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France And Prussia—Alleged Draft Treaty—Question

Volume 203: debated on Tuesday 2 August 1870

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said, he would beg to ask the First Lord of the Treasury, Whether, having regard to the recent revelations which have taken place as to the secret negotiations of France and Prussia, Her Majesty's Government will not now feel at liberty to make public the negotiations which were instituted by the late Earl of Clarendon with a view to induce those Powers to consent to a mutual disarmament, in order that the grounds on which that proposal was rejected may be made known; and, referring to the statement contained in the Despatch of Lord Granville (Correspondence No. 114), that on July 13 Baron Brunnow expressed his anxiety to preserve European peace, and suggested to the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs that a Protocol should be drawn up by the Great Powers recognising the renunciation by the Prince of Hohenzollern of the Crown of Spain as a sufficient and satisfactory settlement of the differences between France and Prussia, to ask why the proposal to draw up such a Protocol was not earned into effect, by which means the collective judgment of Europe as to the insufficiency of the causes alleged for the present War might have been publicly declared, and brought to bear upon the belligerents before hostilities were finally resolved upon? He wished also to add a few words to the last Question, Whether any attempt has been made to procure a combined remonstrance, on the part of the Powers of Europe, in behalf of the civilized world against this unnecessary war?

Sir, the Questions of my hon. and learned Friend are of importance, and I will endeavour to give him the best answer I can. I should have done it with more fulness if the Questions had been asked in the course of debate. With regard to the first Question, my hon. and learned Friend asks whether, having regard to the recent revelations which have been made as to the secret negotiations of France and Prussia, Her Majesty's Government will now feel at liberty to make public the negotiations which were instituted by the late Earl of Clarendon with a view to induce those powers to consent to a mutual disarmament. We do not depart from the ground we have already taken. My hon. and learned Friend should understand that the term "negotiations" is hardly applicable to this case. Communications they were; "negotiations" they can hardly be said to have been. Lord Clarendon, in his individual capacity, was the medium of these communications, and in some sense the author of these communications; and any papers relating to them, except incidental notices in his letters to me, or my letters to him, are positively his own private papers in the possession of his representatives. I do not think that itself would be a sufficient cause for our declining to state the whole circumstances of the case if we had thought it would be expedient; but, in our view of the case, it is not expedient. Acting as between both sides, Lord Clarendon was not a principal, but an agent; and it is the two principals in whose undoubted competency it lies to tell their own story if they think fit. The objection we entertain is not only an objection of form; we feel that detailing the facts to the world would inevitably assume the aspect of partiality towards one party or the other, which we are above all things anxious to avoid. There is no practical difficulty; it is perfectly open to either or both to tell everything that passed. They both know well we do not claim silence. There is nothing to restrain their free action in the case. The second Question will require me to refer to the correspondence which has been laid on the Table. I must regret that that admirable and valuable invention of the telegraph, important and beneficial as it is in many respects, is certainly attended with this unfortunate result—that it is a matter of excessive difficulty, and almost impossible for those taking interest in these proceedings, to follow with precision in the order of time the transactions recorded in this correspondence. I will endeavour to state the case as clearly as I can. My hon. and learned Friend refers to the statement of Lord Granville, No. 114 of the Correspondence, that, on the 13th of July, Baron Brunnow expressed his anxiety to preserve European peace, and suggested to the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs that a Protocol should be drawn up by the great Powers, recognizing the renunciation by the Prince of Hohenzollern of the Crown of Spain as a sufficient and satisfactory settlement of the differences between France and Prussia, and asks why the proposal to draw up such a Protocol was not carried into effect, by which means the collective judgment of Europe as to insufficiency of the causes alleged for the present war might have been publicly declared and brought to bear upon the belligerents before hostilities were finally resolved upon. Now, Sir, my hon. Friend will find, upon reference to the Papers, those things—In the first place, the suggestion made by Baron Brunnow was not an authoritative communication made by him on the part of the Russian Government, committing the Russian Government to any proceeding whatever. It was a mere friendly suggestion from himself, conceived, no doubt, with the best intentions, but suggesting to us—putting on us the responsibility of taking the initiative, and laying on us a particular form in which that initiative might be taken. It was, therefore, a matter in which we should not consider Russia as prepared to be a party alone or with us if we undertook the action, but one method of acting which it was our duty to compare with others having a similar object in view. It was not until the 18th of July, when it was past all question of intercepting the mischief, that the suggestion was received in an official shape. The suggestion was received in the Foreign Office on the 14th of July. In the afternoon the British Government had no reason whatever—I think I am accurate in saying this—no reason whatever to think that the renunciation of Prince Leopold's candidature would not terminate this painful controversy. It was at three o'clock on that day, as my hon. and learned Friend will see from Lord Lyons' letter on the 13th of July, that a telegram was sent off by Lord Lyons to the effect that the Due do Gramont had stated in the Legislature that negotiations with Prussia were not concluded; and, therefore, he was not in a position to make any statement to the House. It was those momentous words of the Due do Gramont which first plainly convoyed to us that the peace of Europe was endangered. But we were not in possession of those words when Baron Brunnow called on Lord Granville and made the suggestion on his own personal responsibility. It was some time in the course of the 13th of July; I will assume that it was some time on that evening that the intelligence, though not the precise character of the words, reached us. When we did find ourselves in possession of the words, and did see that danger was existing, we had to consider for ourselves what was the best thing to be done; and we decided that it would have been a very doubtful measure indeed to have acted upon the suggestion of Baron Brunnow, because the communications that would have been required with the various Powers of Europe, and the necessity for their communicating one with another, and the questions that might arise with regard to the wording of such a proposal, impede- ments of form and time, even supposing that no substantial impediment had arisen, would have rendered the use of this instrument much too tardy to be applied to the conjuncture before us. And, therefore, we thought it best—having been invited on the part of France to interpose, and our friendly offices not having been in the slightest degree repelled by Prussia—to send the suggestion, which is detailed in the Papers, with a view to the preservation of the peace of Europe—namely, to induce France not to insist on the statement which she had demanded from Prussia, and to induce Prussia to consent to what was actually done—namely, to make known the part which the King had taken in withdrawing his consent from the candidateship of Prince Leopold. My hon. and learned Friend adds to this question this—whether any remonstrances have been addressed to each country—he did not say by one Power more than another—[Mr. VERNON HARCOURT: I said a combined remonstrance on the part of the Powers of Europe.]—whether any combined remonstrance has been addressed to both these parties upon their conduct in making a war for which, there are no justifiable causes. No; the two Powers have been left, as far as it is a matter of interest to them, to collect the judgment of the several countries upon the causes or pleas for the war from the communications that have been made. As far as regards the British Government, from the Papers that have been laid on the Tables of Parliament, I think that their opinion upon most of the points that have arisen has been expressed with sufficient clearness, and I am afraid that a combined remonstrance addressed to the two Powers already unhappily engaged in hostilities would have little effect except to produce exasperation. And, with great respect for the opinion of my hon. and learned Friend, I think that probably the wiser proceeding is that we should watch the course of events, and avail ourselves—as we should assiduously avail ourselves—of any fitting opportunity for acting in those interests of peace which both my hon. and learned Friend and the Government have at heart.