HL Deb 11 August 1890 vol 348 cc455-9

My Lords, before proceeding with the other public business on the Paper, I have merely to say a word or two with reference to the Agreement which I have laid on the Table. I am sorry we have lost even the scanty attendance of those Members of the Opposition whose presence we previously enjoyed; but I do not think that the attendance in the House, though it is not large, is insufficient for the consideration of the few remarks I have to make upon this Agreement, the importance of which has, I think, been a good deal overrated. The Paper which I have laid on the Table consists of an Agreement which has been signed by the French Ambassador and myself with respect to three matters in which we are concerned in Africa. The first point with which it deals is the question of the Agreement of 1862, which was entered into between France and England, and which was subsequently assented to by Germany. The meaning of that Agreement was open to considerable contest. The French Government were of opinion that it gave them a veto upon the establishment of any protectorate over Zanzibar. That was not the opinion of the German Government or of ourselves; but as the terms of the Agreement seemed to lend themselves to an ambiguity of interpretation in consequence of their departure from the form it has been usual to employ in dealing with questions of protectorate, we thought it desirable to ask the French Government to modify the form of this Agreement, and that they have consented to do. It so happened that while our position was, owing to the difference of construction put upon this Instrument, to some extent ambiguous in Zanzibar, the position of the French Government was also ambiguous with respect to the island of Madagascar. Many years ago, in the time of Lord Malmesbury, a verbal agreement had been made by the two Governments not to establish any protectorate in Madagascar. The result of the operations which took place a few years ago in Madagascar was that, to all intents and purposes, a protectorate was established, and in 1886 the French Government concluded an Agreement with the Queen of Madagascar, under which, while the Queen of Madagascar retained to herself entire independence with respect to the internal government of the country, the management of all the foreign relations of the island was passed over to the French Resident. This Agreement between France and Madagascar has never up to this time been recognised by this country; that is to say, that neither we nor, I think, any other countries have accepted exequaturs from the French Resident. The result has been some impediment to the conduct of diplomatic business. By the Paper which I have now laid on the Table we have agreed to recognise the Madagascar Treaty of 1886, or, at least, to recognise the protectorate to which the Madagascar Government consented by that Instrument, and to accept the exequaturs of Consuls and Ministers through the medium of the French Resident. I need not say that these two acts regularising the positions of the two Governments in Zanzibar and Madagascar will not have much practical effect one way or the other. Practically, our influence in Zanzibar would have remained the same if the Treaty of 1862 had not been modified, and practically the position of the French in Madagascar would have been unchanged if the Treaty of 1886 had not been recognised by us. But the result of the mutual exchange of the declarations which have taken place is to put the situation of both Governments on a more regular footing. We have taken the opportunity on both sides, not only to reserve all rights and privileges which subjects of either country might have in either island, but also to give the most explicit guarantee to missionaries and missions, and to the freedom of religious practice and religious teaching. Besides this question affecting the two islands, we have dealt with another matter in which we were both interested. The country to the south of the Mediterranean possessions of France is, of course, open to the action of the French Government, and according to the modern doctrine of Hinterland the French Government would have a certain claim upon it; certainly, so far as I know, no other person has any claim. On the other hand, at the other end of the Continent the British Niger Company, which acts under a Royal Charter, has established a very flourishing dominion over a very fertile land, and its commercial enterprise is advancing with considerable rapidity. It has established relations with the native Potentates of that country, and the Treaties which it has concluded give to it rights extending much further inland—that is to say, much further north—than the actual range of its commercial operations. It was obvious that if this process went on the two Powers would meet—the French Government and the Royal Niger Company—and, indeed, there was nothing to prevent the French Government from advancing as far as it liked to the south at the present moment. There was no Treaty or international right in its way, but it seemed to us very desirable that some effort should be made to draw a line separating the two spheres of activity. It is consequently provided that a line should be drawn from a place called Say, which is at present the ultimate point of the influence of the Niger Company, on the River Niger, to another place northwest of Lake Tchad called Barruwa. But as the Niger Company has made Treaties with the great Empire of Sokoto, it is expressly provided that the line shall be drawn so as to place not only Sokoto but all that fairly belongs to it within the zone of the Niger Company. That, of course, will necessitate the line being deflected somewhat to the north. In this arrangement I think the Niger Company has benefited considerably, for although it has made Treaties with Sokoto, it has made none with the Empire of Bornu, which lies along the western shore of Tchad, and that country was open to the operations of anyone who could persuade the Sultan of Bornu to enter into arrangements with him. It is therefore of advantage that a line should be drawn which gives the considerably larger part of the western shore of Lake Tchad to the Niger Company. I will not dwell upon the respective advantages of places which are utterly unknown not only to your Lordships, but to the rest of the white human race; I will only say that the noble Lord the Chairman of the Niger Company, with whom I have been in constant communication, expresses himself well content with the arrangement to which we have coMR. I think that it is a desirable arrangement as far as it has gone, but it will not escape your Lordships that it is a very inchoate arrangement, as we have only agreed on the two points from which the line is to start, and it will remain for a Commission to settle what the intermediate locus of the line will be, it being guided under the Instrument by no other consideration than this—that whatever fairly belongs to the Empire of Sokoto is to go to the zone of the British Niger Company. In conclusion, I have only to say that what we have done concerns solely the territory to the south of the French possessions on the Mediterranean. We have exchanged Notes by which both Powers recognise that nothing that we have done is intended to affect, or does, in fact, affect, any rights which the Sultan of Turkey may have with reference to the regions lying south of his Tripoli dominions. In addition, it has been agreed that a Commission is to consider the relations of the two countries in other parts of the Niger, and to delimitate their respective spheres of influence. But with respect to that part of the subject we have come to no conclusion, but have left it entirely to the Commission. The Commission has, I believe, been named, and I have no doubt that it will work in the autumn, but of course the consent of both sides of the Commission is necessary to any determination to which we may come, and it is possible that the negotiations may take some time. I have nothing else to say; but I thought it necessary to say these few words, in order to remove some misconception which seems to have existed as to the character of our transactions with respect to the Algerian Hinterland. Anyone who looks at the map and merely measures the degrees will perhaps be of opinion that France has laid claim to a very considerable stretch of country. But it is necessary to judge land not merely by its extent but also by its value. This land is what agriculturists would call "very light" land; that is to say, it is the desert of Sahara, and, therefore, of course, the value of that part which France has asserted her dominion over is to that extent diminished. I believe, however, that the Agreement is a very fair one, and that both parties will find their profit in it. It certainly asserts dominion over countries which neither party has explored, and into which I suspect that many years, and possibly some generations, may pass away before either French or English civilization penetrates.