HC Deb 30 May 1906 vol 158 cc494-516
MR. THEODORE TAYLOR (Lancashire, Radcliffe)

said that the Motion standing in his name reaffirmed the conviction of the House that the Indo-Chinese opium trade was morally indefensible and requested His Majesty's Government to take such steps as might be necessary for bringing it to a speedy close. This subject had not been discussed in the House for eleven years, but he was quite sure that hon. Members would admit that a Parliamentary discussion of it was overdue in consequence of the growth of public opinion, attested by the correspondence and telegrams received during the last few days. The first part of his Resolution followed the wording of the Resolution passed in 1895 by a large majority, and the second part was a natural consequence of the first proposition. As he had said, very much had happened since 1895 to the making of public opinion on the subject, and public opinion had shown itself in a very remarkable degree in the letters and telegrams sent to him. Whatever the opinion of the House might be it was unquestionable that the enlightened intellectual and religious opinion of the public had been strongly moved on several grounds against the traffic. The first was that opium smoking was a great curse to the Chinese. The second was that we had made war on China in 1839 and 1842 because she tried to prevent our vessels smuggling opium into China against the wishes of her Government. The third was that ever since then we had practically forced the opium traffic on China. The fourth was that the Indian Government's revenue from the opium traffic, amounting last year to £3,833,000, was derived mainly at the cost of the misery and vice and poverty of many millions of the Chinese people, and although they would lose that revenue it was their duty to stop this traffic as speedily as possible. The Chinese did their best to stop the traffic. Commissioner Liu in an address to our Queen said— Though not making use of it one's self, to venture on the manufacture and sale of it and with it to seduce the simple folk of this land is to seek one's own livelihood by the exposure of others to death. Such acts are bitterly abhorrent to the nature of man and are utterly opposed to the ways of Heaven. We would now then concert with your hon. Sovereignty means to bring to a perpetual end this opium traffic so hurtful to mankind, we in this land forbidding the use of it and you in the nations under your dominion forbidding its manufacture. In the least aggressive way the Chinese Government tried to force us to stop the smugglers and we took the smugglers' part. Even after the opium war which lasted up till 1842 smuggling still went on. Not till another war with China, lasting from 1856 to 1858, had taken place was the traffic recognised by the Treaty of Tien Tsin and made lawful but not righteous. By a subsidiary convention made at Shanghai the duty on opium was fixed at three taels, a very small duty compared with the duties that existed in other countries. He had examined the treaty and the subsidiary convention which we made with China, and the most remarkable feature of that convention was that whereas provision was made for the revision of all other duties, opium was expressly exempt, and therefore the duty on opium was bound to remain. In 1869 the British Minister had an interview with the Chinese Foreign Minister who made some suggestions. He said it had been suggested that, instead of importing foreign opium from British subjects, they should grow their own opium. He disclaimed any desire to do it, but he said he might be driven to it. In 1871 another Ambassador said the Chinese Government were contemplating producing opium in China, but he also said in the same year, in giving evidence before the East Indian Committee, that the Chinese would not hesitate for one moment to-morrow, if they could, to enter into an arrangement with the British Government, and say, "Let our revenue go, we care nothing about it. What we want to stop is the consumption of opium, which we conceive is impoverishing our country and demoralising and tantalising our people." Even as late as 1882 China sent an intelligent officer to Calcutta to sound the Indian Government on the practicability of extinguishing its interests in this traffic. Then they came to the Chefoo Convention of 1876, which they were told could be denounced by a year's notice given from either side. That was true, but if the Chefoo Convention was denounced we fell back upon the treaty of Tien Tsin, which could not be denounced at a year's notice and under which opium was legally admitted. He hoped it would be clearly understood that the Chinese wore bound by the treaty of Tien Tsin unless and until we released them. Another thing was said about this traffic, that it was not injurious, or at all events, not greatly so. By many people the outcry against it was considered to be a fad of Puritanic philanthropy or a kind of missionary madness. The Majority Report of the Opium Commission which was appointed in 1893 and reported in 1894, was thrown in their faces to show that opium was not a great evil. In the last debate in the House of Commons upon the opium question, of which the text largely was the then recently issued Report, the present Under-Secretary for India made a speech which had never boon fully answered, because it was impossible to refute it. The right hon. Gentleman had spoken of the pressure of the executive of the Government of India, the nitration of evidence, and said the Commission ought not to have listened to words of untruth—plainly meaning that they had done so—but ought to have admitted all evidence without fear or favour and with an impartial hand. Might he not extract the following as expressing the gist of that speech— There was throughout the action a persistent intention on the part of the authorities in India to regard this, not as a free inquiry, but as a defence of the Indian opium policy of the Indian Government. If the inquiry had been as impartial as it was one sided it would have covered the ground of his Motion. In this Report, which was so often quoted against them, there was not a word about China. Let them draw a distinction between opium smoking and opium eating. The Report dealt mainly with opium eating in India, but an inquiry conducted about opium eating in India was no guide in the important question of the effects of opium smoking in China. Australia, Now Zealand and Victoria had passed stringent laws prohibiting opium smoking, and, what was more significant, those laws had been passed and that public opinion against opium smoking created very largely by the opinions and at the request of the leading Chinese citizens themselves. In the Transvaal, in October last year, there was passed an ordinance providing that no one in the Transvaal except registered practitioners and registered druggists should import opium or have opium in their possession except for purely medical purposes, and a penalty of£500 or six months imprisonment was enforced for a breach of this law. He thought that was a very instructive commentary upon the effect which opium had on the Chinese at any rate. With regard to the Phillipine Islands, Congress, had passed a law that there should be strict prohibition in the Phillipines after 1908 so far as Chinamen were concerned, and that there should be strict prohibition now for everyone else. If ever there was a nation which had astonished the world by its moral, health, strength, and vigour, it was Japan. In some respect the Japanese people were the same as the Chinese, but there was one great difference, they would not have opium at any price, and the greatest insult that could be offered to a Japanese gentleman, or for the matter of that, to a, Chinese gentleman, was to ask him if he-smoked opium. The American Commission's Report said the Japanese to a man fear opium as we fear the cobra or the rattlesnake. An instinctive hatred of the drug possessed them. The Chinese curse had been to the Japanese a warning and a warning heeded. No surer testimony to the reality of the evil effects of opium could be found than the horror with which China's next door neighbour, Japan, viewed it. In Japan the opium user was socially a leper. It was the only country in the world visited, by Chinese where opium generally was dealt with in its purely moral and social aspect. How did the great forces on this question stand? For the traffic there were throe classes. First the victim of the vice. Many of these, as the missionaries told them, though opium smokers, prayed, for deliverance from the habit, but so long as they could get opium they would use it. Then there was the second class, the private traders who made money by it, by which he did not mean only the poor Chinese traders, but the great British merchants also. And thirdly there were those who justified it, in the interests of the Indian revenue. But if it were true that opium was to China a great curse, then the revenue argument would not stand. "Wrong could not be justified by revenue nor misery by money. The defender of the present system said, "But we must have the money." But was that so? That was just what the miserable and degraded opium smoking Chinaman said when, having pawned or sold his last stick to obtain opium, he sold his children into slavery and his wife into harlotry to get more. How long were we, the real rulers of India to go on taking this wage of sin? The missionaries of all sects and nationalities in China were against us. European and American medical men in China were against us. The best classes among the Chinese themselves, not only in China but everywhere where the Chinese had settled, were against the traffic. Australia and New Zealand had the most stringent laws against it, and even the mine owners of the Rand would not let their Chinese workmen smoke opium. Our Japanese allies sternly stamped it out, and were gradually extinguishing it in Formosa; our friends of the United States, after long and full inquiry, had prohibited it in the Phillipines. How much longer should we foster it? But what were we to do? Was not China growing her own opium now, and if we gave up sending opium to her, what guarantee had we that she would put down opium smoking? But in answer to that question he wanted to know by what moral right we claimed from China any guarantee. Surely we were only responsible for our own actions. It was because of our great national responsibility in this matter that he spoke to-night; if China chose to commit national suicide that was no reason why we should help her to do so. It was like saying that if he knew a man who wanted a razor to cut his own throat, he might as well sell it to him knowing what he wanted it for, because if he did not somebody else would. Let them not forget that when we went to war with China in 1839, and for a long time before that, her Government was trying to stop the growth of the poppy and the importation and the use of the drug. Her rulers begged and implored us not to force this trade upon her people. It was no wonder that so long as they were compelled to take it they might as well produce it for themselves. But if His Majesty's Government only would, they might perhaps, in giving up this traffic and sacrificing this income of the Indian Government, obtain from the Chinese Government not only an undertaking to stamp out opium smoking in China, but possibly more favourable terms for our legitimate trade with her. One thing at least was clear, and that was that to the extent to which the Chinese smoked they were not customers for more legitimate goods. Opium smoking not only brought idleness, vice, and crime, but poverty as well, and if the Chinese used less opium they would undoubtedly buy more manufactured goods. But what about India? How was the gap in her revenue to be filled? Let them say that the revenue to be found was £3,000,000. All students of finance in India knew perfectly well that this was a very uncertain source of revenue. But let them suppose that they made the million from its legitimate use. The people of India were miserably poor and still most heavily taxed, and he did not wish to add to their burdens, but he thought there was a way in which the revenue might be made up. More than once in this House they had been told that the great fear of invasion of India came from the north. Now that the great military power of the north had been crippled, surely the military expenditure might be reduced. Was it too much to hope that the money might be found in that way? But if that could not be done he did not hesitate to say that we should make for two or three years a contribution to the Government of India ourselves. The crime had been a national one, and the expiation should be national too. We could still grow opium for medical purposes, and such soil as now grew poppies might well grow something better. It was a curious fact that the only crop upon which the Indian Government advanced money when the seed was sown, was poppies for opium. If half the expense and care had been given to the cultivation of cotton in India that had been given to the cultivation of opium we might now have been growing most of the cotton we required within our own Empire. This hideous traffic had two sides—the Chinese got their sensual pleasure and paid a terrible price for it, but was not the money we got in return the wages of our national sin? Who could tell how far such wages might not have brought with them the deadening of our national conscience, and the decay of our public spirit? He who was ready to wrong the peoples of another race was no lover of his own. On every ground of humanity, patriotism and justice he bogged to move.

DR. RUTHERFORD (Middlesex, Brentford)

said he was pleased to have the great honour of seconding this very wise and far reaching Resolution. His hon. friend had dealt very exhaustively with the historical and economic sides of the question, and with the permission of the House, he (Dr. Rutherford) would like to say a few words upon the scientific side. Opium was after all a narcotic poison. In cases of acute poisoning there were five stages, the first of which was excitement and exhilaration, which many people interpreted as stimulation. That was only a very evanescent stage, and was rapidly followed by depression, paralysis of the brain, coma and death. Moderation in chronic poisoning, that was to say, harmless doses spread over months and years, defied definition. It was absolutely impossible for any man to say how much opium taken day by day and month by month a man could take without bringing about disastrous effects. Every vital function was reduced and destroyed, various diseases engendered, and life was curtailed. The outstanding scientific fact about this drug was the terrible craving that was rapidly developed in those who indulged in its use. With regard to the history of the opium eater, he need not remind the House of the classic cases of De Quincey and Coleridge, but would speak from cases which had come under his own care. If hon. Members would read De Quincey they would there discover that the dreams of those who indulged in this drug were delicious if not divine. But the aftermath, the awakening was awful; headache, heartache, abdominal pains, weariness, prostration and remorse. The victims eared nothing and did nothing, and their business, their wives, their children and their homes were sacrificed. They were slowly consumed by the over-mastering passion, which obliterated all sense of duty and of shame. In Schiller's words the situation was very clearly put— There's a dark spirit walking in our house, And swiftly will the Destiny close on us. It drove me hither from my calm asylum, It mocks my soul with charming witchery, It lures me forward in a seraph's shape; I see it near, I see it nearer, floating. It draws, it pulls me with a God-like power— I have no power within me not to move. Physical deterioration and emaciation, mental alienation, and moral degradation followed in the train of this habit, and financial bankruptcy was a common concomitant. Moreover, the economic loss to a community was very extensive, for those people who indulged in the use of the drug wore unable to perform their duties as citizens and workers. He need hardly remind the House of the attitude of the medical profession towards the habit of taking opium. The medical profession in this country feared the habit so terribly that they thought seriously and long before prescribing it to the sick. The moral responsibility was enormous. Condemnation of the use of opium had come from the highest men in the profession — from men like Sir Benjamin Brodie, who was the doyen of his profession, and who said that it "inflicts a most serious injury on the human race." In 1892 a declaration was signed by 5,000 medical men stating that— The habit of opium smoking and opium eating is morally and physically debasing.‥It is a grave danger to the people of India.‥The Government of India should prohibit the growth of the poppy and the manufacture and sale of opium, except for medical purposes. He might remind the House of the following resolution, passed by the Government of Bombay in 1881— Ordered, that the following letter be addressed to the Government of India.—At present the consumption of opium in this Presidency is very limited, but if the cultivation of opium, and the manufacture of opium were permitted, every village might have its opium shop, and every cultivator might contract the habit of eating opium, which is said to degrade and demoralise those addicted to it. On the ground of public morality, therefore, his Excellency the Governor in Council would strongly deprecate the grant of permission to cultivate the poppy in Sind, or in any other part of the Presidency. In Burmah, and, he thought, in Assam, there was a good deal more smoking of opium than in any other part of India, but there was not the slightest doubt that if local option or any kind of Home Rule were granted to India, this mighty mischief-maker would be ruthlessly banished by the nation. In Japan they took, for medicinal purposes, only 1,330 lbs. of opium, while China imported 7,250,000 lbs. per annum, and, of course, all from the British Government. The extent of the habit in China might also be gathered from the report of the British Consul-General, Mr. Hosie, in China, Paper No. 5, 1904. Speaking of the district of Si-Chicuen with a population of about 42,000,000, he said— I am well within the mark when I say that in the cities 50 per cent, of the males and 20 per cent, of the females smoke opium, and that in the country the percentage is not less than 25 per cent, for men and 5 per cent, for women. His hon. friend had dealt admirably with Great Britain's responsibility. Great Britain, after all, was to a large extent the architect of this evil, and it was for us to seek to prohibit it so far as we could. The chief objections to prohibiting it in India were, first, that China grew the poppy. Still, we were responsible for our deeds, and what was wanted was a clean slate in this matter. Further, it should be remembered that China was awaking from her sleeping sickness. She was getting stronger every day. She was being guided and directed by Japan, and the day could not be very far distant when China would insist that India should not send opium to their country. There was no justification for what we were doing in this matter. We were playing the devil's game. He believed that for every soul our missionaries sent to heaven from China the British Government were sending ten to hell by this traffic. The second objection raised against the prohibition was the economic loss to India, which would be from £3,000,000 to £4,000,000 a year. His hon. friend had pointed out an excellent way in which to rectify this loss. He would remind them further that we could share the burden of taxation in reference to the upkeep of the Indian Army. We used the Indian Army for great Imperial purposes, and it was our duty to bear our proportion of the cost of its upkeep, He would be the last person in the world to increase the taxation of the poverty-striken people of India. He had had the opportunity of consulting some of the most distinguished leaders of Indian native opinion, and they said without hesitation that they wished to get rid of the unholy traffic, which they felt was degrading their country in the eyes of the world. When he desired a political tonic he generally went to a book written by the Secretary of State for India on Compromise, in which he read:— Pusillanimity or want of faith is the vice that belongs to unlawful compromise in the department of action and realisation. He trusted that there would be no pusillanimity and no unlawful compromise on the part of their honoured Leader in this respect. The Secretary of State for India occupied a unique position, and had a great opportunity. He had supreme power. They in this House had little check upon him. The right hon. Gentleman, in fact, was a despot, and they trusted he would exercise his despotism with magnanimity, wisdom, and statesmanship. Past Secretaries of State, he was afraid, had toyed and trifled with this vast moral issue The House remembered with gladness the herculean efforts the right hon. Gentleman had made on behalf of Ireland, which had borne such good fruit. They remembered the grand stand he made for truth and righteousness in the South African embroglio. Now they looked for noble deeds in India. The hopes and aspirations of India gathered round his head, and that country looked to the right hon. Gentleman for some great and signal service. The Leader of the Opposition once said of the Secretary of State for India— You might write history, but you could not make it. Their fervent prayer and petition was that he would not only write history, but that he would make it on behalf of India and China, and on behalf of the British Empire, by opening up a new era of justice and righteousness, and adding to the sum of human happiness.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House reaffirms its conviction that the Indo-Chinese opium trade is morally indefensible, and requests His Majesty's Government to Lake such steps as may be necessary for bringing it to a speedy close."—(Mr. Theodore Taylor.)


said his hon. friend who had seconded this Motion had laid a heavy burden on him. He did not think he should be charged with pusillanimity, but in these great affairs of State, whilst, avoiding pusillanimity, they must cultivate the virtues of patience and circumspection. When he said that he did not mean to avoid full responsibility in this matter. He seemed to hear a note of exaggeration on both sides; and he heard the words "philanthropists" and "faddists" on the one hand, and "official-minded" on the other bandied about, each reproaching the other, he thought, unreasonably. There was such a thing, and rightly, as the official mind. The official was the man who carried out policy. It was very well for them and for people outside that House to frame conceptions; when they came to apply those conceptions they had to meet difficulties, and of those difficulties the official mind was naturally the exponent. On the other hand, when he heard the word "philanthropist" used reproachfully, he would not forget that those who had been reproached in their day and generation as philanthropists, were the men and women who had done things of which Englishmen were most proud. His hon. friend who had just sat down said he was a despot. That was not so. He had many persons and many conditions and circumstances to consider. This was a new Parliament, and it would not be a bad thing if he were to tell them exactly what the Indian Government did and was responsible for. Bengal opium was cultivated under licences which were granted to individual cultivators, or to the headmen of groups of cultivators, by officers of our Opium Department. The headmen, or cultivators, arrived at an understanding as to the area of cultivation, and so on, but it was not until the season was well ad- vanced for the poppy plant that the exact extent could be measured. When the opium was extracted from the plant it was delivered by the cultivators to the opium officers of the district, and sent to the two factories in Bengal, where with great skill and attention it was manufactured into this horrible drug. It was then sent down to Calcutta, to be sold as opium at the places where monthly auction sales were held. Each year the Government notified how many chests would be sent to market, and the price was fixed by auction. After it was sold it was shipped wherever the purchaser, a private individual, liked, the bulk of it going to China, but a considerable quantity— amounting to 16,000 chests out of 48,000—to other places. His hon. friend had laid stress on the China trade, and it was the Indo-China case he had to argue. It was not brought by the Indian Government as State opium, but by a private person to a private consignee. The Indian Government paid for the labour and raw material and made its profit, to which his hon. friend objected, and which he did not much like, from the difference between the cost of manufacture and the price at auction. The share of the Government in the matter was, first, control of the production, both as to quantity produced and as to its nature; secondly, the manufacture of the raw product into what was sold; and thirdly, to sell the manufactured article at the highest possible price to the merchants in Calcutta for export over sea. It should, therefore, be observed that short of absolute prohibition, which he was sure his hon. friend desired — he would come to that in a moment—this provision, though much was said of monopoly, was really the most restrictive provision that could be made. His hon. friend had referred to the report of the American Commissioners, and they no doubt took the view of the majority of his hon. friends around him, but agreed that this Government monopoly was one of the best means of restriction that could be provided. But he only mentioned that in passing. Then there was another important matter; there was the Malwa opium, manufactured in the native and protected States. But he would return to that, only remarking that Malwa opium at no stage belonged to the Indian Government. It was cultivated in nearly all the native States, which could produce the objectionable drug free from any restriction or supervision; there were wealthy opium merchants in Central India who gave advances, and so on, and to them it was transmitted. To that, however, he would return later. The Indian argument, and it was his argument, was a very potent argument—revenue. Could the opium revenue be relied upon? He was sure his right hon. friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer, in discussing sources of revenue, would say to himself, if he did not say it to others, of such and such an impost, Can I look upon it as providing resources for a number of years to come? It appeared that the opium revenue was not to be relied upon. In fourteen years—he would give the House a few figures, because it was just as well in the beginning, and this was only the beginning of a considerable contest—it was well to begin with the knowledge of exactly where they were. Could the revenue be relied on? In fourteen years ending 1894 the average was £5,000,000;in the eleven years 1894–1905 that revenue fell to £3,000,000. [An HON. MEMBER: Gross or net?] He really could not draw a distinction, and did not see the point of the question; whichever it was, the same computation applied in either case. Of course, abundant explanation could be given, such as bad seasons in China, drought in China or a short supply. ["In India?"] No; in China. The conditions in China influenced the position in India. Now the revenue this year was not £5,000,000; the opium revenue was £2,295,000. He would like to quote from a Budget speech, and, though quotations from Budget speeches were not usually exhilarating, this was rather so coming from the hot climate of Calcutta. He had told the House how the figures had gone down from £5,000,000 to £3,000,000 and under £3,000,000; but, not only that, in 1880 the opium revenue represented 14 per cent, of the aggregate revenue under the principal heads. To-day it represented only 7 per cent. On the Budget last March Mr. Baker, a very able administrator in the Financial Department in Calcutta, used this language— When it is remembered how uncertain the opium revenue is and how liable to violent fluctuation from causes over which we can exercise no control, the dwindling away of its relative importance in our fiscal system must be regarded as a matter for lively satisfaction. The hon. Member who brought forward this Motion laid the whole stress of his case upon China. There were few countries whose relations with ourselves we could regard with less pride than our relations with China. He would not follow the hon. Member into his historical sketch, but on many of the questions opened up, he agreed with the judgment of his hon. friend. What they had to do that night was to assert principles which in the future years of this Parliament might be brought to fruition. Mr. Gladstone made a speech on this opium question in 1893, and the result of that speech was the appointment of the Royal Commission, of whose proceedings all of them who were interested in this subject were entirely familiar. He did not wish to speak in disparagement of that Commission, but somehow or other its findings had failed to satisfy public opinion in this country and to ease the consciences of those who had taken up the matter. That Commission collected a great deal of most important knowledge—there were five large volumes of evidence, and doubtless every Member supporting this Motion had read them. At least, he hoped they had read the Commission's Report. He would not go into the findings, but the Commissioners laid great stress upon the opinion of doctors. Now, he was the last man to utter a word in dispute of the supreme arbitration of doctors. But what was the good of printing in Blue-books medical views as to whether opium was a good thing or not, and whether, if taken in moderation, it was a bit worse than claret or champagne? What was the value of that kind of evidence when we had the evidence of nations who know opium at close quarters? He would say something in a moment of what the American Commission found as to the Japanese dread of opium. First, however, he would like to read a passage from a most interesting paper read at the Geographical Society by a gentleman whom he did know. This gentleman said— In Yunan I saw practically the whole population given over to its abuse. The ravages it is making in men, women and children are deplorable, and, although entirely out of sympathy with the violent views of some people and the extreme measures they would resort to in India, I was quite able to realise that anyone who had seen the wild abuse of opium in Yunan would have a wild abhorrence of it. In the face of actual evidence of that kind, what was the good of doctors talking about comparing opium with alcohol? His hon. friend had referred to the Commission instituted by the President and Government of the United States after they found themselves in possession of the Philippines. The Americans were then brought face to face with the opium question, and they did what Mr. Gladstone's Government did in 1893, they appointed a committee or commission, which inquired and reported in 1905. He believed that that Commission explored, so far as they could, all legislation on the subject of opium in Japan, Java, China, and elsewhere. They did not take the medical evidence as conclusive. They examined into the social effects of opium also. They began without a single prepossession. They surveyed the whole field And what was the conclusion of that commission? Was it ambiguous? On the contrary, it was most definite. So definite: was it that the United States Government, in anticipation of their report— well knowing what its effect would be —passed a law that in the Philippine Islands after the year 1908 there was to be no more opium. That Commission, in a passage of their Report which he hoped the House of Commons would take to heart, declared that the United States so recognised the use of opium as an evil, for which no financial gain could compensate, that she would not allow her citizens to encourage it even passively. If he did not mistake its temper, this new House would approve of that. But let them turn to the other side of the question. It was said that this Assembly —and he believed it—represented the best moral influences of the country. But they had practical questions to consider. He hoped that that would not be called pusillanimity. But what were they going to do? Suppose they were to pass a Resolution to-night and to-morrow he sent out to India an ordinance to stop the use of opium? [Cries of "Hear, hear."] It was very easy to say "Hear, hear," but what would happen? How was the three millions sterlings of revenue to be replaced? His hon. friends talked about retrenchment. Nobody was more disposed to work ardently for retrenchment than he was. But let them get their retrenchment first and then give up opium. That called forth no cheers. It was said that in 1891 Sir Joseph Pease, a great friend of this cause, accepted an addendum a to a similar Motion to the present in favour of this country making up the loss of revenue to India by way of a subsidy, gift, or loan.


That was as an alternative.


Certainly it was as an alternative as between a gift or loan and retrenchment. If they were to say that they would ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer for £3,000,000 that would be worth discussing, but he did not think the discussion would take long. Then it might be said that they could so alter their system of taxation in India as to replace the £3,000,000 by some other form of taxation upon the Indian. There they came to a tremendously important point. He confessed that ever since he had the honour of being appointed to the India Office the question of questions to him was whether a Parliamentary democracy could govern wisely and benoficiently—unless it was most careful—so vast and complex a dependency as the Indian Empire. This was the first time in his Parliamentary experience that there was a democratic House of Commons. He was almost tempted to ask, therefore, when a democratic House of Commons was brought face to face with that problem, whether a Parliamentary democracy could govern a great dependency like India, a militarily held dependency. Therefore, they must be very careful not to allow their righteous sentiments—if righteous they were—to do wrong to the people living in India. We had no right to place on them burdens, which, if they were represented here— which he was glad they were not—their interests and their habits and customs would predispose them not to accept. He would not labour that point. He was not at all sure it was a welcome point, but with all humility, he thought it was a wise one. Let them take the case which his right hon. friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, when he held the post he now held, laid great stress on—the case of the native States. Suppose that we determined that on no account, whatever the cost, whatever the sacrifice might be, would we have further dealing with this drug? Yes, but there were a certain number of native States which produced it, native States against whom it was rather a delicate operation to use the full strength of the paramount State, what for? To derange their financial equilibrium and to effect seriously the earnings of the cultivators in their dominions. His hon. friend had called him a despot, but let this House, let this new Parliament, realise that they were not entirely despots in India. We were bound to these native States by all sorts of conditions, regulations, agreements, and treaties. We could not deal with them as we would with a country entirely under our own direct, unconditional, unqualified dominion. We could not do it. Hon. Members who took an interest in this question were aware that these native States produced Malwa opium. They were all remote from the sea, and the opium was sent across our dominions to the sea, and in that transit they paid a very large and, he was happy to think, a growing transit duty. If that were all, if we said to-night, "We are not concerned with any of these things; we want to be done with the unclean thing." [Cheers,]—Yes, he agreed, only they had got to see what road they were going to travel along and by what machinery, and it required a great deal of consideration as to how they were going to deal with these native States. To say to them, "We do not trouble about your financial equilibrium; we do not care what number of people you have engaged in opium cultivation, you have got to drop it." We could not, he said, say that. But let not his hon. friends be too much crestfallen. That night stress has been laid upon China. There were now two Parties to any future movement. There was China in, he thought, the first place, and there was the Government of India and this House in the second place. What did China want?


Freedom from opium.


said he hoped it was so. If it were so, the thing was done. But here, again—he wanted to be perfectly candid and frank with the House—the report of the American committee, on this point of China's anxiety to be rid of it was not quite what his hon. friend seemed to think it was. The American report distinctly said in five or six places that it could find no evidence whatever that China, whatever she might have been in those years which his hon. friend referred to—and there, he believed, his hon. friend was perfectly right—was very anxious to get rid of this pestilential evil. Let them look at our own attitude. We had not shown ourselves averse to doing anything we could to meet any desire on the part of China to restrict this importation. There was a treaty made by Sir James Mackay, a very able and distinguished member of the Council of India, and anybody who would take the trouble to read that treaty would find that we agreed to do all we could to exclude morphia from China. That was a sign— they might, if they cared, belittle it as much as they chose—that we were anxious to meet the views of China. And, whilst some of them were thinking, perhaps, uncharitable things of the Government of India, let them think of Burma, He should like to show what the American Commissioners said of that. It was fully described in their report, but they went on in this way— Unquestionably the Government, That was our Government, Is doing all it can to fight against these vices; and though misunderstood by the natives and reviled by those who should know better, the British Government is working conscientiously and steadily for the protection of the Burmese. Let them be glad when they found the Indian Government, or His Majesty's Government, doing what they could in regard to this question. What were they going to do? His hon. friend seemed to think he had despotic power, and that tomorrow morning he was going to wipe all this out. It was not reasonable; he was not. But he would say that if China wanted seriously and in good faith to restrict the consumption of this drug in China, the British Government would not close the door. It was no secret that the Chinese had been considering for the last two years or more whether some plan could be devised of dealing with the importation of opium into their country, other than that which now prevailed. His Majesty's late Minister at Peking would shortly be in this country, and the Government would then learn from him exactly how these proposals and inclinations stood. They would then see whether they could in some way meet the views of the Chinese Government. He thought he might say that to any plan for the restriction of the consumption of opium brought forward in good faith the Government of India and His Majesty's Government would say they would agree to it, even though it might cost us some sacrifice. He thought it was Lord Curzon who said— Only moral failure can shatter the prospect that awaits Great Britain in the impending task of the regeneration of the East. In that great task, in that civilising mission of the regeneration of the East, whatever our attempts might give us, or might fail in giving us, do not let us fall behind Japan or India.

*SIR H. COTTON (Nottingham, E.)

congratulated the right hon. Gentleman upon the very sympathetic statement he had made to the House, and as an old Indian official he could appreciate caution and circumspection. The right hon. Gentleman had explained the cultivation and manufacture of opium in India, and the history of the drug until it reached China. But it seemed to him that the right hon. Gentleman failed at that point. He did not explain what happened to this drug when it got into the Chinese Custom houses. That was the real point. The Chinese were bound under treaties which we had forced upon them to admit opium into their country at a very low Customs duty. Were we prepared to allow the Chinese Government to exercise their own discretion in regard to the amount of these duties? If we were, there was little left to be said. Our duty was a simple one. We should negotiate with China with a view to withdrawing the restrictions which were laid down in the treaties of Tien-tsin and Chifu. We should give China a free hand. That was what the House wanted to be done. The Secretary of State for India should also obtain the opinion of competent and experienced natives of India in regard to this matter. Educated opinion in India was strongly opposed to the opium trade, and he did not think the right hon. Gentleman would find among this section of the community any wish or desire that the nefarious traffic should be continued. He believed the people of India would gladly agree that the £3,000,000 received from China should be lost to the Indian Empire. They considered that this amount might be saved by greater economies. There would never be economies practised in the Government of India so long as there was a large surplus year after year. It was only when there were difficulties in finance that economies were practised. It had been, he thought, a misfortune for India that during the past five or six years there had been such a large surplus. That surplus had been expended in extravagant administration, and it was only within the last two years that any reductions in taxation had been allowed. The opinion of the people of India was that very great economies were possible in that country, but he ventured to go so far as to say that such was their dislike of this opium traffic that they would be prepared to see an adjustment of taxation to make up the deficit, if it were absolutely necessary.

Question put, and agreed to.