§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY rose to call attention to affairs in Egypt and to move for Papers. The noble Marquess said: My Lords, the Notice which stands in my name is very simply drafted and follows a. form of words very familiar to your Lordships, but I would like to say that the Motion for Papers, although I have no intention, of course, of pressing it to a Division, has a more specific 180 meaning than obtains in ordinary cases. I feel very strongly, both in respect of this question and of others, that the people of this country require rather fuller information than they at present possess. That is the principal reason why I have ventured on the present occasion to bring this subject under your Lordships' notice.
§ A good deal was said a short time back about secret diplomacy, and we were told that the old bad times had gone, and that in future we might expect arrangements under which the people would be taken much more into the confidence of the Government as to public negotiations. Those were vain hopes. I cannot say that I very much believed that they would take substantial form, but so far from there being any improvement upon the old state of things we have distinctly gone back. The people of this country know rather less, instead of more, as to what is being done in their name than they did before the war. If these were times of tranquillity in which great events were not passing, perhaps we should be willing to acquiesce in such a system, but, on the contrary, great events are passing. I may say that changes of a most profound kind are threatening the Empire on every side. I must not shrink from the word. We feel as if we were approaching a period of disintegration, and therefore there is not less but more reason than there was formerly that the people of this country, who are principally concerned, should know exactly what their rulers are about.
§ Ministers do not seem to have very settled convictions. They seem to grasp at a policy at the last moment, not commanding events but compelled by them; and whether we look at Ireland or India, at Poland or Syria we feel no security that a settled policy has been thought out and pursued by His Majesty's Government. need not dwell upon Ireland—your Lordships were engaged on that subject two days ago—but it is quite clear that something is being concealed from the people of this country in respect of Ireland. In India nothing was more apparent, whatever may be thought of the merits of the policy which was pursued, than that in point of fact the hands of Parliament and the country were forced, and that there was no intention of really taking them into the full confidence of the Government before decisions were arrived at from which there was no retreat. In Poland and in Syria 181 no one knows what are the engagements of the Government nor how they are fulfilling them.
§ It is significant that the old practice, the peace practice, of laying Blue-books before Parliament has apparently been entirely abandoned. Why have we not Papers upon Poland and Syria? In the old days, after important events had occurred a Blue-book was prepared and laid before Parliament. The telegrams which had passed, with certain necessary limitations in the public interest, were published, a great Despatch embodying the policy of the Government was printed, the replies of the Foreign Governments concerned were all there. It was possible for Parliament and the country to realise what case the Government placed before the country and the answers which had been made on behalf of the other parties to the negotiations, and so to arrive at a just judgment. After all we are, or we used to be, a self-governing country. It is the business of the people themselves to see that their interests and honour are preserved. They cannot do so unless they have the necessary information, and I suggest that the Government must get rid of their war notions, of the idea that the country is willing to trust them blindfold, as they did and rightly did during the war, and must once more put on what I might call their peace clothes and submit, as their predecessors have always done, to the judgment of the country.
§ And what about Egypt? What do we know of the policy of the Government in Egypt? There has been a certain amount of information in the Press but I do not think that since the Parliamentary Paper which was laid with respect to the rebellion in that country any papers have been placed before Parliament.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
That is perfectly true. We have had Lord Allenby's Report, but that was the usual Report dealing with the internal affairs of Egypt, its prosperity and its financial arrangements, and had nothing to do with the great political issues which are pending in that country. There must be some correspondence. I have no doubt that Despatches and certain telegrams must have passed between His Majesty's Govern- 182 ment and the High Commissioner. Two High Commissioners have come home. They were not treated, I understand, with any very great courtesy. Sir Henry M'Mahon and Sir Reginald Wingate were available for information. Were they consulted? Are there any Papers which give their opinion? These were the men on the spot. Then, of course, there is the Mission of the noble Viscount opposite, for which I am quite certain the whole country is very grateful. There must have been instructions prepared for him—at least if the Foreign Office is carried on as it used to be—stating what the problem was, what he was called upon to investigate, and the limits within which the Government authorised him to act. All these things were no doubt set out in writing and ought to be laid before Parliament.
But above all things what we want is a spirit of confidence between the Government and the country. We want to be quite sure that the Government are determined that the country should be made aware of their policy and proceedings. We want to be quite sure that they realise that it is not only a question between the Government and the Egyptian people or those who speak in their name, but that the British public and Parliament are involved, indeed more involved than any one else, and are entitled to the fullest information at the proper time. I do not want to pose as a great authority on Egypt. If I made any such claim I am quite certain that it would be a case of "pride going before a fall," but during all my political life Egypt has been a very important part of the political interests which were before the country.
On the whole we have no reason as a country to be ashamed of the achievements for which we are responsible in Egypt. It is a magnificent chapter of British activity. We found the country a prey to every conceivable sort of corruption and political embarrassment. We rescued it and restored its finances; we established good laws, order, and good government. All this was done by a brilliant set of Pro-Consuls, with immense trouble by the British Government at home, the expenditure of a great deal of British money and the loss of many valuable British lives. Perhaps the finest part of our achievement was in the Sudan, where a handful of British officers, as I have seen myself, governed that enormous area, protecting 183 the poor and the weak, and establishing the Pax Britannica so that the Sudan was as safe as any county in England. These are fine achievements forming part of the great mission which as a nation we have undertaken in the world.
I remember talking to a great French statesman some years ago upon the subject of Egypt, and he told me how much in France our methods were admired, and how in late years the French Government had sent officers from Algiers in order to study how our system worked and why it was so successful. This great mission which we have achieved has not only been of high importance in itself, but has left us with very grave responsibilities. You cannot do that sort of thing and wash your hands of the place. You are responsible not to the intelligentsia of Egypt, but to the unfortunate peasantry. They are by far the largest part of the population. They were the people for whom we did so much when we rescued Egypt from anarchy; they are the people who have been the greatest sufferers from misgovernment if by any action of ours they have been left without sufficient protection. There is the Sudan itself, where the loss of our controlling power might bring back all those awful scenes of barbarism which most of us can remember and from which we saved the peole.
Last of all we have a responsibility to our own Empire—that is to say, a responsibility for maintaining in its integrity that power by which we are able to govern our Empire and to confer the benefit of our rule upon numberless other populations in the East. These things are not going to be allowed to drift away in deference to sonic phrase like "self-determination." I suppose there is no word which is going to do more harm in politics than that. Of course it involves a great and a noble idea, but it has to be interpreted with the greatest reserve; and the idea that we are to abandon the peasantry of Egypt, or the people of the Sudan, or the responsibility of our Empire, because an American statesman who has already lost the confidence of his own countrymen invented the phrase "self-determination," appears to me to be a conclusion. from which every practical statesman will rebel.
What has been the policy of His Majesty's Government? If I wish to criticise the policy it is not so much that it is a wrong policy as that it has been no policy at all, 184 until at any rate the noble Viscount took a hand. Up to the time of the war the policy of the British Government in Egypt was clear. We were engaged upon the successive and progressive development of good government in that country. It is not that we were opposed to constitutional change. On the contrary, unless my memory deceives me, both the great father of my noble friend who sits upon the Cross Benches and Lord Kitchener were always anxious to move along the path of self-government. I think it was almost the last act of Lord Kitchener, before he left in order to take up his great work in the war to inaugurate a further step in a policy of self-government in Egypt. Even after the war began we still pursued the same line. When the Protectorate was proclaimed it was thought that we should be able more effectively to carry out our great task, because it had, or it was hoped that it would have, the effect of simplifying our position. We could get rid of all that hampered us. I believe it was thought that we would get rid of everything that hampered us owing to undue interference under the Capitulations of Foreign Powers. That was a consistent. policy.
What has happened since? For a long time there was nothing but a policy of delay, of drift, of uncertainty. I feel that there is something rather ungracious in saying these things about the hard-worked Ministers of those days, and I should like, if I may say so to your Lordships, that it should not be thought that because one finds fault with a policy one necessarily condemns the Ministers who were deeply occupied in the war and were responsible for the policy. But facts are stubborn things. Whatever may be said by way of excuse for Ministers, a bad policy always produces bad results, and it is with that, of course, that your Lordships as practical men have to deal. There was a policy of drift—and drift in the face of remonstrance. It was not as if our representatives on the spot made no sign. On the contrary, they were always telling the Government that they must have a policy.
§ EARL CURZON OF KEDLESTON
I should like to say that while listening to 185 the noble Marquess I have been at a loss to understand when the period of a definite policy was succeeded by a policy of drift and imbecility and delay, and if the noble Marquess will kindly define the date I shall be in a much better position to answer him.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
I never accused my noble Friend of imbecility. It would be rude. The policy of drift began almost after the proclamation of the Protectorate. It was perfectly clear that from that time onwards the Government would have to be prepared with a policy which was to succeed the war. My noble friend, I am sure, agrees with that. The Government were told by the people on the spot, but that had no effect on His Majesty's Government. They did nothing. They may have considered it—I was not in their counsels—but they did nothing and it drifted on, and indeed nothing happened until the end of the war in the way of making preparation for a time when a policy must be produced.
The moment the war came to an end it was apparent how necessary it had been to be ready, because the Egyptian Nationalists moved at once. Immediately after the Armistice the troubles in Egypt began. I need not recall to your Lordships the series of events. It was quite obvious that His Majesty's Government had no clear ideas of what ought to be done. When the Nationalists defied the authority of the British power in Egypt they were at first met with vigour. Four of their leaders were deported to Malta. A rebellion at once broke out, His Majesty's Government immediately gave way, and the four leaders were allowed to return to Egypt. I have no doubt there were reasons, of which my noble friend may be able to inform your Lordships, for this policy, but it was wholly unsuccessful, as a feeble policy always is. It did not conciliate anybody. There was at once or almost at once what may be called a "strike" according to the terminology of the day; the Civil Servants struck, I think; everybody struck who could strike, and the policy of releasing these Nationalist leaders was abortive.
Then in May of last year the Government said that something must be done, and they did the best thing, I think, that they could do in the circumstances—they 186 went to my noble friend Viscount Milner and asked him to undertake a mission to Egypt. That was a good policy if it had been at once pursued, but there was another delay. I do not know the reason. I suppose there were other events which intervened. But nothing effectual was done between May and November, and it was not until November that my noble friend landed in Egypt. I hope I have the dates right. He will correct me, I am sure, if I am wrong; I have no intention, I need hardly say, of stating what is not the case.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
If he will allow me to say so, the noble Viscount was not very well received there. He had to carry out his mission under very great difficulties, which, as we should expect front him, he faced very manfully. One of the reasons why these difficulties were presented to him was that there had been all this delay. I cannot pretend to be an authority upon the East, but I imagine that the one thing which is fatal in dealing with Orientals is that there should be the appearance of irresolution, of want of self-confidence, and of want of certainty as to what, ought to be done. The proceedings of the Government may not have been so, but they appeared to be full of irresolution and want of self-confidence as to the policy which ought to be pursued.
I have recalled these incidents in the recent history of Egypt becaue I feel that some justification is needed for a certain attitude of want of trust in Ministers in respect of these matters of great policy. I wish I could be sure that in any one of these great theatres of policy which I have mentioned the Government had really fixed principles and fixed intentions. This is not anything personal to my noble friend; I have very great confidence in the noble Viscount who undertook this mission. I should be quite happy as to the future if I felt that supposing these distinguished Ministers did not get their way they would resign, but I feel perfectly confident they will not.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
Here, I am sorry to say, and for a very good 187 reason. I am not calling in question the good faith of my noble friend, but Ministers appear to have a feeling that it is so important to maintain the Government in being that that is almost more important than anything else, and consequently—though I am sure, judging from what I see, that their sound advice must be overridden again and again—they do not take the course which Ministers used always to follow—namely, to decline to be responsible for a policy with which they cannot agree. I quite understand their motive, even if I do not altogether agree with the conclusion which they draw.
It is only for that reason, and with very great diffidence, that I shall venture to put forward, if I may be allowed to do so, one or two considerations which it seems to me ought to govern a settlement in Egypt. I do not mean to go into details. I am quite certain that I am neither qualified nor prepared to give anything like an exhaustive statement on the subject. But one or two big things seem to me to be of importance. In the first place, I think it is of vital importance that whatever power is retained by Great Britain in Egypt should be a real power.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
We are very familiar in British policy with the state of things in which, though we do not possess the form of power, we possess its reality. What I should be terrified at is that in any settlement, in Egypt that principle should be reversed, and that we should retain the form of power but not the reality.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
That is of vital importance in the first place, because of the necessary protection of the peasantry to which I have already referred, and which seems to me to be something hardly short of an obligation of honour; and in the second place, because of the relation of Egypt with foreign countries. I suppose it is agreed on all hands that no other European Power except ourselves ought to be predominant in Egypt. What is going to happen supposing a foreign Power has reason to complain of the action of Egyptian Ministers? Evidently they will say to us, "Either you 188 must see that we are righted or we shall see that we are righted ourselves." It is quite evident that that must happen. Therefore in order to meet such a contingency, which, of course, may never arise but which as prudent men we are bound to anticipate, we must have the reality of power.
This leads me to the second broad principle. It seems to me and, I believe, to a great number of your Lordships that the foreign relations of Egypt must always be retained in the hands of the British Government. I have seen rumours that it is not intended by those who take a leading part in these negotiations on the Egyptian side that the foreign relations shall be left in the hands of the British Government. Certainly I think, for the reasons I have given, that this is sine qua non. If I may say so, it is entirely in keeping with the last modern developments of international policy, because, as your Lordships will have observed in the Covenant of the League of Nations, in all Protectorates, however liberal they may be in other respects, foreign relations are always retained in the hands of the protecting Power.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
Under all the mandates. I am quite aware that Egypt is not subject to a mandate; all I say is that, if you take the analogy of the Covenant of the League of Nations, you will find that under any mandate—which is supposed to be the last thing in the development of international law—however liberal the provisions of that. mandate in other respects, the foreign relations are retained in the hands of the protecting Power.
The third condition which seems to me to be of vital importance is the position of the Sudan. For the reasons I have stated, the Government of the Sudan ought to be in our hands. However far the development of self-administrative capacity may have gone in Egypt proper, it certainly does not extend to a sufficient experience to govern a subject people. That is a very difficult task indeed, and one which we are specially qualified to fulfil, and which, I am sure, we could not abandon without discredit. But if the substantial government of the Sudan is to be retained in our hands very difficult 189 questions will arise as to the status of Egypt in respect of it. Your Lordships will be no doubt aware that at the present moment the two flags fly in the Sudan—the British flag and the Egyptian flag—side by side, and, as a matter of law, the two countries are on an absolute level in respect to the Sudan. As a fact, of course, the British Government is supreme, and the government is entirely in our own hands. That is a perfectly possible arrangement so long as we control, as we do control, the Egyptian Government but in proportion as the control of the British Government over the Egyptian Government is relaxed the position of Egypt as an equal n the Sudan becomes more difficult. And a further difficulty arises There is the question of the garrison of the Sudan. At present the garrisoning of the Sudan is, not entirely but largely, by Egyptian troops. I do not ask the Government, because I do not want to press them to tell me anything that they ought not to tell me in the public interest, but merely say that in proportion as our control over Egypt is less the employment of Egyptian troops with an allegiance to Egypt in the government of the Sudan (which ex hypothesi is to be under ourselves) is increasingly difficult.
In addition to those thee conditions I have a fourth—the military position of Great Britain in Egypt I am not going to say anything about that, except that I earnestly hope that when the Papers are laid before Parliament we shall have the opinion of the High Commissioner himself, a most distinguished general, as to the requirements of the military position of Great Britain in the new arrangement, whatever it may be. And if may incidentally remark, though that is malt more of a retail than I have troubled your Lordships with up till now, that a special difficulty will arise in respect to the supply of fresh water to the Canal zone. That fresh water is brought in a canal from the Nile, and I need not remind your Lordships that unless we control the fresh water supply of the garrison we might be placed in a rather difficulty position.
I earnestly urge these considerations upon His Majesty's Goverment. I shall not complain in the least if, with their far greater knowledge and. experience they convict me, when they speak of ignorance, for I do not pretend to bra an authority. But what is so very important now is the 190 shrinkage of the world. Everything which is done in any part of it resounds right through the globe. And, according to modern practice, everything is taken as a precedent. Whatever you sow in Egypt you will have to reap in India. All you do there, every principle you accept, every concession you make, even if the concession is of itself defensible, must be considered in reference to its effect elsewhere. For you will most emphatically have a demand for similarity of treatment in other parts of your Empire which are held to be analogous. Therefore you require to be extremely careful.
I am not suggesting for a moment, I may say by way of precaution, that you should do anything which would add to the burdens and expenditure of this country. It is because I am quite certain, among other timings, that a settled policy is much cheaper than an uncertain policy that I urge these considerations upon His Majesty's Government. I can assure them that in any such resolutions they will have the undivided support of the British people. We are not tired of Empire; we are quite prepared to do our work still; we are quite willing to do it with every consideration for others; we want to conciliate all susceptibilities; but we are determined to do our imperial work, and we are going to do it without hesitation and without fear. I beg to move.
§ EARL CURZON OF KEDLESTON
My Lords, the noble Marquess commenced his speech by an exordium discursive in character and somewhat vehement in tone, in which he complained about the alleged secretiveness of the Government in respect of foreign affairs and the consequent ignorance of the public. In pursuance of his theme he touched upon Ireland, upon Poland, and Syria. He even voyaged so far as India, and only after twenty minutes did he land upon the shores of Egypt. His contention was that people know less nowadays about foreign affairs than they did in former times, and he suggested that they are deliberately kept in the dark by His Majesty's present advisers. My withers are unwrung by this complaint, because it is one that within my recollection of public life has been made by every Opposition of every Government. The Opposition always think that the Government are keeping things back which they ought to disclose, and that a veil of mystery obscures the- 191 foreign policy of the country. I will remark about this that that is not the sort of complaint that comes well from a member of your Lordships' House, because owing to the exceptional privileges which your Lordships enjoy, it is in the power of any member of this House, by putting a Motion down upon the Paper, to secure a discussion on any topic of foreign affairs, whether important or the reverse; and although it may be the case sometimes that the representative of the Foreign Office in this House will deprecate, as I have sometimes had to do, a discussion occurring at a particular moment, that does not affect the broad general principle that you have it in your power here at any moment to discuss Egypt, Persia, Mesopotamia, Syria, or any country that you please.
My noble friend went on to complain that the policy of publishing Blue Books I or White Papers had been abandoned. I wonder, my Lords, that two considerations did not occur to him. The first is this. We have only just emerged from a war in which the whole energies of this country, of the Foreign Office as well as other Offices, were directed to the prosecution of the campaign and the securing of victory; and I doubt if he will find in any Foreign Office or in any Parliament in Europe that there was during the war anything like that flow of official publications about foreign affairs to which we had been accustomed in more ordinary times. The second consideration is this. It is usual to publish Blue Books when the course of events or of policy has reached a stage; I will not say of finality, but of definiteness. That was a principle I learned at the feet of his distinguished father. Many are the cases I recall there had been pressure for the publication of Papers at; a stage when the publication of Papers might cause trouble, might postpone a settlement, might produce friction; and he would say "Let us wait until we get to a stage at which something has been done, sonic conclusion arrived at, and then lay Papers before Parliament." Let me assure the noble Marquess that that is the principal upon which we are working. There is no desire for concealment, and sooner or later the whole story will be available to noble Lords, to Parliament, and to the public.
Now let me take one or two concrete cases that the noble Marquess mentioned in his speech in illustration of the thesis 192 to which I have just referred. The first was about the instructions to my noble friend Lord Milner. Although placing great and natural confidences in the knowledge and authority of my noble friend in his mission to Egypt, the noble Marquess said "Why did not we know what he was sent out to do." My Lords, the instructions to Lord Milner were read out in Parliament and were published in the Press, and not only that but when Lord Milner got to Egypt he himself, as head of his Mission made a statement on behalf of the Government and the Mission of the circumstances under which they went to Egypt and on the objects they had in view.
§ EARL CURZON OF KEDLESTON
It was available to Parliament for every member to read. The noble Marquess passed on to give a somewhat curious version of the history of Egypt in recent years. I confess that I could not myself identify it at any stage with the facts as they are known to me. Apparently there was a period when there was a definite policy, associated with the great name of Lord Cromer in the first place and at a later stage with the personality of Lord Kitchener. Upon that period I gather no criticism is passed. But then occurs a period of uncertainty, drift, and delay, ant when I in my bewilderment asked the noble Marquess when this second period started he told me, in reply, that it dated front the proclamation of the Protectorate for Egypt in the early stages of the war and the autumn of 1914. Therefore, according to the noble Marquess, up to that stage we have a policy; after that stage we have none. I think that is a very grave reflection upon our representatives in Egypt at that time; I think it is a very grave reflection upon the Government of Great Britain at that time. As far as I remember, Lord Grey of Fallodon was then Foreign Minister. Mr. Asquith was Prime Minister, and if the country was drifting to confusion and disaster how was it that that complaint was never made to those Ministers and to that Government? I was one of those who joined the Government in May, 1915. I can recollect no such complaint. And here again let me make the reply which I gave in another context just now. During the period of the war all our energies, both in Egypt and here, were devoted to the 193 prosecution of the war, and it was only when the war came to an end that the political problem assumed its importance and we had to deal with the political crisis that had supervened.
There is another point upon which my noble friend, if he will allow me to say so, is misinformed. He visited with particular censure the act of His Majesty's Government in bringing back from Malta to Egypt Zaghlul Pasha and sonic of his friends who had been deported from Egypt and interned in that place. He is probably not aware of the circumstances under which they were so brought back. They had been deported on the advice of the Acting High Commissioner in Egypt. At a little later date—I think only a few weeks speaking from recollection—Lord Allenby, fresh front his victories in the East, with all the prestige of his great experience and authority upon him, was appointed by His Majesty's Government the High Commissioner in Egypt. He went out there with full authority to deal with a situation, which had already exploded, in a manner which he thought best. His first recommendation was that Zaghlul Trisha and his friends should be brought Jar ck from Malta. Does the noble Marquess really mean to say that it was the business of the Government, in the pursuit of its policy, to turn down his first suggestion and to insist on keeping these people there against his advice? The noble Marquess is much too experienced an authority to suggest anything of the sort.
Then the next complaint made by the noble Marquess was that the postponement of the departure of the Mission entrusted to my noble friend Lord Milner was another evidence of the incurable irresolution of His Majesty's present advisers, and that for that delay no explanation has ever been given. The last thing I ever expect anybody, even one with so tenacious a memory as the noble Marquess, to recollect is a speech made by myself, but it does happen to be the case that just about a year ago I made a rather full speech in your Lordships' House about Egypt, and, although I hardly expected that any one would do me the honour of referring to it this afternoon, it is perhaps fortunate that I have the text with me, because I am enabled to read to the noble Marquess exactly what I said on this point. These were my words—My Lords, at that time——194 that is early in the year—it was intended to despatch the Mission of Lord Milner at as early a date as its composition could la completed. But difficulties were experienced in more ways than one. It was not found easy to find available members with the requisite authority and experience; the summer is not exactly the hest time in which to conduct investigations in the interior of a country with the Egyptian climate; it was felt desirable to give the newly-formed Egyptian Administration an opportunity of firmly establishing itself; and it was thought at that time—an illusory hope—that the Peace Conference at Paris might address itself before the autumn to the solution of the Eastern problem. Lord Allenby, upon whose judgment His Majesty's Government placed great reliance, informed us that the Sultan of Egypt and the Prime Minister both favoured the postponement till the autumn, and that he agreed with their views. It was in these circumstances that the date of the departure of the Mission was deferred.Were we again to ignore the advice of Lord Allenby? Were we again to act contrary to the wishes of the Sultan and his Ministers? Nobody with the authority and experience of the noble Marquess would suggest anything of the sort.
The next passage in his speech to which I must call your Lordships' attention was that in which he expressed the most extreme dissatisfaction that some of us did not resign. My noble friend and I were left in sonic doubt as to what we were expected to do. Are we the people to resign, or is somebody else to resign and are we to stay? All this was left in the obscurity which we are told always overwhelms the proceedings of His Majesty's Government. It occurs to me, having some experience of resignation myself, that the moment at which a Minister feels called upon to resign is when he finds himself separated from his colleagues by differences of principle or of honour.
§ EARL CURZON OF KEDLESTON
The noble Marquess accepts that. How does he know that such differences exist?
§ EARL CURZON OF KEDLESTON
Why then press us to resign? The fact is that the noble Marquess is so discontented with the present Government that, as we do not resign as a whole, he is very disturbed that we do not resign one by one.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
I could not think that you agreed with all that the Government did. That is all.
§ EARL CURZON OF KEDLESTON
The noble Marquess has been a member of a Cabinet. There is a certain give and take in Cabinets. In all probability the noble Marquess's political career in a Cabinet would have been even shorter than it was if on every occasion he disagreed with his colleagues he had resigned. The Government is not conducted in such ways. You resign when there are fundamental differences with your colleagues. That attitude I was once called upon to take myself, and that attitude others of my colleagues have taken during the course of the present Administration; but really this vague insinuation that we ought to facilitate the wishes of the noble Marquess by resigning, except in the case to which I have referred, is not one which fills me with any great confidence.
Are we really here this afternoon to discuss in a vague and declamatory way the past history of Egypt? Surely not. When the war was over, when the rising in Egypt took place in the early spring of last year, we entered upon a new phase in our relations with that country. It was a phase calling for the most careful thought, the deepest exploration of the probable causes of unrest, and the utmost deliberation in arriving at a solution. These were the objects for which, in the course of last year, we decided to ask my noble friend Lord Milner, in view of his exceptional authority and experience, to go to Egypt.
In the few moments that I have to occupy let me deal with that which is the only really interesting thing at this moment—namely, what has happened since that date. It was in November, 1919, that my noble friend and his colleagues went out to Egypt. They arrived there in the month of December. It is quite true that they did not meet with a very encouraging reception. Strikes were still in progress; a deliberate attempt was made by the Nationalist Party to boycott their persons and their proceedings; and, indeed, in the early stages no facilities were placed in their path. My noble friend and his colleagues pursued their duty with admirable and unwearying patience. In the course of the two or three months they were in Egypt they conversed with men of every class of life and profession; they visited the provinces; they examined into the 196 work of every Department; they explored the causes of the unrest and of the rising in the early part of the year; they heard every shade of opinion and accumulated an enormous amount of evidence, for I do not think that anything escaped their scrutiny. They returned to this country in the month of March. After they had gone from Egypt, in the months of March and April, there was a recrudescence of disturbance and outrage in that country. British officers were fired at in the streets; one officer was killed; bombs were thrown at more than one of the native Ministers of the Egyptian Government; but I am happy to say that this recrudescence of trouble was rather short-lived. By the end of May it died down, and there has been no revival of that state of affairs since then.
We now come to the summer of this year. In the month of June Zaghlul Pasha and his associates, who had been living for some time in Paris, came over to England, and here they entered into conversations with my noble friend and his colleagues. It was not an official visit on the part of these gentlemen. They were not a delegation. They did not represent the Egyptian Government. But they were influential persons, speaking for large numbers of their countrymen, with whom my noble friend and his colleagues were quite willing to enter into conversations. Indeed, it was their duty to do so, just as they had done with the various classes whom they had invited to similar conversations when they were in Egypt. These conversations lasted throughout the months of July and August, and in August—I think it was in the third week of August—a memorandum of the conversations that had taken place between the Mission and these gentlemen was sent out to Cairo and a condensed summary of it appeared in the Press. But it was made perfectly clear at the time, and by nobody more than my noble friend, that these were the views of Lord Milner and his colleagues. It was stated that the Government had not considered them. They had no opportunity of doing so, because at that moment the Prime Minister had gone abroad, Parliament had risen, the Cabinet was not in session; and it was quite clear that a due and careful deliberation of the matter, which was in any case inevitable, must be postponed until the autumn.
In the month of September four, I think, of the associates of Zaghlul Pasha were 197 sent out by him to Egypt in order to explain to their countrymen the proposals which he and they had been discussing with Lord Milner's Mission, and they not merely explained but advocated to their followers the proposals to which I refer, and found, I believe, that they were received with a considerable measure of approval in that country. Meanwhile if we look at the position of affairs in Egypt we are all of us glad to know that the situation has greatly improved. The feeling of hostility that was so rampant a year and a half ago has disappeared. Normality has been resumed, and the latest reports from which I have been reading indicate that British officers meet with a friendly reception as they go about in different parts of the country. That is the position as it exists at this moment in Egypt.
Your Lordships may ash, What is the position here at home? It is this. The Cabinet are carefully considering the proposals which Lord Milner and his colleagues arrived at in the circumstances I have described. Your Lordships can readily understand that it is not a matter which can be dismissed or decided in two or even in three Cabinets. Great problems are involved. Take the four propositions to which the noble Marquess very properly drew attention. Tire solution of each one of these raises difficulties of a formidable character, and he will be the last, I am sure, to urge that any undue precipitation should be exhibited by His Majesty's advisers in arriving at a decision on these points. It has never been contended by Lord Milner or by any one else that the scheme of himself and his colleagues, great as is the authority attaching to it, is the scheme of the Government. His proposals are not the proposals of the Government, and they have not even been submitted officially to the Egyptian Government. They are open to consideration or reconsideration here in the circumstances that I have described, and they are equally open to consideration by the Egyptian Government in Egypt itself. Both sides retain an equal measure of liberty in the matter.
There is also the discussion, necessarily a complicated and prolonged one, to which the noble Marquess referred—namely, the discussion that must ensue with the Powers who enjoy capitulary rights in Egypt and who will not surrender the privileges they enjoy under the Capitulation without 198 receiving adequate guarantees in return. That is a stage that has to be gone through. When these discussions here have reached a more advanced stage it is presumable that the Sultan of Egypt will depute properly accredited representatives to meet His Majesty's Government and proceed with a further solution of these matters. That is the position of affairs. Surely in the way I have stated it—and believe me I have stated it with absolute candour and sincerity—the noble Marquess cannot say that in this case we grasp at a policy at the last moment. Nothing can be more deliberate or cautious or more slow than the stages through which we are going. I wish myself that we could advance more quickly, but no one who knows Egypt, not even the noble Marquess, would press us to do so at the risk of a possible breakdown.
In the latter part of his speech the noble Marquess said that there are three main considerations which must be borne in mind. The first of these I have already alluded to it is the protection of foreign rights in Egypt, and I need say no more than this—that it is obvious that they have to be carefully considered. The second is the question of the foreign relations of the Government of Egypt in future, and the third is a question of real and paramount importance—the future political and military position in the Sudan. All these questions have been under the consideration of Lord Milner's Mission and are under the consideration of the Government now. The noble Marquess may rest assured that they are not forgotten by us. If I may say so, the one pang of serious regret that I feel in the examination upon which we have now embarked is this, that one of the ablest and most sincere of Englishmen, who for many years devoted his abilities to the service of Egypt and who, I am afraid, lost his life to a large extent in consequence of his exertions there, is not here to help us with his advice—I allude to Lord Edward Cecil, a brother of the noble Marquess.
§ THE EARL OF CROMER
My Lords, it has never before been my privilege to address your Lordships. If I venture now to encroach for a few moments on the time of your Lordships' House I trust this may be conceded to me on the grounds of the natural interest that I take in the present and future well-being of Egypt. Although I confess to feeling misgivings when I read for the first time in the newspapers what purported to be the scope of 199 the measures contemplated by the noble Viscount, Lord Milner's Commission, it is in no spirit of animosity that I have risen, but rather in the hope of stirring in the minds of His Majesty's Government the memory of what is not only due to the people of Egypt, but due no less to the people of this country, who take a pride in what Britain has accomplished in the past and who will be held morally responsible, if things go seriously amiss politically or financially in Egypt's future.
In the presence of those of your Lordships whose administrations of Eastern affairs will always form proud pages of history it is with great diffidence that I venture to speak at all on these subjects. Yet I feel impelled to urge most earnestly on His Majesty's Government the paramount importance of providing for adherence to certain cardinal principles of policy that my father adopted in Egypt. By this I mean due and real consideration for the welfare of the felaheen—the native tiller of the soil—whose prosperity is Egypt's prosperity, whose oppression has been, and might again be, Egypt's undoing.
The felaheen have looked to the British for security, justice, low taxation, and water. The enjoyment of these benefits has given them a sense of freedom from oppression and has afforded financial stability to the Egyptian community. I hope that the noble Viscount will be able to assure your Lordships that the lot of the felaheen will not be impaired and that effective safeguards will be forthcoming against a return to former abuses. I trust, too, that the High Commissioner is to retain adequate powers.
We may indeed be told that the aim of British rule in Egypt has now been achieved and that, with the benevolent influence of British advice in the background, Egypt is ready to emerge as a self-governing State in the closest amity with this country. I refrain, therefore, from traversing ground that has already been so fully covered by the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury. But if His Majesty's Government are able to convince your Lordships that the measures to be recommended to Parliament are really for Egypt's present and future good and that these measures suffice for the security and needs of the British Empire, I for one am ready to welcome the march of civilisation in the East. In the words once written 200 by my father in reference to Egypt's liberation from Turkish misrule—Let this suffice for Britain's meed—No nobler prize was ever won,The blessings of a people freed,The consciousness of duty done.
§ LORD SYDENHAM
My Lords, there is some resemblance between our proceedings in India and in Egypt, and I earnestly hope that the results will not be in any way similar. In both countries reforms were needed, and in India—which I know best—I think those reforms were somewhat overdue. In both countries small sections of partly denationalised persons started a violent campaign in favour of Home Rule. That led in both countries to murders and outrages, and in both countries the agitation and the disturbances were largely directed by lawyers. The Secretary of State, as your Lordships will remember, went out to India in the middle of the war, when the Empire was fighting for its life, and held consultations with many of the leading agitators. He then prepared a Report which The Times justly stated at the time contained "much dreamy and even dangerous nonsense." The Report was issued, so it was said, that everyone might have an opportunity for the freest criticism. Later it was pointed out that any scheme issued over such distinguished signatures as those of the Viceroy and the Secretary of State could not be impugned. Then on the basis of the Report a Bill was drafted which went just a little further than the Report, because pressure had been brought to bear in the meantime. Then followed the Joint Select Committee, which again went a little further than the Bill, especially in weakening the position of the Government of India, though the Report had said that should not be done. That was due to further pressure from large deputations which came here to enforce and impress their views upon the Secretary of State, and also to start in this country an agitation which has continued and increased ever since. Then the amended Bill was rushed through Parliament—as the noble Marquess said, the hand of Parliament was forced—and it very soon became clear that all the persons whom the Bill was intended to placate would have nothing to do with it. As a result of the most generous and far-reaching concessions we now have an outburst, artificially stimulated, of race hatred which has never existed in India before. The situation in India is now more menacing than we have ever known, and our country- 201 men in isolated stations are no longer as safe as they always used to be. So far as can he judged, the conditions are now such that the elections which begin at once, and will last a month, must end in an absolute fiasco. And remember that these elections are really the corner stone of the reforms in India. The Times correspondent, in a telegram published yesterday, says—Every effort will be made to prevent electors from polling, even by violence. Active social persecution of candidates is in progress. The country will remain in a state of intense tension until the council elections ace completed, and many are anticipating violence and possibly bloodshed at the poll.Warning of all this was freely given in your Lordships' House, but it fell upon deaf ears.
In the case of Egypt, the noble Viscount (Lord Milner) has rendered most valuable services to the Empire in going out there, in bringing his great knowledge fully up to date and making a large number of exhaustive and most necessary inquiries, but latterly he seems to have entered upon negotiations with delegations from a party which does not represent the people of Egypt and some members of which are not even Egyptian. The word "negotiations" may be quite wrong; they might more properly be called conversations. But the word negotiations has been freely used in this connection, and the negotiators are, I believe, now in London. I read to-day in the paper that he Nationalist Party is at this moment busily engaged in dividing the spoils of office among its members. I assume that an agreement will be reached before long, and is it not possible that Parliament may then find itself face to face with a fait accompli which cannot be changed?
The noble Marquess has strongly urged that as much information as possible—information which is sorely needed by the public—should be given, and that is necessary especially because of the abundant rumours which have been in circulation about negotiations with Egypt. I need not say that the strategic importance of Egypt is simply immense, and that stable government in that country is vital not only to us but to many other countries. Egypt controls one of the greatest trade routes of the world, the importance of which was realised long before the disastrous expedition of Napoleon in 1798. The entire responsibility for 202 the security of that route has rested upon us since 1882, and since our authority prevailed in the country very great British and foreign interests have been built up in the belief that that authority would remain largely unchanged. If the arrangements of which we have heard—and which I sincerely hope are not true—are correct, there would be utter dismay among large numbers of Egyptians and amongst all foreign residents in Egypt. But I cannot believe that these arrangements are correct, because I am sure that no soldier could possibly agree to distribute a small British force along the banks of the Canal dependent, as the noble Marquess has said, for the whole of its fresh water upon the good will of a possibly unstable Government in Cairo. I take it that at least one brigade of British troops will be divided between Cairo and Alexandria, although I conceive that the relations of British troops with a self-governing treaty State will be very difficult and most delicate. The protection of the Egyptians themselves requires a stiffening of British troops, and will require it for some years to come, and unless we are prepared to abandon the definite responsibilities which we have accepted in the sight of other nations we must have the power to fulfil those responsibilities at short notice—that is real power, to which the noble Marquess referred.
I turn for a moment to the Sudan. In the Sudan a most wonderful work of tranquilisation and of progress has been done by our officers. That work has been been very difficult, but it has been assisted undoubtedly by the knowledge among all the Sudanese that our power was paramount in Egypt proper. If Egypt is to be handed over entirely to a native Government, based on democratic principles which Egypt has never known, then our prestige in the Sudan will crumble and perhaps disappear altogether. In the East we cannot ignore prestige. It is the thing which counts most among Oriental peoples. Egypt could not hope to hold the Sudan for a month, but Egypt might be a focus of intrigue against us throughout that vast region, and we might therefore find ourselves obliged to maintain considerable forces in the Sudan and to pay for those forces ourselves. We dare not forget the lesson of 1882 when the Egyptian Army was corrupted and used against its then rightful ruler, the Khedive Tewfik. That is always a danger in Eastern countries where 203 intrigue is the breath of life, and no Constitution that we can set up in Egypt will entirely remove that danger.
I should think there is no doubt that abuses have crept into the administration of Egypt. I hope, and I am quite sure, that the noble Viscount will find the means of ending those abuses. They have been told in great detail in Sir Valentine Chirol's book, and I need not allude to them, but it is certain that abuses and corruption will flourish and increase abundantly if there is no strong guiding hand in Egypt to protect the felaheen whom we have raised to a position of freedom and responsibility unknown in all their long history of servitude. We cannot place Egypt or India in a position of independence without solid guarantees for the just government of the uneducated masses for whose welfare we are directly responsible. Self-government in Egypt must come by gradual and well-considered steps; otherwise we all certainly see in Egypt the state of things now arising in India, though, happily, they can never be so serious in Egypt as they are in the much larger country of India. Already the rumours which have been circulated have done great harm in India because they have given rise to impossible demands.
For these reasons and for others with which I must not weary your Lordships I strongly support the plea of the noble Marquess for such information as can be given at present without any detriment to the public interest, and I hope that some indication will be afforded of t he liabilities which may fall upon this country under the new and proposed arrangements. because we can never forget the grave financial position in which this country now stands.
§ THE EARL OF SELBORNE
My Lords, my noble friend behind me made two chief criticisms. The first was that the predecessor at the Foreign Office of my noble friend the Leader of the House had allowed the question of the settlement of Egypt to slide unduly. The second was that since His Majesty's Government had taken up this most important question they had not given us adequate information as to what they were doing. My noble friend the Leader of the House is a past-master in interesting the House and yet not answering the points put to him. I submit that he has not given an answer on either of these points. He said, "How could we think about the future settlement of Egypt 204 when the war was going on?" It is two years since the Armistice.
§ THE EARL OF SELBORNE
Nobody knows better than my noble friend the Leader of the House that while the war was going on a great deal of attention was given to a large number of questions which would have to come up for settlement when the war was over. There was the great series of Reconstruction Committees which went on sitting year after year dealing with the domestic concerns of this country. Why was the whole question of Egypt, which was boiling up quite palpably and definitely, allowed to slide? I repeat what my noble friend behind me said, that the two predecessors in office of the noble Earl the Leader of the House let this question slide, and that a great measure of the responsibility rests upon them. Then we come to the question of the lack of information since my two noble friends definitely took this question up and grappled with it in a most serious manner.
§ THE EARL OF SELBORNE
I could not help smiling when I was referred to the Press for information by my noble friend the Foreign Secretary and Leader of the House. Here is an Imperial question of the first magnitude, and here is my noble friend, a worthy successor (if he will allow me to say so) of a great line of Foreign Secretaries—and I thought of Lord Salisbury, Lord Grenville, or Lord Lansdowne, in a question like this, saying "Why did you not read your Times?"
§ EARL CURZON OF KEDLESTON
The noble Earl begs my pardon, but I do not beg his because he is wrong. When challenged that there had been no statement of the instructions given to the noble Viscount, Lord Milner, my reply was that a statement had been read out in Parliament, and having been read out in Parliament it was naturally in the ordinary procedure reported in the Press.
§ THE EARL of SELBORNE
That was not the only statement my noble friend made. He said that, and it is quite true, but he also said that when the noble Viscount, Lord Milner, arrived in Cairo a great deal was said and done which was published in the papers.
§ EARL CURZON OF KEDLESTON
The noble Earl is quite wrong. What I said was that when Lord Milner arrived in Cairo he himself made, on behalf of his colleagues, a public statement—I do not know the exact circumstances in which it was delivered—of the conditions under which he was going out and the object he had in view. That statement was naturally reported in the Press, because of the importance of its author. But I cannot see that its importance was in any degree diminished by the fact that, having been made and reported in Egypt, it then came by telegraph in the ordinary course to this country. Of what is it that the noble Earl complains?
§ THE EARL OF SELBORNE
I complain that statements like that only come to this House through the Press and are not placed on the Table in both Houses of Parliament. I say it is a departure from all precedent that we have not been provided with Papers up to date so far as they could be published. It is one of the complaints we have to make, rightly or wrongly, against His Majesty's Government, that when they have an opportunity of keeping us informed by laying White Papers on the Table from time to time, in our humble judgment they have not done it as often as they should have done. I confess I think that we are in a humiliating position at the present moment. Here is a negotiation of vast importance to the whole of the British Empire. Details of this negotiation and many facts about it are apparently known to a great number of persons in Egypt, but they are not known to anybody in this country except the Government. All we know on the subject is from snippets of news that come to us from time to time in the newspapers, which may or may not be accurate and which often fill us with considerable misgiving.
§ THE EARL OF SELBORNE
A misgiving which we might have been spared if we could have been afforded more information. I say it is humiliating because I do not think the precedent of the negotiation of a treaty with a foreign Power is one in case. I do not admit that our relations with Egypt are the same as those with a foreign power. Egypt has had perhaps an ill-defined but still a quite distinct relation to the Empire now for a good many years, culminating in the reconquest of the Sudan, and ending with the definite and legal abolition of the Turkish suzerainty. I cannot admit that the precedents which may be quoted in respect to negotiations of treaties with foreign Powers are on all fours with this case. I do not for a moment contend that negotiations or conversations of any sort are possible if they are done absolutely coram publico. I admit that there must be some reserve—there must be the lapse of time; but I do think we are entitled to more information than we have been given, especially because of the immense stake that is at issue.
I have no personal knowledge of Egypt; I have no personal knowledge of India. I do know something about the Empire and the problems that are involved in our Imperial responsibility, and I was for many weeks last year Chairman of a Joint Select Committee of the two Houses of Parliament dealing with the Government of India Act; and from my experience then I am profoundly convinced of what my noble friends must also be convinced of, that what we do in Egypt is going to have immense consequences for India. Therefore our responsibilities are involved to a degree that it would be scarcely possible to exaggerate. And yet it is conceivable that, wholly uninformed by His Majesty's Government, knowing nothing except what we have seen in rumours in this or that newspaper from time to time, one day we may be confronted with what is called an agreement—a concluded arrangement—and we shall be told that we have either to accept it or reject it—if it is in our power to reject it; it may be only in our power to indulge in belated criticism. This being the situation I think my noble friend has done a real service in trying to make His Majesty's Government understand our point of view, and, without asking them to do anything which on their 207 responsibility they know would be against the public service, in urging them to do all they can do, consistently with that responsibility, to take Parliament into their confidence.
§ LORD BUCKMASTER
My Lords, I certainly share the desire that has been effectively expressed by the noble Marquess and the noble Earl that the Government should as far as possible disclose to us and to all persons connected with public affairs information that can be safely given at any stage of a great negotiation like the present. I do not think that my confidence in His Majesty's Government is so excessive or my appetite for information so great that I should be accused of attempting to shield His Majesty's Government if I thought them deserving of censure. But I do say quite frankly that, having heard what has been said this afternoon, I find it a little difficult to know what is the real substance of the complaint that is made. I can understand a very grave and solemn discussion about the merits of proposals which have been placed before us in the public Press as to the future government of Egypt. It would undoubtedly be premature, it might be mischievous, but that really is not the subject of the Motion which has been made this afternoon. The subject of the Motion is that further information should be give to Parliament as to what is, in fact, going on.
What I am anxious to understand is, What is it exactly that is desired? Do the noble Marquess and the noble Earl desire that it should be an account prepared and laid before this House of the condition of Egypt? I can hardly think that, because no complaint, as far as I can see, has been made at all about any reticence in that respect. Nor, if there were any Papers that were in the possession of the Government relating to that matter, can I think for a single moment that they would be withheld. No, the desire is for information about the result of the Commission which was conducted by the noble Viscount, in order that the public may know in advance what the Government are discussing and, as I understand, aid them in their deliberations by debates upon the point.
I really do not see what further information can be given. Roughly speaking, the heads of the recommendations have already been stated, not in full detail but in sufficient outline. The circumstances under 208 which the Commission was appointed are thoroughly well known: they were stated to Parliament. The only actual specific matter, as far as I understand, which it is said has not been placed before the House is the speech which was made by the noble Viscount when he arrived in Egypt. I have not the least doubt that a speech made by the noble Viscount would always be fully deserving of circulation, and it certainly would be read by myself at least with the greatest possible interest and attention. But I do not suppose that it is suggested that speeches are under all circumstances to be made the subject of Government publication. It must be because there was something very remarkable—if I may say so, unusually remarkable—about this speech that the fact that it has not been laid before Parliament in the form of a White Paper or a Blue Book has caused some uneasiness on the part of the noble Marquess.
Therefore, anxious as I am to exercise vigilance in watching the affairs of the Government, I find myself a little unable to understand what the real ground of complaint against the Government is in this matter in regard to withholding Papers. I believe that, if you were to start now a premature discussion outside the Cabinet as to what is to be done in Egypt the only result would be that it would not assist the Government in the conduct of an extremely difficult and delicate task, but that it might gravely embarrass them, and could not be in the public interest.
Nor do I appreciate the difference which the noble Earl attempted to insist upon as between the conduct of affairs in this respect between ourselves and Egypt and between ourselves and a foreign country. It is perfectly easy to say that Egypt does not stand to us in the same relation as an entirely independent foreign State. Of course that is true, but that does not touch the principle of the matter in the least. It is merely said that it is applicable in one case, and then you say "Well, as the next case is not the same it cannot be applicable there." But the real principle which underlies these things is something far deeper than that. It is that, although publicity is the very breath of public honesty and should so far as possible be encouraged, yet all discussions cannot take place in the open, and the Government, if they are going to govern effectively, must be able to deliberate in private and 209 must not be prematurely urged to disclose a policy the foreknowledge of which may cause it to be foredoomed to failure.
THE SECRETARY OF STATE FOR THE COLONIES (VISCOUNT WILNER)
My Lords I felt somewhat doubtful whether I ought to say anything on this occasion, for reasons which I will shortly explain, and I do speak with difficulty and under a feeling of very great restraint. Had it not been for certain speeches delivered after my noble friend the Leader of the House had spoken, I should have thought it quite unnecessary to say anything, because it seemed to me that he gave a very admirable and clear statement of the position as it at present exists.
In the course of subset cent speeches, however, and especially that of my noble friend opposite, Lord Se. borne, certain criticisms have been made to which I feel it is necessary for me briefly to reply. And I think the only reply which I can offer to charges of concealment on the part of the Government is give a quite simple narrative of what has happened in this matter as far as I have been largely concerned in it. My noble friend seemed to be under an apprehension—I do not know why—that this question, one of the most difficult and complicated with which we could possibly have to deal, one which certainly whatever the result will be slow of solution, was going in some unaccountable way to be suddenly settled without the people of this country or this House having had an opportunity of expressing their opinion about it. Well, my Lords, I had almost said I wish I thought it was possible to proceed with anything like that expedition.
What is the position to-day? The Mission of which I have the honour to be the head and which has been dealing with this matter since the end of last year has not yet reported. On this question I appear in a double capacity—as the head of the Mission and as a member of His Majesty's Government. In the first capacity my responsibility is grave indeed; I cannot imagine a graver responsibility than falls upon me with regard to the Report of the Mission. But when the Mission has reported it will be for His Majesty's Government to consider the Report very carefully, and in its consideration before the Cabinet I have, no doubt, a certain responsibility too. I shall 210 naturally put up the best fight I can for my own recommendations, but when that is done, when the Cabinet has fully considered the Report of the Mission, there will be a statement of Government policy in some shape or form. Undoubtedly that will be the time, it seems to me—no earlier moment could reasonably or wisely be chosen—to put the whole matter before this House and the country, when the Report of the Mission is published and when the Government are prepared to say what course they will recommend to the country with regard to the proposals of the Mission.
Although the Mission has not yet reported I think a great deal more has become public about the nature of its proceedings than is generally known in cases of this kind. A great deal has become public about our doings. What perhaps requires some explanation, I may say perhaps some apology, is the length of time that has elapsed since the Mission went out to Egypt and the making of its Report. I can explain that, and I may say at the same time that though I greatly regret—certainly for personal reasons I have every reason to regret—the length of the proceedings I think we have derived great advantage from their prolongation, because in their later stages we have obtained an amount of information and have had conversations which will be of the greatest possible value to us in forming our judgment. Let me say that when we left Egypt in March last I anticipated that we might be able to report in April or in May, but I felt at the time—and when I say "I" I am speaking for all my colleagues, who entirely shared my views on this point, and I believe on most points of importance which have come before us—that if we had reported in April or in May our Report would have been very incomplete, because we had not had an opportunity of fully obtaining the views of a number of persons who are very influential in Egypt and very representative of a great section at any rate of Egyptian opinion. I may say that while we were in Egypt, although we had innumerable opportunities of which we availed ourselves to the best of our ability of hearing the opinions of men of all classes, there was always a certain barrier between us and the Egyptians—always a certain barrier; and readily as men conversed with us in private, no one was willing to come forward and say that he could express to us the views of any large section of the 211 Egyptian people. No one would come forward and say that; no one was prepared to be perfectly frank, and consequently universally I may say we were referred to persons not present in Egypt, Zaghlul Pasha and others, as being the men to whom we should look to give us a fair expression of Egyptian public opinion. If we had reported on our first return I think we should have felt that we had been able to a very considerable extent to gauge the feelings of the people in Egypt, but certainly we always hoped when we were in Egypt that a man who was regarded by so large a body of his countrymen as specially representative of their views as Zaghlul Pasha would enter into conversation with us and at any rate give us the benefit of his views. That was not possible in Egypt, but shortly after we arrived in England it was brought to my knowledge that Zaghlul Pasha and his principal associates, members of what was known as the Wafd or the Delegation in Egypt, were anxious to put their views before us. Thereupon we made up our minds that we had much better defer our Report until we had had an opportunity of these discussions, which we always desired to have in Egypt but for which no opportunity presented itself during our stay there. Zaghlul Pasha and a number of his principal associates came over to London and were joined here by other Egyptians, not belonging to their special group, other men of influence and importance—I would mention especially Adly Pasha—with some of whom we had, and with others we had not, an opportunity of conversing in Egypt. I may say that the delay of several months which has occurred in consequence of the circumstances that I have related has been, in the opinion of all of us, of the greatest possible advantage to us, and that we shall be in a far better position to-day to give to His Majesty's Government a comprehensive Report of Egyptian opinion and recommendations based upon it than we should have been had we been confined to the information which we were able to obtain when we were in Egypt.
Now let me say one other thing, and that is, perhaps, the most important of all. The result of these conversations may or may not be the basis of some future agreement between the British Government and the Egyptian Government. It may or may not be that we, the Mission, shall recommend the British Government 212 to enter into some arrangement which might be called a Treaty. I am not yet in a position to tell, but I am quite certain of one thing—that the conversations which have taken place between the Mission and these Egyptian gentlemen to whom I have referred have confirmed a conviction which was growing in my mind that we have had a somewhat wrong conception of the aims and the spirit of Egyptian Nationalism. In the course of the agitation which has existed in Egypt during the last year or two many regrettable events have occurred, and a line has been taken by what is known as the Egyptian Nationalist Party which seemed to indicate bitter hostility to this country and a somewhat irreconcilable spirit. My own experience is that when we came face to face with at any rate some of those who have been regarded as the most anti-British of the Egyptian leaders, undoubtedly we found that there was a great difference of opinion on many points, but we also discovered—or, at least, an impression which some of us had had before was confirmed—that there was no reason to suppose either that EgyptianNationalists as a whole are hostile to Great Britain, or that the attainment of their aspirations is necessarily inconsistent with the safeguarding of British interests in Egypt, or with the safeguarding of the reforms which Great Britain has been instrumental in introducing into Egypt.
While it is entirely impossible as yet to foresee what may be the result of the conversations to which T have referred, or even what may be the final recommendations of the Mission of which I had the honour to be the head, I can only say that the intimate and I may add the friendly conversations which we have had over here with the people to whom I allude, and which are even now not entirely completed, have given me a more hopeful view than I had six months ago, and certainly than I had at an earlier period, of the possibility of a permanent good understanding, or let me say the possibility of dispelling the clouds of suspicion and bitterness which had gathered over the relations of British and Egyptians, which at one time were such good and promising relations.
That we can maintain our position in Egypt by our own strength for ever and a day I have not the slightest doubt. I need hardly assure your Lordships that I should never personally agree to anything which I believed could in the slightest weaken the 213 imperial position of Great Britain in Egypt. But the danger which at one time seemed to threaten us was that we should find ourselves maintaining it against the wishes of the Egyptian people and with a constant spirit of discontent and revolt on their part against what they might regard as an alien foreign yoke. My belief is that a course of action is possible which will enable us to ensure all that we need in Egypt, including the maintenance of the order and progress of which we are ourselves the authors, without involving ourselves in permanent hostility with the Egyptian nation. My intimate conviction is that, while there is undoubtedly an element of Egyptian nationalism which is anti-British, the better and stronger elements of it are not anti-British but simply pro-Egyptian, that between the honest pro-Egyptian Nationalist and a British Imperialist statesman there can be a good and permanent alliance, and that there is no permanent conflict of interests. I realise the enormous difficulties which stand in the way of good understanding in this matter between ourselves and the Egyptian patriots who want to see their country have a place in the sun and a recognised nationality and position of its own, but I do not personally believe they are insuperable I cannot go into all the details of our recommendations and the whole of our reasons for them. They will before long be in the hands of the Government, and, I presume, shortly after w ill be known to the House and the public. I do not know what may happen to them. My piece may be hissed off the stage, but I am sure noble Lords will nit wish to hiss it until they have heard it.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
My Lords, I do not regret haying been the humble instrument of bringing this question before your notice. I will not go into the controversial part of the discussion, and I rise only to thank in particular the noble Viscount for the speech he has just delivered. It was reassuring in two particulars. In the first place he told us that he could not, if he would, withdraw a discussion of whatever arrangements may be come to from Parliament. That is certainly true. But I hope that an opportunity for such a discussion will be afforded by the Government, and that we shall not be presented with an accomplished fact in such a form as to limit our liberty of action. The more important reassuring statements at the end of his speech are in your Lordships' 214 recollection. I am sure we al listened with sympathy and satisfaction to his assurance that he saw no difficulty in reconciling legitimate Egyptian aspirations with the interests and honour of this country, and I can assure him that we place great confidence in his judgment in this matter because of his great experience in Egypt. We shall confidently rely upon the spirit in which he has addressed your Lordships so that when the proper time comes we may discuss the agreement at which the Government may arrive.
§ Motion, by leave, withdrawn.