HL Deb 11 June 1891 vol 354 cc137-40

My Lords, I have to lay on the Table a Treaty between this country and Portugal, which has just been approved by the Cortes at Lisbon, and I therefore think it is not fitting that we should abstain any longer from laying it before the two Houses of Parliament. It does not differ sufficiently from the Treaty already on the Table of the House, which was passed in August last, to justify any very lengthened observations on my part. The differences are, besides several matters of small detail, chiefly territorial, and those are not of a very wide extent. There is a considerable extension of the British sphere upon the Plateau of Manica, where the gold miners are now at work, and there is also an extension of the British sphere on the lower or right bank of the Shiré, which will have the advantage of facilitating the navigation for our gunboats. On the other hand, there is a large extension of Portuguese sphere of influence on the north of the Zambesi, giving to them the country up to the watershed that separates the Zambesi from the Nyassa and the Shiré, but not north of the 14th degree of latitude. There is also a modification, which may be of considerable importance, with regard to the Barutza country, which is towards the east and on the west of the Portuguese territory of Angola. In the former Treaty the British sphere of influence was limited by the upper waters of the Zambesi. It is now declared to be co-extensive with the Barutza kingdom. What the Barutza kingdom is will have to be ascertained by Commission; but, unless we are very much misin- formed, it is very much larger than the country which is limited by the upper waters of the Zambesi. There has been a good deal of discussion as to whether the result of the changes has been in bare area of territory on the whole in favour of England or of Portugal. It would be very difficult for me to say until the Barutza question is settled; but whether this difference be in one direction or whether it be in the other, I do not think that it would in any case be very large. But I think the territory which will come to Great Britain will be territory which can be worked and occupied by white men. The territory which will fall to Portugal will, not entirely, but more generally, be territory to be worked by those native auxiliaries of which she can command a considerable contingent. There are also additional facilities for using the rivers; additional facilities for the construction of roads, railways, telegraphs, and landing places, provisions with respect to transit duties, and for allowing gold, if it is found, to be taken out of the country without the payment of any duty. Those are not matters of much importance; but I have principally ventured to detain your Lordships for a moment, because I rather wish to correct an impression which I think has gone abroad with respect to the character of our negotiations and the objects we have had in view. We have heard it stated that the attitude of England has been one of benevolence towards Portugal, and the matter has rather been treated as though it were a question of our own good-will whether we gave more or less to Portugal. Materially that may have been so; but we are going back to a very rudimentary stage of the world's history if nothing but material force is to decide a question between two civilised countries. That has not been the spirit in which we have entered into the negotiation. We have been anxious, so far as we could, to give effect to rights wherever they have existed and could be ascertained to exist, whether acquired by occupation or acquired by Treaty. For instance, as to the land that has been conceded on both sides of the Zambesi, I think, on careful and full examination, there is good ground for saying that between Zumbo and Tété the banks on both sides of the Zambesi have been within living memory in the occupation of Portugal. We have, in extending the territory behind those banks, attended to the rule of International Law, not one which is universally or rigidly or mathematically observed, but still one that you will find often cited, and acted upon—namely, that those who possess a coast also possess the plain which is watered by the rivers that run to the coast. But the important matter, as these may seem to be small details, is that which concerns the territory of a Chief with whom your Lordships may have acquired some passing acquaintance known as Gungunhana, who has sent two Ambassadors to this country. Gungunhana claims the whole of the Portuguese territory with a trifling exception south of the Zambesi, the whole of Sofala, and the whole of Gaza down to the sea. There are persons—more persons perhaps in South Africa than there are here—who think we ought to have taken advantage of a certain influence which we have acquired with Gungunhana to have made ourselves masters of those two provinces and to have elbowed out the Portuguese altogether. I daresay we could have obtained them—I am not sure whether some of our fellow subjects have not got—Treaties from Gungunhana going to that extent. I am not going to contend that, judging by the past, the dominion of the Portuguese in those countries has been as fruitful or as advantageous as we could wish; but we had something higher than those considerations to guide us. We had the plain dictates of International Law. By a Treaty signed on behalf of this country in 1817, which was confirmed in fuller terms by a Treaty signed in 1847, the whole of this littoral from the Zambesi to Delagoa Bay which Gungunhana claims, and which some persons would like to claim through him, was recognised by this country as belonging to the King of Portugal. It has seemed to us that that closed the controversy; that we are bound to recognise the Treaties which this country has made, and that no high philanthropic, progressive, or humanitarian considerations would justify us in disregarding that plain rule of right. We have, therefore, done our best to recognise such rights of Portugal as seemed to us to be justified either by Treaties which we ourselves have made or by plain and effective occupation on their part. I hope that the agreement to which we have come, though very angry things have been said of us at Lisbon, will be recognised as one dictated by a sense of equity, by an earnest desire to uphold the provisions of International Law, and by a sincere wish to renew and to continue those terms of friendship and amity which have so long distinguished the relations of Great Britain and Portugal.