HC Deb 03 April 1883 vol 277 cc1363-86

I rise to move— That a Committee of Five Members of this House be appointed to join with a Committee of the House of Lords, to inquire whether it is expedient that Parliamentary sanction should be given to a submarine communication between England and France; and to consider whether any or what conditions should be imposed by Parliament in the event of such communication being sanctioned:—That the Correspondence with reference to the proposed construction of a Channel Tunnel, presented to Parliament in 1882, be referred to the Committee. Under ordinary circumstances, I should have moved this Resolution as a matter of form, in pursuance of a promise given on the part of the Government last Session, and repeated at the commencement of the present Session; but in view of the Notice of Motion given by the right hon. Gentleman opposite (Sir Stafford Northcote), the House will probably consider it right that I should state very briefly the position in which the matter stands, in order to put it clearly before the House. I must first call the attention of the House to the steps which have already been taken in the matter, It appears that the subject of the Tunnel between England and France was first raised by an Anglo-French Company, established in 1867; but no practical result followed, for the breaking out of the Franco-Prussian War in 1870 put a stop entirely to the proceedings. In 1871 the matter was again brought up, and a correspondence took place, in the first instance, between the promoters of the French Company on the one hand, and an English Company on the other, and their respective Governments; and, in the second place, between the two Governments of France and England. On the 22nd of June, 1872, Earl Granville, writing to our English Ambassador in Paris, said— With reference to Your Excellency's despatch of the 15th instant, and previous correspondence, I transmit herewith a copy of a letter received from the Channel Tunnel Company, urging the Government to inform them if they have any objection to the Tunnel being made. The Board of Trade have been consulted, and as regards the engineering difficulties the Government offer no opinion; but they consider it a matter for consideration in what way a concession, if granted, should be modified by fixing the manner in which the purchase of the undertaking is to be effected. The Government do not doubt that, assuming the matter undertaken, it ought not to remain a monopoly, and I am to request that Your Excellency will make known to the French Government the present application; but the Government state that, subject to those observations, they have no objection in principle to the proposed Tunnel between France and England. Well, in 1874, the French Government granted a concession to the French Company, contingent on their being able to make arrangements with the English Company for carrying out the English portion of the undertaking. In the interval, the Government of England had been changed, and the late Government was then in Office. In September of that year the Earl of Derby, who was then at the Foreign Office, communicated to the Board of Trade a despatch received from the French Government, and, in so doing, said— I am to request that you will move their Lordships in order to ascertain their opinion as to the answer to be sent to the French Ambassador. And, further on, he said— Support would be afforded by the Government to secure such a result as the Board of Trade might desire, The Board of Trade considered the subject, and made certain suggestions with which I need not trouble the House. In December, 1874, the Earl of Derby wrote to the French Ambassador on behalf of Her Majesty's Government. And in his letter, addressed to Count de Charnac, and dated December 24th, he said— In reply to Your Excellency's communication, I have to say that there appears to be no reason to doubt that the Government will offer no opposition to the scheme, provided they are not asked for a gift, or loan, or guarantee in connection therewith. Well, now, in 1875, following this communication, a Bill was introduced into the Legislatures of France and England, and both Bills appear to have passed without opposition. In the month of March of the same year, a Joint Anglo-French Commission was appointed to consider the conditions on which the undertaking might be carried out, and this Commission met in Paris and in London. They reported, in 1876, on the question of the management of the traffic, and on the question of jurisdiction in the Tunnel between the two countries, and in favour of certain conditions being carried out, including the right of either Government to suspend the traffic or destroy the communication in case of war or of a threat of war. On behalf of the English Government the following Departments were parties to the Commission:—The Admiralty, presided over by the late Mr. Ward Hunt; the War Office, represented by Viscount Cranbrook; and the Treasury, represented by the right hon. Gentleman the senior Member for Westminster (Mr. W. H. Smith). After the Report of this Joint Commission, nothing was done to give effect to the English Bill, owing to the financial collapse; and the power of the English Company under the Act altogether lapsed. Nothing more was heard of the project till the year 1881, when the South-Eastern Railway Company, which had obtained power in 1874 to spend £70,000 in borings, obtained additional powers to purchase land between Folkestone and Dover. In the autumn of 1881, the House of Commons were called upon to consider the rival projects of the South-Eastern Railway Company and the Channel Tunnel Company, and the Board of Trade appointed a Committee, which was joined by re- presentatives of the War Office and the Admiralty, to consider the conditions which ought to be imposed in reference to the undertaking. The Committee took a great deal of evidence on the subject; and after the inquiries had proceeded for some time, the question was raised, for the first time, whether or not the national security was involved in the establishment of the proposed communication. It was raised, I believe, definitely in a very able document, which was prepared for the Committee by Lord Wolseley, in which he put forward the reasons which induced him to believe that the establishment of the projected Tunnel would constitute a danger to the country. The moment the question was raised it was seen to be one of cardinal importance, and it was at once recognized that it was a matter which could not be properly decided by a mere Departmental Committee, which had been appointed for a very different object. Accordingly, in 1882, the Committee were relieved of their functions, and it was understood that the Government would take the matter into their consideration. The first step taken by the present Government was the appointment of a Military and Engineering Committee to consider if, and how, the Tunnel could be rendered absolutely useless to an enemy in time of war. This Committee also took a great deal of evidence, and made a Report, which appears in a Paper dated May, 1882. Upon the receipt of that Report, the Government considered what further steps it would be their duty to take in the matter, and came to the conclusion that hitherto, at all events, the inquiry had been only partial; that there had been no attempt to exhaust the evidence, favourable or unfavourable, as to the effect of the Tunnel on commerce; that the advantages of greater facilities of communication had not been brought in any prominent way before the Committee previously; that the general military question had not been fully discussed; that it was desirable that further evidence should be taken on the subject; and that the House and the Government should be in a position to weigh the balance of advantages before they were asked to come to any conclusion in the matter. Accordingly, in 1882, the Government announced their intention to ask the House of Lords to join the House of Commons in the appointment of a Joint Committee to further consider these questions. It may be asked, perhaps, whether the Joint Committee was the best Committee for such a purpose; but that is a comparatively technical point. It appears from Sir Erskine May's book, that Joint Committees, which were common up to the year 1695, were not employed from that time till 1864, in which year there were several proposals in regard to the Metropolitan Railways. The Bills for those Railways, involving questions of very great importance, were referred to a Joint Committee of the House of Lords and House of Commons, and that Committee laid down the general principles upon which such Bills should be dealt with. The Bills were subsequently brought into accordance with the principles then laid down, and were afterwards dealt with upon those principles. Another case was that of the proposals made some years ago for the amalgamation of certain railways, when a similar Committee was appointed and the same course was followed. Another question may be raised as to whether the present subject is properly a matter to be referred to a Committee at all. On that point, I can only say that there is hardly any subject of national interest and importance which has not at some time or another been referred to a Committee. Questions involving the national security have frequently been so treated. For instance, the whole question of the National Defences—a cognate subject—was referred to the consideration of a Committee. I may also refer to the precedent of Mr. Roebuck's Committee, at the time of the Crimean "War, when the whole subject of that war was made a question for inquiry. I observe that the Amendment of the right hon. Gentleman opposite states that— Before entering upon the questions whether it is expedient that Parliamentary sanction should be given to the establishment of submarine communication between England and France, and upon what conditions (if any) such sanction should be granted, it is desirable that the House should be put in possession of the views of Her Majesty's Government on these subjects. Now, I must point out to the right hon. Gentleman, and to the House, that two successive Governments which preceded the Government now holding Office have pronounced a pretty decided opi- nion upon the matter, and have communicated that opinion not only to the House, but also to a Foreign Government; and it is, therefore, rather difficult to see how the present Government, if any continuity of policy is to be observed—[Ironical cheers]—I shall be glad to hear from right hon. Gentlemen opposite if they think there are cases in which a continuity of policy should not be observed; but I will go on to say that if any continuity of policy is to be observed, it is difficult to see how the present Government, without the distinct authority of the two Houses of Parliament, and especially of the Representative Chamber, could fly in the face of the decision upon the situation already come to by two previous Administrations. I may say, in sitting down, that it does not seem to mo there can be any question upon which the Government can more properly ask the assistance of the whole House than a question which concerns the national security. If the Government are to be called upon, as a Government, for an opinion according to our Parliamentary system, it might make of this matter a Party question. Now, at least, it is not a Party question. It seems to me that it is a question on which the Government have a right to ask the advice of all Parties in the House, and with respect to which it is under a corresponding obligation to consult the opinion of all Parties in both Houses of Parliament. I beg to move the Motion standing in my name.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That a Committee of Five Members of this House be appointed to join with a Committee of the House of Lords, to inquire whether it is expedient that Parliamentary sanction should be given to a submarine communication between England and France; and to consider whether any or what conditions should be imposed by Parliament in the event of such communication being sanctioned."—[Mr. Chamberlain.)


I propose to imitate the right hon. Gentleman in being extremely short in the remarks I shall trouble the House with, because the point which, at the present moment, I desire to bring to the notice of the House is one of a minute character, although of great importance. I do not wish to raise the great question of the expediency, or otherwise, of the Channel Tunnel, or of the proper mode of providing for the great interests of the country which may probably be conceivably affected by it. What I challenge is the mode of procedure which the right hon. Gentleman proposes to adopt. Now, it does seem to mo that, instead of the Government appealing to the House, the House has rather a right to call upon the Government of the day, the question being one of great and acknowledged importance, to give us, in the first instance, their view of their responsibility in regard to the National safety. I was in hopes, even up to the last moment, that they would have given us some view upon the subject. The right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade has referred to a statement which had been made by the late Government, and also by the Government which preceded it, in which expressions were contained that the Government saw no objection, in principle, to the proposal, or accepted the proposal in principle. But that had nothing to do with the view which the present Government may take; and for this reason—because, as the right hon. Gentleman fairly and truly said, the great and important question of the making of any Tunnel of this character, which is a question of National defence, has really only been seriously raised in the course of the proceedings a year or two ago. I shall call the attention of the House to what took place on that occasion. It will be found in the Blue Book, at the 14th page of the preliminary statement. We are told that the Board of Trade Committee, consisting of Mr. Farrer, as Chairman, Admiral Phillimore, and Colonel Smith, of the Royal Engineers, was appointed to take evidence as to the rival schemes submitted to it. And on the 1st of February, 1882, the Chairman informed the President of the Board of Trade that, during the course of the inquiry, the effect which such schemes might have on the Military defences of the country had assumed such grave importance, that the Committee desired to have further Naval and Military evidence on the subject. In reply—and this is what I wish to call the attention of the House to—the President of the Board of Trade informed the Chairman that the final decision of a question of such magnitude would not rest with a Departmental Committee, but must be settled upon the responsibility of the Government as a whole, and he would not, therefore, prolong the labours of the Committee. Now, I presume it is the view which the right hon. Gentleman not only had then, but which he holds at the present time; and I wish to know whether the question, which is of such magnitude, has been settled upon the responsibility of the Government as a whole, or whether it has not; whether they are seeking the protection of a Committee of the House of Commons, or a Joint Committee of the two Houses of Parliament, in order to evade a matter which the right hon. Gentleman then estimated to be a matter which lay upon the responsibility of the Government? With regard to the previous proceedings in the matter, I do not think it necessary to enter at length into questions which occurred before the present Government took Office. There were a great many questions discussed, irrespective of the National do-fences, questions of International Law, for instance, and various other matters, which were fully discussed, but were always discussed with the reservation expressed in some of the proceedings, that a power should be reserved to the Government on each side of the Channel of closing the communication by the Tunnel in the case of war, or in case of national necessity. But, although it was put in general terms, it was never investigated, or thoroughly gone into, until the time to which the right hon. Gentleman has referred. Now, it is obvious that there cannot be a question of greater magnitude or importance, and it is one upon which, no doubt, as the right hon. Gentleman says, Parliament ought to be consulted as a whole; and that is exactly what we want—we want to have Parliament consulted as a whole, and that these matters shall not be referred to a Committee which is to take off the responsibility of the Government, and throw it upon the House. The right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade, in mentioning various questions in which Joint Committees of the two Houses of Parliament have inquired, referred to Mr. Roebuck's Committee at the close of the Crimean War. Undoubtedly, that was a Committee appointed to look into matters of a very serious character; but the right hon. Gentleman will remember what took place when that Committee was appointed. It led to a change of Govern ment, and to the resignation of the Government of the day. [Mr. GLADSTONE dissented.] The right hon. Gentleman shakes his head; but it was opposed, at all events, by the Government of the day, on the ground that the House which appointed the Committee were not satisfied, with their management of affairs, and that it was necessary that the House, through its Committee, should take into its own hands matters which the Government of the day, according to the opinion of the majority, were mismanaging. Although the right hon. Gentleman shook his head at what I said, the vote which carried the appointment of that Committee was very closely connected with the resignation of Lord Aberdeen, who was the Prime Minister; and, in the second place, with the right hon. Gentleman himself, because—I am speaking now from memory, as I had not thought of the matter until the right hon. Gentleman mentioned it—but my recollection is that when the new Government was formed, with the right hon. Gentleman in it, and it was proposed that that Committee should still go on, and Lord Palmerston agreed to it, the right hon. Gentleman the present Prime Minister thought it his duty to retire from the Government on that ground. I am only mentioning that, to show that the appointment of Mr. Roebuck's Committee was not really a case in point, but rather militated against the proposal of the Government; because, let me ask the right hon. Gentleman this question. Supposing the Government had proceeded with this matter without consulting us, and some Member of the House had got up to move that a Committee should be appointed to inquire into the matter, and had carried such a Motion against the Government, would not the Government naturally say, "There is a want of confidence in us?" Instead of that, they are coming forward now and asking the House to relieve them of a duty which we on this side of the House say belongs to them. If this matter is to be treated as important Private Bills are treated, what should happen? The proper mode would be to have a Bill introduced, when the whole House could consider and discuss it on the second reading; when the considerations for and against it of an important character would be discussed; when the Government would give their opinion; and the House after hearing that opinion, would arrive at a conclusion as to what it was their duty to do. But we are not put in that position; we are not invited to discuss the matter ourselves. We are invited to refer it to a Committee, and no indication whatever has been given as to what the feeling of the Government is. If by the proposal it was intended to refer to a Committee the great question whether it is expedient that the sanction of Parliament should be given to a submarine communication between England and France, simply the second part of the Reference, the matter would be different. If it was simply that a Committee should be appointed to consider whether any, and what, conditions should be imposed by Parliament, there would be a case on which it might be necessary for the Government to obtain advice and take evidence. But it is said the Government are putting upon the Committee a duty they have no right to put upon them, and which they ought to take upon themselves. In submitting the Motion I have placed upon the Paper, I do not desire to discuss the merits of the Channel Tunnel Scheme. No doubt, they are very important, and must and will be discussed at some time or other; but at the present moment I am only challenging the Government's mode of procedure, and I hope the House will take the view I have endeavoured to put before them. The right hon. Gentleman concluded by moving the Amendment of which he had given Notice.

Amendment proposed, To leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "before entering upon the questions whether it is expedient that Parliamentary sanction should be given to the establishment of submarine communication between England and France, and upon what conditions (if any) such sanction should be granted, it is desirable that the House should be put in possession of the views of Her Majesty's Government on these subjects,"—(Sir Stafford Northcote,) —instead thereof.

Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."


It will not be necessary for me to detain the House at any length at this late hour, and I will follow the example of the right hon. Gentleman. I will only now say that, in my opinion, the statement of the right hon. Gentleman opposite would, under different circumstances, be a statement of the general rule of Parliament; but, in our view, the general view of Parliamentary conduct, upon which the right hon. Gentleman opposite relies, is wholly inapplicable to the present case. The right hon. Gentleman has loft out of his calculations the essential point upon which the case of the Government is founded. Before indicating what that point is, I will refer for a moment to one or two matters upon which the right hon. Gentleman has touched. It is not necessary for me to trouble the House by going at length into the history of the Motion of Mr. Roebuck and the Sebastopol Committee. I may explain, however, that I shook my head from no wish to interrupt the right hon. Gentleman, but because the right hon. Gentleman stated that the Government resigned upon that Motion, which was far from being the fact. Certain Members of the Government, however, did resign. [A laugh. I am surprised that there should be any Gentleman in the House incapable of seeing the difference between the resignation of a Government and the resignation of some of its Members.


The resignation included the Prime Minister. Lord Aberdeen, who was Prime Minister, was among the Members of the Government who resigned.


Lord Aberdeen did resign, no doubt, and subsequently other Members of the Government resigned, because they were not willing to accept the concession made by Lord Palmerston. But that does not touch the point we really have before us. What was proposed was that the House of Commons should take into its own hands the management of the matter by appointing a Committee; and, secondly, there was a Motion made that the House should adopt the Report submitted by the Chairman of the Committee. I need not, however, dwell further upon the matter, because the case of the Sebastopol Committee does not involve the point which is essential to the present discussion, and which ought to govern our proceedings. The right hon. Gentleman quoted a letter in which my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade stated to Mr. Farrer that the final decision of the question referred to a certain Committee would not rest with, that Committee, but must be settled on the responsibility of the Government at large. But the meaning of that was that it was for the Government at large, and not for the Committee or the Department of the Board of Trade, to determine what course should be pursued by the Government. No doubt, a very important question has been brought before us, and our determination was that it was one which it was our duty to refer to the House of Commons without assuming the initiative. No doubt, that decision was a most important decision; and though negative in its character, it was just as important and as responsible as if we had given an affirmative decision, and assumed the initiative. Now, the question is this. Is the present case one with regard to which the Government ought to assume the initiative, or are the Government right in their opinion that it ought to be handed over to Parliament, and especially to the Representative Chamber? The decision of that question, in our view, depends entirely upon the history of what has taken place. It is no longer a National, it has become an International question. When it was first raised, in the time of the last Government, that Government did not shrink from taking the initiative; and I think better of that Government than to suppose that they passed a judgment upon a matter of this kind, without asking themselves, in the first place, what bearing it had upon the question of National defence. The Government of which I was a Member assumed the initiative, and declared that it saw no objection to the principle of the execution of the Tunnel under proper conditions. The Government which followed us again assumed the initiative. It was perfectly free for them to reverse our action. Nothing was done which tendered to fetter its liberty of action, and they arrived at the same conclusion, probably on the same grounds. But the late Government took this further and most important step—it placed itself in communication with the Government of France, and took common action with the Government of France. It appointed a common organ for the two Governments, and each adopted the scheme in principle, discussed and determined the conditions on which it ought to be executed, and recommended that a Treaty should be framed; and the non-conclusion of that Treaty at the time was simply and entirely owing to financial considerations connected with the Money Market. So that the nation, as represented by the Executive Government, had entered into relations with the Government of Franco, and taken common proceedings upon a common basis of the proposition that the Tunnel was, so far as the two Governments were concerned, to be executed upon certain conditions. What was the next step? After that had taken place, the Executive Government had become bound, and it no longer remained in the proper sphere and competency of the Executive Government to recede from the pledges it had given. Though Parliament was not bound, no one can say that the Treaty did not constitute an engagement binding, not only Parliament, but, in our opinion, binding the Executive Government which had appointed the Commission, and binding likewise any Administration which might follow it in power, because it was pledged—and whether it was a formal or an informal pledge that was given by the Administration to a foreign country, it ought to be respected by the succeeding Administration. Since that time public opinion, in certain quarters, at any rate, has taken a new turn; and to whom are we to look to ascertain the state of public opinion with more propriety than the Houses of Parliament? In our opinion, it does not lie with Her Majesty's Government to take the initiative. We feel we have no right to take the initiative after what has taken place. Speaking for myself, I do not feel myself in a position to go to the French Government and state that I and my Colleagues have determined to recede, on our own responsibility, from an international transaction, in respect of which common proceedings have been taken. There is an authority which is superior to the Executive Government, and it is not bound to recognize the Commission, or the Report of that Commission. It is true that we have been encouraged by the passing of certain Bills through Parliament; but the passing of those Bills did not constitute any pledge to a foreign country. In France it is fully recognized that Parliament is the master of the situation, and has a perfect right to speak on the part of the English nation; and the English nation alone, and not French opinion, can form transactions or bind the English nation. It is Parliament which is the author of legislation for such a purpose; and though, by the proceedings that have taken place, and by the course taken by the late Government, the Executive has ceased to be in a condition of competency according to the rules which govern international transactions, it is not open to the Executive to go to the French Government on its own responsibility and declare, on the part of the country, a difference in the opinion of this country. It would, in the same manner, depart from the honourable and equitable construction of its duty if it were to come to this House and take the initiative in asking the House, or influencing the House, to alter the course and to recede from the transactions into which the English Government has entered in common with the French Government. These are our opinions, and the considerations which make the line of our duty clear. It is not necessary for us now to consider at what time we might feel ourselves liberated from the disabilities under which we now lie, or feel ourselves free to assume that the views of Parliament are clear, or that we are in a position again to suggest or direct the proceedings that should be taken. We should be committing a very serious error, and should have set a precedent of an inexpedient and even of a dangerous character, if we had taken it upon ourselves to break off the series of transactions which had reached such a point in communication with the French Government. We wish to give a large and free interpretation to all our obligations concerning our common international action in the negotiations which have been conducted with France; and, if right in that view, there is no other course open to us but to submit the matter to the judgment of the two Houses of Parliament, and especially of the Representative Chamber, as being now the only free, competent, independent, and legitimate authority to declare the judgment of the country on a matter in which it will be admitted that the judgment of the country ought to be given, whatever that judgment may be.


This question of the Channel Tunnel was first brought before the House 10 years ago, when the right hon. Gentleman was Prime Minister, and it was referred to a Committee of which I had the honour to be Chairman. The question brought before the Committee was that of establishing a service of large boats to carry passengers between this country and France, and the construction of large harbours on both sides of the Channel for the purpose of making a better communication between the two countries. In that inquiry, for the first time, two propositions were made. One was for making a Tunnel from one side of the Channel to the other; and the other, which was very strongly advocated at the time by very experienced engineers, was that of making a bridge over the Channel. Three propositions were brought before me as Chairman of the Committee, and they were all fully discussed at the time; and I remember perfectly well consulting the Government of the day, including the present Prime Minister, upon the subject: because the question was not only one which closely and materially affected Private Bills, but was an international question, and a national question also; and, therefore, I would not consent to any scheme being passed without first consulting the Government. All the Committee did was to dismiss the bridge scheme, and we thought the Tunnel nearly as wild a scheme. With the consent of the Government, however, we did pass a Bill in favour of a system of steamboats, and that system I consider to be the best now, for it supplies all the necessary communication that is really wanted. Another proposition was that a tram should run from London to the Coast, and be lowered down by powerful hydraulic machinery to the tide level, and run into a hole in the bows of a large ship built for the purpose, and so be carried over to the French Coast. When it got to France it was to be met by another large ship and transferred. That was the scheme passed by the Committee of that day. Now, I think the Prime Minister has put this question on a wrong footing. By-the-bye, I may say that the scheme placed before the Committee was a scheme to provide a large harbour at Folkestone or Dover, and France consented to allow another great harbour to be made at Andreselles on the other side; and the only reason why the scheme was not carried out was that the French Emperor did not give his consent, because he was afraid of ruining the harbours of Calais and Boulogne, and before the matter could be carried into execution the French Empire fell, and thus there was an end of the scheme. I presume it was after that that the question of the Tunnel was brought before the Government, and I think they must have given their assent to that proposition very hastily. I am quite sure of one thing—that they never gave the consideration to it they are now giving, and they never thought at that time what would be the real practical result of the leave they gave to the French Government. I cannot think that any permission subsequently given by the late Government, of which I had the honour to be a Member, was given under the impression that they were bound to give it. At all events, I do not think there can be any quarrel between the responsibility of one Government or the other. I believe there is no question which, from one end of the country to the other, has raised more strong feeling than this question relating to the Channel Tunnel. I have, moreover, had communication with several Ambassadors of foreign countries during their stay in England; and I can only say that it is not in this country alone that the feeling which I have alluded to exists. One and all of those Ambassadors have said, in effect—"What in the world are you thinking of, when, having this silver streak between you and the Continent, you talk of giving up what has hitherto been your protection and safeguard?" When this question comes to be threshed out, I am convinced that this House will emphatically vote against the authorization of the scheme. The question here involved is purely national, and has nothing whatever of a Party character about it. It has been decided by the Secretary of State for War that before the wider question involved in the Channel Tunnel Scheme should be submitted to the Government a Committee should be appointed to inquire into the practicability of closing the Tunnel in time of war. So that, before the scheme is even to be submitted to the Government, we are to have a Committee appointed to inquire into the matter in its relation to the safety of the country. That, I think, shows conclusively that the mind of the I Government was not at all made up on this subject; and, therefore, that they were in no respect bound to the Government of France. But the Committee has now reported, and I am certain there is nothing in their Report which will at all diminish the alarm which is felt throughout the country as to the proposal for making this Tunnel. Now, under these circumstances, what do the Government propose to do? I should have thought that, having said—"Before this scheme is submitted to us we will have a Committee of Inquiry," when the Report of that Committee was made to them they would have formed their opinion upon it, and that, having done so, they would have submitted it to the House. They might then have said to the Government of France—"The feeling of the nation has forced us to have this inquiry, and the Report of the Committee has satisfied us that for the purposes of national safety, and also for the purpose of maintaining those friendly relations"—which, I trust, will always exist "between the two countries—we think it very much better that the Tunnel should not be made." the feeling of the country has been expressed by the Prime Minister in a way which cannot be mistaken. Amongst persons of every creed and class in politics, and of every section of society, I believe that the universal feeling is opposed to the scheme of a Channel Tunnel. I am bound to say that it has taken me a great deal by surprise that the Government, having appointed already a Committee for the purpose of inquiry before this question was brought before them, should, apparently deserting their former position, now propose that another Committee—a Joint Committee of the two Houses of Parliament—should be appointed to decide what is really a question of national policy. I should have thought that if any question of international policy were involved, it should not be left to a Committee to decide what is essentially a question for the Government of the day. I say it is essentially for the Government to deal with the Government of France on this question, and that they are bound to give their opinion, and answer Aye or No to the question—"Is it wise for us to allow this matter to go on?" It is their business to advise the House of Commons; and when their advice upon this matter is given, we shall, of course, know how to deal with it. I strongly impress upon the House that the Amendment of my right hon. Friend is perfectly sound and practical; and that neither a Committee of this nor of the other House, nor a Joint Committee of both Houses, should be allowed to take away from the Government the responsibility which belongs to them of stating to the Government of France their belief that the Channel Tunnel should not be made.


said, they were called upon to appoint a Joint Committee of both Houses of Parliament to inquire whether it was expedient that Parliamentary sanction should be given to effect a submarine communication between England and France. That was similar to what he supposed a Private Bill Committee would do, had the matter come before them in the shape of a Bill. But the reason why this project has been taken out of the hands of a Private Committee, and placed in the hands of a Committee of the House of Lords and the House of Commons, was because some reasons of policy were involved in it. He did not think a question of high policy ought to be referred to a Committee of that sort; and he did think, if that House had any sense at all, it should decide upon that question itself, without being guided by a Committee of either House of Parliament. The right hon. Gentleman who had just sat down had entered somewhat more than might have been expected into the policy of the whole question. Now, it seemed to him that if they objected to communication between France and England, and to increased facilities of intercourse between the two nations, they ought also logically to object to every improved steamer that might be put on, and to oppose any improvements of the harbours on either side of the Channel. He agreed with the right hon. Gentleman who had just spoken that there was in the country a strong feeling upon this matter—it had been got up with a great deal of ingenuity and perseverance; but it existed nevertheless. There were two parties who, as far as he could understand, honestly objected to the Tunnel. There was the party who were perpetually talking about "the natural barrier" and "the silver streak," and used phrases of that sort, which meant very little, but were very useful in argument. He could not understand anyone being so anxious to preserve these bar- riers to communication between one country and another. Why, there was a great natural barrier between Italy and Switzerland a short time ago, which was removed by the construction of the St. Gothard Tunnel. But did the people of those countries go into hysterics because that great natural barrier was going to be removed? Far from it. The Municipal authorities on both sides had special trains, met in the middle of the Tunnel, and, like respectable Christians, had a good drink over the event. One of these days, the greatest deputation ever heard of was going to wait upon the Prime Minister, composed of Irishmen of all creeds and Parties. Why? With the object of improving the communication between England and Ireland. And he was sure he would just as soon improve the communication between England and France as between England and Ireland. But he was not at all surprised at the fear which the right hon. Gentleman opposite so ably represented in that House—the fear of invasion. It was conscience that made cowards of us all; and when they talked of invasion, they had, no doubt, an uneasy conscience, which told them they were making invasions perpetually. Why, every year the Conservative Government invaded some country or another; first, Afghanistan, then the Transvaal, and next Zululand; and when the Liberal Party came into power they straightway went into Egypt. But there was another Party who likewise objected to the Tunnel, and he sympathized rather more with them. Their argument was—"We do not at all object to any number of Frenchmen coming over here; but we know that the people of this country are so stupid that if the Tunnel is made it will become a reason for additional panics, and end in more money being spent on Military and Naval Forces." That was the very reason why the Tory Party ought to support it. But he said, after all, if this was a question of high policy, it was not a question to be left to five Gentlemen of that House, however able they might be, for the purpose of saying what ought to be done. He said, let Parliament decide this matter for itself, and let it say whether it was willing that there should be this submarine communication between England and France. Let them be guided in this matter by the Govern- ment. He had immense regard for Her Majesty's Government, and he was sure that their advice would be hailed by every section of the House—the "Fourth Party" included. Let the Government give their opinion and advice, and lay Papers upon the Table; and the House would then be in a position to decide whether this great country was to maintain a policy of isolation and obstruction, or whether it was to promote the means of friendly communication between two great nations.


said, if the House were to decide the question immediately before it upon the same considerations as would apply to any other question of equal magnitude, he did not think there could be the smallest doubt as to the result. They were about to refer to a Committee the question as to whether it was expedient that Parliamentary sanction should be given to the construction of a Marine Tunnel between England and France. No one could doubt that this was a question of the first magnitude. It was one which affected the military and commercial position of the country; and it was one, above all others, on which the Government of the country, if they were worthy of the name of a Government, ought to have an opinion. Sooner or later their opinion upon the subject would have to be given. It appeared to him, however, that the Government desired to shirk all responsibility in this matter as far as it possibly could do so, and to avoid arriving at a decision, because it was hopelessly divided in itself, and could not offer an unanimous opinion to the House. They all knew perfectly well the opinion of certain Members of the Government with regard to this question. There was the Secretary to the Treasury, who flirted with it, and connected himself with a public Company for the promotion of the Tunnel. It was, therefore, clear that the Government had not arrived at so unanimous an opinion as to be able to present it to the House at the moment. Supposing the matter were remitted to a Joint Committee, as was proposed, and whether this Committee reported for or against the Tunnel, would the Government accept the Report of the Committee? Did they not know that, whether the Committee reported for or against the Tunnel, the question was one which ultimately the Government of the country must decide and which no one but that Government could decide? The right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister had told them that they had not materials at the present moment which would enable them to come to a conclusion; but he (Mr. Stanhope) was sure that there were materials sufficient for that purpose. The Government had had inquiry after inquiry; they had appointed a Committee to consider the military aspect of the question, and they had the evidence given by the military authorities upon the subject; and therefore, he said, the House was perfectly well able to form a just opinion as to how the question ought to be decided. The right hon. Gentleman, however, said that the Government would not decide the question, and that they would remit it to a Committee of Members of both Houses. He accepted the challenge of the Government; and if it happened that the Amendment of his right hon. Friend, urging that the Government ought to express an opinion upon this subject, were rejected, he, for one, should certainly take the opinion of the House as to the appointment of any Committee at all.


said, it had been stated that the Government wished to shrink from all responsibility in the matter. They did nothing of the kind. It would be their duty ultimately to decide whether they would advise the proceeding with the Tunnel or not. His right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade (Mr. Chamberlain) had explained the position in which the Government stood in reference to what had gone before. Under the former Government of the present Prime Minister very little was done in the matter, because the original proposals were interrupted by the Franco-German War. After that war there was very little prospect of any capital being obtained for this purpose; and although, in general terms, the Government had expressed their assent to the scheme, the matter practically dropped out of sight. But in 1874, after it had died away for some considerable time, it was revived by a letter from the Earl of Derby, who, addressing the Board of Trade on the 7th of November of that year, re-opened the whole question, and asked for the opinion of the Board. The Correspondence containing the whole of the inquiries made and decisions arrived at by the late Government covered 160 pages of the Blue Book. These inquiries were most exhaustive, both the Board of Trade and the Military and Naval Departments taking part in them; and after making those inquiries the late Government agreed to the appointment of a Joint Commission, three Members of which were nominated by Her Majesty's Government, and three by the Government of France. They received and considered the Report of that Commission; and then they arrived at the decision, which is recorded in the Blue Book, that negotiations for a Treaty with the French Government on the basis of the Protocols of the Joint Commission should be entered upon. That was the position of affairs when the present Government took Office. They found that the late Government were committed up to the hilt in favour of the project. The present Government opened their own inquiry, in the first instance, through a Committee appointed by the Board of Trade; and then by a larger Committee of Military and Civil Engineers, and Artillery officers, presided over by Sir Archibald Alison. Their Report, which was most instructive, was in the Blue Book; and Her Majesty's Government now came to the House, and said to hon. Gentlemen opposite—"You have practically committed the country up to the hilt to the arrangement with France. Is it not right that Parliament should complete the inquiries, which up to this point have not dealt with important parts of the question, before a decision is taken to break off or to carry on the negotiations?" The late Government's responsibility was absolute; but the questions publicly raised since they left Office placed their successors in great difficulty. They had taken the only course possible under the circumstances. After the Parliamentary inquiry was exhausted the final responsibility of the Government would commence, and they would not shrink from it.


said, he had no intention of detaining the House more than a few minutes. He had, however, an Amendment on the Paper, and he was obliged to say a few words upon this important subject. The appoint- ment of a Committee would be very objectionable indeed, inasmuch as it would prevent many questions being raised which ought to be discussed openly in the House. The remarks made by the President of the Board of Trade to a right hon. Gentleman on the Front Opposition Bench, who laid particular stress on the question of the possibility of invasion from a military point of view, called for some special reference. He (Captain Aylmer) did not wish to say the possibility of invasion was not a very important point, nor did he propose to discuss the merits of the Bill in the slightest degree; but he wished, before they went to a division—in which, most probably, the Government would have their way—that the President of the Board of Trade would give the House his opinion of the Tunnel from the point of view of the effect it would have on the Mercantile Marine. He had no hesitation in saying that the effect of the Tunnel would be to withdraw the whole trade of the East from our own ports into those of Prance and the Mediterranean.

Question put.

The House divided:—Ayes 106; Noes 74: Majority 32.—(Div. List, No. 49.)

Main Question put.

The House divided:—Ayes 106; Noes 72: Majority 34.—(Div. List, No. 50.)


I beg to move that the Correspondence with reference to the proposed construction of a Channel Tunnel, presented to Parliament in 1882, be referred to the Committee.

Motion agreed to.

Ordered, That the Correspondence with reference to the proposed construction of a Channel Tunnel, presented to Parliament in 1882, be referred to the Committee.


I now move that a Message be sent to the House of Lords presenting the said Resolution.

Motion agreed to.

Ordered, That a Message be sent to The Lords to acquaint their Lordships, That this House hath appointed a Committee of Five Members to join with a Committee of The Lords, to inquire whether it is expedient that Parliamentary sanction should be given to a submarine com- munication between England and France; and to consider whether any or what conditions should be imposed by Parliament in the event of such communication being sanctioned,—And that the Clerk do carry the said Message.