HL Deb 20 November 1888 vol 330 cc1634-46

said, he rose to call attention to the Correspondence respecting the suppression of the Slave Trade in South African waters, because on perusal of the Papers which had been presented since the discussion took place in their Lordships' House, many matters which appeared simple and easy before seemed to him, at least, to be beset with many difficulties, and possibly with many dangers. He should be glad, therefore, if the Prime Minister would give some further explanations on the subject. In the first place, he should be glad to know whether any definite arrangements in the shape of a Treaty, or anything approaching to a Treaty, had been executed between this country and Germany, or was contemplated. The word the Prime Minister used the other day was that there was an "understanding." If, however, there was anything more fruitful of misunderstandings than another it was an "understanding." They were so indefinite that misconceptions were almost certain to arise. It appeared from what the noble Marquess said that evening, that misunderstanding about some not unimportant points had already taken place as regarded the understanding between us and France. He wished to know, not so much what was the object of the blockade, but rather against what commodities or goods the blockade was to be made. In fact, what was contraband? He could not well ask what was contraband of war, because we were not at war; and it would be rather ridiculous to inquire what was contraband of peace. But he asked what was contraband in that particular blockade. The Correspondence was rather peculiar on that point. In the Memorandum communicated by Count Leyden on October 8, it was stated that— The object of such a blockade would be to cut off all traffic with the insurgent coast districts, and especially that in slave vessels, and the carriage of arms and ammunition. The words "all traffic" were not used further on; they were dropped in Count Hatzfeldt's letter to the noble Marquess, and were not mentioned in the noble Marquess's reply to Count Hatzfeldt, nor in his despatch to Sir Edward Malet. In the latter despatch the noble Marquess said that "the blockade will be strictly limited to the two objects I have named"—that was to say, to the prevention of the exportation of slaves and the importation of arms. But there was nothing in those Papers to show whether that view of the matter was accepted by Germany. That was a point of the utmost importance, because the blockade of all traffic along a great strip of coast in time of profound peace was, he believed, what no nation had attempted before, and what he imagined was absolutely contrary to International Law as generally understood. He should like, therefore, to know against what objects the blockade was directed, and if they were clearly and distinctly defined. He also wished to know how the blockade was to be carried out—whether the action of the British ships was to be confined to the coast line that was under British influence, and whether the action of the German ships was to be confined to the part of the coast tinder German influence. That was, he thought, a point of too much importance to be left to be decided as a matter of detail by the admirals on the station. It would be idle to expect any distinction to be drawn, in the native mind at any rate, between the action of German and of English ships if they were operating conjointly in the same waters. Then he wanted further to know how far our operations were to be limited to operations by sea. On that point the correspondence was a little ominous. The Memorandum communicated by Count Leyden said— It appears doubtful to the German Government whether military expeditions into the interior are suited for such a purpose. But there was a very large line between operations by sea and military expeditions into the interior. Military expeditions into the interior would not include operations on the coast—certainly they would not include the lauding of seamen and marines or the bombarding of coast towns. The Memorandum proceeded to say that— Under these circumstances it appears desirable to confine the joint action of Germany and England in support of the Sultan at first to maritime action. But there was nothing in that document to say that Germany was not to be at liberty at any time to engage in military operations. The operations were to be confined to maritime operations "at first." That last expression appeared to imply that it was contemplated that at some future time the joint action of England and Germany might be directed towards military operations on shore. The noble Marquess, the other day, said distinctly in that House that there had been no suggestion or intention of any military action. He confessed, for himself, he did not see how that was quite compatible with what he had read from Count Leyden's Memorandum. But what was, perhaps, the most important part of the matter was to define clearly what was military action. What was to be our position if Germany, for instance, thought it necessary to bombard some places on the coast, or Zanzibar itself; and how far were we to be at liberty to withdraw from the arrangement or understanding in such a contingency? It was most essential that it should be distinctly laid down that on no occasion should we be called upon to act on the coast or on land, and we ought to have some assurance by the agreement that no operations of that kind should be undertaken. If anything of that sort was done it would be utterly impossible for us to avoid responsibility—at any rate, as far as the native mind was concerned. The Natives could not well make a distinction between Englishmen who were making it very inconvenient for them at sea, and Germans who might also be making themselves very disagreeable to them and annoying them on land. Therefore, especially in view of our good name among the Natives, it was very important that our position should be safeguarded in that respect, and that we should not be drawn into operations of a nature of which we should not approve. Then, as to the whole nature and character of that blockade, he asked what were our rights and duties, and, above all, what were our responsibilities under the circumstances? Blockade in war was a very simple matter. To establish it it was only necessary that there should be due notice of it and that it should be effective. But this was not a blockade of war. We were not at war with anybody, and, therefore, according to International Law, a blockade of the usual character could not come into force in that case. A blockade without the right of visitation and of search and of stopping vessels would be of little worth. Those rights were acquired by belligerents, and only by belligerents. There was another way in which those rights could be acquired, and that was by Treaty. In regard to the Slave Trade, we had treaties with nearly all powers allowing us the right of visitation and search in the case of all vessels reasonably suspected of being slavers. He believed that was not the case as far as France was concerned, but at any rate it was the case with other nations, and with the United States. But this blockade was not directed merely against the exportation of slaves, it was directed also against the importation of arms; and he was not aware that this country had any Treaty with any European Power, or with the United States, giving by Treaty a right of visitation and search in the case of vessels suspected of carrying arms. He should like to know what our rights were with respect, say, to German or United States vessels. What were our rights and responsibilities in enforcing this blockade so far as the importation of arms was concerned against United States vessels? He thought we were entering upon a path with a light heart when it might be necessary to pursue it some day with a heavy one. Germany, France, and Great Britain were more or less interested and engaged in this matter. All those Powers had great interests in this portion of the world. It was all very well to talk about community of interests between England and Germany; but although there was in a certain sense a community of interest between all civilized nations when dealing with barbarous or semi-barbarous peoples, there was at the same time a great conflict wherever civilized nations were engaged in colonizing, in gaining influence, and pushing their trade in undeveloped countries. The whole situation in that respect was a very difficult one, and it would be so even if the con- dition of Europe were entirely normal. No one could pretend, however, that the condition of Europe was normal. As far as this country was concerned our position was, he believed, a very good one. It had never been better. We were in a state of profound peace, and it was difficult to see any reason why such a happy state of things should not continue. But it was idle to pretend that the other two Powers interested were as well situated in that respect. It was certain that if a cause of quarrel were at any time required, a cause would be found at any moment in the operations of this blockade. There was nothing on which nations were so properly sensitive as the honour of their Flag upon the sea. He did not anticipate that there would be any cause of quarrel sought; but in such a ticklish condition of affairs it appeared to him that, were matters brought to a state of tension in Europe, it might be suddenly changed into a state of conflict by a comparatively trifling incident arising out of the blockade. We were therefore entering upon a course which might not only lead us into great difficulties, but might place us in a very false position, so false that we might find it difficult to extricate ourselves from it. What was it we were going to receive in exchange? What was the object of the blockade? It was believed that it had originated in a desire to restore the authority of the Sultan of Zanzibar. While recognizing its advantages, he doubted whether the process would be successful. But the main object was the suppression of the Slave Trade. That was an object with which everyone sympathized most deeply, and he believed the sentiment of the country would be strongly in favour of making great sacrifices to put a stop to that most horrible traffic. It was, however, doubtful whether the means adopted were the best. It was, at any rate, strange that the persons most deeply interested in the matter—the Universities Mission—looked upon the blockade with great disfavour, and their opinion ought to be of some weight. There were two ways of putting down the Slave Trade—either by stopping the exportation or cutting off from the markets. That was an operation in which this country had been engaged for the last century, and one in which Germany had but lately become interested. There was another way—that of enabling the people from whom the supplies of slaves were drawn to be strong enough to help themselves. It was obvious that if they could stop the importation of arms and ammunition, the partially civilized tribes would be unable to defend themselves against their warlike and savage neighbours, and certainly against the slave-raiders, who were armed. He doubted whether we could prevent these people from getting arms or ammunition, or whether any blockade would deprive the slave-raiders of their arms and ammunition. By stopping the importation of arms they deprived the coast tribes of all means of protecting themselves. There was one other danger to fear—it was this, that we should infallibly suffer greatly in the estimation of the people. Rightly or wrongly, we stood high in the estimation of the people at present; rightly or wrongly, justly or unjustly, the Germans did not. This country would be mixed up with the Germans in this matter; the Natives would not distinguish between the two, and whatever odium Germany incurred would have to be shared by England. That was a great misfortune and an important factor to be considered in the case. As a rule, partnerships of this kind were not desirable, and past records were not of such a character as to lead this country to expect that it would reap any great benefit from the partnership. He would only add, in conclusion, that he was anxious to obtain fuller, clearer, and more definite information, and he hoped the noble Marquess would be able to supply it.


My Lords, I think that my noble Friend in reading these Papers has imagined that the despatch from Count Leyden is a statement of the policy of this country, and that we were prepared to defend it. I cannot accept any such interpretation. I inserted the Memorandum to show how these negotiations commenced. It is a statement that proceeds from the German Government, expressing their opinion. It is not my purpose nor my duty to explain their policy. The language which they use they will, no doubt, be able to defend; but I entirely decline to be in any way bound by anything that is stated in that Memorandum. The only thing which binds Her Majesty's Government is the communication from the Foreign Office to Count Hatzfeldt, which appears signed with my name. Anything outside of the four corners of that document does not bind England in any way. I may say that I think my noble Friend rather exaggerates the effect of some of the language of the German Memorandum. He saw a threat of military action in the words "at first," whereas the words were obviously merely used for the sake of diplomatic caution, so as not to bind the Government unnecessarily in circumstances which have not yet arisen. There is no ground for believing that the German Government have any intention to resort to any action on shore. I have strong grounds for believing the contrary, but, at all events, whether they do so or not, with that we have nothing to do. We have merely engaged in certain naval operations, and we have not the slightest intention of engaging in military operations. Then my noble Friend insists upon the use of words of a similar kind to the words in the German Memorandum—namely, that the object of such a blockade will be to cut off all traffic to a certain coast, especially that in slave vessels. I noticed that phrase, and at once objected; and I was informed that there was not any intention on the part of the German Government to ask for the suppression of all traffic. But, of course, such an understanding as that cannot depend upon a verbal interpretation. In that Note to Count Hatzfeldt, and in Count Hatzfeldt's Note to me, the blockade is distinctly stated to be against the importation of munitions of war and the exportation of slaves; and it is for nothing else; and that is the only object we shall have. As to the international position of the blockade, my noble Friend will see that this coast is no doubt mainly a German coast; but there are menaces of insurrection on the English coast also. The coast behind which German influence lies is in rebellion against the Sultan of Zanzibar. There are several precedents for the blockading by a Sovereign of a portion of his dominions which are in rebellion against him. We are acting as his allies in the matter, and it is against these insurgents, especially the Arab Slave Traders, that the blockades is exercised. There are several precedents which fully justify us in exercising all the rights of blockade as against this insurgent population, and among those rights we have the power of stopping ships which are suspected of carrying munitions of war, and of preventing all ships that intend to break the blockade. The French Government have not the slightest doubt of the legality of that position, and I do not see how any difference of opinion can arise with them upon the subject. My noble Friend seemed to think that the action of the German Government was actuated by some hostility towards France in this matter, and that there was great danger of tension between the two Powers, and the possibility of some collision arising. I can assure my noble Friend that the very reverse is the case.


, interposing, explained that what he said was that the circumstances were peculiar, and that eventualities might occur in Europe which would produce a state of tension between the two countries, and that that tension might be snapped by an incident of this blockade.


I am glad to hear that. It is entirely my own opinion that there is in this matter no feeling of hostility and no danger of friction between these two Governments. But I think my noble Friend has much exaggerated the part which France bears in this matter. In the speech of M. Goblet which has been quoted, he disclaimed any great French interest in these parts. The only interest France has is an accidental interest, which she is trying very hard to get rid of. The Arab dhows will occasionally obtain surreptitiously and on false pretexts French papers and will float the French colours; but a French ship is going out there to prevent that wrong issue of the papers and that abuse of the French Flag. Therefore I do not anticipate the slightest danger of any difficulty with France on the subject of this blockade. Undoubtedly the interest of France is not prominent, and that difficulty is not likely to arise. I think I have now answered the questions of my noble Friend. The only point on which I have still to offer any remark is with regard to the separate action of the two Admirals. No doubt it is our opinion that separate action should be preserved. No doubt the two Admirals themselves are of that opinion, and have arranged accordingly; but I hesitate to bind our Admiral by any absolute prohibition which would prevent him from taking the course of action which in his own discretion, acting in the circumstances on the spot, he may think necessary. Still, the Admirals are quite aware that in our judgment it is better for the forces to act apart. I do not myself attach much importance to that consideration on which my noble Friend dwelt—namely, that the Germans and English will get confused in the Native mind. I think the Natives have a mind more perspicacious than my noble Friend gives them credit for, and that they perfectly well know the difference between the two nations. I think it is undesirable that German ships should be engaged in stopping English traders. It is much better that English people should be dealt with by their own officers. On that ground I very much hope that any operations which may be necessary—probably they will hardly be necessary—in the neighbourhood of that coast where the English are interested will be conducted entirely by English vessels. I think my noble Friend altogether drew in too dark and sombre colours the character of these operations, and attached to them a larger importance than they deserved. We are really, after all, doing in respect to slaves what we have been doing for any number of years; only we are doing it under the more efficient circumstances of a blockade, and we shall be able, therefore, to exercise a vigilance and control which otherwise we should not have had. There is no doubt that the Slave Trade has increased in malignity and volume very largely in recent years. We have a proof of that in the various outbreaks that have taken place in Nyassa, in the Soudan, and on the Zanzibar coast. We have a proof of it in the very clear account of travellers and Missionaries who have gone inland; and, from all that we hear, the cruelties which now attach to the Slave Trade far exceed anything which attached to it in former times. I cannot look upon it as an evil that we have got the active assistance and the pledged co-operation of a Power so great as Germany in resisting the spread of this great evil upon a particular coast where it has lately shown the greatest signs of spreading. But my noble Friend asks me what we are to gain by the existence of this blockade? Well, if it had been a question whether or not any operations should have been undertaken, I could understand my noble Friend asking the question. I could understand a man saying, "We have gone on peaceably for a long while in the old way, without any great success, it is true; but why should we encounter new and unknown hazards when the original path of action still remains open to us? "The point which I wish to press on the noble Lord is, that the question we had to decide was, not whether there should be operations or not, but whether we should see Germany conducting them by herself or not. We had also to consider the hazardous position occupied by the Sultan of Zanzibar. We cannot abandon Zanzibar to its fate, or allow it to incur any risk which the course of events may bring upon it. We are bound to watch over it, and the question which really presented itself to us was whether we should watch over it more effectively by standing aside and renouncing, not only all co-operation, but all voice in the operations that were taking place; or whether we should not rather show our friendship and interest in the Sultan more effectually by acting up to the professions which we have made for any number of years, by joining in more efficacious measures against the Slave Trade, which we have pursued with so great persistency, and by joining also in cutting off from the slave dealers that supply of new and deadly arms which science has furnished, and which enables them to reduce to a state of utter vassalage and to inflict the most terrible and innumerable evils upon the helpless and unarmed populations on that vast Continent. Those poor people have no arms, and have no money to buy them. They are helpless before a resolute and unscrupulous and fully-armed race, such as these slave-trading Arabs, and we can only effectually prevent this by diminishing the power of evil and the power of oppressing them possessed by their persecutors, and possessed by those persecutors because they have come in contact with the science and the progress of the Christian world, and have bought from us the arms of destruction, in the manufacture of which, unhappily, we have acquired such deadly skill. I can assure my noble Friend there is nothing new in the policy of excluding and shutting out arms. It has been under discussion again and again. It has been carried out, as he will see, on the Congo. We have endeavoured to carry it out in the Soudan; but, unfortunately, have not been successful, and we are suffering a very disagreeable conflict at the present moment in consequence. It is a policy the soundness of which up to this time has been generally recognized; and I cannot believe my noble Friend will find any considerable number of men familiar with the problems of that trade and of that coast who will condemn us for trying to diminish the importation of arms into the interior. When we have prevented the taking of arms by a blockade, and have taken part in the prevention of the exportation of slaves—when we have done that, we shall not have departed from any sound principle, and we shall have obtained powerful assistance for the policy which we have pursued, and the objects for which we have always been anxious; we shall have secured a voice and control in the operations which are carried on upon that coast; we shall have put ourselves in the best position to assist our ally the Sultan of Zanzibar, and to secure his permanence and his independence; and, I should think, when we have done these things, we shall have struck a very heavy blow at the Slave Trade without incurring any of the dangers which my noble Friend has indicated, and which could only have been incurred if we had undertaken measures beyond our own element—the sea, or if we had undertaken any of those larger and wider enterprizes which my noble Friend mistakenly attributes to the Government.


said, the only key of the situation was to consider whether, under the circumstances, it was wise or prudent for us to hold aloof. Whatever might be the merits or demerits of the policy which we had pursued in the past with regard to Germany, on which he reserved his opinion, the question we had now to consider was what, in the actual position of affairs, was for our own interests and those of the Sultan of Zanzibar and the civilized nations who were anxious to put down the Slave Trade? He could not agree with the noble Earl that it would have been wise to refuse all co-operation with Germany in this matter—he entirely agreed with the Government that within certain limits we were right to co-operate with Germany; but he had heard with the greatest satisfaction the restrictions which the noble Marquess had imposed on our operations, and repudiation of any intention of carrying on operations inland. There was the more reason for caution in this respect, because we could not disguise from ourselves that Germany had her own schemes to further, in which we we had no interest. Germany had found herself in great embarrassments in consequence of the failure of the Colonization Company, and, naturally enough, she desired to re-establish her reputation. But it was no valid reason against co-operation with Germany, as far as our common interests were concerned, that she had other interests in Africa. In his opinion, it was far more likely that embarrassments in the future could be avoided by timely action such as was now contemplated. He had also heard, with true satisfaction, what the noble Marquess had said as to the policy of this country not to abandon the Sultan of Zanzibar. This was not only a matter of policy, but of national feeling, and it would have been ungenerous to abandon an ally of so many year's standing, who, if allowance were made for the difficulties of his position, had done much to suppress the Slave Trade, and had shown towards us a desire to consult our wishes as far as possible. It was more likely that the interests of our Indian subjects on the coast would be safeguarded if we acted in concert with Germany than if we had left Germany to take her own course alone. As we were acting in the name of the Sultan of Zanzibar, the blockade was quite in accord with the practice of nations. He agreed with the noble Marquess that the steps which he had taken were not a new departure, but a carrying out of old traditions. He would like, however, to know whether the noble Marquess had secured the co-operation of Portugal in this blockade. He had no doubt the noble Marquess had been in communication with the Portuguese Government, but he would, of course, not press the question if the noble Marquess did not think that it would be prudent to make any statement.


said, he trusted the measures which had been taken would be successful. The assurances received made him believe that Portugal would co-operate with the two Powers thoroughly in adopting measures to prevent the exportation of slaves and the importation of arms. He knew the co-operation of Portugal in this matter would be invaluable.


said, he had given a sort of pledge to make some observations when the Papers were in their hands, but he felt that it would be a kind of surplusage if he added anything to what had been said by his noble Friend, and with which he entirely agreed. With regard to what had been said by the noble Earl who brought forward the subject, there were certain things with which he agreed, but there was need of caution, and there might be considerable complications, but he could not say whether he concurred in the advice given, and he could not make out what the drift of it was. He wished also to entirely reserve himself with regard to the arrangement as to the boundaries in the agreement with Germany. This country had made the greatest sacrifices, not only in money but in precious lives, in repressing this traffic; in fact, they had prided themselves on the lion's share in preventing slavery and putting down the Slave Trade during times past, and they had complained of the want of assistance which they received from one Power and another. This being the case, it appeared to him that there would have been some danger of their being placed in an illogical position if they had refused to co-operate with one of the most important Powers in putting down that trade, because it was said that Power was not animated exclusively with a desire to end that trade, but was also actuated by commercial considerations.

House adjourned at a quarter before Seven o'clock, to Monday next, Eleven o'clock.