HL Deb 23 April 1891 vol 352 cc1129-31

My Lords, I desire to ask the noble Marquess at the head of the Government a question, of which I have given him private notice. It is, whether the noble Marquess is in a position to give any information to the House as to the reported seizure of British vessels by the Portuguese on the Pungwé, and the imprisonment of British subjects, and as to any steps which the Government may have thought proper to take in the matter?


As is always the case on these occasions there is a considerable difference in the reports of details, as they come from the English or the Portuguese side; but I am afraid there is no doubt that a most unjustifiable attack has been made upon a British expedition under Sir John Willoughby. The precise amount of force used, or of indignity that has been inflicted upon them I am not yet in a position to state, but there is no doubt that the members of that expedition have been treated in a manner which is not consistent with the engagements which Portugal has entered into, and of which we have very grave right to com- plain. We did at once complain, and urged upon Portugal the necessity of complying without delay with that promise contained in the modus vivendi which bound her to give permission and facilities for passing over the Pungwé and the land ways that lead from it to the interior. I was glad to receive from the Minister of Portugal yesterday an intimation from his Government that they had sent orders to remove every obstacle to the passage of peaceable travellers up the waters of the Pungwé, and from thence into the interior, so that if that undertaking is fulfilled we shall have, as regards the future, nothing in that respect to complain of. But the demeanour of the Portuguese officials on the East Coast of Africa has on more than one occasion corresponded so little with the assurances we had received from Lisbon that we "have thought it desirable to request that three of Her Majesty's vessels should proceed to the Pungwé as speedily as possible. They will not be large vessels, but they will be adequate for the purpose. I should say that the Portuguese Minister also proposed that we should place a Consular Agent of some kind at the mouth of the Pungwé, in order to see that our requirements in respect of the modus vivendi were complied with, and to furnish authentic information. It is a measure which undoubtedly ought to have been taken at a considerably earlier period during the currency of the modus vivendi, which has now only three or four weeks to run, but that suggestion appears to me to be reasonable, and I have hopes that we may be able to do so, at all events intermediately and provisionally, by detailing some naval officer for the purpose. I would not speak too exactly as to the precise steps which will be taken; but there is every probability that the Portuguese and English Governments will be agreed upon that measure. f hope, therefore, that for the future there, will be no further reason to complain with respectto the passage of the Pungwé. Questions which may further arise as to any reparation that may be properly required, I should prefer to reserve until we have a full and detailed account of the real events in the Despatches.