HL Deb 20 November 1888 vol 330 cc1617-9

I beg to ask the noble Marquess at the head of the Government whether he can, without inconvenience to the public service, explain what seems to be a discrepancy between his statement and that of the French Foreign Minister on the right of search on the coast of Zanzibar. On the 6th of November the noble Marquess stated that this country and Germany had approached France, and the French Government, although unwilling to depart from their traditional policy, had stated their readiness to look upon the blockade such as is proposed as one carrying with it the incident of the right of searching all vessels under whatever flag, so that we have obtained for the first time under this arrangement with the German Government that which is of priceless value, the right of stopping and searching all vessels, under whatever flag. I find that the Paris Correspondent of The Standard gives the following explanation of the declaration of the French Foreign Minister on the subject:— M. Goblet said that the matter was in the stage of negotiation. No undertaking had been entered into. In the interest of civilization, it could not but be desired that foreign Governments should extricate themselves to their advantage from the difficulties they had encountered on the Eastern Coast of Africa. France had stated that, so far as the importation of arms was concerned, if England and Germany established a blockade, the right of search would be a consequence of that measure. With regard to the Slave Trade, although France had honoured herself by taking the initiative in the suppression of that criminal traffic, she had never sanctioned the right of search. The correspondent adds, what seems obvious, that the French Government consent to a search for arms, but not for slaves. But, if this is the case, it would appear that, unfortunately, we Lave not obtained for the first time a thing of priceless value. We have only got what blockaders always had—the right of searching neutral vessels for contraband of war.


I have received no notice from the noble Earl, and therefore am rather at a disadvantage.


I was not able to give a long notice, but I left a letter for the noble Marquess with a very courteous porter at the noble Marquess's house, who said he would send it immediately to the noble Marquess.


I am sorry to say that the very courteous porter has not acted up to his professions. The noble Lord will see in a moment why I am placed at a disadvantage in consequence of that telegram in The Standard. If my memory does not deceive me there is a much fuller report in The Times, which gives a rather different colour to the statements of M. Goblet that the matter is still under negotiation, and that there is no engagement. I am rather, therefore, apprehensive of entering upon a subject in regard to which that statement has been made, because I might say something which might disturb the negotiations. But I think I may say this, that the impression of the two Powers derived from the verbal communications with the French Government has not been so fully borne out by subsequent communications. I believe for all practical purposes the concession of the French Government will enable us to put a stop to the traffic in slaves; but, as the noble Earl, I think, indicated in his speech, that will rather result from the ordinary rights extending to a blockade than from any special concession of the French Government. But I do not like to dwell upon the matter more than that, except that I only wish to indicate that the objection which the French Government has taken is rather in theory than in practice. I do not believe any practical difficulty will arise. I am bound, also, to say that the French Minister was also misunderstood on another slight matter. We understood him to say he was about to send a French vessel, I think I said, to take part in the naval operations. He has corrected that. He has said that a French vessel will not be sent to take part in naval operations, but merely to supervise, to survey the French vessels flying the French colours on the coast. That, of course, is a different statement, but it is not different in practice, because the only difficulty we have with the Slave Trade is with vessels flying the French flag, and if that difficulty is effectually met by the survey of French ships, all our difficulties, so far as the French flag is concerned, will be at an end. I do not know that I have anything more to say. If I went into the matter fully, I should like to comment on some observations which have been made as to the frequency of these abuses of the French flag, but I think, as the matter is still under negotiation, I shall be pursuing the ordinary practice in not saying more now.