§ SUPPLY—considered in Committee.
§ (In the Committee.)
Question again 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?'
§ MR. LOWE
, in resuming the adjourned debate, remarked that the first question to be settled was, oddly enough, the nature of the transaction they were about to discuss. The matter might be thought to be perfectly clear, but there was really an amount of doubt about it which it was desirable to dispel, and which he would endeavour to explain. On the first night of the Session the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Treasury said—We asked the house of Rothschild to purchase those shares on our engagement to ask the House of Commons to take them off their hands. It was a great risk.Now, if that were really the question which the House had to consider there would be a very great probability that the House, having carefully considered the matter, would think that that was a transaction which it was not called upon necessarily to ratify at all; because the house of Rothschild having made the purchase only on the faith that the Government would recommend the House of Commons to take the purchase off their hands, no money would have passed, and it would have been open to the House of Commons to consider the whole question as if no pledge had been given. But that was not the case, he was sorry to say. The right hon. Gentleman was not quite accurate in his statement, though the real facts of the case were stated by the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Properly speaking, the question was not of our taking the shares off Messrs. Rothschild's hands, but of our having purchased the shares and borrowed money from Messrs. Rothschild to pay for them. That was a simple description of the transaction, and disposed of the statement of the First Lord of the Treasury on the first night of the Session, made no doubt from the erroneous view that no money had passed. So far from no money having passed, the fact was that £4,000,000 had been lent to the English Government on the faith that they would apply to Parliament for repayment, and that was an extremely different question from the question whether we were not bound to 564 take upon ourselves the purchase made by other persons even under the recommendation of the Government. Nor was it therefore true that, as the right hon. Gentleman said, it was a great risk, because when money had been borrowed on behalf of the English Government—when they had had the money and actually spent it—the House of Commons would not be likely to say—" We have had the money and will not repay it." This point, as the Committee would see, was not an unimportant one. He had now, singularly enough, to charge the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer with inaccuracy—a circumstance so unlikely that it would require the strongest proof. In this case, however, he did not think there was any room for doubt. The right hon. Gentleman had moved for a Vote of £4,080,000, and that Vote was made up in this way—there was £3,976,582, the purchase money of the shares, and there was £99,414 for the commission of 2½ per cent to Messrs. Rothschild. Then there was about £4,000 for small expenses; and the Chancellor of the Exchequer laid these sums before the House as being the whole cost of the shares. So far, however, from that being the whole cost, the fact was that there had to be added a sum of £37,000; and for this reason, that the Messrs. Rothschild were not only to receive a commission of 2½per cent on the amount of the purchase, but were also to charge interest at the rate of 5 per cent per annum on the £4,000,000 until the date of repayment. There was the difficulty. No doubt there was some misunderstanding here, for there were two accounts of what was to be done—one contained in the Treasury Minute, and the other in a letter written by Messrs. Rothschild themselves. In the Treasury Minute it was distinctly stated that the Messrs. Rothschild were to charge a commission of 21 per cent on the £4,000,000 which they undertook to provide, and also that they were to receive the interest of 5 per cent from the Khedive upon the amount advanced from the date of the advance until the date of repayment of such advance by Her Majesty's Government. On the other hand, the Messrs. Rothschild, having been asked by the Secretary to the Treasury to state their terms in writing, gave a very different version of the affair. They write— 565It is also understood that we are to charge Her Majesty's Government a commission of 2½ per cent upon the £4,000,000, and 5 per cent interest per annum until the date of repayment.So that it appeared from the Treasury Minute that this was to be paid by the Khedive, whereas according to Messrs. Rothschild'a Minute it was to be paid by the Government. Now, if it was worth while to write to Messrs. Rothschild to ask them to put their contract in form, one would have thought that it would have been worth while to ascertain who was right and who was wrong. That, however, did not appear to have been done, and so the matter remained in its present state. There was, however, no doubt about it. Of course Messrs. Rothschild's letter was what they would be bound by and not the Treasury Minute, and it was the duty of the Government to pay them this 5 per cent, and they ought not to look for it from the Khedive. Of course, if the Khedive did pay it, it would really be we who would pay it all the same, because it would be intercepting money that was to come to us from the Khedive. He maintained that it was the duty of the Government to have made this sum for interest, whatever it happened to be, part of the Vote. They would not have the thing clearly and fairly before them until that was done; and, as to intercepting the money before it reached the Treasury, he submitted that that was a most improper proceeding. The rule of the Treasury, as he understood it, was that all monies coming to the Government should be paid into the Exchequer, and that all monies paid by the Government should come out of the Exchequer, and it was never permitted that money should be received and paid away by the Government without going through that process. It never could be allowed that money should be intercepted in its course, and a debtor of the Government allowed to pay to a creditor of the Government. The whole proceeding appeared to him as irregular, and they had a right to insist that the sum, whatever it was, that had to be paid for the forbearance of this interest should be inserted in the Vote. Not to do so was really misleading the House as to the amount that the purchase had cost. The Khedive, as far as he could see, was not a gentleman likely to let money lie idle 566 in the bank, and it was probable that as soon as the money was in the bank it would be out of it. As far as he could estimate it, that sum would amount to £37,000, which was a considerable item in addition to the £100,000 which they were to pay already for this service; and he put it to the House whether it would not be better to reform the Vote by including that amount and making provision for its payment. As he was upon this subject, he might say—and he did so with great regret—that the sums to be thus charged were of the most exorbitant character. They really almost surpassed belief. Let them remember that the house of Rothschild had done nothing for them but to lend them the money. It was a simple question of borrowing on certain terms. But on what terms did they borrow? There was an element of uncertainty in it which he could not very well master; therefore he would not put down any estimate of his own which might be liable to cavil and objection. It was quite clear that the sum the house of Rothschild would receive was about £137,000, and what they had done for that was to forbear what would be the equivalent of £1,000,000 for nine months. There was not the least risk in the world as to the money being paid, and to charge the British Government at the rate of something approaching 20 per cent on a pure borrowing transaction was a matter most necessary the Government should justify and explain in a manner more satisfactory than he had heard yet, for it was not merely that it was a heavy loss, but it put this country on a level with all those States which experienced a difficulty in borrowing money. It was a degradation to us. If anybody told them that England in the present day would borrow money at 15 or 20 per cent, would any man have believed it? It was all the worse because it was not put forward honestly and fairly as borrowing. It was put on the ground of commission, although it had nothing to do with commission. He also thought it would be an objectionable proceeding that any Government in a matter of this kind should deal by itself face to face with any private concern whatever. The Government had an agency to which it could always have recourse in matters of this nature for advice and assistance, and that he 567 conceived to be the Governor and Deputy Governor of the Bank of England. He thought every Minister who was wise and prudent, and wished to save his name from any slur or reproach, would adopt that course. What had happened to himself? He had to pay to the Government of America £3,200,000, and the question was how to pay it. "What he did was this—he sent for the Governor and Deputy Governor of the Bank of England and asked their advice, and they hit on a plan of paying the money by which, instead of charging the Government anything for paying that amount in gold on the day fixed, they actually saved £5,000 out of that amount. The question arose, no doubt, what was the proper course to be taken—whether, as the right hon. Gentleman seemed to say on the first night of the Session, we could, if we wished, refuse to pay this money? He (Mr. Lowe) maintained that there was no such possibility. We were bound to pay the money, and, grievous as he might think it was, there was no alternative whatever. There was, therefore, no risk in making the loan, because we could not avoid paying it, and that was founded on the plainest principles of public policy; because everyone must admit that occasions would arise when it might be most desirable that the Government should borrow money, and if we so dealt with the present transaction as that the person who lent the money should have the least excuse for saying he ran a risk that the borrower would not fulfil his pledge, the result would be that in difficult and dangerous times, when party spirit ran high, the Government would not be able to borrow the money at all, and in more tranquil times they would have to borrow it at a high rate of interest. The result, therefore, would be to take from the Government the possibility of borrowing money, and to give people an excuse which they were always ready to make—that there were risk and danger in the matter—and so exorbitant terms would be given and taken. Therefore, whatever might be their opinion of this transaction, they were bound as a matter of honour to fulfil their pledge, and on that point he should give his vote for Her Majesty's Government, only hoping that they would make the thing complete by adding an estimate for the rest of the money 568 which we should certainly pay. He turned now from the form of the question to the substance of it. This subject might be regarded from three points of view. It might be considered as a great political demonstration, or as purely a financial affair, or merely as a question of acquiring an interest in the Canal. The first of these views, no doubt, made the Government very popular, and was caught up by the Press, especially in the metropolis, and by many newspapers throughout the country, because they believed that a spirited policy was at hand, which, however expensive it might be to the rest of the community, was sure to be profitable to the newspapers. They thought we were about to have stirring events, and a great deal of popularity was made for the Government in that way. The newspapers went upon the view that what we were doing in Egypt would ultimately lead to establishing a Protectorate, and to placing us in very stirring and exciting circumstances, which would be exceedingly agreeable to all the readers of the daily and weekly Press. That view being entertained by the writers of the daily and weekly Press, they must have undergone a great deal of disappointment when they found the idea repudiated by the Government, and of course they had all no choice but to accept that repudiation. But while they accepted it, he thought they must complain that the withdrawal of this element had left some of the conduct of the Government absolutely and entirely unintelligible. He alluded now to the mission of Mr. Cave. Could anyone tell them with what object the mission was undertaken, if it was not with a view of a political demonstration? The facts were very short. On the 4th of November Nuba Pasha wrote to General Stanton as follows:—I have had the honour of speaking to you respecting the two persons whom His Highness would be desirous of engaging to fill, in the Finance Department, and under the direction and orders of the Minister of Finance, the two divisions of that Department—that is to say, the direction of the receipts and the direction of the expenditure. His Highness has also spoken to you on the same subject, as well as Sir Bartle Frere. It would be desirable that the persons to be engaged, or at least one of them, should be not only familiar with the internal organization of the divisions which would be intrusted to them, such as simplifying the system of keeping the registers, the drawing up of financial statements, &c., but that they should also be familiar 569 with the principles of political economy, which, in modem times, have been the cause of revealing the true principles which govern the development of the resources and riches of a country. I beg you, on the part of His Highness, to have the goodness to apply to the Foreign Office to recommend to us two persons having the necessary requirements to fill these posts, and at the same time to indicate the conditions which should be offered for their services.Now, under those circumstances, could anyone reasonably doubt what the answer of the Government ought to have been? Might they not have said that they would send out two young men well versed in such matters from one of the public offices, say, from the Inland Revenue, with the expression of a hope that their services would be found of use to the Khedive? That was what a reasonable Government would have done, and he had no doubt would have been done by Her Majesty's present Advisers had they not had some particular motive for taking a different course, and, as it seemed to him, some desire to make a great fuss and delay in the matter, for Lord Derby, in his reply, said that they hadEvery desire to render to the Khedive any assistance which it may be in their power to give towards the reorganization of the Financial Department of his Administration; but the information afforded to them as to the actual condition of Egyptian finance, and as to the powers proposed to be given to the Gentlemen to be nominated by Her Majesty's Government was of so vague and general a character that it seemed to be impossible to suggest the names of gentlemen to be appointed or the conditions of their engagement.That was to say, that the services of two Treasury clerks being required, "the information as to the powers to be given them" was regarded by the Government as "too vague," the fact being that no powers were to be given them, and that they were not to be asked to re-organize a public Department at all, but to work under a Finance Minister. Was there ever such trifling? What independent Sovereign had ever before received such an answer from a friendly State upon a matter in itself so small? But then the Government went on to say that, "after giving the matter the best consideration in their power, they had arrived at the conclusion that it was impossible to obtain by means of correspondence a satisfactory understanding on those two important points "—referring to the powers which were to be 570 given to two young clerks—and that "they had determined that a gentleman possessing their full confidence, and of well-known financial capacity, should be sent out "—to do what?—"to confer with the Khedive and his Government as to the financial position of Egypt and its administration." The Khedive never asked them to do this; but it appeared that there was to be a report made on him by this person—he was, as it were, to be put in the dock—for the letter went on to say that "then Her Majesty's Government would be in a better position to give the assistance that was required of them," and they selected Mr. Cave to be their special envoy. It was like the old joke of making flint soup, which had never been better illustrated. But that was not all. The letter went on to say that four gentlemen were to be sent out to assist Mr. Cave in his diplomatic correspondence and in his financial inquiries, so that the result was that for these two men in buckram they had now Mr. Cave and his four assistants, with Colonel Stokes added. He (Mr. Lowe) ventured to say a more extraordinary thing had never taken place. The House was told that the purchase of the Suez Canal shares had nothing to do with politics—nothing to do with the Protectorate of Egypt, and under all those circumstances no man in his senses could, he thought, believe that the real grounds had been stated in that Paper for sending out Mr. Cave to ransack the whole finances of Egypt and to make a report on it to the Government. The whole thing was an enigma of which no solution had yet been furnished, and he hoped, therefore, some solution of it would be given before the end of the debate. He would give an illustration of the way in which the matter presented itself to his mind. Let him suppose that he had asked a friend if he knew a butler who would suit him, that the reply was—" I will think about it," and that the next morning, hearing a disturbance downstairs, he went to his kitchen, and found five gentlemen seated there, who described themselves as being the men to suit him, and that one sent by his friend asked him—" How many silver spoons have you got? "another—" How many table-cloths? "another—" Who is your butcher?" "Give us the key of your cellar," and so on—would such conduct be more preposterous than that which 571 was done by the Government when they sent out an envoy and four able assistants, over several thousand miles of land and sea, to ransack the finances of Egypt and to turn them upside down, with no other excuse than that they were asked to recommend two clerks? If it had not been repudiated by Her Majesty's Government he should have said the solution of that enigma was that it was a part of the spirited policy which had been attributed to them. That not being so, however, the enigma remained so entirely an enigma that he hoped some hon. Gentleman on the other side would clear it up that evening. He would further observe that Mr. Cave had made a report, and that he should very much like to see that right hon. Gentleman before the money was voted which the House was asked to supply. Mr. Cave was to have been at home a month ago; but, unfortunately, his arrival here had been delayed by one cause or another, although his company would have been most agreeable that evening. The next circumstance in this transaction was even more strange. His excellent Friend Mr. Wilson, who held a very important office, which he administered to the satisfaction of Her Majesty's Government, was, at a very busy period of the year, to go out to Egypt to see if he could agree with the Khedive, and if not he was to come back again. Considering that all the Khedive asked for was two clerks, considering that Mr. Wilson had a most desirable and valuable office, the duties of which he was thoroughly competent to discharge, was it likely that he was going to Egypt to be placed under the Finance Minister, and unless he did that was not sending him out the merest trifling? Did any one believe that the Khedive would take an Englishman and put him over all his officials, and give him such a salary as would induce such a man to leave his valuable appointment in England, unless it were for an object more important than that professed by the Government? It looked to him like a lingering desire to prolong the glory acquired in that field already for the longest time possible. These remarks, however, he had merely made with the view to elicit some explanation from the Government, and he would now pass on to another part of the subject. Before doing so, 572 he would read a few words from the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer on the previous Monday, and he was very glad he was able to read that speech edited by himself, because a good deal depended on the wording. The right hon. Gentleman said—and he would call the attention of the Committee to it—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 us—without a duo 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, from the latter part of that statement he most emphatically dissented. So far from their having information to enable them to understand what they were about, and arrive at a decision deliberately, he maintained that nothing of the kind occurred. What occurred was this—The Government, with almost incredible negligence and carelessness, omitted to inform themselves of the circumstances which were most material to be known with regard to the purchase of these shares. Having so made the purchase, they were now—he hardly knew how to phrase it—putting the matter before them as if that which was the result of a great oversight and an almost incredible piece of negligence and carelessness was really their deliberate view and opinion. ["Oh, oh!"] That was what he asserted. Of course, his assertion was nothing; but he would prove it. Let it be clearly understood, again, what it was he asserted. He maintained that the Government committed a most enormous oversight in failing to ascertain what it was their duty to ascertain—that was, whether the shares carried votes with them; and that having done so, instead of confessing it at once, they were now putting before the country and before the House that which they had done under a sort of involuntary compulsion produced by ignorance as if it were their own free and deliberate act. What the Government meant to have done was, no doubt, 573 to purchase a considerable amount of power in the Suez Canal, and when they purchased these shares they certainly thought they bought votes with them. [The CHANCELLOR of the EXCHEQUER Oh, no; they did not.] He still maintained that that was the case, and would give this proof of it. He would show from the Correspondence that at, before, and after the time of the purchase the leading Members of the Government were of opinion that these shares did confer votes, and that their purchase did give us great and important influence. If he could show that by documentary evidence he should make out his case. In order to do so, he would have to call the attention of the House to certain details connected with the transaction. The purchase of the Suez Canal shares was made on the 25th of November; on the 26th the news was published; and on the 3rd of December there came from Egypt a despatch stating that the English Government could only obtain 10 votes. It appeared from the printed Papers that Lord Derby, writing to Lord Lyons on the 20th of November, said—The Khedive, in parting with the shares which he now possessed in the Suez Canal Company, would, in my opinion, surrender an important means of influencing the measures taken by the Company and its staff, and as such we could not look upon such a transaction with indifference.How could the Khedive, who had so much power over the Company in other ways, "surrender an important means of influencing the measures taken by the Company" unless his shares carried votes? This was only a surmise, but still it was forcible as far as it went, for the words had no meaning if the writer supposed the shares would carry no votes, or only 10 votes. Again, the Earl of Derby, writing to Lord Lyons on the 27th, two days afterwards, said, with reference to a conversation he had had with the Marquess d'Harcourt, the French Ambassador—I added that we had even now a minority of the Canal shares; but that the question for Her Majesty's Government was not one of establishing an exclusive interest, but of preventing an exclusive interest from being established as against this country.What did that mean? What was the sense of alluding to a minority of votes if the shares carried no votes, or only 10 votes? It was clear that the ex- 574 pression pointed to a belief in the mind of the writer that there was a power of voting connected with the shares, and that we should be better off with a large than with a small power of voting. These passages, he admitted, were by no means conclusive; but at a trial it was not the practice to prove everything at once. He next came to another point. The day after the shares were purchased the Government thought it necessary to apprise the public of what they had done, and leading articles appeared in the various newspapers. He did not mean to say, however, that the Government were answerable for everything that was written by the glowing pens of the journalists. This was what appeared in The Times, and what appeared in The Times was frequently of very great importance—When the assent of Parliament shall have been given the British State will succeed to all Ismail Pasha's immense interest in the enter-prize and become the chief proprietor, with an influence predominating over every other.The meaning was as clear as words could make it. It was possible the Govern-might have never intended to give The Times this view of the case, and, if so, what so natural as to say to the editor—" You are going rather too fast; we did not mean that we had got the votes—only that we had got the shares." So far from that, see how The Times came out next day. On the 27th it said—We have purchased nearly half the shares in the Suez Canal. We are the largest proprietors, and it need not be said that the others will look to us for the management of the property, the protection of the common interest, and the maintenance of satisfactory relations with her local government and the other powers of the world.["Hear, hear!" from the Treasury Benches] Hon. Gentlemen opposite thought this did not mean that we had got a large power of voting, but that the other proprietors would look to us merely for the management of property. Well, how could we manage the property if we had no votes? And now there came what he really thought was conclusive on the subject—he meant the letter of the Marquess d'Harcourt describing an interview between himself and the Earl of Derby, who at this time was minimizing and making as little of the matter as he could. On that occasion the Earl of Derby said— 575I deny on behalf of my Colleagues and myself any intention of predominating in the deliberations of the Company or of abusing our recent acquisition to force its decisions.["Hear, hear!"from the Treasury Benches.] Hon. Gentlemen opposite did not seem to see the force of it. If Lord Derby had known how matters really stood he might have said—" Predominating influence! Why, we can do nothing whatever, because the legal opinion is that we have no votes; therefore, what nonsense it is for you to talk to me about predominating influence! "How could the Government possibly abuse their recent acquisition to force the decisions of the Company, unless they had some power in the deliberations of the Company, and could exercise a paramount voting power to force on the Company that which might be distasteful to them? He was not the least desirous to put any strained construction on these passages, and if they could be interpreted in any other sense no one would be more pleased than himself to accept such interpretation. Then there was another matter which was not conclusive, but which was important in itself. He had already alluded to Mr. Cave's Mission. Well, Colonel Stokes was appointed on the staff, and on the 6th December, these remarkable words were written to him by the Earl of Derby—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 held by His Highness the Khedive, and furnish a Report on the position which Her Majesty's Government will occupy as possessors of those shares, and on any measures which it may be desirable to take to secure the full benefit of the purchase.This was written three days after the announcement in The Times that the shares only gave 10 votes. This accounts for the remarkable change of tone between the 27th of November and the 6th of December. If Government knew the position which they would occupy, what was the use of sending Colonel Stokes to inquire into it? He had given his reasons for believing that probably no votes at all were attached to the shares, and certainly no more than 10. These were his charges against the Government, and if they could be answered nobody would be better pleased than he would be. They would get their Vote to-night, the thing 576 was done, and he would be very glad if the exceptions which he had taken could be removed. He could assure the right hon. Gentleman that nothing would give him greater pleasure than to find that he had been mistaken. Still he said that unless they could explain these passages the Government must be considered to have aided in the purchase, under the delusion that, in purchasing these shares they were purchasing votes, and that they ought to have come candidly forward and admitted the oversight which they had made. The Government had a great many motives, they had been told, for buying these shares. One was, that they might keep the canal open and prevent a monopoly—a most excellent reason. But how would the buying of shares without votes assist them in preventing the canal from becoming a monopoly? They could not, by buying these shares, do anything towards the management of the canal. These shares for 19 years were a mere deadweight. They might pay the £4,000,000, but during that period it was as if these shares did not exist. Even supposing that they gave 10 votes, what advantage would they give? They would confer no influence on the Company, which seldom met, and whose main business consisted in the appointment of the directors. Lord Derby said the other day that, if anybody doubted that the possession of two-fifths of the shares in this canal gave no influence to the holders, it was as difficult to argue with such a man as it would be to argue with a man who said that two and two did not make four. Now the ordinary meaning of shares was that they carried with them the right to dividends and votes. Lord Derby's illustration assumed that the possessor of the shares here had exactly what he had not. It should read—"If anybody doubts that the possessor of two-fifths of these shares, minus dividends and votes, obtains no influence from those shares, it is as difficult to argue with him," and so on. But then, it was said, the power of making faggot votes was a formidable weapon in our hands. Now, in the first place, he was not at all sure that we should be able to make faggot votes, because he rather believed that these shares gave no votes, faggot or otherwise. But suppose such votes could be made, what would be the 577 result? What we should do would be to array the majority against us and prevent them from giving us three directors at the Board, as they were now disposed to do. M. de Lesseps was now well disposed towards us. It was his wish to give us three directors, if he were not irritated; but it must be remembered that these questions would be tried before a French Court, and an attempt to swamp French shareholders by English faggot votes would not meet with a very favourable reception. But the Papers would show how little these votes were worth to secure us the benefits of a representation in the directorate. At page 142 there was a letter from Sir Daniel Lange to Lord Granville, dated April 19, 1871, in which he said he had mentioned to M. de Lesseps the alternative of no dividend for the shareholders or British assistance and entire management, M. de Lesseps retaining his position as President, but without the periodical anxiety he was now under as to finance. But, said Sir Daniel Lange, M. de Lesseps "recoiled with aversion" from this proposal, and declared that he would never be a party to the transfer of the management from French to English hands, trusting rather to the introduction of a few English directors upon the French Board, so as to share the responsibility. Thus M. de Lesseps had long been anxious to give seats to English directors upon the Board, not, however, with a view to give power to England, but to keep the power. Yet what he had been willing to do for five years was put forward as one of the principal triumphs of the Government in the purchase of these shares. Thanking the House for the attention with which it had listened to him, he hoped that somebody would be able to explain away what appeared to be the fact—that the absence of votes was unknown to the Government when the shares were bought. If such an explanation were given he should be glad to withdraw the charges he had made.
§ SIR H. DRUMMOND WOLFF
said, the case of the right hon. Gentleman was so weak, that no one on the Ministerial side of the House would anticipate much danger from his attack, or regret that it was made. He accused the First Lord of inaccuracy in saying that the advance made by Messrs. Rothschild was not a loan, but merely an advance. The 578 Treasury Minute, however, showed that the money had been advanced on the pledge of Her Majesty's Government that they would submit the engagement to the sanction of Parliament and endeavour to obtain the necessary powers to repay the advance and the commission as soon as might be practicable after the meeting of Parliament. This was in no sense a loan; it was merely a purchase by Messrs. Rothschild of the Khedive's shares, which they undertook to sell again to the Government when they obtained powers from Parliament for that purpose. The right hon. Gentleman also said that there was a sum of £37,000 not accounted for in the Estimate. But it was accounted for in the Treasury Minute, which showed that Messrs. Rothschild were to receive 2½per cent upon the £4,000,000, and not 5 per cent interest, but the 5 per cent interest which the Khedive undertook to pay upon the amount advanced until the date of repayment. Then the right hon. Gentleman claimed credit for having saved £5,000 out of the sum so humiliatingly expended in satisfying the Alabama Claims. But the right hon. Gentleman did not answer the complaint that the interval which elapsed between the time of the Alabama Award and the calling together of Parliament and submitting the necessary Vote was far greater than the interval which had elapsed here. Government had been asked why Parliament was not summoned at the time when the purchase was first contemplated, but in answer to that he would ask what position the noble Marquess opposite would have been in at that time, in view of the fact that he was not ready to discuss the question when it was brought forward on Monday last? The right hen. Gentleman who had just spoken asked why the house of Rothschild was to receive a commission of 2½ per cent upon the transaction—a question which he should not attempt to answer, as he did not profess to understand that branch of the subject. He could, however, answer another remark of the right hon. Gentleman, who said that Messrs. Rothschild incurred no risk in the matter. Many things might have happened which would have created a great amount of risk. He remembered that a Government equally powerful with the present had dissolved Parliameut in a less time 579 than had elapsed, and that if that contingency had arisen on the present occasion a Government might—he did not say that it would—have acceded to pewer which would have repudiated the provisional arrangement come to with Messrs. Rothschild. He therefore thought it clear that the banking firm incurred a risk for which, as commercial men, they were fully entitled to be compensated. The right hon. Gentleman had thrown some sort of doubt upon the veracity of the Government with reference to their knowledge, when the purchase was first contemplated, of the fact that the possession of the shares would or would not carry voting power. In support of his view on this point the right hon. Gentleman relied upon the despatch of Lord Derby to Lord Lyons—a despatch in which the Marquess d'Harcourt reported to his Government the conversation he had, on the same day, had with Lord Derby as to the purchase, and certain articles published in The Times. He admitted that in his despatch to Lord Lyons, Lord Derby did not allude to the voting power, but the Marquess d'Harcourt put it in his despatch that Lord Derby had denied any intention on the part of the Government to dominate over the deliberations of the Company. With reference to the articles in The Times, the right hon. Gentleman spoke as if he believed them to be verbally inspired, but he must surely know that newspaper articles were only partially inspired. He supposed that the Editor of The Times received information to the effect that the purchase was in contemplation, and that when completed the Government would obtain certain powers; but it did not therefore follow that the whole of the details contained in The Times leaders were furnished by Her Majesty's Government. As a matter of fact, the Government would obtain certain influence by the purchase of the shares, an influence not solely depending upon the actual shares, but also upon the fact that the Khedive, from whom they were purchased, was represented in the Company by a controller, and would back up, where necessary, the Power which had purchased his property at a time when the amount of the purchase-money was essential to him. The appointment of Mr. Cave had nothing to do with the purchase of the shares, and therefore it was not neces- 580 sary to follow the right hon. Gentleman in what he had said upon that point. He might say, however, that such an appointment was not without precedent. Some years ago the Government of Lord Palmerston sent out two "young men "—to quote the phrase of the right hon. Gentleman—in the person of the then Assistant Paymaster General and Lord Hobart, one of the principal clerks in the Board of Trade, to investigate and report upon the finances of Turkey. These Gentlemen reported in a sort of perfunctory way, and their Report was laid on the Table of the House; and, in his belief, the decadence of Turkish finance dated from that time. He did not think it necessary to say anything in reference to any desire that might exist to establish a Protectorate or to obtain any exclusive influence in Egypt. The views of England in reference to Egypt were well-expressed in 1853 by Sir Hamilton Seymour when Egypt was offered to him, as representing Her Majesty, by the Emperor Nicholas of Russia. He said—As I did not wish that the Emperor should imagine that an English public servant was caught by this sort of overture, I simply answered that I had always understood that the English views upon Egypt did not go beyond the point of securing a safe and steady communication between British India and the mother country.He declined to consider the question as one of investment, and would only remark that while it was perfectly equitable for a State to sink money in large sums with no immediate return and for indirect political objects, it was clear to his mind that, whereas the £4,000,000 invested in these shares would obtain something for the country, the other £3,000,000 to which reference had been made were gone to that bourn whence no traveller returned. Neither this country nor her Allies had looked on this transaction from a money point of view, but had simply regarded it as a renewal of the energy, vigour, and "go" which had so long been dormant in our foreign policy, but which he could not doubt was essential to their prosperity. It was proper for England to take the lead in a movement which was to throw open the trade in this canal. She had taken the initiative in Free Trade and in free navigation, and it was right that she should take the initiative in making this 581 canal more serviceable for the world. In 1858 the hon. and learned Member for Sheffield (Mr. Roebuck), speaking with political foresight, said that the interest of England in the Canal scheme was identical with the interest of mankind, and the right hon. Gentleman the present Member for Greenwich supported this view. The policy of England in reference to the matter was clear from the first. In 1871 it was recommended by a high official in the Board of Trade that the Canal should be placed in the care of some sort of International Commission, instancing the Danubian Commission for the purpose, and in 1874 Lord Derby made it clear that his views were in consonance with the principle involved in the purchase, which Parliament was now asked to approve. Having this object in view the Government availed themselves of an opportunity which would give them a commanding position in carrying out any policy of the kind. It was certainly best for the interest of everybody concerned that the shares should neither be concentrated in the hands of a French Company, nor distributed among a vast number of small proprietors, who, if redemption were sought, would raise their price in an exorbitant manner. He believed the House, in acting in this manner, would have to refer to redemptions in other periods of history, because there had been many cases of redemption from which they might take a good lesson. The whole history of the Post Office was a history of redemption, because the Government bought up the coaches and recently bought up the telegraphs; and something might be found in the history of the transfer of the East India Company; while with regard to foreign questions there were the Scheldt and the Sound dues. He therefore looked upon our position as shareholders as merely transitory and temporary, and one which was intended to pave the way to a larger and more extended policy. This necessity for redemption might arise out of the fact of the municipal and international rights appertaining to the Company being found to conflict. Now, on the subject of the traffic, if they looked at that of last year they would find that every ship that passed through the Canal cost £800 in toll—a very large sum, which in time commerce would no doubt resist. He did not wish to enter 582 into any question of International Law but he would ask attention to a statement made by M. de Lesseps in 1856, in a book he wrote on the subject of the Canal, and in which he said—In the Memorial which I presented to His Highness the Viceroy on the 15th of November, 1854, and which was the starting-point of the enterprize, the following passage is found:—' Why have the Governments and the nations of the West united to maintain the Grand Signer in possession of Constantinople, and why has the man who wished to threaten that position met the armed opposition of Europe? Because the passage of the Mediterranean to the Black Sea is of such importance that a great European Power who became mistress of it would dominate over all the others, and would upset an equilibrium which all the world is interested in preserving. Let there he established on another point of the Ottoman Empire a similar and still more important position. Let Egypt be made the passage for the commerce of the world by the cutting of the Isthmus of Suez, and there will be created in the East a double position beyond attack.'In a Report attached to the same, the question was put—Was it possible to make an artificial Bosphorus between the Red Sea and the Mediterranean, and to re-establish by the hand of man the communication which Nature had formerly made between the two seas now separated?Now, if the Khedive of Egypt and M. de Lesseps wanted to establish another Bosphorus with a view to obtain similar political advantages to those enjoyed by the possessors of the Bosphorus, they would surely put themselves under the same political obligations, and those obligations were set forth in the Treaty of Adrianople of 1829, by which the Bosphorus was to be opened to the ships of all nations. If that were so, the reasoning had still greater force when applied to the Suez Canal, because the Bosphorus only led to the possessions of two countries and the Black Sea, whereas the Suez Canal united two seas and was available for the navigation of the world. He could only regret that the opposition which was encountered by the promoters of the Canal in this country at the outset prevented any common understanding being arrived at similar to that which was contained in the celebrated Clayton-Bulwer Treaty. That Treaty laid down that the Canal which was to be established between the Atlantic and the Pacific should be guaranteed as to its integrity by Great Britain and the United States—that, if war occurred be 583 tween those Powers, the ships of each should be exempt from blockade or capture; and the contracting parties engaged to invite the States with which they were on terms of friendly inter-course to enter into like stipulations. He hoped and believed that the act of the Government in purchasing those shares was merely the first step towards the carrying out of some general understanding between the nations of the world. In conclusion, he would ask leave to read a few apposite words pronounced in an eloquent speech by the late Prime Minister, when he advocated the annexation of the Ionian Islands to Greece, and those words might be pleaded by right hon. Gentlemen below him to right hon. Gentlemen opposite.I think," he said, "I may fairly appeal to the right hon. Gentleman whether, with the complexity of affairs and the diversity of personal interests we had to deal with, he could have pointed out any order of proceedings more reasonable in itself, more conformable to public law, or more likely to attain the object in view than that actually which we followed."—[3 Hansard, clxxiv. 382.]He asked the right hon. Gentleman, with all the deference that was due to him, whether the act of Her Majesty's Government was not the continuance and the completion of the policy in the inauguration of which he himself took so prominent and so generous a part. He had the honour of being employed with the right hon. Gentleman in a humble capacity in his mission to the Ionian Islands, and he regarded the spirit which governed the proposals he then made to Lord Derby as the spirit of justice and benevolence. The right hon. Gentleman held then that we had no interest in the Mediterranean except interests, so to say, outside the Mediterranean, and that we merely wished to establish among the nations of that sea a character for justice and upright dealing. Later on, when the right hon. Gentleman joined Lord Palmerston's Government, he still upheld the same policy. That policy Her Majesty's Government had completed by an act, legal in itself, which showed that we had no design of aggrandizement, aggression, or dominion in the Mediterranean, but rather that the country which had first thrown open its trade to the world desired to secure for the commerce and navigation of the world the freedom of a great international thoroughfare; that 584 we had no selfish motive, no motive other than that with which our Allies could sympathize—namely, the gathering together and concentration of the interests of this stately Empire. He therefore asked the right hon. Gentleman to support Her Majesty's Government in upholding that act.
I rise. Sir, in answer to the appeal of the hon. Member, although I am afraid I cannot do it by uttering sentiments altogether such as he would wish, or in any degree concur in his views. I agree, as the House must, I think, generally agree with my right hon. Friend, at least, in that portion of his speech in which he pointed out the disadvantages in which we stand as a deliberative Assembly. My right hon. Friend contended that this was virtually a completed transaction—that we had made a contract with the Khedive, and that the question remaining was, whether we should authorize Her Majesty's Government to reimburse a private firm which had for the time found the money. I believe the statement of my right hon. Friend to be a correct statement. If it can be shown that we have a larger liberty accorded to us than the very stinted opportunity of which he spoke, I shall be glad to hear proof of such a proposition; but for the present I believe that the feeling of the House is one of doubt whether it is worth while to enter into the elaborate and complicated details of a question with regard to which there virtually remains to us no choice. We are, I believe, with regard to our general credit, committed as a body in the face of Europe to this transaction, in which Europe takes a deep interest; and even on other grounds it would be difficult to retract. I believe we are further and more definitely committed by the fact, assumed and asserted by my right hon. Friend, that it is we, and not the firm of Roths-childs, that have made the purchase; that it is with us, and not with the Rothschilds, the Khedive has contracted; and the seven zinc boxes which contain those valuable shares have, I believe, been handed over to our custody, or to the custody of the Queen's officers, and not to Messrs. Rothschild. [An hon. MEMBER: No.] Well, that is the impression under which I speak. If it can be shown that Her Majesty's Government have entered into no contract, then 585 they will have to produce Papers which shall substantially contradict the whole of the Papers that have been laid upon the Table. But, Sir, however that may be, I hope the House and the Government will not grudge the time which is necessary for the investigation of this subject. The proposition of Her Majesty's Government, upon the ground I have stated, I believe to be safe from anything like party, political, or Parliamentary opposition; and if the Government desire to stand well with the country with respect to this great and important proposal, they will act wisely, I think, in abstaining from all appearance of a desire to hurry this question through the House. It is not a question that can possibly lead to very intricate proceedings upon its details. The proposals are simple enough, although the grounds and reasons are complicated; and it is desirable that a much more full investigation should be made in the matter—at least, that it should be brought more fully home to the minds of the people of this country than it has been or could be until the question came under discussion in this House. Now, Sir, I should like to begin by doing an act of justice to two persons. It is not a pleasant duty to detain the House with a statement of misgivings, difficulties, and objections, and I will gladly begin by discharging a pleasanter part of my duty. The name of the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer has recurred, and must often recur, in the course of this discussion. I wish frankly to state that I do not regard the Chancellor of the Exchequer as loaded with any special responsibility in the matter. He is reponsible as a Cabinet Minister, and very great is the responsibility which" Her Majesty's Government have taken upon themselves. They have deviated widely from the usual paths of the Constitution, and nothing but the strongest and most evident public interest can justify them in the step which they have taken. But I well know what is the position of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, when a measure is brought forward by the Government with respect to which he and the whole world must feel that, although its finance is important, yet the financial aspect is secondary in comparison with other interests involved. He cannot possibly claim that financial considerations shall rule, yet, 586 when the measure is adopted, and when the matter is managed in the face of the House of Commons, it is upon him that the principal responsibility devolves; and for these reasons I wish it to be clearly understood, though I must refer to him repeatedly as the organ and spokesman of the Government, yet I do "not forget that he did not get any special credit for the sagacity, promptitude, courage, and I know not what, which descended in showers of gold upon the Government for some days after the announcement of what had been done. He is to be regarded as merely performing an official duty in the share he has taken in introducing the subject to the House. I wish also to do justice to some other gentlemen whose names may be mentioned frequently in the course of this debate—I mean the Messrs. Rothschild. It appears to me that, whatever may have been the course of proceeding adopted by Her Majesty's Government—however provident or improvident their arrangements may have been—no blame whatever, great or small, direct or indirect, can attach to those gentlemen. They are a private firm, engaged in business on a gigantic scale, it is true, but guided by the same methods which must govern the pursuits of commerce in general. The Messrs. Rothschild were not the guardians of the Constitution. It was not their business to stand sentry upon the principles and rules necessary for the conduct of finance, and, whatever questions I may raise as to that portion of the proceedings of the Government which affected them, it was not the intention of my right hon. Friend near me, nor is it my desire, to reflect in any particular, or in the slightest degree, upon the conduct of the Messrs. Rothschild. I must own that a considerable change has taken place in the public view on this question since the intentions and plans of the Government were first announced. The general belief at that time, promoted by nearly the whole of the metropolitan Press—I think by the whole of the metropolitan daily Press—was that a great blow had been struck for the assertion of British power; that, in the critical circumstances of the Turkish Empire, notice had been given to the world that, so far as Egypt was concerned, we intended to have the first and largest share in determining what 587 should be its destiny. With respect to the sufficiency of the measure, when the publie were informed that out of 400,000 shares we had acquired 176,000, I do not doubt—and I believe no man doubts—that the universal assumption of the world, and of the London newspapers, who at that moment led the world, was that those 176,000 shares carried with them a proportionate share of voting power in the Company. And then they very naturally argued that, as in the case of the London and North-Western Company, or any other joint-stock establishment, the directors who had secured themselves by that proportion of the votes were safe against the world, although they might not have an absolute majority, and that, having obtained seven-sixteenths of the whole property of the Company, we were in a position to exercise a corresponding influence and consequently might bid defiance to all comers. We are, however, still in the dark as to what was the degree of information on which the Government acted in this matter. My right hon. Friend has, I think, shown provisionally—and very strong evidence must be given to show the contrary—that the Government were not aware of the limited extent of voting power attached to those shares, and it will be for the Government to explain whether that is so or not. If they were not aware of it, I must own I think they have added greatly to their responsibility in having taken a step so important, and so little within the lines of the Constitution, without being in possession of the most elementary information on the subject. These were the grounds on which the public and the Press approved the purchase, and the whole of Lord Derby's reasoning in his despatches, and his attempts to allay fear and apprehension abroad by the assurance that we had no thought of exercising a paramount influence—an exclusive influence—over the affairs of the Company would have been the merest nonsense if he had not been cognizant of the fact that there was no option given us to exercise either a paramount or a sensible influence, inasmuch as the 10 votes were votes which if we exercised them at all, we should have to exercise in the face of votes amounting to many thousands. We are indebted, I believe, in the first instance, to the French Government for having 588 dispelled some of the illusions by which this question was surrounded. A very fair issue was raised—the issue, indeed, I think we ought to try—when Lord Derby acquainted the world that the object of Her Majesty's Government in these proceedings was to acquire an increased security for our communications with India, because he knew very well, and we all knew, that that was an object to which we attach capital and Imperial importance. I now come to what I may term the unpleasant part of this question—namely, the mode of operation which has been adopted by the Government. So far as I know, it was not only without precedent, but it was contrary to our financial principles. There is not in the country a man of purer hands and purer honour than my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer. If, however, he set the very worst precedent that could be imagined, under which men very different from himself might hereafter injure the country and their characters, it would not raise the slightest presumption against himself. The First Lord of the Treasury must be regarded as equally responsible with the Chancellor of the Exchequer for the financial part of the matter, and I wish to know whether there is any precedent during the 60 years which have elapsed since the Peace of 1815, or any instance in which the Government have made a financial arrangement of a character corresponding to this, or for an amount either equal to this, or for any considerable magnitude at all, privately and with a private firm? That is a matter of the greatest consequence. The rule of our finance is that the greatest and most jealous provision is taken against malversation of every kind. If my right hon. Friend the Member for the University of London, instead of being pure and upright—if myself had been disposed to lay hands upon any of that public money of which so much passed through our hands, it would have been—I believe with the single exception of that very limited branch of the public expenditure known as "Conscience Money"—entirely beyond our power to do so. It is the wisdom of this country to surround the Finance Minister with rules that make his position perfectly safe in dealing with sums so immense, and some of the rules have reference to the mode in which he conducts those great finan- 589 cial operations with persons in the City. I may be wrong, but if there are any precedents I should be glad if they can be produced, because it is not to the credit of the Government of this country to deviate from established rules by a transaction of this kind. I know of no such precedents. The case which in magnitude most resembles the present one—the Arbitration Award—has no relation whatever to the matter we are now dealing with. So far as I am acquainted with the rules applicable to this subject, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, if he is in want of money, has this option before him—he may go to the Bank of England or to the public; but I have never heard that the Chancellor of the Exchequer was at liberty to send for any private firm, however eminent and responsible, and to contract with them for a great financial operation, involving the Treasury of this country to the extent of several millions. When the Chancellor of the Exchequer deals with the Bank of England, that is not the usual mode of conducting such operations; but I can conceive that when Parliament may not be sitting, he might be under the necessity of doing what he would not otherwise do. When he deals with the Bank of England he deals with a body which, although independent, is under the most solemn official obligations. In old times the Bank of England was not only the servant, but the trustee of the Government. It is still its trusted agent. It has enormous transactions and most lucrative engagements with the Government. It manages our issues and receives our deposits, and conducts all the transactions connected with the National Debt. It is under the deepest responsibility to Parliament and the country; and not only the heads of the Bank, but every officer of the Bank who would be taken into their confidence has the same feelings as a public servant would have in regard to transactions of this kind, and would feel the same sacred obligations of secrecy with respect to whatever might be communicated or come within Ms knowledge in such a matter. There are many reasons, upon which I need not dwell, which distinguish between the Bank of England and a private establishment in this matter, and I wait to be contradicted before receding from my proposition that, accord- 590 ing to all I know, all I believe, and all I have heard, it was either the business of the Government to appeal to the public and to transact the business of the State under the most favourable terms with the public, or else to go to the confidential agents of the State—namely the Bank of England—and ascertain, before going elsewhere, whether through them the business could be satisfactorily managed. I think it was part of the absolute duty of the Government to explain to the House why this course was not pursued. I blamed the right hon. Gentleman the other night for his conciseness. I noticed several omissions in his speech, and the number on reflection has greatly multiplied. One was, the omission to explain the very peculiar method which the Government thought proper to adopt. Now, Sir, this matter is rather a serious one. When the Government deal with the Bank of England in a question of this kind, they are perfectly certain that their confidence will be kept as much as if they were within the limits of their own office. I have not a doubt that when they dealt with Messrs. Rothschild the Government dealt with those who were personally as certain to keep their confidence as even the Governor and deputy Governor of the Bank of England, but I cannot have the same assurance with regard to the members of Messrs. Rothschild's establishment. I cannot have any assurance that there was not given an opportunity in the days between the completion of the transaction and the communication of the intelligence which enabled multitudes of persons to go into the market and there operate to the extent of many millions upon the strength of that which they knew the Government to intend and which the world did not yet know. I have already put a question as to a precedent for the manner of the proceeding with a private firm, and I will ask the Government to tell us whether they are in a condition to say, that there did not take place very large speculations in Egyptian Stocks before their plan was made public, and founded upon the knowledge that the plan had been adopted and was about to be announced. As to the amount of this commission, it may appear to be very shabby to complain of the payment of £100,000—or £130,000, as it would be more truly 591 described—: to Messrs. Rothschild on account of this transaction; still, with my right hon. Friend, I am of opinion, not only have we a right, but we are under an absolute obligation, to do the business of the public upon the most reasonable terms; but I cannot help thinking that the credit of this country is placed in a most unenviable position before the world in relation to this transaction. We are told that Messrs. Rothschild were compensated for their trouble and their risk. I want to know what was their risk. I want to know whether their risk was not a risk any rational man would have taken at the cost of one brass farthing. If ever we happened to be in a condition—which we are not—to arrest the measure of the Government, and to say it shall not go forward and we will not become proprietors in the Suez Canal—even if we were in that condition, is there a man in this House who does not know it is our absolute duty in honour and honesty to take care that Messrs. Rothschild, who are liable to no blame, either of rashness or otherwise, should not lose one iota by the transaction they carried on? Therefore, the risk is none; the payment is a payment for the use of money; and the money was £4,000,000. I cannot give, nor could my right hon. Friend give, dates minutely, because we do not know the precise dates when the sums were paid and repaid; but if I say that three months was the time during which Messrs. Rothschild were out of £4,000,000, I believe this is a liberal statement as to time. What they receive is first of all 5 per cent, which the Khedive stipulates to pay us; and, secondly 2½ per cent on the capital, which for three months is 10 per cent per annum for the use of it; and that added to the 5 per cent makes 15 per cent per annum as the price at which, in the year 1875, British credit is to be appreciated in the British market. I will not stop to inquire into that now; but undoubtedly it has been said of late in several senses, including that of self-glorification, that the British Sovereign is a great Oriental Potentate. I must say if we pay 15 per cent for our money in the British market for the purpose of accommodation, it seems to prove that we are an Oriental Potentate indeed. Let me pass from the form to look at the substance of this question. 592 I make several admissions freely to my right hon. Friend. He says, as I think truly, that the public were carried away with an absolute show of approval; it amounted almost to unanimity; there never was a more complete conquest made by any Government. The individual with whom we are all acquainted, and who is well known as "the man in the street "—and almost all persons of all characters and descriptions gave their approval at the moment to the measure. The Papers produced by the Government show a considerable amount of foreign approval, and I think what we read upon the whole shows a small amount of foreign jealousy. There cannot be a doubt, as my right hon. Friend says—he seemed to contest his point, but I would re-assure him as far as I know—that we have conferred a benefit upon the Khedive; certainly we have conferred a benefit upon the Khedive, and such a benefit, I should think, never was conferred upon an Egyptian Ruler since the days when Egypt was the greatest Empire in the world, 3,000 or 4,000 years ago. You have also conferred an enormous benefit on the Suez Canal Company, and that is not the worst part of the transaction, because the Company has deserved well of the world, and I must say has received ill of us. If the cost of the Canal has been enormous, so as to be to the Company a misfortune, it was seriously aggravated by our opposition; and I am so far glad of that portion of the proceedings of Her Majesty's Government, that as I feel, in some sense, we owe the Company a debt, if the result of the proceedings of Her Majesty's Government is to satisfy that claim, I shall be the last man to grudge the benefit to the Company. But there was more than this. I think, upon a careful perusal of the Papers, I must admit that evidently the conduct of transactions with the Canal Company, the little tracasseries of complaint that arose upon the detention of ships, the demands for the repayment of money, the complications that arose from the ill-defined relations between the Company and the Government, the Egyptian Courts and the French, the Khedive and the Porte, did impose upon the Foreign Office very irksome and disagreeable duties, which the Government thought would justify resort to a measure of this kind. I frankly own they 593 had much annoyance to encounter; but I do not think that any such justification can be pleaded for the present measure. But let us look at the proposal itself with regard to those justifications which have been pleaded. The former state of things may have been alarming to anyone at the Foreign Office engaged in the management of these private and personal complaints, and I daresay an Under Secretary, feeling much upon the subject, would say it was a bad state of things. It was a very complicated position of affairs; probably no joint-stock enterprize ever stood in relations so complex as the Suez Canal Company. It had its hold upon France; it had its legal domicile in France; a quasi French character attached to it; a very large preponderance of French shareholders; it was absolutely subject to both Egyptian and Turkish law; and I need not say that the lines of division between Egyptian and Turkish authority are ill-defined. It was therefore a most complicated position in which this Company stood; it was not very agreeable or satisfactory to them; but I do not see that it was a matter of capital concern to the world. It was for us a perfectly practicable and workable position—the Company was a great power, and the resisting power lay in all the Maritime Powers of Europe having one thought, one purpose, one interest in reference to the Canal, and all of them working together. The matter had come to issue. The Company had attempted to exercise its powers and impose charges which the Maritime States thought unreasonable. As the right hon. Gentleman said, M. de Lesseps, who has shown great gallantry with all the other great qualities which adorn human nature, in the wonderful struggle he has conducted to a successful issue, tried what he could do to intimidate these Powers by the threat of closing the Canal. He was beaten, he gave way, he could not help giving way, he was reduced to a system of verbal protests, and in verbal protests alone he could find comfort and consolation, while the sifting, examining, and deciding upon the demands made upon the Maritime Powers took effect in the actual government of the Canal. What was our position in the matter? Were we great sufferers? On the contrary, we had the largest interest in the use of the Canal. We were, therefore, the 594 natural leaders of the Maritime Powers; we urged what we thought just, and we obtained what we urged; and with the immense advantage of urging as the organ of the united interest of Europe, and not as the mouthpiece of an interest merely selfish. There was no risk of our being divided from the others, and as long as the Powers of Europe were united with us in our views as to the just management of the Canal we were certain to prevail. That is, I believe, a true statement of the condition of affairs as it was up to the month of November last. What then happened? The Khedive was under the necessity, not of selling his shares—the Khedive never proposed to sell his shares, it was not his doing—that is our plan, not his—the plan of the Government; some say it is the plan of Mr. Somebody, supported by Mr. Somebody else, and hence it came to be adopted; but of that I know nothing. AH that I know is that it is the plan of Her Majesty's Government, and the House should recollect that the sale of the shares was not the plan of the Khedive. My right hon. Friend says we have to consider what political inconvenience would have resulted if we had allowed affairs to drift. I want to know from the Government whether they propose to show us the positive reasons which induced them to act in this manner. They have proceeded on the assumption that these reasons existed; they have set up the French shareholders and the French Company as a bugbear to frighten us out of our wits, and give us to understand that horrible consequences, which can be appreciated but hardly stated, would have followed if a Company having its locus in France had become the possessors of the shares of the Khedive. I want to know what were those great evils which could have accrued. If it had been a divided Company before, with two interests in it, and one had been French and the other anti-French, and the question had been about the withdrawal of one of the two, I could understand that there might have been a derangement of the equilibrium of the Company, and that some strong measure was necessary to prevent it. There was nothing of the kind, There was no interest in the Company adverse to the French interest. The Khedive had a great power over the Company, but not in his capacity of shareholder. The 595 Khedive had assured the Porte over and over again, that so far as regarded influence over the Company, those shares would have absolutely none whatever. Was the Company, then, a divided body? It was drilled under M. de Lesseps as an army under its commanding officer—they moved forward, halted, or receded, just as he chose to give the word of command. I mention this not to their disparagement, but simply as a matter of fact. Let me say one word for the French in this matter. We have been a little hard upon them. We did everything to prevent them from initiating this great enterprize for the benefit of mankind. They did initiate it for the benefit of mankind, and most of all for our benefit. The conduct of the French Government in this matter has never been to blame. They have regarded it as an enterprize as one of world-wide interest; they have not sought narrowly to promote their selfish interests through the medium of the position they had acquired; and it would be hard indeed to charge on them any intention which we have not the smallest right to impute to them of self-interest. I wish to know what were the new evils of a practical character which Her Majesty's Ministers apprehended would flow from the acquisition of these shares by others or by the French Government? That has never been stated, and ought to be pointed out. What we know is, the Company were perfectly united before, and any influence of the Khedive did not depend on his possession of these shares, but on his position as Governor of Egypt. But if the Government were to move at all, the natural and obvious course to take was to move on the lines the Khedive himself had laid down. Those lines were an advance of money on the security of the shares. If you were to move at all why not endeavour to construct a plan on that basis? A temporary advance of money on the security of the shares would have enabled you to look at the value of the shares, and if as a matter of business you did not think the security sufficient you might have called on the Khedive to throw in other equivalents to bring them up to the mark. You might have discussed the amount you had to advance. The country was entirely deluded when it was told by the Press that £4,000,000 was wanted immediately. No, the contract was that only £ 1,000,000 should be 596 paid at once, and the remainder in two or three months, as a matter of arrangement between Messrs. Rothschild and the Khedive. Why was not that plan adopted? You are bound to show strong reasons against it. It is quite clear that under that plan some advantages would have been gained. First, you would not have made this signal invasion of the privileges of Parliament in disposing virtually of £4,000,000 without the sanction of the House of Commons. In the next place, you might have given us free judgments instead of a judgment which is not free; because you might have placed the matter before us in the interval whilst a temporary advance existed, and, as I have said, you might have secured yourselves by an examination of the securities, so as to be well assured of their condition and value. There would have been another advantage. You have said, and Lord Derby has said particularly, that what he desired was to bring the other Powers of Europe into partnership with the Government in the acquisition of the Canal. I wish to make a moment's reserve in speaking of international syndics and international arrangements. I wish to reserve my judgment in regard to them. Serious difficulty may sometimes arise in connection with them. In time of war I should like to know whether any international syndic or arrangement would be advantageous to this country. It appears to me that not only has nothing been gained by this arrangement in regard to the contingency of war, as to which Lord Derby is ominously silent, but much has been lost. That, however, is a matter on which I do not know that it is desirable or politic now to enter. I assume it was desirable—I assume it was creditable to our character that instead of entering into this transaction on our own footing and separating ourselves from the Powers of Europe, we should endeavour to make them art and part in the transaction. Had you taken the plan of the Khedive you could have done all that, and at the same time respected the privileges of Parliament. But you rejected his plan and you took your own. That entirely prevented you from taking Europe with you, and made it necessary to take into your own hands the functions of Parliament and setting precedent in that respect, which I am by no 597 means sure we shall not have to take some specific step or measure to guard against its repetition. I hope the Government will give us some clear proof of the measure of what they thought fit to accomplish. Theirs is a position of great difficulty when they are asked this question—if you went so far, why did you not go further? The hon. Gentleman who has just sat down, the Member for Christchurch (Sir H. Drummond wolff), has defended the proceeding of the Government. Upon what ground has he defended it? On the ground that it is a first step—that it must be followed by other steps—that the only good and sufficient ground would be the acquisition of the entire Canal, and that the Government must move forward in that direction. Now I think we are entitled to ask the Government whether they can assure us that there is no risk or likelihood of their having to enter into other transactions and fresh outlays in consequence of this transaction. Upon this subject they have not favoured us with one word of explanation. But one thing they have done—although they have given us no explanation why they did so—they refused the offer which the Khedive made to them. The Khedive had offered them the opportunity of purchasing what are sometimes called "the founder's shares "—I do not know that the expression is a very accurate one, for the Khedive was not the founder of the Canal—I would rather call them the 15 per cent shares; but the Government having received the proposal to purchase these 15 per cent shares appeared to have been fastidious, and suddenly became shocked with the idea of entering into so speculative a transaction. They said they did not feel disposed to enter into a speculative purchase of that kind. I assume that the Khedive was to be believed in the representations he made. If we do not believe what he said there are some important consequences that will follow. The Khedive had never pretended that what we bought would give us influence on the Company. The Government set up that doctrine, not the Khedive; but he said—If you purchase the founder's shares they will give you control over the Company; they will carry with them greater power of control over the Company than the possession of the shares would give. I want to know what is the difference between 598 a speculative and a non-speculative purchase. We have purchased shares which carry no dividend at all for 19 years, and for dividends on which we are then dependent on the simple promise of the Khedive. The Khedive offers shares of which it does not seem too much to hope that in four or five years they may begin to bear some dividend, and before 10 years will bear a large dividend. We accepted the first of these as a safe and complete transaction, and the second was rejected as a speculative purchase. I want to know on what grounds the Government considered themselves entitled to buy shares that carry dividend only after 19 years, and at the same time declined to purchase other shares that bear 5 per cent and in a few years would bear 10 per cent, although these were recommended to them as carrying direct influence over this Company which they were so anxious to control? I own I cannot see on what ground it is if you have gone so far why you can refuse to go further. That is a portion of the case which the Government have not yet attempted to explain. The grand object of this great operation—for such it is—was to obtain additional security for free transit to the East. A distinguished Gentleman who lately solicited the suffrages of the electors of Manchester intimated to the constituency of that great City—if he is correctly reported—that nothing could be more monstrous than to raise a doubt of the wisdom of this transaction—for, he said, Is not the Prince of Wales in India, and is not the Princess of Wales in England, and are we going to put the Prince to the hazard of not coming home by the nearest route? That may have been one of the main objects which the right hon. Gentleman had in view; and if so, I want to know in what definite and specific manner we have obtained additional securities for the free transit of the Canal to India. I confine myself in the main to putting questions, and I am afraid that I have put a great many and have a great many still to put; because I contend that we are by no means informed as to all the bearings of this transaction, and that there is a moiety of it with respect to which the Government have never given an explanation, but, on the contrary, have been remarkably, I will not say ominously, silent. I apprehend that additional security for free passage to 599 India is but one meaning of what may be understood by additional control over the proceedings of the Company. I want to know in what way you obtain control over the proceedings of the Company within the precincts of the Company itself. I have shown already that we have had a most powerful, effective, and, I think, sufficient control over the proceedings of the Company from without. But in what way are we to have it from within? In only one of two ways can the ingenuity of man show it to be possible. One way is by obtaining a majority of votes; the other is by showing an identity of interests. Have you obtained a majority of votes? Ten votes are what you either knew, or did not know that you were to obtain, and even those 10 votes are subject to criticism. They have never been admitted as of right. M. de Lesseps seems to have admitted them for a practical reason—there was a great difficulty in making a quorum at his meetings, and these 10 votes afforded him useful assistance. But at any time when it suits intrigue or policy the claim to vote which the possession of these shares gives may be questioned. And where, if questioned, will it be decided? It will be decided in a Court of Trance, in which Her Majesty will have to appear as plaintiff, with the Suez Canal Company as defendants; or, if not in a Court of France, in a Court of Egypt, but certainly not in a Court of England. I cannot think that Her Majesty's Government gave sufficient consideration to what is due to the dignity of the Crown when they not only accepted thankfully but sought eagerly the peculiar position in which they have placed the Crown for the establishment of its rights as a shareholder in the Suez Canal Company. But it is admitted that you have not got the votes, and it is said you are going to send three directors to a Council consisting, I believe, of 22. [The CHANCELLOR of the EXCHEQUER: Reduced to 21.] Well, that is an inducement, but I am afraid not an effective one; and I want to know what will be the position of those three Gentlemen who, possessing the confidence of Her Majesty's Government, are to endeavour to exercise that control over the proceedings of the Suez Canal Company which the British public, in the tempest of its approval two or three months ago, 600 considered and were told by the metropolitan Press they were to acquire. They cannot do it by votes. Can they do it by showing identity of interests? Now, I ask you, as men of business, whether there is an identity of interests in a joint-stock company between shareholders who have a dividend for 19 years, and shareholders who have no concern with that dividend, but derive their interest from other sources, and with respect to whom it makes no difference whether the returns are small or large. Of course, questions will arise between the two classes of shareholders about dividends or repairs, liberal or stinted administration, and extension or otherwise. The one will argue for repairs, for liberal administration, for great extension; they will point to the future, and draw glowing pictures of what the property will become if a liberal policy is pursued. But the answer will be—" That is all very fine; but we have wives and children to look to, and we want our dividends for the next 19 years. You must go back to London and tell your Government, your metropolitan Press, and your Parliament, if you want these improvements you must pay for them; you must come down liberally out of the resources drawn from the vast wealth of the country you represent. If you bear a large share in the work of improvement, then we shall listen to you, but not unless you consent to accept those fair and equal conditions." I again want to know whether I am not correct in saying these questions deserve an answer:—First of all, whether, if you are to control the proceedings of the Company, your control must not be dependent upon an available majority of votes, or else upon an identity of interests with the other shareholders; and also whether it is not true that, as far as regards in round numbers a period of 20 years, the interests of the British Government as shareholders are not identical with, but are in positive opposition to, the interests of the other shareholders, inasmuch as the wants of shareholders of the Canal and the wants of the mercantile community are not the same? What one party will want, will be the improvement of the Canal; what the other, will be the maximum of dividend. I am afraid that is the answer we shall get when we are preaching the sound doctrines that we shall preach to 601 our brother shareholders. There is no doubt that, in regard to the ultimate interests of the enterprize, the shareholders and the customers of the Canal are in the same position. That is what called "the long run. "But" the long run "does not and never can govern, except to a limited extent, the conduct of such a Company, let it be ever so enterprising. The shareholders of this Company, whom we did our best to keep out of their dividends for a length of time, will naturally think we have no further claims upon them. On the other hand, I am inclined to think that they will make claims which will induce Her Majesty's Government to run the very unpleasant risk of drawing upon the Exchequer—a thing of which Her Majesty's Government did not dream, and of which most certainly they did not give us any intimation whatever. And if we are to do so, let us consider what it will come to to. I am very confident what it will come to. I saw it in the newspapers to-day—I do not know whether it is true, but we are told—that Mr. Cave and M. de Lesseps have arrived at an arrangement for increasing the burden on the trade which passes through the Canal. I cannot believe that such an arrangement is possible, because down to this date we have been contending that we have acted only in the common interest of the Maritime Powers; and, further, it does not belong to anybody except the Porte and those very Maritime Powers to determine whether the charge shall be reduced or increased. But I am not now arguing for an increased burden on vessels using the Canal. I am contending that if the Chancellor of the Exchequer is at a future date to come down and say how vast the importance of this Canal will be to us, and as we cannot induce our brother shareholders to benefit us out of their own pockets he has to ask Parliament to make a large advance for the improvement of the Canal, then comes in another view—that the general taxpayers of the country may be called upon to subsidize one particular branch of our trade, the Indian trade, which makes such large use of the Canal. I must own that I am not without considerable fears and misgivings in regard to the ultimate operation of this precedent. I hold it to be of the greatest importance that we had formerly a complete identity 602 of interest with other States in the Canal; our ground was sound and immovable, and might have remained so as long as you made your demands as the champions of the general interests of Europe. I am sorry I am not now looking at an isolated scheme, in which capacity alone it is presented to us; but that we are now to have a separate, and what will be called a selfish, interest of our own. It seems to me that we run a very great risk in abandoning that community and identity of position with the other Powers which we have hitherto enjoyed. Nor do I believe that you can at all be certain that you will be free from invidious—unmerited, no doubt—but invidious and inconvenient reproaches and suspicions. I am not by any means sure that you will not give a handle to any Government with which you may happen to be at variance to use against you, as a means of intrigue and opposition, this position which you have, I am afraid, unwisely chosen to adopt. Then that complexity of relations between the Company and the Powers may occasion possibly very serious embarrassments. Some Powers may go to Egypt and set up an influence against us; others may go to the Porte and do the same. Every sort of claim may be made against us; and there is no certain tribunal of public law to which you can bring these claims, and no clear and positive rule by which to dispose of them. It was easy to dispose of them, however, so long as we had Europe on our side. It will be very dificult to dispose of them when it is only our own interest that we have to protect. Now, before I conclude, I must look for a moment at the finance of my right hon. Friend, and here I must say, that of the useful art of building there is one branch in which my right hon. Friend promises to become a great expert; and that is the art of what is called "castle-building." My right hon. Friend coolly handles this 5 per cent which the Khedive promises, analyzes it, considers it under the head of capital, and tells us how many years you will have your interest, and then get your shares for nothing. How is all this achieved? Without the slightest difficulty. The transaction is not to be lost in the general accounts of the expenditure and income of the country. That would obscure the glory which he hopes the Govern- 603 ment in this matter will obtain. And all that he takes on trust, and entirely irrespective of the question whether we are ever to get the money or not. Are we, however, to get it; and, if so, what assurance have we that we shall get it? I want to know, in the first place, whether this is a prior or a preferential charge upon the revenues of Egypt. If I read the letter of Lord Derby to General Stanton, I find that the latter is to impress upon the Government of Egypt that this is to be a primary charge; but in the agreement that is signed by General Stanton on behalf of the British Government there is nothing about this being a primary or a preferential charge, but merely that it is to be a charge upon the revenues of Egypt. But, even assuming that it is to be a primary or a preferential charge, I am far from thinking that even in that case we should be altogether out of the wood. Taking into consideration the critical position of Egypt with reference to its finances, and the abuses which the right hon. Gentleman describes as prevailing in its administration, it would, I think, scarcely be consistent with the honour and dignity of the British Crown to avail itself of its political influence for the purpose of enforcing this prior charge against the other creditors of that country, entitled under prior engagements. In that, as I gather, my right hon. Friend agrees with me. I think, however, on a careful perusal of both the documents to which I have referred, that Lord Derby is mistaken, and that we are to have no prior charge on the Egyptian revenues. And if that be so, what is the security we are to have for the payment of this money? Is it to be the same security as the other creditors of Egypt have? I ask, therefore—and upon this point I think we must press for a reply—have the Government or have they not a reasonable conviction that for the next 20 years, at any rate, the Egyptian Government will be in a condition and will be willing to meet its engagements? The right hon. Gentleman is asking us to vote money upon the faith of the promise of the Khedive, and what are the inducements he holds out to us to vote that money? He tells us he has sent out a Commission of Inquiry to Egypt, and that the result of the Inquiry instituted by that Commission has convinced him of three things—I care little for those three 604 things, because the right hon. Gentleman might have been easily satisfied with regard to them without going to the trouble of sending out a Commission of Inquiry. I care for a fourth, about which his Commission tells us nothing. The three things of which the right hon. Gentleman tells us he is convinced are—first, that the resources of Egypt are great; secondly, that the sins and offences of its financial administration are great also; and, thirdly, that if a thorough repentance take possession of the offenders and that everything now wrong be set right, that if in this Mahomedan country, in this little organized country, and in this absolute country, good sound normal systems of finance be forthwith introduced and steadily maintained, then very likely its finances will be placed on a sound basis. I feel very much disposed to agree in all three of these propositions. But, at the same time, I know that when deep and inveterate disease has taken possession of the finances of a country, it is not in a day, nor a year, nor in 10 years, that it can be eradicated, and the financial system restored to a healthy condition. There is not a country on earth that has so little excuse as Egypt for having its finances in disorder. It was the country where the Sovereign was richest, where the soil was richest; it was the country where the rule was most absolute; it was the country where the subject was the most obedient; it was the country which had no European responsibilities to discharge. The Turks may have had their difficulties, and their ideas of maintaining a great army or a great navy; but the Emperor of Russia was not going to attack Egypt. Egypt, therefore, had no occasion and no excuse for any portion of that profligate expenditure which has brought her to the position in which she now is. How, therefore, am I to expect that such a moral miracle can be effected as that Egypt will reform her financial administration, and that the stroke of the right hon. Gentleman in furtherance of his Oriental policy will conduce to a complete revolution in the finances of the country, will drag them from the depths to which they have sunk, and will bring them into a condition of comparative purity, soundness, health, and vigour, which even in this country has been the slow' attainment of long labours and of many generations? Is it not surprising that 605 my right hon. Friend, who is so circumspect that he will not give us anything but "if" on which to feed our hopes, yet coolly opens the money-box, reckons the interest, and says—" In a few years it will all be right if this, that, or the other is done, and that we shall get our shares an the Suez Canal for nothing?" I wish to know from the Government—and I must press them for a reply—whether we are to have the same security for the payment of this 5 per cent as the general creditor of Egypt has for the payment of his interest. At one time it occurred to me that so great were the embarrassments and apprehensions connected, not with the present future, for we must look beyond that, but with the possible evolutions of this magnificent policy, that really it was a consideration whether it would not be well to take all these shares and divide them amongst the Members of the Cabinet, asking them to accept them as a small acknowledgment of their services in this transaction from a grateful country. I am by no means certain even now that that would be a bad bargain. I have great apprehensions, as I have said, about the receipt of this 5 per cent; but I have much greater apprehensions as to the position into which the necessity of calling them up may draw us. That is a question of the most serious character. I will suppose a case. We have no doubt that for a year, or perhaps a little more, everything will be made smooth, easy, and admirably punctual, and the right hon. Gentleman may sleep calmly on his pillow, so far as the Egyptian payment is concerned, for the coming financial year. But I go beyond the year, and I will assume that the moral miracle anticipated by the Treasury Bench does not take place, and that these financial embarrassments occur. Then the Chancellor of the Exchequer of the day, hearing that the money is not likely to be forthcoming—and such things do happen in Eastern countries—desires General Stanton to go to the Khedive of Egypt and say to him—"You will be required, you know, to pay that £100,000 punctually on the 1st of June next." The Khedive will say to him—" I can pay. I do not deny that I can pay. I will show you the money, and you shall see everything—what, are the expenses of government, and what funds are available. I 606 can pay it; but if I do I cannot pay the dividend of a prior creditor, which will become payable on the 1st of July." That is a position in which I do not wish to see the Chancellor of the Exchequer of this country, competing with other creditors of the Khedive of Egypt for payment of this money, when it will be obtained only by taking the money out of the pockets of those who made their contract with the Khedive before you made yours. Nor am I sure that this is the last or the worst difficulty; because I think it is perfectly possible that if the pressure upon this or some other Khedive becomes very inconvenient, there may be other Powers who, feeling a resentment at the severe pressure put by a great Power like England upon a small Power like Egypt, will speak honeyed words in the ear of the Khedive, and propose arrangements of mutual accommodation to bring about relations upsetting all ours, with the possibility of very inconvenient and mischievous results. These are the political apprehensions that occur to me, and indeed wherever I move on this subject the ground seems mined under my feet. I have asked Her Majesty's Government a number of questions upon this subject, and I most sincerely hope that they will be able to give replies that will satisfy me, and, what is of far greater importance, will satisfy this House and the country. I do not speak of this as a matter on which I desire to dogmatize. I say that this question is full of difficulties, and that they have not been solved—that it is full of knots, and that they have not been untied. It may be that it was necessary to move in this matter; it may be that this was the right way to move; it may be that your financial arrangements are consistent with precedent, with constitutional rule, and with prudence; it may be that you will show a justification for your remarkable invasion of the privileges of the House of Commons in virtually disposing of this money without its consent; it may be that political embarrassments are not likely to follow, as I fear they may, the step you have taken; it may be that our influence over the Canal Company will be augmented, and that in that sense our security for free passage to India improved—all these things may be capable of truth, but I strongly assert that of not one of them 607 down to the present hour has proof been given.
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
Sir, it is impossible to follow a speech like that to which we have just listened without admitting the very great force and the very great ingenuity of many of the arguments of my right hon. Friend. Our position, respective or irrespective of the step we have taken in the purchase of these particular shares, is one which is certainly open to complications, and undoubtedly—whatever may be the position which we shall hold with respect to the possession of shares in the Suez Canal—many of these inconveniences which the fertile imagination of my right hon. Friend has placed in so powerful a light before the House are inconveniences which it is quite possible may occur, and which we must prepare, if they do occur, to meet as they arise. It is impossible to deny that complications may arise with foreign countries, or with Egypt, or with the different interests concerned in the maintenance and navigation of the Suez Canal in consequence of our purchase of these shares, and that we may require efforts of statesmanship, prudence, and courage to deal with them. But the question we have to determine is, whether the difficulties which my right hon. Friend tells us are inevitable would not have been quite as formidable, or even more formidable, had we not purchased these shares; and whether had we held aloof in the matter the dangers foreshadowed by him might not have been precipitated; and whether, by the step which we have taken, we have not put ourselves in a position of greater advantage to meet them, if they should arise, or, which I rather anticipate, to prevent them from arising? I greatly regret that in the statement I made the other day I was considered to have been too concise in my exposition of the views of the Government with respect to the purchase of these shares; but the real truth was, I thought that it was a matter which I had better simply bring before the Committee, by way of opening the case, and I was rather disposed to wait for questions that might be raised by the Committee than to excuse, and thereby accuse, our proceedings on points on which they might never be challenged, or to enter on a discussion of questions on which I should 608 think there was no difference of opinion. But after the speeches of the two right hen. Gentlemen, I feel that further explanations are called for; and I therefore wish, in the first place, to clear my statement of one difficulty which I think was imported into it by the line which my right hen. Friend who has just sat down has taken, not only on this, but on a former occasion. I wish to clear my position of any connection with language that may have been held by the Metropolitan Press. It is enough for us to have to explain and defend our own policy; and we are not to be held liable for the language used by the Press with which we have no connection. Although we were told that certain articles were inspired, and were evidently the language of Her Majesty's Government, my Colleagues and myself say there is no foundation at all for any such statement. When the matter was finally settled we undoubtedly, as we were bound, communicated the fact of the purchase of the shares to persons who communicated it to the organs of public information, and that, I believe, is the whole extent of our connection with the matter. For any inferences that were drawn from it the Press are entirely responsible. Well, setting that aside, I turn to a question on which a good deal of stress has been laid. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for the University of London began, I think, by asking us what was the real question which the House had to decide, and my right hon. Friend put a somewhat similar question. They asked—" What are the relations of the Government with Messrs. Rothschild?" They also asked—" What is this Vote which you are asking for? Is it one which lies within the power of Parliament to decide and vote upon freely or not?"—and coupled with that question were important questions which my right hon. Friend raised with the usual force of his language as to our Constitutional position and the propriety of the conduct which we had pursued, and which he very seriously and gravely impugned. Well, I think that to a certain extent the second of those questions very much answers the first. We are told by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the University of London that, after all, the vote which we are asking the House of Commons to give upon this occasion is a mere form, because it is absolutely 609 necessary that Parliament should confirm the action taken by Her Majesty's Government; and that there can be no question whatever as to the decision of the House. But almost in the same breath my right hon. Friend challenges us to show that our proceedings have not been of a most unconstitutional and objectionable character. Why, I must say that it seems to me something like an affront to the House of Commons to suppose that the House, as a matter of course, should confirm proceedings which may be of a most unconstitutional and objectionable character. If our proceedings had been admitted to be perfectly regular in all respects, if the only question was whether our policy was an advantageous or a disadvantageous policy upon some question as to whether we ought to have given so much for the shares, a little more or a little less, then I admit that it might have been said—" This is a foregone conclusion." But when my right hon. Friend turns round upon us and says—" You have done the most unprecedented thing that ever was done in the present century, and you are now asking the House of Commons to confirm what may be a most mischievous transaction," it is inconsistent to say—"After all, it is a matter of course that Parliament should approve it." It was a transaction in which we felt, and those with whom we were connected in this matter must also have felt, that it was a case which required full and careful consideration, and in which we should come before Parliament to ask for its free and unbiased judgment. Now, that is important, because the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the University of London almost admitted in so many words that the reason he impressed upon us the obligation which he said lay upon Parliament in this matter was, that he wished to make it the foundation of his argument that Messrs. Rothschild in undertaking this bargain ran no risk, and that we had consequently made an improvident bargain. I say, on the contrary, the challenge thrown out by my right hon. Friend to show that this unprecedented action is not one that deserves censure and repudiation by the House of Commons proves that the view of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the University of London is not a just view of the matter. Well, I think the transaction was unprecedented. 610 The whole policy and connection of the British Government with an undertaking of this character are unprecedented, just as the Suez Canal itself is unprecedented. And undoubtedly the conduct of the Government could not be precisely in accordance with any precedent in a matter in which precedents did not exist. Well, now, what was our policy? We have given a history of this transaction more than once to Parliament, but I must revert to it. My right hon. Friend said just now the question of a purchase of shares was not one initiated by the Khedive; it was initiated by the British Government. Now, I will ask the House to notice what the precise steps were. We had it brought before us that the Khedive was thinking of raising money upon his shares. The probable terms were stated, and we at once perceived that the money would be advanced at an exorbitant rate of interest for a short period upon the security of these shares, and that when that short period expired he would be unable to discharge it. The obligations of the loan might be renewed, until at length the Khedive would be driven to part with his shares under circumstances of embarrassment. We saw that there was danger of his falling into what would be a very disadvantageous arrangement, and we used our friendly influence with the Khedive to induce him not to mortgage his valuable property. Now, we perfectly knew what the general circumstances in Egypt were. We knew quite well that one of the errors of the Viceroy of Egypt had been his parting from time to time with property valuable in itself and promising to be more valuable in the future, at ridiculously low prices, and we saw that if he were to go on in that way, it must be bad for the condition of that country, in which we took, and justly took, an interest. Well, we advised him not to obtain a loan upon his shares, and we made him an offer—that if we were able to assist him by purchasing the shares, and if fair terms could be arranged, we were ready to consider the matter. The proceedings went on. The Khedive still from time to time was making further arrangements until the last point arrived, at which he told us he was now prepared to sell his shares, that he had had an offer of £4,000,000 for the purchase of these shares, but that he gave us the first refusal of becoming the pur- 611 chasers. We saw that it was then time to act at once, and that the only course which was open to us was to make a purchase. My right hon. Friend says—" You might have made an advance, that would have been all right; but to purchase them was unconstitutional." Really I am unable to perceive the distinction between the constitutional character of the one or the other proceeding. My right hon. Friend also says—"You ought to have gone to the Bank of England." Well, I admit that, as a general rule, if this had been a question in which we were proceeding upon some regular authority from Parliament as in any ordinary transaction, we ought to have applied to the Bank of England to undertake the operation for us. But that was not the position of the case. We knew that we were taking a step outside of strict law, and we had to consider whether we should be in the right in asking a public body like the Bank of England, with a public obligation, to concur in that breach, which would have involved a breach of the law on their part also. We had also to consider whether, if we addressed ourselves to the Bank of England, there would be time to conclude the bargain. We knew that if we addressed ourselves to the Bank of England the Directors would have to meet and consider the proposal, and decide whether or not they could entertain it. If they could not have entertained it, where should we have been? It was a question whether the Bank would have taken the responsibility of conducting this unprecented transaction in a manner equally unprecedented, and in the manner most suitable for the attainment of the object. The question, therefore, is whether, by giving such an invitation to the Bank of England, we should not have run the risk of losing the object we desired. This is a matter on which I can only say that we acted with the best motives and the best intentions; and if we were wrong we must submit to any rebuke which Parliament may bestow upon us. We, however, believe that Parliament will approve and support what we have done. But this I will say—that our action was taken simply and solely because we believed it to be the only way in which, under the circumstances of the moment, we could secure the object at which we were aiming. Now, we are asked by the right hon. Gentleman the 612 Member for the University of London whether, when we took this step, we really knew what we were about. Well, I hope we did. The right hon. Gentleman challenges me for not having been thoroughly honest in saying at the time we made the purchase, that we were pretty well acquainted with the circumstances as to the votes. He especially asks us—" Did you or did you not know that you would only have 10 votes by this purchase?" And he says—" You could not have known it, because the metropolitan Press the next day did not know it." But, Sir, there are cases in which the Government may know more even than the Press, and I can assure the Committee that I personally was perfectly well aware of the fact, and, not only so, but that I represented it to my Colleagues, and they were perfectly aware of it also. We had at that time in this country, as has been mentioned before, a gentleman who was thoroughly conversant with the condition and with all the circumstances of the Company. I refer to Colonel Stokes, with whom Lord Derby and I myself were in repeated communication during the week these negotiations were on foot, and of course it was our duty to make ourselves acquainted with all that Colonel Stokes could tell us on the subject. Now, this particular question—" Would the shares carry a proportionate number of votes?" was one of the questions that were put. Most distinctly we had before us the statutes of the Company, which showed that no shareholder could have more than 10 votes, and although, of course, there might be the possibility of breaking up our interest into a large number of faggot votes, yet we felt that we must look upon it as a purchase which would entitle us only to 10 votes. We were further informed as to the question that was raised whether the shares had any votes at all. But we were also advised that the better opinion was that the shares, though detached from the coupons, would carry such votes as properly belonged to them, and that was a very important consideration to us. The Committee will see the reason of that. It is said that it would be unreasonable that persons holding shares which were not receiving dividend should have a vote on the same footing as persons holding shares which were receiving dividend. On the other hand, it would be unreasonable to say 613 that 176,000 shares should not be represented at all; and if they were not represented by people who held the shares without the coupons, by whom were they represented? Not by the people who had the coupons without the shares; for that had already been tried and decided; and it was perfectly clear, according to the decision of a French Court, that the holders of the délégations had not the votes. The Company have raised a question whether anybody has the votes; and that remains still to be tried. But I may observe, in passing, that in the communications which we have recently had with M. de Lesseps he has expressed his readiness to admit the right of these shares to have the votes. [An hon. MEMBER: The 10?] No; but that these shares should carry votes, notwithstanding the coupons being cut off. And what I wish the right hon. Gentleman to remember is that there are always two sides to this question. It was not only what we gained, but what we prevented. If we only gained 10 votes, we at all events prevented the creation of 700 or more by other people. It is all very well for the right hon. Gentleman to say that there would be no great harm in a certain additional number of other persons coming in; but I think a great change in the constitution of the Company, such as might have been expected by the sale of these shares, carrying 700 votes, to persons who might have got hold of them was not altogether a matter of indifference to us. My right hon. Friend the Member for Greenwich says—"You were very well as you were before. I do not say you were quite in a comfortable position, because the Foreign Office was worried; but, setting aside the misfortunes of the poor Foreign Office clerks, or even, occasionally, of the Foreign Secretary, you were on a footing that was fairly satisfactory. You had your fights, indeed, with the Company, but you had the Porte and the Khedive with you, and though M. de Lesseps might threaten as he pleased, you carried your points against him. Why, then, could you not let the matter alone?" Our answer, Sir, is that the matter would not let itself alone. The situation was changing, and changing not by our wish. Our wish was that the Khedive should retain his shares, and that things should go on as before; 614 that the conclusions of the Conference at Constantinople should be carried into effect, and that matters should be satisfactorily carried on upon the old footing. But we found that that would no longer be the case. The right hon. Gentleman says—"How were you affected by the Khedive selling his shares? The Khedive told the Porte that it was not these shares which gave him his influence over the Canal. Why did you not buy 'the founder's shares' at 15 per cent, which the Khedive himself says would have given you a greater control than the others?" But what does he mean by saying that the control would have been "greater?" Greater than what? If it would have been greater, that very supposition implies that you must gain some control through acquiring the shares that you have obtained. The thing is palpable to everybody. The influence attaching to this transaction is not to be measured merely by the number of votes at command. Really it is not worth while, even out of respect to my right hon. Friend opposite, to argue so plain a proposition as that in possessing something like two-fifths of the shares you have more influence, and must have more influence, in the affairs of the Company than you had before. Why, look at what has occurred within even the very short time that has elapsed since this purchase. We have practically arranged for the admission of a certain number of our nominees into the administration of the Company. Why did we get that? How does it happen that M. de Lesseps is willing to give us that, unless it is that he finds that our new step has given us more influence than we had before? I do not like to put what may be thought invidious cases; I do not like to say what you might do; nor is it prudent or desirable that you should; but if my right hon. Friend would only consider how, if he were trying how he could exercise his influence, were he unscrupulous in the use of these shares, he would see very well how he could exercise an influence which the rest of the shareholders could not neglect. Is it not an advantage to the Canal Company that two-fifths of its shares should he solidly held by the British Government? And would it be no disadvantage to the Company if the British Government were to part with its shares and throw them on the mar- 615 ket? In a ease of this sort it may be said that shares weigh rather than count, and consequently there are many ways in which the influence we have and must have by the acquisition of the shares will tell. But what I look upon as much more important is, that we are put in a better position from a moral point of view in the arguments we may hold on this matter. Does my right hon. Friend not remember—for he appears to be very familiar with the correspondence—how, in the course of those controversies which preceded the Conference of Constantinople, the French Government put forward this view? They said—" We are bound to support the French shareholders, who made this Canal, against the English shipowners who use it." And though that argument was overruled for the time, is it quite certain that it would always be overruled? Is it not better that we should be able to say that we are not only customers and shipowners, but we hold a double position, having likewise a large property as shareholders in the Canal; and when we ask you to consider the interest of those who use the Canal, we are not speaking selfishly only, for we know that if sacrifices have to be made we can and must bear our fair share of them? It is said that there may be very heavy works to be constructed in connection with the Canal, and that claims will be made upon us on account of them. I do not know how that may be, but I do not believe it. I stated the other day, according to our best information, that it is not so probable as it seemed to be a short time ago that very heavy works will be necessary for the Canal. As it develops, I do not say that money may not be laid out to make it more available and more useful for shipping and for commerce. That may have to be considered and arranged hereafter. But I want to point out that this is not a matter that arises from your being the possessors of a certain number of shares. If works have to be carried out of an extensive character, as some imagine will be the case, although I do not, the Company may have to ask those who are interested in the Canal to assist, and then we shall be called upon. Therefore, we do not take upon ourselves any new responsibility; but if any further expenditure should really have to be incurred by the Company, we may have to bear 616 our proportion of it. There now remains the mission of Mr. Cave, and what I have forborne to dwell upon, the part Messrs. Rothschild have taken in the transaction, for I do not know strictly what it has to do with the question. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for the University of London said that we ought to have added £37,000 for the interest which we have to pay to the Messrs. Rothschild. I confess I do not understand how that item could be included in the Vote, nor what we have, strictly speaking, to do with it. The arrangement with the Khedive was that from the moment that the purchase was effected, or that advances began to be made to him, he should begin to pay interest on the advances at the rate of 5 per cent; and the agreement with Messrs. Rothschild was that they should charge a commission of 2½ per cent upon the £4,000,000, and that they should receive the 5 per cent interest which the Khedive undertook to pay upon the amounts advanced from the date of the advance until the date of repayment by the British Government. Consequently, when we take the advances on ourselves—when we borrow or in any other way raise money for the purpose of recouping the Messrs. Rothschild, we step into their position. From that moment we become entitled to the 5 per cent the Khedive has promised. This is a very simple matter, and as far as I can see it is one which could not possibly have come under this Vote. The money will be paid by the Khedive, and it matters little whether it is to one person or to another.
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
At all events, if we have to provide anything in the way of interest for Messrs. Rothschild, it will only be the same amount as we shall receive on the other hand from the Khedive; and I do not see that this Vote has anything to do with the arrangement. When we come to the final arrangement for raising the money and paying it, that will be a better time to discuss it than now. As to the other matter I referred to, the right hon. Gentleman was very merry over the proceedings in connection with 617 the mission of my right hon. Friend Mr. Cave. He said that, according to the request made to us by the Khedive, all we need have done was to have sent out two young men, one from the Treasury and the other from the Inland Revenue Office; that we should have let them go out, and then—God bless them! Well, as I explained the other day, although that might seem a very simple step to take, yet it would have been giving a certain amount of British patronage to the financial administration of the Khedive. We could not but feel that any step of that sort—I mean sending out two clerks to assist the Khedive, not at his Board of Trade or in his Post Office, but in his finances—would be open to a construction which it was desirable to avoid, unless we knew what we were about. We felt, therefore, that we ought to do either more or less than he asked us—either to send nobody at all, which would have been somewhat unfriendly, or to inform ourselves fully as to the position of affairs, in order that we might send some one capable of doing what was needed. Accordingly, we sent out Mr. Cave, and I do not deny that in sending him out one of our objects was to learn for ourselves the position and true prospects of the finances of Egypt. We told the Khedive so, and he received Mr. Cave fully in that spirit, and with great friendliness and frankness. I do not want to enter into the subject of Mr. Cave's mission—that will be better discussed at another time. I merely wish to deny that we entered into the matter with the intention of surrounding our policy in Egypt with a great halo of glory. Our object, I repeat, was simply to see clearly what we were about, and to give what assistance we could to our friend the Khedive. For, after all, where is the limit to be drawn of the assistance that one nation may give in this way to another? If you advised a nation with regard to its policy—if you stepped forward and said, for instance—"You are entering upon an unwise or impolitic war," all the world would say you were taking a friendly step, and one that became a wise and friendly Power in regard to a less wise neighbour. Well, when you see a friendly country squandering its resources, when you see it engaged in financial courses which you know to be bad and which must lead to embarrassment; when you 618 see that this embarrassment may, and probably will, affect not only that country, but European Powers—and I would here remind the House that Egypt lies on the highway of Europe to the East—when you recollect what advantage might be taken of the embarrassment of that country by some European Power, and how the peace of Europe might thereby be jeopardized, it is surely good policy to come forward and prevent that country from getting into difficulties. Therefore I say, even if there were more objections to be made to the details of this transaction, there are high political considerations to be kept in view which ought to carry it over any merely commercial criticisms. I do not look upon it as a business transaction; as a purely business transaction it is not justifiable. It would not have been becoming on our part to have speculated in shares, and that was one of the main reasons why we objected to purchase the 15 per cent of the Khedive. It was not necessary for our purpose to do so; we had already obtained our voice in the Canal, and to have purchased that 15 per cent—although, as my right hon. Friend says, they might have paid—did not appear to us to be a transaction worthy of this great country, or of the policy which we have been pursuing. That reminds me of another point which requires notice. I was asked—" Is your £200,000 to be treated as a primary charge on the revenues of Egypt? "My right hon. Friend who put the question gave an answer to it himself, with which I intimated my concurrence. It is not a primary charge. The reason why these words "primary charge" come in is this—The Khedive had sold his shares to us, and had charged the Revenue of Egypt with the payment to us of a certain annuity in respect of them. After that came proposals for parting with other property, and it was offered to us, for we were asked to purchase the 15 per cent which he is entitled to receive of the net profits of the Canal; and at the same time there were rumours—I am not sure they were not on the high authority of the metropolitan Press itself—to the effect that the Khedive was still further entertaining proposals of parting with other property; and what we wished to impress on him was—Do not part with the property, because, remember, we have a 619 charge upon it; we have not, strictly-speaking, a primary charge, but we have a prior charge upon the revenues of Egypt in respect of that £200,000. We cautioned him, in fact, against parting with property which was mortgaged to us, and that is the explanation of the words in question. I am sorry that I am unable to go more fully into the matter; but if there is any question which any hon. Gentleman may desire to put, the Government will be most happy to afford any information which they can. But I do hope that there is no doubt of what the general views of the Committee will be. They will look upon the matter as one which they have a perfect right to criticize; and if they should think that it is one in connection with which there are any particulars as to which the Government may be worthy of blame, let them not be restrained from attributing it; but I say that the course which we have pursued embodies a national policy, and I believe that it will be supported by this Committee.
§ SIR JOSEPH M'KENNA
said, he desired to express his sense of the purchase by Her Majesty's Government of the Khedive's shares in the Suez Canal, and he hoped that many hon. Members unfettered by official responsibility in the past or the present would do so likewise. To his mind it was ignoring the real question and the true position of this case to discuss it as if it were analogous to the investment, speculative or otherwise, of a private person. He did not regard it, nor did he believe the public would regard it, in that light. They would regard it as an important act of State policy, one which the Government had undertaken for high political considerations. The subject was one which ought to be clearly discussed apart from ordinary Party considerations. It was an Imperial question, and one that bore upon the commercial interests of this country in the very highest degree. After all that had been said with respect to the case of this Canal, it was not his intention to recapitulate the circumstances connected with its construction. He must, however, again remind the Committee of the conduct of Her Majesty's Government in the days of Lord Palmerston, when the project of the Suez Canal was first mooted. At the time M. de Lesseps brought it under the notice of the English Govern- 620 ment, his advances were repelled with coldness. He was not now about to cast censure, or even to make censorious reflections, upon the Government of Lord Palmerston. The right hon. Gentlemen and noble Lords who formed Her Majesty's Government at that time acted, he had no doubt, according to their lights, or perhaps he should rather refer their conduct to the obscurity in which the future lay veiled; but in these later days, with the experience that they had had, with the light of the blazing sun of Egypt glancing its evidence of the victory of M. de Lesseps all along the line from Port Said to Suez, should not their conduct be far different from what it was then? He asked what it was that they had to censure the Government for? The position of the Sovereign of England on this last occasion somewhat resembled that of the Roman Monarch who, having refused to pay a certain price for nine volumes, and then for six, finally paid the same price for three. Were they now to censure Her Majesty's Government because they had closed with this last offer, rather than allow the Sibyl to depart once more to destroy the volumes which remained? He would, however, deal with the subject apart from metaphor. It was asked by right hon. Gentlemen what security had they that the promissory notes for £200,000 a-year would be paid? He answered, not much greater security for the 19 years than the Khedive had given in regard to the fulfilment of his other engagements. But assuming he did not pay the £200,000 a-year, was it right that they should discuss at the present time what should be the measure to be adopted on such a contingency? Hon. Members should bear in mind that the Khedive of Egypt, as the Egyptian Government, was entitled to the reversion, after 93 years, of the Canal, and was not that a security to this country? For these reasons he believed that Her Majesty's Government were perfectly right in entering into the bargain, and he heartily supported the Vote.
§ MR. BENETT-STANFORD
said, he entirely concurred with the hon. Gentleman who had just sat down that the course pursued by Her Majesty's Government in the matter was a perfectly wise and proper one. It was a matter of some surprise to him that neither in the public Press nor in that House had 621 there been any reference to the paramount importance of the Suez Canal to our Australian Colonies. The whole teneur of the debate was, that the Canal was the key to India; but no reference had been made to the vast interest the question had with regard to Australasia, the population of which might already be counted by millions, and which in 40 years would have a population equal to that of England. He hoped the Vote would be granted without a division-first because the country had shown its approval of the purchase; and secondly, because it was to be deprecated that foreign countries should think there was a division of opinion in Parliament as to the policy which had dictated the purchase of the shares.
§ MR. NORWOOD
said, the point of the debate which interested the commercial community of which he was the Representative, had reference to the influence which the Government might or might not acquire in the protection of British interests by the purchase of the Canal shares, and with regard to it he had not heard any sufficient answer or explanation. It was true that the Prime Minister, on the first night of the Session, and the Chancellor of the Exchequer more recently still, had instanced the importance of the purchase in that sense, when speaking of the action which the English Government was called upon to take with regard to the Canal in 1872. Now he, acting on the part of his constituency, as one of those who were on that occasion engaged in laying the views of the shipowners before the Foreign Office, had a perfect recollection of what then occurred, and he might be allowed to observe that when M. de Lesseps at the time challenged the tonnage on which the dues had been previously paid, and maintained the right of the Company to make changes materially affecting British shipping, the Foreign Office, urged by the shipowners, applied not to the Khedive, but directly to Constantinople, and called upon the Porte to give an authoritative explanation as to the meaning of the concession which had been given. The result of that application was that an international Conference was held at Constantinople, at which the proposals of M. de Lesseps were discussed, and the decision was in favour of the Maritime Powers, among 622 whom we took the lead, as against M. de Lesseps on the part of the Company. The Khedive, he might add, marched a considerable force of men to carry into effect the decision then arrived at; nor was it of his own motion, but in consequence of direct orders from Constantinople that he took that step. Well, that being so, what was our position now that those Canal shares had been purchased by the Government? Had we greater power than before to interfere on behalf of British mercantile interests as regarded concessions with regard to rates? For his own part he was rather disposed to think that the reverse would be the case. Hitherto when any complication or difficulty arose, our Government having no personal interest in the Canal were able to interfere on international grounds with effect, and to carry their point. But now we should be placed in a position of having a pecuniary interest in the Canal, although that interest was not immediate, for 19 years must elapse before we came into full possession of the shares which had been purchased. That being so, any attempt which we might make to improve the Canal, or to reduce the dues, would be met with the unanswerable argument that it was all very well for us to urge on expenditure which might benefit us 19 years hence, leaving the present shareholders to bear all the loss in the meantime. He must, therefore, maintain that the Government would be now less eager than ever to take up the cudgels on behalf of the mercantile interests. There were two important points, it appeared to him, upon which great doubt rested—the first was the rights to which we should be entitled by the purchase of these shares; the second was to what extent we should be called upon to contribute to future expenditure for the improvement of the Canal. On both points the partnership interest appeared to him to be very unsatisfactory, and he must remark that the maritime and mercantile community had not called upon the Government to interfere. There must be a large outlay to improve the Canal, and upon works requisite to its efficiency. The right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer, indeed, appeared to be confident that no large outlay would be required in connection with the Canal, but there were, he (Mr. Norwood) believed, great 623 engineering difficulties anticipated with respect to the Port Said mouth, which had been described as a harbour against nature. The entrance to that harbour had a decided tendency to silt up, and it would require the outlay of a large sum to keep it open. Then we ought to divest our minds of the idea that the outlay would be confined to the £4,000,000 we were now about to pay. His belief was that, before very long, we should be called upon to contribute a considerable sum of money out of the British Exchequer to keep the Canal in order. If a large vessel were sunk, either maliciously or accidentally, in the Canal, it might close the traffic for many weeks. The Sovereign Powers in regard to the Canal would, under any circumstances, be the Khedive and the Sultan, and those persons who talked about the purchase of the shares insuring the passage to our Indian possessions ought to bear in mind that without the consent of those Sovereigns, we could never convey armed ships or troops through the Canal, not even, if he were correctly informed, in time of peace. The concessions hitherto made by both applied only to merchant ships in time of peace. There was no right to demand a passage for a man-of-war, and this would certainly be a danger in time of war. If there happened to be a European war, Englishmen would never send their ships and their produce through the Canal; for to enable the Government to protect them it would be necessary that they should have perfect command of the Mediterranean, the Red Sea, and of the Canal. In speaking of the importance of the Canal, hon. Members had left out of sight the fact that the overland traffic for passengers by rail from Alexandria to Suez existed, and that the route to India by way of the Cape was always open to us. To assert, therefore, that we were really dependent on the Suez Canal for our communication with India was a very considerable exaggeration. The distance to Calcutta was only 3,500 miles further round the Cape than it was through the Canal, and the difference of time in conveying troops to India by full-powered steamers would only be 14 or 15 days. As to the alleged importance of the Canal with reference to our Australian Colonies, he need only remark that no steamers went through the Canal to Australia, while sailing vessels, he believed, never used the 624 Canal at all. In his judgment the importance of the purchase had been very much overrated. Reference had been made to the policy of Lord Palmerston in opposing the Canal, but, although that statesman was undoubtedly wrong in professing that the Canal could not be made, yet he was right in his estimate that it would be injurious to English commerce, or rather that it would be of considerably greater advantage to foreign than to British commerce. Formerly, the commerce of India and China came to this country, which supplied other nations but that state of things was altered now. The route by the Canal had thrown open speedy communication with the great Mediterranean ports, and the result was that a vast amount of produce which was formerly brought in British bottoms to our ports, and was then re-shipped to Continental markets, was now carried direct to Odessa, Trieste, Genoa, and Marseilles, to the detriment of the shipping and mercantile interests of this country. The purchase of the shares would, he feared, involve us in many complications; it would lead to great international questions being raised, and it would fail to advance one iota the commercial interests of this country.
§ SIR HENRY HOLLAND
said, he wished to direct a few remarks to the position of the Government and the country as holders of shares in a foreign company. The subject was a dry one, no doubt, but it was certainly one of importance in the consideration of the case. On the one hand there was an Egyptian Company as appeared by the terms of the Concession and the Statutes, and accordingly it was governed by the laws and usages of Egypt. In this Egyptian Company the British Government had certificates of a large number of shares, and the question was as to the rights we were entitled to as holders of those shares. It was true we had no right, as we had no desire, to interfere in the affairs of Egypt; but there could be no doubt that the possession of the shares gave us a right to advise the Khedive on all matters affecting directly the interests of the Canal, and likewise on questions which might arise between Egypt and foreign Governments in reference to the Canal. One point on which we might advantageously advise the Khedive would be as to the appointment of a new Director of the Canal 625 when M. de Lesseps' term of office expired. It was clear that the rights of the British Government were not confined to the receipt of dividends, and he might here point out that Article 20 of the Statutes had hardly been referred to sufficiently for the purpose of showing what were our rights and obligations. Among the rights was clearly the right to vote. He did not know whether the counsel for the Company adhered strongly to their opinion, but when they were informed of the contrary opinion given by the counsel for the Khedive, they agreed to the compromise that the Khedive should temporarily have a right to vote. This fact appeared at Page 43 of the Papers presented to the House, and therefore the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the University of London must have been perfectly well aware of it. There could be no doubt that the British Government had only a right to 10 votes, but he could see nothing in the Statutes and Concessions which would prevent the Government in a great crisis from distributing these shares, and thus securing, he would not say an overwhelming, but a certain large proportion of votes. He did not, however, wish to press this course, which, politically, would be a wrong course to take. He should prefer to see two or three persons of known ability and judgment, like Colonel Stokes, qualified by the possession of shares, to represent the British Government at the general meetings or upon the Council. He should also prefer that they should not vote, but that it should be understood that their opinions and advice were sanctioned and supported by the British Government. In this way we should gain more direct and legitimate influence than by the creation of new votes. In another way we could exercise considerable influence. In the event of new Statutes being made, the assent of the Khedive had to be obtained before they could be carried into execution. Now, the British Government might fail in the attempt to get their views adopted at the general meetings, but it would be a legitimate exercise of our influence to press our views upon the Khedive in the case he had supposed. As to the liability upon the shares, it was limited by the amount of share capital, and all the shares were fully paid up. He saw no objection to the arbitration provided under the Concession and the Statutes, with an appeal to the Superior Court of 626 Paris, or that it was a tribunal with which this country could find fault. It appeared to him that this transaction left our relations with foreign States unaltered. In the event of any change in the tonnage dues injurious to the interests of any foreign State, its remedy would be against the Company; and if remonstrances were made to the Khedive or the Porte, the political situation, as far as our Representatives were concerned, would be precisely the same as now. He confessed, however, he should be glad to see that, in accordance with the views of the Board of Trade in the case of the Mouths of the Danube, which were placed under an International Commission—the influence gained by this country might be exerted to bring about a similar state of things with regard to the Suez Canal, and he hailed the step taken by the Government as a step towards that end. No doubt the step was a novel one, and might give rise to some difficulties and complications; but he rejoiced that the Government were not deterred either by the novelty of the position or by the fear of complications from taking a course which had not been suggested by a selfish desire to promote the interests or the commerce of this country, but with the view to keep open the great line of communication between England, India, and the Australian Colonies, and in the interests of the world at large—a course which, he believed, the country had distinctly affirmed, and which he trusted the House would sanction.
§ MR. ROEBUCK
said, that in 1858 he asked the House to deprecate any influence being used on the part of England which would put any stop to the formation of the Suez Canal. M. de Lesseps, with great courage and daring, and with great genius, brought forward a scheme to carry a canal through the Isthmus, thereby rendering mankind better able to communicate between one part of the globe and the other. At that time Lord Palmerston had great power; and, unhappily for England, that noble Lord had two remarkable crazes. If you mentioned the name of the Empire of Brazil before him, it was like putting a red rag before a mad bull. He got up in a moment, and fiercely attacked the Member who ventured to mention the subject in favourable terms, and did all he could to disparage the subject. So with the Suez Canal. He possessed himself with the delusion—for 627 he had many of the prejudices and narrow-mindedness of Englishmen—that the Suez Canal would—God knew why—damage the commerce and interests of England. The House of Commons at that time coincided with Lord Palmerston. Among the small minority who voted with him (Mr. Roebuck) on the occasion to which he had just alluded was the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Greenwich, and among those who formed the great majority that voted against him was the present Prime Minister. But such, however, was the whirligig of time that now he found himself supporting the conduct of the Prime Minister with respect to the Suez Canal, and opposed to all the argumentation—such as it was—of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Greenwich. It appeared to him at the time of which he was speaking, and he thought experience had proved him to have been correct, that English commerce would, of all the commerce in the world, be most benefited by the construction of the Canal. As a matter of fact, he believed that of the vessels that passed through the Canal 75 per cent were English. They were told that other nations took advantage of the Canal to convey the products of various parts of the world to their own countries, and that thus the commercial interests of England were injured. This, it appeared to him, was to take a very narrow view of the commerce of the world and of the question in what consisted the advantages of commerce. Could it do any harm to England if Italy spent a portion of her capital in buying the produce of our Indian Empire or of China, and then took it home to Italy by way of the Suez Canal? It might be said that the goods might have been bought with English capital, but it was a fact that English capital was at present fully employed, and he could see nothing in the argument to which he had alluded to show any reason why Italian capital should not also be employed in the same line of business. He had been astonished, and more than astonished on that occasion by the class and manner of the argumentation which had been used in the speeches delivered on the question from the front Opposition bench. He thought he was coming down to hear great statesmen talk upon a great question of statesmanship, and 628 that he was about to hear men of great knowledge, experience, and power point out how this purchase was likely to prove of great advantage or injury to England; but when he listened to the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the University of London, he thought that he was listening to the speech of an Old Bailey lawyer, raising on a great question of finance small points as to interest and capital. Further, when the great interests of England were concerned, he was told that upon this question of £4,000,000 the Canal might have been bought for less. This was the manner in which a great question was handled. Suppose England had paid rather more, perhaps, than any other purchaser would have paid; and supposing that for the next 19 years they had no interest in the Canal, he would ask what were 19 years in the history of a people? They had bought something which would last for 99 or 100 years, and though 19 of those years might not be so advantageous as the other part of the 100, it appeared to him that they had still bought a most important property, and it was not consistent either with dignity or the interest of England to haggle about the price that had been paid for it. It must be remembered that this was a remarkable incident. Parliament was not on the present occasion dealing with an ordinary case. The question on the part of the Khedive was—"Will you buy? I cannot give you time; I want the money and I want it at once." The Government were told they ought not to have entered upon the transaction without the sanction of Parliament; but he, on the other hand, gave very great praise to the Government, for they, having confidence in Parliament, had the sagacity to discover the real interest of England and the courage to act up to it. They took advantage of the occasion, and did not take advantage of the necessities of the Khedive to drive a hard bargain with him. They acted as the great Representatives of a great people in giving the Khedive a fair price for his property—a price that had been offered before—and then adopting the most advantageous means of obtaining the money. He was told that this was unconstitutional. Perhaps it might—though the word conveyed very little meaning to him—be 629 unconstitutional for the Prime Minister of England, having confidence in his cause, believing that the House of Commons would agree with him, and finding a sagacious merchant in the City of London believing in him, and ready to employ four millions of money in the purchase, to have gone on with the transaction; but to his mind the Prime Minister who would have taken any other course would have been a coward and unfit for the position which he held. He therefore wished to look for a moment at what had been done, why it was done, and to ask what would have been the result if it had not been done? What was done was, that the Khedive having wisely or unwisely brought himself into financial difficulty wanted money at once. He had in his hands a great security which it was for the advantage of the world that it should continue as it was. He brought this security upon the market, and the question was, whether the English Government should take advantage of the opportunity afforded to them, and by buying the property establish themselves as partners in a great concern, or whether they should leave it alone. The Government decided the question in the affirmative, but Parliament had been told that they gained no interest by so doing. He could not believe that the man who used that argument believed it. What had happened even that day? Could it be contended that the interest and power of England in Egypt had not already been increased by the bargain which had been made? Let them, however, go one step further and ask what great complications were now darkening the political horizon of the world. Did anybody believe that Turkey or Egypt would remain what they were? Would it not have been matter of great lamentation for England to find that Turkey had broken down; that Egypt had lost a great portion of her power, and that there existed a cabal sufficiently strong to close the Canal against the passage of English ships. Therefore he said that the Government took advantage of a great opportunity. When he was told that only 13 or 14 days were saved in a voyage to India by means of the Canal, he could only suppose that a man making such a statement possessed very little commercial knowledge. Thirteen or fourteen days involved a 630 turn in the market, and this in its turn meant a great deal to commercial men. They knew that attempts had been made to run clippers to Australia and America, and that danger to life and property had been incurred in the endeavour to shorten the journey to America by a single day. Was he to be told then that English merchants were wrong in endeavouring to save a single day between this country and America, and that a difference of a fortnight, more or less, in a journey from this country to India was a matter of no importance? If Her Majesty's Government had not taken advantage of the opportunity afforded to them, the Khedive would have sold his shares not to one person or Government, but to many thousands of purchasers, and the difficulty with which England would have had to contend would have increased a hundred-fold. They would not have been able to trust for a month or six weeks upon what might happen, and British commerce would have been hindered, frittered away, and hampered by such a state of things. English commerce would have been driven again to take the old course round the Cape of Good Hope, instead of the new one, which had rendered so much more easy and certain the conveyance of British commerce to India. Looking at the question in a broad light, and speaking of it in these few words, he held himself justified in saying—for he was of no party, and never had been—that in his belief, and in the belief of the country, Her Majesty's Government, dealing with the question as Englishmen and Ministers ought to have done, had taken a step which, whatever their future course might be, and for however long or short a period their tenure of office might continue, would always cause the world to recollect the name of him who was at the head of the Government when this purchase was initiated and carried through Parliament.
said, the hon. and learned Gentleman who had just spoken (Mr. Roebuck) assumed that in consequence of the step which the Government had taken, England had virtually got possession of the Canal—a statement which he (Mr. Leveson-Gower) completely denied. As a matter of fact, England had no rights of property in the Canal. All she had bought was a right to share in the earnings of the Canal 19 631 years hence, without any share at all in the control of the undertaking. This was all, with regard to which the hon. and learned Gentleman said it was a miserable proceeding to object to the price which had to be paid. For himself, he could only say that if the purchase were attended with all the advantages claimed for it, he for one would not haggle about price, nor would he even blame the Government if they gave for the shares even more than they were worth. But in his opinion, when a large sum of money like this was spent it was the duty of the House of Commons to inquire a little into what that expenditure had been. This was not merely a question of pounds, shillings, and pence; there was a principle lying above it. The Government, as had been well said, had engaged in two transaction. The right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer sought to show that the two transactions were really one, when he said that when a boy bought a knife he bought the blade and the handle, and that the two formed the knife. That was true, but the two transactions in which the Government had engaged were perfectly distinct. They had bought shares and they had bought an annuity from the Khedive, and they might have done either without doing the other. Again, the right hon. Gentleman had said, that the property was purchased below its value. Was that so? It was stated that the French Company had offered the Khedive close on £4,000,000 for the shares, but he had seem it declared in a Trench journal that the sum was £3,500,000. But the value of the shares which were upon the open market was easily ascertainable. At the price of the day when they were Purchased, £28 a-share, was £4,928,000; but from that sum must be deducted the value of the coupons (£2,880,000), which would leave the shares to be worth a little over £2,000,000. It came then to this, that we had made a loan to Egypt at about 7 per cent. No doubt the Khedive deserved well at the hands of England. He had given largely, not perhaps wisely, but certainly generously, towards the formation of a Canal from which England derived great benefit. It was very desirable that good relations should contine to exist between this country and Egypt; but he feared the relationship of debtor and creditor was 632 not calculated to maintain a good and friendly feeling. Then on the subject of the control we obtained by the purchase, he could only say that he did not think it was at all desirable that the Government of England should become a member of a company of private individuals, or become liable to be summoned before a tribunal of law at the instance of foreigners. But as to control, we had none—for 10 votes were no more valuable than no vote at all would be. Control was the only excuse that could be offered for the step taken by the Government, and that excuse failed the Government; for as they had stated that evening, they were aware of the fact when they concluded the transaction. He did not regard the question in a Party spirit, and should rejoice if the course adopted by Her Majesty's Government should tend to the advantage of the country.
§ LORD GEORGE HAMILTON
said, he desired to say a few words on this subject, as it was one in which the administrative and commercial interests of India were deeply concerned. He regretted to hear the speech which had been delivered by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the University of London (Mr. Lowe). It was a speech of a peculiar character, and reminded him of the financial policy of the right hon. Gentleman, which was penny wise and pound foolish. The right hon. Gentleman enlarged upon the cost of every penny to be expended, but deliberately ignored every pound that was to be gained. He had, however, no fault to find with the concluding sentences of the right hon. Gentleman. He made grave charges against Her Majesty's Government. They were incredibly ignorant—they were unaccountably careless. The right hon. Gentleman, however, did not adduce any evidence in support of those charges, and candidly stated that if he had not substantiated the charges he made—which he had not—then he withdrew them. But the right hon. Gentleman who followed him made a speech of a very different character, but there seemed to him to be this fallacy underlying the whole of his speech—he argued it as an abstract question. Now, the question before the House was not an abstract question. It was this—were the Government justified in buying the 633 Khedive's shares, when, if they did not do so, a French Company would? The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Greenwich, in moving the Adjournment on a former night, had given as a reason that he was anxious to read the Papers carefully. He had, however—of course, unintentionally—based his argument tonight on a misstatement which the Papers conclusively disproved. Those Papers showed that the most serious complications had arisen between those who owned and those who used the Canal, and they set forth the origin of those complications and pointed to the remedies. The right hon. Gentleman asserted that the condition of affairs previous to the purchase was not a bad state of affairs. The Board of Trade, however, pointed out that the complications and differences would be endless as long as the Canal remained in the hands of a private company, and that the remedy was to impart a national character to the undertaking. The Duke of Argyll had also remarked upon the fact that it would be an advantage to British interests to have the Suez Canal in the hands of England rather than of France. Had not something of a national character been imparted to the Canal by the purchase by the British Government of an interest which would otherwise have fallen into the hands of French bankers and merchants? The hon. Member who had just spoken (Mr. Leveson-Gower) had ignored two or three considerations. When the purchase was proposed, the first question that arose was what advantage we should derive from the purchase, and, if we had to borrow money, at what rate we should borrow it? The answer to these questions showed that the Canal was more valuable to us than to anyone else, and that we could borrow money cheaper than anyone else. If the French Company could have borrowed an unlimited sum at 4 per cent the House might be very confident that the Government would not have got these shares. Would anyone tell him what the value of our coupons would be 19 years hence? They were £20 shares, and they now stood at a premium of £8. What made them now worth £28? Because they were entitled to a dividend they never had earned before. Mr. Reilly had stated in the Papers the primary charges on the revenues of the Canal, 634 which were the interest on the sinking fund and the loans, and then 5 per cent upon the capital. After that the whole of the proceeds were to be divided as follows:—The Khedive was to be entitled to 15 per cent; and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Greenwich was very anxious to know why the Government did not buy those shares. The promoters were entitled to 10 per cent; then came 2 per cent for administration, and there remained for the shareholders 71 per cent. The Government held 44 per cent of the total shares in the Company, and our proportion of the dividend would, therefore, be upwards of 31 per cent 19 years hence. And yet the right hon. Gentleman asked why the Government had not taken shares which were only entitled to 15 per cent, and which would be of no value until 10 years hence? Now, what was the price of these shares at 10 per cent? The promoters' shares were 1,000 in number, and each of them stood at present at the price of £567. Therefore, the promoters' shares in the aggregate were worth £567,000, while the value of our dividend as it stood was £1,700,000. Although he would not indulge in the spirit of prophecy, yet if the earth retained its present shape, and if the Suez Canal continued to be the means of communication between the Red Sea and the Mediterranean, the value of our dividend alone, apart from the interest upon our shares, would be worth more, 19 years hence, than the £4,000,000 we had given for it. If the revenue only increased 2½ per cent, that would be the result; and the Government had not, therefore, in his opinion, made a bad bargain. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Greenwich apprehended that Egypt would not pay the 5 per cent. Assuming, for the sake of argument, that the Khedive was unable to pay, and if a French Company had bought the Canal it was clear that he would not be able to pay the 10 per cent, what would our position then be? The whole of the shares would be in the hands of France, and complications between those who used and those who controlled the Canal would again ensue. Those differences would have to be settled by the intervention of the Khedive or the Sultan. The Sultan might have other business on hand, and the Khedive would be in the hands of his French 635 creditors, and to whom should we then look? The Government had been asked whether this purchase had anything to do with the Eastern Question. It seemed to him that it had satisfactorily settled what might be a very serious Western question. The relations between England and France had never been more amicable than at the present moment; but if the whole of the shares of the Canal had been in the hands of the French, while the persons who used the Canal were mainly English, what would have been the result? It had been stated in the Papers laid upon the Table that the British Government would take its stand on the interests of its navigation, which contributed the great proportion of the shipping, while the French Government, on the other hand, could not be indifferent to the interests of the French shareholders. Any such complications which would probably have arisen had been averted by the action of Her Majesty's Government. When the Members of the present Government were in Opposition, they were frequently told that they ought to be guided by public opinion. Now, if ever there was a question on which public opinion was unanimous, it was the present. The people of these Islands were practically unanimous. Foreign nations did not object; and the people of India, so far as he knew, were equally in favour of the purchase. M. de Lesseps was also favourable to it, and no one opposed it except certain right hon. Gentlemen on the front Opposition bench. Although some of their criticisms were fair, yet there was a latent hostility underlying those criticisms which would very soon develop into open attack if these right hon. Gentlemen could get any support from the hon. Members behind them. He felt bound to say that the Liberal Party had evidently come to a conclusion on this matter in accordance with what the right hon. Gentleman described as "the inflammatory approval of the metropolitan Press." With regard to the advantages of the Suez Canal to our trade with India, he had been surprised to hear the hon. Member for Hull (Mr. Norwood) assert that the time gained was only 14 or 15 days. [Mr. NORWOOD: I spoke of a steamer.] He (Lord George Hamilton) was under the impression that the difference was between four and ten weeks; and that 636 was, he believed, the opinion of the great majority of persons. [Mr. NORWOOD: The distance is 3,500 miles.] He could not better illustrate the importance of the Suez Canal to India than by stating that a Bombay merchant recently sent home a large quantity of raw cotton through the Canal. This cotton was manufactured into cloth and returned 70 days after it had left Bombay. If the Suez Canal were closed it would cause a strain on our Indian finances which it would be very difficult to meet. One point had not been noticed, and it was that at least this transaction did not furnish another illustration of the alleged tendency on the part of the English Government to relieve the English Estimates at the expense of the Indian Revenue. If there was a charge to which the Indian Revenue might have been called upon to contribute, it was the purchase of these shares; and if any such request had been made, it would have been cheerfully acquiesced in; but the Government acted in a wiser spirit, and proposed to place no portion of this charge upon the Revenue of India. The purchase told the world that if in the past we had ignored the advantages of the Canal, we had amply condoned for our error, and by this judicious investment in an enterprize which French skill and energy alone had made successful, we had formed a happy combination which would do much towards securing a free and uninterrupted water way between this country and India.
§ SIR GEORGE CAMPBELL
said, he would say very little as regarded the Canal shares pure and simple. A great deal might be said for and against the purchase; but the thing had been done, the nation had accepted it, and they could not go back. In fact, he for one should be sorry to put any difficulty in the way. But there was another view which had not been touched upon. He observed that when the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer spoke to-night he touched with extreme reserve upon the question as to how they were to get the £200,000. On a former occasion he said he was coming to that subject, but he never did so, and that evening he had only touched very lightly upon it. Even should it be a loss to us, he (Sir George Campbell) should not con- 637 sider it a fatal argument against the bargain. If the Government had told them the money was paid, and they might or might not get the £200,000, he should not now put in his word. But the point to which he wished to draw attention was this—that that was the course which the Government had not chosen to take. They had preferred to ostentatiously make this matter a separate account, and they made their credit dependent upon the realization of the money from the Khedive, so that they had identified themselves with the credit of the Khedive, and if that failed they would be discredited. Allusion had been made to the Report of Mr. Cave, who had emitted certain platitudes, but they afforded no solution as to where we were to get the £200,000 from. If the Khedive reformed his financial administration, then it was believed he might meet all his engagements; but he (Sir George Campbell) confessed that this was a subject with regard to which he had the greatest doubt. He not only doubted that it was possible for an extreme financial reform like this to be achieved at once, but he doubted whether the matter had not gone so far already that the credit of the Khedive could not be saved by any reform at all. Let them look at the matter as one of account. Mr. Cave was no doubt a very able and respectable Gentleman, but he had no special knowledge of Oriental finance which would enable him to tell them with confidence that the Khedive was in a position to set his finances right. Now, according to an authoritative statement which had been put forth and never contradicted, the revenue account of the Khedive amounted to £10,542,000, of which £6,300,000 was set apart for the interest of the Debt, and £688,000 for the tribute to the Sultan. These sums, amountingto£7,032,000, left £3,510,000. But of this £3,510,000, two-thirds was not revenue, but land revenue which had been capitalized, and in respect of which the payments would cease in six years from their commencement. This deduction left but £1,149,000, which could not be sufficient for the ordinary administration of the country. As to the sinking fund which had been talked of, it was notorious that the Debt was increased faster than it was reduced. Now, if India was to do a thing of that kind, they would not say she was in a 638 very solvent condition; in fact, they would say that she was verging on bankruptcy. He knew something of Oriental finance, and he must say he totally disbelieved in a very rapid increase in the revenues of Egypt. On the contrary, he thought those revenues had been stretched to the utmost, and they were enormous for such a country. No doubt very great works had been carried out principally in Said Pacha's time before these debts were incurred, and Egypt had largely benefited by the cotton famine, the same as India did; but these resources had been made the most of, and he did not believe that they could be carried further. Some taxes were now being kept up in Egypt which had long since been abandoned in India. The serious view of this matter was that the Government having identified themselves with the credit of the Khedive, he would be bound to raise the revenue to meet his engagements, and the result of that would be that a terribly-increased pressure would be brought to bear against the already unhappy ryots of Egypt. It was already stated that the Khedive had devised a new tax—the poll tax. If that was true, he could only look upon it as the beginning of the end, for in the East a poll tax had never been added to a land tax, and he did not think both could be raised in Egypt. Let us take our chance, but not allow ourselves to become a cause of oppression, and a source of stock jobbing and intrigue. He had rejoiced to hear the First Lord of the Treasury declare that the purchase was not with a view to war, but some hints seemed to point to the possibility of war. The right hon. Gentleman said we were a great Mediterranean Power, and a great Asiatic Power, maintaining a chain of fortresses from England to India. The distance between the two countries was upwards of 6,000 miles, and as the fortresses were only three—Gibraltar, Malta, and Aden—the average distance between them was 2,000 miles. That was rather a loose kind of chain. The right hon. Gentleman seemed to hint that the Canal might become another link; but it was very doubtful whether in case of war we could carry on our commerce by the aid of such a chain of fortresses through the Mediterranean.
said, that at the beginning of last Session he ventured to state his apprehension that foreign 639 affairs were depicted in Her Majesty's gracious Speech with a somewhat too rose-coloured a pencil—that though the different Governments might, and with truth, express their good feeling towards us, still, that among themselves, the relations of the Continental Powers were by no means of so assuring and placid a character. When he thus gave expression to his misgivings, he little thought that so short a time would so amply confirm them. Scarce a twelvemonth had passed away, and how did Europe stand now? Why, upon the magazine of a charged mine, which might be fired at any moment by the passion or caprice of one or two tribes of semi-barbarous mountaineers; and they might be assured that, when this mine did explode, it would topple over one, if not two, of the most extensive Empires in the commonwealth of nations. It was in view of such a catastrophe that he hailed with joy the bold and sagacious action taken by Her Majesty's Ministers in the matter of the Suez Canal. He hailed this action of the Government not so much on account of any commercial advantages—though they were beyond price—but because it announced to the world that we would not allow the affairs of the East to be arranged to our detriment—that we would not suffer the portals of Asia to be closed against us, and last, but greatest, that no European military Power should post itself between us and the mighty dominions, both foreign and English, which we held in India and Australasia. He felt confident that Englishmen of all classes would rejoice that the Conservative Government, which two years ago was returned by acclamation to supersede a Cabinet as timorous in its foreign policy as it was aggressive and dangerous amongst ourselves and our valued institutions, was taking an attitude in foreign affairs which would make the honour and influence of England felt throughout the civilized world. It was for these reasons that the people of England received the intelligence of what had been done with unanimous approval—the hon. Gentlemen the Members for Hackney excepted—and the manner of effecting it had been worthy of the measure itself. We had given no just cause of offence to anyone. We had no sinister motives. Our possessions were abundant, and we coveted no man's gold, silver, or 640 lands; and with our goodwill there should be no war. Nevertheless, the times looked ominous, and an anecdote occurred to him regarding this very land of Egypt, which might not be without its significance. At Ashraf, Kait Bey, the famous Circassian Sultan of the Mamelukes, when told that Tamerlane—who had just overthrown the Ottoman Turks and taken the Sultan Bazezid prisoner, intended to invade Egypt, said—" I don't care two aspers for the Kipchach cripple; let him come and entangle his hordes amongst the branches and canal of the Nile, and I and my Mamelukes will soon give a good account of them. I don't fear him, but I will tell you whom I do fear. It is those who will come by sea, and bring a heavy artillery with them." This hint might not be without its use in the proximate future of that country.
§ MR. MITCHELL HENRY
said, he held that the policy of purchasing these shares was one question, and the way in which the money was obtained for that purchase was another. He did not think the attention of the Committee had been sufficiently directed to the latter point, and on that he wished to say a few words. With reference to the purchase of the shares it was impossible to get up any real debate. The country itself had never debated the question—it was a matter of feeling, not of judgment. He did not suppose that many of the newspapers had ever considered into what complications we might eventually be thrown in consequence of this purchase. Even the warning voice of the late Prime Minister had failed to produce its usual effect in warning the House. The mode in which the money had been provided for meeting this purchase was, he thought, discreditable to the country. If the Government required to raise £1,000,000—and that was all that was required in the first instance—they ought to have taken the Governor, Deputy Governor, and Directors of the Bank of England into council, and, instead of paying 2½ per cent commission, there would have been no difficulty in obtaining the sum from the Bank of England and the other banks of London, without any commission whatever. At that very time money was lent to the Bank of England by Joint Stock Banks for 1¼ per cent, and that the word commission should be mentioned at all 641 in these days in connection with the financial transactions of the nation was in the highest degree distasteful and humiliating. There would have been ample time between the payment of £1,000,000 and the necessity for providing the remainder of the money to call Parliament together; and if Parliament had ratified the bargain, the other part of the money would have been granted in the regular Constitutional way. It would not redound to the reputation of England, when this question of the purchase of the Khedive's shares had lost some of the false glare which at present surrounded and obscured it, to find, as all would then admitted, that no necessity whatever existed for England having to raise money at the same rate as Egypt herself was compelled to pay for loans.
§ MR. LAING
said, he did not approve the commission, not because of its amount, but because it was paid by the wrong party—the British Government, instead of the Khedive. Of course, the Government could have gone to the Bank of England and borrowed the money at 4 per cent, or thereabouts, without any commission; but the essence of this transaction was that there was a certain element of risk in it; the Government were not in a position to do it directly, and they probably ascertained that the Bank was not in a condition to advance the money. But his chief reason for rising now was that he was one of those who many years ago supported the hon. and learned Member for Sheffield (Mr. Roebuck) when he endeavoured to show that the influence of England ought not to be exerted against the Suez Canal. He felt strongly now, as then, that the English Government never made a greater mistake than in opposing that great international improvement, in which, if completed, she was sure to have the largest share. He therefore heartily approved the action of the Government in purchasing those shares. He was anxious it should be felt that, notwithstanding some microscopic criticism, the country at large, and the Liberal Party in general, had not in the slightest degree altered the opinion at first entertained on the question, but deliberately approved of the measure. It was impossible to look at this as merely a little Vestry question—a question of purchasing the tolls over a 642 bridge or at a toll-bar. It was impossible, also, to take an isolated view of the matter. When Her Majesty's Government joined in recommending Count Andrassy's Note to the Porte, that was a policy entirely different from the policy acted upon in former years. The financial difficulties of Turkey led to the financial crisis of Egypt, and that obliged the Khedive to hawk about his shares. A French Company was on the point of purchasing them, and Her Majesty's Government had to decide promptly on the line of policy it would adopt. The main reason why the people of this country hailed with such unanimous approval the first announcement of the purchase of the shares was because they saw in it a pledge that we had broken finally with our old policy on the Eastern Question, and that we recognized the fact that, in preserving our communication with India, our great and paramount interest lay in Egypt rather than in Turkey. It was breaking with that old and detestable policy which consisted in bolstering up that barbarous Power, Turkey, whether right or wrong, whether against foreign aggression or legitimate internal discontent. It was our old policy to secure a way across the Isthmus by influencing Turkey rather than Egypt. The country would hear with delight that we were no longer going to act upon the principle of supporting Turkey at all hazards, and that we had transferred the centre of gravity of our political action in the East from Constantinople to Cairo. The country had approved of the purchase, and was glad to find that under the present Government England was prepared to take her stand firmly and to rely upon herself in Eastern matters. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Greenwich had sneered at the action of the Government as being a spirited policy that always met with the approbation of the Press which delighted in complications. [Mr. GLADSTONE dissented.] "Well, if the right hon. Gentleman had not said so, somebody else had. He entirely approved the principle of non-intervention if it meant that England should not mix herself up in every petty diplomatic squabble that occurred on the Continent, and that she should not assert that she was in the right when she knew that she was in the wrong, and that she should not humiliate herself by inter- 643 fering and preaching to foreign nations when she was not prepared to back her opinion by arms, as she had done in the cases of Poland and Denmark. The policy of non-intervention had been pushed to an extreme by those who had either an abhorrence of war or were in favour of a rigid economy in the finances, and had led foreign nations to believe that we intended to withdraw altogether from taking part in Continental affairs, because we were separated from the Continent by "the little silver streak." Such a view was contrary to the feeling of the nation, which was willing to back its real interests by arms and by treasure. The step, therefore, taken by the Government had been a timely one, inasmuch as it removed any such impression. At the same time, we had no selfish motive, but wished to make the Canal an international affair, open to all the world. All the criticism that had been exercised had failed to get rid of the great fact that by the possession of these shares the influence of England in regard to any complications that might arise on Eastern Questions would be very greatly strengthened. As to the power of voting, he agreed with what had been said, that in these matters shares were weighed, not counted. He had had a great deal of experience himself as a director of public companies, and he must say that the knowledge that such a large interest as nearly one-half of the whole shares was held by one party, would weigh, and ought to weigh, very materially in any decision the Board of Directors might come to on points of policy. It seemed to him that in any conference regarding the direction of the Canal, England would stand in a much better position than if other nations could say—"You opposed it as long as you could, and you have never moved a finger to help it." In an extreme case we might even split up the shares in order to get a larger voting power. He trusted some arrangement would be made for buying up the interests of the other shareholders at an equitable price, and making it an international concern. If the British Government had not taken the shares the French Company would have made an arrangement to distribute them in the French market, and if the shares had got into French hands the opportunity would have been lost, and in case of 644 future complications the French Government would have had pressure put upon it to take up a position antagonistic to the English Government, which might have led to serious quarrels. He gave his warm and entire approval to the purchase of the shares; but there were some questions incidental to it which he could not so entirely approve. The purchase of the shares involved England in no responsibility beyond the risk of losing a few thousands a-year; but in regard to Mr. Cave's mission and the appointment of Mr. Rivers Wilson, it was very different. They were gentlemen of such eminence that it was difficult to avoid the conclusion that by sending them out to Egypt we were incurring a certain amount of moral responsibility in regard to Egyptian finance. If an adverse report was made, or if Mr. Rivers Wilson should not stay, the consequence must be most prejudicial to the credit of our ally. If, on the other hand, the reports were favourable, and Mr. Wilson stayed, could we avoid incurring a certain amount of responsibility towards parties who, on the strength of those circumstances, advanced money? That, however, was a matter which might be discussed hereafter. In regard to the purchase of the shares, he had no hesitation or misgiving, and for the step they had taken he tendered his cordial thanks to the Government.
THE MARQUESS OF HARTINGTON
Sir, it is evident from the tenour of the speeches which have been delivered on this side as well as on the other side that the Vote will be agreed to, and I see it is the wish of the Committee that the debate should terminate this evening. I am glad to believe there will be other opportunities upon which the question can be discussed, and I think that to-morrow, when the discussion of this evening is considered by hon. Members of the House, and is read throughout the country, there will be a very general feeling of satisfaction, that for the first time this act of the Government has been thoroughly discussed in all its bearings, and that the other side, as well as the side favourable to the action of the Government, has at last been placed before the country. It was probably hardly to be expected that the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer, following immediately such a speech as was 645 delivered by my right hon. Friend the Member for Greenwich, could give that speech a complete answer; but I think that the House and the country will feel that my right hon. Friend has asked many questions which as yet have received no answer whatever, and which ought, before this question is finally disposed of, to receive full and categorical replies, and, if possible, answers. The right hon. Gentleman gave no answer to the questions which my right hon. Friend put to him upon such subjects as these—he gave him no answer as to the existence of any precedent for the employment of a private firm in such a transaction as this. He gave him no answer as to the amount of speculation which it was alleged had occurred in the Canal and in Egyptian stock before the public announcement of the transaction. He gave him no answer to the question which he raised as to the unnecessary and unreasonable amount, as he represented, of the commission to be paid to Messrs. Rothschild on this transaction. He gave him no answer with reference to the reason which induced the Government having eagerly bought these shares, without being entitled to dividends or to vote—he gave him no answer to the question as to the reason why the same Government positively, and at a moment's notice, refused the offer of the Khedive's 15 per cent shares. He gave him no answer to the question what were the probabilities and the grounds of expectation that they would receive 5 per cent guarantee from the Khedive. He gave no answer to the question why, for 19 years, there should be such a difference between the position of the Government and that of the other ordinary shareholders of the Canal. Finally, and most important of all, he gave no answer to the argument of my right hon. Friend, which was that we had exchanged a well-defined position—a position in which we stood at an advantage, and which had been proved to be a strong one—and had substituted for it a precarious position which could scarcely by any means be a stronger one than that which we had abandoned, and would, in all probability, prove to be a much weaker one. I have said that the vote we are about to come to will probably be a unanimous one. I am not going to enter into the discussion whether technically it is competent for us to repudiate the transaction of the Government 646 or not. That is an interesting subject of discussion; but I conceive that were the objections to this measure ten times stronger than represented by hon. Gentlemen who have spoken on this side of the House, and were the advantages to be derived from it ten times more doubtful than they would seem to be, the House would not repudiate such a transaction as this, deliberately entered into by the Executive Government of the country, empowered as it is to pledge the credit of the country, and which has acted upon its responsibility. But I am quite willing to go further. I will admit mit that if the House were free—technically it is free, but practically it is not free at this moment—it would probably ratify, if not unanimously, at all events by a very large majority, the action of the Government. I am not able, perhaps, to appreciate so fully as hon. Gentlemen opposite the reasons which would induce the House to take that course; but I have always thought—and upon the first opportunity which I had of expressing my opinion on the subject in public said—that, looking at the matter from a political point of view, there was a great deal to be said in favour of the course which the Government had taken. The right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Treasury, in reply to me the other night, said he did not know that the Eastern Question had any connection with the subject, and he declined to reply to the question I put, whether the transaction had anything to do with it or not? But it seemed to me then, and seems to me still, that, looking at the state of things in Turkey at the time when the Government made that public declaration, it was an unmistakable declaration, stronger than could be made in any despatch, that, whatever might be decided by the Great Powers of Europe as to the future destiny of the Turkish dominions, Her Majesty's Government were aware of the great interest this country has in Egypt and in the security of our communications with our Indian possessions, and that they were not disposed to abandon those interests, but rather disposed to strengthen and consolidate them. I thought then, and still think, that a declaration such as that, made in deed and not in word, was not inopportune; and if the subsequent conduct of the Government had corresponded with their action, 647 then a great deal might have been said in its favour. But the Government have since then done everything they could to weaken the effect of that action. The speeches and despatches of the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, as well as the speeches of the Chancellor of the Exchequer in this House, have, every one of them, entirely ignored what may be called the political side of this question, and dwelt almost entirely on the supposed advantages which are to be acquired in the management of the Canal itself, and the disadvantages which it is supposed we are avoiding by the step that has been taken. I do not think it is now open to the Government to say, as was said the other day, that Lord Derby, when speaking at Edinburgh, gave only some of the reasons which have induced the Government to enter into this transaction, because we have on this point the authority of Lord Derby, as to what was meant, not only in his speech at Edinburgh, but in his despatch to Lord Lyons. Lord Lyons was therein instructed to acquaint the French Government that the desire of Her Majesty's Government was that the Khedive should keep his shares. That view has been repeated since, and, if so, it could not have been the desire of the Government to buy the shares; and, therefore, they still represent the proceeding as one that was forced upon them by necessity, and not one that they adopted from any deliberate conviction of its political expediency. Every declaration of that kind, in my opinion, weakens the political significance of the transaction—the aspect of it to which, as I have said, the greatest importance ought to be attached. The right hon. Gentleman declined the other night to discuss what would be the position of the Suez Canal in time of war—that is to say, he declined to take Parliament into his confidence on the subject. Yet I cannot but conceive that the right hon. Gentleman and his Colleagues have formed their opinion of what would happen in the eventuality which I have indicated. This is one of those questions which, sooner or later, must be discussed. If the right hon. Gentleman thinks there are any English interests that would suffer from its premature discussion at this moment, I certainly would not seek to induce the Government to discuss it prematurely; but I cannot imagine that 648 every Government and every statesman in Europe has not fully considered what position this Canal would occupy in time of war, and what would be the duty of the Sultan and the Khedive in regard to its neutrality. I cannot think, therefore, that a full and frank exposition to the House of the views of the Government on this subject could possibly give any impression to any foreign Government which would be prejudicial to the interests of this country. Although the right hon. Gentleman refused to discuss what would be done in time of war, he did not disdain to hint, as has already been referred to by the hon. Baronet the Member for Kirkcaldy (Sir George Campbell) that we were in possession of a chain of fortresses between England and Bombay; and he led it to be supposed that by the acquisition of the Suez Canal he would in some way add another link to that chain. But I do not think it can be too soon or too clearly understood by the country that the possession of these shares, as far as explained by the Government, and as far as it is possible at present to see, gives us no advantage whatever in time of war; and, whatever may be the use made of the Canal, or whatever its position in time of peace, in time of war the Company will have nothing whatever to say to that use or to that position, which is a question to be entirely decided either by the relative strength of the belligerents, or by the action of the Sultan or of the Sovereign of Egypt. We are in possession now, I presume, at least of the views of the Government as to the advantages of the purchase in time of peace. We have been told much of the difficulties which have arisen between ourselves and the Company, and which have only been overcome by the interposition of the Khedive, and we have been led to believe that that interposition of the Khedive was prompted by his position as a shareholder. Now, I cannot find in these Papers any warrant or authority whatever for the statement. The Khedive, if he was interested as a shareholder, was interested in the same way and on the same side as M. de Lesseps and the other shareholders. He did not interfere as a shareholder, he interfered at the direction of the Sultan, at the instigation of other Powers, as Sovereign; and his position as Sovereign is—as Lord Derby has pointed out—not 649 in the slightest degree affected by the sale of his shares. In his despatch to Major General Stanton, dated December 6, 1875, Lord Derby wrote thus—You will, moreover, explain that Her Majesty's Government would regard as a violation of the Firman of the Porte, and as 'inconsistent with the integrity of the Ottoman Empire, any act of the Khedive dispossessing himself in any manner of the control over the Suez Canal which has been secured to his Highness by the Company's concessions and statutes, and which has been confirmed by the Porte.Therefore, on the 6th of December the view of the Government was that the territorial sovereignty over the Canal remained in the hands of the Khedive exactly in the same manner and degree as when he was a shareholder. The Government have failed, as I humbly think, to show that by the purchase of these shares they have added in any way whatever to the security which we possessed before in the possible intervention of the Sultan and the Khedive. It is perfectly clear that the position we occupy now is, in fact, rather weaker than it was before. As the greatest commercial State making use of the Canal, we had before a right to appeal to the Sultan and the Khedive for the strict enforcement of the engagements of the Company. But now, by entering as shareholders into the Company we have taken up a different position. We have accepted, as we are told, a representation of three members on the Governing Body of the Canal. Therefore, we are going to attempt in some way or other to influence the decisions of the Company from the inside, instead of the outside, as hitherto. Supposing our attempt be unsuccessful, as it may and probably will be, I ask the House whether we shall be in a stronger position to appeal to the Khedive or the Sultan to require the Company to fulfil its obligations? An analogous case is familiar to hon. Members. A Committee of this House discussing a Private Bill pays every attention to the representatives of private parties whose interests may be concerned; but I believe no account is ever taken by Committees of the representatives of a minority of shareholders who complain of the decision of the majority. The Government have, to a certain extent, placed us in the position of a minority of shareholders, whose views will be overruled by the Governing Body of the Company, 650 and we have so far weakened our position as independent parties appealing for the due observance of the Company's engagements. The right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer has laid great stress on the dangers which we have avoided by preventing these shares from falling into the hands of others. Other hon. Gentlemen on the same side of the House have also taken up the same view; but I do not see that we have run any such great risk as appears to weigh on the mind of the right hon. Gentleman. Had the shares fallen into the hands of some body or some individuals independent of French influence—that is to say, the influence of M. de Lesseps—that certainly would not have been prejudicial to our interests. The very worst case that could have occurred was that the shares should have fallen into the hands of French proprietors, who would have thrown in their influence with M. de Lesseps. But even that does not appear to me to be so alarming a contingency as it does to Her Majesty's Government. M. de Lesseps is at this moment predominant in the management of the Canal, and so long as he holds the influence he at present wields, and possesses the confidence of the shareholders, a few votes less or more for M. de Lesseps under these circumstances appears to me a matter of very little consequence. Let us consider now for a moment the dictum that as the holders of two-fifths of the shares of the Company, we must necessarily have a corresponding influence in its management. I admit that in ordinary enterprizes a shareholder with only the same vote as other shareholders may, nevertheless, have a greater moral and indirect influence than they when he has large interests which agree with theirs. But I can easily conceive a case in which a large capitalist who has numerous other undertakings of far greater importance to him than his shares in a certain commercial enterprize may be a large shareholder and yet exert no more influence than attaches to the bare number of his shares, simply because the other shareholders are aware that his interest is not the same as their own. That appears to me to be our case in the present instance, for it must be evident to all the other shareholders of the Canal that our chief interest is not, like theirs, to make the concern a profitable one. Our position with 651 regard to the Canal is very different from theirs. We are looking upon it in a very different light from that in which it is regarded by the other shareholders, and so long as we cannot overbear them with our votes I do not see how we shall gain any influence by the large number of shares we have purchased. I think, therefore, we have a right to demand a more satisfactory answer from the Government as to the advantages to be gained by the purchase of these shares. Besides, with regard to the mission of Mr. Cave, the Government have not given the House all the information which would have been desirable, or given any answer to the objections raised against the mission itself. It is true we are not directly called upon to express an opinion on that subject to-night, but to my mind it is impossible to dissociate the two events. Both in Papers which have been published and in speeches which have been delivered, an attempt has been made to prove that the purchase of shares in the Suez Canal and Mr. Cave's mission to Egypt are not in the least connected with each other. But when the Government on one day, or on two successive days, comes to two important decisions affecting the same country, it is at least difficult to believe that there is no connection between them. How does the matter stand? It appears to me to stand in this way. In the payment of the £4,000,000 I maintain we have entered on a double transaction; we have purchased the reversion of certain shares, and we have lent a certain sum to the Khedive. I do not find fault with the transaction. It is perfectly legitimate. At the same time we sent out a special mission to inquire into the affairs of the Khedive, which we know have been for some time in an embarrassed condition. Well, what is the obvious inference to be derived from this? That a financial intervention of some kind or another in the affairs of the Khedive is, or was, contemplated by the Government. Such an action had very properly been characterized as mischievous and absurd. The result has been what was expected. Mr. Cave has gone out; he has been at work; he has examined into the financial condition of the Khedive. With what result? Has he been able to inform the Government of the kind of assistance wanted 652 by the Khedive, or the nature of the appointment that would be offered to the gentleman that would be sent out? No; but Mr. Rivers Wilson has gone out with undefined powers and position, constituting himself a second mission, to inquire into the nature of the appointment and to exercise his own judgment. In fact, Mr. Rivers Wilson proposes to himself exactly those points which Mr. Cave was to find out for the Government. I cannot help thinking that, under the circumstances, the full history of Mr. Cave's mission has not been laid before us, and that financial intervention may still be contemplated in regard to the affairs of the Khedive. It may be asked, what harm is there in that intervention? There is this harm. Either the Government has seriously intended to involve this country in vast liabilities which it is not disposed to undertake, or else it has placed the country in a position which redounds neither to its credit nor reputation. We all know what the person who unnecessarily interferes in the business of other people meets with; but what is to be said of a person who thus interferes who is possessed of vast resources, and who, after he has interfered and raised high expectations, steadily refuses to move one of his fingers to help those with whom he has meddled? This is not the position in which the Government ought to be placed, and the Government either has involved us in great liabilities, or it has placed us in a false., and humiliating position.
§ MR. DISRAELI
Sir, although, according to the noble Lord, we are going to give a unanimous vote, it cannot be denied that the discussion of this evening at least has proved one result. It has shown, in a manner about which neither the House of Commons nor the country can make any mistake, that had the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Greenwich been the Prime Minister of this country, the shares in the Suez Canal would not have been purchased. The right hon. Gentleman, in his numerous observations upon the Vote before the House, has divided them under two heads—what he calls the operation and the policy. The right hon. Gentleman found great fault with the conduct of the operation; and though that is not the more important portion of the business, and though it is one which I 653 could have wished to refrain from touching, from the personal details that must be involved necessarily in such a discussion, still as the question has been not only noticed by the two right hon. critics of the evening, but by some who followed them, I have no wish to avoid it, and I certainly shall encounter that question. The right hon. Gentleman defies me to produce an instance of a Ministry negotiating with a private firm. Well, I think the right hon. Gentleman must be in error. [Mr. GLADSTONE: Those were not at all my words.] Unfortunately, we are all on this side under the impression that those were the words. I listened attentively to the right hon. Gentlemen, but it is unnecessary to dwell upon the topic. I was only going to say that I doubted the accuracy of the statement; but I conceive it has nothing to do with the matter before us, which is of an unprecedented character, as I was going to show. The right hen. Gentleman found great fault with the amount of the commission which has been charged by the Messrs. Rothschild and admitted by the Government; and, indeed, both the right hon. Gentlemen opposite took the pains to calculate what was the amount of interest which it was proposed the Messrs. Rothschild should receive on account of their advance. It is, according to both right hon. Gentlemen, 15 per cent; but I must express my surprise that two right hon. Gentlemen, both of whom have filled the office of Chancellor of the Exchequer, and one of whom has been at the head of the Treasury, should have shown by their observations such a lamentable want of acquaintance with the manner in which large amounts of capital are commanded when the Government of a country may desire to possess them under the circumstances under which we appealed to the House in question. I deny altogether that the commission charged by the Messrs. Rothschild has anything to do with the interest on the advance; nor can I suppose that two right hon. Gentlemen so well acquainted with finance as the Member for Greenwich and the Member for the University of London can really believe that there is in this country anyone who has £4,000,000 lying idle at his bankers. Yet one would suppose, from the argument of the right hon. Gentleman the Member 654 for Greenwich, that such is the assumption on which he has formed his opinion in this matter. In the present instance, I may observe, not only the possibility, but the probability, of our having immediately to advance the whole £4,000,000 was anticipated. And how was this £4,000,000 to be obtained? Only by the rapid conversion of securities to the same amount. Well, I need not tell anyone who is at all acquainted with such affairs that the rapid conversion of securities to the amount of £4,000,000 can never be effected without loss, and sometimes considerable loss; and it is to guard against risk of that kind that a commission is asked for before advances are made to a Government. In this case, too, it was more than probable that, after paying the first £1,000,000, following the signature of the contract, £2,000,000 further might be demanded in gold the next day. Fortunately for the Messrs. Rothschild they were not; but, if they had, there would in all likelihood have been a great disturbance in the Money Market, which must have occasioned a great sacrifice, perhaps the whole of the commission. The Committee, therefore, must not be led away by the observations of the two right hon. Gentlemen, who, of all men in the House, ought to be the last to make them. But the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Greenwich says we ought to have gone to our constitutional financiers and advisers, the Governor and Deputy Governor of the Bank of England, and, of course, the hon. Member for Galway (Mr. Mitchell Henry), who rose much later in the debate, and who spoke evidently under the influence of strong feeling, also says that we ought to have asked the Governor of the Bank of England to advance the £4,000,000. But they forget that it is against the law of this country for the Bank to advance a sum of money to the Ministry. But then it may be said—"Though the Bank could not have advanced the £4,000,000, you might have asked them to purchase the shares." But how could they have purchased the shares? They must have first consulted their legal adviser, who probably would have told them that they had not power to do it; but, even if that doubtful question had been decided in the affirmative, they must have then called a public Court in order to see whether they 655 could be authorized to purchase those shares to assist the Government. Now, I ask the Committee to consider for a moment what chance would we have had of effecting the purchase which we made under the circumstances, and with the competitors we had to encounter, and the objects we had to attain, if we had pursued the course which the right hon. Gentleman opposite has suggested? "But," says the Member for the University of London—and this also has been echoed by his late right hon. Colleague—" you would have avoided all this, if you adopted the course which we indicate, and which I have just reminded the Committee is illegal, if you had only taken the illegal course we recommend, you would have got rid of this discreditable gambling, because although the Messrs. Rothschild, some of whom have been Members of this House, are men of honour, yet they have a great number of clerks who were all gambling on the Stock Exchange." Now, my belief is that the Messrs. Rothschild kept the secret as well as Her Majesty's Government, for I do not think a single human being connected with them knew anything about it. And, indeed, it was quite unnecessary for the Messrs. Rothschild to have violated the confidence which we reposed in them, and quite unnecessary even for the Members of Her Majesty's Government to hold their tongues, for no sooner was the proposal accepted than a telegram from Grand Cairo transmitted the news to the Stock Exchange, and it was that telegram which was the cause of all the speculation and gambling to which the right hon. Gentleman has referred. It is a fact that while the matter was a dead secret in England, the news was transmitted from Cairo. That was the intelligence on which the operations occurred. But I wish to say one word respecting the moral observations which have been made. As to gambling on the Stock Exchange, are we really to refrain from doing that which we think is proper and advantageous to the country because it may lead to speculation? "Why, not a remark was made by the noble Lord, who has just addressed the House, the other night, or by me in reply, that would not affect the funds. On the one side people would say—"The Government are in, great difficulty, and probably a Vote of 656 Censure will arise out of this Suez Canal speculation," while other persons would observe—" There is evidently something coming about Egypt, and he is not going to let it all out." Ought we to refrain from doing what is necessary for the public welfare because it leads to stock-jobbing? Why, there is not an incident in the history of the world that led to so much stock-jobbing as the battle of Waterloo, and are we to regret that that glorious battle was fought and won because it led to stock-jobbing? So much for the operations on the Stock Exchange. I think we have been listening all night to remarks on this transaction that have very little foundation. We have been admonished for conduct which has led to stock-jobbing and we have been admonished because we applied to a private firm when, from the state of the law, I have shown that it was absolutely necessary from the character of the circumstances we had to deal with that a private firm should be appealed to. And now I come to the policy of the two right hon. Gentlemen, for on that portion of the subject they appear to agree very much. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for the University of London says—" You have your shares, but you have no dividends." And the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Greenwich says—"You have your shares, but you have no votes." That is the great lamentation of the two right hon. Gentlemen. Shrieking and screaming out—"You have no votes and no dividends, though you have the shares," they account for conduct on the part of the Government so totally devoid of sense and calculation as that the Government should become encumbered with all these shares, and yet possess neither the advantage of dividends nor of voting power. They say this is due to the simple circumstance that we acted in total ignorance, that we were innocent—nay, more than innocent—and that the most becoming thing for us to do would be to acknowledge and, at the same time, to regret our fault. Instead of that, they say we triumph in our ignorance, and they absolutely pretend that we were aware of the immense blunder we have committed. It is very remarkable that the two right hon. Gentlemen should have ventured to take up such a position in 657 this case. What is this question of the Suez Canal? Prom the numerous Papers which have been placed before the House, the House must be tolerably aware that during the whole period of the existence of the present Parliament the question of the Suez Canal has more or less been before us. I am not sure that in the first Cabinet Council we held some decision was not come to on the subject. Then the International Commission at Constantinople had either just terminated, or was involving the Government in a painful and difficult Correspondence. We were represented at the International Commission by Colonel Stokes, who is completely master of the subject, an invaluable public servant, and a man of great intelligence, and who had completely mastered all the details of what was then a very complicated question. From that time until we made the purchase in October last Colonel Stokes has been in almost constant attendance at the Foreign Office. The question of the Suez Canal was constantly before us, and therefore I need not go further to show to the Committee that, although it happened to be a subject upon which we were called in the present instance to decide hastily, we had the advantage of much previous knowledge. Why, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer was intimately acquainted with the subject, and was himself present at the opening of the Suez Canal. Nothing, in short, can be more unfounded than the assumption of the two right hon. Gentlemen, who wished to convey to the House that Her Majesty's Government had entered into their agreement in perfect ignorance of all the circumstances of the case. This, in fact, was the style of the whole speech of the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Lowe). Take this away; convince the right hon. Gentleman—or convince, what is easier and more satisfactory, the Committee—that we were aware of these circumstances, and the right hon. Gentleman himself confesses that he might as well have made no speech at all. Then the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Greenwich (Mr. Gladstone) proceeds in his attack in his own way, and makes a great many objections, but takes up two great positions as grounds of condemnation. "First of all," he says, "I object to this purchase, because it will give you no influence." That is the assertion of 658 the right hon. Gentleman. I might meet it with a counter assertion. I might offer many arguments to show that it will give us a great deal of influence. I might refer to that which has already occurred, and which, though not in its results very considerable, shows some advantage from what has been done, while before a year has elapsed it will possibly show much more. I might refer to the general conviction and the common sense of society that such an investment cannot be treated as absolutely idle and nugatory, as the right hon. Gentleman wishes to treat it. The right hon. Gentleman takes a position from which it is certainly difficult to dislodge him, because it is perfectly arbitrary. He says—"You have no votes." He views the question abstractedly. He says—"Here is a company, and you have a great many shares in it, but you are not allowed to vote, and therefore it follows you can have no influence." But everybody knows that in the world things are not managed in that way, and that if you have a large amount of capital in any concern, whatever may be the restrictions under which it is invested, the capitalist does exercise influence. Then the right hon. Gentleman says—" You have no real control over the purchase you have made; and yet that purchase will lead to great complications." Sir, I have no doubt that complications will occur. They always have occurred, and I should like to know the state of affairs and of society in which complications do not and will not occur. We are here to guard the country against complications, and to guide it in the event of complications; and the argument that we are to do nothing—never dare to move, never try to increase our strength and improve our position, because we are afraid of complications is certainly a new view of English policy, and one which I believe the House of Commons will never sanction. I think under these two heads all the criticisms of the right hon. Gentleman are contained. But the noble Lord who has just addressed us says many points were made by the right hon. Gentleman which the Chancellor of the Exchequer did not answer. There is no precedent of a British Ministry treating with a private firm; my right hon. Friend did not answer that. [Mr. GLADSTONE: I did not say so.] The right 659 hon. Gentleman, however, says he made no observation of the kind. Then the noble Lord says my right hon. Friend never answered the charge about speculations in Egyptian Stock. Well, I have answered that charge. The noble Lord says my right hon. Friend never touched upon the amount of the commission. I have touched upon it. He says that we never thoroughly cleared ourselves from the charge of not buying the 15 per cent shares. I am here to vindicate our conduct on that point. In purchasing the shares we did, we purchased what we wanted, we gained the end we wished, and why we should involve the country in another purchase, when we should thereby only have repeated the result we had already achieved I cannot understand. The noble Lord says my right hon. Friend never expressed what expectations we had of receiving the £200,000 a-year from the Khedive. We certainly do expect to receive the £200,000 a-year from the Khedive, but we do not suppose that interest which is at the rate of 5 per cent is quite as secure as it would be if it were at the rate of 3¼ per cent. Then the noble Lord says that my right hon. Friend never met the charge of the right hon. Gentleman that our policy would lead to complications with other nations. We believe, on the contrary, that, instead of leading to complications with other nations, the step which we have taken is one which will avert complications. These are matters which to a great degree must be matters of opinion; but the most remarkable feature of the long harangue of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Greenwich is that it was in a great degree a series of assumptions, abstract reasonings, and arbitrary conclusions, after which he sat down quite surprised that the Vote should be passed unanimously, and requesting his allies to attack us for not answering that which we have felt not to be substantial, but to consist of assumptions which we believe experience will prove to be entirely false. The right hon. Gentleman charged us, lastly, with not having answered a charge of having abandoned a strong position. The right hon. Gentleman pictured us as having been in a good position before this—a position which he charged us with having abandoned for one of a more doubtful character. Here again, what proof docs he bring of 660 the charge he makes? We found ourselves in a position which has been called a strong position, but we could not for a moment think that our position with regard to the Canal was satisfactory. The International Commission sat, as hon. Members know, before the Conservatives acceded to power, and the work it did was greatly assisted by our Predecessors, and by a number of other able and eminent men; but, as I have said, no one who remembers all the circumstances of the case and what has occurred since, can for a moment pretend that our position with regard to the Canal was then satisfactory. At that moment Turkey was in a very different position from that which she occupies at present, as far as authority is concerned. The Khedive himself was in a very good position; and yet those who are familiar with what occurred at that time know the great difficulties which the Government experienced, and the very doubtful manner in which, for a considerable time, affairs looked with regard to the whole business. Therefore I do not agree with the right hon. Gentleman. I feel that at this moment our position is much stronger, and for the reason that we are possessors of a great portion of the capital invested in the Canal. The noble Lord himself has expressed great dissatisfaction, because I have not told him what the conduct of the Government would be with regard to the Canal in a time of war. I must say that on this subject I wish to retain my reserve. I cannot conceive anything more imprudent than a discussion in this House at the present time as to the conduct of England with regard to the Suez Canal in time of war, and I shall therefore decline to enter upon any discussion on the subject. Then the noble Lord passed to the mission of Mr. Cave, and says we have no good account to give of it. It is impossible to give a good account of a mission which is not yet finished. I believe the mission of Mr. Cave to be a wise and a beneficial one, and I look with confidence to satisfactory results flowing from it; but really that mission has nothing to do with the Vote of the evening, and it will be much better to defer any discussion concerning it until we have fuller information before us, and when the Envoy is himself—as I hope he soon will be—in his place in Parliament. What we have to do to-night 661 is to agree to the Vote for the purchase of these shares. I have never recommended, and I do not now recommend this purchase as a financial investment. If it gave us 10 per cent of interest and a security as good as the Consols, I do not think an English Minister would be justfied in making such an investment; still less if he is obliged to borrow the money for the occasion. I do not recommend it either as a commercial speculation, although I believe that many of those who have looked upon it with little favour will probably be surprised with the pecuniary results of the purchase. I have always, and do now recommend it to the country as a political transaction, and one which I believe is calculated to strengthen the Empire. That is the spirit in which it has been accepted by the country, which understands it though the two right hon. critics may not. They are really seasick of the "Silver Streak." They want the Empire to be maintained, to be strengthened; they will not be alarmed even it be increased. Because they think we are obtaining a great hold and interest in this important portion of Africa—because they believe that it secures to us a highway to our Indian Empire and our other dependencies, the people of England have from the first recognized the propriety and the wisdom of the step which we shall sanction tonight.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Resolution to be reported this day; Committee to sit again upon Wednesday.