§ MR. ROEBUCK
, in rising to call the attention of the House to the subject of the Suez Canal, said that the Motion he had to put upon the paper apparently concerned only a canal, but in reality there was bound up with it the honour and interest of England. He believed it would be found on investigation that the honour of England had been sacrificed, that her great name had been dragged in the dirt, and that we had behaved in a selfish and base manner in regard to this affair. In order that he might snake out these assertions he would, with the permission of the House, introduce a short description of the state of things connected with the canal. At the time when this matter was first broached the Turkish empire was in the process of dissolution. It was in that state that the great feudatories of that empire were one by one becoming independent, and among them one of the most formidable was the Viceroy of Egypt. This great feudatory of the Turkish empire very nearly united Turkey to Egypt by destroying the independence of Turkey, and becoming himself the Sultan of Turkey. This country prevented that result, and the name of 1361 Suzerain remained to the Sultan, the Viceroy of Egypt continuing to be called his feudatory. While the relations between Turkey and Egypt were in this unsatisfactory condition there arose the question of making a canal across the Isthmus of Suez, and one of the conditions required to enable parties to carry that project into execution was the assent of the Sublime Porte. Thereupon came the interference that he deprecated. The power and influence of England were employed to induce the Sultan to withhold his assent to the project, and it was on the fact of our influence having been so employed that lie asked the House to pronounce an opinion. He would begin by laying down two or three general propositions, which he trusted would be distinctly answered by those who opposed him. The first was that facility of transport from one part of the earth's surface to another was for the benefit of mankind at large. His second proposition was that a canal across the Isthmus of Suez would facilitate the intercourse between Asia and Europe. If his premises were correct his conclusion could not be denied, and it was that the formation of a canal across the Isthmus of Suez was for the happiness of mankind. Now, the proposition he deprecated was, that what was for the interest of mankind was not for the interest of England. He contended that the House of Commons had nothing to do with the physical difficulties lying in the way of this project, or with the commercial circumstances connected with it. If those who proposed its construction would persuade capitalists to lend their money for a canal it was no part of the duty of the House of Commons to act as the protector of the capital in private hands. Let capitalists do what their prudence suggested. All that the House of Commons had to do was to consider the political aspects of the question. He might be told that the House had to do with the physical and commercial features of this question, and that, in agreeing to a railway from one part of England to another, Parliament did inquire into the commercial circumstances of the project. That was true, and Parliament acted wisely in so doing, because a railway was not made without conferring powers upon individuals which they would not otherwise have possessed, and Parliament had a right to consider whether it was for the interest of the country that those individuals should possess those powers. But no such inquiry come before the House in regard to the canal 1362 across the Ithmus of Suez. All that they had to consider was whether the formation of such a canal would be for the interest of England. He was prepared to maintain that the interest of England herein was entirely identical with the interest of mankind. The traffic with India had always been a matter of concern with the people of Europe. Before the passage round the Cape of Good Hope was discovered our commercial transactions with India were carried on overland and through the Mediterranean. After the discovery of the passage round the Cape of Good Hope the commerce with India was transferred to that route, thus showing that, although the passage was so much longer, the merchant was repaid the cost of the longer voyage by the ability to send his produce in a ship that was not obliged to discharge her cargo. A lesson might be derived from this fact that was applicable to the present question, because they were now told, that although the canal would aid the merchant in carrying the produce of Europe to India without transferring the cargo, yet that the railway across the Isthmus was a better mode of transport than the canal. His answer was that this had nothing to do with the question. The railway might be a better mode of transit, but that House had only to consider the political interest of England, which could not be injured by a safe and easy transit from Europe to India. If there were one thing that distinguished man and gave him almost Divine attributes it was when he conquered Nature to his own uses, and made her power minister to his wants. Among the most marvellous of his conquests was his ablity to make the very globe he trod upon minister to his happiness, and if by his art and science he could do away with the difficulties which the formation of the world threw in his way he was placed in a position almost Divine. He then showed himself worthy of the position he occupied on earth, and exercised the faculties God had given him in a worthy manner. If, however, in this race for supremacy petty jealousies, a little crooked policy, and mean passions were elicited, it was little for the glory of the nation in which they were displayed. The people of England had a greater traffic to India than all the rest of the world put together. If any one were to be benefited, they would be benefited; but, at the time when, by the improvements of art and science, they were able to conceive the project of cutting through the Isthmus of 1363 Suez there came a Minister who told the people of England that it was not for their interest that the project should be carried out. The Minister who counselled the people of England to throw in their weight against the scheme was the noble Lord the Member for Tiverton; and to support that view the hon. Member for Whitby (Mr. Stephenson), altogether travelling out of the province of an English legislator, said, that, scientifically speaking, it was a mad project. [A laugh.] He heard a laugh; but it only convicted the author of it of utter ignorance of his duties as a legislator, which were to consider the political interests of England. The noble Lord put it on that ground. He did not say that the project was physically impossible, but he distinctly said it was not for the interests of England that the canals should be made. He would grapple with that point. Our dominion in India depended on our maritime superiority. The moment we ceased to be the ruling maritime Power, that instant we lost our dominion in India. Did we, by making a canal across the Isthmus of Suez, lose our maritime superiority? No; but it was said that there were times when the Mediterranean was in possession of a French fleet. So it was; and one of the most remarkable instances of the result of that state of circumstances was the expedition of Napoleon Bonaparte to Egypt. The consequence was that our naval superiority was vindicated, and we shut up Napoleon and his army like rats in a trap. If for a moment the French were superior in the Mediterranean, no doubt they could, if they pleased, go through the canal. But so they could round the Cape of Good Hope, if they were superior in maritime force. But let the House consider the consequence of a French fleet going through the Isthmus of Suez and a superior English fleet pursuing them, they would be caught in the Red Sea like rats in a trap, and our maritime superiority would be vindicated. The danger arising from the expectation that at some moment France or some other Power might be superior in the Mediterranean was altogether illusory, and, in fact, we were sacrificing the interests of England and of mankind to a wholly imaginary danger. The traffic of India within a very few years had doubled, and the traffic of England with India was greater than that of all the rest of the world combined. If any one, then, would derive benefit from the easy transit of goods to India it was England. Our 1364 mercantile enterprize would be benefited more than that of any other part of the world. We should make India what we wished to make it—namely, an integral part of our own empire, and it would be as if we had brought India so many thousands of miles nearer England. Upon all the broad principles of policy, both as regarded England and as regarded the world, the proposition which he maintained was true. What he wished the House to declare wasThat the power and influence of England ought not to be employed in order to induce the Sultan to withhold his consent from the formation of a canal across the Isthmus of Suez.He could not help thinking that a great part of the opposition which had been raised to the canal had arisen from the fact that it originated with Frenchmen. The Chancellor of the Exchequer said last night that when he came into office the relations of England and France were such that we were upon the eve of a war—that the policy which the Government was obliged to pursue was so different from that of the noble Lord the Member for Tiverton, that there was danger of raising the ire of the French people, and bringing on war. He would ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer whether, with that notion, he was at all aware what was the state of feeling in France in consequence of the opposition to the formation of the Suez Canal—whether he was aware that there was a feeling in France that we were an insolent, an insular, a grasping, and a selfish people, and he would then ask whether our interposition to prevent a great work which was for the benefit of mankind did not justify that feeling on the part of the French people. He might be told that this was a matter in which the House of Commons ought not to interfere. That was a favourite argument with many hon. Gentlemen. He had seen the House of Commons quiescent in matters in which if it had only moved its little finger great injury would have been prevented. He had seen war declared, war carried on, peace concluded, and no mention made of the matter in the House of Commons. Those who represented the people of England would do well to represent to the nations of the earth, that the people of England did not partake of the selfishness of their past rulers, and that those rulers had mistaken the feeling of the people of England, and misrepresented them. If there were one thing more than another which would conciliate the people of Europe, and among them the 1365 people of France, it was showing that the English were a magnanimous people; that they did not oppose that which was for the happiness of their brethren, and that they were willing as a nation to assist in enabling man to conquer nature. In that point of view the work contemplated by the Viceroy of Egypt did him honour. They were very much in the habit of talking of the Egyptians and their ruler as barbarians. Barbarian if he were, he had set us a bright example. He had said, "My country stands in such a way that it is an obstacle in the facility of transport from one part of the earth's surface to another. I will, to the utmost of my power, lend my aid in order to get rid of this difficulty. I will not consider my own private interests. I am told that I have railways and canals which will suffer, but, notwithstanding, I am prepared, for the benefit of mankind, to give the nations of the earth means of transport across my country." There was another part of the earth's surface placed in the same circumstances—namely, the Isthmus of Panama, and at this moment they found the people of the United States, of France, and of England, taking a great interest in making a canal and railroad across it. But if it were to the interest of mankind that the obstacle of the Isthmus of Panama should be done away with, it was ten times more important that the Isthmus of Suez should be cut through, because the Continent of India would be reached much more rapidly, China would be got at much more easily, and the greater part of the commerce of the world would be greatly facilitated by such a construction. The route across the Isthmus of Panama would certainly open up the western shores of America, and perhaps our distant possessions in Australia; but our distant possessions in Australia would be brought nearer by the formation of a canal across the Isthmus of Suez than ever they could be by a canal across the Isthmus of Panama. In fact, by the Suez project Australia, the Indian Archipelago, China, India, the eastern shores of Africa, and all up the eastern shores of the Bay of Bengal, would be brought nearer, and he thought that no one could doubt that a very much larger proportion of the earth's surface would be opened up to commerce by a canal across the Isthmus of Suez than across the Isthmus of Panama. He sought in vain for any tangible argument against this project. He could not imagine what was the reason of the noble Lord the Member for Tiverton for opposing 1366 the scheme, for anything more puerile, he had almost said anile, than such a course could not be conceived. Some people said it was a crotchet of the noble Lord's; but was a crotchet to stand in the way of the execution of the greatest physical work ever undertaken since man was upon the face of the earth? If this canal were cut, not only would Asia, Africa, and Australia be brought nearer to the rest of the world, but a great highway would be established which would be the civilizer of mankind. Men talked of our institutions here for civilizing mankind, of our combinations for christianizing the world, but all of them sank into insignificance in comparison with the means of spreading civilization, which the formation of this canal presented. Intercourse between man and man was the true mode of civilizing mankind. It was said that this canal might be the means of separating Egypt from Turkey; but that idea was entirely opposed to all the lessons of history. Mountains might separate nations, but rivers never; they had invariably been the means of uniting mankind. He thought, then, that the proposition he had laid down, in the commencement of his speech, was true, that to facilitate transit from one point of the earth's surface to the other was for the happiness of mankind; that the formation of a canal across the Isthmus of Suez would greatly promote that object; that, therefore, the formation of such a canal was for the happiness of mankind, and that what was for the happiness of mankind could not be contrary to the interests of England. Before resuming his seat, he would call the attention of the House to the circumstances under which this canal was brought before the world. The present Government called themselves great friends of the French alliance, and they would find, if they came to talk with their own Ambassador, or with any intelligent Frenchman, that this matter had a very important bearing on the alliance. The conduct of the noble Lord the Member for Tiverton on this question had excited universal attention abroad, and he hoped that the present Government would not follow the example of opposing in office what they had supported on the other side of the House. The Viceroy of Egypt, when first this scheme was suggested, had taken the most impartial means of ascertaining whether the physical difficulties were insurmountable or not. He had employed a Commission of Engineers from France, England, Prussia, Austria, Spain, and Sardinia, to survey the route and to re- 1367 port on the project, and the concurrence of these eminent men in the feasibility of the plan was not to be upset by the mere ipse dixit of one Member of the House of Commons, however eminent. Common sense must tell every one that the cutting this canal was for the interest of mankind, and he hoped the House, therefore, would give its sanction to his Resolution, which he would now conclude by moving.
Motion made and Question proposed,—
That, in the opinion of this House, the power and influence of this Country ought not to be used in order to induce the Sultan to withhold his assent to the project of making a Canal across the Isthmus of Suez.
§ MR. DARBY GRIFFITH
said, he could not understand how it could be the policy of this country to oppose any obstacle to a project which would facilitate the commercial intercourse of the world. With regard to the facts of the case, from being well acquainted with the locality, he was very much inclined to agree with the views of the noble Lord the Member for Tiverton, as to the physical and engineering difficulties of the scheme. No one could be more sensible of those difficulties than himself. In the first place the works would have to be upon a gigantic scale, extending eighty miles from one sea to the other, and constructed under a burning climate, through a country devoid of the means of sustaining life, and altogether destitute of a supply of water. At each end of this long track through the desert they would have to run a channel into the sea, from two to three miles in length, by means of an artificial prolongation of piers to protect the Channel from the action of the waves. On the side of the Red Sea these difficulties might not perhaps be overpowering. But on that of the Mediterranean you would have to bring every stone for the proposed piers from long distances, to deposit which in a shallow and exposed coast would be a work of great danger and difficulty. He, therefore, agreed with the noble Lord, that it was very improbable that this scheme could prove to be a successful commercial speculation. The noble Lord the Member for Tiverton stated one of his objections to this measure to be that it would be extremely dangerous and injurious to our interests to afford such a means of transit to our great rivals in the Mediterranean. He (Mr. Griffith) could not appreciate the value of that objec- 1368 tion, inasmuch as the advantages to each would be coequal. He need scarcely remind the House how, during the past year, great numbers of people in this country had trembled for those who were near and dear to them in India, and on the arrival of the news of the mutiny, when it was determined to send an army out to the relief of the English troops there, how great was the public anxiety throughout the kingdom to have those gallant men conveyed as speedily as possible to the scene of action. If at that time we could have embarked the troops in our large steamers, and conveyed them right on to India by the Red Sea, without any break in the transit at the Isthmus of Suez, how much of anxiety would the country have been spared, while the mutiny might have been divested of many of its horrors. It would be in the recollection of the House that at an early period after the arrival of the intelligence of the mutiny it was suggested that we should send our troops by the overland route, and that the noble Lord the Member for Tiverton on that occasion dwelt on the extreme difficulty of establishing adequate means of transit for the troops on the other side of the Isthmus. No doubt that was a subject for grave consideration; but eventually the noble Lord, when at the head of the Government, did adopt that very mode of carrying the troops on to India which he had deprecated in that House as being impracticable. If, therefore, the opinion of the noble Lord had not been found infallible in that case, why should it be held to be so in respect to another manner of crossing the Isthmus. The difficulties had vanished in practice, and in point of fact we were now regularly sending troops in that direction to India. It was unquestionable that if we could have done that from the very beginning of the struggle the people of this country would have been relieved from much of the deep anxiety with which they have regarded it, and incalculable advantages, in point of time especially, would have been gained. Indeed, whether for the purposes of war or commerce, there could scarcely be a more valuable boon to England than the construction of a canal across the Isthmus. The noble Lord (Viscount Palmerston), on some recondite and far-fetched political ground, thought that such a project would be injurious to the interests of our communication with India; but the objections of the noble Lord were so wholly opposed to 1369 the liberal and commercial spirit of the age that he (Mr. Griffith) really could only consider them as the remnant of an obsolete and exploded policy. The noble Lord held that a canal of that kind would tend to a separation between Egypt and Turkey; but he contended, that the facilities of access it would afford to the ships of war of the Sultan and his allies could only confirm his authority along the inner coasts of Egypt and the Red Sea. He (Mr. Griffith) contended that a great industrial work of that description could never by any possibility be injurious to Turkey. Adverting to the Amendment which he had placed upon the paper, he might remark that although the Pasha of Egypt had, co nomine, abolished slavery in his own dominions, he had not prohibited the use of forced labour among his subjects, which, in fact, amounted to slavery. From the remotest ages down to the present time all the public works in Egypt had been executed by forced labour, and in dealing with this question it was essential that the House should be careful not to sanction the employment of the power of a despotic Government to procure labour for the execution of a work of this kind at inadequate remuneration. The pay proposed by the promoters to be given to the labourer was that of about ten pence a day, to induce them to go out to labour in the burning desert, finding their own sustenance. He put it to the House, whether such pay was likely to obtain that labour on voluntary terms. He hoped that the House would take care that they did not inadvertently sanction the system of slavery under the guise of labour. He begged, therefore, to move as an Amendment that in any course that this House may sanction in furtherance of the construction of such canal it is expedient that care be taken that the despotic powers of the Egyptian Government be not allowed to be made use of by the promoters of such project to obtain the required labour from the "fellah" at an inadequate remuneration by those compulsory means familiar to the practice of that Government, so as to produce the effects of slavery under the guise of paid labour.
To add at the end of the Question the words, "And that, in any course that this House may sanction in furtherance of the construction of such Canal, it is expedient that care be taken that the despotic powers of the Egyptian Government be not allowed to be made use of by the promoters of such project to obtain the required labour from the 'Fellah' at an inadequate remuneration, by those compulsory means familiar to the practice
of that Government, so as to produce the effects of Slavery under the guise of paid labour.
§ Question proposed, "That those words be there added."
§ LORD HADDO
said, he had heard with surprise the unfavourable remarks that had been made respecting the Egyptian Government, and he thought that, whatever opinion might be entertained with regard to the Suez Canal, the words of the Amendment were hardly consistent with that courtesy which was due to the Egyptian Government from that House. There could be no doubt that the Viceroy had acted in a very liberal, enlightened, and public-spirited manner, and that he had shown a noble ambition of employing the resources of his country, not upon objects of a personal nature, as had too often been the case with his predecessors, but in a work which claimed the merit of great permanent advantage and of extensive public utility. The present ruler of Egypt had undoubtedly done more to abolish slavery in his dominions and to improve the condition of his subjects than any Mahomedan, and probably any European prince during an equal space of time; and, though we often heard of French influence in Egypt, he ventured to say that to no country had a more friendly disposition been shown, or more frequent proofs of goodwill been given on the part of the Egyptian Government than to England. He had himself witnessed the passage of two English regiments through Egypt on their way from India to the Crimea. They were detained for several weeks at Cairo owing to the want of transports, and during the whole of their stay they were entertained in the most munificent manner at the English hotels, together with the families of officers, at a cost of many thousand pounds. More recently, as a mark of regard for this country, both the Governor General of India and the ambassador to China received the utmost attention and hospitality during their stay in the dominions of the Pasha. He made these the remarks because he was sure that the prosperity of Egypt and the disposition of its ruler, on whom so much of that prosperity depended, were matters of deep interest to England, and he felt convinced that it never could be the intention of the House, whatever might be the decision arrived at with regard to the advantages of the Suez Canal, that any apparent want of courtesy should be shown to the present ruler of Egypt, who in carrying on the improvements of his country had shown an en- 1371 lightened regard to the good opinion of Europe and to the approval of this country.
§ MR. STEPHENSON
said, as the hon. and learned Member for Sheffield (Mr. Roebuck) had made special reference to himself in the course of his observations, he begged to occupy the attention of the House for a few minutes. The hon. and learned Gentleman in the commencement of his remarks said that they ought to draw a broad line of distinction between the political and the physical question. Now, with all due respect for the acumen of the hon. and learned Gentleman, although there was no doubt a great difference between the two questions, yet they were both so intermingled together in the present case that the merits of one could hardly be considered without the other. The speech of the hon. and learned Gentleman was so full of generalities, that he found it almost impossible to deal with them. He did not bring before the House a single absolute fact with which they could attempt to argue. He had told them for example, that it was very desirable to facilitate the intercourse between one portion of the globe and another. No one doubted that, but the hon. and learned Gentleman had not satisfied them that this canal would accomplish that object. The hon. and learned Member had assumed that it would, but he (Mr. Stephenson) believed that it would not do so. On the contrary, even supposing its construction to be physically possible, which he, for one, denied, he was prepared to show that the engineering difficulties and the moral difficulties (to which the hon. Member for Devizes' Amendment in part referred) would render the scheme impossible. The hon. and learned Gentleman, in attempting to prove the feasibility of the project, had quoted many authorities, but he had omitted to refer to the opinions of the three gentlemen—one from Austria, another from Paris, and himself from England—who first investigated the subject in 1847. They examined the physical features of the country, and deliberated over the matter in the most cautious manner, basing their observations upon the erroneous supposition that it would be possible to establish an artificial Bosphorus between the Red Sea and the Mediterranean, such as existed naturally between the Black Sea and the Mediterranean. They proceeded upon the assumption that the French levels were accurate which showed a difference of 30 feet in the level between one sea and the other, 1372 by means of which a constant current would be maintained through the channel, supposing it to be made sufficient to keep the harbour of Pelusium free from the mud which was deposited by the Nile. Instead of there being a difference of 30 feet in the height, however, it turned out that the two seas were on a dead level, and that no current whatever could be established. The hon. and learned Member, therefore, was almost guilty of a misapplication of terms when he spoke of a "canal," because if this channel were cut, and the water let into it, it would not be a canal, but a ditch. The hon. and learned Gentleman had quoted the late Mr. Rendel as a supporter of the scheme which was now advocated; but he (Mr. Stephenson) could say positively that Mr. Rendel did not support the scheme as now proposed, and he might mention as a proof of this that he did not sign the Report. Mr. Rendel must have been known to every hon. Gentleman in that House, and his authority in such matters was very great. Mr. Maclean, another high authority in matters of this description, also denied the feasibility of the project. As far as the English engineers were concerned, he believed they all agreed with him to a man. With respect to the difficulties in the way of carrying out the scheme, he would only point out the difficulty of cutting a canal through a desert eighty miles in length, with no fruits, no fresh water to be found within that space. He had travelled on foot the whole distance, at least over all the dry land, and consequently felt justified in what he stated. He did not desire to enter upon the political part of the question, but he could assert that as far as the transit of passengers and mails was concerned the proposed scheme would be productive of no saving of time in our intercourse with the East, for, while they could be conveyed from Alexandria to Suez by railway in eight hours, it would require, even if the most perfect canal possible were constructed, at least double that time for vessels going to India to pass through it, for vessels must coal either at Alexandria or Suez. It was said that they had nothing to do with the physical difficulties of the scheme, but he thought the House had something to do with them, or at least he had. If he had sat silent it would be said he had acquiesced in the Motion, and had tacitly admitted that the Suez Canal was a feasible project, whereas his opinion was that if it were attempted at all, which he hoped it would not be, or, at least, he trusted it would not be with English money, 1373 it would prove to be an abortive scheme, ruinous to its constructors.
MR. SEYMOUR FITZGERALD
said, the hon. and learned Member for Sheffield (Mr. Roebuck) was mistaken as to the grounds upon which he felt it his duty to oppose the Motion. He certainly did not object to the Motion, because the question was not a fit one for the House of Commons to consider. It had been represented as one of great importance to the commerce of this country—to the prosperity, in fact, of the civilized world—and, if so, it was certainly a matter with which the House of Commons was well entitled to deal. If the only objections were to the impracticability of the scheme, or, as the last speaker had stated, the ruinous results that would ensue to those who undertook its construction, he should not oppose the Motion, believing that it was the business of those who entered upon such speculations to take care of themselves. But at the same time those were not considerations to be kept wholly out of sight when they were considering a question of doubtful policy, and certainly the objection did not come well from the hon. and learned Gentleman who had based his support of the scheme entirely upon the grounds that it would be productive of the greatest commercial advantage.
§ MR. ROEBUCK
I did not ask the House to assent to the scheme, but to abstain from influencing the Sultan against it.
MR. SEYMOUR FITZGERALD
said, if the hon. and learned Gentleman did not in terms support the Motion upon the ground of the commercial advantages to be derived from the Suez Canal, yet all who had heard his speech must agree that from beginning to end it was a studied laudation of the scheme; and yet, while it was urged upon them as a desirable scheme upon commercial grounds, they were now told it was of no importance whether or not it would be ruinous to those who undertook to carry it out. The hon. and learned Gentleman said the opposition to the canal had been based upon considerations which were base and selfish. He (Mr. S. FitzGerald) differed from the hon. and learned Gentleman, for it appeared to him that the opposition to the scheme had been conceived in a far different spirit, on reasons and arguments which could only be called selfish and base, inasmuch as they related to the maintenance of the prosperity and greatness of this country, but in no other sense. The 1374 hon. and learned Gentleman said the question was first mooted at a time when Turkey was in a state of dissolution, and that advantage had been taken of the support which we afforded her to influence her action upon this matter. He did not think that was a just representation of the position of the Turkish Government, and the hon. and learned Gentleman was not justified in leading the House to believe that the opposition to this scheme proceeded solely from this country. He believed the position of the Turkish Government in reference to this question to be as follows:—The Turkish Government might perfectly rely upon the loyalty of the present Pasha of Egypt, but it could not but regard with feelings of jealousy, if not distrust, a project that must, if carried out, lead to a material, if not a political, separation of Egypt from the Turkish empire. And, moreover, the Turkish Government, regarding the scheme as expensive, and, if not impracticable, at least unprofitable, and thus likely to withdraw that capital which they were so desirous of attracting for the completion of public works, naturally were not favourable to it. The hon. and learned Gentleman laid down certain principles, that the formation of the canal would facilitate the transport of mails, would be for the benefit of commerce, and the happiness of mankind, and therefore it was the duty of the House to support the scheme. [Mr. ROEBUCK: I did not put the "therefore."] Every word of the hon. and learned Member's speech bore upon the benefit which mankind would derive from the construction of the canal, through the facilitation of the commercial intercourse between Europe and the East. On that point, however, he would refer the hon. and learned Member to the hon. Gentleman who had just sat down, and who had satisfactorily shown that this project, so far from greatly improving and facilitating the commercial intercourse between this country and India, would not add to it in the slightest degree. But, assuming that the project was practicable, he (Mr. S. FitzGerald) did not think that the commerce of mankind would be benefited by it. Would this be a desirable result, that the whole of our commerce to India should have to pass through a narrow channel some 300 feet wide, which might be easily fortified, so that at a moment's notice, on the outbreak of war, the whole of that commerce might be stopped by a single battery? The hon. and learned Gentleman seemed to consider that the only light 1375 in which this question could be viewed was that of giving increased facilities to intercourse and commerce. But there were other important and political considerations attached to this question, and it was impossible to deal with it solely upon the ground of increased facilities to commerce. To give increased facilities to commerce and intercourse might greatly augment the happiness of mankind by developing prosperity, but there were other not less important considerations. In that House, at least, it might be asked whether the result of such a project as this might not lead to enterprises on the part of other nations, to war and to such events as might be the very reverse of benefits to mankind. What, in fact, was this scheme? He believed the hon. and learned Gentleman knew that at the present moment the coast of Egypt was fortified in such a manlier that it would be almost impossible to land upon it. At present it was proposed to make a canal; but the making of that canal involved the concession of a strip of land from sea to sea. If that strip were conceded it was proposed to make a channel 300 feet wide and thirty feet deep. The bank on either side would be in possession of the proprietors of this canal. Now, could anything be a greater obstacle than such an artificially raised impediment as that between the Turkish territory and Egypt? But when the hon. and learned Gentleman talked of giving increased facilities to our intercourse with India, he (Mr. S. FitzGerald) might ask, was it not perfectly clear that this which was to be the channel of that intercourse might, without the slightest difficulty, come into the hands of the enemies of this country? Therefore, so far from improving our intercourse with India, it would be the greatest impediment to it imaginable. Even taking the hon. and learned Gentleman's own view of the question, was it not evident that, for the purpose of keeping that channel out of the hands of those nations who had the start of us in that region, we should be obliged to keep constantly on foot armaments necessarily great, and therefore expensive? He did not desire to be understood as for a moment implying anything like a distrust of our allies; but although we might at present have the greatest confidence in them, it would be the height of folly in us to imagine that our relations with them would never change. We should, therefore, not look with complacency upon a scheme which would give other Powers the 1376 most ready and easy access to our Eastern dominions. The hon. and learned Gentleman said, that this project had been taken up with the greatest interest in France, end that nothing would tend so much to cement the good feeling between this country and France as our giving an assent to this project. On that point, he thought the hon. and learned Gentleman had obtained his information from newspapers rather than from any person intimately acquainted with the facts. He had reason to believe that France had ceased to take in this project that interest which the hon. and learned Gentleman seemed to suppose. If this were a vitally important commercial question, one which so much concerned the commerce and prosperity of this country, he thought it was a matter not unworthy of remark that this was not a scheme which had originated in commercial circles in this country; that it had not met with that support which it certainly would have met with, if the merchants and traders of this country thought it was so commercially important and valuable as the hon. and learned Gentleman represented. It was a matter worthy of some remark, that that which had been represented by the hon. and learned Gentleman as a most important commercial enterprise, had been undertaken for years without having received the support of the most commercial nation. Was it not surprising that it had not been undertaken by the most commercial nation, but had received its principal support from the principal military Power in Europe? He did not intend by that observation to make any covert insinuation whatever against that Power; he merely used it as an argument, to show that the hon. and learned Gentleman had greatly overstated his case, when he stated that this was a project which ought to receive the undivided support of this country, because it was one which must greatly contribute to our commerce and prosperity. He had very shortly put before the House the grounds upon which he thought it was his duty to ask the House not to assent to the proposition of the hon. and learned Gentleman. This was not the first time that this question had come before the House of Commons. It was one upon which a very decided policy had been adopted by the Government of this country. The noble Lord the Member for Tiverton had expressed his opinion in no unintelligible terms upon it. It was therefore a question with which the present Government had to deal, not as 1377 one of first impression, but one on which it was their duty to pursue the policy adopted by those who preceded them. It was one which they must consider not only with reference to its own merits, but also with reference to the course which this country had for a considerable time adopted. He would put it to the House whether, merely for the sake of those commercial considerations to which the hon. and learned Gentleman had alluded, they would run the risk of those political dangers to which he (Mr. S. FitzGerald) had adverted. He hoped, therefore, that the House would not assent to the Resolution.
§ MR. MILNER GIBSON
said, he wished to know whether Her Majesty's Government had any objection to lay on the table of the House the correspondence that had passed between the Government of England and other Governments in reference to the project of the Suez Canal. They were informed that for fifteen years the Government of England had been employed in preventing the Sultan from yielding to the wishes of other Powers, and from granting a firman for the making of this canal. Now, he should ask for the despatches between England, France, and Turkey on this subject, because then the House could clearly understand what had been going on, and whether the Foreign Office had been pursuing a policy really consistent with the true interests and welfare of England. He was sorry to find that the hon. Gentleman the Under Secretary for Foreign Affairs had taken up the policy that he found ready made for him at the Foreign Office, probably in the pigeon-holes in that office, in company with all the stereotyped arguments each successive Government used upon these questions. He thought his hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sheffield had done a public service by bringing before the Parliament of England this important question, for it was only by such Motions as the present that the Government could be induced to depart from a policy of long standing. The hon. Member for Whitby (Mr. Stephenson) had made a speech which, coming from so high an authority, must necessarily have great weight with the House; but all he should say with respect to it was, that it would be an admirable speech if it were addressed to a person who was about to take shares in a canal to be made from Pelusium to Suez. That, however, was not the question which the House was called upon to consider, inasmuch as hon. Members were not asked to express their 1378 opinion as to the physical possibilities of making the proposed canal or of the commercial advantages which were likely to flow from the adoption of the scheme. Of the particular project which had been indicated by the Commission which had inquired into the subject in 1855, the hon. Member for Whitby did not, he believed, even upon engineering grounds, express his disapproval; that disapproval being confined to some other project which the Commission itself had condemned. [Mr. STEPHENSON: My opinions upon the question apply to the most recent scheme.] The opinions of his hon. Friend were no doubt entitled to great weight, but he was sure he would not differ from him when he stated that the most eminent engineers were liable to be deceived when dealing with questions which were both new and difficult. The hon. Gentleman himself, for instance, was mistaken in his opinion with respect to a certain bridge across the Niagara. But, be that as it might, the expediency of entering upon the proposed scheme as a commercial speculation was not the question before the House. The Motion of his hon. and learned Friend sought to affirm that the power and influence of this country ought not to be used in the endeavour to induce the Sultan to withhold his assent to the proposition of making a canal across the Isthmus of Suez, and he (Mr. Gibson), as one who was in favour of the independence of the Ottoman empire, which he understood to be one of the most cherished objects of the statesmen of England, should give his support to that Motion. He desired to see the Sultan left to the exercise of his own free will in the matter, and he could not help thinking that that was a wiser course to pursue than by undue interference with his policy to bring him, as would probably be the case, into collision with the other Powers of Europe. He trusted some Member of the Government would answer his question with respect to the production of the correspondence to which he had referred, while he might be permitted to remind his hon. Friend the Under Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs that he laboured under a mistake in supposing that the commercial interests of England had not viewed the proposed scheme with favour. To his own knowledge the contrary was the fact, and in corroboration of that assertion he might state that at meetings which had been held in London, Liverpool, Manchester, Glasgow, Leith, Newcastle, Edinburgh, Aberdeen, Belfast, Cork, Birmingham, Hull, 1379 and Bristol, Resolutions had been passed encouraging the promoters of the project. The principle that such a project was contrary to the interests of England had found no favour at those meetings, and he could not help feeling, under those circumstances, that it was very desirable the House should, by the decision at which it should arrive, prevent all undue secret interference with the free action of a foreign Power. He did not ask the House to encourage the Sultan to grant a firman, or to say a word in favour of the canal, but simply to leave him to the exercise of his own unfettered judgment in a matter with respect to which he, so far as the interests of his own country were concerned, must be the person best able to decide. As to the separation of Egypt from Turkey as a consequence of the proposed scheme, he should only say that it would, in his opinion, be as well to speak of the separation of England from Scotland by the Caledonian Canal. Indeed, he was prepared to maintain that the separation between Egypt and Turkey was at present rendered more complete by the existence of the desert than it would be if a canal were constructed along the banks of which a considerable population would be sure to spring up, reducing to a state of cultivation, land which was now barren. Such a result as that would be a clear gain both to Egypt and Turkey, and would benefit materially the general interests of the Ottoman empire. Under these circumstances, he hoped the spirit of the policy of the noble Lord the Member for Tiverton would not continue to influence the Foreign Office; that he would be held to have permanently retired from that quarter; and that Her Majesty's present advisers would consider themselves free to act on their own judgment, and be induced to take a policy more conducive to the advantage of the country.
§ VISCOUNT PALMERSTON
Sir, I beg to assure the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. M. Gibson), that I don't mean to retire so quietly as he seems to imagine, and although I do not pretend to continue to be the Foreign Minister of this country, yet as the hon. and learned Member for Sheffield (Mr. Roebuck), has more than once alluded to me in the course of the speech which he has made this evening, I trust I may be permitted to state again to the House the opinions which I entertain upon this subject. The hon. and learned Gentleman has stated that he has endeavoured to ascertain what the reasons are which induced me to object to the 1380 proposed scheme; that he has made inquiry of everybody upon the point, and that no one could give him the information he sought. Now, I may, I think, very naturally ask the hon. and learned Gentleman why he has not addressed his inquiries to me? His mode of proceeding reminds me of the old story of the man who told another that he had been looking for him all the world over for the last two years, the simple reply to which remark was, "Why did you not come to Swansea? I have been there the whole time." If the hon. and learned Gentleman had consulted me, I should been happy to inform him why his scheme is one to which I have been unable to give my support; and I may, perhaps, add that I last year stated in detail the reasons why I was disposed to arrive at that conclusion. The most charitable view which I can take of the scheme, the most innocent light in which it can be regarded is, in my opinion, that it is the greatest bubble which was ever imposed upon the credulity and simplicity of the people of this country. Setting aside, therefore, all considerations of a political and commercial nature, my firm opinion, founded on the engineering and geographical reasons which have been so ably stated by my hon. Friend the Member for Whitby (Mr. Stephenson) is, that although perhaps it may be too bold to say that this is a project which could not be carried out at an enormous sacrifice of money and human life, as a remunerative commercial enterprise it is, as I said before, in reality nothing more than a mere bubble. The right hon. Gentleman who has just sat down, however, has stated that the project has excited great interest throughout the country, and has mentioned towns in which meetings have been held and resolutions passed approving the scheme. Anybody who listened to the observations of the right hon. Gentleman might very naturally suppose that those meetings were spontaneous movements on the part of the inhabitants of the towns to which he has referred. But is that the case? Nothing like it. Those meetings have been got up by foreign projectors for their own purposes, and although they have passed resolutions, I should very much wish to know by what amount of subscriptions those resolutions have been followed. The hon. Member for Whitby (Mr. Stephenson), as well as the hon. Gentleman who moved the Amendment to the present Motion (Mr. Griffith), has very clearly explained the great physical difficulties which lie in the 1381 way of cutting a trench, such as is proposed, through fifty miles of desert, with all the obstacles which have to be surmounted in procuring labourers, and the means of affording them subsistence when you have secured their services. Taking into account, also, the shallowness of the sea at each end, and the necessity of having recourse to a large outlay in order to provide the requisite means of access for seagoing ships, I am quite satisfied that it will be impossible to make this work pay the expenses of its construction. With respect to the commercial advantages of the scheme, the hon. Member for Whitby has shown that the delays necessarily incident to the passage of steamers through the canal would be such that there is every reason to suppose progress by railway would be more rapid, while it must be borne in mind that steamers are the only class of vessels which could with advantage be employed, inasmuch as the winds, which during a great part of the year blow steadily down the Red Sea and Indian Ocean, would render the passage of sailing vessels through the canal inconceivably slow, while at the same time such passage would be attended with much danger on account of the coral reefs, which line each side of the Red Sea. We are told now that for fifteen years we have been exercising a moral constraint upon the Sultan of Turkey to prevent him giving his sanction to this scheme. Now, I can assure those who hold that opinion that they are entirely mistaken. No doubt the British Government did at the outset express its opinion that the project was one which ought not to receive the sanction of the Sultan; but the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Ashton is mistaken if he supposes that his Imperial Majesty has not since then been perfectly at liberty to act and judge for himself in the matter. It is a mistake to suppose that the Turkish Government are not quite as much opposed to that scheme as any English Government could be, for it is a matter which concerns them much more nearly and much more deeply than it concerns us. We felt it our duty to explain to the Turkish Government, when we knew that other influence was at work in favour of the scheme, what dangers it involved. The right hon. Gentleman says that he is as much prepared as any man in England to maintain the independence of the Turkish empire, but he forgot to say anything 1382 about its integrity. Now, to maintain the integrity of the Turkish empire is of as much importance as to maintain its independence, and to maintain the connection between Egypt and Turkey is of at least as great importance as regards English interests as it is of importance to some other powers to maintain the connection between Turkey and the Principalities. Why, Sir, every one who hears me will recollect the importance that was attached to maintaining the connection between Turkey and Egypt when we sent an expedition to Egypt to restore that connection, which had for a time been disturbed, and the reasons which led to the expedition being sent out are as cogent now as they were at the time to which I refer. Every year which passes, ever communication which we receive through Egypt, must show us the importance and the advantage of maintaining a connection between Egypt and the neutral State, and of preventing her falling under the influence of any preponderating Power which might at some time be hostile to us. I believe that, as has been well stated by the hon. Gentleman the Under Secretary for Foreign Affairs (Mr. S. FitzGerald) has said, people in general are ignorant of what has been taking place in the Mediterranean frontier of Egypt in late years. At the time of the battle of Alexandria great difficulty was felt in effecting a landing in that country, but that exploit, and a great military exploit it was, was accomplished. Since then every place where a landing could be effected has been scientifically fortified, not according to Egyptian plans, but according to plans laid down by scientific men of other countries, carried out by engineers of another country, and I believe, although I cannot positively assert it as a fact, expedited by means of funds supplied by another country. I am afraid to say how many guns those fortifications mount, but I believe three or four thousand, and those fortifications, manned by an army of 20,000 men, would in all probability render Egypt incapable of being overcome by any Turkish forces, or by the forces of any other country. Then, again, under the specious pretence of a work for agricultural purposes, the barrage of the Nile has been completed, which, while it pretends to be for the purpose of controlling the inundations of the Nile, would, in reality, be found to be a work available in no slight degree for military and defensive purposes. There is one quarter, however, 1383 by which an army might march—nay, has repeatedly marched—on Egypt, and that is along the coast of the Mediterranean, and this project has for its obvious purpose the barring of that passage to any Turkish army which might be employed to restore the empire to the Sultan, by opening a great military canal 300 feet broad, and 30 feet deep, laid with batteries. The right hon. Gentleman says that waters join countries. Well, so they do, countries which are in harmony with each other, and also districts of the same country; but should this canal be constructed, and should the Pasha of Egypt at any time wish to sever the connection between Turkey and Egypt, and to erect Egypt into an independent State, the possession of a barrier such as I have described, defended by foreigners who might side with the Pasha, would render any attempt upon Egypt most precarious for the Sultan of Turkey, and would render much more probable that event which I think it is the interest of England to prevent—I mean the detachment of Egypt from Turkey. That was the argument which we urged upon the Sultan, and he himself seeing the force of it, has acted upon it. But, Sir, I say also that we have an interest of our own in this matter which we cannot disregard, and to which the hon. Gentleman the Under Secretary for Foreign Affairs has adverted. It is not to our interest that there should be open between the Mediterranean and the Indian Ocean a water-passage at the command of other Powers, and not at ours. If the passage which we at present have were taken from us, we should be obliged to go to India round the Cape of Good Hope, and it would be absurd to shut our eyes to the probable damage to our interests if a sudden rupture should take place, and to the facility which, if this scheme were carried out, might be afforded to an enemy in case of war. Such an event may not happen for a long period of time, but when we have been recently told that within the last three months we have been on the verge of war without any one knowing anything about it, I do not think that we ought, to the danger of the interests of the country, to indulge in philanthropic reveries, or be led away by a too generous wish to promote the prosperity of the human race. I do not say that the hon. and learned Gentleman, who has brought this question before the House, has stated that the national interests of the country ought to give way to philan- 1384 thropic schemes; on the contrary, he founded the whole of his argument upon the question of the political interests of England, and I think that I have shown that this scheme is contrary to those interests. We are told that all we are asked to do is to abstain from interference; but can any man shut his eyes to the fact that this scheme has practically been scouted by the wiser commercial men of this country? ["No, no!"] I beg pardon, it has been damned with faint praise. That is, it has met with words of favour from those who were most unwilling to put their money in it. The object of the Resolution appears to me to be to obtain a Parliamentary title for a scheme the shares of which arc not marketable, and I trust that the House will not lend itself to a speculation of that kind, and agree to a Resolution which I maintain is at variance with the interests of England. I hope that the House will have sufficient confidence in those who have had, and who have, the direction of affairs in this country to believe that there would not have been a continued opposition to this scheme on the part of the successive Governments unless they had been satisfied that it was a scheme at variance with the political and national interests of the country.
§ MR. J. C. EWART
observed, that the originators of the scheme had come to Liverpool, where they had held a public meeting, which was not very numerously attended, although the merchants of that port were always anxious to hear of any project for the advancement of trade. Resolutions had been passed in favour of the scheme, it was true, but at a public meeting the Resolutions were sure to be passed out of courtesy, and that had, he believed, been the case as regarded the present scheme. The general feeling in Liverpool was that the whole affair was nothing more than a bubble, and he did not think that many persons in that town would be willing to take shares in the undertaking.
§ MR. GLADSTONE
In my opinion the House would be much misled if it were induced by what has just fallen from my hon. Friend (Mr. Ewart) to attach any serious importance in the consideration of this question to the remarks of the right hon. Member for Ashton (Mr. M. Gibson) upon the holding of public meetings. I do not think my right hon. Friend (Mr. M. Gibson) intended to urge this upon the House as a reason why we should adopt the Resolution of the hon. and learned 1385 Member for Sheffield; but he urged it, if I understood him aright, as an answer to the objection taken that the scheme of a canal was universally condemned here by commercial men. I must say it was a matter of courtesy that the public feeling of foreign countries should be set right on this point; and, in answer to my hon. Friend (Mr. J. Ewart), who says it is so easy to get up public meetings in this country, I must remind him that there are limits upon those facilities. About a year or two ago, shortly after the peace, we had announced in this country very widely, and probably with some powerful influence to back them, extended schemes for railway communications in Russia. Was there any movement in Liverpool to support those schemes? If it is so easy to get up public meetings in Liverpool, why did not the promoters of the Russian railways go down there, and in this way endeavour to excite public feeling in favour of those schemes? I think my hon. Friend (Mr. J. Ewart) has very considerably exaggerated his case when he says that it is so easy to induce gentlemen in a place like Liverpool to come forward and pass Resolutions in favour of any scheme whatever. As a Liverpool man myself I don't think this is so, and—
§ MR. J. C. EWART
I did not say for any scheme whatever. I merely observed how easy it was to get up public meetings.
§ MR. GLADSTONE
Yes, public meetings in Liverpool on commercial projects. Well, I don't wish the fact to be exaggerated, but my hon. Friend must admit that it was right in the right hon. Member for Ashton to controvert the absurd statement that the scheme was not universally condemned by the people of this country. That, however, is a matter entirely secondary and irrelevant to the question we are to-night discussing. Nor has the point now before us been justly stated by the noble Viscount. That point is not whether we are to give our sanction either to a bubble scheme or any scheme at all; it is simply whether we are to protest against the use of the political influence of this country for the purpose of preventing the making of the canal across the Isthmus of Suez. The Resolution of the hon. and learned Member does not ask the house to take any part whatever, direct or indirect, small or great, in giving favour, countenance, or approval to the scheme of this canal. What is asked is that you should put an end to the vicious system of 1386 which I am afraid my noble Friend (Viscount Palmerston) has been the main author—the system of arbitrary and gratuitous interference for the purpose of preventing the execution of this canal, on grounds which are either null or valueless, but which are in reality much worse, because they go to place England at issue with the world, and to commit us to a contest in which we must necessarily fail. That is the question; and that is the allegation which I make in answer to my noble Friend. If he says that the effect of the Resolution will be to give encouragement to the scheme, I really must answer that it gives no other encouragement than naturally ensues from the withdrawal of an improper, an undue, an illegitimate opposition by illegitimate means to this project. The hon. and learned Gentleman does not intend that the House of Commons should, in any form or degree, make itself responsible for supporting the scheme. The question is, whether the House of Commons, being now challenged on the point, shall make itself responsible for that which it has never yet done—namely, for countenancing the opposition to this project, which has been conducted from time to time by the executive Government without the sanction and without the approval of this House. One word as to the nature of the opposition by the executive Government. That opposition was not originally founded upon the absurd pleas and pretexts which are now alleged for its justification. It was originally a question, not of obstructing the means of communication between Europe and India—not of denying that there was an advantage in bringing them together if you could—but it was a question of competition between the railway and the canal. The canal was in the main a French, the railway was in the main an English scheme. For the moment there was a competition between these two projects, and naturally enough the English Government—having greater confidence, as it was bound to have, or as it was natural it should have, in the engineers of its own country—recommended the railway in preference to the canal. The objections now urged by the noble Viscount, if they are good for anything, are good against the railway as well as against the canal. The possession of the railway would be an advantage to hostile Powers in sending troops to India almost as great as the canal. Is there any doubt at all about that? Has not the noble Viscount 1387 told us that one of his great reasons for resisting the formation of this canal is, because it will be used by other Powers in hostility to this country for the purpose of sending hostile armaments to India. Well, the railway likewise offer facilities for sending hostile armaments to India. The plain state of the case is this:—Here is a scheme which upon the face of it is beneficial to mankind. I am quite sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Whitby (Mr. R. Stephenson) will be the last to deny this. My hon. Friend is perfectly in his province when he gives us his reasons why he is led to conclude that the scheme is impracticable. He is perfectly justified, with his reputation and knowledge of the subject, in stating here, as a scientific man, that having considered this scheme he regards it as physically impracticable. Nothing can be more fair and just than the part thus taken by my hon. Friend. For my own part I only feel obliged to him for his opinion, and every Englishman will be prejudiced in its favour, for it appears that this is becoming, in a considerable degree, a question between English and continental engineers, the authority of the former being generally against, and of the latter generally in favour of, the project. Let that controversy be fought out, but fought out in the proper form, in the proper place, and upon the proper grounds. Do not let us have Governments and ex-Governments coming down to instruct us here upon the nature of bubble schemes. The noble Viscount says that any one who has listened to the observations of the hon. Member for Whitby must feel that this is a bubble scheme. Now, I must say that I have too much respect for the judgment of my hon. Friend, to think that he, as a scientific man, would feel his opinion on a scientific question strengthened one jot by a vote of the House of Commons. Such a vote would not add one jot to the value of a scientific judgment upon the practical merits of the scheme. Let us, therefore, dismiss from our minds the notion that we must declare this to be a bubble scheme. If it is a bubble scheme, allow the bubble to burst. How arc such projects best cured? What did you do with the Thames Tunnel, which even now remains unfinished? Why, invoke the influence of Government for the purpose of protesting against bubble schemes? I protest against the judgment of the noble Viscount and of the Under Secretary for State as irre- 1388 levant when they talk about a bubble scheme. As a commercial project, let the Suez Canal stand or fall upon commercial grounds. But the noble Viscount is not satisfied with denouncing the scheme in this way. He alleges political reasons, and has transmitted some of his own views to the present Foreign Office on this point. What are those reasons? He has announced two. One of them is, that the canal will tend to the dismemberment of the Turkish empire by the separation of Egypt from Turkey, and the other is that it will tend to the dismemberment of the British empire by separating India from England. My noble Friend when First Minister of the Crown—with, I should have thought, very questionable prudence sent forth into the world these two reasons. Now this is a matter upon which whatever may be done in Liverpool and other places, a deep interest is felt in France and on the Continent. That is not to be denied. When you isolated and separated yourselves from France on the question of the Principalities you fell back on Austrian support. I do not ask you the value or the comfort of that support when you come to require it in the day of need. But have you that Austrian support at all on this point? No! There is not a State in Europe which does not declare the opposition of England to this project—which I say is not the opposition of the English people, or (until to-night) of the British Parliament, but is only the opposition of the executive Government, in secrecy and in darkness—there is not a State on the Continent of Europe which does not denounce the policy of this opposition as unwarrantable, and as a selfish policy. But the noble Viscount sends forth his two reasons. We are to oppose the Suez canal scheme because it will dismember Turkey, and have a tendency to dismember the British empire. He gives the first place in his speech in this House to the dismemberment of Turkey. In his mind that is the first reason, and the dismemberment of England is the second. [Cries of "Oh, oh!"] I beg pardon; I am stating strictly what fell from my noble Friend, and I hope therefore that the time of the House may not be wasted by compelling me to enter into an explanation. That is the order of precedence in which my noble Friend states his reasons, but other countries will not view these reasons in the same light. Is it not, on the contrary, perfectly plain that all Europe will 1389 conclude the real ground of your opposition is because you suppose the canal to be injurious to the British empire, and that the alleged interest of Turkey is hypocritically thrust in for the mere purpose of justifying your policy? Those who have examined the question cannot fail to be aware that such an opinion is extensively propagated upon the Continent at this moment; and it is, after all, better that the House of Commons should be told what is actually thought and said abroad about English policy, while there is still time to consider our course, rather than that we should allow ourselves to get involved deeply in controversies upon false grounds, and commit the honour of the country to the maintenance of propositions which are permanently untenable. Is it really true that either one of those reasons constitutes a bona fide political ground for offering political resistance to a project essentially commercial, and which apparently promises great benefit to the whole world? Is it true that this canal is to effect the dismemberment of Egypt from Turkey? Does the connection of Egypt with Turkey really rest on the power of the latter to march armies across the Isthmus of Suez into the former? Is the House of Commons disposed to adopt that view? Do you think that at this moment the reason why Egypt is subordinate to Turkey is because, if she refused to pay tribute or violated the Sultan's rights, the Sultan could send troops across the Isthmus to put down and conquer the resistance of the Pasha? That may be the noble Viscount's opinion, and if he or any other Member of this House entertain it, I grant they may consistently act upon it. I think, however, that that opinion cannot be supported. Egypt is subordinate to Turkey, not on account of the strength of the Sultan, but on account of the interests of Europe and the guarantee of the European Powers; and the means of maintaining the connection between the two are precisely as strong and as efficient whether this canal is made or not. I will say this in regard to the Turkish empire. In my mind no method could be more unwise or more suicidal of attempting to uphold either the independence or the integrity of the Turkish empire than the making the connection with that empire irksome and burdensome to the provinces of Turkey. And if you really want to strengthen the connection between Turkey and Egypt, or 1390 between Turkey and the Principalities—for the principle is just the same—pursue that object by the methods of prudence and conciliation, endeavour to unite those countries in the bonds of affection; but don't go to Egypt and say, "Here is a scheme which we admit, if it can be executed, would tend powerfully to the development of your material resources, but we shall prevent you from reaping its advantages because we think they would weaken your connection with Turkey." So that you lead the Pasha and the people of Egypt immediately to the conclusion that their connection with Turkey involves comparative poverty and degradation to them, because it interferes with their pursuit of the means which are calculated to promote their own strength and prosperity. So much for the noble Viscount's first reason. As to his second reason, I must confess that it is with a sentiment of pain that I advert to it. My noble Friend and the Under Secretary for Foreign Affairs both say that the opening of this canal will be dangerous to the British empire in India, because it will enable Foreign Powers to get the start of us in sending hostile armaments to India when they have occasion to quarrel with this country. Sir, I enter a respectful but most serious protest against the whole spirit and tenor of this language. I can conceive nothing more unwise with respect to the maintenance of a good understanding with the nations of Europe, and nothing more ill-judged with respect to the interests of England. In the first place, I am unwilling to set up the Indian empire of Great Britain in opposition to the general interests of mankind, or to the general sentiment of Europe. And I say that is what you do if, in reference to a question properly commercial, you insist on taking it off the commercial ground, and on dragging it into the political arena, opposing the execution of a commercial work, while you declare it to be impracticable, because you think it will open new dangers for the British empire in India. I deprecate altogether the system of insinuation and innuendo involved in the allusion to these dangers. I hold it to be an ungenerous, a most unwise and imprudent system. But I deny altogether the existence of these dangers. I say that if this canal had been open last year, had it been practicable—a question not now before us—we should have had the deepest reason for gratitude to those who might have executed it. 1391 What would the difference have been with reference to the great struggle which you have been carrying on in India if, twelve months ago, instead of the dilatory route by the Cape of Good Hope, you had been able to send your troops direct to India? Why, the benefit of this canal, if practicable, great as it would be to the rest of the world, would be greatest by far to England. Who would have the control of the Red Sea? Who has now got the control of that sea at its southern issue? Who has occupied Aden on the one side and Perim on the other? And who has given great offence to foreign countries by the occupation of the latter station? Who have yet, perhaps, to render some account to this House for that proceeding, to state the reasons which may have justified it, and the policy which may have rendered it both necessary and right? But, naturally enough, very considerable soreness was excited abroad when it was seen that England undertook to occupy first of all the one side, and next the other side of the Red Sea by fortified posts, and then opposed herself, partly on the ground of danger to her Indian empire, to what is apparently a commercial project for the benefit of mankind. What is the Power that would really possess this canal if it were opened? Is it not a canal which would necessarily fall within the control of the first maritime Power in Europe? It is England, and no foreign country, that would obtain the command of it. I know well that on subjects of this kind it is hardly fair to expect a majority of the Members of this House either to take the pains or to have the opportunity to acquire extensive information. But the hon. and learned Member for Sheffield (Mr. Roebuck) has challenged the expression of your opinion upon it. He asks you whether you will declare yourselves parties to the policy which has been pursued for a certain time by the executive Government—a policy founded on resistance to a project viewed by Europe as commercial in its nature. The political reasons which you advance are, I believe, as regards Turkey, utterly unsatisfactory to the whole public opinion of Europe—I don't say whether or not it is unsatisfactory to English public opinion. The reasons with regard to India are of a kind calculated to create in Europe a sentiment of irritation, of jealousy, and even of hostility to the existence of British power in India. And, further, I must say, whatever may be the judgment pronounced to-night, I am convinced, from the state of 1392 opinion which prevails on this subject that the policy which has been pursued is not only a false policy, but is so diametrically opposed to the first principles of prudence, and I will even say to the comity and courtesy of friendly nations; it has such a tendency to isolate us on these questions from the rest of civilized mankind,—and this fact will come to be increasingly felt from year to year by the British people, that you will not be able permanently to maintain it. If, then, you are to recede from this policy, the sooner it is done the better. At any rate, for my own part I shall have so hesitation in giving my vote in favour of the hon. and learned Gentleman's Motion, because I feel that the principle on which he invites us to act is both a wise and indispensable principle for the treatment of all such questions; and in this particular case before us it is intimately associated with the interests both of this country and of the other nations of Europe.
THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
As this is a question of considerable importance, I trust the House, before coming to a decision upon it, will at least take a calm and dispassionate view of the circumstances which it involves. The Motion of the hon. and learned Gentleman declares—That in the opinion of this House, the power and influence of this Country ought not to be used in order to induce the Sultan to withhold his assent to the project of making a Canal across the Isthmus of Suez,Now, what evidence have we that the power and influence of this country are at this moment or have been exercised in a manner to call for a Resolution of this nature? I should suppose, were I not acquainted with this matter, either that the hon. and learned Gentleman had received some intimation that Her Majesty's Government were on the point of negotiating a treaty with the Sultan binding hint to withhold his consent from the execution of this project, or that papers had been laid on this table which prove that there has been on the part of the Government of this country constraint applied to the Sultan of Turkey for this object. But I am in possession of no evidence to that effect, and the hon. and learned Member has alleged no reasons to make us accept this Resolution. The noble Lord who has addressed us (Viscount Palmerston) said, indeed, that his Government had recommended the Sultan to adopt a certain policy, but the 1393 noble Lord, as I understood him, and as I know from my own acquaintance with the facts, can only have enforced on the Sultan the pursuance of a policy which the Government of the Sultan had already professed. From all that I have been able to collect on this subject the Government of the Sultan entertains opinions regarding it of a decided character, and certainly I am ignorant of any conduct of the present Ministry, and I know of none on the part of the late Ministry, which shows that there has been any undue constraint exercised towards the Sultan either now or at any former time by this country to justify the use by the Right hon. Member, for the University (Mr. Gladstone) of the terms an "improper, undue, and illegitimate opposition" to this scheme. If there is any project going forward in the world which we think injurious either to the interests of England or to the general interests of nations, an opposition to it is surely not an improper, undue, and illegitimate opposition. And I am of opinion that before we are asked to assent to a Motion of this description there ought to be some colourable proof placed before us that there has been some secret or open conduct pursued such as would warrant this House in stepping in, and by such a Resolution as this preventing either the negotiation of a treaty or the adoption of a policy which it believes to be contrary to the interests of the country. What must be the consequence of the House coming to this Resolution? The consequence must be that this project will be, in fact, sanctioned by the House of Commons. Now, whatever may be the ultimate opinion of this country, or indeed of this House, upon the subject, certainly it is a most unwise proceeding that we should impliedly commit ourselves by a Resolution to an approval of a project unquestionably of a doubtful, and in the opinion of many persons of great authority even of a pernicious nature. I therefore trust the House will hesitate before they adopt this Resolution, whatever may be the general opinions upon the subject. Certainly it is of the utmost importance in coming to the candid consideration of this case that we should not throw out of our sight, as seems to be the habit of some of those who have preceded me in this debate the feelings of the Turkish Government themselves. It has been assumed throughout that the Turkish Government are either neutral or favourable to this project, and 1394 that it has been only upon the powerful and urgent interference of England that the Turkish Government have upon any occasion expressed their opposition to it. We have likewise been told by the Right hon. Member for Oxford University that, in inducing Turkey, as it were by force, to adopt our views upon this question, we are placing ourselves in opposition to the united sentiment of all other countries, and outraging the comity of nations. But what evidence have we—that is what I want to know—that this project has the approval of all other nations? Throughout these discussions, from the moment this Resolution was launched to the last speech to which we listened, we have heard on the part of the Supporters of this Resolution a series of assertions. It is assumed that Turkey is constrained by force to oppose tins project. It is assumed that England is using force. It is then assumed that all other countries are in favour of the scheme. Now, Sir, I am in possession of no evidence that establishes any of these propositions, and certainly least of all the last. There was, however, more than a year ago, information which never reached me in any official shape, but which I shall assume was authentic, that the French Ambassador at Constantinople had expressed himself favourable to ties project. Well: we have had many allusions to-night, especially by the hon. and learned Gentleman who introduced the Motion, to the feelings of France upon this subject, and warnings to us who wish to cement the alliance between the two countries not to take a course which would be hostile to the wishes of France. Now, we have had frequent communications with the Government oft France, and we have received expressions of their opinions and feelings certainly much more recent than that report of the advice given by M. de Thouvenel to which I have referred. I may be permitted to say that in those expressions of feeling there was nothing of that decided character which has been mentioned by the right hon. Member for Oxford University and others; but, on the contrary, a very candid sense of the difficulties of the whole project, and a very frank confession that the Government of France wished to interfere in no other manner than as every Government would wish to interfere in favour of an opinion, trusting to fair argument and the ordinary mode in which the public sentiment of the world is formed. With regard 1395 to Austria, I must say to the right hon. Member for Oxford University that he is entirely mistaken if he supposes that the Government of that country have expressed any unqualified opinion, or, indeed, any opinion at all, in favour of this project. All we know for certain is, that, after having previously expressed a very different sentiment, Austria had stated that this project ought not to be accomplished, while admitting that it might be accomplished if all the Powers of Europe consented to it. Now, Sir, what I say is, that we ought to leave plans of such great importance to the fair influence of public opinion. I do not object to that; but you do not leave them to the fair influence of public opinion when you ask the House of Commons to pledge itself to an expression of its views, an expression which will announce to the whole of Europe that our conclusion is foregone, that our opinion is settled, and that we are for ever prevented from forming that mature judgment and taking that wise course which time and experience may justify. Again, Sir, whatever hon. Gentlemen may say, and however they may endeavour for the moment to depreciate them, there are grave political considerations connected with this question both as regards Turkey and as regards England. I do not say that their gravity is such that they may not yield to other considerations, if in time those other considerations are deemed more powerful; but, as at present advised, I think it would be a most rash and precipitate step at once to pledge this House to change the course of policy which it has long pursued, and which has been sanctioned by high authority, and to ask us to place ourselves in a position which will prevent us hereafter from adopting that line which we may deem wisest and most prudent. I shall not enlarge now upon the political considerations, which must be obvious to all. I shall not lay down as a principle that political considerations are not to yield, and even frequently to yield, to moral considerations. If I could be persuaded, for example, that the formation of this canal would be a means by which the universal happiness of the human race would be certainly and greatly increased—if I had no doubt that it was an enterprise which, if successfully accomplished, would contribute to the felicity of all the communities of the civilized world—I would at once admit that political considerations, however weighty, should give way to such more powerful reasons. But, after all, 1396 these speculations, though they may be reduced to practice, are still speculations only, while the political considerations are realities, and must have great weight in deciding the course we take. Hon. Gentlemen deceive themselves if they suppose that the integrity of the Turkish empire would not be materially affected by the completion of this great work, and they deceive themselves still more if they fancy that the Government of Turkey are not keenly alive to that part of the subject. I agree with the right hon. Member for Oxford University that if the tenure of our Indian empire is to be maintained by a course of policy hostile to the interests of the rest of the world it is in a state of very great danger; but if I am asked to assent to a project the certain consequences of which must be vastly increased armaments on the part of this country, and very doubtful results of a cosmopolitan and philanthropic character to the world, I am bound to consider, before yielding to that scheme, what must be the cost of those armaments, what will be their influence on our taxation, and what may be the general effect upon the distribution of power, as well as our increased chances of becoming embroiled with foreign nations. These are considerations which ought to influence the House of Commons on the present occasion, and which, I think, ought not to be treated in the offhand manner in which they have been dealt with this evening. These are the general feelings which influence me in the course I am prepared to take. I think this Resolution has been brought forward without authority. I think the hon. and learned Member for Sheffield has no right to assume that the power and influence of this country have been, or are now, used to constrain the Porte to oppose this project. I think, also, that if this House is induced to adopt the Resolution it will fetter itself in its future course, and hastily and rashly quit the path which it has been hitherto pursuing, which it has pursued in some degree under the influence of grave political considerations, but which, at the same time, may be departed from at some future period, if time and experience should show that such a course may be taken without injury to the public interests.
§ LORD JOHN RUSSELL
Notwithstanding what the Chancellor of the Exchequer has said, I cannot but consider, and indeed it has been admitted, that for many years the power and influence of this country 1397 have been used to induce the Sultan to withhold his assent from the project of making a canal across the Isthmus of Suez. It has always been acknowledged by the noble Viscount who was at the head of the late Government, and it has not been denied by the Under Secretary for Foreign Affairs in the present Government: I think, therefore, we may accept it as an admitted proposition. In considering this question I am ready at once to dismiss three parts of the arguments which have been advanced this evening. It has been held that this is a bubble speculation; that the physical obstacles to the construction of this canal are almost insuperable, or at least enormous; and that the Turkish Government have such an interest in preventing the completion of the work that they are certain to use all their efforts and influence in order to impede it. Taking all these things for granted, I ask, if this be a bubble speculation, if the natural obstacles are almost insuperable, and if the Turkish Government has reasons of its own for withholding its assent, does it not follow that there is no need for the exercise of the power and influence of England? It is said, however, and it has been often urged, that there are reasons why England should for her own interests endeavour to prevent the formation of this canal. Now, any injury that we might sustain in consequence of its formation must occur either in peace or in war. I cannot conceive that during a period of peace the establishment of additional means of commerce—the formation of an additional highway between different parts of the world—could be injurious to England. If I am told that certain ports of France and other continental countries are nearer to Egypt than England, and that they will gain commercial advantages over this country by the formation of a canal, I answer that our principle is to render commerce as free as possible. This has been our policy of late years. It is a just and generous policy, but at the same time I believe it is a policy most beneficial to England to subject ourselves to any competition by which the commerce of the world can be increased, and I feel confident that England will not suffer in such a competition. But if goods of any description can be exported from France, Switzerland, or Italy, and can be supplied to the Queen's subjects in India at a cheaper rate than English goods of the same or an inferior quality, what right 1398 have the executive authorities in England to prevent Her Majesty's subjects in India from enjoying the advantages which they might thus obtain? It is not in peace, however, that the most danger is feared. The greatest danger is apprehended in case of a war. It seems to me that the question simply resolves itself into the consideration whether or not England is to have the command of the seas if, unfortunately, a war should occur. If England were to lose the command of the seas, no doubt troops would be conveyed through Egypt if any project for the invasion of India were entertained. But could they not be conveyed by railway? Is that not a mode of transit of which we have availed ourselves during the past year, and is it necessary to form a canal in order to effect the transport of troops across Egypt? If, however, we possess the command of the seas the danger at once vanishes, and we should be no more exposed to it in consequence of the formation of a canal than we are under existing circumstances. I may remind the House that the mouths of the Nile and the neighbourhood of Alexandria arc places where demonstrations of British prowess have been made, the results of which need not lead us to fear for the future. I feel the force of the argument which was urged by the right hon. Member for the University of Oxford, that our opposition to this scheme confirms the idea which is very generally entertained on the continent of Europe, that for our own selfish interests, and prompted by a narrow-minded commercial jealousy, we are ready to sacrifice or to injure the commerce of all other nations. I believe that charge is not a true one, but I am unwilling that there should be any just grounds for it, and I trust, therefore, that the House will assent to the Motion of the hon. and learned Gentleman, for by doing so we shall show that with regard to this subject at least we are ready to meet all the world, and that we have no selfish objects in view.
§ MR. DRUMMOND
said, that having heard the speech of his noble Friend the Member for Tiverton, and knowing that the policy he had announced was the policy which had been pursued by every Government of which the noble Lord had been a Member for several years past, knowing also that the noble Lord who last spoke had been a Member of the same Cabinet, he could not admit a divided responsibility or a limited liability, but must hold that the noble Lord the Member for the City 1399 of London was responsible for what he (Mr. Drummond) regarded as the true British policy on this question which had been declared by his noble Friend the Member for Tiverton. A right hon. Friend of his had said, truly enough, that in his view this was a commercial question, and with those who looked to mere money interests it was a purely commercial question; but if they looked to the intelligence of France, if they looked—not to these abstractions—but to the acts of the French Government, which did not waste its time in idle talk in the Chamber of Deputies, but went at once to work to establish the policy it meant to pursue, they would see that this canal was, as his noble Friend opposite had said, nothing more nor less than a chain of forts—a bar to the access of England to India by that route, and they had to choose upon this and many other questions whether they would prefer cotton to the honour of the country and the integrity of the empire.
§ MR. BRIGHT
said, be would express no opinion upon the general question; but he thought that if the House was to come to any satisfactory decision they ought to have before them the correspondence which had taken place on the subject. He understood from the speech of the Chancellor of the Exchequer that there were no documents in the Foreign Office bearing on the question; but he thought there must be some mistake about the matter, unless the Foreign Office business had been transacted by private letters which had disappeared. He wished, therefore, to ask whether the Chancellor of the Exchequer would lay upon the table any correspondence which would inform the House as to the proceedings of the Government, the noble Member for Tiverton having intimated that during the last fifteen years some correspondence had been in progress. The Chancellor of the Exchequer had, however, spoken as if there were no documents is the Foreign Office indicating what course his predecessors had pursued. He (Mr. Bright) thought the House was in a very unsatisfactory position, and he would be glad if his hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sheffield would not press his Motion to a division, should the Government consent to lay the correspondence on the table. He (Mr. Bright) did not ask for any favour for those who wished to engage in bubble speculations, but he was desirous that the House should know how far the honour and true interests of England had been 1400 supported or misrepresented by past Governments.
THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
said, that the hon. Gentleman had quite misapprehended what he had said if he supposed he had stated that he found no trace of the opinions of his predecessors on this subject. He had said that he could find no evidence of the constraint which had been mentioned. It would be quite impossible to produce any correspondence which would influence the division to-night, but if the hon. Gentleman repeated his question to-morrow he would give him an answer.
§ SIR JAMES ELPHINSTONE
said, if papers were to be produced it would be necessary to lay any information in the possession of the Government respecting the origin and progress of the railway on the table, as well as that relating to the proposed canal, as it was impossible the two subjects could be separated. In 1842, or about that time, Mohamed Ali, the Pasha of Egypt, determined to make a railway from Alexandria to Suez. As soon as the preliminary arrangements had been completed, the agents of the French Government set themselves to work to retard an undertaking which involved such important advantages to Great Britain, and with that view the project of a Suez canal was set on foot and agitated with considerable success, inasmuch as it delayed the construction of the railway for many years. That project was, in itself, perfectly impracticable, and the Government of the day were perfectly right to discourage a scheme which was, in itself, perfectly chimerical, and tended to delay the construction of a railway which formed the only rational and practical means of transit through the country. In 1838, or about that time, an examination of the coast of Egypt was made by Captain Glasscock, then in command of Her Majesty's ship Tyne, and that officer's Report of Pelusium and the neighbourhood left no doubt in the mind of any practical person that the entrance from the Mediterranean was impossible.
§ MR. ROEBUCK
, in reply said, he had been asked what evidence he had that there had been any opposition to the Suez canal scheme on the part of the British Government. He answered, that on the 17th of July last year the noble Member for Tiverton stated in that House that for the last fifteen years Her Majesty's Government had used all the influence they 1401 possessed at Constantinople to prevent the scheme from being carried into effect. That was sufficient evidence of opposition on the part of the Government. He must be permitted to say that he had viewed this debate with feelings of great concern, especially in respect of the speech of the Under Secretary for Foreign Affairs. They were anxious to state on all occasions that the alliance with France was an honest and cordial alliance, but throughout the hon. and learned Gentleman's speech, fear, suspicion, doubt, and distrust were evident. [Mr. S. FITZGERALD: No!] No! Did the hon. and learned Gentleman suppose that the French people would draw that conclusion? They would assume that this alliance with France was a hypocritical pretence. ["Oh, oh!"] No doubt that was a very unpleasant statement. He had always regarded the hon. and learned Gentleman (Mr. S. FitzGerald) as an astute Irishman, and he never felt so fully persuaded of the strength of a case as on the present occasion, in consequence of the complete failure of the hon. and learned Gentleman, notwithstanding his ability, in opposing the Motion. The hon. and learned Gentleman had, unintentionally no doubt, misrepresented the proposition before the House from beginning to end. The proposition simply was, that the influence of England should not be employed to induce the Sultan to withhold his consent to making a canal across the Isthmus of Suez. He did not ask the House for any opinion with respect to the canal; but did any one pretend that England had not coerced the Sultan? The power of England, exercised through one of the most imperious Ambassadors, could not be properly designated otherwise than as coercion, and all he asked was, that the Sultan should be left to himself. If the hon. and learned Gentleman believed that the Turk was against the project, he would not oppose the Motion; but he knew that the Turk was under coercion. If the Motion should be rejected, France and Europe would, for the first time, learn through the representatives of the people of England that this country had given its sanction to a policy which, in France and on the continent of Europe, was considered to be selfish, narrow minded, and thoroughly unjust.
§ Question put, and negatived.
§ Main Qustion put.
§ The House divided:—Ayes 62; Noes 290: Majority 228