§ SIR STAFFORD NORTHCOTE
, Member for North Devon, rose in his place, and asked leave to move the Adjournment of the House for the purpose of discussing a definite matter of urgent public importance, viz., the present policy of Her Majesty's Government in relation to the affairs of Egypt and the Soudan, and the position of General Gordon at Khartoum.
The pleasure of the House not having been signified—
§ MR. SPEAKER
The right hon. Gentleman asks for leave to move the Adjournment of the House for the pur- 1527 pose of discussing a definite matter of Urgent public importance—namely, the present policy of Her Majesty's Government in relation to the affairs of Egypt and the Soudan, and the position of General Gordon at Khartoum. Is it your pleasure that leave be given to the right hon. Gentleman to make the Motion? ["No, no!"] Is the right hon. Gentle-man supported by 40 Members?
And not less than 40 Members having risen in their places—
§ SIR STAFFORD NORTHCOTE
Sir, I shall make no apology for raising this question; and if I had had any doubt as to the propriety of my doing so, I must confess that that doubt would have been removed by the statements that we have just heard from the Prime Minister and from the Secretary of State for War. I need not say that the subject is one which receives and deserves the attention and that it commands the interest of this House and of the country. I do not question the right of the Government to exercise reticence upon any points in reference to which they think that it ought to be observed; but I beg to say that the statements which we have just heard from the Government are not only unsatisfactory with regard to what they do not fuel themselves at liberty to do, but what I fear very much from them is that the present policy of Her Majesty's Government is tainted with exactly the same faults which has tainted their policy throughout, and which has been the cause of great trouble to us as a nation. It appears to me, from those statements, that there is the same desire to avoid responsibility, and to cast that responsibility upon others, and the same disposition to close their eyes to important matters which are passing and which must affect our position and our future relations in Egypt, which we have noticed in their previous policy with regard to that country. The Questions which have been put with regard to the general relations that exist between Her Majesty's Government and the Egyptian Government, and with regard to the political, military, and financial affairs of that country, are undoubtedly Questions of great interest and importance; but the question that most immediately presses itself upon our attention is that which relates to the 1528 position of General Gordon at Khartoum, and that is a question which connects itself very closely with other questions; but, at the same time, it is the one upon which the attention of the country is and ought to be fixed. The noble Lord has taunted us, or rather has made some observations upon the cry which he says he has heard in some quarters in this country, as to the abandonment of General Gordon. I do not make the statement as to the abandonment of General Gordon from anything I have heard in this country; but I make it from what is reported to have been said in Khartoum itself, and reported upon authority which it is very difficult indeed to dispute. The statement rests upon the authority of Mr. Power, our Consular Agent at Khartoum, one of the three Englishmen who alone are in that city, and who tells us that he is in constant communication with General Gordon; and if I may venture to refer to private matters, I may say that I learn that General Gordon has assured his friends in this country that anything that Mr. Power states concerning him may be taken as authentic. Mr. Power says—We are daily expecting British troops, and we cannot bring ourselves to believe that we are to be abandoned by England.Whether that statement comes from General Gordon or from one of his few compatriots there, it is equally important. That which presented itself to the mind of Mr. Power is no doubt that which presents itself to the minds of every other Englishman at Khartoum. This distinguished man, General Gordon, has gone with the authority of Her Majesty's Government, and has placed himself in a position of great danger. Hon. Members are aware, from what has been stated in this House, that the expedition was undertaken by General Gordon, not on his own account, but at the request, and by the authority, of Her Majesty's Government. They are also perfectly aware that Her Majesty's Government, when their action in Egypt has been questioned, have, from time to time, sheltered themselves behind the authority of General Gordon; and we have been taught to rely upon him as the agent who was to get us out of all the terrible difficulties in which we were placed. We were told, with considerable confidence and with some little air of 1529 mystery, that General Gordon had plans which could not properly be disclosed, which always appeared to me to be rattier vague and extravagant, but which the Government thought were plans that ought to have a trial, and plans that, in their opinion, promised success. As far as we are able to see, however, the attempts which General Gordon has made have not met with success. His attempts to conciliate the tribes in his neighbourhood, and to come to an arrangement with the Mahdi, seem to have led to results different from those which we had a right to expect. In the meantime, we see General Gordon with the honour of England engaged in his safety. ["No, no !"] Some hon. Gentlemen opposite, when I say that the honour of England is engaged in the safety of General Gordon, answer "No !" I cannot attempt to argue with Gentlemen who take that view; but I want to know whether that is the view of Her Majesty's Government? We have had ambiguous language used by the Prime Minister. We have had language used by the noble Lord which I think was not altogether clear nor altogether consistent with the language of the Prime Minister with regard to General Gordon's position. According to the Prime Minister, General Gordon is free to leave Khartoum to-morrow if he pleases, as I am free to leave London to-morrow; but, according to the noble Lord, he has been asked by Her Majesty's Government to remain there until he has accomplished some scheme. When I speak of General Gordon as being bound to Khartoum, I do not say that he is bound to it in such a manner that he would be subjected to any punishment if he left it; but. knowing what General Gordon is, and knowing also the nature of his relations with the Government, we cannot say that he is there entirely of his own free will, and that his being there has nothing to do with that which is expected and asked of him by Her Majesty's Government. Therefore, I maintain that he is there as our Agent; that he is the Representative of England; and that he occupies a position in regard to which the honour of England is pledged. I do not say that General Gordon—Heaven forbid! —is in actual danger there. I trust that he is not; but if language is used which seems to indicate that England is careless of his safety, you do put him in a 1530 position of considerable danger. What I want to know, however, is what is exactly the position of General Gordon? Whose officer is he? We are told by the Prime Minister that, to a certain extent, General Gordon is an officer of Her Majesty's Government, and that, to a certain extent, he is an officer of the Egyptian Government. In so far as he is an officer of Her Majesty's Government, he appears to have gone out simply for the purpose of drawing up a Report; but in so far as he is an officer of the Egyptian Government, he has much larger functions, and very important functions. He has the command of the administration of a very large province and a very important town. These are two positions which. I think, are not very easily reconcilable with each other There is the old saying, that "No man can serve two masters;" and we want to know which master it is whom General Gordon is bound to serve? We know perfectly well that whichever it is nominally it must really be the English Government. we know perfectly well that by the action which the British Government have taken in regard to the affairs of the Soudan, they have overruled the Government of Egypt in most important matters, and we know that they are supreme, and, in the last resort, responsible. Therefore, it is a most dangerous thing, considering how deeply the honour of England is concerned, to leave matters on such a footing that by some action of the Egyptian Government which you do not choose to control you make it possible that events may take place which, if you had interfered earlier, you might have prevented. It is the old story of Hicks Pasha and declining responsibility. In that case you chose to say that you would not be responsible in the matter: you left things to take their course; they took a very wrong and a very unfortunate course; and then, at the last moment, you proceed to action far beyond what you need have taken in the first instance—action which has been of a strong, a violent, and an overruling character. You will come to the same thing now, and will bring upon yourselves the very responsibility which you are endeavouring to avoid and to escape. I do not desire to to go into details as to the course you are pursuing. It may, or it may not be, the right thing to send troops to Wady 1531 Halfa, or to Berber, or to open up the road between Berber and Suakin. All these are matters of great importance, in regard to which, under ordinary circumstances, one would say— "Trust the Government, and let them carry on their operations." But I wish to know what is the line on which they are proceeding, and what is the general scope of their policy with regard to Egypt? The noble Lord seems to think that by putting the Questions which I addressed to him I was asking the Government to undertake the settlement of the Government of the Eastern Soudan, or the relations of the Western Soudan with Khartoum. I do not ask him to do these things; but I ask him what is the policy of the Government in regard to these matters? Is it their policy to lot things drift entirely, or are they going to stir? If they are not going to interfere at all, what are they doing at Suakin or anywhere else? Either they are responsible, or they are not responsible, for laying down some line of policy which is to be pursued by the Egyptian Government under their authority with regard to these important matters. You cannot, in dealing with the affairs of Egypt, cut off the consideration of the state of the Soudan. You have tried to do that already, but you found it was impossible. You may try to do it again; but if you leave the Egyptian Government to deal with all these matters entirely by themselves, who is to say that, you will not have fresh invasions and risings, and will not be obliged to take very strong measures? I venture to say that if that should take place you would have your responsibility very quickly indeed called forth, not only in connection with the honour of England, but with regard to the financial relations in which you stand towards Egypt. In regard to those relations I wished to have had some explanation. The only explanation we have had is that an important financial examination is going on. If so, we might have been told a little more about the circumstances which led to the examination, by whom it was conducted, and to what particular objects the examination is directed. From all we know at present the financial position of Egypt is extremely unsatisfactory, and it is possible that an examination, and even something more than an examination, into the financial affairs of Egypt has 1532 become necessary. "We ought to have information on that subject as early as possible; but we believe that, with reference both to its foreign and its domestic affairs, the financial condition of Egypt depends largely on the administration of Egypt, and we want to know whether this sort of double Government is to be carried on; and, if so, on what terms it is to be carried on, and whether you can insure that it can be so carried on as to avert the danger we must apprehend of a double Government leading to large expenditure and great responsibility? That is the case in all that may be called Egypt in reference to the defence of the frontier, and all that may happen in regard to administration in Egypt Proper. We feel that we are left in an unsatisfactory position in regard to the information which the Government has given to us on this matter. What I wish particularly to obtain from the Government is some clearer explanation than we have yet received of the relations which this country now recognizes as existing between herself and the Government of Egypt. The right hon. Gentleman made reference to the policy of the Predecessors of the present Government, the inheritance and legacy which was left to them, and the rest of it. I have more than once answered the right hon. Gentleman on that point, and I should be ready to do so again if I did not think it would be a waste of time. I do not now ask what brought us here, but what are you going to do in the position in which we stand? Are we to go on doing nothing at all, or are we to go on keeping up a sort of double Government? I do not wish to detain the House any further. I have pointed out what appears to me to be the particularly unsatisfactory condition of our relations with Egypt, the uncertainty of General Gordon's position, the uncertainty of how far we are responsible for his actions; and we ask for some further information as to the gallant General's plans. The Government must have such information. They must be aware whether General Gordon is or is not of opinion that the plans he has been pursuing are such as he can hope to carry into effect with success. He must have informed them how far those plans have hitherto succeeded; and I think we have a right to ask for more information on that subject from the Government.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."— (Sir Stafford Northcote.)
Sir, the right hon. Gentleman in his statement to the House has not raised many points on which it is my duty to make a reply. I am afraid that the substance of what I say will be a complaint of the course which has been taken by the right hon. Gentleman, and a pretty strong complaint too; and I propose to make clear the grounds upon which I found it. Now, Sir, the right hon. Gentleman says that he thinks that General Gordon must necessarily have informed us what are his views and plans, and the right hon. Gentleman makes that a main pillar of his statement, just after he has been informed by my noble Friend in his clear and masterly statement, from which I do not intend to deviate by the breadth of a hair, and to which, in substance, I have nothing to add—after he has been informed by my noble Friend that the Government have found it their duty to decline to accede to an important recommendation proposed by General Gordon for giving effect to his plans, and that we had not yet received the acknowledgment by General Gordon that he was aware of that decision of the Government and the effect that it had produced on his mind — it is in these circumstances, when there has not been what I may call a return of post from General Gordon acquainting the Government with his views about. Zebehr Pasha, the right hon. Gentleman comes down to the House and says— "You must be perfectly aware of all the plans of General Gordon." The right hon. Gentleman says—"This is the old story of Hicks Pasha and declining responsibility." I thought the right hon. Gentleman had had enough of Hicks Pasha after the five nights we had on that subject. But this case, Sir, is exactly the reverse of Hicks Pasha and declining responsibility. The right hon. Gentleman is only able to draw upon his imagination by saying that our doctrine as to Egyptian government is that in the Soudan we have no responsibility. Sir, we have said no such thing. We have said, with regard to the proceedings of General Gordon, that, although in his executive capacity he is the officer of the Egyptian Government, yet we have not only a 1534 great interest with regard to his proceedings, but a great responsibility also. Then the right hon. Gentleman gets up, coolly overlooking and setting aside the clearest and plainest words we could use, and, forsooth, he complains of the ambiguity of our statements and of the lamentable want of information. Sir, I go further. This is the 17th night on which the House has been introduced to an Egyptian debate. I want to know whether that is a course which is beneficial to the country? As the Head of Her Majesty's Government, I enter my protest against that course. I say there is no precedent for it. There is not in all the annals of Parliament anything in the slightest degree resembling the conduct that has been pursued by the Opposition, and by the Leader of the Opposition, with respect to those Egyptian transactions. Now, Sir, I say plainly this — with regard to the bulk of the House on this side, or the bulk of the House on that side, I think they are perfectly entitled to exercise the most jealous scrutiny over all we do. I have never claimed indulgence at their hands. They know well the difficulties—though only part of the difficulties—under which we have to labour in this Egyptian Question. I admit that we have never claimed indulgence at their hands; but there is one set of men from whom we had a right to expect indulgence and co-operation, and that is the Members of the late Government. But these are the men who have not only exercised their faculty of criticism—as though they, forsooth, had nothing to do with this matter — but have set an example of which they may hereafter have to pay the price. They will have made a precedent of pushing a question of this kind in a manner and to a degree to which I declare, Sir, so far as my knowledge goes, there is nothing approaching a resemblance in the whole history of the House of Commons. You have had your discussion for 17 nights out of the two months which the House has, as yet, been able to give to the affairs of the Empire. Has it been for a beneficial purpose? Has the Government attempted to meet the reasonable wishes entertained by the nation? [Cheers and "No !"] Well, Sir, I believe the opinion of the majority of the House is the direct reverse of that negative, which proceeds from a few. Ire- 1535 gard the speech of my noble Friend tonight as having indicated the most anxious desire to convey, as far as public duty would permit, to the minds of the House the clearest ideas of the position. He has told all we know ourselves with respect to the Soudan and with respect to Egypt. He has told you that it is impossible to enter upon any new statement of policy. The policy and position of the Government in Egypt are perfectly understood. ["Oh, oh !"] They have been explained—but I am not saying that they are perfectly understood by every Gentleman in this House. There are some Gentlemen in this House who never will understand it. I say this—they have been explained over and over again in the most solemn documents known to us — namely, the Speeches from the Throne; and the relations established in virtue of our military occupation, which were undoubtedly, I will not say modified, but, at any rate, interpreted in a more clear and developed sense, by the proceedings which took place about four months ago when the Egyptian Administration was changed, that position of the Government and that high responsibility which my noble Friend himself was the first to state to-night, had been laid before the House in language as clear as we could use. If we have any change to announce in that policy, we shall not wait for the Question of the right hon. Gentleman and for the repetition of the Motion for Adjournment, which, I confess, appears to be a clear and sheer abuse of the Privileges of Parliament. we shall ourselves make known to the House any change that our convictions of public duty may induce us to think it right that we should adopt. But, Sir, my noble Friend went further. He said we were busy with the questions of Egyptian finance. He said that an examination had been proceeding into the subject of Egyptian finance; and, so far as we are concerned, we hardly overstate the case if we say that that examination is virtually complete. But the right hon. Gentleman says— "We want to know what it is? You completed your examination yesterday, and to-day you should come down here and tell us all the particulars."
To the balance of account between Receipt and Expenditure, which the right hon. Gentleman did not think very much of when he was Chancellor of the Exchequer of this country. ["Oh!"] I am quite ready to give my reason for what I say. Be so good as to look to" Fifteen Years' Statistical Abstract," and to the little minus mark against the years of deficiency in this country, and Gentlemen will find that what I say is no vague political rhetoric, but is a sorrowful reference to unquestionable facts. But the right hon. Gentleman knows better than we do, in this particular case, that Egyptian finance is not a matter to be settled between this country and Egypt alone. And then the right hon. Gentleman says—" Having made your examination, why do not you come down here and tell us all about it?" [Sir STAFFORD NORTHCOTE: No.] Well, I may have misunderstood the right hon. Gentleman; but he said he wanted to know to what point the examination was directed. Well, I will only say that if there is reason and equity on all sides, there need be no fear as to the future of Egyptian finance; but the matter is one of great difficulty. Egyptian finance was in great difficulty eight or ten years ago, when the late Government afforded relief by the purchase of the Suez Canal Shares; it was in a state of difficulty two years ago before the Dual Control had come to an end; and it is in difficulty now, which renders it necessary for us to endeavour to consider what measures should be taken with a view to its thorough rectification. The right hon. Gentleman knows that there have been special causes which have operated unfavourably on Egyptian finance —the destruction of property in Alexandria and the enormous awards with respect to that destruction. But another main cause, I am sorry to say, has been the now sufficiently revealed costliness of that singular and extraordinary attempt which will hereafter be regarded as a political paradox—the attempt of Egypt to exercise political supremacy over the Soudan. I see no reason why, with fair intentions on all sides, this problem should not be solved. It is a problem in which other countries are concerned as well as ourselves. There are the rights of the Sultan and the rights of the Powers. You can hardly stir a step 1537 with regard to Egyptian finance without finding that you are absolutely blocked by the engagements which have been made in former times for the purpose, as was then supposed, of securing Egyptian credit. It is in these circumstances that we say it is absolutely impossible for us, with this question of finance in hand,: with the immediate duty incumbent on us of considering what measures may be required, and the relation which Egyptian finance has to other Powers as well as ourselves—it is impossible for us, I say, to satisfy the demand of the right hon. Gentleman, that we should enter into a discussion of our policy in Egypt, which is quite inseparable from the, question of Egyptian finance. I am quite sure that the right hon. Gentleman is the last man who would knowingly use a power of the kind he has used tonight for purposes of public mischief; but I say distinctly that, whatever his intentions may be, he docs exercise it for public mischief. In these two months, this is the 17th discussion we have had on Egypt. Is it to be supposed that these incessant discussions and the excitement by which, on most occasions, they are characterized, do not greatly hamper the progress of the Government, surrounded as they are by difficulties, by rival interests, aye, and some of the most important interests working underground in regard to this question of Egyptian policy? I say they do distinctly; and I will give from the speech of the right hon. Gentleman an example of the mischief arising out of these debates. What has he said to night? He, the Leader of the Opposition, has announced to the world the failure of the plan of General Gordon; is that beneficial? Is that the way in which those who claim to themselves a: monopoly of the terms "loyal," "Constitutional," and "patriotic" justify their claims? Is that the way in which they sustain the honour and interests of England in Egypt, or in which they offer to show their estimate of the debt we owe to the gallant General Gordon? When General Gordon himself says he has failed, or when that fact is beyond doubt, we may not be able, and it may not be our duty, to disguise it; but the right hon. Gentleman, in his zeal to make out a case to justify the Motion for Adjournment, anticipates the fact, and feeling how slender are the materials at 1538 his command, he is obliged to feign a failure in order to bolster up the case he laid before the House. I will take my stand upon that single assertion; and I affirm that these discussions are mischievous as well as unprecedented. That they are unprecedented I believe to be beyond the possibility of denial; that they are mischievous I affirm; and in proof of what I say I refer to the announcement of the right hon. Gentleman to-night in regard to the failure of General Gordon. Sir, I deny it. It may come. In the face of difficulties almost hopeless and insurmountable, that gallant man offered to place himself in the breach, went to the post of danger, and he faced the difficulties before him; and I say that General Gordon's mission, even at this moment, has not been barren. After the defeat of Hicks Pasha, what were the apprehensions that were prevalent? They were, that the Mahdi, flushed with victory, and the tribes enchanted, and practically bewitched by his success, would become the invaders of Egypt, and would disturb the country along the whole course of the Nile. These expectations and apprehensions have not been realized; on the contrary, the charm of the Mahdi's success has been broken, and the counter attraction of General Gordon's great name did much to prevent anything like a dangerous combination. I should not, perhaps, say too much, though I venture to give it as an opinion at this moment that there is infinitely less to fear from the Mahdi and his friends than we had reason, and not without grounds, to apprehend during the mouths that followed the defeat of Hicks Pasha. I say this great advantage is already realized; but until we know something of General Gordon's plans, and what substitute he may have found for his proposal about Zebehr, or what measures he intends to pursue, I shall entirely decline to share the irresponsible declarations of the right hon. Gentleman. I almost venture to appeal to some of the Gentlemen who sit behind him when I say that this premature assertion by the Leader of the Opposition that the plans of General Gordon have failed is mischievous to the best interests of Egypt. I have said that one of the greatest difficulties in this case is the number of cross and conflicting interests you have to deal with. I think it 1539 was the hon. Member for Carlisle (Sir Wilfrid Lawson) who said that, after all, our actions simply meant promoting the interests of the bondholders. Ah, Sir, if our action were intended simply to have that result, we should stand better with a considerable portion of the Press of Europe than we do. You read extracts from some foreign, newspapers that are astonished at our deadness, and that speak of the demand that public duty makes upon us. Sir, when I read these extracts I hail them as testimonies that we have not been taken in, and that we are not milling to be made the instruments of those who, for the sake of the millions sterling that have been invested in Egypt, are endeavouring, by every means they can employ, to bring the people of England blindfold into the assumption of immense responsibilities, which no man can measure, and with regard to which I will say this—we will not undertake to say whether the people of England are to assume them or not —this great nation will determine that question for itself; but this we will say —they shall not assume them without knowing what they are about—they shall not assume them blindfold. You may quote your foreign Press, with every wire that governs the action of that portion of it to which I refer, pulled by those who are connected with this great pecuniary interest; it is not wonderful that they should act in this sense, because what could be more comfortable or satisfactory to them than that, having already profited largely by the intervention of England, they should secure by it £15,000,000 or £20,000,000 more? What could be more satisfactory to them, there being no other consequence to be apprehended except the imposition of a terrific burden upon the people of England and the undertaking of responsibilities of which I am certainly inclined to take a very serious measure? I have very little more to say. I have contended that this course is wholly unprecedented, and that it is extremely mischievous to the public interests. I believe the 17 nights of debate—with whatever nights may be added to them—will be looked upon by the future student of Parliamentary history as a perfect curiosity in politics. Why in the world is this pressure exercised? Why, two or three times a week, 1540 have we these debates? One might suppose that Egypt lay in Yorkshire, and that the Soudan was in Caithness or Sutherland shire. We are sometimes told that, having regard to Egyptian affairs, the Franchise Bill ought not to go forward. Why, Sir, when the great Reform Bill of 1831–2 was carried through Parliament there were other and much more serious questions nearer home, according to the political traditions of this country. There were questions raised by the Revolution of 1830, particularly by the Belgian Revolution and its relations to the new Monarchy in France — there were these questions, ten times more formidable for the people of England than the questions now raised in Egypt and the Soudan—embarrassing, I grant, to the last degree; but dangerous, critical, burning questions. ["No!"] I make a concession to the hon. Member for Carlisle. Were there a necessity or likelihood of further bloodshed under the flag of Her Majesty, that might be said to constitute a pressing and burning question in itself. Happily, we believe, so far as we know or can judge, risks of that kind have passed away. There is no violent crisis pending, then, in this country. When much more serious questions were open, and we were passing the Reform Act of 1831–2, the Opposition of that day—a powerful, active, and able Opposition— they never had—what shall I call it?— the boldness or daring—I might use a stronger word—to contend that these foreign questions ought to be used for the purpose of consuming the time of Parliament to the extent of 17 days out of two months of the Session. They never had the boldness to assume it; they never had that other quality, very different from boldness, which might have led them, without asserting and stating it, yet to make use of these foreign questions for that very purpose in order to weaken, by every means in their power, the resources of this great popular Legislative Assembly for the purpose of carrying on the great work of beneficial legislation. I cannot read the hearts of hon. Gentlemen opposite —no one can—but I can construe their acts. One word more. The right hon. Gentleman referred to the Report of Mr. Power, our Consular Agent. I have not a word to say against Mr. Power; I believe we are indebted to him for the 1541 services he has rendered; but what is; Mr. Power in relation to us? he is resident in Khartoum; he is an independent merchant; he is the Correspondent of The Times. It became necessary to have someone, not to act as our representative, but to discharge certain duties at this particular time, and Mr. Power was appointed as temporary Consular Agent. A Consular Agent is not an officer responsible to this Government, even if permanently appointed; he only performs certain particular services, and his responsibility is within the limits of those services; as to anything else, he is perfectly free, and in the expression of his opinions he is as unchecked and unrestrained as are the hon. Gentlemen who sit opposite—and I cannot say more. And yet the right hon. Gentleman takes an opinion of Mr. Power transmitted to The Times as virtually equivalent to an official declaration probably conveying the mature conviction of General Gordon. Really, Sir, it is a farce to treat it in such a spirit. That is the kind of interpretation which, in the legitimate exercise of function as a Member of Parliament, I apply to the acts of these who are before me. I have pointed out that this mode of proceeding is totally without precedent, and that the statement made by the right hon. Gentleman himself is mischievous to the public interests, and calculated distinctly and undeniably to weaken the hands of the British Government, and likewise of every man acting for it in Egypt; and I cannot withhold the expression of this opinion —that the proceedings thus taken, and the debates thus constantly renewed, are out of all proportion to the pressure and urgency of the question, and have the effect of offering immense obstruction to important Public Business. These things, I say, are done, and they are done for some purpose which it is not necessary for me to define, and which has not, up to this time, been avowed.
§ MR. CHAPLIN
said, the Prime Minister had appealed to hon. Members who sat behind the Leader of the Opposition to accept his assertion that in the action the right hon. Gentleman thought it right to take he had adopted a course mischievous to the interests of the country. He accepted the challenge of the Prime Minister, and utterly denied the 1542 truth of the statement. The right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition had made no disclosure with regard to the position of General Gordon which was not already patent to the whole world and to every human being in this country, except the Members of the Government, who, like ostriches, buried their heads in the sand and imagined that nobody could see them, or the result of any of their actions. The whole tenour of the speech of the noble Marquess the Secretary of State for War showed there was great doubt even in the minds of the Government as to General Gordon's position, although the noble Lord could not say "what measures it may be necessary for the Government ultimately to take for the-safety of General Gordon." The noble Lord's declaration was an ample justification of the policy of the Leader of the Opposition, and fully warranted him in saying that General Gordon had probably failed altogether. The Prime Minister complained that they had been engaged 17 nights discussing the Egyptian Question. He sincerely trusted that they should continue to discuss it twice 17 nights if it were necessary, until they had succeeded in wringing from the Government, who never ceased when they were out of Office to complain of the policy of concealment pursued by their Predecessors, some definite statement of their policy and their views as to affairs in the Soudan. The Prime Minister said the policy of the Government was completely understood. By whom? Was it understood by the Government of Egypt, by the nations of Europe, by Parliament, or by the people of this country? He denied it altogether. He doubted very much whether it was understood even by Her Majesty's Government themselves, or if they had made up their minds with regard to what it was their duty to do. If, as the noble Marquess the Secretary of State for War had distinctly said, the Government had no responsibility for affairs in the Soudan, in God's name why did they send General Gordon to Khartoum? They had placed that great General in a position which the whole country believed to be of the greatest danger to himself personally, and yet they had the assurance to come down to the House of Commons and say that, although they had taken this extreme 1543 course, they had no responsibility whatever with regard to affairs in the Soudan. Their policy was incomprehensible to the whole world, and yet they had the assurance to charge the Leaders of the Opposition with a gross broach of the privileges and advantages of their position. He denied the charges altogether, and contended that never in the whole history of Parliament, had any Minister more grossly abused the power given to him by his majority—he hoped only for a short time longer—to conceal both from Parliament and from the country that which it was his duty at the present distinctly to unfold with regard to affairs in that part of the world than the Prime Minister. It was only too evident that the Government had not the slightest intention to help General Gordon in the great difficulties in which he was placed; but they might rest assured that, sooner or later, they would be called to account by the people of this country. The Prime Minister informed the House that General Gordon had no orders to remain in Khartoum, and that the time had not yet come when it could be decided whether he had accomplished his mission or not. That statement indicated that the Prime Minister had great doubts upon the point which he had censured his right hon. Friend for putting in plain language. If General Gordon returned before he had accomplished his object, what was to happen? What became of the great object the Government had in sending General Gordon to Khartoum? The noble Marquess said the object of sending General Gordon was to effect, if possible, the withdrawal of the garrison and insure the safety of the people there. Were the Government going to stand aside and see General Gordon and his followers massacred, as they stood aside and allowed those unfortunate wretches to be massacred at Sinkat? Were the Government making preparations to assist him in the event of the receipt of news of a serious description, which was not at all unlikely? It was quite clear that they believed that, under some circumstances, he might shortly retire from Khartoum without having in any way accomplished his mission. If he did so retire, and the Government took no other action, they would stand before the world as a Government who had deliberately sacri- 1544 ficed the lives of 30,000 miserable human beings for no purpose whatever. He hoped the Leaders of the Opposition would persevere in their course even at the risk of having all the charges and innuendoes they had heard from the Prime Minister made against them, until they had succeeded in extracting from the Government a definite statement of their policy.
§ MR. ASHMEAD-BARTLETT
contended that the Prime Minister had made no practical reply to the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition. The charge that the whole Press of Europe was influenced in criticizing the policy of the Government by mean and financial considerations was preposterous, and as incapable of being substantiated as his charges of Obstruction against the Opposition. What was the position of this country with regard to General Gordon? At the very moment when most pathetic appeals were coming from Khartoum, they heard that the only available force which might be sent to relieve General Gordon was being shipped in hot haste home from Sinkat. Yet the Conservative Party was charged with Obstruction because its responsible Leaders, in fair and moderate language, demanded to know of the Government what they were going to do for the relief of the brave officer whom they had sent on a most grave and difficult mission. Her Majesty's Government protested that they were ignorant of General Gordon's position. He submitted that they had sufficient information in their possession, upon which to act. On March 7 General Gordon used these remarkable expressions to the Correspondent of The Times, who was our Acting Consul at Khartoum. They appeared in The Times of March 10—There is a certainty that the emissaries of the Mahdi will succeed in raising the the tribes between tins (Khartoum) and Berber. This is not owing to disaffection, but to fear caused by the pronounced policy of the abandonment of the Soudan. Be sure of one thing. If Her Majesty's Government do not act promptly, General Graham's victory will go for nought, and with the useless expenditure of blood the effect will evaporate. It is no longer a question of days, but of hours.And a fortnight later, on March 23, Mr. Power telegraphed these pathetic and heartrending appeals from Khartoum— 1545We are daily expecting British troops. We cannot bring ourselves to believe that we are to be abandoned by the Government. Our existence depends upon England.General Gordon asked that British troops should he sent to Berber, and a force to Wadi Halfa; yet absolutely nothing was done. General Gordon had said that it was no longer a question of days, but of hours; and in the face of such a message, received three weeks ago, the Government stated they had no information. They knew that General Gordon's Forces had sustained a severe reverse, and yet they refrained from doing anything. They not only refused to do anything, but they had the shabbiness to abstain from doing what any self-respecting body of men in the same position would do—namely, to ask General Gordon whether he was in need of assistance. It might be true that General Gordon had not asked for assistance; but it must be remembered that when General Gordon went away he thought he should be able to accomplish his mission without the aid of troops, and having said that he probably felt himself under a chivalrous obligation not to press the Government directly. But they knew, from the one or two Englishmen about him, that he did expect English troops. If General Gordon perished the Government would be condemned. According to their own statement that night, he had been abandoned, and the only force that could go to his relief was being recalled. The object of the Opposition in raising this question was to save General Gordon from the fate of General Hicks, of Baker Pasha's Army, and of the unhappy garrison of Sinkat, and its unfortunate and heroic Commander, Tewfik Bey. For weeks help had been refused. Let them take care that if at last they sent assistance it would not be too late. The noble Lord the Secretary of State for War had not been treated handsomely that night by the Prime Minister when he was put up to answer the right hon. Gentleman's questions. In fact, he had fallen into a trap. The Government had negatived the recommendation of General Gordon and Sir Evelyn Baring, and refused to allow Zebehr to be made Governor at Khartoum. And why had they refused? Because, according to them, General Gordon had overrated the power of the Mahdi. Would it be 1546 denied that many fresh tribes were in a state of ferment; that the insurrection was spreading northwards towards Berber and Egypt Proper; and that if the Mahdi advanced he would obtain their assistance? It was said by the noble Marquess that General Gordon was in no sort of peril; but if that chivalrous agent of the Government should fall a victim to their neglect they would be held responsible by the country. The Government were neither sending him any support, nor taking steps to ascertain whether he wished for any. Whenever the Government were in despair, and when they could not defend their policy by any other expedient, they raised the old cry of Obstruction against the Opposition; and the Prime Minister had that night found his case so weak that he had been obliged to resort to that cry. The country, however, would note that the Government had deliberately decided to abandon General Gordon, for whoso safety and policy they were strictly and absolutely responsible, had deliberately decided to leave him to his fate, and to do nothing for his protection. They had also refused to send him that material support without which, in his own language, he was powerless to do anything; and, in knowing that, the country would admit that the Motion of the right hon. Baronet the Loader of the Opposition was fully justified.
§ MR. MACFARLANE
said, he had listened, as he always did, with great interest to the speech of the hon. Member for Eye (Mr. Ashmead-Bartlett), into which he had thrown himself with such energy; but he thought the hon. Member had on this occasion undertaken rather more than he could manage. A constituency, including Europe, Asia, and Africa, was, perhaps, rather more than one Member could conveniently deal with. Though he appreciated the efforts of the hon. Member, he considered the policy of Her Majesty's Government a sound policy. If the Government were now going from bad to worse, it would be the policy of the Opposition to let them arrive at the worst before they attacked them. He, however, believed that a possible solution of the Egyptian Question was appearing, and that the present was a crisis, when, unless the Opposition attacked the Government, they would not be able to do so at all. General Gordon 1547 had been in no sense abandoned, and, even if he had, it was because relief was impossible; and therefore, in his opinion, these cries were all bunkum. There were Motions for Adjournment and special Resolutions, and every turn of the Egyptian kaleidoscope was made the occasion for a fresh demonstration. There had been a whole series of Motions, from the Vote of Censure downwards, although the circumstances in Egypt and the Soudan had not changed materially since that time. These Motions were, as a rule, made at the instigation of a certain number of excited articles in the public Press; and he thought himself that the country would never be properly governed until a Cabinet was formed of the principal editors of the London Press. To them there might, perhaps, be added a number of old gentlemen to be found in the smoking-rooms of the principal Clubs, and then good government might be looked for. He did not wish to prolong the present proceedings. He only rose to protest against the charges of bloodshed and massacre made against the Government. If the Government were justified in defending Suakin, they were absolutely justified in dispersing, and were compelled to disperse, the force that threatened it.
§ LORD JOHN MANNERS
The hon. Gentleman who has just sat down told the House that the circumstances in Egypt and the Soudan had not changed since the moving of the Vote of Censure; but when the Vote of Censure was being discussed, General Gordon's mission was pronounced by the Government to be essentially and exclusively a pacific mission. Since then, however, General Gordon has himself engaged in military operations, and we have been told tonight that General Gordon's object in requesting that Zebehr Pasha might be sent to co-operate with him was that he might by force crush the Mahdi. Although my right hon. Friend made his Motion to-night in one of his calmest, most moderate, most equitable, and even briefest of speeches, the Prime Minister responded to it in a state of animated fury such as I have never seen equalled, even by the right hon. Gentleman himself. Why did that speech, in which my right hon. Friend was reproved for wasting the time of the House, extend to such length, and why did it deal with topics 1548 which were never introduced by my right hon. Friend, if the right hon. Gentleman was so anxious to proceed with what he would term the great legislative Business of the country and Parliament? Did my right hon. Friend say a word, either in praise or dispraise, of the editors or writers of the newspapers of Europe? What, then, had that attack of the Prime Minister's upon them to do with the question ray right hon. Friend submitted to his consideration? Again, the Prime Minister turned round upon hon. Gentlemen behind him—who they might be I do not know —who he said were anxious to induce him to take up the cause of the Egyptian bondholders, and to plunge this country into some unknown and immeasurable obligation. But did my right hon. Friend introduce that question? It was reserved for the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister, to introduce that fresh topic of discussion; and yet he accuses my right hon. Friend with wasting the time of the House, and attempting to stifle the great legislative objects now before it. [Sir WILLIAM HARCOURT: Hear, hear!] I am convinced the speech of the Prime Minister and the corroborative cheer of the Home Secretary will have no effect on the country at large. The Prime Minister declared that he could construe our acts. I thought the speech of the right hon. Gentleman showed that he was only capable of misconstruing the acts of those from whom he differed. He spoke as though my right hon. Friend had some dreadful object in view in putting on the Paper these simple Questions, and enforcing them in a speech of singular moderation. Has the Prime Minister, in hisspeech, full of fiery irritation, disposed of them? Take the question of finance. The Prime Minister, having made a mistake, which he handsomely withdrew, proceeded to answer my right hon. Friend's appeal. If it had not been for the Question, we should not have had that clear statement in the Prime Minister's speech to the effect that an inquiry is now proceeding into the question of Egyptian finance; and, therefore, if I wanted a justification for my right hon. Friend's Motion, I should have it in that part of the speech of the Prime Minister which dealt with Egyptian finance. If the Prime Minister chose to go off afterwards at a tangent about the 1549 bondholders, that was no fault of the right hon. Member for North Devon. With respect to the allegation that the position of General Gordon was damaged by what fell from the Leader of the Opposition, I can only say that really and truly he did not say more—certainly not much more — than the noble Lord the Secretary of State for War said. He told us that, in the opinion of Her Majesty's Government, it was still premature to announce that the object of General Gordon's mission had definitely failed. When a Minister, clothed with all the responsibility of his position, says a tiling of that sort, anyone of understanding must be pardoned if he reads between the lines, and assumes that such a declaration really admits a statement which it does not contradict. I greatly doubt whether the right hon. Gentleman used the words attributed to him by the Prime Minister. I have no doubt he would be perfectly content to argue his case on the very words of the noble Lord himself. Whether General Gordon's mission, in the view of the Government, has definitely failed or not, as a purely pacific mission it has unquestionably failed. The Prime Minister, enlarging on General Gordon's mission, seemed to assume that it was one of perfect ease and safety; and he was quite annoyed that any question should be raised on that subject. The right hon. Gentleman has gone back to 1831 and 1832, and, I suppose by way of contrast, has asked us to compare the remarkably satisfactory condition of affairs in Egypt at the present time with the complications which then existed between Belgium and France. The state of affairs in those countries was no doubt harassing and perplexing enough; but they are not for a moment to be compared in interest or intensity of danger with the questions now engaging our attention in Egypt and the Soudan. By the action of Her Majesty's Government the affairs of Egypt are the affairs of England; and to talk about the affairs of Belgium or France 50 years ago is to perform an evolution of confusion, and, I was going to say, of deceit and imposture upon the confidence of the country, which really could not be undertaken by anyone except that wonderful master of words and phrases, the Prime Minister. I have said that if my right hon. Friend wanted any defence—and I am 1550 sure he does not—for the course which, in the discharge of his public duty, he has taken, he would have found it in the circumstances I have detailed. The Prime Minister, in the course of that angry and almost infuriated harangue, proceeded to wonder whether the right hon. Gentleman and those who act with him considered the consequences which would ensue from the course he had taken to-night. He wondered whether the example he had set would be followed in the future. To-night we have neither set nor followed any example. If we had wanted an example of harassing a Government, we should have found it in the perpetual debates raised in the time of Lord Beaconsfield on the foreign policy during that period by the right hon. Gentleman and some of his more illustrious Colleagues. We have not raised perpetual debates on the subject of the Egyptian, or on the subject of the foreign policy of Her Majesty's Government generally. We have interposed with Questions when we have thought it necessary to do so, in consequence of the persistent reticence, or the still more persistent inconsistency, of the Government. When the right hon. Gentleman went on to mention the actual number of nights consumed in these debates, I wonder it did not occur to him to perform one of those arithmetical processes which have become so familiar to us, and proceed to divide those 17 nights into the proper divisions between the Benches on cither side. I wonder he did not go a little into details, and tell us exactly how many of those debates had been originated by us and how many by his Friends sitting below the Gangway. With a coolness I could not sufficiently admire, the right hon. Gentleman assumed that the whole of those 17 nights of debate were the fault of the right hon. Gentleman and those who sit near us. The Prime Minister, having gone into the history of this Session, must pardon me if I say a word or two on the subject. How was it we had a series of debates upon the Address? Because first one and then another of Her Majesty's Ministers chose to run away at the wrong moment; and the consequence was we had only a broken debate, which necessarily resulted in a second. There are two nights accounted for out of the 17. He takes no note of the debate raised by the 1551 hon. Member for Carlisle (Sir Wilfrid Lawson) and the hon. Member for Northampton (Mr. Labouchere), or any other Member; but he coolly assumes that the whole are due to the right hon. Gentleman. I protest against the unfairness of the conduct of the right hon. Gentleman. Whenever we think it necessary to ask Questions, or to move the adjournment of the House, or to raise debates on these most important affairs, we shall continue to do so perfectly undisturbed by the sarcasms of the Home Secretary or the fury of the Prime Minister, and perfectly confident that our motives as well as our acts will be thoroughly understood and appreciated by the country, which is possessed, I am convinced, of far more common sense and shrewdness than it appears to be given credit for by Members of Her Majesty's Government.
§ Motion, by leave, withdrawn.