HC Deb 21 June 1861 vol 163 cc1458-60

asked the First Lord of the Treasury, Whether accounts have been received that M. de Lesseps has induced the Viceroy of Egypt to employ large numbers of natives by forced labour in the construction of the Suez Canal? and expressed his opinion that the noble Lord, in his desire to oppose a plan which he deemed injurious to this country, had, in fact, given indirect encouragement to it; for to say that the execution of such a work would give other European powers the start of us in the way to India, rendered the enterprise at once attractive in the eyes of the French. Twenty years ago it was the noble Lord's policy to reduce a rebellious vassal of the Porte, who had made himself almost master of Egypt, to the state of a dependent Pasha, and ever since that period French policy had found favour in the eyes of the Pashas of Egypt. The result was that the present Pasha had been induced to enter into the enterprise to which his Question referred, and to employ, it was said, forced labour, which was nothing but slavery under another name. He condemned the interference of England between Mehemet Ali and the Sultan. Had the Pasha of Egypt been allowed to establish his independent power, the influence of England in Egypt would have been much greater than it was now with the country under the nominal but illusory government of the Porte. But he did not think the noble Lord, in similar circumstances, would venture to repeat that policy of interference for which he, rather gratuitously, set France at defiance. He did not complain that the noble Lord the Prime Minister should be of opinion that the Suez Canal was extremely difficult and almost impossible—for in that opinion he himself had always concurred—but he did complain that the noble Lord should have characterized it as a "bubble scheme," which was an expression conveying gratuitous offence to the promoters. It was not likely to realize any profits for the shareholders; but that might be said of many great English works, such as the Thames Tunnel and the Great Eastern. And yet nobody applied to them opprobrious epithets on that account. He approved the recent policy of the Foreign Secretary in reference to Syria. The honour of France was satisfied by the occupation of Syria; and that the occupation had been terminated was satisfactory also. The hon. Member concluded by asking the First Lord of the Treasury whether accounts had been received that M. de Lesseps had induced the Viceroy of Egypt to employ large numbers of Natives, by forced labour, in the construction of the Suez Canal; and by moving an Address for copy of any despatches that may have passed on the subject of forced labour of Natives of Egypt in the construction of the Suez Canal. He begged to ask the noble Lord whether he could justify his policy of the past, and give some assurances for the future?


said, he rose to a point of order more than to answer the question.


said, that the noble Lord could only speak to the Motion before the House, and that Motion was that the Speaker do now leave the Chair.