HL Deb 19 April 1904 vol 133 cc488-502

My Lords, having very recently dealt, on the Motion of the noble Lord opposite (Lord Reay) for further Papers on Tibet, with the object and policy of Colonel Younghusband's Mission to Tibet, I do not propose, in asking your Lordships to agree to the Motion on the Paper, to deal at any length with the political aspect of this question. I might describe the policy of the Mission in the very words I used as recently as February last, with only this difference, that whereas Colonel Younghusband was then on his way to Gyangtse, he has now arrived at that post, and also there has taken place that occurrence at Guru which we all so much deplore, and which is the real reason of the Motion now before the House. I, therefore, propose to confine my remarks to the substance of this Motion. As your Lordships are aware, the Government of India Act, 1858, contains this clause, which I believe was inserted in the Act at the instance of Mr. Gladstone— For preventing or repelling actual invasion of Her Majesty's Eastern possessions, or under other sadden or urgent necessity, the revenues of India shall not, without the consent of both Houses of Parliament, be applicable to defray the expenses of any military operation carried on beyond the external frontiers of such possessions by Her Majesty's forces charged upon such revenues. The only criticism which suggests itself on the Motion, as it seems to me, is the question, Why did not His Majesty's Government make this Motion before? The answer to that question, as explained by my right hon. friend the Secretary of State in another place, is very plain. By doing so we should ipso facto have defeated our own object. We should have turned what we earnestly desired to be a peaceful Mission into a military expedition, and I can say that had it fallen to me to come down to this House and to have asked your Lordships to agree to this Motion a few months ago, I should have felt that I was giving the lie direct to all the professions that His Majesty's Government had made with regard to this Mission. It would certainly have shown that His Majesty's Government had very little confidence or faith in the pacific nature of Colonel Younghusband's movements; and I think we are entitled to ask, what would have been the effect on the minds of the Government of China and of the Lamas of Tibet, whose apprehensions we were most anxious not to arouse, had we taken such a course? I would also venture to ask what the impression would have been on the sensitive consciences of noble Lords opposite had we taken this course.

The necessity for this Motion depended not on His Majesty's Government, but on the action of the authorities at Lhasa, and had they not allowed their troops to attack Colonel Young husband's escort, we should not have had to come to Parliament with any Motion of this kind. Moreover, my Lords, the very insistence of His Majesty's Government on the pacific character of this Mission unfortunately conduced to the injury of the Tibetan people. The recent encounter with the Tibetans must be fresh in your Lordships' memory. General Macdonald forced an advance to take the Tibetan position, but the troops were under the strictest injunction not to fire. They advanced towards that position with fine, I would almost say with extraordinary, self-restraint. They approached the position and were literally face to face and actually in touch with the Lama's troops. Not a single man of the force employed forgot the injunction not to fire, and no blood would have been shed had it not been that a Lhasa general, by discharging his pistol at an Indian sepoy, gave the signal for an attack which does not require a very large stretch of the imagination to realise would in all ordinary circumstances have resulted, if not in the destruction of the British force, at any rate in a very serious disaster. No one can wonder that our Indian soldiers used their arms with energy and with deadly effect. Nor can we wonder that they made the Tibetans pay the penalty for the rashness of that Lhasa general. They paid far more dearly than they would have paid had those pacific instructions of His Majesty's Government not been given. Had General Macdonald advanced to the attack in the ordinary course he would, the moment that he knew the Tibetans intended to oppose our advance, have given the order to commence firing at long range. It is evident that the Tibetans would not have stood fire, and that when the position had been occupied by his forces the Tibetan losses would have been counted by less than tens instead of, as unfortunately happened, by hundreds. This encounter having taken place, the only course open to His Majesty's Government was to come to Parliament with this Motion, which I ask your Lordships to accept. I have only to add that Papers of political import additional to those already published do not exist, but such Papers as there are, relating to the advance of the Mission from Tuna to Gyangtse and up to Colonel Younghusband's arrival there, will be laid on the Table in the course of a few days.

Moved to resolve, "That this House consents to the revenue of India being applied to defray the expenses of any military operations which have or may become necessary beyond the frontiers of His Majesty's Indian Possessions, for the purpose of protecting the Political Mission which has been despatched to the Tibetan Government."—(The Earl of Hardwicke.)


My Lords. I do not propose to follow a different course from that of the noble Earl the Under-Secretary for India in dealing with this subject. I am quite aware that it has been very fully discussed already in your Lordships' House. It was alluded to by myself in the debate on the Address. My observations were replied to by the noble Marquess the Leader of the House; and subsequently a lengthy debate took place upon the subject on the initiation of my noble friend Lord Reay, a former Governor of Bombay. My noble friend was supported by my noble friend Lord Ripon, an ex-Viceroy of India, and others also took part in that debate. All I will say with regard to the question of policy is this, that we on this side of the House adhere to the views we put forward on that occasion, and I do not think it necessary to repeat them. I ventured in my speech on the Address to refer to the 55th Section of the Government of India Act, 1858, and I expressed considerable surprise that His Majesty's Government had not then brought forward a Resolution in accordance with that section. I stated that it seemed impossible to conceive that a Mission with an escort of such dimensions, with all the arms connected with a formidable army of attack, could be considered wholly a peaceful Mission, and I fear that what I said then has been fully borne out. The noble Earl the Under-Secretary stated that if the Government had come forward then and asked for that Resolution, they would have given contradiction to all that had been I stated as to the pacific nature of this Mission. I cannot help thinking that, knowing as we did the position of Tibet and the very strong views always expressed, and the strong action taken by the Tibetan Government against the admission of foreigners, His Majesty's Government were over-sanguine and self-deceiving in their view.

I maintain now, as I did then, that the Government ought to have asked for this Resolution at once, and that it was impossible, in view of all the circumstances connected with it, to describe this Mission as altogether a peaceful one. I quite understand the wish of the Government that it should be so considered, but I know full well what the views were of all those who understand this subject. With hardly an exception, they were of opinion that the Tibetans would not alter their usual policy, but would oppose, by force if necessary, a Mission which proceeded into their country. We know the very melancholy circumstance that has occurred in consequence of the progress of this Mission. I do not for a moment wish to contradict the noble Earl, or to contend that there was not full self-restraint on the part of the troops: but the consequences were disastrous. There was heavy slaughter of these unfortunate men, who, no doubt, did attack us, and invited reprisals from our arms. They are an ignorant people: they seem to be not only ignorant of civilisation, but absolutely ignorant of the horrors and dangers of warfare. It is, I am sure, a matter of deep regret to the Government, as it is to everybody, that under such circumstances His Majesty's troops had to inflict severe punishment, not once, but, as I understand, twice, on these unfortunate people.

I will say no more upon that. I shall not, I need hardly say, now oppose a Resolution which I think ought to have been proposed to Parliament long before; but I should like to ask what the future policy of His Majesty's Government is to be. I think the policy set forth succinctly in a despatch of 6th November, is very complete, but I should like to ask His Majesty's Government whether they adhere to that policy. The policy initiated in that despatch was contained in these words— In view of the recent conduct of the Tibetans, His Majesty's Government feel that it would be impossible not to take action, and they accordingly sanction the advance of the Mission to Gyangtse. They are very clearly of opinion that this step should not be allowed to lead to occupation or permanent intervention in Tibetan affairs in any form. The advance should be made for the sole purpose of obtaining satisfaction, and as soon as reparation is obtained a withdrawal should be effected. While His Majesty's Government consider the proposed action to be necessary, they are not prepared to establish a permanent Mission in Tibet, and the question of enforcing trade facilities in that country must be considered in the light of the decision conveyed in this telegram. That is a very important statement of policy. It is a statement of policy which, I need hardly say, I, and those who sit with me, heartily support, and we are most anxious to hear from the noble Marquess whether that policy is to be adhered to now in Tibet, and whether the Government, who have at present only authorised the advance to Gyangtse, intend to give permission to go further. If we can be told that there is every prospect now of a settlement of the grievances we shall rejoice, but I think it is of the utmost importance that we should have clear and satisfactory assurances on the points that I have mentioned.


My Lords, I should not like this Resolution to pass your Lordships' House without a few words from me on a different aspect of the subject from that touched upon by the noble Earl the Leader of the Opposition. The function which your Lordships have to perform to-day is one of very grave importance. It is to give the sanction of this House to the application of the revenues of India to an expedition sent beyond the frontiers of that country. This is one of those occasions on which the Parliament of this country has the responsibility put upon it of protecting the interests of the people of India against the improper application of the revenues of that Empire. No man can have a stronger opinion than I have of the importance of economy in the administration of the finances of India, and of the desira- bility of reducing taxation in that country, and I think I may say that since I left India I have taken great pains on every occasion that has presented itself to advocate the interests of India in this House. With those feelings I have to inform your Lordships that in my opinion you can accept this Resolution with perfect propriety. This Mission is undoubtedly taken in the interests of India. The relations between India and Tibet only remotely affect this country, and therefore it seems to me that the application of the revenues of India which your Lordships are asked to sanction is a proper application of those revenues.

I wish, my Lords, on this occasion to go somewhat further, and to say that I have read the Papers connected with this Mission with attention and interest, and it has given me great satisfaction to observe the moderation with which His Majesty's Government and the Government of India have treated this question, which is one of great difficulty. The treaty with China on the subject of Tibet was not made at the instigation of the Indian Government or of the Government of this country. My noble friend the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs was then Viceroy of India, and it was the Chinese themselves who urged upon the Government of India the conclusion of the treaty. At the same time they informed the Government of India—and this has been the origin of all these difficulties—that China was ready to undertake that the Tibetans carried out the provisions of that treaty. My noble friend opposite, the then Viceroy (The Marquess of Lansdowne) treated the matter with the greatest caution. I think he allowed three years to pass before a supplemental convention was concluded. He gave way upon several points which the Chinese Government asked him to give way upon, and nothing could have been more gentle or moderate than the course he pursued. The same course was taken by his successor the Earl of Elgin, and by Lord Curzon, the present Viceroy.

It fell to the Government of India and the Government of this country to take some steps to see that the provisions of the treaty were carried out. I think eight years must have passed since the treaty was concluded, yet not one single provision of that treaty has been carried out by the Tibetans or the Chinese. The matter then was brought before Lord Curzon by the Secretary of State for India, Lord George Hamilton. He asked—and it was very natural that he should have asked—what the condition of things was, eight years after the treaty had been made, in respect of the trade between Tibet and India and the demarcation of the frontier. The answer was most unsatisfactory. The place selected was found to be quite unsuitable for a trade mart. The Tibetans prevented any trade taking place with their country. Surely some step was necessary to be taken to remedy that condition of things. For three years Lord Curzon treated this matter with the greatest moderation. He went so far as to prohibit the erection of any pillar posts on the frontier—a proceeding which would naturally have created opposition on the part of the Tibetans; and his conduct appears to me to have been marked by great moderation. At last, however,—I think it was in the beginning of 1903—he made suggestions that a Mission should be sent to Lhasa and a Resident appointed in that country. With those suggestions His Majesty's Government did not concur, and Lord Curzon. having received the opinion of His Majesty's Government, accepted it with perfect loyalty, and from that time on wards carried out the views of His Majesty's Government. I naturally feel sympathy with anyone in the position of Viceroy of India, and I wish your Lordships to be in full knowledge of Lord Curzon's views on the matter. Writing on 5th November last year, Lord Curzon said— We (the Government of India) share the reluctance which His Majesty's Government have hitherto entertained to embark upon strong measures. We have no quarrel with the Tibetan people, and we have no desire to invade or permanently to occupy their country. Even now all that we solicit is sanction to transfer the scene of our negotiations to a locality in Tibet more suitable for the purpose than Khambajong and better calculated to impress the Tibetan Government with a sense of our earnestness and power. That is the view with which Lord Curzon has been carrying out the despatch of this Mission. Those being the circumstances of the case as they present themselves to me after reading the Papers, I have no hesitation in supporting the Motion which has been moved so clearly by the noble Earl the Under-Secretary of State for India. I feel sure that His Majesty's Government will act in the future with the same forbearance and with the same moderation.

My noble friend behind me has alluded to a despatch which was sent by the Secretary of State for India to the Viceroy on the subject of the future policy with regard to Tibet. There are two other despatches which strike me as of much greater importance as committing the Government than the despatch sent to the Viceroy. There was a despatch sent by my noble friend the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs to Mr. Spring - Rice for communication to the Russian Government. In that despatch, after explaining the reason for sending the Mission, the Secretary of State wrote that— This step must not be taken as indicating any intention of annexing or even permanently occupying Tibetan territory. That was to the Government of Russia. There is another despatch, still more important, which was sent to the Government of China—the suzerain Power over Tibet. That despatch contains these words— In view of the recent conduct of the Tibetans His Majesty's Government feel that it is impossible not to take action, and they have, therefore, sanctioned the advance of the Mission. As soon as reparation is obtained the Mission will be withdrawn, as this step is to the taken purely for the purpose of obtaining satisfaction, and so on. I feel satisfied with those assurances. It hardly needs a statement from the Secretary of State to satisfy your Lordships as to the future policy of His Majesty's Government, for these miserable attacks by Tibetans upon our troops can hardly be a serious reason for changing the policy of the Government in this matter. I trust that His Majesty's Government will be very cautious in respect to the sanction of a permanent Resident at Lhasa. No one will deny that the presence in a native State such as Tibet of an English Resident cannot but be a great advantage to the country in which he is placed, as well as to the Government sending him there, and no one can dispute the advantage of being able to communicate with such a Government in a diplomatic manner. But, at the same time, in these States, the people of which have very strong prejudices—and probably the prejudices are nowhere more strong than they are in Tibet—against foreigners, and where also, there may be religious fanaticism, it would be in my opinion a dangerous thing to have a resident Minister unless with the thorough assurance on the part of the State to which that Minister has been sent of the desire to receive him and to be responsible for his protection. The time may arrive when Tibet, like other countries, will be more open to us, and when we may be able to send Residents into that country; but I hardly think anyone will assert that that time has yet arrived. There is another smaller matter which I would venture to suggest to His Majesty's Government, namely, that great caution should be enjoined on those in charge of this Mission not to send parties all over the country for the purpose of surveying the tops of the mountains and making maps, for there is nothing more likely to alarm ignorant people like the Tibetans than such proceedings.

I cannot conclude my remarks without assuring my noble friend the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs that I read with great satisfaction the language he used to the Russian Government in respect to certain communications which passed on the subject of Tibet. I hold that, while any military danger to India from Tibet is perfectly preposterous on account of the nature of the country, yet circumstances justified the remarks made by my noble friend the Foreign Minister. It has always been my opinion that plain speaking to Russia is the right way to treat affairs of this kind. I believe that difficulties, and, perhaps, even war, might have been avoided if we had spoken perfectly plainly to Russia in former years in somewhat similar circumstances. Therefore, I am glad that my noble friend used that language, and I will say also that I cannot conceive that the use of that language ought to be prejudicial to the friendly relations between Russia and this country. Russia must perfectly well understand our position with regard to Tibet, and must have received, without surprise, and I should say without any adverse feeling, the remarks of the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs. I heartily concur with what has fallen from my noble friend behind me, the Leader of the Opposition, with respect to the Anglo-French Agreement, and I trust, with him, that the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs I may be enabled, perhaps at some more favourable time than the present, to enter into a similar arrangement with the Government of Russia with respect to those matters which he referred to on a former occasion in this House and in which our interests may not appear to be altogether identical.


My Lords. the speech just delivered must have had the effect of removing from the minds of your Lordships any lingering doubts as to the propriety of this Resolution. This Mission has been undertaken in the interests of India, and the only question is at what moment that Mission ceased to have a political complexion and acquired a military complexion. We have been taken to task for not recognising from the first that the Mission was likely to acquire the character of a military operation. We desired in all sincerity that the Mission should have a political and not a military complexion, and as far as we were concerned there was no reason whatever why the Mission should not have achieved its object without firing a single shot, and why it should not have maintained its political character to the last. But the unfortunate collision which has taken place left us nothing to do but to regularise the matter by bringing it before Parliament in accordance with the 55th Section of the Government of India Act. If we had taken the other course, and had at the outset described this Mission as a military Mission we should, in the first place, have mis-described its true aim and purport; and by proclaiming the fact that it was an invasion of Tibet we should have increased the chances of collision and diminished the chances of peace. We were, therefore, amply justified in preserving for the Mission its political complexion as long as we could. As to what was said by Lord Northbrook on the manner in which these negotiations have been conducted, I am extremely grateful to the noble Earl for his speech, for no one speaks with more knowledge than he does in regard to Indian affairs. I therefore rejoiced when I heard him give credit not only to Lord Curzon's Government but to other Governments before his for having dealt cautiously and considerately with this question. There, I am convinced, is no case on record in which a strong civilised Power has dealt more considerately with a weak and semi-barbarous Power.

I was glad to hear what fell from the noble Earl opposite in regard to the manner in which Lord Curzon has handled this question, because an attempt has been made to represent Lord Curzon as having from the first taken up an attitude of antagonism to His Majesty's Government—an attempt which is based on a misrepresentation of the facts. If your Lordships will look at Lord Curzon's despatch of 8th January of last year, you will find in it a full and complete account of the principles upon which Lord Curzon proposed to deal with the Tibetan question. What were they? In the first place, Lord Curzon insisted that it was necessary to resort to more practical measures in dealing with the Tibetans, measures more likely to be productive of results than the policy of friendly representation upon which we had so long relied. Then Lord Curzon proposed that, instead of attempting to deal with Tibet through China as the suzerain Power, we should deal directly with the Tibetans on Tibetan territory, and for this purpose he proposed a Mission with a sufficient military escort. Besides this, Lord Curzon laid down—and I ask your Lordships' particular attention to this point—that there was in the mind of the Government of India a complete absence of any political designs upon Tibet, and that we did not desire to establish a Protectorate or anything in the nature of a permanent occupation of the country. In all this His Majesty's Government and the Viceroy were completely at one, and the only point of difference of opinion was that which arose when we came to consider whether negotiations should or should not be conducted at Lhasa, and whether a British agent should be left at that place, and upon this point Lord Curzon loyally accepted the policy of His Majesty's Government and has given effect to it. You will find that we applied this policy cautiously and considerately, and that it was not until the Viceroy represented to us that there was absolutely no prospect of bringing the negotiations which were in progress at Khambajong to a satisfactory result, and when all other means had failed, that we authorised the advance of the Mission to Gyangtse. It is not the case, as has sometimes been represented, that there was a kind of "Rake's Progress" on the part of His Majesty's Government, egged on by a militant Viceroy; our policy was deliberately adopted after very careful discussion, and after a complete accord had been arrived at between the Government in India and the India Office at home.

The noble Earl has expressed a hope that upon one point I would make an announcement to your Lordships' House. He asked me whether His Majesty's Government still adhere to the general line of policy indicated in the telegram sent to the Government of India on 6th November last. My Lords, we do adhere to the policy laid down in that despatch. I do not by that mean to say that, whatever happens, we are never to move an inch beyond the limits therein laid down, but the policy was adopted after the fullest consideration, and by it we shall be guided in dealing with the future aspects of the question. So far as we are able to understand the situation in Tibet, there seems now to be a better prospect than there has ever been before of arriving at a satisfactory settlement upon the basis of that despatch. Up to the present time the Tibetans have been induced to offer persistent resistance to our diplomatic overtures and to any attempt to send a Mission into their country by their reliance on the inaccessibility of their country and the stupendous difficulties to be encountered by an advancing force. These obstacles have been successfully surmounted by the gallant body of troops which Colonel Young husband has led into Tibet, and, although we may speak with more regret than pride of the actual collision which took place between Colonel Young husband's soldiers and the badly armed and badly disciplined body opposed to them, I think we may speak with unmitigated pride of the energy and endurance displayed by our troops under great privations and the severe climatic conditions which they have experienced during protracted operations conducted at an altitude exceeding that of Mont Blanc. We have reason to know that the result has not been without effect on the minds of the Tibetan people.

But there are other considerations which are likely to have an effect upon the Tibetans. The noble Earl who spoke last referred to the relations between Russia and Tibet. We have received from the Russian Government official statements which are recorded in the Blue-book; we have received them without in the least calling in question their absolute sincerity, and I would rather not attempt to add anything on the point during the present discussion. But we have to consider not only the attitude of Russia towards Tibet, but the attitude of Tibet towards Russia, and there can be no doubt, because we are so informed by those who have the best means of knowing, that the comings and goings which have taken place, and which have not unnaturally taken place, between the monks of Lhasa and the Buddhist subjects of the Tsar in different parts of Asia have resulted, or had resulted, in creating in the minds of these extremely ignorant and superstitious people a belief that they might rely on Russian sympathy and assistance. That belief must by this time have been rudely dispelled by events which have taken place. Therefore I think we may fairly assume that the result of these events may be, and probably will be, to bring the Tibetans to a sense of reason, and we may hope before long to find them ready to accept the moderate and neighbourly terms we are ready to place within their reach. Meanwhile it is satisfactory to know that the Mission, after undergoing immense hardship and privations, appears to have arrived at a point where the conditions are much less rugged and unfavourable, and where we can afford to wait, at any rate for a time, and see whether some ray of reason will steal through the solid darkness which appears to characterise the Tibetan mind.

On Question, Motion agreed to.