§ MR. ASHMEAD-BARTLETT
said, he wished to ask the noble Lord the Under Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs a few points with regard to the direction of the Suez Canal which might be important—namely, What was the total number of Directors, and how many of them were English; what was the total number of the Executive Council, and how many of them were English; and what was the total number of the Finance Committee, and how many were English?
§ LORD EDMOND FITZMAURICE
said, that most of these Questions, would be answered by documents open to the inspection of the hon. Member, and he did not think it would be advisable or necessary to answer them.
§ MR. MONK
asked the First Lord of the Treasury, Whether any negotiations are in progress with the Porte, or with the Egyptian Government, in reference to the proposed second Suez Canal; and, whether, with a view to the protection of our political as well as of our commercial interests, Her Majesty's Government will obtain for this Country such concession as may be necessary for the construction of another Canal through the Isthmus of Suez?
I will answer the Question of my hon. Friend, which is important, with all the care in my power, because it bears very materially upon a clear apprehension of the important subject of the recent provisional arrangement made by the Government. The Question of my hon. Friend is divided into two branches. The first part is—"Whether any negotiations are in progress with the Porte, or with the Egyptian Government, in reference to the proposed second Suez Canal?" Sir, there are no negotiations at present in progress; but, undoubtedly, in order to give effect to that provisional arrangement, if it be the pleasure of Parliament that it should have effect, negotiations will be entered into. The position of matters is this. M. de Lesseps is in possession of a concession, under which it is in his power largely to widen, at great outlay, the present Canal, and to afford additional 1231 accommodation to trade, so far as he and his Company may think proper, charging, if they think fit, the same rates as they now charge for the passage of vessels through the Canal. That is exactly his position, that he can make this large improvement in the Canal. But it has been found—and it is certainly thought by the British Government—that by far the best and most effectual improvement would be the construction of a parallel line of Canal, because then the traffic could be conducted as on a railway, passing through one line of Canal in one direction and through the other in the opposite direction. It is not certain that the amount of land at present possessed by the Company is sufficient to enable them to make that second Canal; and that being so, and the land being the property of the Egyptian Government, it would be necessary for them, not to acquire now political concessions, but to acquire land from the Egyptian Government for that purpose. That would be the proper and primary subject of any negotiations which would be necessary for the construction of the second Canal. I am not aware that any privilege of any other kind is required, or any alteration of the concession which he possesses. So much for the first branch of the Question. With regard to the second branch of the Question—namely,Whether Her Majesty's Government will obtain for this Country such concession as may be necessary for the construction of another Canal through the Isthmus of Suez?This Question, evidently framed with great care by my hon. Friend, really goes to the root of the subject, because it practically amounts to this—Is M. de Lesseps in possession of an exclusive right of constructing Canals in the Isthmus of Suez; and, if not, will you take measures for asserting the freedom of the Isthmus, and the right of others to construct them there if necessary? The state of the case is this. We could not undertake to obtain such a concession, for the simple reason that there is no power to give such a concession. M. de Lesseps is in possession of an exclusive right to make a Canal, as far as the Isthmus of Suez is concerned. I say nothing of what lies beyond the Isthmus of Suez; I say nothing as to the geographical definition of the Isthmus, because that is a question on which there 1232 might be some argument, though on the whole, perhaps, none of great importance. Nature has, to a great extent, defined that phrase for us. I have said that in our view M. de Lesseps is in possession of an exclusive right. So we are advised by our Legal Advisers; so the Egyptian Government were advised some time ago. On that supposition all the money was subscribed for making the present Canal. On that supposition, I believe, public opinion has proceeded down to the present time, although I am aware an opinion to a different effect has been given by two very distinguished gentlemen. But unquestionably, on that supposition, the whole of the arrangement made provisionally by the present Government with M. de Lesseps is absolutely founded. If that supposition is erroneous, we certainly could not plead any justification for the present arrangement. I think I have now stated distinctly my reply to the Question of my hon. Friend; but the matter is so important that if I have not convoyed my meaning distinctly, I shall be happy to give any further information in my power.
§ MR. M'COAN
Will the Government lay on the Table a Copy of the opinion of the Law Advisers of the Crown referred to by the right hon. Gentleman?
Sir, that would be contrary to rule. Our Advisers are confidential Advisers of the Government, and I think my hon. Friend will see that to comply with his suggestion would have a tendency to shift the responsibility from the right shoulders to the wrong. We are bound to take the responsibility of the conclusions at which we arrive on the advice of the Law Officers, and we do assume the whole responsibility.
§ SIR STAFFORD NORTHCOTE
It would be convenient for the House if the right hon. Gentleman would mention the Instrument under which the concession to M. de Lesseps is given?
§ MR. MONK
Before answering that Question, will the right hon. Gentleman say whether, in the opinion of the Government, the concession for making a Canal through the Isthmus of Suez not only extends to the making a second Canal, but confers an exclusive right to make any number of Canals through the Isthmus?
I am not sure whether that point has been explicitly 1233 raised; but I apprehend that the powers of M. de Lesseps to make any parallel Canal would be simply limited by the land possessed for that purpose, and the only check would be the necessity to make an application for more land. With respect to the Instrument of concession, I am under the confident belief that it is already a Parliamentary Paper open to reference by any hon. Member.
§ SIR STAFFORD NORTHCOTE
There are several Firmans. I thought the right hon. Gentleman would be able to say under which Firman it was; but I shall put a Question.
§ MR. BOURKE
I should like to know what is the authority of the right hon. Gentleman for saying that all the money which has been subscribed for making the first Suez Canal was subscribed on the understanding that M. de Lesseps had ah exclusive right to make the Canal? Will the right hon. Gentleman also state whether he does not know that from an early period it was disputed by many eminent authorities, both in the East and West and both in England and in Prance, that that arrangement gave an exclusive right to M. de Lesseps, and that the concession was exhausted by the construction of the present Canal?
There is no authority whatever on the subject on which I have given an opinion, except that it is matter of history on which it is quite open to the right hon. Gentleman or any other person to hold an opposite opinion. It is our belief and firm conviction—nay, more, in our opinion it is almost a matter of public notoriety—that this was the understanding on which the money was subscribed, and undoubtedly this opinion was entertained by the world at large. Unquestionably, however, it forms absolutely the basis of our proceedings with M. de Lesseps.