HL Deb 17 March 1882 vol 267 cc1125-6

asked the noble Earl the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, Whether he had any objection to repeat the answer he made to a Question in that House on the previous evening—that answer not having been fully or accurately given in any of the newspapers of that morning—with reference to the subject of the taxation of European residents in Egypt? He understood the noble Earl to say that no opposition would be offered by this country to the taxing of European residents in the same manner and to the same amount as the Egyptians were taxed; and he further understood the noble Earl to say that other European Powers had given a similar assent.


The answer which I gave yesterday to the noble Earl's Question—although, I am afraid, in too low a voice—was that Her Majesty's Government had recognized a year ago—in March, 1881—that the Egyptian Government had a right to put an equal tax on the houses of foreigners as on those of Natives; that the other Powers had taken a similar view, but that some of them had since raised a question as to the manner in which the tax should be assessed; and that the Correspondence was not yet complete.


The misunderstanding which appears to have occurred last night does not occur exclusively in the case of the noble Earl, and is not due alone to his low voice, but it takes place in the case of all Ministers, and is largely due to the acoustic qualities of the House. I would suggest, as a matter worthy of consideration, whether, in view of the fact that answers from the Ministerial Bench are treated as documents of State in every part of the world, the time has not come when some authentic form should be given to them, and whether it might not be possible, in order to avoid doubt as to their exact words or meaning, to make them part of the Proceedings of the House, and to have them printed in the Votes. I do not ask for an answer to this suggestion now; but the inconvenience of such misunderstandings as have taken place pressed itself strongly on my mind when I was in Office, and it must have occasionally occurred to the noble Earl.