HC Deb 16 February 1871 vol 204 cc324-6

asked the First Lord of the Treasury, If he will state to the House the nature of the powers delegated by Her Majesty's Government to the Anglo-American Commission; and, if the Commission is empowered to close all claims for and against this Country arising out of the sailing of the "Alabama" and "Shenandoah?"


asked, Whether the Commission was empowered to abandon, without previous reference to arbitration, the position hitherto maintained by England of non-liability for the ravages of the "Alabama?"


I came down to the House, after carefully looking into the matter, prepared to give an answer to the Question of which Notice has been given, and I will give a distinct answer to it; but I should not wish to answer the Question of the hon. Member for Galway without having first taken time for consideration, lest by answering hastily I might produce an unfair impression, neither do I consider it is expedient at the present for the public interest that I should do so. With regard to the first Question, I understand it to refer to two subjects—the first as to the extent of the subject-matter that would be covered by the powers given to the Commissioners, and next to the nature of those powers. As to the first point, the latter part of the hon. Member's Question is answered with perfect clearness, and in a manner that I cannot improve upon, by the passage on the subject in the Speech from the Throne. The latter part of the paragraph in the Speech describes the purposes of the Commission, and the closing words are these— This arrangement will, by common consent, include all claims for compensation which have been, or may be made by each Government, or by its citizens, upon the other. Then, as to the powers of the Commissioners, I will simply read two passages from the Instructions to the Commissioners. The first of them is this—the Instructions to the Commissioners commence by stating that— They are appointed for the purpose of discussing in a friendly spirit with Commissioners to be appointed by the Government of the United States the various questions on which differences have arisen between Great Britain and that country, and of treating for an agreement as to the mode of their amicable settlement. Another passage in the Instructions is as follows:— Her Majesty's Government request, however, that if the mode of dealing with any particular matter which you may be disposed to agree to should vary materially from the manner of settlement to which I have informed you Her Majesty's Government are prepared at once to assent, or, in case of any disagreement of importance occurring between yourselves and the American High Commissioners, you should at once report by telegraph, and await further instructions.