§ EARL STANHOPE
My Lords, in rising to call attention to recent affairs in Somali-land, I make no apology for bringing this matter before your Lordships' House. Your Lordships will, I think, agree that the policy of His Majesty's Government in regard to the Protectorate has been so vacillating during the past few years that it needs considerable elucidation. On the other hand; I cannot claim the advantage possessed by several of your Lordships of a personal acquaintance with the country, and I desire to say quite frankly at the outset that my information has been derived from a study of the two Blue-books and of the debates in this House and in another place, and from those who have recently visited the country or have had long acquaintance with it in former years. In the last debate on this subject which took place in your Lordships' House a little more than four years ago, Lord Curzon stated that the Blue-book of 1910 was a "record of a rather painful and discreditable tale," and that it "left a distinctly unpleasant taste in the mouth." I do not know how he would describe that tale to-day, but I suspect that he will not strongly disagree with me when I say that it is by far the most discreditable tale that the recent history of this Empire can produce. We have sacrificed many lives; we have sacrificed prestige; we have abandoned our obligations; we have allowed a Protectorate of the British Crown to fall into a state that would be a disgrace to any possession belonging to a third-class Power.
I ask your Lordships to bear with me while I briefly sketch the events which led up to the present state of affairs. We took over Somaliland from the Egyptian Government in 1884 and declared a Protectorate over it, chiefly, I think, with a view to prevent any other great Power from taking possession over a country so close to Aden, which is only about 160 miles away. Treaties were made by Mr. Gladstone's Government with about two-thirds of the population of 300,000. The country is a large one. It has an area of 68,000 square miles, considerably larger 1145 than England and Wales, and it is inhabited by tribes of nomads who move about from place to place in search of water for their flocks and herds. The text of our treaties with the so-called friendly tribes is as follows—The British Government is desirous of maintaining and strengthening relations of peace and friendship with the tribes, and in compliance with their wish undertakes to extend to them and to the territories under their authority and jurisdiction the gracious favour and protection of Her Majesty the Queen-Empress.Your Lordships will observe that we extended to them the protection of the British Crown. Those treaties have never been rescinded, and, so far as we are aware, the protection which was then guaranteed to the friendly tribes of Somali-land should still be in force.
Let us see how we have carried out our obligations. When the present Government came into power Somaliland, like Ireland, was comparatively quiet and prosperous. As in Ireland, cattle-driving was not unknown, but raids were neither frequent nor serious, and the Mullah was causing little trouble. In 1908, however, the Mullah wrote an impertinent letter to the British Commissioner, Captain Cordeaux, one of the ablest of the many able men who have served the Crown in Somaliland, demanding our evacuation of the Ain Valley, the most important valley in Somaliland, where there is always pasture for flocks, and also the evacuation of our post at Bohotleh. As a result of this letter the noble Marquess, Lord Crewe, who was then Secretary of State for the Colonies, approved of Captain Cordeaux's proposal to blockade the Warsangeli coast, and sent a reinforcement of 1,500 men from Aden, Uganda, Nyasaland, and the East African Protectorate. It is only fair to Captain Cordeaux to say that he pointed out at the time, and it was also pointed out by Colonel Gough, the Inspector-General of the King's African Rifles, that these measures could not offer any degree of finality; and events subsequently proved that they were perfectly right.
Although we knew that the Mullah had received a letter from the head of his sect at Mecca denouncing him as a religious impostor, and although many of his followers were deserting him, our Government in November, 1909, decided to evacuate the interior and to retire to the 1146 coast. Just before that, Sir Reginald Wingate and Sir Rudolph Slatin were sent out there by the Government to make a report as to the future policy regarding Somaliland, but we have never been permitted to see that report; and I do not think the noble Marquess will deny that not a single expert was in favour of evacuation, unless, perhaps, I include in that category Mr. Winston Churchill, who spent twenty-four hours in the country two years before. The last debate in this House occurred just after this evacuation had taken place. Lord Curzon, in the course of the speech which be then delivered and which I can only call prophetic, used these words—Experience teaches us that evacuation is often of a precarious and delusive character. It is ignominious at the time and not effective in the future.And he went on to say that—He would be a bold man who would say that by this act of evacuation we had said the last of Somaliland.Both the noble Earl and the noble Marquess, Lord Lansdowne, deplored this evacuation, not only for its effect in Somaliland but throughout the whole of North-East Africa. Although Lord Crewe, in direct opposition to the advice of every one of the men on the spot with the possible exception of Sir William Manning, believed that in a short space of time the friendlies would combine and be able to resist the Mullah, the very opposite has happened. For a considerable time the friendlies, not unnaturally, could not believe that we had broken our word. They have learned it now by bitter experience. In two years one-third of the male population of the friendly tribes had been exterminated either by Dervish raids or inter-tribal fighting. So does the Government preserve the pax Britannica!
The effect on other parts of Africa was no less disastrous. It spread, as my noble friend Lord Hindlip will presently show, to the Merehan and other tribes in British East Africa, and its effect was felt even as far off as Uganda, more than 1,000 miles away. A friend of mine was travelling in that country at the time the evacuation was taking place, and he was treated by a tribe in a way in which he had never been treated before during several years sojourn in that country. He inquired why this tribe had taken such a hostile attitude, 1147 and the reply was that it was owing to the fact that the Mullah had driven us into the sea in Somaliland, and, of course, he would do the same elsewhere. My friend had not heard of the evacuation in Somali-land at that time, and that was the way in which it came to his knowledge. Mr. Byatt, the Commissioner in 1912, reported exactly this day two years ago that " the policy of coastal concentration had been given a full and complete trial and had failed"; that the position was going from bad to worse; that the spirit of disorder was even spreading to the coast, and that a state of general anarchy prevailed. He foretold trouble in the towns, and once again the man on the spot was right. Within four months of the writing of that report a raid had taken place within seven miles of B3rbera, and this year we read of shots having been fired into Berbera itself by a party of Dervishes.
The present Secretary of State then d3cided that something had to be done. He resolved to raise a Camel Corps 150 strong, and the Somalis were encouraged to believe that the Government " intended to revive the status quo and to reoccupy the former posts in the interior." Once again native subjects of the King were deliberately deceived as to the policy of His Majesty's Government. Although the Somalis were encouraged to believe that the Government intended to revive the status quo and to occupy former posts in the interior, the Camelry were at first limited to a radius of action of fifty miles from Berbera. It is quite obvious that that was a very different policy from reoccupying the posts in the interior. It is hardly necessary to add that the policy of taking an area of that character was found to be absolutely impossible. Lord Crewe, four years ago, himself said that "the only two possible policies are those of a great military reoccupation of the country or of the withdrawal to the coast." It is hardly necessary to point out to your Lordships that it is impossible to make it clear to the native mind that this country will be responsible only up to a certain point from the coast and no further. Either we have to exercise our control over the whole of the British Protectorate, or we must decide to sit upon the coast or even to evacuate the country altogether. Of course, the fifty miles limit was at once broken. Naturally when a raid took place 51, or 52, or 60 miles away something had to be done.
1148 Within a very few weeks of the raising of the Camelry, and with the knowledge and consent of the Colonial Secretary, the Camelry were sent to Hargeisa, 95 miles south-west of Berbera, and thence, also with the Colonial Secretary's knowledge and consent, to Burao, 80 miles southeast from Berbera. And then the inevitable happened. A raid of Dervishes took place. They were engaged by the Camel Corps, and Mr. Corfield unfortunately was killed. But for his death the action of Dul Madoba would have been hailed as a great victory for which the Colonial Office would have taken credit. What happened was this. With a force of 119 partially-trained men over 2,000 Dervishes were repulsed with a loss of probably not less than 400 killed besides the wounded. They were so badly shaken that raids, I believe, ceased for a considerable period. I am not going to deny that Mr. Corfield disobeyed orders in actually attacking the Dervishes, but I am going to say that the orders given him were obviously wrong, and that the position in which he was placed was an impossible one. He was ordered with the whole force to make a strong reconnaissance of the Dervishes. Whoever heard of a strong reconnaissance being made against natives when there was no intention of attacking them afterwards? It is perfectly obvious that word would at once have gone out that the British force had looked at the Dervishes, were frightened, and ran away.
It has been said over and over again that the safety of British officials depends upon the prestige of this country. Where would have been the prestige of this country in that case? What prestige would have been left to them if they had merely made a strong reconnaissance and then, as I have said, been accused of running away? Supposing no strong reconnaissance had been ordered, the Dervishes would have realised that they could make a severe raid within 30 miles of Burao, which was then occupied by the Camelry, and that nothing would be done to them. As has always happened with the Dervishes, they would have become more daring as time went on, and the next thing we should have heard would have been that Burao itself had been attacked. It has been suggested that the proper course would have been in the case of a Dervish raid for the Camelry to retreat. But if your Lordships will picture to yourselves what a 1149 retreat through that sort of country would mean, you will realise how absurd the suggestion was. The force would probably have had to proceed in single file, there being a considerable amount of baggage, and in their retirement from Burao there would have been many friendly natives who would have had to fly and who would have got in their way and made the possibility of any serious resistance quite impossible.
What was the attitude of the Colonial Secretary? Instead of acknowledging that he was responsible for the impossible situation in which the Camelry were placed, he threw the whole blame on Mr. Corfield. He even went so far as to pretend that he did not know why the Camel Corps were so far from Berbera, when he himself had proposed—in a Despatch written, I think, five months before—that they should move in the direction of Ber, 100 miles from the coast and only 15 miles from the scene of the action at Dul Madoba. He has gone one stage further in the policy of washing his hands of the responsibility for his policy. Not very long ago he ordered an officer, with a totally inadequate force, to undertake the extremely dangerous task of disarming some powerful tribes in British East Africa, and he accompanied the order for that disarmament by the further statement that he would hold the officer personally responsible if any outbreak occurred. So does he support the men on the spot!
I pass from the question of Mr. Corfield to the general policy in regard to Somali-land. What is happening there now? On February 25 this year the Colonial Secretary announced in the House of Commons that the Camel Corps would be increased to 400 or 500 and be based on Burao, which is 80 miles from the coast. Let me quote to your Lordships what Colonel Seely, then Under-Secretary of State for the Colonies, said when announcing the policy of evacuation—I will ask any hon. Member who takes an interest in military strategical questions, Is it a wise plan for a country which depends so much upon prestige as we of necessity do, to have 200 or 300 men 140 miles from the sea, all alone in the midst of the people of Somaliland, who at any moment might, though I do not think they will, adopt a hostile attitude.The noble Marquess, Lord Crewe, speaking on the same subject—and really I could almo3t quote the speech that the noble 1150 Marquess made in 1910 from beginning to end as a severe criticism of the present policy of His Majesty's Government—said that "the policy of occupation and administration has entirely broken down." And again he said that Sir Reginald Wingate's report had impressed on the Government "the uselessness and impossibility of maintaining the present state of things"—that is, the holding of posts in the interior with a small force. Then why have His Majesty's Government reinstituted that policy?
Your Lordships will observe that the Government have "looped the loop" in their policy. They occupied Burao up to 1910. Then they withdrew to the coast and the country was given over to anarchy. Our prestige suffered a severe rebuff, and the effect was considerable over the whole of the possessions of the British Crown, especially over the whole of North-East Africa. Then we proceeded to go into the interior again, first of all with a force which was absolutely courting defeat, and now we proceed to strengthen that force somewhat, and to leave it, as Colonel Seely said, in a helpless position right up in the middle of Somaliland 80 miles from the coast. I agree with the noble Marquess the Leader of the House in the statement he made in 1910, that there are only two possible policies—evacuation or adequate military protection. The present policy is neither the one nor the other. It has been said that Somaliland is a perfectly useless country, and that it is not worth our while to spend a great deal of money to pacify it. I have seen a report lately in the newspapers—I do not know how far it is true—that oil has been found within forty miles of Berbera, which, of course, would considerably change the position. Somaliland, from being at present a more or less useless country, would at once become of enormous value, not only from a material, but, of course, also from a strategical point of view. But even if there is no oil to be found in Somaliland, even if it is a perfectly useless country, surely we have to consider the policy of this great Empire from a rather different point of view. I have always understood that Providence has shown over and over again that it has no use for the man who takes his hand from the plough, and it has also no use for the country that looks back.
1151 This country has undertaken, for better or for worse, a protectorate over Somali-land. If we are going to say that we merely occupy countries because they are of value to us, we are at once giving up the idea of the "white man's burden," and we are giving up that ideal, which I think we should hold most dearly in this country, that wherever the British Flag flies peace and prosperity and liberty are given to the natives under our control as far as it is reasonably possible to do so If you decide to evacuate, then the treaties which have been made by the friendly tribes must be abrogated. You cannot allow these treaties to stand and not fulfil your obligations under them. Further, it is obvious, I think, that we must declare to the world at large that the Protectorate of British Somali-land exists no longer, and that if Abyssinia, or Italy, or France desires to extend its boundaries in that part of the world, we, at any rate, shall make no comment. We must also, of course, be prepared to face again atrocities unspeakable, such as occurred when we took up the policy of coastal concentration, as it was euphemistically called.
If we are to resume adequate military control, the first thing that we have to do, I suggest—and it is a suggestion that has been made to me by several of those who know the country fairly intimately—is to build a light railway of not less than 3 feet gauge from Berbera to Burao, and possibly eventually to Bohotleh. There would be some difficulty about it, because the ground rises very abruptly in places. I am told, however, that the engineering difficulties are by no means insuperable, and that a railway would not be a very expensive thing to construct. Only so can we really see that the friendly tribes are properly protected both from each other and from the Mullah, and only so can we fulfil the obligations we undertook in 1884. I do not want to dwell on the subject further. I trust that your Lordships will forgive me for having occupied so much of your time in view of the extraordinary vacillating policy of the Government, and the fact that we have had no information why the policy which was given up in 1910 should be reverted to at the present time.
§ Moved, That an humble Address be presented to His Majesty for Papers relating to recent affairs in Somaliland.— (Earl Stanhope.)1152
§ THE UNDER-SECRETARY OF STATE FOR THE COLONIES (LORD EMMOTT)
My Lords, I am quite sure that your Lordships will agree with the noble Earl opposite that no apology is needed for introducing Somaliland once more as a subject for consideration in your Lordships' House. For many years the question of our policy there has been an extremely difficult one. I must confess that I do not agree with some of the rather extravagant language that the noble Earl has used about the policy of His Majesty's Government. I do not want to treat this matter any more than I can help as a Party question. If I did want so to treat it, I might refer to what was done by the late Government in years gone by. But what I feel very strongly about the question is that as regards Somaliland neither Party is precisely in a position to throw stones at the other. Both Parties have set up policies which they have at any rate altered. I agree entirely that the position is a difficult one to-day, and I shall, before I sit down, explain to your Lordships why His Majesty's Government have altered their policy recently and what they propose to do. The noble Earl stated frankly that he is not himself very fully acquainted with the question of Somaliland, and apparently he does not know that the Italians do not profess to administer their northern portion of Somaliland at all, and I gather from what he has said that he knows pretty well in how disturbed a state Abyssinian Somaliland is. The noble Earl spoke of a criticism made by my right hon. friend Colonel Seely in another place some years ago as to the policy of keeping garrisons at internal situations in Somaliland. But what Colonel Seely was referring to at that time was an immobile garrison of 200 or 300 men. That is not the present policy of His Majesty's Government.
The noble Earl said a great deal about the treaties that have been made with the tribes. Of course, those treaties do not cover the whole of Somaliland. They apply much more to the western portion than to the eastern. There were, as far as I remember, six treaties made altogether, and in four of those treaties the gracious favour and protection of Her Majesty was granted to the tribes. With the exception of the Warsangeli, all the tribes were more or less in the west; and the noble 1153 Earl, I am sure, is sufficiently well acquainted with the past history of Somaliland to know how the Warsangeli have carried out their share of the treaty with us and how we have carried out our share of the treaty with them. But the difficulty in Somaliland does not lie so much owing to the treaties we have made. It lies rather in the moral obligations which rest upon us with reference to tribes like the Dolbahanta, with whom I think I am correct in saying we have no treaty at all.
The noble Earl has referred to two questions that I want to treat separately, and one of them I am afraid I must treat at considerably more length than he did—I refer to the case of the late Mr. Corfield. Mr. Corfield was a man of high courage, of great capacity; he was beloved by his friends; he was certainly adored by the members of his Camel Corps; he did splendid work with that Camel Corps among the Sulagudab and elsewhere. He was cordially praised for that work by my right hon. friend the Secretary of State. His career was a career of great promise, but it was cut short, and he lost his life through one, and only one, sad mistake. I would gladly have left the question of Mr. Corfield alone, but I am again challenged and must say something more about it. Endeavours have been made to throw the blame upon other people. That is natural enough. But I think, in some of the efforts that have been made to divert the blame, it has not quite been realised how serious the imputations that have been made are. Mr. Corfield, alas, is dead. We cannot ask him what made him suddenly, at the last moment, disobey orders of which we know he was fully aware.
My own theory is—and it is the only theory to my mind that fits the facts of the situation—that it was only after he left Mr. Archer on August 8 last and heard from retreating tribesmen the story of the burnt karias and of the looted stock that he decided to act. I believe the facts are that those stories worked so much upon his generous nature that he suddenly made up his mind to undertake the hazardous enterprise, not of being attacked by, but of putting himself right in front of and attacking, this large Dervish force. What are the other theories? One of them is that Mr. 1154 Corfield's instructions from his official superiors were conflicting; that whilst written instructions telling him not to attack the Dervishes, even small parties of the Dervishes, had been given to him, oral instructions of quite a different tenour had been also given. I must point out that this is a very serious charge to make against one or both of two public servants of the Crown, men of unstained honour, who have served His Majesty with great distinction for many years in one of the most difficult situations and in one of the most unattractive spots on God's earth.
§ LORD EMMOTT
I will tell the noble Earl. On October 2 last year there appeared in the Morning Post a letter from Mr. Wilmot Corfield, in which he said—As I read the official report on the affair, Mr. Corfield, the man who knew, was distinctly encouraged by superior authority to stretch to the very limit his discretionary powers of advance into the interior, and even to exceed them.Again in a letter by the same writer, which appeared in the Morning Post on October 10, occurs the following—There is nothing in the Blue-book whatever to show that Corfield actually disobeyed the spirit of his instructions, but much to point to the contrary. Only by resort to a quibble can his action stand condemned. Mr. Harcourt should be invited to explain under what circumstances Mr. Archer was recommended for a decoration. There are holders of decorations who have deservedly won them.And Mr. Prevost Battersby, in the Morning Post of October 9, said—His gallant life and the lives of those who fell besides him have been most shamefully sacrificed by the men who, for political purposes, set him a task almost beyond mortal capacity, and who, having doomed him, try to dodge their responsibility by defaming his memory.Mr. William Rumbold, in the Morning Post on November 13 last, wrote—Mr. Corfield was fully justified in keeping his own and England's word to the friendlies even against vague written instructions, but it is evident that he had received verbal instructions giving him a free hand which the Colonial Office now deny.I have other extracts, but I do not think I need go further into the matter. These prove my point.
I do not think that the people who have made these charges quite realise what 1155 they involve. For what do they mean? The reason of making these charges is to defend the late Mr. Corfield from an accusation of disobedience. But these charges involve not only disobedience but hypocrisy and unspeakable meanness, because they attribute the disobedience which has been charged against Mr. Corfield to Mr. Archer or Mr. Byatt, I do not know which—at any rate, Mr. Archer was in the country at the time and Mr. Byatt was not—and they couple with that a charge so mean and incredible that I can hardly bring myself to utter it. For if the charge against Mr. Archer is true he is certainly made out to be a hypocrite, because he gave written instructions of one tenor and oral instructions of another without informing the Colonial Office, and by so doing sent a brave man to his death. The meanness comes in in this, that having sent a brave man to his death he did not own what he had done but threw the blame on Mr. Corfield. And that is called "reading between the lines." I challenge the men who make such a monstrous charge to produce their proof. We are asked to do justice to the dead. God forbid that we should do otherwise! But it is equally important, surely, to do justice to the living. Are the living, without a shadow of evidence, to be accused of action so contemptible as to put them outside the pale of all decent people? I repel this charge with the scorn it deserves.
I return to the other reason which is given for what is described by these latter-day apologists as a piece of technical disobedience. The other reason given is that the disobedience was long planned by Mr. Corfield. The idea is that he, believing our policy to be a mistake and in order be bring home the pusillanimous character of the Government's policy to the minds of the nation, sacrificed his life for the sake of the Empire. Now, I am perfectly certain that Mr. Corfield was ready to sacrifice his life at any moment in the interests of a good cause. He was what is called in common parlance "white all through," precisely the sort of man one would desire to go tiger shooting with; but it is an insult to his memory to accuse him of having long formed a resolution to disobey a Government which he had agreed to serve, and had, therefore, inferentially promised to obey. If it were true, we should have to modify our view of the 1156 essential straightforwardness of Mr. Corfield's character, which everybody who knew him attests. He was reckless of his own life, we know, but he cannot have been so reckless of the lives of others as to offer them up as a sacrifice also in order to bring home a lesson to the Government. Such an idea is nothing less than an insult. And for the modified idea that the resolution to disobey was not of long standing but was formed after the rebuke, if we may call it a rebuke, which was given to him and which is set out on page 36 of the Blue-book—for that there is no evidence, and I do not think it is any more true than the other. He promised Mr. Archer the day before he died not to attack the Dervishes. He cannot then have meant to attack them, and the only theory that accounts for his disobedience is that on the afternoon of the day when he left Mr. Archer he changed his mind owing to what he heard from the retreating tribesmen. It was a brave act. It was not a wise one. He lost his own life and the lives of at least thirty-two others of the Camel Corps. It was almost a miracle that the Camel Corps was not entirely wiped out.
A grave situation was created; a much graver one would have been created had the corps been entirely wiped out. It was not a complete victory, for the tribes soon recommenced raiding. The Camel Corps has had to be reconstructed. The western tribes, who had been reduced to order largely by Mr. Corfield's action, have been left unprotected and unlooked after, and are, as it is described, calling for " a sahib to take Mr. Corfield's place." I take it that I should only be wasting your Lordships' time if I were now to show that it was a serious act of disobedience on Mr. Corfield's part. I take it that that is not contested, and therefore I will not, by reading extracts from the Blue-book, which otherwise I would have done, occupy your time on this matter. But to sum up the case I may call your Lordships' attention to the instructions that are printed on pages 16 and 17 of the Blue-book; to the query that Mr. Byatt sent, which is mentioned on page 20, and the reply sent by the Secretary of State, which appears on page 21. There is proof on page 44 that that Despatch was communicated to Mr. Corfield. Then follows the warning given to Mr. Corfield on June 23 of last year, mentioned on page 36. Finally, there is the warning on the day that he started—that is not in the Blue-book— 1157 and there is the warning on military grounds given to him by Major Summers, who was with him, which is mentioned on page 49. Mr. Corfield showed great bravery and a reckless disregard of odds which must at all times appeal to Englishmen, but he did show, too, disobedience, and that disobedience has had most unfortunate results.
I feel that I must protest, not as a Party apologist at all but in the interests of public life, against the attacks which have been made on my right hon. friend the Secretary of State for the Colonies in regard to what he did in reference to the affair of Dul Madoba. It is said that he ought not to have published the Despatches that he did. I say he was bound to publish those Despatches for the sake of the living and for the sake of the Colonial Service. There would have been a universal demand on the part of the public to know what happened at Dul Madoba which no Minister could have withstood. Mr. Harcourt did his best to suppress the paragraph in the telegram on page 38—the telegram which came from Mr. Archer, in which he said that Mr. Corfield had attacked the Dervishes against his instructions. He suppressed that passage in the vain hope that he might be able to keep the whole affair of Mr. Corfield's disobedience from the knowledge of the public. And how was his reticence repaid? For six weeks he was accused of having made war on the cheap, of having sent a corporal's guard to conquer a country as large as England, of having sent a little force to fight thousands of men—all monstrously untrue; and he said never a word in reply.
And when the Despatches were published and it was found that this unfortunate affair and Mr. Corfield's own death were due to his having disobeyed his instructions, then there was a loud outcry against my right hon. friend for publishing the information. I say that no other course was open to him. The country had a right to know the facts. There is no case in recent years of facts of such importance having been hushed up. In the second place, if he had not published those Despatches blame which did not belong to him must have fallen upon Mr. Archer. If you are going, for the sake of the memory of the dead, to throw blame on the living and to ruin their careers, if you are really recommending conduct of that kind, then I say you are recommending conduct which 1158 would make it impossible for us in the Colonial Office to get good men to serve us in posts in the Colonies. I appeal to your Lordships who have knowledge of official life as to whether anything could have been done after the affair was over except what my right hon. friend did in publishing these Despatches. No half publication was possible. Either he must say exactly what happened, how it happened, and who was responsible for its having happened, or refuse to say anything at all because some of the disclosures might be painful. And then what an outcry we should have had. I do say that no Minister has a right to suppress information of that kind in regard to an affair like that at Dul Madoba. As it was, my right hon. friend did his best, and although the accusations made against him recently have not been so vile and cruel as those to which I referred earlier as having been incidentally made without proof against Mr. Archer, I do protest against the unfairness of the attacks that have been made upon him. I have done my best to do justice to the great qualities which Mr. Corfield possessed, to his dauntless courage, and to the very valuable services that he had rendered in Somaliland before the affair of Dul Madoba,
I turn with some relief to the other question with which the noble Earl dealt, and that is our position at the present time in Somaliland. There are, of course, as has often been said, two policies of "thorough" which might be pursued. One of them is to completely occupy the country at enormous cost, and, if any opportunity occurred of catching that very elusive gentleman the Mullah, to catch him; but, as far as I know, no responsible Party in this country recommends a policy of that kind. The other policy is to evacuate the country altogether, but I certainly am not going to discuss that policy because it seems to me entirely impossible on Imperial grounds. Those two policies being out of the question, it seems to me that no other policy can possibly be contrived which is not open to objection in detail. Wherever you cease your policy of occupation, be it at the coast, be it at Burao, be it at Bohotleh—wherever you cease, somebody will say there is territory beyond that which you ought to occupy. It is not possible to contrive any policy which is not open to objection in detail unless you adopt one of the complete policies of occupation or of evacuation. And yet some plan must be adopted.
1159 I will explain as clearly as I can why His Majesty's Government have chosen the plan that they are now pursuing. It is, of course, a change of plan. That I admit. It was hoped that the policy of coastal concentration which was carried out in 1910 and the arming of the friendlies would have enabled the friendlies to withstand the attacks of the Dervishes, and would have brought, I will not say complete peace and quiet, but at any rate a possible situation in Somaliland. It was always understood that that policy when carried out was an experimental policy and subject to change, and the Despatch at the beginning of this Blue-book shows in a very convincing way why the coastal concentration and the arming of the friendlies has broken down. In the first place, the friendlies used the arms with which they were supplied to a large extent to fight among themselves and to settle their own tribal quarrels, and by so doing they produced misery, disorder, and economic waste, and greatly weakened their power when they were attacked by the Dervishes And not only that. They did not confine their operations to British Somaliland. They also carried out depredations in Abyssinian Somaliland, in a country with which we were on friendly terms, and we could not allow raids of that kind to be pursued with impunity. Then, again, we found that the disorder was becoming so great that there were a good many refugees at Berbera causing great expense and trouble, and I admit that the effect of these refugees being there was not one to enhance our prestige. In the next place, the Mullah, although he has lost his power as a religious prophet, is still a terror in the land because of the hawklike raids he makes and the horrible mutilations he carries out upon his captives. Undoubtedly if the policy of coastal concentration had been continued there was great fear that little by little the Mullah's power would have gradually increased, and eventually even the occupation of Berbera itself would have become very difficult, if not impossible. Therefore if we were to remain in the country at all, it seemed necessary to adopt some other course.
The noble Earl said a good deal—and I have already referred to the matter— about our obligation to the friendlies. As I said, our obligation to them—we 1160 have, I think, only obligations of the "favour and protection" order to four tribes—are not so serious a matter as the policy of stiffening the backs of the Dolbahanta and other tribes who are a fringe between ourselves and the Mullah. We must keep order in the western portion of Somaliland. For our own sake we must also try to help the friendlies who are living in the direction of the Ain Valley. We cannot see anarchy spreading in the West, as it certainly was spreading before the first Camel Corps was formed, without increasing the possibility of a Dervish advance. As the noble Earl opposite has said, a Camel Corps was formed in 1912. At first it was intended to be 70 in number, but Mr. Byatt suggested its increase to 150, and that number was sanctioned. It was organised during the winter of 1912, and Mr. Corfield was brought from Nigeria in order to take command. It was most successful in its action in the western portion. It settled disputes; it did excellent work in the Hargeisa district and among the Sulagudab; it restored order in the West; it induced the tribes who had looted the Abyssinians to restore the stock; and Mr. Byatt asked for leave for the Camel Corps to move to Burao in the direction of Ber in order to inspire the Dolbahanta to take the initiative or to fight the Dervishes if they were attacked. It did a great deal to stop the spread of anarchy in Burao, and the excellent results that were obtained in Burao are borne testimony to on page 26 of the Blue-book. What effect it had on the Mullah is very doubtful. If the Mullah's letters were not such sinister preludes to something happening, it would be possible to derive amusement from the epistolary style of that extraordinary gentleman.
Then followed Dul Madoba and the retirement from Burao. But nothing that has happened has lessened the belief of the Colonial Office in the possibilities of a mobile Camel Corps in Somaliland for the purpose I have mentioned—to keep order in the West, and to give some measure of assurance to the Eastern friendlies. Acting on the advice of our representatives we have decided to recruit and organise a Camel Corps of 500—we have not yet recruited it up to its full numbers—and to hold Sheikh and Burao. We are at Sheikh at the present time, but not at Burao. We have also decided to increase 1161 the garrison of Indian troops to 400. There are a good many more Indian troops in the country than that just at present. This is the least possible modification of our policy that is likely to effect our purpose of keeping peace in the West and preventing the Dervishes from making raids in the East. A large immobile garrison in the interior is comparatively useless, and a large mobile force is unnecessary except for the purpose of capturing the Mullah, and our experience in 1903 and 1904 is against any such policy.
I am not going to defend His Majesty's Government against the charge of inconsistency. What I am really anxious about is, what is the best policy for the moment. I am fully aware that it is easy to say that our policy is neither the one thing nor the other, neither a policy of evacuation nor of complete occupation. What I do say is that we have adopted our present policy acting on the best advice of those on the spot. I hesitate, after our experiences in Somaliland, to make any prophecy. I can simply say that I have a strong hope that our present dispositions will achieve the two objects we have in view—namely, keeping order in the West and preventing the further advance of the Mullah in the East. The noble Earl asked one or two questions, one of which was whether it was true that oil had been discovered in Somaliland. Signs of oil have been found, and the matter is being investigated. Of course if any large quantity of oil is found there, Somaliland might become a different financial proposition from what it has been in the past.
§ EARL CURZON OF KEDLESTON
My Lords, I am afraid that those of your Lordships who have listened to the very clear and, if I may say so, none too long exposition of the case by my noble friend Lord Stanhope, and to the defence which has just been offered by the Undersecretary of State for the Colonies, will not be able to avoid the conclusion that the last phase in the Somali muddle— because I agree with the noble Lord that the conduct of all Parties and all Governments has not been free from the same imputation for many years past—has been no more glorious, in fact has been, if anything, rather more inglorious, than those which preceded it, and that these events do not reflect very much credit on the prescience or even on the common sense of His Majesty's Government.
1162 The noble Lord the Under-Secretary has made a speech characterised by his accustomed persuasiveness and candour, and his speech was divided into four parts. He dealt at some length with the case of Mr. Corfield, to which I shall come presently because it is a matter which it is necessary should be dealt with fully on both sides of your Lordships' House. Secondly, he devoted a considerable portion of his time to dealing with charges which have apparently been made, not by my noble friend, not in this House, against different persons—against the Secretary of State for the Colonies, against Mr. Archer, and against Mr. Corfield himself. My Lords, I was even unaware of the existence of those charges. I had not read them. I am not concerned, therefore, either to discuss or to dispute them; and I propose solely to deal with the facts of the case as they are narrated in the Blue-book, possessing no independent sources of information. Thirdly, the noble Lord, if I may say so, skated very lightly over that which was the most difficult subject with which he had to deal—namely, the admitted change in policy on the part of His Majesty's Government. That there has been a change he frankly allowed. The full nature of that change I shall endeavour to make clear. But with the skill of an old Parliamentarian the noble Lord dealt rather tenderly with that aspect of the case. He then concluded by saying something about the future policy of His Majesty's Government, about which I shall have to put to him some very straight questions.
Postponing for the moment the case of Mr. Corfield, I should like to be allowed to begin by saying a word or two about the policy of His Majesty's Government as it existed four years ago when we had our last debate on the subject in this House and as it has been modified in the circumstances recorded in this Blue-book. In the debate to which I refer, which took place in April, 1910, the noble Marquess who leads the House will remember very well stating that the Government—he was their spokesman at the moment—had decided to reject what was then described as the middle policy of Captain Cordeaux, the Commissioner in Somaliland, and the noble Marquess expounded to us the policy of what he described as coastal concentration. The British officers, six or seven in number, and the troops whom they commanded, had been withdrawn from the chain of 1163 posts which they occupied in the interior; the native contingents were disbanded; the entire interior was evacuated, and only the three points on the coast, Berbers, Zeila, and Bulhar were to continue to be occupied by British troops; the friendlies were to be armed, and Somaliland was to be run on the cheap. I think we were told that the cost was to be about £8,000 per annum. The noble Marquess, in the speech in which he answered me on that occasion, said that the prestige of the Mullah was gone. His prestige is always going, but somehow or other it is as often revived; and although we hear that he is old and obese he is still just as great a nightmare and object of fear to our forces and the tribes as he was ten years ago. The noble Marquess also told us that the friendlies wanted to be left alone, and that if they were armed they would be able to hold their own; and in a burst of extremely incautious prophecy he said that there might be occasional tribal fights of a kind with which we had been familiar, but that he did not anticipate more than that. When I expounded the opposite case I was taunted by him with having recommended a forward policy to your Lordships' House.
In the remarks which I made on that occasion I did criticise the repudiation of our treaty obligations to the tribes; I did condemn the evacuation of the interior; and I said that I was confident that sooner or later you would have to go back. I did criticise the policy of abandoning the friendlies and giving them these arms, which I thought would either go into the hands of the Mullah, as many did, or would be used by them for the purpose for which they have employed them. My last words, in replying to the noble Marquess at the end of the debate, were these—The impression left on my mind is that there is even less to be said for the case of the Government than I had inferred, and that the policy of evacuation, even if it be a policy of evacuation only of the interior, is likely to be attended with all the unfortunate consequences which I have ventured to anticipate.I do not want to take the credit to myself of a successful prophecy when the consequences are so deplorable. How deplorable they were is obvious from what is contained in this Blue-Book.
I need not go at great length into this matter, but, the policy having been decided upon in the beginning of 1910 1164 and explained here, by April 1912 we find the Commissioner saying—Anarchy is steadily spreading over the country with a prospect of becoming permanent.He says again—The policy has disappointed expectations; it has been given a full and complete trial and has failed.And, finally, we have the remarkable words, quoted by Lord Stanhope, used by Mr. Archer in which he made the startling disclosure that there had been appalling internecine warfare during the years 1911 and 1912, and in which he added—I do not see any good in concealing the fact that during this period it is estimated that about one-third of the male population of the friendly tribes of the Protectorate was exterminated in inter-tribal fighting.This was the appalling consequence, no doubt the unanticipated consequence but still the appalling consequence, of the policy of coastal concentration and evacuation of the interior which was so confidently undertaken by His Majesty's Government four years ago and so plausibly defended by the noble Marquess in this House. How absolutely it has failed is shown, not only by the extracts from the Blue-books to which I have referred, but by the frank admissions of Lord Emmott in his speech to-night.
In these circumstances it was not surprising that some steps had to be taken, and, as we have been told, the formation of the Camel Corps was the action that was decided upon. I do not desire to say anything about the circumstances of the formation of that Corps. I will only pass these comments upon it. In the first place, from the moment that the Government went in for the policy of a Camel Corps they abandoned the policy of coastal concentration upon which they entered four years ago. Let there be no doubt about that. They went back to the policy which they had condemned, and which I had been called "forward" for having advocated in your Lordships' House. They may not have foreseen the results, and when Mr. Harcourt gave his consent to the formation of the Camel Corps they no doubt adopted it as the best and cheapest way out of the difficulty without thinking of the consequences. But from that moment they were back in the old round again; and it was perfectly certain that having taken 1165 that step ulterior consequences would ensue which they did not see at the time.
A point which I wish to labour a little more closely is this. Lord Emmott disputed that there was ambiguity in the instructions under which Mr. Corfield and our officers were acting. I make that charge, and shall endeavour to substantiate it. All this trouble has arisen from the fact that from the start nobody formed a clear and logical idea of what the Camel Corps was to do. That is quite obvious from what appears in the Blue-book. If you look at the original proposal of Mr. Byatt in 1912 on page 5 of the Blue-book, he there speaks of this Camel Corps being—a small mobile striking force, which could be used to maintain order by coercion within a radius of fifty miles or so of Berbera, and to keep the main roads clear.But in the very next paragraph he contemplates very much more, for he says—As the friendly dreads the Dervish "—that is, the Mullah's men—" so the Dervish dreads Camelry, and such a corps would be regarded with a very general respect. Its existence would go far to prevent a descent upon the coast, and in patrolling the immediate hinterlandit would make for peace among the coastal tribes. It would, of course, be necessary to take the risk of such a small force meeting preconcerted opposition and suffering a reverse, but the risk would be small in proportion to the good results which might reasonably be looked for.So that in the beginning, before the corps was formed, the Commissioner was looking forward to conditions under which this force might possibly be engaged in conflict with the Dervishes.
Then if you pass on to his instructions to Mr. Corfield on page 16 of the Blue-book, you find the same contradiction and perplexity manifest again. He says that the fundamental reason for the raising of the corps is the necessity of keeping open the trade routes, and so on. But once again its military character is admitted, when a few paragraphs later he says it is—to be regarded as a striking force which may be used to repress disorder, and to insist on compliance with any decision arrived at in Berbera.Then, again, later on he says—It is important to avoid giving the impression that the corps exists for the purpose of making war on the friendlies; they must understand that it exists solely to give them protection and assistance. … When using coercion you will take all possible precautions to avoid bloodshed, but should any armed opposition be offered you will crush it at once, promptly and sternly.1166 Then come the instructions given to Mr. Corfield and repeated again later on—the rather bewildering and, I think, even humiliating instructions that if he encountered small bodies of Dervishes he was to do nothing, but if he encountered large bodies of Dervishes he was to beat a retreat to the coast.
Is it not clear that from the start the Camel Corps, and, a fortiori, its commandant, was in an absurd and contradictory position? In the first place, we have been told that the Camel Corps was formed to protect and assist the friendlies, but at the same time it was to punish and kill the friendlies if they did not behave in a proper way; and so much was this the case that in the House of Commons Mr. MacCallum Scott, in his speech on the subject, spoke the whole time of the Camel Corps as having been organised against the friendlies. And it is significant in this Blue-book that on the first occasion when they were engaged the party they defeated is described as "the enemy," though the enemy was a body of the very friendlies whom they had been constituted to protect and assist. So that what it comes to is this —the Camel Corps was to protect and assist the friendly friendlies, but it was to punish and kill the unfriendly friendlies. The anomaly was even greater than that, because, as the passages which I have just read out show, the Camel Corps was at liberty to punish friendlies for outrages on each other but it was not at liberty to punish outrages committed by hostile tribes on friendlies. Every word I am saying on this matter is true, and cannot be denied by noble Lords opposite. It really amounts to this—that the Camel Corps was to be a fighting unit so far as the friendlies were concerned, even if they became unfriendly, but the moment the Dervishes were concerned it was to cease to be a fighting unit and to retire from the scene.
How impossible this dilemma was was seen by nobody more clearly than the Acting Commissioner himself, Mr. Archer, because in his final instructions to Mr. Corfield he says—On the other hand, I cannot attempt to disguise the difficulty of the situation in which Mr. Corfield will be placed should necessity arise in future to withhold support in the face of a Dervish raid.—the very contingency which actually arose within a few weeks of the time when 1167 that remark was made. Well, if our Commissioner was in some doubt as to the nature and scope of the functions of the Camel Corps it is not surprising that the natives misunderstood the matter, too. I think Lord Stanhope was quite right in drawing attention to this, because it is abundantly clear from this Blue-book that whatever may have been the intentions of His Majesty's Government or the views of our officers on the spot, the natives took a very different view of the object of the Camel Corps. If you look at page 16 of the Blue-book you will find, again in a Report from Mr. Byatt—There is a widespread idea among Somalia that the Government is about to revive the status quo, and to re-occupy the former posts in the interior. No harm is done at the moment by this belief; it will, in fact, tend to simplify the work of the Constabulary while that corps is asserting its influence at the outset.So that it is quite clear that while the Government meant one thing the natives thought that they meant another, and we were quite willing to profit by the misunderstanding on their part. The same impression is apparent from a remark on page 20, again in a communication from Mr. Byatt, where he says—There is a wide belief that the Government, by means of the Camel Corps and of reinforcements yet to arrive in the country, intends to ensure their safety "—that is, the safety of the Dolbahanta—" and even were this idea completely dispelled the tribes would make no effort on their own behalf.So much for the objects with which the Camel Corps was constituted and the impression which was held about it in the country.
Now we come to the appearance on the scene of Mr. Corfield. I say at once that I listened with respect and with satisfaction to the tribute paid by the noble Lord to that gallant but unfortunate man. It was a tribute conceived in a spirit of generosity and expressed in moving words, and I am sure that it will give some comfort, if comfort can be given, to the friends and relatives of that distinguished man. Mr. Corfield appeared upon the scene, and he at once showed those qualities of courage, of firmness, of tact, and of ability in dealing with the natives to which the noble Lord paid such a handsome tribute. But what was the result of the exhibition of these qualities on his part? So successful was he, and so glad was every one to profit 1168 by his success, that the old idea of the Camel Corps as a body to confine its operations within fifty miles of the coast immediately disappeared, and month by month as Mr. Corfield carried on his successful work we read of the gradual extension of the work and activities of the Camel Corps. First, they were to be confined to within fifty miles of the coast. Then we hear of them proceeding in the direction of Ber, which I think my noble friend said was one hundred miles from the coast. Then Mr. Byatt moves on the corps to Sheikh and Burao, and Burao becomes its headquarters from January. Then it goes to Hargeisa, and the rest of the corps is sent on to Las Dureh. Finally—and no attention has been drawn to this although I think it is important—in August, only a few days before Mr. Corfield lost his life, the whole force was ordered out by Mr. Archer to make a reconnaissance in force to find out whether the Dervishes were making a raid in strength or not. Here was a step taken by the highest officer in the Protectorate, which he admitted not to be covered by his orders and which directly led to the fatal encounter in which Mr. Corfield was killed. I do not blame Mr. Archer. He may have been perfectly right in the circumstances. But when we find how much blame has been thrown on Mr. Corfield for exceeding his orders, the fact remains that he lost his life in a reconnaissance which was ordered by his superior officer.
Now as to the events of the conflict itself. What happened? Mr. Corfield encountered the enemy in great numbers and decided to fight. No more than the noble Lord opposite do I know the reasons which impelled him to that decision. The hypothesis advanced by the noble Lord was one which is honourable to the kindly sentiments of Mr. Corfield, even although the noble Lord thinks that it was ill-advised and unwise. For whatever reason, he decided to fight this body of Dervishes, and he engaged in what I think cannot be described as otherwise than an heroic contest. This small body of men from the early hour of dawn held their own for five hours against a force of, I think, five or six times their number, losing a great many of their own men and killing something like four hundred out of a total of over two thousand of the enemy. The Camel Corps, of course, was only something like 150 men, but they had 300 1169 friendlies, who I admit behaved as friendlies are apt to do—they ran away during the encounter.
I now come to the question of Mr. Corfield's conduct. I do not wish, of course, to condone the infraction of orders by Mr. Corfield or by any officer serving His Majesty's Government in any part of the world; but if noble Lords have followed the narrative I have given from the Blue-book, I think they will be disposed to hold that, if Mr. Corfield blundered, the fault was not altogether, or mainly, his. I prefer rather to recall that if a blunder was made— and I offer no opinion about that; the noble Lord called it "a sad mistake"—Mr. Corfield acted from a high and noble sense of duty. I like to think, apart from the question of official discipline, of the spectacle of this brave Englishman declining to flee or to neglect what he conceived to be his duty when he saw the friendlies who had been committed to his protection in danger of being exterminated by this large force. And when we have the noble Lord putting forward his own hypothesis of the motives that actuated Mr. Corfield, do let us remember that Mr. Archer, who perhaps knew as much about it as any one, had his own theory, which is as follows. He said—It is apparent that he considered any other action impossible for the sake of our much shaken prestige in the country.Surely that confession from Mr. Archer is not a condemnation, it is not a condonation, it almost amounts to a justification, of Mr. Corfield's motives, at any rate, in taking the step that he did.
I pass for a moment to the proceedings of the Secretary of State for the Colonies. The noble Lord opposite embarked upon a chivalrous but very proper defence of his official chief against charges which I was not aware had been made, but which, if they were made and unfairly made, as he indicates, ought most certainly to be repelled. But if you look at the Despatch on page 56 of this Blue-book, which I will take the liberty of reading to your Lordships, you will see that Mr. Harcourt thus summed up the case—It is evident that the whole responsibility for this ill-advised and disastrous action must rest with the late Mr. Corfield. He has paid the penalty with his life, and I have no desire to dwell on this aspect of the matter. But I 1170 am compelled, if only in justice to the other officers concerned, to record my opinion that the disaster is due to his complete disregard of the instructions issued by His Majesty's Government, by Mr. Byatt, and by yourself.I say, my Lords, that when one reads that passage one cannot help feeling that the Secretary of State for the Colonies, if he felt called upon to express his censure, might have done it in less cold and ungenerous terms. I know Mr. Harcourt to be a warm-hearted man, and I cannot but think that upon mature reflection, when he might perhaps have been thinking less of the necessity of making a Parliamentary case and more of the desirability of giving rein to his own naturally generous sentiments, he would have expressed himself in a very different way.
After all, on these occasions when a man has sacrificed his life you have to think something of the honour and reputation of the deceased, and also to think something of the feelings of the family and friends he has left behind him. There is another respect in which I think the phrasing of that censure is infelicitous. Mr. Harcourt talks about the event as "this ill-advised and disastrous action." My Lords, was it a disaster? Ill-advised it may or may not have been, according to the point of view from which you regard it; but if it were a disaster it seems to me to have been a disaster to the Dervishes much more than to us. Our men with a very small force comported themselves with the greatest gallantry. It was on the other side that the loss of life, of prestige, and of almost everything, occurred; and if the word "disaster" is to be applied to anything we did, surely it may be applied with much greater reason to the sudden and precipitate retreat of Mr. Archer with the whole of the force after this encounter to the coast, which Mr. Archer himself in his Despatch described as "politically disastrous." That is where I think the real disaster lay.
Only one more word about Mr. Harcourt's censure. Would it not have been well if, at the same time that he felt it his duty to record this judgment, he had uttered some words of generous appreciation for all this man had done, comparable with those which the noble Lord has somewhat tardily given us to-night? After all, it was due exclusively to Mr. Corfield that your policy had any success at all. He was the man who breathed something like 1171 substance into this absurd compromise upon which you had embarked. He pacified the interior, and made the Camel Corps a reality. Yet the moment he made what is said to be a mistake you were down on him from Downing-street, and not one word of kindness or generosity was forthcoming. I speak warmly, not because I believe the Secretary of State deliberately erred, but I say that the moments of a supreme crisis are the moments when you want a man to speak from his heart and not confine himself to the etiquette of ordinary official procedure.
The noble Lord concluded his remarks about Mr. Corfield by giving his summary of what passed. My summary, I think, will be somewhat different from that of the noble Lord. I think Mr. Corfield was set an impossible task. He was acting upon instructions which, as I have shown to your Lordships, were really contradictory and perplexing. I do not mean the instructions of not engaging the Dervishes, but the whole policy of the Camel Corps. He fell a victim at last, not to any fit of temerity or any conscious disobedience to orders, but to the impossible nature of the task, as I think, which he was called upon to undertake. The noble Lord said, "Do not let us throw stones at each other over this matter. We have both been to blame in Somaliland in the past." There I think he was quite right. But I do not think it is possible to absolve His Majesty's Government from blame in this series of incidents, and the blame I would attach to them is this. First, they did not adhere to the policy on which they definitely decided four years ago. Secondly, when they decided to depart from it they did not foresee the difficulties by which that departure would inevitably be followed. Thirdly, after laying down this, from their point of view, very salutary rule about operating within fifty miles of the coast, they allowed the Camel Corps to march about the interior, and nothing was more certain than that sooner or later the Camel Corps would find itself entangled in some position from which it would be impossible to extricate itself without loss of honour. Finally, when the whole thing is over they cast the blame on a man who lost his life in attempting to carry out an impossible programme. That is the nature of the charge—if you like to call it a charge— that I venture to bring against His Majesty's Ministers.
1172 I have only one word to say in conclusion, and that is with regard to the present policy which was announced to us at the end of his speech by the noble Lord. I understood him to say that the Camel Corps has been increased to five hundred men, or will be so increased; that the Indian contingent has been increased to four hundred, apart from the other Indian troops in the country; and that Burao, which Colonel Seely laughed at as such an impossible and ridiculous place, is to become the headquarters of the corps. Also I think I saw it had been stated in the House of Commons that, instead of the expenditure of £8,000 which was commended to us four years ago, the cost of these new operations is to amount to nearly £60,000 per annum. May I venture respectfully to suggest to His Majesty's Government that, having made this new departure, they ought now to do what they failed to do before—namely, to be perfectly clear in their own mind as to what are the logical consequences it is going to entail. I do not want to repeat the point that the futile policy of 1910 has been abandoned. It is quite obvious that you have now definitely resumed the policy of interfering with, and making yourselves in the main responsible for, the interior. It is quite clear that you have resumed direct protection of the tribes— in fact, you have adopted the very policy which Captain Cordeaux recommended four years ago, and which I was denounced as "forward" for recommending in your Lordships' House in 1910.
What do you mean by this, and what are you going to do? I listened attentively to the noble Lord on this point. He said the object of the increased Camel Corps would be to keep the peace in the West and prevent the Dervishes from making raids in the East. When the Dervishes make raids in the East, is your new commandant to have the same instructions as Mr. Corfield? When he encounters a small body of Dervishes, is he to disappear; and when he encounters a considerable body of Dervishes, is he to bolt to the coast? What are you going to do with your increased Indian troops if they come across the enemy? Are they to retreat and face shame and disaster? I have seen nothing but what has been published in the Blue-books. But if the noble Marquess is going to say anything after me, I hope he will not evade this 1173 question I am putting. What is your policy going to be? Does this re-occupation of the interior carry with it a definite policy with regard to the Dervishes, or are you only going to protect the friendly friendlies, to massacre the unfriendly friendlies, and, when the Dervishes appear, to retreat to the sea? I think we ought to have those questions answered.
I will not pursue the matter. I will only say that for my own part I hope, for the sake of our common prestige, that this new venture will be more successful than the last has been. The page of Somali history which has just been turned down is, in my view, stained with a good deal of discredit, and I am not certain it is not stained with dishonour. I hope, in the interests of British honour and in the interests of the British Government in that part of the world, that the next page will be happier, although I confess, my Lords, I am extremely apprehensive as to the future.
THE LORD PRIVY SEAL AND SECRETARY OF STATE FOR INDIA (THE MARQUESS of CREWE)
My Lords, this debate has involved certain admissions from both sides that the policy of successive Governments in Somaliland cannot be regarded in its results as a supreme success; and though noble Lords opposite have naturally discussed the question from the point of view of an Opposition, yet I am quite willing to admit that, while blaming us in no measured terms, they have not made more purely Patty points than is to be expected in a discussion of this kind. Now, it has been admitted that the plans which were undertaken in 1910, and which the noble Earl opposite has described as having been detailed to the House by me, have undergone a considerable modification in the four years that have passed since then. Unfortunately I have not had the time, as the burden of this debate was to be borne by my noble friend behind me, to look up the debate of which the noble Earl spoke. He stated that at that time I described the prestige of the Mullah as gone, and that I argued therefrom that no further danger was to be apprehended from him. I cannot remember the words I used, but my impression is that I pointed out that the religious prestige of the Mullah had disappeared owing to his having been denounced as a religious force by the Shereef of Mecca; but I do not think I can have stated, because I certainly never believed that the Mullah, looked upon as a brigand, was to be regarded as a spent 1174 force or one who was likely to be deserted by those who had gathered round him.
It is quite true that in one respect our predictions and hopes were to a great extent falsified. We did look forward to a greater cohesion among the friendly tribes, cohesion directed against the Mullah and his Dervishes; and although we could not deny the possibility of inter-tribal quarrels we did not anticipate that they would rise to such a head as we see from the reports published in this last Blue-book that they did rise. But, speaking from memory, my main attempt to contradict the noble Earl was on this point. I cannot remember that he at that time laid great stress on the probability of trouble of a dangerous kind between the friendly tribes themselves. He said, if I remember right, that our withdrawal would leave harmless and comparatively defenceless people at the mercy of the Mullah and his Dervishes, and I endeavoured to point out what I should like to repeat now—that these so-called defenceless people are precisely the same people as the followers of the Mullah themselves. A great many of the friendly tribes, for instance the Dolbahanta and two or three of the others, possess remarkable military reputation; and in times past they have without any help from us inflicted severe defeats on the Mullah and his men. They produced two or three leaders in the past who showed both courage and military capacity; and my protest, I remember, was against the theory which appeared to be advanced by the noble Earl opposite that these friendly tribes were in the position, to make a comparison, of some of the most peaceful inhabitants of Bengal who were going to be placed at the mercy of people of the temper and calibre of the Pathans. I protested against that view, and I still say there is no reason whatever, except for the inter-tribal quarrels which take place, why these tribes should not have held their own absolutely against any force the Mullah and his Dervishes could bring against them; and it is entirely to the fact that they quarrelled amongst themselves and raided each other that the unhappy anarchy of the interior of Somaliland is due. Well, my Lords, that state of things having come about, my right hon. friend the present Secretary of State, my successor at the Colonial Office, decided on the formation of the Camel Corps, and the noble Earl opposite seems to have regarded the inception of that force as showing in itself a sign of weakness and of uncertainly of policy.
§ EARL CURZON OF KEDLESTON
I did not say that. I said it was a sign that you had abandoned the policy of evacuation of two years before.
THE MARQUESS OF CREWE
I quite understand. I was not attempting to quote the noble Earl's words; but he made merry at the duties which the Camel Corps were to be expected to do. Their duty, as I think he put it, was to protect the friendly friendlies and to punish the unfriendly friendlies when they squabbled among themselves. I do not at all quarrel with that description. That is the duty of every village policeman in this country. It is the duty of all the police in every country in the world to protect and assist, so far as possible, the law-abiding, and to bring to punishment those who break the law. This Camel Corps was designed to be a military police force. The noble Earl knows all about the Aden Troop. Then-duties—I am glad to think in happier circumstances and among a population less disorderly than the Somalis—are of an identical character; but they are not intended to be a military force. Some further analogy, although it is by no means an entirely close one, might be found among the tribal levies on the North-West frontier of India with which the noble Earl is also equally familiar. Therefore I cannot see that the institution of this force of military police brought about by changed circumstances, by the breakdown, which I fully admit, of the hope that the tribes in the interior would protect themselves against the Dervishes with the arms supplied to them, and, even though they squabbled, would not come to the serious degree of inter-tribal conflict to which they did come—I cannot see that the institution of such a force as this was in any way ridiculous or that it ought not reasonably be expected, as we still expect it, to play its part in the pacification of the country.
I pass for a moment to the sad episode of the death of Mr. Corfield. I agree with everything that fell from my noble friend behind me with regard to the heroic figure of Mr. Corfield and of the splendid courage which in his last fight he displayed. But I am obliged to lay stress upon a point to which my noble friend behind me also alluded, namely, that so much of the defence that has been offered on behalf of the particular conduct of Mr. Corfield—and that is true not merely of 1176 what has been said outside, but to some extent of what has been said in this debate —involves a direct imputation upon the other officers who were concerned in their different spheres in the affair in which he became the central figure. There is a saying somewhere in one of George Eliot's books, that we are apt to fall into the way of keeping our sympathy for those who are dead and leave none for those who have to continue their hard journey here. And I would ask the House to consider whether many of the points which have been mentioned on behalf of Mr. Corfield do not involve an imputation on those who are left. Take, for instance, the final determination to engage the Dervishes. My noble friend behind me gave an explanation, not, as I thought, an unlikely one, of how a man of Mr. Corfield's bold and generous temper came to assume that it was a needful thing for him to engage the Dervishes. But, my Lords, Major Summers, a distinguished Indian officer, in whom from his being an Indian soldier I may be supposed to take a special interest, and I have every reason to suppose as courageous a man, and a man with as high a sense of duty, as Mr. Corfield himself—he advised against the engagement. And noble Lords will see that if you simply adopt Mr. Corfield's view that it would be a cowardly thing not to have engaged the Dervishes in that particular way at that particular time, you are thus casting a severe imputation either upon the courage or the sense of duty of Major Summers; and in the same way, as my noble friend behind me pointed out, the explanations which have been given on behalf of Mr. Corfield involve imputations against either Mr. Byatt, or still more harshly, and as I think most unfairly, against Mr. Archer, who showed in fact a personal courage not inferior to that shown by Mr. Corfield himself.
The noble Earl spoke of the danger attaching to a reconnaissance in force. I am disposed to some extent to share in the belief that in a country like Somaliland and against such a foe as the Dervishes such an operation was of a very critical character and one which only ought to be undertaken in very special circumstances. That is an opinion which I should give with great hesitation because it is partly a military question, as to which I have no knowledge, and partly also a question involving a knowledge of the people of the country in which I am equally deficient. 1177 The noble Earl opposite, Lord Stanhope, laid it down as an absolute canon that, against people like the Somalis, to make a reconnaissance and then to retire would only be treated as an avowal either of cowardice or of weakness. I can only assume that those who gave the order know more of the nature of the people and of the circumstances than the noble Earl would at all claim to know himself. Supposing, for instance, that this particular engagement had never taken place, the whole matter would have passed comparatively unnoticed here; and I cannot say there is any reason to believe that our prestige in Somaliland would have suffered thereby.
But one is entitled to ask, in the first place, whether noble Lords opposite contemplate the idea of a complete re-conquest of Somaliland. From the speech of the noble Earl, Lord Stanhope, I gather that he at any rate does. I will explain what I mean. He spoke of the fact that it is a wrong and perhaps a shameful thing that where the British Flag has once been flying it should not fly still. If that rule were literally kept the noble Earl opposite (Lord Curzon) would have had to add to his many responsibilities in India the government of Afghanistan, and a pleasant job it would have been I have no doubt for the noble Earl. Therefore, although the phrase sounds well it is one which I think has to be taken with some possibilities of qualification. I do not believe myself that the people of this country, whatever Party is in power, would view with equanimity the re-conquest of Somaliland by a great military expedition and the holding by a great military force of the whole country in a vast number of posts, as it would have to be held; and therefore in my view that one of the two logical alternatives must, I think, be dismissed. It is also generally agreed that a complete departure from the country, including the ports, is also out of the question. Therefore it remains which of the numerous illogical courses is the one which we ought to pursue? I certainly do not myself expect that any course of the illogical kind which it is found wisest to pursue by any Government that has to undertake the task will turn Somaliland into an Arcadia, even if oil is discovered there, and those who pursue oil go and settle there, whatever military and administrative steps it may be desired to take. But I do not see that 1178 the further extension of this modified policy of policing need be disastrous although it may not be supremely successful. It is probably right to increase the Camel Corps, and also the force of Indian troops at and close by the coast to a certain extent.
As I am not in charge of the Department I cannot profess to answer the question which the noble Earl has put to us as to, if I may use the phrase, what the precise relation to a Dervish raid of an increased policing force would be. I must leave that to those who represent the Department, and I have no reason to imagine that a precise answer to that question could be given at this moment or without further examination of the various possibilities of the situation. But the total outcome as far as we are concerned is this, that though we cannot profess to regard the condition of Somaliland with satisfaction, and though we have to admit that some of the hopes which we uttered four years ago and before that and upon which we attempted to build have been falsified, yet we are not prepared to admit that we have anything to be ashamed of in the action which we have taken; and we are not by any means without hope that, though we ought not to indulge in any extravagant hope, the future of the country may be made as tolerably peaceful and as suitable for carrying out the conditions of such trade as passes through the country as can be hoped for considering the nature of the country itself and of the people who inhabit it.
§ LORD EMMOTT
I must apologise to the noble Earl for forgetting to answer his request for Papers. It is the intention to lay Papers presently. I cannot promise Papers at present, as there is hardly anything to lay; but Papers will be laid, I understand, comparatively shortly.
§ EARL CURZON OF KEDLESTON
May I ask the noble Lord whether he will take steps, if it is found possible, to include an answer to the questions which I put— namely, as to the instructions to be issued to the military force under the altered circumstances of the case.
§ LORD EMMOTT
I will remember that point. May I point out to the noble Earl that he labours under rather a wrong impression in calling this a military force. The essence of this is that it is a police force. It is not meant, in the first place, to fight the Dervishes, but to do police work amongst the tribes.
§ EARL CURZON OF KEDLESTON
My remark applies not merely to the Camel Corps but to the Indian contingent. You have an Indian contingent of four or five hundred men in the interior, and it is equally important to know what they will be called upon to do in the event of a Dervish raid as it is to know what the Camel Corps are to do.
§ LORD EMMOTT
There are not four hundred men in the interior, and the Indian troops are certainly not mobile enough to seek out Dervishes and make them fight. The whole trouble in Somali-land is that with a force sufficient in numbers to induce the Dervishes to fight you cannot be sure of beating them, and with a force sufficient in numbers to defeat them you cannot make them fight. No new instructions have been issued to the new Camel Corps. The corps is not yet fully recruited and fully trained, and there has been no need to issue any different instructions at present.
§ EARL STANHOPE
The noble Lord stated several times that only four tribes have treaties with this country. If he turns to No. 60 of the Blue-book of 1910 he will find a telegram from the Commissioner to the Secretary of State, in which he telegraphs—Total population of tribes with whom we have treaties of protection may be roughly estimated at 200,000, though only about half that number would be immediately affected by withdrawal.Your Lordships will see that it is a very much larger question than the noble Lord perhaps gave the impression. It is not merely a question of protecting four tribes —at any rate, if they are only four tribes they are two-thirds of the population of Somaliland—and, further, the question is not confined to the tribes that live in the West, but to those also in the South-east where Burao is situated which is now to be the base of the new constabulary. Those who know Somaliland and British East Africa have always wondered what is the object of the military constabulary. As a 1180 soldier once said, "it is certainly not military, and it is certainly not constabulary." They are not suited to take action against the Dervishes, and yet, on the other hand, they are too military to restrict to ordinary police duties.
§ LORD EMMOTT
I did not say that there were treaties with only four tribes. There are only treaties offering protection with four tribes, but there are treaties with six tribes altogether. I do not know their population.
§ EARL STANHOPE
The telegram which I quoted says that there are treaties of protection with a population of 200,000. I desire to withdraw the Motion for Papers, as I understand that Papers will be laid at a later date.
§ Motion, by leave, withdrawn.