§ MR. DISRAELI
Sir, before making the inquiry of Her Majesty's Government which I have placed on the Paper in accordance with the suggestion of the right hon. Gentleman, I desire, with the permission of the House, to make a remark explanatory of the reasons which induce me to put it. These are critical times and circumstances, and I do not wish that my motives should be in any way misapprehended. I do not call in question in any degree the ancient and salutary Prerogative of the Crown as regards the negotiation of treaties; but every rule has some exception, and the application of a principle must be influenced, to a certain extent, by circumstances. This consideration applies to the present ease, because, from the first, Parliament generally, has been associated with the negotiations carried on with the United States. The House will remember that when Her Majesty was advised to commence these negotiations, now a long time ago, Her Ma- 784 jesty, to a certain degree, called Parliament to her Councils. The negotiations were not entrusted merely to the Representative of this country at Washington, but a High Commission was appointed, and the most important Members of that Commission were selected from both Houses of Parliament. I put this Question also because, as the House must have observed, a new mode of conducting negotiations has been introduced in connection with this matter. I refer to the mode of proceeding by "understanding," and not by precise expression, which has hitherto been the mode approved by those who have engaged in the diplomatic office. This being on my mind, and the new method of proceeding by "understanding" being one which has not succeeded, and which ought to be arrested in its course, I do not see in what manner I could better achieve my object than by asking the right hon. Gentleman to advise the Crown that the control of Parliament should be exercised, to a certain degree, over these negotiations. I therefore think it my duty to ask the First Lord of the Treasury, Whether it is the intention of Her Majesty's Government to submit the Terms of the Supplementary Treaty with the Government of the United States to the consideration of Parliament previous to its ratification?
Sir, the Question put to me by the right hon. Gentleman really requires no apology whatever; but the reasons given for it are such that I must be understood to reserve my liberty to demur to them. The right hon. Gentleman says—and says truly—that this case is in a great degree exceptional. One of his reasons for regarding it as exceptional is that a new mode of conducting negotiations—namely, by "understanding"—has been introduced, and he thinks it necessary that a check should be put on that mode of proceeding. It is obviously quite impossible for the Government to give any information to Parliament, if the reasons put forward by the right hon. Gentleman for so doing are the only reasons which can be advanced in support of such a course, because his reason amounts to this—that the proceedings of the Government have been such that it is impossible safely to entrust them with the ordinary discretion exercised by the Executive Government. I think the right 785 hon. Gentleman must see that, however much that reason may weigh in his own mind, it cannot possibly have any force with us; and, indeed, it must operate precisely in the opposite direction. The House will do me this justice—that I have never defended the position of the British Government with regard to the Treaty of Washington on the ground of "understanding." Indeed, I have been much blamed for declining to do so. I have said that we had a perfect right to speak of our intentions; but I have always contended that it was a great mistake to place the argument on the basis of "understanding." That is not a matter which it is proper to enter upon now, and I will therefore address myself to the Question of the right hon. Gentleman. I hope the right hon. Gentleman did not suppose for a moment that I wished to find fault with his putting the Question yesterday. I wished him to put the Question on the Paper that I might answer him with perfect accuracy, instead of trusting to my memory, which is often apt to be treacherous. I was desirous of having an opportunity of referring to what had occurred upon a previous occasion. This is not a new transaction; it is the completion of an old one, and my memory impressed me with the belief that the rules which we had adopted last year were perfectly applicable to the present case. What I have now to say is an answer to the Question put to me yesterday by the right hon. Member for Liskeard (Mr. Horsman) as well as to the right hon. Gentleman. I was asked last year with regard to the Treaty of Washington a similar question, and I find I am reported to have answered as follows:—I am not able, Sir, to name the particular day of the arrival of the Treaty, of which we have not received a final Copy. When it does arrive, however, it will be immediately presented to Parliament. We shall, in this instance, depart from the general rule, and present the Treaty to Parliament, without waiting for its ratification, on account of special circumstances. Among these I may mention that the Treaty has been prematurely made known in America—by prematurely I mean contrary to the intentions of the Executive Government.That mode of procedure which was adopted last year we shall again adopt. The very nature of the case requires that an interval should elapse between the signature of the Treaty and the ratification of it. Because, whereas the signa- 786 ture may be directed to be made by telegraph on the part of either State to its Representative in that country, the ratification would require the exchange of the body of the Treaty itself, and therefore it requires the intervention of the time necessary for communication by post. The only other question that remains would be whether the Treaty in its terms would be communicated immediately on its being signed, without waiting for the arrival of the original instrument. That was done last year, and the Treaty was laid before Parliament on the 23rd of May. That will be done again in the present year, in the event of our arriving at the conclusion of any Supplementary Treaty. The conclusion of that Supplementary Treaty depends on the understanding between the two Governments as to the exact terms of an engagement which is not of a nature so perfectly simple as to be disposed of in a moment. But should that Treaty be concluded—and when it is concluded—the right hon. Gentleman will understand from what I have said that it will be immediately laid before Parliament, to place Parliament in possession of its authentic terms.
§ MR. BOUVERIE
I wish to ask the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Treasury the Question I have put on the Paper, in consequence of the answer I received yesterday from the right hon. Baronet the Member for North Devon (Sir Stafford Northcote)—namely, Whether the British Commissioners at Washington did communicate to the British Government that they had come to an understanding with the American Commissioners, and that a promise had been given by the latter that the Indirect Claims growing out of the acts of the "Alabama" should not be brought forward in the Arbitration; and, what were the terms of that promise, as reported by the British Commissioners?
Sir, I gathered from perusing the Question put by my right hon. Friend on the Notice Paper, as he has now stated, that it grew out of the terms of the answer given by my right hon. Friend opposite (Sir Stafford Northcote) yesterday to an inquiry then addressed to him. In what I have to say I hope I shall not be understood to convey—for I do not intend to convey—the smallest reflection on my right hon. Friend opposite. He acted in the exer- 787 cise of his own discretion—I may say, in the exercise of his own right—and I own that I thought the answer which he offered in his place yesterday to my right hon. Friend behind me was—if I may presume to say so—a very just and proper answer. But in reference to this Question I wish to say to my right hon. Friend behind me, that our grounds for the contention we maintained in our correspondence with the American Government are fully set forth in the Despatches in possession of Parliament, and especially in the Despatch of the 20th of March, in which we set forth the various, and, as we think, amply sufficient, grounds for the doctrine and position we maintained with respect to the scope of the Treaty of Washington. I will not say—not having the whole of that Despatch in my mind—whether the word "understanding" occurs in it; but I will say that the general argument of that Despatch did not at all depend upon "understanding," but upon statements therein very clearly and sufficiently given. It was quite competent for my right hon. Friend behind me to ask whether there was such an "understanding;" but he will, I hope, excuse me if I say that—our arguments being sufficiently before the world—I do not think any advantage would arise from our going back at this moment on the question whether or not there was an "understanding" between the Commissioners of the respective high contracting parties, or what were the precise terms of that understanding. It may or may not, at a future time, be right to enter into that matter; but for the present I must respectfully decline to do so, because the result of our going back now upon the grounds of the contentions of the respective Governments would only be mischievous when those Governments hope to escape from the effect of those contentions by another arrangement, should they be so happy as to conclude one.
§ MR. DISRAELI
Will there be any objection to the Papers which have been published in The London Gazette being laid before Parliament?
§ MR. BOUVERIE
said, he wished it to be clearly understood that he had not asked whether there was an "understanding;" but whether, as a matter of 788 fact, the English Commissioners had reported that there was one, and in what terms they had reported it?