HC Deb 12 June 1913 vol 53 cc1929-34

I beg to move," That this House do now aljourn."


I desire to raise a question, which is giving rise to a great deal of interest outside, and which is an exceedingly serious matter, whichever way it is finally to be settled. I refer to the interpretation put upon the Capitulations in Egypt by the Foreign Secretary. I should like, first of all, to make it perfectly clear that he and the Government are really responsible for what is being done in Egypt. I could quote the dispatches of Lord Granville, written in January, 1883 and 1884, but, in view of the statement made by the right hon. Gentleman himself on the Debate on the Foreign Office Vote, I will not do more than quote that statement. He said, with reference to the Capitulations:— We who are in the position of insisting that the Egyptian Government should take our advice about these matters, would have to go into the question to see whether the Egyptian Government had acted in accordance with the Capitulations or not."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 29th May, 1913, col. 391.] That is perfectly clear, and I am sure the right hon. Gentleman will not resist the further statement I make, as supplementing his own, that the Egyptian Government cannot take any action without his advice. Consequently, in so far as the right hon. Gentleman moves can the Egyptian Government move in this matter. If that is made quite clear the question then arises whether the right hon. Gentleman is right in the attitude he has taken up. He has answered questions and taken part in the Foreign Office Debate in reference to this matter in a way which is really a little amazing. A very distinguished diplomatist and international lawyer has written regarding the answers he gave me on Thursday. He says that from the answers which the right hon. Gentleman gave it is evident that, there is a somewhat deplorable lacuna in his knowledge of the subject, otherwise he could not have committed himself to the view which he expressed. This authority states that under the Capitulations no right of extradition exists whatever. That is not my opinion, but the opinion of one who has written largely upon this subject, and whose name is pretty well known. At this late hour one can only hurriedly rush over the various points. The right hon. Gentleman has told us that his position can only be a negative one. As a matter of fact that is not the position the Porte has taken up in similar cases. I can only give one instance this evening. Since 1881 the Consuls have been claiming certain rights of criminal jurisdiction over their nationals when those nationals are in conflict with the nationals of a different sovereignty. The Capitulations are put quite clearly. If, say, an Englishman and a Frenchman are guilty of something upon which a civil action can lie, they have to be tried by their own Consuls, and those Consuls have done their best to extend that civil jurisdiction in order that it might become criminal jurisdiction. The Porte has demanded that foreign nations demanding capitulatory privileges should establish their claim, but up to this day that clam has not been established. Other cases could be given. I simply give that one to show that the Porte has again and again resisted the encroachment of the Consuls who have tried to extend their rights under these Capitulations. The right hon. Gentleman referred us to the letter of the Capitulations themselves, and he has been good enough to place in the Library two small volumes which give us the terms of these Capitulations. We must remember in reading these that every nation enjoying these privileges enjoys also the Most-Favoured-Nation Clause, so that the Capitulation which is widest and most liberal is also enjoyed by all the others. I do not care which Capitulation he takes. There is not a single expression, there is not a single Clause in the Capitulations which justify the Russian Consul in the action he took the other day in deporting Adamovitz. Moreover, that can be supported by quotations. There is a rule which appears to have grown up to which the interpretation of this Capitulation is subject. There is a statement on that rule by one who previously occupied the position now held by the right hon. Gentleman with reference to Turkey itself:— I think there is one rule more than another which has been observed in modern times by all independent states, both great and small. It is a rule not to deliver up political refugees unless the state is bound to do so by the positive obligation of a treaty— That refers to Turkey, and the implication there is that Turkey is not bound, because it was in a case very similar to this which I am raising that this observation was made— and His Majesty's Government believe that such treaty engagements are few, if indeed any exist. The laws of hospitality, the dictates of humanity, and the general feelings of mankind forbid such surrender, and any independent government which of its own free will were to make such a surrender would he universally and deservedly stigmatised, degraded, and dishonoured. That is an extract from a dispatch written by Lord Palmerston in reference to an application by Russia and Austria to Turkey to extradite certain rebels who had crossed her border. It shows the opinion of the English Foreign Office in those days. No single change in the capitulations affecting political prisoners has been made since this dispatch was written in 1849. I admit that it is very largely a question of precedent. The letter of Lord Cromer in the "Times" to-day given an extract from a report which he himself sent to the Foreign Office. Anyone who reads that will see at once how different Lord Cromer's case is from the Adamovitz case, because Lord Cromer's dispatch begins with the statement that the three Russians who were deported had conspired to blow up a Russian ship then lying in the port of Alexandria, and it was a case where the crime was done in Egyptian territory to a Russian ship and where the accusation would have lain in Egypt. There, of course, the case was one that would come under the Capitulations which were drawn up and agreed upon for the protection of foreign subjects in Egypt. That is not the case which we are raising, and it must not be taken as a parallel or precedent. The great case was that of 1849 when Russia and Austria united to get deported a certain leader with from 3,000 to 5,000 others, and in presenting their case they simply detailed every consideration that told in their favour and never mentioned the Capitulations, though they executed them just as they do now. This case is absolutely unanswerable so far as precedent is concerned. The right hon. Gentleman ought to have protected the party's rights. He is now their custodian so far as Egypt is concerned. He has failed to protect those rights, and has allowed the Russian Consul to take an action which may be repeated to-morrow very much to the detriment of the good name of this country and the safety of subjects of Russia and Egypt. I hope that even now it is not too late for the right hon. Gentleman to take action, because he is not precluded from doing so under the Capitulations.


The Capitulations have come to me as a matter of practice if not of express Treaty rights. What the practice is, in the opinion of the distinguished man who had himself to do with that practice— Lord Cromer—is stated in a letter to the "Times" by him to-day. He refers to a Report of his in which he dealt with a particular case, and he goes so far as to say that a foreign Consul may demand one of his nationals to be given up to him without alleging any charge at all. This statement is made in the Annual Report of Lord Cromer for the year 1906-7, and that is the view of one who had to deal with the question of deportations and the practice which he found in Egypt at the time he wrote that Report. The hon. Member who has just spoken has made various assumptions about this case. He has assumed that Adamovitz was a political refugee, and he assumed that no charge was brought against him for anything that was done in Egypt. I have confined myself to saying that I do not know what charge was made against him, and I understand the practice of the Russian Consul was not to state the charge. I do agree with the hon. Member on one point, as to the Capitulations being a matter of practice and not of express treaty provisions. It is very desirable that the practice should be closely watched and that you should not have the rights of the Capitulations extended by cases occurring which are an extension of the practice. What I propose, therefore, to do in this case is to get a full report of what actually happened, and a full report of what has been the practice before. When I have that full report I will look at it, and compare what has happened in this case with what happened in previous cases, so as to form an opinion whether there was any extension of the practice in this case or not. I will lay the Papers before the House, and I will endeavour to get that done before the Foreign Office Vote or before the Session closes or on some opportunity so that the House may not be precluded from discussing the case with full information before it, because I agree on this point that the practice must be carefully watched, and it is very undesirable that there should be an extension of the practice allowed to go on. We have really arrived, without reference to cases of this kind at all, at the conclusion that it is most desirable that the Capitulations should be modified, because of the way in which they hamper the development of Egypt itself. I should deprecate its being thought that we want to alter the Capitulations in order to make Egypt an asylum for political refugees of all kinds, because that undoubtedly would make it exceedingly difficult to get the consent of the other Powers to a modification of the Capitulations. But I see great inconvenience and impediment to the free exercise of its own rights by the Govern- ment of Egypt, and I think that raises the whole question of the modification of these powers. As regards this particular case, I will find out exactly what has occurred and compare it with previous cases.


I am sure we are very grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his reply to-night. With reference to what he has said about Lord Cromer's opinion, that is merely an opinion and is not covered by the facts here. We have not hitherto had any actual case which is a precedent for this case. I think if my right hon. Friend and the Under-Secretary had adopted this tone a little earlier it would have avoided the necessity for this discussion.

It being half-past, Eleven of the clock, Mr. SPEAKER adjourned the House without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.

Adjourned at Half after Eleven o'clock.