HL Deb 24 July 1902 vol 111 cc1132-6

My Lords, in rising to ask the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether he can give any further information with regard to affairs in Somaliland, I do not propose to trespass for more than a few moments on your Lordships' time, although the kindly latitude which seems to be granted to some Members in asking questions might encourage me to unduly prolong my remarks. Somaliland has been very much increasing dining the past few years. It is a country which I have visited and of which I have a considerable amount of knowledge. Some few years ago, in the company of Colonel (now General) Paget, I traversed districts of the country which are now, I believe, in a state of considerable unrest. At that time we travelled with the consent of the then Foreign Secretary, my noble friend Lord Rosebery, who stated that he would not help us in any way, but he advised us to make friends and not treaties. That was the spirit in which we went into the country, and I believe, from what I have heard since, that our expedition was remarkably successful. We had not to fire a single shot in defence of our lives. I do not wish to give the impression that I consider this country a white man's country, for I may tell the House that, starting as we did into the wilds of a vast region well equipped — we had ponies, donkeys, camels, and two dogs (the latter were eaten by panthers), and everything we could desire—we returned to the coast after many months' wandering, with no ponies, no camels, and only one donkey, which we described as the immortal ass. We formed the highest opinion of the natives; they are brave, trusting, and thoroughly reliable. I am very glad I can address my remarks to my noble friend, whose hospitality on two occasions I enjoyed in India. We have heard of a punitive expedition which has taken place. Although, of course, granting the usual bravery and gallantry of our native levies, led, and always well led, by British officers, yet I fear the result of that expedition has been negative, for see by the public journals that the Mad Mullah still exists and flourishes like a green bay tree. There is no parson in your Lordships' House who has had a greater experience of Mad Mullahs than the noble Marquess the Foreign Secretary. What my noble friend does not know about Mad Mullahs is not worth knowing. My noble friend knows, as I know, how rapidly rumours fly through India. In Africa it is the same, apparently by wireless telegraphy. I will give an instance. When I was in Khartoum I was told that in the dark days of the Tugela, rumours reached there and Cairo that things wore not going well with us, and if it had not been for the courage, determination, and downright pluck of Lord Cromer and Sir Reginald Wingate, a chapter might have been written in the history of Egypt in the blood not only of white men but, perhaps, of white women too. As to the Mad Mullah, I should like to know from my noble friend whether he is taking some steps which will check the career of this madman.


My Lords, my noble friend asks me for some further information with regard to affairs in Somaliland, and I take it that when he speaks of further information, he means information that has not yet been given to the public. I notice that he speaks of information which he had derived from the public Press; but, as I daresay many of your Lordships are aware, the history of the events in which he takes an interest has, up to a certain point, been given to the public on authority in the shape of a Blue-book, which was presented in March last and which carried the chronicle up to the end of February. It is set out in the Blue-book that during the summer of 1901 a force under Colonel Swayne attacked the Mullah and inflicted upon him two very severe defeats. Those defeats I cannot say were of a crushing character, but they were of a severe character. The first of them is described in the Report of Colonel Sadler, the Consul-General, with whom I have no doubt my noble friend, is familiar. Describing the first battle, Colonel Sadler says the result of these operations had been that three determined attacks in force were repelled with severe loss, the force of the Mullah being completely broken up, and the remnants of his force driven in hot pursuit out, of the Protectorate. Writing in July of last year of the second action, he says that a severe defeat had been inflicted on the Mullah and his followers by native levies commanded by Colonel Swayne. The Mullah's camp was burned, his cattle captured, several of his relatives killed, and he and his forces had been again driven back with heavy loss and scattered in every direction, the pursuit being carried on till it was useless to proceed further. We certainly hoped that the severe lesson which had thus been taught to the Mullah would have produced its effect; but at the same time I am bound to admit that our advisers on the spot from the first feared that, he might be able at a future time once again to concentrate his forces and give us further trouble; and that was what happened. I may say that at the time it seemed to us very unwise, after these two actions, that the pursuit should be pressed into the waterless country into which the Mullah had retired, which, by the way, was within the Italian sphere of influence, and not within territory which we had a right to enter without a previous arrangement with the Italian Government. In the month of December last we heard that the Mullah was again upon the war path, and we heard in particular that he was attacking and inflicting severe punishment upon the Ishak tribes, over whom we had assumed a kind of protectorate, and who deserve in every way the description which the noble Lord gave of the best of the natives in that country. It was impossible for us to allow these tribes to be further persecuted, and, moreover, it was clear that if the Mullah were allowed to overrun the country without let or hindrance, any prospects of the development of what small trade such a country affords would suffer very seriously. We accordingly prepared for a renewal of operations. We gave Colonel Swayne reinforcements and the additional officers for whom he particularly asked, and we arranged that a British ship of war should patrol the coast with the object of preventing the entrance of arms, which were sure to find their way into the hands of the Mullah's forces. On this occasion the Mullah declined battle and retreated once again into the arid region known as the Haud. This time we thought that it was not desirable to leave him alone even in that arid region, and Colonel Swayne is at this moment engaged in carrying on operations for the pursuit of the Mullah's forces. I think I may say that the experience of the previous year has shown us that it is absolutely necessary to inflict exemplary punishment upon this dangerous chieftain. We also feel that we owe it to the tribesmen to protect them from further ill-usage, and in the interests of trade it is also necessary that some steps should be taken to ensure the maintenance of peace in the Somali country. We have undertaken these operations this year under conditions much more favourable than those which were present when we were engaging Mullah in 1901. In the first place, we have arrived at a satisfactory arrangement with the Italian Government, which prevents our movements from being hampered owing to divisions between their sphere of influence and our own. We have an Italian officer attached to Colonel Swayne's force, and what is still more satisfactory is that the ships of war of the two Governments are co-operating upon the coast, in order to put down the traffic in arms. We have equipped small local vessels for this purpose; we have instituted a system of searches at the ports on the coast, and we have been successful in seizing several cargoes of arms intended to be smuggled up to the front. The traffic in arms has been one of the most serious difficulties with which we have had to contend. I may mention to your Lordships that discarded arms of a certain class were to be bought recently at a price of about 1s. each in Europe. These arms were resold by dealers on the coast at the rate of about 15s., and were finally sold to the tribesmen for 45s. a piece—a very lucrative arrangement for those engaged in the traffic, but one which seriously aggravates the trouble which we have to encounter. The last reports are to the effect that for the moment that nefarious traffic has entirely ceased. We hear from Colonel Swayne that the Mullah is losing a large number of his men by desertion, and that the health of the troops is good. I hope that before long we may be able to inflict such a chastisement on the Mullah that the Somali country, which my noble friend knows so well, and in which he takes so great an interest, will be relieved permanently of the evils which the Mullah's presence has constantly brought to it.

House adjourned at twenty minutes before Six o'clock till To-morrow half-past Ten o'clock.