§ SIR GEORGE CAMPBELL
, in whose name the following Notice of Amendment stood upon the Paper:—That the European Conference having failed to give to Her Majesty's Government the means of good administration in Egypt, the continued expenditure of the money and use of the forces of this Country in Egypt cannot be justified,said, that after the extraordinary conduct of the noble Lord the Member for Woodstock (Lord Randolph Churchill) in not permitting the debate on Egyptian affairs to proceed on Thursday evening, he felt it necessary to bring forward the subject to-day, more especially as he understood that his hon. Friend the Member for Carlisle (Sir Wilfrid Lawson) had to leave London in the evening, and he himself would not be in London on Monday when the debate was to be initiated. He did not, however, propose to move his Amendment, although it expressed his sentiments, because to do so would not be respectful to Lord Northbrook, who had undertaken an onerous task, and ought to be allowed some time in which to try to fulfil his purpose. No man was more capable of dealing with Egyptian affairs than Lord Northbrook, and he felt sure that Egypt would be the better for having its affairs looked into by so competent and able a man; but he was satisfied that neither Lord Northbrook nor any other man could so arrange that two and two should make five; yet that was the task to which his Lordship was set. One of the effects of the mission of Lord Northbrook would be that it would lead to a little delay, and he had just a scintilla of hope that in the meantime Her Majesty's Government and the Government of France might come to some terms, and that some arrangements might be made. His principal reason 379 for speaking to-day was that he took a very grave view of the failure of the Conference, for it seemed to him that the failure left Egypt in a most terrible difficulty. Some hon. Members talked of that failure as leaving the Government with a "free hand;" but rather than that it seemed to him that it tied their hands more fast, or if there was any real result it left the Government foot-free to turn round and scuttle out of Egypt. He and his hon. Friends regarded that as a good result in one way; but what was required from the Conference was that the hands of the Government should be untied, so that so long as they remained in Egypt they should be able to carry on the administration of that country in a decent and proper manner. In the Papers relating to the Revenue of Egypt there was matter for very grave reflection. They showed that we were extorting a great deal too much from the people of Egypt. If the Government were to be responsible for the affairs of that country there were several matters imperatively demanding attention. He referred to the settlement of the question of the land revenue, the abolition of the system of corvée, and the regulation and improvement of the irrigation system, so as to get rid of the horrible and disgraceful system of dragging Natives long distances from home without any tools, and getting a minimum of gain out of them at the cost of a maximum of labour and of injury to health. The settlement of such questions as these would necessitate the expenditure of a great deal of money. Another consideration which ought not to be lost sight of was the possibility of our having to engage in war for the protection of the country, for there was no great division between the Mahdi and Egypt. What we called the Mahdi was a general uprising of the people of the Soudan in the cause of freedom. That might give us a great deal of trouble. There were at present 9,400 British troops occupied in defending Egypt, and should the proportions of the rebellion increase we might find ourselves engaged in a very difficult task. Then there was the question of the tribunals, which exacted the debts of the unfortunate fellaheen. All these matters made it impossible for the Government to carry on the administration of Egypt satisfactorily while their hands were tied. If the Conference had not 380 failed an arrangement might have been come to with France, which would have been of immense advantage. France had assured us that if we quitted Egypt she would not enter the country. That was a most important assurance, and if it had been accepted we might soon be in a position to leave Egypt with credit. The neutralization of Egypt, like that of Belgium, would have been an excellent plan.
§ SIR GEORGE CAMPBELL
, continuing, said, Egypt might not in some respects be like Belgium; but still he thought it would be a capital thing if the Powers of Europe entered into a self-denying ordinance in regard to it, as they had done in regard to Belgium. But the Conference had come to an end without settling anything. He much regretted this. The result was that our present position in Egypt was an impossible one. As he had said, some people talked about our now having a "free hand" in Egypt. But we had nothing of the kind; the fact was our hands were tightly tied. We were pledged to support the Law of Liquidation and the International Tribunals by which alone the Law of Liquidation was enforced. The Government had declared over and over again that they regarded the Law of Liquidation as an international agreement, which could not be altered without the consent of all the Powers. In face of those assertions, the Government could not alter that law. Were any attempt made to alter that law, we should give just cause of offence to France, and he trembled for the consequences. The Government had, as he thought most unfortunately, agreed to the extension of these tribunals for five years, and to that extent our hands were absolutely tied. Were we going to use the British Forces in Egypt for the purpose of extorting this money from the fellaheen? The Egyptians did not want us in Egypt. They would far rather have a little misgovernment after their own fashion than a great deal of misgovernment after our fashion. He foretold that a half-and-half Government would not answer—a Government half Native, half British, and the evidence was now overwhelming that everybody was discontented with it. We were really doing nothing to benefit Egypt, 381 and the people would much rather be rid of us. If they were left to manage their own affairs on the Darwinian principle of letting the best come to the top, they would get along much better. He had great hopes that by a power of passive resistance, and by a want of agreement among the Powers of Europe, they might yet manage to stave off those who wanted to take the last drop of their blood, and so would be much better off than they were now. It seemed to him that we were a very hypocritical nation, for we were always talking about the good we were going to do to others, while the real idea was that of British interests. It was often said that we had a very special interest in Egypt, because the Suez Canal was the road to India; but that idea had been disposed of long ago. It was shown to be baseless in an article written by the Prime Minister in 1877. He hoped that the Prime Minister would peruse and re-peruse that article in the coming Recess, and that copies of it would be sent to every Member of the Government, for he was sure that if they studied that article, they would follow the course which he and the hon. Member for Carlisle (Sir Wilfrid Lawson) advocated. The idea of a road to India through Egypt was an utter delusion. In time of war our true way to India would be by the open ocean. The Prime Minister in that article pointed out that the difference of time in the two routes was only three weeks; but it was now found to be only 10 days longer for the large vessels of the present day to go to India round the Cape. For the sake of saving those 10 days, would it be worth our while, in time of war, to undertake the enormous burden of protecting the whole Mediterranean? In time of peace they might rely on the Canal being always open for traffic. It was the interest of the Mediterranean Powers that it should be open, for the tendency of the Canal was to throw the trade which used to come to us more and more into the Mediterranean ports. He, therefore, felt sure that in times of peace the other Powers would combine with us in keeping the Canal open. And in time of war we should not be much the worse for not being able to use it. He hoped the Government would realize that our only creditable course, consistent with justice to the Egyptians and justice to 382 the taxpayers of this country, would be to wash our hands of the whole affair, withdraw our troops, and have nothing more to do with it. This would bring the bondholders to their senses, and they would then, no doubt, offer to reduce their interest one-half, or 1 per cent, if we would only stay. But he hoped that Her Majesty's Government would, notwithstanding, withdraw from Egypt. Let them release Arabi, and in no way oppose Ismail Pasha, or the Mahdi, who might be a very respectable and amicable gentleman, and lot them leave the Egyptians to manage their own affairs and choose their own rulers, and do their best according to their own fashion. His great hope was that the European Powers would be so totally unable to agree among themselves that the result might be the freedom of the Egyptians. He had no fear of the wave of Mahommedanism. It was a very good religion, and he did not see why we should oppose it. Neither had he any particular dread of the Mahdi. They were accustomed to Mahdis in India, where, to use an expressive phrase, they were to be found as thick as thieves. If the Egyptians chose to accept the Mahdi, let them do so. At any rate, we should have our consciences free.
§ SIR WILFRID LAWSON
said, he regretted that the question of Egypt was being discussed in so small a House. At the same time, he was glad to find that, although the number of Members present was not large, the quality was good. The Front Opposition Bench was well represented by one of the Leaders of the Conservative Party (Mr. J. Lowther), who, whatever they might think of him in other respects, was always straightforward, and said what he meant. On the present occasion the right hon. Gentleman would have no difficulty in speaking his mind, because the noble Lord the Member for Woodstock (Lord Randolph Churchill) had gone to Manchester, and the occupants of the Front Opposition Bench were, therefore, at liberty to say what they liked. It seemed strange that they should have to discuss this question almost on the last day of the Session; but throughout the whole period the Session had lasted Egypt had been the prominent subject which the House had had to discuss again and again. He thought it quite right that it should be so, be- 383 cause it appeared to him that the House had made itself in some sort of way responsible for the welfare of the 5,000,000 of people who inhabited Egypt. The way in which this question was always cropping up was a proof that when once a false step was taken, the consequences were such that it was difficult to escape from them. When once they committed an act of political injustice Nemesis was sure to follow sooner or later. He now spoke on behalf of the fellaheen, who were the great body of the cultivators of the soil, and whose sufferings were all the more sad when the House remembered the abominably bad government by which they had been brought about, and by the oppression to which they had been subjected. Her Majesty's Government said they were not responsible for what had been going on there; but he maintained that they were. The hon. Member for Newcastle (Mr. J. Cowen) had said a year ago that so long as England kept even a corporal's guard in Egypt so long would she be responsible for what went on in that country, because the Egyptian people would not take the necessary steps to insure getting a good Government for the redress of their grievances so long as the emblems of England's power remained among them, as they would never be sure that British Forces were not coming back with the view of getting rid of that Government. The Prime Minister had only the other night remonstrated with him and with the hon. Member for Northampton (Mr. Labouchere) for having implied that the Egyptian Government was a sham, which was kept up by Her Majesty's Government; and the right hon. Gentleman seemed to have assumed that by expressing that opinion they who uttered it were making it more difficult for Her Majesty's Government to arrive at any satisfactory settlement or consolidation of power on the part of the Egyptian Government. That remonstrance had not convinced him (Sir Wilfrid Lawson) that they were in the wrong. The question was not whether they called the Egyptian Government a sham, but whether it was a sham. If it was a sham, and he did not call it so, he and those who thought with him would be shams. What they wished was to get at the truth of the matter. They wished it to be understood in this country that the English Government were 384 governing Egypt, and that when they talked of the Government of Egypt, or the Government of the Khedive, they were talking of a merely nominal Government, their object being that the English people might decide for themselves whether they should not ask Her Majesty's Government to withdraw from their present responsibility in that country. The House was told that the English had been for two years in Egypt, and had done some good. He asked what good had been done? He asserted that the Egyptians were no better for what England had done. The Undersecretary of State for the Colonies (Mr. Evelyn Ashley) had tried to make out that the people of Egypt were getting on well; but all he (Sir Wilfrid Lawson) could make out had really been done was, that we were attempting to build new prisons. He did not know whether they had been built; but if they had, that was not a very comprehensive work for the welfare of the people. The fact was that we had done nothing to make their lives happier and better, or to render them better citizens. What, he asked, was the great grievance of the Egyptian people? The root of the whole evil was that they were oppressed by an enormous debt of something like £100,000,000 of money. It was this which drained the very life-blood of the people, who were compelled to provide the interest of that debt, as well as to carry on their own government. It was his opinion that the Egyptian people were not morally responsible for that debt. It was incurred by tyrannical despots for their own purposes, and he should be delighted to see the people repudiate it, and send the bondholders about their business. But that was not the view of Her Majesty's Ministers. We were told when we went there that we were going to support the rights of the Khedive and the rights of the bondholders, who said—"We will keep there and have our pound of flesh at whatever cost to the honour of this country or of suffering to the Egyptians;" and what was the course taken? The great military Powers of Europe had joined with England in the effort to see how they could get the last farthing from that miserable people. Was there anything noble in that? He would admit that the English Government had endeavoured to do their best to put matters on a footing that would 385 do as little harm as possible, and they tried to reduce the interest; but they had failed. The Conference that had been summoned reminded him of a group of hungry vultures sitting on a tree, and watching the dying struggles of their intended prey, consulting among themselves as to when the right moment to pounce upon it would have arrived. The Conference had now been brought to an end, and the question was, What was England to do? When Her Majesty's Government came to the House at the close of the Conference everybody was anxious to know what would be their policy, and all they were told was that the Government were going to send out Lord Northbrook; no doubt he was a very able man, and they were much obliged to him for having undertaken the office; but when they were told he was to be the saviour of Egypt, a sort of blank astonishment came over the House. They all sat and wondered what Lord Northbrook was to do. Even the Fourth Party were dumb. He had said Lord Northbrook was an able man; but they had sent able men to Egypt before. They had sent out Lord Dufferin, who was England's only Ambassador, just as Lord Wolseley was her only General. Well, what had Lord Dufferin done? He had written a long and able despatch, which had, however, done no good that he (Sir Wilfrid Lawson) had heard of. They had sent out the right hon. Member for Ripon (Mr. Goschen), and they had also sent out Mr. Clifford Lloyd; but they had had to bring Mr. Clifford Lloyd home again. Then there was Sir Evelyn Baring; and what had he done? He did his best, no doubt; but he had done no good. Who now thought that Lord Northbrook would prove the saviour of the country? What was he to do? Lord Northbrook was, in fact, the Egyptian policy of the Government. For his part, he (Sir Wilfrid Lawson) could not understand what Lord Northbrook's mission was. Was it to inquire into the finances of the country? He had thought they knew all about them when they held the Conference. Was it, then, to find out the misery of the country? There could, he thought, be little doubt about that. Was it to ascertain the unpopularity of the Khedive's Government? Well, everybody knew that. Lord Derby, who had joined Her Majesty's Government 386 two years ago, had stated that their policy was to keep the Khedive on his legs, because he could not stand upon them by himself. Was Lord Northbrook going to raise money from the Egyptian people? He did not think the noble Lord would be able to do that. They had a saying in the North of England which was that "Solomon was a wise man, and Sampson was a strong man; but neither of them could get brass from a man who had not got it." It seemed to him that Her Majesty's Government had sent Lord Northbrook out on a mission it was absolutely impossible for him to fulfil. He was going to get blood out of a stone. He was, in fact, going on a mission that was absolutely foredoomed to failure, unless he could pledge the credit and resources of this country for the putting of everything straight. His right hon. Friend opposite (Mr. J. Lowther) was one of the few men in that House who had a straightforward Egyptian policy. That policy was annexation. It was that we were to take possession of Egypt; but that was a policy which he (Sir Wilfrid Lawson) hardly thought his right hon. Friends on the Treasury Bench would agree in, because if there was one thing more cheered than another during the last 18 months it had been their announcement that they would not annex Egypt. He thought that a very important moment had arrived in regard to this question. It was true that Her Majesty's Government were even now not really free from European concern in this matter; but they were free for the moment, and might be said to stand at present in the "parting of the way." What, then, he asked, was to be the policy of the Prime Minister? Was it to be a policy against which the Prime Minister had over and over again protested? or was it to be a policy of giving Egypt to the Egyptians? There were only three courses open in regard to this question. They were—annexation, occupation, or retractation; or, in the vulgar tongue, the policy to be pursued was that of grab, muddle, or scuttling. That of grab was one which they could not now discuss, because they did not think the present Government would ever adopt it. The policy of muddle was one that could not long go on. The Government of Egypt was now the 387 laughing-stock of the whole world, and, as he had said already, it was a sham, Her Majesty's Government accepted no responsibility unless they chose to do so. If anything went wrong, it was the miserable Egyptian Government; if anything went right, it was Sir Evelyn Baring. It would waste the time of the House to discuss this policy. He never heard anyone approve it. What else, then, remained? There was only the policy of scuttling. This was a slang word, and its use might be objected to; but he asserted that the policy of withdrawal was the very highest and noblest policy our statesmen could adopt. They had heard a good deal about our withdrawal from the Transvaal, and Her Majesty's Government had been much blamed for that; but he thought they had been honest and right in that policy, and that the noblest act of the Prime Minister had been to disregard the outcry from the Opposition Benches, and at once to withdraw our forces from that part of the world. It was a nobler step than any victory they might have gained. There were only three persons in that House who had a definite policy with regard to Egypt—the right hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. J. Lowther), the hon. Member for Kirkcaldy (Sir George Campbell), and himself. He would say, let the Government adopt his policy and leave the wretched Egyptians to their own devices. The answer to this was that if they did so the French would go in. He did not think our experience was likely to encourage the French to do that. He did not think the French, seeing what we had done, would be inclined to go and govern the Egyptians. It was said if they repealed the Union with Ireland, somebody else would go and take that country. Well, if anybody else should desire to take such a step, it would be, all things considered, a most extraordinary thing. If the French, who were pledged to national freedom, chose to go and burly the Egyptians, let them do so; but, at any rate, let England be clear of that wickedness, and clear herself from the oppression and plunder and misery of the Egyptian people. The Prime Minister, who was unfortunately not present, naturally liked to stand up for his own policy. The right hon. Gentleman was not pleased with him (Sir Wilfrid Law-Eon) two years ago, when he had implored 388 Her Majesty's Government not to use force in Egypt; but he thought that, looking back to what had since occurred, he and those who had taken the same view were much dearer friends of the Government than those who had encouraged them in a different course. He thought he was acting the part of a true friend of the Government in urging them to calmly reconsider their course now that there was an opportunity to withdraw from the policy of interference in Egypt. He felt as sure as that he stood on the floor of that House that the only course that could bring credit to Her Majesty's Government was that they should at once reconsider their policy and alter their course of action in regard to this great question.
MR. J. LOWTHER
said, he heartily concurred with the hon. Baronet (Sir Wrilfrid Lawson) in the conclusions he had drawn with regard to the policy of the Government, however he might differ from that of the hon. Baronet himself. It was impossible to controvert what the hon. Baronet had said as to what he had described as the policy of muddle pursued by Her Majesty's Government—a policy alike disastrous to the people of Egypt and discreditable to this country. The hon. Baronet had spoken of the sham of the so-called Egyptian Government. Could anything be much more ridiculous than the references made from the Treasury Bench to the Egyptian Government? If any Question were asked of the Under Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs (Lord Edmond Fitzmaurice) on the subject of Egypt, he always talked of consulting the Egyptian Government, and on the next day he told the House Sir Evelyn Baring had curtly informed that Government that any advice emanating from him was to be accepted, and that no action was to be taken by the Government of Egypt without a reference to him, under the further obligation of a communication with Downing Street. The hon. Member for Kirkcaldy had said that every reasonable person in England and on the Continent concurred in denouncing the monstrous sham of attempting to govern Egypt from Downing Street by means of mere puppets who were removed at the will of the English Government, unless they happened to carry on intrigues to enable them to shake off the domination sought to be imposed on them, and to 389 get up complications which led to the abandonment of those English officials who had been sent out with a view of carrying out the policy of the Government; and the result had usually been that the last stage was always worse, if possible, than that which had preceded it. Reference had been made to the fact that from time to time Her Majesty's Government came down to the House and stated that some important step was about to be taken. They had had a good number of these announcements already, whenever a Vote of Censure was seriously threatened and the voice of the country and of the civilized world made itself heard. They were told very recently, with respect to the mismanagement of the Government in regard to Egyptian affairs, in sonorous though no louder tones than those in which the Secretary to the Treasury (Mr. Courtney) and other Members of the Government were at that moment conversing, that an important step was about to be taken. They had some time ago an important statement that Lord Dufferin was to be sent to Egypt with a view of informing Her Majesty's Government, by means of a Report, as to the steps that should be taken in that country. They knew what that had ended in. It had resulted in a very interesting Blue Book, which clearly placed the views of Lord Dufferin before the Government. There was no person more capable of giving good advice, provided it was to be followed, and what was the result? Why, that Lord Dufferin's suggestions had all been uniformly and systematically ignored. When this striking policy had ceased to have any effect on the anxious mind of the public at home, and when the cry for more energetic action was raised, they had the announcement that General Gordon was to be sent to the Soudan for the purpose of insuring the safety of the garrisons, and of carrying out measures of great importance. They also knew what had happened then. As soon as the despatch of General Gordon on his perilous mission had had the effect for which it was prepared—namely, of assisting the Government through a momentary Parliamentary difficulty, General Gordon was abandoned to his fate, in the same way that Lord Dufferin and his Blue Book had been consigned to oblivion. After a while it became necessary that 390 some further announcement of an important nature should be made; and the House was informed, in stately and stilted tones, that the Government had convened a Conference of the Great Powers of Europe to consider the important question of Egyptian finance. They knew perfectly well what had come of that. The Conference had suffered a most discreditable collapse, and had collapsed amidst a scene of indescribable confusion. And now, again, they had another important announcement. They were told that Lord Northbrook was to be sent to Egypt. The hon. Baronet (Sir Wilfrid Lawson) had asked what was Lord Northbrook to do? He would not go into any question as to the fitness of Lord Northbrook for such a position; but what was he to do? He was to prepare another Report, he supposed, to be put alongside the Blue Book of Lord Dufferin on the dusty shelves on which it had for so many months reposed. He was not to take any action, but merely to report to his Colleagues. He should be told Lord Northbrook would occupy a position of greater strength than that of Lord Dufferin, who certainly was not inferior in experience or knowledge of Egyptian affairs to Lord Northbrook. It would, however, be said that, unlike Lord Dufferin, Lord Northbrook enjoyed the inestimable advantage of being a Cabinet Minister. He (Mr. J. Lowther) saw the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bradford (Mr. W. E. Forster) in his place. That right hon. Gentleman would appreciate the great advantage a Cabinet Minister enjoyed, and would understand the way in which his suggestions were capable of being carefully considered and eventually ignored by his Colleagues, even in instances where his Colleagues did not promote intrigues in the Press and otherwise against him. Lord Northbrook might succeed, after the lapse of a few months, in obtaining some consideration for his suggestions; but what would be the result? The Prime Minister had informed the House that the financial affairs of Egypt were so critical that he could not even refrain from taking steps without waiting for the consent of Parliament. A Conference he had announced was to take place, and that without a decision of that House being taken. Well, what had become of the critical state of the 391 finances of Egypt? The hon. Baronet the Member for Carlisle had said that if money were raised by a despotic Government without the assent of the general community the debt so incurred ought to be repudiated. But hon. Members opposite might, perhaps, have heard of a much heavier loan—the National Debt—which was contracted for purposes with which some of them had no sympathy, and under the auspices of a Government which did not possess that popular sanction which the hon. Baronet and his Friends considered necessary to all good government; and if the doctrine were allowed to go forth that the National Debt was to be repudiated on those grounds at the dictation of a detached section of the Liberal Party, the national credit of England would receive a fatal blow, and the Chancellor of the Exchequer would not find himself in a very enviable position with respect to his consolidation schemes. He (Mr. J. Lowther) had been brought up in the old school in which the principle was recognized that the first duty of a community, as of an individual, was to pay its debts; and he could not depart from that principle when nations, instead of individuals, were concerned. The hon. Baronet represented a section of his Party which had great influence with the Prime Minister, who was notoriously believed to have sympathy with the views of that section. They were now called upon by that section to repudiate that portion of the Egyptian National Debt which it might not be convenient for the Egyptian people to pay. Coming to the subject of the Conference, he thought that the Anglo-French Agreement reflected great discredit upon all the parties to it; and by this time Her Majesty's Government were fully aware that the country would have refused to be bound by it. The Conference had broken up without arriving at any conclusion; and what was the position in which we now found ourselves? True, we were free from that Agreement; but we were completely isolated throughout the world. The Government were endeavouring to attach an exaggerated importance to some apparently commonplace expressions of civility which were alleged to have passed the lips of the Italian Envoy, and were also attaching enormous importance to having secured the co-operation of one of Her Majesty's 392 most ancient allies, with whom he was glad to find that, even at the eleventh hour, the Prime Minister was cultivating friendly relations. He referred to the Porte, which was described not long ago as the one anti-human specimen of humanity. But what was the attitude of the rest of Europe? The Prime Minister had declined to express any opinion upon the proposals submitted to the Conference. They were not entirely dependent upon Protocols for information as to the attitude of the European Powers towards this country. The Government had evidently succeeded in irritating and alienating all the rest of the Powers. But even the Protocols showed that Germany very clearly signified that the most vital and important element in the administration of Egypt had been dealt with in a manner which called for the intervention of Europe. The great central Powers had shown in clear terms, both official and otherwise, that they were not disposed to lend countenance to the vacillation which had been exhibited by the Government throughout in their treatment of this question. Of course, they would be told that the Government had been consistent throughout the whole of their policy. That he candidly admitted. The Government had consistently tried to disorganize the internal administration of Egypt, and to complicate the relations with Foreign Powers, and had swerved neither to the right nor to the left in pursuing this, to their minds, desirable consummation. The hon. Member for Kirkcaldy (Sir George Campbell) said that he would have allowed Arabi and Ismail, and he did not know how many more persons of a not particularly uniform frame of mind, to fight the matter out among themselves. He (Mr. J. Lowther) could understand that, in the first instance, some of these persons might have expected that they would have the support of the Prime Minister in the inauguration of a system of disorder in any part of the world. The Government had charged themselves with an extraordinary mission in going to Egypt. They had succeeded in introducing disorder, where order previously existed, in various portions of the globe. The hon. Baronet (Sir Wilfrid Lawson) had referred to South Africa, and he and the hon. Member 393 for Kirkcaldy (Sir George Campbell) had referred to the disorder in North Africa. What had caused the change of policy on the part of the Ministerial Bench? The happiness of persons in Egypt was one thing; but the interest of England in Egypt was not confined to establishing any particular form of government, or to meeting the wishes of the people who happened to reside in that country. The Delta of the Nile had an interest for England on account of that highway to our Indian Empire—an Empire which the hon. Member for Kirkcaldy (Sir George Campbell) was prepared to cast to the winds. Our excuse, and our only excuse, for being in Egypt had reference to the vital interests of this country, which interests were generally admitted throughout England. The idea that because people in Egypt would like any one form of government, or the adoption of any one policy, we were to abandon the paramount interests of England in that country, involved a proposition so monstrous that it had only to be named in order to be received with indignation throughout England. The Government considered the Egyptian Question a matter of secondary importance. The Prime Minister considered that the only thing of primary importance was to try to stimulate a revolutionary agitation in this country. But this "secondary" matter ought to be dealt with by the Government in such a manner as should convince the country that they at length realized the extreme gravity and importance of the situation. The Government should endeavour, during the Recess, to give as much time as they could spare from the personal direction of agitation to a serious consideration of this matter. The Prime Minister said it was not possible to think of more than one thing at a time; but he (Mr. J. Lowther) hoped that during the Recess the Government would consider the relations of this country with Foreign Powers, which relations apparently never stood in a worse position than at present. He did not think that the hon. Member need have apologized for bringing the subject under the notice of the House. It would not be very easy to obtain a large attendance of Members during the remainder of the Session, and those Members who would not be able to take part in Monday's discussion were perfectly 394 justified in expressing their views that day. It was to be hoped that the Government would give hon. Members an assurance that there was to be an end of this wearisome reiteration of their desire to evacuate Egypt, followed by announcements of reinforcements of troops, and the whole perplexing round of vacillation which discredited Her Majesty's Ministers at home, and lowered and injured the position of England in Egypt particularly, and throughout the world generally.
§ MR. LABOUCHERE
said, he agreed with the right hon. Gentleman opposite when he said that he could find no fault with the hon. Member for Kirkcaldy for bringing forward this question. He went even further than that, and said that it was almost the duty of the hon. Member to take the course he had taken. Why had there been no discussion on Egypt that week? The fact was that the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition was too kind to his own followers. It had been arranged that the debate should take place that week; but suddenly the right hon. Gentleman found that the noble Lord the Member for Woodstock (Lord Randolph Churchill) was going to some garden ticket meeting in Manchester again to go through the farce of one of his public reconciliations with Lord Salisbury, and therefore everything was to be put aside in order that the House might have the privilege of hearing the noble Lord on the affairs of Egypt. The right hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. J. Lowther) had elaborated no sort of policy, but had contented himself with saying that the whole of the Members of the Government were the basest of human beings, and that the Prime Minister was the basest of them all—that the Government had, in fact, committed wrongs in every part of the world. They knew that that was the contention of the Conservative Party, and they accepted that position of the Opposition as an admitted fact. He was somewhat sorry that the Conference had broken up, because he thought the proposal to put the administrative expenses first, and to give the bondholders whatever remained, was a desirable proposal; and he should therefore have supported the Government in their proposal to vote the £8,000,000, because they had been placed in this difficulty by the action of the previous 395 Government, and it was necessary they should have a full understanding that henceforth Egypt was to be a neutral State. With regard to the conduct of the French, he thought they ought to express their opinion very strongly upon it, for from beginning to end of the Conference, as Lord Granville had said, they did nothing but urge the rights, as they called them, of the bondholders. It was well known that the French Ministers were all in the hands of financialists; and it appeared to him that these French Ministers were not supporting the interests of France, but of the financialists who had got the bonds at the present moment. We ought not to pay much attention to this, because the French were a peace-loving nation, and when it came to a question of fighting they objected to going to war. This was made clear when we took our Expedition to Egypt. M. Gambetta was in favour of the French joining in that Expedition; but the Members of the French Assembly received an intimation from their constituents that if they voted for that warlike Expedition they would lose their confidence; and one of the most powerful Governments that had existed in France for a considerable number of years was unable to carry the proposition in the Chamber. He did not think that we need be in the least afraid of France on these matters, or pay very much attention to what she said or thought. The right hon. Gentleman had asked what the policy of the Government really was; and he was very much surprised that he should have done so, because both in and out of Parliament the Prime Minister had shown that it was the intention of the Government to evacuate Egypt. In an article in a review, written in the year 1877, the right hon. Gentleman held that the sooner we quitted Egypt the better for us, and pointed out almost prophetically the cost and the trouble that would ensue upon a continued occupation. The Government were bound by a covenant entered into by right hon. Gentlemen opposite, and considered that they should go as far as to set the Khedive on his legs and give the Egyptian Government a fair start. As he (Mr. Labouchere) understood it, the policy of the Government at present was—and he gave them his most cordial support in sending out Lord Northbrook to carry out 396 that policy—the reduction of taxation. He did not say that it was a policy of absolute repudiation. The right hon. Gentleman opposite said the Government would weaken the credit of England; but he would ask the right hon. Gentleman to carry back his historical studies a little, and he would find that there had always been a Parliament in England, and that every farthing of public money expended had been voted by that Parliament. And what he (Mr. Labouchere) and those who thought with him held was that when Ismail Pasha made the Egyptian Debts he joined with the financialists in robbing his country; and if this money had been expended otherwise than for the benefit of Egypt, Egypt had a perfect right to repudiate the Debt. Now, the Prime Minister held that the Egyptians had been overtaxed, owing to the price of cereals having fallen. These taxes could not be paid by the Egyptians, and the first stop for Lord Northbrook to take would be to lower the taxation. The next step would be to call together the most enlightened of the Egyptians—the Notables of the country—and form some species of Government. Then, if the Prime Minister only carried out his own assurances, we should leave the country "bag and baggage," for there were only two policies open to the Government—namely, evacuation or annexation. The arguments in favour of evacuation were, he thought, much stronger than those in favour of annexation. England was pledged to every country in Europe to evacuate Egypt, and it would be a matter of national disgrace if, after Europe had trusted in our word, we refused to go out of the country. At the same time, he was of opinion that we had a right to say that France should not go there. He did not think France was likely to do so; but it was only reasonable and fair that we should tell her she should not, and if we did tell her she certainly would not attempt to enter Egypt. But he could not see that any good whatsoever would result from the perpetual attack made by the Opposition on the Government. Let the Opposition state what their policy was. Let them explain whether they were in favour of the annexation of Egypt. If they were, they ought to oppose every step on the part of Ministers who were not in favour of that policy; but if they merely 397 wished to make the work of the Ministry still more difficult than it was already by perpetual nagging and captious criticism, they were certainly not taking a patriotic course. What was the opinion of the country? Hon. Members could easily find out by attending any meeting. A friend of his was at a meeting in the country the other day, and in the course of one of the speeches some man in the audience called out—"We do not care about the Mahdi or the Sow-dan, or any of them gentlemen. What we wants to know is, what are you going to do with the House of Lords?" To his (Mr. Labouchore's) mind, that person was a thoroughly sensible and practical man. It was our business to leave Egypt and the Egyptians to sink or swim as they pleased, to look after legislation in this country, to do all we could to benefit our nearer neighbours, and, moreover, to do all we could to put an end to the objectionable acts of the neighbours of that House.
§ LORD EDMOND FITZMAURICE
said, he could not help thinking that the feelings of his hon. Friend the Secretary to the Treasury (Mr. Courtney), when he moved the recond reading of this Bill and then saw the hon. Member for Kirkcaldy (Sir George Campbell) rise to make a speech, must have resembled those of the guest in Coleridge's well-known poem, who, when about to enter the building in which high festival was being held, was forbidden to do so by the Ancient Mariner until he had listened to his well-known story. The Ancient Mariner considered that, owing to the death of a certain bird, an Albatross, great misfortunes would happen; and apparently the hon. Member (Sir George Campbell) imagined they had got that bird at the Foreign Office. He begged, however, to assure his hon. Friend that he was under a complete misapprehension, and that the bird was not at the Foreign Office. He hoped, therefore, when the hon. Member started for Arabia and the hon. Member for Carlisle started for Cumberland, they might start with the feelings of satisfaction aroused by the statement he had just made. [Mr. LABOUCHERE: What statement?] Both hon. Members had explained to the House with perfect frankness that they had made their speeches to-day because they could not be there on Monday. No doubt, at such a period of the 398 Session that was a natural and satisfactory explanation, and he wished he could say the same; but the fact was he must be in attendance on Monday as well as to-day, whether he liked it or not, and he could assure his hon. Friends that he had no desire to make another speech this Session on Egypt. The feelings of the House must have been touched by the beautiful exchange of compliments between the two hon. Members who had first spoken and the right hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. J. Lowther). The hon. Member for Carlisle told the right hon. Gentleman what a thoroughly honourable and straightforward man he was, and that everybody knew it; and the right hon. Gentleman, touched, no doubt, by those beautiful words, rose and told the two hon. Gentlemen that they represented the voice of the whole civilized world. That was rather hard on the right hon. and learned Member for the University of Dublin, who early in the Session announced that he represented the whole of the civilized world. But the right hon. Gentleman soon threw overboard all the compliments, and before he sat down he gave the two hon. Members a tremendous dressing, and informed them that on one subject, so far from representing the whole of the civilized world, they did not represent anybody but a section of their own Party. When the right hon. Gentleman rose to address the House from a place next to that occupied by the Leader of the Opposition, who, after very grave consideration, had decided not to bring forward the Egyptian Question until Monday, it was naturally expected he was not going to make what might be called the usual stock Opposition speech, or, in other words, to indulge in those attacks on Her Majesty's Government with which they were so familiar, and which, indeed, they almost knew by heart. He thought the right hon. Gentleman was going to explain that which he hoped would be explained before the end of the Session by somebody on the Front Opposition Bench—namely, how the present extraordinary state of muddle and confusion had arisen in the Councils of the Opposition. He thought the right hon. Gentleman would have explained to the House how it was that at the close of a Session, at the commencement of which the Opposition certainly expected they were going to turn out Her Majesty's Government on ques- 399 tions of foreign policy, not only had nothing of the kind happened, but, on the contrary, they found the Opposition in a state of great confusion, only temporarily arranged by what was called un mariage de convenance. As all this had not happened to the Government, and as the debate on Egyptian affairs had, after full consideration, been fixed for Monday, although it might be perfectly natural for hon. Members who could not be in the House on Monday to make their speeches now, it would hardly be desirable for him at that hour to prolong the debate; and he should, therefore, merely say that the questions of detail which had been raised were naturally all subjects of interest and importance, and subjects which must come before Lord Northbrook on the mission he had undertaken, and he had no doubt that, at the close of the mission, it would be possible to make a statement upon them, but not before.
§ SIR EARDLEY WILMOT
said, that before the debate closed he should like to say a few words, because, although he should be present on Monday, he might not then have as good an opportunity of addressing the House as he had at that moment. A few days ago he sided with the Government on the question of the Vote of Credit, feeling very strongly in favour of the proposal, and being quite ready to support a much larger Vote than was asked for. At the same time, he strongly objected to the retention in the Vote of the words which implied that the necessity had not yet arisen for the taking of measures to relieve General Gordon; and he had given Notice of his intention to strike out the words "if necessary" when the Report should be brought up. He had, however, learnt from the Clerk at the Table, after conference with the Speaker, that the Amendment could not be then put. The Government were very much to blame for not having brought forward their proposal at an earlier period. Before he actually arrived at Khartoum, General Gordon, on the 12th of February, sent a telegram to Egypt asking for a certain sum of money, and 200 Indian Cavalry to assist him in his operations. General Gordon arrived at Khartoum on the 18th of February, and on the 26th he wrote another despatch asking for 3,000 Turkish troops. Therefore, on two occasions, at the very 400 earliest stage of his proceedings in the Soudan, he had asked for military assistance. Subsequently, there were no specific requests for a certain number of men; but the whole tenour of the gallant General's despatches showed that he was continually expecting assistance, and in March he actually sent out scouts to see if the troops he had asked for were on their way. The Government at one time told him to leave Khartoum, and at another bade him stay; and, through the vacillating way in which they had treated him, we stood disgraced in the face of Europe and the world. The people of England called on the Government no longer to hesitate in the course they pursued. They had now got the necessary money, and they ought at once to send reinforcements. Only in yesterday's papers it was stated that General Gordon was surrounded by 16,000 Arabs, thirsting for his blood. To-day it appeared that the vacillation and hesitation of the Government were again conspicuous; that the much-talked-of scheme of the Berber Railway had been thrown overboard; and that the materials which were to have been used in its construction were to be sent to India. The Government now proposed another mode of rescuing Gordon—namely, by sending a force up the Nile and across the Desert to Berber. He called upon Ministers to hesitate no longer, but to behave like men and Englishmen in this matter. Let Lord Wolseley, whom he had noticed in the Gallery on the preceding evening watching the debate with interest, be sent at once with the necessary troops. He would suggest that those troops should be drawn from the ranks of our Native Indian soldiers, who were accustomed to a hot climate and to the habits of Oriental people. In any event, he trusted the Government would not let another moment go by without satisfying the country that the Government were alive to the responsibilities of their position, and that they would lose no time in rescuing General Gordon from the perilous position in which he was placed.
§ MR. FRANCIS BUXTON
said, he was of opinion that the Government should lose no time in withdrawing the British Forces entirely from Egypt. He hoped that before the Prorogation there would be a definite statement from Ministers that they were going to fulfil the 401 many pledges they had given from the very day they went to Egypt, to the effect that their stay there was to be only temporary. Early in the present Session the Secretary to the Treasury stated that, as far as he was concerned, the Egyptians should be left "to stew in their own juice." If he (Mr. Buxton) and many others had their way, the Egyptians would be left "to stew in their own juice." He was afraid, however, that at the present moment, from his point of view, things looked very dark. There were many signs that the Government, instead of withdrawing, were going to advance still further into Egypt. If it were not so, for what reason had they taken a Vote of Credit, which might mean not only that they intended to rescue General Gordon, but that they were going to stay at Khartoum? The House would rise for the Autumn Recess under a grave feeling of anxiety as to what the Government were going to do next, and he feared that before they met again, they might hear much more decided views than were now expressed as to the intentions of the Government and the future of Egypt. He knew not what other meaning to attach to the sending out to Egypt of a Member of the Cabinet with mysterious powers, the extent of which nobody knew, but which might lead to great changes in the policy of the Government.