I want to take the House from India to another country which was long administered by India. I think the Under-Secretary will always find that wherever the Indian Government administer a country you get good administration. I wish to deal with Somaliland. I bring this matter up to-day not by way of making complaint of what is going on, because I have confidence in the Secretary of State and his able lieutenant, and in the agent they have entrusted with the exceedingly delicate operations now going on in Somaliland. I think it is a great proof of the fitness of these officials that they have selected as their agent Sir William Manning, with whom I have the honour to be acquainted, and who is well fitted for the functions which he has to perform, I have been in communication with him about administration elsewhere, and I know how highly his services are valued. I regret the withdrawal in Somaliland from the interior to the coast. I realise that wherever British protection, however shadowy it may be, has even nominally been extended a retrograde movement is always subject to serious objection, and particularly in the East. I am as conscious as anybody of the objections to such a scheme. In this case, supposing the Government had been anxious to subjugate effectually the whole of Somaliland and to hold it with garrisons, I do not think this House of Commons would have backed them up. They would not have got any support, and they would have placed themselves in an untenable position. There would have been objections in every quarter of the House had the Government proposed to retain their position in Somaliland. This seems to me to be a very special and exceptional case, and as a member of the Diplomatic Service said to me:—
While we were there, we were doing the Mullah no harm, we were doing our friends no good, and we were spending a great deal of money.
That puts the case very briefly, but it is almost an unanswerable description of what the case is. Only a night or two ago we heard it argued that millions of money should be made available immediately for divesting parents of what remains to them of parental responsibility, by feeding children at all times instead of sometimes. Such extravagant views are widely held. How then is it likely that troops will be available from Nyassaland, Uganda, and India in Somaliland for the purpose of
keeping the peace under these circumstances. The Home Secretary doubted the correctness of the position I took up, when I attributed some trouble at Aden to the Mullah's influence. But the right hon. Gentleman knows quite well that I am one of those old Civil servants to whom, if he retains possession of his faculties, Aden is as familiar as Clapham Junction, and to me Somaliland is no further distant from Aden than Dover from the coast of France. We hear a good deal now about the influence of the Lords Temporal and a little of the Lords Spiritual. A Lord Spiritual in the East is greater than a Lord Temporal, and when you get a man like the Mullah, who is at once a Lord Spiritual and a Lord Temporal, you have an exceedingly influential individual, and to suppose that that man's influence is not projected across the narrow straits which separate Berbera from Aden is to underestimate the potentialities of the situation. I really attribute my right hon. Friend's statement about myself to that little impatience which the Front Bench may occasionally display when some of us pawns on the back benches are goaded into speech. I wish to impress upon the House the fact that anything that happens in Somaliland has an influence far removed from Somaliland—in the Soudan, in Nyassaland, in Uganda, across the sea in Aden, and probably even on the coast of Malabar and far beyond. It may be said, "Why raise this question now when all is going well?" I think all is going well and that the operations on which the Government have decided are turning out better than some of us may have expected, but now the House is about to rise it seems to me a desirable thing that the present condition of affairs should be stated.
§ I would refer quite briefly to what happened in another place when Lord Curzon raised this question. Lord Curzon acted upon imperfect information. I am not disparaging the action of Lord Curzon, far from it; wherever Eastern affairs excite great interest the views of that eminent man must always receive the utmost respect and attention, but I do say that the Noble Lord spoke without sufficient information, and I think unintentionally he made the case appear rather more serious in the belief that already incidents had happened, which subsequent information proved did not occur. A policy of concentration and withdrawal is not peculiar to the present Government; it was pursued in respect of thi6 very Protectorate by an 684 Administration of the opposite colour, and at a time when the Noble Lord himself was one of its efficient agents and able spokesmen. It is desirable just to note that Lord Curzon, also I think unintentionally, rather suggested that there were more formal treaties and some engagement of a more binding character as regards the protection of the tribes in the Hinterland than is actually the case. I believe there was nothing more than an entirely informal protection, and during the time this protectorate was admirably administered from Bombay and Aden this fact was very clearly and continuously kept in view. We absolutely refused at that time to maintain local peace outside the ten-mile radius, or to preserve the tribes from raids, or to compose any inter-tribal quarrels. The real fact is that these tribes delight to bark and bite; it is their nature. They do not appreciate peace being enforced upon them, and, in point of fact, they have under that peace lost some of the manly qualities which distinguished them, and which probably they now regret they have not retained. Lord Curzon seems to me, perhaps unintentionally, to have somewhat over-estimated the extent to which a formal and regular protection was ever exercised by us in respect of the internal tribes.
It was suggested in an able speech by the hon. Member for Rugby (Mr. J. L. Baird) and other hon. Members that a railway should be made into the interior, which would enable us to preserve our position there without the necessity of having garrisons scattered about this stony wilderness. I asked what guarantee there would be that the Mullah would remain at the end of the railway to fight any action in which we might desire to engage him, and I see "The Times" the next day referred to this as a derisory question. It was not meant by me as a derisory question; I merely recognised the obvious fact that at present it would be impossible to provide funds for a railway, like the Uganda railway, in Somaliland. It would have no sufficient commercial return, and it is doubtful whether it would attain the object in view, because, at whatever point it ended, it would be quite easy for the Mullah to be quite out of the way when the train stopped, and when orders were given for the action to begin. I cannot help regretting this concentration on the coast since it is a retrograde movement, but I realise it is probably inevitable, and I notice "The Times,"
which maintains so admirable, so consistent, and so correct an attitude upon all these Imperial and foreign problems, says:—
We do not suppose the public will contemplate this action with regret. From first to last, Somaliland has cost this country much money and many valuable lives.
I see on the railway point they say:—
A conflict between ourselves and the Mullah would be like a fight between a lion and a swallow.
I should rather say between a lion and a wild ass, a wild ass that is used to the wilderness, that snuffeth up the wind at his pleasure. The lion is comparatively immobile, and the Mullah is the swiftest antagonist we can have. There was nothing derisive in what I said; I was seriously dealing with the question whether a railway is practicable. I do not think it can be got, and, if it could, I do not think it would altogether attain the object which certain hon. Members think it would. I am not sure to what extent the condemnation from Mecca which is said to have been passed on the conduct of the Mullah as a religious leader has diminished his power and checked his arrogance in Somaliland. I should be glad if the Under-Secretary would say something on that subject. A good deal is taken for granted on the subject in the Blue Books. Priests, Mullahs, and others have often flourished for many years under sentences of excommunication, and I think that may be the case with the Mullah. I do not find in the books sufficient material for the attitude which is rather assumed to exist in that respect. It is very striking that this article, coming from a quarter where there are such sane, proper, and Imperialistic tendencies as in "The Times," should end by saying:—
No one is likely to seek to supplant us in such a worthless and inhospitable territory.
That does not satisfy me; I hope the right hon. and gallant Gentleman will tell us that the withdrawal to the coast and the future omission to continue to supply civil government in the hinterland do not in the least imply that it will not be within our sphere of influence, or that any other Power could under any circumstances take any act of ownership or diplomatic act or settle there without such act being regarded by ourselves as an unfriendly act. I have no doubt the right hon. Gentleman will reassure us on that point, and I am quite 6ure the House will be anxious to be reassured upon it.
Turning to Sir William Manning's despatches upon this subject, it seems he has issued ponies and rifles to the friendly tribes, and he does not hesitate to say they can reasonably be said to be in a position to hold their own against the Mullah. Hadegga seems, as far as I can make out to be the case, the only engagement which has happened. It was inconclusive in character, and there is not very much on one side or the other. It did not happen that the Friendlies were as sheep fighting with the wolves. I beg the attention of the House to this exceedingly interesting and suggestive passage in Sir William Manning's letter. He said:—
It cannot be denied that our ten years' administration of the interior has not enhanced the manly qualities of those tribes who have been most in contact with us. They have remained content to leave all questions of defence to us, and they have consequently degenerated. A little rough usage in the future will probably bring out the right spirit.
I am not sure that that is altogether satisfactory. They have lost the habit of fighting, and now we are telling them they had better learn it again in fighting with their neighbours. I do think there is a great lesson in this. When we assume administration over territories of this sort we should not be in a hurry to interfere with the habits of the people, and if their habits are to have fights and quarrels with one another, and it has been their nature for thousands of years to do so, they should be left alone. These people have strongly the feeling which is expressed in the lines:—
Curst be the boasted progress that hunts our sons to school,
That breaks the spear and blunts the sword, and bids our courage cool.
If we were going to make babus and B.A.'s of them it would not matter, but as we do not intend to introduce the regulations and administration of high schools and of intermediate schools, we should have interfered as little as possible with these people. I think it is to be regretted that the Foreign Office should have adopted a somewhat more elaborate sort of protection and administration without first deciding what was to be the permanent policy of this country. I note that Sir William Manning, speaking of the recent engagement, said there was an armed gathering well in front of the stock while grazing amply sufficient to protect them from loot. That recalled to me the picture of the shepherd in the Caucasus, who goes about with a lamb under one arm and his gun under the other. But it also proves we should never
undertake the administration of territories like these in anything but the most informal manner, unless we have first decided that it is to be a permanent occupation. I must confess I do not think there is much truth in the reports with regard to the Friendlies and the Mullah. Sir William Manning says that a period of disorder will follow which will in no way interfere with our policy. I sincerely hope there will be no disposition in future, when anything happens in Somaliland, for questions to be asked as to where the engagement took place, and how many people were killed or how many camels were looted. That must be the result of the policy of withdrawal which has been deliberately adopted. These people will, we know, fly at one another's throats. Unless we are at some future time contemplating going back upon this last policy we must deliberately shut our eyes to all that is going to happen in the interior. If the Mullah kills a certain number of Dervishes we should say it is all in the day's work, and if the Dervishes kill the Mullah we should also say it is in the day's work, and that from our point of view it is probably the more satisfactory day's work.
§ 3.0 P.M.
§ Mr. GEORGE SANDYS
It appears to me that particular interest attaches to this Debate on Somaliland, in view of the Report issued yesterday from our Consul-General in Egypt. Everyone knows that we succeeded to the Protectorate of Somaliland at the time we took over the administration of Egypt, and there is, therefore, a distinct historical connection between the two countries. Somaliland was one of the outlying territories administered by Ismail Pasha. It is therefore evident that the evacuation at the present juncture must necessarily cause a very unfortunate impression amongst our Mahomedan subjects in general throughout the world, and particularly in Egypt. In view of the peculiar difficulties of our position in Egypt, which are undoubtedly disclosed by the Report issued by the Consul-General, it seems to some of us, at any rate, that the time of evacuation, if evacuation was necessary, was not very wisely selected. It is only a platitude to say that we hold our position in the East not so much by the number of men we are able to put into the field as by the prestige which our flag and Govern- 688 ment have obtained, owing to the fact that past experience has taught the native races that they can rely upon us for protection, and that they can also rely upon us to keep our word. But by this time the course we have adopted in Somaliland, and the fact that we have evacuated the country, at any rate so far as the interior is concerned, is generally known throughout Egypt, and, as the hon. Member who has just sat down stated, it is probably also pretty generally known throughout India and the East, and this complete reversal of our traditional policy in dealing with native races, and the fact that we have abandoned the protection of native races to whom we do appear, twenty-five or more years ago, to have made certain definite promises of protection, that fact, inasmuch as it will undoubtedly be represented that the Mullah has defeated the British Army, must produce an exceedingly unfortunate impression, not only in Egypt, but also throughout the East, and it must also inflict a serious blow on that prestige by which our position is entirely maintained.
There is another point of view which I think, at any rate, a certain number of people take, who believe that our policy with regard to Somaliland is somewhat dangerous. Somaliland itself may be, and we are told it is, practically a worthless country, but unquestionably British East Africa is a most valuable territory, and one which has the greatest possible future before it among our African possessions. The Somalis touch upon British East Africa, and we must remember that in abandoning Somaliland we are deserting a race which those who have an intimate knowledge of the country have told us is one of the finest and most intelligent of the native races in Africa. We are driving these people back from any advance which they may have made under our administration, and from any advance in civilisation to the outer darkness of barbarism. We are supplying them with arms, and at the same time encouraging them to develop their natural spirit of fighting. In the future they will realise that they have nothing to hope for from us, and the experience which they have just passed through will, perhaps, impress upon them the fact that they have very little to fear from us; and, under these circumstances, may it not be the case that they will turn their attention to British East Africa, where our military forces are comparatively insignificant.
§ The UNDER-SECRETARY Of STATE for the COLONIES (Colonel Seely)
I should not like that statement to go out. Our forces are by no means insignificant; we have there a very formidable force, indeed, which can be collected if it is required.
§ Mr. GEORGE SANDYS
At the same time I should imagine it would not be at all desirable from the point of view of those who are settled in British East Africa that there should be anything in the nature of a disturbance in that country, and such an occurrence would naturally put back the progress of the colony. In the speech which the Home Secretary made in this House during the last Debate on Somali-land on 3rd March he told us:—I do not wish to say any more about the actual military position, still less would I like to say anything about the prospective movements which are of an aggressive or contractive nature. These are movements which conceivably, if they were announced or spoken of in this House, might cause real embarrassment to people on the spot who are dealing with the situation, and therefore I shall purposely deny myself the opportunity of making any clear or precise statement, to the House.On that occasion the Home Secretary pointed out that the Government were most anxious not to cause embarrassment to the people on the spot who were dealing with the situation, but in spite of the careful editing of this Blue Book which was recently issued—the very careful editing indeed—it is quite obvious that the opinion of those on the spot, who are dealing with the situation, does not appear to have received that consideration which we might have expected from the remarks of the Home Secretary. On page 53 of the correspondence these words are used in reference to the Commissioner of the Protectorate:—I think it right to state at once that my action in inviting yon (Sir F. B. Wingate) to visit the Protectorate has not been dictated by any mistrust of the ability or judgment of the Commissioner of the Protectorate. On the contrary, Captain Cordeaux, who possesses a unique knowledge of the Somali question, has carried out for several months a most difficult and thankless task with conspicuous ability, and has pursued with absolute loyalty the policy prescribed by His Majesty's Government.Again, on page 71 of the correspondence, in a despatch from the Secretary of State to the Commissioner, these words are used:—I have been very much impressed by your good and loyal service under exceptionally trying and difficult conditions.In spite of this tribute, which is on two occasions thus notably paid to the ability and unique administrative experience of the Commissioner, it is obvious from the 690 correspondence that this somewhat precipitate retreat to the coast which was begun last month was not a policy which was recommended by the Commissioner himself. It is also a somewhat significant fact that when this policy was decided upon, and at the most critical moment in the history of this country, this very officer who had ten years' experience of the country, and who, according to the testimony of the Government themselves, possessed a unique experience of it and its administration, should have been suddenly removed to another appointment entirely outside the Protectorate. Again, the Home Secretary, in the same Debate of 3rd March, used these words:—We are endeavouring to relieve the cost and strengthen the situation, and contract the area of our responsibilities in Somaliland, and at the same time do justice to our obligations to those who, through mistaken policy on our part, have been led to rely to some extent, at any rate, upon the protection of our military forces.In view of what we read in this correspondence, can we conscientiously say that we have done justice to our obligations to those who have been led to rely to some extent upon the protection of our military forces? Have we reason to suppose that these tribes who have been under our protection all these years are, as a matter of fact, in a position to defend themselves and their property against attack now that our military forces are withdrawn? The internal evidence of this correspondence goes, as a matter of fact, to show that the entire opposite is the case. I do not wish to detain the House by reading all these different quotations from this correspondence, but I would refer hon. Members to pages 48, 51, and 63, and there they will find that there is evidence time after time given by the Commissioner and by the officers commanding the troops in Somali-land that, as a matter of fact, the natives are not actually in a position to look after themselves competently if our military forces are withdrawn. Especially I would draw the attention of the House to page 87 and to the report from Sir William Manning, to which reference has already been made. He says:—Tribal cohesion, which in former days did exist, is now partly lost; they openly acknowledge that they look to Government to lead them, and that they have no known leader amongst themselves. They say that they have fought and can still fight, but that they want a leader. Whether this be true or not, it is certain that as in other places necessity will produce the leader, and until they suffer, as it is possible at first they will, no leader will be forthcoming…In order, however, that the Ishak may be welded together, it would appear to be necessary that they are made to suffer by being raided, and I have little doubt but that one or two such experiences will bring out the right men.691 It seems to me that that is hardly the traditional way in which British Governments in the past have fulfilled their obligations to native races. We are told that they are to learn a lesson after severe suffering, but for what? Because for all the years these tribes have been loyal to us and to our administration. In any case, whether they are able to hold their own or not able to hold their own, it appears to me to be a very serious step to withdraw our protection from a country which we have to a certain extent administered for many years past, with our eyes completely open to the fact, that we are handing over this country to be administered in future by methods of barbarism. On Page 10 of the later correspondence from Sir William Manning there occurs the sentence which the hon. Member has read:—As soon as the evacuation of the interior is completed it must be borne in mind that there will be a period of disorder.I think that is a somewhat unsatisfactory sequence to twenty-five years administration of a country under the British flag. Another point to which I should like to refer is the way an which the retirement was carried out. For twenty-five years past we have exercised a protectorate over that country, and for ten years past we have administered the interior. Therefore, under those circumstances, surely it might have been thought advisable that as long notice as possible should be given to the friendly tribes before the evacuation took place and they were actually thrown upon their own resources. So far from that being the case, it appears to have been the policy of the Government to conceal from them until the very last moment what they were actually going to do. In the Debate in the House of Lords the Secretary of State for the Colonies used these words:—It was due to the tribes concerned that the first news that they should get of our withdrawal from the advanced posts should be made to them by those on the spot whom they knew and trusted, and that they should not hear it from the extremely inaccurate sources of information from which it might otherwise have reached them.But in spite of this talk about giving the tribes time to make their preparations, from the internal evidence of this correspondence it appears that the evacuation had actually been begun before the announcement was made. I think this is a somewhat unfortunate way in which our occupation and administration of this country was suddenly brought to an end. 692 Our treaties, such as they were, were torn up, and friendly tribes were without warning left to shift for themselves. Under these circumstances can we conscientiously say that the conditions laid down by the Home Secretary have been fulfilled? Does not this correspondence rather disclose a somewhat discreditable episode in the history of our Colonial Empire?
§ Mr. BAIRD
I should not have troubled the House with any remarks on this subject again but for the fact that, one or two things have occurred since the evacuation of Somaliland took place, and I should like to ask the Under-Secretary for a little information. On the last occasion when this subject cropped up the Under-Secretary did me the honour to ignore my arguments altogether, and levelled a considerable amount of personal abuse at me. I cannot imagine any greater honour, because it was a clear case of "no case, abuse the plaintiff's attorney." There I leave it. I think that sums up the whole case. The Government have no case. They have scuttled out of Somaliland, and have left the tribes to shift for themselves, and they have avowedly instituted a system of disorder in a country where we have been responsible for depriving the tribes of arms and of the power of looking after themselves. In fact, we have tried to institute civil government. Now we say might is right, and it is to be a question of the survival of the fittest. When we add to that the fact that we have supplied the Somalis, who have hitherto been armed with spears, with a considerable number of rifles and ammunition—if the Under-Secretary can imagine that anything except pandemonium is going to result, I cannot agree. What are our responsibilities in that country? It is perfectly clear that it is a disagreeable incubus, but surely we cannot run the British Empire on the lines of a limited liability company. We cannot expect the whole place to pay at one time. There is the expression, Noblesse oblige. That applies. The Somali understands it. He knows we have gone in there, and treaties have been made. I should like to quote the terms of one of the treaties which was made originally with these tribes. It was quoted by Lord Lans-downe the other day:—The British Government is desirous of maintaining and strengthening relations of peace and friendship with the tribes, and, in compliance with their wish, undertake to extend to them, and to the territories under their authority and jurisdiction, the gracious favour and protection of Her Majesty the Queen. Empress.693 These men were pledged to keep order and to give up raiding, in view of the fact that we were going to maintain order in that country; and now we clear out. It is purely playing with words to say, as Lord Crewe did apparently in the House of Lords the other day, that there is no question of evacuation. It is merely coastal concentration. Our good friends the French had a certain experience of peaceful penetration in Morocco, and your coastal concentration is very much on all fours with this peaceful penetration. You are running away to the coast. When you arrive there, what are you doing? The last time I asked the Under-Secretary some questions he commenced his speech by a quotation from the Home Secretary, and he said I had not been here and had not paid any attention to it. However, let that pass. At present the right hon. Gentleman is attending very much to the discussion. I should like to know what the effect of this coastal concentration is. I have heard on excellent authority that the white men are collected at Berbera behind barbed wire, and that the Indian traders are outside the barbed wire. If that is the case it is very serious. If it is not, I shall be glad to know it. If that is the case, what can they think of a brave and plucky race like the Somalis, who have always looked up to Englishmen as being as plucky as themselves? What can they think of people who have to surround themselves with barbed wire and allow the natives outside to be at the mercy of the Mullah when, the chooses to come round? The right hon. Gentleman shakes his head. Does he mean that everyone, or no one, is behind the barbed wire?
§ Colonel SEELY
Where does the hon. Member think the Mullah is? I think he has got hold of a very extraordinary apprehension.
§ Mr. BAIRD
That is precisely one of the questions I want to ask the right hon. Gentleman. He is paid to know where the Mullah is, and I hope he is going to tell us. The Mullah, I suppose, is in Somali-land, or has he made a trip across to Aden? In the meanwhile there is no doubt that the Mullah has come out on top, and that sooner or later there will be a dispute as 694 to whether he is to be the chief man in Somaliland or whether the British Government is to be supreme. I do not suppose the right hon. Gentleman really thinks he can exercise civil government in Somaliland. Anything more fatal than to paint a country red on a map and say it is British territory, and then not to exercise government you cannot have. It is one of the most damaging blows to prestige which it is possible to imagine. You let the people say they are British subjects, and you allow them to be harried and chivied about by their neighbours, and that all reacts on the British name, and the consequence is that either you abandon the country altogether or else you exercise real and effective government. The whole of this policy, of course, is on its trial. When the rain is falling in Somaliland and people can get easily about the country, if raiding has not taken place and the lion and the lamb lie down together, and they let their rifles get rusty and do not fire off the cartridges which the right hon. Gentleman has given them, he will be able to score a success. He will have strengthened enormously the case of his friends the Little Englanders. Not being a Little Englander, I entirely deprecate the idea that we ought to give up anything at all unless we are compelled by force majeure. What was the whole reason for withdrawal? It was financial. I do not suppose the right hon. Gentleman will question that.
§ Mr. BAIRD
May I refer to a statement which was made in the old Blue Book?The cost of transport required to maintain the troops in the present position was so great that His Majesty's Government must reconsider the whole question of their policy in Somaliland.Now we have the Government coming down to the House and boasting that they have a surplus of nearly £3,000,000 which they do not know what to do with—money which can be spent in the way the House of Commons decide. We know that the Government will decide how it is to be spent, and they will come down to the House and we shall have to register their decision. Why should they have chosen the moment when they have this large surplus to withdraw from Somaliland, and to hand over the troops to the Mullah?
There is a very much more serious aspect of this question than any local things connected with it, and that is that the whole of our position in North-East Africa is involved. I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman the Under- 695 Secretary has ever been in those parts— the Soudan, Abyssinia, Somaliland, or any of the other portions in that region. We know that the "white man's burden" is a very real thing. We have assumed that burden and borne it with advantage to the tribes under our rule. Every time we have destroyed existing organisations in those countries we have taken over the countries. If you clear out after that, you leave nothing in its place, although you have destroyed their organisations. You go away and leave them to fight among themselves. Are we who are telling others how we bear the white man's burden to take that line? What is the position we will be in then if we attempt to interfere in the Congo? We are going to have a far worse state of things in Somaliland than in the Congo, and hon. Gentlemen on the opposite side of the House will be entirely responsible for it. If we confine ourselves to the coast towns, and if arms get into the hands of the tribes, you will be driven out of the country. Hon Gentlemen opposite say that this country is going to be all right. In his speech on the last occasion when this subject was discussed, the Under-Secretary said it was perhaps conceivable that Lord Morley, Lord Crewe, the Foreign Secretary (Sir Edward Grey), and the Secretary for War (Mr. Haldane) had been in conference with him, and they might be assumed to have some glimmering of how to maintain British prestige. I sincerely hope that they have, but there is nothing whatever to show that they have remembered the requirements of British prestige or the interests of subject races. If you look at the state of the two countries, for which Lord Morley and the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs are responsible, I should say that they are the last two men whose opinion is worth anything in regard to Somaliland. Do hon. Gentlemen opposite say that the present condition of India and Egypt is not incomparably worse now than when the administration of affairs was taken over by the present Government. Does anyone deny it? [HON. MEMBEES: "Yes."] Do hon. Gentlemen maintain that Egypt is in as good a condition now as when the control of the country was handed over to the present Foreign Secretary? You cannot maintain that the position of India is as good now as when Lord Morley took it over from his predecessor. [An HON. MEMBER: "Egypt is not controlled by the Foreign 696 Secretary."] I should like to know who 's responsible for the government of Egypt if he is not. The British Government are responsible for the maintenance of order there.
If every question were to be answered in this way the House would be a regular— Well, I do not know what it would be. If the hon. Member wishes to reply, I shall have pleasure in calling upon him.
§ Mr. BAIRD
I should like to have an answer to the questions I have asked, and I hope the Under-Secretary will reply. I maintain that both of these countries are in a deplorable condition, and to ask the men who are responsible for that deplorable condition to settle the affairs of Somaliland is a very foolish thing to do. I do not know that these Gentlemen have a glimmering of the way we should maintain British prestige. I do not consider it is enough, when dealing with men, women, and children, for whose safety we have made ourselves responsible, that our Government should act as they are doing. It is a question of humanity, and not a question of policy. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will give me credit for sincerity when I say that I should have taken the same course I am now taking if this policy had been pursued by Gentlemen on this side of the House. I do not look upon this as a party question. I believe that right hon. Gentlemen opposite think their present policy is only a continuation of the policy of their predecessors. I think that is no reason whatever for following that policy. Two wrongs do not make a right. Hon. Gentlemen opposite are not so modest as to think that they cannot improve on the policy of their predecessors. On the contrary, I have always been led to suppose that they are very much cleverer, and that if they saw the other side carrying out a wrong policy, it was their duty to endeavour to change that policy with the view to carrying out the right one. If it is not the intention of the Government to evacuate Somaliland, why not say so? What is the position of the people on the coast at the present time? Are they properly secured against attack? Are there proper fortifications? My information is that part of the people are inside fortifications.
§ Captain BARING
I should like from practical experience to make one or two criticisms of the policy of the Government, and to ask one or two questions. Two years ago there was an outbreak of hostility on the part of the Mullah in Somali-land. The matter was brought to the notice of the Government, and they were asked to formulate a policy, but they have absolutely refused up to a month ago to formulate any policy whatsoever. There were only two policies put forward by the military gentleman who was regarded as the greatest authority on the subject in Somaliland—one was to attack the Mullah and one was to withdraw altogether. The Government have been two years trying to make up their mind to do one thing or another, and in spite of continued questions they refused to step forward, and they refused to go back. Finally, in order to save their faces, they called in Sir Reginald Wingate from the Soudan to give his verdict. I should like to ask the right hon. and gallant Gentleman why the Report of Sir R. Wingate to the Government has never been made public? I would surmise that that Report does not agree with the intentions which the Government had already formed, and that therefore the expedition of Sir Reginald Wingate, and the money, which amounted to a very considerable sum, spent in sending him and his distinguished staff, was absolutely thrown away.
During the last two years we had Supplementary Estimates of very considerable magnitude. Last year they amounted very nearly to £100,000. All of them were due to the halting state of indecision which the Government have adopted towards Somaliland. I am not one of those in favour of an expedition against the Mullah. I think there is a medium between an expedition and an absolute scuttle, which is what the Government have done. I would like the right hon. Gentleman to give us a full description of what the situation is to-day. When I was in Africa there was a fort erected, and then everybody was ordered by the Government to retreat. There the fort still stands, a stockade surrounded by barbed wire, and it is known as Fort Funk. I should like myself to have a retreat not of such an extended description as that. I believe that if the Government had held certain posts, from which you could to a certain extent have influence over tribal matters, our hold in Somaliland would be more satisfactory than it is 698 to-day. It seems to me that we now occupy the otium cum dignitate in Berbera simply by fomenting disputes between the tribes themselves. That is not a very dignified position for the British Government to occupy. How long does the Government think that that situation is going to remain? The Mullah, if he thought well, might say, "Why should we quarrel? Why should we not unite our forces, and with the rifles with which the Secretary for the Colonies has provided us, and with the ammunition which he has told us today he is prepared to give, make it exceedingly uncomfortable for the gentleman now at Berbera?" I hope that this exceedingly probable situation has been faced by His Majesty's Government, and that they will have sufficient forces on the spot to reassert their authority if subsequent occasion arises.
One other point has been mentioned— as to British prestige. I do not know that I take quite as serious a view of that as did the hon. Member who referred to it, because the situation in Somaliland is not one that is in the least likely to extend out of British East Africa, for this reason, that the Somalis themselves, though they are a fine race in their own country, are some of the most disliked and most unpractical people to get on with among the other African nations; and, therefore, I do not think there is any danger in the suggestion of the Mullah trying to do harm to British prestige by casting discredit upon it among tribes further South. On the Juba River, which is the southern boundary of Somaliland, where there is almost a section of Somali-lake, and where we live on a very small balance of safety, and have got a very few troops, it is quite possible that the Mullah's influence, or the arms of the right hon. Gentleman, might sooner or later find their way down there, and we might then have a situation of some seriousness arising. The Juba River, I may point out, as the boundary, is a great natural defence, and I trust that the right hon. Gentleman will take steps to see, not by the establishment of another Fort Funk, but by showing a bold front to the Somalis, who are not a very warlike tribe at Juba, that he will insure that there is no such danger, and insure that the East African Protectorate may be effective. We have not had many opportunities of broaching this subject in the House, and we are not likely to have another one for, some time, and I do appeal to my right hon. Friend not to shield 699 himself behind the question of any serious military necessity, or such things as that, which preclude him from answering the criticism of those that have spoken, because he knows, as we all know, that Somaliland, the Mullah, and all the rest of it is a very tinpot affair. The Mullah is a very small man, and if we chose to beat him we could have done so. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will on this occasion give us full, frank details of all that has taken place and of all that is going to take place as far as His Majesty's Government is concerned.
§ Mr. WILLIAM PEEL
I would like to ask the Under-Secretary of State a question in connection with one that has already been asked by my hon. Friend below me. He said, and I rather agree with him, that all sorts of euphemisms have been used, such as "We are not going to evacuate, but we are going to concentrate on the coast. We are going to leave the hinterland of Somaliland alone." One is inclined to ask, Is there very much difference or is there not between that and the policy of evacuation? Of course, that depends upon what you are going to do, and on whether you are going to keep a force at Berbera. If you are going to remain in the country at all it is vary difficult, when there is a set of obligations, to get out of those obligations. If you were going away altogether then the case would be different, but you art going to retain your hold on the country, although you are going to evacuate the interior of it. Obviously, if any difficulty arises in future it is not likely you will retain the confidence of the tribes you are now going to desert. Hon. Members have referred to the question of why we went to Somaliland, and as to whether the reasons which took us there have ceased or not. I do not think there is any ground why that should not be mentioned, because it has been referred to in another place by Lord Lansdowne, who is a monument of discretion. He said that twenty-five years ago it was not a question of getting beef or mutton to supply England; it was that we could not afford at that time to let anybody go into that country except ourselves. The second point is that when you go into that country you must have some delimitation of frontier, or, if you go there without a delimitation of frontier you cannot complain if any other country steps in which wishes to exercise a protectorate. Have the reasons 700 which took us to Somaliland twenty-five years ago disappeared or have they not disappeared? That, after all, is the principal question from our point of view. If there be no question of that kind then really it resolves itself very largely into the financial question as to whether or not you should have an expedition against the Mullah. I am bound to say I was surprised to hear the Under-Secretary say that the financial question was not the point. I was under the impression it was. I do not altogether follow the reasoning that after you have spent two or three millions on the country you are now about to go. I should have thought that was a reason for staying, having spent so much money. It is a very odd thing that, when the Mullah was supposed to be dangerous then you were desirous of going away because you did not wish to send an expedition, and that now you are going away under totally different circumstances. By the report it appears that the Mullah is not dangerous, that he has had a severe snub, that his forces are split up, and that he is not able to get a combination of Dervishes, as he could two or three years ago.
I read a letter in the "Spectator" which said that the Mullah is no longer dangerous, because he is an old man. I do not agree with that, for I think some old men are much more dangerous than young men. Still, the Government are anxious to go. Whether the Mullah be dangerous or not dangerous, their position is exactly the same. The real question is, if you have entered into obligations, are you breaking those obligations, or are you not? I quite admit if you enter into solemn obligations with other people you can get out of them if you are let off by the other side. Certainly, however, on reading through the Blue Book, I do not see any evidence myself that there was careful consultation with the tribes, or the leaders of the tribes, as to whether they did, or did not, wish us to give up our obligations to them. The hon. Member opposite, who speaks with knowledge on these matters, seems rather to think that the tribes wanted us to go away because they like the amusement of a tribal fight, and so long as we were there we stopped the entertainment which went on in the country. The first question is, that if the obligations we are under are going to be broken, are the tribes with whom we entered into those solemn obligations ready that we should go. I certainly find no evidence of it. I find, on the other hand, the greatest anxiety throughout the 701 Blue Book on the part of the Secretary to the Colonies, showing that if we do go circumstances might arise which would cause disturbance in that country. On page 54 of the latest Blue Book there is rather an important passage, showing that the fear of disturbance among those tribes was very present indeed to the mind of the Secretary of State. At one time there was an idea that the Mullah might be subsidised. I do not know why that fell through, or whether it was that the Mullah was one of the kind of people who cannot be bought. The Blue Book says:—We should be able largely to reduce our garrison and decrease expenditure without that loss of prestige, and those disasters to our friendly tribes which might follow any great reduction of our armed strength in the absence of such arrangements.This shows perfectly clearly that those dangers which have been prophesied by my hon. Friends on this side of the House were fully recognised by the Secretary of State. Then we are told further on that the Secretary of State showed a great desire and anxiety that those tribes might be armed in order that they might be able to defend themselves in our absence, but we find evidence that they were not in a position to do so. Indeed, the hon. Member opposite admitted that the tribes, owing to twenty-five years of our rule, have lost many of their manly and warlike qualities. Throughout this Blue Book, in many places, you see statements made that the tribes in our absence will not be able to take proper care of themselves. It is all very well to say for the moment that the Mullah may be weak, that his forces are split into three or four different bodies, and that he does not command a following, but you cannot get rid of your responsibilities during the last twenty-five years merely on the ground that at the present time the Mullah is supposed to be weak and his forces split up. Our responsibilities still continue. If the tribes are in future harried or worried by the Mullah, or by a fresh Mullah, the responsibility for that must rest upon us, because for twenty-five years we have exercised some sort of protectorate or control over this country. We have, to some extent, induced a great many of the inhabitants to become more peaceful, and we shall be responsible for any sort of damage that comes to those tribes, if the Mullah regains his strength and is able to inflict upon them punishment. These really are the two points on which I wish for information. What evidence has the Under-Secretary of State for knowing that these 702 tribes are ready that we should withdraw from them our protection? Has he really any reason to suppose that if we do go away in this very short space of time the tribes will be able to put themselves into a proper position of defence? The hon. Member opposite, I think, said that the Government were only following out in this particular matter the policy of their predecessors. I think there were great differences in the position. I happened to look up the particular policy of the previous Government in that respect. First of all an officer, General Swayne, was sent out to take charge of the organisation of the tribes to protect themselves, and a force of Regulars was to be kept at Berbera. So that there are obligations towards tribes, recognised by the late Government in a way in which I think the present Government has not recognised their obligations. It is all a question of time. After all, in a certain time you might be able to organise those tribes to be able to defend themselves. That cannot be done in a hurry. We see from the rather cynical remarks of a military authority that he seems to think there will be a period of disturbance, and that out of that tribulation the tribes may be in a position to defend themselves. The Government seem to accept that position—the somewhat cynical position as I think—and we are going to leave those people, whom we protected for twenty-five years, and through our action have been unable to put themselves in a position of defence, to be raided and harried, and after they acquire a certain amount of experience in war they are to be deserted by the British Government because they are able to defend themselves.
§ Colonel SEELY
I will endeavour to make a statement to the House on the present position of Somaliland. I welcome the opportunity of so doing, and the House has the right to know how matters stand. Before dealing with the various questions put to me by my hon. Friend the Member for Montgomery Boroughs (Mr. Rees) and hon. Gentlemen opposite in a most reasonable spirit, if I may say so, I should like to refer to what fell from the hon. Member for Rugby (Mr. Baird), who thought fit in the course of the Debate to attack my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary and my right hon. Friend Lord Morley over the state in which various portions of the Empire, which are under their immediate control, are now in. He asked the House to believe that whatever was wrong 703 was due to their laxity of administration, to their vacillation, and to their misdoings. I think it is unusual to deliver these attacks upon Ministers without any notice, but I congratulate the hon. Gentleman upon the wise discretion he has shown in carefully reserving his attack to the moment when he knew the Foreign Secretary could not reply himself. I think he was very wise. The Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs has got the confidence of this House, not on this side alone, but on the other, too, and were he in his place, as he would have been had he known that this bitter attack was to be made on his general administration, I have little doubt that the answer he would have given in this House would have satisfied the hon. Gentleman that he was very ill-advised to attack a man who holds such a high position and, in the estimation of persons on both sides, has in their judgment done more to maintain and raise the honour and dignity of the great office than almost anyone of his great predecessors.
§ Mr. BAIRD
The right hon. Gentleman is misrepresenting what I said. I did not attack—[HON. MEMBEHS: "Oh, oh."]—the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs in his general administration at all, but on the specific question of Egypt. I would do that whether he was in the House or not. It was simply in connection with those gentlemen being referred to as authorities on Oriental matters, and I said that on Oriental matters they had not been successful in their administration.
§ Colonel SEELY
The hon. Gentleman delivered what cannot be described as other than a bitter attack—and when he reads his words to-morrow I trust, perhaps, he may think it wise to correct them—as other than a bitter attack upon the Foreign Secretary.
§ Colonel SEELY
If he reads it he will see it was properly described as a bitter attack on the conduct of the Foreign Office and of the Foreign Secretary. I deny that there is a word of truth in it. I again say the hon. Gentleman has one quality, that of a wise discretion in waiting until the Foreign Secretary is well out of the way. [An HON. MEMBER: "Why is he not here?"] The hon. Gentleman is no doubt aware that the Foreign Secretary would have been here if he had received notice that foreign questions would be 704 raised to-day. Indeed, the specific notice had been given that foreign questions would not be raised. I do not wish, however, to pursue that matter further. It is my duty and my privilege to defend my colleagues when they are attacked, and when for various reasons it is well known that a colleague cannot be in his place to reply for himself. I am glad to state the general policy as to Somaliland. First of all, I wish to emphasise that the policy we are adopting is the agreed policy of all parties in this House so far as you can judge from the official information which I have at my disposal.
§ 4.0 P.M.
§ Colonel SEELY
I was coming to that. The hon. Gentleman, I understand, quoted from the instructions to General Swayne, and the instructions to General Swayne, which I have here have been in almost every particular in the most curious fashion identical with the instructions which we have given and which we have carried out, as the hon. Gentleman showed in the course of his speech. The policy is so soon as you can be reasonably sure that the troops of the interior are in a position to protect themselves that you should confine your hold upon Somaliland to the coast, and that you should hold the coast with troops in adequate strength, and that beyond the practical limits of your own coastal control that you should not attempt to set up a political administration in Somaliland. That was the policy of the late Government as has been stated in this House, but never so clearly stated as by the hon. Gentleman the Member for Taunton (Mr. Peel). Of course, we all know that is the case, and that is no doubt the reason why, as I understand, no official leader of the Opposition wished to call our policy in question at the present time. That is proved by the fact that not one of them is here on the very sensible ground that it remained to be seen whether we were right or wise in adopting this particular agreed policy at the present time, or whether we were justified in doing so I hope the House will understand that I wish to do what I was asked to do by my hon. Friend the Member for Winchester (Captain Baring), and that is to take the House completely into my confidence so far as I have information; for there is nothing to conceal in the matter—nothing whatever. We cannot claim to be carrying out a great action of Liberal policy 705 for which we wish to claim credit, because it was the adopted policy of our predecessors. Nor, on the other hand, can the Opposition attack our policy with any prospect of success so long as it can be proved that we have fulfilled the conditions they thought wise to lay down, and which we frankly confess we also laid down.
There were really two policies, and, if I may, I will define the policy of His' Majesty's late advisers, because it is a matter of agreed policy. There are only two possible courses in Somaliland, or, at least, so it seems to me, and with one very brilliant exception there is hardly a I military man who will not agree with the statement. Either you must effectively I occupy the country, for which purpose you must smash the Mullah's forces, capture him, and then build a railway, or else you must occupy the coast towns, where you are safe from all possibility of disaster, and where you can still maintain what you undertook to maintain when you went to the country. It is quite true that Captain Cordeaux took the view that it was possible to continue what he described as the hinterland policy, holding small posts in the interior with only a small connecting link, and holding a small place with a small garrison of 200 men at Hargeisa. I wish to say that Captain Cordeaux did wonderful work in maintaining the position there all these past years. The very fact that the policy was so difficult, and in our judgment could not continue with any prospect of ultimate success, is the measure of the credit due to Captain Cordeaux. If ever there was a man who for several years was engaged in making bricks without straw—and making very good bricks, too—it was Captain Cordeaux. Neither party in the State were prepared to provide Captain Cordeaux with another garrison or another political administration. Neither party would dream of incurring the great expense that that would involve. Amongst other things, what useful purpose would it have served? The Somalis did not want it, and it would not have added in any way to the strength of the British Empire. Consequently, with the few troops that could be spared, he held on, partly by military skill, partly by diplomatic skill, by rare courage, and by rare good humour, under difficult circumstances, to these isolated posts. May I again describe to the House the position, for it has a bearing on the question which has been asked as to what is the position to-day? 706 Berbera is the coast town which we have all along held since 1886, and which we shall continue to hold. We have every intention of continuing to hold Berbera, Bulhar, and Zeila. That is our avowed policy. Berbera is the coast town that we have held, and 140 miles from Berbera there is a little place called Burao. Lord Curzon, in another place, in a speech which we may fairly say bristled with inaccu racies, which is not surprising, seeing that it was based upon a most silly bazaar rumour, to which no sensible man would have given a moment's credence—[An HoN. MEMBER: "Have you given Lord Curzon notice?"] Yes, I have made the statement before in precisely the same words when the hon. Member was not in his place. Burao has been described to me by an officer who has spent more time there than probably any other. You have a dry river bed; on one side there is a little fort, and round about it a few mud huts. About 300 yards further on there is a bazaar, composed entirely of mats spread on poles, plastered together with mud, and by lapse of time they have become quite substantial structures by the addition of layers of mud. This little unimportant place is the place where we have had at varying times different forces, but as a rule between 200 and 300 men—140 miles from the coast. I ask any hon. Member, who takes an interest in military strategic questions, is it a wise plan for a country which depends so much upon prestige as we of necessity do, to have 200 or 300 men, 140 miles from the sea, all alone in the midst of the people of Somaliland, who at any moment might, though I do not think they will, adopt a hostile attitude? It is not as though all this were a matter of conjecture. As a matter of fact, the very thing I have indicated did take place a year and a half ago, when the Secretary of State, was away, and all responsibility for the action fell on myself. The Mullah, with extraordinary rapidity, gathered together a very large force, estimated at one time to number 30,000 or 40,000 men, and moved towards Burao. To have evacuated Burao in the face of the hostile power of the Mullah would, I think, have caused us great damage. We, therefore, took the steps of reinforcing Burao with a very large number of troops drawn from wherever we could get them.
The House will remember that we brought some of them in a foreign ship, because we could not wait the short time which would have elapsed before a British ship came. 707 But is that a wise position for a country to hold that has a prestige to consider? No, Sir, it is not. Captain Cordeaux had such skill in this matter that he managed to hold on without reinforcements for a long time. But a time came, August of 1908, when he, even with his great skill and diplomacy, could not hold out any longer, and we had to reinforce him with between 2,000 and 3,000 troops. We could not keep those troops there. They were wanted back in East Africa, Nyassaland, India, and at Aden. So the troops had to be sent back as soon as the Mullah and his following had dispersed. What then happened? Just at an opportune moment the Mullah was excommunicated. I do not agree with the hon. Gentleman the Member for the Montgomery Boroughs (Mr. Rees) that excommunication has no terrors for priests of most denominations. It has had very many and lamentable results on many of them, and it certainly had a disastrous effect upon the Mullah. He is no longer the acknowledged leader of the great religious body. He is, on the other hand, a robber chieftain with a considerable knowledge of military tactics.
§ Colonel SEELY
Oh, yes, it appears to have been published. It was a very definite letter that was sent to the Mullah. It was sent from Mecca and from responsible authority. It was an excommunication of a most violent character, and the Mullah resented the presentation of it in characteristic and summary fashion. It was the knowledge of it that made me suggest to my hon. Friend the Member for Mayo not to go and spend a week end with the Mullah. That letter not only greatly damaged the prestige of the Mullah, but altered the whole situation in Somaliland. At the present moment there can be no question that the Mullah's powers are waning. Lord Curzon, I notice, in his speech quotes his belief that the Mullah is not the man he was in 1903–4, and that his policy does not contemplate an invasion of our Protectorate. That, no doubt, is the case. That is the very fact for which the late Government were waiting, in order to enable them to carry out their policy, and that is now used as an argument against our carrying out that policy now. The fact of the matter is that it 708 would not do for British prestige for us to run away from a victorious Mullah; but now that he is as he is it is proper for the House of Commons and the country as a whole to recommend the plan of withdrawing from these isolated posts as soon as you can do so, without the fear of anyone, with a few exceptions, saying that we are doing that from any fear of the Mullah.
§ Colonel SEELY
I must not tell the hon. Gentleman to "wait and see." He will know what I mean when I say that one cannot say what action the Government will take if any emergency should arise. I wish to explain fully to the House how the matter stands. I will endeavour to answer all the questions put to me, but I do not want to open up fresh matter. But I can say that the policy of the, Government is to do their best to maintain the friendly tribes who have supported us free from the hostility of the Mullah. I think that the House now understands that it was an agreed policy to retire from the coast so soon as you could do so without loss of prestige, and that was as soon as the Mullah was in a sufficiently weak position that no one would suppose that we had retired in haste. The late Government came to that conclusion. It was believed that the power of the Mullah was broken, and in the opinion of His Majesty's Government the denunciations of the Mullah from Mecca, and tribal arrangements which were hostile to him, made the powers of the Mullah as bad, if not worse, than it is to-day. Therefore, in true pursuance of continuity of policy, now is the time to effect a withdrawal, to which all parties are agreed, except some soldiers, such as the military correspondent of "The Times." They have all agreed that this was the proper course to pursue. I believe that "The Times" itself agrees, although their military correspondent does not. I must say a word as to the alternative. We could not undertake a great military expedition against the Mullah, with any prospect of support, such as suggested. It was suggested by the military correspondent of "The Times" that at a less cost than three-quarters of a million of money it would have been possible to smash the 709 Mullah, and possibly catch him. My advisers do not tell me that; but, in any case, it would have been necessary to secure the co-operation of Italy, and that there should be no hostility on the part of Abyssinia. It would be a most difficult undertaking, but if it was necessary for this country's honour and prestige, of course we would not hesitate; but do not let the House delude itself with the idea that it would have been done easily with 4,000 men and three-quarters of a million.
The late Government spent many millions, and the Mullah was not caught. His mother-in-law was caught, but it is understood that the Mullah did not mind that. If the late Government could not effect that with so great an expenditure of money and men, I do not think that we can claim to be so much cleverer or likely to be more successful. Therefore I think we are bound to dismiss the idea that a great military expedition would not be necessary. I know that the House would not have agreed to such an expenditure of money, nor would hon. Members opposite agree to it, in order to establish a protectorate over this whole vast area of barren land, which would do nothing to enhance the prestige of this Empire, but which, after that great expenditure of men and money, might have still left the Mullah in the position in which he is, and might have involved us in still further expenditure.
Now, what happened? And has the moment been well chosen? I submit to hon. Members that that is the real question before us. Was the retirement well carried out, and was the proper moment chosen to retire to the coast? I telegraphed to General Manning last Saturday to give me the fullest information additional to what he had sent, which has been published in the Blue Book, and he was good enough to send me a very full reply. I cannot read it to the House because it contains some military details as to the position of the friendly tribes which I could not possibly give without embarrassing their chances of success, but I will state to the House broadly how the matter stands so far as I have been able to ascertain at the moment. First of all, Are the people of Berbera living in barbed-wire entanglements? The place has been fortified undoubtedly, but living in barbed-wire entanglements means sheltering behind barbed wires, and that is a most fantastical idea. Let me explain the position. The Mullah is known to be 400 miles from Berbera in a straight line. That is a 710 long way off, and he has a very small following with him. With regard to the tribes, it will be remembered that there was a battle fought at Hadegga, and a report came from Aden that 800 were killed and that the natives were fleeing to the coast. It was upon that telegram that a great part of the speech in another place was made. I took exception to that as being likely to damage our prestige. That was a complete mistake. The place where this fight took place, which was quite inconclusive, and which resulted in quite as much loss to the Dervishes as to the Friendlies, is a place 280 miles from Berbera. Will the House believe that this violent attack delivered upon us resulted from an action which took place 140 miles beyond our furthest advanced post?
§ Colonel SEELY
In the fight I have alluded to the Friendlies ran short of ammunition, but, fortunately, the Mullah's men ran short too, and about an equal number were killed on both sides. The Friendlies have been reinforced, and for the moment there appears to be a balance of forces. The Mullah is 410 miles away, and the friendly troops are 280 miles from Berbera, and therefore I think we may dispel the idea of the Friendlies and Berbera being involved. Of course, anything may happen. I do not pretend that we are absolutely safe wherever we are; but I say we are a great deal safer now, and our prestige is safer, and the honour of this Empire is much safer when we have adopted the avowed policy of both parties to maintain our position at the coast. So much for the position of the Friendlies and the Mullah.
The hon. Member for Taunton (Mr. Peel) has asked me some questions about the treaties made with the tribes. In 1886 we made a treaty with six of these tribes, but most of them have no treaties at all. Two of the tribes had to promise that they would not enter into relations with other foreign Powers, but we did not promise anything in return. In the case of four the gracious favour and protection of Her Majesty was promised, which is the usual form, but no protection was, or could be, given because we remained upon the coast. 711 I may be asked why we entered into these arrangements. I think we had very good reasons for doing so, and I will tell the House. One case was that of the Warsangli tribe on the east coast of Berbera. The Warsangli tribe has shown a great lack of appreciation of our promise of gracious favour and protection, in fact the only form of the protection we have been able to give them is an occasional bombardment of their coast towns. Again, if you are going to give gracious favour and protection to one tribe, you have to bombard and kill the others, because, although the fighting is not of a severe character, there are inter-tribal disputes in which a good deal of ammunition is fired off in Somaliland most of the time. There have been these disputes from the earliest times, and I presume there will be so long as tribes exist in that part of the world. We have, we believe, done our very best to fulfil our engagement by putting the Friendlies in a position to defend themselves, but the very people with whom we have made treaties are not always very much concerned with them. The people in the province of Warsangli do not like our protection. In fact it is not a very safe place to go to at any time, and probably not now. With regard to the others who have our gracious favour and protection, Habr-Toljaala, Habr-Gerhajis, and Habr-Awal, they are all behind the lines which the Friendlies now hold. There are few who take part in this combination which is now concentrated on the Mullah's force 140 miles from Burao. I think the House may rest assured there is no breach of obligation. I do not think the late Government would have taken the action they did if there was likely to be any breach of obligation to the friendly tribes, and I can assure the House we have no intention of evading our obligations. What we want is to do what is right in the best interests of the Empire.
One hon. Gentleman opposite asked me whether we did it on the ground of expense, and I said, "No, that was only one of the many reasons, and it was the least forcible." It was quite true the alternative policy would have involved great expense, and we rejected it largely on that ground; but the actual holding of Berbera or Burao with 300 men does not make very much difference in cost. It was not an affair of expense, it was an affair of military necessity and of military advan- 712 tage, and a question of the prestige of this country. I understand from Sir William Manning that the operation of the retirement itself went on without any untoward circumstances of any kind. I can assure the House from all the information which has come to us, that the conduct of the few European officers who were there, and of the native troops as well during the retirement which took place during the most remarkable storm of rain which has ever afflicted Somaliland, itself reflected the greatest credit on all concerned. It is always a difficult thing to conduct a retirement, even if, as in this case, there is no enemy pressing upon one from the rear. But everything was done in order without undue haste or undue delay. There seems to have been no loss of stores or ammunition other than that which was decided upon beforehand, and I think I can assure the House that the actual business of retirement was well and carefully carried out by Sir William Manning. I do not remember that any other special point has been raised in regard to the general question. The hon. Member for Winchester wanted to know how this would affect the Juba River. It is a very long way from Berber and from the places where these Friendlies are to the Juba River. We did take into consideration these and other questions. The Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, the Secretary of State for War, the Secretary of State for India, the First Lord of the Admiralty and other Ministers sat on a Committee for many anxious days deliberating this question with the sole desire of doing what was best in the interests of the Empire— not to save money, but to safeguard the interests of the Empire. They had to consider what would be the effect on our prestige in Egypt, India and the East, and the conclusion they unanimously came to was that the best course to pursue was the course which we have adopted. I trust it may turn out we were right. So far it has turned out right, because, for five weeks I the country has been more quiet than for many long months, and the Friendlies are beginning to learn that if they want to protect themselves against the Mullah they must set to work to do it themselves. The prophecy of Colonel Manning has so far proved true. I hope and believe it may continue to be justified by events One cannot be sure, of course, on that point, but I believe there is no reason to anticipate any serious uprising in Somaliland. The British 713 Empire is full of danger spots, and he would be a rash man who predicted that in any one place in our dominions in the East we could rely upon perfect quiet for any very long time. I do not believe that Somaliland is one of those danger spots. We have heard from no one in that country the kind of wild language indulged in by two persons in this country about our loss of prestige. People from Somali-land have taken the withdrawal as an ordinary business of military arrangements. They have seen it was the same kind of manœuvre as was carried out at Aden when we withdrew from the interior to the coast. They realise it is the same policy which prevails throughout that region. Even in the case of Northern Somaliland Italy has held to the coast only; they have their ships there, and exercise, of course, great control over the coast.
§ Colonel SEELY
That is an ungenerous thing to say of a friendly nation. I have nothing further to add except that we will do our best to see that the honour and prestige of the Empire is maintained, and I shall always be willing to give the fullest information to the House on this most difficult matter on which we have so long been engaged.
§ Sir CLEMENT HILL
If I remember aright, the last Government only thought withdrawal desirable, if possible or feasible, without loss of prestige, yet when they gave these instructions to Colonel Swayne they did so in the idea that certain British officers should be left behind to see that after the withdrawal no suffering was caused to the tribe, and that the tribes had arms over which proper control was exercised, so that at certain periods of the year they should either give a list of those arms or return the to the custody of the British officers. Therefore, it was not an unconditional retreat from the place that was embodied in the general idea of the policy of the late Government. We all feel that the position in Somaliland to-day is a difficult one; it has always been very awkward, and we may sometimes have made treaties with the tribes which under other circumstances we should not have desired to make. There is no doubt that in 1884–85 we did incur certain obligations, but I am bound to say that my recollection of the operations that 714 subsequently took place was that they were intended to protect the tribes against hostile interference from without, and this Mullah was looked upon as such a hostile individual, not as one of those who merely indulge in tribal fighting for the pleasure of fighting, as some tribes undoubtedly do. He was one of those persons against whom it was proposed to protect our tribes in just the same way as the Abyssinians. Beyond the reasons for looking with some doubt upon the policy of the Government, which have been already very well stated by the Gentlemen who have already spoken, I do not propose to enter into this question. I only rise in the absence of any gentleman on the front Opposition bench for the purpose of entering a caveat against certain statements made on behalf of the Government, and I think that the right hon. Gentleman has a little exaggerated the position when he says that the policy they are now pursuing is exactly the policy of the late Government.
§ Colonel SEELY
I do not want in a non-controversial Debate, which this has become, to take any advantage of the absence of any right hon. Gentleman from the Front Bench opposite, but I can assure the House that what I have said is true as to the general policy. I will show the hon. Gentleman the instructions which were given, and I think he will see that they are in effect the same. I say they are identical, but I do not wish to say any more. I do not wish to make out a case.