Sir, on the subject of the Suez Canal the House will expect from me more than a dry statement of intentions on the present occasion, particularly as there has been nothing, down to the present time, said by the Government in this House, except—I believe I am strictly accurate in saying — within the scope and limits of Questions which have been addressed to us. I have now to state the course which the Government intend to take with regard to the Suez Canal Provisional Agreement; and it will be expected from me, almost as a matter of course, that I should state the main considerations which have guided the Government in arriving at their conclusion. In the first place, I should wish to remind the House of the origin of this transaction. The great success of the Suez Canal had naturally brought about 142 a state of things in which, for a very considerable time, there has been pressure for an increase of accommodation and of facilities for traffic; and the Government. being regularly represented in the bedy of the Directors of the Suez Canal, have been in the habit, from time to time, of instructing their Directors on the subject of points which were to be raised in the meetings which took place in Paris. But these instructions for a considerable time, although they touched upon matters of importance, were instructions given to our Directors. It was in the course of the present spring that the matter took a larger form; and, upon what I may call urgent and pressing applications from bedies of very great importance in this country, the Government was led to take into consideration the question of associating itself more directly in these proceedings, and, in fact, of entering upon negotiations with a view to a distinct Agreement between themselves and M. do Lesseps. The turning point in this matter may be said to have been upon the 26th of April. Reported in the newspapers on the 27th are the proceedings of two deputations, or at least of a double deputation, which had an interview with Lord Granville at the Foreign Office. Ono of the deputations was headed by my hon. Friend the Member for Gloucester (Mr. Monk), on the part of the Associated Chambers of Commerce of the country. The other deputation represented the Chambers of Shipping, and was headed by Mr. Laing. The deputation headed by my hon. Friend the Member for Gloucester summed up the form of its requests in an application for negotiations between Her Majesty's Government and the present Suez Canal Company. After describing the other movements which were of a more extensive character, my hon. Friend is reported to have said—The Chambers of Commerce do not go so far as that; but they urge that endeavours should be made to see whether something could not be done through the Canal Company, who at present almost ignore the position which British influence should hold.The other deputation did go beyond the scope of the deputation from the Chambers of Commerce, and Mr. Laing did two things on the part of the shipping interest. In the first place, he repeated what my hon. Friend had said in urging the Government to consider 143 the necessity of taking measures to increase the facilities of transit through Egypt; and then he separately and distinctly called the attention of the Government to the advantages attending an alternative route from the Mediterranean to the Red Sea, not speaking of the Isthmus of Suez in particular, but of the necessity of communication between the two seas. Now, Sir, that deputation consisted a serious event, and gave a remarked expression to the wishes of the commercial community in this country. In fact, the account of its proceedings was no sooner published than it attracted the attention of the heads of the administration of the Canal in Paris. This report appeared on the 27th of April, and so early as the 30th of April overtures from M. de Lesseps were made known to the Government, tending to open those negotiations which had been suggested by my lion. Friend. It was not long after receiving those overtures — I am not sure whether we know of the exact date, but on the 10th or 12th of May, about 10 days afterwards—that the Government came distinctly into the field, and contemplated those negotiations which terminated in the present Agreement. Sir, it was not without a sense that we were undertaking a serious matter, and I may say a matter lying, perhaps, outside the ordinary attributions of a Government. It is obvious that various objections may be taken at the outset to the conducting of transactions of this kind through the hands of a Government. The immediate commercial considerations belonging to a very complicated and difficult question are apt, when they come into the hands of a Government—necessarily apt, and from no blame to anyone, but almost as a matter of course—to become mixed up with considerations of political Party, and these considerations may increase considerably and materially the difficulties of handling such subjects in a satisfactory manner. Further than this, in many instances—and in the present instance in a very peculiar degree—undoubtedly the handling of subjects of this kind in association with the political character which attaches to an Administration, was a matter of great importance, and requiring the utmost delicacy in the forms of proceeding, on account of international interests, and, 144 possibly, even the international irritation which any miscarriage in such proceedings might tend to bring about. However, Sir, looking at the matter as carefully as we could, we thought it our duty to become, as far as we could, the organs and agents of what we felt to be a legitimate desire and demand on the part of the commercial community of this country; but satisfying them, and, I may likewise say, covering ourselves with the condition under which we prosecuted this business—namely, the condition that we should not attempt to close any question on our own authority, or to commit either Parliament or the country to more than receiving an account of what we might propose and might be inclined to recommend after our communications with the Suez Canal Company had been brought to a completion. Under these circumstances, and with that intention to take counsel of Parliament and of the country—an intention which was declared, I think by myself, at a very early date, in answer to Questions put to me from this (the Ministerial) side of the House—we felt that we could take no other course than to frame a Provisional Agreement, embedying our views in that Agreement, and thereupon inviting the judgment which Parliament and the country might be disposed to pronounce. So an Agreement was framed. It was, of course, an Agreement in which on the one side we gave and on the other side we obtained. I think that both what was given and what was obtained were very considerable; and in endeavouring to state briefly and roughly what was done both on the one side and on the other, I shall speak, as far as my intention is to speak, with an absolue impartiality, and with an entire absence on the present occasion of any expression which could give to the statement I am now making anything of a polemical character. What was obtained by the Agreement was, on the one hand, a very large increase of accommodation through a double Canal—presuming the proper assents to the plan to be obtained; and that to be brought about in the shortest possible period. On the other hand, a great reduction of rates, coincident with a corresponding and large increase in the dividends of the Company. Both these events—the augmentation of tonnage, so as to produce, in the first place, an 145 augmentation of dividend; and, in the second place, the diminution of rates—being events which—such has been the prosperity of the Canal—were really, tbeugh not within the immediate prospect, to be contemplated as separated from us by no great distance of time. The House will not understand that I can pretend to give them anything more than a rough estimate on this subject. But what we compute is that, in a limited number of years, the tonnage of the Canal, which is now about 6,000,000, will reach 12,000,000; and when it has reached 12,000,000 tons, then the dividends of the Company will have been raised by that amount of traffic to such a point that the reduction of rates will amount to a removal of the burden on the shipping passing through the Canal exceeding £1,000,000 annually; and evidently that is a very considerable matter. I should say, also, that although we have not made it a capital object in our negotiations to attempt to give a great numerical force on the Board of Direction to English Directors, yet we think arrangements were made which would have led to a very considerable increase in the practical influence of Englishmen over the government and the administration of the Canal. Now, Sir, these are the three points, of which the first two are great ones, and the third is secondary. On the other hand, what was given by us is tolerably well known to the House. It consists, in our view, mainly of two points—first, that a large sum of money was to be lent at the lowest rate at which we could give it, so as to be in a position of covering ourselves, and a loan such as that was to be considered as a great pecuniary gift to the Canal Company. It was nothing else. It was not a case of dealing with a Company which could not berrow for itself. We had a Company with its Shares at several hundreds per cent premium, and which does not require absolutely the assistance of anybedy in order to enable it to berrow money; but, on the other hand, it would not be in the power of the Company to berrow at the low rate of interest at which we offer the money. Besides that which we have given to the Company—and I am bound to say I am cognizant of the fact that there has been a feeling in some quarters in the country and in the House that objection to some extent lies to this large exten- 146 sion of pecuniary relations with the Canal Company, and I put that clown, wishing to state fairly as far as I can what lies for and what against the Agreement now beforo the House—the other very important consideration, which I do not at all disguise the weight of, is the prolongation of whatever exclusive right was conferred upon M. de Lesseps by the original Concession. That is certainly a considerable portion of the price, and is in itself a considerable price for the large advantages, both in accommodation and in rates of passage, which this Agreement would have secured to this country. Well, Sir, of course, the question which the House and the country had to consider, and which the country had to consider before the House, upon the bare skeleton form of that Agreement, was whether the equivalents obtained for what we gave were sufficient. It was a case of quid pro quo, and the question was, whether the quo was werth the quid, and fairly balanced the case. I do not pretend to argue the matter as if it were a thing capable of demonstration. In the view of every candid man it is a question of probable opinion. It does not admit of high, and beld, and sweeping statements; or, at least, if it does, that is not the way in which we think ourselves at all justified in dealing with it. We have admitted, and felt these to be questions fairly arguable from the first. We have done the best we could. We think that the advantages which we have gained by the Agreement are large advantages. On the other hand, it is for the House to consider whether they are themselves worth what we propose should be paid for them. Well, then, Sir, comes the question, which I must now briefly describe, of the actual position in which we stand towards M. de Lesseps and the Company, and I may almost say towards the French nation; because the House is well aware — bearing in mind the previous history of this question, on which it is needless for me to go back in detail—how much this is not merely a question between certain trading interests on the one side, and a Company in possession of certain privileges on the other; it is likewise a grave question between the English nation and the French nation. These two great nations have, happily, been allied for long time, and I trust we shall never 147 do anything to weaken or endanger that alliance. It has been our duty to ascertain on what ground we stood in Paris with respect to this Agreement. There has been no bend to submit between the parties, but the Agreement was drawn in contemplation of its being submitted to Parliament; and in order that there might be no misapprehension on the one side or the other we instructed Sir Rivers Wilson, on Thursday, to go over to Paris, not for the purpose, as has been supposed —not unnaturally—of re-opening this and that point of the negotiations, but in order to ascertain whether the field was perfectly clear and free before us—the Government—there was no question at all about the freedom of Parliament and the country—so that we might give an entirely unbiassed consideration to the grave question now presented to us. I held in my hand a letter from Sir Rivers -Wilson, in which he recounts to us the experience that he had in Paris, and the nature of his communications with the Canal Company. I should say, besides the letter addressed to us, there is also an important letter from M. do Lesseps, addressed to myself, He has done me the honour of writing me a letter, conceived, as might be expected from him, with very great sagacity, and, at the same time, in terms of the utmost frankness and friendliness as regards the present negotiations, and, in effect, coming, I think, to the same purpose as the letter of Sir Rivers Wilson, which I am now about to quote. Both the letter of Sir Rivers Wilson and the letter of M. de Lesseps will at once be laid on the Table of the House, together with some other Papers, which will give the House a full, and, I hope, a satisfactory and sufficient view of this case. I do not think I can describe the present situation more accurately than by reading to the House the substance of Sir Rivers Wilson's letter. It is dated the 21st of July—Upon communication to the MM. de Lesseps of the object of my coming to Paris, they stated in the most friendly terms that they thoroughly understood the situation, and that, so far as they were concerned, they regarded us as in no way bound, under the existing circumstances, to press the Agreement on Parliament. There were, however, two parts of it.This introduces a new but interesting question, to which I invite the particular attention of the House— 148The spontaneous adoption of which, not. withstanding the abandonment of the Agreement—if such should be decided upon—they announced their determination to propose to their shareholders. In the first place, immediate measures would be taken so that a second Canal during the greater part of its length might be rapidly constructed within the limits of the land already conceded, although they might at the proper time have to apply to the Egyptian Government for additional ground where the present width was insufficient. Secondly, the proposed. reduction of dues pari passu with the increased profits would be maintained.But I must tell the House that, although this is perfectly accurate, yet too broad a conclusion might be drawn from it—As to all the other arrangements contemplated in the Agreement, both sides would be free. Her Majesty's Government would be thus under no obligation to use their good offices to obtain for the Company the extension of the Concession beyond 1968, or any other privileges. The capital required for the Second Canal would be raised as the Company might determine, either by the issue pro ratâ of more shares, in which operation England would have the option of subscribing in respect of her 176,602 shares, or by way of debentures, with the like option.Then comes the qualification to which I referred—It is my duty to observe that the former course,"—that is, the issue of shares—"would have the obvious effect of retarding the fall in the rate of dues.Well, Sir, I think that exactly explains to the House, first, the position in which the Government are placed—the position of undoubted freedom in which they are placed—to consider the question without prejudice; and, secondly, the intentions of the heads of the Canal Company, which, according to all experience, we may safely say means the Canal Company itself', for every practical purpose, in ease the Agreement is not persevered with. Well, Sir, that being so, we have to consider what our position is with regard to this Agreement. It is obviously an Agreement which, in order to be satisfactory, must meet with general acceptance. I do not mean unanimous acceptance — that could hardly be expected—but it must meet with general acceptance. To force an Agreement of that kind, and to make an appeal to the confidence of a generous Parliament, and, on political grounds, to obtain the acceptance of a commercial arrangement, not in itself wholly satisfactory to those who were adopting it, would have been, I think, a course in which we should have 149 abused the patience and indulgence of the House, and would have departed from our public duty. Now, the first reception of this Agreement by the trading interests of the country—short as the time is since it was produced, it has already gone through two distinct stages—was undoubtedly of a very condemnatory kind. I may say the language held was that of vehement condemnation on the part of a very large portion of those organs of opinion which at once expressed themselves. There has been a material change, as everyone will see, within the second stage. ["No, no!"] I will keep my word to hon. Gentleman and the House, and I will not intentionally make any partial or one-sided statement. But nobedy can deny that there has been a change when it is found that within the last week a large number of representations have reached us from very important centres indeed—from London, Newcastle, Hartlepool—I think—and from Liverpool, and from a variety of other quarters; and I think my hon. Friend (Mr. Monk), who represents the Associated Chambers of Commerce, has himself substantially joined on their part in similar representations, which do not hold the language of condemnation, but in which they think that probably something better might be done, and which, therefore, recommend that more time be taken in order to see what may be done. Now that is the only distinction I mean to draw; and I entirely feel that both those who condemn and those who ask for time are alike in the position of ono requiring and the other advising us not to persevere with this Agreement under the circumstances now existing. We intend, then, not to ask Parliament to give its sanction to this Agreement; for the reasons at some of which I have already glanced. The first of them is, undoubtedly, that there is not that general and harmonious concurrence which, as we think, in a case of this kind—international as well as commercial—was requisite in order to justify its acceptance. the second is the demand for time, to which I have already referred, and with respect to which I may as well explain that there has been a general demand for time, with a general view that more time might lead to an improved arrangement. Sometimes a general demand for time is accompanied with a specific recommendation, and in many 150 cases with a recommendation that a Royal Commission should be issued to examine into the question; a proposition upon which, although I might, perhaps, quote some precedents, I do not intend to give any opinion at all at the present moment; I merely mention it as an indication of the present state of things. A still belder suggestion is made by some—yet not a novel suggestion, though undoubtedly one of a very wide scope, involving a great variety of points for consideration—that is, that the proper and ultimate arrangement of this great sea passage between the Mediterranean and the Red Sea can only be found when the Canal, instead of being the property of any private Company whatever, or belonging to any nation whatever, shall be placed under the management of an International Commission. ["Oh, oh!"] I shall not enter into that. I do not presume to give any opinion. There is a great deal that has to be said upon it, both in regard to its difficulties and importance. These are the topics which have been brought beforo us by that portion of the expressions of commercial opinion which have, in general terms, or in more specific terms, pleaded for more time. There is another consideration which I think has weighed with us more conclusively, if possible, even than those to which I have already referred. Viewing the actual state of things—viewing the language which has been held, the claims which have been made, the arguments put forward, and, in fact, those views to which the case naturally of itself must incline on the ono side and the other, we are advisedly of opinion that upon interests and grounds much higher than those which relate to matters decided within these walls—much higher than the interests of any Party or any Government—a hostile issue, founded upon an Agreement of this kind, standing in the relation to international policy which it occupies, could not possibly take place without the production of very serious mischief. I hope I am not partial in this statement, for my opinion is, that the contentions on both sides might probably be found mischievous to the interests of this country. I think that, on the one side, claims would be made which unquestionably would be thought to be, and felt to be—whether right or not—of an irritating character; and which would tend to the 151 raising of questions in foreign countries—not only in one foreign country, although in one foreign country especially—that would not be conducive to the maintenance of those cordial relations of goodwill and amity which it is one of our main duties to uphold. Those claims have been made on the parr of those who are the opponents of the Agreement; but when I ask what contentions the supporters of the Agreement would make in answer to these claims, I feel that the tendency of our arguments on a hostile issue thus raised would rather weaken than strengthen the position of this country in any future communications on the subject—and that not with reference to this or that argument in particular, but on the broad consideration of the nature of the issue. Without going further into the details—I will not attempt to go into details—I could easily explain more fully to the House what I mean. They know what has been said and what has been contended for in this country within the last fortnight. They know, perhaps, the effect that has been produced elsewhere. I need not touch upon any of the particulars of the case. I only refer to them to lead the House to believe that we are very serious in our conviction that the probable effect of a discussion taken in connection with a hostile issue raised on the present Agreement would not be favourable to good international relations. I think I have stated to the House in outline the general grounds upon which we have acted; but I should not have fulfilled my duty without saying a few more words with respect to the position of the Government itself. They bind nobedy but the Government; but I do not think that the Government, after the frank and cordial treatment which all along it has experienced in these negotiations, would be warranted in dismissing this subject without a few words on the point I am about to mention. We think it our duty to do justice, as far as lies in our power, to this great Canal Company, and to its eminent, sagacious, and energetic projectors. We do not conceal from ourselves, and we will endeavour, if we can, to make it known and felt in the English world, that they have claims upon us—not claims to the sacrifice of a valuable interest, but claims to respect and honour; that they have conferred a vast benefit upon mankind; that they have conferred 152 it by immense labours, in the midst of great dangers, amid unparalleled difficulties—and these unparalleled difficulties, unhappily, in some respects, due to the unfortunate action of this country in former times. We must also disclaim, on our own part, all community of sentiment with those who seem to us virtually to assert a sort of English dominion over the waterway of the Isthmus; and we must make it known that we, at least, will not be parties to employing influence which may attach, and justly attach, to our temporary and exceptional position in Egypt, for the purpose of procuring any invasion or any abatement of any right lawfully enjoyed. And lastly, Sir, still recollecting, still taking it to be berne in mind that I am speaking for ourselves, and not presuming to bind any but ourselves, I wish to announce that we cannot undertake to do any act inconsistent with the acknowledgment, indubitable and sacred in our eyes, that the Canal has been made for the benefit of all nations at large, and that the rights connected with it are matters of common European interest. I will not trouble the House with any further statement. I will only say this—that, as I have already stated, Papers will be at once presented. I close this statement, although it has been of some length, without making any Motion. I have no idea whether there will be a disposition to raise at the present moment any discussion or not. I can conceive it possible; but, on the other hand, I can conceive that, as important matters which are new have been laid before the House in some portions of my explanation, there may be a desire to take time, and to see the documents to which I have referred, and I have only to add in that case that if and when the disposition to discuss this matter or to discuss the conduct of the Government arises, we shall give every facility in our power for such a discussion.
§ SIR STAFFORD NORTHCOTE
Mr. Speaker, Sir, I cannot help taking notice, in the first instance, of the words with which the Prime Minister has closed his observations. He said that if it should be the desire of the House to bring about a more formal discussion of this proposal, the Government will consider themselves bound to provide a proper and convenient day for the purpose. I 153 think it absolutely essential that, in some form or other, the House should have an opportunity of expressing its opinion on this very important question. We had it brought before us not very long ago, but in a form which appeared to render it certain that the proposal and the Provisional Agreement to which the Government have become parties would be laid before this House for its consideration, and that the verdict of the House would be taken upon it. When Notice of the proposal was given to the House, and when we had a day or two to think about it, I gave Notice of my own intention to move the rejection of the proposal; and I should have been prepared, if it had been submitted to us in the regular way, upon several grounds, to contend that the proposal was one which it was not the duty of this House to accept. That, of course, has become unnecessary now; because the Government, exercising, as I think, a very wise discretion, have determined, at all events for the present, to withdraw that Agreement from the action and supervision of Parliament, and, as I understand, for the present, have no intention of taking any further steps with respect to the matter to which it relates. At the same time, there have been several indications in passages of the right hon. Gentleman's speech which make me feel somewhat uneasy as to what the action of the Government may hereafter be in this matter; and I am decidedly of opinion that we ought not to allow an opportunity which might be taken now in an informal manner, or in a more formal manner when we have the Papers before us, and when a formulated Motion can be submitted, to escape from discussing the very grave questions which have been raised by the Agreement to which we are referring. I cannot myself, even now, thoroughly understand what are those very grave circumstances to which reference has been rather mysteriously made this evening. We have heard much from time to time of matters in the background of an alarming national character, which, undoubtedly, are very serious if they mean anything. But if we look at this Agreement, and the circumstances before us, and the course of proceedings, I confess I cannot understand how, unless by some extraordinary mismanagement, the matter can have been brought into such a shape as to raise 154 consequences and issues of any serious moment. It seems to me that the matter, though of a large and important character, was of an exceeding simple character. Representations have been made to Her Majesty's Government to use their influence to see what could be done towards the improvement of our communications with the East and the Suez Canal; and the Government, as the right hon. Gentleman tells us, were dealing as Directors, so to speak, with their co-Directors, the Directors of the Canal Company. They were dealing with them to see if they could arrive at any arrangement by which those facilities could be given. So far as I can understand, there is nothing of an international character about it—nothing between one Government and another. It has been an arrangement—an attempted arrangement—between the various parties interested in the direction of the Canal. We ourselves have an interest in the Canal as large shareholders, and these transactions may be considered as a sort of arrangement or discussion taking place in camerâ as it were a sort of Board meeting. The arrangement was made, and when submitted to the public here it was certainly not received as an entirely satisfactory arrangement. On the other hand, we were told by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, when speaking to a deputation, that this was a matter on which there was no pressure on the other side, and that we were prej ud ging M. de Lesseps; and, therefore, if the arrangement was one such as that, it does not appear to me that there is anything which need raise these monstrous consequences. I certainly should be ex tremely sorry if anything should occur which could possibly give umbrage or cause any ill-feeling—and at present I cannot understand how it could be—between the two countries. I should be extremely sorry if any offence is unnecessarily given to M. de Lesseps and the promoters of that great undertaking. No one can go beyond myself in admiration of the character and energy and werk of M. de Lesseps. he is a gentleman whose friendship I have enjoyed for many years, for whom I have the highest respect, and to whom, I am satisfied, every respect is due. But that is no reason why we should give in to exorbitant demands. There is one point which was not very prominent in the speech of the Prime Mi- 155 nister, but which was the real core of the whole matter, on which it is essential we should have a complete understanding, at some period by-and-bye—I mean, of course, the question of the limit of the Concession to M. do Lesseps. I do not wish, at the present moment, to enter into that question. It is one of a very delicate character, which requires careful discussion, and which I do not think could be discussed upon a question like the adjournment of the debate or anything of that kind. I only note it as being a particular point to which attention must be given. All the other advantages, either given on the one side or the other, are advantages that may be discussed, and weighed, and considered; but I do hold that it is our duty to take care that we do not, and that the Government, acting for us, don ot, commit the country to any admission which the country is not prepared to commend. If the argument is conducted properly, temperately, and in a manner which will show that we have no desire, except that of securing our own just rights, and not only our own rights, but the rights of all nations who are interested, I think if the discussion is conducted in the spirit in which it ought to be discussed, it cannot be productive of harm, it ought not to be productive of offence, and it can and may be productive of great good. I wish to point out that though England has an enormous stake and interest in the Canal, because of her large shipping and great use of the Canal, yet that the question is one which affects all other nations also, and that we have no right, by any action of ours, to give colour to any claim which claim we might not be prepared to admit, but which might have our support against other nations. I glance at that in order to show that the privileges of M. de Lesseps and the Company are a question between England and the Company, and a question that ought to be considered, and a question affecting the commerce of all maritime nations. Just on the same principle as that on which Lord Granville, in 1872, when we had disputes with the Company on another matter, laid down the principle that we could not agree that the Company should be the judges or interpreters of their own Concession; so we say here the Company ought not to be the sole judges. And we should be extremely careful not to give colour to those claims beyond what 156 the claims can be proved to be. I throw out those matters for consideration. My own impression is, that the proper time for a fair discussion will be when we have the Papers before us, and when we are in a position to formulate some Motion or to raise a question which could be raised upon them. I hope we will not be led into an irregular discussion at this moment. But I, myself, am of opinion that the matter cannot rest here; that there must be a discussion; and I am most anxious that, for the convenience of all parties, it should be of a most formal and regular character.
§ MR. CHARLES PALMER
I do not wish to prolong the discussion; I merely wish to ask—["Order!"]
§ MR. SPEAKER
If the hon. Member confines himself to the Question he is in Order.
§ MR. CHARLES PALMER
I merely wish to ask the First Lord of the Treasury, Whether we are to understand, now that this proposal is being withdrawn from the consideration of the House, that Her Majesty's Government propose to continue negotiations with the President of the Canal Company, and to take into consideration the various questions of international interests?
We certainly do not contemplate any immediate action of any kind upon the instant when we are retiring from this Agreement. It would be our duty, and I think my lion. Friend will feel with me, to inform ourselves as fully as we can of the views entertained by those who are mainly interested, and who are competent to judge the matter, before we go further into the question.
§ MR. MAGNIAC
I shall confine myself to a Question to the Prime Minister. I wish to ask the right hon. Gentleman, whether he will call the attention of Sir Rivers Wilson and of the Directors nominated by the British Government to the Agreement of 1866, by which the Canal Company is precluded, on physical grounds, from making a second Canal; and, that being the case, whether it is not necessary at once to enter into the discussion proposed in this House, so that the English Directors may be at once directed as to what course they are to take?
§ MR. ONSLOW
The tone of public feeling having now subsided with regard to the Agreement made by the Govern- 157 ment, I would ask the Prime Minister this Question—Whether he has received communication from nay Chamber of Commerce in India, or in the Colonies, expressing satisfaction with that Agreement?
I think I may say that Sir Rivers Wilson and the English Directors are perfectly cognizant of all the matters on which my hon. Friend wishes us to communicate to them. But, of course, it will be the duty of the English Government, when such questions as have been referred to are brought by the Governors of the Canal Company before that Company for consideration, to instruct our Directors as to the course they are to take. In regard to the Question of the hon. Member for Guildford (Mr. Onslow), I cannot recollect the contents of all the communications I have received on the subject. Some of them have been favourable, and many of them have been unfavourable; and I think Notice should be given of a Question.
§ MR. J. LOWTHER
I wish to ask the Prime Minister, Whether his attention has been called to the fact that very grave complaints have for a long time past been made by those engaged in the use of the Canal as to the difficulties alleged to be placed in the way of British commerce by the action of the Company; and, whether demands have not been made for a more effectual representation of British interests upon the Board of Directors, which it is contended as at present constituted does not afford adequate protection to the interests of British commerce?
Yes, Sir; I am perfectly aware that there has been complaints as to the management of the Canal and as to difficulties experienced in the transaction of business; but not, so far as I know, has any one-sided partiality been exhibited against British commerce. I know nothing of that; but the methods of management, we think, should be improved. I may say I think that is probably quite true, and that it is by no means confined to the Suez Canal, because our methods of managing business are not quite the same as on the Continent; and wherever we go we are apt to think that we can just a little improve the arrangements. Undoubtedly it is quite true that an important part of the desires of the shipping interest of this country has been 158 the increase of the British weight o r numbers on the Directorate.
§ MR. J. LOWTHER
I ought to explain that I did not refer to any suggestion respecting an increase in the number of British Directors, but to the demand for a more efficient representation of British interests upon the part of those intrusted with that duty.
§ MR. W. H. SMITH
May I ask when the Papers to which the right hon. Gentleman referred will be circulated? What is the earliest possible day that they will be put in the possession of this House?
The Papers will be pressed forward with the utmost possible expedition. The right hon. Gentleman will perhaps put a Question to my noble Friend (Lord Edmond Fitzmaurice); and I have no doubt he will make inquiry and put himself in a condition to answer.
§ SIR JOHN LUBBOCK
I would ask the right ben. Gentleman whether we may distinctly understand that no steps will be taken by the Canal Company with reference to the commencement of a second Canal until the English Directors have an opportunity of ascertaining the views of Her Majesty's Government upon the subject?
I apprehend, Sir, that that is absolutely involved in the nature of the constitution of the Canal Company.
§ SIR STAFFORD NORTHCOTE
I presume these Papers may be laid on the Table to-night.
The two Papers to which I have already referred are quite ready to be presented. I know Lord Granville desires to produce other Papers; but I will not pledge myself with regard to the latter.
§ SIR STAFFORD NORTHCOTE
It is material to the issue that we should have the Papers, and at this late period of the Session there should be no delay.
§ LORD EDMOND FITZMAURICE
I will make every effort to push the Papers on.
§ MR. GIBSON
What are the Papers?
Due notice will be taken of the observations of the right hon. Gentleman (Sir Stafford North-cote), and of his desire that despatch should be considered. If he waives some portion of detailed information, despatch will be facilitated.
§ MR. BOURKE
I hope the noble Lord the Under Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs will be able to tell the House now what are the Papers, in addition to those mentioned by the First Lord of the Treasury, that we are to expect. The noble Lord must know what these Papers are, and I think the House should know what they are, in order that we may see whether it is desirable to raise a discussion on this question, and that we should have it as soon as possible.
§ LORD EDMOND FITZMAURICE
The Papers consist of certain correspondence. I do not think it is at all usual to be asked to state beforehand the details of the Papers which are about to be immediately presented; and I think the House will see that I am showing proper respect to the House when I once more assure it that every effort will be made to lay these Papers and circulate them within the shortest possible time.
§ MR. BOURKE
Can the noble Lord inform us whether these Papers have any relation whatever to negotiations that have been going on in Paris for the last three months?
§ LORD EDMOND FITZMAURICE
That question has already been answered by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who stated that they were the material for those negotiations.
§ MR. BOURKE
Has it not been stated by the Government, over and over again, that all the information that the House would require on this subject has already been put before it? And I would like to know in that case what use there can be in delaying these Papers now?
§ LORD EDMOND FITZMAURICE
I am not aware, Sir, that any such assertion has been made.
§ SIR STAFFORD NORTHCOTE
I hope the noble Lord does not share the saying of the Under Secretary of State for the Colonies as to being "all in the dark" with respect to the Suez Canal. We really want information, and if there is further information to come, I think it would be quite possible to state the general character of the Papers that are to be presented. Our object is to bring this matter as soon as possible to an issue; and I am sure the Prime Minister must feel that it cannot be desirable to keep the matter dragging on. The right hon. Gentleman told us the other day that he would not bring for- 160 ward any Motion in regard to the matter later than the last day of this month, and I wish to ask whether that agreement holds with regard to the altered state of things?
I have given an indication of my desire to facilitate the bringing forward of any Motion that it might be desired to bring forward. It is very difficult for me now to bind the discretion of hon. Members of this House as to the time when they may desire to do it. If it is desired, there can be no difficulty in laying on the Table at once this Paper and the Paper of Sir Rivers Wilson, the main portion of which I read. I know that Lord Granville has a desire to add some Papers, and it is not for me in his absence to make' a covenant that that should be done.