§ Order for Committee read.
§ SUPPLY—Considered in Committee.
§ (In the Committee.)
THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHE-QUER
Sir, I have to submit to the Committee that a Vote of a sum not exceeding £4,080,000 be granted to Her Majesty to enable Her Majesty to pay the purchase-money for shares which belonged to the Khedive in the Suez Canal, and the expenses attendant thereon. The explanation of this Vote is in the printed Paper which is in the hands of hon. Members; and I will shortly state the effect of that explanation. 267 His Highness the Khedive, having proposed to sell the whole of his shares in. the Suez Canal to Her Majesty's Government for £4,000,000, Her Majesty's Government accepted the proposal. His Highness the Khedive's shares were supposed at first to be 177,642, the number formerly belonging to him; but it was subsequently found that in consequence of his having sold some of them, the number was only 176,602. A reduction corresponding with the reduced number of shares was therefore made in the purchase-money, bringing it down to £3,976,582. The Messrs. Rothschild undertook to pay this sum to the Khedive, and in consideration of their trouble and risk it is agreed that the Government will pay them 2½ per cent commission on the purchase-money, or £99,414. A small balance to make up a round sum is added in order to meet any additional expenses which may have been incurred. That arrangement, which is referred to in this Paper, was come to by Her Majesty's Government, as the Committee are aware, in the month of November last; and we have taken time before calling the attention of Parliament to the subject. An opinion has been expressed in some quarters that we should have done better to have advised Her Majesty to call Parliament together immediately the bargain had been made; but I think that, upon reflection, most persons will be satisfied that, independently of the inconvenience which is always attached to summoning Parliament unexpectedly in the winter season, there were reasons which made it better that the discussion of the subject should not be hurried forward. The matter was one which took the public, at all events, both in this country and abroad, by surprise. There was some natural excitement at the announcement. It is probable, from the opinions which were expressed—I may say in almost every quarter—at the moment of the announcement that, as far as Her Majesty's Government were concerned, if they had met Parliament immediately on the completion of the transaction, they would have received a very cordial and enthusiastic support. But I cannot help thinking that complaints might not unreasonably have been made on the part of some hon. Gentlemen that they had not had time to consider so grave a matter; and perhaps, when the 268 first enthusiasm had subsided, a regret might have been felt that more opportunity for full consideration had not been afforded. There was no constitutional reason for the immediate assembling of Parliament; and, therefore, the opportunity has now been given, both to Members of this House and the country at large, to consider this question in all its bearings; and I hope that the discussion which will no doubt occur on the proposal of the Vote to-night will be of a more searching and more thorough character than could possibly have been the case in the month of December. Sir, the great difficulty I feel in bringing this Vote under the notice of the Committee arises from my sense of the large mass of information which we have at our disposal, and the great range of subjects over which it would be possible for me to travel, and my unwillingness unnecessarily to detain or to confuse the House by going into all the details which naturally suggest themselves to me. I will endeavour, as far as I can, to condense what I have to say, and avoid going over ground which is already familiar to the Committee. If I omit any points I shall have the opportunity, I hope—or, rather, Members of the Government will have the opportunity—of supplying whatever may appear to hon. Members to be defective. Therefore, I will proceed, as concisely as I can, to lay before the Committee the leading features of this transaction, and the reasons which have induced Her Majesty's Government to take the course they have pursued. Now, the great enterprise of the Suez Canal is one which from its first inception has attracted the attention of this country. It has been the subject of much criticism and of many doubts. There were great doubts, in the first instance, whether the enterprise was one that could possibly be accomplished. There were doubts whether, if accomplished, it would be of any advantage to England. There were doubts also whether, in the event of its being carried through, it would not produce political consequences which might be disadvantageous to this country. And the result was that the Parliament and the Government of England held aloof at the beginning of the undertaking from assisting in its commencement; and not only held aloof, but discouraged—and, perhaps, it may not unfairly be 269 said, to some extent impeded—the operations of the projector. I think that subsequent events have shown that this is one of those eases in which the old saying applies—that incredulity also has its dupes, for I cannot help thinking that if the English nation had taken a somewhat different line on the first commencement of the undertaking, some of the disadvantages which have been experienced of late years might have been avoided. However, the doubts which were felt—and honestly and very naturally felt—with regard to this enterprise have been gradually dispelled under the influence of facts. The Canal has been made, has been opened, and has been proved to be of great advantage to England; while as respects the political inconveniences that would result from it, they are, at all events, as yet undeveloped. The Canal, at any rate, is a fact; and I wish to call the attention of the Committee now to the position of the undertaking, and of the Company by which it has been carried through. We all of us, when we speak of this great work, most justly pay the first tribute of respect to the name of the projector, M. de Lesseps, and I am most anxious to speak with full and entire sympathy and admiration of that gentleman. I am anxious also to do justice to another whose share in this enterprise is, perhaps, somewhat left out of sight, and yet it was not an inconsiderable one. I refer to the Viceroy of Egypt, and when I say the Viceroy of Egypt, I wish to be understood as speaking not only of the present Viceroy, but of his predecessor. Said Pasha. It was through the hearty and energetic co-operation of these two great and eminent personages that this undertaking has been brought to the condition of success which it has attained. I wish to call the attention of the Committee briefly, as my subject to-night is mainly a financial one, to the financial position of the Company, and to the connection of the Khedive of Egypt with it from a financial point of view. I have seen in the public papers and elsewhere very interesting and elaborate accounts of the financial position of the Suez Canal Company; and hon. Gentlemen who have read the various articles and letters which have appeared both in the English and the foreign newspapers must, I think, unless they are very familiar with 270 the details of such accounts, have become a little perplexed with the great complication of the different classes of capital and classes of obligations, and the different relations between the different kinds of securities with which we have been so abundantly supplied. I have endeavoured, as well as I can, to obtain a concise opinion upon the actual position of the Company, and with the assistance of the able gentlemen who compose the financial Department of the Treasury, I have obtained some analysis of the position of the Company. Even so, it is far too long and too complicated for me to trouble the Committee with it; but I can give them in a short form one or two of the results to which it leads. The capital of the Company—what may be called the open capital—was £8,000,000 sterling, and, in addition to that £8,000,000 of capital of the Company, there have been created bonds for the accrued interest of the shareholders during the time when the receipts were not sufficient to pay that interest, though the Canal had been opened and the work was in operation, to the amount of £1,360,000. Therefore the capital of the Company is placed at £9,360,000. In addition to that the Company raised loans of £4,480,000, making together £13,840,000. Now, I find that they have charged to capital, as having been expended on works, about £15,000,000, and that, moreover, they have paid in interest charged to capital about £4,000,000 more, making a capital expenditure of £19,000,000. But they only raised £13,840,000, and the difference between what they have raised and what they have expended amounts to £5,160,000—a sum which was almost entirely provided in one shape or another by the Viceroy of Egypt. Moreover, the Company are in possession of lands granted to them by the Khedive which, after all they have had to surrender, are worth about £4,000,000. Again, the Committee will remember that at the commencement of this undertaking the Viceroy of Egypt, besides the direct pecuniary aid he gave to the Company, agreed to supply them with labour upon cheap terms—forced labour, in fact. That labour was supplied for several years, but ultimately, in consequence of objections taken to the system, that assistance was withdrawn and compensation was paid to the Company for its 271 loss. But up to the time of the withdrawal a considerable amount of labour had been contributed by the Khedive. This amount, on a rough calculation, may be taken at £400,000. Moreover, the Khedive having forestalled the payments made by him under the Emperor's award, made no charge for discount, thus virtually contributing a further sum to the Company which may be taken at £350,000. These sums, added together, amount to £4,750,000, so that we may say the Khedive, besides taking the shares, supplied the Company with nearly £10,000,000 of money or money's worth. It is almost superfluous to point out that in some respects the Canal has been a disadvantage to the Khedive, inasmuch as it competes with other modes of transit from which he obtained some profit; and it may be a question, indeed, whether he has not found the Canal a direct pecuniary loss. But I do not dwell upon that. I only point out that in one shape or another the Company have received large advantages from the Khedive, from which he gets no return. Well, what has been the result? The result to the Khedive has been, as I shall presently point out, embarrassment. To the Company the result, which is not unsatisfactory, has been this. They have, as I have pointed out, in the shape of lands, assets of about £4,000,000; their loan liabilities amount to £4,480,000. Therefore, their assets, if realized, are pretty nearly sufficient to balance their liabilities. Thus they have their capital disengaged and their net profits, whatever they may be, available for dividends. Well, now I may be asked, What are these net profits and how far is the Company solvent and successful? Upon that point I think the figures, and they are very few, which I shall mention to the Committee, show the Company in a pecuniary sense to be making very satisfactory progress. I have here a statement of the business of the Canal, taken from the Company's annual reports for the years 1870–74, that for 1875 not having yet come to hand. I will only trouble the Committee with the net results in each year. In 1870 there was a deficit of £383,570. The following year the deficit had been reduced to £105,700. In 1872 the deficit disappears altogether, and there is a small surplus of £82,851. The fourth year the surplus amounts to £299,397, and during the last year it 272 has risen to £322,343. I believe the result for the present year is likely to be more favourable still, and that it is such as to show that the Company are in a prosperous and satisfactory condition. Now, with regard to the importance of the Canal to this country, I will just call attention to the number and tonnage of British ships passing through it. I find that these figures have been advancing with very great rapidity. In the first of the years I have just mentioned, 319 British ships, with a tonnage of 291,000, passed through the Canal. Those numbers steadily advanced year by year, till in 1874 we find the number of ships 898, and their total tonnage 1,209,000. The following year the number of ships appears as 884, and their tonnage 1,221,000, and by the end of this year probably 1,500,000 of British tonnage will have passed through the Canal. Without going into further details, these figures show very conclusively that the Canal is of no small importance to British commerce. I will just add this one fact—that the proportion which British tonnage bears to foreign appears for last year and the year before 73 per cent, to which it had increased from 67 per cent in the first year. But I do not think I should be quite doing justice to the advantages which this means of communication confers upon us if I did not also lay before the Committee a very remarkable statement made to me on the part of the India Office. I will take the liberty of reading to the Committee a short extract from this memorandum—The Suez Canal was opened on the 17th of November, 1869. Its influence on our relations with India is twofold—administrative and commercial. The administration has greatly benefited by the additional facilities afforded for the transport of troops to and from India. Instead of the service being conducted with two vessels plying between Southampton and Alexandria, and three between Suez and Bombay, the ships are now sent the whole way to and from India. By this course it is possible to make ten instead of eight voyages every season, and consequently to convey 25 per cent more troops; while, when—as happens this year—the number of the reliefs is somewhat reduced, the whole service can be performed by four instead of five ships, the other being kept in reserve at small expense, or lent to the Imperial Government. During the summer also there are five instead of two ships at home to meet any emergency. The disembarkation and re-embarkation of the troops and their baggage in Egypt is avoided—a point of very great importance in the case of women and children, and especially of invalids, who used to be sent round the Cape in order to escape 273 the trials of the land route. The ships can be easily and more economically examined in England, and any repairs or improvements effected, instead of their having to be brought home specially round the Capo. The necessity for maintaining the full complement of officers and men in all the ships during the summer is removed, and a great reduction effected in the expenditure for repairs, stores, mess, and provisions; while the coal depôts at Suez and Aden have been given up, and the stock at Bombay greatly reduced, a measure resulting in a large saving, since the freight of coal to Port Said is much less than the cost of conveying it round the Cape to India or the Red Sea. The hospital at Suez has been abolished, and the staff both at that place and at Bombay reduced. As regards the despatch of stores to India for the use of the Government, the convenience of the Canal is very great. It is true that the charge for freight is very high, owing to the employment of steamers and to the heavy Canal dues; but there is a great practical gain in consequence of the much shorter time within which the stores can, reach India in case of emergency, on the one hand, and the longer time afforded for obtaining them economically when there is no great hurry, on the other. Under the former system the cost of sending stores overland through Egypt was very heavy, when pressing necessity led to the adoption of such a step.The memorandum goes on to discuss the commercial advantages of the Canal; but I will not detain the Committee on this head. I have preferred to point out its administrative advantages, because I think this is a matter in which we are not merely interested for the sake of trade and commerce, but also with respect to our communication with our Indian Empire; and when the question is asked whether there is any use in making a sacrifice to keep open the road to our Eastern dominions, and whether we are only thinking of time of war and the mode of providing against a possible interruption of this communication, I cannot help reminding the Committee that there is an important public service continually going on between England and the East in time of peace, and that it is of great importance that we should make the best provision we can for securing an uninterrupted passage to India and our Eastern possessions. It has been said that what we should have to do in time of war as the owners of a certain number of shares would be precisely what we should have to do if we did not own shares at all—that is to say, we should have to use force. But I am not contemplating times of war when we might have to resort to force. I am speaking of times wholly independent of European complications. I will point 274 out to the Committee one advantage of great importance to us which we gain by having free access to this passage. Some hon. Members may remember a difficulty which arose some years ago in relation to one of our colonies. They may remember that there was an insurrection on the Red River, and that the Canadian Government had occasion to send troops from Canada to put down that outbreak, and a difficulty arose in sending those troops because they had to pass through a canal, which was closed against them, being under foreign influence. The same kind of difficulty might arise on an occasion of our having to send troops to the East in a matter in which no European Power was interested. We might have to send troops to suppress a mutiny in India or to take part in operations in some portion of the East, and it is of very great importance that we should not be liable to be stopped by difficulties if we can prevent them arising. I am aware, as I have just heard said, that the purchase of the shares would not prevent it, but I shall deal with that point presently. I will return, if the Committee will allow me, to the history of the Canal. It was started under circumstances of difficulty and discouragement; and although the enter-prize was completed, for the first few years, as the statement just read will show, it was not financially profitable; and, moreover, there were fears entertained that the Canal would cost a great deal more to keep it in order than had been reckoned upon, and that large and costly works would have to be undertaken in order to maintain the access to Port Said. Consequently the Company were anxious to take some steps which would enable them to improve their receipts. M. de Lesseps came over here. He was anxious to seek co-operation in England. His feelings towards England with reference to the Canal were not altogether satisfactory; but M. de Lesseps, although he might feel more or less pleased with England—although he might feel more or less of that jealousy which we attribute to Frenchmen, and which perhaps we have done something to provoke—was, at all events, in this case entitled to a great deal of praise. But whatever might have been his feelings on such points as these, one feeling I believe to be paramount in his mind, and that is, a feeling which the artist 275 has for the work of his own creation. He loved the Canal; he felt that his name was associated with that great work, and he had an earnest desire that that great work should not perish. He was anxious to secure the success of that work. He was ready to make friends with England. He was ready to go to war with England, so far as a director can go to war. He was ready to do anything to secure that which was necessary for the success of the Canal. Well, he came over here and he made proposals which were discussed with Her Majesty's Government of the time. The proposals were not made at a favourable time. The price of the shares was very low, and perhaps a little help at that time would have been acceptable; but the Government decided that they could not entertain the proposals which M. de Lesseps had made, so that they then came to nothing. M. de Lesseps then tried other measures; he tried to get the charge which he was authorized to lay upon vessels raised. Of course that was an attempt against which England was bound to protest, and a great deal of correspondence passed; a great many difficulties had to be encountered, and ultimately a conference was held at Constantinople. An arrangement was come to by the Representatives of the nations there assembled; and while M. de Lesseps was obliged to give way on many points with regard to which he advanced his contentions, at the same time terms were arrived at by which he was authorized to levy a certain limited amount of surtax on vessels passing through the Canal. The object of that surtax was to provide funds for the expenditure required for the Canal. M. de Lesseps was never satisfied with that. He protested against it, and he attempted some time ago to resist it. Of course, his opposition was overborne, but it was overborne by means which, I consider, it is undesirable to call into operation more often than can be helped—that is, by our invoking the assistance and active interference of the Porte and the Viceroy of Egypt. We were right in invoking that assistance, and they were right in giving it; and that is the ultima ratio to which you must have recourse when difficulties such as those with which we were met arise. But it hardly needs that I should show how unsatisfactory it is to invoke such interference more frequently 276 than is absolutely necessary. Then the question still arises—what was the position of the concern, and what were the probabilities that it would be financially a successful undertaking, and what were the probabilities of any further large amount of expenditure being required? Upon that subject we have had—as our Predecessors have had—many causes for anxious consideration and reflection. I may say, for myself, I had not been in office many months when serious representations were made, and proposals involving questions of loans, questions of guarantees, and other questions were brought forward, all of which pointed to the probable necessity of some very large expenditure being required within a short time. I should like now to mention to the Committee that from the earliest period, I think, of these discussions, we have had the advantage of the assistance of a gentleman of very great ability and long connection with this matter—I mean Colonel Stokes. Colonel Stokes, who is an officer of Engineers, was originally employed on the Commission for the regulation of the navigation of the mouths of the Danube, and he has since been employed at the Suez Canal. It has been the practice of Her Majesty's Government to give him every facility on the subject and consult him freely and confidentially on every phase of the matter, so that he has been to us a very admirable book of reference upon all questions connected with the Canal. Now, of course, on this particular question of the physical condition of the Canal, Colonel Stokes testimony would be of great value; and it is with very great satisfaction that I have found Colonel Stokes reports as to the measures which have been adopted for dredging have of late been more and more cheerful, and that the probability of a very large outlay being needed for securing access to Port Said has become less and less. It is impossible to say what another year or two will bring forth; but as far as we can see at present, the opinion seems to be that it is not exceedingly probable that any very large or gigantic expenditure will be called for for purposes of that kind. We found that the Canal was in good order; we found that the difficulties with which it was threatened were at all events smoothed over; and at the beginning of last autumn those who had the 277 success of the Canal at heart were in good spirits, and satisfied with the state of things. But in the meantime let us go back to the position of the Khedive. The financial difficulties of the Khedive had been continually increasing, as such difficulties are apt to do. It would not be correct to say that the expenditure in connection with the Suez Canal had been altogether the cause of these difficulties, but it had undoubtedly contributed to-words them. The Khedive, who is a man of a very ardent temperament—very keen indeed to improve the condition of his country, and ready to expend money not merely upon frivolous luxuries, but upon works which are intended, and, under certain circumstances, are calculated to develop the resources of the country—had been out spending himself. The consequence was, he was pressed for money. Not only was that the case, but the financial administration of Egypt is in an unsatisfactory condition, and the manner in which his finances have been guided has not been such as to do fair and full justice to his resolves. The ready means which presented itself to him was to part with or mortgage the property which he possessed. There were always people ready to lend the money on terms very much more to their advantage than to his. There were people who would purchase his property, but on terms rather more favourable to the buyer than to the seller. Now, his property was not only important to him as the Ruler of Egypt, but it was more or less of international importance, consisting, as it did, of railways, and harbours, and other undertakings in a country which is on the highway of the world; and it was to be deprecated that the Khedive should divest himself of it, and that it should pass into the hands of those who would only desire to make as much money of it as they could. The Khedive, I would point out, has frequently parted with property at a moment of pressure at what I cannot help feeling was much less than its real value. Perhaps the circumstances of the moment were such that it could not be otherwise. Let me just give as an illustration the result of his parting with these coupons, of which we have heard so much, and of which we shall hear so much more. I mean the coupons on the shares which we bought. The Khedive found himself to be indebted to the Company in a 278 sum of 30,000,000 francs. He had to raise that money, and the way in which it occurred to him to raise it was by cutting off the coupons of his 176,000 shares for twenty-five years and handing them over to the Company. The Company, in place of these 176,000 coupons, issued 120,000 délégations, of the same nominal amount (500 francs), but they issued them at the price of 270 francs. At that price the issue produced rather more than the required 30,000,000 francs. The holders of the délégations are entitled to the interest and dividends which the Khedive would have been receiving had he retained his coupons. But what is now the value of these délégations? They represent the property which the Khedive parted with in order to raise the sum of 30,000,000 francs, and they are now worth upwards of 70,000,000 francs; in that way, and by transactions such as that, it is obvious that the Khedive was rashly and hastily parting with his property in order to meet present necessities without reference to its future value. I must apologize to the Committee for going at such length into this subject. It may seem to be travelling out of the way, but I think it was necessary that I should make these few observations. I come now to the actual transaction which we are submitting to the consideration of the House at the present moment. In the middle of November my noble Friend the Secretary for Foreign Affairs received some communications which led him to believe that negotiations were going on with the view of enabling the Khedive to raise more money by the sale or mortgage of his Canal shares. My noble Friend accordingly made inquiries, through our able Consul General at Cairo, for the purpose of ascertaining whether such was the case. It at once appeared to us that the transaction was one which was, for many reasons, undesirable. We were the more alive to the injury which would result to the Khedive from hastily pledging those shares, because, immediately before this. His Highness had asked the English Government to give him the assistance of one or two gentlemen from England in the regulation of his finances. That was a request which made us naturally feel more interest than would otherwise, perhaps, have been the case in the step which we found he was about to take. 279 We could not help feeling that, excellent thing as it might be to send out one or two of our best accountants to Egypt, it would be still more valuable to him when it appeared to us that he was about to take an unwise financial step that we should offer him our advice. The first impulse of the Government, therefore, was to counsel him not to raise money on those shares; but to give that bare advice without at the same time offering any alternative, we thought might be a course which, although it might be looked upon by His Highness as very kind and well meant, yet would at the same time be exceedingly futile. He would, perhaps, say—" I am in a position in which it is absolutely necessary for me, in order to avoid bankruptcy, to raise three or four millions of money within the next few weeks, and unless you show me some other way to do so, this is the mode in which I must proceed." Under these circumstances, we caused it to be intimated to him that if he desired to part with the shares, we should not be unwilling to enter into communications with him with the view to becoming the purchasers of them ourselves, if fair terms could be arranged. I will not trouble the Committee by going through the different stages of the transaction. The answer we received was that His Highness did not at the present moment wish to pledge the shares, but that if he should be disposed to sell them he would give the British Government the preference in the purchase. For the next 10 days we were in the constant receipt of intelligence, sometimes official, sometimes private, with reference to proposals which were being made to the Khedive for the purchase of the shares. Sometimes we were informed that the Anglo-Egyptian Bank was negotiating the purchase; sometimes the Société Générale; sometimes one thing and sometimes another; and we undoubtedly had good reason to suppose that something serious was going on with respect to them. In the meantime we did what we could to keep ourselves well informed on the subject by means of constant communication with our Consul General in Egypt. We repeated the proposal that the Government were willing to send a confidential agent, if necessary, to confer with the Khedive in regard to the shares. At length, on the 25th of November—I 280 think it was—we received a communication which appeared to make it obvious that the matter had come to a crisis. We were informed that the Khedive had-had a distinct offer of £4,000,000 for the shares, while he desired it should be intimated to us that he would give us the preference, and that we might have them at that price. I must pause here to correct a misapprehension as to a statement which has been attributed to my noble Friend the Secretary for Foreign Affairs. He was represented to have said, in "another place," that the French Government were anxious to buy those shares; but what he said was, not that the French Government, but a French Company was desirous of making the purchase. I mention this because the French Government have taken notice of the misreport, and have asked me to say that they never did propose to make such an offer. I have now come to the point when the question presented itself for decision, whether we should or should not buy them ourselves. It may be said—I have heard it said—that we were over-alarmed, and that if we had held our hands a little, nothing would have come of the whole affair. From the communications which we received, however, it was perfectly clear to us that an offer for the purchase of the shares had been made, and we felt that if we had shrunk from the purchase, and had allowed the shares to get into the hands of a foreign country, we should have been reproached by England; and, I may add, we should have reproached ourselves. There are cases in which you must, after all, trust to the judgment of somebody. I can only say that we were fully alive to the responsibility of our position. We knew we were taking a step of a very novel and a very important character. We knew it was a step which would be looked upon with a very jealous and a very critical eye. We knew, besides, that if it happened to be a step which the country did not approve, the consequences to the Government would be of a nature which I need not further indicate. But we thought we should be cowards if we were to shrink from the responsibility of fulfilling the trust which had been committed to our keeping. We did not come to a sudden decision—that is to say, we did not come to a decision the first moment this proposal was made to 281 us without a due knowledge of the circumstances of the case. We did not come to a resolution in the course of an hour or two. We had had this question of the Suez Canal for months and years under our notice, and we had had this special crisis under our notice for a period of more than 10 days. We had at our command information enabling us fully to understand what we were about, and we arrived at our decision deliberately. Now, what were the considerations which induced us to come to that decision? It may be said that it is all very well to point out that which nobody doubted, that this Canal is a very valuable highway for our commerce, and a most important road of access to our Indian Empire; but, after all, we shall be asked, what advantage is it to our interests to have become the purchasers of these shares in the Canal? Now, in the first place, we have to look, not only at the results of the step which we have taken, but at the alternative of what would probably have been the consequences if we had not taken it. Those shares were in the market, of that we were satisfied. If we did not buy them, somebody else would; and we had to consider what would be the effect of such a purchase. It is said that we have got shares which will bring us in no dividend, and which will only give us 10 votes; but, even so, is it not something to have prevented others acquiring so large a number of shares, which they might, perhaps, split up, and be desirous of bringing to account by offering them here and there? For my own part, I do not think it would have been desirable that we should have so great a voting power suddenly thrown into the hands of we did not know whom. I do not undertake to forecast the future of this Canal. Nobody can forecast it. It has been said that it may be bought up and thrown open to the whole world. Others have said that it may be converted into an international undertaking. Well, whatever might be the case, we should have to bear the lion's share of any price that would have had to be paid for it. And so, too, we should have had to do in respect of any international expenditure in connection with it. If works had to be constructed beyond the means of the Company for keeping up this important means of international communication, we, no doubt, should 282 have to pay that 70 per cent, or whatever it might be, which was fairly attributable to our position as customers. These are matters which we had to take into account; but, above all, we had to consider the possible political consequences of leaving the matter open. We had no intention of turning the Canal into a political engine for our own purposes, but we were very desirous not to see it used as a political engine against us. We have been asked whether we look upon this purchase as the more important with reference to a state of war or of peace, and I, in answer to that question, say that I look upon the transaction as one of great importance for preventing complications and for preserving peace. But we are told that perhaps we did right in purchasing these shares, but that we have paid too dearly for them. I should like to ask those who say this whether they mean that we paid more than the shares were worth, or more than we might have been able to get them for if we had haggled for them and offered £1,000,000 or £500,000 less than it is proposed to pay? I very much doubt, looking at the position of the Khedive, and the fact that he had an immediate necessity for this particular sum of money, whether it would have been possible to obtain the shares on lower terms than those we were asked to pay. The Khedive would say—"I must realize this amount of money somehow," and he would have gone to some one else and got it on worse terms. I will now deal with the question of whether we have made so bad a bargain as in some quarters we are told we have. The noble Lord opposite (the Marquess of Hartington) told us the other night that he had analyzed our purchase, and found that we had bought shares with a deferred interest for £2,000,000—for that was what he said they were worth in the market—and that we had lent the other £2,000,000 as a loan at an interest of 10 per cent. The process in which the noble Lord indulged reminded me of what some schoolboys do when they purchase knives—they say—"I give so much for the blade and so much for the handle." I prefer to look at the transaction as a whole; and if I have a right so to look at it, I may put the business in a light different from that in which the noble Lord regarded it. I should not be nearly as wide of the mark 283 as was the noble Lord if I said that we have bought this valuable property at a price which will give it to us for nothing after a certain number of years; because, having agreed to pay £4,000,000 for the shares, we are to receive interest upon the purchase-money at the rate of 6 per cent per annum. If the House assents to the Vote now before it, it will in due time be my duty to propose the financial arrangements by which the purchase is to be completed. The nature of the arrangement which I shall propose will be that we should keep this transaction apart from the ordinary finance of the year; that we should raise a sum of money by means of a loan from the Commissioners of the National Debt, and that we should apply the £200,000 a-year to be received as interest on the purchase-money in payment of the interest on the loan and reduction of the principal, so that within a certain number of years—36, I think—we shall be entirely free of the payment, and shall have our property in the Canal for nothing. This will, of course, be conditional upon two things—firstly, that the Khedive continues regularly to pay his £200,000 a-year. ["Hear, hear!" from the Opposition]; and, secondly, that the Canal during the interval between the 19 and the 35 years continues to pay its 5 per cent of interest, which we have every reason to hope and believe will be the case. I will reply in a moment to the cheer which we heard a moment back from the benches opposite. When we are asked what we have got for our money, I reply that we have got two things. In the first place, we have got value for our money; and, in the second place, we have obtained influence in the administration of the Canal. We may be asked to explain the nature of the influence which we have acquired. To this question Lord Derby gave an answer which, perhaps, was sufficient, when he said—If anybody doubts that the possessor of two-fifths of the shares in this Canal obtains no influence, it is as difficult to argue with him as with a man who says that two and two do not make four.I must mention to the Committee that our influence will not be limited to the possession of 10 votes. The effect of this transaction has been the establishment of very friendly relations between 284 Colonel Stokes, the representative of Her Majesty's Government, and M. de Lesseps, one result of which has been that arrangements are in progress which will, we hope, lead to a settlement of the questions connected with tonnage dues, which have caused so much agitation, and also to the introduction into the administration of the Company of three representatives of England. Something has been said about the proportion of voting power which will be possessed by these representatives as compared with that of the other persons who will take part in the administration of the Company; but I would remark that it is not merely the number of votes they may possess which will give them influence, but the fact that they will be present as the representatives of England, and, as has been well said, votes in such cases are not only counted, but weighed. Then I come to the question of whether we shall get payment of the £200,000 a-year from the Khedive. I speak with some reserve upon this question, but I venture to say that I have every reason to think and to hope that we shall; I see no reason why we should not. It is very difficult for me to say anything upon this point without referring to another matter, upon which I am obliged to touch in the present condition of affairs, but regarding which the Committee will not expect me to say much—I mean, of course, the mission of Mr. Cave to Egypt. What I shall say on this question must be spoken with an amount of reserve, but it will be stated honestly and frankly. Papers which have been presented to the House fully show the origin of that mission, which, however, I may briefly state. In October last, before this question of the purchase of the Canal shares had arisen, the Khedive made application to Her Majesty's Government for the assistance of gentlemen or of a gentleman competent to assist him in the administration of his finances, and there was a disposition on the part of the Government to assist him, if possible. Such a request was not altogether unprecedented. It may be remembered that some years ago a somewhat similar application was made by the Turkish Government, and gentlemen were sent out to advise and report upon the financial position of Turkey. We were, as I have said, not unwilling to comply with the request of 285 the Khedive if we were able to do so in a satisfactory manner; but, of course, we felt that it would be a very delicate thing for us to send out gentlemen who might carry with them something of the financial prestige of England to mix themselves up with the financial administration of another country, and especially of a country which was in some financial difficulty. This point was considered for some time, and the Treasury, to whom the matter was referred, informed the Foreign Office that while there was every desire to give the assistance asked, it was important that they should be fully informed as to what was to be the position, the functions, and the powers of those gentlemen who might be sent out. We also took the opportunity of saying that which is a fundamental truth in these matters—namely, that if the finances of a country are to be set straight, it is not to be done by having skilful accountants to manipulate matters of detail, or by adopting the best possible methods which have been elaborated by the wisdom of countries the most advanced, but there must be a determination on the part of the Government of the country interested to conduct its affairs in a sound, honest, and rigorously economical manner. There is little hope for a country which does not act upon these principles; and we thought it essential to point out distinctly to the Khedive the nature of the conditions on which alone any gentleman could be sent out to Egypt as requested, in order that we might be satisfied that we were not sending out any one on a mere fool's errand, or in the nature of a show director of a company, and so giving a false and fictitious character to the finances of Egypt. It appeared to us that the position was one of so much delicacy and importance that it would not be at all unworthy the occasion to send out a Colleague of our own—a Gentleman of high position, great experience, and mature judgment—who would command the confidence, as we believed, both of this country and of the Ruler of Egypt. I need not say to hon. Members of this House that there was probably no man we could have selected who combines these qualities so well as my right hon. Friend (Mr. Cave). He went out on instructions which are in the hands of hon. Members, and he was received in a very favourable manner 286 by the Khedive. He was received with great friendliness, and was treated with great frankness. He was enabled by the Khedive to inspect everything that he chose to ask for, and, as far as it is possible to form a judgment, the information given to him was full and honest. I am not going—it would be wrong for me to do so—to state in anything like detail what the result of Mr. Cave's inquiries has so far been. I do not know that it would be right, under any circumstances, that the information he has collected and the reports he has prepared for the confidential advice of the Khedive, and which he has communicated confidentially to Her Majesty's Government, should be published. The more publication of figures would probably lead to complications and controversies which I think ought to be avoided. However, I reserve my opinion on that point. At the present moment it is impossible to give anything like the particular results of the figures; but this I may say, that the general result of Mr. Cave's inquiries convinces us of three things. It convinces us, in the first place, that the resources of Egypt are considerable—that they have been rapidly advancing and developing. In the second place, it convinces us that the financial administration of Egypt is, or has been, to a considerable extent, bad; and, thirdly, it has led us to form the opinion that if the Khedive will pursue the course pointed out in the letter to which I have referred, if he will honestly and sincerely devote himself to the control of his expenses and to the cutting off not only of all unproductive expenditure, but even to the limitation of works which might be reproductive, but which are at present beyond the extent of his capital, it would be possible for Egypt still to make the necessary arrangements to meet all her engagements, and for the Khedive to carry on his finances in a satisfactory manner. Under these circumstances. Her Majesty's Government have now to consider what course they ought to take with reference to the request made by the Khedive, and they have resolved that they will send out a gentleman of great official experience, who will go out to judge of the position which may be offered him for himself. If he considers that it is one he could usefully occupy, and in which 287 he will be able to do justice to himself and justice to the Egyptian Government, he will resign the important office he now holds in this country, and will accept service under the Khedive, entirely as a servant of the Khedive, and not as in any way connected with the British Government. If, however, that should not prove to be so, he will return and resume the post he now occupies. I should have stated that Mr. Rivers Wilson, the able Controller General of the National Debt Office, is the gentleman who has been selected to fill the office in question. I have now stated what we have thought it right to communicate to the House. It is impossible to say more at present as to the result of this transaction. I have only now to submit to the Committee the Vote which I have placed in the hands of the Chairman. We believe that the purchase is one which has been, and will be, advantageous to all parties concerned. We believe that it will be of advantage to this country, to the Ruler of Egypt, and to the great Company with which we have now associated ourselves. Our feelings towards that great Company and its distinguished founder and leading promoters are those of entire friendliness. We desire to associate ourselves with this important undertaking. I think that England made a great mistake in her incredulity at the outset. I hope it is not too late to retrieve that error, and to associate ourselves with the Company now that it has attained a position of prosperity. We believe that the effect of our taking our proper place in this matter, no longer separating ourselves in our character as customers from our interest as shareholders—but rather, I should say, combining the character of shareholders with that of customers—will be to strengthen, and perpetuate, and ensure the duration of this great work. It is not destined to be a nine years' wonder. It is destined to be an eternal possession of the human race; and it will, I am sure, be a proud satisfaction to us if England fulfils her proper part in securing and consolidating this great enterprize.
Motion made, and Question proposed,
That a sum, not exceeding £4,080,000 be granted to Her Majesty, to enable Her Majesty to pay the Purchase Money of the Shares which belonged to the Khedive of Egypt in the
Suez Canal, and the Expenses attendant thereon, which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March 1876!
THE MARQUESS OF HARTINGTON
I do not rise. Sir, for the purpose of following the Chancellor of the Exchequer through the long and important statement which he has just made. I merely rise to renew an appeal which I made on Friday last to the Chancellor of the Exchequer—but, unfortunately, in the absence of the Prime Minister—that he should not ask the House to proceed at once to discuss in detail the statement of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and take the Vote for which he asks. I think that I shall in very few words be able to show sufficiently good grounds why the request should be complied with. The right hon. Gentleman began his speech by acknowledging the difficulty which he felt in dealing with the mass of information which it would be his duty to lay before the House. Nobody complains that he has laid too much before us; but he has been as good as his word, and he has laid an immense mass of detailed information before us which was not before us previously. The right hon. Gentleman has gone not only through the history of the Suez Canal, but has given us a history of the financial position of Egypt, of the financial difficulties of the Khedive, and other information which, perhaps, was not in the possession of some of us. For the first time the right hon. Gentleman has gone into transactions as to which, I think, it would not be fair to ask the Committee hastily to express an opinion. That he has gone into all these matters with clearness and in great detail I admit; but still we have now for the first time fully stated the reasons which have induced Her Majesty's Government to take the course which they have adopted. We have been informed for the first time of the amount of representation we are to have in the direction of the Canal, and we have had laid before us, in much greater detail than were presented to us before, the reasons which induced Her Majesty's Government to send Mr. Cave upon a special mission to Egypt. I think the Committee will see that much of this is purely in the nature of new matter, and that we ought not to be required to decide upon the question before us immediately after hearing the statement of 289 the right hon. Gentleman. It is perfectly fair when all the information upon the subject is equally before both sides of the House that Her Majesty's Government should call upon us to answer the speeches which have been made by Members of the Government; but a great deal of what has been submitted to-night is entirely new matter, and I appeal to the fairness of Her Majesty's Government not to ask the Committee to come to a hasty and premature decision. If I had not already sufficient grounds for making this appeal, I would find another reason in the short time that the Papers have been laid before us. It is not yet a week since Parliament met, and I acknowledge there has been no delay in the presentation of the Papers. The first batch were Papers of a very interesting character, but not containing a great deal which was not known before. A much larger instalment was presented on Friday, and I shall be very much surprised to hear that there are many Members of the House who have fully mastered that second instalment of Papers. At first sight they appear not to contain information of a very valuable character; but when they are examined more carefully it will be found that they show in the clearest manner the difficulties which had arisen since the Constantinople Commission—difficulties not yet settled, and which will fairly require the action of our Government with a view to remove them. We have not had long to consider those Papers; the Papers which are promised the noble Lord the Member for Westmeath (Lord Robert Montagu) are not yet on the Table; and, under ail the circumstances, I can hardly imagine—although, through the courtesy of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, I have received an intimation that it is the wish of Her Majesty's Government to proceed to a vote to-night—that it will be thought reasonable, or for the interest of the public service, that a division upon so great and important a question as this should be taken hastily, and upon information so recently received.
§ MR. DISRAELI
Sir, so far as I can collect the feeling of the Committee it is not one favourable to the suggestion of the noble Lord. The noble Lord complains that a great mass of information is brought before the House for the first time, and it is called upon immediately 290 to decide in reference to that. Now, in the first place, we have no wish to curtail debate. The matter is in the hands of the Committee, who can prolong the discussion until they have satisfied themselves that they are in a position to come to a final decision. Then the noble Lord has spoken vaguely about the information before the House and the great quantity of new details my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer has presented to the Committee, and he has protested against being called upon to vote in the matter. But really the great body of details which the Chancellor of the Exchequer necessarily in his first complete statement on the subject has afforded to the Committee to-night were details already well known to the Committee. But when the noble Lord says that it is unfair to call upon the House to give a vote without having before it the details of Mr. Cave's mission, I would remind him that the Tote before us does not involve any approbation or disapprobation of that mission. That was a subject only incidentally and collaterally introduced by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer, for the more complete elucidation of the subject of which he was treating; but it was not necessarily a part of his statement, so far as regards the Vote which the Committee are called upon to give. And therefore, when we look to the gist of the complaint of the noble Lord it seems to be this—that we have been favoured to-night with details about Mr. Cave's mission, and therefore we ought not to be called upon to give a vote for the £4,000,000 for the shares of the Khedive. The two subjects, however, have no necessary connection, as I have already pointed out to the Committee, and approbation or disapprobation of Mr. Cave's mission is not involved in the Vote before us. These are the real reasons given by the noble Lord. The other reason is that the Papers moved for by the noble Lord the Member for Westmeath (Lord Robert Montagu) have not yet been laid upon the Table of the House; and when they are before us, I doubt whether they will throw any great illustration on the subject. To postpone the Vote because the bye-laws—which do not exist—of the Suez Canal Company are desired by the noble Lord the Member for Westmeath seems to me to be a reason of insufficient validity. 291 I trust the noble Lord will not press this matter. Let us go on with the discussion. I do not ask for the Vote to-night. On the contrary, I wish the question to be thoroughly discussed. If the Committee go on to-night and should wish to adjourn the debate until to-morrow, or the day after, or the whole week, I shall not murmur. On the contrary, I should think that course would be very advantageous. But to postpone this Vote, and thus to disturb all the arrangements for Public Business which have been made is a very unusual request. And, believing that I have always shown anxiety to meet the wishes of the House of Commons, I hope and trust the noble Lord will, upon reflection, not press me to assent to a Motion which would be most inconvenient to the public service.
Sir, I was hardly prepared for the answer which the right hon. Gentleman has just given to the request of my noble Friend. He says he does not wish to have the Vote tonight if the House should think that an adjourned debate is necessary. But what the right hon. Gentleman does wish is that we should enter upon this most important discussion with insufficient information. ["No."] I am not appealing to the abstract opinion of hon. Gentlemen opposite; but I think I can show the truth of what I say. In the first place, I must say that with regard to a subject at once so novel, so important, and so complicated as this, quite irrespective of Parliamentary Papers, the House—aye, and not only that, but the minority of the House—for which the right hon. Gentleman has not so much mercy as he had in former times—is entitled to expect some time for consideration after hearing for the first time an exposition of the policy of the Government. For I maintain it is the first time the policy of the Government has been explained. All that has been said on a former occasion was by way of answer to one or two inquiries upon one or two incidental points. When important financial propositions are made on the Budget, time is always allowed for their consideration. It is quite true that these financial propositions are not known before, and that this has been. But, on the other hand, such financial propositions relate to subject-matters with which we are all conversant, and usually lie 292 within the lines of precedent. But as my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer has truly said—and as all the admirers and critics of the measure have uniformly said—this is one of the most novel and unusual proceedings that have ever been submitted to Parliament. When, in bringing in the Army and Navy Estimates it happens that the exposition of any particular subject involves novelty of matter, it is the common courtesy of the Government to allow to the House and to the minority time for consideration before asking them to enter into the discussion. But this request of my noble Friend enters upon ground very much more specific. When Her Majesty's Government have called our attention to certain official Papers, and have assented to requests for the production of Papers connected with a particular question, there is an absolute right on the part of the House to request that these Papers should be in the hands of Members before the House enters upon a debate which is to end in a definite vote. Now, how does this matter stand? The Chancellor of the Exchequer has found fault with himself, and has modestly apologized for the length of his speech. Now, I confess I am more inclined to complain of its brevity. A more concise speech generally on a matter of such importance I never heard; but upon one branch of the question—and that the most vital of the whole—he said nothing, except that there was a likelihood that we should have three members sitting on the Direction—with regard to which Direction some inquisitive persons suggested an inquiry as to numbers, and that inquiry was summarily put aside. But the one thing I am anxious to know is this—What is the position into which we are to enter as shareholders? What are the legal rights that we possess as shareholders? and, what are the legal remedies to which we shall be entitled as shareholders? In what Courts and under what circumstances and conditions of law will those rights be asserted and those remedies be granted? These are at once the most important and the most difficult portions of the whole question. And upon these my right hon. Friend has not said one single word. The right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Government, taking credit for his own uniform courtesy in meeting the wishes of 293 the House—perhaps it would have been better for him to wait for the compliment from some one else—requires, not that we shall proceed to vote to-night, but only that we shall proceed to speak to-night. But as I wish not to vote without information, so I have a considerable objection to speaking without information. Now in this matter we are shareholders. Do the Government consider that we are in possession at the present moment of all the information which we ought to have with respect to our position as shareholders? No, Sir. Turn to the Papers presented this morning, and you will find that the Government do not possess this information. Lord Derby writes to Colonel Stokes on the 6th of December—Her Majesty's Government also desire that you should confer with Her Majesty's Agent and Consul-General in Egypt on the subject of the recent purchase on behalf of Great Britain, of the shares in the Suez Canal heretofore hold by his Highness the Khedive, and furnish a report on the position which Her Majesty's Government will occupy as possessors of those shares.Now, Sir, that is a Report required by Her Majesty's Government as part of the information necessary to a full understanding of the case. I have said that this information is not in their hands. I do not know whether it is or not; but it is not in our hands, and, clearly, it is right and necessary that such a Report should be in our hands. This is a question with respect to which, if nothing else, the extreme complication of its details will render it necessary to approach it in a dispassionate spirit. There is another reason for keeping this question, if we can, out of the vortex of Party discussion and dealing with it as a matter of business. We are discussing it in the face of the world. Europe has great interest in this matter, as well as ourselves; and any weakness, or passion, or unconstancy we may show in dealing with it will, undoubtedly, be severely criticized. I am sure Her Majesty's Government will not complain that this proposal was not originally received by the public as a Party question. For my part, I should have found it difficult—so far as the metropolitan Press at least was concerned—to draw a distinction between that portion which was Conservative and that which was Liberal in their—I may almost say—inflammatory approval of the measure. For my 294 part, I must say that I am not willing to discuss the question without the information which Her Majesty's Government have pointed out to us as being an essential portion of what is requisite. The House may take its own line. It may be that the right hon. Gentleman may have estimated the intentions and views of the majority aright; but I feel it to be my duty to reserve for myself every opportunity of giving a very calm and very careful consideration to the entire subject on which the Chancellor of the Exchequer has given us so much assistance to-night; and I am very much obliged to him for it. I certainly feel unable to enter into the discussion with any advantage to the House in the condition in which this matter now stands, and our course will be a very simple one. If the Government persevere in their views, we shall have to record our respectful protest against so unusual and inconvenient a manner of proceeding. And I shall reserve the remarks I mean to make until some future stage of the discussion, when I hope the very important Papers moved for by my right hon. Friend the Member for Bradford (Mr. W. E. Forster), and the Report of Colonel Stokes, to which our attention is directed in the Papers, are on the Table of the House. I trust that time will be given for the better consideration of this question. I do seriously point out to the right hon. Gentleman that the course he proposes to take is without precedent. I am not aware in what sense it can serve the public convenience that the House should be required to enter upon this Vote when Papers, indicated by the Government and allowed to be material, have not been laid on the Table of the House.
§ LORD ROBERT MONTAGU
entirely concurred in the view taken by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Greenwich. There were special reasons why the debate on this question should be postponed. Without seeing the statutes of the Company and the bye-laws, which the Prime Minister said did not exist, they could not know either their rights or obligations as shareholders. If the right hon. Gentleman doubted the existence of the bye-laws, let him read the despatch written by Lord Derby, in which he urges that they should be at once sent home for the information of 295 the Government. It was clear from the language of the concession and the resolutions of the Company, that shares purchased with a view to acquire moral influence in the administration of the Canal were illegal, and an infringement on the rights of the Sultan, who had the power of withdrawing his consent to the bargain they made with the Khedive whenever he pleased. The discussion ought therefore to he postponed till the resolutions and bye-laws of the Company were produced. The question was not as to the enormous benefit of the Canal to us—that was undoubted—but whether we were right in purchasing these shares by gambling with the people's money, of which we were the trustees. He maintained it was a stock-jobbing transaction, one stock-jobber helping another. It was like the case of an officer in the Army who, in order to support his extravagance, got into the hands of Jews. The Chancellor of the Exchequer had advanced only two arguments—first, if we had not bought the shares which gave us 10 votes at the Board they would have fallen into other hands; but if others had bought them they might have been split into a great many votes, and every owner of 25 shares, so far from attempting to shut the Canal, would have done all they could to keep it open. Their interests would have bound them to assist us in doing that which we could not do with merely 10 votes. The other argument of the Chancellor of the Exchequer was that negotiations were in progress by which he hoped to have three English directors on the Council. That only showed that the right hon. Gentleman had not taken the trouble to read the concession. If he had read it, he would have seen that M. de Lesseps was absolutely despotic. He could do what he liked, and the Board or Council could do very little indeed. There was another reason for postponing this debate. He would quote the opinion of a man who had studied this subject for 33 years and made it his own—a man who had been the political tutor of the Prime Minister in his youth, and who had since been his political Mentor—he meant Mr. David Urquhart. He asked those who were acquainted with the writings of that gentleman whether they had not seen his thoughts and arguments frequently repeated by the Prime Minister. When the words he was about to quote 296 were written, the Chancellor of the Exchequer and Lord Derby had spoken on the subject; and what did the political Mentor of the Prime Minister say? He said—The purchase of the Suez Canal shares was the act of Mr. Disraeli: we need not, therefore, attach any importance to the trivial words quoted about the transaction by other Members of the Government.He (Lord Robert Montagu) thought they need not trouble themselves, therefore, about what the Chancellor of the Exchequer and Lord Derby said. Certainly the Firman, the concession, and the statutes of the Company ought to be produced before this discussion was allowed to proceed.
§ MR. W. E. FORSTER
desired to bring back the Committee to what was really the question before them—Whether the Government would or would not accede to the appeal of his noble Friend and his right hon. Friend the Member for Greenwich to postpone the discussion of this Vote till another evening? The noble Lord who had just sat down began by urging that the debate should be postponed because they were not in a position to discuss the subject; although he certainly went on to discuss it. But, looking at this matter in a business-like point of view—and they they must look at it in a business-like point of view—he did not think they had the information before them which would enable them fully to discuss it. He could understand, though he should very much regret if the Government should say that they could hardly afford to wait till they got the Reports of Mr. Cave and Colonel Stokes; but they would be in a much better position if they had them. At any rate, they had a right to ask that the documents which did exist should be placed in their hands. With regard to the statutes, he had been kindly referred by the Chancellor of the Exchequer to volumes in the Library which contained them. He had found them, and he must say they were of so much importance that they ought to be circulated to every Member of the House. He wanted to know what power we had obtained by the purchase of the shares; how far we had put ourselves into the hands of the present administration of the Canal; whether it was possible to change that administration; and how far we were bound by the resolutions of a general 297 meeting? The Committee had a right to know to what we have given our adhesion. He was perfectly aware that the question was looked at quite otherwise than from a financial point of view; but it certainly was revolting to any man of business to be told that he was to purchase anything subject to conditions of the nature of which he was ignorant.
THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXGHE-QUER
said, with respect to what had just fallen from the right hon. Gentleman and the noble Lord (Lord Robert Montagu), that it might be convenient to make a short explanation as to the bye-laws, because he thought they had been misunderstood. The circumstances were these. There were the Concessions, and accompanying the Concessions were what were called in French the statuts of the Company. That expression was translated in one instance "bye-laws," but there were no bye-laws. [Lord ROBERT MONTAGU said, that was what he meant; statutes or by laws.] These were in course of preparation. At present they were in the hands of the Foreign Office printer, and would, no doubt, be soon presented to the House. Then with regard to the resolutions, undoubtedly the shareholders were bound by the resolutions passed at the general meetings of the Company. The Company held its meetings regularly; at each meeting there was a report and certain proceedings; and, naturally, certain resolutions were passed. He had had the whole of the proceedings at the meetings since the commencement looked through, and he was told there were hardly any resolutions that were of the smallest general importance. They were, for the most part, resolutions approving of some statement of accounts, or electing directors, or other matters of no great importance; and, indeed, they could not be, because if they amounted to anything like a change of the statutes they could be of no avail without the consent of the Egyptian Government. However, directions had been given that such resolutions as appeared to have any general interest should be attached to the statutes. The matter would be pushed forward as fast as possible. He wished also to mention this. Some little time ago, one of the Legal Advisers of the Government was employed to make them a careful memorandum and précis of the statuts, and of the various questions connected 298 with them. In that précis he set out shortly all the more important questions; and that Paper would be printed and delivered in the course of a day or two. It was not a very long one, and contained information that would be of great interest. It would give the Concessions, extracts from the principal articles of the statutes, the agreement, and the arbitration of the Emperor of the French.
§ MR. DILLWYN
rose to support the appeal made from the front Opposition Bench. He did so as one who, with the information he now possessed, was altogether in favour of what the Government had done; but the Committee was not in possession of all the information it ought to have.
§ MR. EVELYN ASHLEY
observed, that whereas the Chancellor of the Exchequer had told them in his speech that we should have little or nothing to spend on the property, we were asked to take up, he found that that view was entirely opposed to the view taken by M. de Lesseps, who knew more about the Canal than anybody else; because as he (Mr. Ashley) understood, the whole course of the disputes during the last year between the Company and the maritime powers had turned upon this—that the state of the Canal was such as would require a large expenditure to make it fit for conveying the commerce of the world. Without having the Re-port of Colonel Stokes before them, it was impossible for the House to deal with the statement of the Chancellor of the Exchequer.
§ MR. DISRAELI
I only wish to say—and I do so with some trepidation, lest I may again be accused of paying myself a compliment—that I think the predominant feeling of the House, and, indeed, the feeling of the minority, ought to be considered. I never did absolutely oppose the suggestion of the noble Lord. I only said I did not think there was any precedent for it, and I thought there should be good reasons shown in favour of it before I acceded to the suggestion of the noble Lord. Now, the business is one that cannot be delayed beyond a certain point without grave inconvenience to the public service. It has been suggested that the Vote ought to be put off until Thursday; but I myself feel that if it is to be dealt with for the reasons alleged we ought to give to its consideration 299 as much time as possible. The statutes referred to are in the Library; but they are somewhat elaborate, and I will make every exertion to have them placed soon upon the Table. My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer has offered to give to the Committee what they would find very convenient—a precis, or synopsis, prepared by an eminent authority; and therefore, so far as the statutes are concerned, I should imagine we shall have sufficient information when the discussion comes on. With respect to what has been said about a Report of Colonel Stokes, the subject to which it would relate is at present in negotiation, and when circumstances are in negotiation, critical remarks in popular assemblies do not do much good. Therefore, I would deprecate any discussion on that subject. It would be impossible that we could produce a Report which does not yet exist, and which would embody results which I trust may be accomplished, but which have not yet been. But the other Papers we shall do our best to produce. I shall propose, then, that the debate be adjourned until this day week.
§ Motion agreed to.
§ Debate adjourned till Monday next.
§ House resumed.
§ Committee report Progress; to sit again upon Wednesday.