§ *THE LORD BISHOP OF WINCHESTER rose to call attention to the affairs of the Congo. The right rev. Prelate said: My Lords, I do not think that even at this time, when our minds are preoccupied with matters so grave, I need make any apology to your Lordships for asking a few minutes' attention to the subject which I have put on the Paper. Whatever the gravity of the relations between classes here, anyone, I think, who has considered the future must feel that the relations between nations and races are at least as grave. I think it would further be admitted that the matter of the Congo State has been for some years past the premier case of anxiety and even of danger, moral and political, in regard to the relations between the white races and the coloured. I cannot express that better than in the words of the Foreign Secretary, who said that "no external question for at least thirty years has moved this country so strongly and vehemently."
There was a great force of public opinion, which came not only from quarters where opinion upon these subjects may be thought to be a little too lively and excitable, but which expressed itself through a great meeting in each large centre of population and industry presided over in case after case by the chief magistrate of the city. That opinion found voice also in the men whom we are accustomed to look to most for official interpretation, or something like official interpretation, of the opinion of the country. The noble Marquess the Leader of the Opposition, the present Foreign Secretary, the noble Earl who now sits upon
the Front Bench (Lord Cromer) expressed themselves in language which I should think had had few parallels in comment upon the conduct of another State concerning the breach of faith, as it was considered, between the promises made when the Congo Free State was started and the actual performances. The cynicism with which methods of unexampled cruelty were carried out justified that strength of feeling in the country and that strength of expression on the part of responsible men who are accustomed to weigh their words. That strength of feeling was due, I think, to two causes—first, the character of the régime which then prevailed in the Congo; and, secondly, the fact that the conscience and best opinions of this country felt that quite unmistakably we had a responsibility in the Congo. I need hardly justify that statement. It has been made by statesman after statesman, but I may just quote the expression, for instance, used by the noble Marquess the Leader of the Opposition, who said—
I cannot admit that there is any doubt as to our right.
I shall refer to that again in another connection. I think we shall all feel that when there has been a great agitation of that kind, an agitation thoroughly justifiable and thoroughly representative of the best feeling and conscience of the country, it is a serious and anxious matter to watch what the issue of it is—whether it proves ineffective altogether, whether it dies down leaving public opinion disappointed and wearied, and is succeeded by a period of lassitude and want of interest in the matter. And I feel that if in this House, after some time has passed and when we are at a critical point, perhaps one of the last critical points in the history, we showed no interest in the matter, we should be lacking rather in our duty.
§ What was the result of that agitation? I am bound to say that I am doubtful whether it would have achieved anything had it not been for the death of the principal actor in these transactions. I do not know whether those who represent us diplomatically were or were not to blame, hut it seems to me extremely doubtful whether, but for that death, anything would have followed. It is true that the Congo Free State had been a few months before the death of King Leopold II transferred to Belgium, but it had been transferred in a way which showed no concern whatever for 588 the representations made on behalf of this country and under conditions which gave no guarantee for any improvement. But the whole scene changed with the death of King Leopold, and this country entered upon the new stage with, I think, a great feeling of hope. Belgium has always been a country with which we have had close relations. We have the feelings which connect together two races that have stood for freedom and whose interests of industry and so on are largely the same. Therefore I think England expected from that change a great deal. We hoped for the influence of a Parliamentary régime and we hoped for the influence of a young new Monarch who was known, both in Europe and, as the Papers show, in the Congo, to take so much interest in the matter that it might be well expected that a great deal would follow. And so, as regards public opinion here, I should describe what happened by saying that public opinion became passive in the matter, though I do not think it lost its interest, and I believe that in many quarters of society you would find that people were rather anxiously watching to see what next would follow.
§ If I may say so, I do not think any very great pains were taken to satisfy legitimate anticipations in that way. I believe I am right in saying that the most rev. Primate some time ago expressed in this House the opinion that it would be very desirable if we could be more rapidly supplied with such Papers as the Government might have in their possession. All through this Congo business there has been some strange reluctance—perhaps those who understand foreign affairs better than I do can explain it—to bring out Papers which were perfectly fit for publication and which were finally published, but which were not brought out without delay. I only say that in passing. But we now have a considerable body of opinion in the White Paper, Africa No. 2 (1911). What does that show? In the first place, it gives the fullest justification to the agitation in England; it justifies fully what was felt and said about the system which had prevailed; it shows that the movement of moral opinion—I claim no monopoly, I am thankful to say, for that to England, for there were forces in other countries, notably in Germany and in some degree in France, which were taking the same side—it shows that all that movement of opinion has had a great deal of result.589
§ At one definite result it has had every lover of humanity must rejoice. It seems pretty plain that throughout the Congo district, perhaps throughout the whole area, outrages as we understand that word have disappeared. There are no longer the horrible mutilations, the cutting off of hands, the treatment of women and the rest. These, things have passed away with the malign influence by which they were sheltered. I think that that would in itself be an enormous relief to public opinion. But, of course, it might possibly be a relief out of proportion to the real value, because outrages appeal to our sentiments, and a system out of which the outrages have proceeded may really threaten harm which is not so much noticed, which is not, if I may say so, so sensational, but against which there is almost as much reason to protest. All through in this agitation the principles of which the outrages were the outcome had been kept quite steadily in view. It has never been a question of merely saying that such and such a case of intolerable cruelty on a large scale, amounting to the decimation of the population and so on—it has never been said that those, and those alone, are the acts against which we protest. On the contrary, it has been said over and over again that these follow as a matter of course from a system which does not treat the native as a free man, which does not allow him any property in the land which is his own, which denies him, therefore, the opportunity of trading and of true progress, and which, in fact, exploits a great country for the sole benefit of a foreign race of a different colour.
§ I think we may say, not only that the outrages have disappeared, but that there is evidence that the present Government of Belgium has done a great deal to alter the whole manner of treatment of the country. We are fold in this White Paper that there are signs that '"the former régime is undergoing radical change," and there are other parts of the White Book which amply confirm that. Perhaps I may mention one point which in some ways is the surest of indications. We know what enormous sums have been wrung out of the Congo under the Leopoldian system. We all wondered when Belgium took over the Congo what it would do in that respect; whether it would keep on wringing money out, or whether it would agree to be a loser. The Budget statistics given in the White 590 Paper show that receiving on the part of Belgium is more or less at an end, and that some degree of spending is taking its place. I should like just to say at this point that the evidence of improvement comes, not only from our Consuls, to whom we all feel we owe so great a debt in the whole history of this matter for informing and enlightening opinion in a very intrepid way but also from the missionaries. Perhaps I have a professional prejudice in favour of missionaries, but I do think that it is often suspected by public opinion generally that a missionary is a man who is always ready to complain and perhaps by so doing to make himself a nuisance. I think in the matter of the Congo we can hardly exaggerate what we owe to the missionaries—not connected with my own Church at all—who were greatly responsible for bringing to light the horrors of what happened. But I want now to point out that the same class of men speak with complete frankness about the improvement that has taken place, and seem to enjoy speaking well of their rulers at least as much as they can be supposed by some to have enjoyed speaking evil of them.
§ Perhaps your Lordships think that at that point I might leave the matter. Opinion has worked an enormous improvement. The Belgian Government has lent itself to the influence of that opinion, which, let it be remembered, some of the men who now compose the Belgian Government scoffed at and denounced as futile and mistaken. Therefore it may be said that we can leave the future to take care of itself. But, my Lords, I should like to give one or two reasons why I think the policy of leaving the future to take care of itself would be an entirely mistaken one. First of all, we have to take account of the fact that all through one of the reasons which seem to us and to our Government to justify protest and action has been steadily denied on the part of those who were responsible for the Belgian Government, and denied in terms which I think no Government of a first-class Power could have allowed without challenge on the part of another first-class Power—terms which certainly showed no superfluous courtesy or consideration, to say the least. The Belgian Government has always, before the death of King Leopold II and since, thrown back in the face of our Foreign Office any claim, which here everybody believes to be just on the part 591 of Great Britain, to interfere in the matter at all on the ground of Treaty right and of the particular way in which the Congo State was set up. I think we might have hoped from the sister country of Belgium, when they came to recognise by their action that in the main the agitation here had been thoroughly justified and when in the main what was asked for had been done, that some frankness and acknowledgment, some courtesy, might have been given to us in return for the almost invincible courtesy with which the Foreign Secretary of this country had treated the Belgian Government. That, perhaps, is not a matter of any great importance—words are not deeds. But I think we cannot read the evidence before us and say that all cruelty—cruelty, I mean, even such as is condemned by the rather low standard which I am afraid prevails in many places between European and native races—that all such cruelty has disappeared. We find still that the "chicotte," the hippopotamus whip, is in use. We find that there is a supply of arms going on to chiefs, some of them not the legitimate chiefs of the people but soldiers who have been put into chiefs' places and who keep troops of a low native type—always one of the worst incidents in the whole matter—and who by such measures as can be supposed accumulate wives to themselves.
But let that pass. Let us come to the very heart of the matter. The representatives of our Government insisted again and again that the system was wrong right through, and must disappear. It is against all fair international dealing with the subject race to confiscate the land; it is against the elementary rights of the native, to destroy his power to trade and to force him to labour, not for his own benefit, but for the benefit of the governing Power. What has been the case, then, about the system? Has it been root and branch abolished? We all know what happened. The Belgian Government determined to deal with the system by instalments. In 1910 there was to be the abolition of forced labour and there was to be free trade throughout one section of the country, and so it happened. In 1911 there was to be the same through another section, and so again it happened; and in July of the present year the same thing is to extend to the last section of the Congo State, and so I believe it certainly will happen.
Criticisms have been made upon that method of dealing with the matter, and when we realise how evil the thing has been some impatience at seeing it abolished in that piecemeal way is not unnatural. But I do not think we should make too much of that. We know how difficult it is to change in these matters and how much is involved. But I think we are bound to notice that the land into which the new system was first brought was just the land which had been most exhausted. Therefore the land in which the old system still lasts, with many of its attendant evils, is the best field for exploitation. Let me quote from the White Paper to justify that—
The 1910 area, except for a few oases, is practically exhausted.
With regard to the other area, we read—
Forest rubber is fast disappearing, and by the time the Government surrenders the monopoly on this produce there will be none left.
And meanwhile—this is what seems to me the ugliest feature of the case—in the last area—that is, the 1912 area—where the pressure of the tyrannical system could still produce large results in rubber the system has been pressed with ruthless severity. That statement is made by Vice-Consul Armstrong with reference to the Uele district. The Vice-Consul says that the system could not be abolished at one blow, but I think any one who reads his description would say that that was a very mild way of expressing the truth. The old system is going to be pushed; on up to the hilt until the day in July this year is reached—I mean exacting from the native labour at the rate of three days in every four, or twenty-five days in the month, pursuing the native into the forest and forcing him to labour. We read that—
Every effort was made to obtain as much rubber as possible with a total disregard of the means employed by the chiefs to enforce it.
The Vice-Consul also uses these words—
A direct system of slavery has been created and is maintained by the Government.
Now, my Lords, I think that is not only an important point in itself, but that it has further importance in raising in our minds a certain amount of distrust about Belgian action even under the altered and better system. There is another point upon which I think some real stress should be laid—namely, that the Government of Belgium, in abolishing this abominable and unjust system and in setting up those improved conditions to which I have tried
to do full justice, reserves to itself, and is known to reserve to itself, a power of revoking these concessions and falling back upon the older methods. I should like here, if I may, to state the words of one who I think is universally respected in this matter, and if his countrymen had listened a little more attentively to him we should have got, I think, earlier to better results—I mean M. Vandervelde. These are his words—
The State reserves to itself the right to limit, to suppress, or to alienate the areas in which the light of the natives to gather produce is exercised, and to maintain or to extend the concessions system.
I understand the concessions system to mean putting the whole territory into the hands of a company and letting them do to a large extent what they like. He adds—
All the territories, or nearly all, whose exploitations have proved remunerative have been reserved for exploitation.
I ask you to consider what the effect of this power of revocation is upon the native, and I also ask your Lordships to consider—what others are far better able to discuss than myself—the effect it must have on trade, because if security be the first condition, as I suppose it to be, of the development of trade, then the absence of a guarantee for the future would certainly be against that development of trade, which almost more than anything we desire to see in the Congo area. This is no imaginary risk: more than one of our Consuls appear to report that a return to the old system is regarded as a very real possibility.
§ There are other points connected with that which combine to cause us suspicion. There is the maintenance of a standing force of low-paid black soldiers; there is the fact that many of those who are working the new régime in Belgium and probably in the Congo are people who worked—shall I say contentedly—in connection with the old régime, and there are certain other sinister things because they are so capable of further development—I mean requisitions of labour for works of public utility and for revenue purposes and works for Government profit. When we find those things still going on, when we find also that upon a tremendously exhausted country taxation is still exceptionally heavy, when we find that the Government itself is entering into competition with traders, I think there are elements of danger in all that which cannot be regarded with other than very grave consideration.594
What, then, is the duty of England in those, circumstances? I would submit that the duty of England is not to relax such hold as she already has, which is not a very great hold. What is it? It is, as your Lordships probably all know, that hitherto this country has not recognised—to use the technical phrase—the annexation of the Congo by Belgium. In answer to this the Belgian authorities have steadily "bluffed" all claims on our part to interfere. It has been said on our side that in requiring improvements we were only claiming our Treaty rights and discharging our Treaty obligations. So the Foreign Secretary said; and it has been said by the noble Marquess opposite that he could not admit that there was any doubt of our right to interfere. And with that right in his hand, the Foreign Secretary, in a memorable declaration, said—
It must be a condition precedent to any transfer of the Congo to another authority that that authority should take it over on terms—
Here I think the statement becomes a little indefinite—
which would place it in a position to give assurances and to guarantee that those assurances shall be carried out and the Treaty obligations of the Congo fulfilled.
We all know how that was understood here. It was understood to mean that whatever power, diplomatic at least, England possessed would be employed to prevent annexation unless guarantees were given; we know that it was so complained of by Belgium; and we know that the interpretation was true, because when the guarantees were not given the British Government, though it entirely failed to back up its strong words with strong deeds, did not recognise annexation.
Recognition is the one remaining weapon or lever in our hands. The reports of the Consuls show it to be assumed in the country that if once England recognises the annexation there is an end to all interference with the internal affairs whether by England or by any other country. It has then passed out of the condition of international guarantee into a position of international independence. Therefore if I ha\e put the case rightly before your Lordships it will mean that Great Britain acquiesces in a system which, except for outrages, still retains, either in execution or in reserve, the principles of the system against which the protests were made. I should like to express
what I desire to say in the words of one of our Consuls—
The Belgian Government has yet to make good its claim that the native will be justly and humanely treated, and that forced labour will not be permitted.
I venture to claim your attention for one moment more because I cannot end without referring to what does appear to me to be a very regrettable utterance on the part of one of our representatives. On Page 52 of the White Paper we have an account from Sir Arthur Hardinge, our representative in Brussels, of an interview between himself and the Belgian Minister. In his Despatch to Sir Edward Grey he alludes to the fact that in 1912 the whole area will be free, and then he says—
and it will probably then be possible for you consistently with the attitude "which you have throughout maintained, to recognise, or at least to seriously consider the recognition of. Belgian rule in the Congo, and thus close a disagreeable chapter in the history of our relations with this country.
I speak with submission, but in that last phrase I seem to recognise what has been, perhaps, a weakness in our whole treatment of the matter—namely, that looked at from Brussels and not from Africa, the happiness or unhappiness of our relations with Belgium bulk rather larger than the happiness or the unhappiness of the natives of the Congo. I cannot but think it matter for regret that, in view of those reasons which I have tried to state for a considerable remainder of anxiety on the part of this country about the future action of Belgium, Sir Arthur Hardinge went in front of his chief, and I may almost say half committed his chief to a course of recognition, instead of, for the remainder of the time at the very least, leaving whatever power the withholding of recognition gives in the hands of the Home Government.
§ I hope I have not occupied your Lord ships' attention too long. I should like to ask the noble Viscount who represents the Foreign Office whether he can give us any satisfaction on the matter, and in particular whether he can tell us that the Foreign Office—we have, I believe, an assurance that it will not proceed without giving an opportunity to Parliament and to the country of considering what it intends to do—will not proceed without considering very gravely whether before recognition there should not be some more distinct assertion by the Belgian Government that what it has been largely doing, and what it purposes still further 596 to do in the remainder of the area within a few months, shall represent a permanent change in the method of administration, and shall therefore give at the eleventh hour to the peoples of the Congo, and to those who on this side of the water are looking to the credit of the white races in Africa, the guarantee which has been so often asked.
§ VISCOUNT MORLEY
My Lords, last year the most rev. Primate called the attention of the House to this grave matter. He took a slightly different tone from that of the right rev. Prelate who has just addressed us, and who certainly need not for a moment have apologised for detaining us too long. We all listened to what he said with the greatest interest and attention. But last year the most rev. Primate admitted that we needed to exercise great patience in forming our opinions and stating our demands as to measures to be taken by the Belgian Government in what he called truly a limited region shrouded from our view, and I think the right rev. Prelate who has just spoken has not quite made allowance enough for the enormous difficulties which are interposed in the way of getting correct and authentic and sound information. At the same time, the Government have no complaint whatever to make of the right rev. Prelate for introducing the matter.
Last year the most rev. Primate used what I thought was a very good expression. He warned us that after one great step in reform had been taken, and before its fruits were reaped, time was a great narcotic. But, apart from that, there is no lassitude and no indifference in the public mind in this country at this moment. What there is is a feeling that the arduous experiment of the transformation of the system of government of the Congo from the terrible system that did prevail, and the substitution for it of a system more conformable to decent humanity, is a thing which does take time and which requires consideration. For example, when the American Union had their great struggle for the abolition of slavery there was impatience, of course, but sensible people felt—in fact circumstances made them feel—that there could not in a moment be substituted for the system of slavery in the Southern States of the American Union a free system; and in our own case—though I do not remember the details—I am pretty sure that from 597 the first step when we abolished the slave trade there was a long interval before a satisfactory substitution of a new system came into force. So now, without in the least wanting to relax the pressure of opinion in this country, we must still be perfectly just and reasonable in the demand which we make either in the shape of public opinion or through the Foreign Office.
There is a suspicion—and the right rev. Prelate has given voice to it—which I think is as yet an unreasonable suspicion, that somehow or another the recognition of the annexation of this unregulated zone on July 1 of this year when the third zone is finally taken in, is going to be something surreptitious and outside of public view. This is not so, and I wish that the right rev. Prelate had given a little more emphasis to Sir Edward Grey's definite and emphatic declaration. So far from anything surreptitious being possible after a declaration of that kind, I think the right rev. Prelate will feel that any suggestion of surreptitiousness is thoroughly beside the mark. Sir Edward Grey has said, not once but two or three or four times, that His Majesty's Government will not recognise the Belgian annexation of the Congo until he can lay before Parliament evidence that the state of affairs as to the condition of the natives and the freedom of trade is satisfactory. So far as the third zone is concerned, the zone that is yet under the old system, we do not think that the reports received and laid before Parliament would justify recognition. When the third zone has been thrown open—that is, placed on the same footing as the other two zones—we shall before recognition have to be convinced that the condition of affairs in that zone is satisfactory or that the measures taken are calculated to ensure that at an early date. I think that in view of a declaration of this kind any notion that the Government have the slightest idea of letting recognition of the annexation by Belgium slide through unobserved is not reasonable.
Something has been said by the right rev. Prelate of a pledge on our part to insist on the rights of the native population to dispose freely of the produce of their land and labour. That pledge, it is said, has not been made absolutely secure. I am sure the right rev. Prelate will not suspect me of any desire to play fast and loose with what has been a revolting subject, but what is 598 now, I do really believe, a hopeful subject, and I think the right rev. Prelate used no language that did not indicate that he held hopes both of the good faith of the Belgian Government and of the strenuousness of our own efforts to do what we can to influence Belgian opinion. And let us note, as that expression has fallen from me that there is in Belgium a very strong public opinion, which finds voice from time to time in the Belgian Chamber, of aversion to all the odious abominations and atrocities that marked the rule of a deceased Sovereign in the Congo. Let us take note of that, as I am quite sure the right rev. Prelate does. The Congo Reform Association say that that pledge has not been made absolutely secure; and the devoted secretary of the Congo Reform Association, in a letter to the noble Earl who is sitting opposite, says that—There is no indication that the Foreign Office have the slightest intention of making British recognition subject to this right—
§ VISCOUNT MORLEY
It is a letter from Mr. Morel to the noble Earl himself. I cannot remember where I got it, but I think it will be found authentic.
§ VISCOUNT MORLEY
Certain reservations were, no doubt, made in the Reform Decree of March, 1910. There is, however, we feel assured, no intention to restore the ancient system of the Congo State in any part of the Congo State. The Belgian Government could not reasonably be expected to condemn the State ownership of vacant land, but they have renounced the system of working the produce of the land. They are pleased with the result of the change effected, and have, we believe, no intention whatever of reversing decisions which were only arrived at after deliberate reflection.
I do not know what more you can ask from a Government, which, after all, is a respected and important Government. We cannot ask for a better guarantee by the State of its desire to reform the system of administration than the new system which they have introduced. It is admitted that in the two zones already dealt with they have introduced a new system. Surely the 599 right rev. Prelate does not expect us to ask the Belgian Government to bind themselves for all time not to change their system again—that is to say, not to have a reaction and swing back from reform to the old detestable state of things? Surely everybody in the House will say that for us to use language of that kind would be to use futile and rather insulting language to a friendly and apparently reasonably zealous Government. If in the future—this is my answer to the right rev. Prelate—the Belgian Government of the day chooses to revert to the hateful system of which we have seen the end in two zones, and shortly shall, we hope, in the third zone, it will be for the British Government of that day to take the step and make the energetic remonstrance which the right rev. Prelate would expect.
THE LORD BISHOP OF WINCHESTER
Would the noble Viscount allow me to ask him whether he does not think that the explicit reservation which the Belgian Government now makes of a right to revert to the old system is not a fair subject of challenge on the part of the British Government?
§ VISCOUNT MORLEY
I will not argue whether it is a fair subject of challenge or not. But I am sure the right rev. Prelate is alive to this, that Governments carrying on dealings with one another have to choose the particular moment before they press this or that point, and they have to deal with that point for example in connection with their own whole attitude towards Congo reform. I do not think that is an unreasonable line to take. Now to go a little more into detail. The right rev. Prelate spoke about suspicion. Any one can see that if the Belgian Government were to put back the men who took an active part in the hateful administration which everybody now condemns, it would be an obvious and gross evil, and would really nullify paper reforms. Everybody agrees to that. But there, again, let us look at the White Paper to which the right rev. Prelate referred. At Page 49 Sir Edward Grey, writing to Sir Arthur Hardinge, says—You are authorised to make such use of Mr. Armstrong's Despatch in conversation with M. Davignon or M. Renkin as you think fit, and you should point out the inference that there can be little hope of really satisfactory progress so long as the present class of officials remains unchanged.I quote that to show that the Foreign Office are alive to the mischief, and that they have 600 instructed our Ministers at Brussels to represent that view to the responsible persons in Brussels. Therefore I think that on the point of the old officials their withers are unwrung.
The right rev. Prelate will not think it unreasonable if I make one or two remarks about the sending of new officials to the Congo. It is obvious to every one of us—I am sure the noble Earl opposite will recognise it—that you cannot change offhand in a few months, or even in a year or two, all the officials who have experience of the country and know the ways of the natives, and so forth. It is not a very easy thing to do. It is also not very easy to find a number of officials in Belgium or anywhere else who are willing to go into a remote and most unhealthy region. You want a great mass of patriotic and humane men willing to undertake those burdens off-hand. Then I would say that some of the officials complained of in the concessions region—this, I admit, is a very disquieting point, but it only touches those regions where the Belgian Government are only very secondarily responsible—are put in by those companies whom the Belgian Government have naturally considerable difficulty in supervising and restraining. In the debate on the Congo Budget in the Belgian Chamber, I think last February, the Colonial Minister, M. Renkin, said—and this I am sure the right rev. Prelate will accept as a final answer to that particular point in his statement of the case—that means would be taken to raise the standard of all officials in the Congo service, that their salaries would be raised, that officers of bad character and tradition would not be retained, and where required a complete reorganisation would be effected. That seems to me, as I am sure it will to everybody, to be thoroughly satisfactory.
Then as to State trading, I think the right rev. Prelate mentioned the ivory trade. It certainly is made much of, and justly, by those who are concerned in this matter. It is stated that the Belgian Government is a keen and interested and—the word is used—dishonourable competitor in ivory. That is all very well. But what did M. Renkin say last December in the Belgian Chamber? He is the responsible Minister, and he said that he had given definite orders that all purchases of ivory were to cease and come to an end on the opening up of the Congo in the successive stages of freeing trade, and 601 when the last step is taken on July 1 of this year there is to be a cessation also of the exploitation of the land, so little eager is the Belgian Government to enter into these dealings which are so open to suspicion and doubt. I should like to quote, if the House will allow me, from a Despatch, or Report, sent to the Foreign Office dated February 12 last, which ought to quiet apprehension and misgiving on the subject of ivory. It will be recollected that formerly all ivory had to be taken to a Government station to be stamped; one tusk out of two became the property of the State, and the State officials usually took the opportunity of persuading the native to sell his second tusk very cheap. I think we can guess what that means. M. Renkin has now stated that this is to be discontinued, and it seems that the native can, if he chooses, redeem the tusk hitherto handed over as duty. This is a very great advantage to the native and to the trader. The expense of obtaining two tusks is the same as the expense of obtaining one, and if the duty of 18 francs a kilo, leaves any margin of profit, it is clearly to the native's advantage to pay for and take away both tusks. Also the European trader will probably be glad to get as much ivory into his hands and out of the hands of the State as he can.
§ VISCOUNT MORLEY
I am giving the substance of and quoting the words in the last part of the Despatch to the Foreign Office of February 12.
THE LORD ARCHBISHOP OF CANTERBURY
It will be laid on the Table, of course, as it has been quoted and is a document of great importance?
§ VISCOUNT MORLEY
The most rev. Primate is not wrong in taking it for granted that any document will be laid on the Table, if necessary, to show that I am not reading a concocted passage. Now with regard to forced labour. The right rev. Prelate dealt, quite naturally, 602 with the point that while proposing to employ forced labour—it is not denied that forced labour is employed—only for works of public utility, such a construction has been put on that convenient phrase "public utility" as to include all kinds of work, and that many pretended volunteers are really men who are forced to work. I quote again M. Renkin, the Colonial Minister. He says that the moment the Belgian Government heard of these proceedings they condemned and forbade them, and that they have not ! been repeated. No Consular Reports that the Foreign Office have had show that M. Renkin is wrong. There is nothing to show that the Belgian Government have not done their best to forbid that, and they believe that that is so. But let us look at this like men who realise the difficulties of introducing all the refinements and necessities of civilisation into these backward and barbarous places. You cannot do it off-hand, and it may be and I dare say it is—in spite of there being no information from our Consul that M. Renkin was wrong or over-stated his case when he said this—not at all improbable that Belgian officials in far-off and distant places may be attempting to bring pressure to bear upon natives to work where labour is scarce. I hope nobody will think that His Majesty's Government will not do the very best they can to ask the Belgian Government to keep their eye upon that if it is necessary. But still we have to look at it reasonably, and we must not suppose that we have a complete monopoly of the gifts and the faculties and the human feelings which go to make these rough places smooth.
The right rev. Prelate said something about finance. I will only trouble the House with one single figure. I am now referring to the Congo Budget, which says that the excess of expenditure over revenue is twenty-two million francs. This sum represents the excess of expenditure proposed for 1912 over the revenue estimated as available during that year, and in the face of a figure of that kind we cannot reasonably suggest that the Belgian Government is wringing excessive taxation out of the country concerned. In the last Report we have, which has in truth just arrived—it is one since the White Paper was printed—this is what is said by, I think, a Consul, but it is official at any rate and it is full of details. It gives details of this 603 place and that place and the other place, but as the names are difficult to pronounce I will not attempt to pronounce them, and I do not think anybody in the House would be the wiser if I read every page of the Report. I will, therefore, read a sort of summary of it—The Belgian Government has lightened the burden of taxation to the native in areas where poverty and poor economic conditions rendered exemption advisable. … While the measures of 1911 are, indeed, dwarfed in their scope and importance compared with the epoch-making Acts of 1910 throwing the Congo open to unfettered trade in three zones, they cannot be regarded as a whole other than tending in the same wholesome direction. The policy inaugurated in 1910 has therefore, at least as reflected in the Legislative Acts of the Government, continued to pursue its course through 1911 along lines that make for the betterment of the Congo, its people and its commerce.I am sure the right rev. Prelate will be delighted to hear testimony of that kind. It is satisfactory, and I have every reason to suppose that it is a veracious estimate of the actual state of things. I have said already that there is a strong and wholesome public opinion in Belgium, and what has been said in the papers the right rev. Prelate is well acquainted with. See what is said by Mr. Harris, whose authority is accepted, and not unjustly, by the Congo Association. This is dated December 30, 1911—We are glad to recognise the great change that has come over the Congo, and are prepared to extend an encouraging and even a warm eulogy on the Belgian Government, and more especially on King Albert, for the disappearance of certain features of the old régime. There are facts which it would be folly to ignore, and these facts give rise to certain questions.It is quite true that there are undoubtedly some facts which it would be folly to ignore, but do let us have in our minds that declaration that he, a zealous missionary, is prepared to extend an encouraging and warm eulogy on the Belgian Government.
I should like to read also from the Report of the Congo Association Paragraph 9 on Page 33, referring to the Consuls' Reports—Accompanied as they are by sundry warnings and grave criticism, the Consuls' reports in so far as they deal with the reformed areas are encouraging, and the opinions of a number of missionaries therein quoted the Association rejoices to note. There can be no doubt that the present situation in the reformed areas is altogether different from what it was, and the Association is the less likely to wish to minimise these improvements, since it is able with some justice to claim that its own labours have not been foreign to securing them.It is perfectly true that you have to deal with the future. All we can say about the future is that the success of the policy of the 604 past, due to the Belgian Government, and, of course, to pressure within Belgium and from outside, encourages us to hope that the future will continue the growth of that harvest which we have already obtained.
§ THE EARL OF CROMER
My Lords, I did not come down to the House this afternoon with any intention of speaking on this subject, for the truth is I have rather lost touch with Congo affairs lately. Neither should I speak now if it had not been that one or two allusions have been made to my opinions in the course of this debate. The right rev. Prelate said with great truth that what was required was a thorough change of system in the Congo, and that the system of the past was absolutely vicious from beginning to end. There cannot be a doubt of that. But I, perhaps, go rather further than the right rev. Prelate in condemning that system, for I think its main defect was that the same governing body was concerned with commercial enterprise and administration. That system has been tried, as your Lordships are aware, many times in other countries—by the old East India Company in India, and elsewhere. It always has been a failure and I believe always will be a failure. Neither do I think that the Congo administration will be reformed until the whole of that system is swept away. But I quite admit the enormous difficulties the Belgian Government would have to encounter in sweeping it away, and I almost doubt, with the best intentions possible, whether it would be feasible for any Government to do so. All we can hope for is that they will make as many improvements as they can and move forward in the desired direction. I do not think any one can fairly ask for more than that.
I was very glad the noble Viscount read that passage in Mr. Harris's letter. I had intended to bring it down to the House myself, but unfortunately left the paper on my table. No doubt great improvements have been made, but at the same time a great deal remains to be done. The only really practicable question to-day is recognition—that is, I believe, the crux of the whole matter; and I think that the noble Viscount's expression on this subject ought to go a long way to satisfy the friends of Congo reform. The Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, as I understand, has not given any sort of pledge that he will recognise annexation at all. His hands are 605 absolutely free in the matter. All he says Is that he will be prepared to consider it, and he has further given a pledge that there will be no recognition until such time as the Papers have been laid before Parliament and Parliament and public opinion have had an opportunity of informing themselves on the subject and expressing their opinion. I do not think we can ask for more than that.
We must bear in mind that the Belgian Government are in a very difficult position. They have inherited a bad system for which they are in no way responsible themselves, and I think they must have a fair chance of reforming it. When it comes to subsequent recognition I am bound to confess—without pledging myself at all to any very specific opinion—that I should not be in any too great a hurry to recognise, and I have no doubt that the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs has no intention of being in a hurry about it. As regards guarantees for the future, I quite see the force of what the noble Viscount says—that it is a very difficult matter to deal with, and that you have to accept the declarations of a foreign Government. I am sure no one in this House or in the country wishes to cast the smallest reflection upon the good faith of the Belgian Government, but if in the course of the negotiations the Foreign Office can secure some additional guarantees to those already indicated, it would be a source of great satisfaction to the friends of Congo reform. All, therefore, that can be done is for His Majesty's Government not to relax their efforts in the direction of urging reform, and to hold over recognition until they can recognise with a clear conscience and in such a manner as will satisfy themselves and the public opinion which exists in this country on the subject.
My Lords, I had rather hoped that the noble Viscount would have spoken a little later, because I have a question to ask to which I hope he will give me an answer. My justification for intervening in the debate is this. Some three years ago when returning from Rhodesia I purchased a riverside estate near to the borders of the Congo Free State. I have developed that estate, and I have just returned from that part of the world so that I possibly can speak with some authority as to what is going on there. I have listened to a good many debates on this subject, and as an actual neighbour of the Congo Free State I rejoice at the tone of the one we have heard 606 to-day. We want to be friendly and we want to be neighbours with our Belgian friends over the frontier. What sort of state do we live in out there? I only need mention the words "black peril" to indicate what it is. The natives in North-West Rhodesia and also in the Congo Free State do not walk about with hammers; they walk about with pistols. The authority of the white man, therefore, must be kept up. North-West Rhodesia is a country as big as France and Spain and the white population numbers only some 2,000 people, whereas the blacks number some 400,000. So everybody knows that the authority of the white man must be kept up, and the Belgian white man in the Congo is in exactly the same position as the English white man in North-West Rhodesia.
There are only two ways into the Congo. One I cannot speak of; that is up the Congo River. There is another way which I can speak of; that is through Rhodesia. I had the pleasure the other day of going out with five Belgian officials on board the steamer to Cape Town, and I can assert with the utmost confidence that those; men were some of the finest citizens that Belgium could send out to govern the Congo. They were extremely popular on board the ship, and their usual banter was to say, "Have you got your return ticket, because you do not stay very long out there?" One of these gentlemen was asked by a fellow-passenger, "Have you your return ticket?" He said, "No, but I have a hundred dozen of champagne with me, and I am not going to return to my own country until I have drunk that up." I have told the House my idea of the class of man who is going into the country. I have, also to inform the House that North-West Rhodesia is very closely mixed up with the Congo. We are going to feed the Congo. They will have to rely upon us—they rely upon us now—for their markets, and, as I said before, anything which tends to upset the good feeling which now exists is contrary to the interests of people who are closely concerned in this matter.
The noble Viscount spoke of the difficulty of getting information about the Congo. The present Secretary to the Administrator in Zanzibar, whom I had the pleasure of lunching with and having a conversation with the other day, being in the Foreign Office was sent out by the 607 Foreign Office to the Congo, where he learnt the language. He told me that he spent two or three years in the Congo studying this question, and I would like to ask the noble Viscount whether we can have the report of this gentleman. If we could, I think it would go very far to allay any spirit of anxiety with regard to affairs in the Congo.
§ VISCOUNT MIDLETON
My Lords, I am sure we have all been interested in the personal knowledge which my noble friend possesses of the region under discussion. I only rise to express the same feeling which he has expressed of satisfaction that in the debate expressions have not been used which could be complained of in any quarter. At the same time I do not think that the right rev. Prelate will feel that he has lost his time this evening, because the whole tenor of the speech of the noble Viscount opposite led to the feeling that, whatever has been done—and we are very pleased at the advance which has been made—we cannot regard the change of administration as in any sense complete, and certainly we are a considerable distance apparently from realising the hope expressed by our representative in Brussels, to which attention was called by the right rev. Prelate, that within a year—that is to say, about the present time—it would be possible for the Foreign Secretary, consistent with the attitude he has throughout maintained, to recognise or at least to seriously consider the recognition of Belgian rule in the Congo. I hope I have not misinterpreted what fell from the noble Viscount when I say that he regards the changes which are to take place this year—the abolition of the rubber tax alluded to in the same Despatch and monopoly in every district and the attempt to place the administration on a sounder basis—as an experiment which is to be carefully watched, and which is not to be prejudged as successful until we have before us evidence of its success. I am not sure whether I am speaking accurately in saying that there was some undertaking given by the Foreign Secretary that recognition would not take place without the consent of Parliament.
§ VISCOUNT MORLEY
What the Foreign Secretary said more than once was not exactly that, although it perhaps comes to the same thing. He said that recognition would not take place until Parliament had been fully informed and had all the evidence justifying it.
§ VISCOUNT MIDLETON
That is a very important point, and I urge it simply from the point of view from which it was put by the right rev. Prelate and by Sir Arthur Hardinge—that we all desire to close a disagreeable chapter in the history of our I relations with Belgium.
§ VISCOUNT MORLEY
I must apologise for again interrupting the noble Viscount. The words of Sir Edward Grey have always been that he will not recognise until he can lay before Parliament evidence that the state of affairs as to the condition of the natives and freedom of trade is satisfactory. When the third zone has been thrown open, we shall, before we can recognise, have to be convinced that the condition of affairs in that zone is satisfactory. But it is to come before Parliament.
§ VISCOUNT MIDLETON
I am much obliged to the noble Viscount. Might I ask one other concession? In the debate last year the noble Viscount used language in which he apologised for the absence of information, to which the right rev. Prelate drew attention again to-night. The information laid before us has been singularly retarded. At the close of the debate last year I did call the noble Viscount's attention to his own remarks, and he used the words that—within a near measure of time we shall be informed of what has taken place.He merely urged as a reason for not laying Papers at the moment that although Despatches had passed—the very Despatches to which the right rev. Prelate has drawn our attention to-night—he thought it desirable that the reports from the district, which would give us really solid information as to what had taken place, should be laid at the same I time as these Despatches. That discussion took place on May 1 last year. The Despatch from Sir Arthur Hardinge was replied to on March 31, and the accounts from the district for which the noble Viscount claimed some short latitude of time left Boma on May 30, and I have no doubt were received in this country about the time of the Coronation. I think, therefore, that we have been a little hardly treated, and that the pledge of the noble Viscount has been rather liberally interpreted by the Foreign Office in reserving the whole of these accounts 609 until November last before publication. It seems to me an unreasonable period. I only venture to call attention to that because in reality, if we are to avoid recrimination on thin subject, if the occasional reports which reach us which are unfavourable are not set right by the full official reports which enable us to take a more general view, it certainly leads to the reiteration of criticisms which we should desire to avoid. We consider quite satisfactory the pledge which the noble Viscount has given us as regards the question of recognition, but I would urge at the same time that as Papers become available we should have them at the earliest possible moment.
THE LORD ARCHBISHOP OF CANTERBURY
My Lords, I shall not detain your Lordships more than a moment. I should like to express my sense of the value of this discussion. The noble Viscount was good enough to refer to a phrase which I had used in the debate that took place last year, to the effect that in matters of this sort time is apt to be a narcotic. It is quite possible, while other events certainly not the least momentous or stirring in our history are seething around us, that matters like this may very easily pass into the region of neglect or oblivion in the view of the public, and a debate like this is a stimulus which counteracts that narcotic, and believe that to-day we have a right to feel that what has passed will not only stimulate public interest but is entitled also to stimulate public hopefulness. I think that we have a right to feel, after what we have heard to-day, increasingly hopeful as to the outcome of the endeavours which are now being made in the face of very grave difficulties, which we should be exceedingly wrong to underrate, by the Belgian Government and the Belgian King.
I should like if one may do so without; impropriety, to say how certain I am that there is a general sense throughout this country of our wish to support the Belgian Monarch at this moment in entering upon a task so extraordinarily difficult as that which befell him personally, for he was able to bring personal knowledge to bear and personal experience to play upon the ameliorative work in which I am quite certain His Majesty is as keenly interested as any one in this House can, be. We have heard to-day fresh grounds for hoping that the efforts which are being I made are not merely genuine—that we 610 do not for a moment doubt, at least I do not for a moment doubt it—but are likely to be fruitful. The noble Viscount has read a report, which has been circulated widely in this country, from Mr. Harris, a man whose evidence upon this subject is of first-class character as regards expert knowledge and experience, and also as regards the calmness which he has shown in situations and under provocation which might easily have led a man to take an exceedingly one-sided view. The value that we attach to his testimony is very high, and I am glad that it should have been quoted publicly in the House tonight.
And what is in one sense more important still—I do not know that it is really more important, but officially it is more important—is the testimony which the noble Viscount has quoted from Despatches or Papers which we shall see in due time. The Consular Reports which the noble Viscount has quoted evidently give a similarly encouraging account. The noble Viscount misinterpreted me if he thought that I was in any way criticising the authenticity of these Reports, because I am sure the noble Viscount would be the last to quote them unless we were to have an opportunity ourselves of shortly reading them. It is to be remembered that the last letter of any kind that we have of an official nature in this matter is dated October 27 last. The Papers from which the noble Viscount quoted were dated in February last, and were written some months after the last Despatches which we have had an opportunity of reading, and therefore I venture to hope that no long time is going to elapse before we shall have the satisfaction of seeing and reading the cheering and hopeful accounts to which he referred. But, my Lords, while I say that I believe that a discussion like this, and the speech of the noble Viscount especially, may stimulate hopefulness, I am quite sure that we should be wrong if we were to regard the need of observation and caution as having come to an end. There has been no allusion to-night to what seemed to me, as I read the Papers issued last November, to be a matter that requires elucidation. Whether it will be elucidated in the new Papers that are to be put forward I do not know, but there seems to be prevalent in Belgium an idea that once annexation has been recognised our share in the whole matter comes to an 611 end as completely as though we were dealing with a Colony of Germany or France. I speak as a child in these matters of diplomacy and diplomatic history; but, if I am not mistaken, there has been nothing officially before the country in the least to lead us to imagine that the original Congo Treaties under which the Congo State came to its birth, and which were quite exceptional in character, would cease to be and would come to an end because what had formerly been the private property of King Leopold had become the property of the State and had been recognised as such.
§ THE EARL OF CROMER
I think that point is particularly stated in one of Sir Edward Grey's letters to Mr. Morel.
§ THE EARL OF CROMER
Yes. I cannot lay my finger upon it at the moment, but I am almost certain that it is so stated.
THE LORD ARCHBISHOP OF CANTERBURY
All I maintain, and what I am quite sure about, is that there is abundant evidence in these Papers of a view being taken in Belgium which puts the matter in a different way, and I think it is most important, when anything goes to the public as regards this matter, that it should be made perfectly clear that when annexation is recognised by us that recognition does not mean that we are to part with that share of responsibility which we took over to start with, and which, in some measure at all events, will still remain ours. The very last words which appear in the White Paper distributed last November are in a letter from Sir Francis Villiers in reporting a conversation with M. Renkin, that M. Renkin in speaking of it said that—he could have treated it in no other way, us the matter was one which exclusively concerned the internal administration of the Belgian colony.That is a phrase which I venture to think will require to be elucidated if we are not to feel ourselves placed in a false position as being supposed to admit—those of us who have been interested in this subject—that the recognition of annexation, when that annexation comes, would relieve us of all responsibility in the matter.
I earnestly hope that the conditions will be soon satisfied which Sir Edward Grey has promised will be precedent to that recognition, and that a marked improvement 612 will be shown by the Reports of Consuls which are to be placed in the hands of our authorities, and by the authorities placed before Parliament for its consideration. But I want to call attention to the fact that we who look at the matter from outside and think specially of the sufferings of the Congo natives are by no means of opinion that England's own responsibility will be over when recognition has taken place. I think it well to call attention to that factor to-night, because I believe it to be a most important element in our future consideration of this great and anxious subject.