HC Deb 27 May 1872 vol 211 cc710-8

Sir, I had hoped that before this the right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Government would have felt it his duty to make some communication to the House respecting the negotiations relating to the Treaty of Washington; but, as he has not done so, I will make some inquiry of the Government with regard to the state of those negotiations. The House will, I am sure, recollect that on the eve of our adjournment the right hon. Gentleman made a very important and interesting statement to us upon the subject of our negotiations with the United States. I collected myself at that time from the observations of the right hon. Gentleman—at least my own impression was that Her Majesty's Government had made to the Government of the United States a proposition, the object of which was to terminate the difficulties respecting what are called the Indirect Claims that had been preferred by the Government of the United States, and, indeed, virtually to withdraw those Claims from the consideration of the Tribunal at Geneva. I collected also from the right hon. Gentleman's statement—at least, that was my own impression—that the Government of the United States had received in a sympathetic spirit the proposition of Her Majesty's Government, and that the President had agreed to place that proposition in the form of a draft Supplementary Article before the Senate for their consideration and approval. It would, I am sure, have been most interesting to the House and to Parliament generally, if we could have been acquainted before the adjournment with the terms of the Supplementary Article. But it appeared to me that the plea for withholding those terms from us urged by the right hon. Gentleman, was quite irresistible when he told us that the Supplementary Article was to be discussed in the Senate of Washington in Secret Congress, and that it would be looked upon as a violation of confidence if it were made public at that moment in England. I felt myself—and I think my sentiments on the subject must have been generally entertained on both sides of the House—that it was impossible after that statement of the right hon. Gentleman to press for any particulars whatever at the moment. But I must say it was with the greatest mortification that immediately after the adjournment of this House I found that the contents—I may almost say the verbal contents—of that Article were made known in America, and of course by the rapid means of communication that now prevail, they immediately became familiar to every one in this country. The consequence was, that from a delicate feeling of honour—which I trust may never be found wanting in this House—we were prevented from expressing any opinion upon that important document, and we made that great sacrifice for an object of State interest, which was no doubt of great moment, but of the advantage of which we were thus entirely deprived. I make no charge whatever against Her Majesty's Government on this head. I am quite sure that the right hon. Gentleman, opposite, and the Advisers of Her Majesty in general—that any Gentlemen under any circumstances, and from any party who might become Ministers of the Crown—would never trifle with the House of Commons in such a matter. I have no doubt that the statement of the right hon. Gentleman was bonâ fide in every sense; but, at the same time, I regret that Her Majesty's Government did not take the necessary pains to be better informed upon the matter; and I should like very much to know upon what representations the right hon. Gentleman felt that he was justified in calling upon the House to make so great a sacrifice, and which prevented us from giving our opinion, if we had deemed it necessary to do so, upon this important proposition. We have heard to-day—I know not upon what authority, for I have only just arrived in town—but we have heard from the public prints that the Senate has accepted this Supplemental Article, but with modifications. What I wish to know, in the first place, from the right hon. Gentleman is, whether this is authentic information which we have received—namely, that the Supplemental Article has been approved by the Senate; and, secondly, whether modifications have been introduced into it; and as we are now in possession of the authentic terms of the Supplemental Article, I should further wish to know whether the Ministry will state what are the modifications which have been introduced into that Article; and, whether an opportunity will be given to Parliament before Her Majesty is advised to ratify and sanction this Supplemental Article, in whatever form and with whatever modifications, to express their opinion upon it? That is the principal object that I have in rising, and I had hoped that by some communication to the House by the right hon. Gentleman, it would have been made unnecessary for me to put these questions. But there is one other topic connected with these negotiations upon which the House has a right to obtain some information. The House is aware that by the 5th Article of the Treaty of Washington, within two months of the period when the Counter Case was sent into the Tribunal at Geneva, which was the 15th of April, we were called upon to offer, either in a printed or in a written form, our arguments in favour of our views. Now, that Statement—which is, of course, the most important document that can be placed before the Tribunal at Geneva—cannot be sent in after the 15th of June. I wish to know from the right hon. Gentleman, whether he clearly sees his way in the present state of the negotiations at Washington, so that we may be certain that we shall be able to comply with the Treaty, and in a manner which will not at all injure our rights or the present position we have taken up in reference to some of its stipulations? The House will see at once that if the Supplemental Article is not agreed to by both Governments by the 15th of June and we do not send in our arguments by that time the Treaty will lapse; and if we do send them in before the Supplemental Treaty is agreed to, we send them in to a state of final adjudication, waiving our objections to the Claims for Indirect Damages that have been preferred. The House will, therefore, see the great importance of our being quite correct upon this question. It has been proposed by a rather eminent authority on the other side of the Atlantic that a Joint Note should be presented by both Governments to the Tribunal at Geneva, asking for time and requesting delay; but it appears to me—and I think it may appear to others of greater authority—that it is doubtful whether the Tribunal at Geneva could grant such delay under the terms of the Treaty; and, as far as we can be guided by the conduct of previous Courts of Arbitration, I think that even if they had the power they might decline to exercise it. The House will see, therefore, that it is of great importance that we should have the clearest information from the Government, and I therefore would request the right hon. Gentleman to inform us on this occasion, whether it is in his power to make the House acquainted, in the first place, with the reported modifications proposed by the Government of the United States in the Supplemental Article, and whether, when that Article is in an ultimate and authentic form, we shall have an opportunity of giving an opinion upon it? I would also ask him whether, remembering that after the Supplemental Article has been approved by the Senate—which I will assume for the moment is the fact—it must still be negotiated in the form of a Treaty, and therefore that considerable time must elapse, he can inform us what precautions he has taken that we shall not under the 5th Article of the Treaty of Washington lose the advantages, if there be advantages, in the main Treaty, or be committed, by prematurely sending in our arguments, to those Claims which we have now for so long a time and in so decided a manner objected to?


Sir, I will follow the topics to which the right hon. Gen- tleman has adverted in the order in which he has touched upon them. The right hon. Gentleman referred to the appeal which was made by me to the House of Commons, and by my noble Friend the Foreign Secretary to the other House of Parliament, for a prolongation of the forbearance they have shown in a remarkable degree during the last few months. That appeal was founded upon many considerations of general prudence. I stated that the President of the United States had actually submitted for the consideration of the Senate the Supplemental Article which had been drafted by Her Majesty's Government on a suggestion from the other side, and had been transmitted to America for the consideration of the President. In making that appeal to the House of Commons, undoubtedly the principal motive which was operating upon my mind was not so much the apprehension of what might result from its publication in this country, in the shape of comments either from Parliament or the public—though there are general rules which make it right to reserve the publication of the terms of an Article—as the belief that its premature publication in America might lead to mischief, and might possibly fetter the future proceedings of the authorities there, or at any rate, that it was only due to them to leave the consideration of that matter in their hands. That was the nature of the appeal which I desired to make, and I am not surprised that the right hon. Gentleman should feel some mortification at the fact that, within a very short time after that appeal, an Article very nearly corresponding in terms with the draft which we had transmitted should have been divulged in a manner which, as might have been expected, caused it to find its way immediately to this country. The right hon. Gentleman puts to me a Question on this point of which perhaps I do not fully gather the importance—namely, upon what representations it was that we thought ourselves justified in making our appeal to the House of Commons. Now, as far as general prudence and general policy are concerned, the appeal was not based on representations made to us, but on our own judgment, with which I think Parliament was pleased to concur. The representations of fact which were made to us were the representations which we stated at the time, and which I believe were perfectly correct—namely, that the submission of this Article for the counsel and advice of the Senate had been made by the President, and that a submission of that kind, as we understood the Constitution of America, was strictly in the nature of a confidential submission. That, I believe, to be entirely accurate. If the right hon. Gentleman asks me how it was, under those circumstances, that this Article, or something nearly resembling it, shortly afterwards became public in America, I am afraid it is a Question which should rather be put in another place, on another side of the water than on this side. It is not for me to blame anyone, or even to venture on a surmise whether that publication was premature, or whether it was owing to individual carelessness or accident, or whatever cause. Such things do happen, I think, from time to time in America, and perhaps in other countries as well; but the House will perceive that it is not a matter for which Her Majesty's Government can be in any degree responsible. The right hon. Gentleman then inquired with respect to the present state of the negotiations, and what I have to say is that we were informed yesterday that the Senate had agreed by a very large majority to the draft Article proposed by Her Majesty's Government, but with certain verbal amendments. I used the word verbal casually—with certain amendments in its terms. Those amendments were not made known to us in a formal, accurate manner, so that we could take any step with regard to them, until to-day. The Cabinet met to consider them this afternoon; but the House will bear in mind that all these questions require very careful consideration. Indeed, they require advice as well as consideration from the Counsel of the Government, and under these circumstances the House will not be surprised when I tell them that what we met to take into consideration an hour and a-half ago we have not yet been able to dispose of, so as to be in a condition to transmit the final expression of our judgment to the American Minister. Under these circumstances, the right hon. Gentleman, therefore, will at once understand that I am not in a position to make any communication to Parliament. Had I been so, I should have been only too happy to do it without waiting for any invitation, even from him. The modifications proposed by the Senate have not yet been published in America; they are strictly confidential as between the two Governments, and it would not be for the public interest that we should do anything to remove that seal of confidence until the time comes when it can be done without disadvantage to the interests involved. Then the right hon. Gentleman asks whether time will be given for the consideration of the arrangement by Parliament before the ratification of the Treaty. Now, that is a stage which we have not yet reached, inasmuch as the terms of the Article are under discussion between the two Governments; and I would rather that the right hon. Gentleman should be good enough to put his Question on that subject on Paper, so that I might give him an answer with perfect precision. I have my own ideas upon the matter, and I know that this proposition must be transmitted across the water. Communications are now going on by telegraph; but I would rather not enter into particulars without having the opportunity of obtaining the most precise information from the Foreign Office. The right hon. Gentleman also referred to the argument which may have to be laid by or in behalf of the two Governments before the Arbitration at Geneva by the 15th or 13th of June. Now, I think it would be manifestly premature on our part to make any announcement whatever to Parliament with respect to the steps that are to be taken at Geneva until we are able to conclude the business which we have at present in hand with respect to the Supplemental engagement, for the whole consideration of the question regarding the proceedings at Geneva must evidently depend in a very material degree upon the nature of the determination at which the present negotiations on the Supplemental Article may arrive. It would, I think, be so far from giving information to the House, that it would rather tend to confuse both the House and the mind of the public were we to allow those two matters to be in our own view mixed up together. What I am willing, however, to state to the right hon. Gentleman is, that we are perfectly aware of and have carefully considered the element of time in this matter, and that we shall endeavour to bear in mind our duty to Parliament, as well as our own position, in the steps which we may have to take with respect to it. The right hon. Gentleman has referred to the idea which has been entertained—I may not, perhaps, call it a proposal—that application should be made to the Arbitrators to enlarge the time allowed for consideration in this matter, and he has expressed a doubt as to the powers of the Arbitrators in that respect. Now, it is not necessary for me to enter into the sufficiency or insufficiency of the powers of the Arbitrators to deal with that question, because it is evident that if an enlargement of time were desirable, the necessary powers for procuring it could be effected by agreement between the two Governments. As far as Her Majesty's Government is concerned, it is a matter that might be considered with great promptitude. I am not able to say to what degree that is also the case in America; but the question of time would undoubtedly be treated, as far as we are concerned, with a view to the attainment of the main object which we all desire—that is to say, that no mere question of time ought to be allowed to prevent the attainment of a good which by an enlargement might be made attainable. Until, however, we know—which we do not at present—that we may not be able to arrive at a satisfactory conclusion without an enlargement of time, it would obviously be needless and premature to raise any question upon that subject. I have now answered all the Questions of the right hon. Gentleman as well as I can; but there is this one addition which I wish to make. I have said that we recollected the importance of the element of time with respect to the approach of the date for the proceedings at Geneva. We are still more sensible of its importance with respect to the communications that are now going on, and I think I may very safely venture to say on behalf of my Colleagues and myself, that not a moment will be lost, nor a moment spent, beyond what necessity and prudence absolutely require, in returning our reply to the proposal which has been made on the part of the American Government, so as to make every contribution in our power towards an early arrival at that consummation which both nations, as we are convinced, so earnestly desire.


In the answer just given by the right hon. Gentleman there was one point which I did not clearly understand—namely, whether the modifications referred to will be submitted to Parliament, and whether Parliament will be allowed to express an opinion upon them before, by the action of the Government, they are finally accepted. The right hon. Gentleman has more than acknowledged, and gracefully acknowledged, that the Government had been treated with great forbearance in this matter. That forbearance, I think, binds the Government to treat the House with some trust and confidence, and considering that neither side has in the slightest degree embarrassed the Government, and that we have shown them every confidence, we may ask them to show us equal confidence, and allow us to see these modifications before they take final action upon them.


My right hon. Friend, who I may say has not been one of the least forbearing Members of Parliament with reference to this subject, did not gather with perfect accuracy the answer which I gave to the right hon. Gentleman opposite. The modifications referred to are modifications in an Article which has been proposed by one Government to the other, and which, if adopted, will eventually form the substance and corpus of a Treaty between the two countries. After that Treaty has been signed it will be ratified. With regard to the ratification the right hon. Gentleman opposite put to me a question just now, in answer to which I said that, although I had a view in my own mind upon the subject, I would rather not answer until I had an opportunity of ascertaining with perfect precision and exactness what would be the necessary course in the matter, so that when I did reply I should give an answer which the right hon. Gentleman would be perfectly safe in accepting. My right hon. Friend has put to me the same question in different terms—namely, whether Parliament will have an opportunity of considering these modifications before they are finally settled? The question of my right hon. Friend and that of the right hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Disraeli) are substantially the same, and I must decline to give an answer until I have an opportunity of seeing the question of the right hon. Gentleman printed in the Paper, which will probably be to-morrow.