HC Deb 26 February 1908 vol 184 cc1839-83
*MR. LEIF JONES (Westmoreland, Appleby)

rose to call attention to the affairs of the Congo Free State, and to move: "That this House, being convinced that the present system of administration on the Congo is destructive of the personal liberty and economic rights of the native population and of the freedom of commercial intercourse with the outer world, as guaranteed by the Anglo-Congolese Convention of 1884 and the Berlin Act of 1885, asks the Government to do all in its power to secure that a fundamental alteration of the system shall be effected by any transfer of control of the State from the present Sovereign to any other authority; and, failing such transfer within a reasonable time, assures the Government of its hearty support in the measures it may be necessary to take, either alone or in conjunction with the other signatories of the Berlin Act, in order to ensure the effective carrying out of its provisions." He said that in moving this Resolution he came before the House as the mouthpiece of what was most truly described in the King's Speech as "the great anxiety felt with regard to the treatment of the native population in the Congo State." The declaration in the Speech was received with deep thankfulness by the people of this country, who, without distinction of sect or party, shared the desire of the Government to see the government of that State humanely administered in accordance with the spirit of the Berlin Act. That night the opportunity was given to him, on behalf of that public opinion, to ask his right hon. friend whether they were any nearer to a solution of the problem and whether the Government were yet within sight of a settlement. That was the ninth Parliamentary debate upon the question within the last five years. It could not be said that they had been impatient. Five years had passed since the House resolved without a single dissentient to invite the then Government— To confer with the other Powers, signatories of the Berlin General Act, by virtue of which the Congo Free State exists, in order that measures may be adopted to abate the evils prevalent in that State. The five years since then had been almost barren of positive result, so far as actual reform in the Congo State was concerned. The Powers declined to move, and the Congo authorities indignantly denied the statements made in that House, repudiated the charges as calumnious, and challenged those who had made them for proof. Early in 1904 came Consul Casement's report. That was the report of a responsible official of the British Government, and could not therefore be treated as merely travellers' tales or missionary stories. Under pressure from this country a Commission of Inquiry was appointed, to look into the administration of the Congo State. That Committee did not report till the autumn of 1905, and even then, though the evidence was suppressed, the Report, nevertheless, revealed a system by which the natives were mercilessly exploited to breed wealth for foreign masters. The land was the State's, and the products of the land; and the natives were driven to forced labour by an army of occupation, to gather these products. It was a kind of inverted slave trade. Formerly, they took the slaves to a foreign land and made them work there, but they at least fed and housed them well. But under the Congo system, the new slavery was even more profitable, for they made the people labour for them in their own land, and nobody was at any pains to see that the labourers there were properly fed and housed at all. That was a cheaper system which had been worked out by the exploiters of the Congo. The evils could no longer be denied and the Congo Government at once appointed a second Commission which they called a Commission of Reforms. That Commission was to consider necessary reforms. Nothing could be fairer seeming than that. The Commission sat for some months, during which time the system went on unchecked, and in the middle of 1906 come the reform decrees. Those decrees were full of those humane sentiments towards the natives which the Congo Government had so readily at command. Since that, eighteen months had passed under the reform system, and on Monday last a White Book was published and circulated to members of both Houses, which, he ventured to say, no one could read without horror and indignation, and which justified everything which had ever been said against the administration of the Congo State, whether in the country or in the Houses of Parliament. It was difficult to keep within the bounds of Parliamentary language in describing what was happening. He must let our Consuls speak for themselves in the treasured language of official documents. The decrees themselves were fair sounding enough. Mr. Michell, one of our Consuls, described them as "Pecksniffian formulae," while Mr. Beak said— The Congo official Reports are a series of carefully fabricated falsehoods. King Leopold said, in a letter circulated with the decrees— There is no more legitimate or respectable right than the right of the author to his own work, the fruit of his labour. That applied very fittingly, apparently, to the head of the Congo State in Belgium, but it had no relation whatsoever to the natives of the Congo. Under the decrees forced labour was to be abolished. What did the White Book say? Mr. Michell said— The new decrees and the circulars applying them do not in any way modify the corvée system hitherto in force. There was forced labour to-day in the Congo State for transport, food supply, rubber, and for any and every purpose. The worst of those was the rubber tax, which the natives loathed the most. By law this forced labour was limited to forty hours a month, but in fact the natives had to work all the year round, gathering the rubber under those conditions. Mr. Beak told them of one village in which "the collection took up the whole time of all the inhabitants." Mr. Armstrong, another British consul in another district, said— The natives assured me that they spent twenty days and nights in the forest in each month to collect the amount of their tax. In another village— The natives work from twenty to twenty five days in the forest collecting the tax. In another— The chief, capita, and the people were unanimous in declaring that they, the rubber gatherers, spent only four days per month in their village, the remainder of their time being spent in the forest making rubber. Mr. Armstrong summed up by saying— There is not the least doubt in my mind that the average month's work of every native is not less than twenty days. So much for the abolition of forced labour. The worst feature, however, was that it was extended in full measure to the women who had to prepare the native's food. Mr. Michell described that as "an unmitigated evil," and Mr. Armstrong declared it was "without precedent" in West Africa. In order to produce her share of the bread to be supplied to the Government, each woman had practically to work incessantly twelve months in the year, and the testimony was that— In consequence of the incessant labour imposed by the tax, the women have practically ceased to bear children. Well might Consul Thesiger exclaim that— Forced labour such as this differs only in name from slavery. What was the effect upon the population? They were described in the White Book as— Weary and depressed. The population is weak and obviously overworked and underfed. and Mr. Michell said that— Though the blacks are accused of laziness, it is well to bear in mind that the climate makes manual labour very severe, even for the natives, who are naked, ill-fed, and worse housed than any other people. These tax their poor stamina to the utmost, and their struggle for life is hard. The infant mortality is frightful. The native has little heart for sustained labour, and the hunting, fishing, and the long distances he has to go for food leave him little energy for work that he considers quite unnecessary. It was no wonder that the population should be an easy prey to sleeping sickness, and that the country was being depopulated, and that village after village was described as having shrunk in size to a quarter, a third, and even a tenth part of what it used to be. Another great evil was the steady robbing of the country of all its resources. The forests were not properly treated to get the rubber. The vines were being destroyed. He would not take up time by reading more extracts, but the forests were being destroyed, the few cattle, the goats and sheep, which the natives had were rapidly disappearing. The reports of the Consuls showed that fresh food was becoming exceedingly scarce in the country. The administration of the Congo took no note of all that, nor made any effort to prevent the country from being wholly destroyed in that way. Justice there was none for the native, and no attempt was made at administration. Mr. Beak said— Administration in the ordinary acceptance of the term does not exist in the Katanga. No attempt was made to govern the natives. The authority of the native chiefs had been destroyed. One of the most extraordinary features of the Congo system is the absence of any definite native policy. What was happening before the eyes of civilisation was the murder of a race. The natives were enslaved, trade there was none, administration none, justice none, the population decimated and enfeebled, a ready prey to devastating disease, the country robbed of its resources, its forests ruined, and its live stock destroyed. That was what twenty-five years of civilising, under the guardianship of the Powers of Europe, had made of the Congo State. What was all that for? It was all in order to enrich speculators who never set foot in the Congo but lived all their lives in Europe. No one knew the wealth which had been taken out of the Congo during the last ten years. £1,200,000 had been invested in real estate in Belgium. One company, Kasai, made £1,000,000 sterling in five years, starting with a nominal capital of £40,000. From the Crown Domain, specially reserved to the ruler of the Congo State, over £3,000,000 had admittedly been taken out, while £600,000 a year in direct taxes were taken from the Domaine Nationale. He would be under the mark if he estimated that £2,000,000 a year, by means of the methods he had described, had been taken out of the State during the last ten years. He stood there to say, in the name of outraged public opinion in this country, that that system could not be allowed to go on. The temper of the people was such that they would not allow it to go on. They thought the time had come for the Government to act with decision and directness. They were told that there was a prospect of Belgium being wiling to take over the Congo State from its present Ruler. He thought he spoke for nearly all the people of this country when he said that if Belgium volunteered that task of really civilising the Congo that would be a welcome solution. But they had to be on their guard, lest they should force upon Belgium this task, which would tax her very heavily. There was a very important article in that month's Contemporary Review, written by the Leader of the Belgian Liberals, in which he used a phrase which struck him very much. He said that Belgium was being "pressed by England to take over the Congo State," and in another part of the article he said that England "invited Belgium to take over the Congo." He did not think any action of ours should force Belgium to undertake this duty, because it was quite certain that if Belgium undertook it, she would have a heavy burden on her hands, and that she ought only to take it over with her eyes open to the consequences of so doing. Had not the time come when Belgium should be told plainly that we in this country could recognise no nominal transfer of authority from the present ruler of the Congo, but only one which would restore to the natives of the Congo their proprietary rights and liberties and open the Congo to real freedom of trade? He wished to say nothing offensive to Belgium's susceptibilities. We in this country were the traditional friends of Belgium. We secured her independence in 1831. We guarded her neutrality in 1870, and he ventured to say we were never more truly friends of Belgium than when we said she ought not to be used as a cloak to cover the nominal transfer to Belgium of the present system of government in the Congo. We were in possession of the proposals of the Belgian Government in regard to the future government of the Congo. He had copies of the Colonial Law and the Treaty of Cession under which the taking over of the Congo by Belgium was recommended by the Belgian Government. In that Colonial Law which had been accepted in its First Reading, at any rate by the Belgian Parliament, and referred to a committee, the future powers of the ruler in the Congo in regard to the legislature, the executive, and the budget, were left untouched. That was to say, if the Colonial Law went through in its present shape, the present King of the Belgians would have in his hands the same power which, as ruler of the Congo, he at present enjoyed, and there was nothing to show that there would be any further limitation upon his power. To be sure that had not yet been accepted by the Belgian Chamber, and they might hope that it would not be, but, at any rate, it was the proposal of the Government, and it was in regard to these proposals that he thought his right hon. friend might well speak out. The Treaty of Cession had actually been signed by the representatives of the Congo State and of Belgium and that had been referred to a Commission. The Commission had not yet reported upon it because they were told to hold their hand pending an additional treaty which would be submitted to them in regard to a special part of the Congo known as the King's Domain. The proposal in the original Treaty of Cession had been so severely criticised that fresh proposals were submitted in regard to the Crown Domain by the Government of Belgium, but there was nothing to show that this additional treaty, in regard to which he saw a rumour in the paper that day, that an agreement had been reached between the King and the Government, would modify in any important measure the present system of government in the Congo. Had not the time come when the Belgians should be told that we could only recognise a transfer which would secure full Parliamentary control by Belgium, and which would at the same time reverse the whole administration of the Congo and administer that country in the interests of the native inhabitants? If Belgium would do that we should all rejoice, but it meant a heavy drain upon the resources of Belgium—a drain in men, in administrators (for a different class of administrators was needed in the Congo from those who were there at present), and it meant probably a great loss of revenue, because three-fifths at least of the present revenue of the Congo State was derived from the forced labour, as he had endeavoured to show the House. A fair administration of the Congo in the interests of the natives meant probably that Belgium would have to do as this country had to do with regard to similar territories in Africa—she would have to make annual grants in aid instead of drawing revenue from the country. This question had never been submitted to the Belgium people. There had been no election fought upon it in Belgium. He did not think any election address at the last election contained any references to the Congo State. The Belgians did not know as much about the Congo State or its governmental methods as we did in this country. They were carefully warned against the sources of information on which we relied. They were told that they were born of jealousy of the "glorious" Congo administration, and the subsidised Press Bureau of Belgium had warned them against accepting the statements made in this country. The danger was that Belgium might ignorantly take over the Congo, and the protest against its administration, which would go on, no matter who the administrator might be, so long as the system lasted, would be, directed not against the Congo State, but against Belgium. There was a positive danger confronting us in Africa to-day which called for the closest scrutiny of our Government. There was a very significant passage in the White Book describing the condition of a certain section of the Congo State, where 7,000 or 8,000 men who had revolted against the Congo Government had established themselves. They had defied the Congo Government. They had set up a State within that State. They were fully armed. When they went they had but 5,000 old rifles. Now they were armed with the latest rifles, and they had plenty of ammunition. They carried on slave-raiding near Lake Tanganyika. The White-book said they might at any moment assume the offensive, and in this event a movement hitherto limited in its operations might become a source of positive danger. This danger was intensified by the growing hatred of the whites by the blacks throughout this territory. That was a point which Sir Harry Johnston had dwelt upon a good deal, and he was not an alarmist. Mr. Beak said— I regard the view taken by Sir Harry Johnston as that of an alarmist, but I cannot fail to point out that there exists a sentiment of widespread hatred against the white man. There was a letter in Monday's Times in which Mr. Gilchrist said the natives told him that in their pursuit of rubber they crossed over the boundaries and went into neighbouring territories. He said: "Don't they fight against you when you do that?" and the natives answered: "We used to fight, but now we don't. We have pity on each other because of the white man's treatment of us." The white man's treatment of the blacks was consolidating the blacks against the white man's rule. So whatever Belgium might do we 'had both a duty and a right in this matter, and he welcomed the suggestion put forward in another place on Monday that more Consuls should be appointed. What they wanted in the Congo was daylight. These deeds that were done would not survive the full blaze of European observation. Let them have plenty of light let in. Let them have a stream of facts from the Congo, and let the Consuls have the means of transport in their hands and not trust to the monopolist transports which existed in the Congo. Let them push their trade in every way possible and let them not wait very long. It was difficult, in reading the history of the last five years, to resist the idea that the present ruler of the Congo had no intention of giving up his control of the resources of the State at all. The question was whether he was not by one suggestion after another, by one delay after another, by one specious pretext after another, playing with the Powers of Europe and preventing them from reaching a solution. Let them again appeal to the Powers. There was more light now than there was in 1903. Let them again appeal to them if in a short period they found that the Belgian solution did not take shape. In 1903 the Powers refused to join England—to-day they might be willing to do so. They knew from the most recent reports that in the United States the same feeling prevailed as in this country and in an intense degree, and they had every reason to believe that the United States would gladly join with them in any measure that might be necessary to procure reform in the Congo. Let them act with the United States. If the Government would act strongly in this matter they would have behind them in this country an instructed and earnest public opinion. After all, the people had always led upon this question of the Congo. It was the people of this country who over-rode the decision of the Government in 1884. The Government wanted to recognise the rights of Portugal in the Congo. The people rose against that under the persuasion of Mr. Stanley and other representatives of the Congo Association. They forced upon the Government of that day practically the recognition of the Congo State. They were responsible for forming that State. Now they knew that they were deceived. Unwittingly they made themselves parties in a great wrong, and they would not rest until the wrong was righted—until freedom in every sense of the word had been restored to the unhappy natives of the Congo.

SIR JOHN KENNAWAY (Devonshire, Honiton)

said it was a great privilege to second the Motion of his hon. friend, who had explained the situation with the greatest clearness, who had expressed the strong determination and the strong moral sense of the country in regard to this matter, and who had spoken with a statesmanlike moderation which must commend itself to all. The one complaint that he made against him was that he had left very little for his seconder to say. He would, however, like to go back a little further than the hon. Member had done and say how the Congo chapter of African history had been from the beginning a time of high expectation and yet of great disappointment. When Stanley made the discovery of the basin of the Congo, opening up such vast possibilities in Africa and so much fresh knowledge, there was the greatest difficulty in determining to whom this great heritage should be entrusted. There was the question of Portugal. At that time the hour had come and it seemed to some of them that the man had come also. The King of the Belgians in 1886 invited to his palace at Brussels a large conference consisting of different men of Europe, and he happened to be one of them, in order to discuss for a whole week the question of how Africa was to be opened up. He might say that the King of the Belgians inspired all who went to that conference with an earnest belief in his sincerity, and an earnest desire to redress the wrongs of Africa. A few years later with the help of Stanley he brought forward his plan, when Europe was in doubt, of the International Association of the Congo, and he posed as the champion of civilisation and humanity with such effect that he induced Great Britain to recognise his international scheme and to give him that assistance without which any further step would have been impossible. The whole idea was that it was intended for humane and benevolent purposes, but what was it now? Nothing but an enterprise consisting of the accumulation of rubber at an infinite cost of human life and suffering. There was no question as to the facts—they had them in the latest edition confirming all that had been said before. There was an absence of the maintenance of any law and order, let alone the prevention of disease or any settled government at all; there was nothing but a hideous system of tyranny, and slavery, enforced by cannibal soldiers, with loss of life and mutilation. The taxation imposed meant practically 20 francs a head per annum—an enormous amount for such a population as that. The labour tax, fixed at the pleasure of a local official, amounted to twenty to twenty-five days work in the month, which produced 3 kilogrammes of rubber which sold for 37 francs in Antwerp, for which the native received 1 franc 10 centimes and a small handful of salt. The demand for transport had already been detailed. No wonder that the Under-Secretary for Foreign Affairs in another place, speaking for the Government, had stated that the condition of things in the Congo was as great a defiance of treaty rights and of public law, as great a sacrifice of the interests of humanity, as anything the modern world had ever known. The noble Lord might well state that this was a condition of things contrary to the dictates of humanity and treaty obligations. The question was how England could bring the force of her opinion and influence, and her prestige and treaty rights, to bear on Belgium to put an end to this state of things. There was no question as to the position of the King. In a letter he wrote last summer he claimed the Congo as his own private property, and he was trying to sell it at the present time for £6,000,000. No doubt the King was beginning to feel that the state of public opinion would not tolerate the continuance of such a state of things, although he had spoken of leaving the Congo as his legacy to Belgium. But since the vote of last year in the Belgium Chamber, a decision had been come to that the question of annexation must be taken up. What was Great Britain doing now besides watching the negotiations? The Belgian people were beginning to place this question where they had never placed it before, and they must be beginning to realise the great responsibility which would be involved in the matter, and the necessary sacrifices which would have to be made. The question was how could they proceed in the matter. This was not the time to talk of gunboats. We wanted to avoid wounding anybody's susceptibilities, but at the same time they ought to rise to the height of the situation, and endeavour by every means in their power to prevent Belgium from perpetuating this system of the most cruel slavery. This country should make it clearly understood that the Belgium solution must be a real solution, and that with nothing else would the people of this country be satisfied. The Government had behind them a united Press, a united Parliament, and a united people. There was every encouragement to go forward. They might feel disheartened that no progress had been made, but the co-operation of the American people at this crisis, was of priceless value. They had just had an outside sign of this encouragement in the Report of the American Consul. Everything called to the Government to go forward so that, in the words of Lord Lansdowne— An end might be put to a condition of things long regarded by this country with horror and shame. There must be freedom of trade in the Congo and guarantees for collective and individual liberty. The continued existence of the present state of things was a breach of treaty obligations, a disgrace to humanity, a danger to all Powers who numbered Africans amongst their subjects, and a hindrance to the spread of civilisation. Both the late and the present Government had shown their anxiety and their desire to go forward in this matter. The speech of the Prime Minister at the Guildhall and the mention of this subject in the King's Speech showed the importance that the Government attached to the matter and their desire to deal with it. They did not wish to force the hand of the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, but they wished to encourage him and to assure him when he saw his way to go forward, that this House and the country would be ready to afford him every support. He had much pleasure in seconding the Resolution.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House, being convinced that the present system of administration on the Congo is destructive of the personal liberty and economic rights of the native population and of the freedom of commercial intercourse with the outer world, as guaranteed by the Anglo-Congolese Convention of 1884 and the Berlin Act of 1885, asks the Government to do all in its power to secure that a fundamental alteration of the system shall be effected by any transfer of control of the State from the present Sovereign to any other authority; and, failing such transfer within a reasonable time, assures the Government of its hearty support in the measures it may be necessary to take, either alone or in conjunction with the other signatories of the Berlin Act, in order to insure the effective carrying out of its provisions."—(Mr. Leif Jones.)


said he was quite sure he was expressing the feelings of every Member of the House when he said that those who were taking part in this debate had no desire to embarrass in any way the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs. They had the deepest possible sympathy with the right hon. Baronet in the situation in which he was placed in regard to this important matter, and they felt quite sure that his sympathies were with those who supported this Resolution. Therefore, their action was intended to strengthen his hands and to give him what encouragement they were able to give him by the assurance that the great body of public opinion in this country was not only behind him but very strongly behind him, and that that public opinion justified him in taking an even more advanced position than that which he had taken up to the present in regard to this question. He agreed with his right hon. friend opposite that it was somewhat difficult to take part in this discussion without repetition after the very exhaustive history which his hon. friend who moved the Resolution had given. He desired again to express the great anxiety that was felt in regard to the prospects—he would almost say the immediate prospects—of annexation, without any deliberate undertaking on the part of Belgium to alter the system which they believed was mainly responsible for the evils which had been described. He felt that whilst his right hon. friend had no right, of course, to assume officially that this state of things would continue after annexation, there were many grounds upon which he might entertain fears that such would be the case. They should state their views in regard to the state of affairs in the Congo lest without due warning they should allow Belgium to enter on these obligations imagining that this state of things could be continued. He believed the public opinion of this country was aroused to such an extent that, should annexation take place without a complete and drastic change in the system of government on the Congo, his right hon. friend would be placed in a very serious position, because that public opinion must then force him to take action in circumstances which, perhaps, would be more difficult than they were at the present time. From all the information that reached this country, he thought they had the utmost warrant for not feeling any degree of hope that these great changes were contemplated. He urged his right hon. friend to take such steps as would leave the Belgian Government in no doubt whatever as to the determination of this country as to the existing condition of things. Hon. Members who were present recently at the great meeting held in the Queen's Hall and presided over by the Lord Mayor must have been impressed with the hollow mockery of the whole situation. At that meeting the reply of the King of the Belgians to the address presented by the City of London on the initiation of the Congo Free State was read at length. It must have presented itself to that meeting as an indictment of the whole conduct of the King of the Belgians, for not a single promise that he then made, not a single obligation he entered into in that document, had been in any sense fulfilled. If those obligations had been fulfilled, millions of lives would have been saved; unheard of cruelties would have been avoided; legitimate trade and commerce, in which this nation would have had its fair and reasonable share, would have been carried on; the rights of humanity would have been respected; and the twentieth century would not have had to hide its head in shame that such a page of history should be written. He had no desire to use intemperate language on this question, but it really was extremely difficult, in view of the circumstances which had been described by his hon. friends, to use language that was within the bounds of Parliamentary practice; and one was greatly tempted to say very strong things. It was the system they indicted—the system which denied to the natives any proprietary rights in the soil of their country or its natural products. The terrible charges had again and again been proved up to the hilt. Therefore, he was sure that the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs would not wonder that a very large number people were growing impatient. He would give his right hon. friend the credit for believing that he was growing very impatient himself. Many months ago now, his right hon. friend had said in that House, "We cannot wait for ever." They were asking when the time limit would expire. Whilst negotiations had proceeded, and despatches passed from one country to another, there had been no armistice to the cruelties that went on in the Congo State, and the natives had had no relief of the burdens laid upon them or of the cruelties which they had so unjustly borne. Even the Under-Secretary had said that these debates could not go on for ever without producing results. He was afraid that the results from these debates had been very small, and he was not sure that they were not likely to continue very small. Many of them had grave reason to believe that contentious debates both in the Belgian Parliament and here were looked forward to with eagerness by those who were reaping the results of their cupidity and crime. The last proposition that had been made was that the King of the Belgians was prepared to dispose of that which, in his judgment, never belonged to him for six millions of money. Here was an offer of the bodies and souls of men, and all that rightly belonged to them, for a few miserable millions of money! In consequence of the system which had been practised, the King had little to offer except a devastated and partly depopulated State. Lord Cromer, in his noble speech, had declared that the practices in the Congo were contrary, not only to the dictates of humanity, but to treaty obligations. Why had we not insisted on the enforcement of our treaty rights? We had in this case a combination which did not always happen under similar circumstances. We had the interests of humanity and of trade going along the same lines, but King Leopold disregarded both. This condition of things was intolerable, and we should make it known that we would bear it no longer. He knew that prudence was a great virtue, and especially in a Foreign Minister. They all greatly admired that virtue in the present Foreign Secretary, but he thought his right hon. friend had carried prudence as far as he could consistently carry it. They had admired the right hon. Gentleman's great caution in this respect, but now they felt that the time had come for something more than the exercise of mere prudence. There was a time when resolution became even a greater virtue than prudence, and he ventured to suggest that that time had now come. He and his friends in making this earnest protest were convinced that they were speaking what was felt by the bulk of the Anglo-Saxon race throughout the world. If there was continued refusal to carry out the obligations of the treaty, what was their duty in the circumstances? Of course, as an irresponsible Member of the House it would be easy for him to suggest certain methods by which they could enforce these obligations. For his part he would like to see the treasure which was so violently wrenched from the inhabitants of the Congo intercepted before it reached the coffers of the man who was responsible for this state of things. Ought they not to consider whether they had reached a point when diplomatic relations with the King of the Belgians should be suspended if he was going to justify his rule in the Congo—a rule unparalleled in the history of savage tribes? Ought they to treat him as one of the community of European sovereigns? Ought they not rather to make him feel that unless he could put an end once and for ever to these atrocities they could no longer recognise him as a monarch who was capable of carrying on his relations with the inhabitants of the Congo Colony in a way which was equitable and fair? He hoped that his right hon. friend the Foreign Secretary would be able to give some assurance that a forward step would now be taken. Surely the right hon. Gentleman ought to be able to assure the House that he was not standing alone, that there were other signatories to the treaty who were equally moved with ourselves by the horrors of the Congo? Was the moral standard of Europe so lowered that those tales of sorrow and woe for which they were partly responsible did not move them to take any action at all? He would not believe it. But if it were so, he maintained that this country, which had ever been in the van to take care that justice was done to native races, should instruct King Leopold that this nation was firm and consistent in its determination to put an end to such cruelties. And if King Leopold would not yield to this limited pressure, and listen to the voice of reason and justice, this nation would be prepared to back up our Government in taking the strongest measures possible. He had great pleasure in supporting the Motion.

*SIR H. NORMAN (Wolverhampton, S.)

said that he would say nothing whatever of the existing facts in the Congo Free State. They were now proved beyond any possibility of doubt, and it was hardly possible to exaggerate them. Their nature was such that even to state them frankly was impossible in any public assembly. He asked permission to make a few remarks from the point of view of foreign politics in general, and of our personal responsibility as a nation and as individuals. This was not an academical question of high, complicated, and delicate statecraft. It was, as he conceived it, a question of plain national honour and, therefore, of plain national duty. It seemed to him that, without exaggeration or cant, we were so much involved in this matter that any man amongst us who knew the facts must feel compelled to say: "My country is disgraced by them; I myself am disgraced by them." If that view was right, it behoved every one of them, he would not say to bring such pressure, great or little, as was in their power on the Government, but at least to do what they could to strengthen the hands of the Government in taking action in the direction so ardently desired by the country. For his own part, he was certainly pledged to his constituents to do so on every possible occasion. As he had said, this was not a question of highly complicated, nerve-straining statecraft. People sometimes talked of Macedonia and the Congo. There was no possible comparison between the two from the point of view of foreign affairs The Balkan question was perhaps the most difficult, delicate, and menacing question in all foreign politics. It was the nightmare of diplomatists throughout Europe. It was a question which some of the most acute observers of European events despaired of seeing solved except by the results of an awful war. Moreover, the Macedonian question was one on which we were quite liable to the remark on the part of great military nations on the Continent that it was all very well for us to do the talking and the writing, but if conflict came it would be they who would have to do the fighting. There was a certain amount of truth in that jibe. In regard to the Congo we stood in a totally different position. We could make it clear that as a nation we had no ulterior motive to serve; we could impose upon ourselves a self-denying ordinance leaving us with perfectly clean hands. In the next place, we stood on an absolutely undeniable treaty right. In fact we in this country had two treaty rights. We and the United States stood as regards treaty rights in a preferential position, because our treaty rights antedated even the Berlin Act, to which of course we are also parties. As his hon. friend had said, our treaty rights had been disregarded in this matter in the most barefaced manner possible, and the defence of them was perfectly proper at the hands of the Government. In the third place, there was no risk if we moved in this matter of rousing the susceptibilities or envy of any foreign nation. He felt sure, and all of them who knew Belgium as he himself did would be sure, that in so far as in the future the Belgium people became acquainted with the facts, the vast majority of them would hold the same point of view as we ourselves did. There was no fear whatever that in any action we might take we should set ourselves in opposition to a friendly nation, considering how much Belgium owed to us in the past and how much her integrity depended upon us to-day. The steps we were called upon to take were certainly easy ones. As his hon. friend the Member for North-West Norfolk had said, there was nothing more easy than for un-official Members to point out what steps should be taken, compared with the Foreign Secretary, upon whom the responsibility rested. But in this matter the steps were quite open—the assertion of our treaty rights in regard to foreign trade, that no monopolies in the Congo should be granted, and that we should be officially represented in the country by Consuls with official districts. All those rights were so simple that, with every sympathy towards those who occupied a position of great responsibility, it seemed to him almost incomprehensible that there should be so much reluctance to take such steps. Finally, there was no doubt that we had the United States conscience behind us, and with that conscience we should have the strength also of that great nation behind us. The Under-Secretary for Foreign Affairs said the other day in another place, "These debates go on, but no results are achieved." Too true. He was sorry that his noble friend could have made that remark, and he was sorry that there had been occasion for him to make it; but he was still more sorry for the truth of it. These debates went on. As his right hon. friend reminded him, it was fourteen years since he had first introduced this subject into the House; and it was nearly five years since his hon. friend on the Treasury Bench, the hon. Member for the Cleveland division, had moved a Resolution in the House, in terms of peculiar felicity, which was carried without dissent. The debates did still go on, and no results were achieved. Another Parliament had been elected, and the great representative assembly, and the great non-representative assembly, had debated this question and passed Resolutions. Many hon. Members had made eloquent and convincing speeches, but still, as the Under-Secretary for Foreign Affairs had stated, there was little better to say than that these things went on and no results were achieved. That statement, however, was not entirely accurate, for a certain result had been achieved. One more British Vice-Consul had been appointed in the Congo Free State! A second result was, as Lord Fitzmaurice had stated in the House of Lords, that the difficulties in Belgium were greater than before, and the attitude of certain persons there was more uncompromising. These were unsatisfactory facts indeed, but they were the only results except that to which his hon. friend had so touchingly alluded, those which had blackened the face of the world and seared their common humanity, in regard to what had taken place in the grossly misnamed Congo Free State. It was a fact beyond all possibility of doubt that the people of this country were deeply stirred by the horrors which had taken place there. It was many years since a purely moral question had come so close to the hearts and minds of people in this country, who would have had every excuse if they had given all their attention to the needs and demands of their own circumstances. In conclusion, he had two observations to make. In the first place—and attention had been called to this before, though too much stress could not possibly be laid upon it—that we incurred a much greater risk by waiting than by acting. It might be difficult, only the Foreign Secretary knew how difficult, to act now, but if we permitted the Belgian people; in ignorance to set their hands to a compact which we, standing firm on our treaty and human rights, could not agree with, then the situation would be an incomparably more difficult and more dangerous one, because when the Belgian people put their hands to a compact they would think their national honour was involved in seeing it through, and the position of our Government would be far more difficult. It was one of the cases very frequent in human life when the boldest thing was the easiest and safest. One remembered the line of the despairing king who said— Words without thoughts never to Heaven go. And he would say, words without acts would accomplish nothing. Words spoken in this House and elsewhere, printed words in our newspapers, written words in our dispatches circulating around Europe all these years, without acts, would necessarily and finally degenerate into cant. Our national honour and our national dignity were involved in this matter. We owed it to our honour as a nation; we owed it to our dignity, standing on our treaty rights; we owed it to one another; we owed it to civilisation; each man, it seemed to him, owed it to his self-respect, to face this alternative—this was certainly not said in criticism of the right hon. Gentleman the Foreign Secretary or his predecessor—frankly now to face this alternative; either to begin acting or to stop talking.


felt that it was right that the Party with which he was associated should be identified with this Resolution, for, after all, they might claim that a party in Belgium, of kindred organisations and aims with the one on whose behalf he spoke, took a view of this matter that they themselves heartily appreciated. He felt, perhaps, that this was a fitting and opportune time for this Resolution to be considered by the House, especially in view of the special annexation proposal now before the Belgian Government. Undoubtedly, the question was hedged around with many difficulties, and he knew no party in the House who would like to utter any sentiment calculated to increase the difficulties of the Belgian people in the Congo; but having regard to the proposals made by the Belgian Government in November last year, which had regard to the treaty rights we claimed in the matter, this country had a duty to perform and ought to make its view of the situation perfectly plain. It was not his attention to allude very closely to the rule of King Leopold in the Congo State, but they found after twenty-five years of that rule the condition of things there remained unparalleled in any part of the world, except it might be in Turkey. King Leopold had monopolised for his own advantage the yield of rubber, gum, and ivory over nearly the whole extent of a territory twenty-four times the size of Belgium. He had imposed upon the natives, under the pretext of taxes in kind, a system of forced labour which he believed the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs had himself characterised as little short of slavery. Despite all this the income of the Free State was not sufficient at the outset to cover the expenses, so in 1890 and subsequently in 1895 King Leopold applied to the Belgian Government for aid, because he found that he was unable to carry on the administration of the Congo Free State without further assistance. He was lent in two instalments 31,000,000 francs, and in return the Belgian Government thought they had secured the unconditional right to take possession of the Congo whenever they thought fit, even during the lifetime of the King. The question of annexation seemed, under such conditions, to be a comparatively simple matter. But in 1906 the King addressed to his Secretaries of State an open letter, wherein he pretended to forget that the rights of Belgium were based on a contract entered into in consideration of money lent him, and claimed to make the eventual annexation subject to conditions of which he had never previously spoken. Belgium could get possession of the Congo, he said, but must bind itself to respect the private domains created by King Leopold II. himself, and especially the "Domain of the Crown" established by him for the purpose of bribing the Press, keeping his favourites, carrying on public works without the consent of Parliament, and other objects of an even more doubtful character. The Belgian people had become greatly alarmed at the prospects indicated by the publication of the King's letter. It had raised a genuine storm in the Belgian Parliament. Socialists and Liberals alike in that Parliament had combined in interrogating the Government as to whether it agreed with the King, and it had resulted in the House unanimously affirming the intention of Parliament to carry out at an early date the unconditional transfer of the Congo Free State to Belgium. This was thought to have settled the terms of transfer, but under the Bill introduced on 26th November last year Belgium undertook to respect the existing foundations of the Congo. That was a clear return to the claims rejected by a Resolution of the Chamber. To annex the Congo and to uphold the domains of the Crown would be to run a grave risk of the continuance of the present conditions of oppression of the natives, and at the same time might involve the country in a heavy-deficit, whilst the King would continue to derive his ample resources from his reserved territory. The colonial law indicating the broad lines upon which Belgium proposed to manage the Congo showed that the King would be left in full control of executive power, legislative function, and the budget. The Treaty of Cession embodying the terms upon which King Leopold and the Belgian Government were agreed in connection with the transfer of the Congo to Belgium left the whole system unchanged. The powers and privileges of the great monopolist trusts remained untouched, and the native population would be left in its present condition of economic servitude and bodily slavery. These conditions directly violated the Anglo-Congolese Convention of 1884, and the Berlin Act of 1885, under which King Leopold was thought to be restricted from doing what he liked with the Congo. He was looked upon there as the trustee of civilisation. So clearly was this understood at the time that Monsieur Beernaert, the Belgian Prime Minister who won the Belgian Chamber over to the King's scheme, described the Congo State thus— The State of which our King will be the sovereign will be an international colony. There will be no monopolies, no privileges; quite the contrary; freedom for all, freedom of barter, of property, of commerce, and of navigation. All these statements had been frequently abused and the enterprise debased so as merely to provide profits for King Leopold and his financial partners at a fearful cost of human life and suffering. There used to be some doubt as to whether the stories which had reached the ears of the people in this country as to what took place in the Congo were true, but atterly they had had plenty of opportunities of receiving authoritative evidence, and no one could read the White Book recently issued without being thoroughly convinced that revolting barbarities were practised upon the natives of the Congo State. The whole system was based upon a violation of native rights to their land and products and to their liberty, and it was no exaggeration to say that a system of absolute slavery prevailed in the Congo State at the present time. In fact, he believed that the existing conditions were even worse than those which prevailed in the old days of slavery, for the slave in those days was sure of a sufficiency of food and shelter, otherwise his labour would lack productivity, but under the conditions obtaining in the Congo under King Leopold and those associated with him, they seemed to hold themselves under no such obligations towards the natives. The present modifications of the scheme proposed by the Belgian Government might provide that Belgian constitutionalism should be protected from autocracy, but their point was that the conditions in the Congo State would remain unaltered even with these modified constitutional adjustments. In the White Book that had been issued they found that through the operation of the labour tax the native was practically tied down from one year's end to another to a life of continual labour for the State. In fact, it seemed that the natives of the Congo State existed for no other purpose than to provide revenues for the King and the companies that had been established there. Not content with fixing the price of the native products, they compelled the native to accept his payment in kind in lieu of money, and this lack of currency in the State had been one of the gravest evils, because the native had no means of knowing what remuneration he was entitled to for his labour. In fact he received no standard of remuneration, and was compelled, he believed, to accept his reward in kind, which brought his remuneration down to less even than the low cost of labour as fixed by the State itself he having to dispose of the articles given to him at a small price in order to provide himself with the necessaries of life. It was said that the tax to be paid in labour and products was based theoretically on the idea of forty hours work a month, whereas experience went to prove that in practice the amount due was invariably exceeded and seemed to be limited only by the needs of the State or the working capacity of the native. The White Book showed such a state of things under the rule of King Leopold that seemed to him to warrant this country in intervening especially having regard to the treaty obligations that had been referred to in the course of the debate. In conclusion, he would say that the Party with which he was associated regarded the conditions in the Congo as a gross invasion of human rights, when the proprietary rights of 20,000,000 African natives in their soil and its products could be swept away in such a manner as was proposed by King Leopold and his Government. They felt that this country had a duty to perform in upholding its treaty obligations. We had a very heavy debt to pay to our common humanity. He was favoured by being able to associate himself with a question which was certainly not a party question, but one which excited no hostility in any quarter of the House or country. Everyone desired to see the Government take action to right these wrongs and to remove this blot from civilisation. It had been truly said that nations were the citizens of humanity, just as people were the citizens of nations, and he hoped in the course of his reply the right hon. Gentleman would be able to give the House an assurance that action would be taken to protect the natives in the Congo, and that this great blot on our civilisation would be removed.

*MR. GWYNN (Galway)

said he supported the Motion before the House from a point of view considerably different from that of those who had already addressed the House. It did not appear to him that any European nation could afford to be self-righteous with regard to West Africa. There was not one which had not the deep black stain on its escutcheon. It was easy, whether the nation was Germany, France, or England, to frame a terrible indictment against it. But the Government of the Congo stood out by itself. The charge brought against the Government of the Congo could not be brought against any other Government. In the Congo they had a government not only administrator but merchant, which was the worst device of government the world had ever seen. That, however, was not a question for himself and his colleagues to consider, and he rose to make it clear that although this had been represented as a question of Roman Catholic against Protestant, the sympathy of Catholic Ireland would not be with King Leopold if it were proved as he held it to be proved, that the Congo offered an example of rack-renting on the grandest scale the world could show. Some of his colleagues took a different view from that which he now put, and, to be candid to the House, it was easy to see that the reason for that was that to a certain extent the outrages, or the supposed outrages, in the Congo had been such as to strain credulity. But most of his colleagues had taken that view from their instinctive distrust of the justice of Great Britain. He did not take that view. He had a great respect for the justice of this country so long as it had nothing to do with the administration. It was a most unfortunate coincidence for this country that, as the hon. Member for Norfolk had said, the interests of humanity coincided with the interests of trade. Let it be made quite clear to the world that their righteous indignation was not going to point the way to their political advantage. In this case the influence of the United States was infinitely greater than that of England, simply because she had no interests at stake. He recognised gladly that at the present time it was easier for England to intervene in this matter than it was some time ago. When in a fit of megalomania they engaged in promoting the Cape to Cairo railway they could not have intervened without appearing to aim at a definite, and declared political interest. He could not conceive how Belgium herself was ever to pass over her obligations to any other Power, and therefore pressure mast be put on Belgium to see this thing through. His concern, however, was not for the European Powers, but simply and sololy for the people of the Congo. African slavery was freedom to what went on there. He associated himself with the view on this whole matter expressed not by any Englishman or Protestant, but by the Rev. A. Vermeersch, a Belgian Jesuit in his book La Question Congolaire.

*SIR FRANCIS CHANNING (Northamptonshire, E.)

said that he would like first of all to congratulate the House upon having a debate absolutely unique in its unanimity and remarkable for the suggestive, sagacious, and weighty speeches which had analysed the moral and political aspects of the case. There had been several comments upon the fact that upon questions this debate had hitherto become purely academic. He had no doubt that his right hon. friend shared the objection that had been expressed to mere abstract discussion and also the feeling that we did not want this debate to be a mere repetition of the long series of academic debates which had done nothing which would make any real change in the condition of these wretched people, or remove the shame and dishonour from this country for acquiesing tacitly in such a state of things or would aid the friendly people of Belgium to right themselves in the eyes of the world and of humanity. He heartily congratulated his hon. friend who initiated the debate upon the speech he had made. His hon. friend had said that we wanted daylight in the Congo, but he ventured to say that those who had followed the difficulties of this question in Belgium and in the Belgian Parliament during the last eighteen months felt that what was wanted was daylight in the Belgian Parliament. He shared with the hon. Member for Norfolk his opinion and appreciation of the judgment and caution and the marvellous power of rhetorical statement of his right hon. friend the Secretary of State. He might be wrong, and perhaps the right hon. Gentleman would clear up his doubts by his speech, but it seemed to him that the Foreign Secretary had a faith in the Belgian solution merely as a Belgian solution. If they believed with a blind confidence that with annexation carried out somehow, and with the Belgian Parliament placed in power to deal with the question, reforms would automatically accomplish themselves, and these horrors be one by one removed by publicity and discussion, then, he ventured to say, the history of the question disproved the assumption and ought to show the right hon. Gentleman that such an anticipation would not bear close inspection. What had been the course of the history of these transactions so far as the ripening of the Belgian solution was concerned? There was no doubt that in the Belgian Parliament that solution had been hurried by the impression that it was demanded by this country. There was no doubt that the King and his party had availed themselves of that feeling of British pressure in order to a certain extent to blind, bewilder, and mislead the opinion of the Belgian people upon the question. In the remarkable article which had appeared this month in the Contemporary Review by M. Georges Lorand, leader of the Liberal Party in the Belgian Chamber, it had been made perfectly clear that the people were not aware of the facts and did not understand the conditions under which annexation was being proposed, nor did they foresee its financial, moral, and political results. What had the discussions on the treaty of annexation amounted to? They had amounted to no real appreciation of the vital issues at stake. The only real point on which there had been a struggle between the Belgian Parliamentary spirit and the attitude of the King and the Concessionaires had been as to the disposal of the produce of the Domaine de la Couronne. Those who had closely observed the condition of affairs in Belgium must have come to the conclusion that the whole position was due to the fact that the vast treasures extorted from the sufferings of the people of the Congo had been utilised to buy and debauch public opinion in Belgium. The only concession obtained by these discussions in Belgium was that the Belgian Parliament and people were being bribed to acquiescence by being invited by the King and his party to share in the distribution of the spoils. He therefore asked the House whether they were right in allowing the matter to drift any further. Were they committed to the Belgian solution on the mere theory that the handing over of the Congo to the Belgian Parliament would bring reform automatically? It was the moral and political duty of this country, as a friend of Belgium and as the originator and guarantor of the very existence of Belgium, to make it clear to the Belgian people that in taking up this responsibility they must take it as a whole and not on any false terms. They must be made to clearly understand that there would be an economic loss and that they would have to face it. We could not let them proceed further groping in the dark towards a solution which they did not fully grasp, and which would inevitably lead them by economic pressure to perpetuate the terrible system of forced labour, which alone would, under existing circumstances enable them to make ends meet. He remembered that when the question was last discussed the noble Lord opposite very wisely and pertinently spoke of this as an economic question, stating that the European Concert ought to face the responsibility of enabling Belgium to deal with the economic side of this tremendous difficulty by granting them the right to charge certain customs duties. If Belgium really reformed the Congo system it would have to face a deficiency of revenue, and we ought to suggest the means and opportunity of enabling them to meet it. He had read the remarkable White-book placed in their hands within the last day or two. He was immensely struck with the various allusions by Vice-Consul Michell and other authorities as to the resources of the Congo in the cultivation of other produce than rubber, and in the development of other industries. There were many other products which might be developed and enable the Belgian Government, if they took the Congo over, to make it a paying State. Why could we not make it clear to the Belgian people and to the Belgian Government and Parliament that we meant business, and that we were determined to take our part, even at the risk of seeming to interfere, in making the conditions of annexation absolutely clear before they arrived at a settlement of the terms of the treaty of annexation, and to insist on all the principles of the Anglo-Congolese and Berlin Treaties being embodied in that document? We should also in the most conciliatory and friendly way point out to the Belgian Government by what methods they could work the Congo so as to make it a commercial success and pay its way without these horrors being perpetrated. We had a friendly duty to the Parliament and nation of the Belgians in that connection as well as in demanding that these reforms should be embodied in the treaty. He did not agree with the hon. Member for Wolverhampton that this was an easy and simple task. He rather agreed with the wise words which had fallen from the Foreign Secretary in previous debates that, although it was not so complicated a question as that of Macedonia, yet it was a question of profound diplomatic difficulty and of the gravest complication, needing the wisest and most cautious handling. It was for that reason that he regarded with satisfaction the fact that it was in the hands of his right hon. friend. He, however, urged him to attach full weight to the arguments of the hon. Member for Wolverhampton and many other speakers that we should not lose this happy moment, before the terms of the treaty were settled, to make the whole situation, economic as well as political and moral, clear to the people of Belgium and to make them comprehend that the whole of the Empire was behind our purpose. If we took this course here and now we should be in a far stronger position. A great statesman could make a representation to a people even in such a complicated and difficult matter. He could make a representation which would be accepted in a friendly sense of co-operation, and he invited the right hon. Gentleman to make use of words which would clear up the matter once and for all for the Belgium Government and place it on a plane which would result in actions and not merely in words.


I am, of course, well aware that the strength of feeling which has found expression in the House this evening is a feeling not confined to this House, but represents an equal strength of feeling in all parts of the country outside. It is not, I think, too much to say that no external question for at least thirty years has moved the country so strongly and so vehemently as this in regard to the Congo. It is not merely both sides of this House that share this feeling; it is both sides of the other House as well. The debate in the other House, a short time ago, covered the same ground and brought out the same expressions of feeling. There was no dissentient voice at all. And I am glad that one hon. Member has in this debate recognised the force and volume which is added to the discussion of the Congo by Lord Cromer's intervention in another place. I do not think the matter could be summed up more forcibly, considering Lord Cromer's great experience, than by recalling to the House the fact that in effect he said that, in all his long and varied experience, the system in the Congo was the worst he had ever seen or of which he had ever heard. But now my task is more difficult than that of any of those who have spoken. I have to address myself to the practical side of the question, and I have also to do what I can to ensure that the feelings and sentiments which have found expression in this House, and which we ourselves know are genuine and sincere, are not misunderstood elsewhere. In the first place, there is no religious difficulty existing among the people on this question. It has been alleged that that has poisoned the controversy on previous occasions, and I welcome on that ground especially the intervention of the hon. Member for Galway, who has made it clear on this occasion in this House that it is not one particular section of Christianity which is represented, and that no religious difference of opinion affects our sentiments with regard to the problem. In the next place, I should like to make it clear that we do not claim on behalf of the people of this country any greater right or interest than is made on behalf of others, and that everything we say is said without prejudice to the interests that others may have. There is, of course, the interest of Belgium and of France, and the arrangement with Belgium giving her a contingent pre-emption which, though arranged between her and Belgium, has been known to the world for many years. I should like it to be clearly understood, also, that anything we say and any action we may take is not intended to impair or belittle the legitimate interests of any other country in the Congo, and that we have no desire to establish political or territorial claims for ourselves. On the contrary, we not only do not desire to assume more responsibility, but we wish to avoid incurring it. I should like also to make this plain—that in the condemnation which we have expressed, and rightly expressed, because I believe every word of condemnation uttered in this debate, is fully justified, there is nothing directed against Belgium itself. It has been too often alleged that our condemnation of the system of government in the Congo is directly or indirectly a condemnation of Belgium. No one recognises more fully than we do that Belgium up to the present moment has had no responsibility whatever in anything which has taken place in the Congo. I go further than that, and I would call the attention of the House to the fact that once the question has been raised as to whether Belgium should or should not assume responsibility for the Congo, a real genuine expression on behalf of public opinion in Belgium has taken place of anxiety, apprehension, and indignation at what the state of affairs has been. I am convinced of this also, that if Belgium is going to interest itself in the matter, Belgian public opinion will feel as strongly and judge as rightly as any other public opinion, provided that it has full knowledge of the facts. We have always favoured what has come to be known in debate as the Belgian solution, and I should like to consider for a moment why that has been so. The hon. Member for Wolverhampton said that what was wanted was acts. Yes, Sir, I agree; but what acts? The one action which really covers the whole ground, the one action which would be a satisfactory solution of the Congo question, is a transfer from the existing authority to some other authority. It cannot be transferred to ourselves. We have no right to put forward our claim to assume responsibility for the Congo, nor do we desire it. But without a transfer you will not get the question settled. The present existing authority is perfectly hopeless; and the policy of the Government has been directed to favouring and encouraging by any means in their power the real transfer from the existing authority of the Congo to another which will accept it with a due regard to its responsibility. The natural transfer is from the present Sovereign of the Congo State to Belgium. You cannot pass that by without passing by the right of Belgium which has been admitted. If there is not a transfer to Belgium, then to whom else is it to be? Belgium has shown a disposition to assume responsibility, and if Belgium does not assume it I do not know who else is going to assume it. I agree that if the Belgian Parliament should accept the transfer of the Congo State to the Belgian nation on terms which involve nominal responsibility without real control, it would be exceedingly disastrous. I do not believe that anything of the sort will take place. I cannot believe that the Belgian Parliament would agree to accept responsibility for the government of the Congo in the present state in which it is unless it was also to have a real and full control. I say at once that, as far as we are concerned, any semi-transfer of that kind which left the real control and the real Executive in the power of the present authorities would not be one which we should regard as giving any satisfactory guarantee that treaty rights would be observed. What we have contemplated when we have spoken of the Belgian solution is a clean and thorough transfer, and that means that the transfer should be such as to give real effective Parliamentary control. This is a point that was emphasised by Lord Cromer in another place the other day. Given real effective Parliamentary control, the other results that we desire must follow. In the first place, you will have gained this—that there will be a separation of the administrative from the trading element. That has been at the root of the whole mischief. The State has been the trader. If you have a clean transfer to the Belgian Government, with full Parliamentary control, the administrative and the trading elements are separate. In the next place under any such tranfer, all revenue, all taxes, whether raised in money or in kind, will naturally be devoted to the interests of the Congo State itself. But I go further, and say we agree that it must be a condition precedent to any transfer of the Congo to another authority, that that authority should take it over on terms which wil place it in a position to give assurances and to guarantee that those assurances shall be carried out and the treaty obligations of the Congo would be fulfilled. But at present when we do not know what those terms will be, and when as far as we do know anything, we know this—that there is a critical discussion going on between the Belgian Government and the Sovereign of the Congo State as to what the terms shall be, it is impossible for us to intervene officially between the Belgian Government and the Sovereign of the Congo State in any way that is likely to promote a satisfactory solution. When the Belgian Government proposes its own terms to Parliament, then we can express our opinion. But as long as the matter is in solution between the King and the Belgian Government, I believe that official intervention on our part would not contribute anything to a satisfactory solution. This debate and the publication of the White Paper may serve a good purpose in this respect. It brings out clearly what the existing state of things in the Congo is; and it makes it equally clear that if that state of things is to be put an end to—if the forced labour system that Mr. Thesiger calls "veiled slavery" is to be put an end to—there will probably at first be a large falling off in the revenue, and a corresponding obligation on the part of the Government of the Congo to provide for the administration. No one can read that White Paper without realising that there is a very serious task before any Government undertaking to reform the Congo; and that it may be burdened at first with a very considerable financial liability. One hon. Member repudiated the idea that we were in any way going to force the taking over of the Congo on the Belgian Government. That only shows how unaccountably misrepresentations of our intentions and actions are circulated abroad. I had never heard before that there was such an idea that we should in any way attempt to force anything on the Belgian Government.


M. Lorand speaks of it as a recognised fact in Belgium.


What I want to emphasise is that the fact that that has been in existence without my knowing it even, shows how extraordinarily one has to be on one's guard against misrepresentations and misinterpretations of anything that has been said. I could never have believed it possible that such an idea could have gained credence in any quarter. Nothing could be further from our purpose than in any way to impede, or fetter, or influence the choice of the Belgian people in the matter. All that we desire—and that is why I have been chary of saying much on this question—at critical moments is that the choice of the Belgian people should be absolutely free. But it is also equally desirable, in fact it is essential to a free choice, that that choice should be made with full knowledge of the conditions in the Congo at the present time. For that reason amongst others, I am glad that we have been able to publish now the Reports that are before the House. I should be glad if every Member of the House would read, at any rate, the very able summing up by Mr. Thesiger in the last Paper as to the condition of affairs in the Congo; and I should be still more glad if it could be read and studied in Belgium as it is studied here. That report of Mr. Thesiger has nothing sensational about it. On the contrary, he says that atrocities have diminished, and that the people in some districts are relieved by the present condition of things. But one can judge from that one paragraph in his despatch how appalling the situation in the Congo has been and still is. Mr. Thesiger says— The system which gave rise to these abuses still continues unchanged, and so long as it is unaltered, the condition of the natives must remain one of veiled slavery. Their own feeling at present seems to be one of relief that the former acts of violence and cruelty have so largely diminished and that the sentry system is abolished; but it is very largely the fear of a return to the former state of things that makes them endure the incessant work and hardship entailed on them by the labour-tax with so little complaint except as regards the paucity of their remuneration. I do not know that you could have any stronger condemnation of what the Government in the Congo has done than that it should be said in a calm, moderate despatch that the present state of things is felt by the natives as a relief, when the present state of things is such as is described in the earlier passages—where the forced labour is such that, in some parts, each woman has practically to work incessantly for twelve months in the year; where, in other districts, under the most favourable conditions, 216 days a year are required for the men to collect the tax imposed, and where, in other districts again, the tax, which is assessed at forty hours' labour per month, makes the natives work from twenty to twenty-five days out of every thirty, and where you find that, in some parts of the Congo, where the amount of the tax has been reduced, it has not been reduced because it was regarded as excessive, but because, owing to the exhaustion of the district, it has become impossible to collect it. With regard to our own position in the matter, we have been invited to cooperate with the other Powers. Nothing would give us greater pleasure; but any one who realises the situation which we discussed yesterday evening will see that at the present moment it would be inexpedient for us to take the initiative in approaching other Powers to ask them to take up another question. But if they desire to co-operate with us, if they but express their desire, we will most willingly co-operate with them and give them the chance of sharing an obligation that any of them may desire to take. Our own obligations are exceedingly heavy. They are, naturally, if you look at it from the point of view of British interests alone, from the foreign and colonial point of view, heavier than those of any other country. We have no desire to add to them other general obligations, and we should only be too delighted in this matter to share our obligations with any other Powers who are willing to undertake them. And I do welcome, more than I can say, the co-operation of the United States. That, at any rate, we have, and the House cannot value that too highly. After all, the great weapon which has been of value in the Congo controversy so far has been publicity; but it has been left to us alone to give that publicity, and we have been suspected from time to time of interested motives. Now the United States has, through its Consul-General, come to support us in this matter. The United States is above any suspicion, any possible taint of suspicion, of interested motives in this matter, and the fact that the United States Consul-General has issued a Report from which, by the permission of the United States Government, we quote extracts in our own Paper—which is, in itself, evidence of the close co-operation between us—and which I hope the United States Government will publish, corroborating everything which we have said with regard to the government of the Congo, is a fact which must influence the public opinion of Europe. I can only say that we rejoice that we should be found working with the United States in such a cause as this, and I trust that the co-operation which has already begun between our Ministers will be continued and carried further. In dealing with another subject yesterday evening, I had occasion to speak of the impossibility of taking isolated action which would be effective. I do not place any such limitations upon us in regard to the matter of the Congo. But it must be borne in mind that the amount of good which we might be able to do in the matter by isolated action is limited, and that our power for good is vastly increased by co-operation with other Powers. Separate action we are prepared to take on behalf of British treaty rights or British interests. Lord Fitzmaurice, speaking in another place the other day, referred to one difficulty in which we are intimately concerned—the difficulty of obtaining sites which missionaries want for their chapels and other purposes connected with their missions; and he said that the reply of the Congo Government to us on this matter had been unsatisfactory. The reply of the Congo Government has been that, with annexation by Belgium in prospect, it is not prepared to alienate part of their territory. In a matter of this kind of missionary sites, considering all that has taken place, I do not consider that that is a very satisfactory reply. But I have agreed that at the present moment we would wait till the Belgian Session closes, which is, I think, at the end of May, to see what the Belgian Government and the Belgian Parliament are going to do in the matter. If it becomes clear from the present session of the Belgian Parliament that Belgium is going to take the Congo over on satisfactory terms, then, with regard to such a question as this of mission sites, or other questions which we may have to raise, we shall look to her, as we should look to any friendly or civilised Government, and we shall discuss with her questions arising out of our treaty rights in the same way that we Should discuss them with any other friendly and civilised Government. But assuming that this does not take place, and that after the close of the present Belgian session we have to deal with the existing Government of the Congo unchanged, then we must be free to deal with questions of this kind or others which may arise out of our treaty rights in our own way. I am not anxious to put trading questions in the foreground. Things are so bad that the trading and commercial aspect is really subordinate to the claims of human interests. We shall, of course, stand upon our treaty rights under the Berlin Act, and our treaty rights which originated in the recognition of the International Association of the Congo in 1884. But when you come to a state of things such as that disclosed in the Papers now before the House, you are dealing really with something which amounts to slavery, which cannot be regarded only from the point of view of treaty rights. It is a violation of the ordinary rules of civilised government. I agree that no isolated action on our part can cure or radically alter the whole system in the Congo State. We may increase our Consuls, we may give them means of transport, we may go so far as to establish consular jurisdiction. But even when we have done all that, we have not secured an alteration of the system under which the Congo is governed. But I would ask the House to believe that if I speak with hesitation as to the action which we may be able to take it is not because I am at all satisfied with those measures which I have already indicated. It is because I am anxious to discover, if I can, any further means of bringing pressure to bear upon the Congo Government But the matter is exceedingly difficult. Treaty rights have been referred to. It is easy to quote one passage out of various treaties by which the Congo State is bound, but you find that the whole network of treaty obligations surrounding the Congo is exceedingly complicated, and where you would like to act on one clause, you find that another clause makes it exceedingly difficult. Take, for instance, the suggestion of my hon. friend the Member for Norfolk, that we should go so far as to intercept the produce coming from the Congo. I gathered that what' was in his mind was that we should say that this produce from the Congo is the produce of slave labour, and that, as such, it is a trade which we are entitled to intercept, and which should not be carried on. The Congo is by one of these very treaties a river which is internationally open to free navigation, and you cannot interfere with free navigation on the Congo which is passing under a neutral flag. You are bound by international obligations not to interfere with the Congo. Though I do not say, by any means, that when we have dealt with the Consular question we have exhausted all the measures which may be at our disposal to put pressure on the Congo, still I say it is a matter in which you must move exceedingly carefully, and before I can go so far as to hold out to the House an expectation that we could go beyond the measures which were indicated in the debate in another place the other day, and which have been indicated here this evening, we shall have very carefully to consider what our treaty rights are. But the history of the question, from the foundation of the Congo State—founded to create freedom of trade and to civilise and benefit the natives—does give rise to some suggestions. At first the State undertook not to impose any import duties at all. Later on an agreement was come to under which it was to be entitled to impose import duties to repay it the necessary expenditure upon the moral and material welfare of the natives. The noble Lord opposite suggested on a previous occasion that, if Belgium took over the Congo and found that the financial difficulties were considerable, we might express our readiness to come to her relief by agreeing to a revision of those duties in order to provide her with a larger revenue. I am quite willing to take that into consideration should Belgium take the Congo over on satisfactory terms and should she desire some advantage of that kind for those purposes. It has occurred to me also that we might take the other point of view, and if Belgium does not take over the Congo, we might after all raise the question whether the consent which we gave to these import duties has not been given upon false pretences now that it has become clear that there is no freedom of trade, and that, instead of the country being developed for the benefit of the natives and the revenue raised by import duties or otherwise being spent entirely for the benefit of the community, the country is being exploited by forced labour and the result of the Administration has been to secure large profits sent outside the country. We might consider whether we should not raise the question as to whether our consent to the import duties had not been given under false pretences, and whether our consent is still binding. Coming down to more recent years, we have the Congo Commission Report, followed by the promise of reforms, and we have the state of things which is now disclosed in the reports of the British and United States Consuls. If you review the history of the hopes and aspirations with which consent was given to the foundation of the Congo State, you cannot but come to the conclusion that the State, as it exists to-day, has morally forfeited every right to international recognition. I trust and believe that if Belgium desires to take over the Congo she will do it with full knowledge and on satisfactory terms, but, should she not so decide, the question of the Congo has, in face of the full knowledge which we now have, in face of the hopelessness of expecting reforms from the present administration, entered upon a new stage. There have been results from debates in this House, and from the publicity which has been secured by our action. One of these results I think is the present proposal that the Congo should be transferred at all. But for the publicity we have given and but for our debates, I doubt whether there would have been any question at this moment of transferring the Congo State at all from the existing authority to another. But, whatever the result may be, whether Belgium decides to accept responsibility, or whether we have to take up the question in a short time and continue to deal with the existing state of affairs in the spirit in which I have indicated, we shall deal with it if necessary. I can only assure the House that the Government shares the strength of feeling which exists in this country, that they will do their utmost to find means by which that strength of feeling may receive practical expression, and secure practical results in the reform of the condition of affairs in the Congo. And we are quite willing, believing that every word in the Resolution before the House is thoroughly justified, to accept the Resolution.

EARL PERCY (Kensington, S.)

The period of suspense cannot be indefinitely prolonged, and we say so because we are anxious to do nothing to prejudice what is called the Belgian solution. I welcome the explicit statement of the right hon. Gentleman that the Belgian solution means for us an absolute guarantee that annexation when it takes place shall mean that the whole of the administration in the Congo, from top to bottom, shall be subject to full Parliamentary control. I have only to say, expressing the humble belief which I expressed last year, that once that control is secured, other reforms will probably follow as a matter of course. I find that the right hon. Gentleman has subscribed to that view, and that the view is also shared by Lord Cromer. We all recognise the financial embarrassment in which the Belgian Government may be placed by a policy which involves the abolition of the present concessionary system, and that must be abolished if public opinion in this country is to be satisfied. There is the recognition of two principles on which the right hon. Gentleman laid great stress this evening, namely, that the powers of administration should not be left to trading companies, and that the revenue should in some measure be expended on the country itself. I am glad that the right hon. Gentleman has made a statement to-night in regard to a suggestion I made as to a revision of the scale of customs duties in the Congo State. The right hon. Gentleman has said that that is a suggestion which the Government will be ready impartially to consider. I quite agree with him that we are inclined to look at the matter from opposite points of view, but I welcome his statement for this reason. I do not think the British Government could give a clearer proof that the motive which chiefly animated us is not connected with our trading interests, but is purely humanitarian. I do not think it is necessary for me to discuss the advisability of isolated action on our part or of our taking the initiative in promoting Concert with the other Powers. I can only hope that, in view of this tangible proof of British goodwill and our desire to assist the Belgian people in extricating themselves from any possible financial embarrassment, public opinion in Belgium will now definitely range itself on the side of public opinion in Great Britain and in America, and will insist that a system of slavery and extortion shall be allowed no longer to shelter itself under the folds of a Christian flag.

SIR CHARLES DILKE (Gloucestershire, Forest of Dean)

asked whether he rightly understood the right hon Gentleman to say in answer to his hon. friends that there were two distinct limits of time beyond which, he thought, we could not wait. He understood the right hon. Gentleman to say that before the Belgian Government came to a final conclusion, he would put before them the views which he had put before the House to-night. The other time limit had reference to what he would call British interests, and the alleged violation of the treaty. He understood the right hon. Gentleman to say that that matter would be brought before the Belgian Government, if by May, when the Session ends, no such scheme of annexation as we can accept has been adopted.


replied, but his words were inaudible in the Press Gallery.


said that Questions would be put to the right hon. Gentleman on these matters.

Resolved, "That this House, being convinced that the present system of administration on the Congo is destructive of the personal liberty and economic rights of the native population and of the freedom of commercial intercourse with the outer world, as guaranteed by the Anglo-Congolese Convention of 1884 and the Berlin Act of 1885, asks the Government to do all in its power to secure that a fundamental alteration of the system shall be effected by any transfer of control of the State from the present Sovereign to any other authority; and, failing such transfer within a reasonable time, assures the Government of its hearty support in the measures it may be necessary to take, either alone or in conjunction with the other signatories of the Berlin Act, in order to insure the effective carrying out of its provisions."—(Mr. Leif Jones.)