HL Deb 23 August 1907 vol 181 cc1368-70

who had given notice of his intention to ask the Under-Secretary for Foreign Affairs whether he could give any information as to the intentions of His Majesty's Government with regard to opium shops in the foreign quarters of towns in other parts of which these shops had been closed by the Chinese Government; and whether he could make any statement as to the instructions to be given to the British representative at the approaching international conference on the matter, said: My Lords, the Question I wish to put to the noble Lord the Under-Secretary for Foreign Affairs is not by way of criticism, but simply in order to obtain information. There has been certain anxiety caused by some notices in the Press with regard to the closing,by the Chinese Government of the opium houses in some of the great towns—Shanghai, Canton, and Foochow —in which there are foreign settlements. It is understood that this has been carried out by the authority of the Government, and carried out as part of a reform movement which appears to have enlisted a great deal of public enthusiasm. The fear which has been suggested is that this may lead to a very large influx of opium smokers into the still more numerous opium houses of foreign settlements, causing probably great scandal and, perhaps, disorder. The question was asked in another place of the Foreign Secretary some few weeks ago. At that time the action which the Chinese Government was taking had not become plain. The Foreign Secretary said that he would ask for more information,and my desire now is to ask the noble Lord whether he can give us information as to what the municipal authorities in foreign settlements are likely to do, and whether the Foreign Office is able to exercise any influence, and intends to use its influence in any way. Then, in connection with that, it has been announced that there is to be an International Conference upon the opium question, and I wish to ask respectfully—though I am quite aware that the noble Lord may not be able to give me any information—whether he can say anything about the instructions that will be given to the British representative, especially with regard to this matter of the opium houses. I beg to put the question of which I have given notice.


The right rev. Prelate has raised a very interesting matter by the question which he has asked, but at this very late hour of the evening I think your Lordships would probably prefer that I confined my reply, tempting as the subject-matter is, to what is strictly necessary in order to give the information asked for.

His Majesty's Minister at Pekin has been instructed that it is desirable that the municipal councils of all British concessions and settlements in China should be moved to close any opium shops or dens that may exist in them, subject to the proviso that effective measures have been previously taken by the Chinese authorities to close establishments of this nature outside the concessions. Of course what is actually done in each concession will depend upon the particular circumstances of the case.

We have not yet heard that China has given any formal assent to the proposal of the United States Government for inquiry by a Conference or Commission of the Powers chiefly interested, though we have expressed our readiness to take part in it. No British representative has in consequence yet been appointed, and the question of what instructions should be given to him has not yet been considered.

His Majesty's Government are in entire sympathy with the wish of the Chinese Government to diminish as much as possible the consumption of opium in China, and in order to give practical effect to this sympathy they have, after consulting the Government of India, informed the Chinese Government that:—(1) They accept in principle the proposal that the import of Indian opium into China shall be diminished by one-tenth annually,pari passu with an equal decrease in the production of the native drug, up to the year 1910, and they will continue to reduce at the same rate the export in 1911 and subsequent years, on proof that China has carried out its share of the arrangement; (2) They have informed the Chinese Government that they have no objection to a Chinese official being stationed at Calcutta, provided that he has no direct powers of interference with Customs arrangements. That is a matter to which the Indian Government attached great importance. (3) His Majesty's Government have informed the Chinese Government that they are prepared to assent to such enhancement of the Customs andlikin duty on foreign opium as will make its taxation in China equivalent to the taxation actually levied on native opium, differences in relative value and quality being taken into consideration. Steps have been taken to reduce the area of poppy cultivation in Bengal, which in the five years preceding 1906-1907 averaged 615,000 acres, and in 1907-1908 is not to exceed 562,000 aeres. In 1907 the number of chests of Bengal opium fixed for sale was originally 4,400 a month. This has now been reduced to 4,000 a month, while for 1908 it has been fixed at 3,900 a month. Further reductions will be fixed in succeeding years if the proposed arrangement with the Chinese Government becomes operative.

I hope that information, so far as it goes, will be satisfactory to the right rev. Prelate.


I am extremely obliged to the noble Lord.