HL Deb 23 July 1913 vol 14 cc1283-307

*THE EARL OF MAYO rose to draw the attention of His Majesty's Government to the conditions of slavery in the Portuguese islands of St. Thomè and Principe, and also to slave trading and slave owning in Angola on the mainland of Africa; and to move for Papers showing:—(a) that slave owning and slave trading no longer exist on the Mainland and Islands of Portuguese West Africa; (b) that the recruitment and shipping of labourers from the Mainland to the Islands has ceased; (c) also, the rate and condition of repatriation from the Islands and the administration of the Repatriation Fund.

The noble Earl said: My Lords, I do not wish to enter into the wrongs of slavery in any way, because those wrongs are recognised now by every civilised country in the world. But I shall have to trouble your Lordships with some quotations from the White Book which has been published by the Foreign Office and also some other quotations. In these islands the finest cocoa in the world is grown. To give you some idea of the value of the produce I may say that in 1911 cocoa worth £250,000 was carried to Europe in the holds of one vessel. the steamship "Angola." The Portuguese contract system, by which these labourers are got there, is a euphonious name for slavery. The native knows nothing of a contract; all he knows is that he is collared and put on board ship and taken to St. Thomé or Principe and made to work, and there he stops, as a rule for the rest of his life. We do not know how many natives were on the islands prior to 1887, but we know that from 1887 to 1897 there were 24,059, and from 1898 to 1908, 39,884. These were all brought from the Portuguese African mainland of Angola. I know something of this traffic myself prior to 1887, because in 1882 I travelled in the Lisbon Mail steamer up the coast, and at Benguella we took on board some of these contract labourers, serviçaes as they are called, and delivered them at St. Thomé. I went forward to the front part of the ship and looked at them. I did not realise the seriousness of it then as I was much younger than I am now, but I must say they looked more like cowed wild animals intended for the Zoo than human beings.

Now let me come to more modern times. I wish to quote from a pamphlet by a Portuguese gentleman who was formerly curator on the island of Principe. His name is Senhor Jeronimo Paiva de Carvalho. He left his appointment in 1907, and this pamphlet was published in 1912. In it he says— The existence of slavery in the islands is an actual fact, although it appears to the public to be a system of free labour. The very nature of it involves a compulsion that makes the negro renew the contract again and again, till it constitutes forced labour for life. The lack of a law making repatriation compulsory, leads to slavery; such a law has been systematically and with one accord averted by the Government and the planters. These contracts are not really for five years when they can be perpetuated at the will of the planter. Technical repatriation, established by law to deceive people, is useless when we remember the depth of the negroes' ignorance—an ignorance which in itself enables the planter to buy them outright.… The laws, good or bad, are never kept, and their existence is confined to the paper they are written on. What actually takes place is surprising. This method of obtaining negroes is a grave offence and constitutes an attack on their liberty. I am not referring to the labourers from Cape Verde or Mozambique, as in their case the law is faithfully kept. I speak of the labourers born in Angola. They are actual slaves. Caught in the interior, or sold to the Europeans by their chiefs, they come down to the coast like any other sort of merchandise. That I saw myself. Senhor de Carvalho proceeds— There they are formally taken into the presence of the curator, who, I believe, makes the contract in good faith. He may possibly suspect that these unfortunate beings from the interior are the victims of an illegal bargain. But if he has such a suspicion, there is never any proof to verify it. And woe to the curator who dare stand up against the iniquities of the traders in black flesh. I know from experience that he would be a lost man. That comes, as I said, from a Portuguese official, and it puts very clearly the state of the case.

I may state that up to now 2,300 of these labourers have been repatriated. I will deal with the manner of their repatriation later on. Some of your Lordships will remember, no doubt, the lawsuit that took place between Mr. Cadbury and the Standard newspaper. The trial took place in September, 1908, and it did more to enlighten the public in England as to the conditions of contract labour in these Portuguese islands than all the correspondence and despatches emanating from the Foreign Office. Reports were published in the newspapers, and people took a great interest in them at the time. Sir Rufus Isaacs, who acted as Mr. Cadbury's counsel, referring to the labour on the islands said— Labour which certainly, I think, can only be properly described as forced labour, and constituting a condition of slavery. There is no issue in this case about that, and never has been. The plaintiffs have come to the conclusion, as you will hear, from inquiries which they made, that there was a condition which amounted to slavery in these islands.… It might be difficult, perhaps, to exaggerate some of the evils which we see, but it is no part of my duty to do anything more than to state the simple facts. Of course, this is only Sir Rufus Isaacs's personal opinion on the evidence he had before him, and it has nothing to do with the Government or their opinions on the subject.

I should like to say something about this White Book which I hold in my hand, "Africa," No. 2 (1913), issued in February. It is entitled, "Further Correspondence respecting Contract Labour in Portuguese West Africa." As one reads through the despatches of Ministers, Chargé d'Affaires, Consuls, and Vice-consuls, one is struck with this fact—that the whole hosts of bureaucratic officials are hard at work explaining away the 40,000 slaves working in the cocoa plantations of St. Thomé and Principe, and that slavery if it is carried out under a respectable alias, as, for example, "contract labour," is not slavery at all. One is inclined to put to oneself this conundrum, When is a slave not a slave? When he is a serviçal or contract labourer. In fact, the perusal of this Foreign Office document leaves one quite cold. The contention of the Anti-Slavery Society is this, that the Portuguese Government have done little or nothing to remedy the state of things in these islands, unless, in truth, we accept promulgations, decrees, and regulations issued by the Portuguese Government from Lisbon, which they do not carry out in any way, in place of deeds.

Now I come to another matter, and I hope your Lordships will give me your attention with regard to this. I wish to deal with a statement made by Mr. Acland, the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, in the debate on Foreign Office Supply on May 29 last. I am quoting from Hansard. He said— There is no longer any recruiting from Angola for St. Thomé, and a great deal of what he"— He was alluding to Mr. Hoare, Member for Chelsea— referred to as being conditions of slave trading on the mainland is a closed chapter altogether. I do not deny that in some parts of the Hinterland of Central Africa a state of domestic slavery, or something very like it, probably exists, not exclusively in Portuguese dominions, but the great matter of complaint—namely, a real system of slave trading between Portuguese dominions on the mainland and Portuguese dominions in the islands—has been brought to an end. That is a very important statement. It is, I may say, a great deal stronger than anything that has ever been put forward by the Portuguese Government when they have been tackled in regard to this matter. In answer to that let me quote from the Official Bulletin of the Portuguese Government— On May 2 the steamship 'Malange' took 11 men; on the 19th the 'Loanda' took 87 men and women; on the 31st the 'Ambaca' carried 32—making a total of 130 shipped from Angola to San Thomé during the month of May, 1913. The steamship 'Cazengo' and the steamship 'Mozambique' have been granted licences to carry 300 and 800 labourers respectively for San Thomé and Principe from Angola. That last statement that these steamships have been granted licences is quite sufficient to refute the statement of the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, for what is the good of granting licences if there are no labourers to be carried. After this proof that slaves under the pleasant name of "contract labourers" are still carried to the island, we are somewhat sceptical about any of the reforms carried out or promised by the Portuguese Government and so largely set forth in the White Book which I have mentioned.

Let me examine some of these statements. The Portuguese Government are recruiting labourers from Cape Verde and Mozambique. That is the first. There is nothing to be said about that as the contracts and the law with regard to those labourers are faithfully kept. They know what a contract is, and they take very good care when their contract comes to an end to see that they are properly treated and sent back. Naturally as recruiting is going on from these two places I assume there are less coming from the mainland than in the days when I was on the coast. But the great evil in the case of the Angolan labourers is that they cannot get away from the islands. They are sentenced for life, especially those who were contracted prior to January, 1903. I will give you the four heads of the contract. (1) The contract is to be of five years duration; (2) the serviçal or contract labourer is to be supplied with board, lodging, and wages—he gets board and lodging and a certain amount of wages—(3) the planter is to act as a "beneficient guardian." He does act as a "beneficient guardian," because he puts a sentry over these labourers to see that they do not run away. Head (4) is that the planter must repatriate the servçal at the termination of the contract if it is not renewed. These are the four main conditions of the contract, and they differ very little in substance from the later ones. What does an ignorant native know of contracts? Nothing. What does he know of repatriation? He knows nothing about that at all; he does not understand the language; he comes from the inland parts and understands only the language or the dialect of his particular district.

The most curious part of all this is that there is actually a repatriation fund. That fund was established in the year 1903 by deducting one-third from the wages of the serviçaes; it was later raised to two-fifths. In December, 1907, the fund had reached the sum of £100,000. That is a good round sum, but it was left in the hands of the planters, the very men, of course, who want to keep these wretched natives on the islands. Eight months later, when the sum should have been considerably more, Mr. Cadbury, who visited the island of St. Thomé, was shown the books there and the fund had by some means decreased to £62,000—nearly £40,000 gone. But it had not gone to repatriated labourers, for none were liberated till the following December, 1908. The planters' opposition to repatriation is well known. Even Mr. Drummond Hay, the Consul at Loanda, knows this very well, for when he called on Senhor dos Santos in May of last year this gentleman, who is the curator in San Thomé, referred to the opposition of the planters, but Mr. Hay said that in spite of their conduct he was determined to carry out repatriation. All honour to him. No wonder he is unpopular, and, if he insists, he will very likely get his recall to Lisbon, because, as is well known, an enormous number of governors have been appointed to St. Thomé of late years and through the influence of the planters their dismissal has been procured and they have been sent back to Lisbon.

A word as to the rate of repatriation. On the islands of St. Thomé and Principe there are about 37,000 slaves or contract labourers and their children at the present moment, but few of the children survive. Since December, 1908, when repatriation began, some 2,300 have been emancipated, this being an average of 500 per annum. The rate has considerably increased since last year, but even at the highest rate of repatriation it will take twenty or thirty years at least to repatriate the whole of these slaves. Thousands die; the death rate is appalling. The mean death rate, as far as we can ascertain, over the two islands is about 10 per cent., but no proper statistics are available. In December, 1907, the Portuguese planters issued a very fine manifesto which said "Each repatriated labourer will receive about £18 upon landing on the mainland in Angola." The truth is, the only labourers that are repatriated are the aged and infirm. When they have done their work the planters are, of course, glad to get rid of them. Mr. Vice-Consul Smallbones had an interview with the Vice-Governor of Angola on November 24, 1911, and this official admitted to our vice-consul that repatriation had become a mauvaise affaire that men had not been repatriated but expatriated. Recently 163 landed in Angola, but in only twenty-eight cases was it possible to give their ages and the time they had been on St. Thomé. That is another evidence of the fictitious nature of the contract theory. The average age of these twenty-eight was just below forty-two years, and the average period they were kept on the islands was about thirty-one years. Therefore after over thirty years of slavery the much trumpeted bonus of £18 for a five years' service worked out at about £3 apiece. What we ask is that the standard of repatriation should be the capacity of available shipping from the islands to the mainland, and that at the end of the five years' contract the labourer, if he does not re-contract, should receive his £18 on landing in Angola. There are ample funds for this, and they are still accumulating; but we must remember that the funds are in the hands of the planters, who are in no way inclined to help these people out of the islands while they can make them work. So much for the conditions of contract labour, or slavery, whichever it is called, on these islands.

Now I wish to say something as to the mainland. What evidence is there that this practice has disappeared? Who says it has disappeared? I say there is evidence of its existence. I must quote from this White Book, if your Lordships will allow me, and I wish to draw attention to the Despatch addressed to Sir Edward Grey by Count de Lalaing, the Belgian Ambassador in London, dated June 8, 1912. He says— In reply to your Excellency's letter of the 23rd May last, I have the honour to inform you that the King's Government has learnt with satisfaction that His Britannic Majesty's Government is disposed to assist it to eradicate the slave trade in the regions bordering on the frontier between the Congo, Angola, and Rhodesia. The Portuguese Government has received our overtures in this direction equally favourably. I have the honour to bring to your Excellency's knowledge the following information which has been collected by the Belgian Colonial Administration:— The black labour necessary for the Angola plantations and the porters who carry to the railheads of the Loanda and Lobito Bay Railways the rubber emanating from Belgian Congo are recruited, principally in Belgian territory, by regular slave-trading operations. The traders who are engaged in this special recruiting do not work personally in Belgian territory. They reside in the neighbouring colonies and dispatch from the other side of the Congo frontier coloured agents who get into touch with one of the powerful native chiefs and induce him, in exchange for guns and powder, to hand over his own domestic slaves or prisoners made in raiding neighbouring tribes. Police operations directed in Belgian territory against the slave-dealers have not for this reason brought about hitherto the arrest of any European, and consequently have not enabled the root of evil to be touched. The blacks acting as intermediaries are chiefly Ambacarongos and Quiocos. The former work in the south-west of the Kwango and the west of the Kasai, the latter east and south of the Kasai. They buy rubber at the same time as slaves in Belgian territory. The rubber is carried to the coast or railway on the backs of men. To outward appearance the purchased negroes are engaged to work in some factory in Angola or on the coast, and they start off with a load on their heads. In reality they are slaves attached to the plantation or factory which has acquired them. At the instigation of the traders the population living on the two slopes of the watershed, from Lake Dilolo to the meridian of Kayoyo, are actively engaged in smuggling, arms traffic, and slave trade. That is a very straightforward statement; and I must say that it is a very cunningly carried out system by the Portuguese slave traders.

Now I should like to draw attention to a Despatch from one of our own Consuls to Sir Edward Grey of a later date. It is dated Loanda, September 23, 1912. Loanda is the capital of the Portuguese West African possessions. This is pretty good evidence of what really goes on. It is on pages 37 and 38 of the White Book. The Consul says— On the 23rd and 24th ultimo the Governor-General visited a plantation called 'Tentativa,' which belongs to the Companhia Agricola de Dande, and lies in the district of Alto Dande. This plantation employs about 700 labourers, who apparently were contracted under the regulations of 1902. They made a demonstration outside the house his Excellency was staying in, asking to be allowed to leave the plantation, and even accompanied his Excellency to the railway station when he left, some five hours away. Thirteen soldiers were sent from Loanda to intimidate them, and they returned to work. His Excellency informs me that he had them recontracted under the regulations of 1911. I pointed out to his Excellency, who discussed this question with me most willingly, that according to those regulations this was irregular. I had in mind Section 3 of Article 2, and quoted it from memory. That section says that the obligation to work is considered fulfilled 'by those who work for wages or pay for at least a certain number of months every year, the number of months being laid down by local regulations.' The local regulations have not yet been made, but it is obvious that they cannot stipulate that a man has to enter into a new contract at once when he has been working for the last twelve months continuously. My contention, therefore, was that as these labourers had, so I understood, worked continuously on an average for from five to nine years they could not possibly be forced into a new contract to which they were not yet liable. His Excellency admitted my contention, but remarked that in the present state of the labour supply such scrupulous observance of the regulations would entail the entire stoppage of a large plantation for which he could not be responsible. I have ventured to relate this incident, because it shows the difficulties of the situation. I do not think that anything can be clearer than that those labourers on the mainland are slaves, and that the Governor-General reconfirmed them in their slavery after the many years, as I have read, they have been working on these plantations.

I will tell you what I saw myself in 1882, and I have not heard that the conditions are much altered at the present day. We had a long desert march up to a settlement in the interior where I do not think any Englishman had ever been before. We arrived at a Portuguese farm. Outside that farm were collected a number of natives who were being served out with their rations, consisting of a heap of sweet potatoes. They then all trooped into a large courtyard, on each side of which were little huts where I could see they began kindling the fires to cook their evening meal. Some very heavy doors were then shut to and they were locked up for the night. I saw those same people working in the fields the next day. Those are the sort of slaves that are working on the plantations in Angola at the present time. I do not think there is any doubt about that. As to domestic slavery, I have been waited on myself at Portuguese farms by negresses and I am bound to say they are treated very well; they become part of the family, as it were, and so far as domestic slavery is concerned the actual house slaves are not at all badly treated.

I do not wish to say anything more on this subject. I have stated the facts, and it is for the Government to refute them if they are not accurate. I hope I have made it clear that the existing situation on the Portuguese mainland and in the islands of St. Thomé and Principe is one which cannot be prolonged for ever. The people of Great Britain have a clear right to demand either that slave-owning or slave trading should cease, or that we should no longer be bound by a Treaty with Portugal to defend Colonies in which slavery is not only tolerated, but, under a respectable alias, maintained and defended.


My Lords, I make no complaint whatever of the noble Earl for having brought this subject under the notice of the House, nor have I any complaint to make of the tone he has taken, though I hope I shall persuade your Lordships that the concluding inference that he draws from all these detestable facts is one to which one cannot prudently listen. Whatever differences there are among us in other fields of Imperial duty, all political Parties, all churches and chapels and denominations, and those who belong to none of them, agree in maintaining the old historical obligation which is the glory of the British name—the obligation of keeping a vigilant eye, and a vigorous hand so far as a hand can be useful, over the hateful crime of slavery and still more abhorrent crime of slave trading.

Now, as to the case in the Portuguese colonies in West Africa. Some language has been used by those most ardently in agreement with the object of the noble Earl which is really extravagant and tends to defeat the philanthropic cause that those who use it have at heart. One man of considerable eminence and distinction makes a public speech in which he charges His Majesty's Government with being the apologists for slavery, both on the cocoa islands and on the mainland, for defending slavery, and so forth. I am not at all concerned to quarrel with strong language or with the ardent humanity that prompts strong language, and I say frankly that there can hardly be too much strong language about this state of things if it is rightly directed. But turned against His Majesty's Government it is strong language wholly out of place. The most philanthropic strong language should be measured by justice and by facts.

We are told that the present case is one of great disappointment and of great disillusionment in consequence of the action of the British Government. Language of that kind can only be justified by two things—first, by failure and default in effort; and, secondly, by failure and default in result. I think by those standards this language fails to be justified. I will accept, if he likes, the language of the noble Earl. I will not cavil as to whether the condition of things in the Hinterland of Angola or in the cocoa islands is or is not as described by the noble Earl, or as to whether the Portuguese name of indentured labour is a respectable name for slavery, or as to the shades of difference that exist between slavery and indentured labour in this region and whether there is any real difference or not. I do not think there is. Nobody denies that the conditions of labour under which these people exist are in effect bondage. So they are in other places where indentured labour is not unknown. But, my Lords, you cannot prevent the conditions of labour in the tropics under white management, and so forth, from being at the present stage of human things unpleasantly akin to slavery. The noble Earl did use rather uncharitable language when he said that this deplorable state of things is kept out of sight and perhaps disguised, I think he said, by a host of bureaucrats. He certainly goes beyond the facts there.

Nobody believes, and we do not believe, that there is no slavery in the Hinterland of the Portuguese West African colony of Angola. That has been established according to the judgment of capable authorities. But you must take a backward social State as you find it until time and humanity have ameliorated the conditions, and that time, we hope, will not be long. I think the noble Earl recognised that the state of things inland, as practised upon the native tribes, is of course slavery of a horrible primitive kind, but the Portuguese Government cannot reach it. This evil state of things goes on in regions so remote, so inaccessible, that nothing short of strong military armed power could effectively put an end to it, if even that could. All those who have thought about these things are aware that the social state in a place such as this, in a wild inaccessible region, cannot be dealt with even by military force.


I was not speaking of slavery practised by black man upon black man, but of slavery practised by white man upon black man, such as I saw myself and which exists still on the Angola plantations. That is quite near enough to civilisation, because some of the produce that is produced by these people is shipped to Europe.


I understood the noble Earl to be referring to that. But I thought he referred to a state of things which existed in the Hinterland of Angola.


That is where I they get the slaves from.


I know they find them there. Heaven forbid that I should defend the practice, but I think we have a right to ask the House to realise the enormous difficulties of the position. The noble Earl talked rather as if we were the complete masters in these colonies. He assumed—it was the drift of his contention—that we, if we liked to be energetic enough, and made regulations enough, and sent officers enough, could redress all the hideous things he has described. The House will remember that these are Portuguese colonies, and that what we can do, what we have done, and what we are doing, is by counsel, advice, protest, and remonstrance, to induce the authorities who are responsible to take measures which will, at all events, ameliorate the mischief.

I should like to give this fact to the House, a fact upon which really our justification, if justification were necessary, rests. The old system of contract labour was replaced by the regulations which came into force between 1909 and 1911. The noble Earl admits that. That was done mainly under our counsel and advice. And not only that, but we have endeavoured that such measures in the shape of those regulations should be taken as would abate the more scandalous features. The noble Earl referred to recruiting. Recruiting in August, 1909, was suspended until these regulations could be introduced, and with the exception of last year, in which a few voluntary labourers were sent off to the islands on a contract only for a single year, recruiting ceased though it was partially resumed in 1911.

The noble Earl alluded to language used by Mr. Acland, the Under-Secretary, in the House of Commons on May 29, and referred to the case of the "Ambaca." It is quite true that Mr. Acland, when he made that observatnoi, did not know, and I do not believe that the ardent and zealous friends of the noble Earl knew, of the case of the "Ambaca." There is no reason to suppose that there was any scandal about it—perhaps so much the worse!—nor any reason why the men who were sent off on the "Ambaca" should not have been shipped under the new regulations, which, if they were properly carried out, are judged by those who know the conditions at close quarters to be entirely satisfactory. As to the figures of repatriation, I think the noble Earl has not got them quite right. In the year 1911 there were from 385 to 400 repatriated to Angola; in 1912 there were 1,665. The numbers had gone up, showing that the process of repatriation, in spite of the difficulties in the way, the motives of the planters, and so forth, had gone on, and that, the number repatriated has something like quadrupled.


I admitted that.


During the first four months of the present year the repatriations were 956. We are doing all that we can to secure a steady stream of repatriation at a proper and practicable rate, and every labourer who is entitled to repatriation shall be repatriated. The noble Earl talked about the attitude, not only of ourselves, but of the Portuguese officials. He quoted one of them whom I do not recognise, but I am sure, if he quotes it, that such a person actually did use the language which the noble Earl read to your Lordships. But I will say against that—and I am surprised that the noble Earl is not acquainted with it, for, if he had been acquainted with it, he would have told your Lordships of it—the fact that the Governor-General has incurred the utmost obloquy; he has been abused in the newspapers; he has been traduced in the Portuguese Parliament; he has gone through fire and water in order to uphold these regulations and to maintain a higher standard of conduct.


Hear, hear.


I am sure the noble Earl is glad to hear that. That ought to be remembered. It is not all black and odious; there are good sides. As to the repatriation fund, it is quite true that that fund is in the hands practically of the planters. It is quite true that the figure is defective; the figure ought to be higher than it is by £30,000 or £40,000, but we cannot administer that fund. That is impossible. Here is a fund raised by not very agreeable means; it is rather hard lines for the labourers, but still we cannot say to the Portuguese Government, "We insist upon your ad- ministering that fund and submitting an audit of it." It is impossible for us to undertake a process of that kind under those conditions.

When the first of these repatriations took place, the unfortunate beings who were repatriated suffered great distress when they were landed on the mainland, many of them being without a farthing in their pockets. The Portuguese colonial authorities did the best they could. They established depôts at two landing places; work was provided for those who wanted to work and who did not wish to return; they did all that the humanest authority possible could be expected to do. What have we done? Within the last two years, in addition to our Consul at Boma, we have established two paid Consuls, one of whom alternates between San Thomé and Fernando Po, and the other resides at Benguella. They take note of the arrivals and departures, and they can keep a watch over recruits, over repatriation, and over re-repatriation. We have instructed the Vice-Consul, whose name was quoted by the noble Earl, to keep us informed of the rates of contracts, of the termination of contracts, and the repatriation of those who entered into those contracts. In June this year we asked for a return of the amount paid in bonus from the repatriation fund throughout the year 1912. This month we asked for a further return, laying great stress on the importance of this fund being accurately kept and the returns being trustworthy.


Will those returns be published?


I do not know, but I will ask. There would be no objection, I should imagine. I almost think I could promise that. Then we have made inquiries as to German ships. There are not ships enough to carry these people home from the islands to the mainland, people who have fulfilled their contracts and are entitled to be sent back. That is one of the difficulties which the noble Earl knows exist, and it is a tremendous one. We made inquiries as to whether German ships plying between St. Thomé and the mainland ports were registered for carrying the returning coolies, or whatever you like to call them. Surely anybody who will take the trouble to think out the actual conditions of the situation will agree that we have not been remiss. It is very easy for the noble Earl to say—it has been said by other people very often—you ought to say to Portugal, "If you do not get rid of slavery in your colonies we will no longer be bound by the Treaty of Alliance which compels us to take a part in the defence of your colonies." I would ask the House whether this is a good moment for making a representation of violence, as I should call it, of that description to the Portuguese authorities. What is the moment you choose for making this rather violent representation? You choose the moment when the Portuguese authorities have given the very best evidence they could, by making the regulations, that they are trying to meet our views. That is the moment you choose, after years of complete acquiescence in these enormities. When they are mending and things are looking brighter, that is the moment you choose to say "We will take the violent step of ending the relations between the two Governments unless you do this thing that we ask you." That is, if the noble Earl will allow me to say so, a headlong suggestion of his.

The picture that the noble Earl painted, I admit without, excess of colour, is of course detestable. But in all these cases you have to measure your force and the means by which you can get at the root of these mischiefs and His Majesty's Government are doing all that they can wisely and prudently do. We recognise that the Portuguese authorities, so far, are doing their best. Some of their local authorities are acting extraordinarily courageously. And I submit to the House, while sympathising entirely with the object of the noble Earl, while recognising the deplorable state of things that exists, that he has not made out any case—perhaps he did not even desire to do so—for our taking further steps; and so far as his Motion makes still warmer English opinion about this matter, there can be no reason whatever to complain about what the noble Earl has done.


My Lords, I think the House and the country should be grateful to the noble Earl, and not for the first time, for the action that he has taken in calling attention in Parliament to the wrongs of those who do not naturally, or quite obviously, find spokesmen to take up their cause in this country. Of this I am quite sure, that he could not have made an appeal to any one who would in his heart sympathise more fully with his aims than the noble Viscount who has just spoken. People are, I am glad to think, waking to a wider interest in the question of these particular wrongs. Interest has been awakened, or deepened, perhaps, from indirect as well as direct reasons not unconnected with journalism or even with politics, and other circumstances besides the sorrows of the native population affected have led people who might not otherwise have thought much about the subject to look into the facts and try to understand them better than they otherwise would.

No one can so look into them and try to do it dispassionately and honestly without frankly admitting the enormous difficulty of the question. The question is difficult in many ways. Obviously, on the surface, from the immense areas we are talking about, and from the enormous distances apart of the various people who can supply information and bring force to bear. From our own experience of the conditions of what is called indentured labour, we must realise how hard it is for any country, even with the best intentions possible—and I am sure that ours were of the best possible—to bring to an end rapidly and finally the conditions which accompany indentured labour when the employers of that labour are not men moved primarily by philanthropic thoughts for the interests of the labourer. We have found in our own experience—the South Pacific is full of records of it—the hardships that may be inflicted or are supposed to be inflicted—and, be it always remembered, on many of the employed—by the drastic and peremptory prohibition of indentured labour because we are unable to get the conditions to be exactly what we like. I say that because I think we are bound to recognise the extreme difficulties of the question when we bring the matter to the public notice.

But, having said all that, I am bound to say that the perusal of these two White Books as a whole leaves in my mind a very uncomfortable feeling. The noble Earl said that the perusal of those books left him cold. I would rather say that it left me hot. I felt that something or other seemed to be amiss. I am bound to say the action and words and despatches of our own authorities seemed to me to have a disappointing tone about them as regards our attitude towards wrongs the gravity of which it is impossible to exaggerate, so grave and so terrible they are. I felt the reading of this White Book as a whole to be rather humiliating. I do not want to go into the details, many of which have been referred to by the noble Earl and which will be found in the White Book by those who will look for them. But I confess I should have liked to hear from the noble Viscount and to have seen in the despatches a little more about the difficulty of repatriation, because the particulars given in the White Book of what repatriation means are not very full. When they have reshipped these unhappy people, when they have landed them on the coast perhaps 2,000 miles away from their homes and with no means of getting there, they seem to think that the responsibility of repatriation is discharged. The mode of meeting the difficulty may not be easy, but when we look at the details of what repatriation sometimes means it seems to have something of a mockery about it.

It interests me to remember, when we have been celebrating this very year a great centenary, the centenary of Dr. Livingstone, that the most memorable event, perhaps, in Dr. Livingstone's life was the journey that he took across Africa from Lake Tanganyika, in the very regions we have been referring to, down to the Angola coast. If any one will read the chapters which describe that journey, either from Dr. Livingstone's own Journal or from the more compendious summary in that admirable little biography written by Tom Hughes, he will see the very places referred to there that have been referred to by the noble Earl, and he will find that accounts are given in full by Dr. Livingstone as to what he found with regard to the recruiting of slaves, the difficulty of bringing that curse to an end, and the ultimate problem, as it presented itself to him when he reached the Portuguese coast and put himself into communication with the Consul there, Monsieur Gabriel, who was an agent for the suppression of slavery. I mention this for this reason, that reading these chapters, as I happened to do not long ago, I was struck by finding that, instead of things in that region being better now as regards the slave trade, there are districts of the country in which they have positively become worse. There was a slave trade in the opposite direction to the Eastern coast which has, happily, been terminated; but the slavery that we are speaking of here—the supplying of what is called indentured labour, which means, in plain English, slavery, to the regions on the Western side—seems to me to have increased rather than diminished; the very thing that Dr. Livingstone tried to extirpate, and which we thought that, with the enthusiastic support of Englishmen, he had extirpated.

I am not sure how far Treaty obligations do practically bind us in the matter; but putting that aside, I do not think any one can say that it is Englishmen who are directly responsible in any way for what is here being spoken of. There are not wanting those who rather scoff at what is supposed to be an Englishman's notion of trying to police the world in a general way. That scoff is very easy to make. The answer I should like to give, and do give when I hear it, is in the first place that, although the true responsibility of England may not be easy to define, the indirect responsibility is surely not absent. What about the cocoa business and all that it means? How far is it really unstained by connection with things of this kind? How far are the economics, of which the boast has so often and quite legitimately been made, as to the cheapening of that particular form of merchandise, due to causes which can really be found in the evils of which we are now talking? When the scoff is made—and I have no doubt it will be made to-morrow when the discussion here is reported—as to our policing the world, I should like to point to what has been done in the last few years by the very fact of our protests in this country. Take the case of the Congo. Would any one say that the condition of the Congo would be what it is to-day if there had been no protests and no attempt "to police the world" on the part of those in this country and America who really care about these subjects? Take Putumayo. How far things are cured there no one seems clearly to know at this moment, but there cannot be any doubt that it was the action which took place in this country that called attention to the wrongs which were rampant there. Therefore whether or not we can put our finger on some definite thing which has been left undone and say it should be done, the fact of our bringing the matter forward on an occasion such as this, in the surroundings in which we are bringing it forward to-day, is not merely likely to do good, but there is actual proof of the beneficial results that have followed from a like protest in the last few years.

What I am anxious we should do in this matter—and that is why I cannot help feeling that these White Books leave on me the uncomfortable feeling I have mentioned—is to create and strengthen, not only in England but elsewhere, a strong public feeling in such matters as this. And that can only be done, when despatches such as these come before us, by protests on the part of our Government in England and in other similar ways. Evidence is not lacking in the White Books themselves of the effect produced by some of the despatches, but our representatives on the whole seem to take what I venture to think is a curiously cold view of the wrong which is being done. The sort of answer that comes to our very mild and doubtful form of remonstrance is "After all you do not really think the thing is very bad, and you will probably be satisfied that we are doing our very best to put a stop to it." I should like to see in these despatches a more definite brushing aside of the old humbug arguments of the native being better off there than at home, and of his being a lazy dog who would not work if you did not make him, and so on through the familiar list. Instead of rubbishy arguments of that sort being brushed aside in this correspondence, it does seem to me that, although they may not be accepted altogether, they certainly are taken as being worth a great deal more than they really are. The Foreign Office and the people of this country seem to be a great deal more apathetic with regard to this matter than we have been with regard to others where the evil, perhaps, has not been so great.

The noble Viscount said that strong language with regard to this matter could only be justified by one of two things—either by failure and default in effort; or secondly, by failure and default in result. I venture to think—and I say it with genuine diffidence in the presence of one who is so true a champion of the cause we are thinking of as the noble Viscount himself—that there may be failure and default in the tone in which the whole thing is spoken of and the general way in which it is handled in the eye of those who are criticising it outside. I cannot keep myself from saying that, taking the White Book as a whole, the despatches it contains and the character of the correspondence as a whole leave me with the thought that the tone and attitude adopted towards the question, speaking largely, has been not as warm as I should have hoped it might be, and as I venture to hope it may still come to be while the matter continues to be the subject of correspondence.

The noble Viscount said that it may not be a prudent moment now to make a protest, and that we ought not to peremptorily state that our alliance shall be broken off with the Portuguese Government if this thing is not remedied at once. I really do not know anything about that. That is a Treaty question and a question for politicians and diplomatists rather than for me; but our recognition of the grave difficulty of using threats of that sort does not necessarily mean that, taking the correspondence as a whole, such possibilities should not have been hinted at and our Alliance and Treaty obligations referred to at an earlier stage in the whole business. It is doubtless at this moment right to say that some amelioration is apparently taking place. We hope that a great deal more amelioration will take place in future; but I do not think that prevents us from feeling that the cause might have been presented with greater firmness on our side and with a more obvious sense that we feel the gravity of these wrongs perpetrated upon a helpless people.


My Lords, I did not come down to the House with any intention of speaking on this subject, but as I have had from time to time a great deal to do with this question of slavery and slave trading I should like to say a few words. We have been united by Treaty to the Portuguese Government for a very long while, and I do not suppose that any one wishes to press them too hard or fails to recognise the great difficulties of their position, as also those of the Portuguese officials to whom the noble Viscount alluded. But I may say, so far as my own experience goes—and I have had a good deal to do with putting down slavery—that although it is very difficult, there is a great tendency on the part of those interested in the question to exaggerate the difficulties.

Let me remind your Lordships of what happened in the Sudan. The Sudan is a very large country. I do not know how it compares in size with the Portuguese possessions in Africa, but I should say that it is nearly as large, and that some portions of it are almost as inaccessible. Many years ago, when Ismail Pasha was Khedive of Egypt, he issued a Proclamation doing away with slavery in the Sudan. That was in accordance with a Treaty with His Majesty's Government. The Proclamation turned out to be quite valueless, because it could not be carried out, and Ismail Pasha knew that it could not be carried out. The only result of it was to cause great dissatisfaction in the Sudan, so much so that your Lordships will remember—I am sure the noble Viscount will do so—that the very first thing General Gordon did when he got to Khartoum, in spite of his great antipathy to slavery, was to cancel that decree; his action was received with great satisfaction throughout the Sudan. Eventually the Sudan was re-conquered, and we then set to work in a very different way. There was no Proclamation. I rather think there was no law passed. There was nothing done of any sensational description which attracted attention. I suppose those interested in anti-slavery in this country had confidence in what we were doing, but anyhow they were wise enough to leave us alone, and not to make any great stir.

What was the result? As I say, no Proclamation was issued and I do not think any law was passed, but a steady, continuous pressure was put on by my friend Sir Reginald Wingate, the Governor-General of the Sudan, to do away with slavery; and if he were here he would be able to tell your Lordships that, in spite of the enormous difficulties, and in spite of the fact that we were told over and over again that it was impossible to do away with slavery, at this moment there is neither slavery nor forced labour of any kind in the Sudan. That shows what can be done. In the Portuguese possessions, of course, it is a much more difficult question. We only had to deal with Arab slave owners, whereas here you have to deal with European slave owners who have newspapers and capital behind them; but still, what I have said shows what can be done if those concerned set about it with a good will and in a proper way. All we can do is to keep on insisting on the Portuguese Government putting pressure upon their own officials and keeping them steadily up to the mark.

There are two other points on which I should like to make a few remarks. I confess I have not read these Papers with great attention, but I have heard it stated that there are a certain number of British subjects who are slaves in the Portuguese islands. I do not know whether this is actually the case or not, but I must say I find it very difficult to reconcile myself to the idea that a British subject, however humble, should be kept as a slave against his will anywhere. If it be the fact that there are British subjects there, I think that some rather vigorous measures might be taken to bring them away, and that His Majesty's Government might send a ship and insist on their removal. I am, of course, aware that it is difficult to know who really is a British subject, but I am told that experts who know all the different marks of the various tribes can state with confidence who is a British subject and who is not. The noble Earl said that we could denounce our Treaty with Portugal. I can quite understand the noble Viscount when he said that this would be a very inopportune moment for His Majesty's Government to make any such declaration as that. As a private individual I made a similar suggestion myself in the introduction to a book recently written by Mr. Harris; but that is a very different thing from the Government making such a statement. The reason I made that suggestion was that I was a private individual, and therefore could not speak with the same authority as a responsible official. But I think it would be desirable, whatever the action of His Majesty's Government may be, that the Portuguese Government should understand that if unfortunately it may ever happen, as I hope it may not, that they should call upon our assistance in time of war to act up to our Treaty rights, it would place the Government of this country in a very embarrassing and delicate position to be asked to use the armed force of this country to support a slave State. I thought and I still think it a desirable thing for those who are not hampered by official ties, and can thus speak their minds freely, to bring that fact to the notice of the Portuguese Government.


My Lords, I am tempted to add a few words to this discussion, because I should regret to be thought by my noble friend behind me to be involved in that official conspiracy to explain away the facts to which he referred at the beginning of his speech. The facts cannot be explained away, and I am myself only too well aware of their gravity. These indentured labourers are not people who are competent to enter into contracts of their own free will. Their condition is one of forced labour for life, as my noble friend described it, and under very cruel conditions. It is, if I may borrow the noble Viscount's phrase, a condition of bondage akin to slavery, and it is a very detestable system. Upon that I think we are all agreed.

The reply which my noble friend elicited may not have seemed to him altogether as reassuring as he would have desired, but I am bound to say that it appeared to me in the main to be a not unsatisfactory reply. I listened attentively to the noble Viscount's speech, and I gathered from him that he was able to point, to a distinct improvement in certain particulars which he enumerated. In regard to the exportation of indentured labourers to the islands, he told us that new regulations of a satisfactory description had lately been introduced. As I think he said himself, it is easy to frame regulations; the difficulty lies, of course, in enforcing them. Then the noble Viscount said that repatriation was progressing more rapidly. He added that the Portuguese Government were endeavouring as far as possible to deal with the question of slavery on the mainland; and, finally—and I think this was probably the most satisfactory point of all—he gave credit to the Portuguese Government and to the Portuguese officials, and notably to the Governor-General, for a loyal desire and intention to put down these abuses.

I am afraid the case is one where we must be content with a gradual improvement. The system to which we all take exception is firmly established in these regions, and it has ramifications over a great part of Southern Africa. I do not believe that it would be practically possible to put an end to it by a stroke of the pen. I go further and say that in my belief to attempt to put a stop to some of these practices too abruptly might only have the effect of increasing the amount of suffering to which these people are exposed. We have bad a case in point in regard to repatriation—a case in which, owing to there being no means of restoring the repatriated labourers to their homes, many of them went through great tribulation. All, I think, that we can say this evening is that we trust that His Majesty's Government will continue to press upon the Government of Portugal the necessity of dealing adequately with these abuses. I heard with satisfaction the noble Viscount's announcement that additional Consuls had been appointed. That seems to me to be a practical and a thoroughly sound step.

With regard to our action as to the Portuguese Government, I entirely agree with the noble Viscount that the occasion is not one for what he described as violent representations. But may I say, on the other hand, that it appears to me that the Portuguese Government will be extremely short-sighted if they do not take to heart the warning language which has been uttered upon this and other occasions with regard to the condition of things in these islands and on the adjoining mainland. Portugal is our old ally. She is united to us by bonds of traditional friendship, and not only by bonds of friendship but by a series of ancient Treaties, some of them going back, if my memory serves me, as far as the reign of King Edward III. Those Treaties are recognised by us as binding. They have been officially referred to within recent memory as binding, and I do not think any one would desire to call in question the obligations which they imply. But I do think it reasonable to ask that the Portuguese Government should take into account that if they are not careful a condition of things might arise in which we should be confronted, on the one hand, by our Treaty obligations, and on the other by a very strong and almost irresistible outburst of public opinion in this country; so irresistible that it might make it difficult for us to act up to them. That, would be a most unfortunate contingency, for Portugal particularly; and I earnestly trust that by the manner in which they will handle this question, and perhaps other questions which have attracted attention lately, they will avoid doing anything which might place the Government of this country in that most unfortunate dilemma.


My Lords, I will not detain the House for more than a minute or two, but in thanking Lord Mayo, as others have done, for bringing this subject forward, I would like to take the opportunity of urging upon the noble Viscount that our Government should press the Portuguese Government to take full advantage of the ships that are there, and repatriate the men who, I understand, are waiting to leave but who are prevented from doing so by those interested in this business and in keeping these people there. I believe there are one or two British ships per month which would be available to repatriate these unfortunate people; and then when they reached the mainland it would be easier for other organisations to help them and see that they receive the £18 to which they are entitled, and if they had that money there would be a chance of some of them, at all events, being able to get to their homes. I venture to ask whether the noble Viscount can give any assurance that the Portuguese Government will be pressed to do this work of repatriation more rapidly by taking advantage of the ships which go there from time to time.


My Lords, before the Motion is put I beg leave to amend it. The form I should like it to take is as follows:—To move for Papers giving details of the recruitment and shipping of labourers from the Mainland and Islands of Portuguese West Africa; and also the rate and conditions of repatriation from the islands and the administration of the Repatriation Fund. I beg to move the Motion in that form.

Moved, That an humble Address be presented to His Majesty for Papers giving details of the recruitment and shipping of labourers from the Mainland and Islands of Portuguese West Africa; and also the rate and conditions of repatriation from the Islands and the administration of the Repatriation Fund.—(The Earl of Mayo.)


May I just say, in answer to the noble Earl, that we shall present Papers as soon as they are available, and I will submit to the Foreign Office as to whether these are points which the Papers will show and represent. In answer to Lord Kinnaird, I should like to say that I will mention his point, which is an interesting one, to the Foreign Office.

On Question, Motion agreed to, and ordered accordingly.