HC Deb 16 March 1865 vol 177 cc1759-60

asked the First Lord of the Treasury, Whether all forced labour on the works of the Suez Canal has been entirely and finally dis- continued? He was the more anxious to get an answer to his question as M. Lesseps had invited representatives from all countries to Alexandria for the purpose of inspecting the work on the 6th of April. He saw no reason why this country should not wish this work to be completed if only two conditions were fulfilled—that no flagrant violation of humanity took place by the employment of what he should call slave labour, and that the existence of a company was not made the pretext for the acquisition of territory. It would be a great advantage to passengers by the Peninsular and Oriental Company's steamers if they should be enabled to pass through the Isthmus without changing vessels, and he for one would be glad to see such a communication with the Bast completed. He believed, however, that M. Lesseps had thrown into the undertaking a considerable dash of national rivalry. He had also exhibited a considerable taste for theatrical display. When M. Lesseps was lately at the opera at Florence, one of the eminent ballet-dancers had represented him as the presiding deity of the Suez Canal, and M. Lesseps leaned forward out of his box—No. 13 on the Grand Tier—to receive an ovation at the hands of those present. His object in putting the question was to ascertain that the principles of humanity had not been violated as they used to be in former times, when no less than 100,000 men were obliged to submit to enforced labour.


At one time the works of the Suez Canal were carried on entirely by fellahs—that is, peasants of Egypt who were compelled to labour. The Sultan, however, some months ago issued a firman forbidding that species of employment for the future, and as far as we are informed that firman is now in force and is executed. We have no information to the contrary. I know that the Canal Company have endeavoured to obtain labour from Morocco, and, I think, from Tunis; and I also know that there were a certain number of English navvies also employed in the construction of the canal. I believe that they were dissatisfied with the conditions imposed upon them, and most of them left; hut we have no reason to believe that forced labour is now employed in the construction of the works.

Motion, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair," agreed to.