HC Deb 07 June 1877 vol 234 cc1443-6

asked Mr. Chancellor of the Exchequer, Whether Her Majesty's Government, whilst declaring to the Government of Russia their resolve to resist the exercise of the ordinary belligerent rights which Russia might be entitled to employ against Egypt as part of the Ottoman Empire, have taken any measures to restrain the Porte and the Government of Egypt to the same extent in respect of the Suez Canal from the exercise of belligerent rights against Russia; and, whether the statement in Lord Derby's Despatch to Mr. Layard of May 16th That Her Majesty's Government will expect that the Porte and the Khedive will on their side abstain from impeding the navigation of the Canal, is intended to apply to the free use of the Canal by the public and private ships of Russia for the purposes of "innocent passage" in like manner as to the ships of other States? In point of fact, the Question is whether the Canal is to be neutralized against Russia, or is to be neutralized also against Turkey for belligerent purposes?


In the intimations which Her Majesty's Government have made, both to the Government of Russia and to the Porte, as set forth in these despatches, they have expressed no wish to prescribe the particular limitations which either of the belligerent Powers place on its rights. Their object is simply to protect the Canal from injury or obstruction by either offensive or defensive measures on the part of either belligerent. I do not anticipate that any such measures will be resorted to; but the Government think it inexpedient to enter more minutely into the question at present.


asked the Under Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, with reference to the intimation to Russia that an attempt to blockade or otherwise interfere with the Suez Canal or its approaches will be deemed a menace to India, and be incompatible with neutrality on the part of Her Majesty's Government, Whether, in thus restricting warlike operations by Russia, otherwise than in accordance with the common rules of International Law, they are prepared to act upon such intimation without co-operation or consent of the Powers who were parties to the recent Conference at Constantinople?


An intimation such as that referred to in the Question would not have been given unless Her Majesty's Government were prepared to act upon it. I may say, however, that my noble Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs has not the slightest apprehension that any occasion will arise for so doing. With regard to the "co-operation or consent" of the other neutral Powers, those Powers are interested like ourselves in the keeping open of the Suez Canal, and we have every reason to believe that the course which Her Majesty's Government have adopted meets with their approval.


I beg to give Notice that to-morrow I will ask the hon. Gentleman, whether this course is consistent with the independence and integrity of the Turkish Empire?


beg to ask the hon. Member for Sunderland, when he proposes to bring forward the Motion which he stated his intention of moving with regard to the Suez Canal?


said, he would be ready to bring the subject forward tomorrow night, but, on looking over the Business Paper for to-morrow, he found that there were six Notices before his own, and therefore he saw little prospect of his being able to call the attention of the House to the question on that occasion. He appealed, therefore, to the Government, seeing the urgency and importance of the question to afford the House an opportunity for its full discussion. He now gave Notice that as soon as he got an opportunity of bringing the matter forward he would move a Resolution to the effect That Her Majesty's Government be requested to enter into friendly negotiations with Russia and the Porte for the purpose of obtaining guarantees that the free navigation of the Suez Canal shall not be interfered with during the continuance of the present War, and that in order to avoid future complications affecting British interests in the route to India through Egypt, Her Majesty's Government shall adopt such measures as they deem necessary for the purchase of the Canal, its approaches, and adjoining property.


I wish to ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer, whether "blockade" mentioned in the Papers upon Egypt is not an act of a belligerent directed against neutrals and not against the other belligerent? An act directed against the other belligerent, I understand, is bombarding a harbour and burning the ships, or taking the ships when they come out. I wish to ask, whether a blockade is not an act of a belligerent directed against neutrals, and, therefore, whether all Her Majesty's Government have said in this Paper, No. 1, Egypt, is not this—"You shall not be at liberty to exercise your belligerent rights as against neutrals so far this country is concerned; "but they say nothing whatever as regards the belligerent right of one belligerent against the other?


That is a question into the discussion of which, in conformity with the intimation I gave just now, I cannot enter.


gave Notice, that when the hon. Member for Sunderland brought forward his Motion, he should move, as an Amendment, to leave out all the words after the word "Government," in order to insert the words— Can enter into no arrangements with regard to the Suez Canal at once satisfactory to Europe and protective of British interests without the concert of the Powers of Europe; and that, before taking any steps with regard to the future status and regulation of the Suez Canal, Tier Majesty's Government should endeavour to secure, in regard to their permanent settlement, the co-operation of the Powers interested in its navigation.