§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
My Lords, I wish to ask the noble Earl the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, Whether he is in a position to give the House any information with respect to the state of affairs in Egypt?
§ EARL GRANVILLE
My Lords, the state of affairs in Egypt is, as your Lordships are too well aware, of a very serious character. Notwithstanding the courage and resolution shown by the 1772 Khedive, Arabi Bey may be said to be for the time de facto ruler of the country. His power being based only on the Army, and not on the will of the country, he may proceed to political extremities. Her Majesty's Government have taken measures to secure the life and property of Europeans in Alexandria. There have already arrived three vessels, and the French have also three vessels there. Three more vessels of ours will arrive, I hope, this evening or to-morrow morning, and I hope a similar contingent of the French Squadron will arrive at the same time. We believe there is some exaggeration in the alarm as to the personal safety of Europeans; and I may state that there is no tear with regard to the maintenance of our telegraphic communications with that country. The importance of securing the safety of the Suez Canal has not been overlooked. We have thought it right to advise the Sultan—and in that we have not only the support of France, but the express support of all the Powers—to advise the Sultan to support the Khedive, and reject the accusations made against him by ex-Ministers, and to summon to Constantinople the three officers at the head of the military movement. At the stage which matters have now reached, it seemed desirable that the flag of the Sovereign should be represented at Alexandria, and we have suggested to the Sultan that a Turkish officer should be sent there in an Ottoman man-of-war. We have agreed to a proposal of the French Government for a Conference of the Powers and of Turkey, at Constantinople, on the basis of the maintenance of the status quo in Egypt, and to settle the measures necessary to put an end to the present crisis. This proposal is entirely in harmony with the principles of policy which I have laid down in communications to M. Gambetta and to M. de Freycinet, and with the declarations which have been jointly made by the two Governments to the other Powers and to Turkey. I propose now to present to the House certain Papers with regard to Egypt; and I hope, after communication with the French Government, to be able to lay on the Table further Papers extending to a very late date.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
On the occasion of a recent answer of the noble Earl, I was glad to be able to say 1773 that, so far as I could see, there was no objection to be taken to it. I regret to say that I am wholly unable to make a similar observation with respect to the statement which has just been made. As I understand the noble Earl, the measures that Her Majesty's Government have taken in this grave crisis are to send some more ships to Alexandria; to suggest to the Sultan that he might float his flag in Alexandria; to ask for a Conference at Constantinople; and to suggest further to the Sultan that he should invite Arabi Pasha to Constantinople. I think it is not hazarding a very audacious prophecy to say that Arabi Pasha will politely but firmly decline that invitation. The point which, as far as I can interpret their language, appears to have escaped the attention of Her Majesty's Government is that, whatever the European Conference may undertake to do or decide, Her Majesty's Government are in honour bound, as deeply as any nation can be, if we have been rightly informed, to do two things. First, they have demanded—I am under correction if the telegram in the newspapers is wholly inaccurate—but I understand them to have demanded that Arabi Pasha and his colleagues shall be removed from Egypt, or at least that Arabi shall be removed from Egypt and his colleagues sent into the interior, and they have stated their intention of exacting in case of necessity the fulfilment of this demand. Now, no decision which the European Conference may come to will relieve Her Majesty's Government of the necessity of acting up to the demand which they have so solemnly made, and of giving effect to the threats by which they have not only pledged the honour of their own country, but have also guided the action of those who are our partizans in Egypt and of the Khedive himself. The other point in respect to which Her Majesty's Government seem to me to be deeply pledged is to maintain the safety of the Khedive, who has implicitly followed their counsels; and who, if he now finds himself in a position of danger, will feel that it is because he has obeyed the directions and trusted to the promises of the Western Powers. My Lords, these are very grave duties incumbent upon Her Majesty's Government as the result of their own acts; and no consultation at Constantinople, no invocation of the European Concert, 1774 can in the very faintest degree diminish the burden or stringency of those obligations. There is one other point on which I wish to ask the noble Earl a Question. I am aware that he is not fond of giving answers to Questions put without Notice, and it is possible that he may refuse to give an answer in the present case; but a statement of a very grave character, and coming from Alexandria, has just been put into my hands. I am told, and that on what I believe to be good authority—There are 6,000 soldiers in Alexandria. For four days they have been erecting six formidable earthworks all round the harbour. The English and French Governments will not let the Fleets stop them, although it could be easily done now. The whole of the Native population are with Arabi Pasha since his return to Power.I cannot, as I said, expect Her Majesty's Government to give me an answer as to this without Notice; but if they are deliberately allowing these forts to be built, and are refusing to allow the Fleets to take the precautions which at once, and without any breach of International Law, would put a stop to these works, I think they are running a great risk and are taking a most imprudent course. In conclusion, I will only express the hope that this European Conference will not be distinguished for the protracted councils by which Conferences are known to be marked, and that the negotiations with the Porte, whatever they are, may be speedy. The crisis does not brook delay. The state of comparative prosperity and order that was set up in Egypt is already seriously impaired and its very existence menaced. The lives of persons whom we have induced to act under our counsels are imperilled by delay, and all the responsibility will fall on the head of the two Western Powers, and, as far as we are concerned, on the heads of Her Majesty's Government, if they permit these—as it seems to me—superfluous negotiations at Constantinople to interfere with the primary duty of prompt and effective action.
§ EARL GRANVILLE
I will only say one word in reply to the noble Marquess. I am not surprised that your Lordships should feel anxious to know what information the Government have to give, and I think your Lordships may also, at the moment when success has not 1775 been obtained, wish to hear the explanation of Her Majesty's Government; but I can conceive nothing more inconvenient than that the discussion on the conduct of Her Majesty's Government should take place piecemeal, and not as a whole, and in the perfect manner which will be possible in a very short time The only other word I should like to say in regard to the appeal which the noble Marquess has made with respect to the responsibility attaching to Her Majesty's Government to act up to their pledges is, that we do not shrink from that responsibility in the slightest degree; but, with our knowledge of all the circumstances of the case, we must be left to judge as to the best and most effective means of fulfilling those pledges.