HC Deb 04 June 1858 vol 150 cc1519-22

Sir, in consequence of the notice I gave last night, I rise to ask the Government what is the present state of our relations with China, and also to ask for the communication of the terms which Lord Elgin has demanded from the Emperor of China, and of the answer which has been received from the Chinese Government. Now, I beg to state in the first place that I do not wish for any communication that may be injurious to the public service, nor for a copy of the instructions that may have been given, because it may be inconvenient to produce them; but I wish to call the attention of the Government and of the House to the most recent communication that Parliament has received on this subject, and I think I may fairly ask the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Disraeli) for a general statement of the instructions given to Lord Elgin. At the time the public were informed that an expedition was proceeding to Canton I asked the noble Lord the Member for Tiverton (Viscount Palmerston), who was then at the head of the Government, what communications had passed between Lord Elgin and the Governor of Canton, and whether there would be any objection to lay any such communications on the table? In a few days those communications were produced, and they at all events made it perfectly clear what were the terms that Lord Elgin had demanded, and which had been refused on the part of the Chinese. After that, military and naval operations took place, the city of Canton was taken possession of, and we had it in our power by means of our military and naval force to require such terms as we thought fit. However, it appears that since that time Lord Elgin has proceeded to the north, and thereby I imagine he has opened a larger question with respect to the Government of China. The former questions related to Canton, to the admission of the English, and to reparation to individuals for the injuries that British subjects had suffered. But it cannot be supposed that for the purpose of settling these questions Lord Elgin has proceeded to the north. There must be some larger object involved, and Parliament, and the House of Commons especially, which has voted large sums for the Naval Estimates, is entitled to know for what purpose Lord Elgin has proceeded to the north, and for what purpose our naval forces are there employed. The last account I heard with respect to our naval force in China was that it had been, inclusive of Marines, 13,000, and that it was then 11,000 men. In the present state of our relations with India, with accounts which the First Lord of the Admiralty says must make the country anxious on that subject, it does appear to me important to know for what purpose, involving as it must the interest and honour of this country, so large a force is employed in China. I do not suppose, as I have said, that it can be for any subject connected with Canton. The right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer yesterday, before the usual hour (half-past four o'clock), at which questions are asked—and to that I may hereafter call the attention of the House—stated that the Government were acting in concert with other Powers, and that therefore no information could be afforded, Now that, it appears to me, is no reason why a communication should not be made to Parliament. If we have any convention with any foreign Power—if we have a convention with France, or Russia, or the United States—that convention ought surely to be communicated to Parliament. If we have made a demand in conjunction with those Powers upon the Emperor of China, that demand ought surely to be submitted to Parliament. If when we were about to go to war with Russia the Government of the day had been asked, "For what purpose are you about to quarrel with Russia?" it would have been no answer to say, that we were acting in agreement with France, and that the Government could not communicate that which concerned other Powers as well as this country. It does seem to me that this is is a most important question. I am not giving any opinion upon any policy which may be adopted either by the late Government or the present Government; but I do think that Parliament has some right to know what is the actual state of our relations with China—what policy we are pursuing. With regard to the treaty of 1842, all we know is, that there were two articles which were frequently, if not perpetually, violated. One article gave us the right to enter the city of Canton as well as four other cities, and that article has been perpetually violated by the refusal of the local Government to allow the admission of British subjects into Canton. Another article in a very solemn manner bound us to use our utmost efforts to prevent the trade of opium with China, and that article of the treaty has been as notoriously violated as the others. I believe it is an article very difficult to fulfil, and probably the Chinese custom-house officers have been as notoriously willing to violate that article as those who have brought opium from India, and engaged in the traffic of that article. This is the position in which we stand with regard to the treaty. It may be very desirable to revise that treaty, but I do not think that in the treaty of 1842 there is any provision by which at the end of a particular number of years we may ask for revision. With regard to France the case is different. The treaty between China and France provides that at the end of ten or twelve years France may ask for a revision, and I do not understand in what manner it is our duty to enforce upon China the revision demanded by France. France has her own grievances with China. A French missionary has been put to death in a most barbarous manner; but I do not know in what respect that act of outrage enables us to act with France. More especially I do not understand why so large a proportion of the force employed should be employed by Great Britain, while so much less a force is employed by France, and scarcely any at all by the United States. I think I am justified in asking that, as we have an expedition gone to the north, both in justice and policy there should be sufficient reasons for the steps we are now taking. I likewise think it is very desirable we should know what is the policy which is now being pursued. Of course, I do not expect any details, but it does seem desirable that there should be some general statement of the policy which we are pursuing, more especially when the forces voted for the army and navy are fully employed in other quar- ters, and it is difficult to see what can be the object of proceeding beyond the immediate object of Canton, though it is obvious that a correspondence between the Emperor of China and our Government may end in a war with China. I feel justified, therefore, in asking the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer what is the present state of our relations with China, and to ask for the communication of the terms which Lord Elgin has demanded from the Emperor of China, and of the answer which has been received from the Chinese Government.