our entering into these operations was the insults to the flag and the attacks, the really brutal attacks, on British citizens in the neighbourhood of Trinidad and the seas adjoining thereto. The right hon. Gentleman says these claims were very small in amount. So they were; but the right hon. Gentleman does not argue, I suppose, that attacks upon British seamen and upon the British flag are never worth dealing with unless the sum involved is a large one. I have heard some criticisms of the Government for using their Fleet as a debt-collecting machine, and those are criticisms inconsistent with the attitude which I now understand the right hon. Gentleman to take up, which is that the very small character of these claims estimated in money is a sufficient reason why we should have acquiesced in the absolute refusal of the Venezuelan Government, month after month, not only to give satisfaction, but even to answer or recognise or take the smallest account of our representations. I do not think it was possible to tolerate such things as Venezuela did to our subjects —things never done by any great Power to any other great Power, and which, if they had per incuriam occurred, would have been the subject undoubtedly of friendly correspondence and arrangement between them. No Power in the world, I venture to say, but Venezuela would have treated our representations with contempt, and have refused in the smallest degree to meet the just demands we made upon them.


That is not what I meant when I quoted the sum, which I think the world at large was astonished at. What I contend is that there ought to be some relation between the sum demanded and the steps taken to recover it. I explicitly said that where any British subject was damaged in the exercise of his legitimate rights by the improper conduct of an officer of another nation, reparation was due and ought to be exacted.


I am afraid the right hon. Gentleman's interruption still leaves me a little at sea as to what his criticism was. I now understand him to say that we should have adjusted the magnitude of the steps we took for reparation to the magnitude of the sum involved—that we ought to have a small blockade if it were a small sum, and a large blockade if a large sum. That does not seem to me to be very practicable. If it be admitted that we have to exact reparation for this insult, an insult of a particularly brutal sort on British seamen, I would put this question: Would you, having other claims, have limited your claims to the very small sums which were, no doubt, the original occasion and justification of warlike operations?


I might answer the question if I knew the nature of the other claims. I have never seen what the nature of the other claims is.


Quite so. The other claims are not the claims of bondholders who tried to get a large percentage out of a more or less insolvent State by the help of British Men-of-war and guns. Not at all. What appear in the Papers as second-rank claims are due to the Venezuelan Government having seized British property, having inflicted, through their troops and by their officers, injury on individual resident persons of British nationality in Venezuela; and the right hon. Gentleman will be the first person to admit that that is a kind of claim which we were perfectly justified in making and perfectly justified in pressing. That is a distinction which, I believe, is fairly accurate with regard to the whole of our second-rank claims. I admit, of course, that there may be claims of which it is difficult to say whether they should properly be placed in the first rank or the second rank. As regards the first-rank claims, you may say that they chiefly depend on brutal attacks on British seamen and insults to the British flag. As regards the second-rank claims of Great Britain, they are of the kind I have just described. They arise out of attacks by Venezuelan soldiers and officers, forced requisitions, and matters of that kind, and constitute claims which I think we were right in making and right in enforcing. Venezuela has bound herself to make some kind of equitable arrangement with the bondholders. I suppose nobody complains of that. The right hon. Gentleman asked me about Germany. He has quoted, and quoted accurately, from the Blue-book a statement made by the German Ambassador that they admitted that there was a difference between our first-rank claims and their first-rank claims. Again, I say, the difference is really one of degree. There are German claims, I believe—in fact, I know—which it would be extremely difficult do distinguish from British first-rank claims, except that the outrages on persons occurred on land and not on water. On the other hand, I have no doubt there are a large number of German first-class claims which would come rather under the description I have given of British second-class claims. But there is this important distinction between the two, which I beg the House to keep in mind. We do not profess to have examined critically, case by case, the claims put forward by our countrymen in regard to damage inflicted upon them by Venezuelan troops. The German first-class claims, which amount to over £60,000, have been most carefully examined by the German Foreign Office and by the German legal advisers, and, I think, certified. I do not believe that it is denied by the Venezuelans themselves that all these cases are genuine: that they are no bogus claims; no extravagant attempts to extract money from the Venezuelan Government. Very well, then, in what consists the criticism against us? The Germans had claims against Venezuela, and we had claims against Venezuela, and it was suggested that we should make common cause. The Germans had ample international justification for going against Venezuela alone, and it is alleged that we should have acted alone. Would separate action have been a benefit to Venezuela? Could you imagine that two absolutely independent blockades could have gone on at the same time, and that that would have been advantageous to Venezuela? I do not believe that it would have made the position of Venezuela any easier. What I say is that such a course would have been recommended by no one. If you are to work with Germany, as surely you must under the circumstances I have described, is it or is it not proper to say to Germany "You must not abandon us, and we will not abandon you." Otherwise, of course, the Venezuelans would have tried to make separate arrangements—to play off one Power against another, and to produce as much international difficulty and friction as they could. But it may be said, "That may all be very true. The advantages of your policy may be very clear, but is it not an enormous disadvantage which more than outweighs the advantages described, that it should be put in the power of Germany to drag you on and on in a quarrel which may have been righteous and just in its conception, but which they carry to an extraordinary and extravagant length, and to require you to employ yourselves to enforce German claims which have no just foundation or basis?" I say there is no such demand. Recollect that the total amount of the first-rank claims of Germany and England put together, both of which were absolutely justifiable, amounted to £68,000 or £69,000 in all—an amount which I am sure a great many hon. Gentle- men I am now addressing could write a cheque for without feeling inconvenience. As regards the second-rank claims, both of Germany and Great Britain, be it remembered that by our original arrangement with Germany it was impossible that we should be dragged on into indefinite hostilities because we had always agreed that they should be submitted to arbitration. The original arbitration was not the Hague arbitration, but it was an arbitration perfectly fair to Venezuela, because what we suggested was that these second-rank claims should be taxed by a Commission, in which there should be, so far as the British claims were concerned, one representative of Great Britain, one of Venezuela and, in case of difference, an overs-man or arbiter. The same arrangement was to be adopted in regard to Germany, so that Venezuela would have had a full say in discussing the character of these claims. We, therefore, always contemplated as regards second-rank claims that we, Great Britain, or Germany, should go to arbitration. And it was not possible to go on fighting for second-rank claims, because Germany herself had assented to the broad principle of arbitration which we also hold. I hope I have with lucidity and brevity explained the general policy. I do not think it is open to any of the comments which the right hon. Gentleman has made upon it in an ignorance for which he is not to blame. I quite agree he has not had time to study the Blue-book, but when he has had time to do so, I think he will see that the general line of policy which I have indicated is the right policy to pursue; and I am convinced that he will agree with us that, broadly speaking, this negotiation has been carried on by us with a great regard to the feelings, not only of the American Government and people, but with a great regard to Venezuela itself. We have not proved ourselves hard or brutal; we have only intervened when intervention became absolutely necessary in the cause of national honour And though we have interfered, we have made that interference as little injurious as possible to the country with whom we were formally in a state of hostility; and probably there never was a state of war lasting through all these weeks in which there was less suffering, or less damage inflicted upon a weak belligerent than on this occasion.

I really believe, though it may sound ambitious to say so, that I have answered all the comments except those relating to legislation and Army administration which the right hon. Gentleman has addressed to me. I have not the smallest complaint to make as regards the spirit in which he has spoken. I recognise that it is his business to put questions. I hope the House will admit that I have not shirked my share of the responsibility, but have endeavoured to answer the right hon. Gentleman with as great clearness and directness as I have been able to command. I trust the House will be content with the defence I have made on behalf of the Government as a whole; and, at all events, will wait for any further elaboration of the topies on which I have briefly and lightly touched this evening until the substantial Amendments are made to the Address of the Government.

MR. SCHWANN (Manchester, N)

said that His Majesty's gracious Speech congratulated Parliament on the successful termination of the Venezuelan question. But there was no credit due for this to the Government. His Majesty's Ministers had only succeeded in making themselves ridiculous. That had been the most conspicuous thing in connection with the whole affair. He remembered that in the month of December last, when this question was brought up before the House, a spirit of levity was shown by Members who sat on the Government Benches, who thought it was a very small affair. But he believed that in the meantime it had been found to be a very serious affair, and the Prime Minister had himself confessed that the Venezuelan "mess" had been a most anxious time for the Government. This matter, which was supposed to be of such small consideration, had lasted over two months, and two of the greatest Naval Powers had engaged their fleets upon it at considerable expense. Great risks had been run, and this country had only escaped an imbroglio with the American Government and nation in regard to the Monroe Doctrine, which was very dear to them.

He believed that it was the general opinion throughout England that they had been using a Nasmyth steam hammer in order to crack a nut, when they considered that the first-rank claims only meant the payment of £5,500 to each of the Allies.

As his right hon. friend the Leader of Opposition had stated, he thought that the questions which had been put in the first line by the Government were really of small moment. He quite agreed that some of them required inquiry, which however he was now afraid would not be given. He had looked into the Blue-book which had been laid on the Table of the House today, and he found, in spite of all the further explanations which had been given, that it was perfectly clear that out of the eight cases which were relied upon, three of them at least were connected with smuggling or with carrying contraband to the insurgents against President Castro's Government. The Island of Trinidad was fixed like a crescent on the North-East Frontier of Venezuela, and the distance between the extreme points was only a few miles. Further, it was a matter of history and fact that the Islands of Trinidad and Patos had been used from time immemorial as the basis for carrying on contraband trade with Venezuela. He had read some of the affidavits which were given in the Blue-book, and he found that many of the witnesses were themselves Venezuelans who had adopted English names, and in whose veracity he would not feel any very great confidence. He did not say that they told untruths, but he said that their evidence would not be taken in any court of law in England as being of the greatest weight. If they were to believe The Times newspaper the danger might still not be at an end, for on the 16th inst. The Times said: We are not altogether clear of the Venezuela mess, for, as our Berlin correspondent points out, contingencies are at least conceivable which might still confront us with new phases of the question not very unlike the old ones. He was afraid that the Government would have the painful feeling of being attacked by an enemy in their own house. The St. James's Gazettesaid: From whatever source the evil inspiration of the Venezuelan adventure came, the Government of Mr. Balfour are responsible. We should see their fall with regret, but, short of their dismissal from office, we hope that the House of Commons will find a way to read them a sharp lesson. It was quite evident that even Ministers themselves did not think very highly of their own conduct, because the noble Lord the Under Secretary for Foreign Affairs admitted that the Venezuelan mess was indeed a mess, and the President of the Local Government Board said: As Lord Rosebery said, we muddled through somehow or other. So long as we got through, then, with the right side uppermost, it did not much matter whether we muddled through or got through in some other way. So long as we got through with the British Empire uppermost that was all Britishers cared about. Now with reference to the bondholders, the Prime Minister assured the House that this war was not conducted for the benefit of the bondholders. But the noble Lord in December stated that it was the bounden duty of the Government to protect bondholders in all parts of the world.


I beg the hon. Gentleman's pardon. I said specifically in answer to the hon. Gentlemen that we would never have undertaken these operations for the bondholders, and that they were undertaken for what has since been known as the first-rank claims.


said that the noble Lord stated that where the interests of bondholders were attacked England ought to go to their rescue. He himself pointed out then, and would now repeat, that there were a great number of bonds in default in many parts of the world, and he thought it was highly undesirable that the Government should use the forces of the country for the purpose of recovering bad debts for investors, who should take their own risks. It was very strange that the Chairman of the Government Stock Investment Company took a very different view of what the Government had done. He said that they ought to be grateful to the Government for doing something for the first time towards taking up the interests of bondholders.

† See. (4) Debates, cxvi, 1263. As far as he himself knew, it was the first time that any British Government had declared war in the interests of the bondholders, and he hoped it would be the last. He would point out that the bondholders who invested their funds in the Venezuelan New Conversion Debt, 1881, would reap a rich harvest. They bought at £25, and the shares were yesterday quoted at £38. The initial mistake in the business appeared to him to be the alliance with Germany. If England had gone to work as she did in Nicaragua, and had given the United States notice that the Nicaraguan Government were in default, the United States would have been perfectly agreeable to England sending one or two vessels. In that instance, the Nicaraguan Government saw it would not do to have a long contest, and within a couple of days the blockade was raised and England obtained what she wanted without any long or dangerous alliance with any other country. The Germans themselves had a proverb about people who were not good to crack nuts with. Admiral Dewey said the Germans had no naval manners. He himself did not wish to speak evil of them, and only wished they would mend their manners and enter into real friendly relations with England. Even the Frankfurter Zeitung, after a scathing review of German methods, says: Consequently no one is our sincere friend; we encounter mistrust in all quarters; and thirty years after Sedan we are still looked upon as a parvenu with the characteristics of an intruder. Wherever a sunbeam falls we (Germans) want to be there 'in order to warm ourselves.' ""Yet" (as the critic goes on to observe) "Germany desires to build higher and higher the barricades of tariffs behind which she is intrenched. That combination excites misgivings, umbrage is taken, and 'friendships are sacrificed,' He trusted that in future they would be able to maintain a real alliance with Germany, and would be able to work with her in enlarging the boundaries of civilisation. At the same time, he thought that in a matter in which German interests clashed with English interests, it would be far better to work singly, and that each country should paddle its own canoe, and steer clear of its own difficulties.

It being half-past Seven, the debate stood adjourned till this evening.