HL Deb 23 July 1878 vol 242 cc34-8

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, Whether it was the intention of Her Majesty's Government to carry into effect the arrangement concerning opium, as proposed in Clause 3 of Section III. of the Chefoo Convention; and whether any further Papers connected with the Convention could now be laid upon the Table, especially the remaining portion of Sir Thomas Wade's Report, and the reply of the Indian Government to the reference made by Her Majesty's Government with respect to the Chefoo Convention? He might, perhaps, be allowed to remind their Lordships that this Convention was provisionally agreed upon in the month of September, 1876. Although it arose out of the murder of a British officer on Chinese territory, it dealt with various matters, and clearly had an important bearing upon the diplomatic and commercial relations between this country and China. The 3rd section in part related to commerce, and under it China agreed to make certain concessions, especially with respect to the opening of new ports to foreign trade; while, on the other hand, England gave to China increased facilities for regulating the import of opium, for collecting the duty upon it, and for checking the evasion of the tax — an evasion which was not difficult, owing to the small compass in which large quantities of opium could be stowed. Since the time when this agreement was first formed, statements had, in reply to inquiries both in Parliament and out-of-doors, been made on behalf of Her Majesty's Government with respect to it, and especially with respect to the points referred to in the Question which he had put upon the Paper for that day. He thought the latest piece of information was that given on the 24th of last month, when it was stated that although Her Majesty's Government had decided to give a formal approval to the Chefoo Convention, the clauses relating to the collection of the opium tax were still under consideration. Now, although not many weeks had passed since that statement was made, and although we had in the interval been passing through a momentous period, he hoped that the noble Marquess the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs might now be able to announce that the whole Treaty was, without further delay, to be fully ratified. In case it might appear to their Lordships that he needed some further justification for bringing the matter forward now, he wished to say that although it did not occupy a foremost place in politics, it was watched with considerable interest by a number of people, and that feeling had been indicated by the presentation of a Memorial last year to the noble Earl who was then at the head of the Foreign Office, strongly urging the ratification of the Chefoo Convention. The signatures to the document would show that it was one of an important and representative character. Among the signatures were those of several of the Members of that House, and also a large number of Members of the other House of Parliament. He also observed among them many names well known in the Church and at the Universities, as well as the names of many gentlemen connected with the China trade. An allusion to our trade with China might, perhaps, raise the question whether the provisions of the Convention were likely to be acceptable to our merchants? Now, while there was, doubtless, some difference of opinion upon it in the commercial world, it was satisfactory to observe that several of the most important Chambers of Commerce—especially those of Manchester, Liverpool, and Glasgow—had expressed their approval of it. But he should like to try and lay more stress upon the feeling with which, as he understood, the matter was regarded in China, meaning, of course, in the political circles of that country. The Chinese Government had done what we had demanded of them; and, considering the Treaty as a settlement, and, on the whole, a favourable settlement, of unfortunate complications, they regarded it with satisfaction and naturally looked for a full ratification of it. They all knew the jealous nature of the Chinese, and a feeling of doubt as to our intentions might lead to reflections unfavourable to us as compared with other nations with which they were brought into contact, and cause mischief not easily removed. He could not help, therefore, earnestly hoping that no consideration of any possible risk of a subordinate character would be allowed to interfere with the full settlement of a Treaty which appeared to him to involve, in a very important degree, our best interests in China.


said, the Chefoo Convention had been ratified with the exception of two provisions—the levying of likin on opium in the Custom House before delivery to the purchaser, and the definition of the port area within which likin might not be levied upon other merchandize. Considerable controversy had arisen about these two provisions. The stipulation in respect of them was that they should come into operation—that they should be fixed as soon as the British Government had arrived at an understanding on the subject with Germany and other foreign Governments. The question of levying likin interested several other Governments very much, and certainly no understanding had yet been arrived at with foreign Governments upon this matter. The Chinese, he understood, were willing to entertain negotiations for the purpose of so modifying those Articles that the necessary agreement might be arrived at, and those negotiations were now going on. It would not, in the ordinary course of things, be proper to lay upon the Table the portions of Sir Thomas Wade's Report which referred to this matter; because, as long as negotiations were going on, it was not usual to lay Papers upon the Table relating to them. He was aware, however, that considerable interest was felt in the question, and certainly anything which came from Sir Thomas Wade was so able that a very natural interest was felt on the part of Chambers of Commerce to be put in possession of it. He would inquire carefully into the matter, and he hoped after a little time to be able to produce the Papers asked for by the noble Earl.


remarked, that the Chinese, in return for the great concessions they had made to us by the agreement of Chefoo, might naturally expect that something should be done upon our part to prevent the evasion of payment of those duties on opium which they were justly entitled to levy. The effect of the agreement would be to bring the collection of interior duties on opium under the control of the foreign inspectorate of Customs, instead of leaving it to subordinate local authorities, whose interference frequently gave occasion for serious difficulties. The Chinese Government were doubtless desirous to set up their own opium against foreign opium. In China, plenty of opium was grown, and practically the growth of it was encouraged as much as possible. It was believed that if this arrangement were carried out, it would interfere with the introduction of British opium from India into China; and, accordingly, some people in this country, with that view, desired to see the arrangement carried out. But he did not believe this arrangement would diminish the sale of opium by a single chest. The good people in this country who thought the importation of opium from India into China a crime would not, by means of this Convention, do anything to diminish the consumption of opium in China—whether Indian or Chinese grown, opium would be as much consumed as ever. In negotiating a Treaty with China the one-sidedness which characterised some previous Treaties will be avoided. It did not improve our relations with that country.


, while recognizing the value of the advice tendered by the noble Lord, which his experience entitled him to give, reminded him that really the question was one of great complication. If the agreement was merely for the levying of an existing charge, he did not think there would be much objection to the Convention. But the fear was that it would give to local officers, who were irresponsible, the power of raising and levying the charge to an enormous amount. Of course, there were some people who thought that the application of that process to opium, even if it had the effect of ruining the Indian Revenue, would still be an application of great advantage; but his belief was—that was, as far as his information went, and he had received very considerable information on the point—that, if every chest of Indian opium was excluded from China, it would have no effect in limiting the consumption of opium. Opium was grown to an enormous extent in various parts of China. The only thing to be feared was that some Chinese Governments might raise the likin to an unlimited extent, and the desire so to raise it had more to do with Protection than with any idea of morality. We could scarcely be expected to support a leaning so Protectionist.

House adjourned at a quarter before Eight o'clock, till Thursday next, half past Ten o'clock.