HC Deb 08 February 1872 vol 209 cc147-8

I am anxious to give an explanation by way of caution on a matter referred to yesterday by the hon. Member for Chatham (Mr. Otway), a matter of importance of which we shall certainly hear again. Although it is not in my power at present to give a complete and adequate history of the transactions connected with the Confederate Cotton Loan Bonds, I am very desirous that what I say should be subject to no ambiguity as far as it goes. In the first place, we have been under the impression—which impression may be subject to correction—that the Commission sitting at Washington was entirely different in one respect from that sitting at Geneva. The Commission at Washington seems, by the 14th Article of the Treaty, to be made itself the judge of what claims it might properly adjudicate upon. The 14th Article of the Treaty says— That it shall be competent for the Commissioners to decide in each case whether any claim has or has not been duly made, preferred, and laid before them— my hon. Friend will see that it is totally different from the validity or justice of the claim— either wholly or to any and what extent, according to the true intent and meaning of this Treaty. I trust I was not understood to say yesterday that the American Government had made no representation to us on the subject of the Confederate Cotton Bonds. What I wished to state—and what I think I did state—was that it is desirable to keep in view the distinction of place in this matter. The American Government did not, as far as we were informed, request at Washington that the question might be held over until there had been some communication with the British Government, and the decision of the British Government was known. The American Government had made an application to this country, and it was in consequence of this application that the Lord Chancellor, the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, and myself had some consultation and correspondence, and the Cabinet finally came to the decision, the exact terms of which I stated yesterday. That decision was taken before we were aware of the proceedings at Washington, and our first intelligence of those proceedings came upon the night of the day subsequent to that on which the Cabinet came to a decision. I hope there is no point of ambiguity in the partial statement I now make to my hon. Friend.