§ Report of Address brought up, and read.
§ MR. OSBORNE
Sir, not being immediately connected with either of the two great parties who were addressed by their respective Leaders last night, I trust I may be allowed, as an independent Member of Parliament, to make a few observations upon the bringing up of the Report. However the Speech may be criticized, I must say that I think Her Majesty's Ministers have exercised a wise discretion in not loading it with the promise of a number of measures hereafter to be destroyed in the 93 month of July. If Her Majesty's Government can succeed in passing a good Mines Regulation Bill, a Licensing Bill which will be approved by the licensed victuallers and by my hon. Friend the Member for Carlisle (Sir Wilfrid Lawson) and if, in addition, they will bring in a good Ballot Bill, not encumbered by useless clauses, I think the Session will not be unproductive of fruitful results. But, Sir, I observe that there are several measures of which Notice has been given of acknowledged public interest, and among these I observe that there is one for the improvement of Scotch education. Now, I should like to ask the right hon. Gentleman connected with Ireland, whether the subject of national education is not one of acknowledged national interest in Ireland; and whether Her Majesty's Government intend this Session to bring in any measure connected with Irish education? Passing from that, I wish to make a few remarks upon the Commercial Treaty with France. We all know that it was passed in 1860, through the exertions of Mr. Cobden, and that it is now in process of "denunciation," if it has not been actually "denounced" by the French Government. In any difficulty that might arise out of such probable denunciation, I would, for the following reason, entreat Her Majesty's Government to make all allowances for the position of France. She is in unexampled difficulties, and I cannot help thinking that we might on a former occasion have assisted her a little in those difficulties; that if we had stepped in—["No, no!"]—stepped in and used our influence with Prussia, as we might have done, to let her off something of that enormous sum which she has got to pay, the French Government would not now be denouncing the Commercial Treaty. ["Oh, oh!"] What is the use of the Foreign Office, if it has no influence to use for the defence of our neighbours and friends? However, I do not wish to raise any discussion on this subject with those political purists who maintain that we should never, under any circumstances, depart from the principle of non-intervention, but should for ever maintain a position of intense—of what I would call Buddhist—contemplation of our own selfishness. I pass over these questions; they are insignificant, they shrink into comparative nothingness compared with the vast 94 question which took up so much of our attention last night in reference to the Treaty with the United States. What is the position of this country at the present moment with regard to these claims "growing out" of the acts of the Alabama and several other vessels? Why, probably it is the most momentous that Parliament has had to entertain during the whole of the present century; and, moreover, it has appeared strange to me that, with a right hon. Gentleman (Sir Stafford Northcote) sitting in this House who had a hand in making this Treaty, we have no direct information whatever as to how this bungling business has been brought about. There seems to be a sort of conspiracy on both sides to let down these Gentlemen, who have cost us an enormous sum of money, as easily as they can. But I would ask the House, and through it the country, to consider for a moment, if the business of any mercantile firm in the country were conducted on similar principles, what would become of its business? Why, it would be in The Gazette to-morrow! We have heard something as to the construction of this Treaty; but how did it all arise? The right hon. Gentleman at the head of Her Majesty's Government has taken up a position which no other man in this country has ever as yet taken up. He talked of the energetic labours of the High Commissioners, and he maintained, logically and grammatically, that there was no ambiguity whatever in this Treaty. "Ambiguity!" I do not profess myself to be as good a judge of phrases of ambiguity as the right hon. Gentleman; but where there is a consentaneous agreement on the part of the whole Press of the country that there is this ambiguity—and more than ambiguity—I feel sure that not even the most bigoted followers of the right hon. Gentleman—not even his greatest flatterers, will follow him in maintaining that there is no ambiguity whatever in this Treaty. If there is no ambiguity, what is the dispute about, for no one can deny that differences have arisen respecting it? But I am fortified on this point by an opinion as to the ambiguous nature of this Treaty, which I will read to the House, and then I will give my authority. Speaking of extravagant claims that might be made under this Treaty, he says— 95But what is there in the present Treaty to prevent the same thing? I cannot find one single word in these Protocols or in these rules which would prevent such claims from being put in and taking their chance. ….. But, on the other hand, I maintain that the Treaty is one which, so far as the Alabama claims are concerned, the Treaty has been entered upon most carelessly and most unguardedly, and must inevitably lead to much discussion hereafter in Parliament."—[3 Hansard, ccvi. 1889–90.]That is the opinion of a late Lord High Chancellor of England, speaking in "another place" last year upon this very Treaty. And yet, in the face of this, we are told by the right hon. Gentleman that there is no ambiguity, and we are asked—and this House is seemingly content—to pass away from the origin of this most disgraceful business to the Government of this country—for I agree that it is a Treaty the responsibility of which must rest entirely with the Government. How this disgraceful business arose, we need not go far to ask. What was the constitution of the American High Commission? It consisted of five lawyers—the most experienced and astute men in the United States—in fact, of the description of legal gentlemen whom it was the fashion in that country to designate as "contentious lawyers." And whom did we send out to meet those lawyers? It was said in "another place" by a noble Lord that this Treaty was the greatest slur on our diplomatic reputation that could be conceived. I demur to that statement; it is no slur on our diplomatic character. The most experienced and distinguished diplomatists of this country—men who had drawn treaties and were acquainted with International Law—were set aside in favour of a band of gentlemen amateurs, who, however high their social position, and however distinguished in debate in this House, had no sort of knowledge—I do not say of International Law, but of the drawing up of treaties, unless, indeed, of this American character. But who were the British Commissioners? It was thought that the selection of a noble Earl, a Member of the Cabinet (Earl De Grey and Ripon), a most genial man, and distinguished in this House for having first introduced the practice of competitive examination for the public service, would be peculiarly agreeable to the citizens of a great Republic, and when the right hon. Baronet (Sir Stafford Northcote) a Mem- 96 ber of Lord Derby's Government was selected, it was thought that would be peculiarly agreeable to hon. Gentlemen on the other side. But when, in addition, they dug out from his hermitage in the University of Oxford a Professor of International Law, who had written a treatise expressly directed against all claims, direct or indirect, on account of the Alabama, this House, and the people of this country generally, confided in this amateur Commission, because they thought that, guided and coached by this Professor from Oxford, the Commission could never be flattered or outwitted. But what have been the results? Why, the result has been that this Treaty, constructed to strengthen the friendly relations between Great Britain and America—this Treaty, which was to inaugurate the Millennium, has landed us in a state of things which makes confusion worse confounded. Indeed, so much so is that the case, that I am sure Her Majesty's Government would be delighted to send out another High Commission, and to grant additional, if not higher, honours to the Members of that Commission for abrogating the Treaty than the honours which they granted for negotiating the Treaty, before the ink was yet dry on this dispitable document. We are told of the energetic labours of this Commission, of the sacrifices which they made for an ungrateful country, and we have also heard something of a private understanding between them and Mr. Fish that these claims were to be waived. Private understandings as to a diplomatic document! I do not—and I am certain that this country does not—understand such things as private understandings. I want to know why there was no public mention of these claims in the Treaty, excluding them beyond all possibility of doubt. Why, actually in the American ease—which has only been, as we are given to understand, one week in the possession of the Government, though a friend of mine has had it for four weeks—we find it expressly stated that our Commissioners, as early as the 8th of March, were informed that these indirect claims would be put in. Was there any protest made? They may have protested over the table of Mr. Fish, or at the social meetings in New York; but no protest appears on the face of the document, and no reasons are assigned why these indirect claims 97 should not be put in. I want to know what the energetic labours of these Commissioners have come to. At first, they made a great mistake in not listening to the amicable settlement proposed by the American Commission. Those five lawyers had no great wish to go to arbitration—and I doubt whether arbitration may not yet lead us into several awkward positions. I have reason to believe that they offered to take a lump sum for damages, direct and indirect; and that the "amicable settlement" which we hear of amounted to this, that they would have taken £6,000,000 in satisfaction of all claims. What will they take now, for that is the question? Why, the long and the short of it is, that these five astute American Commissioners ran round our Commissioners, who, with an ingenuity almost unparalleled in the traditions of the Foreign Office, have contrived to create an ex post facto law to enable Great Britain to tax herself to pay claims which Her Majesty's Government declare at the same time are neither just nor deserved. These are the energetic labours of this High Commission! Why, if we had sent out a shrewd practising attorney what money he might not have saved us; and, moreover, do you think we should have heard any more of these indirect claims? Why, independently of other expenses, the mere cost of reference by the electric cable—the punctuation of the periods which we heard of last night—amounted, as I understand, to a sum of between £28,000 and £30,000. Therefore, if we had sent out an acute solicitor—if we could only have persuaded a keen man of business, like the hon. and learned Member for East Sussex (Mr. G. B. Gregory), to go out on our behalf, he would have drawn you up a Treaty for £10, about which there would have been no ambiguity whatever, and which the right hon. Gentleman at the head of Her Majesty's Government need not to have laboured so hard to defend. Instead of this, we are landed in a Serbonian bog of diplomacy. I would just put this question to the House, whether it is not worth while to consider the propriety of revising our whole system of making treaties? Why should the right of ratifying treaties be vested exclusively in the Ministers of the Crown? Look at the difficulty this Treaty has landed us in? whereas, if it had been brought 98 before Parliament for ratification, we should have avoided the unparalleled mischiefs which seemed to have followed from its adoption. In saying all this, I think no hon. Member of this House has any right to make complaint of the comduct of the American Commissioners; they were five shrewd, able lawyers, knowing what they wanted and how to set about it; they served their country well, and they have gained a diplomatic triumph. We have no reason to reflect on them; but we have great reason to look at home. What is our future position? That Treaty leaves us at the mercy of a special tribunal—a Board of foreign Arbitrators—no doubt most distinguished jurisconsults, whatever that means, because I have heard these Commissioners of ours called distinguished jurisconsults—but our case is to be put before these men. Three of them do not speak a word of English. Already this Case has been translated months ago into Portuguese, French, and German—for, by-the-by, one of the arbitrators does not even speak French. And yet these men are to be put into the position of being able to say that this country should pay—I take the estimate of the right hon. Gentleman—hundreds of millions. Why, the thing is ridiculous. There is only one course, as it seems to me, for Parliament to pursue, independent of the Government and the High Commissioners. Parliament holds the purse-strings, and I do not know the British Parliament if it ever consents to pay one sixpence in discharge of indirect claims growing out of the Alabama or any other vessel. At the beginning of these meetings of the High Commissioners, our "jurisconsults" were informed that there was a provision in the Constitution of the United States whereby, even if a treaty were signed by all the parties then present, including even the President himself, the Senate could abrogate it and throw it out altogether. I say, let the British Parliament imitate the example of the United States. The right hon. Gentleman says he has a sanguine hope that the Americans will withdraw these claims. Whether his hopes may be realized or not I have no idea; but of this I feel certain, that, whatever Government may be in power, both sides of this House will combine in one thing—and that is, that they will never consent to pay these enormous 99 sums, which, in the first instance, were never justly due, and which could never have been demanded from this country at all if it were not for the greatest possible bungling on the part of a Government which, having, in the words of one of their own supporters in "another place," constructed armies that cannot march and navies that cannot swim, has now tried its hand on treaties which will not stand.
§ SIR WILFRID LAWSON
said, he must take advantage of that occasion to say a few words on the proposed domestic legislation of Her Majesty's Government; and, in doing so, he must thank the Government for their promise to revive the question of the Ballot at an early period of the Session. He was also rejoiced at the decision which had been come to of dividing the measure into two parts; one dealing with the Ballot almost pure and simple, and the other with corrupt practices at elections. He hoped the measure would be passed without delay, and that no excuse would be afforded to persons in "another place" for dealing with it otherwise than in accordance with the wishes of the great majority of the people and their Representatives. He must say he regretted the Government had not stated as explicitly as he could wish their intention to bring about some reduction of their enormous expenditure, and there was the less reason for its maintenance at the present level, as Her Majesty's Ministers assured the House that they had no foreign complications whatever, except the one so recently under discussion, which he hoped would soon be satisfactorily settled. They had not at present any foreign foe to contend with, but they had foes at home in abundance, in the shape of pauperism and crime; and although those foes, they were told in the Speech, were diminishing, that diminution was going on so slowly as to be hardly perceptible. They all remembered that last year the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Bruce) brought forward a Bill the object of which was, by regulations affecting the licensing system, to promote the diminution of pauperism and crime. By that conduct, the right hon. Gentleman obtained great credit, and justly so, for being the first Minister who, after 15 years of promises, had ventured to deal boldly with the 100 question in the House of Commons. That Bill excited a tremendous agitation among the publicans; and his right hon. Friend thought it right, after a very few weeks, to withdraw that Bill—though not, as he said, out of deference to any opposition which it had created, but simply from want of time to proceed with it; he, however, consoled himself with passing a suspensory measure which did not diminish the evil of excessive drinking, but, by stopping increase of licences, prevented things becoming worse. But, although his right hon. Friend withdrew his Bill, the publicans did not forgive him, and they had seen how active that body had been at every election that had been held during the Recess. When they saw yesterday three new hon. Members walk up that House and take their seats for the first time, he could not help thinking they looked like three avenging angels sent by the hon. Member for Derby (Mr. M. T. Bass) to punish his right hon. Friend for his treason to the ale kings of this country. The hon. Member for Derby and his friends had stated at their recent festival, that "they wanted no legislation, and that their object was to get the people of this country to drink twice as much as they did now," and he would, therefore, ask his right hon. Friend to tell the House what he intended to do. It was only about a fortnight ago that his right hon. Friend held a conference with these men, and in that conference his right hon. Friend appeared to take what he (Sir Wilfrid Lawson) might term a new departure in this measure, for he told them that the object of the Government was not in any way to interfere with the legitimate enjoyment of the people. Of course, by legitimate enjoyment he understood his right hon. Friend to mean the establishment of public-houses among them. Last year his right hon. Friend's policy was to limit the public-houses, but now it was something different, being apparently to increase the large and respectable public-houses. [Mr. BRUCE: And to decrease the disreputable ones.] An hon. Friend near him suggested that his right hon. Friend's present policy was to encourage all legitimate jollity, but these were not the words which his right hon. Friend had employed. According, however, to the definition which appeared to be furnished by his right hon. Friend's speech, a respectable house—and it was 101 these his right hon. Friend wished to see increased—was a house where a deal of drink was sold, and a disreputable house where only a small quantity was disposed of. Well, his right hon. Friend having made that speech to the great ale kings, the report says they went away highly gratified with the interview. His object in making these remarks was merely to ask the Government what was their present policy with regard to this question—whether it was one of extension or restriction? It certainly did seem as if the Government had changed their policy in reference to this subject, and the reason of that change, according to the speech recently delivered at Dover by the hon. and learned Gentleman the Solicitor General (Mr. Jessel), was because of the opposition offered to it by certain Members of the Liberal party, who believed that the interests of the licensed victuallers had not been handsomely dealt with. Such a statement coming from one of Her Majesty's Ministers cast a very strong shade of suspicion on the policy of the Government in reference to this matter. There was no subject in which the people of this country took a greater interest, and yet the right hon. Gentleman did not even propose to introduce the measure he had prepared until three others had made some considerable progress. He was far from charging his right hon. Friend with trifling with so important a question, but he could not help feeling that the people of this country were entitled to more earnestness in this matter at the hands of his right hon. Friend. He did not wish his right hon. Friend to rise up and state the details of the measure which he intended to introduce, but he would distinctly ask his right hon. Friend whether he was going on the broad line of the policy which he announced last year, or on the line of the new departure contained in the speech which he delivered to the brewers' deputation the other day? In other words, was his right hon. Friend going to cast in his lot with the public or with the publicans? He believed that if the Government would only go straightforwardly to work in this matter they would not only achieve a great legislative triumph, but also cover themselves with greater honour than by anything they had hitherto done.
§ MR. CAVENDISH BENTINCK
said, he did not rise for the purpose of going over the ground so well traversed by the hon. Member for Waterford (Mr. Osborne), but simply with a view to asking Her Majesty's Government a question with regard to the construction of the Treaty, for he believed it was one of great importance to his constituents and to the shipping interest generally. There were a vast number of claims against the United States, and, as the right hon. Gentleman at the head of Her Majesty's Government was aware, it had been his duty to advocate many of those claims, and he estimated that they amounted to between £15,000,000 and £20,000,000. They were not to be dealt with by the High Commission, whereas the Alabama claims were to be dealt with by that tribunal, and if it failed to determine the amount, the matter was to be referred to a Board of Assessors at Washington. In the 10th Article, relating to the adjudication of the claims, no mention whatever was made of interest, but under the American Case a claim for interest was made down to the day of payment at the rate of 7 per cent. The 15th Article, under which the British claims were to be adjudicated upon, provided that all sums of money awarded by the Commissioners should be paid by one Government to the other within twelve months after the award without any interest or without any deduction. Now, if any misconception existed on a matter of such importance to British claimants, he trusted the Government would at once clear it up. There were two other points also which he thought ought to be cleared up—one of which related to the practice of vesting the whole power in the Plenipotentiary, and then being bound by the Treaty without any ratification. That had been stated as the invariable practice, but it was not so. In 1816 and 1831 Treaties were entered into for the payment of the Russian-Dutch Loan, and in both these cases it was necessary for Parliament to vote the money, the Plenipotentiaries only recommending a Vote for the sums required. The other point to which he referred was that relating to Protocols. It had been stated that the cost of telegrams alone amounted to £25,000 or £30,000, and it had been calculated that they would produce a Blue Book of 700 pages. There were also a vast number 103 of other communications, and he wished to know why they had not been presented to the House? In this respect the House was not on an equal footing with the Legislative Bodies in the United States, because there the whole of the Protocols had been printed and made Parliamentary Papers. It was clear that on such an important matter as interest on British claims they were not placed on an equality with those of the United States. He trusted the right hon. Gentleman would give some explanation that would be considered satisfactory to those whose claims he had so frequently advocated. In common with many others he was much surprised to hear that the Government had determined to include among the direct losses the cost of the United States Navy. In no document did that admission appear, and he trusted that the right hon. Gentleman would think twice before he finally acquiesced in such a dangerous and pernicious principle.
§ MR. HORSMAN
Whatever difference of opinion, Sir, there may be upon other points, it is satisfactory to find that we are at least unanimous as to the relations which ought to exist between ourselves and the United States, and in our approval of the course the Government is at this moment pursuing in the face of the difficulties that have arisen. I confess I came down to the House yesterday with some anxiety to hear the statement of the Government with regard to the present position of affairs, and I think I may say for the House generally, that the feeling was that the statement received from the Government was, as regards the present position and course of the Government, entirely satisfactory. It is not a time now to ask whether anybody is to blame, or who is to blame; neither is it the time now to ask how the difficulties were brought about. We all feel that there has been a misunderstanding, and we are satisfied that the Government really believed that these indirect claims had been excluded. We are satisfied, too, that we had made greater concessions to the United States than we should have made to any other Nation—than we should have made to a stronger Government, because there are relations between us which exist between ourselves and no other country. We believe there has been a misunderstanding, and that without imputing 104 blame to either side. The only question we have to consider now is, what is our actual position, and it will be as well to remember a saying of President Lincoln—"You ought not to swop a horse while you are crossing a ford." I certainly attach a great deal of importance to what has been said by the hon. Member for Waterford (Mr. Osborne), about the necessity and importance of Parliament ratifying all treaties. My hon. and learned Friend who has just spoken (Mr. C. Bentinck) has complained of the secresy in which these matters have been involved, as compared with the opposite conduct evinced by the Government of the United States, and in answer to him I must say that I have more than once asked the House to assist me in putting an end to the secresy which now characterizes the Foreign Office alone. I remember the time when the same secresy enveloped every Department of the Government; but while light has been thrown upon every other Department of the State, darkness still veils the operations of the Foreign Office, and for one particular reason—because the Foreign Office was under the command of a very able and adroit Minister, who had had the management of it for something like 40 years, and who was able to stave off that change which we effected in other Departments. And another thing that we should abolish is the absurd system of Prerogative by which a Minister is able to make a treaty, to cede territory, absolutely and irresponsibly for the time being, without the knowledge and authority of Parliament. We have had Ministers who believe that our colonial territories are very expensive possessions, and during the Recess such a Minister might, if he felt disposed, cede Canada to America, India to Russia, give Gibraltar to Spain—I have even heard it said that he might hand over Ireland to the Pope without the interference of Parliament being possible. You might, of course, in such cases impeach the Minister, but it would be difficult to annul the Act. I am of course speaking now of a system which the present Ministry only inherited, and which they did not create, and I may say that I think it desirable to move a Resolution during the Session, declaring that this nation would not feel itself bound by any treaty until it had received the assent of Parliament. My feeling has always 105 been that we were too much restrained in our discussion upon foreign affairs. After the information, however, which we have received from the Government as to the correspondence which is going on with the United States, I certainly feel that this discussion is not a desirable one to promote, and I have only risen to express the feeling, common, I am sure, to both sides of the House and to the country at large, that there is no reasonable concession which we would not make for the sake of keeping up and restoring good relations with the United States; and because I thought it right to state that the course the Government has adopted is the only one possible, and the only one which the country would have endured.
Mr. OSBORNE MORGAN
said, that entertaining every disposition to look with indulgence at the conduct of the Commissioners who had negotiated the Treaty, as a lawyer he must say that if they had looked into a dictionary for one English word which they ought not to have used, it would have been the word "growing," which of itself suggested indirect claims. The only defence suggested for the use of that word was, that it had been adapted from a letter written by Mr. Secretary Fish to Mr. Thornton. Their great mistake was in having sent out amateur diplomatists and ornamental jurists to carry out such a Treaty. They might just as well have pitted the least pugnacious Member of the House of Commons against a professional prize-fighter. The advice he (Mr. Osborne Morgan) would tender, even at the eleventh hour, was to have done with ornamental jurists and diplomatists, and to send out to Washington a shrewd attorney, like the hon, and learned Member for West Sussex (Mr. G. B. Gregory), or the hon, and learned Member for Chippenham (Mr. Goldney), and a skilled conveyancer from Lincoln's Inn, to see whether they would not be able to drag the Government out of the Serbonian bog of diplomacy in which they were floundering.
§ MR. LIDDELL
said, he was happy to think that the universal sentiment of England had last night been expressed on that side of the House, in the statesmanlike speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Disraeli), and was glad to find that it contained nothing but what was calculated to strengthen the hands of the 106 Government in these difficult negociations. He believed that if ever there was a subject on which the people were unanimous, it was the impossibility and impracticability of entertaining for one single moment the idea of compensation for indirect losses. He wished the Government to explain one paragraph in the Speech from the Throne, which was unusually incomprehensible. That paragraph relating to the French Commercial Treaty was in these terms—Various communications have passed between my Government and the Government of Franco on the subject of the Commercial Treaty concluded in 1860. From a divergence in the views respectively entertained in relation to the value of Protective Laws, this correspondence has not brought about any agreement to modify that important Convention. On both sides, however, there has been uniformly declared an earnest desire that nothing shall occur to impair the cordiality which has long prevailed between the two nations.He should like to ask Her Majesty's Government explicitly whether this Treaty was to be terminated or not, because it was an undoubted fact that there were statesmen in the councils of France—men of great age and ability—who held upon the subject of Protection opinions which were somewhat antiquated? While deprecating, as he ought, the least appearance of dictation as to the financial affairs of France, he thought it desirable that the effect of the Treaty should be pointed out to France, because statements and reliable statistics had been published which showed that whether the Treaty was regarded in a financial or commercial point of view the advantages to France had been enormous, and the growth of her trade had been steady and remarkable. He also believed that the Treaty had worked as much good in France as in this country, which would be his excuse for asking the question; and he should therefore deplore anything like the abrogration of the Treaty. He trusted the right hon. Gentleman at the head of Her Majesty's Government would afford the House some explanation of the meaning of the paragraph to which he had referred.
said, he desired to say a few words on the passage in the Queen's Speech referring to their relations with America, and would endeavour to avoid saying anything which by any possibility would offend the people of the United States, if for no other reason, 107 because he was convinced there was nothing less likely to induce them to change their minds than the language of anger. They also resembled ourselves in many other respects. They had their opinions of right, and maintained them in the same way, and stood upon them in the same confidence as we did. Nor would he say anything likely to embarrass the Government. Every hon. Member must feel that his first duty on that occasion was to support the Government, notwithstanding the feeling of the whole country seemed to be declaring itself against the policy and conduct of Ministers. The Government had assumed most properly all the responsibility of the Commissioners' acts, and when his hon. Friend the Member for Waterford (Mr. Osborne) referred to the expenditure on account of telegraphic despatches between the Government and the Commissioners, he hardly did justice to the point, because he believed there had never been a word used by the Commissioners which had not been previously submitted to the Law Officers of the Crown, and been assented to by them. The responsibility of the Government upon the matter was absolute, and he was not surprised to hear the right hon. Gentleman at the head of Her Majesty's Government accept that responsibility. But while he approved of that part of his right hon. Friend's conduct, he regretted the language used by him with regard to the construction to be put on the Treaty, because the whole strength of their case rested upon the assumption that the wording of the Treaty was ambiguous. If, as the right hon. Gentleman had said, the Treaty was logical and grammatical, and admitted of no dispute, then there was no reason for withholding the case from the Arbitrators, because the Government might have been perfectly certain the award would have been given in their favour. Besides, it had been stated in the most formal manner by his noble Friend (Earl Granville) in "another place" that the Treaty did not admit of these claims being produced. How was it no notice had been taken by the American Government of that declaration, which had been endorsed by Lord Ripon as one of the Commissioners? It was impossible that the gentleman who so ably represented the United States in this country would have failed to report that declaration to his Government, and 108 if he did report it, how was it there was no exception then taken to the construction put upon the Treaty? Now, what was the Treaty of Washington? It was designed, not merely for the purpose of settling the Alabama claims, but of settling all differences which existed between this country and the United States; and they were now about to take a step—he did not say it might not be the right step, but a step the most serious which could be adopted by one nation towards another—they were about to ask the United States, who, since this declaration had been made, had published far and wide their view of the Treaty, to declare that our views were accurate and that theirs were wrong. And if they failed in obtaining a withdrawal of that statement, what would be the result? Why, the Treaty would fall to the ground. Not only would the Treaty with respect to the Alabama claims fall to the ground, but there were three other matters connected with that Treaty which would also fall to the ground. What would become of the question arising out of the San Juan Convention? The small island of San Juan was occupied by British and American troops, with a narrow line of demarcation between them. Hitherto the friendly relations subsisting between the two countries had influenced the conduct of the troops; but the prudence and good judgment of the officers might prove an insufficient barrier to a collision in the face of the excitement which the failure of the Treaty would produce among the American people. Besides this, there was the question connected with the Canadian Fisheries. Few who had followed the course of American politics would fail to remember the inflammatory speeches made by General Butler upon this question, and if the Treaty fell to the ground, he feared not many months would elapse before they would hear of the occurrence of some untoward event, perhaps the result of intemperate conduct on the part of an ambitious or violent officer, likely to end in most serious consequences to the two countries. That being the case, ought they not to do everything in their power to prevent such a catastrophe; and he would ask if they had made representations to the United States, ought they not to have made them with clean hands themselves? He wished now to advert to a 109 matter which had an important bearing on this case, in the hope of eliciting an explanation. There was now sitting at Washington another Commission, appointed for the specific purpose of adjudicating between claims which might be submitted to them for wrong done towards the persons or property of citizens of the United States by British subjects, and wrongs done to British people by citizens of the United States. The formation of that Commission was, in all respects, identical with the formation of the Commission sitting at Geneva, except as regarded numbers, the Governments of each country being represented before each Commission by an agent, so that the acts of the agents must be regarded as the acts of their Governments respectively. Certain claims, known as the Confederate cotton claims, had been submitted for adjudication before that Commission, at an early stage of its assembling, when they were at once excepted to by the American Government, on the ground that they did not come within the wording of the Protocol. Explanations were required by the American authorities, which were at once given by us, and an undertaking entered into that these claims should not be presented for consideration; but contrary to that, he believed the result was that these claims were submitted on the part of this Government, who, he trusted and believed, would be as indisposed to take part in advancing such claims as the French Government was in accepting the responsibility of the Jecker bonds. What was the conduct pursued by the United States under the circumstances? He would mention it because it bore a strict analogy to the present case. Upon the claims being made by Mr. Howard, the United States' Government protested against them, not only because the act of presenting them showed a disposition to overreach, but because they were altogether beside the matters coining within the cognizance of the Commissioners—that they were, in fact, ultra vires. Nevertheless, the agent of the Government insisted upon submitting these claims to the Commissioners, and the United States assented, under protest. It was impossible to suppose this was done in ignorance, on the part of the Government, of the 14th Article of the United States' Constitution, which lays down— 110That neither the United States nor any State shall assume or pay any debt or obligations in regard to any aid of insurrection or rebellion against the United States.But whether in ignorance or not, this remarkable state of things occurred. The agent of the British Government presented to the Commissioners a set of claims to be adjudicated upon, possibly in his favour, contrary to the Constitution of the country. The Commissioners were asked to order the payment of a sum of money in aid of a Confederacy which had been in rebellion against the States. He trusted the Government would afford him some explanation of this matter because it materially weakened their argument, if they had submitted claims which would not come within the provisions of the arbitration. The Government of the United States simply asked to be treated as the British Government had treated them. It asked simply to be treated fairly. It made claims not in the confident belief that the award would be in their favour; that was a question for the Arbitrators. The British Government asserted that the claims did not come within the objects of the Treaty; and in reply the United States' Government said—"Do to us as we did to you; protest, and let the Arbitrators decide." Although he was not cognizant of the secret of the Foreign Office, he could hardly suppose the Government of the United States had been silent on the matter; some communications respecting it must have passed between the respective Governments, and should the right hon. Gentleman fail to satisfy him on the point to-day, he purposed, on some future occasion, asking distinctly whether any communication was addressed to the Government at the time these claims were presented. If so, the fact would open up a most serious view of the question. The hon. Member for Liskeard (Mr. Horsman), at the commencement of his speech, seemed to be in favour of discussing foreign matters, and at the close he seemed to deprecate discussion. [Mr. HORSMAN: Upon this occasion.] He deferred much to the experience of his hon. Friend, but the policy of silence had not hitherto been successful. It was not 18 years since the country under the Government of Lord Aberdeen drifted into war with Russia. Mr. Layard at the time repeatedly implored that information might 111 be given on certain points; but the Government invariably deprecated discussion, and held out to the House that hope which was realised last year—namely, that the matter might be discussed when the discussion could have no practical bearing on the point. He earnestly hoped the reticence of the Government on the present occasion might not be associated with mismanagement and the absence of enlightened opinion, and culminate in a difference between this country and the United States of America.
regretted that no reference was made in Her Majesty's Speech to the state of the Army, respecting which so much discussion took place during the last Session. He was sorry that no assurance of improvement had been given, particularly so far as regarded the transport department.
I presume, Sir, that those Gentlemen who desired to address the House to-day upon the great subject of the Washington Treaty have now stated their views, and, consequently, that it is time for me to take my part in the debate. But, before I reply to them, it may be convenient for me first to refer to the various speakers who have touched upon other topics. In reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Waterford, I readily admit that the question of Irish national education is a question of national importance, but I observe that we have not engaged in the Queen's Speech to produce before Parliament measures on all the subjects of national importance. Our engagement is that the measures which we do submit shall refer to subjects of national interest. It is, however, a little singular that a few moments before he blamed us for failing to produce a measure on Irish Education, he had praised us for having forborne to load the Speech with a number of Bills too great for us to carry. [Mr. OSBORNE: It was promised last Session.] No, Sir, it was never promised last Session, but I will make my hon. Friend a promise now which I hope he will consider a handsome one. I promise now that if we should get through the Business promised in the Royal Speech with much greater rapidity than we anticipate, and find a considerable share of the Session left at our disposal, we shall be happy to consider the expediency of complying with his wishes My hon. Friend also complained that we 112 had not made efforts to lighten the burden imposed upon France by the victorious Power. Considering the disposition usually shown by the House to receive the remarks of my hon. Friend with favour, I gathered, from the manner in which it met the suggestion, that, at least in this respect, his opinion is not shared by the House. But I think my hon. Friend has forgotten that, upon a particular day of last Session, the whole of this matter was distinctly stated to the House. Upon a particular morning we received from the French Government an application for our good offices to obtain some reduction of the demand made upon France by Germany, which was stated to us to amount to six milliards of francs. On that afternoon the Cabinet met to consider the subject, and by post and telegraph a friendly representation to the Government of Germany was forwarded by us. The limits of friendly interposition on such occasions are narrow, and we were bound not to go beyond them, but we did make, and make at once, a representation aiming at the very object which my hon. Friend complains that we failed to seek.
The hon. Member who has just sat down seems surprised that no reference is made in the Speech to the operation of the Purchase Abolition Act of last Session. The general rule, however, as I think, has been not to refer to subsidiary arrangements taken under the provisions of particular Acts of Parliament, no matter how important they may be. The arrangements under the Irish Church Act and the Land Act were not of less interest than those under the Army Purchase Act; but no notice was taken of them in the Speeches from the Throne. Again, Sir, the hon. Member for Northumberland (Mr. Liddell) thinks there is great ambiguity in the paragraph referring to the Commercial Treaty with France; and his remarks are perfectly just upon the great importance of that subject. Undoubtedly it is so far ambiguous that it does not convey the information he desires. For he wishes to know whether the Treaty has been denounced or not. But, up to the latest moment when this Speech was prepared, we were ourselves in uncertainty as to the course events might take in this respect. An idea prevailed in France that the Treaty must be denounced, if at all, on the 4th of February, in order that a denunciation might be valid. That was not our opi- 113 nion; and we made known to the French Government that the 12 months' notice might, so far as our opinion might weigh, date from any period of the year. That declaration appears to have had some effect, and the French Government recently have obtained from the National Assembly power to denounce the Treaty without being bound to denounce it upon any given day. We are not able to say either whether or when that power will be exercised, and in saying thus much, I have given to the House all the information I possess upon this subject. But I may remind the hon. Member that Papers will be presented to the House upon the subject as soon as possible. The Licensing question I will leave in the hands of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State.
Now with regard to more pressing questions. I notice a unanimity of feeling upon the part of those who have spoken in favour of limiting the present power of the Crown to conclude and ratify treaties without the consent of Parliament. This is a question of very deep national importance, well deserving careful consideration. But, for my own part, I have never yet seen how the difficulties of establishing a system such as my right hon. Friend suggests could be overcome. We hear with justice of the inconvenience which attends the present method; when a Government, necessarily liable to err, and liable to be overwhelmed at times by the pressure of other business, is likewise charged with the duty of conducting, it may be even from day to day, difficult and delicate negotiations. I heartily wish it was in our power to obviate the risks of miscarriage, or mistake, or ambiguity that may thus arise. But do not let us in haste conclude that the problem would be solved by making this House immediately acquainted with all that occurred in the various steps of our intercourse with foreign countries. My hon. Friend (Mr. Otway) thinks we drifted into the Russian war in consequence of want of information on the part of this House.
In consequence of the want of information which would have been given by the expressed opinion of this House to the Emperor of Russia.
In consequence, then, of the fact that this House has not the power of declaring its opinion at once on the steps of diplomatic negotiation as soon as they are severally taken. 114 It would not be convenient to attempt any full discussion of this wide subject on the present occasion. But, even admitting the fact of a present difficulty, it would be very precipitate to leap to the conclusion held by my hon. Friend upon this subject. There are inconveniences in the secret system, and there are inconveniences in the open system. The open system was exhibited in its fullest proportions in the month of July, 1870, before the Legislative Bodies of France, when from day to day, perhaps almost from hour to hour, at a great national crisis, the intentions of the Government were made known freely to a popular Assembly. Such of us as recollect the experience of those few days will not be inclined to think that the expression of popular feeling from day to day, and almost from hour to hour, would afford a perfect safeguard against national danger. We naturally, under present circumstances, compare the system prevailing in this country with that prevailing in the United States, where it is not in the power of the Executive to bind the country without the consent of one of the Houses of Legislature—namely, the Senate. That provision, however, as I may observe in the first place, considerably increases the difficulty of negotiating treaties with the United States. Much more would those difficulties be increased if it were necessary that the very same course had to be adopted by other contracting parties. But if it were proposed to adopt the practice of the States, we have this additional difficulty, that there is no body in this country occupying a position similar to that of the Senate in the United States. You would not consent, I presume, that to the House of Lords exclusively should be reserved this great power of approving or disapproving a treaty. You would say it might go to the House of Lords, but it must also come to the House of Commons. Then, see in what difficulties you would be involved when, wishing to obtain the intervention of some independent authority, and having no authority to appeal to which is of a character analogous to the very remarkable body known as the Senate of the United States, you were obliged to introduce this principle of a double, in lieu of a single control; thereby, I am afraid, enormously, perhaps hopelessly, increasing the difficulty of conducting to an issue, difficult, and, it may be, tena- 115 ciously-contested negotiations. Therefore, after what has fallen from my right hon. Friend, and after considering the feeling which hon. Gentlemen would be apt to entertain, and not in the least degree pretending either that the subject is not a proper one for discussion, or that the present system is abstractedly perfect, I have ventured to make these remarks as a slight contribution towards the consideration of the question.
I would now, Sir, refer to the rather numerous points raised by the various hon. Gentleman who have addressed the House with respect to the Washington Treaty. With regard to my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Denbighshire (Mr. Osborne Morgan), I cannot but think that he was somewhat rapid in the definite and positive conclusion he pronounced. I know not what amount of study he has bestowed upon the whole of the voluminous and complex documents connected with this case. His criticism is conveyed in a single expression. But he does not hesitate to say that in his opinion the British Commissioners—which according to my view means simply, for Parliamentary purposes, the British Government—have been guilty of that which is the very worst fault, short of positive bad faith, that they could have committed—namely, that of crassa negligentia. Well, Sir, if such really be the fact, it leaves you no resource but, as it were, to go down on your knees and plead your good intentions before the Government of the United States, but nothing else, and to trust to the kindness and mercy of the other contracting party to relieve you from the consequences of the gross error which, without excuse, you have committed. I wish my hon. and learned Friend had reserved his judgment for a while until he had heard the arguments in the case; because, you will observe, the argument of Her Majesty's Government has not yet been heard. I did not attempt to enter into it last night. I simply stated some of the propositions that we should, at the right moment and in the proper place, endeavour to prove, by means of reasoning, which it would be entirely premature at the present moment to enter on.
Next, Sir, the hon. Member for Whitehaven (Mr. Cavendish Bentinck) has put to me several points, to which I will give him the best answer in my power. I understood him to remark 116 that the American Government has claimed interest at a minimum rate of 7 per cent on the sums that may according to their plea be charged for indirect losses, and that this interest at 7 per cent is to be computed from the 1st of July, 1863; and he asks how comes it, the American Government having made this claim, that there is no stipulation to allow claims for interest, but, on the contrary, an exclusion of such claims, under the 15th Article, in respect to British claims, and all claims whatever, that are now being tried at Washington. The hon. Gentleman has here put to me a question on the construction of the Treaty with reference to a point which I have had no opportunity of considering with the aid of the best authority; and therefore the answer I give must be taken only for what it is worth. However, as I read the article of the Treaty it is to this effect—that no interest shall be paid from the time of presenting the claims at Washington; but it does not at all touch the question of the discretion of the parties to include interest in the claims they make, or that of the discretion of the Commissioners to allow it if they think right. If that be so, the provision is a mere executory provision, and one that does not require from me a more elaborate notice. The hon. Member also expressed his regret that there was no reservation of the right of the House of Commons to vote the money which the arbitrators might declare us liable to pay; and he said the consequence of that omission would be that, if the obligations of the Treaty were not fulfilled, a war might be the result. On that remark I am bound to say, first of all, that I think the issue would be pretty much the same either way. I do not say it would be a war; but, whatever it might be, it would be very much the same whether the reservation had been made in the Treaty, and the money, by the undoubted constitutional right of the House of Commons, then withheld, or whether it should be withheld under the Treaty as it now is. The American Government are perfectly aware that we depend upon the discretion of this House in respect to the payment of the money. They have shown a disposition to trust to that discretion; and in that disposition I believe they are perfectly wise and right.
Again, Sir, although the hon. Member was quite correct in saying that the 117 House of Commons is the body which really has the exclusive power of giving ultimate effect to this Treaty, in case the decision of the arbitrators should be—what I hope it may not be—to find us liable to any payment from the national exchequer, yet it must be borne in mind that, in the present case, we have proceeded on the full and perfect knowledge, that this question of arbitration was not a new question. So far, we have had this advantage, that, apart from the subject of the wording of the Treaty—which is one of vast importance, but one entirely distinct—as to the object of the Treaty, as to the principle of a reference of these claims to arbitration, we assumed, and had a right to assume, that we were already in virtual possession of the judgment of Parliament. Because this was not an unadvised act, nor was it the sole act of the present Executive Government. Two Treaties had already been concluded by this country on this very subject, and on the very same basis of a reference to arbitration; and the discussions in this and the other House of Parliament enabled us to know that the country, as well as the Parliament, approved the general principle of a reference of these unfortunate differences to impartial arbitration. The hon. Gentleman, indeed, complained that the House of Commons was kept in the dark, and said he had understood that the whole of the labours of the protocolists had been given by the American diplomatists to the American Legislature. I am not sure what he meant by the whole of the labours of the protocolists; but if he meant simply the Protocols, as it is reasonable to suppose, then I can say that while I believe they have been given to the American Legislature, I know that they have been also presented to the British Parliament, and I am at a loss to perceive how, up to the present moment the American Legislature can have been in possession of fuller information than the Legislature of this country. I am afraid, from the hon. Member's next observation, that he has not earned what is perhaps the best title to more information—namely, the having made the best possible use of such information as he has already had for a length of time in his possession; for I doubt from his statement whether he is in perfect possession of the contents of the Protocols which he has had in his hands. He said, however, that he had heard with great 118 astonishment my statement last night that we had undertaken to allow of arbitration on the question, whether we should be held liable for the costs of that portion of the United States' Navy which was employed in chasing these cruisers. I daresay many hon. Gentleman heard that statement with astonishment, and I am very desirous of bringing the fact home to their minds, for it is exceedingly desirable that the Members of this House should realize the actual position, whatever it may be; but that engagement, as I have shown, and whatever be its merits, was on the face of the documents, and was placed within the knowledge of Parliament during the last Session. If the hon. Gentleman will refer to the eighth page of the papers marked C 346, containing the Protocols framed by the negotiators of the Treaty of Washington, he will find that a statement was submitted by the American Commissioners, as on the 8th of March, to the effect that they had sustained certain direct and also certain indirect losses; he will find that in these direct losses they include—first, the capture and destruction of a large number of vessels with their cargoes; second, the heavy national expenditure incurred in pursuit of these cruisers; he will then find that they recited the indirect losses, next that they waived the indirect losses in the hope of an amicable settlement; but with regard to direct losses there was no waiver whatever; neither was there any protest made on our part to the inclusion of the cost of United States' cruisers in the category of direct losses. And, therefore, whether we think it convenient or inconvenient—and, of course, quite apart from the question whether we are fitly to be held liable in respect of the charge of a part of the American Navy, on which point we shall make as strong an argument as I think we shall be able to make on the whole of the case; quite apart, I say, from these considerations, this matter is clearly, as I apprehend, one which, by the Treaty and Protocols taken together, we are bound to allow to be referred.
I will now advert to what fell from my hon. Friend the Member for Waterford (Mr. Osborne). He said this Treaty has been a bungling business, and I thought he added—though I hope I was mistaken—that it was an "infamous document." [Mr. OSBORNE: I said it was a bungling business. Probably, I 119 also said it was "infamous."] The mind of my hon. Friend is a garden, with a soil of greater richness than he is himself aware, and so it is that these flowers of speech spring up in spontaneous and unrivalled abundance. But let us go to particulars. He says there is ambiguity, and more than ambiguity, in the Treaty; and he declares that the American Commissioners on the 8th of March distinctly informed the British Government that these indirect claims would be put forward. Now, I wish to keep distinct in our discussions here two different questions—the one of them of vast and overwhelming importance to this country, and the other also of great importance, but of importance chiefly as between Parliament and the existing Administration. Whether there be ambiguity in the documents or not is a question worthy of the most careful attention, with a view to any determination on the conduct of the Government. But I must now take objection to a statement of my hon. Friend, which, in my opinion, was most injurious to the interests of this country. It has been stated by him in this House, but it shall certainly not go forth without contradiction, that on the 8th of March the American Commissioners informed the British Commissioners and Government that these indirect claims would be brought forward under the Treaty. I say the very reverse. I hold that they informed the British Commissioners of the contrary. They alleged that the American Government had incurred heavy direct and heavy indirect injury and that, in the hope of an amicable settlement, no estimate was made of those indirect losses, without prejudice, however, to the right to indemnification on their account in the event of no such settlement being made. This is the statement made in the Protocol of March 8; and the question arises whether, taken in conjunction with the Treaty, it did not distinctly and formally waive all claims for indirect losses. Now there was here a distinct reservation of right. [Mr. OSBORNE: There is another clause.] I am now speaking of the Protocol; that has the assent of both parties. I know there are other clauses with which I will not trouble the House now; but I know also that they most powerfully sustain our view of the matter. What we say on the Protocol is that this reservation of right was a 120 reservation perfectly unequivocal, but that it was confined to the case in which no amicable settlement should be made; and the question comes to be whether the arbitration to which we agreed under the Treaty is, or is not, an amicable settlement. If my hon. Friend wishes, as he reasonably may, for light on that subject, let him read the Preamble of the Treaty—a portion of this document which, strange to say, I, for one, have not even so much as noticed in any of the discussions that we have been reading for hours together every day of our lives during the last few weeks. The Preamble of the Treaty runs as follows:Her Britannic Majesty and the United States of America, being desirous to provide for an amicable settlement of all causes of difference between the two countries, have for that purpose appointed their respective Plenipotentiaries.After naming the Plenipotiaries on each side, the Preamble continues—And the said Plenipotentiaries, after having exchanged their full powers, which were found to be in due and proper form, have agreed to and concluded the following Articles,which were intended to be the basis of the proceedings soon to go forward at Geneva—that is to say, in the words of the Treaty itself, these Articles were declared and set forth under the hands of the two parties to be, or else to be the basis of—for the purpose of the present argument, it matters not which—" an amicable settlement." [Mr. OSBORNE: The amicable settlement was rejected.] My hon. Friend is wrong. A particular proposal that would have been an amicable settlement was rejected; but this Treaty was concluded after the rejection of that particular proposal, and it was after that rejection that the Plenipotentiaries of America said they were there for the purpose of making an amicable settlement, and they then, in execution of that purpose, set out the Articles of the document by which that settlement was to be effected. But my hon. Friend proceeds to say—"Why not resort to direct negotiation? £6,000,000 would have been taken if you had done it in proper time. Now, indeed, you cannot get out of it so cheaply." But still he seems to recommend that we should tender the payment of a gross sum. Now, I believe that £6,000,000 is undoubtedly a sum within the power of this country to pay, if honour and duty require it, and perhaps a still larger sum; but he entirely leaped over 121 the preliminary difficulty. If money is to be paid, why is it to be paid? Because those who order it be paid by that very fact declare that we failed in our International duty; and the advice of my hon. Friend is that we should confess this failure; he declares we should have confessed it last year at Washington; and he seems to recommend us to confess it now. God help us! Has my hon. Friend thought for a moment of the position in which he proposes to place his country? When were these complaints made by America? In the year 1862, and in every subsequent year, America has been contending—and I do not deny her right to contend—that we have failed in our International duty. In every one of those years, by every form and variety of representation and public act, we have been contending, on the contrary, that we have not failed in our International duty; but have striven honestly and earnestly to perform it in every particular. An honest and genuine, but direct and diametrical difference of opinion and conviction has subsisted between the two Governments. That diametrically opposite conviction has been tested 100 times by the most elaborate arguments, perhaps, of which the history of diplomacy anywhere contains the record. The character of each country has been pledged to the bonâ fides of the convictions which were thus declared; and I can conceive of nothing that would more fatally compromise the good name and the ancient honour of this country than that, after having for 10 years solemnly proclaimed and protested that we had done our best, without favour and without prejudice, during the whole of the Secession war, to perform every International duty, however difficult, to both parties (but especially if a difference there were to the Government of the United States) we should now come forward and confess that all our declarations were a mere blind, a pretext, and a falsehood, resorted to in the hope of evading a just claim, and that now, being reduced to the last of our devices, and having no rag left to cover our disgrace, we are to tender to the United States what is termed a gross sum, or payment, or what you like to call it, as a compensation for our offence, in order to escape from the difficulties which we are to admit to have been the consequence of our misconduct.
122 But, further, it has been suggested that we should have sent over a shrewd attorney to arrange these matters for us. This remark is one of the light javelins from the armoury of my hon. Friend's sarcastic rhetoric, which are always acceptable to the House, and which are not unacceptable even to those who feel, in receiving the stroke, a sensation somewhat resembling that produced upon the skin by the prick of a pin. But I do not admit that we have yet reached the point at which, in place of employing able and experienced men like those who acted in the capacity of British Commissioners, the only alternative left us is to call in the aid of some shrewd attorney to extricate us from our embarrassments.
My hon. Friend the Member for Chatham (Mr. Otway) has referred to what are known as the Cotton Loan claims. I will not now undertake to give him a full and complete account of all that may have occurred with respect to those claims. My hon. Friend says in regard to them that we ought to come into court with clean hands. I quite agree that if we ever come to the point of a deliberate difference with the American Government as to whether this great arbitration ought to go on or to be arrested, we ought to take the most scrupulous care to be certain that we ask nothing from them that we should not be prepared under the same circumstances to grant, and freely to grant, ourselves. My hon. Friend says that Cotton Loan claims were actually presented at Washington by the agent of the British Government, and that the act of the agent is the act of the British Government; that the American representatives protested against his proceeding; that it was, however, referred to the arbitrator and disposed of by him. My hon. Friend will, however, at once be struck by the significance of the fact that the Commission sitting at Washington, and the American agent there, are able on any day and at any hour to submit to the Government of the Union the nature of the evidence and of the argument on any point that may arise, and to obtain the judgment of that Government upon it. That was not the case with the British agent. I am very far from pronouncing any censure upon the British agent. I am not at this moment aware of his having gone wrong 123 in any particular. But I believe—though I have not had time since I learned my hon. Friend's intention to inquire minutely at the Foreign Office on the point—that the British agent had received a general instruction to repel only claims that did not fall within the period mentioned in the Treaty; and it was by no means unnatural, if that were the case, that he should think it his duty to present any claim offered to him, not in the interest of the Government but in the interest of private persons, which appeared to correspond with that time. But that agent was a subordinate agent. My hon. Friend has not told us that the American Commissioners desired that time might be given for referring the matter home, and for taking the judgment of the Government at home upon it. And such is not the fact. Further, I will tell my hon. Friend that which I am sure he will be glad to hear, that the British Government, upon learning what was going on, never gave directions for the presentation of any Cotton Loan claims. This matter of the Cotton Loan claims, however, was not to be got rid of in a moment; and for this reason, that under the general name of Cotton Loan claims are comprised claims of a character totally and essentially different one from the other. The great bulk of these claims are, I believe, simply of this nature: they are instruments held by persons who lent money, or who purchased from such as had lent money, to the Confederate States, and I believe that purported generally to be secured upon cotton which was the property of those Confederate States. This cotton was appropriated or destroyed by the American Government, or was supposed to have been so, within certain dates; and thereupon arise, or seem to arise, these claims. However, the only act taken advisedly by the British Government on the Cotton Loan claims has been this—after learning that the question had been raised, and that the American Government objected to our presentation of these claims, we had to consider, with very defective information, the various forms which these Cotton Loan claims might assume. We came to the conclusion that there might be cases in which the bonds had been actually exchanged for particular specified parcels of cotton; and, according to our view, in such a case as that, they 124 would cease to be in reality and in substance mere Cotton Loan claims, and would become claims for the loss of property, if that particular cotton should have been appropriated or destroyed within the time specified in the Treaty. With that reservation as to bonds which had been converted into visible property, the decision of Her Majesty's Government, although come to, I believe, after this transaction at Washington had occurred, was that these Cotton Loan claims could not be sustained by us before the Arbitrator, and ought not to be presented by us to him for arbitration. [Mr. OTWAY: That was after the claims had been disposed of.] But it was not "after" that to us; for we did not at the time know of it. [An hon. MEMBER: You might have had communication by telegraph.] Some of us complain, not without reason, of the enormous cost of telegrams; that is one of the sacrifices offered on the altar of International friendship; but would the hon. Gentleman insist on our being kept acquainted day by day, and hour by hour, with all the proceedings, great and small, in America, in Germany, and elsewhere which are to arise under this Treaty? We had it, however, by telegraph; but it was as to the result. I can confidently say that had the matter been delayed for a while at Washington in order to obtain a reply from us, the Cotton Loan claims never would have been presented. Such, Sir, is the imperfect account which alone at the present moment I can render. Further, Sir, before I quit this question, let me observe another and vital point, in which, as we conceive, this matter fails to correspond as to its basis with the question raised as to indirect losses. The Commissioners sitting at Washington are empowered by the Treaty, as we think, to determine not merely on the goodness, but on the admissibility of claims. There is no such power given to the Arbitrators at Geneva.
I wish, however, to point out to my hon. Friends, in order to prevent misunderstanding, these few and distinct propositions upon the main question that has been discussed. An hon. Friend thinks that, in declaring the documents to be unequivocal and clear, I deny the title of the United States to contend in opposition to that contention of ours. Sir, I make no such denial. As was well observed by my right hon. Friend 125 the Member for Liskeard (Mr. Horsman), nothing has been said by Her Majesty's Government in this matter to impute blame to the American Government, nothing to contract for others the liberty which we claim for ourselves—namely, the liberty of pronouncing an unfettered judgment in good faith on every point that may arise in the course of this negotiation. Not one word has been said, I trust, by me, which could imply for one moment that we in any manner question the title of the American Government to say anything about this Treaty which they please, or could convey any imputation in connection with any opinion which that Government may hold or may proclaim. If they chose to say the Treaty is clear and unambiguous, but clear and unambiguous against us—they would act within their competence. The appeal which I should make would be confident, but could not, I trust, be deemed offensive. It would be simply an appeal to logic, to grammar, to common sense, which are still, I hope, in one sense masters of us all, to establish what we contend to be the unambiguous construction of the Treaty with the Protocols. But they are as much at liberty as we are. We mention what is our contention in this controversy. It remains to be seen whether the American Government agree to that contention or not; and their right to hold their own language and form their own opinion is as sacred as ours. My hon. Friend (Mr. Otway) however says that the whole strength of our case depends on our maintaining that the Treaty is ambiguous. I do not understand by what logical process he arrives at that conclusion. I admit that if it could be shown that there was some ambiguity in the Treaty we should still be able to plead, if we could support it by reasonable evidence, the doctrine of intention. The doctrine of the meaning of the words is one thing; the doctrine of the intention of the parties is another. I stated distinctly last night that we adhered to the argument from the meaning of the words. We do not, on that account, renounce or depreciate the argument from the intention of the parties. On the contrary, we shall give what we think is demonstrative evidence of the true doctrine as to the intention of the parties; but we shall appeal—and I 126 hope distinctly and conclusively appeal—to the meaning of the words embodied in the instrument.
Only one other remark I would make. My hon. Friend seems to suppose that every question respecting the competency of an arbitrator, and as to the scope of an arbitration, ought of necessity to be settled beforehand. That is not so. The ground, on which Her Majesty's Government have thought it right to take steps at the present moment in regard to the Treaty of Washington, is not the mere ground that we think the indirect losses to be beyond the scope of the arbitration. I believe nothing to be more common in cases of arbitration than the raising of questions before the arbitrator himself as to the exact scope of his duties. The decision in the first instance on the scope of the arbitration then rests with the arbitrator himself; but his authority is not final. The United States themselves have been the first—I do not mean the earliest of all nations in point of time, but the earliest as compared with us—to have declared and acted, on an important former occasion, upon the right of one of the parties to withdraw from and decline to accept the result of an arbitration, when it considers it not to have been within the true meaning of the reference. Well, we might have taken that course; but would it have been, under the present circumstances, an honourable, or, at least, a considerate one? Very often it may be convenient to refer to the arbitrator himself the question of the scope of the reference; it is not worth while to refuse to do so. We have at this moment certain questions pending in regard to ships, in which we believe that, in all probability, the arbitrator will, or may be called upon to decide, as he decided in the case of the Cotton Loan, whether certain questions are within the scope of the arbitration. It is not the simple question whether these indirect claims are not beyond the scope of the arbitration that has induced us to act as we have done; but it has been the joint consideration, first of their being excluded by the Treaty; and, secondly, of the enormous magnitude of the case. It is the conjunction of these two considerations which has induced us to think that it would be far more honourable, frank, and friendly towards the United States to declare at once that the whole of this matter is, in our view, 127 unfit for arbitration, or rather is, in fact, barred from this arbitration, than to have waited in silence to the close of the proceeding, and afterwards to have taken some step that might have rendered us liable to the reproach of having permitted that Government to act in ignorance of our view and our intention.
Sir, I have now endeavoured, to the best of my ability, to answer, for the present moment, the questions which have been put to me in relation to this great subject. This is probably not the last time when it will be discussed by the House; and I can assure the House that they will at all times find in Her Majesty's Government the utmost desire to make clear the steps they may have taken, and that they will not have the slightest reason to complain of any disposition on our part to diminish or extenuate the responsibility under which we lie.
said: I wish to explain or enlarge a statement I made in the course of the remarks I have just concluded. When I made the statement in reference to the instructions which were given to the British agent in Washington with reference to the claims for the Cotton Bonds, I had not had an opportunity of seeing the specific terms in which those instructions were couched. During the past few minutes, however, I have referred to them, and I find that they were such as justified that functionary in believing that the Cotton Bonds claims were included in the negotiations, as coming within the time specified. I see, however, no sign that at the time when those instructions were written—namely, in last July or August, the question of the Cotton Bonds was taken distinctly into view, and I am quite at a loss to understand how it was that time was not taken at Washington to communicate with the Government of this country upon the subject before any definitive steps were taken there with regard to it. My statement, however, is strictly accurate, that when the question was raised, upon a representation from the American Government, our view was that the Cotton Loan Bonds, properly so-called, ought not to be presented to the Commissioners at Washington.
§ MR. HERMON
concurred in the general opinion which had been expressed 128 as to the mischievous tendency of the wording of the Treaty of Washington, and the deplorable consequences which might be apprehended from the abrupt breaking off of that Treaty. The country would be taken by surprise when it learnt that the Government had agreed to admit as a claim for the decision of the referees the cost of the American Navy in pursuing vessels of the Alabama class. In permitting such a claim to be considered, Her Majesty's Government at once admitted the principle of claims for indirect losses. If such claims were to be admitted, how was it possible to exclude those for the cost of keeping up home squadrons and of coast defences? With reference to the paragraph in the Queen's Speech which promised the early introduction of the Estimates, he (Mr. Hermon) complained that the consideration of the Estimates was usually deferred until so late a period of the Session that there was not sufficient time to examine them with the care and attention that ought to be bestowed upon them, and he pressed upon Her Majesty's Government the necessity for fixing certain days for their discussion.
§ MR. G. BENTINCK
said, he had been somewhat surprised to hear the right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Government congratulating himself upon the unanimity of opinion that had been expressed in the House with reference to the Alabama claims. [Mr. GLADSTONE: AS far as the essential points were concerned.] As far as he (Mr. G. Bentinck) could see there had certainly been the greatest unanimity of opinion in that House in condemning the conduct of the Government throughout the transaction. The right hon. Gentleman had made another remark that had surprised him, and that was, that it must be taken as an apology for any shortcomings on the part of the Government that they had been overwhelmed by the pressure of Public Business.
I made the remark in reference to affairs generally, and not in relation to this particular matter.
§ MR. G. BENTINCK
, continuing, said, he wished to know who it was that was responsible for that great pressure of Public Business if it were not the Government themselves. This was one of the questions which he trusted would come under the notice of 129 the House early in the Session, because overloading the Table with Bills was a growing evil which threatened in time to put an end to legislation altogether. The right hon. Gentleman had used an expression of a somewhat ambiguous character, which might lead to mischievous consequences, which was to the effect that the United States Government had exercised a sound policy in trusting to the discretion of the House of Commons as to whether, in the event of a large sum being awarded against this country, they would at once sanction its payment. He did not know to what extent the right hon. Gentleman's view went; but, in his opinion, the feeling of the House of Commons was that it ought to have been consulted in the first instance, as to whether this country ought to have been placed under any liability at all, and that it ought to be at perfect liberty to refuse to provide for any such payment on behalf of the country if it should see fit to do so. The right hon. Gentleman had failed to deal with the points which had been urged by the hon. Member for Waterford (Mr. Osborne). The hon. Member for Waterford, however, had suggested that we ought to have interfered between France and Prussia in order to obtain better terms for the former; but the truth was that, wisely or unwisely, we had so reduced our armaments that our voice was no longer listened to in Europe, and therefore, under these circumstances, it would have been idle for us to have interfered. We must either maintain such armaments as would enable us to resume our old position among the first-class Powers of Europe, or else we must be content to sink into a second-rate Power, whose voice was ineffective, because its opinions could not be enforced by arms. The hon. Member had also referred to the character of the American Commissioners. He had no desire to say a word that would be likely to give a tone of asperity to the negotiations now pending; but it was a matter of history and of fact that the mode of dealing with diplomatic questions adopted by the United States Government was different from that usual among the older Powers of Europe. Now, one of the first things necessary for successfully conducting diplomatic affairs was to understand thoroughly the character of those with whom negotiations were being held, and it was clear that our 130 Commissioners had been entirely mistaken upon this vital point. The Government, however, had taken upon themselves the entire responsibility of the Treaty, and, therefore, our Commissioners must be held to be entirely free from blame. His chief object in rising had been to raise the grave question whether the principle of resorting to arbitration was a sound one, and whether it was likely to lead to pacific results. In his opinion, instead of having such an effect it was much more likely to lead to international disputes and to warfare than to a peaceful termination of our differences. We had been told in 1860, when the Commercial Treaty with France was concluded, that the establishment of commercial relations with other countries would lead to universal peace; but he regretted to say that the only effect of the establishment of such relations had been continuous war. We had pretty good experience of the consequences likely to result from our adopting the principle of arbitration in the Washington Treaty, and, in his opinion, it was unworthy of a great nation to resort to arbitration in order to settle its disputes with another country. A great country like England ought to be the best judge of what concerned its own honour, and it ought not to lay its wealth and its dignity at the feet of arbitrators, however high they might be, for them to deal with at their good pleasure. The state of a country which was willing to submit to such a humiliation, and whose rulers could advise it to so far degrade itself, was hopeless. He must express his regret that of late we had got into a very bad habit of preferring sensational to practical legislation. The Ballot Bill was preferred in the Queen's Speech before all other measures, which, if passed, would be of more advantage to the nation than secret voting ever could be, and the House had a right to complain that the Government should resort to this sort of sensational legislation in order to obtain the support of hon. Members below the gangway. He trusted that the time was not far distant when this country would possess a Government which would look more to what was for the good of the nation, than to what was the best calculated to promote their own political aspirations.
§ MR. EASTWICK
complained of one omission in the explanations given to 131 them by the right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Government in respect to the Treaty of Washington, as to the reason why the indirect claims of the American Government had not been set aside by the introduction of a distinct Article into the Treaty making such claims impossible. He thought that every word that fell from the Prime Minister made it more and more evident that there should have been such an Article or that the Treaty should not have been signed. If the Americans had for 10 years persisted in pressing their indirect claims, and we had been for 10 years repudiating them, why had not our Government taken steps to render their being entertained by the Arbitrators impossible? Besides, we were fully entitled, by the concessions we had made, to demand from the Americans an explicit renunciation of their indirect claims. We had condescended to apologize, and we had consented to recognize conditions of International Law never admitted before. We had made great concessions in respect to Canada, which were looked upon with great disfavour by the people of that country. He suggested that all Treaties of the nature of the one in question ought to be examined and approved by a Committee consisting of Members of both Houses before the Government should be at liberty to ratify them.
said, he felt he should be wanting in courtesy to the hon. Baronet the Member for Carlisle (Sir Wilfrid Lawson) were he to abstain from answering the appeal of the hon. Baronet with reference to the Licensing Bill. The hon. Baronet thought that that measure ought to have had priority over all other Bills except the Ballot Bill; but, although much might be said in favour of the hon. Baronet's view, the Government, having carefully considered the matter, had come to the conclusion that it would be better that it should come before the House in the order they had appointed, when there would be ample time for its discussion. The Licensing Bill, though of less ambitious proportions than that of last year, would yet be found fully effective for its purposes. The hon. Baronet had alluded to certain remarks which had fallen from him on the occasion of his receiving a deputation of brewers some time since. A number of brewers, who represented 132 themselves as being in no way interested in publichouses, drew a doleful picture of the ruin that would have fallen upon them had the measure of last year been passed, and all he had done had been to assure them that it had not been his intention, in introducing that Bill, to bring ruin upon any body of men. The hon. Baronet had further quoted from the commencement of the speech he delivered in introducing the Bill of last year statements as to the mischief which resulted from drunkenness, and from the state of our licensing system. He could assure the hon. Baronet that he had not the slightest desire to retract one of those statements; but had he looked further he would have seen that he had expressly excepted from animadversion the legitimate use of alcoholic liquor. He had also stated that, in his opinion, the public had a right to be supplied with places of refreshment, sufficient in number, convenient, and respectably conducted, and that was his opinion now. If the hon. Baronet would put himself in communication with the magistrates of Luton, in Bedfordshire, he would see how far the existing law was capable of diminishing the liquor traffic, and the number of publichouses, and the amount of crime consequent upon drunkenness. The hon. Baronet had said that he did not wish to extract from him what the form of the Government Bill would be; but he might state that he had a sanguine hope that it would be as stringent and as effective in its provisions as that of last year, while it would avoid those rocks which undoubtedly might have endangered the course of the latter measure.
§ SIR JAMES ELPHINSTONE
, reverting to the question of the Alabama claims, repeated his former assertions that the Alabama was not in any sense a vessel of war when she left these shores, and that, therefore, we could not in any way be held answerable for her actions when she was beyond our control and after she had been equipped elsewhere as a Confederate cruiser. The Government having taken upon themselves the full responsibility for the terms of the Treaty of Washington, it was apparent, on the face of it, that they had committed very grave and serious blunders. It must not be forgotten that at the very time when the Alabama escaped from port we were shipping enormous sup- 133 plies of war material for the use of the North, and, under such circumstances, he should protest—and he would divide the House, if necessary—against paying the American Government even one dollar in compensation for the losses or injuries occasioned by that or other similar vessels. He regretted that no notice had been taken in Her Majesty's Speech of the chaos and confusion of the Board of Admiralty at that moment. He supposed that the right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Government, in reply to the coming statement of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Tyrone (Mr. Corry), would repeat his statement that he intended to grant a Commission of Inquiry. That would be something like handing a person a stone when he asked for bread. They had had Committees over and over again on the subject, together with a mass of accumulated evidence. It was, therefore, idle to appoint another Committee. Such a proposal could only be made with a view of protecting the Government from the effects of their own imprudence, and of complicating the question still further. Last year the Government, by obtaining Votes on Account on the promise of submitting the Navy Estimates for discussion before Easter, managed to stave off till August the inquiries and discussions which were so greatly needed. He should, therefore, oppose the voting of a shilling on account this Session until the entire Estimates had been laid before the House.
§ MR. LOCKE
, reminding the House of his contention last Session that the existing licensing laws, if enforced, were amply sufficient, congratulated the Secretary of State for the Home Department on having partially adopted that conclusion, and expressed a hope that, by the time that the measures entitled to precedence this year were disposed of, which would probably be about the end of the Session, the right hon. Gentleman would accept his contention in its entirety. If Luton, through the operation of the hon. Baronet's (Sir Henry Selwin-Ibbetson's) and other measures, had become a perfect paradise, there was no reason why the same treatment should not be equally successful elsewhere. He supposed that the hon. Baronet was prepared to deal with the subject in the present Session. [Sir HENRY SELWIN-IBBETSON: Hear, 134 hear!] The hon. Baronet had certainly been the most successful in this department of legislation, for the extraordinary thing was that he had pleased everybody, and after the Home Secretary's testimony to his success, it would be well to leave the subject altogether in his hands. He hoped, therefore, that the hon. Baronet near him (Sir Wilfrid Lawson) would not introduce the Permissive Bill, for though he might procure a few additional votes it had no chance of passing, and the only purpose it served was to make people uncomfortable and to create a great deal of misunderstanding.
§ MR. PELL
called attention to the omission from Her Majesty's Speech of the subject of local taxation, and urged that, though the attempt of the Government to deal with it last year was eminently unsatisfactory and abortive, the matter ought not to be shelved; especially as the recent legal proceedings with regard to the taxation of costs were likely to cripple the administration of justice.
§ MR. C. S. READ
also regretted that the subject of local taxation had not found a place in Her Majesty's Speech. Were the incidence and area of local taxation settled before the introduction of the promised measure on sanitary reform, opposition to that measure in this House would be disarmed, as also, what was still more important, opposition to its application in the country.
§ Address agreed to:—To be presented by Privy Councillors.