HL Deb 17 July 1893 vol 14 cc1637-9

asked the noble Earl the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs (having given him private notice of the question) whether he could give the House any fresh news respecting the unhappy differences between France and Siam; and whether he could give any explanation of the reason why two French warships proceeded up the River Menam, he believed, contrary to the orders of the French Government? But there was one matter in particular with regard to those two French ships—that M. Pavie, the French Minister at Bangkok, had apparently orders given to him to assure the Siamese Government that no warships would proceed up that river; and yet M. Pavie, who would be probably in telegraphic communication with the captains of those ships at the mouth of the Menam, apparently did not hand over those orders to the captains of the two vessels. He would also ask whether the noble Earl could give any ex- planation with regard to the breach of faith on the part of the French Government in not giving a notification to the British Government in this matter?


I do not wish to stop the noble Lord, but he has no right to make a speech at this time in asking a question by leave of the House. My Lords, my noble Friend very kindly gave me notice of this question. I think it would be for the convenience of the House, as this is a matter of some delicacy and importance, that I should read a written answer on the subject— In order to consider justly and dispassionately the present position of affairs between France and Siam, it is necessary to keep distinct several questions which from the course of events have become intermingled. But it is right to premise that perhaps the main difficulty in forming any conclusion on those questions lies in obtaining clear and definite information, and in the absence of such information Her Majesty's Government are not prepared to offer any decided opinion as to the merits of the various points at issue. There are, first of all, certain claims by the French Government for compensation for losses suffered by some French merchants and travellers in consequence of the action of the Siamese officials. These are not of large amount; but the French Government appear to have laid stress on these being satisfied as a preliminary to negotiation on more important matters, while the Siamese Government have made difficulties and objections which have not yet been withdrawn. There is, secondly, the question of frontier between France and Siam in or adjacent to the Mekong Valley. This is a question of a complicated character, on which Her Majesty's Government have not sufficient information to pronounce a definite opinion, and in which—provided it be kept within certain limits, and do not assume such proportions as to affect the independence and integrity of the Siamese Kingdom—Great Britain is not directly interested. There is, thirdly, the question of the capture of a French officer, Captain Thoreux, and the alleged murder of another with some Annamite soldiers. It is reported in the papers this morning that Captain Thoreux, whose liberation was promised by the Siamese Government some time ago, has now been actually conveyed into French territory and surrendered. In regard to the other incident, the facts are contested, and it is not known what the demands of the French Government may be. Fourthly, there is the forcible ascent of the Menam by two French gun vessels against the opposition of the Siamese Authorities. In regard to this act we are not at present in possession of all the facts, the information received by Her Majesty's Government being little, if at all, more than that which has appeared in the public Press. But there is reason to believe that it was contrary to the directions of the French Government and to the expressed wish of the French Representative at Bangkok. It is absolutely necessary to await more detailed information before an opinion can be pronounced on the merits of the question. Our last advices from Paris, however, state that the French Commanders positively assert that they were subjected to an unprovoked fire in the exercise of their undoubted right to ascend as far as Paknam. Fifthly, there is the question of the protection of British subjects and property and those of other European Powers at Bangkok. Her Majesty's Government have for some time past been making provision for this, and they are assured by the Naval Authorities that the arrangements are complete and the force sufficient. Should more ships be required they will be immediately available. Finally, there is the question of the independence and integrity of Siam. Her Majesty's Government are fully sensible that this is a subject of grave importance to the British, and more especially to the British Indian Empire; but the French Government declare themselves to be not less anxious than ourselves to maintain and respect that independence and integrity. Her Majesty's Government are fully alive to their responsibilities in this matter, and they will not lose any opportunity which may present itself of facilitating a satisfactory solution.