§ *LORD HERRIES
My Lords, I wish to ask a question, of which I have given private notice to the noble Marquess at the head of Her Majesty's Government, with regard to certain atrocities that are said to have been committed in Uganda under the protection and with the assistance of officials of the British East Africa Company and officers in Her Majesty's Army. I do not wish to express an opinion on the subject without further information, but I think it is most desirable that that further information should be given as soon as possible. It seems very strange that when a great part of Europe is ringing with the accusations brought against certain officials of the British East Africa Company, and accounts have been read in all the newspapers of these atrocities which are said to have been committed, no information has, as yet, been received from those people who are supposed to have assisted in these atrocities. I, therefore, would ask the noble Marquess whether he can give us any information on the subject, and in any case whether he will be prepared to send out to that country some Commissioner qualified 826 to make a special report on the subject, who shall make inquiries on the spot, and let us know what really has happened and what is the state of the case. My Lords, I think the honour of England is at stake, and that this matter must be cleared up sooner or later. It seems almost incredible—I hesitate to believe that English officers should have been guilty of such conduct; and, therefore, I say as an Englishman that I wait with the greatest anxiety for some further information. And I would remind your Lordships that the information which the Company may give to us must be considered as ex parte statements, and that we shall require something more; what we require is that some independent person shall be able to give us information of what has really happened; and I would ask the noble Marquess whether he can give any assurance that means shall be taken to acquire that information?
§ THE PRIME MINISTER AND SECRETARY OF STATE FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS (The Marquess of SALISBURY)
My Lords, just before I came down to the House I received a telegram from Mr. Portal, of Zanzibar, which bears upon this question, though it does not entirely answer the questions of the noble Lord, and I will read the effect of it to the House. It reports the receipt of letters from Muanza, a place near the southern end of Lake Victoria Nyanza, dated 31st March; the arrival there of Captain Williams, one of the officers in the employment of the British East Africa Company, who brought the news that the fighting in Uganda was ended, and that hopes were entertained of coming to terms with Mwanga and his adherents; and that the English missionaries were in Uganda, and nineteen missionaries in the Bukoba district. From the concluding words of the message, which are not quite clear, it appears that they were all safe and well. I hope that that at all events will diminish the acuteness of the anxiety, which has been very naturally felt, at the reports which have reached this country. I can assure the noble Lord that we have felt the deepest sympathy with the self-devoted men, who appear to have been exposed to great danger and it 827 may be to great suffering; and, if I believed for a moment that any British agent had been guilty of the violence which the noble Lord suggests—had been guilty of attacking Roman Catholic establishments, or taking any hostile action against the subjects of other European Powers, I should join heartily with him in the language of condemnation he has used; but I do think that we owe it to British officers that we should not condemn them before we have heard what they have to say. Though I have no personal acquaintance with Captain Lugard and Captain Williams, I have seen the reports of the former now for several years, and I am quite convinced that nothing could be further from his thoughts than any action of a propagandist character, or than the use of the force at his disposal for the injury either of those of another religion or those of another nation. All his reports breathe a spirit of the utmost impartiality and loyalty, and I am convinced that when we know the facts we shall know that he and his coadjutors have acted as becomes British soldiers. But that does not diminish in the least the deep regret with which we have heard of the sufferings of the missionaries on Lake Nyanza. I hope, from the telegram I have just read, that the reports are exaggerated. We know from experience that reports coming across from the interior to the coast are liable to be very much disfigured on the road, and therefore we cannot at present speak with confidence. The noble Lord asks us to make immediate inquiries by means of a Commissioner. I think the words he used indicate that he is not quite acquainted with the geographical conditions of the problem. It takes six months for a caravan to get from the coast to this Lake and back again; so that a Commissioner, even if everything ran perfectly straight, could only just visit the Lake and come back again by December next. Undoubtedly we will make every inquiry, and we will call rigorously to account any who, on inquiry, deserve that their conduct should be censured. We are very anxious that peace should be restored in that country, and that the self-devoted men who have been working 828 there should be restored to their activity; but, in spite of that anxiety, we cannot allow any presumption of blame to rest upon British agents, whose reports, for some reason or other, we have not yet received, and as to whose conduct it would therefore be most unjust in us to form conclusions.
*THE EARL OF KIMBERLEY
My Lords, it would not be either right or convenient to enter into such a question as that relating to Uganda upon a mere question asked upon a very interesting point no doubt, but which does not involve the whole of our relations at all with that country. At the same time I have heard with satisfaction the news which, so far as it goes, tends to relieve our anxiety; it is not of very late date, and other events may have happened since; still, so far as it goes, it tells us that the hostilities have ceased, and therefore leads us to hope that a state of things may exist there which is not such as to give rise to any complaint on the part of others. But, my Lords, I cannot help making one remark, namely, that it is not a very satisfactory state of things when we are held responsible for the acts of British officers in a part of Africa with which it seems it takes no less than six months to communicate; and, if I could have given notice, or had known that this question was going to be put, I should have liked to have asked the noble Marquess whether the announcement that I have seen in the Times newspaper that the British East Africa Company have determined to abandon Uganda, is well founded, and, if so, what are likely to be the steps taken with regard to our position in that quarter of the world. Probably the noble Marquess would not wish to answer that question without notice, and, if he wishes it, I will give notice; but if he could answer it simply now, I think it would be some satisfaction to your Lordships to know how the matter stands.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
I believe it is perfectly true that orders have been sent to Captain Lugard to withdraw from Uganda, I do not think to withdraw to the coast—that is my recollection speaking without notice—but to a place about half-way. With 829 respect to the holding of Uganda, I quite admit that, as long as the communications are as difficult as they are now, it will be an arduous task for this country to maintain its position there. I have a remedy which I hope the new Parliament will adopt, and that is to encourage the making of a railway to Uganda; and, as soon as a railway is made to Uganda, there will not be the slightest difficulty in maintaining our position.
*THE EARL OF KIMBERLEY
The noble Marquess will forgive my saying that there will be a very considerable time, I conclude, before this railway is completed, and I would like to know what our relations with the country will be during that long interval?
§ *LORD HERRIES
I should like to make one remark on what has fallen from the noble Marquess. I think the noble Marquess was hardly fair upon me in saying that I condemned the action of those officers. I said that I hesitated to condemn their action until I received further information on the subject; but I went on to say that I thought we must consider that further information as an ex parte statement, and that independent evidence was necessary.
THE DUKE OF ARGYLL
Before this discussion terminates I wish to say that I quite understand the noble Lord who has just sat down not to anticipate the result of inquiries about to be made, and not beforehand to express an opinion that blame ought to be thrown now upon British officers against whom a presumption seems to have arisen, I think under very mistaken circumstances, owing to stories told at second and third hand through a most unreliable source. But I rise, not in consequence of anything my noble Friend near me (Earl of Kimberley) said, but rather because of the tone in which he spoke of the whole question. My Lords, this is a large question, and one that cannot and ought not to be discussed on an incidental discussion such as this; but it was impossible to mistake the tone of my noble Friend, implying that the whole position of Great Britain in Central Africa was one to be deprecated and condemned.
THE DUKE OF ARGYLL
I thought that was the tone of my noble Friend. I only wish to say distinctly, that, in my opinion, and I believe in the opinion of the great majority of the people of this country, it will be the duty of Great Britain to take her part with the other European nations in the civilisation of Africa and in the destruction of the Slave Trade, and that those two great objects cannot be accomplished unless Great Britain asserts her power over that vast territory over which her dominion has been acknowledged, over which her sphere of influence—I believe that is the term—has been extended. With regard to the possibility of wars, more or less bloody, happening in that country, it is inevitable that such wars will happen, and I have no doubt that a great fuss will be made in this country about a few hundred negroes shot in these encounters.
THE DUKE OF ARGYLL
I quite understand my noble Friend's cheer; but I beg my noble Friend to read the account which the missionaries give of the loss of human life which occurs in these districts of Africa from the savagery of native kings. I venture to say that there will be no loss of life in any number of battles against the British or against European Powers to be compared with the daily bloodletting and murder of thousands of people by the savage tribes of Africa. My Lords, it is a Continent which seems to be given over on lease to the Devil. It is impossible to exaggerate the language one would use of the horrors that go on among native princes, and all that is due to a great extent to the loathsome slave trade carried on with Arab slave dealers; and we are one at least of the great Powers whose duty it is to see that that is put an end to as soon as possible. So far, then, from thinking that our position is unsatisfactory in Uganda, merely because occasional difficulties arise, or occasional battles happen, or blood is shed, I think these are occasions on which we must put our hand to the wheel and go forward with the policy indicated by the noble Marquess of establishing 831 a thorough communication from coast to coast of Central Africa.
*THE EARL OF KIMBERLEY
I am not going to answer the noble Duke, because that would be out of order; but I rise to make a personal explanation. I did not say one single word of condemnation with regard to the policy of the Government; I prefaced my remarks by saying that I did not think this a fitting opportunity of entering upon these very large questions; but I suppose even those who approve entirely of the policy of the Government do not think it wrong to inquire what may be our position in that part of the country, or to inquire of the Government in what way they propose to deal with the difficulties that arise. My object was merely to obtain information as to the present condition of Uganda, and I protest against my remarks, which were of a simple character, being interpreted in a sense they will not bear.