§ Motion made—"That the House at its rising on May 16th, do adjourn until Thursday, May 23rd."— Sir H. Campbell-Bannerman.
§ *SIR JOHN KENNAWAY
said he wished to ask the Foreign Secretary to give the House some information regarding the progress of the Congo question. The hearts of the people had been deeply stirred, as was shown by a movement not confined to the Churches. In all the crowded centres of population large meetings had been held, presided over by the chief magistrates to protest against the continuance of the system of misrule on the Congo, where, by the imposition of forced labour for private profit, almost the whole of the population. 985 had been reduced to a condition of slavery and bondage under most barbarous conditions. It was not merely on humanitarian grounds that a settlement of the question was sought. The recent letter of Sir Henry John stone, who was well qualified to speak on the subject, showed that its continuance was raising a feeling among the negro races which constituted a growing menace to white administration in Africa. He felt a great responsibility in bringing the question forward, and recognised that it ought to be handled with extreme delicacy, lest they should seem to give a friendly nation any ground for thinking that it was their desire to interfere with their affairs and with their freedom of action. Belgium and England were united by closest ties of alliance, friendship, and community of interests. They knew how intimate was the connection of the two Royal Houses. He had, himself, warm recollections of hospitality and kindness, received at the Brussels Conference of 1876, at the hands of the King. But the fact was clear that the Congo Free State which came into existence as a great philanthropic enterprise had become the scene of vast profits earned by slave labour, and had thereby produced a scandal of great dimensions. Where did England's duty come in the matter? She was largely responsible for the Berlin Treaty of 1892. The Congo Free State would never have come into existence but for the co-operation and sanction and help of Great Britain. Remonstrances had been made again and again. They had hoped against hope. They had looked for reforms which it was said were going to be arrived at. They had been told that the sufferings of the natives and the cruelties perpetrated were exaggerated. He thought he had the authority of the right hon. Gentleman for saying that the statements had been corroborated to the full, and that the reforms were nothing but a delusion and a snare. Their attention had been called to the Parliamentary crisis in Belgium, but he was afraid that the result of that Parliamentary crisis had been to put an even stronger contingent of the King's Party in the new Government than there was in the previous Government, and a contingent less favourable to freedom. There had been going on, and was going on now, an attempt to start the annexation to 986 Belgium of the Congo, which would leave the King in complete control, and Belgium was being deluded into thinking that a valuable property was being put before her, and that England, against whom a torrent of abuse had been, and was being poured out, was wishing to keep her out of it. That new scheme of annexation would practically uphold the present system in all essentials. They were raising the question that day with the earnest desire to support His Majesty's Government in pressing for reform. He hoped it would be made clear to the people of Belgium that if she annexed the Congo she was bound by the terms of the Act of Berlin, interpreted so as to mean that the native of the Congo had an unquestioned right to sell his labour freely. They wished to consider in every way the susceptibilities of the Belgian people, but they felt it to be their clear duty to try to inform them on this matter, and to show that the proposed form of annexation would give them no real control at all. They asked the Belgian people to demand from their Government and from the King the whole truth about the state of affairs in the Congo, its provinces, its liabilities, its revenue and expenditure, in order that they might be able to judge for themselves as to whether the continuance of the system would conduce to their honour and the continuance of their high fame. In the last resource, they hoped that England, backed by the other Powers, would insist that a free State, established under international powers, and subject to international treaties, should become the subject of international consideration. The Foreign Secretary would know how that might be brought about—whether a conference could be summoned or other action might be possible. They believed in his earnest desire to press forward this matter. They recognised the difficulties that surrounded his action, and they desired to give him all the support and encouragement in their power.
§ *SIR CHARLES DILKE (Gloucestershire, Forest of Dean)
said that in bringing forward this question they all, he thought, spoke with a very deep sense of responsibility, and followed the lines and tone adopted by the right hon. Baronet 987 opposite. It would be very easy to do harm in this delicate question were they not to speak on the subject with responsibility. It was unnecessary to go into the past history of the question; they had to deal with the present situation to which the right hon. Baronet had directed his remarks. No one could speak more weightily than the right hon. Gentleman on the subject, because he had taken a prominent part in connection with the Congo State. In 1877 he was one of those who believed in the enterprise of King Leopold, and as President of the Church Missionary Society, a member of the Comite d'Études du Haut Congo, and of the international anti-slavery societies, he helped to put King Leopold into the place of Portugal to protect the natives. The enterprise had turned out sadly, as they all admitted. The Congo State, as the right hon Baronet had told them, was international in its character. It had been brought into existence, as he thought the Powers generally contended, including even the United States, by the Berlin Act. To that statement, which was the foundation of their case, King Leopold replied that it was the United States which brought the Congo State into existence, If so, their case was virtually the same, because the American treaty, though made before the Berlin and other treaties, was on the same lines, and recognised the flag of the Congo Committee, of which the right hon. Baronet was a member. It was recognised that the State was founded for philanthropic objects, but in recent days the King of the Belgians had set up a claim couched in almost stronger terms than those of Louis XIV. which had been often quoted. The Congo State of the American Treaty had no boundaries; it was a State in embryo. The United States, which King Leopold quoted as having created the Congo State, had expressed the same doctrine as our Government expressed, and it might be claimed, therefore, that the Government of the United States shared in the views which the right hon. Baronet had put forward. Such a conference as that.suggested by the right hon. Baronet could be forced by us at any time. There were several obvious means, which it might or might not be wise to go into, 988 by which we could bring about a conference. No one could read the Berlin Act without seeing that it was so. In reply to the deputation of last year and afterwards in the House of Commons, the Secretary of State used these words—It was impossible for the Powers to contemplate the maintenance of the present régime in breach of the declaration of the Powers in the Berlin Act.The right hon. Gentleman also said, which they were prepared to confirm—That there was no one in this country who had any individual interest in this matter.Our interest was national and philanthropic, because we were responsible in a high degree for the creation of the Congo State. That responsibility was a double one—a treble one, he might almost say. We were not only responsible as one of the Powers, but we were also responsible singly, and again doubly with America. Our responsibility as one of the Powers was an active one and admitted by all. The Government were responsible in a high degree, as the right hon. Baronet had said, as having been the Power which did the most to bring the Congo State into existence. We had the treaties made by Cameron and refused by Mr. Disraeli. We refused to take over the territory. We were encouraged by philanthropists and anti-slavery societies to give over the territory to King Leopold, and had it not been for us, Portugal, which had the old rights and a strong claim, would have been in possession. It was our action largely, and the action of the House of Commons and of the missionary bodies and anti-slavery societies, which turned out Portugal and put in King Leopold. We had also a joint responsibility with the United States, because had it not been for the action of the United States, the Berlin Conference would not have come about. His right hon. friend had alluded to the view of the Secretary of State as being that of both Front Benches and of Lord Lansdowne. His right hon. friend's words, in closing the discussion with the deputation last year were satisfactory, and he repeated them in the House afterwards. The Secretary of State said—We wished for the Belgian solution, in order to obtain publicity and constitutional 989 responsibility in Belgium, which would give Europe some security. He desired Belgium to be unembarrassed in her choice which he wished her to exercise by taking over the Congo State.The desire that Belgium should be "unembarrassed" meant, of course, unembarrassed except by the provisions of the Act of Berlin, of which she could not rid herself, except with the consent of Europe. Belgium could not free herself from her treaties except with the consent of the Powers and of the United States. In every other sense she was unembarrassed. They who had been all along connected with this question had held their hands; they had been careful, moderate, and reserved in their action in that House. It had been impossible to prevent public meetings, when the people were strongly excited by the accounts of what had taken place, but their action had been moderate and on correct lines. Belgium had been given much time and left, unembarrassed, to her choice. His right hon. friend the Secretary of State added that—he refused to face the prospect of the continuance of the present régime for an indefinite time and thought it impossible to continue to recognise indefinitely the present state of things.That was the crux of the question. Their case was that delay might create difficulties. Some months ago they were alarmed by seeing the statement that the action of the late Belgian Government was likely to be postponed until November. They were threatened by the late Belgian Government with postponement of the Bill to November, which might mean the beginning of next year. They were threatened by the new Belgian Government with a similar postponement. The scrupulous moderation of the Secretary of State's speeches had not met with due reward, and England, as represented by the uniform statements of Lord Lansdowne and the Foreign Secretary, was held up to execration as desiring to interfere with the liberty of Belgium. There was no trace of such a desire. Belgium could only by treaty take the Congo State as it existed; that was subject to the Berlin Act and to the treaties. Unless that was made clear to the Belgian Government, there was a risk that when 990 Europe had to interfere, as, if the declaration of the new Cabinet was to stand, it must interfere, it would be face to face with an opinion of a majority in the present Belgian Chamber wilfully misled upon this point. The obvious danger of an interference which must then take place would be increased. The subject was one upon which France, and Germany, as adjoining Powers to the Congo State, ought to come to an understanding. If the Belgian solution broke down, we recognised the French right of pre-emption, but it was possible that France might not desire to act fully on that right, and might, if Belgium chose to stand out, prefer to make fresh arrangements in which Germany would be a sharer, and in which, with our assent, there might be some measure of partition in which we should not desire to participate. The Lado enclave was, of course, only leased by us and fell back into the Soudan. Some time ago Lord Fitzmaurice pointed out, and his phrase was afterwards quoted by the noble Lord the Member for South Kensington, when Under-Secretary of State, that we would and in certain circumstances must take a forcible step which would immediately bring about a conference of the Powers. The same result might be attained by our proposing that we and the United States and Italy, and probably France, should resume consular jurisdiction over our own subjects in the Congo. Their case to-day was that the declaration of the new Belgian Government flew in the face of the Berlin Act and that their proposals did not seem calculated to produce publicity in the Congo administration; that, under these circumstances, delay in again making our position perfectly clear was dangerous. Our policy was that the Belgian Parliament should at once pass a Bill taking over the Congo State under conditions which would give the Belgian Parliament real power to improve the administration, and, failing that, recognition of the French right of preemption, and suggestion that France should be induced to communicate with Germany as to the eventual exercise of that right of pre-emption. Such a policy could alone avoid increased, danger.
§ EARL PERCY (Kensington, S.)
We are all agreed in believing that the best and probably the only solution of the evils of which we complain is what the right hon. Baronet has called the Belgian solution, the annexation of the Congo State by Belgium. All we have to consider on the present occasion is whether there are any steps we can take in order to bring about that desirable consummation. There is one step which I think we can take, if it has not been taken already, and that is to make it quite clear—I think the right hon. Gentleman has made it clear in his speeches to deputations, if not in his speeches in this House—that supposing the policy of annexation is rejected, there is nothing in the decrees promulgated last year which would reconcile His Majesty's Government to an indefinite prolongation of the existing state of things. To begin with there is considerable ambiguity on certain very important points as to the intentions of the authors of those decrees. I mentioned one last year. The Committee which sat to elaborate the reforms recommended that no fresh concessions should be granted to private companies which would involve powers of administration and taxation, and that though the existing companies might continue to exercise their present functions they should be deprived of all power of coercion. But the Decrees went further than that, because they assigned the duty of levying taxation in future exclusively to special agents appointed by the State and acting under the authority of the District Commissioners. That seemed to imply that in future no persons could be employed in levying taxation who were in any way directly or indirectly connected with the affairs of the trading companies, and who, therefore, had a personal motive for extortion. If that was the interpretation it was the recognition of a very valuable principle. But no one, I think, can read the White-paper, published within the past few days, without very grave suspicion, amounting almost to a feeling of certainty, that the term "State agent" really means the agent of the companies, and, in point of fact, it is the same individual under a different name; and, in view of the rumours of fresh concessions on a large scale to American 992 and other companies, this is a question to which I think it would be well worth while to draw the attention of the Congo Government, in order, if possible, to obtain an explanation. Then there is the question of how far the reforms which are embodied in these decrees have been carried into execution. If we are to judge from the reports of the vice-consuls in various parts of the Congo, and the reports of missionaries, I think we shall certainly arrive at the conclusion that the reforms which have bean carried out are few and that they have produced very small results. Quite apart from those reports, I think we should arrive at the same conclusion from the circumstance referred to in the Belgian Parliament, namely, that last year there has been no such diminution in the rubber export as we should have expected if the decree had been carried out reducing the labour tax from sixty to forty hours a month. But the really important point with regard to these decrees, what makes it impossible to regard them as in any sense affording a basis for a permanent settlement of this problem, is the assumption upon which they rest, that reform in the Congo State is not to be regarded as an act of tardy justice and reparation which is to be carried out, whatever the cost, but as a distant ideal, a distant counsel of perfection which is not to interfere with the efficiency of the Congo State Government as an instrument for raising revenue. His Majesty's Government should make it clear that they cannot under any circumstances admit that financial difficulties supply any excuse for refusing to carry out the purposes, the prospect and promise of which alone secured recognition for the Congo State twenty five years ago. It has been argued that even annexation by Belgium would not necessarily provide a remedy, and it has been suggested in some quarters that the right hon. Gentleman should make an announcement before the question comes up for decision in the Belgian Parliament that annexation will not have our approval unless it is accompanied by guarantees for what we are accustomed to regard as constitutional control. I am am not sure that annexation would be valueless even if it took place under the 993 derisory conditions contemplated by the Colonial law. Almost anything will be better than the existing state of things. I cannot help thinking that, once the principle of national responsibility is accepted by Belgium, it will not be very long before the restrictions which hamper the action of Parliament will be swept away, and I think any announcement of the kind suggested would be both inexpedient and unnecessary. I cannot believe the Belgian people are likely to accept annexation except in circumstances which would enable them to put an end to abuses of which they are as conscious as we are ourselves. What we have to apprehend much more is that they may be deterred from undertaking annexation by the financial liabilities. That is the crucial point. If reforms are carried out and abuses are put a stop to it will mean a large loss of revenue, which will have to be made good out of the pockets of the Belgian taxpayers. That brings me to the only suggestion which I should like to put forward, and I do so in all humility on my own responsibility because I think it is worthy of some consideration. None of us are in a position to say how far, supposing effectual reforms are carried out, it will be possible to carry on the administration without a great discrepancy between revenue and expenditure. In the case of almost everyone of our British Protectorates, for a great number of years they could only be carried on by the assistance of large grants in aid. Belgium is precluded from raising any large amount of revenue in the form of indirect taxation by the provisions of the Berlin Act, which limit the rate of Customs duties to a very low scale and were inserted with the express idea of encouraging and freeing international trade. As a matter of fact, freedom of trade has been strangled by the introduction of the concessionary system. Assuming it would be possible by a moderate all-round increase of the Customs duties, which would not involve any differentiation between the imports of one Power and those of another, to make up for the deficit which would be caused in the revenue by the introduction of reforms, is it not worth while considering whether the Powers 994 should not intimate their willingness to take into consideration the question of a revision of duties on condition that annexation by Belgium is accompanied by solid guarantees for the termination of abuses and the removal of restrictions which in fact have proved more injurious to the growth of trade than any tariff would have been? As to a further attempt being made to induce the various Powers to come together in a conference, the right hon. Gentleman will be able to inform the House whether the prospects of such a conference are more favourable now than when the late Government made the proposal. We have the very gratifying resolution passed on the motion of Senator Lodge in the United States Senate, and a very remarkable change of tone is noticeable both in the French and German Press. What is desired in this matter is not merely to carry other Powers with us. but, as far as possible, to carry with us public opinion in Belgium itself; and I cannot imagine a better way of doing that than by giving some concrete and tangible evidence that a conference, if it meets, will act in no hostile spirit towards Belgium, but only in the desire to give her every assistance in putting her own house in order.
§ *MR. BENNETT (Oxfordshire, Woodstook)
said he thought that every Member of the House agreed that I the time for the production of evidence against the administration of the Congo State was past and over. The evidence lay before them complete and indubitable, and all that remained for them was action based upon that evidence. Large and enthusiastic meetings had been held in practically every big town and city in the Kingdom, and he was certain that a very large number of thoughtful people in the country felt very deeply on the matter, and would be grievously disappointed if the present policy of drift were allowed to continue. Apart, however, from the mass of testimony accumulated in the past it was worth while noticing that the evils of Congo mis-government continued at this moment unabated. Missionaries and travellers continued to send in reports of the systematic barbarism practised by the Conglese officials, and one story 995 recently reported by Mr. Bond, of the Balolo Mission—the gradual decimation of a village community by sordid and murderous cruelty—was one of the most terrible items in the long and appalling list of Congo atrocities. And if such things were actually going on under the very eyes of Englishmen, let hon. Members try to realise, if they could, the devilries which were being perpetrated in outlying districts of that vast area as yet unvisited by missionaries or travellers. If anyone were disposed partially to discount such evidence as that given above on the ground of its being too "sensational," let such a critic tarn to a recent Report furnished by our own Vice-Consul Armstrong who speaks of the imposition in A. B.I. R. territories of a new poll-tax of 25 francs per annum. Now as the native received for 1 kilo, of rubber, of the market value of 8–10 francs, only 1 kilo, of salt, value 30–50 centimes, the imposition of this cruel tax meant the production of 4 kilos, of rubber per month—a practical impossibility for the wretched labourer, as it would leave him absolutely no margin of time to secure any adequate subsistence for himself or his family. Never in his opinion had the position of affairs with respect to Congo reform been more critical than at present, or the prospect of securing such reform more gloomy. In the first place, King Leopold had openly repudiated any British right of interference. In an interview with Sir Arthur Hardinge, M. de Cuvelier, the Belgian Minister, had used these words—No foreign Power had any right to interfere with the internal administration of the Congo Free State.Sir Arthur Hardinge had then asked whether, if King Leopold saw fit to establish a system of absolute and undisguised slavery, the signatory Powers would still possess no rights of interference, and the same answer had been returned by the Belgian Minister. Again, the constitution of the new Cabinet at Brussels could not inspire much hopefulness. Some of the Ministers appeared to be mere subservient nominees of the King, and others had direct financial interests in the profits of the Congo rubber companies. But the chief reason of his pessimism as to present possibilities of Congo reform was as follows. The Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs 996 had declared last July that "we cannot wait for ever"; how greatly he wished that the right hon. Gentleman could tell the House that evening "we can wait no longer." He feared that at any moment the King, through his subservient Cabinet, might secure the technical annexation of the Congo by Belgium on the same evil lines—the negation of all civil rights to the natives, the denial to the black of any right to the produce of the soil, his own labour, his wife and children, or, indeed, his own life. If the Congo were annexed on such conditions as those our difficulties would be increased tenfold. If we had found it difficult to deal with the private ruler of a State, of which we ourselves were, so to speak, a trustee, let the House think of the obstacles in our way if the Congo was governed on the same conditions by the Belgian nation, the neutrality of which had been guaranteed by the Powers of Europe! If that came to pass, he feared that the infamy of the Congo would become stereotyped and permanent. That present discussion on the Congo would perhaps be the last within the House of Commons, and the long series of Parliamentary speeches on the subject delivered by Members of different political parties since 1903 would remain in Hansard as melancholy monuments of futile enthusiasm and, he was bound to add, national discredit. King Leopold had recently appeared to abandon his attempts to justify the misconduct of his satraps on the Congo, or contradict the verdict of his own Commission. He had taken refuge in patriotism—the last resort of such a monarch—and his followers were indulging in violent abuse of the British Government and people for our supposed intention to override the "constitutional rights of Belgium." The Belgian apologists for Congo misrule adopted the ad hominem argument of recounting various instances of alleged misdoings on the part of Great Britain herself. A Belgian Minister had, for example, recently exclaimed in the Chamber, "We are not a Transvaal to be suppressed amid the protests of the civilised world." Well, he was quite ready to acknowledge that our own hands as an Imperial race were not wholly clean. He frankly confessed that since he had entered that House things had occurred in Egypt, Natal, India, and the Transvaal which, to 997 some extent, shocked and disappointed his Radicalism: he regretted that recognition was so readily accorded to that mischievous fetish, the superior wisdom and humanity of the "man on the spot," and that at the recent Colonial Conference, wherein certain commercial advantages for a handful of Colonial farmers were discussed ad nauseam, no single word was uttered on behalf of the grievances, material welfare, or moral advancement of the King's black subjects in those self-governing Colonies. Nevertheless, all said and done, to compare our own failures and errors with the atrocious oppression of the Congolese natives was to lack all sense of proportion; it was in fact impossible, he thought, to find anywhere in history, ancient or modern, any parallel for this cruel and continuous exploitation of 15,000,000 of helpless blacks for the sake of private profit. At any rate we could say with the utmost sincerity that in this matter of Congo reform we were absolutely disinterested. If to-morrow morning the Congo State were partitioned between France and Germany, every Member of that House would greet the news with unfeigned delight. Of course private Members in that House could not help realising their impotence in these great questions of foreign policy and international ethics. They were like the rank and file of the Homeric armies who advanced "breathing valour" or "chattering like cranes," but contributed very little to the settlement of the great issues which were decided by their leaders. Nevertheless, he ventured to beg the Secretary for Foreign Affairs to use his best endeavours to bring about a conference of the signatory Powers. The moment might not be wholly propitious, but the possible alternative—Belgian annexation on existing lines—was too dreadful to contemplate. Nay, if the British Government declined to recognise any longer the flag of what was virtually a slave State, and tried the effect of a "peaceful blockade," he thought that the despatch of a single cruiser to the mouth of the river would speedily bring the monarch of the Congo on his knees. The Foreign Secretary had spoken as follows in 1904—He did not think that any of the great European Powers, with the facts so clearly established as they now were, ought to be content in view of their own honour in the matter to sit still and do nothing.998 If those words were true then, as they certainly were, they were a fortiori true now.
§ MR. PIKE PEASE (Darlington)
said he wished to ask the right hon. Gentleman the Foreign Secretary whether he thought there was any likelihood of Belgium taking over the Congo. He understood from answers that had been given that practically a promise had been given that a Bill would be brought into the Belgian Chamber which would carry out that proposal. Everybody realised the importance of the question and that the statements made with reference to savagery and cruelty on the Congo were quite true. There was no doubt that a large number of people had believed that those reports were very much exaggerated, but, although there might have been a certain amount of exaggeration, it was perfectly plain from the testimony received from Italy, France, Germany, and Belgium herself that the statements were true to a very great extent, and that at present there was an extraordinary amount of cruelty, tyranny, and savagery going on in the Congo. He would like, in confirmation of that statement, to quote to the House what appeared on 28th February last in Le Patriote, a Belgian Royalist and Catholic paper. An indignant editorial on the situation contained the following—The rebellion in the A. B. I. R. territory extends. The Government itself forces the rubber, and delivers it on the Antwerp quay to the brokers of the A. B. I. R. … Nothing is altered on the Congo. The same abominable measures are adopted; the same outrages take place. … The Government is adopting the same measures as in the Mongalla, flooding the A. B. I. R. territory with soldiers to utterly smash the people, whom it thinks will then work, and the rubber output be increased. … The memory of these deeds will remain graven in the memory of man, and in the memory of Divine vengeance. Sooner or later the executioners will have to render an account to God and to history.He believed that more than one Belgian paper corroborated the testimony to which he had referred. Many persons desired that there should be a conference in regard to the matter. It appeared to them that if there was a conference between Germany and France, taking into account the fact that France had a right of pre-emption, and if we were 999 allowed to attend that conference with the United States and those other countries, there might be found some means of forcing Belgium to take action in the matter. He was very glad the debate on this question had taken place, and he sincerely trusted that the outcome might be some action which would lead to the cessation of the abuses of which they complained. The question had not been raised in any hostile spirit, for they all recognised that the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs had the interests of this country at heart in every particular. He sincerely trusted that the right hon. Gentleman might be able to do something for the benefit of the unfortunate people of the Congo Free State.
§ *SIR F. CHANNING (Northamptonshire, E.)
said hon. Members in all parts of the House were grateful to the right hon. Baronet for having raised this discussion. The noble Lord the Member for South Kensington had contributed a thoughtful analysis of the actual situation in connection with the Congo. It did not seem to him that it would be useful to enter into the appalling record of the terrible condition of affairs in the Congo with which they were familiar, or to develop any arguments based on the special conduct of the Belgian monarch, which might tend to exasperate the situation in Belgium. He thought that all wise, thoughtful, and humane men who had studied the acknowledged facts of the question would be at one in wishing, without stirring up bitterness which might defeat their object, to find some practical suggestions which might lead to a termination of this chapter of horrors in the Congo basin. The noble Lord had said with perfect accuracy that annexation pure and simple, such as some Belgians were willing to agree to, might tend to bring about through publicity and discussion in the Belgian Parliament those checks upon ill-government in Africa which right-minded men would wish to see. The noble Lord had suggested that we should not insist on the conditions which the various treaties placed at our disposal.
§ *SIR F. CHANNING
said he thought that the noble Lord rather discouraged the idea of the right hon. Member for the Forest of Dean that we should insist on those general conditions of the Berlin and Brussels Conferences being observed, upon the basis of which the Congo State was explicitly formed. The noble Lord made a suggestion in regard to what really lay at the bottom of the whole matter, the economic position in which Belgium would find herself after annexation. His suggestion that the Powers should permit customs duties to be levied on imports into the Congo basin was of great importance, but if that would lead to a diminution of the trade they wished to see on the Congo River and the Congo basin it might defeat the very object he had in view. The very first means contemplated by the Powers for carrying out the policy of the civilisation of the Congo had been to throw it open to the legitimate trade of the whole world. They were all familiar with the experiences related by Sir Henry Stanley who stated his impression that the natives had splendid qualities for carrying on trade. He submitted that that was the true key to the solution of this problem if Belgium did annex the Congo Free State. What they had to do was to insist, as a solemn duty, on the conditions under which the Congo Free State war, established, being carried out to the letter, and this opening to trade was the only way of accomplishing that purpose. It should be remembered that this country was not only responsible for the Congo State, it was responsible for the very existence of Belgium as a. State in Europe; and that imposed upon us the solemn duty of supporting those Members of the Belgian Parliament who were endeavouring to work out a right and proper solution of the problem of the government of the Congo, and who were well aware of the terrible condition of things that prevailed there, and of the mendacious statements that were made in some quarters to disguise what had occurred. They need not exasperate the situation by criticising the action of the Belgian monarch; but what they might do in that House was to point out the enormous possibilities which a rational handling of the economic situation by the development of trade might bring about, A. 1001 European conference might be brought about. That should be their first aim, but if that were impracticable, there might be joint action between this country and the United States. President Roosevelt had solved more than one great international problem; and he thought that if President Roosevelt could, with the assistance of His Majesty's Government, bring pressure to bear on the Belgium Government on this matter, the result would be that they might face the difficulties of the future in that part of Africa. As he had already said, the key to the whole situation was to open the great area of Central Africa to free commerce, which would extend civilisation and give the natives that rational hold upon their own lands and rational interest in the products of their industry on which civilisation must rest.
§ *MR. NOLAN (Louth, S.)
said he had listened with great attention to the various speeches which had just been delivered, but he had not been able to discover any sufficient reason why this debate should have been initiated under present circumstances. They were on the eve of the holidays, and the few hon. Members present were anxious to get away to other scenes and other occupations for a brief time. But certain Members of the House seemed to consider that that was a fitting occasion on which to arraign the rule of a friendly State, with the view of getting a judgment of that House upon it. He had read much that had been written and said in regard to the government of the Congo Free State. It struck him that the history of that State could be divided into three parts. The pre-Belgian period, the Belgian period before 1896, and the Belgian period after 1896. Up to the time of the journey through the territory by the late Sir Henry Stanley the map of Africa of that region was a blank. It was described by geographers as a jungle inhabited by savage wild beasts, and by men still more savage. Sir Henry Stanley found that there were great possibilities connected with it and on his return to Europe he did his utmost to awaken interest in it in this country, but signally failed. Sir Henry Stanley, however, found in Belgium a more sympathetic audience and succeeded in inducing the King of 1002 Belgium to take an interest in his scheme. Amongst other things King Leopold sent out a staff of officers who organised an army to cope with the slave traders. At the time when Stanley visited the country, the House must remember that those slave traders were in the habit of raiding the country, inflicting a loss of life calculated at 100,000 per annum. In addition a number of boys and girls were annually carried away into slavery. King Leopold, after a long and severe struggle, succeeded in smashing the power of these Arab slave traders and raiders and put an end to the system. The King also prevented the introduction of alcoholic drink which had wrought such havoc in other parts of Africa. He had spent millions of money, some of it his own money and some of it the money of his friends, in the construction of a railway connecting the upper and the lower Congo. He had also constructed landing stages, and placed fleets of steamers for service on the rivers and lakes. He had made provision for the establishment of Christian Missions which he (Mr. Nolan) understood were as successful in dealing with the natives as the missions in any other part of the world. In fact he learned that the system was so far successful that some of the natives who came under the influence of these missions and acquired some knowledge were able to preach religion among the savage tribes at some distance from the mission, and teach them what they themselves had learnt. Up to the year 1896 there were no words found sufficient to express the admiration of the civilised world for King Leopold while he was carrying out this great work at his own expense and that of his immediate friends. So long as there was no prospect of any monetary return for the outlay of the King there was not a single word uttered against him or his representatives; but in 1896 rubber commenced to be found in large quantities, and there were rumours also of the existence of gold in the Congo. A change at once took place. First, demands were made on behalf of an interested group of people in Liverpool that the Congo should be thrown open to trade. Rightly or wrongly, that demand was refused. 1003 Possibly King Leopold and his advisers thought that, having expended millions of treasure in establishing public works, they should not allow independent traders from other countries to come in and carry on trade in a manner not likely to improve the condition of the natives or of the country. There were examples of what the introduction of private traders meant in some of our own Colonies in West Africa. From that time forward a change took place in the way in which King Leopold and his work in the Congo was spoken about, and no words could be found too abusive to apply to him. He thought the climax was reached when the ruler of a friendly state was described as being "an inhuman monster." But there was another side to the picture. On the occasion of King Leopold's jubilee a year or two ago he was presented with an address of a highly complimentary character by 600 English gentlemen living in Belgium, who had every opportunity of forming an opinion as to King Leopold's character. He had heard some of the speakers refer to meetings which had been held in this country at which King Leopold's rule in the Congo Free State had been denounced. One afternoon, there being no pressing business in the House, he went to one of these meetings, and heard a great deal of abuse of the Congo Free State Government. But not one word of evidence in support of the charges which were made was brought forward. One gentleman, who was active in making charges, was asked whether he could give any proof in support of them, and he produced several strips of ribbon with pieces of twigs attached to them, and he said those twigs represented people who had been murdered, along twig being for a man, a shorter one being for a woman, and the smaller ones for children. He did not know what the others thought, but he thought this was rather trifling with the audience. Some years ago a gentleman connected with the Congo Reform Association did make a specific charge against an officer of the Congo Free State. What was the result? That officer of the Congo Free State brought an action against him, not in Belgium, not in the Congo, but in London, and the result was that the officer 1004 obtained a verdict with £500 damages and costs against that employee of the Congo Reform Association. It would be noticed that from that day onwards the lecturers of the Reform Association had carefully abstained from giving particulars as to these alleged outrages in the Congo Free State. What did the inquiries of the Consuls and Vice-Consuls who went out to investigate the state of affairs in the Belgian Congo amount to? The whole of their discoveries, as shown in the White-book issued a few days ago, amounted to this: that a British subject who was a native of Nigeria had been flogged by a Belgian officer for prowling about a camp at night. He believed the Congo Government called this Belgian officer to account, but that he died on his way to the coast to be tried. Notwithstanding that, compensation was given to the man who was flogged. In regard to that matter he would like hon. Members to think of what went on in India under the rule of the British Government. They knew that His Majesty's subjects were imprisoned there for long periods without being brought to trial, and were flogged every year by thousands for breaches of the law. If half of what happened under our own rule in British Possessions could be charged to the Congo Free State Government he could understand Members of that House rising up to denounce it. The Congo Government did not pretend that there were no abuses, but what they did say was that every effort was being made by the Government to put an end to those abuses. Were there no abuses in London? Here, in the heart of the British Empire, there was a Commission sitting to consider the administration of the police, against whom charges were made which were more terrible than any form of physical violence. If those charges were now being brought against the police of the Metropolis, it was not surprising that some of the officials in the Congo Free State, thousands of miles from civilisation, armed with modern weapons, surrounded by natives, should have been guilty of cruelty. But whenever a charge of that sort had been brought to the attention of the authorities the official was brought to justice for it. He knew that a number of Members' of that House had 1005 their minds made up on this question. They had not heard, and did not appear to desire to hear, anything beyond one side of the question, and although the wild charges that were made were not supported by any practical testimony they were accepted as true. He noticed in the organ which had been specially started and run to make these attacks on King Leopold and the officials of the Congo Free State that from one end of the year to the other not one word of credit had been given to King Leopold or the Government of the Congo Free State for any of the good work that had been done. Cardinal Gibbons arid other independent witnesses of the highest character, Catholic and Protestant, had vouched for the good work done there. But no notice was taken of evidence of that kind. Many people took it for granted that no charge against King Leopold and his Government could be too bad to be believed. They would not give attention to the other side. What happened in German Africa? King Leopold had never sent out an army to the Congo; he had sent out some European officers, not all Belgian, but some Italians, some Swedes, and a few English. Germany sent out an army supplied with arms of precision and plenty of ammunition to make war on the Hereros, and the slaughter went on for years; but there was no protest against that, and he supposed that if King Leopold had been the master of many Jegions there would have been no protest against what had taken place in the Congo Free State. But because King Leopold was the ruler of a small industrial State every kind of abuse could be poured upon him without any reproof by any person in authority. He had no personal interest in this matter direct or indirect; but he liked fair play, and since his attention had been called to this question he had read the evidence on both sides, and while he was prepared to admit that there were abuses in the Congo, yet he claimed, in the interests of fair play, that people ought to look not merely on the admitted abuses but on the great work being done there in the interests of Christian civilisation.
§ MR. GEORGE WHITE (Norfolk, N.W.)
said he felt it was great cause for satisfaction that one more 1006 opportunity had been given for discussing this question. His difficulty in discussing it was that of approaching it from the attitude of anything like statesmanship, or to use language in regard to it that would be permitted in that Assembly. If ever there was a subject to which strong language was appropriate it was this. The hon. Member for South Louth had fallen foul of some Members of the House because they, in attacking the Congo, attacked the ruler of a friendly State. If he were tempted into that line of discussion it would not be very difficult to justify any attack which the hon. Member had attempted to repel, but which had never boon made. The history of the Congo Free State showed that the missionaries were there long before the King of the Belgians undertook the civilisation of the district. The hon. Member had contrasted the action of King Leopold with that of Germany, who had sent out an army to another part of Africa. But the Free State had armed savages and cannibals. Had the hon. Member read the Belgian Commission's report upon this matter?
§ *MR. GEORGE WHITE
replied that he had read it, and that it teemed with facts of the grossest atrocities on the very largest scale. He had never read in the whole history of the civilised world of atrocities to equal them. He had himself been over and over again in the company of men who had seen those mutilated natives, and he had heard their statements of how those terrible mutilations had been inflicted, and it was too late in the day for any hon. Member, in any circumstances, to get up and attempt to suggest that those statements were altogether manufactured for the purpose of getting up an agitation in this country. The evidence of the number of twigs as to the murders committed in certain districts, and the testimony of the men who had accepted those records from those who had knowledge of the deeds, were amply sufficient, and the hon. Member had no right to 1007 get up in that House and say that those statements were absolutely false.
§ *MR. NOLAN
said that the records of which the hon. Member spoke did not look as if they had over been in Africa; they could get them made in London by the waggon-load.
§ *MR. GEORGE WHITE
said that they set up in that House and in the country a claim to being animated by a spirit of universal brotherhood. What a burlesque the whole thing was in the face of those gigantic atrocities! If natives under British sway had been treated in that way, hundreds and thousands being subjected to those cruelties, the whole Empire would have risen in indignation and demanded reparation. He thought, therefore, that they were bound to press upon the Government that they should take such steps as would bring about a termination of such gross misrule. The agitation had been going on now in this country for several years, and yet practically nothing had been changed. There was no proper administration in the Congo. An hon. Member had spoken of the slave trade having been abolished. He would venture to say that a great number of the natives of those districts had been subjected to influences which were worse than the slave trade as it was carried on before. The whole system of management was rotten to the core, and hethought that our obligations required us to take such steps as might be necessary to enable the Belgian people to understand that these things would no longer be tolerated. Many of the missionaries were in districts where the cruelties had been going on, but latterly it had become difficult for them to keep their position; yet even those who were a considerable distance away from the centre of maladministration had become acquainted with what was going on. He had said just now that there had been no change. He thought that there had been a change in one respect, that the district was getting rather too warm for the continuance of the missionaries, and attempts were now being made to prevent them from getting sites for their chapels where they could carry on their worship. He did not wonder at it. No British missionary could live in the districts where these things were going on without being compelled to report and protest 1008 against them. The missionaries were the first to protest against slavery in Jamaica, and they were the main instruments in getting that slavery removed. So now, in these days, unless they could support the missionaries in the demands they had made for freedom of worship, they would not get the information which they had a right to demand at their hands. It was for His Majesty's Government to say what were the steps which could be taken to put an end to these misdeeds. For his own part he felt that it was dangerous to consent without conditions to the annexation of the Congo Free State to Belgium. He had presented to the House a few days ago a petition from working men, the prayer of which exactly described the position which the nation ought to take up, and he thought the Government ought not to be behind public opinion. Like the hon. Member who had just spoken, he had attended one or two of the meetings which had been held in different parts of the country. He was bound to say that they had been perfectly unanimous; and he would like those who had been witnesses of these transactions, and gentlemen connected with the Congo Reform Association of Liverpool, to put the House in full possession of their statements, and then no man would doubt the truth of the statements, nor the sincerity of those who had spoken to them. The House had to consider the position which we occupied, having accepted the Declaration, which, of course, was accepted under the very specious promises of King Leopold. It was quite true that eleven or twelve years ago King Leopold was hailed as the saviour of the Congo, but that was on the strength of his promises, and those promises had not been fulfilled in any one particular, so far as he knew. Therefore, as a party to the Declaration, this country had a right to take a firm and consistent step, and he could not but believe that the other nations of Europe, which were quite as much interested in the condition of the Congo and desired to see these cruelties abolished, would join in any reasonable arrangement, first by calling a Conference, and then by seeing what were the steps which could be devised. He hoped that this nation would not consent to the annexation of the Congo to Belgium, unless under such conditions as would ensure 1009 some reasonable terms for these poor native races who had been so cruelly misused and ill-treated by their governors.
§ *MR. REES
hoped, at any rate, that before long this country would be fid of a responsibility which it seemed equally unable to discharge or to evade. He did not wish to touch upon this question except in regard to what was said by the hon. Member for Woodstock, who had remarked that our hands were not clean but that other nations' hands were less clean in dealing with subject peoples. He was not concerned to appraise the degrees of dirt that might adhere to the hands of others, but he did repudiate the assumption that our hands were not clean. He remembered that the hon. Member for Woodstock referred to this question last year and said that British officers abroad regarded natives as [...]or born slaves. But on the other hand the hon. Member regarded the British officer abroad as or born tyrant. Of the two creeds he would rather subscribe to the former than to the latter. His object in rising, however, was to ask the Foreign Secretary a question with regard to another matter that had reference to the contemplated communications between Anatolia and Persia, which, in point of fact, made a new road to India. The particular question of this so called Baghdad railway was indeed a most important one, and the Leader of the Opposition, when he was in office, proposed, at one time, that we should actively participate in the scheme. He wished to ask, in reference to the increase by 3 per cent. of Turkish customs, which, as he understood, had been practically agreed upon, whether the funds which would be realised over and above what were required would be so earmarked that they could not be used by the Turkish Government as a guarantee to the German concessionaire. He was well aware that this was a German 1010 concession, but he believed that large funds would be raised in France, and hoped that in some way this country would be able to participate in the inter-nationalisation of the scheme with which it was so intimately interested. If any great military power was in a position to bring troops down the Persian Gulf, the flank of our Indian Empire would be turned. The whole of the money we had spent in fortifying the North-west Indian frontier would be wasted, and we would be exposed to the attack of another and a strong military Power. He heartily acknowledged, if he might say so with respect, that the Foreign Secretary, as he understood, accepted the position of Lord Lansdowne as to the supremacy which we must maintain in the Persian Gulf. The Foreign Secretary had in no case departed from the wise and continuous conduct of our foreign affairs, which was the tradition of his office and of its distinguished holders. If the right hon. Gentleman could say anything about the matter he would be glad to hear what he had to state about the participation of England in this scheme. As to the action taken with regard to the Turkish customs, he believed that it had been engineered from first to last with the object, whether successful or not, of providing the interest on the funds to be raised for the prosecution of this German enterprise for a railway to the Persian Gulf. If arrangements as regards this increase in the customs had been concluded, it became necessary for the House to know that the Foreign Secretary, at any rate, had this aspect of the matter before him. He did not expect the right hon. Gentleman to make any great statement on the subject, but perhaps he would be able to say something. The question was admittedly an important one and to anyone who know the region of Mesopotamia, and knew what it had been in the past, and what it might be in the future, it assumed quite international importance. We were interested in the matter in respect of the approach to our Indian Empire, and also because the settlement of the question would determine which Power was to dominate that portion of Asia Minor through which the rails would pass. Already the Sultan was preparing a scheme for making the land between the Tigris and Euphrates what it once was, the garden of Asia and 1011 it might well be that in no long time a new significance would attach to that blessed word Mesopotamia.
§ THE SECRETARY OF STATE FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS (Sir EDWARD GREY,) Northumberland, Berwick
I do not at all deprecate the fact that my hon. friend who has just sat down has put before the House his views on the subject of the Baghdad Railway, because I fully admit that it is a subject, or may become a subject, of considerable importance. But at the same time it is a subject with regard to which we have not got. treaty rights, and with regard to which there does not exist that humanitarian and moral interest which attaches to the previous subject of debate, and is therefore one on which at the present moment I do not see how I can well make a statement without touching upon, in a somewhat presumptuous way, affairs which are in the hands of others. At the present moment the Baghdad Railway, so far as it has gone, is a matter of local interest, developing, no doubt, the resources of the country through which it passes, and possibly of interest to those who have invested money in it. What my hon. friend anticipates is that it will be so developed as to provide an alternative route to the East. I entirely agree with him that should that, or any other alternative route, be established it must be a matter of first rate importance, and of great interest to all those Powers who have possessions in the East, or who have possessions in the neighbourhood. I therefore do not in the least wish to detract from the impression my hon. friend has given of the importance of the subject named, but it is not one on which at the present moment I am prepared or indeed have a right to make a statement. Now, Sir, with regard to the main subject of debate, I should like first of all to put it on record that the intention of everyone who has spoken, I think without exception, has been to show a desire to avoid saying anything which might in any way reflect on Belgiumor the Belgian people, or which might legitimately be taken as a matter of offence by them. I wish to say that very explicitly, because it is sometimes represented that the mere fact of a debate taking place in this House on the Congo State is something 1012 which ought to be resented as being directed in some way against Belgium. I am sure that nothing is further from the intention of those who have spoken, and I think we may go a little further now than we have ever gone before in regard to the feelings of Belgium, and say that as far as we are concerned we have hitherto been Belgium's best friends in this matter. Many of the Powers, or at least more than one of the Powers, may feel that it has a potential interest in regard to the Congo State, but no Power which has treaty rights or potential interests in regard to the Congo State has recognised the rights of Belgium so exclusively and so emphatically as they have been recognised by His Majesty's Government. I think that ought to be recognised in Belgium, because one cannot foresee what the developments of this Congo question may come to be, and the time may come when Belgium may regret that she did not recognise in time who was her best friend in this matter. I agree with the noble Lord that there must be a change of system in the government of the Congo State. Sooner or later that must come. It cannot go on under its present irresponsible rule, and I agree with the noble Lord that the reforms which have been promulgated, or I think any reforms, will not secure the changes we desire unless there be a change in the system of government in the Congo State. We can have any number of reforms, but what we desire is results, and the consequence at any rate of my experience at the Foreign Office is that the one point upon which those who desire Congo reforms have concentrated and ought to concentrate themselves is to secure not a mere list of reforms, but a change in the system of government in the Congo State. Now it seems most natural, and I think it will be generally accepted by the House, that that should take place by the government of the State being transferred to the Government of Belgium, responsible to the Belgian Parliament. Belgium has her rights in the matter, and that is the most natural way in which a change should be effected. I do not agree with what has been said by one or two speakers that the prospect of that change taking place satisfactorily is less favourable now than before. I think the right hon. Baronet 1013 who introduced the subject said that the now Belgian Government was less favourable to freedom than the previous one. I do not believe that to be the case. I believe that the present Belgian Government is anxious to approach the question with the desire to secure a satisfactory solution; but I admit that those who are interested in the question will naturally wait to see under what conditions annexation is to take place and what the scheme of annexation presented to the Belgian Parliament will be. I do not know what the schemes of annexation will be which the Belgian Parliament will be called upon to discuss; still less do I know what scheme the Belgian Parliament will approve. I wait therefore to see what the conditions will be, and what the scheme of annexation will be. Pending that time, I should be reluctant, as the noble Lord opposite was reluctant, to lay down definitely the conditions which must be satisfactory, for this reason. If the Belgian Parliament is to act in this matter as we should like to see it act, it must do so of its own free will, without interference and without pressure from outside, and if there be in the Belgian Parliament even a suspicion that there is a desire on our part to interfere with their action or to put pressure upon them so as to influence their action, it will undoubtedly be prejudicing the chance of a favourable solution of the question. What we desire is to see the Belgian Parliament approach this matter with its mind perfectly free and untrammelled, and concentrated upon the need for reform and with the intention to reform the Congo State. But if there comes pressure from outside or a suspicion of interference from outside, what will naturally be in the mind of the Belgian Parliament will be the distraction of thinking how it is to resist that influence and uphold their sovereign rights against outside interference; and that is why I said that if we wish to see a favourable solution of what is known as the Belgian plan and the Belgian solution of the question we must respect the rights both of the Belgian Government and the Belgian Parliament, and make it clear to them that they must deal with the matter absolutely uninfluenced and uninterfered with from outside. I agree with the noble Lord that if Belgium will act in this matter 1014 —that is to say, if the Belgian Government takes over the Congo State not with nominal but with real responsibility —I assume that will be the solution of the matter, because I cannot suppose for a moment that the Belgian Government would accept a nominal responsibility which would be merely a veil put in front of the old order of things, and, while having a nominal responsibility, would be content to allow the real control not to be in its own hands, and abuses still to go on behind the veil. If Belgium takes over that real responsibility then we shall have secured two things; one is that the governing authority of the Congo will no longer be the trader; and in the next place you will have publicity. If you have publicity, if you have a Government responsible to the Belgian Parliament, the effect of publicity will be such that the abuses which have hitherto taken place will not be able to live in the light to which they will be exposed. The noble Lord pointed out how serious the financial difficulty of Belgium might be in this matter, and he put forward a suggestion tentatively of his own as to a method by which relief might be given. It is one which I have not previously considered. If Belgium feels the task before her is likely to be heavy and burdensome, and is anxious by any method to approach the treaty Powers—the Powers who were parties to the Treaty of Berlin—with the object of finding from them some help or some means by which the task may be made less burdensome to her, we, at any rate, shall be very glad to listen to any proposals which she desires to make. So much as to what I hope will be the ultimate and satisfactory solution of the Congo difficulty—annexation by Belgium. The change of Government has been in part responsible for delay in this matter. I think it is only right and fair to say that now that that Government has lost no time in declaring its intention to annex we should wait for a reasonable time to see what progress is made, and what the conditions of annexation will be. That is my attitude at the present moment. But I would repeat again what I said in the House last year, that I do not think anyone can wait indefinitely upon this question. I have been pressed 1015 as to what should be done if the Belgian solution breaks down, if Belgium finds herself either unwilling or unequal to taking the matter in hand. Well, Sir, then of course it becomes an international question. I do not wish for one moment to diminish our sense of responsibility, but at the same time if a change of government in the Congo is to take place, if the State is to pass into other hands which will reform abuses, then that is not a responsibility which we are prepared to undertake. We will share our responsibilities with the other Powers, that is our political and diplomatic responsibilities, but we have heavy burdens on us already, and I am not anxious to see this direct burden of responsibility increased by further additions to territory. That a Conference of the treaty Powers or the Powers interested should meet we have always been willing. The United States Government has also expressed its willingness to approach this question from the same point of view. We gladly recognise that as a favourable step, and one which may perhaps bear good fruit. But two Powers are not enough to form a Conference by themselves. The late Government issued an invitation to a Conference and were not met with an affirmative answer. The noble Lord asks whether the conditions would now be more favourable for the summoning of a Conference than they were then. I am afraid that in the last year or two Conferences in general have not increased in popularity. I should not like to repeat that invitation till I had some assurance from other Powers besides the United States that it was one they would be willing to accept. If any sign is forthcoming that the Powers which were not ready for a Conference when last asked have now changed their opinion we should be only too delighted if they desired it to issue such an invitation, and still more pleased to accept it if other Powers desire to issue it. But the question of forcing a Conference—which I think was one of the phrases used in the debate—is another matter. I doubt whether a forced Conference would effect the results which we all desire. A Conference to which people go unwillingly is much more likely to add another to the European complications than to settle this or any other problem with which it 1016 is its object to deal. I can only say that we are most ready to join with other Powers whenever they are willing to find a solution of this question, and any other Power who desires to approach us will find us not only willing, but unselfish and disinterested. We have no designs, no ambitions, no desires of a territorial character with regard to the Congo State. We have one or two boundary questions pending, but apart from that we shall approach the question, as far as we are concerned, absolutely without arrière pensée and with the most disinterested mind. If there be other Powers who have rights with regard to the Congo State or who have interests they desire to assert or put forward, no one of them has anything to fear as far as we are concerned. I should prefer myself, on the ground of right and because it is the least complicated solution, that the Belgian Government should act strenuously and effectively in taking over the Congo State; but the present irresponsible Government of the Congo is one which I think the Powers who are interested, especially the neighbouring Powers, cannot continue to recognise indefinitely. It may become, if it has not already become, a pressing condition of danger to the neighbouring States. If things go on as they have been going on for the last two years the result will be that the Congo State will remain as it is, a huge territory, and will become one which is exhausted, impoverished, and full of discontent and restlessness. That cannot be a result which can be contemplated with equanimity by the neighbouring Powers. All that we ask with regard to the Congo now is that the present system of Government, with all the abuses which have been shown and proved to be consequent upon it, and which I fear are inseparable from that system, should come to an end and its place should be taken by something which can be respected and trusted to govern the country well and reform abuses. If the Belgian Government are prepared to proceed in the matter they will have no better friend than ourselves. Failing Belgian action we shall be glad to recognise, to encourage, and to further anything which will secure good government and the reform of abuses, and which commends itself to other Powers, especially to those who may have special rights or interests of their own in the Congo basin.
§ MR. WALSH (Lancashire, Ince)
said he desired to draw attention to the condition of things prevailing in the Transvaal with respect to Chinese labour. There were a number of labourers there with no licences at all. [Laughter.] He noticed that some hon. Members on the Conservative Benches seemed to think that that was a matter for laughter. He was quite sure that if they searched their consciences they would not find that it was a matter for laughter. No matter that came before the public at the general election was more responsible for the disconsolate state of the Conservative Benches—not even free trade—than the question of Chinese labour, so that really from the political aspect of the question alone there was little occasion for laughter on the part of the occupants of those benches. But even they, the authors of the whole system, stated in 1903 and 1904 that the system, if it was brought in at all, was to be temporary and transitorial. It was admitted also that no coolies should be brought into the Transvaal unless they were properly licensed. There were now 259 people there without any licences at all. No licenses had been issued for them. [Cries of dissent.] If they had been issued, it had been after the event. He wished to call the attention of the House to the excuses—they did not seem to him to amount to reasons—that had been given for the presence of these people there. It was said that owing to an error in the counterfoil of a small book the figures had been inaccurately stated. He supposed that was a book kept by some person whom nobody could trace, and for whom nobody was specially responsible. One side contained the number 553, whereas the real number should have been 246. He knew from his own experience that figures were the most perplexing of human inventions, but he could not understand a mistake of that kind. He did not think the House, or even the country, would mind the mistake very much if it were not one of a series of regrettable incidents. [An HON. MEMBER: Was it a mistake?] Now that the Transvaal had obtained responsible government, he thought that everybody in the House hoped the mistake referred to was the last of the series of regrettable 1018 incidents. According to a Paper recently issued Lord Selborne was prepared to go bail for the officials under him. He did not wish to detract from the honour due to Lord Selborne for his readiness to stand by the officials. But who was to go bail for Lord Selborne? He could not forget that the whole of these regrettable incidents had happened during the time Lord Selborne had been at the head of the Government in the Transvaal. The noble Lord was the whole cause of the issue of 16,119 licences against the advice of the right hon. Gentleman who represented the Colonial Office in this House. He was there when the flogging took place with his knowledge, if not his connivance. Lord Selborne, in his opinion, was not altogether blameless in these matters. He and his friends only asked that the misgovernment which had been going on should now close, and that the constitutional freedom which had been granted to the Transvaal should not be infringed. The constitution had been granted on the distinct understanding that the contracts now in operation should cease at the end of three years, and that there should be no re-indentures. If there was to be Chinese labour in the Transvaal, it should only be in accordance with an ordinance sanctioned by His Majesty's responsible authorities and containing no servile conditions. He did not in any degree blame the Under-Secretary for the Colonies, to whom alone the Labour Members could address their observations on this subject. They had from the beginning recognised that his position was one of extreme difficulty. If they recognised the serious burdens and obligations they had to bear, and if their remarks seemed a little hard and severe, it was because they felt they were between the nether and the higher millstone. That position was liable to friction. They recognised that the situation might have brought about a great deal of trouble and friction, and if serious complications had not arisen it was largely due to the strenuous and statesmanlike way in which the right hon. Gentleman the Under-Secretary for the Colonies had dealt with the whole situation. It was not because he and his friends were ungrateful, but they believed that there might have been 1019 more of that supervision which had been promised and which they had a right to expect. It was to be hoped that this sordid chapter in our colonial history was coming to an end. He had seen a few ways ago in a leading Conservative paper that a deputation had waited on the Colonial Secretary with the view of inducing him to allow the Chinese to remain in the Transvaal until some other cheap labour should be obtained. But how did the case stand? The output of gold in the Transvaal in 1904 was £16,000,000. In 1906 it was £21,500,000, which enabled a dividend to be paid over the whole of 56 per cent. In 1906 one mine alone paid 180 per cent. on its shares. And all this time they were warning Englishmen not to come to the Transvaal! The number of white labourers in the Transvaal was becoming smaller and smaller every day, and all the predictions of Lord Milner were being falsified. The Labour Party hoped that the Government were absolutely determined that no more of the "regrettable incidents" to which reference had been made should take place in South Africa. If they succeeded in securing that, they would obtain the confidence of the people of this country.
§ *MR. MACKARNESS (Berkshire, Newbury)
said he wished to ask the right hon. Gentleman the Under-Secretary for the Colonies when the Letters Patent enacting the constitution of the Orange River Colony were to be published. The House had been first informed that they would be published shortly after Christmas, and a few weeks ago the Under-Secretary had said that they would be published before Whitsuntide. It should be remembered that the right hon. Member for West Birmingham had said that the Orange River Colony was more entitled to have constitutional self-government than the Transvaal. The delay in announcing the conditions of the proposed constitution of the Orange River Colony had caused already anxiety and feeling in South Africa, and he hoped that his right hon. friend would make a statement as to the definite date when the Letters Patent granting the constitution would be made public. He hoped that the nominations to the Second Chamber 1020 would not be made, as was the case in regard to the Transvaal, before the political complexion of the Lower Chamber had been ascertained by popular election, but that the responsible Ministers would be consulted. The subject to which his hon. friend had referred was deserving of the notice of the House. A large number of Chinese coolies had been introduced into the Transvaal in breach of a deliberate undertaking given by the Under-Secretary for the Colonies. That undertaking was given because it was recognised by the Government and Liberal Party that the introduction of Chinese coolies involved very grave moral, social, and political considerations. The telegrams which had been published showed that there had been very gross carelessness in the way of management, j but there was nothing to show that either Lord Elgin or Lord Selborne ever thought of the graver considerations, and the undertaking that the coolies should be sent back was thrown over simply because it might cost a few thousand pounds to carry it out. Lord Elgin had put his ringer on the superintendent who was responsible for the gross carelessness which led to the miscalculation of the number of the coolies licensed. But that superintendent had not received any punishment. In fact he had received a very strong commendation from Lord Selborne. Yet that was the same man who a year ago was condemned by a Judge of the High Court to a fine and severe censure for illegality and cruelty to Chinese; under his care. Had anyone who was appointed to look after and supervise the system of the Chinese employment in the compounds been reproved? The whole of those men remained, so far as they could learn, in the Government service. It should be remembered that it was on the very eve of the resignation of the Imperial Government that they brought in a fresh lot of Chinese to whom the great bulk of the people of the Transvaal—as they well knew and as the elections had shown—most strongly objected. And they were brought in without the slightest investigation as to what their legal position would be. He had asked questions on this point. Were those Chinese coolies kept in the compounds 1021 without the slightest legal warrant? And were they in the compounds in excess of the number which the late Government said over and over again they would not allow? The Colonial Office seemed equally ignorant of and indifferent to those matters. It was true that that matter had now passed out of the purview of the British Parliament into that of General Botha and his colleagues, and he had not the slightest doubt that they would deal with the question drastically. His right hon. friend had tried to dismiss that matter as one of mere historical interest, but did he mean to suggest that a question of that kind should, because it happened a few weeks ago, cease to be a matter of practical importance? And did he think that his own undertaking given to the House, and the breach of it, could be dismissed in that light and airy way? That could not be treated, and ought not to be treated, as a matter of no importance. In the near, or in the distant future, as he thought in the near future of a general election, when men looked back to the political annals of that time, they would be glad to find that there was an earnest band of Liberals in that House and out of it who thought it was their duty to protest against that system, and although they were not at first successful, that after a long and painful struggle, by the help of their new Boer and British fellow-subjects in the Transvaal, they had finally turned that cursed system out of the Empire.
§ THE UNDER-SECRETARY OF STATE FOR THE COLONIES (Mr. CHURCHILL,) Manchester, N. W.
I do not complain of the two speeches which have just been delivered; I think they show the cooler atmosphere in which we are now enabled to discuss this South African question. I recognise the spirit in which hon. Members speak of the manner in which I have endeavoured to explain to the House of Commons the policy which Lord Elgin has adopted, and for which he, as representing the Cabinet, must necessarily be responsible. This incident of the introduction of 259 coolies is in inconvenient and unwelcome feature. It arises from a pure error, from an error of the most, innocent and fortuitous 1022 character, committed a long time ago by a subordinate official beyond the reach or immediate purview of the High Commissioner. My hon. friends have inquired whether we have taken any stops to punish the official who was guilty of making this inconvenient and vexatious mistake. As I understand it, a reprimand has been administered, but I deprecate, and will always deprecate, the undue penalising of individuals who may make lapses in their public service just because the circumstance of their fault is connected with some matter in which the House of Commons takes a particular and special interest. I am sure my hon. friends will realise that, however irritating this error may be, there is no bad faith about it; and, as there is no bad faith about it, I am not disposed to admit that we have broken, in substance or in spirit, any pledge which I have given to the House of Commons. The pledge which I gave was in answer to a supplementary question, and what I had in my mind when I gave it was, not the accidental or fortuitous importation of coolies, but some deliberate and purposed attempt on the part of those who were concerned in the importation of Chinese coolies to bring in a large number beyond the number sanctioned by the House. The distinction is, perhaps, a fine one, and I do not dwell too strongly upon it; but I think it is sufficient, at any rate, to clear me, in my own mind, of having failed, even in the most minute detail, to satisfy the House in regard to the undertaking which I made. No one can pretend that the accidental importation of 259 coolies raises any question of principle. I wish the mistake had been the other way, though that was hardly to be expected. The full correspondence on this subject which I have laid before the House will, I think, show to any, I will not say reasonable or practical man, but to any dispassionate critic the very great seriousness which the Government attach even to an unpremeditated statement in answer to a supplementary question, and the great expense, trouble, and exertion which they are prepared to make to give full effect to any such undertaking as may be given. But I think the House will wish that in dealing with such matters we should be guided by practical considerations of expense and of difficulty, and that, at a time when so many large 1023 issues are moving smoothly and harmoniously to their conclusion in South Africa, we should have done wrong to have thrown this particular incident into an altogether disproportionate position. My hon. friend has asked who is prepared to go bail for Lord Selborne. The Government are prepared to go bail for Lord Selborne. Lord Selborne is an officer of State employed under His Majesty's Government. While he holds office under His Majesty's Government we are responsible for what he says and what he does, and we must be judged harshly or well by the House without being separated from him in any way. When I say that, I do not pretend for one moment that Lord Selborne's views on South African affairs are the same as those which the Government and their supporters have held. There are, admittedly, divergencies and differences which have never been disguised or concealed; but I say with seriousness to the House that we have been greatly benefited in the policy which we have carried out in South Africa by Lord Selborne's presence in the country. And at the time when we introduced the Transvaal Constitution in the summer of last year, Lord Selborne came forward and voluntarily from that moment associated himself with the dispositions and the constitutional arrangements which we were making, and by so doing enormously steadied public opinion in this country, and rendered the reception of that Constitution much more composed than it would otherwise have been. I have no doubt whatever that the great advantages which we have derived, and which we shall continue to derive, from his presence in South Africa fully justifies the cooperation which has been maintained between him and His Majesty's Government during the period in which we have been responsible for the direction of affairs, I will ask my two hon. friends not to dwell unduly on the gloomy side of things. I think a little optimism may be indulged in nowadays about South Africa, and I think that, instead of heading a search party to penetrate into the recesses of the South African mines in search of the exact legal status of these unfortunate 259 coolies, my two hon. friends will be better advised if they turn their eyes to the horizon upon which the smoke of the steamers is already visible which are to carry away 1024 the first batches of Chinese back to their own country. While I do not complain that this matter should be raised, I deprecate any very long or particularly heated debate taking place on it at the present time. The new Government is fully competent to deal with the question. Above all things it is important to our relations with that Government that we should not "nag" it, that we should not fidget from day to day about its affairs or how it conducts them. We shall repose confidence in a Parliament freely elected, and in a Government thoroughly representative of the majority of that Colony. Their problems are problems of the utmost complexity. My hon. friends have spoken of the great wealth of the Rand. Indeed, it is a wonderful thing that, with this fountain of £24,500,000 bubbling up every year in the midst of a comparatively small community, there should be, on all sides, distress and financial embarrassment, actual want of food and employment. It is a grave, complex problem with which those Ministers have to deal, and His Majesty's Government have great confidence that they will show themselves not unequal to the problem. A declaration of policy will be made when the Transvaal Parliament assembles. I do not want to anticipate—I would not if I could—what that declaration of policy will be. It would be presumptious on our part to attempt, beforehand, to dictate as to the deliberations of a new Parliament or to outline the policy which the responsible Colonial Government will expound. I do not know what their policy will be on Chinese labour. I know what I hope it will be, what I think it will be. All I know is what the policy of His Majesty's Government will be. It will be a strict and exact observance of the pledges which are recorded in the speeches of the most important Ministers of the Government and which are borne on the face of the Letters Patent. With regard to the Orange River Colony, the Letters Patent will be laid before the House almost immediately after we assemble after the Whitsuntide holidays.
MR. LYTTELTON (St. George's, Hanover Square)
said he had only one remark to make with regard to these 259 Chinamen. He thought that to punish a subordinate official for a clerical error would 1025 be a peevish and almost a malicious thing to do. He entirely agreed with the right hon. Gentleman the Undersecretary that it would be a great scandal to impose such a punishment simply because it was in the interest of Party politicians. It would also have been manifestly ridiculous for the Government to have incurred the expense of £12,000 in repatriating those 259 men. Hon. Members must remember very well that the Government refused, not to repatriate 16,000 coolies who had come into South Africa under licence in 1905, but to revoke the licences of those men before any expense whatever had been incurred and before a single Chinaman had been put on board a ship. Manifestly, therefore, it would have been ridiculous for a Government which was unwilling to do that to incur this great expense in repatriating Chinamen who had entered South Africa in error. The circumstance that interested him in the matter was that it had on all sides years ago been represented that the Chinamen were going into slavery. Tested by the facts with with regard to these 259 Chinamen, how was that case made out? The House was told in the documents presented to it that these coolies would be so indignant at not going into slavery that if they were repatriated a riot might be anticipated. They were assured by the representatives of the Government in that House, who had so often made these charges there and elsewhere, that £12,000 would have had to be expended in order to indemnify these Chinamen for not going into slavery.
§ MR. CHURCHILL
said the right hon. Gentleman must not suggest that he was the author of those statements. It was his duty to lay before the House the statements that had been made, but whether he must be assumed to agree with the statements contained in any letters he laid before the House was quite another matter.
§ MR. LYTTELTON
admitted that that was a fair explanation and he accepted 1026 it. But those were statements of Lord Selborne and Mr. Jameson. The Government were responsible for repatriating these Chinamen, and the ground upon which they refused to do it was that the Chinamen would riot against not being sent to the Transvaal unless they were paid a heavy compensation for not putting these fetters upon themselves. That was all he desired to call attention to. It was all on a piece with the rest of the evidence which had been put before the House. On the first occasion the question came up it was stated that 1 ¼ per cent. refused to be repatriated at the Government's expense, and on the next they were told that the Chinamen would riot if they were not allowed to put on these manacles of which they had so often heard.
§ MR. PIRIE (Aberdeen, N.)
said he desired to call attention to the new rules passed at Easter. He complained that the constitution of the Scottish Committee had not received adequate discussion. The new rules were passed sub silentio. He did not hold the Government responsible for their being passed in that manner, because it might have been possible for them to have been properly discussed if the hon. Members on the Opposition benches had shown a little more genuine interest in the matter. He expressed regret that the Scottish Committee was not composed entirely of Scottish members. A resolution was passed last April, at the convention of Royal Burghs held in Edinburgh, which expressed the wish that a Scottish Grand Committee might be set up which consisting entirely of Scottish members with power to deal with the Committee stages of Scottish Bills. The Scottish Liberal Association had also endorsed that view, which was generally held in Scotland. His main object in rising was to let the people in Scotland know that the Committee as at present formed fell very short of what they had hoped for. He ventured to say that even on the Front Bench there were members who were pledged on this subject, and he did not doubt for a moment that they were perfectly ready to give effect to the views which they had enunciated as to a greater measure of self-government for Scotland.
§ MR. PIRIE
said he merely wished to show that there were members of the Government who had supported Home Rule for Scotland. In regard to the Scottish Grand Committee proposal, there were eight Amendments put down which, if they had been discussed, would have thrown a great, light on the position of that Committee. They raised the questions of the number of members, the power to add members, the qualifications of members for the Committee, the appointment of Chairman, and other matters. But the Scottish Grand Committee as it was now constituted fell very far short of what the people of Scotland had been led to expect and of what they had hoped for. The view of Scottish Members on this subject remained absolutely unchanged from what it was in 1894, when the Scottish Home Rule Resolution was passed in that House. They accepted the Scottish Grand Committee for what it was worth, and as a temporary means of bridging over the pressure of business, but by no means as a final settlement of the question. The introduction of the Irish Council Bill ought to be followed before long by a similar measure for Scotland. They would watch the financial provisions of the Irish Bill closely in order to render them as economical as possible, in the hope that by saving the pocket of the British taxpayers support would all the more readily be given to the Scottish Bill when it was brought before the House.
§ MR. J. WARD (Stoke-on-Trent)
said that every time the right hon. Gentleman the Member for St. George's, Hanover Square, referred to the question of Chinese labour he seemed to derive great satisfaction from the fact that some few days before the end of his term of office he issued some 16,000 new licences suddenly and apparently without any special reason. Then they were told that the mere fact that these Chinamen did not wish to return to their country, and that, even before they landed, they understood the conditions under which they were to labour, was proof that the conditions 1028 were not in any way approaching slavery He thought it was generally understood that slaves did not always wish for their freedom. It was within the range of possibility that men might be born under certain circumstances and conditions which were grafted into their nature, so that they failed to see that there was any disgrace or immorality about the position in which they were placed. He believed there was such a thing as cannibalism existing to-day. Missionaries and others had sometimes urged that the British should use force to put it down, but those who lived under those conditions had not that high sense of what was proper as between man and man which was to be found in civilised conditions of life, and we had a right to insist upon such a practice being suppressed whether the natives themselves liked it or not. That was exactly the principle involved in the question of Chinese labour. It was not a question whether the Chinamen, as individuals, wanted those conditions. The sole question to be decided was whether, considering our ideas and our state of human development, we could give sanction to that system as part of our public policy. He did not think anyone could defend it on any grounds whatever. With regard to the state of public business, he had heard the subject discussed very vigorously within the precincts of the House during the last month or so, and he would like, if possible, to get some information as to the position of affairs to-day. Clearly the legislative programme of the session was not nearly so advanced as it was this time last year. To an outsider there seemed to be a want of energy, almost amounting to a want of foresight, in the conduct of business. Everyone noticed last session that things seemed to be going smoothly. Everyone seemed determined to do his share of the work and to assist in the conduct of business; but this session, he did not know whether it was the inertia of the Government—he could not believe that it was want of energy on the part of Members—the position of affairs did not seem nearly as favourablefor a decent legislative output as at the same period last year. Members were as anxious to work to-day as they were on the day they were elected. It 1029 seemed to himself and his colleagues of the Labour Party that if the full programme was to be proceeded with an autumn session was absolutely essential. Yet no one seemed to be able to give them the slightest idea as to what were the intentions of the Administration in regard to the subjects that remained still to be dealt with. The direct representatives of labour—the trade union representatives—had to manage their business in such a way as to earn their living in the recess, and it was essential for them to know whether there was to be a sacrifice of the most important part of the Government programme, or whether they were going to adjourn, say, at the end of June, and sit again in October or the middle of September. For himself he much preferred the latter. He would be told that the reason the session was so backward was because of the autumn session last year, there not being time between the two sessions to enable Bills to be prepared in the way they otherwise would be. That could only be correct on two suppositions, neither of which would be very complimentary to the Government—first, that in spite of their large majority they could not calculate with certainty upon support except from session to session; or, secondly, that though they could absolutely rely upon support during the whole life of the Parliament, they had not made up their minds as to the problems they intended to solve or the policy they intended to pursue. If the Government had made up its mind as to what it wanted to do what was to prevent its draftsman from being employed in drafting Bills for the next session months beforehand? It seemed a. simple business to a man engaged in the ordinary affairs of life. It seemed to him that if he could rely on his majority, he would not leave matters over from session to session, never thinking what was going to be done until the next session arrived, but that he would, taking for granted that he had the support of his Party, provided he carried out faithfully their policy, begin to prepare for the whole Parliament from beginning to end. He did not know whether Governments conducted their business on those lines or not, or whether 1030 they lived from day to day, like Mr. Micawber, waiting for something to turn up. It was absurd to contend that one session should end before the drafting for another session began. He would like to know whether it was the intention of the Government to drop a considerable portion of their programme and rise in August, and whether they were going to meet again in the autumn. If an autumn session was possible or probable it would be much more convenient if they knew of it early in the summer. He did not like to feel that they were going to sit on until August and then be called back again in September or October. The session was now so far advanced that he thought they were entitled to have the views of the Government upon the point.
§ MR. AUSTIN TAYLOR (Liverpool, East Toxteth)
said he sympathised with the object of the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent and shared his enthusiasm for progress; but with longer Parliamentary experience the hon. Member would appreciate the difficulty in carrying on proceedings upon business lines such as he suggested. The remarks of the hon. Member for Aberdeen referred to one of the most important points in procedure. He regretted that there was not a fuller House to hear what the hon. Member said, because this question of Grand Committee procedure was certainly one of the most important subjects that could be brought before the House. He agreed that the Government had given to the consideration of the Rules of Procedure all the time that it was possible to give compatible with the business of the House. As an English Member he was inclined to think there were strong reasons why Scottish legislation should not be withdrawn from the purview of the House. Scotland, sometimes spoken of as a field for legislative experiment, had often given a lead in sanitary and other legislation which England had followed, and it was extremely important that English Members should have the opportunity of following the discussions in the Scottish Committee. On the memorable occasion when the property of the Free Church of Scotland was by a decision of the House of Lords transferred to a minority in the 1031 Highlands, the House undertook legislation on the subject, and the importance of the discussion was apparent to anyone conversant with what was going on in the Church of England and who might think that to some extent the positions were parallel. Again, it was possible that the Land Tenure Bill for Scotland might form a model for legislation to be applied to this country, and it was desirable that English Members should become acquainted with the arguments used in Committee. The discussions in Grand Committee would take the place of discussions in Committee of the Whole House, but they had not the same publicity. He therefore suggested that arrangements should be made for a verbatim report of the proceedings, or for a record similar to Hansard. It must be apparent that those Committees, on important measures, would take the place of the Committee stage of that House. He was aware that his right hon. friend had given a pledge that when the Scottish Bill came up on Report greater latitude would be given for discussion than was originally proposed. He was sure it would be a great help to English Members if they could get the proceedings of the Scottish Committee placed on record, so that the very valuable arguments upon such intricate questions as those involved in this Scottish land question might be open and accessible not only to hon. Members, but in future years to those who desired to study the question with a view to possible legislation in this country.
§ THE PRIME MINISTER AND FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY (Sir H. CAMPBELL-BANNERMAN,) Stirling Burghs
said the observations of the hon. Member for East Toxteth were somewhat belated; they appeared to be a remnant from the long discussions upon the Procedure Rules in which the subject was fully considered. He took the machinery of business as a whole. The minute points in a Scottish Bill were discussed in Committee of the whole House in the absence of English and Irish members who voted upon occasion without knowing the a. b. c. of the matter they were, dealing with. Scottish members were conscious of this atrociously bad method of conducting busi- 1032 ness, and the committal to a Scottish Committee was a change made for the better. English members would give or receive enlightenment on the return of a Scottish Bill to the House. The hon. Member desired there should be verbatim reports of the Committee proceedings; but the effect of that would be elaborate speeches which would be a drag on the progress it was hoped would be made by the change. There were reports in newspapers quite sufficient to enable members to follow the proceedings, and they must be content with those reports; he could not accept the suggestion for a further record. The hon. Member for Stoke had made a speech which, whether intended or not, was about as uncomplimentary to the Government as could possibly be made, and to himself as head of the Government especially.
§ SIR H. CAMPBELL-BANNERMAN
said it implied that the Government conducted business in a haphazard way, not looking beyond their noses, upon the principle that sufficient for the legislative day was the business thereof, and that the Government ought to look much further ahead than the session. His hon. friend seemed to ignore the fact that the necessities, the views, the desires of the constituencies and the country changed with the changing seasons. Often a matter that was of the first importance one year, if not dealt with, sank the next year into insignificance They could not be guided by any fixed plan extending over a good many years. The Government had declared themselves at the general election, and on other occasions, in favour of certain changes, both social and political. They had not departed from their desire to effect those changes; but the order in which they were to be taken up must, of course, be left to be decided year after year. His hon. friend had also raised the old familiar question of the part of the year over which the session should extend, whether they should adjourn at the end of June with a view to meeting again in the autumn, or whether they should sit on, as they had been accustomed, for the most part, to do in the past, well into August, rather than have an autumn 1033 session. That had been a subject of controversy during the whole of the thirty-eight years he had had the honour of having a seat in the House, and, though he would not positively swear to it, he must have changed his mind in regard to it, if not thirty-eight times, certainly many times in the course of those years, there were so many advantages in each proposal when it was looked at by itself. But that was not the occasion when the Government could lay down any general arrangements of that sort. His hon. friend had implied that the Government were behind with their business, and it had been alleged by someone that that was owing to the autumn session of last year. What was true of the autumn session of last year was that the Government—or, in similar circumstances, any Government—were naturally not so well prepared with I their Bills this session as they would have been had there been no autumn session, not because they themselves had been taking too much holiday, but because the officials of the various Departments had been so occupied in watching, and nursing, as it were, the current legislation of the autumn session that they were unable to give the final form, under the direction of the Cabinet, to the Bills of the present session. But, except in that respect, the Government were not at all behind with their business. So far there had been thirty-four full days and eighteen half-days—that was, days ending at 8.15—devoted to Government business. Six full days and one short day were spent on the Address; in Supply, thirteen full and seven short days; on the Patents Bill, one short day; on the Budget, four full and three short days; on Procedure, four full and two short days; on the Army Bill, four full days and one short day; on the Irish Council Bill, one full day; on a number of small Bills one short day; on the Landholders (Scotland) Bill, two full days; and on Motions for the adjournment, two half-days. The result was that they had in that time got the Second Readings of the Finance Bill, the Army Bill, I the Butter Bill, the Patents Bill, and the Small Landholders(Scotland) Bill, and the Irish Council Bill had been introduced, and most important procedure rules had been passed. As to the future prospects of the Government measures, that was not an occasion on which he 1034 could make any statement. The innocents were not yet ripe for massacre. He fully appreciated the saying of his hon. friend, that it would be a great convenience to Members generally if they were informed definitely as to the period of the year when they would be required to attend Parliament. The whole of that question was in a somewhat fluid state at present, and he did not think that anything could be said just now even with respect to this year. As he had announced at question time, the Government were anxious, if possible, to avoid an autumn session, not only on account of its inconvenience to Members, but because it occupied the attention of the officials of the Departments to the prejudice of the business of the session that was to follow. But that was a question the Government had yet to consider. He could only say now that they had every hope and determination of proceeding with the greater part of the measures that had been introduced, if not all of them; and they trusted the House would assist them in so doing by refraining from any extreme prolixity of debate, so as to give them the necessary time. He could quite understand that Members who had not been long in the House, who entered it full of desire to pass useful measures, should, in the circumstances, feel disappointment, and chafe at the slow progress of things. He had always set his face against much time being spent in purely Party debates and in Second Reading debates on a large scale. It had been considered below the dignity of a first-class measure to give fewer than four or five days to its Second Reading. When the House entered upon that process the more reasonable Members took a holiday, returning in time for the division, and often there was the greatest difficulty in keeping up the debate for the required period, Members on both sides being urged to speak so as to keep it going. He was strongly against that sort of thing, for his own sake as well as for the sake of the progress of business, though he fully recognised that there should be ample time given for the discussion of important questions. His hon. friend the Member for North Aberdeen had complained that the Scottish Grand Committee had been created without discussion. He agreed there was substance in the complaint, but the guillotine had to be applied if the thing were to be done 1035 at all. Would his hon. friend vote for cancelling the Resolution which appointed the Scottish Grand Committee? He was sure he would not, because it gave to the Scottish people a power over their own affairs and the opportunity of having their opinions and desires expressed which they had never enjoyed before, except in two years which he remembered, when there was a Scottish Committee of the same character, and which answered the same purpose. He trusted the experience of the session would show that these Grand Committees had been the means of contributing good useful legislation to the Statute-book. The Government were anxious to get the affairs of the House into regular order, and, as far as possible, to meet the convenience of Members, so long as it did not trench upon the rapid despatch of the business which they were sent to Parliament to discharge.
§ LORD BALCARRES (Lancashire, Chorley)
said he regretted the right hon. Gentleman did not see his way to have the proceedings before the Grand Committee reported. He thought the experience of the last few weeks in Grand Committees was not particularly hopeful. The public were absolutely ignorant of what the proceedings before those Committees were. The right hon. Gentleman had said that they must look to the newspapers for reports; but the readers of newspapers only looked at the report of the Parliamentary proceedings, and never thought of looking at any paragraphs in regard to what took place in Committees. At any rate, there was no official record of the proceedings of those Grand Committees. In the case of the Merchandise Marks Amendment Bill, introduced by the hon. and gallant Member for Sheffield, the Committee met and had to be adjourned owing to the necessary absence of the President of the Board of Trade at the Imperial Conference. All that added to the strain on Members, which was very serious indeed. The Opposition were justified in complaining of this addition to Parliamentary work, for, owing to the paucity of their numbers, every Member of the Party now served on some Committee, and some on two or three. As a consequence of the constant morning work on the Committees beginning at 11.30, and the lack of a dinner interval in the House, the strain upon Mem- 1036 bers was immensely increased. He did not suggest that they should revert to the longer adjournment, but he thought that an interval of twenty minutes or half an hour would be a great advantage. Apart from the relief to Members to enable them to obtain some dinner, it would give an opportunity to the servants of the House to tidy up the Chamber, and have it thoroughly ventilated. During the hot weather last year the atmosphere of the House manifestly suffered from the lack of such an opportunity, and the health of Members suffered in a corresponding ratio. Right hon. and hon. Gentleman opposite could go away to dine when they pleased; those on the Opposition side of the House could not. They were a small party. Ministers had shown clearly enough that they valued for themselves an interval for dinner. In the session of last summer, from April 24th, when the change was made, he had computed the attendance of Ministers from 7.15 p.m. to 10 p.m. from their participation or otherwise in the divisions—the only effective test which could be applied. The Chancellor of the Exchequer was absent from 59 per cent. of the divisions taken during those hours. The President of the Local Government Board, who was, perhaps, most regular in his attendance in the House, was only absent from 9 per cent. of divisions in those hours. He would leave out of account the Leader of the House, of whose engagements they did not know. The Under-Secretary for the Colonies was absent from 56 per cent. of the divisions in those hours; the Chancellor of the Duchy from 70 percent.; the President of the Board of Trade from 52 per cent.; the Secretary for India from 60 per cent.; and the Secretary for Scotland from 65 per cent. Those figures showed that right hon. Gentlemen opposite valued the dinner hour between 7.15 p.m. and 10 p.m. He made an appeal on behalf of what he believed to be the bulk of the House that a reversion should be made to the old system of having a general dinner interval. He did not believe that public business would suffer in any degree from such an interval. He would not press the right hon. Gentleman as to whether there was to be an autumn session or not since the right hon. Gentleman had given a promise that in two or three weeks he 1037 would make a statement in regard to that subject. He would point out that an autumn session was incompatible with prompt legislation.
§ Question put, and agreed.
§ Resolved, "That this House at its rising To-morrow do adjourn until Thursday the 23rd May."—(Sir H. Campbell-Bannerman.)