HC Deb 29 March 1878 vol 239 cc224-8

I do not rise for the purpose of entering upon the question introduced by the hon. Member for Liskeard (Mr. Courtney), but simply to direct attention to a matter which has already been referred to this afternoon. The Under Secretary for Foreign Affairs, replying to my Question as to whether it was intended to send Mr. Rivers Wilson out to Egypt with the view of assisting the Khedive in the management of his financial affairs, said it was not the Government who were sending him out, but that he was allowed to go. No doubt, there is a distinction, but what I want to point out is this. In 1876, in consequence of Her Majesty's Government interfering in the management of the Egyptian finances, a large amonnt of financial mischief was done in this country, and the opportunity given for a large amount of financial jobbing. If the Government allows a gentleman occupying a public position here to go to Egypt to act in conjunction with Egyptian officials, it must give the world an impression that Her Majesty's Government intend to assist the Khedive in his financial operations. On the last occasion, when Mr. Rivers Wilson went to Egypt, a most unfortunate amount of stock jobbery arose out of his mission, and in consequence of the Report presented by the right hon. Member for Shoreham (Mr. Cave) in 1876; and when I alluded to these circumstances at the time, the Chancellor of the Exchequer seemed to think I was making a charge against the Government; but I had not the slightest idea of doing so—and I am quite sure that Mr. Rivers Wilson, either before or since his engagement, would not assist any transaction such as I have alluded to. But the Chancellor of the Exchequer must have heard that a considerable amount of jobbing was committed in the Eyptian funds by persons in London and in Paris, who, no doubt, acted on information received from Egypt. If Mr. Rivers Wilson was a non-official person, there would not attach to his work the authority of the Government. There is a distinction between sending him and allowing him to go, yet the fact will remain that Mr. Rivers Wilson is Controller General in the National Debt Office, one of the most important services of the Crown, and he is allowed to go to Egypt to rearrange the financial affairs of the Khedive. Certain of his opinions, or his proposals, or his reports will ooze out to the public, probably through some official of the Egyptian Government, and this information may be used by those persons interested in Egyptian funds. But this is not all. In consequence of the intervention of the Government in 1876 a number of people lost large sums of money through having been induced by the action of the Government to invest in Egyptian funds. I hold in my hand the Civil Service Estimates for the year, and among those sums, of which we shall be called upon to vote a portion to-day, is £1,500 for the salary of the Controller General of the National Debt. The salaries paid among the officials of this Office amount to £16,000 annually; and is it reasonable, when we pay these officials high salaries, that we should, at the same time, allow the chief official to go to Egypt in order that he may in some way arrange the financial business of the Khedive? Either Mr. Rivers Wilson should not be allowed to go, or else he should resign before becoming the financial agent of the Khedive. When he last went to Egypt he was away some months, and it was a question whether he should resign, for he expected a permanent appointment from the Khedive. He was away from his duty for a considerable period, and now you are going to send him away again. The question may be very fairly asked, is it necessary to pay an officer £1,500 a-year, and send him out to the Khedive? I do hope the Government will re-consider their determination, and appoint some gentleman, who, from his position, will not seem to impair the influence of the Government by mixing up its authority in the kind of transactions to which I have alluded.


said, he was disappointed yesterday by the answer given by the Under Secretary for Foreign Affairs in reference to this subject; for Mr. Rivers Wilson ought to be asked to make choice between the service of Her Majesty and that of the Khedive, as the Government decided last year. He objected to the appointment because he apprehended that the selection of a public official for such a mission might be the first step in interference which might lead to another step and another till one might come to something like the sequestration and occupation of Egypt. Much might be said in favour of such a step in respect to the benefit it would confer on Egypt; but it would involve this country in great political difficulties, and increase her responsibilities to so great an extent that he thought we must consider it out of the question.


I have no right to address the House a second time; but, as this question has been brought forward without any Notice, I may be allowed to make a few remarks in explanation of the real position of the matter. As hon. Gentlemen are aware, some little time ago an arrangement was come to between the Khedive and certain gentlemen who were the representatives of the bondholders who had claims upon Egypt. With that arrangement Her Majesty's Government had, of course, nothing whatever to do. Under the terms of that arrangement, as I was given to understand, it was agreed between the Khedive and his creditors that a certain portion of the revenues of Egypt should be left to meet the expenses of his Government, and that the residue should be applied to the payment of his debts. That went on for a short time, until this state of things arose. The Khedive represented that the money which had been left over for the expenses of his general Government was not sufficient for that purpose, and that consequently he was not able to pay his creditors. The creditors, therefore, were not paid. The result was that they went before the judicial tribunals, and these tribunals gave their decision in favour of the creditors. The Khedive, on the other hand, was not willing to accept the decision of the judicial tribunals. Now, that was a very inconvenient state of things; because, as hon. Gentlemen know, those tribunals are not like the ordinary judicial tribunals of any country, because they have been established by an European arrangement to which Her Majesty's Government and other Governments were parties, and if the authority of these tribunals were set at nought there might arise very serious complications, and difficulties of a grave political character might ensue. That was, therefore, one of the complications which we viewed with some anxiety. Another matter which caused us concern was that the Khedive is responsible for remitting to this country a certain portion of the Tribute he pays to the Porte for the purpose of its being applied to the payment of the Turkish Debt for which this country, as a co-guarantor with France, is responsible; and Her Majesty's Government found that that money was not forthcoming, the payments being in arrear, and there appeared to be some danger that default would be made under that head. Of course, there is another payment which the Khedive makes directly to this country in respect of the Annuity for the purchase money of the Suez Canal Shares. Under these circumstances, it was impossible for Her Majesty's Government to look with absolute indifference on what was passing in Egypt. We were informed that an arrangement had been again proposed for a better and fuller inquiry into the real condition of the finance of Egypt, with a view—if it should turn out that the calculations on which this arrangement had been founded were incorrect—to the creditors of the Khedive making some other arrangement among themselves. That appeared to Her Majesty's Government to be a wise resolution on the part of the Khedive, and we were glad to hear that such an inquiry was about to take place. It then became a matter of importance that the inquiry should be of such a character as to command confidence, and to impress upon the Khedive and upon the creditors the fact that a real bonâ fide inquiry had been made. It was suggested to Her Majesty's Government that it would be a very great advantage if the inquiry could take place with the presence of a gentleman of such position and so well acquainted with Egyptian matters as Mr. Rivers Wilson, who would meet a gentleman appointed from France, nominated, I believe, by the French Government—at all events, a gentleman connected with the French Administration. Those two gentlemen, together with M. Lesseps, who has been selected by the Khedive, with a Native official, and four members of the body that has the control of the Khedive's receipts, are, I understand, to undertake that inquiry. Under the circumstances, looking at the extremely critical position of affairs in that part of the world, and considering how undesirable it was that additional political complications should be raised, it seemed to Her Majesty's Government to be the simplest, best, and safest way of avoiding those political complications that, acting in harmony with the French Government, who were ready to proceed in the same way, we should allow Mr. Rivers Wilson to go out and take part in this inquiry. That is, in short, an explanation of what has occurred. I hope the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Rylands) will see that this step was taken with no desire to interfere merely for the sake of obtaining justice for the Khedive's creditors or anyone else, which would be a very inconvenient course to follow; but, in order to avoid the inconvenience of setting aside the authority of the judicial tribunals, which might give rise to claims on the part of other countries besides England, and to an interference with the affairs of Egypt. This step was taken also in order that we might look after our own peculiar interests, and I hope the House will not think it necessary to pursue discussion in the matter any further.

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