HC Deb 21 July 1910 vol 19 cc1554-93

10.0 P.M.


Many subjects have been discussed on the Foreign Office Vote this year, and the subject which I propose now to bring before the attention of the House is the present situation in Egypt, which I think has been made exceedingly acute—more acute than it has been for many years—by certain speeches delivered in this House and outside this House during the last few weeks. Some years ago Lord Cromer was criticised, and the character of his government in Egypt was criticised by Professor Dicey, who described the government of Lord Cromer in Egypt as the most despotic known to modern times. He did not say it was bad, but that it was the most unchecked despotism known to modern times. Lord Cromer's reply to this criticism was, "It is not true, because all my government of Egypt"—he did not deny the fact that he was absolute Governor of Egypt—"is subject to revision by Parliament in the British House of Commons." If that be all the check on the government of Egypt, it is a very poor check, for I do not think the Government have given an opportunity of discussing the government of Egypt in this House for nearly ten years—certainly not for several years. I do not propose to discuss the subject to-night, because really there is no possibility of any proper discussion of any matter on the Second Reading of the Appropriation Bill; but I propose, briefly, to protest against the recent declaration of policy made by the Foreign Secretary in this House, and also to draw the attention of the House to some particular points in comments on the present situation in Egypt. First of all, I wish to say a word on the question of the Suez Canal and the proposed Convention which has been rejected by the Legislative Council in Egypt. The rejection of the Suez Canal Convention has been used over and over again by a large section of the Press in this country as the text for diatribes and abuse against the Egyptian Council and as a strong and unanswerable argument to prove that the people of Egypt are absolutely incapable of self-government. It has been said in many of the leading newspapers of London and of England that the Council of Egypt rejected the Suez Canal Convention without any reason whatever, and simply and solely out of spite against the British Government. I want to ask the Foreign Secretary, Was the British Government in favour of the Suez Canal Convention or was it not? Did the British Government exercise any influence to have it adopted, and if it did not is not it a monstrous thing that the Press of this country should join in apparently what is an organised conspiracy of abuse against the Council of Egypt, and say, because they exercised their right when the whole matter had been referred to them by the Home Government to reject that Convention, that therefore they showed themselves by that Act entirely incapable of self-government? I put a question the other day to the Foreign Secretary whether he would lay before the House any correspondence which passed between the Egyptian Government and the British Government or the Suez Canal Company and the British Government, and also the statement adopted by the Legislative Council of Egypt giving their reasons for the rejection of the Convention, and the Foreign Secretary made this extraordinary reply: that the British Government was not in possession of any correspondence with the Suez Canal Company or the Government of Egypt in reference to this proposed Convention, but that he would take into consideration the question of letting me see a translation of the reasons of the Council, because there was a considerable body of reason given by the Legislative Council, for rejecting the Convention. The reason I wanted to obtain all these papers was that I thought it only just to the Egyptian people in view of the attack made by the Press of this country upon them, that the reasons for rejecting the Convention should be made public, for the information of the public and of this House, and also that we should have on record in some authoritative Paper whether, as a matter of fact, in rejecting the Convention they had done it out of spite to the British Government or whether the British Government had sought to press the Convention on their acceptance. One thing to which I wish to call the attention of the House is the extraordinary character of the statement made by the Foreign Secretary. He said that the British Government were not in possession of any correspondence with the Suez Canal Company or the Government of Egypt in reference to this proposed Convention. The British Government is a large shareholder in the Suez Canal Company, and has two directors on the board. Is it conceivable that it was not consulted as to the proposal of the Suez Canal Company as regards this Convention? It is impossible and incredible because the British Government must have a controlling voice in any proposal made by the Suez Canal Company, and the Suez Canal Company were the originators, as I understand, of the proposed Convention. Did they or did they not press it with all their influence upon the Egyptian Government, and through them on the Council of Egypt? I thought it only fair that we should have an opportunity of reading the reasons given by the Legislative Council of Egypt for rejecting the Convention before we got this last opportunity of raising this question in the House, but it seems that owing to some difficulty not explained the Government have had to write to Egypt for another copy of these reasons. They have not been placed in the Library, and we have not been able to see them. I think it is most unfair that in the absence of any information, any official or authentic information, that the action of this Council should have been held up by the Press of this country as an instance of folly and perversity. This class of criticism is only typical of the way in which the Egyptian people have systematically been treated by the ignorant Jingo Press of this country. The other day in a number of newspapers, not insignificant papers, but leading newspapers like "The Times" and the "Daily Mail," it was stated, and the statement was made the text of abusive articles, that when the man who assassinated the Prime Minister of Egypt the other day was sentenced to death his sentence in accordance with Mahomedan law was referred to the Grand Mufti of Cairo for his opinion before the sentence was executed, and it was stated and published in the English Press that the Grand Mufti had issued a fetwah in reply to this reference stating that the sentence was not legal because the crime was committed by a Mahomedan upon a Christian, and therefore it was not murder. I strongly suspected that this was a pure, and I must really use the word diabolical invention, for the purpose of working up public opinion against the Egyptian people and their religion, as has been so often done in this country against ourselves.

I put the question to the Minister for Foreign Affairs, and the result was a translation was given of this statement in reply to my question, and there was not one word to justify the charge. The Grand Mufti of Cairo returned the answer, which, according to my information from those well acquainted with the Mahomedans in Egypt, was the only answer he gave. It was according to the law of a Mahomedan country, which, of course, does not meet our Western ideas. The customs of the Mahomedan people are very different from the customs of the Western people. The answer had no reference whatever to the religion of the murderer Wardani. The statement of the Press in England, which went round the newspapers for weeks, and put forward as an instance of the barbarous conduct of the mass of the Egyptian people, is absolutely without any foundation in fact. I only give these two instances to show the way in which this system of circulating false reports defaming the character of the Egyptian people is carried on and the extent to which it is carried on. I desire to say a few words on the general situation. It has been for many years exceedingly grave, and I believe it is becoming increasingly grave, because I think the Government of this country are travelling a road which will carry them to a condition of things in Egypt far worse from many points of view than what it is to-day. You have got to deal in many respects with a very much more difficult problem in Egypt than before. The situation has become very much worse during these years. You have been in Egypt for nearly thirty years, and I want to impress upon the minds of every Member of this House that since the horrid incident of Denshawi all the troubles and various complications of Egypt have arisen. Before that you had no real violence among the Egyptian people; but these new phenomena, which are formidable in the highest possible degree, have caused an entire change to come over the Egyptian people since the atrocity of Denshawi.

Two years ago, after the departure of Lord Cromer from Egypt, it was generally published abroad that a change of policy had been inaugurated, and it was the impression spread among the Liberal party and among the people of this country that the Government had turned over a new leaf, and were determined to extend the rights of self-government to Egypt, and to deal with problems which we had to meet when we first took possession of Egypt. Certain things were done, but very trifling steps were taken in the direction of self-government. There was no substantial, real, or organic change. There was some small trifling development of local government, to which I attach exceedingly little importance in a country like Egypt. The Legislative Council had really no right of legislation and no right to control the administration of the country. Having watched very closely with a sympathetic eye these first attempts to extend the rights of the Egyptian people, I say deliberately that I have come to the conclusion that there was no reality and no sincerity in these proceedings at all, and that any attempt that was made was really an attempt to bring about the defeat of the National party in Egypt by sowing discord and jealousy. All these alleged extensions of self-government were accompanied by an extension of coercion, a system to which we have been very much accustomed in Ireland. You have had two severe coercion Acts within the last year, including a severe Press law, which led to a serious riot in Cairo only about a year ago, when the troops had to be called out. Although Lord Cromer pursued through-out his career in Egypt a policy of despotism, he always defended himself in regard to his policy of liberty of the Press. He never interfered with the Press when he was criticised in unbridled language. In his book he defends his Press policy, and states that, though he was frequently criticised, he believed that the liberty of the Press allowed free vent to the feelings of the people.

I think that was a very wise policy, perhaps partly a wise policy, because he could not see his way to get legislation to suppress the liberty. But a new policy was adopted with regard to the Press after Lord Cromer came home, and a fresh law was passed which left no liberty whatever to the Press. The Under-Secretary for Foreign Affairs, when questioned on the point, said the whole Press was perfectly free, unless they used language which was intolerable and incited to crime. That is always the statement where you interfere with the freedom of the Press. That is what is said in Russia. A Minister in Russia always says the Press is perfectly free as long as it behaves with decency, and does not attack the Government. That is what is now said in regard to the Press in Egypt. The fact is, you have had during the last year two stringent coercion Acts, despite the protests of the people, and the Press laws generally are calculated to create the greatest possible discontent. Let me come to the event which was the cause, or partly the cause, of the present condition of things, namely, the disastrous speech delivered by the Foreign Secretary in this House four weeks ago in regard to the assassination of the late Prime Minister of Egypt. That event, I am afraid, marks the opening of a new era throughout the whole of your rule in Egypt. For years before that Egypt was a crimeless country compared with what it is now. [An HON. MEMBER: "No."] I assert that on Lord Cromer's own statements in his book on Egypt and in his reports. Anybody who knows anything about Egypt will not attempt to traverse that statement. As regards political crimes and assassinations there was no such thing known in Egypt until after Denshawi. Let us consider for a moment calmly the whole business of the assassination. The Ministers in Egypt are really the nominees of the Foreign Secretary in England. Egypt has no more to say in the appointment of the Prime Minister than I have. Egypt has absolutely no voice in the selection. He is the nominee of England.

What do you do in Egypt? And I ask hon. Members to try and put themselves in a sympathetic frame of mind in considering this matter. There are in Egypt, substantially, two races. You have the Mahomedan people of Egypt, who are solidly one race, with one religion, and a people devoted to their religion. I have seen those people myself, and I never was more struck by anything than to see the fervour of the religion of the poor people of Egypt. They are an intensely religious people, and they are strong in their religion, although I do not think they are an intolerant people, except under great incitement. I do not think they are half as intolerant as the people of Liverpool—I really do not. I never was more struck than by a scene, that has never passed from my memory, and that I witnessed when I first visited Egypt, as I saw those poor peasants toiling all day in that broiling sun—and they are a most industrious people—and the, moment the sun touched the horizon they all dropped their implements of labour and fell upon their knees with their faces towards Mecca, and you saw them striking their bodies against the ground. It is natural to them; it is what they all do. What do you do? You go to Egypt and you put as Minister over this Mahomedan race a Coptic Christian, in whose appointment they have no voice. You who in this House are going to spend next week in disputing over a Bill to declare to what section of the Christian faith your Monarch shall belong—you who are going to pass through a Bill to say that you will pull the King off his Throne if he does not belong to one particular section of Christians, think it strange that the Mahomedans of Egypt should be enraged because a Christian is put to govern over them, and a Christian slave of a Christian Minister. You have no spirit of toleration, no understanding of it, and, unless that thing was done for the purpose of creating mischief, I say that no man who understands the Mahomedan people would put a Christian, and that Christian a member of a conquered race, to rule over them. You, who would not tolerate one of your own blood and race if he belonged to our Church to rule over you. you will endeavour to sit in judgment on the people of Egypt because they resent a man who is not of their own blood and race, and who is only put to rule over them because he was known to be the willing and able slave of the English garrison. That is the way in which you are creating disturbance in Cairo over the murderer, if you will, but I prefer to call him assassin. because everybody knows his motive was not that of ordinary murder, and you have so acted you have made him a martyr to the eyes of the Egyptians.

I saw the other day an incident in Cairo which to my mind is full of sinister significance. The police searched a house of one of the young poets because he had published a volume of verses in Arabic, in which he held up Wandani as a martyr. That kind of thing is a very sinister sign of the results of your government. When I hear men in this House holding up holy hands of horror at that assassination and condemning it in unmitigated terms of horror, I cannot banish from my memory the fact that Russian assassins in this capital were entertained by the proudest nobles of your land, men whose hands were red with the blood of their Sovereign. I do not express any opinion on that, but it is true, and nobody in this House can deny it. What right have you, who have honoured the Russian assassins who fled from Russia and found asylum in this country, to turn up your eyes in horror at a poor misguided Arab in Egypt, who, under the influence of indignation and religious rage at seeing this man put to rule over him as the servant of British Ministers, did this deed of violence? In my opinion you are travelling a very evil road. You are treating Egypt as a conquered country. You tell the people of Egypt and of Europe that you are holding Egypt mainly for her benefit. It is not true. I am glad to see that Professor Dicey, in his interesting and instructive book on Egypt, says that that theory is ridiculous, and that the English people ought to be honest enough to admit it. I honour him for that. He has always been an advocate of annexation, but he says that that admission, which ought to be made in all honesty, places upon the people of this country a great duty towards Egypt, and makes it very necessary for them to be very careful in what they do. In any discussion which has taken place it has always been assumed that when Egypt was taken over by England it was in a state of semi-barbarism, that it had been proved for centuries to be absolutely incapable of governing itself, and that you have showered benefits upon her. That is not true. It is absolutely untrue. It is perfectly true that at the time she was taken over by England Egypt had been suffering for nearly twenty years under one of the worst governments that ever cursed a people, and the country was reduced to a state of poverty. That was under Ismail Pasha, an unmitigated scoundrel, who plundered and robbed his country. But have hon. Members ever studied the history of the matter? Who tempted Ismail Pasha? Who forced loans upon him? Who profited by millions out of that nefarious transaction? It was the great European bankers, who fattened on Egypt, and by lending her about £30,000,000, planted upon the people a debt of £100,000,000. A more nefarious transaction has never taken place. Ismail Pasha had no more right to pledge his people for those loans than I should have to pledge the credit of this country. Such a thing is unknown in any Eastern empire. No Eastern king or potentate has a right to put a public debt on the people. All the custom of Egypt was against the imposition of this public debt. What is the fact about Ismail Pasha? When under the temptation of French and English bankers who forced these loans upon him at enormous interest, Ismail Pasha commenced his career of extravagance, the Porte, the suzerain Power, protested, and m as going to stop him, as it had power to, do, from contracting these loans; but the representatives of the other Powers remonstrated and stopped the interference of the Porte, with the result that Ismail Pasha was hopelessly bankrupt, and robbed the unfortunate people to pay the European bankers. England did not go to Egypt as a conqueror. England went to Egypt nominally and under the pretence of restoring self-government to the country. England restored the Khedive, and went to Egypt to restore his legitimate authority and the country to him. Subsequently, year after year, in this House and in all the Chancellories of Europe England repeatedly pledged her honour that her stay in Egypt would be short: that she would evacuate Egypt as soon as ever it was possible to do so. The Egyptian people accepted the pledge as an honourable pledge that England would redeem. A declaration was made the other day in this House by the Foreign Secretary which I was horrified and amazed to read. The right hon. Gentleman declared that the Government were now going to turn over a new leaf, and that in future there would be no more discussion on the extension of self-government in Egypt until the Egyptians had abandoned their opposition to the English occupation. A more astounding statement I have never heard. What right have the Government, consistent with English honour, to ask the Egyptians to abandon their resistance and opposition to the English occupation? You have pledged your honour over and over again that it was only a temporary occupation, one having for its object the enabling of the Egyptian Government to stand on its own legs and govern its own people. Now you tell the Egyptian Government and the Egyptian people that until they abandon all objection to the British occupation that they must abandon all idea of even the gradual extension of self-government. That declaration is a dishonourable one. It is a disgrace to the Government of this country, and I hope they do not intend to stand by it. By doing so they would be repudiating the pledge given by Lord Cromer himself and by the Government of this country, and repeated again and again to the nations of Europe, and to the people of Egypt. To this I attach great importance. It was, "That their object in Egypt was to instruct in the art of self-government" —a task I never saw the British people successfully achieve in regard to any people except their own—"and as soon as ever the people of Egypt were fit and able to govern themselves, in the opinion of the English people, they undertook to evacuate that country, and leave it to them." You have no right to occupy that country permanently against the will of the people.

The Government base their claims to remain in Egypt on the ground that that country has improved in prosperity. It undoubtedly has. I frankly admit it. Lord Cromer's government of Egypt has greatly improved the condition of the people, as compared with what it was when he went there. This I would say, and it is a most, remarkable fact, and I think it is a fact that ought to sink deep into the minds of every Member of this House on both sides, that while it is unquestionably true that you have in many respects improved the condition of the people of Egypt since the English Government took possession of it, you never were so unpopular as at the present day. It certainly ought to make the people of this country examine their consciences in that respect. It is indeed, in my opinion, à fortiori, in spite of the fact that the people are better off than when you first took over the country, that the occupation is unpopular, and that the declaration of the Foreign Secretary is a sentence that they must abandon all idea of this extension of liberty for ever, because I do not believe you will ever convert them to accept your occupation of their country permanently. On the contrary, I believe it is becoming more unpopular as each year goes by. I think, therefore, we ought to have some declaration from the Government that they do not adopt the policy announced the other day. For my part I shall insist as far as I can on claiming year by year some opportunity for discussion in this House so long as Egypt is governed in all its details, as the Foreign Secretary admitted the other day it was to be governed, by a British Minister. I shall press each year that at least this House may be allowed to discuss the Government and these people if we are to be responsible for it. I have taken this very insufficient opportunity of protesting against the conduct of the Government in Egypt, and I hope they will change their line of action, because, unless they do so, whatever may be the material results of their occupation, year by year they will increase the discontent of the people.


After listening to the speech of the hon. Member who has just addressed the House I am sure there is no one who will question in any way the absolute sincerity with which he brings forward his case, and although I agree with one or two of the statements he made, I am totally at variance with his general conclusions. One or two of the facts he brought forward in support of his case are not, I think, accurate. One of these was what the hon. Member called the dominating influence of the British Government in regard to the Suez Canal. We do not possess a dominating influence, and the second inaccurate fact he brought forward was his statement of the influence of the Legislative Council in regard to the concession to the Canal Company. The Foreign Secretary, in answer to a question a month or two ago, definitely stated the Legislative Council would have nothing to do with it, and that it would be referred to the General Assembly, which is quite a different body. The hon. Member also said he considered it was a very unfortunate thing that no discussion had taken place in this House with reference to the proposed extension of the concession to the Suez Canal Company. So far I am very much inclined to agree with him. And in this connection it is not without interest in view of the great importance of this question to this country and to Egypt to compare the attitude which the Consul-General adopted towards the Egyptian General Assembly with the attitude His Majesty's Government adopted towards the House of Commons.

On 4th November a question was asked of the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs With reference to the negotiations which were then taking place with regard to the concession to the Canal Company, and an answer was given to the effect that the General Assembly would be convoked, that three official representatives of His Majesty's Government would be appointed, that the General Assembly would be asked to give the expression of their opinion, and that it was not advisable that any discussion should take place in the House of Commons. On 25th November a further question was addressed to the Foreign Secretary, and his answer again was that there would be no opportunity for discussing this question in the House of Commons. On 7th March, in answer to a further question upon the subject, the Secretary of State used these words:— I cannot undertake to lay Papers until the matter has reached its last stage; and as it is not one. which is under the control of His Majesty's Government, I cannot promise that the House will have any opportunity for discussing it before it is finally settled." [OFFICIAL REPORT, 17th March, 1910, col. 498.] This was the general attitude of His Majesty's Government towards those who were anxious to discuss the question to find out what was really going on with regard to this important subject of the Suez Canal. The position may be summed up in these words—that the House of Commons was to have no opportunity of discussing the matter before it was officially settled. I would like to draw a parallel and compare that with the attitude of His Majesty's Consul-General in Egypt, representing the Government, towards the Egyptian General Assembly. I am quoting from the third page of the Consul General's Report:— After much discussion and a thorough consideration of the various points involved the Ministers unanimously arrived at the conclusion that if certain amendments, which did not alter the main lines of the project were accepted, the proposed arrangement was undoubtedly advantageous to Egypt. At the same time they decided, in my opinion quite rightly, that although the question was not one upon which the Government were pledged by the terms of the organic law to consult the General Assembly, they would not, in view of the exceptional importance to present and future generations of Egyptians, come to a definite conclusion without ascertaining whether the General Assembly were favourable to the extension of this concession. If it was thought necessary, "in view of the exceptional importance to present and future generations of Egyptians," that these very important proposals should be gratuitously—because it was unnecessary under the organic law—submitted to discussion by the General Assembly of Egypt before a definite decision was come to, surely it was equally necessary, at any rate, that those proposals should have been submitted to a discussion by the House of Commons in view of the exceptional importance of this question to present and future generations of British subjects and the British Empire generally. It cannot be said that this policy of repression was altogether a success, because, as has already been pointed out, these proposals, which were the result, in the words of the Consul- General's Report, of long and laborious negotiations, did not as a matter of fact when they were submitted to the General Assembly receive that impartial and dignified consideration which we might have expected from a body of people to whose opinion so much weight was attached. I am inclined to think that if a discussion on this question had taken place in the House of Commons there is no reason to suppose that the tone of the Debate would have compared unfavourably with the proceedings which occurred in the Egyptian General Assembly. As a matter of fact, the General Assembly, to whose decision quite unnecessarily these proposals had been submitted on 7th April, rejected them by sixty-six votes to one, and the whole project fell to the ground. Although there has been no discussion of these proposals in the House of Commons, a considerable number of questions have from time to time been put to the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, and after reading them through very carefully, I have come to the conclusion that there was rather a tendency, from the tone of the answers given, to treat this matter as if it was one which concerned Egypt alone, and in which, as a matter of fact, the people of this country were not deeply interested. Supposing this extension and concession of the Canal Company was favourable to the ultimate interests of this country, and I conclude it must have been, or it would not have been backed up by the Government and the Consul-General in Egypt. I quite agree with the hon. Member for Mayo, we want more definite information than is given us in the very brief paragraph devoted to this very important subject in this Report. If it was backed by His Majesty's Government, and without information to the contrary I think we may assume it was, and if it was generally favourable to the future interests of this country as well as of Egypt, it does seem to me that if a stronger line had been taken up when the negotiations were in progress there is every probability they would have been brought to a successful conclusion. It is somewhat unfortunate that a matter which was considered to be of such a delicate nature that it was undesirable to discuss it here and a matter upon which such very vital and important interests depended should have been submitted for its ultimate decision to such an irresponsible body as the General Assembly of Egypt proved itself to be.

It ought to be quite superfluous for anyone to mention it, but, in view of the attitude which I think I am justified in saying has been adopted by the Government during the course of these proceedings, it seems to be necessary we should insist on what is actually the fact: that the Suez Canal is of great national importance to us as well as to Egypt. After all, it affords us the quickest means of communication between this country and India, the East, and our Australasian Dominions. Three-quarters of the ships that pass through the Canal sail under the British flag, and we own a very large proportion of the shares of the company—43 per cent., to be accurate. Under these circumstances, surely anything that affects the future of the Suez Canal must be of the greatest importance from every point of view to this country and to the Empire. The terms of the proposed extension of the concession are very briefly referred to on page 3 of the Consul-General's Report, and, in view of the very great importance of the question, I really do think we are entitled to a more detailed account of the actual proposals which were made. After all, our holding in the company at the present time is estimated to be worth something like £25,000,000, to look at the matter merely from the financial point of view. It is not necessary for me to remind the House of the dramatic circumstances under which these shares were acquired in 1875, but what we paid rather less than £4,000,000 for is to-day worth £25,000,000, so it was altogether a thoroughly satisfactory bargain. In addition to that, during the last ten years we have received about £1,050,000 from the investment, and it has gone to relieve the taxpayers of this country. Therefore, I think the proposals so briefly referred to in the Consul-General's Report are of the very greatest importance to this country from every point of view. As everyone knows, the original concession to the company expires under present conditions in 1968, and the proposal, had this convention actually been carried into effect, was that under certain conditions the concession to the company should be extended to the year 2008. This, as the Consul-General states in his Report, was "a satisfactory bargain from the Egyptian point of view." But there are two questions of British interest not referred to in that Report, and they are of special interest in view of the possibility of these negotiations being revived. The first is the question of representation on the board of directors. The shares we own in the Suez Canal Company were acquired under exceptional circumstances. They were those allotted on the formation of the company to Said Pasha, and under the terms of the agreement they were not entitled to participate in the profits till 1894. When they were sold to the British Government the Khedive agreed to pay us 5 per cent. on the purchase price until 1894. The British Government originally purchased, I believe, 176,702 shares. By 23rd January, 1904, 7,179 of the shares had been redeemed, and our holding is now, I think, about 160,000 shares. But in spite of the fact that we own 43 per cent. of the whole of the shares we have only ten votes on the board of directors—the same number as any individual holding 250 shares is entitled to. There is no indication in the Report of the Consul-General of any intention to endeavour to remedy this unsatisfactory position in the negotiations for the extension of the company's concession, and that requires some attention, I think.

The other point is one of great importance to this country, and in particular to British shipowners, and that is the question of the Canal dues. At a meeting of the Chamber of Shipping in London in February, Mr. Edward Hain, in his presidential address, drew attention to this matter, and referred to the conference held in 1883 between M. de Lesseps and the representatives of the shipowners, at which a definite promise was made, on behalf of the Canal Company, that, when the dividend paid by the company exceeded 25 per cent., the additional profits above 25 per cent. should be devoted to a reduction of the shipping dues until they were reduced to five francs per ton. The complaint of the shipowners is that this agreement has not been kept. At the time of this meeting in London the dividend was 28 per cent. But there has been no reduction in the dues since the year 1906, when there was one of 75 centimes, although a reduction was promised at a meeting of the Canal Company held last month of another 50 centimes—to 7 francs 25 centimes, as and from 1st January. 1911. This concession has only just been made. There seems no disputing the facts that the general terms of the 1883 Agreement have not been carried out by the Canal Company, and the shipowners are naturally anxious to know if these concessions are renewed whether their position is going to be made more satisfactory. These are two points which, I think, will be acknowledged to be of very great importance, indeed, about which there is no reference whatever in the Consul-General's Report, and about which we are entitled, I think, to ask for further information. I think very special and great interest attaches to those two points in view of the possibility of these negotiations being renewed. In the event of their being renewed, I do earnestly submit this point, that in view of the supreme importance of the Suez Canal, both to this country and the British Empire generally, if at some later day further negotiations take place affecting the future of the Canal, that whenever they are under consideration, the facilities for discussion confined on this occasion to the Egyptian Assembly will be equally extended to the House of Commons.


I desire to put a question on a subject to which there has been important reference made in debates in this House, and in regard to which the Foreign Secretary has lately received a deputation, and upon which there is a strong feeling in many parts of the House, and that is the conditions of labour on the cocoa plantations at St. Thomé and Angola in Portuguese West Africa. It is unnecessary to go into the whole of the conditions of labour, and I will only say that it was known for very many years that in this West African Portuguese colony they were such as to cast a slur on the whole of Western civilization Attention was first drawn to the state of affairs in these islands by a book written by Lord Mayo in 1881, and subsequent to that, and a few years later, the late Mr. Stanley, in an account of that part of Africa, contained in a hook which he wrote in describing the conditions of labour in these islands said it was impossible to describe them otherwise than as slavery. Many Consular reports have been published from the British Consul in which he referred to the conditions of labour in these islands, in which there was a system of forced labour, and he mentioned that a good healthy man or woman cost about £50 in San Thomé and Angola, but the most scandalous description of all in regard to the condition of labour in San Thomé was supplied by a gentleman who was not biassed by any feelings or prejudices against the Portuguese, namely Mr. William Addington Cadbury. Mr. Cadbury wrote a book on the results of the investigations he made on a visit to San Thomé and Portuguese West Africa, and he stated that the condition of the islands were about as bad as it could be. Subsequently, under cross-examination in a certain trial, he said in the witness box, that the system by which labourers were obtained in Angola was a system of atrocious slavery.

There have been many other testimonies of the same kind. A Mr. Levissohn who went out to Portuguese West Africa said much the same thing, and our questioner, Mr. Burt, who was sent out by the Aborigines' Protection Society, testified in very strong terms to the conditions which prevailed. It is not disputed on either side of the House that there exists in the Portuguese Colonies of San Thomé and Angola a system of slavery as bad as any which has existed in the world's history. I wish to review the attitude of the relations of the present and late Governments towards this question, and to press the Foreign Secretary very strongly to take more drastic action than he has hitherto done with regard to this question. There are many hon. Gentlemen opposite who hold, and constantly urge, the view that it is the duty of the British Government to interfere in cases where other Governments are ill-treating subject races. We have frequently had debates in which hon. Members have even suggested that, if necessary, we should intervene by force to prevent injustice to subject races. The hon. Member (Mr. Keir Hardie) has been among the most prominent whenever there has been a real or fancied case of ill-usage. They have generally been cases in which his own country is concerned, but I imagine he is sufficiently convinced of the need of such interference that he will be willing to use his influence when cases of ill-treatment are brought home to foreign countries. While we on this side of the House cannot hold the view that it is always either possible or desirable for the Government to interfere between other Powers and their subjects, we hold the view that in certain cases it is not only desirable but absolutely necessary that the British Government should not merely protest but, if necessary, should be prepared to back up that protest by force. That is particularly necessary in the case of Africa, because we are the Power above all others which has a standing and an influence in Africa. We have by far a larger number of black subjects in Africa than any other Power, and it is undoubtedly the fact that the treatment of natives by white men in Africa cannot be considered alone in the case of one country.

If the treatment by the French of their native subjects in the Soudan was bad it would certainly react very considerably upon our position in the Soudan, and it is well known that there has been for many years a considerable agitation on the question of the treatment by the Congo Free State of the native population of the Congo. It is to my mind a rather curious fact that, through all the years the present Government have been in office, when we have had so many humanitarians opposite on the Front Bench and above and below the Gangway, until my hon. Friend the Member for Gravesend raised the question in February in this House, we have not had a single Radical voice raised against the scandalous treatment of natives in Angola and San Thomé. [An HON. MEMBER: "Yes, there was."] The hon. Member opposite seems to dissent. Can he point to any occasion on which a Radical voice was raised in last Parliament against these conditions? [An HON. MEMBER: "There was a deputation."] There was a deputation, but nothing was said in this House. I remember no occasion when the question was raised. There have been half-a-dozen debates on the treatment of natives in Egypt, India, the Colonies, and other places. The case of Angola may have been incidentally referred to by the right hon. Baronet, the Member for the Forest of Dean (Sir C. Dilke), but I cannot recollect at the moment. [An HON. MEMBER: "Why do you not raise it?"] We have raised it constantly in the Press during the past year. The point is that we have not for the last few years professed to be protectors of the black races throughout the world. If I may say so, the role adopted by certain Members of the House is that of protectors-in-chief of the black races throughout the world. The only reason we have raised the question this evening is because there has been considerable inconsistency in this matter. I think hon. Gentlemen who have devoted so much valuable time to laying bare scandals in India and Egypt might, with even greater reason, have occupied their time in dealing with the scandals in Angola. The object I have in initiating this Debate is not so much to refer to anything that has taken place in the past as to urge on the Government the need for action in the future. I commenced by saying that I think we have on general grounds a considerable right of interference in respect of the treatment of native races in Africa by Powers other than ourselves. Does anyone dispute that?

Sir J. D. REES

I do.


The hon. Member disputes that. His views do not always coincide with those of his own party, but they generally, though not always, coincide with the views of those who sit on this side of the House. If that is the case on general grounds, we have a much stronger case on particular grounds. We have had for a hundred years various treaties and understandings with Portugal which was throughout last century, and particularly the first part of it, a Power of considerable influence in Africa. We have a very distinct understanding on this subject, and as long ago as 1832 we had a Treaty with Portugal which gave to His Britannic Majesty's Government considerable power in regard to the slave traffic in Africa. We had a further Treaty in 1842, by which the two high contracting Powers, Portugal and Great Britain, mutually declared themselves in favour of strictly prohibiting slavery in every part of their respective dominions.

I say most emphatically that Portugal has by her action during the last ten years broken that treaty, and in addition to that there was proposed at the Brussels Convention in 1892 a further clause dealing with the same question, in which it was stated that any person who it was ascertained had been carried off by force from any part of Africa shall be liberated. We have had other treaties and understandings with Portugal during the last 100 years. Undoubtedly if we were to stand by our strict rights in the matter of treaties we should have an undoubted right to interfere in the case of Angola and San Thomé. From the year 1902 onwards representations have been made to the Foreign Secretary for the time being as to the grave state of affairs in San Thomé. In 1901 a deputation waited upon the Foreign Secretary, which included no less a person than the present First Lord of the Admiralty. Representations were made to the Foreign Secretary asking him to send at once a Note to the Portuguese Government calling attention to the state of affairs in San Thormé, and to ask that the system by which those persons who had been taken compulsorily from their homes across the sea to San Thomé should stop, and that the persons so taken should be, liberated. The time that this deputa- tion waited on the then Foreign Secretary was at the close of the South African War, and there were many reasons which made it difficult, if not impossible, for this country to interfere with the question at that time; but representations were made, and soon after that there was some alleviation of the conditions of the slaves in San Thomé. But very soon, when the question died down, things became as bad as ever.

Then the present Government came into Power, and another deputation waited on them from the same society—the Anti-Slavery and Aborigines Protection Society in 1907, calling attention to the fact that very little had been done. That has been supported by no less a personage than Mr. Cadbury, who stated last year that although the Portuguese Government promised a great deal, and made various new regulations, nothing whatever had been done really to alleviate the condition of the slaves. Finally a deputation waited on the right hon. Gentleman the other day from this society, which, oddly enough, was very quiet last year at a time when considerable attention was given to the way in which cocoa was raised in San Thomé with more than one newspaper, and was the subject of comment on various platforms. But this year, as some of us think, as a result of a certain amount of pressure put upon the same society, there was a deputation consisting of a number of distinguished persons. I only regret that neither Mr. George Cadbury nor Mr. Joseph Rowntree was able to be present. The deputation pointed out with considerable force that nothing had been done during these seven years to lead to any real alleviation of the position of these people; the right hon. Gentleman made a speech in reply, which he commenced by saying that the root of the evil was with recruiting itself on the mainland, and that what laid this open to the charge of slavery was that the people were captured by force.

That is a very mild way of stating the case. We know that slavery generally means that people are captured and forced to do what they do not want to do, and if this system of obtaining labour is not slavery I do not know what is. The right hon. Gentleman said that he was convinced that if the facts were brought to the notice of the Portuguese Government stringent action would be taken to change the state of affairs, and that new regulations had been established in the Province of Angola. All that is very interesting, but it does not strike in the least at the root of the evil. These men are compelled against their will to serve in San Thomé and Principé, where the death-rate is twenty per 1000, and where these people never have any chance of repatriation, but are compelled to spend the rest of their lives there.

The first thing which His Majesty's Government should impress upon the Portuguese Government is that it is necessary something should be done in reference to obtaining this labour. I agree that it is almost impossible to get natives to work without having indentured labour. But there is a great deal of difference between having indentured labour, where that labour is given voluntarily under indenture for two, five or ten years, and the system under which natives are seized by the local Portuguese governor and compelled to enter into an indenture to work for ten, fifteen, or twenty years in a far-off country, from which they have not the slightest prospect of returning. That is the system of indentured labour which exists in these Portuguese islands, and I say that His Majesty's Government should urge on the Portuguese Government that men should not be compelled against their will to become indentured labourers. It is essential that the Consuls of the Great Powers should have the right to inspect the conditions under which these men are indentured, and also to search the vessels in which they are brought from Angola to San Thomé and Principé. In this country during the past ten years we have made inquiry into, and, if necessary, entered protests against the conditions of labour in different parts of the world which we believed to be a reproach to the State. We have made ourselves very unpopular on the Continent in many ways by our protests against the system of forced labour, and we should be written down as humbugs and hypocrites if we did not protest against the system of labour which exists in San Thomé and Principé. I appeal particularly—


What about Chinese labour in British ships?


The Chinamen went to South Africa entirely of their own free will. Not a single Chinaman entered into a contract except by his own free will. Does any hon. Member deny that?—[HON. MEMBERS: "Yes."] Does the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydvil——


The means adopted to induce the Chinese to go to South Africa were so——


That is not a question for the Foreign Office.


I was only replying to the hon. Member.


In reply to the interruption from below the Gangway on this side, I say that not a single Chinaman went to work in the mines of South Africa by any other method except his own free will. I say that in the cocoa plantations of San Thome and Principé, in which several hon. Gentlemen opposite have a very real interest, not a single labourer went to work except by force and by compulsion of a kind which, in the old days of the Liberal party, would have produced protests from every Nonconformist pulpit, and from every Liberal platform in England. We have travelled far since those days. In those days the Liberal party was composed of many classes and many interests. It was not dependent, as it is to-day, on a small class, and one big interest for funds to carry on its election campaigns in the country. The result is we do not have those protests to-day, and a great many people in America and Europe consider that we have reached such a pitch of hyprocrisy that, although we are ready to protest against the conditions of labour in the Congo and places like that, we are not ready to protest against equal or worse conditions in the Portuguese islands, because we have, or did have, big trade relations with them. I wish to impute no motives to the Foreign Secretary, but I do say that if he wishes to remove the suspicion that undoubtedly exists at the present time, he can only do it by addressing to Portugal a protest against the conditions that exist, and by informing them that unless those conditions are improved at the end of a few months that this country will avail herself of her undoubted rights under many treaties with Portugal, and do as she would have done forty or fifty years ago—that is, use the power of her Navy to end a condition of affairs which I have not the slightest hesitation in saying is a slur to the whole civilized world.


My reason for rising is that I represent a constituency which has materially more interest in Egypt than any other constituency in the country. I do not propose to follow my hon. Friend (Mr. Dillon) into the high politics that he spoke of, but to look at this matter from another point of view. The Leader of the Opposition, speaking about treaties, said that they had a bad side, and I think what he meant by that was that they had an £ s. d. or money side which some people consider bad. I do not. I think that bread and butter is the basis of everything. What is the use of having armies and navies and empires if your people at home have not the means of living? There fore we have to look at this from this point of view, nor will I follow the hon. Member into the history of our position. All that he says may be quite true. We may have gone there for one reason or another; but the question we have to consider is, What shall we do in the future? Are we to remain there? We must make up our minds about that. We had better be frank about it, and tell the world what we mean to do, and readjust our relations to other Powers from that point of view. Do we mean to quit Egypt, or to stay there? I am speaking from my own point of view and that of my people. Personally I have been in touch with Egypt for many years, and know something about the country from certain points of view. We are not there for the good of Egypt primarily; therefore I leave that out entirely. But I say we are bound to remain there.

You may say that we in Lancashire are selfish. But we have got to look after our business; and any Government, however much we might agree with it on other questions, we should do our utmost to throw out if it wavered on this matter. There are two reasons for this. One concerns India and our eastern possessions generally. We have been told to-day that we have lost certain markets, and everybody knows that our largest markets and our chief possibilities lie in the East. Egypt is the last place we pass towards the East, and as far as in us lies we should never allow any Power to block our way there. We should fight rather than consent to what we consider would he the strangulation of our trade. It would mean the stoppage of the employment of our people; it would be the greatest possible disaster, and Lancashire would not for one moment listen to it. The second point is our relationship to Egypt and our dependence upon it. The hon. Member for East Mayo (Mr. Dillon) spoke quite lightly about the state of rule in Egypt before we went there. I would like to remind him, when he speaks with horror about our going to countries which do not belong to us, that these Mahomedans, about whose religious observances he gave us such a picturesque account, are themselves interlopers, and that the people of whom he spoke rather slightingly are really the descendants of the original possessors. That is, roughly speaking, the truth of the matter.

I speak, I hope, as a practical man. I want this thing to be looked at from a practical point of view. There is no doubt that the hon. Member for East Mayo is quite right when he says that there has been a great wave of disaffection in Egypt. My own opinion completely confirms that. I believe that one of the causes of that is that there has also been growing in Egypt for the last two or three years a feeling that we were likely to go: that there was some uncertainty in the House of Commons and in English opinion, and there were hopes that we should abandon the country if we were pressed enough. I believe that the cure for the disaffection is not to give way to that feeling, but to make it quite clear to the people of Egypt that we do not mean to go, and that they must accept that as an axiom of the position. There is no reason, however, why we should not give to them a large measure of self-government, but it must be based upon the recognition of our abiding predominance in the country. That is the view that we take in my part of the country—[HON MEMBERS: "No, no!"]—and any Government that ventures to go against that view will have a very bad time in Lancashire. And when the opportunity arises, as it may, we should have with Turkey, France and the other Powers concerned a rearrangement of our understanding on the subject. The present position is extremely hampering to financial arrangements, and it makes Government exceedingly difficult. We should try and do "a deal" with the countries concerned, frankly stating our position in the words, j'y suis, j'y reste.

The other matter I wish to mention is the development of the country for the good of this country. It is with regard to the cotton trade that I desire to plead with the Foreign Secretary. It is of great importance to the national welfare. The raw material of the cotton trade is brought 3,000 or 4,000 miles across the ocean, and after its manufacture in these little islands the goods are carried 3,000 or 4,000 miles perhaps back again to the land from which the raw material came. We depend entirely upon foreign countries for our raw material. We, at present, are suffering from causes which, I fear, are not temporary—causes which those of us who have looked at this matter seriously feel extremely anxious about. This is a most serious matter. The shortness of supply of the raw material promises to be an increasing difficulty. It will not be mitigated, or at any rate it will not be done away with, by the next crop or the one after that. If you take the figures of consumption in the United States and watch the development of manufacture going on there, you will find that in twenty years the United States, which is now our chief source of supply for raw material, will not send us any at all. I saw in to-day's "Times" that that was likely to be the case in regard to wheat; it will certainly be the case in regard to cotton. What are we going to do at home with this great trade and this great organisation of thousand upon thousands of workpeople in that event? What is going to happen?

Where is the raw material to come from to replace that upon which we are depending so long? I look about with great anxiety, and I have come to the conclusion that the likeliest country is the Soudan. I do not know what may be done by Nigeria or Uganda or any of those countries which we are trying to develop, but the physical conditions of all these countries are such that they do not promise a supply that will replace that of America, and the only country whose conditions are such as to give promise of the necessary supplies—moderately flat and a good water supply—is the Soudan. It happens that this country is under our control and is now a waste. I put a question to the Foreign Secretary about this matter as to whether something could not be done with the co-operation of the Government. I do not come here ad misericordiam for my own trade, but I want to point out to the Government that this disaster should be anticipated and provided against. I got what I might call a frigid answer in the shape of a quotation from Sir Eldon Gorst, that this must be done by private enterprise. Does anyone who knows anything of the Soudan believe that any adequate development of that country could be made by private enterprise? Much depends upon irrigation, and when you touch the question of irrigation you begin to touch problems of water supply and the Nile. All these matters require the co-operation of the State. I quite acknowledge there nave been small attempts at irrigation.


Would you make Egypt pay for it?


Not only would we not make Egypt pay but we would make a profit. I am not asking that the Government should put a money loss on the Egyptians. I never had that for one moment in my mind, but I plead most earnestly with the Foreign Secretary to be a little more sympathetic in the way he approaches this matter. We cannot do it by private enterprise. There is a British Cotton Association struggling to raise a little money. If we had an adequate scheme for giving us what we require the money would be found. But we must have an adequate scheme, and we cannot have that without the systematic co-operation of the Government. Therefore I ask the Foreign Secretary, on behalf of the great cotton trade with which the welfare of the nation is so much bound up, to consult with Sir Eldon Gorst and see if something cannot be done by the co-operation of all concerned to make the Soudan what it was originally—the great source of supply. It is the original home of the cotton plant. Sir Eldon Gorst's report admits it is a most fertile country if it only gets a proper supply of water. Another thing where co-operation comes in is the lack of labour, and that can only be met by combined action with the Government. Therefore, on behalf of the trade in which I am interested, and the people I represent, I ask the Government to give a most sympathetic consideration to this matter.


Perhaps I had better deal with the first question raised in the Debate, that of the Suez Canal. It was raised in such a way that it will be difficult for me to disentangle it in view of the way it was handled by the hon. Member for East Mayo and the hon. Member for Wells. The hon. Member for East Mayo looked at it from the point of view of Egypt. The hon. Member for Wells began speaking of it as if he were taking it up in the same spirit, but he really, though apparently sometimes speaking from the point of view of Egypt, was speaking on behalf of British interests. I must take these two aspects of the question separately. In the first place the hon. Member for East Mayo spoke of the correspondence between the Suez Canal Company and the Government of Egypt. I have not seen the correspondence. I regard it as the business of the Government of Egypt to have a free hand in dealing with the Suez Canal Company, and to make its own terms from the point of view of Egyptian interests, and it should have a free chance to make the best bargain it can in the interests of Egypt. I did not follow the correspondence between the Suez Canal Company and the Egyptian Government. I did not see it. Even if I had I do not think it would have been possible to lay it on the Table, and I imagine that every bargain of that kind between a great Company of the standing of the Suez Canal Company and another Government must be exceedingly difficult at almost every stage of its negotiations. When that result had been arrived at between the Egyptian Government and the Suez Canal Company I was informed of it by Sir Eldon Gorst. We had to look at it here for the purpose of discussion from the point of view of the Egyptian interests.


Did the English Government give no instruction to its representatives on the Board of the Suez Canal Company, and were they not kept informed as to the nature of the negotiations?


I said I would discuss this question in two parts—first, the Egyptian interests, then the British interests. The position of the British directors on the Suez Canal Company is to look after British interests, and that is separate from the question of the Egyptian interests. The Egyptian Government have to look after Egyptian interests. They made a bargain with the Suez Canal Company. We were informed of the terms here. They were reviewed by us to see whether, looking at them impartially, it was in our opinion a good bargain or not in the interests of Egypt. If it had seemed to us here that it was a bad bargain in the interests of Egypt, that oversights had been made, and that the Egyptian Government had had the worst of it, then I think we should have been bound to step in, point out the mistakes made, and advise the Egyptian Government to disregard the decision of the General Assembly. But if it had seemed to us that the Egyptian Government had been a good judge of what the interests of Egypt were, then I think I was bound to let the Egyptian Government proceed and keep the matter of British interests for separate consideration. That was the action I took. It seemed to me that the bargain the Egyptian Government made, and believed to be a good bargain in Egyptian interests, was in fact a good bargain, but it was not essential to Egypt that the concession should be renewed. No great disaster would happen in Egypt and no disturbance be caused if it were not renewed, and I do not therefore think it was a question we ought to force upon the Egyptian Government or people, but was one on which they ought to be left free to decide themselves, whether they would close the bargain that had been made or not. That was the attitude we took.

The hon. Member for East Mayo (Mr. Dillon) regretted that there had been so many false reports, and said something about the Fetva of the Grand Mufti. I am glad I published the text which disposed of that particular report. But there were other false reports. False reports were published that we, the British Government, were pressing upon Egypt what was a bad bargain in the Egyptian interests, because we were shareholders in the Suez Canal Company. Reports were also put about that the Khedive was a large shareholder in the Suez Canal Company. I knew nothing, whether he was or not, and I answered a question to that effect. I have been informed since that he had no shares. All these reports entirely prejudiced the question in Egypt, and they were absolutely untrue. It is quite true we have to think of our own interests and not only of Egyptian interests; but I think it would have been most unfair for us to step in between the Egyptian Government and the Suez Canal Company and say the Egyptian Government, when it had the opportunity of doing a fair and a good piece of business in the interests of Egypt, was to be estopped and prevented by us from doing it because we wished to use Egypt as a lever to further our own ends. That would have been most unfair, and that position I never took up. I left the Egyptian Government free to go on with the thing; but in view of the fact that Egyptian opinion became very excited about it, I think Sir Eldon Gorst was quite right in consenting that it should be submitted to the General Assembly and in leaving the Egyptian Government free to take its own course after the General Assembly had considered it, and therefore the prolongation of the concession was not proceeded with.

We have to look at any question of the extension of the Suez Canal Concession also from the point of view of British interests. That, I think, we ought to reserve, and we did partly reserve discussion between the British directors and their colleagues on the Board of Directors. That was the natural place for us to bring forward our interests, and, as a matter of fact, considerable discussion took place. First of all, there is the point of view of the shareholders, which is the Treasury point of view, and then there is the point of view of the shipowners, which the Board of Trade had carefully to consider. We had to consider these great interests, and they were very carefully considered by the Treasury and the Board of Trade, as well as by the Foreign Office, in conjunction with those two Departments, and in consultation, too, with the official directors of the Suez Canal Company. Our directors on the Board of the Company are, and always have been, on terms of the utmost cordiality with their colleagues on the Board, and the discussions which took place between them would, I believe, have resulted in such conclusions with regard to the future administration of the Company, that the prolongation of the Concession might well have been recommended to this country from the point of view of British interests. But a good deal more had to be discussed. There was the question of representation on the Suez Canal Board which has been under discussion here for many years. It has been carefully considered by the Board of Trade. Considerable difficulties attaches to it.

Then, again, there is the question of the reduction of the Canal dues. These are matters of the utmost importance, and had the negotiations proceeded undoubtedly the prolongation of the Suez Canal Concession would have been discussed and criticised from both those points in this House. But in my opinion these are matters to be considered by the Treasury and the Board of Trade when the question of the extension of the Concession again comes up both from the point of view of the reduction of the dues and that of representation on the Board. Undoubtedly, if the negotiations are resumed and reach a conclusion, the question will be discussed in this House, and the Government of the day will have to put before the House the considerations which guided them in instructing the official directors as to the vote they may give either for or against the prolongation of the concession. From the point of view of British interests I think it is our duty to put these matters before the Company through our official directors, although, of course, in any future action the Government of the day will be responsible for the instructions given to and votes given by the official directors. I trust I have made this complicated question somewhat clearer than it was when the Debate first began. It is extremely difficult for any one in my position to deal with this question, having both points of view to consider; I have endeavoured to steer a perfectly straight course and to be fair to the interests of Egypt, while giving due consideration at the same time to British interests.


Did the British Government leave the Egyptian Assembly perfectly free, and bring no pressure to bear on the Egyptian Government?


My instructions were that no pressure was to be brought to bear on them. The Egyptian Government, of course, brought forward its own arguments. We brought no pressure to bear on the Assembly. We were, of course, party to the matter being referred to the Assembly, and I take the responsibility for that it could have said it should not be referred, but in view of the importance of the matter to Egypt, and in view of the fact it was not essential and necessary to Egypt that the bargain should be concluded, and seeing that the prolongation of the Concession was not a matter of vital importance to Egypt—had it been otherwise we might have refused to let it go before the Assembly, or have advised the Egyptian Government to disregard the decision of the Assembly should it be in a certain direction—we decided, I think rightly, that it should be referred to the Assembly, which should be allowed to give its opinion freely, and that the Egyptian Government if it so desired should agree to abide by that decision. That is the course we took. I must pass to the more general criticism of the hon. Member for Mayo (Mr. Dillon). I do not complain of his having raised the question of the Suez Canal Concession at all, because I know it is a complicated matter and requires to be elucidated. I do not complain of his having raised the question of Egypt, but I regret exceedingly a great deal of what he said. He belittled in every possible way the policy which he said we had followed, or professed to follow, of encouraging the development of self government in Egypt. He did worse than that He did not give us credit for honest motives in doing it. He said in fact it was a Machiavellian policy calculated to sow dissension between the Kopts and the Mussulmans. I point out in answer to that that when the policy was announced in Egypt it produced some very strong criticism from some quarters of a very different kind. They thought that the policy had gone too far. But if that sort of thing is to be said—that it is a Michiavellian policy, is intended to sow dissension and so forth—it is a very poor encouragement to prosecute such attempts of the kind. It was precisely because such efforts as we did make met with no response from the bulk of the Nationalist opinion in Egypt, because instead of being responded to by increased interest in the development of the Government of Egypt and the efficiency of it—instead of producing anything of that kind—it resulted in a barren and futile agitation against British occupation—it was precisely because of that I made the speech I did the other day. When the hon. Gentleman spoke of what happened under Lord Cromer with regard to Press law and so forth, if I remember aright—I have had no opportunity of referring—Lord Cromer, since his return to England, only made one speech. The Press law has not been used in any extreme sense in Egypt, and it is in the opinion of the authorities there, and in my opinion, absolutely essential that there should be Some law of that kind, and it should be used if it were necessary to keep order.

I regret exceedingly the remarks which the hon. Member for Mayo made on the subject of the late Prime Minister who was assassinated, Boutros Pasha. The late Prime Minister was a man of great experience, and one who had shown great capacity and efficiency in administration. The hon. Member for Mayo regards his appointment as being a deliberate provocation of the Mussulmans and the Kopts. There was no outcry on his appointment. The hon. Member spoke as if no such thing had ever happened before. I have not thought much as to the religious denominations to which former Prime Ministers belonged, but surely there have been Christian Prime Ministers in Egypt before. Nubar Pasha was Prime Minister for many years, and no accusation of this kind was made against the Government of the day who appointed him, that that was the motive of his appointment—and if that is so, why should this be said to-day, and especially about a man who has been assassinated, really because he had been an efficient administrator, and really looked at the questions from the point of view of the general interests of the people of Egypt. I regret the remarks of the hon. Member (Mr. Dillon), because remarks of that kind are bound to have some effect if they are reported in Egypt in increasing the tendency to intolerance and fanaticism. If intolerance and fanaticism are increased I am sure it is not due to anything which we have done, but it may be due to comments of that kind with regard to such a man as Boutros Pasha. The hon. Member who accused us of these motives in having secured the appointment of Boutros Pasha as Prime Minister, passed over entirely in silence the fact that when his successor was appointed immediately after the assassination, we were attacked and criticised in other quarters for having appointed a man of too pronounced Nationalist tendencies—a criticism which I have seen again and again. Why he should attack us on one of these things and not think it fair to defend us from the other, or not take notice of the other as a reason why he should have discarded the criticism which he pronounced on the first, I cannot reconcile with fair discussion of the real problems of Egypt.

12.0 M.

With reference to the cultivation of cotton in Egypt I quite agree that there are British interests to be considered, and that occasions may arise when it is difficult on some particular questions to reconcile British and Egyptian interests. In such a case as that the British Government must be exceedingly careful to hold the balance fair, and to remember that it has other interests to consider than Egyptian interests, and that British interests must not be pushed to the extent of sacrificing Egyptian interests. But on the particular point of the growth of cotton no conflict of that kind need arise. The hon. Member (Mr. Harwood) said I was wanting in sympathy in what I have said about this question. I think he has mistaken caution for want of sympathy. I have been intending to do exactly what he advised me to do, and go carefully into this question of developing cotton cultivation. I know quite well how very important it is. Pending my having an opportunity of doing that I have perhaps been a little jejune in the answers I have given. If so I am glad to have an opportunity of explaining the matter as far as I can. I know this question of the supply of cotton is a matter of the very greatest importance, and we ought to neglect no opportunity of urging in Egypt the cultivation of cotton if it can he supplied of the quality which is needed on an economical basis, and there is no conflict between British and Egyptian interests. In that case, if what the hon. Member says about the Soudan and Egypt is true, it is clear that there may be great developments in the growth of cotton which may not merely be a benefit to Lancashire but a great mutual benefit to the farmer as well as to the user. But we have to remember that Egypt at present pays for the deficit of the Soudan, and it would be most unfair that irrigation should be carried to a point in the Soudan which would oblige Egypt to pay for the deficit, and at the same time deprive her of water which is necessary for Egypt. Therefore, that has to be very carefully looked after. The hon. Gentleman said this could not be entirely left to private enterprise. I can only speak my own personal opinion on this point. I quite agree that the matter is of such importance that, provided private enterprise is not sufficient to take advantage of what are real opportunities of averting the great dangers of a shortage of cotton, it would be a case for any British Government very carefully to consider whether State action should not come to the rescue. But, as I have said, I can only express a personal opinion on this point, because it is far more than a departmental question. I do not think it would be right in such a case that we should, in the interests of cotton growing, expect Egypt to provide the money, and if it is a question for the British Government to embark on the expenditure of money to increase the production of cotton, that is a question which no department could answer. It would have to be considered very carefully by the Government as a whole. It would have to be considered notably in consultation with the Colonial Office, for instance. First of all they would have to decide the principle whether this was such a case that it would be desirable that Government action should be taken, and in the next place they would have to consider carefully in what part of the world it would be desirable that such efforts should he made. I can therefore make no promise of any kind on that, but I wish to impress on the hon. Member that I do know the importance of this question, and that, as far as increasing the amount of cotton grown in Egypt and the Soudan is concerned, I am sure Sir Eldon Gorst and Sir Reginald Wingate are equally alive to its importance. It will be discussed most carefully with them in order to see what it is in the power of the Egyptian Government to do in the production of cotton. But that like everything else in which the prosperity of Egypt is bound up, depends upon there being no doubt as to our staying there. The hon. Member for East Mayo (Mr. Dillon) in his speech, if he was logically right, if it were brought to a logical conclusion—I do not know whether he meant it—meant that we should evacuate that country.


Yes; according to your own promise.


I fully admit that in the history of the British occupation of Egypt there has not been logic, and there has not been foresight. We have drifted into the occupation of the country, but we have been there a long time, and we have now to deal not with logic, but with facts and consequences. These are what we have to deal with at the present time. One fact is that Egypt has grown in material prosperity. The Government has been enormously improved, gross evils which previously existed in Egypt, the koorbash, and the corvée, have disappeared. The hon. Member spoke of Egypt as having been comparatively crimeless—crimeless as regards the population—but what were the conditions and methods of government? Even if there is comparatively little record of crime on the part of the population I am sure it is because statistics are not available, and the chief crimes were on the part of the Government and the officials under the methods of Government in the old days before the occupation.

We have produced prosperity and order. I cannot imagine anything more unsettling, more disastrous, more certain to provoke disorder and destroy confidence and impair the whole state of affairs in Egypt than that I should unsay one single word of what I said the other day. On the contrary, I reaffirm everything I said the other day with regard to our general policy in Egypt. Much mischief has been caused without any reason or justification by doubts being disseminated as to whether we were firm in our intention to retain our responsibility in Egypt. The moment I realised that that was the case I thought it the first duty of any British Government to take the opportunity of putting an end to these doubts. I believe what I said the other day has had that effect, and I am exceedingly glad it has had that effect. If I am challenged on the subject I must only repeat it every time I am challenged. I believe it is absolutely essential. Many of those who refer to this subject have very little conception of the evil, the mischief which would result if by any chance the British Government today left any uncertainty in people's minds as to whether they intended to retain the occupation of Egypt.

The last point was raised by the Noble Lord (Earl Winterton) opposite, as to the Portuguese labour system in the islands of San Thomé and Principé, and the way in which that labour is obtained on the mainland. We always assume in this House that when questions of this kind are raised, whether it be in connection with the Congo or in connection with such a question as was raised this afternoon, the real motive, the sole and only motive in raising the question at all is a real and deep sympathy with the interests of the natives. Sometimes that sympathy is disguised by the speeches which are made on the subject being diverted into attacks on third persons. I do not say that to-night is the first occasion on which I have known that to happen, and I do not say it always happens on one side of the House. The Noble Lord spoke strongly, no doubt, of the Portuguese Government and the state of things which existed in the Portuguese colony, of which he expressed the poorest opinion. But it seemed to me, listening to the speech, that there were some, a great many, of his own fellow countrymen who in he disliked much more than the Portuguese. The Noble Lord gave us a history of the question. With a great deal of his history as to what occurred in past times I do not wish to find fault. He said that this state of affairs first became known in 1881, and that there was a report made in 1901, and that the facts have been known now for a long time. I do not wish to find fault with that. But if any credit is to be taken for having brought the facts to light with the object of a remedy being found for the state of affairs, I think that on this side of the House, speaking as the Liberal party, we stand quite well as to share in that which has been done to bring the facts to light and to publicity. In 1901, the Noble Lord says, the Government of the party to which he belongs, was first asked to make representations to the Portuguese Government. He showed a generosity and ingenuity in apologising for their action which he did not extend to us when he came to criticise ours. He said 1901 was not a convenient time, being just after the South African War, but the Government remained in office, and did not go out of office until four years after 1901. He said nothing about what the Government had done in those succeeding four years, or whether what they had done was satisfactory to him or not. I have no reason to reflect upon our predecessors on this question. I am quite sure that Lord Lansdowne was quite as much in earnest as we ourselves have been, and therefore I do not reflect in the least on anything which was done or omitted to be done by the last Conservative Government. But I do say to the Noble Lord, if he thinks the present Government has been lacking in dealing with this question, that if he compares the action which we have taken in the four years we have been in office with the action which his own Government took during the four years after 1901, we have no fear that our energy and zeal will suffer by the comparison. I do not in the least complain of the Noble Lord saying how bad the state of things has been. That has been said in many quarters. But what I do think was not right in his speech—and I am the more surprised at it when he quoted a speech of mine made the other day—was that he did not recognise that the Portuguese Government have within the last year done what has completely changed the whole state of affairs. The Noble Lord read what I said that first of the evil was recruiting on the main land in the colony of Angola. People were there recruited indiscriminately and by force, and brought down to the coast by by force, with no means of escape, and they were taken to these islands by force. But we have been urgent in bringing all the information brought to us to the notice of the Portuguese Government from time to time in order to convince them that the state of things was such as to require a remedy. It is very difficult, speaking on a matter of this kind, for any one in the position of a Member of the Government to say all we have done in the matter. We are not dealing with our own territory. The Noble Lord advocated a right of general interference and the use of force. But what does the use of force mean? Is force a remedy? It is only a remedy if we are ready to take the thing in hand ourselves. That is not what we are going to do, for various reasons, in any of these matters. As long as the territory belongs to another country it has to be done with the Government of the other country, to which you must look for a remedy of the state of affairs. If you are continually boasting of the representations which you have made to the other Government you make it not easy but difficult for that Government to take action in its own country, because you excite its own public opinion against it, and there is resentment on the ground of the interference of a foreign power. I only say that we have lost no opportunity of bringing the facts to the notice of the Portuguese Government, believing that if they were convinced of the facts they would see that the state of things was such that they would see that an end must be put to them. We have succeeded in convincing them of the state of the case. Last year they stopped recruiting on the mainland altogether, and got the labour, not from Angola at all, but from Mozambique on the east coast, where there has been recruiting for years. They stopped recruiting altogether. They have now resumed recruiting under certain regulations, as the Noble Lord said. He read out the regulations, but I am not sure that he read them all or that they were all reported fully.


I do not think so.


I have not read the report, but from memory they are quite correct as far as they go. Even as far as they went surely they made it clear that if those are carried out there can be no recruiting of natives against their will. They are only to be recruited in certain districts where there is an administration and where the facts can be known, and the indentures are to be voluntary engagements.


Nothing in that speech would lead one to believe that those regulations were framed for voluntary indentures.


That is precisely why they were framed. The whole object was that the recruitment should be voluntary, and that no batch of natives should leave from the coast for those islands without its being ascertained that they understood the contract into which they are entering, and entered into it voluntarily. If those regulations which have been communicated to us are carried out efficiently, they must make it certain that no man will be recruited against his will in those Portuguese islands. I said that the Portuguese Government are convinced of the fact that a remedy was needed, and they have issued regulations which, if they are efficiently carried out, will provide ample remedy. They first of all stopped recruiting altogether until these regulations were enforced; and they have now resumed under regulations which, if they are carried out properly, must prevent people being recruited against their will. I think it is right that the Portuguese Government, after all that has happened in past years, should be open and fair in giving the public the opportunity of judging whether the regulations are in fact producing those results, which I am sure they are intended to produce, and the Portuguese Government agreed that the engagement of the natives would be public, that anybody may attend and see how the thing is done, and satisfy himself that the natives are voluntarily engaged and understand what they are doing. After he has served his time of three years he is to be repatriated at the expense of the employers, and if he decides to re-engage that re-engagement also is to be made public, so that it is quite clear that he understands what he is doing, and is re engaging voluntarily.

I propose to take advantage of that, and I have already sent instructions, as I explained to the deputation, that our Consuls should take full advantage of the publicity to watch how the regulations work, and they are instructed to report on them here. We have appointed a Vice-Consul on the island that he may take advantage of that publicity and make reports as to what happens on the islands. I maintain that, considering that this country is not our territory, and considering that the Treaty rights involved are not nearly so strong as the Noble Lord makes out—and I have carefully examined them—we have been securing by bringing the facts to the knowledge of the Portuguese first the suspension of recruiting, and that it shall be resumed, and only resumed, under these careful conditions, and then by the fact that there is publicity of what is done, and if we follow them up, as I have already instructed our Consuls to follow them up by making reports on the subject, I think we shall have done all that could honourably and fairly be asked of us in a matter which is exceedingly delicate, and one in which, as it was so grave, some of the delicacies of diplomacy might not always be observed.


Is it not a fact that some of the Consuls have been managers for firms who have employed these people, and are consequently not wholly disinterested?


Oh, no; that is not so. I cannot speak certainly about the Vice-Consul recently appointed on the islands, but people like Consul Nightingale are paid Consuls in the Consular service. The Consul I have instructed to report is a paid Consul in the British service; he is not a trader at all.


That is not my point. I understand that a man has been employed as Vice-Consul who was formerly manager for one of these firms who engaged natives. It would have been better to have engaged men who had not been so employed.


If the hon. Member will give me the name I will inquire into it. That is certainly not the case with the head Consul. He has no interest in any of these matters, and is just as impartial and just as capable of reporting on these things fairly and honourably as any of our Consuls in the Congo. That is what is intended. That is the case certainly with those that I know about. If there is any case I do not know about, if the hon. Member will give me the name I will inquire into it. It is very discouraging when, as the result of the communications with the Portuguese Government, this very considerable advance has been made, there should be such a speech as that of the Noble Lord, as though there had been no alteration and no improvement whatever.


Mr. Cadbury himself stated last year that the regulations were no better.


If that is so, I can only say I do not agree with him. I went over the whole case very carefully with the deputation the other day, and the regulations are as I have stated to the House. If they do not work out as expected no doubt there will be grave dissatisfaction and very great disappointment, and there will be further reference to treaty rights and so forth. But no negotiations, I am sure, could secure more on paper than these have done, if we follow them up by taking advantage of the publicity to ensure that they are working, and have full reports of how the regulations actually work. It is in the interest of the Portuguese nation that there should be publicity; it is not in their interest that such speeches as that of the Noble Lord should continue to be made. I know perfectly well that apprehension on this question will not be allayed until we have proof not merely what the regulations are, but how they are working, and the Portuguese Government ought to recognise that fact. But I maintain that the Portuguese Government having done what they have done, which is something quite different from anything which has taken place before, show that they do recognise what the facts have been; and I believe they are sincerely anxious to remedy those facts. I believe they know perfectly well it is in their interest, and the offer of publicity is evidence that they really have a desire to put people like our Consuls in a position—which alone will bring an end to apprehension on this question—to report that they have actually seen that the regulations are working satisfactorily, and that such a system of things is not merely in theory but in practice put in force in the Portuguese colonies, that no one can be made to labour in the islands unless he is engaged voluntarily.