I rise, Sir, to present to Parliament Papers which, on the one hand, are of great importance, but which, on the other hand, are not only incomplete, but contingent for their operation entirely upon what has already happened and may yet happen. My duty is to lay them on the Table in the usual course, and I have no doubt it would be convenient that I should make a very short statement which should be explanatory and not controversial, and which, I hope, having been made, will afford an opportunity to any Gentleman, in the House who may think it necessary to put any Questions which may arise upon it, or, if he think fit, to make 1105 any observations on the subject of that statement. At the same time, I would respectfully say that, although I shall endeavour to give the best summary view that I can of the essential contents of these Papers to the House, what I have to say on the subject is of secondary importance with regard to the authentic text of the documents which are now to be laid on the Table, and which well deserve the close attention, whether in a friendly or merely critical sense, of the House. The presentation of these Papers is altogether, as you will observe, an exceptional act. As the House is very well aware, the usual and necessary practice of an Executive Government is to make known transactions of this kind with foreign countries when they are completed, and then to refer to Parliament any matter requiring the authority of Parliament, and, of course, to leave to Parliament the power and the opportunity of passing judgment on the conduct of the Executive Government. In this instance, as I have stated, this proceeding, important as it is, is only a partial proceeding; but, undoubtedly, it is most important, because it embodies the views of the Governments of two great States in regard to the manner in which the complicated questions connected with Egypt ought to be disposed of, and it touches principles far more important than any interests directly involved in the question. Therefore, I do not for a moment disguise or attenuate the importance of the Paper. But the Paper is subject to this condition—that it can take no effect except in connection with financial arrangements yet to be made; and after those financial arrangements shall have received the sanction of the Powers of Europe, or, I perhaps ought rather to say, shall have been deliberated upon and adjusted by the authority of the Powers of Europe, it will then remain for Parliament to pass its judgment upon the entire transaction. Sir, we have proceeded in this very exceptional manner, and have done what has very rarely been done—I am not sure that I can quote a single instance analogous to it—in deference at what I may call, without offence, the impatience of Parliament. I use the term impatience in no disrespectful sense; it was an impatience at which we could not wonder, and of which we could not complain. We had felt for some time that the 1106 position could not be satisfactory in which we were compelled to meet not only inquiries, but charges and assaults, by negative replies. It has not been owing to any indecision on the part of Her Majesty's Government that we have been unable, down to the present time during this Session, which has now advanced so far, to give any further developed explanation of our policy in Egypt, but have been able to do little more than to refer to the statements— which were made in abundance at a much earlier stage of these transactions —which laid down that our policy was to withdraw from Egypt at the earliest possible moment, but to use our best endeavours, before withdrawing, to attain certain objects which we deemed to be essential for the welfare of that country. It was a state of facts, and not, as I have said, any want of decision on our part, which made it impossible on our part to add to those general explanations. There was a feeling that the time had arrived when either we ought to move forward, or that we ought to take measures in the direction of withdrawal from Egypt. Moving forward was precluded by the principle on which we had acted all along; and by moving forward I mean the adoption of intentions and measures which would contemplate either the permanent extension of our position in Egypt, or some great and strong measure in the direction of permanent retention. Move backward we could not, because if we had spoken in a definite manner, or had attempted to make a definite arrangement, with a view to our own withdrawal from Egypt, the question would necessarily have arisen in the mind of every Member of the House, and in the country generally, what was to follow our withdrawal? It would have been said—" However wise you may be, or whether you are wise or not, in seeking to put an end to your own sole action in Egypt, what security can you give us that your sole action is not to be followed by the sole action of some other Power?" We did not think that we could expect of Parliament or of the country that they would rest satisfied with the state of things which our ceasing to occupy the territory of Egypt with a military force should leave behind, a state of absolute uncertainty of what was to follow, and the possibility that sole action might be revived in an- 1107 other form. It is for that reason, as I have shown, that it remained until a comparatively recent period impracticable for us to give any development of previous declarations in the direction in which our convictions and policy had lain; whereas, of course, it was impossible for us to give any such development in a direction opposed to those convictions and to that policy. Sir, under those circumstances, a great change has been brought about, and we have been relieved from what we felt to be a great difficulty by the arrival of the moment when it became necessary and possible to deal with the subject of Egyptian finance. I need not say that in a country like Egypt it is not so easy nor so rapid a process to attain a clear and adequate knowledge of its financial position in a given time as is the case in a country like this, or like France, or any other country with a highly organized system of finance and account. And, moreover, the special and main causes which have brought about a crisis in Egyptian finance, are causes of which we have only at a comparatively recent time come to anything like the possession of full knowledge. The main causes, as the House is aware, are the claims for the payment of indemnities in connection with the incendiarism in Alexandria, and the development of large deficiencies —to some considerable extent unknown until quite recently—brought on Egypt by its attempt to hold and govern the Soudan. However, the time has arrived when— and, as the House is aware, several weeks have now elapsed since— Her Majesty's-Government found it to be their duty to invite the Powers of Europe to meet for Conference on the subject of Egyptian finance. The interval since that they have employed in making a thorough investigation of the case, and in preparing the plans which it will be their duty to place before the Conference. But in sending out these invitations to the Powers of Europe we received from the neighbouring and friendly Government of France expressions of a desire that previous to their entering the Conference — although it was not made an absolute condition in terms—there should be preliminary explanations between the two countries with respect to our general position in Egypt. It is probable that our resort to the Powers of Europe for a settlement 1108 of Egyptian finance must, in any case, have brought up the subject of our own position generally in that country. But if that position were to be brought up by one Power in particular, undoubtedly France was the Power most entitled in every sense to take the lead and to act, if I may so say, on the part of the rest. In giving that as an opinion I do not intend to enter into any argument; but I may, perhaps, say as much as this—that no person can form an adequate or a safe opinion with respect to the relations between France and Egypt who commences his study of the subject with the troubles that began to arise in the latter country two or three years ago. You must go back to the time about the beginning of the century, to the time of the Great Napoleon. You must go back to the time especially, and most of all, perhaps, of the year 1840, and to the efforts and sacrifices which were made by France at that time on account of Egypt; and you must also take into view the history of the formation of the Suez Canal, in order to understand, not what you are to allow to France in Egypt, but in order to understand the view which France may naturally and may fairly be entitled to take, and be led to take, of her own position in reference to that country. Well, Sir, this being so, the French Government invited from us explanations which we were not less ready and less desirous to render than she was to ask. We hailed the application which we received from the Government of France. That application has removed out of our way the barriers which formerly stood between us, and has enabled us to frame, and is now placing us in a condition to lay before the House, that of which you have the first and very important instalment to-day—that is, a plan of policy for Egypt—I am speaking of Egypt Proper and not of the Soudan —which I hope as to the Egyptian Question and our position in Egypt may, in some tolerable sense, be called a complete plan—a plan which is complete considered as a matter of action, and which will have this additional advantage, that it will not depend upon the mere judgment of the Executive Government, but absolutely must have, if it is to go forward, the distinct ratification and assent of Parliament. The French Government, as you will find in these Papers, made it their object, in the first 1109 instance, to remove, or to extinguish, two prejudices, as I think they are called, two erroneous suppositions, which lay in the way of a thorough conformity of opinion and views between the two countries with regard to Egypt. One of these suppositions related to the Condominium or the Dual Control. It had been understood that after that Dual Control ceased to be de facto the French Government was inclined to contend that it still existed de jure. That matter, important as it was, never, I think, became the subject of detailed correspondence between the two countries, and it is not at all necessary to examine now—and I am not sure that if we did attempt to examine we should have the power to bring our examination to a sure conclusion—how far that was or was not the case. At any rate, the impression prevailed in this country that France had made a claim for the revival of the Dual Control. That was one of the difficulties that obstructed us. The indication of France, which encouraged us to open our views, as the French Government opened its own views, included the unqualified assurance of the entire and final abandonment of the Dual Control. As far as that point is concerned I do not think the most jealous eye will find in these Papers anything to which objection can be taken. The other prejudicial opinion which the French Government sought to dispel was that which related to the-possible occupation of Egypt by French troops in the event of our retiring from that country, and upon this point, which is, perhaps, of even greater importance in the view of Parliament and of the nation, the assurances of the French Government are not less unequivocal. In fact, the phrase used by M. Waddington, in addressing Lord Granville, is "that France is ready to come under the most formal engagement upon that subject." Therefore, Sir, we were, by this voluntary tender on the part of the French Government, entirely set at liberty to determine our own plan of action, because I need not say that the assurances of the French Government, that in the event of our leaving Egypt she will not enter that country except by our consent, we considered as putting it in our power absolutely to extinguish and bring to an end all idea of the solitary action of any particular Power 1110 in Egypt. Well, Sir, that being so, to the French Government, on our part, we offered that we should be able to bring within the scope of a definite term and without any reserve, except those which prudence required, the now indefinite matter of the prolongation of our stay in Egypt, and what we offered was, that until that definite term arrived, we should, of course, retain the sole discretion to remain, or, if we think fit, to come away. [A laugh.] I am not so alive as the hon. Member to the comic side of the question, and I hope he will restrain himself, as the matter is one of extreme gravity, and because my desire is to convey clear impressions to the House. What we have offered is that we should retain sole discretion in our power until a certain term arrives—that is to say, that we shall be under no engagement to anybody to remain in Egypt should it be the desire of the Government and of the Parliament of this country to quit Egypt, that that term should be the 1st of January, 1888, and that, at that time, we should come under this engagement and no other— that we should agree not to remain in military occupation of Egypt beyond that term in case the Powers of Europe should declare that the state of the country was then such as to allow of our departure without peril to its peace and order. Well, Sir, these are the considerations which are expressed in the word "synallagmatique," as used by M. Waddington. These are the different considerations which may be said to have been exchanged between the two Governments, the offer of France and the offer of the Government of this country being such as I have described.
The right hon. Gentleman will understand that in general I am using my own words; but here I quote. So far, I think, I am correct in saying this—that the condition which would make it obligatory on us to withdraw will be the declaration of the Powers that the state of Egypt will allow of our departure "without risk to peace and order in the country." But, Sir, although what I have thus far stated disposes of a very important part of the question, clearly it does not dispose of the whole. There remains the 1111 question as to what modifications require to be introduced into those international arrangements to which Egypt is subjected; and I will describe as clearly as I can that which relates to the machinery now established of the Commission for the management of the Egyptian Debt that is generally called by the name of the Caisse. As I have stated, the Condominium which involved a general control over Egyptian finance is at an end. It is agreed between the two Powers that there shall, hereafter, be no general control over Egyptian finance, and the Budgets of Egypt will hereafter not be framed by the Commissioners of the Caisse. We have sought, and I believe France has sought not less than ourselves, in these arrangements to give every fair and reasonable scope that can safely be given for the development of that degree of independence which Egypt, notwithstanding her peculiar circumstances, may fairly claim, and which, as we hope, may prove to be for her future strength and happiness. But although there is to be no general control over Egyptian finance, and although the Budgets will not be framed by the Commissioners of the Caisse, yet there are to be, if this arrangement goes forward, defined and limited extensions of powers to the Caisse which we believe to be necessary alike for the welfare of Egypt, for the important financial interests of England that are now involved in the question, and likewise for the interests of the creditors of Egypt, whose fair claims we cannot put out of view. Sir, for these purposes, as I have said, the Caisse will receive a limited extension of its powers in order to prevent the recurrence of financial disasters and embarrassments so serious as those which have now arrived, and which, I need not say, unless an effectual remedy be applied to them, would not be financial only, but extremely menacing to the whole condition of the country. Those powers are described with accuracy and care in the despatches which I now lay upon the Table; and I will only say of them that they aim at two objects, and two objects alone—first of all, to make sure that the Commissioners of the Caisse shall be provided with sufficient information as to the financial proceedings of the Government of Egypt, and shall have the power of offering any useful suggestion in regard 1112 to it; secondly, that they shall have what we hope will be an effective power of preventing excesses beyond the limits of the Budget with a reserve in cases of actual peril to peace and order, and that, of course, must be allowed to stand, as we think, upon a special footing. Beyond this I have only now further to to say that the House is aware that the Commission of the Caisse is composed of four members, and that the President of that Commission is to be an Englishman. Now, Sir, even what I have now said, although it indicates generally a sketch of what will be found much more fully given in the despatches as to the future financial powers to be possessed and exercised in Egypt, yet it does not embrace the entire future condition of the country. We have endeavoured to look into the future as far as we can, and to consider how critical a point Egypt offers with respect to its political position, from geographical circumstances, from its connection with the great route of the world, from its military and political weakness, and from a combination of causes well known generally to the House. The two Governments, therefore, of England and France, desirous to avert those dangers for the future which have been found so formidable in the past, have agreed that we shall prepare and present a plan for the neutralization of Egyptian territory. The hon. Gentleman the Member for Greenwich (Baron Henry De Worms) put to me the other day a Question in regard to the neutralization of the Suez Canal. That, also, according to the views, not of this Government only, but of the two Governments, will be embraced in the proposals to be made; and in respect to the character of the neutralization of Egypt, Gentlemen will find in the Papers that reference is made to the general principles which were applied to the territory of Belgium; and for the Suez Canal reference is made to the despatch of the 3rd of January, 1883, in which the British Government declared its views upon this subject. I ought, however, to say, Sir, that this is a matter not for immediate settlement. Our opinion is that, first of all, it is obvious that there is quite enough to do in the present condition of Egypt and the Egyptian Question, and in the other matters which are to be opened; and, further, that the natural period for the 1113 operation of the plan of the neutralization of Egypt would arrive when the term of the British military occupation of Egypt is drawing near to a close. Our engagement, therefore, is to prepare and propose this plan during the term of our military occupation, and before it expires. I will not attempt to read these despatches to the House, because, although they are only in the form of a Blue Book of a few pages, they are certainly of great importance. Almost every word requires to be carefully weighed, and I am by no means sure that the listening to a single perusal, while it would be a tedious process, would be so effectual as a perusal of them by Members, when they can turn from one point to another, and return to any matter which appears to throw light on the other parts I have only to say further this, that, as I have already signified— and I wish that should it remain distinctly impressed on the minds of Members—this agreement, which is of the greatest importance, I think, on account of the parties who desire to make it, and on account of the principles on which it rests, is entirely contingent, in the first instance, upon what is to be done in Conference; and if, for the sake of argument, and for the sake of argument only, I suppose that the Conference arrives at no result, this agreement will entirely fall to the ground. Next, what is to be done in Conference will again be contingent on the approval of Parliament. The whole will depend upon that approval. A day is appointed for the first meeting of the Conference. It is to be Saturday next, and in order to save as much time as we can the figures of the plan which Her Majesty's Government will submit will be forwarded a few days before to the Powers severally, so that they may arrive in Conference with some degree of preparation for examining them. I need not say that that is but a short notice; but the truth is, that the framing of a plan of this kind, with all the assistance we could obtain from the great ability of Sir Evelyn Baring and the excellent indigenous assistance from Egypt, has been a work of great labour and difficulty, and it is only but recently that my right hon. Friend, to whose official labours this has made an enormous addition, has been in a position to bring it before the Cabinet in order to receive 1114 that sanction without which it could not go on. Now Sir, the only other engagement I have to mention to the House is this. As we can lay before the House nothing that is complete until the Conference has decided, our duty will be a double one in this respect. First of all, subject to the deference which the Powers of Europe are entitled to expect at our hands, it will be our duty to put forward and expedite to the best of our ability the proceedings of the Conference and lend it every aid in our power. Secondly, to give the House a pledge that when the Conference has arrived at its decision, not a day that we can help shall be lost in submitting it to Parliament, because we feel that this, at any rate, is no question of matters where it might be thought that discussion was at this or that moment unnecessarily raised. It is a question of arrangement which involves principles of the deepest moment, in my opinion, to the welfare and honour of this country, and, of course, to the welfare of Egypt. But these principles reach further yet. We do not shrink, we shall not shrink, from discussion with regard to them. We feel that the issues which will be raised are issues of the broadest character— that it will be the positive duty of Parliament to give a distinct and definite judgment upon them. That judgment we invite—that judgment, if I may say so, we challenge; that judgment we will do everything in our power to accelerate; for we believe that if our plans are accepted they will be favourable to the peace of Europe, to International Law, and to the civilization of mankind. We are the first to say that if they do not meet the judgment of Parliament, those who have framed these plans, and those who mean to adhere to them ought not for one moment longer to continue to be the Government of this country.
§ SIR STAFFORD NORTHCOTE
Sir, I am very sensible of the difficulties which lie in the way of any discussion of the proposals which have been made by the Government at the present stage of our information. At the same time, I feel that it is necessary, in order to guard the position of Members of this House, that a few words should be said as to the view we take of what has been said. It is perfectly true, as the right hon. Gentleman observed, that the course 1115 which he has taken in laying this statement before us is one of an unusual character; and we have, no doubt, to acknowledge the readiness and the desire of the Government to take the House into its confidence so far as it was able to do so; but, on the other hand, I must point out to the House that the fact of the Government thus calling us into council, as it were, and giving the House the opportunity of expressing its opinion on these proceedings, is to lay upon us a certain amount of responsibility if we allow the proceedings of the Government to go on without expressing an opinion of our own with regard to their nature. Sir, I may at once say that, even upon the sketch which the Prime Minister has given us, there appears to me to be very grave objections. I will not enter into discussion of the details of these proposals; but with regard to what we have been informed as to the limitation of the period of our occupation of Egypt, I am bound to say that that raises questions of a serious character deserving and requiring the judgment of the House as early as possible, even though we have not the complete plans of the Government before us. With regard to the financial proposals, we have not, of course, the means, without having the Papers in our hands, of discussing them, nor is it desirable that we should do so.
§ SIR STAFFORD NORTHCOTE
Well, then, we are even less prepared to discuss them. But I should like to ask the right hon. Gentleman, when he speaks of a statement which has been prepared, and is to be forwarded to the Conference this very week, whether that statement is the same as one which was laid before the House some mouth or two ago, in which there was a summary of the financial position of Egypt, showing the large deficiency, and what was necessary to bring about an equilibrium?
That statement, Sir, was a statement of the financial condition of Egypt. In fact, it was like the account part of a Chancellor of the Exchequer's Budget, which shows the figures, and does not enter into the mode of providing an equilibrium. I am not aware that it has undergone any 1116 variation, certainly not any material variation.
§ SIR STAFFORD NORTHCOTE
Then we are to understand that the statement to be laid before the Conference goes beyond the mere account part—[Mr. GLADSTONE assented]—and contains proposals, at all events, for the consideration of the Conference with regard to the equilibrium? That proposal is not to be placed before us. Yet we are told that, whatever may come out of that arrangement, it will be submitted to Parliament before it obtains the final approval and sanction of the country; that is true, but it is not, as I understand, intended to give any power to Parliament of expressing any opinion upon these financial proposals until they have been submitted to the Conference. If that is so, I am bound to say it would be desirable and right that the House should insist upon having some further information on proposals which may seriously affect this country. I will not, at the present time, enter into any discussion of the general questions raised. I have indicated two points which I think are of a character very grave and deserving the consideration of the House as early as possible—namely, the question of fixing the terms for closing the occupation of the country, and the question of the financial proposals. I shall take an early opportunity, as soon as we have these Papers before us, and are able to do so, of calling for an expression of the opinion of Parliament. I conclude that when the right hon. Gentleman says that the Conference is to meet on Saturday, we can hardly suppose that it will be more than a formal meeting, or that they will proceed to discuss matters of this importance while Parliament is still considering the proposals laid before it. A time will, no doubt, be allowed us as early as possible for the discussion of the questions such as will enable Parliament to express its opinion before the Conference comes to a decision.
For fear of being misunderstood, I may be allowed to say, with regard to the closing sentence of the right hon. Gentleman, that what we think will be by far the best course for Parliament and for Egypt is that the proceedings of the Conference, which are connected with the most urgent state of things in Egypt at this 1117 moment, should be pressed forward with the utmost possible expedition, and that is the course we shall take.
§ LORD RANDOLPH CHURCHILL
I should like, Sir, to claim the indulgence of the House while I take some part in this preliminary canter over the course before the great gallop takes place, of which the right hon. Gentleman the Loader of the Opposition has given Notice. There are some points in the Prime Minister's statement which ought not to be left without immediate comment. The right hon. Gentleman stated in one part of his speech, in answer to a slight laugh which came from this side of the House, that he was not alive to the comic side of these proceedings. Well, Sir, perhaps if I may be permitted to find fault with so great a man as the Prime Minister, that, I should say, is his great defect. He is rarely sufficiently alive to the comic side of any question. For my own part, Sir, I must confess that while I listened to the right hon. Gentleman's statement, I did not not know whether to laugh or to cry; because anything more shamefully ludicrous, or anything more ludicrously shameful, I do not think any Prime Minister ever proposed to any House of Commons. I did not know whether to laugh at the folly of the Government, or to cry over the dishonour of my country. Well, Sir, the Prime Minister stated that it was not owing to any indecision of the Government that he had been unable to give these explanations to the House earlier. Before I came down to the House this afternoon I had the curiosity to turn to a former speech of the Prime Minister, from which I will make a small quotation, in order to dispose of the Prime Minister's defence against the charge of indecision. On the 9th of November, the Prime Minister, addressing the Lord Mayor and his guests, used these words—We have reached another stage in the progress of our work in Egypt. It is the progress of our work, and that alone, that determined the continuance of our armed force in Egypt. We are about to withdraw. The order has been given to withdraw the British force, and that withdrawal will include the evacuation of Cairo. I think that the country will feel that this is a subject for congratulation; it will lighten the burden imposed upon the Egyptian people; it will offer a new testimony to the world that we have been in earnest in the declaration we have repeatedly made; and, finally, I may say that that withdrawal from a large portion of the 1118 country of the display of British force will leave, as we trust, a free and open field and the power of a fair experiment to the Government of Egypt in the new career which we trust is opening to them.That was the announcement of the Prime Minister on the 9th of November; but on the 23rd of June the Prime Minister conies down to this House and expresses his readiness to occupy Egypt for three years, and to enter into pecuniary liabilities with regard to the Egyptian Debt which must inevitably prolong still further the occupation of that country. In the face of a change of policy so unusual as that, in so short a space of time, the right hon. Gentleman gravely informs the House that the Government has manifested no indecision. The Prime Minister stated that he was in this position at the present moment, that he must either move forward or move backward, and he said that he could not move forward, and that he could not move backward. Why, that is just the position the Government have been in since they fought the battle of Tel-el-Kebir. They have declined to move forward or backward for any length of time consecutively. It has been a continual see-saw of backward and forward which has brought that unfortunate country into its present condition. "But now," says the Prime Minister, "fortunately for Egypt, we have arrived at the moment when it is necessary and possible to deal with the question of Egyptian finance." They have been two years in the country—two years undisputed masters of the country—and they say—" We have fortunately arrived at a moment when we are in a position to deal with Egyptian finance." Why, Sir, fortunate for the country? Why, Her Majesty's Government themselves have created that moment. And what are their peculiar reasons for dealing with Egyptian finance at this time, or for bringing it before Europe? In the first place, there was the bombardment of Alexandria; and then there was the campaign in the Soudan. But the bombardment of Alexandria, and the burden it would cast upon the Egyptian finances, were in the knowledge of Her Majesty's Government at the time the battle of Tel-el-Kebir was fought. The first thing that must have been present to their mind was the burden which would be thrown on the finances of Egypt. The very same thing 1119 must have been the case in regard to the campaign in. the Soudan. That commenced the moment you occupied Cairo; and the finances of Egypt, which are to be brought before Europe in consequence of those two events, have not yet been dealt with during the two years you have been in the country, nor have any steps been taken by you with reference to dealing with her liabilities; yet the Prime Minister calls Heaven to witness that this is a fortunate moment. Then the right hon. Gentleman says that the Conference has been summoned, and that all the Powers gladly assented to attend it, including France; but he also stated—and this is a most remakable thing—that France intimated to Her Majesty's Government that she would like to have a preliminary interchange of views, without, however, making that a condition. So that the concession made to France seems to have been one of an extremely gratuitous character. The right hon. Gentleman told us that France, of all the countries in the world, was the one most entitled to take the load in expressing an opinion on Egyptian affairs. And why? Because of what she did in the time of the First Napoleon. The right hon. Gentleman went back for a reason to that piratical enterprise—an enterprise, too, that was baffled by this country—and he asserted that that was the great and peculiar reason which gives France an absolute title to dictate the conditions for the Conference. [Mr. GLADSTONE signified dissent.] Sir, the right hon. Gentleman denies it; but, undoubtedly, one of the reasons why the right hon. Gentleman said France was entitled to take the lead was on account of the piratical enterprise of Napoleon I. ["No!"] He certainly said that we must go back, if we wished to understand the question, to the time of the Great Napoleon, and he also stated that we must recollect the efforts which France made in the year 1840. I always thought that the check Mehemet Ali received, and the arrangement of affairs at that time, were as much the work of Lord Palmerston as of France.
LORD RANDOLPH CHURCHLLL
I am not inclined to admit, nor do I think any reader of history will admit for a moment, that what took place in 1120 1840 gives France the smallest title to interfere, beyond any other Power, in the affairs of Egypt. But what is our position in that country? We have a title because the Prime Minister and his Colleagues have interfered in Egypt; they have been interfering there for two years, and their action has been the source of immense anxiety to Parliament and the country. They have made great military efforts to maintain their position there. Many English lives have been sacrificed, and £5,000,000 of English money spent in a great military expedition. Then they remained in Egypt during the time of the cholera, and more lives were sacrificed. They sent a great military expedition to Suakin, sacrificed more lives, and spent £250,000 more money. Surely all that made England the Power most entitled to take the lead in settling the future of Egypt; and are we who have made these efforts—which, no doubt, the follies of Her Majesty's Government made necessary—to assent to the Prime Minister's assertion that France is entitled to take the lead in settling the future of that country? [Mr. GLADSTONE again intimated dissent.] I maintain that that was the gist of the right hon. Gentleman's statement. ["No."] And if France is not entitled to the position which the Prime Minister, for the purpose of argument, assigned to her, why were all these concessions made to her? France was ready, the Government say, to come to the Conference without these concessions; but they went out of their way to make these concessions to her. "France desired a preliminary explanation," the Prime Minister said; but that was not an absolute condition. Ministerial cries of "No!"] Well, I can only put a plain English meaning upon the words. The Prime Minister has engaged to clear out of Egypt in three years' time; and, again, he has placed by far the more important part of its finances—namely, the revenues derived from the railways, from the Port of Alexandria, from the Customs, the Post Office, and the Telegraphs — in the hands of this new Board of Audit. These are the concessions made to France; and what has the Prime Minister got in return? He tells us that France has at last agreed to recognize the disappearance, the death, or the defunct character of the Dual Control. Curiously enough, 1121 to show the House the value of that splendid concession, I have, by the favour of a friend, received during the last few minutes a telegram from Paris of what the French Prime Minister said in the French Chamber on this very subject of the Dual Control. M. Ferry said it was absolutely impossible to resuscitate the condominium. Yet this beautiful arrangement, which M. Ferry declares with great candour cannot be restored, the right hon. Gentleman holds up before us as a most important concession. I laughed when I heard the right hon. Gentleman's statement, and certainly it was enough to make anyone laugh. France, said the Prime Minister, considered that the Dual Control was in existence de jure; but that statement is directly traversed by the statement of M. Ferry, that it is impossible to resuscitate the Control. But I want to know, if that is such a great concession, who killed the Dual Control? France herself, and no other Power—France herself, who led you on in your Egyptian expedition; and the moment it became a question of employing ships and firing guns, scuttled away and left you in the lurch. It was France. No wonder M. Ferry had not got what I may call the brazenness to look upon the Dual Control as other than defunct. Then the Prime Minister says France has now made a promise of enormous value, and he told us that to get that promise was one of the difficulties that obstructed our progress. It was a promise, with the greatest amiability, not to send French troops to Egypt. How long the promise is to last the right hon. Gentleman did not say; but I suppose it is to last as long as the British occupation. Or is it to last after the British occupation has ceased? The right hon. Gentleman says—" I rely for the value of this pledge on a phrase of M. Waddington's." How many different Governments have held Office in France in a short space of time, and how many of them have considered themselves bound by the phrases of their Predecessors? Yet the Prime Minister thinks it enough to assure the House of Commons that he has a declaration not to send French troops to Egypt contained in a phrase of M. Waddington, a man who is here to-day, and who may be gone to-morrow. That, the right hon. Gentleman seems to think, is 1122 enough to hold up to this House as a sufficient counterpoise for the concessions which Her Majesty's Government have made to France. I do not value that assurance of the French Government one pin. I recollect how the Kroumirs were invented, and I know what the assurances of the French Government were about Tunis and about Madagascar and Tonquin. The assurance of the French Government not to send troops to Egypt is, to my mind, absolutely valueless—not worth a penny. This occupation by Great Britain is to last three years; therefore, we may take three years into our purview. Will any hon. Gentleman or right hon. Gentleman opposite state to the House that it is a certainty, or even a probability, that the Republic will be in existence in three years? The Prime Minister says that he has engaged with France that our occupation shall terminate on the 1st of January, 1888. ["No!"] Yes; unless by the unanimous wish of Europe—[Cries of "Order!"]—and their opinion that the departure of British troops would endanger peace and order in that country. But, Sir, it appears to me that if you were to consult the Powers now, it is perfectly certain that it would be the wish of the Powers—and, more than that, the unanimous wish of Europe— that you should depart; and, more than that, it would be the unanimous feeling of Europe that your departure would not endanger the cause of peace and order, because during the three years for which Egypt has been in our possession there has been neither peace nor order. The Prime Minister did not give us any idea of how he was going to occupy those three years in Egypt. It is quite true that he has told us that the neutralization of Egypt is proposed; but on that point he did not give us sufficient information. He might as well have told us whether the neutralization of Egypt was a step which would be acceded to by the Government of Turkey.
I think I said we had undertaken to propose it to the Powers and the Porte. ["No!"] Then it was my omission.
§ LORD RANDOLPH CHURCHILL
A very nice work to undertake in three years—to propose to the Porte the neutralization of Egypt! But I doubt very much whether Russia or Austria are at all sensible of the benefit that would 1123 accrue to them from the neutralization of Egypt; and I imagine that during the three years during which the attention of the Prime Minister will be given to the carrying out of this extraordinary project the condition of Egypt will be allowed to remain very much as it is now. Then what guarantee have we, if the House agrees to the limit of occupation by British troops, that at the end of the time a strong and stable Government will be established in Egypt, and when are they going to begin that work? I observe from the report of M. Ferry's speech in the French Chamber, that the Prime Minister was the first to speak of the neutralization of Egypt; therefore, this brilliant idea to be accomplished in three years emanated from the right hon. Gentleman. But, Sir, is a work which may occupy a lifetime to be undertaken by a Government which will, probably, only have a short period of time to live? Then M. Ferry also went on to say that, with respect to the Egyptian Question, it was with this Government that France had the best chance of settling the question. I quite agree with M. Ferry; I think he appears to be a man of remarkable intelligence. We have seen statements in the French Press that it is of the highest importance that France should conceal as much as possible of the terms she asked. Now, I consider that the Prime Minister occupies the same position to the French Government as Charles II. occupied to Louis XIV. He is the political pensioner of France, and he is kept in Office by the French Government. ["Oh!"] I am only stating what M. Ferry says. He says that it is with the Prime Minister that France has the best chance of settling this question. How? In accordance with French interests. And now the Prime Minister states that this is a matter which deeply affects the welfare and honour of this country. Everyone will agree with me that if this arrangement or convention which the Prime Minister has sketched to the House to-night is accepted by the House, the welfare, the interests, and the honour of this country need very little longer occupy our attention. The Prime Minister states that it was the positive duty of Parliament to give a distinct decision and judgment upon this communication; but I would invite Parliament, before it gives a distinct judgment, to ask for a little more informa- 1124 tion. If the Prime Minister, with the limited information he has given us, asks to be allowed to meet the Powers of Europe in Conference without having given us any further information as to the nature of their financial proposals, then I am certain that if the House of Commons is not absolutely lost to every spark of independence, that is a position which the Prime Minister cannot be allowed to occupy. I shall be curious to see what the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Ripon (Mr. Goschen), who has a fear of these things, has to say on this subject, for we cannot, to use an expression now well known, give a blank cheque to the Government. We know a little bit too much of Her Majesty's Government. We know what they have done as to the Soudan and as to Gordon, and we now know what enormous concessions they have made to get France to come to the Conference; and I wish to know what concessions they are going to make in conference to France to got her to agree to their proposals? We have heard rumours of a loan of £8,000,000, and I imagine that the Prime Minister will be obliged to give a little more detailed information to the House on this point. The Prime Minister now refuses to communicate anything. Is it fair to make a partial confidence? Is it fair to place the House in such a position, and at the same time to keep back an essential part of the information that is required? How do we know what the Prime Minister is going to propose, or what sum it is he proposes should be advanced — whether £8,000,000, or £20,000,000, or £30,000,000? On that point we have no information. What will be our position if the Prime Minister is allowed to remain in the position he occupies now —having made incomplete and partial confidence to the House, and having obtained the practical concurrence of the House? What will be our position when he comes down and brandishes an Agreement in the face of the House of Commons? I do not suppose for a moment that the Prime Minister will be allowed to remain in that position. The most foolish, and credulous, and silly person, can hardly be taken in by such transparent tactics. He says—"We now challenge the decision of the House." I suppose some arrangement will be made by which—to use a classic 1125 phrase which, after its use by the Leader of the Opposition in this House, has become Parliamentary—some "bonnet" of the Government will get up and propose a Vote of Confidence in them. The Prime Minister appeals to his followers, and says that Government have no right to retain Office without this being distinctly expressed. I appeal to some one of those who cheer so loudly to give Notice of a Vote of Confidence. The Prime Minister has appealed to those 300 or more who sit behind him, and says that, without their confidence, he cannot retain Office. I shall be anxious to see, after the events of this afternoon, the result of this appeal.
I desire to make a personal explanation. The noble Lord has stated that I said that France was entitled to take the lead in negotiations as to the affairs of Egypt. I never said so. What I said was that France was entitled to take the lead among the other Powers. The noble Lord has stated that I have asked for a Vote of Confidence without giving the smallest idea what the Government are going to do. I have done nothing of the kind; but I distinctly said that at the proper time the whole of our proceedings will come under the judgment of Parliament. It would be quite vain to go through all the other representations of the noble Lord.
§ LORD RANDOLPH CHURCHILL
This is not a personal explanation. The right hon. Gentleman is making another speech.
I will endeavour to shorten my explanation by saying that I disclaim every word of them. I did not say any one of the things which the noble Lord attributes to me.
§ MR. GOSCHEN
The expression which has just fallen from my right hon. Friend, with regard to the Vote of Confidence, relieves me from the question I was going to put to him, because I did not understand the Prime Minister to say that he intended to challenge a Vote of Confidence before the Conference, and for this reason —we have not got the materials before us now to be able to come to a conclusion; we have not yet seen the Papers and the declaration made in the French Chambers; and, therefore, discussion at the present moment would be entirely premature. I rise mainly in consequence of an ob- 1126 servation which, I understood, fell from the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition, which seemed to me to contemplate action on the part of the House before the Conference meets. I understood the right hon. Gentleman to suggest that probably it will be his duty to give Notice of some such Motion on an early day, and to express a hope that the meeting of the Conference might only be of a formal character, so that Parliament might take some action before that date. Well, in that case I should like to know what would be the position of Parliament? We understand—the Prime Minister has assured us—that we are to retain the fullest possible liberty of action when the Conference has met; that no argument to the contrary will be used; but that the House of Commons will retain its entire freedom of action. That being so, I put it to the House whether it would not be placing itself in the most disadvantageous position by debating these questions before the Conference meets, and by binding itself without knowing what action is to be taken by the other Powers. I will put a case. Supposing the Leader of the Opposition were to introduce a Motion censuring that part of the Agreement which relates to the evacuation of Egypt by the troops of this country, and supposing he was beaten on that, what would be the position of this country? We should have committed ourselves by a majority to that principle without knowing whether the Conference would be satisfied with the arrangement. All the other Powers of Europe might remain unpledged through their Representatives, while this House would have committed itself to a principle. I feel the same with regard to the Multiple Control. Here, too, we can retain our liberty; and since the Government do not ask for a Vote of Confidence, why should we deliberately attempt to fetter our own liberty by coming to any premature conclusion on the subject? It is not for me to suggest any consideration to hon. Members opposite; but, from their own point of view, they may have an infinitely stronger case after the Conference has met than they can have now, when they must be acting in ignorance of the views of the Powers of Europe with reference to these matters. As we can have the Conference, and, nevertheless, maintain our freedom of 1127 action, it appears to me that it is not while the Representatives of foreign countries are meeting in Conference that it would be desirable to have heated speeches in this House in regard to the action, of Her Majesty's Government, which may be perfectly in place in the debate which is really to decide the question after the Conference has taken place, but which surely would be deplorable before we go into Conference. I venture, with all submission, to make these observations, feeling that my suggestion does not in any way lessen any fair opportunity hon. Members opposite may have of censuring Her Majesty's Government, or prevent any action they may wish the House to take.
§ MR. BOURKE
I quite concur in the remark of the right hon. Member for Ripon (Mr. Goschen) that the House is not in a position at present to discuss the question brought before House by the Prime Minister. I shall, therefore, abstain from criticizing the speech of the right hon. Gentleman with respect to the alterations he is about to propose in the Caisse, and I will refrain from inquiring whether they will not be the best means of keeping open in Egypt those jealousies and rivalries which the various Powers find it to their interest to keep open. I cannot agree as to the value of the concessions made by France. The concession with respect to the Dual Control amounts to nothing, because all Europe knows that the Dual Control has been dead for many years; and it was killed not only by the French Government, but by Her Majesty's Government, and we all know that the despatches written on the subject in name of the Khedive were, in fact, prompted by Her Majesty's Government. With respect to the financial arrangements we are to submit to the Conference, we are entirely in the dark; the proposals will be submitted, and we shall have no means of criticizing them. I will not inquire whether this is not a breach of the agreement entered into with Parliament, that the question for discussion at the Conference should be limited to finance. Nothing could be more distinct than the declaration to Parliament with respect to that, though now we find the whole of that plain engagement thrown to the winds, for the Conference is to have a far wider scope than that of financial considerations, and 1128 the whole question of Egyptian affairs is to be decided. But the fact of the matter is, I wish to record my protest against the course the Government have taken in invoking this Conference at all. After their miserable failure with respect to the Conference on the affairs of Egypt which took place in Constantinople a year and a half ago, I should have thought they would have allowed a long time to elapse before calling a second. In order that England should be at all powerful with respect to Egypt it is absolutely necessary that she should restore order in Egypt, and it is absurd to suppose that any alteration in the Law of Liquidation will put you out of your difficulties in that country. The Law of Liquidation, after all, must be said to be one of the only prosperous institutions in Egypt, and now Her Majesty's Government intend to tamper with that. The weakness of our position arises from the fact that we went to Egypt in defiance of the public law of Europe; we have shown the impossibility of our governing the country; and, therefore, it is not to be supposed that the Powers of Europe will give us their confidence. Under these circumstances, I protest in the strongest way against going into this Conference at all, and I believe we shall come out of it with less power than we take in.
I wish to correct one of the statements made by the right hon. Member. He alluded to what I had described as the concessions made by France. I never spoke of concessions made by France.
§ SIR R. ASSHETON CROSS
Before this question closes there is one point which it would be well to clear up. We were all told some time ago, when these negotiations were going on, that Parliament would have ample opportunities of pronouncing its judgment upon them before the Conference. [Mr. GLADSTONE dissented.] It is no use for the Prime Minister to shake his head; there is not a shadow of a doubt about it; the Prime Minister stated that over and over again. The Prime Minister, in fact, if we are to believe that the Conference meets on Saturday, has been making a fool of the House of Commons. He made this statement with the greatest gravity—"Say what you think of it; on Saturday we are going into the Conference before you can fairly and fully discuss the subject." 1129 But there is another question on which we are entitled to have some information from the Government, even before this preliminary Conference; and that is if we are to be told anything, we must be told something about the whole plan. We are told that certain statements in the public Press have no foundation in fact. There is one matter which is stirring the minds of the people all over the country very materially; and that is, whether we are to be called upon for a loan, or gift, or guarantee for £6,000,000, £8,000,000, or £10,000,000 in order to carry out this arrangement? Now, the Prime Minister has said not one word on that matter; but he may depend upon this—that if it turns out, in the long run, that this £6,000,000 or £8,000,000 has been under the consideration of the Government, and had their consent, that they knew all about it when this statement of to-day was made, then all I can say is, it will be so much the worse for the Government. They may depend upon it the country will not submit to that treatment. I do not want to enter into the details of this question; but I think the country will, at all events, come to the conclusion that there have been negotiations with France, and that Prance has had the best of it. ["Hear, hear!" and " No!"] I think that is the feeling of the country. I do not desire to debate the point. We will see who is right, and who is wrong. All we know now is that France has been induced to come to the Conference, about which, at the present moment, we know nothing. France has made what I may call sham concessions, though that is hardly the word; at all events, concessions was the word used by the Prime Minister. ["No!"] Perhaps it fell from him inadvertently; but I took it down at the time myself. However, I will not quarrel about the particular expression used. As for England, we have given away a vast deal of that position which we obtained for ourselves and for the benefit of Egypt. The question I wish to ask the Premier is, whether any arrangement has been proposed, or is about to be proposed, which would involve this country in the payment of a loan of money, or in giving security for the payment of money, in any form or shape?
MR. JOSEPH COWEN
said, he did not wish to continue the discussion. They 1130 had not sufficient material before them to justify such a course. But, in compliance with the Prime Minister's intimation that he would be willing to answer any questions addressed to him, he would like to have an understanding on two points. First, would he explain the position of the new Caisse? At present, he believed that body consisted of four members—an Austrian, an Italian, a Frenchman, and an Englishman. It was to consist in future of the same number'; but an Englishman was to be President. What he wanted to know was, whether the President would have a casting vote? [Mr. GLADSTONE: Yes.] The other question was this. The Prime Minister had said that the English troops were to leave Egypt at the beginning of 1888, provided Europe was unanimous in desiring that that should be done. ["No, no!"] Well, that was what he understood the Prime Minister to say, and it was better to have the point cleared up. He thought the statement was to this effect—that if, at the end of 1887, order had been established, a stable Government had been formed, and the country was in a condition to permit of the English troops being removed, then they had to be removed if Europe unanimously desired that they should be. Now, what he wished to know was—If one Power or two Powers objected to their being removed, would that be a justification for their remaining?
§ MR. RAIKES
said, that nothing had been said with reference to the interests of Egypt; and he should like to know whether the proposals that had been made between England and France were to be submitted in any shape or form to any of those representative or Constitutional Assemblies which had been devised by Lord Dufferin for the government of Egypt?
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
The Prime Minister has urged the extreme inconvenience of the House discussing the proposals until they have received the sanction of the Conference; but I do not think the right hon. Gentleman appreciates the difficulty which will arise from that course. The Government have laid on the Table the concessions made to France; but we have no power to discuss them now if we wished to do so and give our verdict. If we allow them them to lie on the Table until after the Conference has considered them, 1131 and come to a conclusion, of course the Powers of Europe will assume that we assented to the proposition. That is the only possible conclusion they can draw—that we had these proposals before us for weeks, and had not criticized them or voted upon them. I think it will, therefore, be seen that if our observations are to be of any value they ought to be made as soon as possible. I do not mean that we ought to discuss them to-night. Anyone who has listened to the Prime Minister's statements must have been struck by two omissions. We have heard a great deal about what the right hon. Gentleman describes as the just susceptibilities of France, and also about international law, international justice, and the rights of Europe; but I heard nothing of the rights of the people of this country who have made all the sacrifices of blood and treasure. Nor have we heard anything of the rights of the Egyptian people who are going to be sacrificed in the name of international law and justice. The truth seems to be that the Government have put it in the power of Europe to turn us out of Egypt in three years. But does anyone suppose that in three years the task of the Government will be more than begun? It is our duty not to hand over our liberty of action, either to France or to international control, before we have accomplished the task which we have taken upon ourselves. The Government have from the first moment absolutely ignored the difficulties of the question they had undertaken to solve. In three years you can make no material progress in establishing a suitable and a permanent Government in Egypt; and I say we should be deliberately ignoring duties we have undertaken if we left it in the power of France or of Europe to say—"It is now time for you to leave the country."
§ BARON HENRY DE WORMS
I am surprised at the admonition the Prime Minister gave hon. Members that it would not be wise to discuss the question now. If that is so, why was any statement made by the Prime Minister at all? I remember just before the House rose for the Whitsuntide Recess I excited the ire of the right hon. Gentleman by asking for some assurance that the Government would not commit the country to any particular line of policy without the House being duly in- 1132 formed of it. My impression was that he did give that pledge; but how has that pledge been carried out? The Prime Minister now comes down with only half a statement—a statement with the important question of finance left out altogether—and we are told we are not to discuss it, because by so doing we should prejudice the Conference. That is precisely what we want to do—to prejudice the Conference—[Radical cheers.] — hon. Members should wait for the conclusion of the sentence—if the course to be pursued is one which is to be dictated to us by France. It is now evident that the country has to submit to the will of France. That is the fact, however it may be attempted to disguise it. We are now asked to submit to the demands of France, and then we may discuss the scheme. The right hon. Gentleman took an objection to the statement of the noble Lord that France was to have the lead over the other Powers in reference to this matter.
In speaking on that question I said nothing about the Conference. I referred simply to the preliminary demands for explanations.
§ BARON HENRY DE WORMS
The statement of the right hon. Gentleman strengthens my case, because it shows that the statement had really nothing to do with the Conference, and the whole statement of to-day shows how completely France has taken the lead. I have hoard many surprising statements made from the Ministerial Bench; but I have never heard any statement which has more surprised the House and will more surprise the country than that of the Prime Minister to-day, the effect of that statement being that in three years England is to leave Egypt unless the Powers should think fit to let her remain, having expended an enormous amount of blood and treasure in that country for reasons best known to the Government. I want to know on what grounds the Prime Minister is prepared to give up the advantages we have gained, and to abandon the road to India which we have by means of the Suez Canal, which forms part of our occupation of Egypt, and to allow that road to India to be occupied by any other of the European Powers. The neutralization of the Suez Canal would be fraught with immense danger, for it would mean that, instead of this 1133 country having command of Egypt as a means of getting to India, we should, whenever it became necessary for us to use the Canal, be at the beck and call of the Great Powers. I, for one, strongly object to this plan. I am anxious to maintain good relations with France; but I desire England to preserve a dignified and proper attitude, and I have no wish to see France playing Sir Lucius O'Trigger to the Bob Acres of the Prime Minister. The country is placing itself in a position of humiliation. [Radical cries of "No!"] Hon. Members say "No!" because it suits them to make patriotic considerations subservient to Party ones. That has been shown by recent Divisions. But there is, after all, a stronger tribunal than this House. We are certainly nominally the Representatives of the people; but the honour of this country is dearer to the people themselves than it seems to be to many of those who are returned to represent them.
§ MR. LABOUCHERE
said, he thought it was exceedingly unlikely, after what had fallen from the right hon. Member for Ripon (Mr. Goschen), that they should hear of any Vote of Censure. He was surprised at the some what scanty statement of the Prime Minister. He did not understand from it what the Conference was going to do in matters of finance. They had heard nothing about that £8,000,000 which he had always understood to form part of the scheme. They must, however, accept things as they were. They had had an ample statement of the political intentions of the Prime Minister, and he was not surprised that those intentions had been received with dissatisfaction by hon. Gentlemen opposite; for the Government had always said that they did not intend to remain in Egypt, and they were now doing their best to give effect to their intentions. The House had practically to choose between the Government and Gentlemen opposite; and they might judge what the policy of Gentlemen opposite would be by the remarks of the noble Lord the Member for Woodstock (Lord Randolph Churchill). He presumed the noble Lord spoke with authority, for he was rapturously cheered by the Opposition. That policy would practically be a war with France. The noble Lord said he would decline absolutely to believe any statement made by 1134 the French Ambassador or by the French Government.
§ MR. LABOUCHERE
Of course, if any other statement were put forward it would be "that particular statement;" if they said to a man—" I decline to believe you "
§ MR. LABOUCHERE
Well, when a man declined to set any value on a statement, he did not believe it. Then the noble Lord went on to say that the French Government could not bind the people of France to anything for more than three years, than which nothing more insulting could be said by a prominent Member of that House. There was nothing more stable in a Monarchy than in a Republic; and therefore it would be equally insulting for anyone in France to apply a similar observation to the Government of this country. The House had distinctly to decide between the policy which had been stated by the Government and the policy enunciated by the noble Lord, which would place this country in antagonism with France, if did not lead to war. His (Mr. Labouchere's) own view was that totally irrespective of Party they ought to stand by the Government in the present state of circumstances.
§ MR. ASHMEAD-BARTLETT
I should like to ask the Government whether we are to understand that the consent of England alone is necessary for the evacuation of Egypt in 1888, or whether the consent of the other five Powers will be necessary; and I would also like to know whether the Sultan of Turkey or the Porte have been consulted in regard to this remarkable proposal? Furthermore, I should like to know whether there is any arrangement, formal or informal, by which Her Majesty's Government have engaged to lend a sum of money necessary to meet the financial difficulties which have arisen? I wish also to put on record my protest against the statement of the hon. Member for Northampton (Mr. Labouchere) that the policy of the Conservative Party would tend to a war with France. I would remind him that the late Government, while maintaining the influence and honour of the country, was on 1135 far better terms with France throughout its tenure of power than the present Government has been.
§ MR. LAING
asked if it would not be possible to put Parliament in a better position for dealing with this question by giving earlier information as to the financial part of it. He agreed with the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Ripon (Mr. Goschen) that they could not form a judgment on the case while half of it, and perhaps the most important half, was kept from their knowledge. He thought the matter would present itself to the country, not as a Party question, but as making the best of a bad job. While he felt as strongly as ever against the policy which had led them into this predicament, he also felt that they might have no alternative. They were in the position of a garrison whose commander had allowed the enemy to occupy a height overlooking them, and who then had to call the garrison together to consider terms of capitulation. If he could gauge the opinion of the country, he should say that what it would most strongly object to would be that England should be for three years or longer in the position of a bailiff to collect taxes for the bondholders. That, no doubt, would be the tendency of the Ministerial control, disguise it as they liked, to make this instrument the instrument of squeezing taxes out of the unfortunate Egyptian tenantry. If this country was to advance £8,000,000, and incur the burden of maintaining tranquillity in Egypt for three years to come, the House ought to know the financial conditions under which we assumed this responsibility. Were they such as to hold out a hope for the regeneration of Egypt, or were they such as to make us a mere catspaw to draw the chestnuts out of the fire in the interests of the bondholders? He did not see why the financial proposals that had been matured in the minds of the Government, and which were to be submitted to the Conference, should not be communicated to the House at once. Otherwise the House was placed in a most unfair position. Either they should be obliged to discuss any Vote of Censure that might be brought forward, not knowing whether, if they knew the whole case, they might not be disposed to accept it as the best of a bad job; or, on the other hand, if they did not pass any Vote of Censure, 1136 they should be assumed to have accepted the responsibility, and would be precluded from passing a decision upon the proposals of the Government until they had become a fait, accompli. He did not suppose that the Prime Minister had any wish to indulge in any sharp practice with the House; but he must say the course adopted would have very much that appearance. The Conference was to meet on Saturday next, and these proposals were to be hurried through and decided upon before the Members of that House had an opportunity of knowing anything about the financial part of them. The point he wished to put to the Prime Minister was this —were there any insuperable objections to his explaining the nature of these financial proposals? If those proposals were laid before us we might pronounce an opinion upon them; we might say that we ought not to accept them at all, or else that we might accept them to a certain extent, in order to escape from this unfortunate scrape which we have got into. Why cannot the Government lay their financial proposals before us? They must know what those proposals are. It could not be construed as an insult to the other Powers if Parliament were to be taken into the confidence of the Government on this point. They could then either pass a Vote of Censure on the whole proposal, which would be much more complimentary to the other Powers than to deal with only half the question; or, on the other hand, they could, by expressing their approval, show to the Powers that if they chose to accept those proposals, the British Parliament was prepared to ratify them.
§ SIR H. DRUMMOND WOLFF
I wish to support the Question which the hon. Member opposite has put to Her Majesty's Government. I fail to understand why it is that the Government always choose to divide every important question into two parts, in the same way that they have divided the Franchise Bill from the Redistribution Bill. Now they tell us that one-half of this question belongs to the House of Commons, and that the other half of it is altogether outside their jurisdiction. In the course of his Mid Lothian speeches the Prime Minister asserted very strongly the right of the Crown to make Treaties without consulting Parliament; 1137 and perhaps the Crown would have a perfect right to go into this Conference without having first obtained the sanction of this House. No financial proposals, however, that could bind this country could be entered into without the consent of this House; and yet the Government pretend that they can bind this country by the other shameful and foolish proposals which they have made to the French Government without the consent of this House. I should wish to ask Her Majesty's Government whether they have received any answer from the other Powers in reference to the questions to be submitted to the Conference; and whether it is true that Russia, Austria, and Germany have declined to give any opinion upon them until the Parliament of this country has discussed them? I am assured, upon the highest authority, that such is the case. [Ironical cheers.] I see that the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Home Secretary is smiling; but why does he not answer the question instead of smiling? Perhaps, however, he may be in ignorance on the subject, because the policy of Her Majesty's Government is not to let their left hand know what their right hand does. There is, moreover, the further question with regard to the limit of the period of our occupation of Egypt. It was understood that we were to have an identical statement made in this House to-night with that which was made in the French Chamber to-day; but with regard to the validity of the objection of one single Power to our remaining in Egypt after the expiration of the three years, M. Ferry's statement, as it has reached us, is in direct contradiction to that of the Prime Minister. I saw a Gentleman on the Treasury Bench a short time ago who was very much aghast at the observation which was made by an hon. Member near me to the effect that implicit confidence could not always be placed upon the statement of French Ministers. If, however, we look into the past, and compare the protestations of French Ministers with the actions of the French Government in Algeria, we shall see that it is not unwise to accept such assurances with caution. The right hon. Gentleman now relies upon a mere phrase of an Ambassador, which has not even been reduced to writing, and of the bearing of which it is, therefore, impossible to 1138 judge. I ask the right hon. Gentleman this question—Who is to decide, at the end of the three years, whether the occupation by England of Egypt shall be prolonged? Is that question to be determined by the unanimous opinion of Europe, or merely by a majority of the Powers?
§ MR. W. E. FORSTER
I do not understand the Prime Minister to state that he does not ask for the opinion of the House with regard to the agreement between France and England. I understand the right hon. Gentleman to say that he will wait until he can put before the House and the country the whole of the proposals to be submitted to the Conference, and that he will then ask the House to give a decided opinion upon the matter as a whole. I quite agree with the right hon. Member for Ripon that we should be at present under a great disadvantage in discussing that agreement. We have been told, in the strongest possible terms, that if the Conference does not arrive at any result, the agreement will be so much waste paper. I should, however, like it to be thoroughly understood by the House and by the Government that, in postponing any expression of opinion, we are not to be supposed to be in favour of the agreement. [Lord RANDOLPH CHURCHILL dissented.] The noble Lord shakes his head; but if I am to understand that the Government who made those proposals said that no such opinion will be taken for granted, I shall pay much more attention to that than I do to the noble Lord's gestures, because the Government will be unable afterwards to say—they will be precluded from the possibility of saying—that by the fact that the discussion has been postponed the House of Commons has really practically sanctioned the agreement. There is another reason why I think that my right hon. Friend's suggestion deserves much consideration from hon. Gentlemen opposite. Undoubtedly, it would not be a very dignified position for the Representatives of the Great Powers and the House of Commons to be debating at the same time a matter which might not come to any result. I suppose we should be perfectly in the right in assuming that the Government will be perfectly candid with the Great Powers, and will say to them—"This is our proposal; but we have thought it right to tell the 1139 House of Commons what has been our negotiation with France; you are aware of it; you have seen it in the public papers; and the final consent of England to any proposal must depend upon the action of the House of Commons or of Parliament when the matter is brought before them." And I also understood this, which I think is of some importance, that the course which the Government are taking to-day, and the expression which my right hon. Friend has made, will preclude the Government from being able to state any argument to the effect—" Practically you must assent, because this is the declaration of the Powers of Europe." [Mr. GLADSTONE: Hear, hear!] With this clear understanding, I hope that all parties will be content that the discussion of these proposals shall be postponed. I also think that it would be desirable for the Government to state whether it is intended, if the Conference does not arrive at a result, that there shall be any international or general Treaty between this country and France entered into with or without the assent of the other Powers.
§ LORD JOHN MANNERS
It has been suggested that it will be inconvenient to discuss the subject now, and that the House ought to postpone the consideration of the Papers and of the Prime Minister's declarations until the House is in a position to express its opinion on the result of the Conference. I admit that there is a certain amount of inconvenience in the discussion to which we are invited by the course taken by Her Majesty's Government; but whose fault is that? It is because the Government have been pleased to intercept and interrupt the Business of the country for the purpose of making a statement to which they attach so much importance. Unless the Government propose to ascertain the opinion of the House upon these Papers and declarations, I am at a loss to conceive what object they have in view. The right hon. Gentleman has said that some deference should be shown to the Great Powers of Europe which are about to enter into Conference on Saturday next; and the right hon. Gentleman appears to be under the impression that the Great Powers might deem themselves slighted if the House of Commons were to be discussing the questions raised by these Papers which have been presented 1140 to-night by Her Majesty's Government. It seems to me, however, that if we are to consider the feelings of the Great Powers who have been invited to Conference, they are equally likely to take offence by the course suggested by Her Majesty's Government and by the two right hon. Gentlemen opposite. They might say—"We are called into Conference in London, and when all the Powers of Europe have arrived at a conclusion, then, and not till then, are we to know whether the opinion of the House of Commons will enable Her Majesty's Government to ratify the decision. "While admitting, therefore, that the course taken by Her Majesty's Government is an extremely inconvenient one, I do not see how the House of Commons can avoid facing that inconvenience. I noticed that the right hon. Gentleman, in the course of the speech of my noble Friend the Member for Woodstock (Lord Randolph Churchill), declined to admit that he had made use of the word "concession" as applied to the agreement which England has entered into with France. If my memory is right the word was distinctly used; but as the right hon. Gentleman has withdrawn it, I do not press the matter further. It is significant, however, that the French Prime Minister undoubtedly made use of that word in the Chamber about the same time that the right hon. Gentleman was supposed to have made use of it. In the report which has come to us we read that—"M. Ferry then proceeded to explain the concessions of England." Undoubtedly England has made great and very serious concessions to France. I admit that until we have the Papers before us it would be indecorous to express any definite opinion upon those concessions; but that they are great and serious, I have no more doubt than M. Ferry had when he was addressing the French Chamber. That the demand made by the hon. Member for Orkney (Mr. Laing) and also on this side of the House is a perfectly reasonable one I am prepared strenuously to contend. The Prime Minister himself, answering a Question put to him by my hon. Friend the Member for Greenwich (Baron Henry de Worms) on the 28th of May, stated that the whole of the conclusions which resulted from the communications with France should be presented to Parliament before the Conference met. What 1141 did the right ton. Gentleman mean when he spoke of the whole conclusions that should result from the communications with France? I do not ask what the ingenious mind of the right hon. Gentleman might mean. But I ask what the right hon. Gentleman thought the House understood when they heard those words? Is it possible to understand anything short of this, that the whole scheme, including the financial proposals, would be submitted to the House of Commons before the Conference met? I regret the mode in which this communication has been made to the House; but as it has been so made, I do not see how we can avoid expressing an opinion upon it. If I am compelled in one sentence to express my view of the declarations which we have heard from the right hon. Gentleman, especially with reference to the proposed evacuation at the end of three and a-half years, I should say that the Government were addressing to the people of England that line of Virgil—Sic vos non vobis vellera fertis oves.For the people of England would stand very much in the position of people who had been fleeced for five years and a-half, fleeced in their blood, fleeced in their treasure; and at the end of that period they will be at the beck and call of the Powers of Europe, whether they are to remain in that country on which they have sacrificed that blood and that treasure, or whether they shall be still permitted to seek the consummation of that great work which was undertaken by Her Majesty's Government, as now appears without any due consideration of its magnitude and importance, but to which the people of England have shown that they attach the greatest value, and for the accomplishment of which they have shown that they are prepared to shrink from no sacrifices whatever. There are one or two other questions which I desire, in conclusion, to put to the right hon. Gentleman. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will explain more clearly under what terms the Powers are, after 3½ years' occupation of Egypt by England, to say to her either "stay in," or "go out." I wish also to know whether that is to be done by one, two, or three Powers, or, if the Powers are equally divided, who is to decide whether England is to remain in Egypt, or to evacuate the country? I ask the Prime Minis- 1142 ter whether he will state distinctly to the House what is the conclusion at which he wishes the House to arrive on that subject?
Sir, I have no right to address the House and enter into argument upon this question, to which I only refer for the purpose of saying that I hope it will be understood that it is on account of the want of a right to speak that I refrain from noticing any of the arguments which have been made by the noble Lord, or others, in imputation against Her Majesty's Government. But it is commonly the practice of the House to allow answers to be made to Questions addressed to Her Majesty's Government, and I will give the best answers I can to the great number of Questions which have been put, curiously mixed up with reason and with invective. First of all, I will give an answer to the noble Lord who has just sat down, and who has asked for the terms which are to govern the proceedings of England at the close of the period of three and a-half years. The best thing I can do is to draw the noble Lord's attention to a paragraph in a despatch of Lord Granville. It says—There is some difficulty in stating a fixed date for such withdrawal, inasmuch as any period so stated may prove in the event too long or too short. But Her Majesty's Government, in order to remove any doubt of their policy in this matter, and in view of the declaration made by France, are willing that the withdrawal of the troops shall take place at the beginning of the year 1888, provided that the Powers are then of opinion that such withdrawal can take place without risk to peace and order."—(Egypt, No. 23 , p. 14.)Those are the exact terms which have been used. Then the noble Lord asked whether it means one Power, or two Powers, or three Powers. Well, Sir, my answer to that is, that the phrase, "reference to the Powers of Europe," is one perfectly known to diplomatic practice and history. The European questions have been decided under shelter of that phrase for half a century and more; and nothing could be more invidious than to presume a division of the Powers into separate lobbies or separate parties in such matters. We think it our duty to take the phrase which is known to diplomacy, and we are perfectly confident in its operation. That, I think, is as much of a reply as it is 1143 possible for me to give, except that I may go one point further. I heard some persons say—"Would the dissent of England be of itself sufficient to neutralize the voice of the Powers'?" I must say that I think that if we thought of entering into negotiations so solemn and so important with Prance, and of undertaking to submit ourselves on certain conditions at certain times to the voice of Europe, having in our own minds the intention all the while to neutralize the action of the Powers of Europe by our own resistance when that time arrives, then I do think there would have been occasion to talk about the honour of this country. I cannot answer for the Government of that day when it arrives; but if the present Government are in Office, I have no hesitation in saying that they certainly would not plead the adverse opinion of England in the circumstances of the arrangement into which they have entered with France. My right hon. Friend the Member for Bradford (Mr. W. E. Forster) asked whether any Treaty was intended. Perhaps I may be permitted to say that my right hon. Friend stated with precise and absolute accuracy the case between the Government and the House of Commons. I do not think there was one word which I would wish to alter or modify. With regard to a formal Treaty, I can only say this—that I am not aware that it will be necessary. My right hon. Friend knows that international compacts have been made in substance without a Treaty. I can conceive the Correspondence between France and England being perfect as an international compact, provided the conditions of its operation are retained. I mean that its not being in the form of a Treaty will not in the least influence the action of either Government. The hon. Member for Newcastle (Mr. J. Cowen) asked whether the President was to have a casting vote. My answer is this. It was not competent for England and France to determine that question, as he knows that the Law of Liquidation places the care of the Egyptian Debt under the control of a body in which four Powers are represented. Those four Powers, at any rate, according to the larger and juster view, are entitled to have a vote on the question. But, in point of fact, we intend to propose that the English President of the Commis- 1144 sion of the Caisse should have a casting vote; and I may say, so far as we are able to form a judgment, we think the reasons for the arrangements are so practicable and clear that no serious difficulty would arise on the part of the Powers. The hon. Member for Eye (Mr. Ashmead-Bartlett) asked whether the consent of England will be necessary in 1888. That Question I have answered. The hon. Gentleman also asked whether the Sultan has been consulted. The Sultan has been consulted by communications of our intentions and views, and the proceedings of the Turkish Government have been marked by as much despatch as, perhaps, could be expected. It is to be remembered that the distance from Constantinople is greater for the transmission of despatches as compared with most other countries in Europe. If that be the measure of the Question, I have no doubt whatever that on the part of the Powers of Europe there is every disposition to pay regard to those rights which the Sultan enjoys. My hon. Friend the Member for Orkney (Mr. Laing) asked whether we can give the financial information at once. He says that Parliament cannot form an opinion without it. I do not think Parliament can form an opinion without it. That is my opinion. I have pointed to the time when the information can be given to Parliament, and I have in the most explicit terms said that until that time arrives Parliament would legally, morally, and in every other sense remain in absolute possession of its freedom. I cannot use any stronger words, and then my hon. Friend himself will see how impossible it is for us to do what he has suggested, to lay before the House at this moment the proposals which we intend to lay before the Powers. It is strictly in the nature of an answer to this reference of the financial proposals to the Powers, if I venture to think he is a little mistaken as to the nature of this reference of the financial proposals to the Powers. He appeared to think it was only a communication to them. If it was only a communication to them, and that was the sum and substance of our proposals, then I see no reason why we should decline to make known the financial proposals to Parliament. It is nothing of the kind; but an invitation to them to enter into counsel with us in a matter in which we take the 1145 initiative, and in which every one of them has just as good a right to be heard, to express an opinion, to procure, if they can, a modification of the proposals, as we have ourselves. Was it possible, in these circumstances, to bring out the proposals as of cast iron or steel and submit them to Parliament before going to the Powers? If we did so, supposing the Powers suggested something we believed to be an improvement and a change which ought to be made, what is to happen? The Conference may be absolutely deprived of all liberty, because we knew that the House of Commons had approved something different from it. It is quite plain that you cannot work the financial proposals in the Conference and in the House, and the whole meaning of this demand for the communication of the financial proposals is to put one of the greatest and one of the most responsible functions of the Executive Government into the hands of Parliament. Certainly the House is within its rights when it declines to be committed by what the Executive Government may do without its previous cognizance. But we have fully admitted that, and we have given the most solemn assurances that the liberty of the House will be preserved. I may add, among other reasons, that of the financial crisis in Egypt which we have lost no time in dealing with, and in which we have used our best powers. The financial crisis is of such a character that the casting of the subject abroad by bringing it into this House with prolonged debates, involving complicated points, which would extend from Monday to Thursday and from Thursday to Monday, would be accompanied by the most serious results in Egypt itself. The hon. Member for Portsmouth (Sir H. Drummond Wolff) asked whether Russia, Austria, and Germany have declined to give any opinion on this subject. No; they have not. They have not had time to deal with this subject. I am not prepared to say—I am not at all sure that it is necessary that they should give an opinion; but they have not declined to give any opinion on the subject.
The right hon. Gentleman asks me to enter upon the 1146 subject of the financial proposals. I have just given reasons against that.
§ SIR R. ASSHETON CROSS
Is there any truth in the statement that there will be a loan from this country?
If that were so, would not that be a financial proposal? Is it possible to answer such a question after what I have just said, that the Conference has a right to a perfectly free discussion of the whole of these proposals? We have a right to the use of our discretion, and we have a right to endeavour to make the best arrangements we can, even though they should involve modifications of our own proposals. It is just like a statement of a Budget. What would be our position if we could obtain a cast-iron agreement and say to the Powers—"Your function is reduced to 'Aye' or 'No.' You have no discretion except to take it in the lump or refuse it in a lump." We are not going to insult the Powers of Europe by being parties to any such agreement. Some Gentleman asked me whether these proposals were to be submitted to the Representative Assemblies in Egypt. I am not aware that anything has been devised or will be proposed by Her Majesty's Government which, according to the written institutions of Egypt, would require to be so submitted. I think I have replied to the different points which have been put to me, and I will not press myself further upon the time of the House by any attempt to argue the matters which nave been suggested in debate. The right hon. Gentleman concluded by moving that the Papers do lie upon the Table.