HC Deb 23 March 1852 vol 120 cc30-40

begged to bring forward the Motion of which he had given notice. He felt that the questions now pending between the Ottoman Porte and the Pacha of Egypt were questions in which this country had a deep interest; and in illustration of the nature of that interest he might refer to the saying of the celebrated Mehemet Ali—that Egypt had become the bridge between Europe and Asia. What country, he (Mr. Anderson) inquired, had the greatest interest in that bridge? He would ask hon. Members to accompany him in imagination to a spot which he might call the centre of the bridge, namely, the middle of the desert of Suez, which he had himself recently visited. What a few years since was a desert, was now the great thoroughfare of commercial traffic, and of travelling and postal intercourse between Europe and the East. He might show them there a long train of camels, stretching as far as the eye can reach, passing through, laden with merchandise; he might show them two or three hundred camels carrying on their backs merchandise and travellers' luggage—another division laden with boxes, containing specie to the value of 400,000l. to 500,000l.; and then, again, another division conveying the letters and correspondence between the East and the West; and, lastly, numerous relays of commodious carriages advancing at a rapid pace, filled with travellers. The route through Egypt had reduced the time of this intercourse to nearly one-fourth of what it formerly was. Let hon. Members consider the importance of this traffic, and how great would be the disappointment of British merchants, and of the British people, if it had again to be conveyed round by the Cape of Good Hope. If something were not speedily done, however, to check the mischievous interference of the Divan of Constantinople in the internal administration of Egypt, it was to be feared that it would either be stopped altogether, or materially impeded. The noble Viscount lately at the head of the Foreign Department, had in a sort of stereotyped reply which he made to the various memorials from British merchants and others on this subject, alluded to the differences between the Porte and the Viceroy of Egypt, as matter of mere form and etiquette. But be (Mr. Anderson) was able to show to the House that the pretensions now put forward, since the accession of the present Viceroy, by the Porte, and only put forward, had a far deeper object. And he would now state the origin and object of these pretensions. The present Viceroy of Egypt, Abbas Pacha, when he succeeded to the government of the country, became a reformer. He found many abuses which had existed undisturbed under former administrations. He found in the country a number of manufacturing establishments which he wisely considered to be of no use in Egypt, the proper manufacture of which was corn; and when those manufactories were broken up, a number of employés were necessarily dismissed, including some Frenchmen. There were also some men who had held important posts under his grandfather's government, whose cupidity was checked under the new system. The parties thus dismissed or disappointed, flocked in a discontented frame of mind to Constantinople, and there originated a conspiracy against the Pacha, the object of which was to deprive him of the government of Egypt. He was not making this statement on mere hearsay. He had it in the handwriting of the chief conspirator, and it clearly appeared that what was aimed at by the Porte was the dismissal of the present Pacha, and the reduction of Egypt to the condition of an ordinary Turkish pachalic. It was for this country to consider what was likely to be the result of such a state of things. Among the pretensions of the Porte was one which struck at the very root of all authority in Egypt. It went to deprive the Pacha of the power of inflicting capital punishment—a power without which it would be impossible to maintain due subordination, or to rule the country advantageously. Industrious efforts, also, were being made to sow dissensions between different members of the Pacha's family; and as many of them were in possession of large tracts of land, the effect would be to produce a civil war. A large number of emissaries were actually now in Egypt endeavouring to persuade the people that the Pacha had no authority. Now, it had been asked why Egypt could not be governed as well through the Porte, residing in Constantinople, as through a Pacha in Egypt. His first answer was, that our national honour was pledged to the maintenance of the Pacha of Egypt in the political position assigned to the family of Mehemet Ali by the settlement of the Eastern question in 1841; and to this he would add, that his claim to our support was strengthened by the fact, that British interests of most important character were involved in the tranquillity and efficient government of Egypt, and that no Pacha had ever done so much to protect and to promote these interests as the present Pacha. Why, during the last twelve months only British property of the value of 3,000,000l. sterling had passed through his territory in safety without a single soldier to guard it. This was a great contrast to the state of, things in Turkey, the Government of which was so impotent that it was unable to protect either property or person. He had that day received a letter from Constantinople, an extract of which he would read, and which he thought would fully confirm this of his statement:— The weak administration of the Turkish Government, as to affording protection to life or property is Made manifest by facts out of number. Evan in this capital we are scarcely more secure from murder and theft than persons residing in the provinces, the only difference being that here toe acts are perpetrated during the night, and by gangs of organised thieves; whereas those in the country take place during the day, and in sight and call of the houses of the victims, and frequently within gunshot of men who are called guards. At Smyrna two cases occurred not long since of a particularly glaring description, namely, first, that of the Dutch Consul, who was taken out of his own vineyard at 3 p.m., and within call of his house, and kept by the banditti who infest the neighbourhood of that city until his friends ransomed him for a sum equal to about 500l.; and that of Mr. De Youngh, the Danish Consul-general, who was actually taken from his house in the centre of a village of upwards of 500 houses, haying a so-called military force of upwards of 200 strong quartered in it. The payment of a sort of black mail by the Smyrna merchants to these robbers for permission to get the fruit and other produce brought there for shipment exempted from plunder, is well known. When such was the contrast of Turkey to Egypt, this country could scarcely desire a transference of the government of Egypt to the Sultan. It was considered by many persons that there had been some insubordination among our diplomatists on this question, and that our Ambassador at Constantinople had not fully carried out the wishes of the Foreign Office; and as affording a ground for this opinion, he would refer to one fact which would be in the recollection of many hon. Members, namely, that the noble Viscount then Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs declared in his place in this House, that it was the opinion of Her Majesty's Government, that the Pacha of Egypt had a right to make the railway in Egypt without the permission of the Porte. Yet almost immediately following that declaration, the Pacha was strongly urged by instructions from the British Ambassador at Constantinople to ask that permission—a step which he (the Pacha) now bitterly regretted, as having compromised Ms political position—a step, also, which was likely to be seriously detrimental to the improvement of the transit to and from the East. For he might explain to the House that the railway for which permission, had been asked and obtained from the Porte, and about which so much was thought in this country, was not, after all, the railway which we required for the communication with India. The railway now about to be constructed was only a railway between Alexandria and Cairo, and how-ever advantageous it might be to the Internal improvement of Egypt, Would do but little for the improvement of the overland route, unless it be continued from Cairo to Suez. Now, the Pacha, by the unfortunate step which. British diplomacy had advised him to take in subjecting himself to the control of the Porte in such matters, now felt it prudent studiously to keep out of view, and even to repudiate, any intention of making a railway from Cairo to Suez. But for this unfortunate circumstance, as the hon. Member for Whitby (Mr. R. Stephenson) could confirm, instead of the commencement only at Alexandria of a railway, we should have five to ten thousand labourers commencing at Suez as well, and thus get a railway completed from the Red Sea to the Mediterranean in a short time, instead of having the most important part of it indefinitely postponed. On this subject he had some personal knowledge. He had had several communications with the Pacha of Egypt, and he knew that the Pacha felt very strongly and indignantly the manner in which he had been treated by the Government of this country. He had been taunted by the French party in Egypt that had he sought an alliance with France he would have been in a much better position. The prompt and decided interference of the French in the dispute between the Porte and their protegé, the Bey of Tunis, had been cited to him; and he (Mr. Anderson) considered this a serious matter. Much was now said about a French invasion. He did not fear any on our shores; but he would warn the House that it was not improbable that instead of our having a French expedition on the coast of Kent, Sussex, or Hampshire, there might he one sent to the shores of the Mediterranean and the banks of the Nile once more.

Motion made, and Question proposed— That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, that She will be graciously pleased to give directions that there be laid before this House, Copies of all Correspondence between Her Majesty's Government, Her Majesty's Ambassador at Constantinople, and Her Majesty's Agent and Consul General in Egypt, since the 1st day of January, 1850, relative to the attempted interference of the Sublime Porte in the internal administration of Egypt, by proposing to deprive the Pacha of the power to inflict capital punishment on capitally convicted criminals; to construct Railways for the internal improvements of aa4 facility of transit through that Country, and otherwise; and of all representations made by British Subjects in reference thereto.


seconded the Motion.


Sir, the Motion of the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Anderson) has reference to one of the most delicate questions in the whole range of our foreign policy, namely, the relations between Turkey and Egypt. I can assure the hon. Gentleman, that not only the present, but, I believe, also the late Government, feel the full importance of the question, and that we are not influenced by the information to which he referred, nor the authority to which he alluded. If he thinks that the contending claims between Turkey and Egypt (as he seems to think) have their foundation only in the discords of workmen and the little plots of Constantinople, I can easily understand from what source he derives his information. The claims to which he alludes are founded upon existing treaties—upon the interpretation of those treaties, and upon traditional interests of the utmost importance. It is, however, quite impossible for the Government to accede to the Motion. If it were acceded to, the House would have a variety of information thrown before it referring to the negotiations which are now pending. The whole question is involved in those negotiations. The mutual relations between Turkey and Egypt are no doubt of the greatest importance to the interests of this country, and also to the interests of the world; the Government feel the full importance of those relations being established on a proper and legitimate basis. I feel it to be my duty to oppose the Motion of the hon. Gentleman; and I do so on the simple intelligible ground that the transactions to which he refers are at this moment in an imperfect state, that they are the subject of negotiation at this present moment in Constantinople, and that it would most injuriously affect the public service if those papers were laid upon the table of the House.


Sir, I entirely agree with the right hon. Gentleman that this is a subject of the greatest importance and delicacy. I think the right hon. Gentleman is perfectly right in refusing to accede to the Motion. I think the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Anderson) is not correct in his construction of the guarantee respecting the mutual relations of Egypt and Turkey; nor do I think he is correct in his inference of the relations which the guarantee implies between the Sultan and the Pacha of Egypt. I am of opinion that our interference between the Sultan and the Pacha is a matter of the utmost delicacy. We are on the most friendly terms with the Sultan and with the Pacha—we may advise the Sultan—we may counsel him to allow the Pacha to inflict capital punishment, if he should think proper, without referring to Constantinople; but such interference can only be received as friendly counsel, and to give it any chance of success, it ought to be couched in the most conciliatory langague. Now, I cannot help thinking that the production of those documents for which the hon. Gentleman calls, would prevent such success. At the same time, not only with respect to the contraction of the railroad—with respect to the power of inflicting capital punishment where capital sentences are pronounced—I think it most desirable that the Pacha of Egypt should have the same power conferred upon him as is conferred by our Sovereign on the Governors of our colonies and provinces, and that better government would be thereby secured. But all this must be left entirely in the hands of the Executive Government; and I think we ought not unduly to interfere between the Sultan and the Pacha, but that a conciliatory course would be the surest road to success. I am sure that our Ambassador at Constantinople, Sir Stratford Canning—than whom there is no man of higher diplomatic talent, or more fit for the position he holds, will execute with fidelity and zeal any instructions that may be transmitted to him by the Home Government.


said, that in 1839 this country despatched to Egypt some fifty vessels of war to conquer the Pacha, and to place Egypt under the Sultan, with a guarantee that certain powers should be continued in the hands of the Pacha. He did not know what his hon. Friend (Mr. Anderson) referred to when he spoke of a conspiracy, but it appeared from documents laid before Parliament that the Sultan, whilst speaking in the fairest and most flattering terms to the Pacha, was concocting plans to overthrow him. When England stepped in, one of her objects was to secure certain rights to the Pacha and his descendants for ever; and, though he was sorry at the time to see the arms of England so employed, he knew no tribunal to which an appeal could now be made with so much justice as the country which had supplied the forces that fought against Mehemet Ali. He could have hoped that on such an occasion the noble Lord the late head of the Foreign Office would have been present. Though convinced that Egypt could not be in better hands than those of the present Pacha, he would recommend his hon. Friend to withdraw the Motion, with the view of renewing it if hereafter he thought the Pacha did not obtain that protection which both the honour and the interest of this country required that he should receive.


did not believe that the noble Lord the late Secretary for Foreign Affairs had ever consented to such an interpretation of the Treaty by which England guaranteed the independence of Egypt, as that this country would be justified in interfering by force of arms in the affairs of Egypt. But he believed the noble Lord (Viscount Palmerston) and the public sense of diplomacy in Europe, agreed that the parties to that engagement were morally bound, by every means in their power, to support the Pacha of Egypt in a just and independent authority. At the same time he (Mr. M. Milnes) must say that it was hardly fair to look upon this question of capital punishment without taking into consideration that it was one intimately connected with the advance of civilisation in the dominions of the Porto. If it could be shown that the right of inflicting capital punishment would only be exercised in a fair and reasonable manner by the Pacha, he (Mr. M. Milnes) did not think that the Porte would deny to the Pacha that power which was granted by Her Majesty to the governors of our own colonies. It would be found that it was mainly owing to the efforts of the English Government, that there was now every hope of the successful establishment of an important railroad in Egypt. That great question might now be said to be settled; and he did not think that there could have ever been any serious intention on the part of the Sultan of preventing the formation of so valuable a work in what might still be considered a portion of his own dominions. He had heard with great satisfaction of the prospect there now was of the improvement and better government of Egypt. He believed that the present Pacha had the real welfare of the country very much at heart, and that he would endeavour to advance the cause of civilisation by the introduction of practical reforms, not more ostentatious perhaps, but not less useful, than those of his predecessor. The present question was one that did not concern this or that Government; and he (Mr. M. Milnes) did hope that Her Majesty's advisers, assisted by the mediation of Sir Stratford Canning, would be able to bring it to a satisfactory conclusion.


, in reply, said, that with reference to the vagueness alleged to be in the terms of the firman of investiture of the Pacha, which was the same as that granted to Mehemet Ali in the year 1841, and under which the administration of Egypt had been carried on ever since; if it was vague on one side, it must be vague on the other; and where was the best interpretation of it to be found? Why, surely, in that which one party had done, and the other had permitted, during the ten years in which it had been in operation. During that time the barrage of the Nile, certainly as great an undertaking as the railway, had been undertaken by the late Mehemet Ali, without permission from or question by the Sultan; and in like manner he had undertaken and completed the extensive fortifications of Alexandria—works that might even be turned against the Sultan. And with regard to the Fanzimat, or new code of laws, it was expressly stipulated by Mehemet Ali, in accepting the firman of investiture, they should only be applied to Egypt so far as the circumstances of that country might render them practicable. The noble Lord lately at the head of Her Majesty's Government had dwelt much on the extreme delicacy of our interference in a question which was one between the Sultan and his vassal. But he (Mr. Anderson) would ask, where was all this delicacy in the years 1839 and 1840? What was the question then but between the Sultan of Turkey and his vassal the Viceroy of Egypt? What right had we then to interfere in that domestic quarrel, when the superior intelligence and energy of the Pacha of Egypt had placed the capital and power of the Sultan at his feet? Yet we did interfere: we expended millions of British treasure, and employed British ships of war and men to prop up the prostrate power of the Sultan, a power which he is now employing to damage important British interests. To talk of the Porte as an independent Power, was indeed a complete farce. Let any one look into the published correspondence on the Eastern question, and he will there see a most ludicrous picture: a Government assuming the most magnificent attributes of power and dominion, yet humbled to the dust before an intelligent vassal; unable to adopt the most trifling measure either of defence or diplomacy except under the tutelage of the Ministers of Foreign Powers. Now, having set up the Sultan and put down the Pacha, as we then did, he (Mr. Anderson) maintained that we not only had a right, but were hound in honour to see that the Pacha of Egypt should not he pushed down into a still lower position, and to the detriment of our own national interests. And where, he would ask, was the necessity for this new interference with the Pacha? Had his administration been injurious or tyrannical to the people of Egypt? On the contrary, no Pacha had ever done so much to improve the condition of that people, nor had administered the government of Egypt with so much leniency. He had relieved the people to the extent of nearly a million and a half sterling amount of taxes, and that of the most obnoxious kind of taxes. He had emancipated them from that abject slavery which, under former régimes, bound the fellatreen or agricultural peasantry to their respective villages, to labour there for the benefit of the r masters, and from whence they durst not move under pain of the bastinado; in short, they were adscripti glebœ in the most rigid sense. They are now at liberty to proceed anywhere in Egypt where they can get the best employment, with the exception, indeed, of those on the extensive estates of the sons of Ibrahim Pacha, who are patronised and protected by the Powers at Constantinople, and are therefore considered too powerful to be interfered with. With regard to capital punishments, he (Mr. Anderson) had obtained from what he considered undoubted authority, a statement of the number of executions in Egypt during the three years prior and three years subsequent to the accession of the present Pacha. During the former period they amounted to sixteen annually; but during the latter period they had only amounted to seven annually. This surely could not be considered excessive in the efficient government of four millions and a half of a semi-civilised population. Of the marked improvement in Egypt, he (Mr. Anderson) could speak in the most confident manner, as he had visited it about ten years since, and again very recently, and nothing could be more gratifying to any one feeling an interest in the subject, than the favourable change which has taken place during that period. He trusted the facts he had stated would induce the Government to bestow an active attention to this most important subject. His hon. Friend near him (Mr. M. Milnes) had passed an high encomium on our Minister at Constantinople and our Consul General in Egypt, and claimed a sort of implicit confidence for the former; but it was well known that these two functionaries did not pull together on this question—that they in fact pulled in opposite directions, Sir S, Canning pulling in his (Mr. Anderson's) opinion the wrong way, while Mr. Murray pulled the right. Of course, after the observations of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, as to the prejudice which might arise from the publication of the correspondence, he had no alternative but to withdraw his Motion; and, with the permission of the House, would withdraw it accordingly.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.