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Spain—Choice Of A King—Prince Leopold Of Hohenzollern

Volume 203: debated on Thursday 21 July 1870

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Question's Observations

It is necessary, Sir, that I should preface the Question which I have placed on the Notice Paper with a short explanatory statement, in order to make the Questions clear and intelligible; and, I may add, that I should not have put the Questions on the Notice Paper without having previously shown them to the right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Government, who said there was no objection to their being put. The first Question has reference to the negotiations which led to the withdrawal of Prince Hohenzollern's nomination for the Crown of Spain. It is understood that the King of Prussia made that concession to France very reluctantly, under the advice of other Powers, and that one of those Powers was England—the advice being given, with the sanction and concurrence of France — avowedly in the interest of peace. ["Order!"] I am not going to say one word not strictly within the rules of the House. That object—the preservation of peace — not having been obtained, Prussia, if that nomination had not been withdrawn, and if it had been a cause of war between Prussia and France, would then have been in the position of having Spain for an ally; but now having made the concession of withdrawing the nomination of Prince Hohenzollern, and not having obtained the object of the concession—["Order!"]—I only wish to finish the sentence, and then my explanation will be at an end. I repeat that Prussia, not having obtained the object in view, by the withdrawal of the nomination of Prince Hohenzollern, the interposition of the other Powers had only operated as a cause of weakness to Prussia, inasmuch as it had deprived her of a sure ally. The first Question, then, I wish to put to my right hon. Friend at the head of the Government is, Whether the withdrawal of the nomination of Prince Hohenzollern was advised by England, and conceded by Prussia in the full expectation that by that concession France would be satisfied and war averted; and the second Question is one which in itself requires no explanatory statement. Intelligence has reached this country that within the last few days the Russian Government have communicated to France their disapproval of the declaration of war, and that in the event of war their sympathies will remain on the side of Prussia. ["Order, order!"] What I want to know is, whether any such communication has been sent by the Russian Government to the Government of France, and, if so, whether it was accompanied by an expression of opinion that the determination on the part of France to proceed to war after France had accepted the good offices of other Powers, and Prussia had made the concession recommended by those Powers, was a departure from the general understanding by which the Emperor of the French ought in honour and good faith to have considered himself bound?

said, he would also beg to ask the First Lord of the Treasury, If the Government have any information, other than that furnished by the newspapers, of the existence of a secret Treaty between France and Denmark; and if at any time within the last six months, they are aware that any formal proposal of mutual disarmament has been made by France to Prussia and refused by the latter Power, as stated by certain French and English journals?

Sir, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Liskeard was kind enough to show me in manuscript the Questions which he put on the Notice Paper, and I stated that I thought he might, according to his discretion, put them, and I would give the best answer I could; but the right hon. Gentleman did not mention to me that it was his intention to preface them.

What I said was that the right hon. Gentleman did not mention his intention to preface his Questions by an explanation in the House to which I now refer; because, though it is, indeed, no part of my duty to refer to the explanation, yet, at the same time, the House could not expect that I should pass it over in silence. With respect to the Questions put on the Notice Paper by the right hon. Gentleman, the first is an inquiry as to the expectations by which the King of Prussia was induced to advise the withdrawal of the Prince of Hohenzollern's nomination for the Crown of Spain. Having considered that Question, I come to the conclusion that we have no knowledge ourselves of the degree in which the right hon. Gentleman's words would be borne out that the King of Prussia was induced to withdraw the nomination of the Prince, nor have we any precise knowledge of the expectations by which the King of Prussia was induced to act as he has done beyond that which is supplied by the Papers to be laid upon the Table of the House to-morrow. My right hon. Friend will then be able to judge whether the answer now given on the part of the Government is a just and reasonable one. With regard to the second Question, relating to the Governments of Russia and Austria, I do not think that we have precise official information of every step taken up to the latest moment by the Governments of Russia and Austria. We have sufficient information to be justified in believing that both those Powers used their best efforts, not only with one but with both the parties to the present unhappy war, in the interest of peace. Then, with regard to the Question of the hon. Member for Salisbury (Mr. A. Seymour), as to whether the Government had any information other than that furnished by the newspapers of the existence of a secret Treaty between France and Denmark, and whether, within the last six months, we are aware that any formal proposal of dis- armament has been made by France to Prussia, and refused by the latter Power, as stated by certain French and English journals, I have to say that we have no information whatever on the subject of a secret Treaty between France and Denmark, and have not the slightest reason to believe in the existence of any such Treaty. All the information we have would go to disprove its existence, so far as we are justified in forming a conclusion on the subject. The latter part of the Question I might answer in the briefest terms, for as far as we know no formal representation has been made by France to Prussia for mutual disarmament; but that is not the whole truth, for it is true that communications were carried on through Lord Clarendon with France and Prussia on the subject; but of those communications there was no official record, and as they were carried on confidentially by Lord Clarendon on behalf of both parties, I am disposed to think, even if there had been any official record of them—and in this opinion Lord Granville concurs — that we should not be entitled in courtesy to divulge them.