HC Deb 10 March 1910 vol 14 cc1733-66

I make no apology for once more introducing into this Chamber the subject of the Congo. There are some reasons why I think the present is a most opportune occasion on which to discuss once more this very important question. We have a new Parliament and Belgium has a new King. We have been now several months without any message, as far as I know, which has placed us in any different position from that in which we were left when the House dissolved. We have had also the Belgian Congo Budget. It is eighteen months since the annexation took place, and I think the last speech made by the Foreign Secretary in this House was on 22nd July, and in that speech he made these remarks: Undoubtedly as time passes and we come to the end of the year and are still in the same position as now, the Government will have to consider what steps it is going to take to uphold its undoubted treaty rights. We have come to the end of the year, and the country, and this House, I think I may say, is very anxious to know what is the exact position of this great question at the present moment. The only thing of importance which has transpired in the interval is the reference made by the Prime Minister in his speech at the Mansion House, in which he spoke of our relations to this question as a very solemn responsibility. This question has been debated many times in this House, and it is unnecessary that I should go over a great deal of the ground which was covered in the last Parliament. The ground which was at one time debatable is so no longer, and I am quite sure I may even anticipate that the new Members who have not had the advantage of listening to the past Debates are sufficiently well acquainted with the main facts of the subject to enable them to follow the discussion. Moreover, I am anxious not to occupy too much time because I hope we may have the advantage of some speeches by new Members, who will approach the question perhaps from a different standpoint from that which we have many times occupied. I am about to take many things for granted. The atrocities, terrible as they have been, which were once disputed, are disputed no longer. Districts as large as England have been practically depopulated. The plunder, not the administration, of the country has been carried out in the most barbarous way ever known to mankind. I do not make these statements on my own responsibility. I will quote extracts from statements of three names which I am sure will be received with the greatest possible respect. First of all, Lord Lansdowne said:— The bondage under this system is the most barbarous and inhuman, carried on under conditions and for mercenary motives of the most selfish kind. The late Earl Percy, who occupied a very prominent position in the House, and who always took a very deep and intelligent interest in this question, said:— The accumulation of rubber was done at an infinite cost of human life and suffering My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary also said:— It is intolerable to read about in relation to contemporary history. I could multiply these statements by eminent men in the Church and belonging to different parties throughout the country, but I am quite sure these three testimonies will be amply sufficient to justify the statement which I have made on my own responsibility. The fact is that millions of wealth have been collected from this poor country at the cost of millions of lives, a system which has been described, again by my right hon. Friend (Sir Edward Grey), as practically a form of slavery in every particular. This has existed for many years against treaties in which we have undertaken, according to the word of the Prime Minister himself, the most solemn responsibilities. Many years ago, no doubt, with the very best desires of many well-disposed people—and here I acquit the Government of any responsibility—we handed it over to men who afterwards became practically plunderers and murderers, who robbed the land, who claimed all the natural products of the land, and endeavoured by forced labour, which I have already spoken of as slavery, to gain a revenue from the poor, down-trodden population. True, we are parties to the treaties which regulated the Government, or professed to regulate the Government of the Congo Free State, and by those treaties we bound ourselves to care for the bodies of these people, and to allow Free Trade in those dominions. We practically took away any power which the natives had to defend themselves against oppression and tyranny, and what have we done to protect them, having taken the responsibility on our hands? This country gradually rose to understand what the position was, and, as a consequence, an indignant cry arose from all parties and all sects in this country—a cry which has not been equalled for a great many years upon any public question.

We have had numerous Debates in this House, and it would be really interesting, if it were not so pathetic, to see how, year by year, we have been beaten back in our dealings with Belgium. I feel that it is time to speak very plainly on this question. I trust I shall not say a single word that is in any sense disrespectful to my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary, or anything to throw any doubt upon his sincerity and earnestness in dealing with this movement, but at the same time, those who feel most deeply upon it cannot disguise from this House or the country that we feel that in the manangement of the Foreign Office there has been a lack of firmness and foresight. The position in which we are placed at this moment is one which cannot be held to be creditable to this country. In fact, I would say that a more humilating series of facts have never been presented to this House than the whole tale of our negotiations with regard to the Congo. No doubt the originators of the Congo Free State were grossly deceived in the character and objects of the late King—I almost owe an apology for mentioning the late King in this Assembly—but these were known, and had been known for many years, to the Foreign Office. By degrees the Foreign Office became fully aware of the atrocities which were being committed under his régime. The first difficulty was in dealing with the Congo, the Free State itself not being a responsible Government with which another Government could deal, and not being a Government for which the Belgian nation was responsible. Gradually, as that difficulty became apparent to the Foreign Office—and here I do not blame the Foreign Office at all—we began to cultivate, or, at any rate, not to oppose efforts towards the annexation of the Congo Free State by the Belgian nation.

What those of us who have taken a leading part in this matter did press upon the Foreign Office, however, was not to allow this annexation to take place without guarantees. The Foreign Office said it would not, but it did. Although it has not acknowledged the annexation, the annexation has taken place. The anxiety of my right hon. Friend to deal with the responsible Government was an anxiety which we could well understand and to a large extent share. What did he say? I go further and say that we agree it must be a condition precedent to any transfer of the Congo to another authority that that authority should take it over on terms which will place it in a position to give assurances and to guarantee that these assurances shall he carried out and the treaty obligations of the Congo fulfilled. We do not dispute the wisdom of this step for guarantees, for if guarantees were not obtained it would be most difficult and dangerous afterwards to deal with the question. Difficulties would arise with the Belgian people which, we believe, might have been avoided if terms had been insisted upon in the first instance. I am sure that the Foreign Office will agree that a policy of genuine reform must be accompanied with a willingness on the part of the Belgian nation, for a time at least, to give up some of their resources instead of simply annexing this country in order to take from it such poor resources as it has left. They must be willing to tax themselves, instead of grinding the natives. Again, my right hon. Friend declared himself in favour of the Belgian solution, which is accepted by everyone, subject to the reservation that a Belgian annexation of the Congo State shall involve the abolition of the system enforced upon the Congo by the Congo Government. We say that annexation having taken place the present Belgian Government are placed in the difficult position of either having to continue the system under which they got revenue from the Congo or confess to the Belgian people that they have misled them in telling them that annexation would not cost a penny of taxation. Those conditions which my right hon. Friend laid down were quite legitimate and proper, and we ask, Why have they not been insisted upon? The reply of the Foreign Office to that is practically the same—that they could not have forbidden the annexation. But they could have prevented—and this is my point—this annexation taking place under conditions which were not fully known to the Belgian people, and if they had made a demand that these conditions should be accepted before annexation the Belgian people would have known at what cost they were going to annex, and they would have refused annexation, and the present difficulties of the Belgian Government would not have existed in the form in which they exist at this moment.

I think I am within the bounds of truth when I say that every Belgian reformer was in favour of this plan. It was not done, however. The annexation took place, and the assurance of the Foreign Secretary that we would not recognise the annexation until these conditions were fulfilled has no doubt been carried out. What was to be done when annexation took place? It was stated that there should be immediate changes. As soon as annexation was voted another statement was made. The conditions, we say, have been entirely falsified. Lord Mayo, in a speech in another place, said:— We ask His Majesty's Government to declare to Belgium that annexation on the present terms is totally unacceptable. After the annexation, what is the history of the matter? Annexation having taken place, the Foreign Secretary very naturally and properly agreed to certain delays. The Belgian Government, it was said, must have time under the new conditions to consider what reforms they could make. But is there not a policy underlying this statement? Why must they have time? They knew the system which had been going on perfectly well, and it is absolutely incompatible with the conditions which the treaties bind them to carry out. Though matters of detail would necessarily require time, the Belgian Government knew well enough what the foundation was, and when they promised that changes should take place without any delay, they knew the conditions under which they held the Congo, and they either promised what they never intended to fulfil, or—and this I hold to be the fact—they were able to fulfil the promises if they had any disposition to do so. I ask the House to remember how many years this system has been going on We have had a good deal of mercy for Belgium, but very little mercy for the poor down-trodden natives who have suffered while the negotiations have been going on or standing still. My right hon. Friend trusted the Government as a democratic Government. I hold he has been hugely deceived, so far as is shown by any information we have before us at this moment in so trusting them; and I go further, and say that he ought to have expected to be deceived. What are the antecedents of men like Secretary Renkin with whom he has had to do? He has had to do with the men who shared the plunder during these years, the men who negotiated the annexation, and the men who have all along disputed attempts to interfere in matters affecting the Congo. And yet that right is undoubted. Again, to quote authorities far greater than my own Lord Lansdowne said: "We cannot admit there is the least doubt as to our right." Lord Ripon said great responsibility rested upon us, and we had rights which we could not ignore.

Then we come to, I think, the 28th November, when my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary took a position which gave us in this House some encouragement, and we felt that at last he had done something which might produce an immediate result. He sent a despatch demanding amelioration. In this despatch he pointed out that the minimum which would satisfy the Government in regard to our treaty rights was to put the natives in what we believed to be their proper position with regard to their common lands and the natural fruits of the forest, and free trade for British people and all who desired to have commerce with this race; and, in fact, he demanded a complete reversal of the system under which the Congo was then being governed. He had abundant evidence of the support of the nation in regard to that demand in the number of peers and some 20 bishops and nearly 100 M.P.'s who presented a document to him assuring him of the support of the country in regard to this matter, while the Chambers of Commerce also gave him the same assurance. I ask the House to mark what followed. Nothing practically here, but something like a defiant note on the other side. This despatch which was sent in November, 1908, was not answered until March, 1909, four months afterwards, although it called attention to gross violations of treaties which we were responsible to see carried out. Surely, though we know that diplomacy moves slowly, four months to answer a despatch of such importance, after the length of time we had waited, was far too long. But it took the Foreign Office three months to answer that despatch. The reason given in a previous debate was that the despatch itself had to be laid on the Table of this House with the reply which the Foreign Office sent to it. We hoped after that long interval that this reply would at least contain that which would satisfy us after waiting so long. But we found that in our judgment at least—I know that my right hon. Friend denies that there was any retreat from the position that he took up—there was nothing in this reply which gave us the same confidence as the despatch which was sent originally. This was preceded by a speech in the House by my right hon. Friend on 27th May, in which, replying to speeches which had been delivered, he took a somewhat alarmist note. The first remark I would make upon it is that the late King was not at all slow to notice the change, as we and he regarded it, that had taken place in the tone of my right hon. Friend. On 22nd July we had a further Debate. On that occasion the Foreign Secretary, for reasons which he gave, felt that the Belgian Government ought to have more time, and he gave them, in the extract which I read from his speech at the beginning of my remarks, until the end of the year. The end of the year has come and gone, and I hope we may have something laid before us tonight which will show us that that period of time having elapsed, the Foreign Secretary has taken some steps which will justify our confidence in him. We shall hear what has been done.

Of course, the asking for time was said to be in order to wait for the return of the Colonial Secretary, who had gone to East Africa; but, as I said before, in our judgment there was really no reason to wait for the return of this Gentleman. He was an ex-administrator of a concessionaire company—companies of which I believe I am right in saying we have now acknowledged the legality, although they have been contrary to the very terms of the treaty itself. We regarded this simply as marking time. We felt sure when he came back he would talk of reform. Now he has come back, and what does he do? We are told that the Belgian Senate yesterday resumed the discussion of the Estimates for the Administration of the Congo, and that the Minister of the Colonies declared that they would not tolerate any foreign intervention. That is one thing which he has done. Another thing he has done is to introduce a Budget which, I venture to say, is itself the strongest proof which it is possible to have presented to the world that there is no desire to have any real system of reform. This Budget desires to take over £800,000 from the Congo during the ensuing year, and there is no doubt that two-thirds at least of that will be the result of this forced labour, or will be, according to my right hon. Friend's own description, the result of slave labour. Yesterday I was at a great meeting in the town of Hull. I passed by the monument to Wilberforce, and I could not but call back to memory the great agitation which was conducted by him, ultimately with such success, by which Great Britain bound itself for ever to oppose slavery, wherever that slavery might exist; yet here we have a gigantic system of slavery extending over some 800,000 square miles; and I say therefore that it is no wonder that that great meeting in Hull yesterday, consisting of at least 3,000 people, passed not only unanimously, but I will say with a great measure of indignation, the resolution which was passed, and which I was instructed to represent to this House to-night. Now I have drawn briefly and consistently with the facts a sketch primarily of our work, or the failure of our work, during the past few years. I ask you to remember once more the years of peculiar horror, those atrocities to which I have been referring—a chapter scarcely, I believe, equalled in the world's history; and in making this statement I can quote such authorities as the Archbishop of Canterbury, Sir Conan Doyle, and many others, and the Foreign Secretary has said in regard to the feeling which has been excited in this country upon this question:— I think it is not too much to say that no external question for at least 30 years has moved the country so strongly and vehemently. I feel that the great consequences of this line of conduct apart altogether from its humanitarian aspect—and that I dwell upon very strongly—have dangers greater in the present position than we should have realised if we had been firm in our determination to see the treaty rights carried out from the first. What is the position to-day, as we once more debate this question in the House? What has been promised? We shall be told no doubt that the Colonial Minister has promised that from 1st July natives in one half of the Congo will be free to sell their products and their labour. May I quote a sentence or two from an article in the "Nineteenth Century" by one of the greatest friends of downtrodden nationalities. It is well to note that the portion of the Congo where the economic liberties of the native, solemnly guaranteed twenty-five years ago by the signatory Powers of the Berlin Act, are at length to be restored, includes, for its major part, the basis of the Kasai. The races of the Kasai now furnish one-half of the rubber which is exported from the Congo. They furnish it through the medium of a Rubber Trust named the Kasai Company, in which the Belgian Government holds half the shares. There is no hint of the suppression of that Trust, and without its suppression, energetically called for by Count Thesiger in his report, the publication of which involves the British Government in an endorsement of their Consul's demand, the concession is meaningless, for no independent merchant could compete against so powerful a rival which has established an organised terrorism in the country. Now that article in the "Nineteenth Century" bears the signature of Mr. Morell. Therefore, if we are told, after waiting all this time, this is the sum and substance of the concession that has been made, I think that unless some different aspect can be put upon it we shall find that it is practically of no value. As long as the Belgian Government is prepared to make no redress for past wrongs the system under which they gather their revenues must remain. I believe it is the practice of European countries generally to subsidise in the first few years of their occupation these growing nationalities. If I am asked whether the atrocities connected with this terrible traffic have not ceased, I say they have to a very large extent, but not wholly, so far as the actual cruelties by mutilation and shooting are concerned. But the greatest of all the atrocities remains as long as this system of forced labour remains, and my contention is that it grows, rather than decreases, because the natives must have increased difficulty year by year to bring the tale of rubber which is expected at their hands. This system violates the essential principles of civilisation as well as it violates the treaties which we are bound to see carried through. Why then have we permitted this? If I am asked how I know it continues, well, the returns of rubber which come from time to time, show there is no reduction in the quantity which the natives of Kasai are compelled to gather. It would perhaps be one of the greatest benefits for this downtrodden people if some trading company could be formed to try conclusions with the Belgians upon their right to exclude them under treaty. I know I shall be met by my right hon. Friend with the question, as we have been met before, "Do you want a war?" I am a man of peace, but I do want justice. We have the right to demand justice, when we have taken the responsibility which we have taken under these treaties. I want that this nation should stand before the world as one which, when it undertakes obligations, is prepared to discharge them to downtrodden people, just the same as it would to the most highly-civilised people on the face of the earth. Why, there are no greater risks now than when my right hon. Friend used the following words:— …In dealing with another subject yesterday I had occasion to speak of the impossibility of taking isolated action which would be effective. I do not place any such limitations upon us in regard to the matter of the Congo…. Separate action we are prepared to take on behalf of British treaty rights and British interests. I ask my right hon. Friend how he was prepared to take isolated action? He had, no doubt, before his mind some methods by which, under certain circumstances, he would be prepared to take this isolated action, and therefore I ask him not to revert back to the questions of those of us who have debated the matter, but to take the responsibility which he was prepared to take then. Speaking, as I believe I do, for millions of the people of this country, I do protest against any fresh delay in dealing with this question. There is a difficulty perhaps which diplomatists labour under. There is some fear that other nations, who themselves are parties to this treaty, would oppose our seeing that our treaty rights are observed. I cannot believe it. I believe that in a matter of this sort, where there is no doubt of what our rights are, that they would rather co-operate, and of this I feel confident, that Germany is in no sense opposed, and would be in no sense opposed, to any legitimate action we might take to enforce our rights. I am not so confident about France. Indeed, I am not sure, if we knew all the facts of this matter, whether we might not find that France has been the stumbling-block. But I will say no more about that. I believe this, that with greater courage this question might have been settled long ago if we had demanded a change in the system, an absolute reversal of the system. If we had made that demand then we could have seen that it was immediately, or with reasonable alacrity, complied with. The Foreign Secretary told us, and probably may tell us again, that it would be of very serious consequence if the annexation is not recognised, is not acknowledged, but, at any rate, he gave them until the end of December to do so, and we hope there are some Papers to lay on the Table to show that something has been done. So far we have seen nothing; we have seen no Consular report since January, 1909. I do not know the reason, but, at any rate, I know none has been published. With the Bishop of Southwark, I venture to say what is really at issue is the reputation both of England and Europe. There was a time at least when this House had some sentiment upon these great questions, and here is a subject which I venture to say ought to move us to our very depths, long as it has been before this House and before the country. The responsibility is on our shoulders, we shall undoubtedly suffer, if he have not already suffered, in our reputation before the nations of Europe, and we shall certainly lose our name as lovers of freedom, and as those who are determined to see their responsibilities discharged. I ask, therefore, that my right hon. Friend, and I trust he will be able to give us some assurance that the prestige of this nation is not lowered by the detailed circumstances which I have put before the House, that he has been able, ultimately and however late, to get some substantial promise, and a promise which he will be able to see carried out, that we will put an end to one of the darkest chapters which the civilisation of this world has ever seen.


In rising tonight to make a few observations upon this Motion, I would like to express the satisfaction which those on this side of the House take at the very friendly remarks made concerning a distinguished Member of this party, Lord Percy, who took such a deep interest in this question, and who was so outspoken in regard to the responsibilities which this country possesses regarding the administration of the Congo. It is one of the great characteristics of this Parliament, one of its highest traditions, that the Foreign Minister shall be supported by both sides of the House, and that foreign policy shall be lifted above party feeling and party contest. I think the right hon. Gentleman the Minister for Foreign Affairs will agree that on this question he has had the unanimous support of this House. Seldom has a voice been raised in these Debates, now occurring for many years, which attempted to defend the administration of the Congo, and which did not give support to the Government's Foreign Ministers in their representations and in their efforts to accomplish what was desired by this Parliament. Resolution after Resolution, statement after statement, promise after promise, have been made in this House. We have had, in the remarkable, lucid, and comprehensive speech from the hon. Member who has just sat down a statement which must cause every humanitarian, every good parliamentarian, every man who loves nationality of any kind, distress and unalleviated anxiety. I say to the right hon. Gentleman the Foreign Minister that if he can carry us no further than he found us at the end of last year, in November last, and if these are the fruits of diplomacy, then I prefer less promises and greater fruition. I believe in saying so, I represent, as the hon. Gentleman who last spoke did, the unanimous opinion of this House and the general feeling in the country. If it were the case we had no rights, even then our humanitarianism, as it may be called, could not be open to question. The atrocities have been so great, the wrongs to civilisation have been so intense, the degradation of civilised administration has been so apparent, that we would be justified in any protest we made in this House or in this Parliament against the administration in the Congo.

What is the situation? Is it any better? I suppose the right hon. Gentleman will point out, as the hon. Member (Sir G. White) indicated, that certain reforms have been made. Perhaps the Committee will allow me to briefly state the position, as there are many new Members in this House who have not shared in these Debates. There are fundamental errors, fundamental vices, in the administration of the Congo. They have always existed from the beginning in spite of the clear and definite provisions of the Berlin Act. In the first place, the Belgian Government, and apparently the Belgian people, hold that the Congo is simply an extension of Belgium and Belgian territory. Then it is not an African Protectorate. The distinction ought very carefully to be made, because when we take over a native country, with its native laws land tenure, and customs, we take it over as a Protectorate, the idea being to protect the natives in their rights, to give them civilisation, to give them the advantage of trade, and so lift them in the sphere of humanity. There is not, I believe, a single instance in British history of any other course having been pursued. I will take the three great chartered companies—the Hudsons Bay Company, the Nigerian Company, and the Rhodesian Chartered Company. What is the difference of these companies in their administration and the administration of the Congo in the old days and the Congo of to-day? If you take the Hudsons Bay Company you find it said to the natives of British North America: "You own this land, you own the products of this soil, you possess it; if we are to get possession of any of it it must be by fair treaty and by fair deal with you." They might have said to the natives of British North America: "You are going to be taxed in order that this country shall be administered, and you shall go out and bring in skins and pay taxes in that way." Did they do it? No. The Hudsons Bay Company said to the natives of British North America: "You go out and collect skins, and we will give you in return goods that your new standard of comfort and of living will demand." That is what they did, and you cannot point to a single abuse in all the history of that country of native rights, of native tenure, and of native law and custom. The same holds good in Nigeria. Every page in the history of our development of Nigeria is infinitely to the credit of the British people. The same with Rhodesia. The pages are all open for the people of this country and of all countries to read. What is the difference? We hold that the native has rights in the land, has rights in the product of the soil, and we make it possible for him to become a trader.

How are the natives of the Congo treated as to land tenure? It is called Belgian territory, and the products of the soil, as well as the land itself, belong to the people of Belgium. They come to the native and say: "We require so much for administration under this Reform Budget presented to the Belgian Parliament, a sum of £839,000, you go out and get it," having taxed them besides that for about £300,000, for levies for food, for the officers of the Belgian and native forces there. We have been promised, and this is one of the reforms, that these levies shall now be paid for—paid for in what? Paid for in coin? The native has no chance to develop trade, because Free Trade in the Congo is not admitted. Little by little it is to be admitted, but the day is distant, and it is only in part of the territory instead of the whole; and meanwhile the concessionaire companies and the great trusts remain, pursuing their system of forced labour. If anyone examines these reforms it must be seen that they are absolutely illusory—at any rate they do not satisfy us, and they ought not to satisfy the Foreign Minister. I was one of those who, for a number of years before Belgian annexation occurred, said that this Government would make a dangerous mistake, a mistake fraught with great evils to its own prestige and to our national honour, if it did not secure from the Belgian Government guarantees that necessary acknowledged reforms should take place, and that the rights of the natives should be established beyond all doubt and question. I speak sympathetically, knowing the difficulties and obstructions that have been in his path, but I believe that if the Foreign Minister has made any mistakes in his administration this is the greatest that has occurred. However little he may be to blame, however great may have been the forces arrayed against him diplomatically, I say it is a pity that England, with the position that she has held in the comity of nations, should not have been able, when she had indefeasible rights behind her, and a position won by centuries of just treatment and fair negotiations with other nations, to accomplish her ends. The whole of England has been aroused, as probably it has never been aroused since the days of Wilberforce. Behind the right hon. Gentleman have stood both parties and the whole nation. He himself has used most splendid language, saying that unless guarantees were given annexation would not be recognised. Annexation has not been recognised, but no guarantees of any kind have been given. Is the right hon. Gentleman satisfied with that position?

We cannot now enforce our rights or compel Belgium to accomplish that which she gave assurances would be accomplished, without action which must necessarily be much more rigid and stringent than any action which would have been taken before annexation was accomplished in the Belgian Parliament. I do not know whether it is now possible, without action which might be considered almost belligerent, to secure from Belgium the guarantees so long delayed. But that is no reason why we, having been deceived by the course of events, having been deceived by assurances, having had our hopes roused by statements by the Foreign Minister, should not say that even now strong and decisive action should be taken.

Mr. J. D. REES

Belligerent action?


I do not suggest that England would go to war with Belgium. The hon. Gentleman is very ready to twist my sentence. I say that action which would be considered on our part perfectly fair diplomatic and national action might be considered belligerent action on the part of Belgium. That is possible; but that action might not be in-itself either belligerent or intentionally warlike, as the hon. Gentleman, with his great experience of government, knows as well as I do. The Foreign Minister in the last Debate on this question led us to hope that, as there was a change as he indicated in Belgian feeling, as fresh knowledge came to the Belgian people through the Belgian Parliament, as the Colonial Minister got his first-hand knowledge, we should find a real change in the administration of the Congo, and that we should receive assurances which would be equivalent to guarantees. I hope the right hon. Gentleman has received such assurances. But if the Congo represents reform I do not think that either this House or the right hon. Gentleman himself can be in the least satisfied. It still compels by forced labour £839,000 out of something over a million pounds of revenue, and the remainder of that revenue is got not through the regular courses of trade, but by taxes on Government importations themselves. There is practically no trade in the Congo, particularly in the rubber portions. It is all taxation—the gathering of the fruits of the earth by the hands of the people, who are forced to gather those fruits under the plea that they are receiving the benefits of civilisation. Not a single traveller from the territories where rubber is gathered has ever suggested that there are any signs of civilisation among the people who have by forced labour been compelled to provide the revenue for the administration of the Congo.

I am certain the right hon. Gentleman will give us all the information he can, but I would make this appeal to him, believing that in doing so I do not misrepresent Members on this side of the House. We have come to a time when really strong action is necessary. When behind strong diplomatic action there lies the convinced feelings of a people and of civilisation generally, diplomacy need not proceed to the activities of belligerancy. Every person knows well that one nation which does wrong cannot do that wrong continuously against the consensus of opinion of mankind. I believe that the consensus of opinion of civilised mankind is against the present administration of the Congo as it was against that administration in the days when King Leopold was alive, because there are as yet no signs of any real reform. With that in my mind I trust sincerely that the right hon. Gentleman will be able to give us who have lost hope some hope, and to give us who are on the verge of despair some light in this darkness; if It is in the power of England to set this matter right. She has the United States beside her, and will have Germany, at least in sympathy. I think that we are entitled to expect that after all these years of negotiation and diplomacy some better result should proceed from the power and influence of England, sustained as it is by its unchallengable and unchallenged rights—except on the part of Belgium itself.


I must ask the indulgence which I believe the House always extends to a new Member addressing it for the first time, and I am glad to have the opportunity of rising on a question where the ordinary lines of party feeling do not run. We have been told with great truth by the hon. Gentleman the Member for Gravesend that this is a question on which the united support of the public has been behind, I believe, the Foreign Secretary. I am told by those who know that something like fifteen or sixteen Debates on this subject have taken place across the floor of the House of Commons. This is in itself evidence enough of how protracted the struggle has been to secure anything like right, justice, and freedom for the Congo natives. That has not been because the nation has been divided. This question has never been a party question. It has never been the monopoly of a denomination. I believe I am right in saying that all the churches of this country without distinction have been behind the Foreign Office in the endeavour to get respect paid to the treaties under which we stand. It is certainly true that in all the great towns' meetings that we have had, that as a rule the mayor has been in the chair. These towns' meetings were not party meetings, and were not so in order that we might illustrate the fact that the whole public opinion and conviction of the English people demands that their treaty rights should be respected. Indeed, I can imagine a cynic might very well say, Well, we can win party victories, but it would seem when the cause is so obviously just that it commands the united support of all sections of the public that then the cause is most desperate." It is unnecessary that we should reargue the justice of this case, or I think the obligations under which this nation lies to insist on its treaty rights being observed. The curious thing is that it is only of late that we have heard from Belgium itself some very distinct challenges as to our rights of intervention at all. I believe the House will agree with me that no greater menace to British credit, reputation, interest and honour has of late been known than this deliberate challenge to our right of intervention which has been accepted by our Foreign Secretary, and spoken of in public for so many years. As the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Norfolk told us, it was only in November last that the Prime Minister reminded his audience in the Guildhall that "the Congo represents a Territory and population towards which we have undertaken a most solemn responsibility." Nobody in this House has insisted on how solemn these responsibilities are more than the Foreign Secretary and the Prime Minister. Our honour was engaged at the very initiation of the Congo Free State for the guarantee of the freedom and the humane treatment of the natives of that territory. It is not a very welcome thought to some of us that through all the years of outrage, when every Consular report was a perfect surfeit of horrors, that our pledges for the freedom of the natives should have so worked out.

10.0 P.M.

As little doubt remains of the facts of the case as of the nature of our treaty obligations. In point of fact, I believe I am right in saying that officially, at any rate, we have never pleaded doubt as to the facts. No attempt has been made on the part of our Foreign Office to reduce the gravity of the charges against the Congo administration. We put in no plea of ignorance. We were not deceived by King Leopold's methods or the complexion the negotiations between the Foreign Office of this country and Belgium's Foreign Office have assumed throughout the whole case, which some of us are presenting again to this House tonight. As to what that case is, let me again put it as briefly and shortly as I can, and then ask the House in a few words whether the present policy since the annexation shows any reasonable grounds of belief that the situation has changed for the better.

Our case is that under the famous or infamous decrees of 1891–2 a gigantic system of slavery was established over an area of 900,000 square miles of Central Africa, and all the while British credit was pledged to the hilt to guarantee the freedom of the natives. By these decrees what was called the Congo Free State perpetuated a trade of colossal theft. Without any pretence of bargaining, and by a mere stroke of a pen, they have destroyed all the rights of the natives in the soil, have extinguished all the tribal and communal properties, have appropriated to a European country and to European companies all the products and mineral wealth of the land. They have reduced the natives to beggary and dependence. All this was preparatory, as we know, to forcing them to harvest the products of their own alienated soil, not for their own benefit, but for the benefit of the Europeans who have founded the Congo Free State in order, as they said, to furnish the world with an example of Christian civilisation. That is our case. We base the whole of our arguments on what happened under the decrees of 1891–2. I do not for a moment dwell upon the fact that the fiercest and most savage tribesmen were enrolled in order that this system of tyranny might be worked. I only refer to it for the moment because I propose to put a question in regard to this native army later on. But the result was a tragedy of which the grim horror has never really been realised, and which I venture to say can never truly be told. That tragedy was the result of a system. It is impossible to have that system without a tragedy of that kind. The Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs described it in the most candid way. He said it was "slavery pure and simple," and "indistinguishable from slavery." Yet the hard and unwelcome fact remains that it has existed and borne its bitter fruit over all these years in the vast territory where we had pledged British credit and honour to the hilt to secure just and humane treatment to the natives. Let me ask the House, how has the situation changed? I think we may say that the situation has changed, but that the system so far has not changed. It is quite true that since the death of King Leopold much has happened, and that at the present time the Belgium Government have got embarrassments on their hands which are due to the legacy bequeathed to them by that very subtle and unsavoury person. There is a new king on whom great hopes are centred. The Belgian Government has annexed the Congo, and for the last eighteen months must have the responsibility for all that has occurred. The Colonial Minister has paid a visit to the Congo; there have been flags and parades and banquets and all the rest of it, and there has been a good deal of talk about reforms—reforms which I think it is only fair to say there is good reason to believe the Belgian people themselves desire, and which a very strong and growing party in their House of Representatives has been fighting for magnificently for many years. There is no disposition, so far as I know, either in this House or out of it, to be impatient with the Belgian people. There is no disposition, so far as I know, to minimise the difficulty of the situation; but this we say, that eighteen months ought to be time enough to give proof of good faith in this matter, and to give effect to the proposals they have made. I venture to think that to their policy we could apply three tests as to its sincerity. The first would be as to their relation to the decrees of 1891 and 1892; the second would be as to their attitude to the native army which was organised that it might be the instrument for King Leopold's tyranny; and the third is what has been referred to as to their willingness to come into line and approve the policy of every other great nation in regard to the financing of this tropical dependency. If we apply these tests to the present proposals of reform, what do we find? We find that Belgium does not go back upon the fundamental injustice of those decrees declaring the land to be vacant and appropriated for every Belgian purpose, though I venture to call it a monstrous alienation of the native rights. It is quite true, as the hon. Member for Gravesend told us, we are assured now that the natives are to have permission to benefit by the fruits of the soil. They are to have, at any rate, the right to sell their own labour, and to a certain extent the right to trade, in the provinces, but we want to point out that there is no security of tenure, that if their lands are alienated there is no security that they cannot be evicted at any time. There is no security under the present arrangement that would not allow a repetition and perpetuation of the existing miseries of the present time. We take also the strongest possible exception to the postponement of the day of redress. Over half the Congo it is to be postponed until next July twelve month. Over a large portion it is to be postponed until two years from next July, and let us remember that for eighteen months this system has been perpetuated under the Belgian Government, and we venture to think that the time ought to come at once when this servitude shall be ended.

Then I would also like to refer to the question of the native right to trade, and I would point out that the natives' right to trade depends upon the bonâ fide right of the white man to trade with the natives. I should like to ask the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether he is satisfied that even with a contemplated reduction of the various dues and customs, Belgium is still not making it practically impossible for white people to trade in the Congo. Does the right hon. Gentleman think that there is a reasonable possibility of anything like profitable trade and the opening up in the country of the free commerce that was guaranteed. I should also like to put a second question in regard to the native array. It was organised, as I say, to be the instrument of the tyranny of King Leopold. It was consequently organised on a scale which is absolutely ridiculous, if you compare it with the native army employed by any other nation for the purpose of keeping order among the natives they control. Has there been given any sort of guarantee that that native army will be reduced. Then in regard to the financing of the Congo I think it has been pointed out already that they are proposing to take out of the Congo by that Budget something like £800,000, and one could give a humorous catalogue of the various methods by which this money is to be spent in the Belgian capital. The fact is that by the sweat of forced labour in the Congo they are prepared to make up some of the luxuries of the Belgian people. I only add one more word. There is undoubtedly throughout the country a growing sense of disappointment at the ineffectiveness of our representations. Every year, as it appears to us, the Belgian Government takes a bolder and a bolder tone. This challenge to our rights to intervene, to our right, even, to be heard upon this question, is a new tone coming from the Government in this matter. We could give quotations from the leading statesmen of our country who have insisted again that we have never sacrificed and never surrendered our right to intervene in this matter. I venture to think it is a very serious matter for the British credit and for the British reputation in Europe, and we cannot surrender our right of intervention now. The Foreign Secretary may tell us that simple and reiterated language in dispatch after dispatch as to the reforms that are required in the Congo is a very futile and perhaps a pusillanimous policy. Upon that I pronounce no opinion, but I say that the nation outside this House is waiting with a great deal of eagerness and earnestness to know what the Foreign Secretary is going to say and what the Foreign Secretary is going to do. I do not suppose that I am a very great authority upon the value of the mailed fist in politics. Whenever I discuss the question of the Army and the Navy with my friends they always tell me the great advantage a large Army and Navy give is that they increase our weight in the councils of Europe. We are shortly to be asked in this House to vote a very great increase in the British Navy. I should like to know personally how many extra "Dreadnoughts" we shall have to build in order to secure the recognition of our treaty rights and to see that our word is respected in the councils of Europe. Personally I do not believe it is additional material weight we need; I believe it is additional moral weight we need. I believe that the great loss is the loss of the old English spirit—something of that fidelity and loyalty to the cause of the poor and the weak and the oppressed which once made the British nation not only respected, but feared throughout the world. And we want to say, if we may, to the Members of his Majesty's Government and to the Foreign Secretary that we regard this matter as a matter which is going to test the reality of the English character and English spirit, and we beseech them to understand our sense of how deeply British credit and British honour are involved in this matter of the Congo.


In my maiden speech I desire to make a few remarks on this subject, for the simple reason that, although I have not actually been in the Congo, I have been close to it, and I happen to know something of the feeling of the natives and the white man as to what goes on in that country. Let me say at the outset how heartily I agree with all that has fallen from the previous speakers on this subject. In order not to waste time, I will take it for granted that the atrocities described in this country and placed before this House are true, and that our responsibility is a real responsibility. What remains to be done? To go to the Belgian Government and ask them to give guarantees that these atrocities shall not be continued, to ask them to see that the rights of the natives shall be recognised? We want something more than that. You may go to the present Government and get those guarantees, you may get the promise that the rights of the natives shall be recognised, and when you have got all that you will not get any very great benefit, so far as the natives are concerned.

Let me make one definite suggestion that we should place before the Belgian Government, and ask if they can see their way to grant it. In our own administration of natives we have never tried to get labour through the chiefs of the native tribes. When I was in the Transvaal, and we required labour for the mines on the Rand, between 60 and 70 per cent. of the native labour employed there came direct from Portuguese territory. We did not send our recruiters into Portuguese territory to the chiefs purposely, but we sent them straight to the natives them-selves, and recruited them from the various kraals and districts in Portuguese territory. The fault of the system of the Belgian administration in the Congo is that they endeavour to get their forced labour through the chiefs of the tribes, who ought to look after the interests of their own people. It has been proved over and over again that the Belgian officials go to these chiefs and say that they want the labour to get a certain amount of rubber, and the chiefs are paid to get it, and they administer punishments for not producing the sufficiency of rubber that the Belgians require. That is obvious from the very nature of the atrocities about which we are talking, and the punishments that are inflicted. They are not European punishments but essentially native punishments. When Lobengula was King of the Matebele he used to administer justice according to his lights. If a thief was brought before him and convicted, the sentence was that one hand should be cut of; if he was convicted a second time the other hand would be cut off in order that he should not be able to thieve in the future. That is the native system of punishment, and if Europeans go and endeavour to administer the country through the chiefs of the tribes, you will find the chiefs of those tribes administer the usual atrocities in the way of punishments in order to get their orders obeyed. I do not intend to take up the time of the House, but I would submit that something definite, at any rate in this direction must be done. The real protector of the native is his chief. In the more uncivilised country he does not trust the white man at all. A great deal of evidence undoubtedly comes from natives. I should myself from contact with them, be disinclined to agree with evidence that is submitted by the, natives themselves. For instance, when I was on the border of the Congo, it was absolutely in the minds of the natives, and they believed in their very hearts that white men for their breakfast, lunch, and dinner had a regular meal on black babies. That is perfectly true, and nothing could be done to get it out of their minds. They do not look to the white European at all for protection; they look only to their own chiefs to look after their interests. Well, then, I submit that those chiefs are already bought, suborned by the Europeans who are endeavouring to administer the country. If in many cases, as has happened, the chiefs do not obey the commands of the white people and they are removed and other chiefs who will administer the country more to the idea of the European are put in charge of the tribes, then I submit that the chief of these tribes should be absolutely divorced from any administration of the white people. They should be put in a position to be able to appeal in the name of their tribe and in the name of the natives who go to them for protection to the highest Government, to the Government of the State, and, if necessary, to the Government in Europe, against any infliction of injustice that might take place within their knowledge on their territory. They are the natural protectors of their own people, and until you get the chiefs divorced from the administration of the white man, until you get them in a position quite apart from getting this labour and put them in such a way that they can appeal from the administration of the Government as they see it done, you are not going to get any benefit to their country purely from guarantees or a recognition of the rights of the natives from the Belgian Government.


I should very much like to say something about the Congo, because I am one of those who have been interested in the subject for a long time, but I think at this hour I cannot stand between the House and the right hon. Gentleman. I should just like, however, to ask one or two questions. Does the Belgian Government recognise that the natives have any rights whatever in this land? I believe the Belgian Government against all evidence asserts that the natives have no notions whatever of property and no rights whatever in their land, although I understand that some of the more advanced tribes of the Congo have a very advanced land system and very considerable ideas as to their own rights in the land. Then I would like to ask the right hon. Gentleman whether the Belgian Government have or have not made any effort to suppress this terrible system of forced labour, which the right hon. Gentleman himself has described as indistinguishable from slavery. Does the Belgian Budget, which is passed this year, propose to wring from these people the enormous sum mentioned by the hon. Member for Norfolk (Sir G. White)? I think he said £890,000 was to be wrung from their labour towards the expense of carrying on the Government. I think most of us were pleased at the idea of annexation; I believe the right hon. Gentleman himself thought it would be a good thing, because it would involve the sweeping away of slavery, and if Belgium were true to her responsibilities she would finance the country until it became self-supporting. Instead of that having resulted we know that the old terrible system regarding the natives still obtains. While large revenues are being drawn from the country, while various companies rejoice in declaring highly satisfactory dividends, while their shares stand at enormous premiums, the natives have to supply food gratuitously for the soldiers and the staff, and are continually fleeced, the one idea of the Belgian Government being to make money out of the country. Is it not the fact that the population is rapidly decreasing, and in some districts almost disappearing? The Belgian Government has declared that the cost of the enterprise must be paid entirely by the Congo. But I want to know if there is any evidence in this once prosperous community of that civilising influence which under the name of Almighty God was to be applied to the country. Has anything been done for the benefit of the people? Are they not still downtrodden at every point? It was supposed that annexation would mean freedom for the slaves, but that has certainly not been the result. No doubt the right hon. Gentleman has done his best, but the Belgian Government apparently resents foreign intervention, and refuses to listen to our suggestions. Still, I hope the right hon. Gentleman will be able to tell us that something has been done, and that he intends to take stringent action so that our name and our honour may no longer be made a laughing stock.


The first two speakers in this Debate expressed the feeling of regret which they felt at the fact that Lord Percy was no longer with us. I should like to associate myself in the closest way with that expression of regret. No man ever took a more high-minded disinterested part in our proceedings, and as long as I am a Member of this House I shall always remember with admiration the part which he took in our proceedings, and I shall not cease to regret his absence from among us. He was a great loss, and in some ways an irreparable loss, not only to this House, but to the public life of this country. The subject of the Congo has been often debated in this House, and I am not surprised that in the Debate this evening the abuses of the past have again been dwelt upon, and dwelt upon in severe terms. I am quite aware that constant reiteration in our Debates by speakers in this House of their condemnation of the rule in the Congo under the old régime creates a certain amount of irritation in some quarters abroad, but even at the risk of that, so grave and so bad was the state of things that nobody has any right to expect that it should not continue to be condemned in this House till, at any rate, the effects of it have entirely passed away, and no one has any right to expect that even people in a position of responsibility, and therefore of limited freedom, which I hold, should in any way attempt to palliate the condemnation which has been justly passed upon it. I have no criticism whatever to make upon the condemnation of the past, but in condemning the past I have always kept in view that what the House desire and what the Government desire is to see it put right, and that we have had no object in passing these strictures upon the past of a political nature of our own, nothing but a desire which anyone who knew the facts and who had any feeling of humanity must have experienced, and a feeling of impatience that the thing should be put an end to.

Then, with regard to our treaty responsibilities, I do not want to whittle those down or to make out that they do not exist. Nor do I want for a moment to suggest that we ought to take a light or otherwise than a severe view of them; but it is fair to bear in mind that those treaty responsibilities are not greater upon us than they are upon some other nations, and the fact that they are treated as responsibilities which are shared with other nations must be borne in mind as necessarily limitations upon our actions, as far as those particular responsibilities which we share with other nations are concerned. Let anyone read the Berlin Act, read it carefully through, with its limiting clauses, and they will see that, although the Berlin Act conveys responsibilities, there is something more than treaty responsibility. There are also the limiting rights which the treaty confers, and if you stand upon the Berlin Act alone, you will find that serious questions are raised by certain parts of that Act as to how far it is in the power of any one Power alone who is a party to it to take the execution of the Act into its own hands, without applying for the mediation of the others or for arbitration. Therefore there are limitations on our action in these very treaties which confer this obligation. I do not ignore the fact that we have a separate treaty with regard to the Congo State, and therefore I do not say that the provisions of the Berlin Act put any limitation upon our own action, but if the Berlin Act was the only one upon which our responsibility is put, I would point out that that is not the strongest ground upon which we have to go.


May I ask if the right hon. Gentleman's reference to isolated action in certain contingencies referred to our several responsibilities in connection with our individual agreement?


I will come to the question of isolated action afterwards. When isolated action was being pressed by some speakers they referred to nothing else but the Berlin Act, and I wanted to point out that as far as isolated action is concerned anyone who studies the Berlin Act will see that, although it conveys responsibilities, it also has in it limitations which are a considerable bar to isolated action if it was based on the ground of that Act. How did we approach this question when we first came into office? I never attempted to palliate the state of things which we found existing at the time. The question we had to ask ourselves was, the state of things being so bad, who is going to put it right. Not ourselves. It is not as if the Congo had been a British possession which had been lent or given to anyone else. It has never been a British possession. We have no intention of making it a British possession. If it had been a question of taking over the Congo ourselves, of course the matter would have been a very simple one if that had been within the bounds of practical politics, or within the view of British policy. But every British Government has declared that it was not intended to assume political responsibilities in the Congo itself, or to extend its own responsibilities, or to acquire any territory. Therefore it was not ourselves who were to step into the Congo and put things right. Who was going to do it? The one country which had the prior right to take it in hand and which showed some disposition to take it it in hand was Belgium, and we undoubtedly encouraged that solution of the question, amongst other reasons, not only because it was the most favourable, but because it was the only apparent solution which was possible. It would have been comparatively easy to upset the existing state of things in the Congo, but that is not the same thing as putting it right. It was not enough to displace the old régime in the Congo. We wanted to have someone else there who would take things over and put things right. So long as Belgium showed a disposition to do that no one was prepared to question her prior right, and I look forward with hope and expectation to the possibility of that solution of the question, and undoubtedly the Government did encourage the solution of the annexation by Belgium.

Before I proceed further, let me speak with appreciation of the maiden speech of the hon. Member (Mr. Silvester Home), which showed that he will make valuable contributions to our Debates, and which was clearly most welcome to the House, and let me especially express appreciation of the tone in which he spoke of the present Sovereign of the Belgians and the disposition of the Belgian people. Perhaps I might also congratulate the hon. Member (Mr. J. C. Lyttelton). He comes to us with freshness and knowledge of the subject. I was especially glad that the hon. Member (Mr. Home) approached the Belgian part of the question with the sympathetic reference which he did make to the feeling of the Belgian people. It is in itself a most favourable change that the government of the Congo should have passed into the hands of a free people and a Government which is responsible to a free Parliament. The hon. Member for Gravesend (Sir Gilbert Parker), and, I think, the hon. Member for Norfolk (Sir George White), said that we ought not to have allowed that to take place until we had guarantees that everything was to be put right. I have always said that we would not recognise the annexation of the Congo unless it was taken over on terms which left those who took it over in a position to give us guarantees and assurances that it would be put right. When I said that I was thinking of the possibility of the Congo being taken over by the Belgian Government from its previous ruler on terms which would not put the Belgian Government in a position to deal freely with the future of the Congo and to change its system. There were no restrictions of that kind. The Belgian Government took it over completely, and the Belgian Government is in a position if it wishes to give these assurances and to change the system. It is in the position, and it has the power. There is no limitation upon it to prevent it doing so. So far as that particular condition is concerned, the Congo being taken over by the Belgians on conditions which would enable the Belgian Government to do what was right if they so desired, that has been accomplished. But the hon. Member for Norfolk says that we ought not to have allowed that to take place, and the hon. Member for Gravesend says that we ought to have prevented it. How were we not to have allowed it, or how were we to have prevented it? The hon. Member for Gravesend seems to think that we have given our position away by not preventing it taking place. You cannot outside your own dominions say that you will prevent something happening or not allow something to happen unless you are prepared to resort to forcible measures. I cannot agree with the hon. Member for Gravesend that our position has been at all weakened by what has happened. He seems to think that because somehow or other the Belgians have taken over the Congo we are therefore in a weaker position than we were. I do not think we are in a weaker position at all. We could only have prevented the Congo from being taken over by some sort of belligerent action, and whatever action of that kind would have been open to us to prevent it being taken over is open to us still if our treaty rights are violated. If we had recognised the annexation before we were satisfied that things were going to be put right we should have been in that position. I admit that we should have weakened our position, but that is precisely what we have not done. Either for us or any future British Government, as long as the annexation is not recognised, the position remains open, and it will be possible either for this Government or any future British Government, if our treaty rights are not satisfied, not only to continue not to recognise the annexation, but to regard that question as an open one. We have in no way weakened our own position or that of any other. It is open either to this or any future British Government to take any steps which they may think the honour of this country requires.

What, then, is the position at the present time? I said some time ago that we could not recognise the annexation so long as the greater part of the native population were obliged to labour compulsorily for the greater part of the year under the guise of taxation, and as long as the greater part of the country was still closed to trade. Now, is the prospect better?

The Belgian Government have, as far as their programme is concerned, made a very great advance on anything that we have had before. They have introduced their programme for a few years ahead and their Budget for the ensuing year. They propose to throw open entirely to trade about one-half of the Congo next July. A further large portion is to be thrown open in July, 1911, and the rest is to be thrown open in July, 1912. I am going to state what the Belgian Government's proposals are first, without commenting on them. My comments will come later. I want the House first to understand what is proposed. In all these places, as soon as they are thrown open after next July, the natives will have the right to labour and to gather the products of the soil and sell them to merchants in the same way as if those products belonged to them in full ownership. In the next place the Belgian Government intend to facilitate commerce by a reduction of the fiscal charges on commercial establishments, and by making the sale of land easy to those who want to trade with the Congo. Every possible facility, they have stated, will be given to encourage trade, and large numbers of applications have been already received for land, and greater publicity is to be given to the conditions in order to encourage further applications. They are going to open new lines of navigation on the principal waterways. They are going to take further steps to introduce money into the country. The equivalent of a million more francs, at any rate, is to be provided for in the present Budget, and there are other smaller reforms, such as giving subsistence allowances instead of payments in kind to officials, so that they will purchase what they require for their subsistence instead of having to levy them by taxation. With regard to taxes on the natives, the taxes in labour and produce are to come to an end in the whole of the Congo by July, 1912, and they come to an end as regards half of it next July, and the taxes per head are to be reduced. Of course the taxes in kind have been one of the great causes of much of the evil in the Congo. With their disappearance must disappear one of the greatest evils existing in the Congo, that is the forced collection of produce for the revenue of the State. Then with regard to forced labour itself, forced labour on public works, that is to be brought to an end in a limited time by the process that as the terms of service of those now engaged in that way expire no new persons will be engaged in that way, but their places can be taken by labour engaged voluntarily. That system has been established already as regards the first section of the Great Lakes Railway, which is one of the most important works which the Belgian Government have on hand.

That is the programme. Now let me comment upon it. It is not a completely satisfactory programme. First of all, though part of the Congo is to be opened to trade next July, there is to be two years' delay before the whole is opened, and I do not see why there should be that long delay with regard to the whole. But suppose you were to take up that point of delay in opening the Congo to trade, taking it from the commercial point of view, and to say that you desired them to arbitrate on that particular point, it is doubtful whether your arbitration would have come to an end by the time your two years had expired; and if within the two years the change that is promised is entirely carried out it will amount to a complete change of system in the Congo, which ought to go a very long way towards a satisfaction of the treaty rights. I have another comment to make on the present programme. A great deal must depend upon the actual personnel of the officials of the Congo who have the carrying out of these reforms. On paper the programme really does go a very long way, but a great deal depends on the good will of officials of the Congo, and as long as the Government is carried on entirely or mainly by officials who have been habituated to the old régime, then the Belgian Government must not expect us to feel that confidence which we should desire, and to feel that confidence which I believe they wish us to feel, that speedy results will follow from the change of system which they have announced. I believe it to be their intention to introduce into the Congo officials, who will not be under the influence of habits acquired under the old régime, and who will be sent there in good faith, to carry out the reforms which have been named in the spirit in which I believe they are intended. And I have a third comment to make on the programme, which is this: The programme does not apply to areas under the concessionaire. The hon. Member for Norfolk used the word "atrocities," and asked if these violations and atrocities had diminished in the Colonies. I believe from what I can gather so far, in the part which is directly under the Government itself, already the state of things is considerably improved, but I am not prepared to say what may be happening in the area under the concessionary companies. The concessionary companies have no right to forced labour, and if they have no right to forced labour it ought not to be very difficult to make terms with them, provided the law is strictly enforced. The Belgian Government themselves say that they are examining what arrangements can be made with the concessionary companies in order to bring their areas more into line with the general system which they intend to introduce into the rest of the Congo. The hon. Member for Norfolk pointed out quite rightly that, according to our view, if there is a real change of system in its results there must be a falling off in the revenue. I think that is quite true. In dwelling upon that point he is perfectly right. It is a most important point. There is bound to be at first, at any rate, a falling-off in the re- venue. I would point out that the Congo Budget shows that the Belgian Government are alive to this point. They estimate that owing to the introduction of these reforms—and these reforms do not begin until July of this year—that the revenue will be reduced by 1,600,000 francs. That is for the half-year, and that is equivalent to an estimated reduced revenue of 3,200,000 francs on the whole year. I think that shows that the Belgian Government are as fully alive to that particular point as my hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk. At any rate, they have already realised that it is a point of substance, and they have begun to make arrangements for it in their Congo Budget. I cannot agree that the situation is at all in the hopeless state which it was some time ago. The Belgian Parliament has shown itself very much alive to this question of the Congo. There are Belgian reformers just as honourable, just as sincere, and just as indignant as any in this country. Their view was referred to to-night. Is it their view we ought to depart from the position we have in this country of hope; and that we ought to say that the situation is hopeless, and that we must resort to violent action. I believe that is not their view at all. I believe the view of the Belgian reformers at this moment is that if their hands are to be strengthened the attitude of this country ought to be one of suspense, I think they would admit it should still be one of suspense, one of benevolent expectancy. I do not believe for a moment that the Belgian reformers—I do not for a moment doubt their earnestness—I do not believe they would think it otherwise than disastrous at this time, after this programme of reforms has been announced, that we should say to the Belgian people that the Belgian Parliament, the Belgian people, the Belgian sense of its responsibility, is hopeless, and that we must take the matter into our own hands, and resort to violent action. The hon. Member for Gravesend (Sir Gilbert Parker) spoke of isolated action. We have kept up our diplomatic pressure. Our honour does not suffer as far as Europe is concerned. Our responsibilities have not been greater than other nations of Europe, and our diplomatic action has been in excess of theirs. There is not a single nation in Europe, or in the world that has any right to cast a stone at us as regards our attitude and our responsibility. It has been in excess of anything which any other nation has done. If we are to go beyond diplomatic action we must take the step, which is still open to us, of saying not only that we have not recognised the annexation, but, that as we must refuse to recognise it, we cannot recognise any authority over British subjects in the Congo other than our own. That is a step which, of course, we must back up by force.

I do not believe for a moment that the Belgian Government intends to deny our treaty rights, or will deny them. I do not believe we shall be driven to a course like that. My attitude, frankly, is one of expectancy, suspense if you like, but still I believe that things are moving in the right direction. After what the Parliament did I must say, frankly, I think the Belgian Parliament ought not to resent that we cannot ask the House to sanction the step of recognising the Belgian annexation until we have definite guarantees that the system is actually changed and those guarantees which I shall look for from results. I am not prepared to depart from our attitude of expectancy at the present moment. But equally I can assure the House that we will not recognise the annexation and that we will not ask the House to do so until we are in a position to lay before Parliament reports from our own Consuls—some independent reports are coming in which show valuable changes in the Congo—showing that in effect a change of system has taken place, and that both the condition of the natives and our own treaty rights with regard to trade are on a satisfactory footing. When we can come forward and do that, I should be only too delighted to present a case to the House, but I will not bring a case to the House, or prejudge the question of annexation, until we are in a position on our own independent information to assure the House not only that changes are promised but that they have actually taken place.


I do not propose to divide the House in the hope that we may get a further Debate so that certain statements may be put before the House.

Resolution to be reported upon Monday next; Committee to sit again upon Monday next (14th March).