§ [Progress, 27th July.] Order for Committee read.
§ House in Committee.
§ Clause 1.
I do not intend to raise any question on the principle of the Bill at the present moment, nor to offer a remark upon the singular example it affords of a measure which, on its merits, has met with the unanimous disapproval of the House—which has been disapproved of by every part of the House except the Treasury bench—and which, though so disapproved of has been supposed, through its having passed its second reading in silence, to be a measure which, notwithstanding its badness and the impossibility of justifying its form, it is better to accept than risk the inconvenience which the majority of the House believe would be consequent on its rejection. I think that is a fair statement on the part of hon. Members, who, like myself, are opposed to this measure, but who do not think it their duty to reject it. I was in hopes that the Government would have taken steps to mitigate the evils inseparable from this measure—to mitigate them, for it is impossible to remove them—for I do maintain that, giving pecuniary aid to Turkey by means of a guarantee is full of danger and pregnant with mischief to the whole tone of the objects and policy of the war, and is certain, when the war is concluded, to throw Turkey, for whom 1439 you are fighting, into the arms of the country which is now her and your enemy. I feel, however, that the evils of this measure would have been susceptible of mitigation if the Government had taken power, not of course, to compel by force an alteration of the terms of the Convention, but a power to modify its terms so as to have removed the entangled ralations to which it will give rise between this country and France, and to have separated the pecuniary liabilities of the two countries. By this means you would have got rid of the formidable prospective dangers which I tell you will arise in the relations between France and England in consequence of this Convention. The Government, however, have not thought fit to pay any attention to the opinion of a minority which was almost a majority, and which would have been so on Friday last had it not been for the energetic measures which were adopted by the Government. They have not thought they were bound to pay any regard to the sentiments of those Gentlemen who declared themselves in favour of the Bill, but who were unanimous in disapproving its propositions. Though the Government had in their power to act upon the remonstrances of these Gentlemen, they have not done so; and this will be remembered when the superficial current of public feeling has turned, and will be taken an account of. I am anxious not to offer any opposition to this Bill which might look like a factious one, or to obstruct the measure; and I shall content myself now by stating my strong conviction that it was the duty of the Government to consider the manner in which it could have mitigated the evils of the present measure—and that they might have done—and to have paid respectful attention to the unanimous disapproval of the principle involved in it, which had been expressed by the House. On the present occasion I want to know the meaning of this Bill, with reference to which I find myself in considerable difficulty. In the first place, I apprehend, as far as I am able to learn, that the Convention on which it is founded is an instrument which is entirely new in the history of international transactions; and, in the second place, it appears to me that the general provision of the Convention for a conjoint guarantee is not in harmony with its subsequent provisions. I will state hereafter why I hold this opinion; and I now want to know, in the first place, whether this Convention has 1440 been submitted to the law officers of the Crown, whether they approve of its language and are ready to give their opinions as to its legal meaning and operation? If it has not been submitted to the law officers of the Crown, then that is a grave error; but if it has been so submitted, then I must press my right as a Member of this House to have the answers of those Gentlemen with respect to the meaning and operation of this measure. By this Convention Her Majesty undertakes to recommend Parliament to enable Her to guarantee, conjointly, with the Emperor of the French, a loan of 5.000.000l. sterling. I set aside the verbal question as to whether it was intended to guarantee the loan of 5,000,000l. sterling or the interest of such a loan as one of little importance; but, as far as I can understand it, you intend to go into the market, and guarantee, on the faith of Turkey, a perpetual annuity of 4 per cent, subject to the operation of a sinking fund; it is not your intention to raise a loan of 5,000,000l. but to sell that annuity. By this clause you are authorised to guarantee conjointly with the Emperor of the French, but it is rather singular that on looking at the French version of the Convention you find that its words are not followed—the French Convention has the words "conjointement et solidairement." I should like to know whether these two words are equivalent to our word "conjointly." I will presume for the present that it is so, and that is my belief. What is the meaning of guaranteeing conjointly with the Emperor of the French? I should suppose that we mean to impose what we call a joint and several liability, and that I believe is the meaning put upon it by Her Majesty's Government. We know the meaning of that phrase, and its exact application by the proceedings of our courts. When two parties enter into a joint and several liability, in such a contract there is nothing of liability which applies to the one which does not apply to the other. If this be so, then I come to my proposition, that the subsequent clauses of the Convention are not in harmony with the first; for the first clause contemplates a liability equally divided and incident on the two Governments in the same modes and degrees, while by the subsequent clauses there is contracted a liability of a totally different nature. In the second clause there is nothing that varies from the first; but by the 3rd and 4th articles of the Convention I find 1441 that the interest of the loan is to be remitted to England by the Sultan of Turkey, and the proceeds of the loan are to he paid into the Bank of England. I want to know whether we are going to create a legal right on the part of subscribers to the loan to receive their interest at the Bank of England? If they are entitled to receive the interest, they must be entitled to do so at some given time and place, and I want to know what that place is? I see the hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Tite) in his place, and, as he came into the House in connection with the question of administrative reform, I call his particular attention to this; and he will find that, instead of making, as we ought, a snail's progress in administrative reform, we are making a crab-like movement, and are not only throwing away the people's money, but are doing so in a way which will be attended with the greatest political disadvantages. Does this Convention give the right to receive the interest at the Bank of England; and, if so, who is bound to satisfy that right? Failing the Sultan in the first instance, then who is bound to pay? In asking this, I disclaim all intention of casting any imputation on the good faith of Turkey; but there are many circumstances which may render her unable to pay, and then the whole of the liability will be thrown back on us. Is it, then, the case that under this Act the British Government will be bound to pay the whole of the interest out of the Consolidated Fund in the event of there being no remittance from abroad? I believe this is so, and I do not complain of it, for up to this point the Bill is in conformity with the terms of the Convention. But is there any similar liability on the part of France? Is there created any right for the creditors to go to France at all? If the creditors are not entitled to go on the French guarantee, where is the joint and several liability? It is the very essence of such a liability that it should attach to both parties alike. But, if you are making an arrangement by which the creditors of Turkey can come on you, and no corresponding power is given to them to come on the French Government, then you are contradicting the first article of the Convention, and the guarantee is not made jointly with the Emperor of the French. The words of the instrument are that the creditors should apply to the Bank of England, and it is au abuse of language to call this a conjoint guarantee. This being 1442 so, the real state of the matter is, we are guaranteeing a loan for which Turkey is liable in the first instance, England in the second, and France in the third; so that, by this arrangement, the English Government stands in file of three, with Turkey in her front and France in her rear. Two sets of rights prow out of this position—rights against Turkey in the first instance, on the supposition of her not being able to pay, or on being hindered from so doing; and rights against France, to arise in case of our having been called upon to make good the default of Turkey, and on our not having been recompensed by France. I want to know the definition of the rights thus to be created. Are we to hold rights in common with France, or are we to be entitled to exercise them separately from France? You bring in an instrument, the phraseology and provisions of which contradict its fundamental provisions, and you are bound to tell us the view which the legal advisers of the Crown take of the rights to be created under the instrument. Supposing, after peace is concluded, Turkey fail to pay, and that one of the two Governments thinks that she is able to pay, while the other thinks she is not, is Government A, who thinks that she is able to pay, entitled to go against Turkey, although Government B may think that she is not able to pay? Are we to understand that England and France are to have a clear and independent right of taking the measures which they may think fit for the enforcement of the guarantee? If we stand as we do between Turkey and France for the payment of the interest, it follows that we also stand between Turkey and France in the matter of reimbursement, and France's rights of recovery are placed in a most awkward position, for France would either have, no power of recovering, or her right would be liable to perpetual dispute. We must know from the law officers of the Crown whether France and England are united as to the views of their rights; it is useless for the Solicitor and Attorney General and the Queen's Advocate to tell us what we are entitled to do against France under given suppositions, unless they at the same time tell us that these matters have been duly considered by the two Governments, and that they have agreed upon them. Even the conjoint guarantee contemplated by the Convention would be liable to the greatest difficulties. Suppose that this country was desirous of obtaining Egypt as a security 1443 for its guarantee, and France was equally desirous of obtaining that province for its security, how would their respective claims have to be settled? I do not say that such a desire exists either on the part of this Government or on that of France, though there is a strong feeling that such is the case both in America and on the Continent. I remember some time ago that an American gentleman of high position, in the presence of my noble Friend, was making a defence for his country against the charge brought against it of an unscrupulous desire with regard to the acquisition of territory, and he summed up his defence by saying, "Brother Jonathan takes after Brother John;" and this is the feeling which is prevalent both in America and on the Continent. If, however, you provide in a treaty to have the revenue of a given province as a security for your guarantee, no one can have a right to charge with ambitious designs the Government which occupies that province. If such a charge were brought, of course we should point to our Convention, and say, what is the use of impounding the revenues of Egypt, unless such an arrangement was to be in the nature of a mortgage, and to have the powers incident thereto? If, as I believe, it is contemplated by this Convention to occupy Smyrna, Syria, or Egypt, I want to know how the respective rights of the parties are to be settled? Are we to have the right of occupying Egypt without consulting France, or is France to have the right to do so, without consulting us? Has there been any communication between the two Governments on this subject? If there has not, then I regard such neglect as most culpable and full of danger, and I will liberate my mind and conscience from having anything to do with this question. I will merely raise these points, and it is your business to provide against them; but if you do not choose to do so you decide on the course you will adopt by exercising your own supreme and authoritative judgment with which I have no right to interfere. I trust that the Government will answer the questions that I have put—it will not do to meet them with general words, however magniloquent they may be—or to say that this is a question which must not be obstructed by small quibbles—or that it affects the confederacy of Europe, the balance of power, or the integrity of Turkey. The efforts which I make may be fruitless, or I may be wrong in what I have 1444 stated; and, if I am, I am sure, judging from my experience, that there is no man more capable of exposing the errors into which I may have fallen than the Solicitor General, for what mortal man can do he can and will do in this respect. But my questions must not be met by mere political declamation, for I assert that if you are going to create positions which are entirely new, and new relations, it is your duty to give us clear definitions of those rights, and the remedies you propose by which we are to obtain those rights, should we be placed in position to demand them.
§ VISCOUNT PALMERSTON
said, he really was not prepared for the speech of the right hon. Gentleman. He certainly understood that there was to be no discussion upon this stage of the Bill. He did not, however, mean to say that he had any right to complain of the course taken by the right hon. Gentleman. But from what had passed the other night between the right hon. Gentleman and his right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer, he (Viscount Palmerston) expected that the right hon. Gentleman would not have raised these objections in Committee on the Bill. The Government had appointed other business for discussion that night, and a great many Gentlemen had come down to the House under that impression. He would, therefore, under such circumstances, ask the Chairman to Report progress.
said, he was sorry there should be any misapprehension upon this subject. He would greatly regret being the occasion of it. He was not then contending against the policy of the Bill; but the construction of the measure. He certainly intended to have addressed the Speaker, and he came down to the House for that purpose. He, however, found Mr. Fitzroy in the chair at five minutes after twelve o'clock. If it were more convenient to have this explanation given upon a future stage of the Bill, he would offer no obstruction to such an arrangement.
§ MR. TITE
said, that he had been so pointedly alluded to by the hon. Gentleman that he felt bound to say a few words. He did not see what the present question had to do with administrative reform, or what the right hon. Gentleman meant unless, inferentially, to blame him for the vote he had given to the Government on a previous night. In explanation of his vote, he might say that he was not only desirous 1445 of placing "the right man in the right place," but also of doing the right thing at the right time; and he felt that they were doing so by granting assistance to Turkey at the present moment, and he had, therefore, voted for the Government.
THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
was ready to follow his right hon. Friend. He had all the papers before him, and could answer all the points raised, but as he understood he would best consult the convenience of the House by doing so he proposed to fix the Committee for six o'clock, to be taken after the other orders.
§ MR. MILNER GIBSON
asked whether there would be any objection to place on the table the correspondence which had taken place between the Government and the Governments of Turkey and France, with respect to this Convention?
THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
said, the only Convention there was, was that which had been already laid on the table—that between the Governments of France and England and the Government of Turkey.
§ MR. MILNER GIBSON
meant the correspondence—the original request of the Sultan for a loan, and the subsequent correspondence on the subject.
§ VISCOUNT PALMERSTON
Of course the correspondence between Turkey and this country could be produced, but not the correspondence between Turkey and France. He would communicate with his noble Friend the Foreign Secretary, and learn if the former could be produced.
§ MR. J. L. RICARDO
wished to know if there was any correspondence with respect to the distribution of the money in Turkey. He understood that there was a supplementary Convention.
§ House resumed.
§ Committee report progress; to sit again this day.