§ MR. RATHBONE
asked the First Lord of the Treasury, Whether Her Majesty's Government have sent in or will send in the counter case to the arbitrators at Geneva?
In answer, Sir, to my hon. Friend, I have to say that Her Majesty's Government have prepared a Counter Case to be submitted to the Arbitrators at Geneva, which has been sent, or will be sent—for I am not sure whether it has yet actually left the Foreign Office—so as to be in their hands at Geneva on or before the 15th instant. With respect to the contents of the Counter Case, I will confine myself, for the present, to stating that it does not contain any plea or argument with respect to what may be called Indirect Claims. This Counter Case is accompanied by a Note or Statement on the part of the British Government, for the purpose of reserving all rights appertaining to Her Majesty on this arbitration, so that future negotiation may be in no respect compromised or fettered by the communication of this Counter Case. Perhaps the House would like to know whether the American Minister is cognizant of this Note or Counter Statement, and whether the American Government has accepted it; and I am able to say, that the American Minister on Saturday expressed to Lord Granville, his belief that it would be quite agreeable with the views of his Government that the Counter Statement should be presented without prejudice to the rights of Her Majesty's Government, or of either party. Since then the American Minister made a further communication, to the effect that he had made known to his own Government the opinion he had expressed; and that his Government concurred in the opinion that the Counter Case will affect neither party in respect to their rights. I hope this explanation will be satisfactory to the House.
§ MR. DISRAELI
Sir, the answer of the right hon. Gentleman to the Question just put has anticipated in a great degree 1145 the inquiry of which I had given Notice; nevertheless, the right hon. Gentleman will, perhaps, allow me to ask whether he is prepared to place Papers upon the Table of the House, so that the country may have a clear conception of the conditions under which Her Majesty's Government thought it necessary to make this Replication or Counter Case? I called the attention of the House before the holidays to the circumstances in which we were placed; and I need not remind the House that on the 15th of this month, the interval will have elapsed during which it is permitted, under the Washington Treaty, for our Government to lay their Replication or Counter Case before the Tribunal at Geneva. I can easily understand, without however now expressing any opinion on the point, that, for technical reasons, in the condition in which the Government was placed, it might have been necessary to make a Replication, or put in a Counter Case. Throughout this business, I have been most anxious not to say anything calculated to embarrass Her Majesty's Government, or to press anything that is not fair. Much consideration is due to a Government placed in such difficult circumstances with regard to international relations, and much is due to the Government of America; but something, also, is due to the English people. I do not, therefore, think that, in the present state of the case, it would be improper for me to inquire whether Her Majesty's Government will not feel it their duty to place on the Table of the House Papers, so that the country may be satisfied that, by sending in a Counter Case, we have not in any degree, directly or indirectly, acquiesced in the justice of the American demands. Those demands have already furnished extensive scope for much dispute, and I must therefore press upon the right hon. Gentleman the importance of presenting to the House some Papers, by which we may be assured that the decision which Her Majesty's Government have come to on this subject of presenting our Counter Case, is of such a nature that hereafter there may be no misunderstanding on the subject whatever. After what has occurred, the Government, I think, must feel the propriety of this suggestion on my part. I must also inquire of the Government whether, with the view of recommencing the proceedings before the Tribunal of Geneva, that 1146 eminent personage, whose acceptance of the duties of Arbitrator for England gave such universal satisfaction is prepared to resume his functions, or in what position this country is placed as to its representation?
With respect, Sir, to the last part of the right hon. Gentleman's inquiry, I must venture to say, although, perhaps, it may appear little more than a verbal criticism, that I doubt whether it is an accurate description of the question, to say that the duties of the Arbitrators have been interrupted. The Case was presented to the Arbitrators in December, and during the period which has elapsed since it came into their hands, we must presume they have been engaged in its consideration; and as respects the eminent and learned person to whom the Government and the country are so much indebted for undertaking the arduous duties of Arbitrator for England—I mean Chief Justice Sir Alexander Cockburn—I have to say he will continue in the discharge of the duties he has so kindly undertaken. As to the presentation of Papers, I will begin by saying that the Government fully appreciate the forbearance with which they have been treated by the right hon. Gentleman, by Members on both sides of the House, and by the country at large. They fully anticipated that forbearance; they knew its grounds. They perceive that similar remarkable forbearance has been exercised by the Legislative Bodies on the other side of the water; and they are ready to admit that the Parliament of England has not been behindhand in self-restraint with respect to this subject. The right hon. Gentleman inquires whether the Government will shortly be prepared to present Papers to Parliament under the present circumstances. In the first place, I must remind the House that there are two series of communications or documents on the subject—one affecting the proceedings contemplated by the Treaty, and those which have passed between Her Majesty's Government and the Government of the United States. As regards the Counter Case just lodged, or about to be lodged, by the Government, I am not prepared to name the precise day when it will be produced; but in a few days I hope to place it in the hands of hon. Members of this House, when I trust it will be found to be in exact cor- 1147 respondence with the description I have given of it, although in negative outline, stating the limits within which it has been confined. With respect to the Correspondence, that is more in relation to the terms of the Question than anything else the right hon. Gentleman has stated, for the right hon. Gentleman gave Notice to "inquire of Her Majesty's Ministers as to their contemplated course of proceedings before the Tribunal of Geneva on the American claims." The state of the case is this—It was on the 14th of March that we received the reply of the American Government to the communication of the 3rd of March. On the 20th of March there was sent to the American Government, through General Schenck, a Note of which some mention has already been made in this House; and that Note, with accompanying Papers, which, as we are informed, were despatched to the American Government on the 21st of last month, the American Government have received—possibly, by the middle of last week it would be in their possession. The American Government were then in possession of that despatch; but as it was not a brief one, we are not surprised that we have not received anything in the shape of a direct communication in answer to it. I am quite sure, as regards ulterior proceedings, the House of Commons will see that it would not be friendly—perhaps scarcely becoming, and certainly not conducive to the satisfactory results we may hope for—if we were, under the circumstances, to mate any announcement of any further decision which it may be our duty hereafter to take, until we are made aware—as we expect to be within a short period—of the manner in which the American Government intend to deal with the despatch of the 20th of March. I will not go farther, because much must depend on the answer we receive from the American Government. I can assure the House none are more anxious than Her Majesty's Government to make the House completely acquainted with every step they have taken in this matter, both as respects the terms in which our arguments have been urged, and the substance of the course we have thought it advisable to pursue.
§ MR. DISRAELI
I am afraid, Sir, I have not sufficiently explained the object of the inquiry I made, owing to the previous Question of the hon. Mem- 1148 ber for Liverpool (Mr. Rathbone) preventing me from making my statement more clearly to the House. I have no desire—no hon. Member on this side of the House has any desire—unfairly to press the Government for the production of the Correspondence between Her Majesty's Government and the Government of the United States. The "friendly communication" will appear in time, and the answer to it; and no doubt the Government will place them on the Table as soon as possible. But what I want to press on the Government is this—the country generally, I believe, and the great body of this House, are desirous of clearly understanding what are the conditions under which the Government have sent in their Replication or Counter Case, the very act of which admits on its surface the justice of the Indirect Claims of the American Government. It is quite conceivable that such an act on the part of the Government was justifiable. There may be technical reasons for it, in consequence of not having received an important despatch from the American Government; and that unless the Replication were sent in, the arbitration would have lapsed; but nothing would justify the Government in sending in a Counter Case without some document which clearly expressed the reasons for and explained the grounds on which that step was taken. Remembering the unhappy misapprehensions with regard to these negotiations from the first, I ask that that document should be placed on the Table, that the country may know on what conditions it proceeds. I ask whether the Government is prepared to lay that document on the Table? It does not involve the merits of the question. It does not mix itself up with the arguments between the Government and the United States; and it is quite necessary that it should be produced in order that Parliament may be satisfied that the Government, in taking a step which on the surface is a most hazardous one, but which may be justifiable, have not again made a fatal admission.
Sir, I cannot admit that the Government, as implied in the last words of the right hon. Gentleman, have made any fatal admission before. I trust that has not been so; I am prepared stoutly to maintain the contrary. I stated in reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool (Mr. 1149 Rathbone), that together with the Counter Case there had been lodged a Note or Statement of a certain character, conveying quite distinctly the reservation under which the Counter Case was lodged; and when I stated that the Counter Case was to be presented to Parliament in a very few days—I hope I shall be enabled to state positively when, upon Monday—I certainly intended to convey that the accompanying document would also be placed in the hands of hon. Members at the same time.