Motion made, and Question proposed,
That a sum, not exceeding £109,668, be granted to His Majesty, to complete the sum necessary to defray the Charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1920, for the Salaries and Expenses of the Department of His Majesty's Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, including the Foreign Claims Office, Foreign Trade Department, War Trade Statistical Department, and News Department."—[Note.—£110,000 has been voted on account.]
§ Captain WEDGWOOD BENN
I beg to move, "That the Vote be reduced by £100."
The Committee will not grudge the certain amount of time which will be devoted to the discussion of the affairs of Egypt, for very little information, for various reasons, has reached this country recently about the state of affairs in Egypt, and the subject is one of surpassing importance in the interests of the Empire. To have a just appreciation of the present state of affairs in Egypt and the state of feeling in Egypt, one needs to cast one's mind back over the history of at least the last five years. In the year 1914, when the great European War broke out, Egypt had arrived at what one might call a definite milestone in her history. The English Government had rescued her from the slough of bankruptcy, restored her industries, and one might say, I think, justly, that the good work which was begun by Lord Cromer and his coadjutors had come to an end, and Egypt was looking forward to making a stride in the comity of nations. Lord Kitchener had followed Sir Eldon Gorst, and characterised the beginning of his administration with very bold measures, commercial, industrial, and political. The great schemes were initiated by him, for instance, for the draining of the lakes, but the most notable thing that Lord Kitchener did was the construction of the great Organic Law of 1913, which conferred upon Egypt a measure of self- 1830 government which far exceeded anything hitherto enjoyed by her. I cannot go through in detail the provisions of that Organic Law, but some of the rights conferred by it are rights very dear to Englishmen and very much treasured by this House. For example, the right of initiative of legislation was, I think I am right in saying, first conferred on an assembly of Egyptians by that law. Their right over the Budgets was confirmed, their right to be consulted on public loans was explicitly stated, and, moreover, the old provision of the previous Organic Law about new taxation was embodied textually in the new Organic Law of 1913, and another not unimportant point was that the new Legislative Assembly, which took the place of the old Legislative Council or National Assembly, had the power to remain—it could not be dissolved except on the advice of the Council of Ministers. It is not surprising if in 1914 the Egyptian Nationalists really considered that the prospects for the realisation of their hopes were rosier than they had ever been before. Then the War broke out, and in December, 1914, the famous Proclamation was made altering the status of Egypt from an autonomous section of the Turkish Empire, with a British Resident, into a Protectorate of the British Empire. The Khedive was deposed, the statue of Egypt was altered. The Turks were singularly successful. They overran the Sinai Peninsula, they actually crossed the Canal, and yet, in spite of all these things, Egypt remained calm.
There was no outburst of any kind. It is not too much to say that the reason for the calmness was that the Egyptians trusted that their assistance rendered to this country in this War would not be permitted to interfere with the satisfaction of their legitimate aspirations. During the period of the War, it was very hard to get much information. The censorship existed in Egypt with all the most grotesque features of that institution. Nowhere I suppose was the censorship carried to such lengths as in Egypt, so that if my hon. Friend complains of my facts or of lack of support for them, he must not blame me. He is the embodiment of courtesy in this House, and I am sure would have answered me if he could, but three out of four questions I put to-day were not answered on the plea that the information was not available. I asked how many Egyptians 1831 were employed in the Government service in 1900. In 1919 the facts had not yet percolated to the Foreign Office. The same thing is true about other material information about which I asked. We do however know some things about the War period. No one could live as I did, for two years in various parts of Egypt, without learning something about the condition of the country. We know that food was freely commandeered. That was necessary. The troops in Egypt are mostly mounted troops, and the particular supplies required for mounted troops could not possibly be supplied from overseas, so that it was necessary to commandeer them in Egypt. We know that labour was required, and that the old Egyptian Labour Corps was raised. Many thousands of the fellaheen were enrolled in the services of the Army in the War. We know that that caused a great deal of unrest. The regiment in which I served was engaged in maintaining order. A number of reservists say that they were being enrolled as reservists for the purposes of the convenience of the Government to do work which they previously had done and could perfectly well do as civilians. There was a little disturbance in Cairo. I remember seeing the troops there in the year 1916. As regards the Government of Egypt certain districts in Egypt were called War Zones—the Canal for example, but in Egypt that moribund female known as "Dora" probably had a better time than in any other part of the world. I think that not sufficient use was made of the advice and assistance of the trained Egyptian Civil servants. The country was overrun by military from Europe without the long experience that is required to govern a country of that kind, and they were much too fond of over-riding everywhere experience which had been won by years of sympathetic work by the officials. After the evacuation of the Dardanelles, Cairo was full of senior military officers for whom it was almost impossible to find employment, and indeed the arrangement of the Government of Egypt between three general commanding officers was the subject of somewhat irreverent derision at the mess.
I come now to the Armistice. I beg the Committee to try and look at this matter from the point of view of the Egyptians. We shall get no further for- 1832 ward in handling a very difficult subject unless we look at it from the point of view of the educated Egyptian man. When the Armistice came his mind was full of what it meant to Egypt. He had read all the speeches made, he had seen the new birth of liberty in the world, and he hoped his country was going to participate. Egyptian loyalty had contributed not immaterially to the success of the War, and they were looking forward to the realisation of those dreams of Lord Kitchener's day, and the Organic Law of 1913. No announcement is made; the assembly is not called; nobody is consulted; the Peace Conference is called; Armenia is to be made an independent or semi-independent country; the Checko-Slovaks, who were actually part of the enemy country, are being set up as a separate Government; some form of Jewish settlement is to take place in Palestine, and, worst of all, the son of the Arab King of Hedjas, comes to Europe and has a triumphal progress, and the Arab king is much advertised. It is all right, but is it surprising if the Egyptian, whose civilisation is an ancient one, whose country has got a history of constitutional government—is it surprising that he should say, "When is it going to be our turn—when is the Government going to make some announcement about constitutional government in Egypt?" What do they do. Zaghlul Pasha asked leave to present his case. Who is Zaghlul Pasha? People talk as if Zaghlul was Lenin or Trotsky. He is the elected head of the Egyptian Legislative Assembly. He is comparable with our Mr. Speaker. He is not a nobody. He asks permission to present the case of the Egyptians. Who supported him? The Prime Minister. A man of unquestionable loyalty to this country, a man of whose services during the period of the War it is quite impossible to speak too highly—Rushdi. Rushdi not only supports the claim of Zaghlul to come, but asks to come himself. I understand that the High Commissioner himself was quite willing that Rushdi should come to this country, but both requests are refused. Rushdi attaches so much importance to the reception of Zaghlul and his friends, and the presentation of their case to this country, that he resigned. Now a Minister knows what that means. It is a serious matter to believe a thing so thoroughly that you 1833 resign if you do not get your way. Rushdi resigns, Zaghlul and his friends, who are ex-Ministers, are deported, carried out of the country, and sent to Malta. That was the worst that Happened to Arabi after he had been convicted of rebellion. Then there are riots. Does anyone hear that news with surprise? What was peace in 1914 with the Turks successful was converted by somebody in 1919 into a national insurrection when the Turkish Empire lay in the dust. Everybody knew perfectly well the stories that the Egyptians were being persuaded that the Turks were victorious. I am surprised that they can be put forward by any one with any experience of the East. When the ship I was on was lost near Smyrna, long before the survivors had got back to Port Said, all the Arab population knew about the loss of the ship in detail. My hon. and gallant Friend (Lieut.-Colonel Malone), who was my commanding officer, can substantiate what I say. In 1914, it was peace because there was trust. In 1919, it was insurrection because there was disappointment.
I want to examine what are the causes of the present state of affairs in Egypt. I would divide them into what I call material causes, personal causes, and political causes. As to material causes—that is to say, loss of personal property—everybody knows that during a war every sort of discomfort and even injustice is almost inevitable. Everywhere, even in this country, where everybody was united in understanding and supporting the purposes of the War, there was from time to time a great deal of dissatisfaction. Much more likely was such friction to arise in a country where, perhaps, the ideas and objects of the War were not fully understood, and by many not sympathised with. I am told that they had Flag Days in Egypt. Any hon. Member who has attempted to approach this House on a Flag Day knows that it requires a great store of patience and a great deal of silver. I am told that in Egypt the method of collecting money for charitable purposes gave rise to irritation. I remember the Finance Minister of Cairo telling me a story about a campaign of thrift which Lord Kitchener inaugurated in Egypt. A flowery sermon was composed to be preached in all the Mosques, enjoining the people to be thrifty. A man stood 1834 outside—he was not a Moslem and could not go inside—to collect their savings as they left, and as they left and contributed handsomely, he thanked them and praised them, and they replied, "You are very welcome," and no one was more surprised than they that the amount they contributed was not stated to their credit, and that what was called thrift was really a euphemism for a new tax. That being the confiding and affectionate character of those people, it is not surprising that, when the money was raised and when they heard of those contributions, it in many cases bore on them with the hardship of a tax.
But that, after all, was a small thing. The commandeering of supplies was a serious matter. Egypt is an agricultural country, and I ask the hon. Gentleman to say what was the basis on which the prices were fixed. They were commandeered in 1914, 1915, 1916, 1917, and 1918, and yet the hon. Gentleman cannot tell me in May, 1919, on what basis the prices were fixed. If the information is not in the Foreign Office it throws an interesting sidelight on the causes of our muddle in the management of Egyptian affairs, but he cannot complain if I say that the commandeering of Egyptian supplies produced a cost of living in Egypt which was one of the main causes of the national unrest. We know that, even in this country, if it had not been for food control, we should have had disorder and long queues of people, and in Egypt it is not too much to say that the mismanagement of this matter is at the root of most of the trouble. With regard to cotton, which is, of course, the chief product of Egypt, we understand perfectly well that you cannot allow the free export of cotton to neutral countries from Egypt, because cotton is an important constituent in the manufacture of munitions of war. But I want to ask the hon. Gentleman, when he makes his reply, to tell us clearly what steps the English Government took to absorb supplies of cotton, and to alleviate the hardships which must have fallen on Egypt's principal source of wealth. Does he regard the estimate, which has been made by Egyptians, of the loss to that country amounting to £20,000,000 as being excessive? So much for the material causes, as I see them, of the unrest.
I now come to the personal causes, and by personal causes I mean affronts. I will 1835 not speak of the conduct of the Colonial troops That was debated once in this House, and I think it would be better taste, considering the ineffaceable sacrifices made by the Colonies, to leave that matter at rest, and I leave it in those words. But what about the unnecessary extension of martial law? There were parts of the country where camps were in existence which were no more in the war zone than Aldershot. Natives were employed in those camps, and the offences committed by the natives, who were civilians, in the camps, were not punishable under the ordinary penal code of the country, but by the assistant provost marshal, in a summary courtin the camp itself. I say that was unnecessary. I speak from personal experience. Men for larceny were hauled up before a provost-marshal, who was, perhaps, a great success as a stock broker in London, and just come from England. He had no sort of experience of the Egyptian habit of mind, and he did not know that in the Egyptian penal code there is no corporal punishment, except for boys under fifteen, and he had never heard of Lord Duffer in and the courbash. His solvent for all difficulties was that you cannot govern Egyptians unless you wallop them. Not being a student of phrenology, he was greatly surprised to find that you could not cure a man by walloping him, and that after walloping him five times the man persisted in larceny. Is it unreasonable to suppose that the unnecessary imposition of a harsh penal system of that kind has had something to do with the intense irritation felt by the Egyptian nation at this moment?
But there is a much wider cause of unrest falling under this heading. There was the Egyptian Labour Corps. I think I am right in saying—and if I am wrong in any detail the hon. Gentleman will correct me, but not blame me because he cannot answer the point—that under the Egyptian military system there is power to purchase exemption from the ballot by the payment of £20. The Egyptian Labour Corps, I think, was composed of people raised in much the same way. We are told that in raising these men the Omdehs—the local mayors—were corrupt, and they took backsheesh, to include this man or exclude that man, and this argument is freely used by those who say that you cannot trust a Government composed of Egyptians, because look at the conduct of the Omdehs in this particular case. I say that the view of backsheesh in Egypt and in Europe differs, 1836 and you must not expect to find entirely the English standards in Egypt. The country is different, and the habit of mind is different. But supposing it is true, as I have no doubt it is in many cases, that the Omdehs were corrupt in selecting their men for the Egyptian Labour Corps, who is to blame? The Home Office of the Egyptian Government, because the idea that these local magistrates come under the Egyptian National Assembly is nothing to do with it. The three grades of provincial officials come under the Minister of the Interior, so that if the argument is used that the unrest was due to the corruption of the Omdehs, it is an argument which recoils on the head of the Minister of the Interior. But what about the method by which order was maintained in the Egyptian Labour Corps? Of course hon. Gentlemen may say that whipping is a feature of the Egyptian Army. When I say that it is not in the penal code, I am speaking of civilians.
§ The UNDER-SECRETARY of STATE for FOREIGN AFFAIRS (Mr. Cecil Harmsworth)
I am afraid I shall not be able to satisfy my hon. and gallant Friend on all these details.
§ Captain BENN
Of course, if I am out of order, Mr. Whitley will call me to order, but I think it will be much more convenient to the House if we have a survey of what I believe to be the causes of the present unrest in Egypt.
§ Captain BENN
The matter can be simply overcome by the hon. Gentleman getting into communication through what, I think, is called the usual channels with the War Office, if they have time to spare from the Air Ministry to come here and answer some of these criticisms. I asked a question to-day in the House as to how many men were recruited for the Egyptian Labour Corps, and how many casualties there were, but, though the War has been over since the 11th November last, I was asked by the War Office to-day in this House to postpone that question for a week. I should like to know what we should think if we asked for casualties in any English unit, and we were told, eight months after the cessation of hostilities, that the figures could not be given. The hon. Gentleman will, of course, acquit me of any desire to embarrass him 1837 personally. There is nothing in the world I would be less ready to do. The House of Commons has been treated with contempt in this matter. Pompous utterances have been made in another House, and when questions are put in this House, those utterances, somewhat deflated, have been circulated to Members with the Votes. That is not a respectful way to treat the House of Commons, which, after all, is the governing body in this country. I was dealing with the question of how order was kept in the Egyptian Labour Corps. It was kept with the lash. I have seen it. Everybody has seen it. You may say that in military organisation you must have special methods, but really this is carrying the thing too far. The Egyptian Labour Corps was not a fighting unit at all. It was making a road along this side of the Canal when the troops were taking Gaza. I say it is not unreasonable to think, when, as long ago as 1883, as the letters of Lord Dufferin show, the courbash was officially discountenanced, that, in view of its re-introduction, in order to drive the Egyptian Labour Corps to carry out their duties, that has something to do with the present unrest.
§ Major Earl WINTERTON
Will the hon. and gallant Gentleman explain what he means by the re-introduction, in view of the fact that the lash, whether good or bad, has always been the method of punishment in the Egyptian Army from time immemorial?
§ Captain BENN
I know that quite well, but I said my argument was that these men were put in the Labour Corps. Of course, there are many in this House who are advocates of the lash in the British Army, but the reason you have the severe methods of punishment in the Army is because you are fighting, and you have got to have severe methods if you have men in the firing line. The Egyptian Labour Corps, however, is not a fighting unit, but a working unit. It is no more a fighting unit than a gang of navvies mending a pavement in Whitehall. Therefore, I say this reactionary punishment is another cause of the present feeling.
I come to the political causes, and with these the hon. Gentleman opposite is well qualified to deal. Of course, I believe the political causes are the great causes; I believe they underlie everything. I believe that material well-being is no substitute for liberty. Let me first come to the question of employment. Broadly speaking, 1838 the Egyptians can be divided into the Fellaheen and the educated people called the Effendi class. The idea of the Effendi is to secure Government employment. They have not reached the happy state we have in this country, where every hotel is commandeered, and hundreds of thousands of jobs are created for everybody. Still they have that in view, and the Effendi ideal is to get a Government job. He scrutinises with great meticulosity—if there is such a word—the proportion maintained between the number of English and Egyptian employés, and, if I remember rightly, Lord Cromer, in his book, takes credit to himself for having diminished the number of English employés compared with the number of Egyptian employés, and it is perfectly obvious that is the right thing to do, so far as you can consistently with efficient government, because what we are trying to do in Egypt is to unload the burden of power and put it on the shoulders of the people themselves. It is said that the number of Government employés of English nationality has very largely increased in proportion to those of Egyptian nationality, and it is rumoured that under the Protectorate a great number of new posts will be created which will be given to Englishmen. I asked the hon. Gentleman to give me the proportion of numbers in 1900, 1914, and the present year, but that information has not yet percolated to the Foreign Office, and the figures will not be available until they are secured from Cairo. I mention this as one of the things which create that feeling of distrust in the mind of the Egyptian. He wants to take a part, for personal and other reasons, in the government of his country, and he fears that the alteration of status from the old Khedival régime to a Protectorate is going to affect his chances in the government of his own country. An infusion of Englishmen is necessary to stiffen the administration, but it should be kept as small as possible, for I believe sincerely in the saying—I think it was of Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman—that good government is no substitute for self-government.
I come to another and smaller matter—the legal system. I shall not attempt to explain the legal system in Egypt to this Committee—the job is too complicated. But it is quite obvious that in the alteration of the status of the country there will be a good deal of alteration in the legal system. The law may be codified and be very admirable to Europeans, but there 1839 is a great deal of change about to take place. It is quite obvious that it is a proper thing that English should find its place as one of the languages of the law. But where you have a large body of lawyers—and a great many Egyptians are lawyers, as it is a sort of occupation which suits their mind—a large body of lawyers, very likely past middle age, and they hear that the system is to be altered—many of them, perhaps, do not speak English—and that English is to be made compulsory as the legal language, is it unnatural that they should feel alarm? What would happen in this country if it were to be announced that nobody would be allowed to practice at the English Bar without he had a Scottishaccent? I do not say it is not a good thing to change the law, but I say this: that the unrest among this large and influential class has been caused by the panic that changes are in the air, and the rumour that nobody has been consulted. That is a point. That, in general terms, is the real feeling and cause that is underlying the matter, it is that the status of Egypt has been altered. Egypt is very proud of being—and well it may be—as Ismail Pasha called it, a European Power—that is to say, much more European than African. It is very proud of the self-government it has enjoyed. Egypt is proud of its powers. They see the whole thing now in the melting pot, the whole status of their country altered, and they are not consulted. The only people who attempt to get up a petition are deported, and the petition is stopped. They prize, as we do in this House, their power over money—which is one of the great rights in our House here.
They find that £3,000,000 has been voted by the Council of Ministers—nominated—for the cost of the War without any consultation with them. Hon. Members would make a very energetic protest against that; the Egyptians have not been permitted to do so. The Organic Law of 1913 expressly conferred upon the Egyptian Legislative Assembly the right to be consulted before any tax was levied. I am quite aware that the Government imagine that the War has to be financed out of loans, and that the expenses do not come out of the pocket of anybody in particular; but the country will find out, as the Egyptians have already found out, that you cannot give £3,000,000 out of the country's resources without in some way 1840 being affected by it. I daresay they would have been glad to give the £3,000,000, but they had in view the right that the elected representatives of the people should have been consulted, which was not done. They want self-government. They see, as I have already said, all around them new nations coming to birth, particularly to the East of them—the Dominions of the Hedjahs. This must have impressed their mind. When they asked permission to present their case—they are not like the Sinn Feiners who want to go to Paris!—they asked permission to come to London to present their cage, and in this they are supported by the Prime Minister—nominated by the Government!—and they are refused. In my judgment that is a very foolish blunder. I want to ask the right hon. Gentleman plainly to tell us who was responsible for refusing permission to these men to present their case in this country? Was it Lord Curzon? I hope to have an answer to that question, "Yea" or "Nay." Lord Curzon makes a speech in the House of Lords which I venture to say was one of the most foolish and harmful speeches which had ever been made in the other House. He says, "We cannot receive the Speaker into our House of Commons; we cannot receive the Prune Minister." Why? "Because the Foreign Secretary is busy at the Peace Conference." In the first place, if that were the reason it is a stultification of the Noble Lord's own position as head of the Foreign Office. If no business of this kind can be done until the Foreign Secretary is at liberty, the position does not appear to be very important. As a matter of fact, the excuse is so thin that it amounts to nothing more than a public insult to the people who asked permission to come.
We have been told there were disturbances, and people were deported. The Noble Lord in another place says, "Oh, there were disturbances supported by the town rabble." There was a great demonstration, and the town rabble was in evidence. Of whom did this consist? Of the Mahomedan clergy, Civil servants, judges of the High Court, members of the Bar, Members of Parliament, representatives of the police, of the army, and of the Sultan's bodyguard. In order, as it were, to anticipate the objection that this was going to be a Jehad, or a Holy War, this Moslem, assembly was publicly blessed by the religious head. The town rabble supporting? His Lordship calls them self-appointed, irresponsible leaders—and 1841 these were the speakers—of course he is the Vice-President, as the Committee knows, the President is a nominated person, elected the head of the National Assembly, supported by Ministers and ex-Ministers, and men of note in Egypt. It is not too much to say that the explosive matter existing in Egypt, the result of the circumstances that I have detailed, was actually detonated by the foolish utterances of Lord Curzon in another place. He concluded his remarks by saying:One gratifying feature of this deplorable occurrence has been the behaviour of many of the Egyptian officials.This observation had not reached Egypt twenty-four hours before there was a universal strike of protest by the Egyptian Civil servants. There was violence. At once let me say violence is a very wicked thing. People who use violence should be punished, and punished severely. I wish to say nothing which would suggest that I approve of, or have sympathy with, or would wink at anything in the nature of violence. But I want to ask the Committee this question: Do they suppose that the kind of thing the Egyptian Nationalists were labouring under—a sense of constitutional grievance, a feeling that they might be deprived of the constitution to which they are entitled—was unaffected by the sort of talk which went on in this country on the Irish question just prior to the War? I had intended to read some of the stupid sentences spoken by various persons, from the Lord Chancellor downwards, but I will not do it: it is unnecessary to take up the time of the House on the matter. But do not let the House be under any misapprehension. Egypt is very near. The telegraph has eliminated distance. Egypt has European thought. It is not too much to say that the utterances to which I have referred had been a contributing cause in overbalancing the heated imagination of the semi-Oriental and led him to believe that he might be deprived of the constitutional rights to which he was entitled.
I cannot conclude without saying something of remedies. I cannot go very fully into that because I am not in the possession of information on certain aspects, but remedial measures certainly seem to be called for. In the first place, it seems perfectly obvious that we should get into consultation at once with Rushdi or the Sultan, and with those who are desirous of coming to this country—to con- 1842 sult the responsible heads. It is quite obvious there must be an inquiry; in fact, I think the Government have already decided to hold one. But if there is to be an inquiry, let it be now. Do not let people say, "We cannot have it now, because it is the hot weather." I hope that sort of conversation has been exploded by the experiences of the War. Some of us, during the War, have been in Egypt throughout June. In view of the serious unrest, any Egyptian Commission ought to set to work at once. There are two distinct branches of inquiry. One is to inquire into the material grievances of the fellaheen—the people who have lost money by the commandeering of their stock and have suffered in other forms materially. The other, which is quite separate, is an inquiry into the new constitutional government of Egypt. There would seem to be the need for an entire rearrangement of the Capitulations, and one hopes that for the sake of efficiency in Egypt they will be immediately abolished. One hopes also that a scheme which Lord Cromer, I think, himself adumbrated for the introduction of Europeans into the Assembly of Egypt might be taken in hand, for it is very likely some of the European representatives would give weight or add to the weight of the Egyptians. That is important. It will give some hundreds of thousands of Europeans in Egypt a sense of confidence in the Government.
The next thing which I venture to suggest is this: There must be some, alteration in the management of Egypt from this country. I had several questions down on the Order Paper to-day. It is suggested that the Foreign Office is not the best qualified for the work. It is the accident of the Foreign Office that it is totally inappropriate to the present relations between ourselves and Egypt. The Foreign Office first went there because Egypt was Turkish, and the Turks are Egyptians. British money was there, and they were there to get that money. That is why the Foreign Office still has its finger in the Egyptian pie. I suggest to the hon. Gentleman opposite, the Under-Secretary, that the present arrangement is out of date, and that it is time there was a complete rearrangement. I would suggest the formation of an Egyptian Council in this country, something like the India Council. I think it highly desirable that the excellent precedent set by the Government in the case of Lord Sinha might 1843 be copied in the case of Egypt, and that one of those highly-qualified Egyptian statesmen who have been helping us for so many years in Egypt should be appointed to the post. You must grant their constitution to Egypt. It is no good you saying: "Oh, but look at the times, look at Zaglhul going to Paris: he has gone there to ask for complete independence." Surely no one who has had any dealings with the East will know other than that the first price asked for an article by an Oriental is not the last price he is willing to receive?
Another thing, not of the great importance, but, to my mind, quite essential, is that it is quite obvious that the sooner the Foreign Secretary can spare time to attend to these matters the better. The Noble Lord who is temporarily looking after the work is lacking in several requisites. He is lacking in sympathy for the feelings of the Egyptians, and, above all, he is lacking in a sense of humour, without which, I make bold to say, you cannot govern any African race. His qualities seem more fitting to the duties of the President of the Council, which hitherto he has discharged with universal satisfaction. It is not too much to say that his speeches in the House of Lords recently very nearly lost Egypt to this country. His disappearance would not be a very important matter in the history of Egypt. Cheops was building the Great Pyramid before the Noble Lord became the honorary colonel of the First Singapore Post Office Rifles. What is going to be the relation of this country to Egypt in the future? We have given very much to Egypt. We have given to Egypt solvency, and orderly and honest government. But Egypt has given something to us. She has given us a good market. She was a fellow-conqueror with us of the Sudan. She is the keeper of the turnpike of the ocean highway. She is the half-way house to our Indian Empire. There is no place within the Empire so sensitive, because the Egyptian is dreaming of the glory of the past, and he is filled with ambition for the future. A great Empire and a little mind go ill together. I recall to the mind of the Committee the noble words spoken in this House 150 years ago by Mr. Burke, who said:As long as you have the wisdom to keep the sovereign authority of this country as the sanctuary of liberty they will turn their faces towards you. The more they multiply the more 1844 friends you will have, the more ardently they love liberty the more perfect will be their obedience…It is the spirit of the English constitution which infused through the mighty wars pervades, feeds, unites, invigorates, vivifies every part of this Empire even down to the minutest member.
§ Captain ORMSBY-GORE
I have already spoken in this House on the Egyptian question within the last few weeks, and therefore I do not propose to detain the Committee long this afternoon. I have only risen to make a few comments, on some of the statements which have been made by the hon. and gallant Gentleman opposite. With some of the conclusions at the end of his speech I certainly associate myself. I agree that if we are going in the future to improve the relations between Englishmen whose task it is to help Egypt and to administer the affairs of that country, that between them and the Egyptians we have got to have a quite different and a much better machinery than Whitehall for dealing with Egyptian affairs. With that assertion I am absolutely in agreement, and I do think that the past control and interference with Englishmen in Egypt by the Foreign Office leaves a very great deal to be desired, both from the point of view of the Egyptian and the point of view of Englishmen serving in Egypt. Whereas the Indian Service has an India Office and a Secretary of State, who are constantly thinking about India, and are informed about that country, and are responsible for it, in the corner of the Foreign Office there is a small department of men whose task is the care and the watching of Egyptian administration, but they are man who are in no way qualified for that task by past experience or training, because they are diplomats and Foreign Office men, and I am certain that if we are in the future to carry out wide schemes of development and new systems of government in the Middle East, we shall never do it if we model ourselves on what has hitherto been the method of governing Egypt by the Foreign Office in Downing Street.
The hon. and gallant Member referred to the treatment of the natives in military camps, but he did not criticise the military authorities in Egypt or their conduct during the War. I think he was wise in not criticising them, because the record of the successive generals and the British troops in Egypt during the War is one to be proud of and to boast about. If ever it was necessary in a country where there are hundreds of spies and every kind of 1845 race to proclaim martial law it was in Egypt. But, in spite of that, the Egyptian Government went on under the native Ministry, with civilian advisers, exactly as if martial law had not existed, and they did not intrude except in cases where it was absolutely necessary, and the administration under successive generals, particularly General Maxwell and General Allen by was a striking proof that generals are not always pure militarists. There is no other soldier throughout the wide world who has shown greater sympathy or understanding of political and economic problems as well as commanding military genius than General Allen by, whom I am glad to see in the saddle in Cairo at the present moment.
In the two cases in which the hon. and gallant Member referred to the military—and they were the only two charges he could bring—they did not amount to very much. There was, in the first place, the question of the camp followers, and in the second place, the canteen owners who found their way into the military camps. Now I have been in a good many camps in Egypt during the War and wherever there was a military camp there was a perfect clamour from some local Greek dealer to set up stores inside the camp to sell all sorts of things, and with Egyptian natives to run those canteens while he collared all the profits, and consequently we had to set up special machinery to see that the natives who were put in these positions very properly respected the rules of sanitation and discipline, which were essential in a properly conducted military camp. How did they carry that out? Any punishments that had to be imposed upon the natives who were allowed inside those camps had not to be carried out by British soldiers, but the men were invariably handed over to the Egyptian police for any disciplinary measures whatsoever.
§ Captain ORMSBY-GORE
I do not think that the lash was used in a very large number of cases. It was used in particular cases, but before any native was allowed into a British camp he had to observe the conditions on which he was allowed into that camp and he knew perfectly well that if he committed offences he would be punished by the native police in the way in which the native police usually punish them.
§ Captain ORMSBY-GORE
I am not called upon to justify it, but I am merely stating what I saw myself in Egypt, and I am not going into the question whether the punishments were justified or not, or as to who were responsible for that particular scale of punishments. Personally I heard very little complaint, and it is a very easy thing to work up a sentimental agitation on this subject. In Egypt, however, I did not hear from the natives any great scream about this agitation against the use of the lash for petty larceny. As a matter of fact it is entirely due to British rule in Egypt that the use of the lash has been reduced. The lash was used for practically every offence under the Turk and the Egyptians, and if we cleared out of Egypt the natives would not be less lashed but they would be lashed all round.
The hon. and gallant Member referred to the question of the Egyptian Labour Corps, and that was a very difficult force to officer. The hon. Member in his introductory remarks referred to the fact that the intelligence services of the Army and the technical services had in them a considerable number of trained Anglo-Egyptian civilians who were given commissions in the Army, but this was because they were the only men available who knew the conditions of the country, and they were the only men who could be found to fulfil this purpose. It was extremely difficult to get British officers, and non-commissioned officers had to command and organise that force because all the best officers had been taken up by the higher services, such as the Engineers and Intelligence Department. I admit that the military authorities, through no fault of their own, were compelled to include not a large number but a minority of non-commissioned officers in the Egyptian Labour Corps, who were not the type of men we like to see in charge of large gangs of men. I admit that. I sat upon a court-martial on one of these non-commissioned officers myself. He certainly was a British subject, but more than that I cannot say about him, and there is no doubt it was extremely difficult to run that force in the way we should like it to have been run. But considering all the difficulties, the discipline of that force was remarkably good, and the punishments were remarkably few. This cry with re- 1847 gard to the Egyptian Labour Corps is very largely exaggerated in the newspapers of this country. It is true that there were certain mistakes made, but I am perfectly certain those deficiencies were reduced to a minimum.
The hon. and gallant Member referred to the material affairs of Egypt, but Egypt has never been more prosperous than it was last year, and never has it been more prosperous than it was right up to the time of the recent outbreak. Every class in Egypt, including the poorest of the poor, have made large sums of money out of the War. They have produced large quantities of cotton, and they have grown maize and agricultural produce for export. They have grown these things in considerably larger quantities than Egypt needs, and that export trade has been kept up and the prices obtained have been something gigantic. But there was not a fellah or a cultivator of the soil or even a labourer who was not making a really good thing out of the War throughout the whole period of it. Prices have risen very largely owing to the general inflation of currency going on throughout the world and particularly in Egypt. The year before the War the normal amount of currency in Egypt was about £10,000,000 in gold, silver, and notes. At any one moment, the National Bank of Egypt told you, there was out in the country about £10,000,000 worth of currency. Last August, I believe, the figure was £50,000,000. The demand for currency was increasing in Egypt at an enormous rate, and whenever that happens in any country prices go up. Prices have not risen in Egypt anything like the extent that they have risen in any other country. There was less reason for any material discontent in Egypt than in any other country in the world. When we were eating bread in this country with all sorts of things in it, Cairo had the purest white bread, and any amount of it, and sugar galore. There was absolutely no privation in Egypt. The hon. and gallant Member was perfectly right when he said that the main causes of trouble were undoubtedly political, and that many of those causes might have been foreseen. I quite agree that the conduct of affairs was not very wise and that a large number of people who did not share the views of extremists like 1848 Zaghlul Pasha, were associated with him in the recent movement. That chapter, I hope, is over and done with. Let us all frankly admit that it was a blunder not to accede to the request of Hussein Rushdi Pasha when he asked to come to London, with or without Zaghlul Pasha, to put his case about the future basis of the Egyptian Protectorate before the Foreign Office here in London. It was to my mind—and I am sure that history will show it—a profound blunder made here in London. London was not sufficiently in touch with the political conditions in Egypt, with the system in Egypt, with what Englishmen as well as Egyptians were thinking as well as saying in Egypt. At the present time we have not a proper office in this country, watching, controlling and directing Egyptian affairs. The fault lies not with Sir Reginald Wingate or any British officer in Egypt; it lies here and here alone. Let us have destructive criticism and get it over as soon as we can, and let us look to the future. We all want a better future for Egypt and no reason why these recent troubles should break out again, no causes for dissatisfaction, and no legitimate cause for feeling that there are grievances in connection with the government of Egypt. We want to have constructive proposals with regard to the future development of Egypt.
The other day I touched in general upon the problem. I am perfectly certain, if we are going to run our Protectorate in Egypt successfully, we have got to consult with the Egyptians in regard to the form that the Protectorate is to take. I believe and I hope that General Allen by is doing that at the present moment. I quite agree that we shall want something more. We shall want a Commission, and I hope the hon. Member will be able to tall us whether the Government have finally decided that a Commission is to go out. We want a Commission not only to go into constitutional questions in Egypt, but to inquire into the whole administrative machinery of the country from top to bottom as it affects not only the Egyptians, but also the Englishmen who are trying to help the Egyptians and to take a share in the administration of the country. It is not only the Egyptians in Egypt who have got a bit of a grouse at the present time, but the Anglo-Egyptian Civil servant in the irrigation, in the interior, and on the railways has also got to be heard. There are questions of pay, conditions of work, and his relations with his chief. The various De- 1849 partments have got to be gone into. There are also questions like the complete overhauling of the Education Department. The hon. and gallant Member was perfectly right in alluding to the great difficulty in dealing with the Effendi class, which in Egypt thinks that it has a right to Government employment. It already amounts to several thousands, and it is increasing every year. The whole question of education in Egypt wants carefully overhauling. The last Return, showing the failures in examination of the Fellaheen who took up education, is a sad one and must be recognised. If the educational system is going to be rectified, it wants new efforts, new men, and a thorough overhauling of the Department from top to bottom. That is one reason why I do not want to see us cleared out of Egypt by Zaghlul Pasha. If we do not take in hand the Egyptian Education Department it will not be taken in hand at all, and this large Effendi class will grow and grow and become more useless to the country than ever. They are utterly incapable of competing on equal terms with the Syrians or Armenians in the Government offices. Three-fourths of the population are completely illiterate, and even those who are literate are only educated very largely for minor clerical work. I am perfectly certain that in time, by having better technical education, we shall induce more Egyptian-born people to become engineers and workers on the railways. I have been in the railway workshops and have seen the work that a few of them are doing. It is extremely good work, and the Egyptians can do it if properly trained and given a helping hand. A great deal has got to be done in that way. Egypt is a country very near to my heart and there are many reforms that I am anxious to see carried out.
The hon. and gallant Member referred to the question of the French language. Personally, I take it that French should be retained as far as possible. There is absolutely no reason why, because we have an English Protectorate and because Britishers are doing the work, that the French language should not be allowed to continue as the language of the Levant. It is not only the educated Egyptian who has hitherto learned French, but the average Greek and Syrian of Alexandria in his family talks French. The first European language that most people learn other than their own, and in a great many 1850 cases it is absolutely their first language, is the French. There is no reason why we should be jealous of that or of the great help and the great influence of French schools and French civilisation, or of what France has done for the Levant generally, French culture has meant a great deal more to those people and has done more for them than anything that we have done. France, by her education, has done a great deal more than we have ever attempted to do. There are French schools and colleges in Alexandria. How many English are there? The children of the Anglo-Egyptian Civil servant before the War used to be sent to the German school. I am very glad to see the President of the Board of Education in his place, because the education of the English children in Egypt wants looking into most thoroughly and giving a helping hand. It is one of the most important questions that we have to face and the time is not ripe—I do not think it ever will be—for any attempt to squeeze out the French language and replace it by the English language. I now come to the final remarks of the hon. and gallant Gentleman with which to a certain extent I agree. The most important thing that the hon. Gentleman who now represents the Foreign Office has before him is to bring the Foreign Office and this House together. One of the saddest facts in our recent history is that for ten years before the War this House was taking less and less interest in foreign policy. There are faults on both sides. There was a tendency on the part of the then Foreign Minister, now Lord Grey, to keep things absolutely out of the cognisance of this House. There has grown up in the Foreign Office a spirit whereby they think it is a nuisance to answer questions put by Members of this House, though that is absolutely their first duty.
§ Mr. HARMSWORTH
It is not shared by any member of the Foreign Office whom I have had the pleasure of meeting since I have been there.
§ Captain ORMSBY-GORE
I am very glad to hear that disclaimer, and I hope that we shall be given more information and be brought closer together, because, if not, there is going to be a big fight between this House and the Foreign Office and somebody is going to win. It is absolutely essential that this House should realise that it alone is responsible for the conduct of foreign affairs, and unless the 1851 Members take more interest, and are given a chance of taking more interest in the great external affairs of this country, it will be bad for this House and bad for the Foreign Office. We want to bring the Foreign Office into the atmosphere of this House. There are in this House for the first time a large number of Members who, during the War, have been all over the world, and who take an interest in foreign politics that they have never taken before. They realise that when war came upon us we were unprepared because they did not realise what was the foreign position of this country. The Peace terms are ruled out of discussion now, and probably quite rightly, but it is most unfortunate, looking back on the past twenty years, that there has not been that mutual confidence between the Foreign Office and the House of Commons which can only come by more frequent Foreign Office Debates, by fuller answers to questions, by more information, and by more consultation and cooperation. If that does not come about the questions put will be mischievous questions—questions put in a hostile spirit. Certainly none of us on these benches wish to do that. We want to put down questions; we want to take an interest in foreign policy in order to help to bring the British democratic ideas of our Constituents into touch with a machine which has got out of touch with this House and with public opinion in this country. I hope the hon. Gentleman will be as frank as he can with us, and will take us into his confidence and encourage our interest in foreign affairs. I hope that in the future, particularly on this question of Egypt, a really enlightened practical policy will be pursued, and that we shall get into the Foreign Office men who know Egypt, men who have lived there, men who understand the question from both the British and the native points of view, and that we shall have, in days to come, a proper Egyptian Department at the Foreign Office in which this House can have confidence with regard to the administration of a trust which is one of the most important imposed on this House.
§ Mr. SPOOR
The hon. and gallant Gentleman who has just resumed his seat has earned the right to speak on the subject under discussion this afternoon, and I always listen to him with great interest. At the same time one cannot but feel that to-day he has really told us very little regarding the solution of the very grave 1852 problem that faces our Government and the world in Egypt at the present time. The whole of his argument appears to be based on the assumption that Egypt is to remain permanently under British control. There was certainly no indication that the day might arrive when the Egyptians might have that right, which we argue is the right of all people, to determine their own destinies and govern themselves. He did tell us that the statements which had arrived in this country were very much exaggerated, although it appears to me that the most effective answer to that contention lies in the present situation in Egypt. The situation as it exists to-day, according to the scant reports that are coming through, is undoubtedly one of very extreme gravity. The hon. Gentleman told us it was desirable that in the future we should consult Egypt more, but again I say he gave no indication whatever that the day might arrive when Egypt might take her destinies into her own hands. With the latter part of his speech I imagine there will be general agreement in all parts of the House. I believe he spoke the truth when be said that so far as foreign affairs are concerned there has been a lamentable neglect on the part of the House of Commons for many years of this tremendously important subject, and I share with him the hope that one of the by-products of the tragedy through which we have just passed will be that men will come back from foreign parts with their vision widened somewhat, and with a very great deal less of that insularity which, unfortunately, has perverted the judgment of Britishers for generations.
By a rather singular coincidence we are having a discussion on Egypt to-day following almost immediately upon a Debate upon Ireland. There are many points of similarity between the problems the two countries present. I had, however, a difference pointed out to me a few days ago by an Egyptian, who said that the difference between Ireland and Egypt lay simply in this, that the Egyptian people trusted the Briton, and the Irish, as a result of generations of very painful experience, absolutely refused to trust any promise that the British House of Commons or the Government might make. The hon. Gentleman who initiated this Debate this afternoon pointed out in the course of his speech that the Egyptian people were looking to this country and to this Government because they believed that when the War 1853 was over something like just conditions would be restored to them. So far we have had no indication of what form those conditions are going to take, and I sincerely hope that the hon. Gentleman who represents the Foreign Office will be able to give us some information on that point that will be satisfactory. One cannot help but feel that the immense seriousness of the situation in that part of the world is hardly realised by the average Britisher. If ever there was a time when inquiry was justified, if ever there was a time when we should restore by every means in our power all possible confidence and a sense of security, that time is the present. I do not think there is any getting away from the fact that there is a feeling of unrest and dissatisfaction right through the Moslem world. There is a feeling that so far as we are concerned we do not sufficiently regard Moslem interests. It is a feeling which may lack justification, but, on the other hand, it may be well grounded, and one thing is certain, and that is that everything our Government can do should be done to assure the Moslem population throughout the world that our attitude towards them is one of the most extreme friendship.
When the War broke out a statement was issued in Egypt by the Officer Commanding the British Forces—it was on 7th November, 1914—to the effect thatthe British Government, recognising the respect and veneration with which the Sultan in his religious capacity was regarded by Mahomedans in Egypt, Great Britain took upon herself the sole burden of the present War without calling upon the Egyptian people for aid therein.Sir Edward Grey (now Lord Grey) was then Secretary for Foreign Affairs, and he has declared that the Officer Commanding the British Forces in Egypt gave this pledge to the Egyptian people on behalf of the British Government and in accordance with his instructions; yet, although the Egyptians complain that they have been recruited by force and fraud, this House has been told on various occasions that this pledge has not been broken. We have to remember that we have many millions of Mahomedans living to-day under the British flag, and anything which tends to weaken confidence among these people may be fraught with very serious consequences in the future, and perhaps in the immediate future. It does look as though the situation in Egypt—and the argument of the hon. and gallant Gentleman who began the Debate this afternoon 1854 went along this line—it does look as though the situation there has been enormously aggravated because of the fact that Egypt has been under military control—a military control of a singularly short-sighted kind. When at this moment we want to get stability and security the Government policy should be definitely declared and there should be no room for misunderstanding or misconception. One does not want to go into ancient history. The question is an extremely serious one, and a policy which has been followed has contributed to it undoubtedly. When Egypt was proclaimed a British Protectorate in August, 1914, its Legislative Assembly was prorogued and has not since been called together. It is perfectly natural that the Egyptian people should begin to look with a certain amount of distrust and doubt upon the policy we are following. After all, they nave only to look across to Turkey to see quite a different state of affairs existing, for even when Turkey was under German control the Turkish Parliament met and transacted business, and the fact that the Legislative Assembly of Egypt has not been summoned for three years does seem, at any rate, to give the lie to the statement that we as Britons are anxious to train the Egyptians to govern themselves. The abolition of that Assembly has deprived the Egyptians of their only constitutional means of formulating their complaints. Grievances have accumulated.
References have been made to the censorship as being, perhaps, one of the severest and worst existing in any country during the War. It is rather interesting in this connection to note the comment in the "Times," which, although it may be as described by the Prime Minister a short while ago as "the three penny edition of the 'Daily Mail,' "is a paper with a fairly considerable following not only in this country, but in Europe. The "Times" referred to the censorship in Egypt ever since 1914 asthe most incompetent, the most inept, the most savagely ruthless censorship in any country under British control.Again, the methods that have been employed by our authorities in raising recruits for the Labour Corps have caused an immense amount of feeling. Although it began with voluntary service, it has been kept on indefinitely by men who undoubtedly blackmailed the natives. Again, men who were engaged for a short 1855 period have been kept on indefinitely. Despite the statement made by my hon. and gallant Friend as to increased prices for food, and the fact that in Egypt they may not have reached the level that they unhappily reached in other parts of Europe, yet the increase of prices has undoubtedly contributed very largely to the state of unrest, because there was certainly no corresponding advance, so far as can be ascertained, in wages, and there has been a great deal of very general profiteering similar to that which has gone on in our own country. So far as the loyalty of the Egyptians is concerned, the Nationalist feeling that existed there has undoubtedly revived under a sense of oppression which the Egyptian people have been acutely conscious of during the last three years. Reference has been made to Rushdi Pasha, the Premier who recently resigned. He appealed to his supporters. He asked the Egyptian people to wait until after the War. In the early days of the War a certain amount of peace and security was maintained, and the leaders of Egyptian political opinion and thought pointed out to the Egyptian people that, after all, British intentions were honourable and that President Wilson had formulated certain, principles which were of international application, principles of which the British Government had declared their approval and support, and Egypt and Syria, like other small nationalities, would have their claims fairly and justly considered the moment the War was over. Undoubtedly, as a result of the appeal of those representative politicians in Egypt, public opinion there, was steadied and secured in the early days of the War. When the Armistice came, the proposal was made—it has already been referred to in the course of this Debate—that Rushdi Pasha should come to England to discuss the future policy of the British Government. We know the reception that that proposal met. Later on the request was made that Egypt should be represented, as other countries were, at the Peace Conference, and, as has been pointed out, Zaghlul Pasha was refused permission to attend, and, with three other prominent Egyptians, was sent to Malta. It is rather interesting, in view of the attitude of our authorities towards these Egyptian political leaders, to remember the opinion that Lord Cromer had of them. Lord Cromer had a very long experience of 1856 Egypt. He knew a great deal about Nationalist opinion, and he undoubtedly understood Nationalist views there. Speaking of Zaghlul Pasha, he refers to him as one of a small but increasing number of Egyptians, of whom comparatively little is heard, but who deserve their title (Nationalist) quite as much as their compatriots of a different school of thought and action. They are truly Nationalists, he said, in the sense of wishing to advance the institutions of their countrymen and co-religionists, but not tainted with Pan-Islamism. The main hope of Egyptian nationalism, in the only true, practical sense of the word, lay, in Lord Cromer s opinion, with those who belong to this party. Similar opinions have been expressed by other responsible British leaders, and it is therefore curious to find the authorities acting in a way so short-sighted and blundering as it agreed to have been the case by the hon. and gallant Gentleman who immediately preceded me. When those men asked for the right to come to the Peace Conference, they were not only refused passports but they were, as I have already said, deported to Malta and treated like common criminals. Immediately after this the outbreak occurred. As to the full facts of that outbreak I do not know whether we are ever going to get the whole truth, but it does seem as though it has been of a much more extensive and serious character, and that rioting has been on a much larger scale than even we have any idea of at the present time. One interesting feature in the Egyptian rising is that it was not confined to one class or community. The Egyptian people in this revolution of theirs have revealed an amazing solidarity. They all combined together, feeling that their Egyptian aspirations had been insulted, feeling that they were being treated in a way that was degrading to them, and certainly unworthy of our own authorities. As far as we can tell, those disturbances are not yet ended. Feeling was still further intensified by the ruthlessness of the military authorities in suppressing rioting. The hon. and gallant Gentleman who preceded me said that those stories had been very much exaggerated. Were there time this afternoon it would be possible to quote some terrible cases of atrocities, and the chances are that many Members of this House have had information on this matter. I do not want to occupy the time of the House with details, but at the same 1857 time there are facts which can be thoroughly well authenticated of atrocities of a most extreme kind that have been committed with at any rate the full sanction of our own military authorities.
§ Earl WINTERTON
May I, as an old member of the Egyptian Expeditionary Force, ask the hon. Gentleman if he will justify the very serious statement he has just made, and say what atrocities have been committed by our military authorities, on what occasion, and by whom? I consider it to be most insulting to a distinguished force.
§ Mr. SPOOR
Whether the facts as quoted here are absolutely correct or not, there does appear to be ample justification for an immediate inquiry. I say that allegations have been made of atrocities of a very criminal kind, and in view of those allegations—and, so far as I can ascertain, they have never been rebutted or refuted in any way—we certainly do argue, and I think reasonably, that an inquiry should be held at the earliest possible moment. Here is one case given by a responsible Egyptian official regarding his own personal experience. It is from the Omdeh of the village of El-Ezizia:On the morning of 23rd March at 3.30 a.m. a group of British soldiers knocked at my door. When I answered the door I was asked to hand over any arms that I had. The only weapon I had was a revolver (we might here state that Omdehs are allowed to have arms), and I duly handed it over. Then the soldiers rushed into the house, breaking the doors and windows.My wife and three daughters (the eldest of whom is only eight years old) were terrified and got under the bedsteads. The soldiers entered my wife's room and dragged her out by her hair. They did the same to my children. 1858 The earrings of my children were forcibly snatched from their ears, tearing the flesh. My wife's necklace and bracelets, too, were snatched away, inflicting cuts on the neck and hands.Then the troops ransacked my house, taking over three hundred pounds from my safe, as well as the remainder of my wife's jewellery, tearing up all my valuable papers. Then they ordered us out of the house, which they then set on fire. We were then taken to the houses of the Sheikhs of the village, who were treated in exactly the same manner. Their houses were also set on fire and their valuables were taken.The village crier was ordered to tell the people to leave the village and take their valuables with them, as the village was to be set on fire.When the people left their homes they were surprised to find the village surrounded by a cordon of troops, who at once opened fire on them, took away their valuables, tore the clothes off the women, insulting them by touching their naked bodies. This sight was too much for me, and I was overcome.
Does the hon. Member think that British white troops would drag women out of their beds by the hair of their heads? Does he seriously think that?
§ Mr. SPOOR
I certainly should be very regretful for a single moment to think that English troops could be guilty of such atrocities, but I do say that an allegation has been made against troops acting under British control, and that allegation is of such a serious character, and the evidence supporting it is apparently so reliable, that we submit that an inquiry should be held at the earliest possible moment. I imagine that hon. Members generally will agree with that suggestion.
§ Mr. R. McNEILL
The hon. Member began by stating on his authority as a Member of this House that those reports were authenticated.
§ Mr. SPOOR
I think I stated quite clearly—I certainly intended to do so—that these allegations were apparently well authenticated. The authority that quoted them is apparently, so far as one can ascertain, quite reliable, and certainly the allegations have been so general, and have 1859 circulated not only among Members of this House but throughout the whole of this country and in parts of Europe, that we believe it is high time that an inquiry was held. The fact of the matter is that the solidarity of the Egyptians has been enormously strengthened as the result of the policy we have followed, and General Allen by, on 7th April, had to announce that Zaghlul Pasha and the other delegates would be released and allowed to go on to Paris. They came to Paris, but, so far as we have been able to ascertain, they have not up to the present had the opportunity of interviewing any responsible officials. They wanted to lay their case—and one can quite understand their desire, which was perfectly legitimate—as people from other parts of the world are entitled to do, before the Peace Conference. They have not been given that opportunity. They want to lay their claims before the Peace Conference because they took part in the War on the side of the Allies. They made great sacrifices. They made big contributions, not only in human life but also in money, and General Allen by has stated that the victory over the Turks was in a great measure due to Egyptian help. It does appear that these people have at all events a right to have their case heard. The Conference has heard the case of other countries, such as Syria, which I have already quoted; and, logically and honestly, and if it is at all far-sighted, it cannot refuse to hear the case of the Egyptians. The situation is still very complex and extremely serious. One could bring forward a great deal of destructive criticism regarding the policy, or want of policy, on the part of our Government with regard to this unhappy country, but we do not come here to-day in a spirit of merely captious criticism. I take it that the hon. Member who initiated this Debate was extremely anxious to give suggestions to the Foreign Office that would help us out of the serious difficulty in which we find ourselves at the present time. I would like to put forward a suggestion to the Foreign Office which appears to be a reasonable and fair suggestion. We are told, or at least it has been hinted, that an international commission is to be sent to various parts of the Near East to make thorough inquiries before the future status of those districts is to be decided upon. The claim of Egypt, in its extreme form at all events, is for complete and absolute independence. 1860 It claims to be recognised as a country with which all Powers are concerned, and not merely England. We say to the Foreign Office and the Government, "Why not hear the Egyptian claim? Why not send the international commission, which has been suggested for other parts of the Near East, to make inquiries in Egypt?"
Why not try to preserve the international importance of Egypt as Egypt by making such foreign administration as may be found necessary the concern of the League of Nations? If that was done, England might be the mandatory Power, but Egypt would have an international status and would be entitled to appeal when necessary to the League of Nations. Obviously, things cannot be left where they are. Every speech which has been made to-day has recognised the gravity of the outlook. It is not only Egypt. One might speak of Russia, India, and other parts of the world, and unless there is some change of policy, unless there is the exercise of a little more foresight and the application of some, of those principles on which we believe our British greatness has been built, I am afraid that the future is by no means a promising one. Egypt gives us an opportunity to test our professions regarding the rights of small nations. We have again and again declared we believe every people should have the right to govern and determine its own destinies. Egypt has probably trusted us more than any other of the nations which have come under our control. We say to the Government: Do not violate that trust. Do not do it, especially now, in the moment when our country and other countries are seeking as they never sought before—at least, sincere men and women are seeking—to secure those conditions of national and international freedom which will bring into existence permanent peace in the world.
§ Earl WINTERTON
I do not disagree with the tone of the hon. and gallant Gentleman's speech, with the single exception of his somewhat unfortunate reference to the Egyptian Expeditionary Force, of which I was a member, I believe, longer than any other Member of the House, and any slur on which I regard with the greatest indignation, especially when such a slur is unsupported by any valid evidence of any sort. So far as the hon. and gallant Gentleman has pressed for an inquiry into the allegations which have been made by his friend, the Omdeh of 1861 this village, I hope it will be made, and if it proves, as I am certain it will, that there is very little foundation for the statements which the hon. and gallant Gentleman's friend has made, that he will be prosecuted for perjury with all the rigour of the law. I have been in the House a good many years, and although I regret I have sometimes heard strictures on the conduct of our troops belonging to the military and naval forces, I have always found this House is determined to see that slurs shall not be made on those men without their being fully investigated, and when they have been investigated, and if they are found to be incorrect, the person who makes them making a full apology at the earliest opportunity. With my knowledge of British soldiers during the War, I can hardly believe it conceivable that the incident referred to can have occurred. In the whole time I was in Egypt I never once saw a British soldier use the slighest violence or cruelty of any kind towards any native. The lives and safety of countless British subjects in disturbed parts of our Empire are largely in the hands of Members of this House. If hon. Members suggest that our rule is harsh or unjust or that incidents of the kind referred to have taken place, it is repeated by countless anti-British vernacular newspapers and they make more difficult the task, and more precarious the safety of thousands of British men, women and children in those disturbed areas. From my knowledge of the East, I can conceive no greater responsibility than rests upon any speaker in this Committee in referring to such a matter. I do not consider that anyone is entitled to quote any case of cruelty that is supposed to have occurred unless he is prepared to vouch for it and ask for an inquiry. To quote it and say it is fairly well authenticated is a most mischievous action, calculated to make more difficult than it is already the extremely arduous task of our administrators. The credit of the Egyptian Expeditionary Force rests on surer foundations than either the condemnation or the commendation of any hon. Member. It rests on the gratitude of the British people, and in the years to come it will rest upon the admiration of history. There has never been a juster or a fairer or a greater conqueror in the East than Sir Edward Allen by.
The speech of the hon. and gallant Gentleman (Captain Wedgwood Benn) showed 1862 that he used the comparatively short time he was in Egypt to the best advantage, and he made himself as thoroughly acquainted as possible with the very perplexed conditions of that country. He said one of the material causes of unrest was the loss of personal property. I understood what he meant was that when property and animals were commandeered for the military by the Government proper market prices were not paid.
§ Captain BENN
I said one of the causes of the unrest alleged was the commandeering of supplies. The Foreign Office is not able to state, because it does not know, what prices were paid. I suggest that is a possible cause of the unrest.
§ Earl WINTERTON
I think the hon. and gallant Gentleman's complaint against the Foreign Office was most justifiable. I heard with amazement the answer that they were unable to supply this information, but if the hon. and gallant Gentleman wishes on that to base the suggestion that proper prices were not paid I can assure him that there is really no ground for the suggestion. On the contrary, in my opinion, the native and the Greek, Armenian and Italian population got out of the British Government far greater sums than they were ever entitled to. They were getting in many cases far too high prices. Camels and donkeys were commandeered on a large scale. The value of a camel before the War was about £15. Before the Armistice we were paying £120. A native could obtain practically any price he asked for it. Enormous prices were paid, too, for grain which was commandeered. The real difficulty that arose was not in the prices we paid, but that the civilian administration—not the military—owing, I believe, to the the weakness of the Foreign Office at home, was too weak to stop the profiteering that went on, not by the peasants—I agree the peasants were very little better off as the result of the high prices—but on the part of the middle men, largely Greeks, and some Italians. The profiteering by these people I should think beat any profiteering that went on in any other country in Europe. It was a scandal. [An Hon. Member: "Sugar refinery!"] That is a good example of most disgraceful profiteering. At the same time I can scarcely agree with the hon. and gallant Gentleman opposite that the ordinary labourer obtained no rise in his wages.
§ Earl WINTERTON
I do not disagree with that. I do not think the advance was corresponding, but there was a considerable advance. For example, native cooks obtained early in the War monthly wages of £4 Egyptian. This time last year they were obtaining £9 or £10. As regards the Egyptian Labour Corps, a man could earn more in the Army in a week than he could earn in ordinary civiliain employment in a month. One of the unfortunate aspects of the situation, as regards the Egyptian Labour Corps, was that they were receiving far better wages than the Egyptian Army, with the result that the Army, whose prestige and moral it was very important for Egypt and for us to keep up, suffered from the fact that the non-combatant Labour Corps were receiving better terms than they were. I differed very much from the hon. and gallant Gentleman (Captain Benn) and I very much regret that he referred in the way he did to the question of the use of the lash. He is an old Parliamentarian, and he knows that nothing is easier than to arouse prejudice in this country, even in this House, and to make an appeal of that kind to the sentiment of the British people, and suggest that the lash was unnecessarily used in the Egyptiain Labour Corps—
§ 6.0 p.m.
§ Earl WINTERTON
Yes, several times. No one dislikes the use of the lash more than I do, but while public opinion in Europe long ago reached the point where it would not be tolerated, it has been used in Egypt from time immemorial. Discipline in the native Army is maintained, as regards the manner of punishment, by the use of the lash. The hon. and gallant Gentleman knows, though he did not refer to it, that if you hire a gang of labourers in Egypt they appoint their own foreman and present him with a whip. That may sound a strong statement, but it is a fact. You will never see a gang of men at work without a foreman walking up and down with a whip. The whole time I was in Egypt I never heard of any abuse of the power of inflicting punishment by the lash in the Egyptian Labour Corps. But so far from it being a frequent punishment, my experience was that it was an extremely rare 1864 punishment, but that it was a punishment is of course a fact. It has always been a punishment in the Egyptian Army, and it is part of the custom of any organised body of labour in that country. The hon. and gallant Member also referred to the state of affairs at certain military camps in Egypt, which, he said, were unnecessarily placed under the power of the military authorities, as they were out of the war zone. I think the hon. and gallant Gentleman was referring to a camp at Sidi Bishr, near Alexandria. With much that he said on that point I agree. I only knew of one instance during the time I was in Egypt where it could be said that anybody acting in the capacity of a British officer over natives did abuse his powers. That occurred where the Provost-Marshal of the camp had, in accordance with the Regulations, considerable power over the natives, and I think in certain cases he abused those powers. Apart from that, I do not know of any abuse. When the hon. and gallant Gentleman says that camps were far away from the war zone I would remind him that immediately after Gallipoli and in the later days of the War, when the submarine menace had begun, the whole of Egypt was in the war zone. Let me tell him this—and in doing so I shall not be abusing any rules as regards official secrecy—that right up to the end Alexandria was one of the principal centres of the German spy system in the Mediterranean. Right up to the end of the War information was reaching German submarines from Alexandria. If any hon. Member asks how that is pertinent to the point, I say it is pertinent in this way, that where you have such conditions in a country you are bound to take all the necessary military precautions, and you are bound in any camp to put the natives employed in that camp under military authority.
§ Earl WINTERTON
No, I certainly do not. I think it was unnecessary, but what I do justify is the placing of the natives under military control. That was absolutely necessary. The hon. Member for Bishop Auckland said our military patrol had been of a singularly short-sighted nature. I can only say that, having regard to the difficulties with which the military authorities were faced, I do not 1865 think the military patrol was of a short-sighted nature. I think on the whole it was no more drastic than was needed. As an old member of the Egyptian Expetionary Force—and I see another hon. and gallant Member present who was a member of that force—I say that some of us will go away with the feeling that, so far from having done anything for our country in that force, we have done the wrong thing according to hon. Members. It has been suggested that the soldiers were responsible for all the trouble in Egypt, and that military control caused a revolution. Does the Committee realise that as a result of the action of the Egyptian Expeditionary Force the Suez Canal, and one might say India, was saved to the British Empire? Does the Committee realise that we who were fighting out there—and I do not know anyone who was longer in the desert than I was—who were fighting with the temperature at 110, in blinding sandstorms, with nothing but a bivvy sheet over our heads during the summer of 1916–17, were fighting as surely for the fellaheen of Egypt and the shopkeepers as we were for the British Empire? To listen to the speeches of hon. Members you might think that it was almost wicked to be a soldier in Egypt. We have heard a great deal about short-sighted control and the abuse of power by the military authorities. I know something about the East, and I can assure hon. Members that if the Turks had got into Egypt it would not have been one lash for the Egyptian labourers there, but they would have been shot or hanged. There would not have been any commandeering and paying for supplies, but the supplies would have been taken without any payment being made. We were as surely defending Egypt and the Egyptians as we were defending the interests of the British Empire. I spent a considerable time last year fighting with the Northern Arab Army under Sheriff Feizal, son of the King of the Hejaz. I was on his staff. Therefore, I do not think anyone will accuse me of not having sympathy with the natives. I can assure the Committee that the Arabs appreciated what was done by the British armed forces for the cause of justice and right.
§ Earl WINTERTON
They also fought. If I may use a vulgar phrase, they fought like tigers for their country. I do not wish 1866 to make any comparison between them and the Egyptians, but I have seen both the Egyptians and the Arabs fighting, and I am afraid the comparison is not altogether favourable to the Egyptians. I would like to make reference to another side of the picture, and that is with reference to the recent riots in Egypt. So far from having dealt with those riots too firmly, I do not think that they acted nearly firmly enough. I will not say nearly firmly enough. In some respects they have acted firmly enough, but at the time of the riots they did not act nearly firmly enough. I would remind the Committee that seven unarmed British officers and soldiers were slaughtered in the train between Upper Egypt and Lower Egypt. Their dead bodies were subjected to every kind of insults, and the most disgusting scenes took place, a native in one case actually drinking the blood of one of the dead men. That is vouched for. I have here a quotation from the letter of a gentleman who was in Egypt at the time, who was formerly a Judge and Chief Justice in India, and who may be regarded as a reliable man. [HON. MEMBERS: "Name!"] Sir D. Johnstone. He says:I cannot here give a detailed account of the riots in Cairo and the provinces. Military measures outside Cairo did in time reduce the country to something like order, but only after railway stations, with all their valuable signalling apparatus, had been burnt, rails rooted up, all telegraph lines cut, and European houses and shops gutted; but in the Capital everything was done to encourage the mob. One day a few rioters would be killed when resisting the soldiers, and next day the authorities would allow immense and noisy funeral processions for the dead rioters, accompanied by orators who inflamed the mobby wild harangues against the British. Soldiers of the King were spat upon and insulted in the street and no reprisals taken. Two gunners were found tied to trees, naked and beaten to death, near a village by Cairo, but nothing was done. For weeks it was not safe for a white man to be in the streets, though we had overwhelming military forces in the country. The first duty of all Governments is the preservation of the public peace and the protection of all law-abiding citizens, but a strange paralysis was apparent and this paramount duty was neglected.So far from too strong measures being taken, we certainly gave the impression in the early days of the riots that we were not prepared to put down the riots. I have had considerable experience in Egypt. I went there so long ago as 1893. I was a boy at the time, but I remember circumstances there which were not dissimilar to the circumstances which have taken place recently. Lord Cromer, the British Consul-General, 1867 refused to accept a Minister who had been appointed by the then Khedive, on the ground that he was not a fit person to hold office. The Khedive stated that he would appoint him, and in consequence a serious situation arose. Hon. Members may know of the marvellous way in which news spreads in the East, and when it became known what the Khedive had done the street was quickly filled with a howling mob, who boohed and hooted at Europeans and threw stones at the hotel. At the moment there were only 400 British soldiers in Cairo and they were confined to barracks. I think the garrison had never fallen as low before. What did Lord Cromer do? He immediately telegraphed to Lord Charles Beresford, who spent so many years in this House, who was at Alexandria at the time and asked him to bring a strong landing party with machine guns and come to Cairo. Lord Charles Beresford landed with considerable forces, commandeered special trains waiting at Alexandria station, and Lord Cromer informed the Khedive that unless the riotings stopped and the Khedive agreed to his demand as regards the Minister, Cairo would be occupied by a naval force. The Khedive gave way in ten minutes. That is an example of the way in which the situation was dealt with in those days. I know I shall be called a reactionary for what I am about to say, but I am not at all sure that a little of that kind of force is not necessary in these days. [An HON. MEMBER: "In this country, too!"] I will not say in this country except perhaps for the hon. and gallant Member for Hull and others who have been agitating. It is certainly not necessary in this country unless people's passions are roused to extremes by the foolish speeches of foolish people. In the East passions are extremely strong and the League of Nations and self-determination of peoples are absolutely meaningless phrases to the average native. That is the case in Egypt except for a very limited number of students. The average fellaheen is concerned not about these things but that he shall not be overtaxed, that he shall get his water and that he shall find a market for his produce.
I want to refer to another matter which is of importance and that is the unrest in the Moslem world at the present time. I think the Committee and the country would do well to realise that while a great deal of the disturbance which has arisen 1868 in different parts of the East may be directly due to political agitation, a great deal of it can be explained on no other grounds but that the religious Moslem world is seriously disturbed in its mind as to the future. It is a very vast and complex question which it is impossible to go into except in very brief outline in a debate of this kind. In the first place, there is dismay in the Moslem world and Islam generally at the prospect of the loss of the temporal power of Islam. Secondly, there is a doubt, an in justifiable doubt, as to our intentions in regard to the future of the Holy places, and thirdly, I think there is a feeling, also unjustifiable, that for political reasons we are going to take a hand in the purely Moslem question whether the Khalifate should be Arab or Turkish. In the fourth place, there is unrest because of the injudicious resolutions and petitions which have been passed in this country as to the future of St. Sophia. That has had a very un restful effect upon the Moslem world in the Near, the Middle, and the Far East. As regards these four points, I hope that if the hon. Gentleman who will speak for the Government to-night is not able to give us an assurance that at an early date we shall have a statement from a responsible Minister that there is no intention of depriving the Turks at any time of that portion of Turkey which is purely Turkish by origin and race.
I do not wish it to be understood that I sympathise in the least with the Turks. I dislike their cruelty in the War. I was with the Arabs, and near a village we found Arab women and children bayoneted, and children two years old out in half by Turkish bayonets. At the same time, from the point of view of justice and right, I do say that the Turks, should retain that part of Turkey which is Turkish in origin, and while there is no intention to deprive them of it that should be stated by a responsible Minister. I am assured by Moslem friends that there is considerable doubt on that point in the mind of Moslems. I think it should be possible for the Prime Minister to suggest to His Majesty in Council the issuing of a Proclamation similar to that which was issued at the time when Queen Victoria took the Throne of Empress of India, stating that in the first place the holy places of Islam would always be in the hands of Moslems.
In the third place, it ought to be very clearly laid down also in that Proclama- 1869 tion that we as an Empire and as Christians are not concerned in whether the Caliph's future home is in Mecca or Constantinople, and that that no more concerns us than it concerns the Moslems whether the seat of the Pope is in Madrid or in Rome, a question which I understand is agitating the Catholic world at the present time. Many Moslems think—I do not believe that they have any ground for it, but I know that they do think—that we are trying to induce the Moslems to accept the idea of a Meccan Caliphate, and if this idea, spreads it may do untold harm. I yield to no one in my respect for the saintliness of the high ecclesiastical authorities in this country, but I have considerable doubt about their wisdom, and I think that it was tactless to suggest that the conquest of Constantinople in November, 1918, was a Christian conquest. Two-thirds of the troops responsible for fighting the Turks in Mesopotamia and Egypt were native troops, the majority of them Moslems, and therefore it was tactless for anyone in this country to suggest that the defeat of the Turks and the capture of Constantinople was a defeat of Moslems by the Christians. The truer way to put it is that it was a victory for justice and right over the most hideous tyranny and cruelty in the world. But to suggest that it was a Christian victory is to make it very difficult for those Indian and Egyptian troops, who fought by our side against the Turks in Mesopotamia and Palestine. It is one of the questions on which the Moslem world feels most strongly at the present time.
I do not think it possible to over emphasise the importance of Islam to this country. We have in the British Empire 65,000,000 Christians and 70,000,000 Moslems, and without the loyal co-operation in military and civilian affairs of those Moslems the British Empire could not exist. Therefore it seems to be the bounden duty of the Government and of the people of this country to do all they can to understand Islam aspiration and religion. I am afraid that in the past they have not really understood them, and that an impression has grown up—quite a wrong impression—that we are in some way hostile to the aspirations of Islam. Islam is not merely a religion. It is a social entity, a form of civilisation, though not the one that we may agree with. But it has a very strong sense of corporate existence. It is not a question of race, or country or clime, but of belief in God according to the teaching 1870 laid down by Mahomet, and its power over its followers is greater than that of any organisation of the Christian Church.
People talk as if the days of cohesion of Islam had passed. That is a most mistaken idea. We get in Cairo, as in every large town or in every country of the world, Christian or Moslem, a great deal of conventionalism. Then, all of a sudden, there comes from the desert some holy man. It may be from the West or from the shores of the Red Sea. He comes to Cairo with fanaticism and asceticism written in every line of his face. He preaches to the people of Cairo, and says to them, "You are consorting with dogs of Christians. You have had business with them. Go back to the pure teachings of the Prophet." That is the torch which often sets alight the smouldering fire that exists in every Eastern country against the presence of Europeans. When hon. Gentlemen pretend that these difficulties in the East can be solved by some form of government which might be understood by a trade union in this country but is not understood by the average Egyptian, let them remember the religious factor, which is stronger than any trade union movement in this country, and which makes every follower of Islam the slave of Islam, so that if Islam asks him to die he is ready to do so, and then we can understand the reasons for most of the troubles which are lowering like a dark cloud over all the East at the present time, and that we are no nearer the solution of these questions by merely talking about self-determination.
§ Colonel WEDGWOOD
I hope that the newspapers, not only of this country, but of the Near East, will report the last part of the Noble Lord's speech, and forget all the first part, because it seems to me that the last part was the speech of a statesman who really wanted to make known to the public those circumstances which certainly trouble the East at the present time. In the early part of his speech we get more into the early manner which was associated with him on these benches here. A very serious charge was made against my hon. Friend below me for quoting only after he was very much pressed a specific case of outrage. The Noble Lord was equally unfortunate in quoting outrages on the other side. It would be much better if we did not have these outrages quoted. But, at the same time, when they are published to the world there should be an inquiry into the truth or otherwise of 1871 the accusations that are made. It seems to me that the first thing which the Government must do is to have an inquiry into these accusations arising out of the outrages in Egypt. I do not think myself that there is a word of truth in them, but they have been published to the East; and they are accusations against the good name and honour not only of the British Army but of the British people, and unless we catch these accusations when born, and have them refuted on irresistible testimony, which we can perfectly well get in Egypt, then they will go out to all the world and blacken our history in ages to come. Therefore it is most important that when an accusation of this kind is made the Government should have inquiries made and see that the truth is made known, when we are perfectly certain that the result cannot blacken the good name of our country.
I have seen a great deal of fighting in this War and in South Africa, and I have never seen an English soldier touch a woman at all. I think there must be some mistake about this accusation. It probably was some native soldier. Everybody knows that native soldiers have not got our traditions or our very natural modesty where black women are concerned, but that it is natural for an English soldier never to cohabit with a black woman. I fully admit that where we have got some black soldiers there is sometimes rough treatment, and merely because there is an English officer in the vicinity an outrage is put down to British troops. And the sooner we make it known that such outrage was committed without the knowledge of the British officer and will be investigated and punished, the sooner will our good name be re-established. Then as to the recent riots, if anything to the good is to come for Egypt in the near future, we have got to have an understanding by the Foreign Office and by the people of this country of what really caused the trouble. I have no doubt whatever that the fundamental cause was the collapse of the War and the idea that liberty was to be distributed broadcast to everybody. Educated Egyptians see it even if the uneducated fellaheen does not. The educated Egyptians spread the idea of nationality and self-determination through all ranks of the Egyptian people. When we see the recrudescence of the same spirit not only in Egypt, but in India 1872 and Ceylon, and in the Straits Settlement—in fact, in all the native countries over which British sway extends—then we may be sure that the fundamental cause is the national aspiration, based on a long war for freedom, that freedom should come at last; and if you are going to wipe out not merely the actual rioting but what is far more important, the cause of the rioting, you have to prove to these people that all we have talked about liberty and justice will find expression in constitutional reforms which put them on the straight way to achieve some form of self-government. That is the most vitally important thing.
Let the Egyptians, like the Indians last year, realise that we are starting meaning to make Egypt a self-governing part of the Empire. There is no question of the immediate institution of responsible government, but that we should make a solemn promise from the Government Bench that social reform shall be introduced, and that we have in mind responsible government within the Empire as the ultimate form of government of Egypt. That, I think, would do more to settle the minds of the Egyptian people than anything else we can do by speeches in this House or by the executive officers of the Empire. One or two other things must be understood before we can re-establish our good name in Egypt. The hon. and gallant Member for Leith referred particularly to the experience of the Egyptian Labour Corps. I think that that has been serious, and think that they provided material for other people to work upon in connection with these riots. The grievances which I have heard from all the Egyptians who come to see me was the use of the lash, and the use of the lash after it had been abolished in the civil Courts of the country, not on soldiers but on people in the Labour Corps, who are a sort of half-soldier and half not soldier. I have seen in this War and in the South African War a great deal of fighting in connection with native races. In South Africa and East Africa and in Gallipoli to a certain extent, I have been with native troops and native labour corps. In South Africa I do not remember a single case of the use of the lash, though we employed three coloured men for every white man. In the same way in East Africa, where we had an enormous labour army, porters carrying loads very often on their heads, I never saw the lash once 1873 used. I believe that it was used occasionally, but it was so infrequent that it was not a question that cropped up in the least, but in the Egyptian Labour Corps it seems to have been much more freely and frequently used, and I can quite understand that if this form of punishment was used in cases of petty larceny or small military offences then you will get a state of feeling anti-English and anti-disciplinary which provides the right material for spreading the flame.
Then there is another matter. We all know of the magnificent services of the Egyptian Expeditionary Force. I think the Noble Lord was quite wrong in charging anyone on these benches with belittling the glorious services which they rendered. We know the trying conditions under which they fought, and we know that in nine cases out of ten they were men who had not sought the military profession as one of choice. They did their duty, but it is impossible when you bring into connection with a coloured race those who have not had experience to have the treatment of that coloured race at all parallel or similar to the treatment which the coloured race gets from British officials or British soldiers who have long had dealings with them. They go there with the idea of getting the damned thing through, and you have got the material, I will not say for oppression, but for contemptuous treatment, which is just the sort of thing to annoy a race like the Egyptians, who are proud of being a very old race and who believe, I suppose quite rightly, that Egypt is their country and that they were Allies of ours in the War. The Noble Lord or myself in dealing with natives deal with them as we should deal with Englishmen and make no difference whatever. There is no colour bar with people who are accustomed, to dealing with coloured people. But when you get a lot of people out of offices who never had any dealings with coloured people and put red tabs on them and give them military titles, you cannot expect to have that ceremonious, careful treatment of the coloured man which he receives from experienced people. For five years the Egyptian people have had this somewhat cavalier treatment from officers who really knew no better. The result is that you get a very natural irritation. When you have that in India, where you have experienced Anglo-Indian officials, how much more likely are you to 1874 get it when you have inexperienced men, very often young, put in charge of camps or districts, or commandeering, with powers very extensive and very often in inverse ratio to their experience of what they have got to do. There you have again the material for the spark in the powder magazine. There is another thing besides that. We all know how a race like the Egyptians are influenced and affected by an educated minority, and the influence of that minority is all the greater because reading is not widespread. In Egypt you have a most influential class of lawyers in every little town and village, and the people go to the lawyer's house in the evening and discuss public affairs. The influence of the lawyers exists not only in Cairo and Alexandria, but throughout the country at large. Those lawyers have acquired at great expense a knowledge of Roman Dutch law and of the French language. The law is Roman Dutch, and the courts are conducted in French.
§ Colonel WEDGWOOD
I am much obliged. It is the Code Napoleon, and the law courts are conducted in French. There has been an agitation for the putting of the law into English and using the English language and putting English judges into the courts. I think there are any amount of arguments we could use in favour of that. It would facilitate business and it would be more natural in the British Empire to have English law and not French and to conduct courts in our language. But I do ask Members to remember, when we are trying to wean a people like the Egyptians to be loyal and to co-operate with us, that we ought not to tread upon their toes. All those who have acquired a knowledge of the law there, the influential class, see suddenly looming before them the possibility of their vested interests in the law being wiped out and English law substituted, and Englishmen getting their posts. Those people immediately turn to, and, instead of buttressing up the Government—
§ Sir B. FALLE
The courts are conducted in Arabic, and it would be quite impossible for that to happen.
§ Colonel WEDGWOOD
I understand the supreme court is conducted in French, 1875 and in most of the other courts the language is mixed, and seems to be both Arabic and French.
§ Colonel WEDGWOOD
The suggestion that the law should be changed has been one of the causes of this uprising. There has been the suspicion that we were going to Anglicise Egypt, and those connected with the law, instead of assisting us, immediately began to do what they could to upset the applecart. With that material, naturally the deportation provoked the rising. In addition to the necessity of making a special inquiry into the outrages, which occurred unfortunately in that rising, we have got to put other matters right. We ought to have a statement from the Foreign Office that they have no intention of altering in Egypt the law in the courts in Egypt, and that the use and continuation of the Defence of the Realm Act in Egypt will be terminated by a certain date, and certainly let it be understood that with the cessation of riots the restoration of pre-war conditions in that country will be simultaneous with the abrogation of the Defence of the Realm Acts and military control in the country, and that the use of the lash will be discontinued.
I think, like the Noble Lord, that it is of enormous importance that a clear statement should be made as to the position of the British Government relative to the Moslem religion throughout the world. We have got to make it quite clear that the interests of Moslems are better looked after by the Government of His Britannic Majesty than by any other Government in the world, because we are the greatest Moslem Power and have always looked after them in the past, and it is our duty as well as to our interest to look after the interests of Moslems in the future, and to see that the Turks do retain in their own country control of their own affairs, and to see that the grasping hands of other nations are kept in their proper place and do not interfere with our friends. The Moslems are our friends, and we are proud to look after their interests. I believe the Government intend to act on those lines, but I do not think this fact has been made sufficiently public, and that the people of Turkey or the people in India or the people in Egypt fully understand that the British Government stands for 1876 the interests of Moslems everywhere and will support them against any encroachment by any other Power or any other religion whatsoever. The next thing is to have a Commission to go out to Egypt to see what fundamental legislation can be laid down to establish a Constitution for that country. The Legislative Assembly was bad at all times. It had no powers, and since 1914 has not been called together. That system is dead. There is no form of representative or responsible Government in Egypt at present. You have got to put an end to that state of affairs. We cannot have it charged against, the British Empire that we are carrying on an absolute autocracy in any country. Obviously, that position is quite untenable. We have got to have some form of Constitutional Government, and we should see that the Constitution is framed on liberal lines. The Noble Lord representing the Foreign Office knows that the world is moving on. India has got its Constitution, and Egypt considers itself a more civilized country even than India, and to allow the Indians to get ahead of them is regarded by the Egyptians as a direct slur. I do submit that a Commission similar to that undertaken by the Secretary of State for India to India the year before last, should be sent out immediately to Egypt with a view to re-establishing representative government in that country—I do not say responsible at present, but it ought to be representative government at once. The basis of that representative government cannot be laid down too soon or too clearly if you are going to put this unrest right in Egypt. I do beg of the hon. Gentleman to use his utmost influence with his chief to see that we have a liberal solution in Egypt, instead of starting in Egypt with the bad old system of carrying on with resolute government, irrespective of the rights of the people or the needs of the situation. The best cure for every form of unrest is to give people responsibility and make them feel that they are responsible for their own management If the nation is not sufficiently developed to govern itself completely, at any rate let them understand that they are to have certain powers and that if they exercise those well they will go further and ultimately obtain self-government within the British Empire.
§ Lieutenant-Colonel W. GUINNESS
The Debate so far on the Egyptian question has followed lines of very great moderation from all quarters of the House, and I feel 1877 sure that very many valuable suggestions have been put forward. The disturbances in Egypt were to a large extent due to the talk which has been current throughout the world as to self-determination. The hon. Member for Leith (Captain W. Benn) quoted as a justification for the Egyptian attitude the fact that Armenia, Arabia, and Czecho-Slovakia had all been allowed the privilege of choosing their own form of government, but I do not think there is any justification for the Egyptian attitude on that basis, for all those territories have been freed from enemy rule, and those countries were in no case part of the texture of our Allied fabric. Egypt is quite a different case, having been developed by Allied enterprise and by Allied capital, and self-determination obviously cannot be automatically applied under those circumstances. It really surprises me that any educated Egyptian can seriously argue that the fact that self-determination is given as a right to those subject races, freed from the domination of Germany, Austria, and Turkey, is any argument why self-determination should be given in Egypt, which has been freed from Turkish rule by this country. It is three years since I served in Egypt, and at that time certainly there was very little military interference with the civil administration. I served as a brigade-major on the borders of the Western Desert, and at that time the whole of the administration was left in the ordinary civil channels. There is no doubt there was a great deal of maladministration by small native officials, and that the British administration got the discredit. No doubt we deserved the discredit. I am not saying a word of denial of the criticisms which have been passed on the laxity of British administration during the War, but surely the fact that we are in a measure to blame must not cause us to give more native control in such a form as would aggravate the evil from which the fellaheen have been suffering. Maladministration by the smaller native officials is a new and, I believe, a passing phase. It was avoided under the strong and efficient Government of Lord Cromer and Lord Kitchener, and it was in no way inherent in the British system. Under the successors of those great rulers the power and decision of government on the spot in Egypt was very largely curtailed, and passed into the hands of the Egyptian Department of the Foreign Office more and more, which was a Department not very well qualified to 1878 wield it. Obviously a re-organisation of the machinery of the British control of Egypt from this country is imperative, and this question is one, I think, which should be explored by the proposed Royal Commission, in addition to the local and constitutional questions which they will no doubt have to explore on the spot in Egypt.
I now come to the subject of Russia. I hope that we may be told something in the Debate this evening by the Under-secretary as to the prospects of the recognition of Admiral Koltchak's Government. A great change has taken place since we last debated this question, and the position of that Government is very much stronger than it then was. In the last few days we have seen rumours in the Press of action in the Gulf of Finland by the British Fleet in support of military operations by the Finns, or by the Esthonians, or by the Russians, that might be in contemplation, and this suggestion has been hotly criticised by certain people both in this House and outside. I think these critics forget that our Russian commitments are not primarily or in any sense due to the internal affairs of Russia, but have come about simply because a bloodthirsty gang with no popular mandate, in alliance with Germany, seized the power in Russia, murdered and imprisoned British diplomatic representatives, and declared war on civilisation. The House and the country, I think, recognise that our commitments in Russia are inevitable as a debt of honour to our murdered fellow citizens, and to the Russian populations of the occupied territories, who, if we were to evacuate them, would be handed over to massacre. No one wants to prolong our Russian commitments for one moment beyond what is absolutely necessary, but if an attack on Petersburg would shorten our responsibilities in Russia, by all means let that attack get British support. There is no conceivable reason why we should tie our hands. There is in any case no question of using British troops, because there are none on the spot; but if Great Britain can help, with supplies, ammunition, or advice, the efforts of the Russians to help themselves, surely we ought to do so. It has been suggested that we should only fight Bolshevism at Archangel, or on the Volga, or anywhere else on the periphery of Russia, where it is most convenient to the Bolsheviks themselves. We may stick pins into the extremities, but we may not strike at the heart. I think that is altogether an 1879 absurd suggestion, and if we have no sufficient information as to the military situation to enable us to form any opinion as to the effect of a blow at Petersburg, in its essence such a blow has nothing objectionable to British policy. It is entirely a military question, which must be judged by the War Office, but on the question of our political action we have a great deal—
§ The DEPUTY-CHAIRMAN (Sir F. Banbury)
The hon. and gallant Gentleman is, of course, quite in order in introducing the question, of Russia now, but I understood that it was an arrangement made for the convenience of the Committee that the Egyptian question should only be introduced at this moment.
§ Lieutenant-Colonel GUINNESS
I will not pursue the subject of Russia any further. I had, as a matter of fact, understood that the Russian question was going to be raised by the last speaker, but I would like, if I may, to say one word about another question of which I have given the Under-Secretary notice, and that is the question of Albania. This is a question which I have raised on several occasions in this House before, but I have never yet raised it in Debate. Scutari was allotted to Albania in 1913, and at present a Serbian, force is threatening that capital of Northern Albania from aposition well inside the Albanian frontier. At present a small British force is holding Scutari, but there are rumours that that British force may shortly be withdrawn. If so, the Serbians will be able to rush the unarmed Albanian population of Scutari and repeat the massacres, denationalisation, and expropriation which they have so often inflicted on other Albanian districts. Then there has been outrageous aggression by the Serbs on the town of Gusinje, where the Albanian population was on the 16th February barbarously attacked by the Serbian forces with artillery and other military weapons not possessed by the Albanians. No place has a greater claim to the recognition of its Albanian nationality than this town of Gusinje. In 1878 the Treaty of Berlin allotted this town to Montenegro, but owing to its strenuous resistance the Powers finally substituted the town of Dulling. In 1913 the Powers repeated the mistake of 1878 by again allotting Gusinje to their hereditary enemies, the Montenegrins, and by means of artillery 1880 the Montenegrins were able to occupy the town and boasted that they would simplify the racial question by exterminating the Albanian population. During the War the Albanians had returned to their ruined habitations, and it now appears that they have been driven out again by the Montenegrins, and that they are suffering very great privations as refugees in that part of Albania which is still under Allied control. There is very much anxiety felt not only in Albania, but in other districts in much the same condition as to what is the intention of the Powers in cases of this kind. Of course, this Albanian question was with us before the War, and it was largely prejudged at a time when self-determination was less heard of than it is at the present time, but it does seem to me in a district like the Balkans, where you have inevitably to face complicated racial entanglements, we ought, if we follow self-determination anywhere, to cling to that principle. We have that principle easy to follow in the case of Albania, because the Albanian population is separated by a very distinct line of cleavage from their Montenegrin and Serbian neighbours, and in view of the splendid fight which this little country has made for its nationality through centuries of Turkish oppression I hope the Under-secretary will be able to say something to-night to discourage the Serbians from these unprovoked aggressions, and to make them realise that they will not profit by persecuting the Albanian people and that the question of frontiers will not be determined by the country which they seize by force, but will be reconsidered on racial grounds.
§ Mr. HARMSWORTH
My hon. and gallant Friend who has just sat down has introduced one or two topics which I will avoid at the present moment, and I hope he will not think it discourteous on my part if I find it more convenient to address myself at this stage to the question of Egypt. There is, I believe, a considerable number of other questions that hon. Members wish to raise remote from the subject of Egypt, and I think it will be for the convenience of the Committee—as I admit, quite frankly, it is to me—if I speak on Egypt now and address myself to other topics at a later hour in the evening. This Debate has, I think, been one of the most interesting I have heard in this House during this Session, and it has been marked, as one hon. Gentleman has said, by a 1881 complete moderation of tone throughout. One topic raised by the hon. Member for Bishop Auckland (Mr. Spoor) seemed to me to strike an unhappy note, but it is a remarkable thing that, having regard to the situation in Egypt, we should be able to carry on a discussion in this House for the whole of an afternoon and only strike one jarring note. May I say that I listened with the greatest possible attention to the speech of my hon. and gallant Friend who introduced the subject to-day (Captain Wedgwood Benn)? We who have known him for a long time and belong, if he will allow us still to belong, to the same party as himself, have always contemplated for him a conspicuous position in this House, and I feel that by his admirable address to-day he will win in this House rewards no less honourable than those he has gained in another sphere.
A great number of reasons have been adduced to explain the reason of the outbreak in Egypt. I think it is fair to say that it is not one cause, but an accumulation of causes. I think my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Colonel Wedgwood) hit on the real point when he said that we are living in a world of political ferment. There is not a country in the world, so far as I know, that has not been affected by this great War, that is not now engaged in political speculation. It would have been a remarkable thing if Egypt, occupying so central a position in the geography of the world, had been unaffected by a world-wide movement. I think we must go back to that cause for the main reason for this discontent. Egypt has been one of the theatres of the War itself, and here may I venture to say that I do think my hon. and gallant Friend on the Front Bench opposite (Captain W. Benn) made a little too much of the material grievances of Egypt? It would be fair to say, I think that Egypt on the whole suffered as little in a material sense as any country during this great War. He asked me a specific question, in that admirable debating style of which he is proving himself a master, in regard to cotton, and he suggested that the Egyptian cotton growers had lost £20,000,000 owing to some mismanagement on the part of the British authorities. I am wholly unable to trace this loss and, if it were so, think of the difficulties of removing the cotton crop in Egypt during the last two or three years. There were difficulties of transport on the railways, which were very largely occu- 1882 pied with the movement of troops, and there were almost incredible difficulties of shipping. It gratifies me to learn from hon. Gentlemen who know Egypt much, better than I do that, in their judgment, during the War Egypt enjoyed, on the whole, a very remarkable degree of prosperity.
§ Captain BENN
Does the hon. Gentleman think that that prosperity extended downwards to the lowest class of fellaheen, or was the cost of living so much raised that the lowest class were unable to enjoy what they had enjoyed before?
§ Mr. HARMSWORTH
What they enjoyed before! Do any people in any part of the world enjoy exactly what they enjoyed before? I have yet to learn of; certainly I received no record of any serious privation among the population of Egypt during the War. As I say, a good many subsidiary causes have been given, and who can doubt that some of them have been correctly stated. Some hon. Members have referred to the apprehensions among the lawyers in Egypt as to possible changes in the system of judicature. We have heard of the profiteering of middlemen in Egypt. Why, a year or so ago, this country rang with charges against the profiteers. We have had, no doubt—I do not think we need quarrel about it—a certain amount of mishandling of difficult native questions by inexperienced officers. During the whole of this War, a great part of the work of the world has had to be done by subalterns. It does not surprise me in the least to hear that, in one place or another, in one connection or another, there has been a mishandling of native questions by officers who, in the nature of things, could not have been expected to have had a life-long experience of native sentiments.
My hon. and gallant Friend opposite, I know, will not expect me to go into the grievances that have arisen under martial conditions in Egypt. It is a very difficult thing, in the position I occupy, to deal with any matter that does not really come within my province. There are so many interests attached to the Foreign Office at the present time that, even if I had the capacity, I should not have the time to survey such a problem as this, not merely from the political but also from the military point of view. So I do not think I can be expected to go into any particulars. Let this be stated with absolute frankness; this outbreak in Egypt came as a 1883 surprise on the Government of Egypt, and on those who are responsible in part for the government of Egypt at home. There need be no disguise about that. I remember, almost to the very moment when the outbreak occurred. I was engaged at a conference at the Foreign Office with legal gentlemen from Egypt, discussing some of those legal problems which have been referred to this afternoon. We discussed them, I need hardly say, in an atmosphere of absolute calm. I heard nothing from these gentlemen, some of whom had almost a life-long experience of Egypt, in reference to any possible outbreak in that country.
§ Mr. HARMSWORTH
Absolutely white, through and through. Does my hon. And gallant Friend suggest that if they had been of a different complexion possibly they might have had a wider knowledge?
§ Colonel WEDGWOOD
If they had been Egyptians, probably they would have known something more about Egyptian problems.
§ Mr. HARMSWORTH
That may be so; I cannot say. But, however that may be, it is not surprising that the news of this outbreak gave rise to the greatest dismay and disappointment in this country. I think we have all been very proud of the British record in Egypt. I think we have reason to be proud of that record. I have heard Egypt adduced as an object lesson of the almost miraculous instinct of the British people for Empire. Certainly, that object-lesson has excited the admiration, not only of our own people, but I think of foreign people, too. It is true to say that a population, two or three times larger than that of Scotland or Ireland, has been for years successfully governed by native rulers and native statesmen, advised and assisted by a mere handful of British officials. To the government of Egypt some of the best statesmen which this country has produced have dedicated their lives—Lord Cromer, Lord Kitchener—those are the men who, as it seems to me, governed Egypt largely by personality and prestige. And here, it occurs to me, is another cause of the present disturbances. Those two men, enjoying as I think they did, a quite unequalled prestige in the Near East, had no successor. They governed, as I am informed, very largely 1884 by personality and prestige. One might almost perhaps—I do not think the expression is offensive—describe them as benevolent autocrats. Now, when you remove a benevolent autocrat you ought to be careful that you substitute some form of government adequate to fill the place of the one you have removed. I am not satisfied, in my own mind, that we have arrived at that stage.
Prosperity followed British rule in Egypt to a perfectly astonishing extent, and I believe that among the largest classes of the people in that country there was a sense generally of security and contentment. The old biblical phophecy might almost have been supposed to have been intended for Egypt—The desert shall rejoice, and blossom as the rose.That has been in part the result of British government in that country. [Earl Winterton: "Entirely."] Let this be noted—it has been remarked this afternoon—it is a great testimony to British rule in Egypt that Egypt stood staunchly by the British Empire during this War. If there are misgivings now, and bitterness in some quarters, let that fact be recorded to the credit of Egypt.
Then took place this sudden change. I say it was a sudden change. I do not know whether, now, there are hon. Members of this House or prophets in other quarters who will tell us that they foresaw and anticipated exactly what has happened in Egypt. I confess that I have not yet met anybody who has had the courage to assure me that he knew for a certainty that this outbreak would take place, and when it would take place. Not merely its suddenness, but its extent, surprised those responsible for the government of Egypt. Those who, on such occasions as this, are described as intellectuals, joined hands with the agriculturists; the students made common cause with the fellaheen; the railway men and the civil servants, as we know, downed tools; and there was even a strike among the lawyers. I say the extent of this rising is not a remarkable thing in itself, but one that pre-eminently deserves the attention of this House and of this Government.
May I, for a moment, traverse to some extent the ground covered by my hon. and gallant Friend in dealing with the actual facts leading up to this outbreak? I do not think my hon. and gallant Friend really developed what I might call the 1885 British side of the question quite as strongly as he might. On 7th November three Egyptian gentlemen called at the Residence. What did they ask for? I am well aware, of course, that in bazaars prices are asked which can subsequently be greatly reduced, and I have myself spent many a pleasant hour in parts of the East beating down prices from sovereigns to shillings, and emerging with the satisfaction of having been completely taken in. These gentlemen were responsible public men. They came to the Residence, and they demanded complete autonomy for Egypt, leaviifg—as they were generous enough to suggest—to His Majesty's Government only the right of supervision over the public debt and facilities for shipping in the Suez Canal. I would ask the House, was that a reasonable claim made by responsible public men, having regard to all the history of British rule in Egypt? For what it had done for them—for the mere fact that it had rescued Egypt from the suzerainty of the Turkish Government, I think Egypt owed us something. It is said that we do not necessarily pursue our Imperialistic policies for the benefit of the people among whom we work. Not altogether; not, perhaps, mainly, but our rule is followed generally by advantage to the population, and there is no native population that has ever enjoyed greater advantages from British rule than the Egyptian. I think that ought to be remembered, I think it might have been remembered by the leaders of the Nationalist party in Egypt.
Soon after this, the Prime Minister, Rushdi Pasha, suggested that he and the Minister of Education should come to England and discuss with the Home Government the affairs of Egypt. I ought to say that these two statesmen were held in the highest esteem by His Majesty's Government, but they made it a condition of their coming to England that they should bring with them the leaders of the Nationalist party. At least it must be submitted that the situation was very difficult. It is a very difficult thing for a responsible Government to recognise and, by so doing, afford immense encouragement to advanced politicians who are seeking to subvert the Government of the country. I should like to make clear to the House that at all times the home Government has been anxious to meet Rushdi Pasha, and there was no malignity about it. It was an acci- 1886 dent that they were not able to come at the time they suggested themselves. I will not say an accident, but there was this difficulty. The Government were confronted with all the arrangements for the preparation of the Peace Conference, and the greater part of those arrangements of necessity fell on the Foreign Office. I think an hon. Gentleman is going to raise the matter a little later, and I may be able to give the House some information on that point. It Foreign Office was absorbed beyond the limits of endurance of its staff by questions connected with the Peace Conference. The Foreign Secretary, the Under-Secretary, and Lord Hardinge were required in Paris. It was suggested, therefore, to the Egyptian statesmen that their visit might be postponed. Let the House note this. It seems an unfortunate thing now, but at that time it was not anticipated, and nobody anticipated, that events were going to take the disastrous turn they have since taken.
§ Mr. HARMSWORTH
My hon. and gallant Friend has frequently tried to draw me about Sir Reginald Wingate. I would rather he did not seek to penetrate into these rather domestic matters.
§ Mr. HARMSWORTH
My hon. and gallant Friend has been a member of the Government himself, and he has heard of the doctrine of collective responsibility. It is not customary, I think, under the Constitution to ascribe a single act of Government to any individual Minister. Then we had this agitation on extreme lines in Egypt. We had Sir Reginald Wingate to confer with the Government at home, and it led to the dispatch of General Allen by as Extra High Commissioner. These facts, I think, are sufficiently familiar to the House, but mark what followed this outbreak. A great deal of damage has been done, and a great many lives have been lost—British lives. Armenian lives, a few Greeks, and a great number of Egyptians.
§ Mr. HARMSWORTH
I think I can. Of British soldiers, twenty-seven have 1887 been killed and seventy wounded. Four British civilians have been killed. Of Indian soldiers, nine have been killed and forty wounded. Of Armenians in Cairo alone, fifteen have been killed and eleven wounded; and of Greeks, also in the Cairo area alone, four have been killed and two wounded.
§ Mr. HARMSWORTH
And of the Egyptians, I say with regret, nearly 1,000 have been killed, according to the information I have before me. [An HON. MEMBER: "Shocking!"] It is shocking.
§ Mr. HARMSWORTH
They were killed in the course of the suppression of the rebellion. It is shocking, I agree. What I am concerned with is the responsibility of those who fomented this rising.
§ Captain BENN
Will the hon. Gentleman say who gave the order for the deportation of the Nationalist leader?
§ Mr. HARMSWORTH
I really could not, on the spur of the moment, say; but what does it matter who gave the order?
§ Mr. HARMSWORTH
I do not think so. I say the people who fomented agitation of this kind, men of experience, all of them men of education, some of them men who have been educated in this country—I say if they set such a train as this, they cannot wonder if calamitous results of this kind happen. Let this be observed, however—and I say it because of rumours which, I understand, have been circulated. I believe it has been said that, in the course of these troubles, British women or other white women have been subjected to outrage. I have not seen these reports myself, but I am told that they have been circulated. According to all the information I have, there is not a word of truth in any of these rumours. Indeed, there are on record a number of cases of acts of great kindness and humanity on the part of Egyptians to British and other white people in that country. Equally, there is no ground whatever, so far as my information goes, for any charges of inhumanity, much less of atrocity, against British soldiers in Egypt.
§ Mr. HARMSWORTH
That does not fall to me. There is a Commission going to Egypt, and I have no doubt it will examine into that question. I feel that it is something of an outrage on the reputation of the British soldier that there should be any need to inquire into that. [An Hon. Member: "Disgraceful!"] It has been freely circulated, and, so far as one can see, wholly unsubstantiated, by an unknown society. However, I have no doubt when the Commission goes to Egypt, it will make it its business to clear the name of the British soldier from this charge.
As regards Egypt as a whole, the situation is now satisfactory. Order and quiet prevail, and, as I understand, only the students in the schools remain, as it were, on strike. I think that they felt they had lost so much of their term during this moment of excitement that it was scarcely worth their while to complete the present term at school. I may say that we have information of a strike on the Suez Canal, but I do not understand—at least there is nothing to show—that it has any immediate relation to the recent outbreak, or is anything more than a purely industrial matter. What is to be done? We have information from General Allen by that he himself is making a preliminary inquiry into the cause of the military trouble. He is investigating evidence, and generally preparing the ground for the visit of the Commission.
It has always been the intention of His Majesty's Government to take the very earliest opportunity after the War was over, and the Peace negotiations had reached a stage which rendered it possible, to form, set up, and send out to Egypt a strong Commission. I would ask the House to give attention especially to the words I am about to read as to this Commission. This Commission would determine the nature of the new Protectorate and would submit recommendations in regard to the future administration of the country. Recent events have increased rather than diminished the need for such 1889 an inquiry, and His Majesty's Government propose, therefore, to despatch a Special Commission, over which Lord Milner has been invited to preside, with power to inquire into the causes of the late disorder in Egypt, report upon the existing situation in that country, and the form of the constitution under the Protectorate which will be best calculated to promote its peace and prosperity, the progressive development of a self-governing institution, and the protection of foreign interests. The mission will be sent with the full knowledge and approval of the special High Commissioner in Egypt and will rely upon his advice. In reply to the hon. and gallant Gentleman opposite (Captain Benn) who asked me when the Commission was going out, I must reply that I cannot give him a date. The Commission will be a body composed of persons of the first authority, and it will be necessary that some delay shall take place.
§ Captain BENN
We have been asked to postpone this Debate several times. It is a very important subject, and the point I want to get at is, is there going to be any form of constitutional government in Egypt or is it now going to be governed autocratically?
§ Mr. HARMSWORTH
Surely my hon. and gallant Friend, with his experience, would not expect—and I would be quite unworthy of the position—if I stood at this box and offhand pronounced what is to be the particular form of government. [An Hon. Member: "Wait and see!"] These matters are under discussion. The hon. and gallant Gentleman knows it is quite impossible for any Minister to get up, before a Commission which has to survey the whole situation has had any time to consider it, and give the House a cut-and-dried constitution.
§ Captain ORMSBY-GORE
Are we to understand that Lord Milner is himself going out to Egypt as the head of this Commission?
§ Mr. HARMSWORTH
I said Lord Milner had been invited to act as president or chairman of this Commission. We have no reason to fear the most searching examination into our Imperial 1890 records. I believe that there is nothing but our national habit of self-depreciation which would give us any ground for misgiving on that point. It is a sufficient testimony to the British Government that, with two minor outbreaks, the Empire stood steadfastly by us in the greatest trial to which we have ever been subjected. The self-governing nations of the Empire stood by us: India and the Crown Colonies of the East and of the West. Egypt herself was faithful to the Empire during the War. Mistakes may have been made, and I am not prepared to deny that we have made mistakes in Egypt. On a close and frequent survey of the facts before me I am led to believe that there is much room for improvement in the government of Egypt. But I do not say that that is a sufficient ground on which to anticipate the judgment of the visiting Commission. Let me say this: Those leaders in Egypt who have precipitated this unhappy crisis have taken on themselves an immense responsibility. They know better than those whom they have miserably misled how inexhaustible are the resources of British Imperial statesmanship; how certain it was that in the long run an honest and constitutional demand would lead to wider opportunities and greater freedom. They knew that there was no possibility of oppression under the British Flag. They might have had some regard at least for the generous benefits that British rule had conferred on the mass of their countrymen. They have chosen the other course. They have seen by what calamitous results it has been followed. Meanwhile I cannot but emphatically declare that His Majesty's Government have no intention whatsoever of abandoning the obligations and responsibilities which they incurred before the world when they assumed the task of governing Egypt. These obligations and responsibilities have been confirmed by the establishment of our Protectorate over the country. This fact is generally appreciated, not only here, but by all well-instructed foreign opinion which holds a stake in Egypt or is interested in its future prosperity and good government. At the same time the Government will indefatigably pursue their policy of shaping for the Protectorate a system of prudent and ever-enlarging political enfranchisement. The Government will continue to govern Egypt in association 1891 with His Highness the Sultan and his advisers. They will not prove indifferent, as they have not been indifferent in the past, to the claims of the Egyptian people to a due and increasing share in the management of the affairs of Egypt.
§ Mr. MURCHISON
We have had a very long and very interesting Debate, but I want for a very few minutes to refer to another part of Africa. I refer to the German East African possessions taken by us. I attempted some few weeks ago to ascertain by inquiry from the Foreign Office what was going to happen to Ruanda and the neighbouring territory of Urundi. I was not, however, able to get any information at all at that time. I earnestly desire to ask the Under-Secretary of State if he can give us any further information as to what is to happen to these very valuable territories in Africa. When the Peace terms were published it seemed to some of us that we were to have no further anxiety on the subject, because Great Britain was to be the mandatory of the League of Nations for the administration of the German East African possessions. Since then certain rumours have come, and suspicions have been aroused, by the fact that the Secretary of State for the Colonies has gone to Paris with the view of discussing the matter with the Belgian representatives there. Ruanda and Urundi should certainly come under British administration because of their geographical position, their past history, and also because of the wishes of the people there, and for other reasons. From the point of view of their geographical position I would like to point out that these territories are several times the size of England and Wales. They occupy an important position just south of Uganda and between the Lake Victoria Nyanza and Tanganyika, a position of immense importance, and I may add they are almost certain to be the nerve centre of all future African communications. For that reason alone it seems most desirable that they should pass immediately under British administration. Ruanda especially enjoys an excellent climate, and has immense natural resources which would be of very great value. They are both mineral and vegetable resources. There are deposits of quartz and blue clay of great value in the country, which also possesses hides and other raw materials of immense value to the trade of this country. Moreover, the people are far more closely associated 1892 with the other States around than with the Congo, people whose affairs are at the present time being administered by the Belgian Government. There was a letter in "The Times" a few days ago from Sir H. H. Johnston, than whom no man is more qualified to speak on this subject. I should like to quote a few words from that letter. He says:If ever there was a case for the promised consultation of native States as to their choice of Protecting Power in lieu of Germany that case applies to Ruanda.I think that statement alone is one which should be given serious attention to by our Peace delegates. Moreover, I should like to point out that Ruanda actually did conclude a treaty with this country thirty years ago. They therefore then showed their desire to come under British administration. This treaty was unfortunately set aside in 1890 in favour of Germany. Surely now is the opportunity of correcting that great error and of giving the Ruanda people what they desire. If the legitimate claims of Belgium cannot be met in any other way let them have Urundi, but not Ruanda. Belgium has already got the fee simple of a million square miles of the richest part of Africa, namely, the Congo Basin. One would only wish to ask what African empire would she have been allowed to have now in the event of the War having gone the other way. Now is the opportunity to avoid the mistake which we made thirty year ago in giving to Germany her East African possessions. I would ask the Foreign Office to consider this matter, to draw the attention of our Peace delegates to it, and to ask them to specify and define the boundaries of the territories they propose to hand over to Belgium only after full consideration has been given to the matter. I would not have intervened in this Debate had I not thought the matter was one of real urgency. I do sincerely hope the attention of the Peace delegates may be drawn to this matter before it is too late, and before the irrevocable decision has been taken.
§ Sir H. NIELD
I desire to utilise this opportunity to call attention to the manner in which the differentiation in the blockade is taking place with regard to the shipment of raw materials. I hope that the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs will find some means to secure that the differentiation at present taking place against Belgium is put right. The Under-Secretary has only to call for a 1893 Report from the British Consul-General at Antwerp, who is in this country to-day taking part in the solemn ceremony at Westminster Abbey, and this gentleman is available for any information which the Government may require I am told on the best authority that owing to differentiation in the administration of the blockade Belgium is being deprived of the raw materials which she would otherwise get, while on the other hand that portion of Germany on the left bank of the Rhine is being amply supplied with raw materials, and the factories of supervised Germany are in full blaze of manufacture, while the Belgian industries and those concerned in them are wringing their hands in despair lost they should be overborne. I invite the Foreign Office to inquire into my statement and to utilise this opportunity of consulting this Consul to ascertain whether I am not giving to the Committee absolute facts in relation to a circumstance which, having regard to the part played by the Belgians in the War, does not warrant immediate attention and rectification. I can give the Foreign Office evidence, and the names of persons in high position in Belgium, and Belgians in this country who are ready to fortify what I have said on this point.
I now come to that indictment of the Foreign Office contained in the observations of the Under-Secretary, when he was excusing the Government's conduct in Egypt by saying that their energy had been drawn upon to a greater extent than human endurance could sustain by reason of the negotiations for peace in Paris. I complain, I think with some measure of justice, that the Foreign Office has not kept itself informed, through its foreign representatives in foreign and Allied capitals, of the legislation passed by those Allies from time to time during the War. During the second week of the Session I put a question to the Foreign Office asking whether the Foreign Minister would inform me what legislation had been passed by Allied Governments dealing with the immigration of Germans and Austrians into the respective countries of the Allies. I should have thought that the Foreign Office, with its long traditions, would have had reports from their accredited representatives, either from the Embassies or from the various Consuls-General, in regard to legislation affecting the common interests of the Allies, and I should have thought that I had only to put 1894 my question down in order to obtain this information. I was, however, told that the Foreign Office had no information, but that they would proceed to make inquiries. That was the state of affaire in the second week of the Session.
On the 17th March I put a further question to the Under-Secretary, asking whether he had completed his inquiries and whether he was then in a position to say which of our Allies had passed legislation to exclude or regulate the admission of alien enemies to their respective countries, and to repatriate those who were interned or uninterned or resident there, and what were the provisions in such legislation? It is the duty of the British Embassies and representatives abroad to keep the Foreign Office informed in relation to matters of an international character, and I asked the Under-Secretary to see that this duty was imposed upon them in the future. The answer I received to my question was:Reports have been called for from His Majesty's diplomatic missions in the allied countries chiefly concerned, but I am afraid that some time will elapse before they are received.I think we are entitled to ask what the foreign Consuls and Embassies are doing, and why such questions as these should be referred to Diplomatic Missions. My hon. Friend wrote informing me that he was doing his best to get the information. I put another question to the Foreign Office as recently as the 9th April, and I received this answer:I have assumed the hon. Member desires to obtain information of the legislation passed in allied countries regulating the immigration of aliens, and I have sent out a circular asking for the information. There will necessarily be some delay before the answers come in, and I cannot name any date on which I shall be able to tell the hon. Member, but there will be no avoidable delay.This is the position to-day. The question was raised during the second week of the Session, and yet we are in the position to-day of dealing with the Aliens Bill upstairs without very important information as to what the United States, France, and Belgium and the other of our Allies have done in regard to settling this question of the immigration of alien enemies after the War. One is left to take for our information from the newspapers such as cuttings from Reuter's telegrams or from the newspaper correspondents in the United States, and we can get no authentic information as to what has been done. I call the attention of the Committee to 1895 this matter, not in a hostile sense, but to point out what evidently is the practice of the Foreign Office, which has apparently scrapped all its machinery for ascertaining information as to what is going on in other countries, and it is depending upon the diplomatic missions for information, and these missions seem to be concerning themselves with matters affecting the feeding of the population rather than obtaining information of the vital character which I desire to get.
I hope the hon. Gentleman will expedite those inquiries, and that he will in the course of a few weeks, while this Bill is in Committee being amended, obtain this information, so that we may be able to guide our own actions by the proceedings of other Legislatures. I think it is a blot upon our system to find now that information which ought to have been recorded as part and parcel of the machinery of our diplomacy, and the furnishing of regular reports dealing with the legislation of the countries which have been our Allies in this War, is not available, and I hope, having called attention to this matter, that there will be some amendment in our procedure, and that I shall not have to complain again of this very serious want of necessary information from the different countries.
§ Lieutenant-Colonel A. C. MURRAY
I desire to direct the attention of the Committee to a question affecting the other side of the Atlantic. During the past few weeks I have on two or three occasions asked the Under-secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether he could give me any information as to the appointment of a. new British Ambassador to the United States of America. The replies I received being unsatisfactory, I gave the hon. Gentleman notice yesterday that I would raise this question in Debate to-day. I doubt whether such a matter has ever been raised in Debate in this House before, and I almost wish it were not necessary for me to raise it now, but in view of the importance of the matter I think it is eminently necessary that I should do so.
What are the facts? Lord Reading has recently vacated his appointment as British Ambassador to the United States, and I think it will be agreed on all sides that he has carried out his duties with, infinite ability, tact, and distinction. I go further, and say, as one who has had some knowledge of the situation in America 1896 during the last few years, that when all the facts of Lord Heading's various missions in America are laid bare, the country will then know how much it owes to Lord Reading for the very great part he has played in this War, Lord Reading did more than unravel great war problems. Without wishing to underestimate the value of the work done by Lord Reading's predecessors, or I might say by the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs in the course of his very successful Mission to the United States in the year 1917, it is not too much to say that during Lord Reading's regime in the United States there has been a new orientation and distinct change for the better in Anglo-American relations and understanding. All those who are anxious for Anglo-Saxon unity must welcome that change, for surely the establishment of a real community of thought and feeling between ourselves and America is a most desirable object to achieve.
There are, of course, in the endeavour to attain this object, many difficulties to be overcome on both sides of the Atlantic. Amongst them one might mention hereditary prejudices, inaccurate history books, ignorance and insularity, and last, but by no means least, the Irish question. I do not wish to refer to these particular difficulties at any length, but at least I will say that surely it is our duty to endeavour to overcome them. If the future peace of the world is to be assured, League of Nations, or no League of Nations, it can only be done by the peace-loving peoples of the British Empire and America standing together. This is one of the reasons why no opportunity should be lost of bringing both these great peoples together on a thoroughly friendly footing and understanding. I hope, therefore, that the Under-Secretary will be able to tell us that His Majesty's Government are keenly desirous of promoting the cause of Anglo-Saxon friendship, and. so far as it lies within their province to do so, that they will use every endeavour to that end. I suggest that what I have said provides, in one sense at any rate, good ground for my contention that a successor to Lord Reading as Ambassador in Washington should be immediately appointed. There is unquestionably in America to-day a general atmosphere of goodwill and friendliness towards this Empire which did not exist before the 1897 War. Let us foster that feeling in every possible way. It is eminently necessary to do so if only from the point of view of British interests. I do hope that the Government do not intend to help to throw it away by leaving the Washington Embassy indefinitely empty. The experiment that the Government made last year in that connection was by no means a success, and the Government know it as well as I do. I may be allowed to say that the councillor, commercial attaché, and the staff at the Washington Embassy have earned the gratitude of the country by their devoted and untiring labours in very difficult times, but, however competent, no member of that staff is a substitute for the Ambassador in important times like the present. I know, of course, how fully occupied the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State have been in Paris, but with great respect, I suggest that is no excuse for the delay that has occurred in making a recommendation to His Majesty. Lord Reading went back to the United States in February. It was well known at that time that it was his intention to stay there only for a brief period. Surely, during the interval His Majesty's Government, if they realised and recognised the importance of this matter, had plenty of time to seek a suitable successor—and for this post no man could be too good—in order that when Lord Reading vacated the appointment his successor could immediately take it up.
There is a further reason why this should be done. Not only are British interests unrepresented by an Ambassador in Washington, but there is now no British Consul-General in New York. I do urge upon the Under-Secretary to make that appointment also as speedily as possible. This is a most important time so far as our trade interests in New York are concerned. There is no reason for the delay, and an appointment ought to be made as soon as possible. I hope when the appointment is made that it will be the appointment of an officer who is well acquainted with all the circumstances on the spot. It would be of little value to send to New York an official who had to spend the first six months of his time gaining knowledge of the surroundings and of the gentlemen and individuals with whom he has to deal. I hope, therefore, that the hon. Gentleman and the Government will give both these matters to which I have referred their very earnest and most serious consideration.
1898 I desire to suggest to the Government that they need not take this Vote to-night. I hope there is no intention on the part of the Government to try and take it to-night, because, although very many subjects have been discussed, when Peace is signed there will be many more, and I doubt whether the days of Supply at the disposal of the Government are adequate for the discussions which it will then be necessary to take in this House on matters connected with foreign affairs.
§ Lieutenant-Commander KENWORTHY
There is no discussion which is of more importance at any time, and especially now, than a discussion on foreign policy. If one thing more than another has impinged itself on the minds of people as the result of the last five years, it is that we have neglected the education of our people in that knowledge of foreign affairs necessary in a self-governing democracy. The people have not been taught in the last generation or two to take that critical interest in our foreign relations and alliances that they should have done. Foreign affairs in the past were more the affairs of the people. Gladstone fought elections on the Eastern question, as everyone in this House knows. At the last General Election the Government candidates hardly mentioned foreign affairs. They spoke of hanging the Kaiser and of making the Germans pay, but as to what sort of settlement we were going to have there was not one word said. On opposition platforms foreign affairs were touched on, and we did try—I fought a seat unsuccessfully—to get some statement from the Government on our Russian policy without success. Lip-service was paid by all candidates to the League of Nations. I read a great many election speeches, but in only two did I see any signs of understanding what a League of Nations should be. I think, therefore, that we should apply ourselves most seriously to the discussion that is open to us this evening. I should like to say, and I hope it will not be misunderstood—I think it is only right for me to say it—that this Houses misses, particularly to-night, the late Sir Mark Sykes, whose place I most inadequately fill. I am sure when this Vote is under discussion his absence is felt by everyone in this House, and by no one more than myself, for the reason that I admired the foreign policy laid down and explained so ably and lucidly by the late lamented Member for the Constituency that I now have the honour to represent.
1899 The subject of Egypt has been thoroughly discussed by a number of speakers and it has been dealt with in his usual sympathetic manner by the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, but I cannot refrain from pointing out that the only remedy we propose for the lamentable state of affairs in Egypt is the same remedy that we are proposing for the lamentable state of affairs in Ireland, in India, and in other countries—I shall be pleased to mention them in confidence to the Under-Secretary if he would like to give me details—where we may have to face the same spirit of unrest and revolt. The only remedy that we get from the Government Benches—I do not blame the hon. Gentleman; he can only interpret the policy of the Cabinet—is force, naked force, the use of aeroplanes with machineguns and bombs against thatched villages, shooting indiscriminately into unarmed mobs. It may be necessary to terrorise the people temporarily—we have to think of our nationals first—but force is no I remedy; it only calls up more force, and, if I may say so in the most serious way that I possibly can, force may not be at our disposal for ever. I understand that the reason for taking men from agriculture, as given by the Minister for War, is our urgent military needs, amongst other countries, in Egypt, in Ireland, and in India. How long do Gentlemen on the Government Bench think that we can send off Armies—at the present moment, I am glad to say, willing Armies—to hold down by force people who unfortunately express themselves through their chosen representative as being only desirous of leaving the British Empire?
Again and again in this House in the short time that I have been here I have heard occupants of the Front Government Bench complaining with an air of injured innocence that certain Irishmen, certain Egyptians, and, I suppose, certain Indians have expressed themselves as only desirous of leaving the British Empire. What a confession! We hope in time, by sympathetic handling, that they will retract a little from that position. Two ancient Empires and one ancient people at the present moment, through their most vocal representatives, only asking to leave the British Empire! Cannot we search our own hearts and occasionally not be so self-righteous? I am not making any personal attack upon the Under-Secretary 1900 of State for Foreign Affairs—none whatever—I am only attacking the policy of the Government which he has the misfortune to represent. There must be an end to this. I repeat, force may not always be available. You cannot for ever send conscript Armies to tropical countries to make up for the blunders which we have committed in the past. The people have a right to be consulted in our foreign policy. They cannot be directly consulted by the referendum. Therefore, they have a right and are entitled to speak through their elected representatives. Once Peace is signed, this House, I hope, will insist upon fuller information, upon fuller opportunities of discussion and criticism, and upon free opportunities of voting on all matters which may entail the use of British troops, the making of alliances the sending of British Fleets, or providing munitions of war in any part of the world.
I would like, for example, to take the ease of Hungary. I will go a little back in history. I am sure that those who have heard or read of the rising of Kossuth in 1848, when the Hungarians endeavoured, under that great National leader, to throw off the Germanic yoke, will agree that they fought the fight for freedom against Germany as much as the Poles have fought against Prussianism, or as the Serbs have fought to free themselves from their yoke. A Government was set up in Hungary, which proceeded to break up the great estates and to distribute the land among the peasants. A Liberal regiméwas instituted, and lasted until the Government was put down by the invading Armies of Russia from the north and of Germany from the south. The whole of this country, in 1848, and subsequent years, had the greatest sympathy with the Hungarian people in their struggle for freedom against Germany. But the Government was put down, and, in 1866, Kossuth's party of independence—independence of Hungary from Germany—was founded, just as the Nationalist party was founded, as a constitutional party; and from that day till this that party of independence, headed by Kossuth, has attempted to win by constitutional means the freedom of Hungary from German rule. The present leader is one of the first noblemen, not only in Hungary, but in all Europe. I refer, of course, to Count Karolyi. In 1906, for the first time since 1866, Kossuth's party of Hungarian independence, with a programme of which separation from 1901 Austria was a part, came into power. The Magyars had been quite rightly accused of oppressive methods of government against subject nations. The Roumanians, the Czecho-Slovaks, the Serbs, the Jugo-Slavs had all been oppressed by the Magyar oligarchy, and during those years, from 1866 till 1906, an autocratic Government was in power at Budapest. A Liberal Government had never been formed in Hungary, because every method was taken to prevent it, and it had not been able to get into power.
But in 1906 Karolyi formed a Government, and it will be remembered by many Members in this House, and especially by those who were members of the Eighty Club, that he invited them to visit Hungary in order to promote good terms between Hungary and England. Shortly afterwards, the Austro-Hungarian reactionaries, partly by force and partly by fraud, upset the party of independence. They used the same argument as is often used in this House—that they wanted to be independent of the German yoke. These are the arguments being used against Egypt and Ireland at the present time. When the War broke out Karolyi's party protested against the use of Hungarian troops in the War for the assistance of Germany. They protested vehemently; they declared themselves openly. I believe I am right in saying that in the last Parliament there was not one single professed pro-German; there were, it is true, some people accused of it, but Karolyi and his party in Hungary were professed open, and avowed pro-English and pro-French. Before the Armistice, when obviously Hungary was being beaten, and the Hungarian population, could no longer withstand the privations of war, Tizsa's Government fell, and then Karolyi came into power, and for the second time since 1866, the party of independence was able to form a Government in Hungary, whose programme was not only independence for Hungary, but independence for the subject Nationals of Hungary. They withdrew the Honved regiments—the best fighting regiments in the AustrianArmy—from the Italian front, and before the Armistice was declared they were eager and willing to make a separate peace with the Entente. A Liberal Government was formed, with a strong sprinkling of Socialists, under Count Karolyi. He suggested that the Entente should send troops to occupy Hungary, but he stipulated that they should 1902 be Entente troops—French or British troops. The answer of our diplomatists and politicians was to encourage the Roumanians, the Jugo-Slavs, and the Czechs to advance upon Hungary.
Let me make myself quite clear about this. Count Karolyi was perfectly prepared to accept the principle of self-determination for the subject Nationals of the country, but he wished the question to be settled in Paris, and he was quite willing to abide by the decision arrived at there. He objected, however, to the Roumanians, the Czechs, and the Jugo-Slavs seizing territory by force, and advancing beyond the linguistic and natural boundaries of their fellow Nationals. But no attention was paid to his protest. He resigned, and, in his own words as reported in the Press—although I do not think they are quite correct—he resigned in favour of the Proletariat. What will be the verdict of history on this matter? I am not going to talk about the rights or wrongs, the atrocities or the madnesses reported in connection with the Soviet Government at Budapesth. The fact that there is a Government there on Soviet lines; and that there is civil war in Hungary, cannot be disguised, but the circumstances of that distressed country are directly due to our bungling, our lack of sympathy our lack almost of knowledge of the pro-Entente Liberal Government in Hungary, friendly to us right through the War.
I think anyone who knows the course of the Peace Conference in Paris will bear me out when I say that the real spadework, the preparation for peace made by the permanent officials of the British Foreign Office, were far and away ahead of those of any other nation. But apparently no steps whatever were taken before the Armistice to bringour foreign policy into line with that of other nations. We have heard a great deal about unity on the military front. Even more important is unity on the diplomatic front. It has taken six months to produce the present Peace Treaty. The Prime Minister, in this House, explained that they had to decide on the frontiers of, I think, twenty-six new States. Most of that work could have been done before the Armistice was signed. We were in touch with the representatives of the Balkan peoples, with the Polish representatives, the Bohemian representatives, and the representatives of the Jugo-Slavs. We were in the closest 1903 touch with our Allies. Presumably, the French Foreign Office and the Italian Foreign Office were aware of the natural settlement that would be required in Central and Eastern Europe. Could not they have decided between themselves as to how this must be done? Was it necessary that six months should be lost, at a cost of five or six millions a day to this country alone? This delay of six months has cost much to the world in treasure, in loss of trade, and, I am sorry to say, much loss of life through starvation in Central and Eastern Europe, not only among our enemies, but among our friends as well. This condition of affairs is most unsatisfactory, as, I think, every thinking man must admit. If the House cannot at this time be given information as to what is going on with regard to settlement in various parts of the, world, if it cannot hold secret sittings, as was done during the War, then let a Select Committee be formed from Members of this House chosen from all parties, as is done in the two great democratic Parliaments of France and America, in both of which there are committees on foreign relations chosen from all parties. Let that Committee sit in secret, but let us at any rate try and have some Parliamentary control over foreign policy. Mistakes made now will have bitter results in the years to come, and will have to be paid for by our children and our children's children. Perfectly innocent people, in future years, will have to pay for any grave mistakes, if they are made, by our diplomacy at the present day. In particular, is this House to be consulted before war is embarked upon or declared against any fresh enemy Power, or before any fresh enemy is made. At the present time, naturally, I am referring particularly to Russia. I do not want to go into the rights and wrongs of our policy at the present time, but if this House is not consulted, or the people of the country are not consulted, before we send British troops to take part in extensive military operations in Russia, I think the results may be most grave. The people of this country can stand being told unpleasant things. Let them be told; let them be consulted and have some say in the way their money is going to be spent and their relatives, sons and husbands sent overseas to guard British interests or French interests, or any other country's 1904 interests. Let us know what we are doing and have some say in the matter. If I understood correctly the hon. and gallant Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Lieutenant-Colonel W. Guinness), he is quite prepared to see the principle of self-determination applied to the nations that were beaten in the War. Parts of the German, Austrian and Turkish Empires which desire self-determination are to have it in the fullest sense of the word. As to Roumania and Czecho-Slovakia, he says, certainly, give them the greatest possible measure of freedom. But Egypt is a part of the victorious British Empire. They helped us in the War. They cannot be given liberty and freedom. I do hope that this does not represent the general view of the party to which the hon. and gallant Member belongs. I am sorry to see that he is not here; I did not notice his absence. In view of that party's great numbers and strength in this House, that would be a very poor look out for the future of the British Empire. What is going to happen in the next war? Are the Egyptians, the Indians, the Irish, going to give freely of their blood and treasure as they have in the past, if their only reward is to be refused liberty? The hon. and gallant Member made an extraordinary attack on the Serbs. He accused them of committing atrocities against the Albanians. I have been to Albania myself three times. I know the Albanians slightly; I wish I knew them better. For no race in the Balkans have I a greater regard and esteem. They have a great future. They are an ancient, loyal and intelligent race. But the Serbs, although a young democracy, have a great future too. They are a virile, gallant race who fought through this War and suffered as no country, not even Belgium, has suffered. I do hope that there will be some tribute to Serbia in the reply to to-night's Debate, to make up for the accusations made against the Serbians by my hon. and gallant Friend. Much as I admire the Albanians, much as I hope they will have self-determination, I hope the claims of Serbia will be most sympathetically considered. If any nation deserves sympathetic treatment and consideration it is Serbia. Atrocities have been committed by Serbian soldiers, possibly, in out-of-the-way corners. It is a usual thing in Balkan warfare. But do not pick them out particularly. And remember that Serbia is a part of the new 1905 great Jugo-Slav State. If we are not going to treat sympathetically the claims and aspirations of the Jugo-Slavs, we are injuring our faithful Ally, Serbia. The Slav subject nations of the Austrian Empire have at last obtained their freedom, and that right of self-determination which, according to the hon. and gallant Member for Bury St. Edmunds, is only to be given to the subjects of beaten Powers.
§ Lieutenant-Colonel GUINNESS
I never said there was to be no self-determination for Serbia. I only said it could not be applied indiscriminately throughout the world.
§ Lieutenant-Commander KENWORTHY
I am sorry I misunderstood the hon. and gallant Gentleman. I thought he said "self-determination to Roumania and Czecho-Slovakia, certainly. They were parts of a beaten Empire. But to the Egyptians who assisted us to win the victory, nothing of the sort."
§ Lieutenant-Colonel GUINNESS
If the hon. and gallant Gentleman will read the Official Report he will see that he is entirely misrepresenting me. What I said was that it could be automatically applied in the case of our beaten enemies, but where the country in question was part of the texture of the Allied fabric it obviously could not be automatically applied. I did not say the right did not exist.
§ Lieutenant-Commander KENWORTHY
What is sauce for the goose is not to be sauce for the gander. I hope I am mistaken in the hon. and gallant Gentleman's intentions, and I shall certainly read the Official Report, and, seeing the party to which he belongs, I very much hope that those views are not held by himself and his Friends, and I also hope they are not the views of the military caste, for whose gallantry in warfare I have the greatest admiration, but for whose fitness for political government, especially of subject races, I have the utmost contempt. I do not except my own profession, much as I love it after seventeen years' service in it. As long as sailors will keep to the sea and soldiers to their barracks it is all right—[Hon. Members: "Hear, hear!"]—in their official capacity—but when it comes to political government they are utterly unfitted for it. The policy of force, whether exercised by politicians or by soldiers, will lead us nowhere. What one 1906 race is getting now, another race that is equally fitted for it is entitled to, and when people begin to agitate for self-government it shows ipso facto that they have arrived at a stage when a measure of self-government should be given to them.
§ Mr. F. C. THOMSON
I should like to say a word or two with regard to Egypt. As one who served for a time in that country the thing that impressed me beyond anything was the wonderful work which has been done by our countrymen there. One felt full of pride in belonging to a race which had achieved in such a short time such a wonderful improvement in that country. That is the feeling which was shared by all officers and men who served in the Egyptian Expeditionary Force. If you look back to a time thirty or more years ago when Egypt was under the Turks, and then independent, one cannot help realising the wonderful work done. I agree with a great deal of the speech of the hon. Member (Mr. Spoor), but I am certain that he will regret having made those strictures on British soldiers on rather insufficient evidence. I am sure he regretted it the moment he had done it, and all who have served in the Egyptian Expeditionary Force will feel that such statements should not lightly be made. Our countryman there in the last four difficult years have in every way done a work in which we all have pride, and I cannot for a moment believe that a statement of one unsupported witness is in any way worthy of credence. The hon. and gallant Gentleman (Commander Kenworthy) gave us a very interesting disquisition on the history of Hungary. I think he will find it rather hard to prove that any substantial body of opinion in Hungary, right down to the date of the Armistice, worth anything at all was on the side of the Allies. One or two odd men here and there might make pro-Entente speeches, and might express an academic admiration for the British Constitution—
§ Lieutenant-Commander KENWORTHY
Has the hon. Member road accounts of the scenes in the Hungarian Diet during the War?
§ Mr. THOMSON
I have read accounts on frequent occasions of discussions in the Hungarian Diet and the impression left on me was that of a country absolutely unanimous in support of the alliance with 1907 Germany. As for Kossuth he was regarded in 1848 as one who was fighting for the freedom of his country and there was a certain amount of truth in that. On the other hand, he represented a very narrow idea, the idea of Magyar ascendancy and repression, and nowhere has there been an ascendancy more ruthless and cruel than in Hungary. The Rumanians, the Slovaks, and the Jugo-Slavs have all suffered under a tyranny worse than was to be found in any other part of Europe. I do not think in Hungary, right up to the Armistice, there was any substantial body of opinion worthy of the name in favour of the Allies.
I agree with a good deal of what the hon. and gallant Gentleman said with regard to discussions on foreign affairs. I think this House and the electorate ought to take great interest in foreign affairs, and it is the duty of those who appear before the electorate to draw their attention to questions of foreign policy. That is a matter of enormous importance. It nearly brought our Empire to ruin before the War. None of us had any clear notions on the various difficult problems of foreign policy and we were content to be ignorant. By great good fortune we have escaped the penalties which might well have attached to that ignorance, but we cannot afford to do it again, and after all, in this country, the Government depends on public opinion. The Government can go into no great war, it can take no great movement in this democratic country unless it has behind it the force of public opinion. Unless it has an instructed public opinion behind it in foreign affairs, unless the people are taken into the confidence of the Government, unless we have frequent discussions and unless the electorate interests itself in them we may find ourselves up against a most difficult situation without the necessary knowledge to meet it. I am sure that a great many of the difficulties that came upon us in 1914 might have been avoided had we been more conversant and taken a greater interest in foreign affairs. As regards the Balkans, which were the danger spot in Europe and the Near East generally, no one in Britain thought they were worth our interest or attention at all. It is idle for us to suppose that we, who had great interests in the Far East, thought that what happened in the Near East, which was the way to further Asia, could be without importance to us. 1908 I feel sure that the War would have been shortened by a considerable period if we had had a greater knowledge of affairs. It would have become obvious to the people, and they would have known that the result of the first Balkan war was greatly to raise the feelings of the Slav race and to make the Slavs in Austria dissatisfied with their lot under the Austrian Empire. We should have known also that Bulgaria was absolutely disgusted and dissatisfied with the result of the second Balkan war and was anxious at the first moment to draw the sword again. We wasted more than a year in trying to achieve the impossible task of persuading Bulgaria and Serbia to agree to some common policy. Priceless months were wasted and finally Bulgaria came in against us, opened the door to the East for Germany and made the War a much more serious proposition for us than it might have been. All these evils might have been avoided if we had devoted more attention in this House and on the platform to foreign affairs. I say that with the most absolute conviction, because no Government in this country can carry on unless it has behind it the great force of public opinion. We have a great and tremendous task at home and in other parts of the world, and it can only be accomplished if we have behind us an instructed public opinion in this country.
Therefore, it is the duty of this House on all occasions to interest itself in foreign affairs, and it is the duty of the Government to give this House information as far as is compatible with national safety. We do not want details of negotiations, because, as the Foreign Secretary said a little time ago, if you give details of negotiations once, you would not get people to negotiate with you again. We do not want that, but we want as far as possible that the Government should take the House and the country into their confidence whenever possible. Whether it is by means of the French method of committees or not, I do not mind. I do not think that that is a matter of great importance. This House, from the number of those present now, is not very much greater in number than a committee. I rose because I have a strong conviction after having been in the Near East for some years that this country never for one moment realised the importance of the problems that faced us there. We were too ignorant. You could scarcely 1909 get one educated Britisher in a thousand who could give you the smallest description or any knowledge of the problem of the Austrians, the Hungarians and the Balkans, although they were storm centres of Europe. Very few could give the slightest knowledge of German world policy which twenty years before the War was shaping itself year by year. Not one of us took the slightest interest in these things, and then all of a sudden we were up against the catastrophe of the Great War. By good fortune and the income parable valour of our troops and our Allies we have won through, but we cannot afford to have such a terrible and dreadful risk twice. Therefore, unless this country is going to slip from its great position, it is absolutely necessary for this House to keep a grip on foreign affairs, and to be closely interested in those great problems which are so vitally essential to our country and our Empire.
§ Sir MARTIN CONWAY
Perhaps the Committee will be patient with me while I carry them back from the tropical regions to which we have been taken to the inhospitable Arctic solitudes and uninhabited waters of Spitsbergen. The name of Spitsbergen has found its way into the newspapers of late, but I think I am perhaps justified in assuming that to most people it is little more than a name. Let me remind hon. Members that Spitsbergen is an archipelago, consisting of one large island and several small islands situated within the Arctic circle, about 400 miles North of North Cape in Norway, and in area about half the size of Ireland. This Arctic island happens by the course of the Gulf Stream to be brought within easy access owing to the fact that its Western coast is every year approached by open water. Up to a very few years ago Spitsbergen was interesting only to men of science. It was purely as an explorer that some twenty years or more ago I spent two seasons there. Now, it is found to possess riches and natural resources of great importance, and the eyes of the commercial world begin to be turned toward it. It contains, as anyone who has ever been there can easily see for himself, immense deposits of coal, great deposits of iron, quantities of wonderful marbles, and it is capable of producing an almost unlimited supply of those products of the fauna of the Arctic regions which in former days it produced in enormous 1910 quantities. I refer to Polar bears, seals, walrus, eider ducks, eider down, and birds of all kinds, as well as foxes, with skins of great value to commerce.
This region is historically a part of the possessions of the British Crown. In the early years of the 17th century it was frequented by whales. It was discovered by the Dutch, rediscovered by the British, and formally annexed by King James I. to the British Crown. In an answer which my hon. Friend gave yesterday to a question he said that he had no evidence that Hudson, who visited the island and rediscovered it in 1607, raised the British flag there. It is true that Hudson did not raise the British flag, but he nailed up the British arms to a post, which was equivalent in those days to what nowadays would be called raising the flag. He nailed the British arms to a post and formally took possession in the name of King James. Barents, who was really the discoverer of the island a few years before, did the same thing on behalf of the Dutch. He nailed up the Dutch arms and claimed the part which he discovered for Holland. For a series of years there was a dispute between the Dutch and British as to ownership. My hon. Friend says that he has no evidence that the British claim of annexation was ever formally recognised by the Dutch Government. In the 17th century diplomatic forms did not possess the same character of routine that they have arrived at in the present day, but it is quite certain that there was a distinct understanding arrived at between the British and the Dutch whereby the Norhtern part of Spitsbergen, which was the important part for whaling operations, was recognised as the property of the Dutch, and everywhere South of the point called the Seven Glaciers was recognised as English.
The proof of that is that in the Dutch archives I have myself seen at the Hague a map on which a line of division is drawn dividing the Dutch and British spheres of influence. On a Dutch chart which was published, I cannot say officially, because there was no official chart in those days, but at any rate it was a chart published by Holland for the use of Dutch sailors, and universally used, our claim was recognised, in about 1660, it was stated that all save the northern part of the island was "under the dominion of the British." That evidence can be easily con- 1911 firmed by the records of the voyages and undertakings by the Dutch and English in those parts for a long series of years that all the southern part of Spitsbergen was for very nearly a hundred years under the dominion of the English.
Now it happens that this portion, which has never since been claimed by any other people, though our claim has not been enforced for two centuries, is the area which contains all the mineral wealth on which the eyes of the commercial world are turned at the present time. Wherever coal or iron or any of these other minerals of value have been found they are all in that portion of Spitsbergen which, throughout the whole seventeenth century, was recognised as under the dominion of the English. I notice that my hon. Friend, in replying to a question yesterday, stated that all the Powers interested, including Great Britain, recognised at the Spitsbergen Conference in. 1914 that the island was a terra nullius. The Council of the Royal Geographical Society before 1914 approached the Foreign Office and urged that this question of the ownership of Spitsbergen should be considered by the Government, as it was likely to prove of great importance in the near future. It is a matter of great regret that steps were not taken at that time to put forward the English claim, and it is still more to be regretted that at the Spitsbergen Conference held at Copenhagen in 1914 the British Government should have been so ill-advised as to abandon the very strong claim which we possess to that very important country.
I have been informed that that Conference broke up, as a result of the War, without arriving at a conclusion, and the various Powers that entered that Conference and made this declaration renouncing their respective claims to this country only renounced those claims for the purpose of the Conference. That Conference came to nothing, and those renouncements ceased to be of binding force. In the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk the Germans demanded that the Russians should transfer to them all claims they had to any lights in Spitsbergen. As to the rights which the Russians might claim to Spitsbergen: after the year 1760—I am not sure that it was not after the year 1780—the Russians of Archangel, or rather those from the Monastery of Solovetski, which is up in the White Sea, started the habit of sending annually an expedition to Spitsbergen 1912 to winter on its shores and spend their time trapping foxes and other animals for the sake of their skins. Those Russian expeditions did, in fact, establish themselves temporarily at various points on the coast of Spitsbergen, but the only region that they really occupied and where they have any sort of claim for continuous occupation, was the East island, the island called Edge Island, which is of no importance from the present point of view and contains no mineral wealth that we know of, and in any case is not practically accessible for the purposes of exploitation. So that any claim that the Russians may have to Spitsbergen will not in any way affect the area with which mining and other enterprises are now concerned. I wish to know whether the Peace Conference, which, I believe, has rendered null and void the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, has considered in any way what will happen to the so-called Russian claim in relation to Spitsbergen in consequence of that treaty.
The Germans have no kind of claim to any part of Spitsbergen for any reason whatsoever. At no time did they ever settle on its shores. At no time did they ever pursue the whale fishing from any base on the island. In so far as the Germans participated in the fishing in the northern seas, it was sea fishing and not bay fishing that they took part in. They never made any claim for a share in the development or occupation of any part of Spitsbergen. Nevertheless in the abortive conference in 1914 I understand that it was the German claim which was on the whole pushed with the greatest energy, and at that time Germany had the intention of claiming the right to occupy a considerable portion of the area of Spitsbergen which we claim as being British. At the present time the situation in Spitsbergen is very far indeed from satisfactory. A small number of companies or syndicates have pegged out claims and occupied more or less thoroughly the areas thus defined. I have no interest whatever, prospective or present, in any of these syndicates or companies, and I know nothing whatever as to the real value or importance of any of the deposits of coal or minerals on those islands. I wish to dissociate myself altogether from the possibility of being misunderstood in this matter. I know that there is coal in Spitsbergen. I know that there is iron. I know nothing whatever about their value or their exploitability, 1913 but there are companies which have staked out claims there and partially developed some of those claims. There is an English company, a Scottish company, and a Norwegian company. I know, at all events, that of those three one is producing coal, whether profitably or not I do not know, and possibly two are so doing. We have already heard of one of those companies jumping the claim of another. That kind of thing is to be expected unless Spitsbergen is put under a proper régime. There was, I understand, some idea of making that régime of an international character. British companies, apart from historic claims, have pegged out over three-fourths of the area of valuable ground. Possibly some combination of them might be brought about, and, as it seems to me, that combination should be brought about, both on historical and commercial grounds under the ægis of the British Government.
I pass to another question of a very different character, namely, that of excavation for antiquities in the parts of the world occupied by ancient civilisations. It may be supposed that this question of archæological excavation is one as to which the House of Commons need not concern itself. I venture to think the contrary. It is nearly one hundred years ago since a young man of science made a voyage in a ship, which was for several years in South American waters. During that time, he collected observations, and set down to work, as the result of which he produced the theory of the evolution of mankind, known as the Darwinian theory, and the theory of the survival of the fittest, which went for a very large part in the development of the German ideal, which led to the recent War. It is impossible to say that researches connected with the history of the human race may not give rise to some generalisations which may have an enormous dynamic effect on future civilisation The history of the evolution of human societies is a history which is as yet very imperfectly understood, and as we obtain, more light on that subject we shall obtain knowledge which will have practical effect upon contemporary affairs, and on the future of the world. The great agency that exists now, for investigating the early stages of human societies, is the excavation of ancient sites, and it is not a matter of catalogues and glass cases, but of human importance of the very highest kind. The countries 1914 where such excavations can be most profitably performed at the present time are Palestine, Mesopotamia, Persia, Asia Minor, Tripoli, Syria, and one or two more. Those countries, as a result of the recent War, are under the protection of Great Britain, France and Italy. As I learned from a reply to a question I addressed to the hon. Member the other day, it is the fact that the entire and exclusive right to excavation in Persia belongs to the Government of France as the result of a special treaty made between France and Persia about 1900. France has the sole right, by that treaty, to dig for antiquities at any point in the whole of the Persian Empire. That is a most unsatisfactory condition of affairs, because it so happens that within the limits of the Persian Empire there may lie concealed one of the greatest and most important secrets as to the early development of human civilisation. The French have during a series of years excavated there with the greatest perseverance and skill, and they discovered at Susa one of the earliest human settlements of which we have any evidence at all, and a settlement which goes as far back, or probably farther, than anything we have discovered in Egypt. The early inscriptions discovered on that site prove that there existed at no great distance another great city, still more ancient, with the name of which I will not burden the Committee, because at the moment I forget it myself. At all events that, for the moment unnamed and as yet unidentified city, will be found. It is probably within the Persian Empire, and could be found by anybody who would devote time to search for it, and there may lie still further most important discoveries which may, and almost certainly will, throw very remarkable and valuable light upon the earliest beginnings of human civilisation.
I would ask my hon. Friend to tell me, if he will, about the Joint Committee, which I believe has been established at the request of the Foreign Office, and which consists of representatives of the principal societies connected with archæology. That Committee, I understand, is charged with the duty of advising the Government in matters connected with such questions as that to which I am now referring. What I wish to know is whether, with the assistance of that Committee in the negotiations in Paris, provision has been made for the establishment 1915 of an administration of antiquities, and whether there may not be established the principle of reciprocity between nations in the grant of facilities for excavation, and the acquisition of antiquities in territories under their control? Surely there never could have been a more favourable moment than that which has now arrived to obtain a general understanding between the Governments of Great Britain, France and Italy, for complete reciprocity in this matter of excavation. We control certain territories, and they control others, and is it not possible now, at this moment when the representatives of the various Governments are assembled together, quite easily to arrive at some general agreement that, so far as ancient sites in the ancient world are concerned, whether they are under the administration of one country or another, they should be accessible for scientific and historical research to properly equipped and authorised expeditions, from whatever civilised country they may come? In the future there is no doubt at all, as in the recent past, expeditions financed by the United States will become more and more active in this work of excavation. The United States universities, and some of the wealthy corporations of the United States are devoting annually considerable sums for the purposes of historical investigation kind this way, and the United States, on their behalf, would no doubt desire to be a party to some such understanding. I would ask my hon. Friend whether, before the Peace Conference in Paris separates and its constituent parts fly to all parts of the world, it would not be possible for him to hold out some hope that a general understanding on this important question may be arrived at, or at least attempted.
§ Sir J. RANDLES
I congratulate my hon. Friend who has just sat down on the agility with which he travelled from Spitsbergen to Persia, and I do not know where else he could not have led us to, but I understand it was generally agreed that Egypt should be the particular subject of our discussion to-day, and I want to put one point very briefly to the Under-Secretary. The hon. and gallant Member for Newcastle-under Lyme (Colonel Wedgwood) referred to the use of the English language in Egypt, and to the fact that some alteration was going to be made in respect to the use of the language and the strengthening of the Courts by the infusion of English judges, as being one of the 1916 troubles and dangers. I do not think that that need be the case at all. I think the people of Egypt will have at any rate sufficient understanding to know that it is not unreasonable that a commercial nation like this, doing a large trade with Egypt and hampered by the use of Arabic and French as the only languages admissible, should wish to have the English language in the Courts in Egypt placed on an equality with the French language. I do not think that, if it was properly put before the people of that country, there would be anything like the difficulty anticipated by the hon. and gallant Member. If that were carried out, I believe that the great commercial communities of this country would find that the volume of trade would substantially increase, because at present, according to resolutions passed by Chambers of Commerce, notably by the Manchester Chamber of Commerce, there has been a very real difficulty in the recovery of debts and in the bringing of actions in Egypt, because of the difficulties raised by the use of a foreign language and by the refusal to allow English judges to take their part in the same way as men of other nationalities are doing in that country. I would put in a plea that in any new arrangements that may be made relative to that country, in any widening of the constitution or any extension of freedom which might be given to the people of that country in the management of their own affairs, it would not be regarded as unfair or unreasonable that we should secure for the English language an equal footing, we having, by the consent of France, taken a premier place there following the agreements regarding Egypt and Morocco. I think the people of Egypt would acquiesce, especially if such a step were accompanied by arrangements for their representation in their own assemblies, so as to make a carefully thought out scheme by which the relations between this country and Egypt would be greatly improved, and by which the commercial opportunities would be improved and developed, to the advantage not only of ourselves, but of the people in that country. I believe it would be found that the commercial ties and the bonds that naturally spring up around commercial transactions would be a solvent of many of our difficulties, a means towards the pacification of that country and its greater prosperity, and I would urge on the Foreign Office to have this seriously in mind in any arrangements or 1917 rearrangements that may be in contemplation relative to the administration of that country. I am sure the subject is quite familiar to the Foreign Office, and I commend it to their careful consideration.
§ Mr. A. WILLIAMS
I rise to express a hope that the hon. Gentleman, in replying, will give us a little more information with regard to another part of the Near East, I mean more particularly the state of the country round about the Caucasus and Asia Minor, a part of the world in which we have very great interests and responsibilities. I want particularly to ask him if he can tell us anything as to the safety of the subject races in these parts of the world, and what is being done to secure their safety, and in particular I myself am especially interested in the Armenian people of that part of the world. But I do not wish to ask for information only with regard to them, because I desire not to make this any question of race or of religion. With regard to all those subject peoples whom we have now helped to save from the tyranny of the Turkish rule, I think we have for that and for other reasons a duty to see that we save them also, or help them to save themselves, from the danger of extermination, largely by famine and by warfare, which is threatening them, I fear, at the present time. Many of them are subject to the danger of massacre from barbarous elements living in their neighbourhood, and all of them are in grave danger of perishing from want of food. I will take first of all the Caucasus, and I would remind the hon. Gentleman and the Committee that immediately the Russian power broke, or very soon after it, there was internecine fighting between the various races inhabiting that part of the world. I believe that that has, to a considerable extent, been stopped now, but we read the roost terrible accounts of the famine that is prevailing in certain parts of the Caucasus, whilst in other parts there is abundance of food, perhaps. I am not going to harrow the feelings of the House by relating the horrible instances which have already appeared in the Press with regard to the famine in that part of the world. Parts of the Caucasus are in our own occupation, and I hope and believe that in them, at any rate, means are taken to prevent the people from perishing of want, and certainly to prevent internecine fighting. I also hope that our Government 1918 are able to help the people in other parts which are not in our immediate occupation with food and necessaries, If you come to the south side of what used to be the Russo-Turkish frontier, and go into Asia Minor, and especially in the country of Armenia, I am afraid there you have clear evidence that sporadic outrages have been carried on by demobilised Turkish soldiers ever since the Armistice was signed. There is also grave evidence that the Turkish people and the Kurds in that part of the world are in a very dangerous state of mind, and that attacks by them upon the more civilised elements in the population are, lamentably, possible at any moment. There is grave evidence, further, of the destitution of the population in very large areas. On the 26th March the hon. Gentleman (Mr. C. Harmsworth), in answer to a question from me, spoke of this destitution, and declared that it was due largely to the inability of the civilised inhabitants there to sow their fields during war-time, and also to the wanton destruction by the Turks of such crops as were grown. He informed me that the food problem in that part of the world was receiving the consideration of the Food Section of the Supreme War Council sitting in Paris. He said that in those parts which were in the occupation of the British troops whatever was possible was, of course, being done by the Army authorities to help the inhabitants. He added that in those parts not in the occupation of the British troops the main initiative was being taken by the American Mission for the Relief of Distress there, under the leadership of Dr. Barton. I would ask him very earnestly if he could tell us what progress has been made by that Relief Mission? It has, no doubt, passed through territories in our occupation. I believe it has been at Constantinople, where we are very strongly represented at the present time. I would ask whether it will be able to make progress and go forward, or whether any obstacles have arisen to prevent it going forward in the most expeditious and effective way? If such obstacles have arisen, I would ask whether it has been found possible to remove them or if steps will be taken to remove them?
There is another matter. I have stated that the Turkish people in that part of the world are reported to be in a very dangerous and truculent frame of mind. Not merely sporadic outbreaks, but massacres on a large scale of the few remain- 1919 ing civilised people there are a danger at any moment. I would ask the hon. Gentleman to tell us the full extent of what has been done for the occupation of the strategic points in the interior of Asia Minor, especially in the interior of Armenia. Those who know the country know that the only possible safety for the remnants of civilisation there is that some Great Power—either Great Britain or the United States, or some other Great Power—should occupy the strategic points in the interior of that country. It will not take a great many troops, and if it is done promptly it will relieve us from very great responsibilities which will fall upon us in the event of its being neglected now and serious massacres occurring and troubles arising hereafter. If they did arise, we should certainly be compelled to intervene on a great and costly scale, whereas now a stitch in time may save nine. We have heard in the newspapers that British troops have occupied ports on the south coast of the Black Sea and certain points a little inland from there, but not properly in the interior of the country and not south of the mountains. I know the hon. Gentleman cannot answer from the point of view of strategy, but from the point of view of politics and of the international relations which come properly within the sphere of the Foreign Office, but I would ask whether he can give us some assurance that troops will be sent to occupy points in the interior, such as Erzerum, Erzigan, Kharput, or other strong points, where comparatively small bodies of troops would give the Armenians peace in the immediate future. Some of the civilised races in these parts have been reduced almost to their last remnants. The Turkish Armenians, who numbered almost a couple of millions, have been reduced to very small numbers; indeed, probably 600,000 or 800,000 have been actually killed, besides hundreds of thousands who have been driven into exile. Certain branches of the Assyrian Christians have suffered equally. But I do not wish to make this a matter of religion or of race; Mahomedan tribes, such as the Lazis, have also suffered severely in this country.
The next few months is the critical time, and within those months those people who are left and the refugees that may come back may be able to re-establish themselves. It may be possible for them to be repatriated and once more to find them- 1920 selves earning an honest living upon their own soil. Some people in this country are trying to help them, and some in the United States, with very much greater resources, are trying to do so on a very large scale. After all, it is very little that private initiative can do in this matter without the support of the Governments, particularly of the British Government and that of the United States. This part of the world of which I am speaking, north and south of what used to be the Turkish-Russian frontier, is the great historic and permanent pathway from the East to the West. The races that inhabit it, especially the civilised races, and more particularly the Armenian race, are the only link between the European civilisation and the races of the interior of Asia. These elements are well worth preserving. They contain very largely the natural seeds of civilisation in that part of the world, and the only possibility of establishing a settled Government among the native and indigenous peoples of the Near East. I hope, therefore, that the hon. Gentleman will be able to tell us what the British Government is doing and has done in this connection. We certainly have a very great responsibility, because it is we who, for so many years, maintained the Turkish Empire—I would rather say the Turkish tyranny—in that part of the world. And it is we who have now destroyed it, and thereby taken away even that faint and somewhat hideous pretence of Government which had existed there, and left the whole country practically without any Government. We have, therefore, I think, a clear duty to help these people until they have had the opportunity—of which they are so thoroughly capable and willing to help themselves by their own industry and their own intelligence—to settle once more to an honest living on the fields that have belonged to their ancestors for so many, many generations.
§ Mr. FRANCE
I hesitate to add to the number of subjects brought to the notice of the hon. Gentleman who is representing the Foreign Office, and I feel that I ought to apologise to the Committee for touching upon a matter that is so common and ordinary as trade, after the very interesting speeches we have had, which have taken us into almost every quarter of the globe. But the subject to which I wish to ask the attention of the hon. Gentleman for a moment or two is the question of the continuation of the 1921 blockade, and the effect it is having upon many or the staple industries of this country. Yesterday some of us had the pleasure of an interview with the Acting-President of the Board of Trade, and we addressed to him arguments and laid before him some facts as to the present position, and we found in the mind and the speech of the Acting-President of the Board of Trade very great sympathy with the position of manufacturers who are handicapped in developing their trade at this time; but he pointed out that, although the Board of Trade were anxious to see development in exports, and were doing all they could to bring to the proper quarter that representation, the matter was one outside the control of that Department, and in the hands, not only of the British Government as a question of policy, but in the hands of a wider body, the Inter-Allied Powers, who have agreed upon a certain policy. I would like to ask the hon. Gentleman, so far as he is able, to press upon those who have the power to deal with this matter the very serious position in which manufacturers and exporters of manufactured goods find themselves to-day, and the very great uncertainty as to what is the exact position and what limits are at present imposed upon them. A blockade, I suppose, as a blockade of enemy territory, still exists, although there have been certain relaxations. One of them is rather difficult to follow in some respects—that is, that trading with the enemy in the occupied territory is now permitted. The restriction of trade to the neutral countries contiguous to enemy countries has now been relaxed, but there are still restrictions upon certain goods to those neutral countries, and a very great deal of difficulty is found to exist through the guarantees that are required that the goods must only go to an association formed for the purpose of preventing goods going to enemy countries, or to some firm or association that will give a guarantee to that effect. Although this relaxation has taken place with regard to neutral countries, and although it has been announced that trade may now be indulged in in the occupied territory of enemy countries, there was, two days ago in the "Times," a very mysterious announcement, which, I must confess, is entirely beyond my comprehension, and I have consulted various business men and certain persons high in political sagacity, and not one of them has been able to 1922 interpret the announcement published in the "Times" two days ago. It was headed: