HL Deb 20 June 1882 vol 270 cc1724-30

in rising to ask the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, What measures Her Majesty's Government have taken or intend to take to exact reparation for the murder and outrage of British subjects in Alexandria, and for the future security of the lives and property of our fellow-countrymen in Egypt? said, their Lordships were only too well aware of the grave state of affairs in Egypt, and of the catastrophe which had occurred at Alexandria, in which the lives of more than 200 Europeans had been sacrificed, and in which British subjects had been outraged and slaughtered under the guns of the British Fleet. Thus valuable lives had been sacrificed and the national flag insulted. That unfortunate circumstance had caused a great panic among the European population, and last week had witnessed the terrible spectacle of the whole European population flying from the country, and undergoing all the distress incidental to such an event. It would not be the proper occasion on which to enter upon the various considerations which might be brought forward in a debate upon this subject, or to enter into the causes which led to this disaster; but he might be permitted to remark that much of the evils which had occurred and of the misfortunes which had arisen might, in his humble judgment, be attributed to the departure by Her Majesty's Government from the traditional policy of this country, the policy of Lord Aberdeen and of Lord Palmerston, a policy which was ably carried out by Lord Stratford de Redcliffe, and which was continued under the Administration of Lord Beacons-field—namely, that we should maintain the independence and integrity of the Turkish Empire. They had allowed the peace of that country to be disturbed and the rights of the Sultan in Egypt to be interfered with; in other words, they had allowed him to be stripped of his Sovereign rights over a very large part of his Empire. Her Majesty's present Advisers had recognized the loss by Turkey of her Sovereignty in Tunis, and so, in his opinion, they had alienated the Government of Turkey. At all events, that policy had not the effect of conciliating that Government, and he believed it had engendered feelings of hostility to us on the part of the population of the Turkish Dominions. With regard to the immediate cause of this outbreak, it must be matter of regret to everyone that the policy of Her Majesty's Government in the East had not been successful. One main condition of that policy was the dismissal and banishment of Arabi Pasha; but that condition had been treated with contempt. In his opinion, the Government had no right to make demands without the means of enforcing them, or without providing the necessary machinery for that purpose. The result had been that this country had lost the prestige and power which it formerly possessed. But it was, perhaps, more important now to inquire what were the measures which Her Majesty's Government proposed to take in the present circumstances. Statements had been made in "another place" which were vague and uncertain. They knew from the noble Earl (Earl Granville) that Her Majesty's Government had augmented the Fleet and had provided transports for fugitives; but apart from that no statement had been made as to the means which had been taken to meet the requirements of the case, and to secure the safety of those who remained in Egypt. They knew that Her Majesty's Government had proposed a Conference, and he believed the proposal had been accepted by the other Powers. But had it come to this—that we were to look to a Conference of the European Powers to demand the adoption of those measures which the outrage and murder of our fellow-countrymen called for? Was the Conference to exact reparation for the murder of British subjects, and to assess the compensation which she was entitled to claim? He considered that to adopt such a course, instead of at once demanding and insisting on reparation, would be to dishonour the country. He believed the Government of England was the best judge and the only authority that had a right to demand reparation for the injury done to British subjects. He would not pursue the subject further. Other opportunities would, no doubt, occur for bringing forward the subject. But he hoped their Lordships would learn that Her Majesty's Government wore determined to take more vigorous measures, and that they would not allow the honour and prestige, the influence and the power of England to be sacrificed, or England any further to be humiliated. He hoped also that steps would be taken to secure the property of Europeans in Egypt, considering that it was the high road to our Indian Empire. The noble Earl concluded by asking the Question which stood on the Paper in his name.


My Lords, the noble Earl has asked the Question of which he has given Notice, and he has added a certain amount of argument, which he was perfectly entitled to do. I have ventured to urge upon your Lordships, and it appeared to be generally acquiesced in by the House, that it was not desirable that the general policy of the Government with regard to Egypt should be debated piecemeal. There were, however, one or two subjects on which the noble Earl touched with regard to which I will make a few remarks. The noble Earl attributed all that has happened to our having departed from the policy of previous Governments as to the maintenance of the integrity of the Ottoman Empire. My Lords, I will only say that on coming into the Government we found the integrity of the Ottoman Empire somewhat diminished by arrangements immediately owing to former circumstances and to the provisions of the Treaty of Berlin. Our policy was to carry out the arrangements of that Treaty; but beyond that we have endeavoured, as our policy shows, to maintain entirely the integrity of the Ottoman Empire as defined by that Treaty, and it is certainly not with regard to Egypt that Her Majesty's Government have been at all slack to maintain the tie existing between the Sovereign of Egypt and Egypt itself, or in any way helped to diminish the Sovereignty of the Sultan. There was another point on which the noble Earl touched, and in which I entirely agree with him. It was this—that with regard to outrages on British subjects and loss of their lives or property, we have not to address other countries, but have a right to judge ourselves what satisfaction or reparation we want. Sir Edward Malet has been instructed to make it clearly understood that Her Majesty's Government will require full reparation and satisfaction for the outrages committed during the late disorder at Alexandria. Notice will be given to all British subjects in Egypt to register at the Consulate the claims they may have to put forward, and a similar Notice will be given to the relatives of those who have been unfortunately killed. My Lords, instructions have been given to the Admiral which we believe will be sufficient in case any further disturbance takes place at Alexandria, and we have been informed by the French Government that they have also given instructions to their Admiral to concert with ours the measures that would be taken in this contingency. I believe I have now answered the Question of the noble Earl.


My Lords, I hope I shall not be accused of a desire to embarrass the Government on such a delicate question as this if I venture to supplement the remarks of my noble-Friend (the Earl of Feversham); particularly as the answer of the noble Earl opposite did not quite completely meet the Question asked by my noble Friend. My noble Friend asked, as I read his Question, for information on three distinct points—first, as regards reparation for the murder of British subjects; secondly, as regards loss of property; and, thirdly, as to the security to be taken for the future. Now, the question of compensation enters into two of these subjects—the loss of life and the loss of property. For the first of these it is, unhappily, impossible to make adequate compensation, and it is hardly possible even that compensation should be made of such a nature and form as to give any satisfaction for such losses; but, as regards compensation for loss of property, that, of course, is a different matter. I gather from the noble Earl opposite that an application has been made on this subject, and that some communication, of which I do not distinctly understand the nature, is to pass, or has passed, by means of the British Consul. It seems to me, however, that there is this very considerable difficulty, and that we must ask the question from whom is this compensation to be claimed? There can be but three persons to whom such a claim can be addressed. Is it Tewfik? He may have the best will in the world, but he has no power. We have pledged ourselves to his support, and, recognizing him as the de facto and de jure Ruler of Egypt, it would be only conformable to practice that our application should be made to him; but, as I have said, he is powerless and is a fugitive from his own capital. Is it, in the second place, Arabi to whom you will make application? He has the power, no doubt; but he is the sworn enemy both of England and of France, and it seems to me that you are hardly in a position to address such a demand to one whom you have constantly denounced and whose banishment you require. Is it, then, in the third place, from the Sultan, as Suzerain, that you require compensation? No doubt you have a fair case for going to him; but, if you do so, you restore him to a position in which, as I should have thought, the Government would not wish to place him. But from one of these three parties compensation, if obtained, must come; and this is the question which Her Majesty's Government must seriously consider. But it is necessary not only to exact reparation for what has been done, but also to consider what measures are to be taken for preventing any future outrages to life and property. Unless you do this effectually, not only do you expose the country to the danger of recurring disorder, but you run the risk of destroying those resources from which your reparation is to come. At present trade is paralyzed in Egypt, banks are shut up, and postal communications, I presume, no longer follow the accustomed route. I read in the newspaper to-day that the telegraph to Cairo has been stopped, and that all the telegraph functionaries have left. Then, again, you have to take security for the safety of the lighthouses along the Bed Sea, on which such enormous interests depend. That, I hope, has not escaped the attention of Her Majesty's Government. Lastly, there is the question of the Suez Canal and its maintenance and preservation from injury. Last night I heard the declaration of the Government that they were truly alive to the importance of this question; but I read the other day a statement which, if true, was, at least, singular on the part of the Prime Minister, that it was hardly possible to do any serious mischief to the Canal. But those who at all understand the nature of the Canal, and the risks to which it is exposed at such a time as this, will be at a loss to know how such a statement could be made. As regards permanent injury, it may, of course, require a long time to accomplish it; but as regards temporary injury, everyone who knows the nature of the Canal is aware that it might be easily blocked, and that the passage might be stopped for several weeks. It was only to-day that I heard that a very serious block has occurred in the Canal; that the pilots have taken their departure, and that ships at one end— and I believe at the other also—are assembled in largo numbers unable to pass through. These are all very serious matters arising out of the Question of my noble Friend, and they have not been met by the answer given by the noble Earl opposite. There is one other point on which I must touch. The noble Earl mentions that transports have been provided for the refugees, and, no doubt, it is very wise and proper to take this step; but if what I have heard is true, a very large number of these refugees are bound for British territory in Malta and elsewhere, and I should be glad to know whether any measures have been taken for providing them with sustenance and the means of life. I need only add that I quite recognize the force of the appeal of the noble Earl and his argument that it is unwise to embarrass the Government; but, at the same time, the Government must remember that we have had remarkably little information vouchsafed to us on this subject, and that, if they had any success to point to, the House would bear their reticence better than it does at the present moment. The Papers that have been presented record only what occurred a few months ago, and have no value as regards current events or present difficulties; and we can get no information with regard to that which is essential at the present moment to the honour and interests of the country.


said, in answer to the Question which the noble Earl had put with regard to the refugees there, that he had telegraphed to the Governor of Malta and to the Commissioner of Cyprus, to which places, no doubt, large numbers of British subjects were proceeding, and those officials would take such steps as were necessary, as had been done in the recent case of the refugees from Tunis. He declined to follow the noble Earl in his remarks upon the political situation, because he must say that, on a subject so grave as this, piecemeal discussion, arising out of an answer to a Question, was not at all likely to advance the interests of the country.


Our complaint, my Lords, is that we can only discuss this question in a piecemeal manner until we have before us the Papers on which alone a discussion can be based; and, unfortunately, on this occasion Her Majesty's printer is the close ally of Her Majesty's Government. If the business of the printing office went on as rapidly as affairs in Egypt, and if the printer were as energetic as Arabi Pasha, I should at once recognize the wisdom of the objections urged by the Government; but as things are, I must say that either the printer or the Government is trying the patience of both Houses of Parliament in putting off the discussion of a question in which the country is beginning to feel a most intense interest, and which nearly concerns vast numbers of Her Majesty's subjects. I am sure that the answers given by the noble Earl opposite will appear to many whose whole future is bound up in the issue which this question may take as scarcely worthy of the gravity of the subject.

[The subject then dropped.]