HC Deb 30 July 1907 vol 179 cc835-41

Considered in Committee.

(In the Committee.)

King's Message [24th July], read.


said: Mr. Deputy-Speaker, I rise with perfect confidence to propose, (in response to the gracious Message from His Majesty) that a fitting recognition should be made of Lord Cromer's great services by a grant out of public funds. Hitherto, it is true, such grants have with, some exceptions, been confined to those who have performed conspicuous services to the country in war; but I do not imagine that in the House of Commons there will be many who would wish to exclude from tangible acknowledgment the quieter and less resounding, but not less glorious and hardly-won triumphs of peaceful administration. It would not be too much to say, that of all our peaceful administrators throughout the Empire of the present day Lord Cromer is the foremost man—foremost in courage, in wisdom, in resource, in patience; foremost, also, from the difficulties which he has had to encounter, foremost by the splendid results he has achieved. It is not, indeed, in Egypt only that he has done great services to this nation. Before his career in Egypt began he had done work in India, the effect of which is felt to this day. But it is to the last twenty-four years, which constitute the second half of his long public life, that our thoughts turn to-day. We all know how Lord Cromer's administration of the affairs of Egypt has been marked by striking material progress. That has been the case in every department of activity in the great province whose reconstruction he made the business of his life. Take the agricultural and other industries which he set himself to develop. The external trade of Egypt has doubled since he became Agent and Consul-General in 1883. The irrigation works carried out during his consulate have been the means of creating out of the desert fair and fertile tracts of vast extent. In the same period the population of Egypt has increased from 6,750,000 to 9,750,000. Egypt has suffered, and still suffers, from heavy taxation, but, notwithstanding the great outlay which all the improvements he effected in the public service entailed, Lord Cromer succeeded in reducing the burden of taxation per head by nearly 25 per cent., and the charge for interest on the debt was reduced by £890,000 a year. Beset as he was by demands for expenditure on every hand, he never lost sight of the paramount duty of economical administration, or forgot that the taxes were paid by the peasantry out of their poverty. That in itself is asplen did achievement. But the measure of Lord Cromer's success is not to be found or stated in any record of trade returns or financial statistics. The security and the liberty which his labours have secured for Egypt, the revival of justice, and the work he did for education—these are matters of which, I think, his countrymen are prouder than of the material results which he obtained. When we reflect upon the conditions under which this great labour was conducted and these results accomplished, when we remember that twenty-four years ago, when he began his task, Egypt was derelict and bankrupt, her people almost effaced under a burden of taxation and indebtedness, and that all his efforts for reform had to be carried out under a system surely the most cumbersome and grievous to be borne that ever hampered an administrator, it is difficult to find words in which to express the admiration we feel for the steadfastness and courage which enabled him to attain the ends which he set before himself. In his last Report Lord Cromer speaks of "the benefits which, with a rapidity probably unparalleled in history, have been conferred on the country by the introduction of Western civilisation at the hands of an alien race;" and I think he attributed to this state of things the growth of the national spirit in Egypt. But I wish to point out that Lord Cromer belongs to the school of administrators who hold it wise to hasten slowly in superimposing the civilisation of one race upon another; and we must bear this in mind if we are to appreciate the methods he has employed and the spirit he brought to his work. Lord Cromer profoundly disbelieved in any attempt to force the Egyptian people into a Western mould. He sought to preserve what was vital and characteristic in their habits, laws, and customs, and, so far from approaching them as an alien and a superior, he made it his business to understand their character and to study their grievances and their needs as they presented themselves to the actual people. And so by working through mediums familiar to them, and employing, as far as possible, native agents, he hoped to enable them to develop along their own lines, and to meet the civilisation of the West, not as hybrids, but as self-respecting beings in full possession of their own qualities and characteristics. When I see, as I sometimes see, Lord Cromer criticised for his want of sympathy with the national spirit, I am disposed to ask whether his wise and patient and understanding administration, and the respect shown by him from the first to the Egyptian race, do not entitle him to be considered as a great nationalist administrator. If he had cared to dazzle the world with swift and sensational results, there were plenty of capitalists ready to develop Egypt on the lines of European finance, and Lord Cromer would have saved himself infinite trouble if he had yielded to pressure and let them in. But he saw that the regeneration of Egypt could only be effected through the Egyptians themselves, and in devising measures for emancipating the peasantry from the bondage of debt, and preserving them in their own holdings, he laid the foundation of an agrarian policy which is equally the foundation of modern Egypt; and that policy, as I think, is not the least of his titles to the gratitude of the country he has served so well and to the admiration and respect of his countrymen. To a Ministry which has just lost Lord Cromer's services there are other considerations which come home with peculiar and poignant force. Indeed, I feel that I am speaking for succession of Ministries, which during the last twenty-five years have been preoccupied with the Egyptian question, when I say that in losing him we lose a public servant who in all the anxious and harassing events and complications associated with Egypt has been a tower of strength, whose courage, resource, wisdom, and loyalty never failed. The qualities which enabled Lord Cromer to surmount difficulties which seemed insoluble, and to maintain his serene outlook, and his firm grasp of affairs at times when other men would have been tempted to despair, were never obtruded on the public gaze, though, for all that, I think his countrymen have deduced from what they know of his personality and his labours a fair estimate of his services. Now that he has come home broken in health, having spent his strength and his fortune in the public service, I believe that, in showing him this mark of esteem, such as it is in the power of the House of Commons alone to accord, we shall be not only honouring, so far as it is in our power to honour, a great man who has greatly served his country, but enabling the country and the Empire through this House to recognise as they desire, the debt they owe to Lord Cromer.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That a sum, not exceeding £50,000, be granted to His Majesty, to be issued to the Earl of Cromer, O.M., G.C.B.. G.C.M.G., K.C.S.I., C.I.E., in recognition of his eminent services as Agent and Consul General in Egypt."—(Sir Henry Campbell Bannerman.)

MR. A. J. BALFOUR (City of London)

The rather unfortunate circumstances under which this Vote comes on for discussion compel me to confine my remarks into the space of a very few minutes. But those few minutes are enough to give me the opportunity of saying clearly and explicitly that my friends and I are anxious to give the Government our whole-hearted support in the course they are now pursuing. We believe that that course is the right course; we believe it is consistent with the honour of this country, and with the traditions of this House, and we are glad the Government have determined on a policy of which the vote to be taken to-night is the expression. The right hon. Gentleman has referred to the fact that this House has not been ungenerous in its recognition of the great services which distinguished generals in moments of national crises and difficulty have rendered the country.


With other people's money.


Such interjections are regrettable, and I hope the hon. Member will restrain his feelings. But this, so far as I know, is the first time the House of Commons has been asked to vote to a civil servant any great mark of national gratitude, and while nobody doubts, or can doubt, that the labours of peace are as deserving of reward as the labours of war, still, undoubtedly, it is the fact that we do not recognise as part of our ordinary system the giving of special rewards to civil servants, however able and distinguished their services may be. The right hon. Gentleman did not expressly state, but he implied, the grounds upon which we may well differentiate the case of Lord Cromer from the cases of other civil servants, however able and distinguished, because we have before us in Egypt the fruits of the work of one great man, which stands out as isolated, as remarkable, as special, and. as signal a work of genius as the more sudden glories of some great military triumph. It is separated, not perhaps as clearly and distinctly as a great military triumph, but it is separated from the work of those great civil servants abroad who have done inestimable service to the Empire, by special characteristics which mark it off and render it a matter for differentiation, and amply justifies the course which the Government have taken. The right hon. Gentleman has told us in outline, and it could only be done in outline, all that Lord Cromer has accomplished for Egypt. Lord Cromer's services during the past quarter of a century have raised Egypt from the lowest pitch of social and economic degradation until it now stands among Oriental nations, I believe, absolutely alone in its prosperity, financial and moral. There is no triumph of civilisation to which Lord Cromer has not contributed in the course of those twenty-five years, material, moral, and intellectual. Everything he has touched he has succeeded in, every cause he has taken in hand he has furthered, and he left Egypt able to look back upon an administration longer, more beneficent, more fruitful, the results of which are more obviously apparent to all who have eyes to see and ears to hear, than perhaps can be boasted of by any one of his great predecessors who have, whether in the case of this country or in the case of any other country, carried on a great civilising work among nations which for one reason or another cannot perhaps rise to the level of those whose lot it is to govern. The difficulty of governing nations under these conditions is great. It requires sympathy, courage, steadfastness. Lord Cromer has all these qualities. He has dealt with the difficulties inevitable in such a situation. He has dealt with other difficulties as well, difficulties arising out of the peculiar international position in which Egypt finds herself, difficulties arising out of inevitable jealousies, of the presence in Egypt of large numbers of highly qualified and highly civilised Europeans who did not look upon our position in Egypt with a wholly friendly eye. These difficulties, diplomatic and social, he has dealt with successfully. He has dealt with them in a manner which has earned the permanent gratitude of the Egyptian people and which has well deserved some distinguishing mark of the gratitude which this House and country owe to one of its greatest public servants.

And, it being a quarter past Eight of the clock, and leave having been given to move the Adjournment of the House under Standing Order No. 10, Further Proceeding was postponed without Question put.