HC Deb 17 April 1879 vol 245 cc519-24

said, that since the House last met some remarkable circumstances had occurred in Eastern Europe, as to which he wished to put a series of Questions to the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer. As they would require a little explanation, to put himself in Order he would conclude with a Motion. It had been stated in the organs of public information that, in consequence of various proceedings, to which he need not further refer, as they were well known to the House, the Khedive had dismissed Mr. Rivers Wilson and M. Blignières, who had been called his European Ministers. He had seen that it was stated, also, that Mr. Rivers Wilson had declined to be so dismissed, alleging that he could not be dismissed without the permission of the Government of England. The House would remember that on a former occasion, when a Question with regard to the position of Mr. Rivers Wilson, was addressed by him (Sir Julian Goldsmid) to the Chancellor of the Exchequer on the occasion of a Motion by the hon. Member for Kirkcaldy (Sir George Campbell), the right hon. Gentleman clearly stated that Mr. Wilson was in Egypt as a servant of the Khedive, and that the Khedive had absolute authority to dismiss him without the interference of Her Majesty's Government; and the right hon. Gentleman added that they did not propose to have any direct communication with Mr. Rivers Wilson, because they did not wish it to be imagined that he in any way represented the British Government. That being so, the first Question he (Sir Julian Goldsmid) desired to put to the right hon. Gentleman was, Whether it was true that Mr. Rivers Wilson had put in such a plea as had been alleged against his dismissal by the Khedive, his master; and, secondly, if such were the case, what reason or authority he had for saying he would not be dismissed without the permission of the British Government? This was a matter of considerable importance, because it had been asserted in various quarters that England and France were about to embark in a serious course of interference with Egyptian affairs. As he (Sir Julian Goldsmid) was one of those who thought that the Government had quite enough to do at present without interfering in the affairs of Egypt, he apprehended that the House of Commons would wish to know the exact position occupied by Mr. Rivers Wilson, both with regard to the Khedive and with regard to England. That was his (Sir Julian Goldsmid's) first proposition. He was quite aware that when Questions relating to foreign affairs were put in that House, it was the custom of the Government to adopt one of three courses in reply—either they replied that Ministers had no information; or that the matter in dispute was still pending, and that, as the Government was acting in concert with a Foreign Power, it would therefore be inconvenient to offer any explanation; or that, as the question had been settled, there was no use in discussing it. For his part, he objected to all and each of those three courses, and was of opinion that it was quite time the House of Commons should be taken a little more into the confidence of Her Majesty's Government than they were at present. Then, again, it had been said that an appeal had been made by Her Majesty's Government to the Sultan to dethrone the Khedive for having dismissed his European servants. He (Sir Julian Goldsmid) should like to know, Whether any such strange action had been adopted by the Government? Had any such course been taken, it would be a revival of a policy towards Egypt which would have most serious results, and would tend to perpetuate evils which it had, he thought, been the aim of British Ministers to remove. Upon this point he would also remark that it seemed strange that a British Government, having a quarrel with the Khedive, if they had one, should not be able to manage that quarrel itself, but should have to seek the assistance of the Sultan to help them out of their difficulty. He therefore thought that if our Government had asked the Sultan to interfere it was very unwise. And the same thing should be said with regard to accepting any offer of interference on his part. There was another point of very considerable importance. When, upon a former occasion, he asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer whether there was any truth in a statement which appeared in the papers with regard to an intimation said to have been sent to the Khedive by Her Majesty's Government, as to the position of Mr. Rivers Wilson and M. de Blignières, the right hon. Gentleman replied that the French Government were acting in concert with the English Government, and therefore he was not able to say whether the statement was or was not correct. If such were the case, he hoped the Chancellor of the Exchequer would state, Whether he considered it desirable that such action in concert, binding us to another Government, should be taken without the concurrence of the House of Commons? The result of such a proceeding, he thought, might be not only disastrous to ourselves, but disastrous also to our international relations; and as it was possible that the interests of France might be entirely different from our interests, Her Majesty's Government ought to hesitate before they pledged themselves to absolute unity of action in the matter. He was aware that his hon. Friend (Mr. E. Jenkins) had replied to the letter he had published in The Times on this subject; but, in his opinion, his hon. Friend had not touched the real question he had endeavoured to raise. We had, strictly speaking, no more right to interfere with the private government of Egypt than we had to interfere with the private government of any European country. All we had the right to do was to look after our interests in the Suez Canal. He repeated, he should like to know, Whether there were any, and, if so, what joint relations between the English and French Governments? The Suez Canal had nothing whatever to do with the interests of the bondholders. France had an interest in the latter on account of the Credit Foncier; but not we. If people put their money into such loans in order to make extravagant gains, they ought to know that they were running extravagant risks; and there was no reason why Her Majesty's Government should endeavour to support them in their effort to obtain the immoderate rate of interest they claimed. If, as he had seen it stated, the French Government were not desirous of doing anything, he should concur with the Government in assisting them to do nothing; but if action was to be taken, the House ought to be informed of the relations existing between the two countries. Our position, as he had said, was entirely different from that of the French, and therefore he desired to know, What the joint action was to which the Government was stated to have pledged itself? And he should like to have some assurance from the right hon. Gentleman that the Government would take no action which might involve this country in responsibility for Egyptian rule without having previously consulted Parliament. In conclusion, he held that because the Khedive had exercised his right to dismiss one or two of his Ministers, that was no adequate reason for our interfering with the Khedive, or inducing the Sultan to interfere. Therefore, he hoped the House would receive a full and frank explanation from the Government as to what was really being done or contemplated. This was all the more necessary, considering the number and the magnitude of our international complications at the present moment. He himself thought we should not take any unusual course in the present case, because Mr. Rivers Wilson was one of the Commissioners for the reduction of our National Debt. But rather the reverse; for since Mr. Wilson had left, the Government had forgotten all about the reduction of the National Debt. That was surely, therefore, one reason why he should come back to us and attend to his duties. He hoped the Chancellor of the Exchequer would be able to set their minds at rest in connection with the points he had mentioned, and concluded with the Motion that the House do now adjourn.


said, he wished to ask the right hon. Gentleman some additional Questions, and, therefore, he would second the Motion for adjournment. It would not be expedient, he admitted, at present to discuss all the questions raised; but he wished to know first, How soon the Government expected to lay on the Table of the House further Papers relating to Egypt, and whether they would contain the text of the Identic Note said to have been despatched by England and France; and, secondly, whether it was true that the Government had made any implied or direct promise to the Italian Government to give them a place in the arrangements entered into at the time Mr. Rivers Wilson and M. Blignières were appointed; and whether it was true that there had been expressed on the part of the Italian Government any feeling of disappointment at the action which Her Majesty's Government had since taken? for it was as well that it should be known whether Her Majesty's Government were or were not in complete accord with the Italian Government on the subject.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—(Sir Julian Goldsmid.)


Sir, I think it would be hardly convenient to enter into a long and general discussion of the Egyptian question at the present moment. The matter is one on which I have spoken more than once, and at the proper time I shall be glad and willing to speak upon it again. But I am ready to answer the Questions which have been raised by the hon. Baronet opposite (Sir Julian Goldsmid), and I can say generally this—That these events, to which so much attention has been drawn, have occurred very recently; and although we have had several telegraphic communications on the subject, we have not received, and shall not receive until the end of this week, any full written communication respecting them, or any full explanation of what really has taken place, or of the grounds on which what has been done has been done. I will, therefore, only content myself by saying, with regard to the first Question put by the hon. Baronet whether it was true that Mr. Rivers Wilson has declined to be dismissed, that we have received no communication to that effect. It may be true, or it may not; but we have not received any communication on the sub- ject. With regard to the next Question, as to whether an appeal has been made to the Sultan to interfere in the matter, no such appeal has been made; and with respect to the Question of concert with France, I have been somewhat mystified by the speech of the hon. Baronet, because the hon. Gentleman spoke in language which implied on his part a knowledge that we are in communication with France, that we have pledged ourselves to some joint action, and that he has almost equal knowledge that France is not going to take any action at all. I can only say that in the present state of things, not having received full explanation of what has taken place, we have not pledged ourselves to anything at all; but we are in communication with the French Government, who are very greatly interested in this matter as well as ourselves, and we shall, I have no doubt, very shortly be in a better position to decide what steps, if any, ought to be taken. I do not think I really can say more at the present moment. With regard to the first Question of the hon. Member for Dundee (Mr. Jenkins), I believe that certain Papers relating to the Egyptian affairs are ready, and will be almost immediately presented to the House; but I am not able definitely to answer the Question. The second Question put by the hon. Member respecting the Italian Government is one of those Questions on which I would rather not enter at the present time.