Ras Tafari International Consultants Inquiry ENGLAND AND FRANCE IN AFRICA.
28 March 1895 → Commons Sitting → SUPPLY.
ENGLAND AND FRANCE IN AFRICA.
HC Deb 28 March 1895 vol 32 cc388-426 388
§ *SIR E. ASHMEAD-BARTLETT
, on the Vote for the Foreign Office, desired to call attention to the encroachments of a great neighbouring Power. He wished to say nothing that could possibly be offensive in any way to that great Power. He quite recognised that the French Government and people had as much right to seek their colonial expansion and imperial commerce as had Great Britain or any other country. But whilst he wished most carefully to avoid saying anything that could be interpreted as showing a hostile feeling towards the Government or people of France, he felt, at the same time, justified in stating that the policy of Her Majesty's Ministry with regard to these encroachments had been, for the past two and a half years, one of very painful and possibly very injurious surrender.
There had been, a series of surrenders, beginning with the surrender in Siam, and proceeding almost with the rate of geometrical progression ever since, until we had now reached the position that there was no security felt in this country as to what might happen at any moment with regard to the waterway of the Nile. He did not propose to deal with the question of Siam, though the publication of the Blue Books on that subject revealed a state of things, so grievous and injurious to British prestige and honour, that he thought it was almost impossible to speak in language of too strong condemnation of the policy of Her Majesty's Government with regard to Siam 18 months ago. Then there was the question of Sierra Leone, and he might remind the House that the Speech from the Throne this year announced the completion of an agreement with regard to Sierra Leone, but they had reason to believe that by that agreement their ancient and important colony had been completely cut off from trade with its Hinterland by the French. Although he understood there was some agreement with regard to trade not embodied in the arrangement or protocols as to the boundaries, he believed that agreement was a loose and separate one, and only of a temporary nature. He should like to ask the hon. Baronet the Under Secretary for Foreign Affairs whether the French Government had offered any explanation as to the grievous incident which took place at Waima in December 1893, when a British force was attacked at night at a place within British territory, and three gallant British officers Killed?
In regard to that matter, so far as he was aware, no reparation or explanation even had yet been offered by the Government of France; and he hoped the hon. Baronet would be able to give them some information on the subject. Then there was the question of the Niger territory. There was serious news from the Niger. They knew that for some time a French force and French leaders in that part of Africa had been doing their best to encroach on the commercial and political rights of Great Britain. He was glad to hear the hon. Baronet say that the Government had addressed a remonstrance to the Government of France with regard to the encroachments at two points in the Niger territory, of which they had just heard. He did not say anything now with regard to Madagascar. He only mentioned these matters at all because there had been such a succession of surrenders in all these different instances that the course pursued by the Government required the close attention of the country. They hoped that the surrender in Siam might have led to some concession, on the part of the French Government, with regard to Madagascar or the Nile waterway; but each fresh surrender was marked by a further advance on the part of the French Government more menacing and serious than the last.
With reference to the Nile waterway, he hoped the Government would not say that the reference to, or the introduction of, these questions was unjustifiable or might be injurious—because they had been discussed over and over again in both the French Press and the French Legislative Assembly. For the Government, therefore, to claim the right of secrecy or delay even in discussing these questions in the House or in the country, would be quite unjustifiable. It was absolutely wrong that Parliament—which had such a great interest in the imperial greatness and commerce of the country—and the British people also should be kept in ignorance whilst these constant encroachments upon their territory, political influence, and trade were being made by the French Government in almost every quarter of the world. As to the question of the Nile waterway, of all the questions abroad of political rivalry and power—which were likely to arise in the next few years, with the exception, perhaps, only of the future of Asia Minor and the passage of the Straits—the security of the Upper Nile waterway was undoubtedly the principal. There was a race at present proceeding for Transafrican Dominion between France and Great Britain.
The French ambition was to extend their influence from west to east—from Senegal on the Atlantic, right across Central Africa, and through the Soudan to the Red Sea, where they already had a port at Obock. If they once succeeded in establishing that position of Transafrican Dominion, the whole of North Africa was bound to become a French possession, Egypt included; and the Mediterranean was almost bound to become a French lake.
Then there was the British race from South Africa to the north, from Cape Town to Alexandria—a great dominion which had been very nearly achieved, which only required the small completions of a chain already stretched the greater part of the way, to render it perfect and permanent, and to give this country such advantages of imperial influence and commerce in Africa as it was almost impossible to over-rate. Anyone who was in any way familiar with the aims and policy of that eminent man who had done so much to extend British dominion in South Africa, and to open up vast regions in that country to British commerce and colonisation, would know that the great ambition of Mr. Rhodes was, to complete this chain of British communication and territory from Alexandria to Cape Town and vice versa. He wished to point out the extreme gravity of allowing the French to get possession of any portion of the Upper Nile water. Any great European Power that held almost any portion of the Upper Nile held Egypt practically at its mercy. The Nile was Egypt and Egypt was the Nile.
Any Power which controlled the waters of the Nile held Egypt at its mercy, and would be able to impose any terms it pleased upon the Egyptian people or the British Government, which held control over, and was responsible for, the policy of Egypt. Some years ago, that great authority on Egyptian and Soudanese questions, the late Sir Samuel Baker, told him that any European Power holding the Upper Nile would hold Egypt at its mercy. A distinguished military officer had used this remarkable expression last year:— "If I were the Mahdi, I would make Egypt pay for every quart of water that runs down the Nile;" and early in the present year, Sir Colin Scott-Moncreiff, speaking in this country, said:— "As to diverting the Nile in the Soudan, and depriving Egypt of its water, though there might be no danger from the Mahdi: what the Mahdi could not do, a civilised people could do. It is very evident that the civilised possessor of the Upper Nile Valley holds Egypt in his grasp. … A civilised nation on the Upper Nile would surely build regulating sluices across the outlet of the Victoria Nyanza and control that great sea as Manchester controls Thirlmere. This would be an easy operation. Once done, the Nile supply would be in their hands, and if poor little Egypt had the bad luck to be at war with this people in the upper waters, they might flood Egypt or cut off the water supply at their pleasure. "
"The Nile, from the Victoria Nyanza to the Mediterranean, and should be under our rule." That was the view of a gentleman whose knowledge and work in Egypt was unrivalled, and whose experience no expert would venture to contradict. This was why he was calling attention to the matter now, in order, if possible, to ensure that the Government would do their duty in respect to it. The great danger lay in the possibility that, if our Government did not bestir itself, we might some day be encountered by a fait accompli in the shape of a foreign occupation of the Upper Nile. Finding that some other Power held Egypt at its mercy, we should then be obliged to give up our great work in that country, or to undertake that most difficult of all operations, namely, the dislodging of a great Power from that remote part of Africa.
This country now held the mouths of the Nile, and held also the source of the Nile; we held Egypt up to Wadi Halfa. What was now wanted was prompt action on the part of Her Majesty's Government, in order that this country might effectively occupy also all that part of the Nile waterway, which was not in Egyptian territory, or under Egyptian control. Until this was done, this country had no pledge that the French would not forestall us. It was not as if we had no warnings. We had had warnings enough. Her Majesty's Government, after some considerable delay had occupied Uganda, and for this he wished to give them every credit. They also saw that it was necessary to establish a buffer State. He would remind the Committee of the enormous advances made by the French across Central Africa—he believed, as much as 1,000 miles in five years. This was truly portentous, and was, in fact, greater than the advance of any other people in that part of Africa during the same period. It was also known that large French forces were now established on the upper region of the Congo, and upon a tributary of that river called the Ubanghi. He had put a question to the Under Secretary for Foreign Affairs (Sir E. Grey) that afternoon on the subject, as to where the French Expedition, which left the Ubanghi some nine months ago, now was. He did not know whether the Under Secretary would not, or whether he could not, give any definite information on the subject, but his answer did not make the matter clear.
A statement appeared on the subject some three weeks ago in a leading article which appeared in The Times newspaper on March 5th. The statement there made appeared to be put forward with authority, and in a way which that journal rarely made use of without good reason. The article stated that a French expedition had left the upper waters of the Ubanghi some eight months previously. Our Government ought to have gunboats on the upper waters of the Nile, and patrol the river as far as Lado, and even Fashod, and ought to take steps to find out where this French force really was at the present time. It was an extraordinary illustration of the neglect of the present Parliament of these grave questions, that the greatest insults and humiliation to this country during the present century had been passed over with perfect indifference, and even in silence. Her Majesty's Government had, in regard to this part of Africa, adopted a feeble device, and had tried to shove the little Congo Free State up into the the region of the Western Nile basin, and so use that State as a buffer. That was a policy he admitted, though an unworthy one; but it had absolutely failed. By the treaty made last year by Her Majesty's Government, on May 12th, the Congo Free State was put into possession of about 100,000 square miles of territory, more or less, lying between latitude 5o and latitude 11o, between longitude 25o and longitude 30o. What then happened?
A week afterwards the French Minister for Foreign Affairs went down to the Corp Législatif on June 7, 1894, and solemnly made the following statement. The hon. Baronet (Sir E. Grey) would not, he presumed, dispute the accuracy of the statement then made by M. de Hanotaux, whose concluding words were:— "The Anglo-Congolese Convention being in manifest contradiction to the principles of the Treaty of Berlin, must be considered by us as not legitimate, and, untilfurther information, as null and void." But not only did the French declare our treaty between two independent Powers—Great Britain and the Congo State—to be null and void, but on August 14th they proceeded to make a treaty of their own with the Congo Free State, and compelled that State to turn out of nearly the whole of the territory in which we had just before placed them. That treatment was accepted by Her Majesty's Government without protest, so far as he was aware. But whether our Government had protested or not, the fact remained that, having tried to use the Congo Free State as a buffer between the French possessions and waterway of the Nile, they allowed that State to be driven out of the territory into which we had put them by treaty. In his opinion there was no parallel for such humiliation of one Great Power by another, except after a great war.
Her Majesty's Government might say that they did not regard this as an important matter, but the French regarded it as very important indeed. The highest French officer in the French Congo had said:— "Our Treaty assures to France access to the valley of the Nile." That was the view of M. de Brazza, the French Commissary General of the Congo, who was responsible for carrying out the policy of France in the Western Basin of the Nile. The same authority went on to state:— "Access to the valley of the Nile from the South is the only way in which we might be enabled one day to settle the Egyptian question in a way consistent with our interests. It is easy to join the Congo territory to the Soudan by way of Darfur." That meant that the French authorities looked forward to the time when, by diminishing or, possibly, by diverting the flow of the Nile, they might be able to bring pressure upon us and to turn us out of Egypt. M. de Brazza also referred to the easy way of getting from the Congo territory to the Soudan by way of Darfur and thence to Khartoum. M. Deloncle, the leader of the French advance party, had made statements quite as strong, and similar views expressed by various members of the Corps Legislatif might also be quoted. He only referred to these in order to bring to the attention of the Committee and the country the great menace that confronted us, through the attempt that was being made by France to seize the Upper Nile waterway, and eventually, by that means, to turn us out of Egypt.
He was fully persuaded, moreover, that France was prepared to take advantage of their opportunities to the very utmost. He must give the hon. Baronet some credit for having stated the other day, that the spheres—that was to say, the sphere of Egyptian influence and that of British influence—covered the whole Nile water-way. The hon. Baronet made the statement with considerable reluctance, but nevertheless it was a very important statement; and, if fully acted up to, and if effective measures were taken, or real assurances were obtained, it would be an important step. In regard to Siam, he believed if the House had the slightest idea of what was going on as to the encroachments in that country it would not endorse the craven policy which the Government had adopted. He admitted some concessions must be made, and that for the sake of peace, a certain yielding might be necessary in certain regions, but the question of the Nile water-way was of first-class importance to this country. That was a question which they were justified in pressing on the Government, because the Government had not been fully alive to their duty in this matter.
It was a significant fact that while the French were threatening the Nile waterway to the west, a very remarkable mission from another Great Power, also our rival, was working on the eastern side of the Upper Nile waters. There was a coincidence about this action which was not accidental. A large and influential and well equipped Russian mission went, about six weeks ago, into Abyssinia, bearing costly presents and large sums of money, for distribution among the chieftains and the people. There was another great Power, our ally, which had of late been moving in the direction of the Upper Nile waterway. It was a fortunate thing for us that the Italians were in the Eastern Soudan.
It was clear that the future of this country, the future establishment of British Dominion over the Nile waterway, and the civilisation of all those countries, depended on a cordial co-operation between Italy and Great Britain in those regions. Events were marching rapidly. It was evident that the future of Egypt must rest with the Power that succeeded first in getting control and possession of the Nile waterway. There was little time to be lost. We might be confronted almost at any moment with a fait accompli, in the shape of a French occupation of some portion of the Nile, which would render our position in Egypt untenable, or which would oblige us to undertake a tremendous struggle in order to maintain it. This was the most important question in all our foreign policy at the present moment, and if the Government wished to save the cause of British interests they must act vigorously and promptly.
§ MAJOR DARWIN (Staffordshire, Lichfield)
said, he had an Amendment on the Paper very similar to that moved by the hon. Member for Sheffield, with the difference that he proposed to reduce the salary of the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs by £100 only. The subject under discussion was the region of the head waters of the Nile. He believed he was right in saying that the doctrine of effective occupation did not apply to the interior of Africa, and the the fact that we had no effective occupation there did not interfere in any way with our rights of trading in that district. Our claim to that district lay in the fact that we had entered into an agreement with Germany and Italy by which those two nations had agreed not to interfere with our sphere of influence. The French, he understood, had not agreed to this bargain in any way, yet the fact that they had not definitely protested against it gave us, he thought, a fair claim to consider this as part of our sphere of protection. He did not think the Government had made any clear statement of the object they had in view in entering into the leasing arrangements between this country and the Congo Free State. The reasons might be awkward to give, but they might perhaps be guessed. In the first place, the Government wished to get ground under British control for the time being over which a road and telegraph line might be constructed connecting Lake Tanganyika and Uganda, in which object, they had entirely failed; secondly, they wished to establish the Congo Free State as a buffer against. French advance, or it might be that in entering into this lease it was desired to make a fresh declaration before Europe that we looked upon this as territory under our control.
If France desired to advance into the British sphere of influence it would not be across the southern portion of the leased territory, but across the northern portion or the sources of the Bahr-el-Ghazal, and the fact that the Congo Free State had abandoned this part of the lease showed that there had also been an entire failure to obtain the second object desired. He wished to know where the French were at present; if they were at Bangasso they were in a position to take up a great many of the posts occupied by Belgium in the northern region, and it was important to remember that the French at the present moment were in a position to make a rapid and effective advance on this region. There seemed to be an impression in quarters usually well informed that the French were advancing; it had been so stated in a special article of The Times of March 5, and as the information came from usually well-informed quarters, it was a question worthy of serious consideration.
If the French were advancing it was really a very serious matter, because of the value of the region and the fact that France did not acknowledge agreements between third parties as binding upon them. As to the southern part still leased, he would ask, had the lease strengthened our rights over that region? If it had, he thought, the fact that the French had forced the Congo Free State to repudiate the contract with regard to the northern part of the sphere must pro tanto have weakened our hold over the northern part. If it had not, of what use was the lease, if all it had done was to prevent absolutely any British advance in that sphere and to take no extra precaution against French advance? If we ever had to make an advance towards the navigable sources of the Nile, it would be necessary for us to cross this sphere, inasmuch as the right bank of the Nile was swampy, and below the Albert Nyanza, the river was so full of grass that it was difficult to navigate. His main point was that in this lease we had leased to the Congo Free State the wrong part of the sphere if we wished to check a French advance, and, considering the difficulty that the present portion placed in the way of our advance, he thought the Government would have been well advised if they had cancelled the whole of the lease when the Congo Free State threw over part of it. He thought our policy should be to oppose a French advance in that quarter, for as long as England was the denominating influence in Egypt, she ought to be the denominating influence in the whole of the Nile Valley.
The rivers near the sources of the Nile were not great military obstacles, nor were they great highways of communication, and, therefore, did not affect very materially any strategical considerations. He very much doubted if it was possible to divert the Nile, but it was possible to irrigate the Nile valley for some 400 or 500 miles above Khartoum, and to such an extent that the waters of the Lower Nile would be considerably diminished. It might be possible, by means of reservoirs, to irrigate the land beyond Khartoum so as not to interfere with Lower Egypt. Whatever power dominated Egypt, it was of vital importance that it should dominate in the valley above Khartoum.
As to the overflow from the big lakes, works there would be of extreme importance to regulate the flow of the Lower Nile. For the same reason we ought to make certain of holding the outlet of the Albert Nyanza, as well as of the lower part of the Nile. He had always felt great doubt as to what should be our policy in Egypt. He would not discuss that now; but as we were the dominating Power we ought to take full responsibility with regard to the advance in the direction of Khartoum in order to prevent any other European Power from getting in such a position that it could inflict serious injury on Egypt. He urged the Government to send a small force to place the British flag on the junction of Bahr-el-Ghazal and Bahr-el-Jebel. If we had those two points under British control we should for a time have secured our advance towards the Nile Valley. A small force would accomplish such a work, and our occupation would be as effectual as any that the French were likely to get.
If we did not abandon the whole of our policy we were, bound to make a railway across to Uganda. One of the strongest arguments the Govment brought against the railway was with reference to the dual control exercised by the company and the Government over that region. That excuse no longer availed. By an arrangement only made within the last day or two the East Africa Company was going out of that region, and the Government would have sole control. So they had full responsibility, and, as far as he could see, they had no longer any excuse for not pushing forward that railway, which was so necessary. In his opinion, the easiest method of advance would be by the Suakin-Berber route.
The Uganda route was not the best by which to attack those regions, but the Suakin-Berber route was. It was most important that we should come to a definite and distinct understanding as to what our policy was in this region. The Government, by making these leases, indicated that they thought it necessary some steps should be taken to prevent France advancing. Their leases had failed to effect that object. They were bound to secure those regions to British influence now that their original proposals had so completely prevailed. Those proposals might have been good, sensible, and right at the time they were made. But they had failed from causes which the Government might or might not have foreseen, and now the Government should see it was necessary to take further action in that direction. He did not wish to press the Under Secretary for Foreign Affairs too much. But he hoped the hon. Baronet would give an assurance that the Government was looking into this question, and would advance in the direction he had indicated and secure the Valley of the Nile to British influence.
§ MR. W. JOHNSTON
said, he only intervened in the discussion to ascertain what course the Government intended to adopt with regard to the protection of British interests in Madagascar. Every day brought news of increasing military enthusiasm with which the French expedition to Madagascar was being viewed in France. One of the newspapers asserted that a letter had been written by a French officer in Madagascar calling on the French not only to assert their protectorare over the island, but to drive out the Queen and the Hova Government, and entirely to conquer the island, in the interests of France. For a long series of years Christian missionaries from England had taken an interest in the affairs of Madagascar, and they had endeavoured to Christianise and civilise the people of the island. In this they had obtained remarkable success. He knew there were some hon. Members who—
§ MR. J. CHAMBERLAIN (Birmingham, W.)
rose to Order, and asked whether it would not be convenient to keep the question of Madagascar separate from the question of Egypt and the Upper Nile.
agreed that it would be more convenient.
§ MR. JOHNSTON
asked why he should be out of Order when the hon. Member for Sheffield, who brought forward a matter relating largely to Madagascar, was not.
I do not say that the hon. Member is out of Order. But I agree that it would be more convenient to keep the questions of Madagascar and Egypt and the Upper Nile distinct.
§ MR. JOHNSTON
I at once bow to your ruling, Sir. But I deeply regret that I have not the opportunity to protest against the attempt on the part of France to repress the liberties of a patriotic people.
§ MR. J. CHAMBERLAIN
said, his hon. Friend would have an opportunity later on of raising the question.
*MR. J. W. LOWTHER (Cumberland, Penrith)
remarked that, while he could not agree with every word that fell from his hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, he thought his hon. Friend was fully justified in bringing forward this question. The Leader of the Opposition stated on the first night of the meeting of Parliament that it was not the intention of the Opposition to attempt to make any Party capital out of questions of foreign policy, and he did not think it could be laid to their charge that they had now, in any sense, departed from what the Leader of the Opposition then said. But the matters to which his hon. Friend had drawn attention were so important and so serious that if the House were to pass them by in absolute silence on such an occasion as this, a very mistaken view might be taken of our policy at home and abroad He supposed that there was a general consensus of opinion, if not entire unanimity, in the House, as to what our policy should be in that particular quarter of Africa. He supposed that the general sense of the House would be found to be in agreement with the hon. and Gallant Member opposite—that so long as we were in Egypt (without discussing the policy of the evacuation or of remaining there) it was necessary for us to have political control of the upper waters of the, Nile, and that if we were to retire from the position we now held, or if, to use a phrase of modern political slang, we failed to "implement" the agreements and conventions into which we had entered with regard to that particular quarter, we should find ourselves in considerable difficulty in dealing with any Foreign Power which might choose to establish itself on the banks of the river.
That being so, he did not think he was going too far in saying that the general opinion of the House was that we should retain our position there, if we did not extend it. Then the question was, what our rights were in that quarter. If he read correctly the engagement into which this country had entered in recent years, as far as our "paper rights" were concerned, he thought they were well established. In 1890 we entered into an arrangement with Germany to delimit our respective spheres of influence in East Africa. It was admitted and agreed by Germany that our sphere of influence went—to quote the exact words—"as far as the confines of Egypt." Therefore, when his hon. Friend, the Under Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, recently stated that it was the view of the Government that the Egyptian and the British spheres of influence were coterminous, that was not a new admission on the part of the Government, but a statement which was made public as long ago as July 1, 1890.
So much for the German Government. With regard to the Italian Government, an Agreement was made in 1891 which defined more accurately the special sphere of influence between Italy and Great Britain, and which provided that the sphere of influence of Great Britain should reach as far as a certain point, called, he believed. Ras Kasar, on the Red Sea. Therefore we had at that time, up to 1891, admissions from the German Government and from the Italian Government that our sphere of influence went as far as the confines of Egypt. Then we came to what had been called the lease—the Agreement entered into by Her Majesty's Government in May of last year. His hon. friend who spoke last was rather sceptical as to the value of this lease made to the Congo Free State. He presumed that the object of Her Majesty's Government in entering into this Agreement was to obtain from the Congo Free State a distinct acknowledgment that this territory lying between the Nile and the watershed of the Nile and the Congo was within the British sphere of influence. In entering into the Agreement the Congo Free State made that acknowledgment, and, although it was true that, by a subsequent Agreement, the Congo Free State had agreed with France to renounce any rights she may have in a particular portion of that territory, the acknowledgment of the Congo Free, State that we had the right to make that lease and to deal with that territory still stands good. At all events, as to a portion of it, it stands good in the eyes of France itself; as to the remainder, we have the acknowledgment of the Congo Free State that we are entitled to consider the basin of the Nile as being within our sphere of influence. It was suggested that it might be said by France:— "Oh, we have never assented to any of these agreements; our consent has never been asked; they have never been submitted to us, and therefore we nothing whatever about them." In a sense, of course it was true; but the reason France was never asked to assent to those Agreements surely was because at the time they were made France was nowhere near the locality in question. The last Agreement of France with the Congo Free State was made in April 1887.
That Agreement delimitated the frontier between French Congo and the Congo Free State up to a certain point along the river Welle, a very considerable distance from the watershed between the Nile and the Congo. It was totally unnecessary to submit to France Agreements which at that time did not at all concern her. Then came the question whether the Agreements were worth anything at all. In face of them, although they were not submitted to her, yet, as they must have been known to her through the ordinary channels of information, would France be entitled to send an armed expedition into the middle of the territory which she knew to be claimed by Great Britain? As to the alleged expedition, he was not in a position to know more than any other Member, but he was sceptical as to its marching in the direction it was said to be—namely, towards the Nile.
It was originally sent up to French Congo at the time when France and the Congo Free State were disputing with regard to the frontier between the two States. Matters had become rather strained and the expedition was probably now some considerable way up the Congo and along the river Welle. Nothing had been heard with regard to it; and the commander who was to have taken charge of it was ordered off upon other duty in West Africa. He could hardly believe that a friendly Power like France would send an armed expedition into a territory which we claimed under such circumstances. The question remained whether we were going to do anything to implement the claims we had upon this particular locality. He was not in a position to suggest what course should be taken; and he must leave the matter to the Government with their fuller knowledge. In conclusion, he wished to ask whether any information could be given with regard to another part of Africa—namely, the Niger. A serious statement was made in regard to certain expeditions which were said to have come down upon the banks of the Niger in territory which had been acquired by the Niger Company, and be believed occupied by them for years. He could hardly credit that any expeditions had been despatched by the Government of France into this locality; but if the statement were confirmed, he should be glad of an assurance that the matter would at once be brought to the attention of the Government of France as to this extraordinary violation of territory which for so many years had been under the British flag.
§ *THE UNDER SECRETARY FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS (Sir EDWARD GREY, Northumberland, Berwick)
The hon. Member opposite began his speech by claiming for himself and the leaders of the Opposition that they had not, during the two and a half years that the present Government have been in power, done anything to inconvenience the Government in their foreign policy by making party capital out of any questions or incidents which have arisen. I freely and gladly recognise that that is a perfectly just claim for him to make; and personally I have benefited a great deal by that attitude on the part of the leaders of the Opposition. I freely recognise that the claim which the hon. Member for Penrith has made to-night is one which is justified. I will pass to the particular questions which have been raised in the Debate. There is, first of all, the question of the agreement made last year with the Congo State. The hon. Member for Sheffield said the policy of that agreement had been to try to shove forward the Congo State to occupy British territory. No description of that agreement, of the motives and policy of it, could have been more inaccurate. The Government did not try to shove the Congo State forward at all. When we came into Office we found a large force had already shoved itself forward, and was in part of the territory, at any rate, which was subsequently dealt with by that Agreement. There was no anxiety on our part to shove her forward. What I am asked is: "How is British territory affected by that Agreement, and the position in which it now stands?" Under that Agreement the Congo State have recognised the British sphere. I do not say that recognition is necessary to our claim; but, at any rate, it is right and it is useful that we should have it, and that, undoubtedly, has been one outcome of the Agreement with the Congo State.
I pass from that to the position which this country occupies, and is to occupy in the future, with regard to the Valley of the Nile and that part of the British sphere of influence touched upon by the hon. Member for Penrith. The greater number of the speeches that have been made have been devoted to explaining the importance of this question. I have no wish to dispute its importance. On the contrary, I am sensible that it is most important. I am asked, How do we stand with regard to this matter at the present time? As the hon. Member for Penrith has already shown, there was an agreement made in 1890 with Germany and another with Italy defining the British sphere of influence, and obtaining from those two great countries a recognition of the British sphere of influence. The hon. and gallant Member for Lichfield asked whether any effective, occupation is necessary to establish the validity of our claims in Africa. A great deal of re-arrangement would have to take place, not in the British sphere only, but in the spheres of other Powers also, if the question of effective, occupation is gone into, and its effect on the validity of claims. I am not at all sure that the Power most intimately concerned in that matter is Great Britain. I should say, at all events, that the proportion of our effective occupation to our claims is at least as large as that of other Powers.
These Agreements have now been before the world for five years, and though they have not been formally recognised by more than the two Powers concerned, except by the Congo State, they are, at the same time, well known to all the other Powers, and have not been disputed during five years. Besides this, there is the question of the claims of Egypt. Towards Egypt this country stands in a special position of trust, as regards the maintenance of the interests of Egypt, and the claims of Egypt have not only been admitted by us, but they have been admitted and emphasized lately by the Government of France. I stated the other day that, in consequence of these claims of ours, and in consequence of the claims of Egypt in the Nile Valley, the British and Egyptian spheres of influence covered the whole of the Nile waterway. That is a statement following logically upon what has happened in past years, and of what has been in the knowledge of the world for the last two years. I am asked whether or not it is the case that a French expedition is coming from the West of Africa with the intention of entering the Nile Valley and occupying up to the Nile.
I will ask the Committee to be careful in giving credence to the rumours of the movement of expeditions in Africa. Even places in Africa are apt to shift about, and it is sometimes found that some place supposed to occupy a particular position does not, in fact, occupy that position. Rumours have come with greater or less freedom with regard to the movements of expeditions in various parts of Africa, but at the Foreign Office we have no reason to suppose that any French Expedition has instructions to enter, or the intention of entering, the Nile Valley; and I will go further and say that, after all I have explained about the claims we consider we have under past Agreements, and the claims which we consider Egypt may have in the Nile Valley, and adding to that the fact that our claims and the view of the Government with regard to them are fully and clearly known to the French Government—I cannot think it is possible that these rumours deserve credence, because the advance of a French Expedition under secret instructions right from the other side of Africa, into a territory over which our claims have been known for so long, would be not merely an inconsistent and unexpected act, but it must be perfectly well known to the French Government that it would be an unfriendly act, and would be so viewed by England.
I pass on to deal with the two French Expeditions which are reported to have entered a British Protectorate on the Niger. I have not much to say on that. The Niger Company is informed that two French Expeditions have entered territory which for some years has been known as a British Protectorate. The statement that two French Expeditions have entered such territory standing by itself, uncontradicted and unexplained, is undoubtedly most serious. But the more serious it is, standing unexplained, the more important it is not to make any comment upon it before the reply of the French Government to the communications addressed to it is known. But I have to say this, that undoubtedly the Committee will be right to bear in mind that there are two points of view in regard to those questions—the point of view of their local importance, and the much more serious point of view of their effect on the relations of two great European Powers.
It would be idle to deny that there is some importance to be attached to the fact that, during the whole of the Debate no foreign Power has been alluded to except the French Government. Why has that been so? I think it has been so because events in Siam and in Africa have created an unfavourable effect on public opinion in this country, not an anxiety about what has happened—at the proper time I shall be able to defend Her Majesty's Government and to maintain that British interests have not been sacrificed—I say I do not think the anxiety is as to what has happened, but as to what may happen, in the future. During the last two years no provocation, whatever as regards the French has come from our side. We have striven to our utmost to reconcile the conflicting interests of the two countries and to promote the maintenance of good relations between the two countries, and we shall omit nothing consistently with the preservation of important and undoubted British claims still to maintain those good relations. But something else besides our own effort is necessary, and that is the cooperation of the French Government and the French public. With that cooperation the task we have fulfilled with success hitherto, of preventing these local differences in different parts of the world from causing any serious disturbance of the relations of two great Powers, ought to be an easy one. We rely now, as we have relied not unsuccessfully hitherto, on the sense of justice and fairness of the French Government and the French people, to reconcile what conflicting interests there may be in different parts of the world, with the maintenance of close and good relations between the two countries.
§ MR. J. CHAMBERLAIN
I have listened with the deepest interest to what has fallen from the Under Secretary for Foreign Affairs. I recognise his responsible position, and I feel that the statement he has now made will give greatest satisfaction to the country, and no doubt to this Committee. It is probably the fullest and clearest statement of the policy of the Government, with regard to the subject which has been under discussion, which we have yet had from a responsible Minister. My hon. Friend the Under Secretary for Foreign Affairs recognises the full importance of the subject we have discussed. He sees that, unless there be a clear understanding between the two great Powers which are coming into contact in Africa, the most serious consequences might easily ensue, and he has undoubtedly made to-day a statement which cannot be misunderstood as to the claims of this country in regard to these regions. He has repeated and enlarged upon his statement of the other day, which was to the effect that the whole of the basin of the Nile, the whole of the Nile waterway from the lake, was either in the sphere of Egyptian or British influence. He has told us tonight that the claim on the part of the British Government has been before the world, and therefore has been in the full knowledge of the French Government for the last five years: I assume, therefore, that, in his opinion, it has never been disputed by the French Government. And he went on to say that if, in these circumstances, the French Government were to push forward any armed expedition into the country, which we have for five years past claimed as being within our sphere of influence, that that would be an unfriendly act on the part of the French Government, and would be so regarded by this country. As I have said, that is perfectly satisfactory if, as we most earnestly hope, the position is understood and accepted with equal clearness by the Representatives of the French Government. If we have ever entertained any doubt on that point I must say it is due to those Debates in the French Assembly which are not always characterised by the reserve which we endeavour to maintain here. As recently as the beginning of the present month the following statement was made by a member of the French Legislative Body who has interested himself greatly in those colonial questions:— "Our sole aim has been to make England feel the harm she is doing us in not keeping her engagements in Egypt, and to show her that we can come up to her elsewhere than in the Mediterranean."
That statement was made in the presence of the Ministry, after a previous statement to the effect that they had no desire to colonise the Upper Nile or the Congo or the Ubangi. It would appear, therefore, from these statements, that they were entering upon this enterprise with the object of showing England that they could come up to her elsewhere than in the Mediterranean. Statements like these have been made more than once by French Representatives in the Assembly. We expect from the French Government, if they do not accept these statements—and we do not believe for a moment that they do accept them—that they should repudiate them. That is what would be done here in parallel circumstances; but I am unable to find that there was any repudiation in the French Chamber of the statement which I have read. That justifies such a discussion as this. It makes it necessary for us, at any rate, to have a clear statement as to our position from the Government of our country, and a tremendous responsibility would rest upon them if they did not make the position which we occupy equally clear to a Foreign Government. I hope we may agree with the Under Secretary for Foreign Affairs that these rumours very often go far beyond the truth. We are dealing with very distant countries where we have no solid footing, and it may well be that reports that come to us are very far from the truth, and it would be unwise and unpatriotic if we were to act upon these reports without confirmation. I should think, however, that possibly in a matter so important as this, in which the good feeling between two countries is largely involved, some perfectly friendly and reasonable inquiry might be made, with a view to ascertaining what truth there was even in a report of this kind. An assurance from the Government of France, that no such expedition was intended or authorised, or had started, would be in fact even more satisfactory than the statement of my hon. friend the Under Secretary that, if it were to start, it would be considered as an unfriendly act.
We do not want to be placed in a position in which we may have to say to the Government of any other civilised country that they have been guilty of an unfriendly act. When it comes to that, things are becoming serious. We do not want to be placed in the position of even suggesting that a foreign Power could be guilty of an unfriendly act, and I confess it would be very satisfactory to some of us if, of their own accord, the Government of France could give us some assurance as to their intentions, and as to the instructions which they may have given to these expeditions in distant countries—which would relieve our minds, which we should accept as given in perfect good faith, and which would render perfectly unnecessary any further public discussion of the matter. I rose, however, to say that, in my opinion, the declaration of the Under Secretary for Foreign Affairs is perfectly satisfactory. It shows that the Government are fully aware of the importance of the question, and I should not dare to interfere even for a moment with their responsibility.
§ *MR. T. GIBSON BOWLES
said that he did not desire to pursue the subject of the Nile Valley. He thought, however, the House must have been impressed by the rather alarming language of the Under Secretary. He had no doubt that that language was duly weighed and considered before it was uttered in that House. He proposed to call attention to the conduct of the Government in connection with Siam. The essentially important negotiations with reference to Siam took place between October 1892, and April 1893, and all that time they were asking for information and being told that it was contrary to the public interest that information should be given whilst the negotiations were proceeding. It was not until the 18th of last August that the Blue-book was published. That was the Saturday before the House rose, and so there was no time for a discussion of the subject. He had read the Blue-book from beginning to end, and, in his opinion, a more painful exhibition of violent language and weak action, of high pretension and absolute failure had never been seen. Lord Rosebery had all the cards in his hands. He had right; he had force, for the force of France in those territories was in no way equal to ours, and he ought to have had the instincts that would move a generously-minded man to stand by a good ally and customer of England. But though Lord Rosebery held the cards he did not succeed in winning a single trick in the game. At every point he used the strongest language; at every point he was driven off, defeated, discredited, almost disgraced.
What was the excuse that he gave for his repeated failures? On July 25 he said— "Our policy has all along been to rely on French promises, and I regret to say that, no doubt under the force of circumstances, these have not been fulfilled." Ought a Minister for Foreign Affairs to rely upon promises and then to whimper because, forsooth, those promises were not fulfilled? It showed a simplicity which he trusted would be rare in British Foreign Ministers. He admitted that it might be extremely difficult to carry out the most sacred engagements, that there might be considerable reasons to prevent a Foreign Minister from confronting the responsibility of pushing matters to the verge of war. He admitted all that, but when a Foreign Minister was conscious of that feeling he ought to measure most carefully the language that he used. This was what Lord Rosebery had not done, but the contrary. On April 12, 1893, Lord Rosebery certainly became aware of the serious nature of the problem before him. On that date he wrote to our Resident in Siam— "Although friendly intentions towards Siam are professed (by France) there is every appearance of forcing unreasonable terms upon the Siamese Government by menaces." From that date, therefore, no action by France, however extraordinary, no application of force, however great, could have surprised Lord Rosebery, for he was prepared for it. The duty of the Foreign Minister in these circumstances was clear and plain. It was his duty to make up his mind how far he would go in resisting this intention of forcing unacceptable terms upon Siam. But the first thing he did was to tell the Siamese Minister that he could not receive him. "I think, therefore [he wrote], that it would be more prudent if the Siamese Minister refrained from asking for an official interview which is sure to be noticed by the Press." A few days later the Siamese were advised to "make the best terms they could with France," and then Sir Philip Currie was authorised by Lord Rosebery to tell the French Ambassador that he had given this advice to the Siamese Minister. There could not possibly be a more patent and open avowal that Lord Rosebery had absolutely abandoned the Siamese to the tender mercy of the French. And it was regarded by France as a direct invitation for her to proceed in her purpose. Menaces soon degenerated into force; and in April and May there was fighting.
On June 30, a Declaration was made by the French Government that they had no intention of interfering with the integrity of Siam. But still the gunboats continued to go to the Siamese coast. We were told that any further movements of the French Fleet would be communicated to England. These movements were not communicated. On July 13, the French Government gave us a distinct undertaking that their gunboats would remain outside the Menam river. On that very day, however, these gunboats forced the passage of the Menam and went on to Bangkok. Then followed the blockade and the painful story of the affront of the British flag when the British war vessels were ordered to leave the river and remain outside. The Pallas was actually interfered with when she was outside the limits of the blockade. Her commander very properly resisted and resented this interference, and an explanation was given by the French Commander. This pretended blockade—for it never was a blockade—would not have been effected if permission had not been given to the French to coal at Singapore. That was one of the reasons why he asserted that all the cards were in the hands of our Foreign Minister. The French demands continued until ended by the Treaty of October 3, and the dismemberment of Siam. The French claimed the whole of the left or eastern bank of the Mekong, and on July 20, Lord Rosebery wrote— "Firstly, we cannot doubt that the term 'left bank' is far too comprehensive in its scope. It cannot, of course, apply to any district east of the, Mekong River, which the Siamese Government have no power to cede, whether from rights of sovereignty, suzerainty, or reversion possessed by other powers." But the left bank was ceded, and consequently Lord Rosebery was driven from his first position with defeat and discredit. His second position was that the integrity of Siam must not be interfered with. On July 20, 1893, he wrote— "We are confident that the expression 'left bank of the Mekong' is used subject to the assurances repeatedly given by the French Government that they would respect the independence and integrity of the kingdom of Siam. It is clear that any provinces which indisputably form part of that Monarchy could not properly be made the subject of any such demands by the French Government."
"" Nevertheless, precisely such demands were made and enforced, and finally had to be conceded. So, as to the second requirement, Lord Rosebery was driven with discredit, if not with disgrace, from his position. As to Luang Probang, Lord Rosebery wrote, on 26th July 1893— "As an honest man, he [M. Develle] must be as convinced as I was that the district in question was, and had been for nearly a century, bonâ fide Siamese territory, and that it could not be confiscated by France without a flagrant infringement of the formal assurances he had given us not to impair the integrity of Siam." But M. Develle, in reply, peremptorily refused to "withdraw or modify" his demands, and Luang Probang was confiscated, and it was in French possession at present. So that Lord Rosebery was driven from his third position with discredit, if not disgrace. His fourth position was, that the French officers were primarily responsible for what took place at the forcing of the Menam, and that they acted "in flagrant opposition to the engagements" of the French Government. What was the answer? Lord Rosebery gave the answer himself— "I observe these officers have been publicly noted for promotion in recognition of their conduct." This was the fourth point from which Lord Rosebery was driven with discredit, if not disgrace.
The fifth point was with regard to foreign trade. On September 7, 1893, Lord Rosebery wrote that Her Majesty's Government had publicly announced in Parliament that they "regarded the independence and integrity of Siam as a British interest of high importance." and that they had repeated assurances from the French Government that this was an object in which they were equally interested. Lord Rosebery went on to say that the foreign trade was almost entirely in British hands, "and we could not preserve an attitude of benevolence or neutrality towards any attempt to impose restrictions upon it with a view to divert it into other channels." What was the action taken in support of these very serious, nay, menacing words? The blockade, as Lord Rosebery himself said, was directed against British commerce alone, and the whole action of the French was directed to the encouragement of French trade at the expense of British trade, so that from the fifth position Lord Rosebery was driven with discredit, if not disgrace. What did he say with regard to the French demand as to Battambang and Ankor? He wrote on 9 September 1893— "The treatment of the two provinces of Battambang and Ankor as separate and distinct from the other portions of the Siamese kingdom seems to us inadmissible." Yet France at once proceeded so to treat them, and she even prohibited Siam from having any armed force in Battambang and Ankor. France claimed with regard to the right bank to the extent of 25 kilometres, that it should be entirely free from Siamese influence. What did Lord Rosebery say about that? That "as far as he was able to judge, there was no justification for the attempt to constitute a new boundary." Nevertheless, it was enforced, finally brought to an end, and included in the Treaty with Siam of October 3. Consequently from his seventh position the Foreign Minister was thus driven. Finally, he came to Chantabun. France had told Lord Rosebery again and again that she had no intention whatever of retaining it. But she had retained the place to this day, and it would be retained until certain things had occurred, which, whether they occurred or not, were to be measured by the opinion of the French Government, and that alone. From eight different positions, there fore, taken up in language almost verging on a declaration of war, certainly of unheard-of strength, quite unusual in the mouth of an English Foreign Minister, Lord Rosebery was successively driven, sometimes with contumely, sometimes with contempt, always with defeat. He came now to the last phase of this matter. It was alleged that an infraction of the Treaty had been made by France through the occupation by her of a village called Keng Kong, and also through her sending six French Residents into the neutral zone of 25 kilomètres on the right bank of the Mekong. He thought that there was no infraction of the treaty at all in these respects. The Treaty with Siam gave France the right to establish posts on the right, bank of the Mekong for certain purposes—stations for boats, stores of wood, coal, and so forth. Furthermore, while it, drove Siam out of the 25 kilometres zone, it forbade her to maintain any posts, or troops, or authorities there. It gave the French especial authority, and it gave France power to issue passes and placed her in a position of quasi-authority, in this zone from which the Siamese themselves had been entirely driven. If it was the case that the French had occupied Keng Kong for one of the purposes provided for by the Treaty, he saw no infraction of it. If, on the other hand, there were six residents in the zone of 25 kilometres with the permission or even with the allowance of Siam, there also he saw no infraction of the Treaty on the part of Siam. He saw serious, even grave, objection to the Treaty itself. But the fault, did not lie with the Siamese; it lay, in his opinion, with the weak course of action followed by the English Foreign Minister—a course of action which involved the shabby desertion of our friends the Siamese. One word in conclusion as to the buffer State or neutral zone. He observed that the French newspapers and the members of the French Chamber were quarrelling over the term "buffer State." They said that there was no buffer State; it was nothing but a neutral zone. The two terms were interchangeable. M. Casimir-Perier so used the two terms in the Chamber; he described it as "buffer State, or neutral zone." If a choice had to be made between the two terms, he should say that buffer State, and not neutral zone, was the right term. What was done about this State? There were long paragraphs as to the character of this buffer State in the Despatches sent from the Foreign Office; and one fact which proved to his mind that it was meant to be a buffer State and not a mere neutral zone was this, that the Chinese Government was asked to undertake, and did agree to undertake, the Gevernment of the State when it should be formed. The Dispatch containing the consent of the Chinese Government to accept the government of the buffer State was sent to the French Government in December, 1893.
An answer was requested from the French Government as to the view it would take of this arrangement in connection with the State; but whether any answer had been forthcoming he did not know. There was, at any rate, no answer in the Blue Book. The last and most important declaration of Lord Rosebery was made as to this buffer State or neutral zone; and it was a very serious declaration indeed, considering the present aspect of affairs. It would be found on page 188. After referring to the negotiations which had taken place between England and France with regard to the form of this State, the intention of which was to introduce between the English Indian frontier and the French frontier, something like a buffer, so as to prevent the two from meeting, Lord Rosebery wrote, on 27th October 1893:— "Should these negotiations, however, unfortunately fail, and should the French Government be unable to accept the above proposal (which is offered in a most conciliatory spirit), the British Government would have to take such measures as they might consider necessary for their own protection. These it is not necessary more particularly to define. But they would, at any rate, be compelled to maintain and strengthen their hold over the State of Kyaing Chaing on both sides of the Mekong and over Kyaing Ton, which also extends for a certain distance along the left side of that river in such manner as they might deem fitting, and indeed to assume a proper control of the river itself, where it passes through their territories. They would also take into immediate consideration the measures necessary to preserve an independent State between the main body of the British dominions and those of France." That language also, it would be seen, was of a somewhat alarming, if not indeed of a threatening character. The situation was this; above Luang Probang, for 200 miles the Mekong ran through the Shan States as far as the Chinese frontier. Lord Rosebery said:—"You may also take half of the Mekong if you like, and agree with us as to the upper part with regard to the formation of a buffer State or neutral zone; if you can do so, well and good; but if not we shall take such measures as are necessary for our own protection, and to assert our claims on both sides of the Mekong; we shall quicken and tighten our grasp on the Shan States under our suzerainty." Would Lord Rosebery maintain that position? They could have little hope that he would stand to his position in the ninth case more than in the previous eight cases. He had felt it necessary upon this, the first available occasion, to bring these matters before the Committee, because it was not merely the reputation of a Foreign Minister or of Her Majesty's present Government but the reputation of England that was at stake. It had not been the custom of English Ministers to let their act fall behind their word; their custom had been rather the reverse. Lord Rosebery, however, had run away from his word. ["Oh!"] Yes, he submitted that he had proved up to the hilt that this had been the conduct of the English Foreign Minister at this moment. It was because it was not the reputation of the Foreign Minister nor that of the Government, but the reputation of England, that was at stake at this moment that he had ventured to bring the matter before the Committee.
§ MR. H. LABOUCHERE (Northampton)
said, the interesting historical résumé of the hon. Gentleman with regard to the transactions on the banks of the Mekong was unimportant in comparison with the speech of the Under Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs with regard to what it was contemplated to do on the banks of the Nile. The speech of his hon. Friend was a speech of menace addressed to France. ["Oh, oh!"] He thoroughly understood why hon. Gentlemen opposite said "Oh", oh! They were delighted when they got a Liberal Minister to act on their principles. He repeated that the speech of his hon. Friend was a speech of menace to France. It was addressed to France in a tone of "Hands off!" Why did hon. Gentlemen opposite quarrel with him when he said the Under Secretary's speech was one of menace addressed to France, and cheer when he said it was a speech of the tone of "Hands off"? Why must France be ordered to keep her hands off a territory extending some thousand miles along the banks of the Nile between the lakes and the southern frontier of Egypt? The hon. Gentleman told the Committee that this territory belonged to this country; he seemed to consider that the Nile was as much our property as the Thames. The hon. Gentleman told them it was well known to the world that the territory belonged to us. He would like the hon. Gentleman to tell the Committee whether in any diplomatic document it had ever been stated to France that we had any more right to this long stretch of the Valley of the Nile than France herself. The Under Secretary seemed to think we were bound to go there, not only because the territory belonged to us, but because we were the representatives of the Egyptian Government. He would like to have it clear from his hon. Friend whether we claimed that this territory belonged to us or whether we merely claimed that as the Representatives of the Egyptian Government we had a right to go there and defend it against all comers. We recently annexed Uganda. At the time he asked again and again—what was the northern frontier of our sphere of influence? So far as he could understand, the northern frontier was very little beyond the northern portion of Uganda.
In regard to Egypt, it must surely be in the recollection of hon. Members that after the Egyptian campaign Egypt wished to retain the Soudan, but the English Government of that day would not recognise any sort of claim on her part to the Soudan except such portions as Suakin and one or two little ports on the Red Sea. His hon. Friend said France must understand that if she wished to maintain friendly relations with us she must not come anywhere near the Valley of the Nile. ["Hear, hear!"] He did not know what his hon. Friend meant by maintaining friendly relations. Really the language of his Friend amounted to a quasi-declaration of war against France. We went to Egypt under a solemn pledge that our occupation would be a mere temporary one, but we had done our best to convert it into a permanent one. It was nonsense to say we were in Egypt for the benefit of Egypt—merely there in order to establish a firm government in Egypt. People did not remain 14 or 15 years in a country like Egypt for any such purpose. The veil was almost torn aside. They saw what appeared in the newspapers, and they heard what was uttered by hon. Gentlemen in the House of Commons. Practically hon. Gentlemen did not intend under any circumstances to evacuate Egypt. Hon. Gentlemen agreed, notwithstanding our plighted word, we were not to evacuate Egypt. He had no doubt the Government would say they were most anxious our occupation of Egypt should terminate as soon as possible. If we evacuated Egypt, what earthly benefit would this territory be to us? No sort of benefit at all. And yet we were to warn off every other Power and particularly France. He protested against Gentlemen on the Treasury Bench suddenly starting such an extraordinary doctrine. We had no more right to this territory than France or any other Power. We had no more right to it than Italy—than Germany. It was perfectly true—that we made some arrangement between Germany and Italy, telling Germany they might go to one part and telling Italy they might go to another part; but towards third Powers—France or Russia, for instance—that did not give us any right. He, therefore, wanted the Under Secretary to tell the Committee specifically by what right we claimed that this territory belonged to us.
§ SIR R. TEMPLE
said the speech of the hon. Member for Northampton made it necessary that some one who sat on the Opposition side should offer a brief reply. He desired to speak with respect of the hon. Member, but really he was acting as the advocate of France in this matter. Everything was construed against England and in favour of France by the hon. gentleman. Indeed, his speech was one that might be delivered in the French Parliament by an opponent of this country. The hon. Member challenged the Government on what grounds they made that claim to the whole valley of the Nile, from the source to the mouth. That claim was made on two grounds. The first was that we were and had been for some time in possession of the source of the Nile; and the second was that we were in occupation of the mouth of the Nile. That occupation might not end in annexation, but it was not a temporary occupation. It was an occupation until Egypt was able to govern herself. That obviously meant an occupation for a very long time. (Ministerial laughter.) Hon. Members opposite laughed, but when did they expect that Egypt would be able to govern herself? He was afraid this generation might hardly see that day. In any case we were in possession of the territory under those conditions, and we were bound to see that our occupation was secure—and it could not be secure if a Foreign Power, and possibly a hostile power, was to have occupation of the mid valley of the Nile. That was well-known to every hydraulic engineer. He meant to say that the Power which controlled the mid valley of the Nile could cut off the water running into it. While Egypt was under our protection we were bound to see that its territorial claims were respected, and the claims of Egypt to the whole valley of the Nile had never been abandoned. Under those circumstances our claim to a British sphere of influence from end to end of the Nile was unanswerable. He hoped the Government would not be influenced by their followers to abate one jot or tittle of that claim, in the assertion of which they might rely on the loyal and patriotic assistance of the Members of the Opposition. He was glad to hear that the Government had distinctly told France that such was our claim; and France would know that when we had made a declaration we would stand by it. The hon. Member for Sheffield had done great service to his country by raising the Debate. If those things were debated with the utmost frankness in the French Parliament, why should we not do the same? The Under Secretary of State had said that if friendly relations were to be maintained between England and France, that could only be done by co-operation between the two countries. But co-operation meant some friendly action on both sides on behalf of both nations. Co-operation did notmean that we were to do everything for France and France to do nothing for us. With regard to Siam he should like to know if it was true that French residences had been set up on the right bank of the Mekong. Did the right to establish a Residency imply the right also to have a military outpost or armed station?
He should also like to know if the Government had heard anything further of the evacuation of Chantaboon by the French. Last year the hon. Baronet told them that France had given the most positive assurances that Chantaboon would be evacuated in good time, but still France was in occupation. If the Government could give them no futher information, would they give the Committee an assurance that they would make renewed representations to France? Lastly, he urged the importance of coming to some understanding with France regarding the independence and joint guarantee of what remained of the kingdom of Siam.
§ *MR. GEORGE CURZON (Lancashire, Southport)
did not propose to add anything to the discussion which had taken place on Egypt and the waters of the Nile. He was quite content to leave the matter where it had been left by the excellent speech of the Under-Secretary. For his part he did not detect in that speech any note whatever of menace as interpreted by the hon. Member for Northampton. On the contrary, it seemed to be a speech of admirable dignity and of self-restraint, to which there would be no advantage in adding anything from that side of the House. He desired to make a few observations upon the question of Siam, in which, as the House knew, he took a great interest. He should like, before the Under-Secretary replied, to ask him some questions about matters which still remained unsettled. He thought the hon. Baronet would admit that throughout the discussions on Siamese affairs very great reticence, reserve, and consideration towards the Government had been shown by the Members of the Opposition. They had studiously refrained from saying anything that could possibly irritate public opinion in a country with which they desired to remain friends, or anything which could at any stage embarrass the conduct of the Government. But, looking back to the history of this affair, he confessed he was becoming a little tired of the replies given by the hon. Baronet, which, while courteous in manner and admirable in tone, gave them no information, and it was with the view of extracting something a little more definite that he ventured to press the hon. Gentleman on the present occasion. The first of the matters remaining unsettled was the question of the French posts on the right bank of the Mekong. The other day there appeared in the newspapers a statement that a French post had been established at Keng-Kong, on the right bank of the river, and naturally their suspicions were, aroused at this announcement. The hon. Baronet was asked a question, and he replied that the Government had not heard of any French post, on the right bank. It was a significant thing that on the day upon which that answer appeared there was also published the translation of an extract from Le Temps, to which reference had already been made. That extract was as follows:— "The Siamese Government, in fact, with a view to facilitating French control in the neutral zone of 25 kilometres situated on the Siamese bank of the Mekong, has authorised the French Government to instal French residents permanently in that zone. Thus, for instance, there are at present French residencies at Pnom, Banmuk, Lakhone, Outhene, and Nong Kai … These residencies were indispensable, for they were placed in towns, situate on the right bank of the river, which are the centre of all the political and economic life of the region, whereas on the left bank (the French side) the centres of population are sparse." He should like to ask the hon. Baronet this question:—According to the information the Government possessed, were these French Residencies there or not? If they were, under what clause, or under what terms of the treaty or convention had they been so established? In Article 6 of the treaty, it was stated that the French Government were at liberty to establish on either bank institutions for the relays of boats, stores, wood, and coal. Were these French residents managers of wood and coal depôts? He observed from the Blue Book that the French Government were entitled to establish Consulates, and it might be contended that these French residents were Consuls. But, if so, the Committee were entitled to information from the Government on the subject. The terms of the treaty, as he read them, seemed to himself hardly compatible with such an interpretation. That the French were endeavouring to establish their influence in the 25-kilometre strip was an undoubted fact, whether it was known to Her Majesty's Government or not. They had already established a Custom House at Paklai. They had done their best to induce a Siamese subject living on the right bank of the Mekong to become a French subject, and to exercise jurisdiction on their behalf. They had also endeavoured to get a Chief to go from one bank to the other and exercise jurisdiction on their behalf. These were all matters which did not, apparently, come within any possible interpretation of the Treaty, and which, therefore, called for information and for explanation by Her Majesty's Government. That the hon. Baronet opposite (Sir E. Grey) would be of that opinion was evident from a speech which he made at the close of last Session, when, replying to the Member for the Forest of Dean (Sir C. Dilke), he said that the difficulties which had arisen between the French and Siamese Governments were confined to the one bank of the Mekong, and that so long as they were so confined the British Government would not interfere. The Committee might rightly infer that it was the view of the hon. Baronet (Sir E. Grey) that if French claims were transferred to the other bank of the Mekong our interests would be threatened, and Her Majesty's Government ought to interfere. In regard to Chantaboon, in view of the repeated assurances that the French had given as to evacuating that place, and the strongest possible asseverations on the part of Her Majesty's Government that the French would do so, it seemed impossible that either Government could recede from the pledges given on this point. It might be that the French Government were now proposing to carry out their stipulations, and he would simply ask the Under Secretary, if that were so, to give to the Committee the information for which they had patiently waited for two years, and in regard to which their patience was nearly exhausted. He would next point out that French Consuls had been appointed at two towns in the heart of Cis-Mekong, where French trade was nil and English trade considerable. When he had asked a question on this subject he had been put off by the Under Secretary with the reply that the French Consuls had not then started. Now, they were already there, and he urged upon the Government that British interests ought to be similarly safeguarded, by the appointment of British Consuls at the same places. The French Consuls were rapidly registering natives as French subjects, with a view, no doubt, to claiming extra territorial jurisdiction. He desired to ask whether Her Majesty's Government had taken the necessary and elementary step of appointing British Consuls to the same posts. As to the neutral zone, or buffer State, he had no doubt that it was originally intended that it should be a buffer State and not a neutral zone, which was simply an Alsatia for bad characters. If, however, the protocol constituting a neutral zone were torn up to-morrow it would be immeasurably gratifying to France, and would disappoint nobody here. They had in the despatch read to-night an assurance from Lord Rosebery of which he absolutely approved, that in the event of the negotiations for a neutral zone coming to nothing he was prepared to sustain the position which Great Britain at present enjoyed on both banks of the Mekong River. That position was a much better one both for British commercial and political interests than any neutral zone or buffer State could possibly give us. The only concluding point was with regard to the mutual guarantee. It must be obvious to everyone who had studied this question from the beginning that what was wanted in order to re-establish an equilibrium in that part of the Far East was to insure that no Government and no country, either England or France, should pursue, or, if she had already commenced, should continue a policy of aggression upon Siam. That was to the interest of both parties. It would be undesirable for English interests that France should acquire any further dominion over Siam; it would be unacceptable to France that we should extend our control. At an earlier stage they heard much about this mutual guarantee, and there was a moment, in November, 1893, when the idea was favourably received by M. Develle, the then French Minister for Foreign Affairs. He expressed himself to the Marquis of Dufferin to the effect that such an agreement would be most advantageous, and it would be the surest way of avoiding in the future all chances of friction or misunderstanding. He should be much disappointed if the Committee did not learn that we might shortly expect that some such guarantee on the part of both Governments had been arrived at.
§ *SIR EDWARD GREY
was afraid that he should be obliged, to a great extent, to disappoint the hon. Member, for he had very little fresh information to give. First of all, with regard to the question of the buffer State, he had nothing further to state than that the Commissioners sent by the French and British Governments were engaged in discussing the geographical conditions of the country and investigating them on the spot, and until their recommendations were received it was not probable he should have any further statement to make on the subject. With regard to the question of the 25 kilometre zone, it was quite true there had been a certain amount of friction in that zone, but it was impossible for him to make a statement as to the merits of what had occurred inside that zone. The matters referred to were forming the subject of discussion between the French and Siamese Governments, and so far as his information went, he could not assert that anything was taking place in the 25 kilometre zone which would result in changing the position from that in which it had been left by the papers before the House. With regard to French Residents gen eally, as far as his information went, any Residents who might have been appointed on the right bank of the Mekong were appointed as commercial agents, and they would come within the terms of Articles 6 and 8 of the treaty which the hon. Member for Southport had read to the House. They had not been elevated to the rank of Consuls, but, as he understood, were appointed simply for commercial purposes. He was asked the other day about fortified French posts at Ching Khong, on the right bank of the Mekong, and he stated that they were not on the right, but on the left bank of the river. The authority which he had for making that statement was a telegram received by the Government from official sources about ten days ago, which stated that the French had built one fortified post at Ching Khong garrisoned by militia on the left bank of the Mekong. If he had not much news to say on those questions, it was because matters were in pretty much the same state as they were when the papers referred to were placed before Parliament. The position of affairs had passed into no new phase; but, should it do so, or should there be any further development, then undoubtedly it was to be hoped it would be in the line that was sketched out by the hon. Member for Southport at the end of his speech, a line which would be favourable to the permanent maintenance and integrity of Siam. He would only further say that if the question should enter on any new phrase, whatever it may be, then the words which he used last year, and which had been quoted by the hon. Member for Southport, with regard to the intention and policy of the British Government would hold good.
§ SIR R. TEMPLE
asked the Under-Secretary whether he could give any further information with regard to Chantaboon?
§ SIR E. GREY
said there was no fresh information to give. Discussion was still proceeding as to certain matters within the 25-kilometre zone.
§ MR. H. LABOUCHERE
asked, whether the hon. Gentleman would say whether the Government had in any sort of way or in any diplomatic document conveyed to the French Government any intimation that claimed paramount influence over the Valley of the Nile.
§ SIR E. GREY
said, he stated very fully in his first speech what the nature and the extent of the British claims and interests were in that part of Africa, and he also stated that those claims, and the views of the British Government with regard to them, were well known to the French Government. The hon. Member for Northampton had characterised his language as the language of menace. He did not think, however, that such a construction could be put upon the language he had used. The intention of that language was to express a desire for a friendly understanding and a friendly arrangement of the many pending questions, but as regarded British trade and interests in certain parts of the world there was a point of view strongly held in this country that would be adhered to with the tenacity which in such cases this country always manifested. His language was not unfriendly to the French or to any other Government, and he thought that by stating his views clearly he should not be endangering, but promoting good relations between the two countries.
§ *SIR E. ASHMEAD-BARTLETT
said, that after the satisfactory statement of the hon. Baronet he would withdraw his Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.