Ras Tafari International Consultants Inquiry EAST AFRICA ANGLO-ITALIAN
EAST AFRICA ANGLO-ITALIAN RELATIONS.
HC Deb 05 June 1896 vol 41 cc516-55
§ MR. LABOUCHERE
asked leave to move the Adjournment of the House for the purpose of discussing a definite matter of urgent public importance, namely:— "The keeping back from the House of Commons of communications between Her Majesty's Government and the Italian Government, and between Her Majesty's Government and Lord Cromer, in respect of matters connected with military operations in East Africa." The pleasure of the House not having been signified,
§ MR. SPEAKER
called on those Members who supported the Motion to rise in their places.
All the Members on the Opposition side, with the exception of those on the front Opposition Bench, having accordingly risen,
§ MR. LABOUCHERE
said the House would, no doubt, remember how surprised it was early in March, when the announcement appeared in the newspapers that an expedition was about to take place—to cross the Egyptian frontier and to invade the Soudan. Questions were then asked in the House, and the answers, he was bound to say, were exceedingly vague. They were informed that the expedition would be most useful to the Italians who were besieged at Kassala. He, in common with others, was very much surprised at the statement that the expedition was for the benefit of Italy. They knew that the summer season was coming on, and that that was the worst season for launching an expedition. They were also in possession of the Report of Lord Cromer, dated February 23, in which he stated that there was no danger on the frontier from the Dervishes, who were perfectly quiet. There was not the least allusion, to the expedition. There was a reason for this. Her Majesty's Government intended to apply to the Caisse de la Dette for the money with which to pay for the expedition. It was obvious that' if it had been stated that the expedition was for the benefit of Italy, and not, or only incidentally, for the advantage of Egypt, the application of the money of the Caisse, de la Dette could not have been legitimately made. Since the making of these vague and ambiguous statements, the Italian Government had published four Green-books. It was rather remarkable how the first of those Green-books came to be published. Signor Crispi published a Green-book, but from it a great many Dispatches wore omitted, and a good many which did appear in it were doctored. Signor Crispi was ejected from power and replaced by the Marquis di Rudini. A member of the Italian Chamber asked whether all the Dispatches that had passed between the different Governments and the Italian generals in Abyssinia had been published. The Marquis di Rudini said they had not been published; he thought they ought to be, and he would publish a second Green-book. It seemed a little hard that Dispatches should be addressed to the Italian Government and should not be submitted to the British House of Commons. [Cheers.]
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY
said his right hon. Friend the Under Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs stated that the Dispatches would be laid before Parliament.
§ MR. LABOUCHERE
said the Under Secretary stated that only two or three Dispatches would be laid before Parliament.
said he distinctly stated that whatever Dispatches between Her Majesty's Government and the Italian Government had already appeared in the Italian Green-book, Her Majesty's Government would be prepared to lay on the Table of the House.
§ MR. LABOUCHERE,
continuing, said it was not only two or three, but a considerable number of Dispatches which ought to be published for the Information of the House. Of some of these Dispatches not one word had been submitted to the House of Commons—in fact, had it not been for the publication of the Green-book, hon. Members would know nothing about the business. [Cheers.] In Italy, as the House were doubtless aware, there were, as in this House, two Parties. Just as there were here Little Englanders and Big Englanders there were in Italy Little Italians and Big Italians. Signor Crispi was the exponent of Big Italy, and the Marquis di Rudini was for Italy acting alone and for no extension of the Italian kingdom, and he was supported by every Radical in Italy. Signor Crispi was Prime Minister of Italy at the time Italy obtained a strip of land on the Red Sea, and he came to the conclusion that he ought to take all the Hinterland. He therefore established a protectorate over a part of Abyssinia and the other part he declared to be part and parcel of the Italian colony. In order to safeguard the new frontier he occupied, with our assent, Kassala, but we assented on condition that the occupation should be only temporary, that Italy should hold it subject to the paramount right of the Egyptian Government to demand that it should be restored to Egypt. The Italian Government made two demands upon the English Government. The first was that we should send certain letters to Ras Mangasha, who had written a letter to the Queen asking her to take his part and to prevent the Italians making war upon him.
The following letter was therefore drafted:— "To Ras Mangasha, son of King John, King of Kings of Zion and Ethiopia.—Sir,—I am commanded by the Queen of Great Britain and Ireland, Empress of India, to inform you that your letter dated the 21st of September last has been received, and that it has given her great pleasure to hear from you. While assuring you of the sincere friendship with which the Queen is animated towards you, I am to express Her Majesty's regret that hostilities should have broken out between Abyssinia and Italy, and I am to add that Her Majesty earnestly hopes that peace between the two countries may soon be concluded on satisfactory and lasting terms. Your sincere Friend, SALISBURY."
That was a most proper and reasonable letter to write on the part of a country that was an enemy neither of the Italians nor of the Abyssinians, but the Italian Government were not satisfied with it. On February 22nd, the Minister of Foreign Affairs telegraphed to the Italian Ambassador in London:— "The draft of the answer of Lord Salisbury to Mangascia makes no difference between the English friendship to Mangascia and that towards Italy, whilst the answer of the Ministry of Rosebery to Mangascia spoke of Italy as the ally of England. We think that to send such a reply would harm our interests." On February 25th, the Italian Ambassador telegraphed to the Minister of Foreign Affairs:—
" The Foreign Office has agreed that the draft of the letter to King Mangascia shall be corrected. Another is being prepared"; and on the 27th of the same month the Minister of Foreign Affairs telegraphed:— "The Foreign Office, in its answer to Ras Mangascia, should consider that, not only is he our enemy, but that he cannot be considered as a Sovereign; he never was one, but only a head vassal." Then the following draft was drawn up and humbly submitted to the Italian Government. [Opposition ironical cheers]:— "While assuring you of the friendly feelings with which the Queen continues to be animated towards you, I am to express her Majesty's great regret that hostilities should have broken out between Abyssinia and Italy, which is the friend and ally of this country." Thus a clear distinction was made between our relations with Italy, and our relations with Abyssinia. It was a very remarkable thing this should be done at the bidding of Italy; but in any ease, when such communications had been exchanged, they ought to have been submitted to the Parliament of England.
[Cheers.] Had it not been for the Italian Green-book we should never have known of them; certainly, we should never have heard of the first draft being submitted to the Italian Government. The next thing he found in the Green-book was a long correspondence with regard to Yeila and Harar, which form part of the British protectorate on the coast of the Red Sea. There was an agreement with France, which would be violated were any part of the protectorate to form the basis of military operations by Italy. A most acrimonious correspondence took place on this point with the Italian Government. The Italians asked that they should make these places the bases of operations against the Abyssinians. On January 11th, the Minister of Foreign Affairs telegraphed to the Italian Ambassador concerning, evidently, an interview with Sir Clare Ford. Sir Clare Ford must have sent a Dispatch to the Foreign Office, and that ought to have been published. The Italian Foreign Minister telegraphed:— "I added that I do not wish to describe the impression of our army and of the country respecting the English friendship when they see a simple demonstration in the neighbourhood of Yeila, which with a few troops would have produced so much effect in bringing back to Harar Maconen, who is now attacking Macalle, impeded, owing to an evident deference to France." On 5th February the Minister for Foreign Affairs had another conversation with Sir Clare Ford, and then sent this Dispatch to the Italian Ambassador:— "The British Government makes no objection to the Declaration of May 5, 1894. But, according to Lord Salisbury, if the publication of the Declaration were made in Rome this might lead to a demand for its presentation to the British Parliament, and the British Government might find it necessary to present at the same time the correspondence exchanged with the French Government regarding the Anglo-Italian Agreement. It is also possible that this might conduce to interrogatories in the French Chamber, which would lead to the publication of the correspondence by the Government of the Republic. It seems to Lord Salisbury that it is doubtful whether the publication of the Note of M. Hanotaux, dated March 12, 1891, would prove agreeable to the Italian Government. I replied that we reserved our decision as to presenting to Parliament the Declaration of May 5, 1894. We did not ourselves see any objection to the publication of the correspondence between the Governments of England and France respecting the Anglo-Italian Agreement." The Dispatch went on:— "As to what concerns England, this correspondence shows the correctness with which the preceding British Government knew how to be just at once to France and to us. I am sorry not to have the same impression with regard to the action of Lord Salisbury, who, abandoning the attitude taken up by Lord Kimberley, has adopted in their entirety the French theses." He called attention to this because literally they had had nothing communicated to them in regard to this matter. A threat was held out by Lord Salisbury that if the Italian Government did so and so, he would have to publish this and that, and consequently the whole thing would have to be submitted to the British Parliament. Well, who was the master? [Cheers.] Was Lord Salisbury or the British Parliament the master? How could they possibly form an accurate judgment as to what was going on in this district when they were asked to declare their confidence in Her Majesty's Government without knowing one word of all these circumstances and of the negotiations which had taken place between the two Governments. ["Hear, hear!"] Then came the battle of Adowa and the defeat of the Italians on 1st March, and on the 3rd of that month the Minister of War sent this message to the Admiral commanding the Red Sea Squadron:— "Take such steps as seem desirable to assure or better the military position, including the abandonment of Adigrat and Kassala, whenever the evacuation may be required by the present situation, due count being paid to the powers of resistance of these forts and of the time needed to prepare the means to liberate the garrisons." Immediately after this there ensued a Ministerial crisis in Italy, and Signor Crispi was succeeded by the Marquis de Rudini, who, in a speech in the Chamber, stated that his object was to withdraw from everywhere beyond the strip of territory along the coast. Then the Italian Ambassador stepped in, and on 10th of March he sent this telegram to the Minister of Foreign Affairs:— "The telegram of Baldissera, communicated to me by your Excellency yesterday, announces the advance of Menelik. This has given me serious consideration. The advance would seem imprudent if not in accord with the movements of the Dervishes. My fears have been confirmed by your telegram of to-day. I have communicated the situation to the Foreign Office to see if it will agree to make a diversion." On March 12 the Ambassador telegraphed to the Minister of Foreign Affairs:— "Referring to my telegram of the 10th, Lord Salisbury, having consulted the Cabinet, telegraphed yesterday to Lord Cromer to have a military demonstration carried out towards Dongola in order to make diversion in our favour." [Cheers and counter cheers.] As far as he could gather from the Green-book, the action of the Ambassador in London was not particularly appreciated by the Marquis de Rudini, who appeared to think that his hand was being a little forced. Of course there were in Italy wild jingoes just as they had them here [laughter], but, though they did not pay much attention to them, still they had to count on them to a certain extent. On March 14 the Ambassador received the following telegram from the Minister of Foreign Affairs:— "The Government desires for the present to maintain the occupation of Kassala, unless military necessities do not impose on General Baldissera the decision to evacuate it. The Government is pleased on this account with the demonstration towards Dongola, although of small military efficacy for us. Please thank Lord Salisbury in my name and in that of the Marquis Rudini.''" He thought that, after those telegrams no one with any common sense would assert that this expedition was planned for the benefit of Egypt.
§ MR. SPEAKER
Order, order! The hon. Member will not be at liberty to discuss the policy of the English Government in the Soudan. He is precluded by the notice given by the hon. Member for Peckham from discussing statements and allegations in regard to the Soudan Expedition beyond what is necessary for explaining and enforcing his Motion, his Motion being confined to the question that Her Majesty's Government has kept back certain communications. It is only so far as it is necessary to explain that Motion that he is entitled to go into the correspondence. Beyond that he is precluded, not only because the general policy of the Government is not referred to in the Motion, but also because a discussion of the statements and allegations contained in the Green-book—beyond pointing out the importance of the documents which are kept back—will be out of order in consequence of their being anticipated by the Motion on the Paper.
§ MR. LABOUCHERE
I think these documents were of considerable importance in enabling the House to form a conclusion as to why this expedition took place.
§ MR. SPEAKER
That is the very point which the hon. Member cannot discuss, because it is not in his Motion.
§ MR. LABOUCHERE
I am not going to discuss it.
§ MR. SPEAKER
I understand the hon. Member to say he was justified in reading these documents, because they showed what the motives were in sending the expedition. That is a point he is not entitled to go into.
§ MR. LABOUCHERE
said he would not say any more about these documents. On Tuesday last the Under Secretary said that during February considerable discussion had taken place between the Government and military authorities and Lord Cromer as to the advisability and desirability of an expedition towards Dongola. They had asked over and over again for this correspondence, but it had been kept back. They wanted to know whether Lord Cromer did or did not recommend that this expedition should take place. ["Hear, hear."] They wanted to know whether it was intended that the expedition should take place at once or whether it was merely one of those vague generalities which had occurred in the lengthy correspondence which had taken place during the last 12 years. The Under Secretary told them the other day that he was not able to tell them whether Lord Cromer did or did not express his opinion as to the advisability of this expedition, because it was not usual in the House to give the opinion of subordinate officials. Lord Cromer was the very man who could enlighten the House and not alone the Government, and anything more important to their forming a conclusion than the opinion of Lord Cromer on the subject he could not well imagine. Then the right hon. Gentleman had told them that no communications were made to Foreign Governments, but he should like to ask him whether the Foreign Office was seized with the fact that the German Emperor, with the view of maintaining the Triple. Alliance with Italy, was desirous that they should come to the aid of Italy in this matter. He thought it was very evident from the telegrams that in some way the German Government did interfere in the matter. He knew perfectly well that there were easy ways of evading and of being able to say:—" We have received no Dispatch on the subject." But he asked the right hon. Gentleman to tell them whether the Foreign Office were in possession of the fact, either directly or indirectly, that the German Emperor was desirous that they should come to the aid of Italy. Now occurred an extraordinary thing. At once a change took place in our tone towards the Italians. The latter, during all this time, were exceedingly anxious to withdraw from Kassala, and we commenced protesting against their doing so. Colonel Stevani, who was commanding the Italians there, had forced his way through the Dervishes, and thus evacuated his wounded, but then had to fall back. A formal Dispatch was sent from General Baldissera to the Minister of War on April 4, to the following effect:— "Stevani informs me that he intends to renew the attack on the Dervishes. I forbade it, and ordered him instead to evacuate Kassala with all his people, and to fall back on Agordat. This order is being executed. An expedition to revictual or free garrison is almost impossible, on account of the season and the exhaustion of the native forces. It is impossible to get white soldiers there. Kassala is not fit to sustain a siege." He now came to the protests of our Government in regard to the very sensible and reasonable desire of the Italians to evacuate Kassala. The Italian representative in Cairo telegraphed to the Minister of Foreign Affairs:— "Havas Agency refers to the announcement of the evacuation of Kassala, which has caused a bad impression. The Sirdar telegraphs calling on me to deny the news, which he cannot believe to be true. It would make a great impression in the Soudan, where it would increase the prestige of the Khalifa. The forces now before Kassala would seriously threaten Suakim, from which place the troops have been withdrawn for the expedition to Dongola. Lord Cromer is impressed with the discontent in Egypt at seeing the Dervishes free to unite their forces against Suakim and Dongola, in consequence of the retreat of Italy, after the expedition to Dongola had been undertaken." The Ambassador in London, on April 8, telegraphed to the Minister of Foreign Affairs:— "The telegram from Massowah, which says that General Baldisserra has ordered Colonel Stevani to withdraw from Kassala, has been interpreted as the abandonment of that fortress, whereas it is probable that the ordinary garrison remains there. It would be well to clear up this doubt. Please telegraph to me if I may speak in this sense to Foreign Office." On April 9 the Minister of Foreign Affairs telegraphs to the Ambassador:— "The telegram of Baldissera respecting order given to Colonel Stevani is not clear. He had been asked to explain, but the explanation may take time to arrive." Then came a communication from the Minister of Foreign Affairs to the Ambassador in London. He said:— "The English Ambassador has made me to-day the following verbal communication:— 'If Kassala is evacuated by the Italian garrison, the immediate and serious result would be to encourage the Dervishes. This, too, would free their forces, which could be employed in an attack on the Egyptian positions. If the evacuation should become necessary, the Government of the Queen desires to be informed of it as soon as possible. I have replied by taking a note of this desire which will be satisfied as far as possible. As for the rest, I have informed him of the instructions already sent to Baldissera, which are that we wish that Kassala should be retained, unless military reasons render the evacuation necessary." The Minister of War, after that protest, telegraphed to General Baldissera:— "If military conditions do not render the evacuation of Kassala necessary, the Government desires that Kassala should continue to be occupied for political reasons." That was to say, because the English Government insisted upon it. [Cheers.] What happened later on? On April 19, General Baldissera telegraphed to the Minister of War:— "What am I to do respecting Kassala? At present I have recalled Stevani with the greater portion of his forces."
On 20th April the Minister of War replied:— "Manage to maintain the occupation of Kassala until autumn, then we will see what is to be done; but, if any grave military danger requires evacuation, the faculty to do so is left with you." He thought, in view of the fact that these Dispatches had been communicated to the Italian Parliament and that the House of Commons were to be asked to decide whether Italy, or Egypt, or we should pay, they ought to be put in possession of these Dispatches, so that they might know what had taken place between Her Majesty's Government and the Government of Italy. As the Government persistently refused to give them any reasonable information, he had fulfilled an humble duty in laying before the House what he had culled from the Italian Green-book. ["Hear, hear!"] The hon. Member concluded by formally moving the adjournment of the House.
I must briefly acquaint the House with the circumstances under which the discussion has been raised this afternoon. It is true the hon. Member gave notice of an intention at some early date of taking advantage of the forms of the House to call attention to this matter, and I had thought, from what he said, that he might possibly find the compulsion too strong for him on some day next week. I have, however, received neither from him nor any one else any intimation whatever either of his intention to move the adjournment this afternoon—
§ MR. LABOUCHERE
Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will allow me to explain. I am sure I did not intend to be guilty of any discourtesy to the right hon. Gentleman. It is perfectly true that in speaking to him I said I thought I should raise this matter next week. But next week I find will be occupied a good deal by Irish questions, and therefore would be somewhat inconvenient. I thought it would be more convenient to do it this afternoon. I very much apologise to the right hon. Gentleman for having to do so.
I do not desire to blame the hon. Gentleman. I was merely stating to the House my own position. It is somewhat difficult for this House to acquire that acquaintance with foreign affairs to which it is entitled, either by unpremeditated and improvised replies to carefully premeditated supplementary questions constantly put from those Benches, or in answer to a Motion the terms of which the Minister who has to reply has never seen, and which is founded on documents which have never been printed. [Cheers.] Under these circumstances it will not be incumbent upon me to follow the hon. Gentleman into any general examination of the policy of the Government. The lines of that policy have been more than once stated and defined. Looking to the time we spent some few weeks ago in discussing them here, I do not think the House of Commons will require me to repeat what I then said, or to cover ground with which the House is already familiar. ["Hear, hear!"] They will require me to address myself to the points raised by the hon. Member. I gather from the terms of his Motion—though not from his speech—that what he chiefly complains of is that this House has not been put in possession of certain communications that he conceives have taken place between Her Majesty's Government and the Italian Government on the one hand, and between Her Majesty's Government and Lord Cromer on the other. I venture to submit that the diplomatic and political doctrine which the hon. Member has laid down is one not only novel, but one which, if it were accepted, would be likely to lead us to inconvenient results. It is now not three months since Her Majesty's Government decided upon the authorising of certain military operations in the valley of the Nile. These operations are of a warlike character; they are still going on; they involve communications with more than one interested European Power; and yet, although this short space of time has elapsed, although the operations are still proceeding, the hon. Member comes down here and apparently demands week by week, and almost day by day, that the Government should lay on the Table of the House communications with foreign Powers relating to those proceedings without any regard whatever to the effects such communications might produce. ["Hear, hear!"] I venture to say that is not the method in which any Government has ever conducted the Foreign Policy of this country, and that if the hon. Gentleman, in some wild freak of fortune, were to find himself transferred to this Bench and intrusted with the foreign relations of this country, no one would more emphatically repudiate such a proposition than he would. ["Hear, hear!"] What are the communications which the right hon. Gentleman says the Government have withheld?
In the first place, they are communications with the Italian Government, and the hon. Gentleman appears to have got it into his head that there has been a wealth of constant communications between Lord Salisbury and the Italian Government upon all these matters to which the Green-book refers. Lord Salisbury's communications, as I have more than once explained, have been conducted by word of mouth with the Italian Ambassador. Some hon. Members seem to have thought, from a very imperfect study of the Green-book, that there were contained in it a large number of Dispatches from Lord Salisbury to the Italian Government which had been laid before the Italian Parliament and denied to the House of Commons. I have already pointed out, in reply to that, that I believe there is only one Dispatch from Lord Salisbury to the Italian Government in the Green-books, and there is in addition the letter to Ras Mangascia. The hon. Gentleman now shifts his ground and says he does not mean the Dispatches sent to the Government in Rome, but he asks for all the communications with the British Ambassador. He assumes that there have been a large number of communications with which I am not familiar. The intimacy which the hon. Gentleman enjoys with the inner working of the Foreign Office is most remarkable. [Laughter.] The communications between Lord Salisbury and Rome are communications which, of course, he will consider the propriety of laying before the House on a future date when the Papers are laid on the Table, but they are communications which I must say, on the part of the Foreign Office, we absolutely decline to be called upon this afternoon, in obedience to the hon. Gentleman and without any reference to the consequences, to lay on the Table of the House. ["Hear, hear!"] The next point made by the hon. Gentleman was the letter to Ras Mangascia. He seemed surprised that the Dispatch written by Lord Salisbury had in the course of its evolution been revised by the Secretary of State. Does the hon. Gentleman never revise his own proofs?
§ MR. LABOUCHERE
But I should never ask the Italian Government to do it for me. [Laughter.]
No, Sir; nor was it done by the Italian Government. If the hon. Gentleman had been more familiar with what had passed he would not have made such an allegation. I am not here to inquire into the circumstances under which Lord Salisbury draws up his Dispatches, and it is not my duty to give any explanation on that point, and the fact that two forms of a Dispatch drawn up by Lord Salisbury have appeared in a Green-book of a foreign Government imposes upon me no obligation, as I understand, to make any observations whatever upon them. ["Hear, hear!"] Then the hon. Member proceeds to give his own views of the communications that have passed between the Italian Ambassador and Lord Salisbury, his views consisting, as they seem to me for the most part, of a gloss upon the language of that Minister. Well, we are not responsible for the Dispatches of the Italian Ambassador to his own Government. He does not consult us when he writes them. They were published in Rome without being previously submitted to us. That is a state of affairs accounted for by the political crisis which has existed in Italy, and the fact that this somewhat novel and unexpected occurrence has taken place does not impose on the Government any responsibility to explain to this House the Italian Ambassador's accounts of his own interviews with Lord Salisbury at the Foreign Office. The last point which the hon. Gentleman took was the correspondence that passed between the Government and Lord Cromer, and he seemed very much surprised that I had at a previous date said it was not the fashion for Governments to publish the Dispatches of subordinates.
What I said was that it was not the habit of the Government to lay on the Table the opinions of its individual advisers upon operations then proceeding. To that statement I must adhere. The only other questions that the hon. Gentleman asked were questions that should appear on the Paper, and which I respectfully submit ought not to be put without notice, in a speech or any other way whatsoever. If the hon. Gentleman desires information on other points and will give me adequate notice I will do my best to comply with his wish. But I cannot undertake at a moment's notice to get up here to answer any random questions that may be put, not, I am afraid, for the sake of information, but rather in order to embarrass. [Cheers.] What is the upshot of the whole thing? The Government have taken a certain step in the interest of the security of the Egyptian frontiers. That step had the additional advantage of being taken at a time when the Italians were hard pressed at Kassala and when the expected fall of Kassala would have enormously aggravated the danger to Egypt already threatened and impending in the valley of the Nile. That statement has been made and repeated over and over again from this Bench. What there is in it obscure or abnormal or demanding any peculiar explanation I cannot conceive, but it would seem that the hon. Gentleman has discovered a mare's nest, and something which in reality is the creation of his imagination. Any step that the Government took was taken as an advantage both to Egypt and Italy, and was not calculated to injure or offend any other Power. Under these circumstances I believe that the support given to the Government in the House on previous occasions and in the country will be continued, and the House of Commons will not expect me to be tempted, either by Motions for the adjournment or any other process, into indiscreet revelations which would have no effect but to retard the object we have in view. [Cheers.]
§ SIR WILLIAM HARCOURT,
who was received with Opposition cheers, said: The right hon. Gentleman has given an importance to this Debate which it would not otherwise have had, by the doctrine he has laid down as to the relations between the Foreign Office and the House of Commons—a doctrine I venture to say absolutely unheard of in all the previous history of the House. I see the Colonial Secretary smiles. He is the author of the "new diplomacy." [Laughter.] This is new diplomacy with a vengeance. You have the new diplomacy which communicates everything that is occurring, not week by week but moment by moment. That is one form of the new diplomacy.
§ MR. J. CHAMBERLAIN
Not mine. [Laughter.]
§ SIR W. HARCOURT
Then he has reformed his views. But there is nothing so evil as to proceed by extremes. That is one extreme of the new diplomacy; the other extreme is to refuse all information at all times. That is the doctrine of the right hon. Gentleman who has just spoken. [Ministerial cries of "No!"] He says:— "These are military operations, and until they are concluded or have proceeded to a much greater extent the House of Commons is to have no information as to the reasons for the correspondence out of which these operations have arisen." Whenever this country enters on military operations, when the country goes to war, the first thing it does is to lay before the House of Commons the correspondence which will inform Parliament as to the ground for those operations. That is the constitutional doctrine and one which has always been acted upon by the Foreign Office. But then the right hon. Gentleman all through his speech said that Lord Salisbury may have done this or that—may have written two Dispatches which do not correspond in tone—but that it is not for him to explain what Lord Salisbury has done. Why does the right hon. Gentleman sit in this House unless it be for the purpose of explaining what Lord Salisbury has done? With reference to the verbal communications, it is of great importance that the country should know exactly where they stand. Some 30 or 40 years ago was introduced a practice of rather doubtful expediency—that of conducting a great part of the foreign relations of the country by private letters to Ambassadors abroad. I remember well discussing that with the late Lord Clarendon, who introduced that practice, and I ventured to suggest that that was a practice which if carried too far might defeat the authority of Parliament. But Lord Clarendon laid down this doctrine distinctly. He said:— "I never allow a business of any great importance resulting in affairs of a serious nature to be left to personal correspondence without reducing the result of that correspondence into a Dispatch which may ultimately be submitted to Parliament." ["Hear, hear!"]
For heaven's sake do not let us overthrow the whole of the relations of the Foreign Office with the House of Commons in that sort of light way which has just been done by the Under Secretary. In answer to a question as to what communications had taken place with Lord Cromer before the advance was authorised, the right hon. Gentleman said Lord Cromer had approved—of what? Of a new frontier for Egypt? Not at all. But he said that Lord Cromer had approved of an advance in order to support Kassala. Those were the words. Lord Cromer's approbation was confined to Kassala, and no word whatever was said of Lord Cromer's view having reference to the necessity of forming a new frontier. The right hon. Gentleman also said nothing else had passed with Lord Cromer since the Report of February 3, in which Lord Cromer had stated that the raids were unimportant which had taken place, and consequently shows that they had at that time no intention to desire any alteration of the frontier. Therefore it was perfectly plain that the pretence that this advance was inspired by the desire of Italy is utterly unfounded. But if we are mistaken in that view, and if it is true, as the right hon. Gentleman says, that the primary motive was an Egyptian motive and that it was merely a subsidiary accident that the Italian situation required support at Kassala, let us have the correspondence to see whether it is so. We are unquestionably led to the belief that this movement was a movement, if not instigated, inspired by the Italian situation and that all this about the frontier was completely an afterthought. If that is not so let us have the evidence.
I say it is a false position in which to put the House of Commons, and a position which the House of Commons ought not to accept—that this country is to be plunged into a military expedition, the result and events of which no man can predict, without having laid before it frankly by the Government the fullest information as to what led to the commencement of so dangerous and perilous an undertaking. [Cheers.] That is a fair demand on the part of the House of Commons, and I venture to say that there is no Government—even though it be a Government with a great majority—that ever refused to the House of Commons, when it called upon it to support an expedition of this character, a fair and honest declaration of the circumstances leading up to it [Cheers.] I cannot believe that the Government are going to get any advantage whatever by trying to play hide and seek in this way with the House of Commons. [Cheers.] It has been utterly unusual before. I do not know whether they are ashamed of avowing what are the motives or causes which have led to this expedition. I see nothing to be ashamed of. [Ministerial cheers.] Yes, but you lead us to believe that there must be something. [Ministerial cries if "No!"] Then why do you not give the information? [Cheers.] What is the reason of this refusal to give information? How can it hurt you to let it be known what has taken place between you and the Italian Government, what has taken place, if anything has taken place, between you and the German Government, or between you and the French Government? If this is an undertaking which is politic either as regards Egypt or as regards your relations with European Powers, surely, if you understood your own interest and your position with regard to the House of Commons and the interests of the nation, what you should most desire would be that the truth and the whole truth should be told, and that you should not let it leak out or ooze out in the White-books or in the Green-books of foreign Governments. Why is the English Government not to take the English House of Commons into its confidence in this matter? [Cheers.]
I venture to say it is the most unusual tone and manner in which to handle and treat the House of Commons. ["Hear, hear!"] The right hon. Gentleman complains of this matter being brought forward now. Why, it was fully expected by the Government. It should have been brought forward yesterday. An arrangement had been made that the Motion with reference to the Indian troops should be brought on yesterday, and you could not have discussed the question of bringing the Indian troops without discussing the whole question. ["Hear, hear!"] What were the Indian troops brought for? They were brought in in order that a certain number of Egyptian troops might be liberated for use in this expedition. Therefore it was quite plain that you would have been prepared for the whole question of this policy to be raised yesterday. ["Hear, hear!"] What intervened was this, that the Indian Government had made objection, as we understand, to the movement of these troops. At all events, the subject was postponed on the ground of the Indian aspect of the question; but what had been promised, what we had expected, and what you were willing to concede, was that the discussion on the policy should take place yesterday; therefore I do not think the right hon. Gentleman has any reason to complain of being called on to give to the House information upon this subject. ["Hear, hear!"]
It is perfectly idle for the Government to attempt to continue this policy of concealment. The country is naturally deeply interested and considerably alarmed as to what may come out of the expedition, and you will not conquer these alarms and satisfy the natural demand for information by these evasive replies and by this refusal of information, and, above all, by the Under Secretary for Foreign Affairs saying that it is not his business to explain to the House of Commons what Lord Salisbury intends. [Cheers.] Therefore I do hope, before this discussion ends, we may have an assurance from the Government that they will lay this information before Parliament. The right hon. Gentleman, as I gather it, says, "When the campaign is over we will do it." [Laughter.] What is the use of that? [Cheers.] That is nearly all the information we have received. He says there are Dispatches. We are not only asking for the Dispatches published in the Green-books; we are asking for all communications, whether verbal, or by letter, or by Dispatch—the substance of all communications that have taken place with foreign countries which have led and contributed to the determining on such an enterprise as this military expedition into the Soudan. We conceive that to be a perfectly reasonable demand, and I hope the Government will say that without delay that information will be given to the House of Commons. [Cheers.]
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY
Before I deal with the substance of the right hon. Gentleman's remarks I wish to say that he has entirely misunderstood the character of the objection my right hon. Friend the Under Secretary took this afternoon. The right hon. Gentleman says that the Under Secretary should have been prepared yesterday for a discussion upon the policy of the Government in sending Indian troops to Egypt and questions connected therewith, and that he had no right on Friday to require notice of questions of that kind. It is not in reference to the policy in the Soudan, or the Indian troops, or the Egyptian troops, or the Egyptian question at all that my right hon. Friend made any objection. Nor was it in regard to Egypt or the Soudan with which the greater part of the speech of the hon. Gentleman who initiated this Debate was concerned. What the hon. Member for Northampton talked about has not the remotest connection with Egypt or with the Soudan, or with the policy of Her Majesty's Government. ["Hear, hear!"] It is solely connected with the Italian troubles in Abyssinia and certain demands which they had made on the British Government in connection with the landing of troops. My right hon. Friend had a perfect right to say that before he is asked to give further information on that subject he should have notice of the questions to be put to him. ["Hear, hear!"] I quite admit that the right hon. Gentleman opposite has given the go by to all that part of the speech of the Mover, and has rightly confined himself to questions connected with the alleged suppression of information on the part of Her Majesty's Government in connection with their policy in Egypt and the Soudan. To that point, which is, after all, the only point of substance raised by the right hon. Gentleman, I now address myself. The right hon. Gentleman tells us that no Government before has ever initiated warlike operations without laying on the Table of the House the correspondence with regard to the matters which led up to those warlike operations.
In many cases that is quite true. If this Government were involved in hostilities with any civilised State, no doubt those hostilities would have been preceded by many months, or perhaps many years, of negotiation, and the House ought to be informed of the steps by which those negotiations were carried on and the reasons which led to their unsuccessful conclusion. Of course, before the House of Commons can be asked to judge of the propriety of a war of that kind, the correspondence with regard to the events which led up to war ought to be laid and is laid. But we have had no correspondence of that kind with the Khalifa. ["Hear, hear!"] He is not in the position of a civilised ruler with whom we have been in negotiation, for a long period and with whom negotiations have broken down, and it is absolutely incorrect and the right hon. Gentleman speaks under a misconception when he suggests that the Government have at their disposal a vast amount of diplomatic correspondence with foreign Governments explaining the reasons why the Soudan expedition has been undertaken. The phrase made use of by the right hon. Gentleman put in a clear light the error under which he is labouring. He asked for the correspondence with foreign countries with regard to the events which led to the warlike operations in the Soudan. That correspondence has not been laid and it never will be laid, because it does not exist. [Cheers and laughter.] There has been, no doubt, correspondence with foreign Governments with respect to the warlike operations, but that correspondence is subsequent to the determination of the Government to move towards Dongola, and, being subsequent, by a well-known logical law we may conclude it has nothing to do with the reasons which led to the expedition. [Cheers.]
§ SIR W. HARCOURT
May I ask, does the right hon. Gentleman intend to state that before the Government in the month of March came to the conclusion to make the expedition to Dongola no communication had been made to the Italian Government? ["Hear, hear!"]
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY
Well, yes, in the case of Italy. [Opposition cheers.] With foreign nations in Europe no doubt there had been correspondence, and no doubt a Blue-book will be laid in due time before the House. The right hon. Gentleman constantly appears to be snatching up such scraps of evidence as he thinks he can find to prove that this expedition had no relation whatever to Egyptian interests, but was based solely on European interests in general, and Italian interests in particular. That is not the fact. There is no evidence of it, and no correspondence that could throw any light, upon it. ["Hear, hear!"] We have stated in plain language in this House that most undoubtedly the battle of Adowa, the Italian difficulties, and the siege and possible fall of Kassala were all circumstances which had great weight with Her Majesty's Government in determining the period at which the expedition should take place. [Cheers.] We have never made the slightest secret of it—[cheers]—and no correspondence we could lay would add to the knowledge we have already given to the House on the subject. We have been quite clear in our statements that, although the particular moment for the advance was one on which Italian interests had important bearing, the advance towards Dongola itself is, in our opinion, necessitated by Egyptian interests, and by Egyptian interests alone—[cheers]—and that, even if the Italians had never been heard of in that part of Africa, that advance would sooner or later have had to be undertaken. ["Hear, hear!"] There is nothing obscure or wanting in lucidity in that statement, or, as it seems to me, paradoxical. The hon. Gentleman who moved the Motion arid the right hon. Gentleman opposite appeared to think that the undoubted fact that the British Government would have seen with deep regret the triumph of the Dervishes at Kassala is a proof that all we thought of was the Italian interests at that place. Do hon. Gentlemen not understand that when you are dealing with any kind of Power, but certainly with an uncivilised Power like that of the Dervishes, the effect of the great triumph over a European Power would have been not only a menace to the Italian Power, but a very serious menace to Egypt? We do not conceal the fact that we should have regarded the abandonment of Kassala in the face of a triumphant Dervish advance as a misfortune not only to Italy, but to Egypt and to interests which we are bound to safeguard. It has been made a matter of bitter complaint that information as to the communications made by Lord Cromer to the Government has been withheld from Parliament. Well, I ask the House whether it would be possible or desirable in the conduct of the affairs of a great Empire that the House of Commons should not merely be made acquainted with the course which the, Government are pursuing and the general reasons which have induced them to pursue it, but should also be made acquainted as a matter of course with the arguments advanced by all their advisers. I say such a proposal is grotesque.
If the House of Commons goes so far it must clearly go further, and we must publish the correspondence between Lord Cromer and his subordinates which led him to the conclusion at which he arrived. There would evidently be no end to the information which the House would demand, but of which, when obtained, it could make no legitimate use. I do not believe that the general propositions relating to the conduct of public business which I have laid down will be disputed by any man who has ever been responsible for public affairs. But when the right hon. Gentleman opposite openly accuses us of having withheld information from this House which our predecessors or any other Government would have granted, I absolutely repudiate the charge. We have followed strictly in the steps of our predecessors, and we have been absolutely frank with the House of Commons from beginning to end with regard to the motives that have influenced our conduct. Our policy and the whole ground for that policy is before you, and no publications in Blue-books could add one tittle to the knowledge which the House of Commons already possesses of the reasons for which we have ordered the advance towards Dongola. The right hon. Gentleman appears to hold that the example of the Italian Government in publishing these papers is one which ought to be followed by this and other Governments. But what the Italian Government has done is, I trust and believe, an exceptional, I had almost said an accidental, circumstance. It is a circumstance which may, no doubt, find excuse in the conditions of recent Italian administration; but it is absolutely certain that no confidential communications could be conducted between the Powers of Europe if greater discretion were not maintained by those Powers than has been maintained by the Italian Government in this case, and than would be shown by us if we were to follow this example. ["Hear, hear!"]
§ SIR CHARLES DILKE (Gloucester, Forest of Dean)
observed that, when the right hon. Gentleman said that no Government had ever been asked before to supply such information with respect to the origin of an expedition as was now asked for, he must have forgotten what occurred between 1880 and 1885. The right hon. Gentleman and the Under Secretary for Foreign Affairs contended that they ought not to be asked to disclose the opinions of an individual adviser of the Government. Between 1880 and 1885, however, the Government of that time were asked almost every week to state the views of Sir E. Malet and Sir E. Baring with regard to Egyptian affairs, and the Blue-books were issued in which their views were explained. The Government of the day believed that in delicate affairs, like those of Egypt, they could not expect to carry the House of Commons with them unless they explained the views of the distinguished official upon which their decision was based. The supporters of the Motion did not ask that Lord Cromer's Dispatches relating to delicate questions, in which other Governments were concerned, should be published. What they demanded was the publication of the reasoned Dispatches which did not raise questions of that kind. The Under Secretary for Foreign Affairs had cast doubt upon the claim of the House of Commons to be told the substance of important conversations between a Minister for Foreign Affairs and a Foreign Ambassador. Surely a conversation of that kind, with respect to such a matter as the origin of the Soudan expedition, ought not to be withheld altogether from the House. The right hon. Gentleman declared that the Government had given a clear account of the reasons for the Soudan expedition. He could not subscribe to that. Indeed, he was of opinion that different Members of the Government had given contradictory reasons for the expedition, and by their statements they had succeeded in thoroughly misleading their supporters in the Press.
It was the impression of the Italian Government hat the advance towards Dongola was undertaken for their sake. That was clear from the official publications. But if there was a pre-existent intention on the part of the Government to undertake this expedition for reasons connected with Egypt, Lord Cromer's Dispatches ought certainly to be made available, so that the country might understand what those reasons were. Then it was essential that they should know Lord Cromer's opinion upon the question of the financial relations of the Government of Egypt with our Government. The latter said that the cost of this great military expedition was being defrayed by Egypt out of a particular sum of £500,000, but there was reason to think that the payment of that sum was likely to be refused by the Caisse de, la Dette, although it had been already spent. These were surely matters, so far as they concerned the taxpayers of this country, on which Parliament ought to be informed, and Lord Cromer's Dispatches on this question ought certainly to be laid before the House.
If hon. Members would look back to 1884 and 1885, they would see the way in which the Liberal Government was pressed for the opinions of Sir Evelyn Baring on the subject of the Caisse and Egyptian finance, and how impossible it was to contend that the Government were treading in the footsteps of their predecessors. He directed special attention to the fact that the Government had differed in the accounts they had given of this matter; they had apparently differed among themselves on the question, and when the Members of the Government had been pressed by questions in Parliament they had contradicted one another in their answers. When the Chancellor of the Exchequer was specially pressed on the Budget Debate as to how in the course of the year the expenditure in Egypt was to be met, he said that no appropriation would be necessary, that he had no reason whatever to anticipate that any provision would be necessary except for a few officers for the Egyptian expeditions. [Cheers.] Would the right hon. Gentleman make that assertion now? He doubted it. At all events, Lord Cromer's opinion and advice on the Egyptian financial question which was involved in the present trial of the Caisse de la Dette must be laid before the House very soon. It was impossible to hold the discussion that would take place in a few weeks time on the Motion with regard to the Indian troops until the House knew what had happened up to the present with regard to the finances of this expedition, and until they had received Lord Cromer's Dispatches on that point. The Government, at all events, could tell the House, roughly speaking, what was the expenditure in Egypt, how it was being met from day to day, and what the prospects of the future were as to the cost of the expedition. The whole question was one of extraordinary difficulty, and one on which the House of Commons stood in peculiar need of information. What was the only statement that had been given to the House as yet on behalf of the Government, as to the grounds for using the particular money out of which this particular expedition was being financed at the present time? The words were these:— "The funds are to from a surplus which we are not permitted to use in any other way fur the benefit of Egypt." Surely the revelation which has been made in Italy that this expedition, according to the Italians, was initiated solely at their request for the relief of the pressure on them at Kassala must have relation to the question as to whether this £500,000 was to be used for the finances of an expedition for the benefit of Egypt. No doubt it was the difficulty of that financial situation which forced the Government to the tortuous explanation which had been given of their policy. Their position was a difficult one, but the position of the House of Commons had to be considered as well as that of the Government. The Opposition would have to exact a great deal of information in the next few weeks before the discussion came on, as to the employment of Indian troops. He did not wish to anticipate that discussion now, but he wished to enter his caveat that, unless they had more information before the time for discussion arrived than they had at present, the House would not be in a position to undertake the task adequately; they could not ascertain what was the object of the expedition being sent to Suakim, nor would they have information generally sufficient to justify them even in debating the question when it arose. His own belief was that the expedition though explained to be for the defence of Suakim, for the replacing of Egyptian troops and setting them free, was intended to occupy Kassala when the Italian troops retired from that town; but how was the House to consider and deal with that question unless it had some knowledge of the principles upon which the Government were proceeding? His hon. Friend had been anticipated by a Motion put down by hon. Gentlemen opposite to call attention to the papers in the Italian Green-book; but, apart from the Italian Dispatches, there had been Debates in the Italian Chamber which had a considerable bearing on the information sought for by the House. They had been told in the Italian Chamber a great deal of what they had since seen in the Italian Green-book. As to the position of the Italians at Kassala, it was absolutely true that the Marquis di Rudini decided to evacuate Kassala on coming into power.
§ MR. SPEAKER
The right hon. Gentleman, in discussing this Motion, is going far beyond its scope in entering into an examination of the policy of the Government.
§ SIR C. DILKE
said he would not dwell on the point except to say that they wished to know the object of the expedition. The Government had told the House two different stories—that it was for the relief of Kassala, and for the defence of Egypt.
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY
The same thing.
§ SIR C. DILKE
said that the information given to the Italian Parliament showed that it was solely for the relief of Italy.
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY
That is their point of view.
§ SIR C. DILKE
said that if this was their point of view, the House of Commons wanted to see the other point of view. They wanted more than a mere statement, made apparently as an afterthought, in order to justify the view that they could use the Egyptian funds for the expedition. They wanted a statement made on the authority of the representatives of the Government in Egypt—on the same authority which the Members of the Government made the Liberal Government vouch for when they took any step in Egypt from 1880 to 1885. [Cheers.] The Prime Minister had given a third account to the country of the reasons for this expedition. He had been ridiculed on a previous occasion for saying that the Government could not stop at Dongola; but since that date Lord Salisbury had amply confirmed the view he gave to the House on that occasion.
§ MR. SPEAKER
again called the right hon. Baronet to order for entering upon a general discussion of the subject.
§ SIR C. DILKE
said he took up the challenge of the Leader of the House, In past days he had something to do with communicating to the House the opinions of Lord Cromer with regard to Egyptian affairs, and he affirmed that he had never known a case where the House of Commons had allowed such a refusal of information to pass as it had done on the present occasion. The information to be given with regard to what had appeared in Italy and the objects of the expedition was not more important, but in the long run even less important, than the information refused as to the position of Egyptian finance. ["Hear, hear!"]
§ MR. ARNOLD-FORSTER (Belfast, W.)
said he most respectfully endorsed the request which had been made for further information on this question. He confessed that it somewhat alarmed him to hear that the whole of the reasons which were to account for this expedition had already been given to the public. They had heard almost positive statements made that there was something very threatening to the welfare of the Empire which had to be combated arid met by this expedition. If he thought that this was the case he should be the last Member in the House to venture to interfere or embarrass the Government, and as long as he was at liberty to suppose that this was the case, he would not have spoken. But the House had heard a definite statement from the Leader of the House, and the reasons which had actuated the Government had been laid before the country. He believed that if they took the country through they would find that nine out of every ten persons had not the least idea—[Opposition cheers]—for what purpose this expedition was being undertaken at all. [Cheers.] He thought that before the final Debate took place, the House should have before it information in detail which would justify it in seeing and knowing what this country was fighting for. ["Hear, hear!"] The right hon. Gentleman said that the House was not entitled to receive information as to the particular opinions of Lord Cromer. That statement needed qualification, because Lord Cromer stood in an exceptional position. If this was an Imperial matter, well and good; the British Government were supreme in the matter; but he had listened to the discussions and he had heard a great deal about the interests of Italy, of Abyssinia, and of Egypt, but nothing whatever about the interests of Great Britain.
If it was the fact that the expedition was being conducted solely for the benefit of Egypt, he thought it was a relevant fact to have the views of what the most important man there thought about the expedition. [Cheers.] It was distasteful to think that we should be expending the blood and the treasure of this country on something that was not closely connected with this country. It was a matter of more than common rumour that Lord Cromer did not associate himself with this policy, and it was desirable, in these circumstances, that the House should know whether the policy was being prosecuted with his approval or against his wish. It was a tremendous danger to this country, threatened as it was on every side by Powers in every quarter of the world, that we should now be risking the lives of our men, embarrassing our finances, and clouding our future by entering on a policy of this kind.
§ MR. SPEAKER
called the hon. Member to order for travelling wide of the Motion.
§ MR. ARNOLD-FORSTER
would not pursue the matter further. The Government should know that their supporters would take the least hint that it was their duty to observe reticence in this matter, but after what had been said he could not understand that that was the case. They had all the main facts, as he believed, but they ought to have the main facts amplified and elucidated, so that the House might be able to enter into the subsequent discussion with more certainty than was now possible.
§ SIR JAMES FERGUSSON (Manchester, N. E.)
did not think the present Debate could be of any practical use; but he should like to call attention to the shifting ground which had been taking by those who were opposing the policy of Her Majesty's Government in Egypt. In the Debate about two months ago, what was the language which came from below the Gangway? Was it not intended to cast ridicule on the idea that any advance along the Valley of the Nile could possibly affect the situation at Kassala? [Opposition cheers.] That language had not been reasserted to-night, because it had been falsified by events. He had had a letter from a relative of his in the Soudan since that Debate, in which he said it was extremely amusing to read such assertions made in the House of Commons.
§ MR. SPEAKER
I must remind the right hon. Gentleman that the question before the House is not the general policy of the Government in Egypt.
§ SIR J. FERGUSSON,
bowing to the Speaker's ruling, went on to say that the information which the Government had given seemed perfectly clear. It was in the interest of Egypt that Egyptian order should not be constantly raided by the Dervish troops. It would have been of the greatest possible loss and damage to Egypt had Kassala fallen into the hands of the Dervishes. It would have set free large numbers of Dervish troops.
§ MR. SPEAKER
§ SIR J. FERGUSSON
remarked that the fact that the Speaker had been obliged to interfere twice on the point of order within the brief course of his observations, showed how injudicious it was to pursue this discussion. [Laughter.] Those who wanted to do so had no difficulty in understanding the policy of Her Majesty's Government.
§ MR. COURTNEY
understood what the House was enabled to discuss was the withholding of information which the Government ought to have communicated, especially information connected with the Reports made by Lord Cromer to the Government. Now, that struck him in this light. In the first week of February, Lord Cromer signed a Report in which he declared that although there had been raids, they were insignificant, and that although such raids might be anticipated in the future, they would not change their character. The Dervishes had been and were at that time remaining in a strictly defensive position. That was the first week in February. In the second week in March, orders were given to make an advance towards Dongola. What was the explanation? What had been the information received by the Government between those two dates to explain what had appeared to be a manifest discrepancy between the judgment of Lord Cromer in the first week of February, and the action of the Government in the second week in March? These were not the only facts to bear in mind. There was a third—namely, that the Italian Government had communicated to the Italian Chambers and nation their understanding that the orders given in the second week of March were in order to relieve Kassala, and for no other reason. [Opposition cheers.] Now, if that was true, of course, no intelligence from Lord Cromer might have been required, though he thought even if the Government had resolved to take that action on account of Italy alone, they would have consulted Lord Cromer about the possibilities of success, and the way of conducting the operation and the means by which it could be supported. But the Government told them that, though Kassala might have precipitated their notion, it was the result of a policy held by them before. They were under the belief that it would be necessary, sooner or later—a somewhat vague phrase—to give the orders and make the advance which had been given and made. Let it be assumed that the Government had in their minds that ideal to which the Secretary of State for the Colonies gave expression—the ideal of the reconquest of the Soudan. If their action was precipitated in March by the necessities of Italy, which was the Government's admission, there must have been communications which led them to start an expensive expedition. They must have discussed with their advisers in Egypt how the expedition could be put in action, and by what means the money for it could be found. They must have had the materials on which to form a judgment; and if they had, they were bound to give them to the House of Commons. [Opposition cheers.] They were commencing what might be a long and most certainly would be an expensive operation. At the smallest estimate they were spending a quarter of a million now at Suakim. There was a suggestion that half a million was to be got out of the savings of Egypt. There must have been correspondence between the advisers of Her Majesty's Government in Egypt and themselves upon that situation. [Opposition cheers.] They must have discussed the ways and means. There must have been some discussion as to what would be the cost month by month, however limited the operations, and the Government would have to come to this House in order to get that cost supplied. ["Hear, hear!"] They were not going to throw—he hoped, and was glad to believe—any of the burden upon Egypt. They could not extract it from Egypt; that country lived under such international regulations that it had no free will of its own in these matters, and no surplus to give, so that the declaration of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, which gave the House so much comfort when he was unfolding his Budget, was already falsified by the course of events.
§ MR. SPEAKER
§ MR. COURTNEY
bowed at once to the slightest indication that he was transgressing the limits. He recurred to the proper point. Within this month there was a great change. There must have been information leading to that change; but that information the House had no knowledge of. The last public expression of Lord Cromer' s opinion was hostile. It did not in the least favour any such enterprise. The House wanted some information to account for the change which manifested itself. That information had been withheld.
MR. GIBSON BOWLES
entirely coincided with the views which the right hon. Gentleman who had just sat down had so ably set forth, and with regard to the remark of the right hon. Gentleman behind him (Sir J. Fergusson) that the subject could not be debated now because the House was ignorant of the facts, that was exactly what they were complaining of. Attacks had been made on the Under Secretary. He did not think that was quite fair. [A laugh.] It must be remembered the right hon. Gentleman was only an Under Secretary, and that he did not know and was not allowed to know everything—[laughter]—and that, just as words were given to conceal our thoughts, so Under Secretaries were given to conceal our Foreign Minister. [Laughter and cheers.] The right hon. Gentleman had already stated that he could not give Dispatches without consulting his chief, and they did not know whether he had consulted his chief. That, by the way, was another article of information the House might have asked for. Moreover, it must be remembered that, before the information was put into a Blue-book, it would require the most careful expurgation arid editing. They must not expect to have the whole of it; and to ask the right hon. Gentleman at once to say what the House was to have and what it was not to have, would be like taking a prescription to a chemist's shop, and expecting the chemist's boy to make it up without any adequate knowledge of poisons and antidotes. [Laughter] Remarks had been made as to the new diplomacy in this connection. He was one of the admirers of the new diplomacy. He believed in telling the English people what you were doing, because, if you did, in nine cases out of ten they would be behind you whether you were doing right or wrong. [Laughter.] He did not believe in it to the extent of imposing upon a foreign people and Government amateur Constitutions, or publishing Dispatches before they had been received by the Government to whom they were addressed. [Laughter.] In fact, he did not call that diplomacy at all. Now, there were one or two matters to which he proposed to call attention in the ways of the new diplomacy. And, first of all, as to the letter of Ras Mangascia, which had been incorrectly described as an appeal for assistance against the Italians.
That letter simply contained a touching reminder to the Queen of the ancient friendship subsisting between Her Majesty and his father, and stated that the Italians were occupying his country A marvelous instance of the new diplomacy was shown in connection with this letter. The first thing the English Agent at Cairo did on receiving the letter from this one belligerent was to show it to the other belligerent. That was a very new diplomacy, for us, being friendly with two countries at war with each other, to show a Dispatch received from one of those Powers to the other. He wanted the Dispatch which would show what were Lord Cromer's reasons for such a step. Then Major Wingate went so far as to give the most Machiavelian advice to the Italian Agent. He recommended that Mangascia should be detached from Menelik, explaining that his position would not be real, but that he could be used against Menelik. That was another matter on which he wished for information. The Under Secretary had said that he could not give the Dispatches because warlike operations were proceeding. That was the very reason why the Dispatches were wanted. If nothing were going on, they would not want to know anything. These operations would compromise the finances and the political future of the country, and might possibly involve the most serious consequences. Steps were being taken, and expenditure was being incurred, and no one knew why.
There had been no Dispatch published since that of Lord Cromer of 3rd February, explaining why these operations were not necessary. The Under Secretary said that the communications between Lord Salisbury and the Italian Government were verbal; but was it not the invariable practice, when a Foreign Minister had had an important interview with the Foreign Minister, to embody the effect of that interview in a Dispatch to our Ambassador at the Foreign Court? If that were not done there would be no record of the most important negotiations, and the continuity of business at the Foreign Office would be impossible. When the Italians applied for permission to pass troops through Zeila, Lord Salisbury said that they must not interfere with our engagements with France. Was that one of the verbal communications? Because the Italian Ambassador, writing to his Government on 4th January, declared that there had been a great conflict between the Foreign Office and the India Office. He added, with regard to this verbal communication:— "I have thought it proper to put into writing these communications, and this was all the more necessary because Lord Salishury had encouraged me to ask for this passage through Zeila." The House must have the whole of these communications. They must know the grounds of the difference between the India Office and the Foreign Office, because, until they did, they could not properly deal with the question of the Indian troops. The Government would have to give the information, struggle as they might and give as many ''Under Secretary" answers as they would, because the English pecople would not be content with being dragged into an expedition which would possibly end in a great war, and a repetition of the awful events which brought discredit on the English name in the Soudan, without knowing all the full reasons for the course taken. The Government would be false to themselves, and to the traditions of the Tory Party, in refusing the information.
§ SIR E. ASHMEAD-BARTLETT (Sheffield, Ecclesall)
said that he had heard with considerable regret the last two speeches, though he was not surprised by that of the right hon. Member for Bodmin, whose utterances on foreign and colonial questions generally belonged to the "Little England" school. There were obvious reasons for the non-publication at present of important and confidential Dispatches. This question interested two groups of European Powers. On the one side was the Italian interest, and on the other side was the French interest, which had been working more or less against us. In the speeches of which he complained there had been a total ignoring of the fact that there must be great British interests involved in the whole of the Nile waterway, and in the security of Egypt. There was now being made a movement in the Soudan which might have the effect of relieving large populations from an intolerable oppression; and besides, the Italians were our allies. Why should they not be? Why should the hon. Member for Northampton sneer at them on that account? If there were trouble in the Mediterranean, the Italian fleet would be absolutely necessary to us.
§ SIR WILFRID LAWSON (Cumberland, Cockermouth)
I rise to order, Sir. Is the hon. Member speaking to the question?
§ MR. SPEAKER
I think not.
§ SIR E. ASHMEAD-BARTLETT,
continuing, said that the Government were now engaged in various military operations, and anything which would injure or embarrass the Government ought to be avoided. But he urged the Government not to fear meeting this question openly and courageously. He was not referring to the publication of delicate Dispatches; but let the Government boldly avow to the country that they intended to relieve the Soudan from its existing oppression.
§ MR. JOHN DILLON (Mayo, E.)
said that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for East Manchester stated that this Debate could not possibly be productive of good results, and he seemed to be confirmed in that opinion by his failure to observe the Rules of Order. He (Mr. Dillon) could not at all agree with him either in his opinion or knowledge when the right hon. Gentleman said that he and other hon. Members who sat round him were content to look forward to future Debates when they would have more light. He was inclined to point out that the object and the only object, of the present Debate was to get more light. He understood that they were to be called upon at a very near date to discuss this question in such a shape that the whole policy of the British Government in reference to the Soudan would come up for consideration. The question they had to consider tonight was whether they would have such information before them when the future Debate took place as would be absolutely necessary to enable them to conduct the Debate. He asserted that if next week, or the week after, the House was called upon to debate the policy of the Soudan expedition without having before it all Papers concerning it from the Foreign Office of this country, that the spectacle would be displayed to the world of the British House of Commons debating a question of foreign policy, and deriving the main part of its information from an Italian Green-book, which is denied to the British House of Commons itself. He said that in the history of the House of Commons, no more extraordinary spectacle would have been witnessed. He rose chiefly to press for information on one point which had not been alluded to. It was a point in which he took a very particular and keen interest, and unless the House got information on it before the coming Debate, he thought that Debate would be a very lame and useless one indeed. He wanted to know what was the present position of the Italian Government towards the African war. Because he had always held that the vast majority of the Italian people were thoroughly sick of this war, and he strongly suspected that the Government were in possession of Dispatches which would show, if published, that what the Italian Government desired to do was, if not to get out of Africa altogether, to evacuate Kassala and have done with the war. ["Hear, hear!"] If it be true that the Italian people, on whose behalf the House was told this Soudan expedition was mainly if not entirely undertaken, were anxious, and that the Italian Government were anxious to end their disastrous war, he asked, how could the House discuss the question until they had been put in possession of the views of the Italian Government? He would, therefore, respectfully request the Under Secretary, when he was consultng with his Chief, to ask whether the House of Commons should not be placed in the possession of Dispatches which would let them know the opinion of the present Italian Government in regard to the African war. Then there was another question, and that was, what was the opinion of Lord Cromer and the officials in Egypt as to the financing of this expedition. It would be absurd to enter into a discussion of this question unless Dispatches were laid on the Table giving definite and adequate information as to the probable cost of the expedition, as to the amount of money already spent, as to the views of the Government and their representatives in Egypt with regard to where the money was to come from. If it be true, as reported, that the Caisse of the Debt would not advance any more money, it would probably have to come out of the pockets of the taxpayers of this country. If it be true, as stated freely in the Press, that the sum of £500,000 had been expended without bringing the troops into collision with the Dervishes, not to speak of occupying Dongola, it was perfectly manifest that the expedition, even if it stopped at Dongola, must cost at least £1,000,000, and he thought they should have the views of the Government as to where that £1,000,000 was to be found. He thought nothing could be clearer than that the Caisse of the Debt, if it had not the power to recover the £500,000 that had been paid out, would pay no more, and therefore the cost of this expedition must be derived from some other source. He thought everyone in the House had been very much impressed by the speech of the hon. Member for Belfast (Mr. Arnold-Forster). The hon. Member said that the supporters of the Government in the House and in the country had been left under the impression that a demand was made on their loyalty, and that the Government had given them to understand that they were required to observe reticence in regard to this Soudan expedition, on account of the great international interests that were at stake. Nothing could be plainer, judging by his speech, and the speeches of other hon. Members, than that the Government, whether intentionally or not, had left their supporters in the House and in the country under a false impression as to the purpose and causes of this expedition. The Government, in reply to the Leader of the Opposition, had said that it was unusual and unprecedented to give information as to what led up to the military operations. It had always seemed to him that the Foreign Office adopted one of two alternatives when dealing with the House of Commons. Either it was said that the situation was such that no information could be given, and that they must trust the Government, or else to tell the House fully and frankly what had led up to these operations. He maintained that the Foreign Office had adopted neither of those alternatives in the present case. They had given—he would not say false information, but information so curtailed and manipulated that the House and the country were undoubtedly left in the dark and under a false impression. He thought the hon. Member for Northampton had done a public service in moving this Motion. It was perfectly justifiable, because the demand it made was a necessary preliminary to adequate discussion of the Soudan expedition, and until the information asked for was laid upon the Table, it was mere mockery to ask the House to discuss the expedition.
§ MR. J. H. DALZIEL (Kirkcaldy Burghs)
said that the object of his hon. Friend in making the Motion was to get, if possible, some further information from the Government in regard to recent negotiations with the Italian Government. The Government had thought fit to decline the demand of his hon. Friend. They had been compelled to admit the receiving of the communications published in the Italian Green-book.
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY
§ MR. DALZIEL
Then, do we understand that the Government deny their accuracy?
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY
We have never admitted it.
§ MR. DALZIEL
But the right hon. Gentleman has never denied it. [Opposition cheers.]
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY
The hon. Gentleman asks whether we admit it? It is not our business to give formal contradiction to statements; but we do not admit the accuracy.
§ MR. DALZIEL
asked whether the right hon. Gentleman would inform the House of Commons, for its guidance under the circumstances, what the purport of these communications really was? It was a very peculiar position for the Government of the country to leave the House of Commons and the people of the country in in regard to a matter of such vital importance, which might result in terrible consequences to this country. The Members of the House of Commons had to get their information through Italian sources, and the Government would not admit the accuracy of the information thus supplied. If the right hon. Gentleman would not admit the accuracy of the conversations, would he be good enough to tell the House in what points they were inaccurate? Surely the right hon. Gentleman would see the importance of making a statement upon that point. But if the right hon. Gentleman was content to leave the matter so, the Opposition had no cause to complain. It was an advantage that the Government had been content to sit still while an hon. Member had declared his belief that Lord Cromer was against this expedition. This was a peculiar position for a Government to be in. Here we had our Minister in Egypt, a man whose opinion was of more importance than that of all the Members of the Cabinet put together, who it was not denied, refused to associate himself with the expedition—refused to take the responsibility of advising the Government to adopt the policy. If the Government were content to leave it there, the Opposition might be well satisfied. Members representing all shades of opinion had taken part in the Debate, but no one had said he understood what was the object and policy of the Government; it was an expedition in the dark, the policy of the blank cheque. Supporters of the Government demanded further information; and, if the Government were content to leave the matter there, the object of the Opposition was achieved, and he assumed it would be necessary to put the House to the trouble of a Division.