My Lords, I rise to call attention to the government of the Congo, and to move for Papers. This Motion concerns the lives and liberties of 15,000,000 human beings. I wish, therefore, that it had been placed in stronger hands. I appealed to the most rev. Primate himself to bring forward a Resolution on the Congo, but his Grace wished me to do it myself. This subject of the Congo is a most unpleasant and perplexing one, and I am not in the least surprised that every Government should as far as possible wish to leave it alone.
403 But, my Lords, it cannot be left alone It is exciting intense interest among the people of this country at the present time. During the past few months forty five town meetings, presided over in each case by the mayor, and numbers of meetings in counties, attended by Anglican Bishops, Roman Catholic priests, Nonconformist ministers, and politicians of all Parties, have been held to consider the state of affairs in the Congo. In my capacity as President of the Congo Reform Association it has been my duty to attend a very large number of these meetings, and I can say that the agitation is only beginning, for Congo reformers have not yet succeeded in reaching the mass of the people. Those who attend these meetings and hear the case presented are filled with surprise, as well as shame, horror, and indignation.
The story that we are putting before the people of England is this. We say that sovereign rights were granted to what was supposed to be a philanthropic enterprise, but which has since been transformed into a powerful engine of greed and oppression. We say that those rights were granted subject to certain limitations and conditions, every one of which has been insolently and impudently violated. We say that the Congo government has been one great act of spoliation of the natives from beginning to end. We say, further, that natives have been robbed of their land and its produce, and have been condemned to forced labour throughout vast regions, lasting nearly the whole of their time, and giving them no opportunity of earning their own livelihood. Not only are the male natives condemned to forced labour, but their wives and families are also similarly condemned in many places. Moreover, the natives have absolutely no enforcible rights of any sort or kind, and a great many of them live in abject terror, misery, and destitution. The Congo system could not have been better put than in the few words used by the noble Marquess opposite. Referring to the official reports alone, the noble Marquess said—
The official reports show bondage under the most barbarous and inhuman conditions, and maintained for mercenary motives of the most selfish character.That is the Congo system of government which has been denounced by every 404 British statesman who has had occasion to say anything about it, and that system has been enforced as it could only be enforced by the lash and the bullet, by murder and by torture.
The Congo system of government is a system of terrorism throughout, a system that is carried out by 40,000 black troops, mostly cannibals of the most savage description, who are under the Congo officials. The duties of these troops is to force. men to get rubber and women to provide supplies. I need scarcely say that they do a great deal beyond that. Your Lordships can easily understand what goes on when a village is looted by these ruffians, who are armed with weapons of precision against the bows and arrows of the natives. There is one instrument of Congo government which is most diabolically ingeniously adapted to its end, which is the enforcement of forced labour. I refer to the hostage houses. When I heard them described by a missionary who had seen these houses I was deeply moved. The system of hostage houses is this. The black troops naturally find some difficulty in pursuing black men into the Congo forest. They elude their vigilance, and so the black troops go to a village, seize every man, woman, and child they can lay their hands on, and herd them together in one of these hostage houses, where they are tied together and kept in the most filthy condition. They very often, starve them, sometimes to death. One missionary who had entered one of these houses described the insanitary and horrible condition of the place. He mentioned that he saw a young woman on the floor and he said to her, "What is the matter with you? Are you ill?" ''No, white man," she said, "I am not ill, but I am dying of starvation. Two days ago I gave birth to a child, and have had nothing to eat ever since." There are two persons who are especially interested, or, at all events, who especially interest themselves, in this question or Congo reform—Mr. and Mrs. Harris. Mr. Harris was a missionary for a long time in the Congo, and he has addressed literally hundreds of meetings with Mrs. Harris. His energy is only equal to that of Mr. Morel. I mention Mr. Harris not only because he has made more speeches than anybody else on this subject, but because he and Mrs. Harris are well 405 known— and very favourably known— both to the noble Lord the Undersecretary and to the noble Marquess the Leader of the Opposition. MR. Harris has got hold of some interesting relics. He has obtained from the village chiefs round his mission 1,000 twigs, every one of which represents a murder by a black soldier, for the way in which these chiefs keep count is by breaking off a twig for every murder and keeping it in some place where it will be safe.
Having explained to the best of our ability to the people of this country what the system is and how it is maintained and enforced, we go on to show them what the responsibility of this country is in the matter. We tell them that England is responsible, in the first place, as one of the signatories of the Berlin Act of 1885 which handed over the Congo to King Leopold. Article VI. of the Berlin Act pledged every one of the signatories to care for the preservation of the native races and for their moral and material advancement; and Sir Edward Malet, our Ambassador at Berlin, said that the Conference ought to take very great care how it dealt with the native question, for the natives were not represented at the Conference, and it—
makes the very greatest difference to them what provisions are laid down at this Conference with regard to the natives.It has made absolutely no difference at all of any kind or sort to a single native. Talk of the preservation of the native races I Why we have it on the authority of Consul Casement, who knows the Congo thoroughly and who was there for seventeen years before he wrote his report, that there has been a depopulation in fifteen years of 3,000,000 people. When we remonstrate, we are told by King Leopold that it is not our business.
We further tell the people of England that this country has a special responsibility in the matter. It has this special responsibility, that had it not been for our determined action the King of the Belgians would not now be ruler over the Congo, but the King of Portugal. It was we who deliberately placed King Leopold on the throne of the Congo. There is one other country which equally shares that respon- 406 sibility with us—the United States of America; and we are happy to say that the United States are heartily with us, and would back up England in any course she might think proper to take. That is the case we lay before the people of England, the case which is supported by a mass of official evidence both from English and Belgian sources, and when such a case as that is heard from eyewitnesses it makes a deep and lasting impression upon audiences. The country feels that the case for intervention is absolutely complete. It feels that it concerns the honour of England not to sit still and do nothing. Sometimes we are told that we ought to have patience. Do your Lordships know how long these atrocities have been going on? They have been continuing for the past fifteen years, ever since in 1892 King Leopold issued secret decrees granting bonuses in proportion to the rubber collected.
By every post there reaches the Foreign Office the evidence of the missionaries that these horrors are still going on. We have other evidence than that of the missionaries. There are the rubber statistics put forward by Belgium herself. The rubber taken from the Congo in 1906 was considerably greater than the amount in 1905. In 1905 the total was 5,716 tons; in 1906 it was 6,276 tons. Those are very significant figures. If in 1905, by all the efforts of the Congo Government, they were only able to get 5,716 tons, we have every reason to think that, whatever may happen in other parts of the Congo, in the depths of the Congo forest there is more cruelty brought to bear on the natives than in 1905. Further, we find from the White Paper on the Table of your Lordships' House, that the reform decrees put forward last year by King Leopold are ridiculed on the Congo and considered to be thoroughly illusory.
Take the case of Major Lemaire, who was for some time a Congo official. He was at one time high in favour with King Leopold and was appointed President of the Congo Boundary Commission. But lately he has been broken by King Leopold because he ventured to criticise the Congo system. He has now published his reminiscences, and I read in an English newspaper two 407 or three days ago a statement by him that the Congo officials were determined to punish the native tribes, and the way in which they punished them was this. They asked these wretched savages to bring in supplies, and when they brought them in they were treacherously shot down. Major Lemaire says that that is not an uncommon practice on the Congo. I have never heard a missionary put forward as part of his case such treachery as that, and it only shows that nobody but a Congo official thoroughly understands the Congo system. This is the evidence of Major Lemaire of what took place four years ago when he was a Congo official, and before he discovered the full iniquity of the system. We are constantly told that there. are no atrocities, because a good many people who have lived in the Congo for years have never seen anything of them. But these things are not done upon the housetops or in public; they are done in the recesses of the Congo forest; and if Major Lemaire was four years before he found out what was going on, it is natural that other people may live a long time there before finding out. Major Lemaire insisted on the return of bribes paid to the Petit Bleu by Congo officials. Therefore it is no wonder that he was broken by King Leopold.
I will now mention to your Lordships what has. been said by English statesmen of the first rank on both sides with regard to this question. As long ago as June, 1904, Sir Edward Grey said that the honour of all Europe was concerned not to sit still and do nothing. Now, one would imagine from that expression on the part of Sir Edward Grey that the noble Marquess, Lord Lansdowne, who was then Foreign Minister, had stood still and done nothing. But that was not the case. In June, 1904, the situation was this. The noble Marquess had tried to do a great deal and had managed to accomplish something. In 1903 he tried to call a Conference of the Powers, but they refused his invitation. Failing that, the noble Marquess sent Consul Casement to find out what was going on in the Congo, and his Report opened the eyes of the people of this country when it was published early in 1904. Not only had the noble Marquess done that, but before Sir Edward Grey's state- 408 ment in the House of Commons the noble Marquess had extracted a promise from King Leopold that he would himself send a Commission of Inquiry to the Congo. He did send this Commission of Inquiry, and the result confirmed Consul Casement's statements. But, although that was the Report of King Leopold's Commission of Inquiry, we have not had the evidence upon which it was based. The evidence has never been published; but we know from the case of Mr. Stannard, the missionary who was fined for libelling a Congo official, that part of the evidence that was heard before the Commission was never taken down. We also know from Mr. and Mrs. Harris, who were also present, that much of the evidence which was tendered was refused. The attitude that Mr. Harris took up before the Commission of Inquiry was this: He said to the President of the Commission—I have been told that I am guilty of exaggerating these Congo atrocities. You must either hear every witness I bring before you, or you must acknowledge that I have not exaggerated.MR. Harris brought canoe load after canoe load of witnesses, and at last the President said—We are perfectly satisfied that what you said is true.The situation in June, 1904, was this, that Lord Landsdowne had tried to call a European Conference, that he had obtained a most valuable Report from Consul Casement and was in the course of obtaining most valuable information from King Leopold's own Commission of Inquiry. But in June, 1904, Sir Edward Grey was not satisfied with what the noble Marquess had done. Now after three years— and in the course of these three years we have the Belgian evidence, as well as our own, of these atrocities— Sir Edward Grey is content to wait an indefinite period. But if Sir Edward Grey was not then satisfied with the action or inaction of the noble Marquess, what shall we say of the noble Lord the Under-Secretary? My noble friend Lord Fitzmaurice was much more dissatisfied with the action of the noble Marquess and proclaimed—I think perfectly rightly—that the Congo State had forfeited the right to be considered a civilised State, and the noble Lord was 409 in favour of despatching a warship to Boma. He impressed upon the Government of the day that they should at once appoint Consuls with consular jurisdiction
A year ago the tables were turned The noble Marquess opposite had given up the trammels of office and the noble Lord the present Under-Secretary re-turned to the Foreign Office. The noble Marquess, Lord Lansdowne, freed from office, pressed for consular jurisdiction. which he had opposed; and the noble Lord, Lord Fitzmaurice, when in office was converted to the policy of patience. While these Front Bench amenities are going on the Congo natives are being killed, starved, and tortured by the thousand. It is said that King Leopold has issued certain decrees. In June last year he issued a new law which can scarcely be called a reform. He promulgated a law making calumnious denunciation of the general method of government in the Congo subject to a penalty of five years' imprisonment, and five years' imprisonment to a white man in the Congo means a sentence of death. It is monstrous that we should still allow our missionaries and other British subjects to be liable to Congo justice under such a law. If we do not at once insist on consular jurisdiction we might at any rate send more Consuls to the Congo, and we might give them means of communication of their own. We are not quite so helpless as perhaps some people think. If we chose to do so we could, by methods that are well known to His Majesty's Government, though they may not think it wise to refer to them, make the government of the Congo State extremely difficult.
Then we come to the debate of 15th May last, in the House of Commons. The Secretary of State said on that occasion—We must concentrate on a change of system in the Congo.We all agree. But the Secretary of State added—We must wait a reasonable time to know the terms on which Belgium will agree to annexation.This statement of indefinite delay confirms King Leopold in his opinion that we do not mean business. The Secretary 410 of State fears he will embarrass the reform party if he says, anything about intervention at the present moment. But is it not a greater danger to say nothing and encourage King Leopold to think there is no limit to our patience? King Leopold is not in the least con ciliated by Sir Edward Grey's amiable sentiments about Belgium, and the Leopold Press sneers and laughs at our Secretary of State. Our contention with regard to our rights is perfectly plain and has been constantly stated. The Secretary of State said on 19th February last, that—King Leopold can only transfer to Belgium such rights as he himself possesses. That is a clear proposition of law. Belgium can only take over the Congo subject to the conditions and limitations of the Berlin Act.That declaration was not the first that had been made by Sir Edward Grey or the noble Marquess in the same sense. It only confirmed previous declarations. Sir Edward Grey confirmed last March the position taken by Lord Lansdowne in the Despatch to Belgium of August, 1903. He said that—England cannot asquiesce in a system that robs the native of his property. The native must be free to buy and sell the produce of the land.Those propositions have been so clearly laid down, both by Sir Edward Grey and Lord Lansdowne, that I do not quarrel with the Secretary of State for not repeating them on every occasion. We wish to believe that annexation by Belgium means a complete change in the Congo system. No doubt the Secretary of State may consider that it is only unnecessarily offensive to Belgium to be always emphasising what our rights are, should she annex and fail in her duty. But as the Belgian Press has chosen to assume, from Sir Edward Grey's silence on 15th May, that his position with regard to the Berlin Act has weakened, I say it is now absolutely necessary that we should have an explicit declaration, on behalf of His Majesty's Government, that the Secretary of State still stands, and always will stand, by our rights under the Berlin Act, rights which have never been doubted by any English statesman.
Now there is another great question, whether or not England should take isolated action in the matter. Sir 411 Edward Grey has never been explicit on that vital question, and he never was less explicit on it than on 15th May last. What he then said, in substance, was that should the Belgian solution fail the question becomes an international question. No doubt it becomes an international question, but it is also a national question, and England is not in the mood to shirk her responsibility simply because others shirk theirs. I hope the noble Lord the Under Secretary will say that England is prepared to act alone, if necessary, and will maintain her anti-slavery and humanitarian pre-eminence. I am afraid the omens of the settlement of this question by Belgium are unfavourable. Only a few days ago we had put before us the names of eight gentlemen who had been appointed to draft a Bill of Annexation for the Belgian Parliament. Every one of these eight gentlemen, with possibly one exception, is a devoted adherent of the Congo system. With regard to Papers, the Papers on the Table are six months out of date. Our Consuls in those Papers declare the futility of the paper reforms promulgated by King Leopold, and they say the reform decrees are accompanied by secret instructions which our Consuls are not allowed to see. Vice-Consul Armstrong says that forced labour is still exacted to an extent leaving natives no time to earn a living wage. He says—In visiting rubber working towns one would expect to see some signs of European commodities that had been given in exchange for the millions of pounds' worth of rubber which have been extracted from them, but the native residents possess actually nothing at all.Can you wonder that under such circumstances the natives are desperate? Can you wonder that there is martial law in the A.B.I.R. I want Papers up to date. I want the country to know what the Consuls say to the latest missionary reports of atrocities. I have said that I hope the Secretary of State will declare for isolated action if the co-signatories will not join. But the greatest responsibility rests on the people, not on Ministers. Ministers are the servants and not the masters of the people. The people of England are day by day issuing their instructions to Sir Edward Grey with more emphasis. They say that this great Congo iniquity must cease, and 412 that, if drastic action to that end is necessary, drastic action must be taken and taken soon.
§ Moved, "That an humble Address be presented to His Majesty for Papers relating to the administration of the Congo Free State." —(Lord Monkswell.)
*THE LORD ARCHBISHOP OF CANTERBURY
My Lords, this is a discussion in which no man with a spark of feeling finds it otherwise than painful to take part. It is one of the most disheartening and one of the most humiliating of contemporary questions, and yet it is simply impossible for us to let it alone. The urgency of the matter is constantly growing in intensity; and I do not think the public, horror stricken as it is at the account of these atrocities, has fully realised what some of those who are most competent to speak regard as the gravity of the case, not for the Congo alone, but for the whole of Africa. Sir Harry Johnston, in a memorable letter, has written—Unless some stop can be put to the misgovernment of the Congo regions I venture to warn those who are interested in African politics that a movement is already begun, and is spreading fast, which will unite the negroes against the white race, a movement which will prematurely stamp out the beginnings of the new civilisation we are trying to implant, and against which movement, except so far as the actual coast line is concerned, the resources of men and money, which Europe can put into the field will be powerless.Those are words which show the significance of this matter beyond even the wide limits of the Congo State. The subject bristles with diplomatic perplexities, and for that reason the attention of the public has been concentrated rather on particular stories of horrible outrage and atrocity, and the larger issues of the problem have been loft more or less in purely official hands. There seems to me to be a real danger that we may thus be led to forget the far larger issues involved in misgovernment in such a State and on such a scale.
What plain people, outside the intricacies of diplomacy, understand to be the story of recent years is this. Public attention was first directed in the "seventies" to a huge region of Central Africa—as large as Central Europe—the 413 fertile nature of which had been until then unknown. The journeys of Lovett Cameron, and Sir H. Stanley brought the matter before Europe, and the European peoples determined to open up the region which Sir H. Stanley had described in such glowing terms. No doubt philanthropists were interested more or less in this region and its inhabitants; but it was mostly with commercial aims that the International Association was set on foot. If we study the record of the international discussions which took place, beginning with that between us and the United States of America, then the Anglo-Portuguese Treaty, first adopted by us and then dropped, and subsequently what was first called the International African Association, and afterwards became the Congo Free State, we find that, so far as this country was concerned, it was from the first made, in a most emphatic manner, an absolute condition of our concurrence that the real and permanent well-being of the natives should be promoted. These instructions were given by Lord Granville to our representatives at the Berlin Conference—The principle which will command the sympathy and support of Her Majesty's Government will be that of the advancement of legitimate commerce, with security for the equality of treatment of all nations, and for the well-being of the native races.That principle was embodied in Article VI. of the Convention, and the Powers bound themselves to—watch over the preservation of the native tribes, and to care for the improvement of the condition of their moral and material well-being, and to help in suppressing slavery, and especially the slave trade.We were a party to the agreement of which that was the essential element, and from that condition neither we nor the other Powers have a right to withdraw.
I do not know whether your Lordships remember what happened in 1884 and 1885, how this was hailed by the people as a philanthropic enterprise and almost as the dawn of a new era for African colonisation. The Lord Mayor went to Brussels to congratulate the King of the Belgians upon the splendid lead which he was giving to the philanthropy of Europe and the world. These were his words—Deeply interested as is the City of London;in all that concerns the progress of religious, 414 humane, and commercial principles, and in the suppression of slavery and the slave trade, we the Corporation of that City, recognise in the enlightened, philanthropic, and disinterested. efforts of your Majesty, and the bloodless victory wrought thereby, a triumph far grander than the greatest achievements of the sword.There is a ghastly irony in even reading those words. It is absolutely impossible for any impartial man to read the official statements upon the management of the Congo State to-day without seeing that these conditions are preposterously contradicted. I do not refer to the reports of the missionaries, although the debt we owe these brave men for having brought to light facts which otherwise would have been unrevealed has not yet been adequately recognised. I confine myself to official statements, such for example as the Report of Consul Casement and Lord Cromer's comments upon it. No one can look at the official records without seeing that every condition that was laid down at the start has been grossly and flagrantly violated to-day. If these conditions are being broken, it seems to me that we are not only able but we are bound to move, if we regard with any reality at all the responsibility into which we have deliberately entered. No one has spoken more strongly on the subject than those who represent the Foreign Office on either side. Lord Fitzmaurice, speaking in the House of Commons in 1904, said—He ventured to assert that the Congo Free State.…was as much the creation of European law as any corporation in this country which might be created under an Act of Parliament was the artificial creation of English law. Without the Berlin Conference there would be no Congo Free State; and if the reasons which induced Europe to consent to the formation of the Congo Free State failed, and if the conditions of that international contract were not fulfilled, and especially were not fulfilled by the beneficiary of that contract, then, at any moment, Europe, which called the Congo Free State into existence, was entitled to dissolve that State.Sir Edward Grey used words which were stronger, and, in one sense, more emphatic. He said that the Congo State—was really created by a sort of self-denying ordinance on the part of the various great Powers; but he would put it higher than that, he believed that many of them sanctioned it by a really generous impulse, to see civilisation spread. That that should have led to the state of things which they had heard recounted ought to be intolerable to the Powers which sanctioned it.415 When we look into the facts, it seems to me that the mischief which finds its worst development in the horrible outrages is really fundamental in the manner in which the government of the State is carried on. The mutilations, the cruelties, the "hostage" system—these are simply appalling. But we mislead both ourselves and other people if we dwell too exclusively upon them. Those are the natural and inevitable outcome of a system which is fundamentally bad, and which is contradictory to the very principles laid down in the Berlin Convention twenty years ago.
The land is governed, or rather utilised, now, not for the good of its inhabitants —that is, not for the reasons for which the State was allowed to come into existence—but for the gain or profit of its so-called owners in Europe. The outrages done by the native soldiers are simply due to the necessities imposed upon them by their European masters of,coûte que coûte, producing the rubber, which becomes scarcer week by week. MR. Pickersgill, who was British Consul in 1898, said: —A sentry on the Congo is a dare-devil aboriginal chosen from troops impressed outside thy district in which he serves, for his loyalty and force of character. Armed with a rifle and pouch of cartridges, he is located in a native village to see that the labour for which its inhabitants are responsible is duly attended to.The whole system and object is that simply of gain for the European owners, as they call themselves, and not for the advantage and civilisation of the natives on whose behalf we made ourselves a party to the formation of that State. It is right in the teeth of the Convention of twenty years ago and of our own frequent declarations. Earl Percy, who was at that time Under-Secretary, said in June 1904:—Our complaint is not that white men in the midst of a black population occasionally commit abominable atrocities, but that they are enabled to commit them, and in most cases with perfect impunity, by the fact that the Government itself invests them with irresponsible authority, that it exercises no adequate supervision over them, and that in many cases there is no readily accessible tribunal before which they can be brought. …When the United States first, and the European Government subsequently, recognised the existence in the Congo Basin of a Government possessed of a national status, that recognition was accorded, not to the Congo State, but to an association professing an 416 international character, and proclaiming before the world as the object of its being, not the accumulation of rubber at an infinite cost of human life and suffering, but the protection and civilisation of the natives of Africa.Nothing could add to the force of those words. The system that goes on in the Congo State contrasts not in degree, but in kind with the system of government pursued by any other Power in any other part of Africa which is now under its protectorate or control. Some things on these lines were done, I am afraid, by many of the European Powers 300 or 350 years ago. England's hands, perhaps, 300 years ago were by no means clean. But if it is horrible to read of those things occurring then, to read of them in contemporary history is not only horrible but intolerable. These are not my views, uninformed as I must necessarily be about a vast number of details. The contrast between the way in which the Congo State is governed and the way in which any other State in Africa under European control is governed is immeasurable. Sir Harry Johnston, that real expert in African matters, says—The Crown lands, the control of which is assumed by the British Government, or by the Government of any civilised State in Africa, are—or should be—administered first and foremost in the interest of the community in which they are situated. For example, revenue derived from the Crown lands in British Central Africa or in Uganda goes to meet the cost of the administration of those countries and the maintenance of law and order therein, of the construction of public works, the prevention of disease, the improvement of communications, the advancement of education. The utmost gain to us that is derived from this administration of State monopolies is the easing of the pocket of the British tax-payer. …But the Crown lands, the public forests, the natural resources of the Congo Free State, instead of being administered as a national fund for the maintenance and improvement of that State, and the promotion of the welfare of its inhabitants, are actually diverted to the private profit of King Leopold and some of his associates. It is this that is the inherently false principle in the scheme of the Congo Free State.That is a point which, I think, wants bringing home to people now. I have based my remarks largely upon quotations, because I wished to put the case in the words of those best qualified to speak.
The facts are only too fully admitted by everybody. In the last debate in the House of Commons on the subject Sir 417 Edward Grey spoke of the "gruesome unanimity" with which we all regarded it. Well, that is a unanimity which ought to lead to something more than grumbling and complaining, than acquiescing in delay. We desire that the Government should be reminded again and again that behind it stand the British people and that the British people do care about the matter from the bottom of their hearts and we, representing the British people—not the officials, nor the diplomatists, whose task it is to give effect to the will of the British people—do believe that it ought to be possible now in some practical and real sense to take some step forward in regard to this terrible matter.
§ LORD CLIFFORD OF CHUDLEIGH
My Lords, I think there will be complete unanimity in this House that some change in the Congo system is necessary. No cause, however just or however good, gained anything by refusiug to acknowledge what was to be said on the other side, and in entering upon this question we must not forget that we owe a great deal to the King of the Belgians, inasmuch as he, when international difficulties stood in the way, came forward and at his own expense, and in large measure by his own energy, started the government in a hitherto ungoverned country; and during the last twenty years there have been established there over 300 trading posts and many kilometres of railway, and, above all, there has been abolished the system of slavery and of slave trading which carried with it atrocities and cruelties compared with which probably those laid to the charge of the Congo Government are comparatively small. The Government has been carried on with almost complete abolition of the traffic in spirits, which, among all savage races, has had so fearful and degrading an effect. In addition to that there has been established under the Government numerous missionary stations, both Roman Catholic and Protestant, which have done incalculable good in reclaiming the inhabitants from barbarism. Great efforts, too, have been made in extinguishing smallpox, and in dealing more or less effectively with the great curse of the country—the sleeping sickness. But, when we have admitted all this, I think we are bound to admit that the system of the Congo Government as carried on is one which is utterly and absolutely 418 impossible and needs immediate and complete reversal. We have heard with horror tales of atrocities and crimes, and I was much struck, in reading a pamphlet entitled "Truth about the Congo," to find how much of that pamphlet was devoted to raking up more or less authentic cases of cruelty and mis-government which have occurred under our own rule. No one knows so well as ourselves the demoralising effect of living in an unhealthy country under circumstances of isolation from European influence and among a savage and degraded race. Is j it, therefore, surprising that in the earlier history of the Congo many I regrettable things were done? Here you have a territory which has no mother country to watch over it and no trained administrators, a country given over absolutely and bodily to what is called a State. I have always been at a loss to understand in what way the Congo State was really a State, except that, at the head of it, there was a King. What, in point of fact, it has always appeared tome to be was a chartered company with an international charter, and I maintain that those who gave that international charter have a right to demand an account of the way in which that charter is carried out, and, in the ultimate resort, to revoke it and reconstitute the Government of the country. The system of a chartered company governing a largo State like the Congo, containing some 3,000 Europeans of various nationalities and some 15,000,000 inhabitants, with no public opinion to guide and criticise it, must inevitably lead to abuses such as those which have occurred in the Congo State. The system of government which is apparently accepted in the Congo is evidenced by the Commission that was sent out to inquire into the alleged abuses. These are their words—It is only by making work obligatory that we can induce the native to give regular work and that we can obtain sufficient manual labour; and the only legal means at the disposal of the State to oblige the population to work is to impose a tax.We are told, on the authority of the Commission, that the tax is fixed by the agents themselves at whatever they conceive reasonable or necessary, and although labour has in the last few years been restricted to some forty hours in the course of the month, there is every reason to believe that this limit is but 419 very vaguely adhered to. How is the ignorant native to discriminate and to decide whether the armed forces of the State which compel him to work are compelling him to work to pay a tax to raise revenue for the State or for the benefit of a private company? What I think the people of this country demand of the Government is that they shall carry out the policy foreshadowed by the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs in his speech on 15th May, when he said—Our policy was that the Belgian Government should at once pass a Bill taking over the Congo State under conditions which would give the Belgian Parliament real power to improve the administration.If that "real power" is to be anything more than an empty phrase, it must mean sweeping away the present system of government of the Congo State, not for the benefit of private individuals, but for the benefit of the State and the interest of the natives.
THE EARL OF MAYO
My Lords, having been on the Congo myself many years ago I desire to support the Motion of Lord Monkswell. We on this side of the House are fully alive to what is going on, and desire as much as anyone to seek for a remedy of the existing state of affairs. On 8th August, 1903, my noble friend Lord Lansdowne, who was then Foreign Minister, sent a despatch to our representatives abroad, in the first paragraph of which he said—The attention of His Majesty's Government has during recent years been repeatedly culled to alleged cases of ill-treatment of natives and to the existence of trade monopolies in the Independent State of the Congo. Representations to this effect are to be found in memorials from philanthropic societies, in communications from commercial bodies, in the public Press, and in despatches from His Majesty's Consuls.It is to the noble Marquess's credit—I say it in no Party spirit— that he first officially drew attention to the misrule on the Congo and lifted the veil that concealed the horrors and barbarities practised on the natives. The noble Marquess pointed out in that despatch that the system of trade existing in the Independent State of the Congo was not in harmony with the provisions of the Berlin Act. The despatch mentions three Articles of the Act, and I 420 doubt if anyone would have the hardihood to contradict the statement that every one of those Articles has been disregarded and flouted in the most open manner.
Putting aside the humanitarian question altogether, Article I. of the Berlin Act provides that the trade of all nations shall enjoy freedom in the basin of the Congo. Article V. provides that no Power exercising sovereign rights in the Congo basin shall be allowed to grant therein a monopoly or favour of any kind in matters of trade. But with the exception of a relatively small area in the lower Congo, and the further exception of small plots held by natives, the whole territory is claimed as the private property either of the State or of the holders of land concessions. I am not going into a long account of the history of the Congo, but the person who began showing up by his writings the establishment of trade monopolies in the Congo was Mr. D. Morel. The English Government sent its Consul, MR. Casement, an "African" of ability and experience, to make inquiries. He visited nearly all the concessionnaire territories in the Upper Congo where abuses were said to exist, and anyone reading his Report will see that every word in Lord Lansdowne's despatch was proved. Districts once densely populated have become almost depopulated, and cruelties have been committed too disgusting to mention. One would have thought this was proof enough. But. no. Its accuracy was contested by the King of the Belgians, and after many delays His Majesty appointed a Commission to make an even more extended examination of the Congo Free State. His Commissioners were Belgian, Swiss, and Italian jurists. Everyone, of course, thought they were the nominees of the King, and that being his creatures they would deny Consul Casement's Report. On the contrary, these Commissioners gained the confidence of the natives and the respect and admiration of the missionaries. Their Report appeared on 30th October, 1905, and, even if a little toned down before publication,, it was the most frank and damaging indictment of the Congo Free State methods that could have appeared from an official source. Let it be noted that 421 the witnesses' evidence has never been published.
What has been done? A White Paper was published in April last showing that a series of new decrees, embodying the recommendations of the Reform Commission, had been promulgated and that they had been sanctioned by the King of the Belgians. Judging from reports in this White Paper [Cd. 3450] from our consuls and missionaries, it is doubtful if those reforms have been carried out; but in fairness I feel bound to state that there has been some improvement. My noble friend Lord Hindlip, who was here on Monday when the debate was expected to come on but is now on his way to Canada, has asked me to submit his views in that direction to your Lordships. In his letter to me he begins by calling attention to the fact that on page 1 of the Report Mr. Mitchell, our Consul, says—Political conditions are satisfactory,and that on page 25 he states—In the Lindi district some seven or eight tons of rubber used to be collected monthly, whereas now only one ton is collected.Lord Hindlip says Mr. Mitchell does not know why the pressure has been thus taken off. He only says, answering the complaint re boatmen and carriers, that he obtained them without difficulty. On page 26 MR. Mitchell pays a tribute to the—industry and good conduct of nearly all the State agents I have met.In his letter to me Lord Hindlip continues:—MR. Armstrong reports that the A. B. I.R. zone is very bad; but at the end of his Report, on page 37, he says that ' the judicial officers now appear anxious and willing to put a stop | to the abuses of the past.' The old gentry system, personally, I should consider very dangerous, but Mr. Mitchell and Mr. Armstrong appear to disagree. The latter considers it a mistake, the former seems to agree with Monsieur Henri, who says he is in favour of it, and gives his reasons. Apparently these sentries are being replaced by practically unarmed messengers, and I am told by an acquaintance that no soldier is allowed out with his rifle, but I do not know, of course, if this is correct. The iniquitous system of armed capitas for tax collecting purposes is done away with. MR. Mitchell states that in the Aruwimi districts the tax of rubber appears to be moderate; and, personally, as far as I can see, the rate of wages where paid 422 compares favourably with the rates in other countries. On page 60, MR. Mitchell says: 'Strangely enough..…difficulty.Also on page 29 at the top— Workmen on the line.… striking.' On page 49, MR. Mitchell states—'It is only due to the general integrity and fairness of the local officials that the natives get any justice at all.' He complains that there are no pleaders to represent black complainants or prisoners, but I think that this is a universal complaint, not only in Africa. Dr. Wollaston, in a discussion after a lecture at the Royal Geographical Society a short lime ago, speaking of his recent experiences in the Congo, said that the Congo is not so black as it is painted. He was leader of the British Museum expedition to the Rewenzori district. I have no wish to defend the Congo, and certainly not the King of the Belgians, but the official correspondence and travellers' reports make me think that the case against the Congo is apt to be exaggerated. I do not know whether you saw the letter in the Spectator a month or six weeks ago from Bishop Tucker, of Uganda, in which lie draws a harrowing picture of slavery in Zanzibar and Mombasa. As a matter of fact, the slaves there are better off than their masters, and I believe it is a fact that there is at present a high caste Arab or Swahili working in a Government office in Zanzibar for the sole purpose of earning money to keep his slaves.Under the decrees the hours of labour were to be reduced from sixty to forty, but if there had been a reduction in the hours there would have been a diminution in the rubber export, whereas there has been no such diminution, and this was stated in the Belgian Parliament.
We have to look for another solution. The Independence Beige stated about the middle of last month that the Congo Annexation Bill would be laid before the Belgian Chamber, and that an extraordinary session would be held in October for this purpose. The people of this country are well aware of what has been going on, and is going on, in the Congo Free State. The Belgians also know it, and it must be clearly understood that if Belgium as a nation takes over the Congo Free State there must be a complete reversal of the present state of affairs, its principles and its claims. The annexation, if there is one, must be on the lines and in the terms of the Berlin Act. It is doubtful if annexation will be decided upon by the Belgian Chamber, for if Belgium took over the Congo I very much doubt if the present state of affairs would be allowed to continue, and, if altered for the better, there would be a decrease in the output of rubber and a corresponding decrease in revenue which 423 the Belgian taxpayer would have to bear.
A suggestion has been made that the Powers who signed the Berlin Act should agree that there should be an increase in the import duties on the Congo, to recoup any losses Belgium would incur under an altered state of administration. I put forward that suggestion as one way of getting out of the difficulty. And if Belgium does not annex we should invite another Conference of the Powers in the terms of Lord Lansdowne's despatch which holds good to-day as in 1903. In that despatch the noble Marquess said—His Majesty's Government are of opinion that it is incumbent upon the Powers parties to the Berlin Act to confer together and to consider whether the obligations undertaken by the Congo State in regard to the natives have been fulfilled; and, if not, whether the Signatory Powers arc not bound to make such representations as may secure the due observance of the provisions contained in the Act.Surely that has more force now that proof upon proof has been given of misrule on the Congo. If there was a Conference it could bring into being the, International Commission, which only requires the co-operation of five of the signatory Powers, and it could work on the lines of the Danube River Commission, which everyone said would be a failure, but which proved not to be so. With reference to this matter, I would quote the words of the present Undersecretary of State for Foreign Affairs on 9th June, 1904. The noble Lord then said—When the British Government accepted the International Commission they were not thinking of a Hirer Commission in the mere technical sense of the term, but believed with the other Powers that an International Commission would be of great use in establishing on the Congo the flag of civilisation, and that a Commission of that kind on that river would be a sign to all those who lived in that part of the world that civilisation was on the river. He had always regretted that since that time no attempt had been made to establish an International Commission on the Congo. He ventured to say that the Government should take every step they could for the establishment of an International Commission on that river.I wonder if the noble Lord is of the same opinion now. My noble friend Lord Fitzmaurice knows the Congo question by heart, for he was Under-Secretary of 424State for Foreign Affairs when the Congo Free State was called into existence.
Assuming that our representations to Belgium and the Powers fall through, what can we do? We can increase our Consuls in the Congo State, which we have a perfect right to do under our Treaty. I am perfectly certain that the state of affairs would then very soon change. This has been urged by the Foreign Secretary and by Lord Fitzmaurice in 1904 and 1905 and by Lord Lansdowne in 1906. All are agreed that we can exercise our rights in this respect. If the other Powers are jealous let them put Consuls there too— the more the better. We have even a right to put a gun-boat on the Upper Congo, which is an international highway like the Niger
There is one more important matter which goes to the root of the whole question. It seems that during the inquiry of the Commissioners appointed by King Leopold the president pointed out to the director of the concessionnaire company that the right to force labour from the people did not exist in the title deeds of the company. Labour on the Congo has been translated into rubber; and if they cannot force labour from the people the whole system breaks down. I ask the noble Lord if he will give us an assurance that he will apply for and publish copies of these documents. If they are procured they will show the whole system to lie illegal. I think the time has long passed for hesitation in this matter. While we are debating, the wretched natives are being bullied, tormented, and forced to labour, and King Leopold and the concessionnaire companies grow rich. Diplomacy and despatches regarding the Congo Free State have had their day, and if the Government choose to act the moment has now come. If England moves in the matter, I have no doubt the other Powers will not put hindrances in the way. We must take the lead; and it remains to be seen whether the Government have the courage of their opinions so often and so freely expressed.
*THE LORD BISHOP OF SOUTH-WARK
My Lords, I think we are in danger of suffering from our own unity 425 in this matter. If we could put a little "ginger" into the debate in the way of a suggestion of censure on the Foreign Office for its conduct in the matter, present or past, the benches would not be so empty as they are to-night. I think that has been illustrated by the two last speeches to which we have listened. We were anxious, after the very full and effective statement of the noble Lord below the gangway, to hear what would be said on the other side. We heard a rumour that there was a noble Lord who intended coming down to the House and attempting what appeared to us the very difficult task of defending the Congo administration; but the House is informed that the noble Lord in question is now crossing the ocean; and the noble Lord who has just sat down, while conveying in a chivalrous manner the message which his friend had given him to the effect that there was some improvement in the state of things on the Congo, was himself whole-heartedly in favour of action being taken to bring that state of things to an end.
It used also to be said that the agitation against the Congo is got up by Protestants, and that Roman Catholics are by no means of the same mind. But, whatever may lie the case in Belgium, the Roman Catholics of England are with us in this as was shown by the speech of the noble Lord opposite, Lord Clifford of Chudleigh, who threw the whole weight of his opinion on the same side. This is a subject on which it is difficult for anyone to claim the attention of the House. If we speak we seem to be labouring a cause which is proved up to the hilt, and if we keep silent we do an injustice both to ourselves and to those great sections of public opinion which we represent. I believe the noble Lord below the gangway was perfectly right in saying that this question is getting a strong hold upon the heart and mind of the country. He has attended meetings in all parts of the country. Outside my own region I have only attended one. It was a large meeting held in one of the great halls of Liverpool, and to see the intensity with which that meeting of strong and sturdy Englishmen took up all the points and demonstrated their indignation was an experience of a most moving kind.
This matter is free from any political or controversial consideration, and on 426 that very ground it will, in the long run, produce a stronger force of public opinion. This is a matter where the moral forces are at issue with the material. I do not think we can measure the power that this scooping in of revenue on the part of the Sovereign of the Congo State gives to him. There is danger of influence behind the Press, of lobbying and suborning public opinion, and knowing how great those influences may be even in free countries, I am almost surprised that the overwhelming strength of this case should have forced itself as it has done on men of all parties in this country. We are, perhaps, and rightly, more reticent than our fathers in our reference to the stern justice of Almighty God by which in the end these things are governed. But it is not we who first introduced here that Sacred Name. At the head of the Berlin Act are the words, "In the name of Almighty God," and the contents of the Act are not unworthy of that august preface, including as they do professions of consideration for the native, care for the progress of civilisation, and all the splendid motives of philanthropy and goodness to which the international representatives then appealed. But even if we lower our hearts from that ultimate source of justice and its methods, we cannot help seeing how the penal consequences may work out. Sir Harry Johnston, who knows Africa better than most men, has told us that what is really at issue is the reputation of Europe and the reputation of England; and it is very easy to imagine how such deeds might engender in the souls of the native population of Africa the gravest forces of hatred and antagonism to the white man, and contempt for what his civilisation means, of which the future only can show the result.
*THE UNDER-SECRETARY OF STATE FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS (Lord FITZMAURICE)
My Lords, I am glad there has been in the course of this interesting debate almost a consensus of opinion in regard to the facts. It is true that Lord Clifford of Chudleigh mentioned some things which were to be said on behalf of the administration of the Congo Free State. They had constructed certain railways, had attempted to cope with the evils of the liquor traffic, and had taken a useful part in co-operating with other Powers to combat the gigantic 427 evils of the sleeping sickness. But this rendered all the more striking the noble Lord's condemnation of the main features of the administration, evils which they have almost deliberately created for themselves by entirely disregarding the experience of other countries, painfully gained.
The old East India Company has been instanced. The century before last there were great struggles in both Houses in this country as to how far it was desirable to allow that company to be both a trading company and to hold administrative sway. And, as time went on, in each successive charter that was granted the administrative powers of the East India Company were more and more limited, and the government of India ultimately was entirely taken over by the Crown. Such was the experience by which this and other countries have been almost universally guided. But some years after the Berlin Conference the Congo Free State threw aside all the experience of the past and proceeded to introduce principles of government which were bound, by an almost fatal necessity, to bring them and the natives whom they governed into the terrible position in which they now stand at the bar of Europe.
The opinion of Sir Harry Johnston has often been alluded to in the course of these debates. Sir Harry Johnston is one of the first amongst living authorities on African government, if not, indeed, the highest; and in a letter which appeared in The Times the other day he gave his opinion as follows—The kernel of the mischief on the Congo is that the natives' proprietary rights in and over their own country are absolutely ignored, are vested without any deed of cession or purchase in a foreign, far-distant absentee, a personage who has never seen the Congo and has long been selling the land of the people and the produce thereof over the heads of the inhabitants to other Europeans. It may be argued that, in constituting himself the sole owner or landlord of the vast Congo region, King Leopold intended to administer this country in a fiduciary capacity and for the benefit of the Congo people. But he has never published any accounts to show how he has acquitted himself in this capacity, or how he has expended the funds derived from the land and produce of the country entrusted to his supervision by Europe, a country of which he claims (except for the sites of villages and mission stations) to be the sole disposer. This inherently vicious 428 system must not be handed over from the King-Sovereign to the Belgian nation.That brings me to the present position of the question. Your Lordships are entitled to ask His Majesty's Government what progress they have made towards a solution of this question since the debates of last year. I may be permitted to make a friendly protest against its being thought that the attitude of His Majesty's Government has been one of comparative indifference. I do not think my noble friend who introduced this debate quite intended to convey that impression, nor do I think the noble Lord will on reflection stand by what he said in regard to the contrast between the utterances of Sir Edward Grey and myself in the House of Commons from the Front Opposition Bench in 1904 and our utterances since we came into office. I absolutely deny that what we then said was intended in any sense as a criticism of what was done by the noble Marquess opposite when he was head of the Foreign Office. Sir Edward Grey touched upon the question of Consular jurisdiction, and I personally spoke of the establishment of an International River Commission on the Congo. The noble Marquess by his action endorsed those opinions, and we have since followed upon the same lines. But we have never disguised from ourselves that there are grave difficulties arising from the fact that this is an international question, and, because we are entitled under European instruments to express an opinion, we are bound before we take any extreme action of our own to have exhausted every remedy which the international instruments before us furnish. If we were to plunge into sudden and unsupported action, I doubt whether the opinion of the people of this country would be with us, and, even if it were with us, we should run a risk in this delicate matter of doing an injury to the great cause of humanity by rash action and possible failure. I may remind the House that the Foreign Office under the noble Marquess opposite did issue a circular fully supported by the opinion of this country, but the replies received from the Powers to which that circular was addressed were not of the character which the noble Marquess or we could have hoped. In regard to the questions of 429 the establishment of Consular jurisdiction and the River Commission, we must be careful that whatever proposals are placed before the Powers are proposals which have a reasonable hope of being adopted. One of the difficulties arises from the number of instruments which have to be considered. The separate treaties recognising the Congo Free State by the several Powers and the Act of the Berlin Conference are not the same, but separate documents. Therefore, we have to examine these documents most carefully so as to secure that any proposal we make shall be one to which no successful objection of a technical character can be made by any of the Powers. There is sometimes a tendency to forget that the establishment of a Consular Court only gives direct protection to foreign subjects. The establishment of the Consular Court would be a very insufficient thing by itself to bring good government into this most misgoverned region. Although I have for some years passed been active in pressing for the setting up of an international River Commission, I am not prepared to say that the establishment of such a Commission by itself would be sufficient to bring back good government to the Congo. Years ago I had the honour of being one of the British plenipotentiaries who negotiated the existing settlement in regard to the Danube, but it was never supposed that the River Commission was enough to restore good order and government in Bulgaria, and other and far larger measures had to be taken.
Public opinion here must not imagine that the Foreign Office has got under its own control some measures which could be put into force to-morrow to bring about the desired state of affairs. In the debate last year I stated that there was hope of this question being taken up by the Belgian Parliament. Since then, although progress has not been very rapid, progress has been made, and a Parliamentary Commission was appointed. A Ministerial crisis supervened, but we are told that in the course of the early autumn His Majesty's Government will be in possession of new proposals by the Belgian Government. Under these circumstances would it be wise that either I or Sir Edward Grey in another place should use language which, 430 however carefully chosen, might possibly be misunderstood, and certainly would always be liable to misrepresentation, language which might be seized upon by the adversaries of the views which your Lordships unanimously hold, and thus endanger the very objects which we all have at heart?
I make no complaint that this is disappointing to my noble friend. I ask him to believe that I also am disappointed to have once more to make an appeal for time and patience. I make that appeal, not because these grievances are small. Perhaps nobody has been more active then myself for many years, both in the Government and in opposition, in attempting to get introduced a better condition of affairs in the Congo. I have been accused very freely in foreign newspapers of acting as I have done because I was opposed to the original constitution of the Congo State, and because I had most of the responsibility of the Anglo-Portugese Treaty. Be that as it may, I only allude to those events to show to those who are inclined to suggest that Sir Edward Grey and myself may be indifferent and too fond of caution and delay, that there are no people in the world less open to such a charge than we are. But while anxious to see a radical change brought about, we shall not allow our sympathies and feelings to carry us off our feet. The people of this country are entitled to say that the Government must choose the right means of obtaining the end which we desire; lest by hurried and perfunctory action we run the risk of some diplomatic rebuff and failure which might perhaps indefinitely put back the cause.
I have great confidence in the people and Parliament of Belgium. I think they will do the right thing because they desire the right object. They have before them the demands of civilisation, the voice of religion, the cry of common humanity, all united to implore them to do what is right. "Let right prevail "; that is all we ask. It is perhaps remarkable that the eyes of the civilised world should at this moment be centred upon the two neighbouring capitals, The Hague and Brussels. In 431 the one a Conference is sitting from which it is hoped that great advantage will flow to the cause of peace; and in any case some limitations may be imposed upon the customs of war to the advantage of neutrals and the inhabitants of the countries even of belligerents. But the task of the Hague Conference is one concerned with a multitude of complicated questions. The very constitution of the Conference is one which necessarily leads to deliberation and possibly to delay. But the Parliament of Belgium is dealing with another question, as much concerned with the cause of civilisation as even the great Conference at The Hague; and their task, although it has its difficulties, is, compared at least with the work of The Hague Conference, one of comparative simplicity.
May we not hope that before the year is out both at The Hague Conference and also at Brussels, a great work will have been done for civilisation and for humanity t In any case, until I see it in black and white, I shall refuse to believe that the Belgian Parliament and the Belgian people will not do their duty in this matter. On behalf of the Foreign Office and of the Government I say that we believe in the sense of equity and justice of the Belgian people and in the wisdom of the Belgian Parliament; and we believe also that before the year is terminated, even if this question has not entered upon its final stage—and that perhaps would be hoping for too much—we shall be able to report that great and substantial progress has been made in the solution of this question and towards redressing the wrongs of those unhappy people who have found such eloquent advocates in your Lordships' House to-night.
§ *THE MARQUESS OF LANSDOWNE
My Lords, if I venture to add a few words to what has already been said on this subject, it is because I am afraid that if I remain silent my silence might be misunderstood, and I should regret that there should be any doubt as to the manner in which I regard the important subject which your Lordships have been discussing this evening. I have never shrunk from expressing frankly my views 432 in regard to it, both in and out of Parliament, both by word of mouth and on paper.
I say at once that I do not yield to any of the noble Lords who have preceded me this evening in my profound dissatisfaction at the condition of things which prevails in the Congo Free State. The same odious system of terrorism continues. We have the same only too well-founded reports of the brutal treatment of the natives. We have the same forced labour, the same ignoring of the proprietary rights of the natives. All these things continue. And we have also that combination in the same persons of administration and trading which, as we all know, lends itself so much to the perpetration of these abuses. I, too, am greatly disappointed at the small progress which has been made in redressing these iniquities. We can perhaps, at any rate, say that more light has been let into this dark region, and I am extremely obliged to my noble friend Lord Monkswell for his reference to the efforts which I made in that direction during the time that I was responsible for the foreign affairs of this country. But the disease remains, and I think the most rev. Prelate was correct when he told us that what we had to deal with was, not the acts of brutality and cruelty which we constantly hear of, but the system of which those acts are the natural and inevitable outcome. It is the system itself which has to be changed before we shall cease to hear of these acts.
I read with great satisfaction the statement made the other day elsewhere by the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, and I took note in particular of a single expression which he used, and which seemed to me to sum up the case very aptly indeed. Sir Edward Grey said that I what we wanted was "results, and not: reforms." I hope we shall insist upon I results. What, then, is the most promising mode of endeavouring to obtain those results? We have had various suggestions made to us this evening. One or two of the noble Lords who have spoken made no secret of their preference for what, I think, they described as drastic measures. One of them suggested a gunboat. A gunboat is always suggested in such cases. But I confess that 433 at this moment, at any rate, I should be very reluctant indeed to see measures of that kind resorted to. It is at the best a clumsy, and very often an ineffective remedy. You may apply coercion if you want to obtain payment of a sum of money or the cession of a certain portion of territory, or perhaps the dismissal of an official. But you cannot obtain reforms by means of the sending of gunboats or by any other manifestation of that kind. You cannot send a, force to penetrate into these remote places and supervise the actual way in which the administration of the country is carried out. Therefore, I am not very much in favour of these drastic proceedings.
Then we come to the other suggestion, —the suggestion of a conference. I am not going to say a word in disparagement of a conference, because a conference was my particular remedy, which I endeavoured to bring about. My noble friend opposite has reminded the House that the results of that attempt were by no means encouraging. Your Lordships, will, I think, recollect j that, although we made a very strong appeal to the Powers, our appeal met with no response, and no conference was called. You cannot compel Governments which do not wish to take part in a conference to associate themselves with you in such a policy. Before you can expect really to gain anything from a conference you must be sure that two conditions are present. You must be sure that the other Powers concerned are Mailing to take part in a conference, and you must also be reasonably satisfied that they are prepared to give effect to the kind of policy that you intend to recommend to them. If neither of those conditions is present the only result of a conference is to exhibit in the most public and unfortunate manner the discord which exists, and the cause which you are really endeavouring to promote stands a very fair chance of losing, instead of gaining, ground.
Although, to my mind, neither measures of coercion nor the invitation to a conference at this moment holds out very promising prospects, we may I trust look in other directions for more hopeful symptoms. My noble friend has told 434 the House how matters stand at Brussels with regard to the movement which has for some time been on foot for the annexation of the Congo State by the Belgian Government. I am persuaded that if that annexation can be brought about, and brought about on proper conditions—because I think that is a most important reservation—that is really by far the most promising solution of which the circumstances admit. We know the Belgian Government to be a humane and enlightened Government, and we have every reason to hope that the Congo State administered by the Belgian Government would soon come to wear a very different aspect from that which it presents to the world at present. But I do feel that if, as I believe is the case, we have a right to assume that a genuine movement in favour of annexation is at this moment in progress, the time is not one when we should, either by our acts or by our language in Parliament, do anything which might have the effect of embarrassing the Belgian Government and increasing the difficulty of the task before it.
At such a moment I should say by all means let us give all the diplomatic encouragement we possibly can to the movement for annexation, but let us be careful how we use any language which might be interpreted by the Belgian Government as implying threats or dictation. I have only to say that I was glad to listen to the hopeful language used by my noble friend who represents the Foreign Office towards the close of his remarks. I trust that before many months we may find that events will move rapidly in the direction of annexation, and that we may be in a position to congratulate ourselves upon a distinctly improved prospect. I was not less pleased to hear the words spoken by the representative of the Foreign Office this evening, which suggested to the House that if those hopes should be unfortunately frustrated, His Majesty's Government would certainly not regard themselves as being at the end of their resources, and that they would be prepared—but only at the proper time— to resort to other measures, which, of course, it would be most unfair to specify or to describe at the present time, for 435 the purpose of putting an end to a condition of things profoundly mortifying to all who have at heart the honour and reputation of this country.
§ THE LORD PRIVY SEAL (The Marquess of RIPON)
My Lords, I wish to thank the noble Marquess for the speech he has just made, and for the just appreciation which he entertains of the position at the present moment. In the debate which took place in this House last year it was laid down, with the agreement of both sides, that there was then a hope that the question would be taken up by the Belgian Government with a possible view of the annexation of the Congo State by Belgium, and that it was very undesirable that any language should be used or any steps taken which might be unacceptable to the people of Belgium or which might appear on our part to be unduly interfering in a matter which lay, no doubt, entirely in their own discretion. There has been delay—a delay which, as my noble friend said, is mortifying and deeply to be regretted; but it is only consistent with the policy which was expressed last year that the Government should be very careful not to do anything which would have the appearance of interference with the discretion of the Belgian Parliament. But, my Lords, I do not regret that this discussion has taken place. I think that the time has come when it is important that one of the Houses of the British Parliament should say that the opinion of this country is unchanged on this question, and that there is practically, with respect to the principles of the matter, perfect unanimity among both parties in this country. That has been shown by the discussion to-day. But if, as I think wisely and properly, the Secretary of State has hesitated to do anything which would look like undue pressure upon the free action of the Belgian Government, there is no doubt that, looking at the responsibilities which we have upon us, and looking to those international instruments to which my noble friend has alluded and by which we and other nations are bound—there is no doubt that the policy which has hitherto guided us does not relieve us from our responsibilities, which necessarily rest upon us by our engagements. I agree, therefore, with the noble Marquess in the policy he has described. I share 436 with him the belief in the inapplicability of any system of force, and I agree with him entirely in the matter of a conference. There is only one matter to which the noble Marquess does not allude—namely, the certainty that a conference, according to all recent experience, is not a speedy manner of settling an international difficulty. We ask for patience, though there has been no lack of patience. But we are bound to be patient with a great and free people, and therefore we ask that a certain amount of patience should be accorded to us.
My Lords, I must say one word in personal explanation after what has been said by my noble friend the Under-Secretary. I never suggested for a moment that my noble friend was indifferent to these Congo atrocities. All I said was that the Government were somewhat too cautious in the matter. I accept absolutely the noble Lord's explanation that neither ho nor Sir Edward Grey intended, in the debate in June, 1904, to criticise in any way the action of the noble Marquess. If he says so, no doubt it is correct; but, on reading the debate, it did not occur to me that it was anything other than a rather severe censure on the action of the noble Marquess. My noble friend has not categorically answered the appeal I made to him to say whether annexation does not interfere with the Berlin Act. I understand that the position of England is perfectly sound on that matter. We have, no doubt, no right to suggest to Belgium whether she should annex or not, but we have a right to suggest that the matter would not be settled by annexation. I would like to ask my noble friend whether he is willing to give the title deeds or some Papers showing the powers of the concessionnaires, and what title they have to enforce forced labour on the natives. As regards the rest of the Papers, I shall be satisfied with the assurance of the noble Lord that at the first opportunity he will lay such Papers on the Table as may be expedient.
I had intended to suggest to my noble friend Lord Mayo that he should communicate with the Foreign Office in regard to the particular Papers he desired. If those Papers can be laid, we shall be able to 437 comply with his request. I need hardly say that I shall do all in my power to satisfy his wishes; but I do not think it would be prudent for me to give a positive pledge until I know exactly what the Papers are which he desires.
§ Motion, by leave, withdrawn.