HC Deb 12 June 1882 vol 270 cc834-6

asked the First Lord of the Treasury, Whether, in view of the facility with which the Suez Canal could at any moment be destroyed from its banks, thereby blocking the communication of England with India by that route, and inflicting disas- trous losses upon British commerce, which represents eighty per cent. of the whole European trade passing through the Canal; and also in view of the recent cession of Assab Bay to Italy, and the consequent probability of that harbour becoming an Italian naval arsenal, Her Majesty's Government will take steps for insuring, at the proposed Conference, the recognition of the preponderance of British interests in Egypt, so as to pro-vent the free communication of England with India from being suddenly stopped in the event of any European complication? The hon. Member wished also to ask whether with reference to the statements of Lord Granville in a despatch to Lord Dufferin of the 9th of January last, to the effect that the policy of this country as regards Egypt must be to maintain the absence of any preponderating influence on the part of any single Power, the Government were prepared to carry out that policy; and, whether they did not consider it necessary for the security of the maintenance of communications with India that the influence of England should preponderate in Egypt?


Sir, with regard to the preliminary portion of the hon. Member's Question as to the facility with which the Suez Canal could at any moment be destroyed from its banks, I have to say that the report of the authorities is quite different from that. It is to the effect that to destroy or even permanently to injure the Canal would be extremely difficult, from the nature of its construction, if, indeed, it would not be quite impossible. With regard to the cession of Assab Bay, the Government are not aware of any such cession. There is an establishment of the Italian Government there, with respect to which we have received an assurance from that Government that that establishment will be of a purely commercial nature, and that it will not be fortified or turned into a military post. With regard to the instructions to be given at the proposed Conference, we are precluded on general grounds from stating what instructions will be given to the British Representatives there, particularly in a ease where it may be considered necessary that England, in conjunction with Franco, should be specially responsible in regard to the initiative. Finally, as to the citation of the hon. Member from the despatch of Lord Granville, I really have no interpretation to offer, because I think it is quite plain in itself, and we shall abide by it as it stands.


asked the First Lord of the Treasury, Whether, if the proposed Conference meets, Her Majesty's representative will be directed to call the attention of the Plenipotentiaries to the state of things recently created in Tunis by the action of the French Government?


Sir, it is the opinion of Her Majesty's Government that it would not be expedient to make any attempt to enlarge the scope of the Conference, and that such an attempt would be unfavourable to the object for which the Conference was to meet.


asked the First Lord of the Treasury, Whether, inasmuch as the Conference proposed to be held at Constantinople is to be composed of representatives of the Powers signatories of the Treaty of Berlin, Her Majesty's Government will instruct the British Plenipotentiary to call the attention of the Conference to the non-fulfilment of certain stipulations of that Treaty, viz. those providing for the introduction of reforms into Asiatic and European Turkey, the demolition of the Bulgarian fortresses, and the assumption of a portion of the Ottoman debt by States now in possession of territory which, before the late war, formed part of the Ottoman Empire?


In regard to this Question I must make substantially the same answer. I am sorry that the hon. Member for Portsmouth (Sir H. Drum-mond Wolff) is not himself in his place, because I should have been glad to acknowledge his title to put the Question on account of the laborious and useful part which ho took in the improvement of one of the provinces of Turkey; but, again, I think the introduction of this subject would not promote the purpose for which the Conference would meet.