HL Deb 16 March 1885 vol 295 cc1213-22

in rising to move— That an humble Address he presented to Her Majesty humbly thanking Her Majesty for having graciously accepted the loyal offer of military service from New South Wales; and expressing the satisfaction with which this House has heard the announcement that the like loyal offers of military service from other Colonies, and also from India, will, should occasion arise, be duly accepted, said, that his Motion appeared to be a natural supplement to what had already been said in the House that evening with reference to a Colonial Navy. Happily for their Lordships, he was incapable of lengthened speech; but, happily for himself, he believed the Motion to be one that would commend itself to the favourable consideration of their Lordships. Amid the innumerable troubles that had recently come upon them they could, at least, look with pride and satisfaction at the general conduct of their Army in the field, and at the courage, the discipline, the endurance and dash of their troops under the most trying circumstances. They could also look with pride at the enthusiasm with which all ranks and all conditions of their soldiers had left for the seat of war, accompanied by the cheers of a sympathetic people. But if there was one thing at the present time more than another which was a just cause for national pride and satisfaction, it was the love for the Mother Country shown by their great Colonies in their hearty, loyal offers of military service in the Soudan. There was a section—happily, but a small section—of politicians, un-represented, he was confident, in their Lordships' House, who held that England would be happier and more prosperous if shorn of her Colonies, and even if deprived of her Indian Empire. As regarded their Indian Empire, the answer to those who would wish to see India separated from the Empire was given in the hearty offers of assistance which had come from the Native Indian Princes, and the ready services of the Indian troops in the Soudan; and within the last few days the Prime Minister himself had stated that, however disunited England might be on other questions, she was united in her determination that India, the Koh-i-Noor of the British Crown, should not be struck from off it. But as regarded the separation of the Colonies from England, there had never been a time in their history when the ties between them and the Mother Country had been so strong and so hearty as at the present time. Why, what had they seen lately? A League for the federation of the Colonies had been formed in this country, at the head of which was Mr. Forster, and of which his noble Friend the most recent addition to the Government (the Earl of Rosebery) was a distinguished member. The object of this League was to draw closer the ties and means of defence as between the Colonies and the Empire. This question of the federation of the Colonies was one upon which there was considerable difference of opinion as to how it should be effected; and as in the few remarks he intended to make he did not wish to enter into any controversial question, he would not discuss the best form of federation. There was, however, nothing which could contribute more to the strength of the Empire than a defensive union of the Colonies with the Mother Country. The dream of his life had been to see his country strong. He wished to see England strong, not that she might go hectoring, bullying, blustering through the world, unnecessarily seizing unoccupied territory, or treading on the susceptibilities of other nations. He wished to see England strong, because he wished that Empire which had been handed down by those who had gone before them to be transmitted, unimpaired, to those who were to come after them. Especially did he wish to see England strong in the interests of peace, because he thought that nothing would contribute more to the peace of the world than the knowledge that England was united and strong. And, as he had said, if there was one thing more than another which would make their Empire strong, it was a defensive union between the Colonies and the Mother Country—the good of all being the care of each, and the good of each the care of all. Nothing could strengthen the hands of a Foreign Minister more than the knowledge that any foreign country would have to deal not simply with these little storm-beaten Islands in a Northern Sea, but would be face to face with an Empire, or rather a congeries of Empires, scattered over the whole habitable world. The Colonies by their action had in a great measure solved the question of federation. If he was rightly informed, Members of the Cabinet had been in communication with the Agents General of the Colonies for the purpose of discussing the question of mutual defences; and little more was necessary in the matter of federation than the systematizing in the future what had now been done. But, be that as it might, he held that the offers made by the Colonies formed a great event in our history. No doubt, the Colonies had on previous occasions come forward with offers of assistance, one instance of which was commemorated in the name of what had formerly been the 100th Regiment, now the Royal Canadians. They had heard, too, how the Australian Colonies had offered naval help; but this was the first time that such offers had taken so concrete a form. It was an event pregnant with a great and untold future. Seeing, then, the unanimity throughout this country in appreciating the action of the Colonies in this matter, he thought it was desirable that their Lordships' House should give expression to this universal national sentiment, and that there should be some record on their Journals fuller than the casual reference made to the subject in the debate on calling out of the Reserves. He hoped, therefore, that their Lordships would now unanimously agree— That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty humbly thanking Her Majesty for having graciously accepted the loyal offer of military service from New South Wales; and expressing the satisfaction with which this House has heard the announcement that the like loyal offers of military service from other Colonies, and also from India, will, should occasion arise, be duly accepted. And when they remembered the gracious words addressed by Her Majesty to the Colonies with reference to this matter, they had the satisfaction of knowing that in carrying such an Address to the Queen they would be acting in unison with the sentiments of their Sovereign.

Moved, "That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty humbly thanking Her Majesty for having graciously accepted the loyal offer of military service from New South Wales; and expressing the satisfaction with which this House has heard the announcement that the like loyal offers of military service from other Colonies, and also from India, will, should occasion arise, be duly accepted."—(The Earl of Wemyss.)


said, that he yielded to none in high appreciation of the loyal offers of military co-operation on the part of the Colonies; but he thought that it would be a poor compliment to such revived loyalty to treat it as something new. By doing so they could only show how soon they would forget such loyalty, and that they had already forgotten that the same loyalty enlisted Colonists a century ago to fight by the side of British troops against great French Armies in America, and even to acquire fresh territories for the Crown—by troops entirely equipped and paid for by themselves, as much as our own were. He believed the Australians would take it as an affront if this House or Her Majesty were in any way to thank them for the military services which they now offered, as if it were a contribution from allies, and not from fellow-subjects. It was in that spirit they had made the offer, and the enlistment was made in the desire to be part of the Imperial Army, and their pride was now to fight side by side with fellow-subjects in the Soudan. That was a much better kind of Imperial inter-community than any of the vague and impracticable notions that had been thrown out lately about Imperial federation. The relationship between this country and her Colonies had gone down to zero, and was becoming little better than that of Imperial patronage and Colonial dependency. A few years ago we had been taxed at home to the amount of £4,000,000 a-year for Colonial Military Expenditure, to which the Colonies had contributed not a shilling, either for local or general defence. This sort of connection by patronage must have soon gone on from degradation to separation. But this event showed a return of healthier relations, which alone could make connection permanent, relations in which they all alike shared in the burdens as well as privileges of citizenship. Wars were called Imperial, as if the Colonies were not part of the Empire. But they wished to be so. Peace and war were in the breast of the common Sovereign only checked by refusal of Supplies. Their Lordships knew as little of the meaning and intention of the present war as the Australians themselves. They could refuse Supplies, as the House of Commons might, towards it, but in the spirit of common citizenship they had nobly voted them, and the Crown might thank them, as well as the House of Commons. The interests of world-wide commerce were the originating cause of this present war, equally affecting all the British Empire. He wished the Colonial Defence Act of 1865 had more largely drawn out Colonial Naval Service to Her Majesty, as ships of war were furnished a century ago by the Colonies to George III. He cordially joined in the satisfaction expressed in the Motion, but would add a hope that the offered services might not be so soon forgotten as similar former services had been, and that they might take them as services rendered to the Crown in common with those of Her Majesty's subjects at home.


said, he hoped that it would be understood that on both sides and in every quarter of the House the Motion made by his noble Friend on the Cross Benches was accepted with enthusiasm. That was a Motion which ought to be passed with entire unanimity; and they would only be expressing the feelings of all classes of the community when they gave expression to the sentiments of pleasure to which his noble Friend had referred. He could not but feel somewhat sorry that his noble Friend had thought it right to diverge from the main subject on which they were all agreed to that of the question of a federation of the Empire which his noble Friend behind him had taken up. For himself, he believed that the federation of the Empire was a fait accompli now; that what they now witnessed was really the habitual feeling on the part of the Colonies; and that whenever any danger arose to England that sentiment would always come to the front, and would animate all their English-speaking Colonies. He confessed that he was sorry that the noble Earl at the head of the Colonial Office did not accept the services of all the Colonies in a somewhat different manner. It would have made all the difference in the world if all the offers from all the Colonies had been accepted, and if they had been informed that it was merely a question of military expediency when those offers should be made to take effect.


explained that though he had made a passing allusion to the Federation League he had carefully advoided going into that question at all.


My Lords, I quite agree with the noble Viscount who spoke last (Viscount Bury) that this is a Motion which it is eminently desirable that we should assent to with absolute unanimity, and without the introduction of any controversial matter. It is a Motion to which the Members of the Government can entertain no objection, because it is one approving of the course which they have thought it right to advise Her Majesty to take; and for that very reason it is obviously a Motion which we could not have initiated, its chief importance arising from its being the expression of an entirely independent feeling on the part of the Members of this House. If the Motion had been likely to lead to any discussion of a controversial character, I certainly should not have advised or encouraged the noble Earl on the Cross Benches (the Earl of Wemyss) to bring it forward, and I think that he himself would have been actuated by the same feeling. Although the Motion is in its terms an expression of approval of the course taken by the Government, I consider that the compliment involved in it to be only in form addressed to us, and to be really intended, as we all understand, for those Colonies whose patriotic and public-spirited offers we are anxious to recognize. We have only had to accept those offers; we have done it willingly, and we have in both Houses of Parliament endeavoured—I myself in your Lordships' House, and the First Lord of the Treasury in the other House in far more eloquent language than any I could command—to give expression to what I believe is the unanimous feeling of every Party and every class in this country—namely, our cordial gratitude for, and admiration of, this display of loyalty and public spirit. This Motion only confirms and emphasizes the language held on the part of Her Majesty's Government. The noble Earl touched very lightly on an expression of regret that somewhat different answers were sent to different Colonies. On a former occasion I explained—and I would explain it again if it were necessary—that that difference in the answers arose simply from the different conditions on which the various offers were made. I do not think it is necessary that I should refer now to what the noble Earl on the Cross Benches said as to the existence of a school whose object is to get rid of the Colonies. I have heard a great deal of denunciation of that school; but having sat for a considerable time in this and in the other House of Parliament and watched the course of opinion on the question, I cannot remember to have heard that sentiment expressed by any person of the slightest importance or consideration. What I know many people did say 30 years ago was that if the more important Colonies which had obtained free institutions should show themselves, as many persons expected they would, unwilling to remain in the Empire, it would not be our duty or our interest to retain them by force; but I never heard anyone in this or the other House of Parliament contend that it was our duty or our interest to turn out of the Empire Colonies which desired to remain connected with it of their own free will. We have seen that the effect of the grant of those free institutions and of leaving those Colonies to manage their own local affairs in their own way has not been, as some predicted it would be, to weaken, but rather to strengthen, the ties between the Colonies and the Mother Country; and I do not believe that there was ever a time when they were more closely connected with or more warmly attached to the Empire than they are at this moment. Neither shall I go into the very interesting and difficult question of federation to which the noble Lord opposite (Lord Norton) alluded. Federation is a word of many meanings, which is used by different speakers in different senses. We have proof of that in what we have heard this evening; and no one who has paid any attention to what has occurred at public meetings can fail to have noticed that when men express their wish for federation on the one hand, or their disbelief in federation on the other, they are talking of quite diffferent things, and that they have no one definite plan before them. If federation means only a voluntary co-operation for purposes of defence—which is the interpretation put on it by the noble Lord opposite—then I agree with him that we have it now, and I hope that we may have it for long. If, on the other hand, it means a system of federal union founded on fixed and settled rules such as those which exist in the case of the United States of America, then I think that we had better wait to discuss propositions of that kind until we have them before us in some practical shape. Expressing my own personal and individual opinion, I do not think that that will be very soon. I will not go into the subject; but an obvious difficulty in the way of any scheme of formal federation lies in the immense disproportion between the number of inhabitants of the British Islands and the number in the Colonies. In these Islands you have a population of some 35,000,000 or 36,000,000, whereas there are only 8,000,000 or 9,000,000 in all the English-speaking Colonies; and if you form an Imperial Council, call it by what name you please, and if in that Council every part of the Empire is to be represented in proportion to its popu- lation and its importance, the result would be that the Representatives of the British Islands would carry everything their own way, and the Colonists, even if they were united to a man, would be absolutely outvoted and absolutely powerless. If, therefore, such a Body had powers of taxation, I do not say that you would altogether have a system of taxation without representation; but you would have what was practically very nearly the same thing. And, further, with reference to some of the proposals which have been made, with a view of bringing about federation, it is obvious that they could not be carried out without introducing changes in the Constitution as regards the relations between the Executive and the Legislature far wider than any which have yet been attempted in this country. But let me add one proviso. It ought not to be considered that those who do not see their way to any plan of federation are, on that account, indifferent to the extreme importance of consolidating, as far as may be, the various parts of the Empire. But, returning to what is immediately before us, I do not think I ought to sit down without mentioning what more properly belongs to the Department of my noble Friend (the Earl of Kimberley)—namely, the loyal assistance which has been offered by several of the Native Princes of India. Such expressions of loyalty and good feeling, on the part of persons situated as they are, are of the highest possible importance, and not merely as a matter of sentiment, but of practical service. I anticipate that your Lordships will, without opposition, accept the Motion of the noble Earl; and when the news is telegraphed out, as it will be, to those distant Provinces which are most concerned, I have no doubt that the mark of respect and gratitude which you have paid to the Colonists will be received by them in the same spirit in which it is offered.


I only rise to confirm the statement of the noble Earl, that, as far as I know, the assent to this Motion is unanimous in every portion of the House. I shall not travel into any of the adventitious and somewhat controversial matters which have gathered round this Motion, and which, I think, were unnecessary to its discussion. I shall not even attempt to emulate the feat of the noble Earl opposite of arguing against a plan which he himself acknowledged was not in existence. All I think it necessary to say is that there has been very strong feeling in this country in response to the exhibition of affectionate sympathy which has reached us from the Colonies; that there is no subject on which this country feels so strongly as their desire that cordial relations of amity and goodwill should exist between them and those of their own race in other parts of Her Majesty's Dominions. That feeling has been eminently gratified by the exhibition of loyalty and patriotism which the Colonists have shown. We are very grateful to the Native Princes of India, as the noble Earl has said, for having also exhibited their affection for the Empire under which they have so long been protected, and to the people who have done their utmost to maintain their interests and promote their welfare. But, of course, we feel still more strongly such indications of good feeling when they come from our own blood—from those who have so lately quitted our own shores. I think the feeling is universal that in acting as they have done the Colonists have shown that they are true Englishmen, and have behaved in a manner worthy of the race from which they have sprung, and the splendid Empire of which they form so important a factor.


wished to make it clear to their Lordships that he had put the Motion down without consulting any Member of their Lordships' House.

Motion agreed to, nemine dissentiente.

Ordered, That the said Address be presented to Her Majesty by the Lords with White Staves.