HC Deb 05 July 1872 vol 212 cc723-36

, in rising to call the attention of the House to our commercial relations with Egypt; and to ask the First Lord of the Treasury, Whether Her Majesty's Government will use their best endeavours to induce the Porte to complete the contemplated judicial reforms which are so essential for the further extension and security of our mercantile interests in Egypt; and to move for Papers, said, that the recent great development of the commerce of Egypt, and especially of British commerce, rendered our relations with that country, and above all the laws which regulated our commercial relations, a subject of the greatest importance; and he thought would furnish sufficient reasons for justifying him in placing it under the notice of the House. Even long previous to the opening of the railway between Alexandria and Suez, and the completion of the Suez Canal, public attention was directed to the system of judicial procedure in Egypt. That system had its origin in the original Capitulations with Turkey, made at a time when there was a great mistrust of the policy of Turkey; when the trade with the East was of no great importance, and the foreigners residing in the country required every protection against the action of the Government. The Capitulations dated as far back as 1535. They were first granted to the French, and for many years no foreigner could reside in Turkey except under the protection of the French flag. But the commercial enterprise of England soon altered that state of things; the famous Levant Company sprang into existence, under a charter of Queen Elizabeth, in 1581, at a time when we were so little known that the Turks thought England was the capital of London. That Levant Company was granted additional power by James I., in 1605, and it monopolized all the trade of the East. That Company appointed Consuls, claimed extended jurisdiction in civil cases, and even a certain jurisdiction in criminal cases. When commerce, however, became too widely extended for the continued monopoly of the Levant Company, their Consuls were replaced by Government officers, and it was to the power which these gentlemen claimed to exercise, and the inconveniences which arose from those claims, that he wished that evening to call the attention of the House. The original Capitulations, he must repeat, were based upon a mistrust of the Turkish Government, which, three centuries since, and even much later, was not surprising, and cause for which even now existed in distant Provinces of the Turkish Empire; but the original Capitulations, which were moderate, had grown into demands and into practices which, especially in Egypt, rendered all government impossible, for, little by little, Western energy had overpowered Eastern apathy and fatalism, and the nations which wore the hat had forced themselves upon, and were trampling under foot, the nations that wore the turban. The encroachments on the central and local Governments had been incessant; and in Egypt, under her present enlightened and generous ruler, possessing in Nubar Pasha and other Ministers statesmen of eminent ability—and even while our interests were presided over and protected by Colonel Staunton, our Consul General, a gentleman second to none in ability, energy, and rectitude of judgment, and who had won the esteem and goodwill of all classes in that country—even under these favorable circumstances, British interests were suffering under a system which, to use Lord Stanley's words, was as injurious to British interests as it was derogatory to the character and wellbeing of the Egyptian Administration. The subject would not be a very tiresome one when once he had got over his preliminary statement, because he should have some very curious facts to communicate to the House. The way in which the encroachments on the part of the Consuls occurred was this—Having demanded the right of being present during the trial of cases in which subjects of the countries they represented were interested, they claimed the right of carrying the sentences into execution, and soon after they demanded the further right of sitting upon the Bench when such cases were being tried. But it was not until 1848 that the Consuls for the first time arrogated to themselves the exclusive power of trying such cases; a most important and mischievous error, and the result of which was to render all effective government impossible in Egypt, the authorities in which did not receive fair play, seeing that one-half of the population of Alexandria consisted of foreigners. For instance, if a Maltese behaved ill he must be taken to the English Consular Court; if a Spaniard, to the Spanish Consul; and if an Italian, to the Italian Consul. Thus the Government of Egypt was powerless for good. Another ill consequence of the system was, that all foreigners escaped taxation by forcing the tax collectors to sue them in the Courts of their respective Consuls also, and the leading men in Egypt seeing that, had actually declined to pay their taxes on the ground that no taxes were paid by foreigners. He would advert to one or two incidents that had come within his knowledge arising out of this system. In one instance, a Belgian sold some property to a Frenchman, and the latter declined to pay, alleging that one part of the property had been withheld. The matter was tried by the French Consul, who gave a verdict for the Frenchman, with costs against the Belgian, and with power to bring an action against him. The action was taken and tried in the Belgian Consulate, when the Belgian obtained a verdict with costs against the Frenchman; and the matter was still unsettled between the two Consulates. In another instance, an Egyptian let a house to a Neapolitan, who underlet a floor of the house to a Maltese, an Italian, and a Spaniard. On the Egyptian calling in due time for the rent he found that the Neapolitan had gone to Naples, and as the other tenants would not pay rent to him, he brought actions against them in their respective Consulate Courts. In each case the tenants obtained a verdict, and the unhappy man who had originally let the house could obtain no rent; but the rent was paid to an agent of the Neapolitan who sent it over to Naples. After waiting three years, the Egyptian had actually to buy out these men in order to get back his own house. A curious incident happened to himself in regard to this state of things. He went with a friend to the Bazaar at Cairo to buy two curtains. Having purchased one from a dealer, he gave the man £5 to purchase a second curtain for him, but the man returned, saying that it was impossible to get another. He then asked for the £5, but the man said—"No, we make it a rule in our establishment never to give back money when once we have received it." The police were sent for, but as the dealer, who had been in Algeria, had French protection, they could not touch him. It was suggested that he (Mr. B. Cochrane) should communicate with the French Consul General, but the Consul General was not then at Cairo, and three weeks would have elapsed before any decision could have been obtained. His steamer left on the following day, and he was therefore obliged to take a bundle of anything the man chose to let him have in exchange for the money. These things occurred every day; and he put it to the House—when English interests in Egypt were so immensely developed—whether it was not absolutely essential for us to see that those judicial reforms which had been so long before the public were really carried out? He now came to the reforms themselves. Both the late and the present Government of this country had always recognized the existing evils, and been anxious to remove them. Nubar Pasha, the Egyptian Minister for Foreign Affairs, had published an important Paper on that subject, in which he said that the Egyptian Government felt that progress could only come from Europe; that it desired the introduction of that Conservative element, and wished to entrust to it all its great works and to encourage capital to be brought into the country; that the Government was rendered powerless and had to abandon the country to itself; and that the system on which justice was administered tended to demoralize the country, while the Government was accused of weakness and error, as evidenced by the fact, that in Egypt Europeans had for 40 years enjoyed the rights of property and paid no taxes. All that was opposed to the letter and spirit of the Capitulations, and prevented the development of the resources of Egypt In a dispatch Lord Stanley entered fully into the subject, and stated that Her Majesty's Government were perfectly willing to lend their aid to the Egyptian Government in an attempt to establish a better system, and that if the Egyptian Government obtained the concurrence of other Powers, the cordial co-operation of Great Britain would not be withheld from so salutary a work. Lord Stanley added that— Her Majesty's Government is certainly not inclined to hold out for a jurisdiction to which they have no treaty right, which they admit to be an usurpation, though brought about by force of circumstances, and which is as injurious to the British interests as it is derogatory to the character and well-being of the Egyptian Administration. Those views had also been fully and ably carried out by Lord Granville, and an International Commission had been appointed, representing the different Powers, on the subject of these reforms. The Report of the Commission said that it could not be denied that the establishment of a single jurisdiction, presenting real guarantees, and applying one uniform and known law, was precisely the direct and necessary remedy for the inconveniences resulting from the multiplicity of jurisdiction and system of laws. The Commission, therefore, did not hesitate to declare its opinion that disputes between foreigners and natives, as well as those between foreigners of different nationalities, should be submitted to a single tribunal, as proposed by the Egyptian Government. With regard to the execution of sentences, the International Commission was— Unanimously of opinion that it should take place without the possibility of any administrative, Consular, or local power placing any obstacle in its way, either directly or indirectly, and that such execution should be assigned to the new tribunals themselves. The Commission has only desired that the officer of justice charged with the execution should be obliged to give notice to the Consuls of the day and hour of the execution under the penalty of rendering the judgment void, and incurring damages. In a despatch of the 22nd of July, 1870, Lord Granville, writing to Lord Lyons, said— The two Governments (those of England and France) agreeing in the proposed reforms, it seems to Her Majesty's Government that the facts of this accord should be made known to the other Powers who were represented in the Commission that sat at Cairo, as well as to the Porte and the Pasha of Egypt. It remains for the Viceroy to obtain the consent of the Sultan to these proposed reforms, and it is for the Sultan to inform all the Powers that these reforms are sanctioned by law. He was anxious that every means at our disposal should be used to get these reforms at once recognized. At the Conference of the Great Powers on the occasion of the Treaty of Paris, 1856, on the 25th of March, Aali Pasha submitted to the Conference that all the commercial difficulties between Turkey and the other Powers arose from the Capitulations, which had outlived their time. He asserted that the privileges thus acquired by Europeans were injurious even to themselves, and to all commercial transactions; that the jurisdiction claimed by foreign Powers led to a multiplicity of Governments, and consequently created an insuperable barrier to all improvement. M. de Bourqueney and the other Plenipotentiaries agreed that these Capitulations placed Turkey in a very false position, but it could not be denied now that Egypt was placed in a very false position, and Prince Tour d'Auvergne had expressed the opinion that, in consequence of particular circumstances, the position. Of foreigners in Egypt was not the same as in other Provinces of the Turkish Empire. The question was not a general one, but peculiar to Egypt. Lord Granville and Lord Stanley joined in this opinion, and Lord Clarendon, in a despatch, had alluded to the same point and insisted that Egypt was an exceptional district. The Sultan, however, had announced that he was drawing up a new code of law; but it might be 10 years before this code was arranged, while, in the meantime, a code had been already drawn up in Egypt and approved by all the different Powers, so that there was nothing to prevent the new Court, which was to consist half of foreigners and half of natives, being constituted to-morrow. Its establishment would give confidence to all the Powers concerned, and the objections to the Consular Courts would no longer be a subject of complaint. If any justification were needed of the Motion he proposed making, it was to be found in the commercial returns of the country. Few not conversant with the facts were aware of the present state of the commerce of Egypt. The imports to Great Britain from Egypt amounted to £16,116,000; while from France the value was only £33,000,000; Turkey, £6,528,000; Germany, £17,000,000, only equal to Egypt. The exports from this country to Egypt were £8,726,000; to France, £11,000,000; to Turkey, £5,300,000. These, of course, included goods in transit; but the increase during the past four years was enormous. Everyone who had visited the country spoke of the amazing improvement and increase in its manufactures. The sugar manufactures had increased enormously; factories were studded all over the face of the country, in each of which British subjects were employed, and it might be said, with perfect fairness, that the interest of Egypt was the interest of England. That was the principle upon which he asked the House to consider the case. He had alluded to the Suez Canal the other evening, as an instance of our position with respect to the Consular jurisdiction, and said that out of 107 ships passing through the Canal 69 were English, representing a tonnage of 77,000 out of 104,000. Curiously enough, he found, from a Return for the month of February last, that 100 ships passed through the Canal, of which 79 were English, 6 French, 5 Austrian, 2 Italian, 2 Egyptian, 1 Dutch, 1 Norwegian, 1 Ottoman, 1 Portuguese, 1 Tunisian, and 1 German. Yet the French Government claimed the right of trying in their Consular Courts all actions arising out of differences between the traders and the company. What justice could be expected under such circumstances? If this state of things were continued, English interests could never be protected. The classical mind of the First Lord of the Treasury knew how much we were indebted to Egypt for our civilization. Lord Houghton had written— Eastward roll the orbs of Heaven—westward roll the thoughts of men. To put the matter, however, in a practical way, he hoped that men's minds would really turn eastwards, and take notice of the important facts to which he called attention. He asked his noble Friend the Under Secretary of State for the Foreign Office, in his reply, to hold out some hope that Government would take advantage of the document which he had submitted to them, and in which all the Powers had agreed upon what was wanted in Egypt. He sincerely trusted that the Government would give way and grant these reforms, which were essential to the interests both of this country and of Egypt itself. The hon. Member concluded by asking the Government to lay on the Table all the Papers connected with the question.


said, he agreed with the hon. Member for the Isle of Wight, that the interests of England were identical with those of Egypt. There was, however, one important point connected with the case to which his hon. Friend had not referred, and which related to the mortgage of land. Whenever an Egyptian sued an Englishman in a case of that description, it was always decided in the Consular Court, and the same rule held good when an Englishman sued an Egyptian. To show the importance of the application of capital to the land in the cultivation of cotton in Egypt he might state that land which when not irrigated produced only one quintal and a-half of cotton would, when irrigated, produce five quintals or more. It was natural enough, therefore, that the Egyptian peasant should wish to have his land watered; but irrigation in that country could not be carried out without capital. The Egyptian was most anxious to enlist foreign capital on his side; but when he was about to do so an order came out from the Egyptian Government that no security could be taken on the land itself—the fact being that, in cases where the mortgage was foreclosed, the property passed beyond the jurisdiction of the Government, who were, therefore, afraid that by such means the country would eventually fall into the hands of the French and English, and that they might establish colonies there. Within the last few years, however, since the American War, Egypt had become one of the great cotton-growing countries. The cotton grown in Egypt was of a very superior character, and it was of the greatest importance that the British capitalist should have his transactions assured to him by the Courts of that country. He could mention the most extraordinary cases in which British capitalists over and over again tried to get the money they had lost, but were utterly unable to do so. The judicial reforms in question had been assented to by all the foreign Governments; and though hereafter there might be some difference about the representation of the different countries on the Bench of the Mixed Courts, yet the Code had been ratified in each country interested, and it was only the Porte that caused any difficulty. Of course, they knew the Porte was jealous of the progress which Egypt had. Made during the last few years; but that was not a matter which they need take into consideration, because he felt sure that Egypt had no idea of separating from the Porte. The matter intimately concerned the foreign commerce of this country as well as the welfare of Egypt and its continued progress by means of foreign capital. He, therefore, hoped the noble Lord would be able to give them an assurance that the Government were prepared to put some pressure on the Porte to carry out these long-promised reforms. In conclusion, he begged leave to second the Motion of his hon. Friend.


said, his hon. Friend the Member for the Isle of Wight (Mr. Baillie Cochrane) had made a very interesting speech on the subject, and illustrated it in his usual pleasant and graphic manner by his own personal adventures; in the result of which he (Viscount Enfield) might at least say that the hon. Gentleman had not "spoiled" the Egyptians. He could assure the hon. Gentleman that the despatch which he quoted, and which was addressed by Lord Stanley in 1867 to Colonel Staunton, had not been deviated from in any essential principle by the successive Secretaries of State who followed him. His hon. Friend had stated with perfect accuracy the state of the case. By virtue of the Capitulations granted by the Ottoman Government, most European Governments exercised the right of independent jurisdiction over their respective subjects in Egypt, excepting in cases where one of the parties to the suit was an Egyptian. In 1869 the Viceroy's Government complained that abuses had arisen by which judicial power over foreigners, especially in criminal cases, was wrested from the Egyptian Law Courts and placed in the hands of Consuls, which often prevented natives from obtaining justice from Europeans. Nubar Pasha proposed the scheme of judicial reform which, at the suggestion of Colonel Staunton, was to be referred to an International Commission. The year 1868 was occupied in discussing the necessary preliminaries—namely, when the Commission should sit, whether inquiries should be made into the Capitulations themselves, into usages arising from the Capitulations, and whether the proposed civil tribunals should take cognizance of criminal matters? In 1869 the International Commission met at Cairo. Its composition was as follows:—Nubar Pasha, Minister of Foreign Affairs to the Khedive of Egypt; the Agents and Consuls General of Austria, of Hungary, of the North German Confederation, of the United States, two Commissioners for France, two for England, two for the Italian Government, and two for the Russian Government. The labors and Report of that Commission well deserved the attention of the House. He might be allowed to make a very few extracts from the Parliamentary Paper containing the Report which had been produced two years ago on the Motion of the noble Lord the Member for Liverpool (Viscount Sandon). The Commission had to take cognizance not only of reforms to be carried out in civil and commercial matters, but also for the repression of offences. They had to inquire into the complaints raised by the Egyptian Government, and the greater or lesser foundation for the same; the exposition and appreciation of the reforms demanded; the enumeration of the guarantees offered by the Government; the examination of the efficiency of these guarantees, and of the supplementary guarantees which it would be necessary to demand. He would submit the following extracts to their notice, taken from the Report, and bearing on the subject:— Besides the local tribunals, there are in Egypt 16 or 17 Consulates having right of jurisdiction over the subjects of the nations they represent. Consequently, in the actual state of things, the universal rule followed with regard to competence in civil and commercial matters is that the defendant should necessarily be brought before his own tribunal—that is to Say, the native before the local tribunal, and the foreigner before the tribunal of his Consulate. It is the absolute application of the rule actor sequitur forum rei. The inconveniences pointed out weigh as heavily, and perhaps more heavily, on foreigners than on the natives; they have the effect of preventing foreigners from coming to Egypt, and on this account the Egyptian Government is justified in saying that they are exceedingly prejudicial to the country, by preventing the Government from applying to substantial contractors to whom it would wish to confide its great public works. But the most disastrous consequences to the Egyptian Government of the multiplicity of jurisdictions is, that it cannot possibly enforce the laws concerning patents, industrial property, and trade marks, because each Consulate would, in these matters, apply its own laws, and that the industry and wealth of the country would suffer from such impossibility. The Commission cannot deny that the establishment of a single jurisdiction, presenting real guarantees, and applying one uniform and known law, is precisely the direct and necessary remedy for the inconveniences resulting from the multiplicity of jurisdictions and systems of laws. It does not hesitate to declare its opinion, therefore, that the views of the Egyptian Government on this point should be adopted—that is to say, that disputes between foreigners and natives, as well as those between foreigners of different nationalities, should be submitted to a single tribunal. With regard to the execution of sentences, the Commission was unanimously of opinion that it should take place without the possibility of any administrative, Consular, or local power placing any obstacle in its way, either directly or indirectly, and that such execution should be assigned to the new tribunals themselves. In reference to the composition of the tribunals the Commission recommended that the tribunals should be composed in such a manner that in matters where foreigners were parties to the cause the majority should be secured to foreign magistrates, and it further recommended the addition to the Tribunals of First Instance, judging in commercial matters, of two merchants, one native, the other foreign, chosen by means of election. It was recommended besides that hearings should be public and the defence entirely free. The Commission admitted that the guarantees offered by the Government had, collectively, a real value, and testified to a sincere desire to secure a good administration of justice; but the Commission was of opinion that they required to be completed, and it was right to state that not one of those demanded by the majority of the Commission had been refused by the Government. The majority assured to the European Judges was considered by the Commission one of the most important guarantees offered by the Government. As to the proceedings in criminal cases, the Commission thought the reforms proposed by the Egyptian Government were equally satisfactory, and after going very carefully into the manner in which the system should be carried out the Commissioners concluded by saying that they found the Government of the Viceroy was, in all respects, disposed to listen to their suggestions. His hon. Friend and the House were no doubt anxious to know why the recommendations he had just referred to produced no practical results. After the termination of the labours of the Commission, it was finally agreed that the French Government should frame a Code for carrying into effect the proposed judicial reforms. This work was completed on the 15th of May, 1870, and the Code having been carefully considered and agreed to by Her Majesty's Government, it only remained to obtain the assent of the Porte. The French War, however, supervening, matters remained dormant until January, 1871. It was then proposed by the Khedive that a Commission should be appointed to inquire into the provisions of the Code; but the English Government said they could not take the initiative, and suggested a reference to Constantinople. In March, 1871, the Khedive said he would form his own tribunals, merely modifying existing laws conformably to the wants of his own country. The English Government said they generally approved that plan, and promised their good will. Sir Henry Elliot accordingly informed the Sultan of the plan, who offered no objection, but said that the position of foreigners must in no instance be thereby affected. The Khedive, through Colonel Staunton, said that would not be the case, adding that he hoped to make the general reforms more acceptable to the Porte and the European Powers. In October, 1871, Sir Henry Elliot reported that the Khedive had written to Aali Pasha; but the death of that distinguished statesman shortly afterwards put a stop to further communications. Colonel Staunton then announced that the Porte did not object to the general principles of judicial reform as laid down by the International Commission, but objected to the Code of the Khedive as trenching upon the Sovereign rights of the Porte. On the part of the Khedive, Colonel Staunton replied that he would frame laws according to those of the Empire, with modifications to suit the circumstances of his country. The Khedive also stated that these modifications would be within the competence of his own Government, and authorized by Royal firmans. In May, 1872, Server Pasha, in reply to Sir Henry Elliot, said the Porte was preparing a new Code, to be completed within six months, expressed a hope that this would prove applicable to the whole Empire, and meanwhile suggested some delay in considering the scheme of the Khedive. He said also that while disposed to see that these reforms were carried out, he hoped there would be no interference on the part of the British Government. The House, he trusted, would therefore think that from the year 1867 to the present time no foreign Minister had shown himself insensible to the importance of judicial reforms in the East. But in dealing with the Porte, they were dealing with an independent and friendly Power; and though he felt certain that Her Majesty's Government would continue to give such attention to this subject as its importance demanded, and would not lose any opportunity of pressing this matter on the attention of the Porte, their interference must be confined within such limits and be exercised with such discretion as the Porte had a fair right to expect from this country. He did not know that he had any Papers to present to the House on the subject; but he trusted that within the time specified we should see a fair and impartial system of judicial reforms carried out in its integrity.


said, there was nothing more clear from the Koran downwards, than the extreme and almost vindictive one-sidedness with which Christians, and all other people of other religions, were viewed by the Mohammedan law. The manner in which Mohammedans viewed the professors of other creeds might be summed up in the famous lines— A Christian's well may not be clean tis true, 'Twill do to wash the carcase of a Jew. This rancour was undoubtedly the real source of the difficulty they were discussing. The suggestion made by the Commissioners of an International tribunal was, no doubt, the only thing by which we could emerge from that diffi- culty. Had the suggestions of the Commissioners been carried out nothing would have been more effectual in every respect; but, unfortunately, the old root of the bitterness had shown itself again. The Porte now said that they could not accept the Code which had been drawn up by the French, and that they would draw up a code of their own, which was to be ready in six months. He would be very glad if it was, but he feared the anticipation would not be realized; and although he would admit that in most respects the recommendations of the Commission were decidedly satisfactory, yet he must object to the proposal made by the Commission that the procedure before the tribunal was to be carried on in the language of the country, or in French or Italian. He should like to know why English should not be used, where the interests of British or American citizens were involved? The language of 80,000,000 of people should not be put aside in that way. He also objected to the procedure in cases affecting religious property being carried on in an Egyptian Court presided over by Egyptians. In that case foreigners would have no chance whatever. In all other respects he thought the recommendations of the Commission and the institution of the tribunal had been most excellent. He hoped the Foreign Office authorities would give their earnest attention to this matter, and though they might be very much embarrassed by the necessity of keeping up the independence of the Porte and its paramount jurisdiction, still he hoped they would not allow that to interfere with this most necessary re-organization of the law in the East.

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