House Of Commons
Wednesday, 10th August, 1870.
MINUTES.]—NEW WRIT ISSUED— For Dublin City, v. Sir Arthur Edward Guinness, baronet, void Election.
The House met at half after Twelve of the clock.
Army—Fortification Of Falmouth
said, he would beg to ask the Secretary of State for War, Whether he has any objections to state the reasons why a plan for fortifying Falmouth, which has been for some years deposited in the War Office, has not been carried out.
I am informed, Sir, by the Inspector General of Fortifications that the last time the defences of Falmouth were reported upon was by a joint Naval and Military Committee in 1858. They proposed no addition to the then existing works and armaments, which they considered sufficient for its defence as a commercial port. They made some observations to the effect that, if it were considered necessary to protect Falmouth from being seized by an enemy with a view to military operations in that locality, additional defences would be necessary. They made, however, no specific proposal. Immediately afterwards the great fortifications at Plymouth were determined upon, and their execution commenced.
Civil Service Estimates
said, he wished to ask the Secretary to the Treasury, When a Return, ordered by the House last Session, showing the increase in the Civil Service Estimates and Civil Service Expenditure since 1853, and the causes of such increase, will be ready and in the hands of Members?
said, the Return to which his hon. Friend referred had been prepared with great care and labour, and he had no doubt would prove most interesting and useful to the Members of that House. It was now in the hands of the printer, and would shortly be distributed. He might generally indicate the nature of that Return. The excess on the Civil Service Estimates since 1853 had yesterday been stated at £5,019,540. Now, it was very desirable that hon. Members should know what was the meaning of that statement. He was not speaking without book when he said that a very large portion of that increase would be found capable of complete and satisfactory explanation; and the House ought to be grateful to those members of the Civil Service who had bestowed great labour on what he believed would prove a very correct and exhaustive account. The Civil Service Estimates had increased during the period referred to from a variety of causes. In the first instance, the transfers from the Consolidated Fund had, since that date, been to the amount of nearly £1,000,000. The House was also aware that a new and more distinctive form of Estimate had been obtained of late years. If his hon. Friend would compare the Estimates for the year 1854 with those of 1869–70, the net results would rather surprise him. In 1869–70 the net increase in the expenditure, as compared with 1853–4, was not £5,019,000 but £3,467,000. In Class 2 there had been an increase of £262,000, of which £150,000 had been for stationery and printing—a portion of that £150,000 being in relief of some other classes, the expenditure having formerly been paid from various Votes. In Class 3 — Law and Justice—there had been a very large increase of expenditure, an increase of no less than £1,241,000. In Class 4—Education—there had been a net increase, which he expected would be still further augmented, of £758,000. In Class 5, for Diplomatic and Consular Services, there had been an increase of £114,000. Superannuations had also increased by £138,000. Turning to the Revenue Department, there had been a decrease of £200,000 in the Customs and Inland Revenue, and an increase of £1,100,000 upon the Post Office Administration, making a net increase of expenditure in the Revenue Department of £954,000. Those various sums made up the actual excess of £3,467,000.
said, he wished to ask the Under Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, On what grounds the Committee on the East African Slave Trade have recommended Zanzibar as a suitable place for locating liberated slaves to be employed as free labourers, and whose authority weighed with them in making such a recommendation; and when the Report of the joint Committee would be presented to Parliament?
said, in reply, that the Committee had recommended Zanzibar as a suitable place for locating liberated slaves—first, on account of the central position which it occupied, and secondly, because of the great and increasing demand for labour there, freedmen being able to earn very good wages. The recommendation was made principally upon the advice of Mr. Churchill, Her Majesty's political agent at Zanzibar. The Report of the joint Committee would be laid upon the Table; but hon. Members would see that for obvious reasons it would be very difficult to circulate copies for some time to come.
said, he would beg to ask the First Lord of the Admiralty Questions of which he had given him private Notice, concerning two points as to which he feared that considerable misapprehension still existed in the public mind. He wished to know, Whether there is any truth in a report, which has obtained very general circulation, that the Government, since the sale of Deptford Dockyard, have entertained the idea of repurchasing the whole, or some portion of it; also, whether the First Lord of the Admiralty will make such a statement as will relieve the Solicitor of the Admiralty from imputations attempted to be cast upon him with reference to negotiations for the sale of that Dockyard?
Sir, in replying to the two Questions of which my hon. Friend has been good enough to give me private Notice, I beg to say that there is no foundation whatever for the report to which he alludes, that the Government since the sale of Deptford Dockyard ever entertained the idea of repurchasing any portion of it. The sale was practically completed some time ago; the actual completion has merely been deferred, in consequence of a question as to title having arisen between the Admiralty Department and the Department of Woods and Works; but we have never dreamt of cancelling the sale, or buying back any part of the land. The second Question of my hon. Friend is whether I will make such a statement as will relieve the Solicitor to the Admiralty from imputations attempted to be cast upon him with reference to the negotiations for the sale of the dockyard. My hon. Friend and Colleague the Secretary to the Admiralty some time ago went very minutely into the matter, stated how the sale was conducted, and showed conclusively to the House that the Solicitor to the Admiralty had nothing to do with it. Unfortunately, the other day—I hope in the heat of the moment, and without previous intention—my hon. Friend the Member for Portsmouth (Sir James Elphinstone), without any Notice, charged the Solicitor to the Admiralty with being the brother-in-law of the purchaser, and with having connived at or with having had some share in the purchase. I said at the time, and I repeat now, that there is not the smallest foundation for that allegation. The purchaser of Deptford Dockyard is no relative whatever of the Solicitor to the Admiralty; the operations connected with the sale of the dockyard were conducted without the privity of the Solicitor to the Admiralty. The actual negotiations for the sale were conducted by an auctioneer in the City acting as agent for the Admiralty, and the Solicitor to the Admiralty neither directly nor indirectly had anything to do with it. I may add, that until some time ago, when the purchaser of the dockyard, in connection with another transaction, came to the Solicitor's office to sign a deed of guarantee, the Solicitor to the Admiralty and the purchaser did not even know each other.
Ireland—Dublin City Writ
New Writ Issued
Moved, That Mr. Speaker do issue his Warrant to the Clerk of the Crown in Ireland to make out a New Writ for the electing of a Citizen to serve in this present Parliament for the City of Dublin, in the room of Sir Arthur Edward Guinness, baronet, whose Election has been determined to be void.—( Mr. Noel.)
said, he was glad the House was about to do a tardy act of justice in granting the second Member—so long and so unjustly withheld—to the City of Dublin, a constituency which he himself had represented for many years. The circumstances connected with the present Motion showed that the House ought to receive with great caution the Reports both of Judges and Commissioners with regard to contested elections; for, although both Judge and Commissioners reported, with regard to this constituency, that corrupt practices had extensively prevailed among the freemen electors, the House, after long and careful consideration of the circumstances, in its wisdom determined that the constituency ought not to be disfranchised. He once more congratulated the House upon the issue, even thus tardily, of the Writ for the City of Dublin.
Motion agreed to.
New Writ for Dublin City,— in the room of Sir Arthur Edward Guinness, baronet, void Election.
The Wellington Monument
Motion For Correspondence
, in rising to call the attention of the House to the Correspondence relating to the Wellington Monument in St. Paul's Cathedral, and to move a Resolution on the subject, said, the circumstances of the present time naturally directed the attention of the country to anything connected with the memory of the late Duke of Wellington, who, after having proved himself the foremost general of his age, afterwards, during the remainder of his life for 35 years and more, was the great conservator of peace. It was not until the Duke of Wellington was laid in his grave that the Crimean War broke out. The monument which that House had voted to the Duke did not stand in its due position in St. Paul's Cathedral, and it was natural that there should be impatience in the public mind at a circumstance so strange. The Papers relating to the monument, although ordered to be printed on the 22nd of July, were not accessible to Members of the House even yesterday. He did not wish to throw blame on any particular Department, or any particular individual, for the delay that had taken place in the erection of the monument; but if he moved a Resolution, it would be to the effect that the correspondence laid on the Table of the House did not furnish sufficient data to warrant the House in expressing any opinion whatever upon the circumstances of the case. It was within his knowledge that on the 6th of August a memorial was presented to the Prime Minister by the sculptor employed, Mr. Stevens, stating his side of the case, which did not appear fairly in the documents submitted to the House; and, as the First Commissioner of Works had informed the House that legal proceedings were about to be instituted against that gentleman and against Mr. Penrose, the surveyor of St. Paul's, he (Mr. Newdegate), in the cause of justice and according to the practice of the House, when judicial proceedings were pending, trusted that the House would decline to express any opinion, in order that the case might not be prejudiced in the public mind, or before the Courts of Law. He had taken up this matter simply in the cause of justice. This much was now known. Mr. Stevens was desired to supply plans for a monument which should cost £20,000; but he was afterwards induced by the then head of the Board of Works to attempt to erect that monument for £14,000. Nor was that all, for the Board of Works required him to erect a full-sized model of the monument at an additional cost of £4,000, a great part of which came out of his pocket. Mr. Stevens, however, actuated by a feeling of honour toward his brother artists, whom he had surpassed in the competition for a plan of a monument specified to cost £20,000, and, perhaps, by other feelings, rather than mar the effect of the monument, resolved to carry out the work even to some extent at his own cost. He (Mr. Newdegate) was credibly informed that Mr. Stevens had already spent £2,000 of his own money on the monument; and, to obtain this money, had been obliged to take other orders, which accounted, in a great degree, for the delay; but it was clear, from the Papers before the House, that the Board of Works had lost six years before they finally directed Mr. Stevens to commence the work. He begged to move for the Correspondence.
Motion made, and Question proposed,
"That the Correspondences with respect to the Wellington Monument, as laid upon the Table of this House, does not furnish sufficient data whereby this House can form an opinion upon the circumstances of the case."—(Mr. Newdegate.)
said, the hon. Member would probably have done more wisely if he had adhered to the rule he had prescribed when he commenced his remarks—namely, that nothing should be said to prejudice the case of Mr. Stevens; but, instead of saying nothing on the subject-matter in dispute, the hon. Member had invited him to state the case of the Government against Mr. Stevens in answer to his remarks. He would be more generous to Mr. Stevens than the hon. Member, and, instead of following the hon. Gentleman's remarks, would content himself with referring to the Papers on the Table. From these it would be seen that the hon. Member was in error in almost every observation that he had made. Any hon. Member who chose to read the letters printed in pages 1 and 3 would see how entirely the hon. Gentleman had been misled. He was afraid the hon. Member could not have read the Papers to which he referred, or he would not have made the remarks he had done. The hon. Member thought that this correspondence did not furnish all the information necessary to enable the House to understand the responsibilities of Mr. Stevens to the Crown. The Papers, as far as they went, contained the most accurate information on the subject. The hon. Member had not hinted that any Paper had been kept back, but had informed the House that the Papers laid on the Table came down only to the 23rd of July, whereas Mr. Stevens had drawn up a memorial in the beginning of August which he desired to have added. There would not be the slightest objection to lay that Paper on the Table, and also the letters of Mr. Penrose, which would give all the information up to the present hour. But that would not, in the slightest degree, support the Resolution which the hon. Member had moved, suggesting that the correspondence was imperfect, because the circumstances to which he alluded had all occurred since those Papers had been laid on the Table. If the hon. Member, therefore, would withdraw his Resolution, and move that the further letters of Mr. Penrose and Mr. Stevens be laid on the Table, he had not the slightest objection to offer. But that, of course, would not interfere with the proceedings which were necessary to establish the rights of the Crown.
said, he would be satisfied with that course if all the documents connected with the subject would be submitted to the House.
said, if the hon. Member wished for the anterior documents which had passed between the First Commissioner and Mr. Penrose and Mr. Stevens he was quite at liberty to move for their production also.
Motion, by leave, withdrawn.
Copy ordered, "of all further Correspondence relative to the Wellington Monument between Mr. Penrose or Mr. Stevens with any Department of Her Majesty's Government up to the present time."—( Mr. Newdegate.)
Neutrality Of Belgium
As I understand, Sir, that during my absence in the discharge of other duties yesterday a desire was expressed by some hon. Gentlemen to make observations upon the recent proceedings of Her Majesty's Government with respect to affairs abroad, I think it is desirable that the House should be in possession of the facts up to the present time—that is to say, precisely as they will presently receive them in the Speech from the Throne. I therefore wish to mention that the Treaty proposed by Her Majesty's Government to the belligerent Powers has been actually signed by Count Bernstorff on the part of the North German Confederation, as well as by Earl Granville on the part of Her Majesty's Government, and also that M. de Lavalette, the Ambassador of the Emperor of the French at this Court, has, in a letter dated yesterday, stated that he is now in a position to announce to Earl Granville that he is authorized by the Government of the Emperor to adhere to the Treaty proposed by the British Government, for the more effective guarantee of the neutrality of Belgium. He adds, I shall sign the Treaty as soon as I shall receive the full powers which I expect for that purpose. With regard to the instrument itself, perhaps it would be convenient for the better understanding of what has been done that I should simply read the principal articles, omitting, for the sake of clearness, the ordinary preamble. The first Article is this—
The second Article is this—"His Majesty the Emperor of the French having declared that, notwithstanding the hostilities in which France is now engaged with the North German Confederation, it is his fixed determination to respect the neutrality of Belgium so long as the same shall be respected by the North German Confederation; Her Majesty the Queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, on her part, declares that if during the said hostilities the armies of the North German Confederation should violate that neutrality, she will be prepared to co-operate with His Imperial Majesty for the defence of the same in such manner as may be mutually agreed upon, employing for that purpose her naval and military forces to insure its observance; and to maintain, in conjunction with His Imperial Majesty, then and thereafter, the independence and neutrality of Belgium. It is clearly understood that Her Majesty the Queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland does not engage herself by this Treaty to take part in any of the general operations of the war now carried on between France and the North German Confederation beyond the limits of Belgium, as defined in the Treaty between Belgium and the Netherlands of April 19, 1839."
The third Article is this—"His Majesty the Emperor of the French agrees, on his part, in the event provided for in the foregoing Article, to co-operate with Her Majesty the Queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, employing his naval and military forces for the purpose aforesaid, and, the case arising, to concert with Her Majesty the measures which shall be taken separately or in common to secure the neutrality and independence of Belgium."
Sir, such is the Treaty which we have proposed to the belligerent Powers, mutatis mutandis. There is some correspondence on the subject; but I think the reading of the principal Articles will give the House all the information that is necessary."This Treaty shall be binding on the High Contracting Parties during the continuance of the present war between France and the North German Confederation, and for twelve months after the ratification of any Treaty of Peace concluded between those parties; and, on the expiration of that time, the independence and neutrality of Belgium will, so far as the high contracting parties respectively are concerned, continue to rest as heretofore on the first Article of the Quintuple Treaty of the 19th of April, 1839."
I do not know whether it is competent to any Member to make remarks on this extraordinary document. I will only say that there never has been a more extraordinary document, or a more extraordinary manner of producing such a document on a great crisis like this in the history of the British House of Commons. Now, we have had recently so many strange revelations of diplomatic proceedings that I have myself lost all faith in diplomacy. Indeed, Sir, I am very much inclined to think that if our other weapons are not in better order we are very badly off, as the weapons of our diplomatists are not remarkable as arms of precision. For what a Treaty is this! For my own part I would sooner have no Treaty at all, because I think this Treaty involves hidden dangers which nobody can foresee. In the first place, this Treaty is entirely superfluous if the Treaty of 1839 is worth anything at all. In the eyes of Austria and Russia that Treaty of 1839 is entirely superseded by this. You have struck a blow at that Treaty, which you can never put in the same position again. Where is the article? Now, do look as men of common sense, and not as versed in diplomacy—
The observation of the hon. Member causes me to think that I must have given the third Article somewhat imperfectly. The third Article contains these words—
"This Treaty shall be binding on the high contracting parties during the continuance of the present war between France and the North German Confederation, and for twelve months after the ratification of any Treaty of Peace concluded between those parties; and, on the expiration of that time, the independence and neutrality of Belgium will, so far as the high contracting parties respectively are concerned, continue to rest as heretofore on the first Article of the Quintuple Treaty of the 19th of April, 1839."
Well, if either belligerent violates the neutrality of Belgium, England binds herself to co-operate with the other to repel the invader, but not to take part in the general operations of the war. Was there ever such a stipulation as that? Her Majesty's Government appear to think that you can conduct the operations of war, if Belgium is attacked, on the homœopathic principle. Do you think that if any power should violate the neutrality of Belgium they will not strike at the most vulnerable point; and do you propose to tie up your hands by saying that you will not strike at the most vital part of the enemy? This does appear to me the most extraordinary instrument in the whole history of diplomacy. If I were a member of the numerous party which consists of the seven wise men we saw the other night, I should resist this Treaty on those grounds. I think it increases the present dangers; and now Parliament is about to separate, here is an instance of what we call secret diplomacy! Would it not be much better and safer for this country if we had known before what the Articles of this Treaty were—if, in fact, they had been laid upon the Table of this House? I am sure if it had been brought before the House as a substantive Motion, the House would not have assented to such a Treaty being signed. I will not go into the reasons for preserving the neutrality of Belgium. Like my hon. Friend below me (Mr. Taylor), I am as much against war as any man; but circumstances may occur in which it may be necessary for this country to undertake war, in order to maintain not only our honour, but our liberties. How will this Treaty do that? If, as may happen, this conjecture should arise; if both of the contending parties should outer Belgium, what, then, becomes of your Treaty? It may be a necessity of their position; and your Treaty would be useless, although, no doubt, these two Powers, being now engaged in a life and death struggle, may be ready enough to sign anything to keep you quiet. I wish to say a words about this Belgian question, as I do not wish to be misunderstood. There appears to be a party in this country who, overlooking the situation of Belgium and Antwerp and the long seaboard of that country, think it is a matter of indifference to us to whom Belgium belongs, and that we should take no step to maintain its neutrality and independence. Have these people over pictured to themselves that if Belgium were in the hands of a hostile Power, the liberties and the position of this country would not be worth 24 hours' purchase? And is it not better to regard Belgium as an outwork of our own liberties and independence than to take a narrow view and say we will not go to war for any purpose whatever? It is because I hold, that not only our honour, but our interests are concerned, that I would support the Government in maintaining the Treaty of 1839. But by the course they have pursued in laying this childish perpetration of diplomatic folly before us, I think they are absolutely imperilling the independence of Belgium and placing England in a very inferior position.
I move that the House be now prorogued.
I think, Sir, that the speech of the hon. Gentleman who has just sat down (Mr. Osborne) does not at all express the feelings of the people of this country. I believe their universal feeling will be one of gratitude to the Government for taking a course which, above all others, is calculated to preserve peace.
I am glad, Sir, to see the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Buckinghamshire (Mr. Disraeli) in his place, for I think that opposition is the salt of politics, and that any speech of my right hon. Friend at the head of the Government has always more flavour when seasoned by a speech from my right hon. Friend opposite. However, if the salt has not yet come from the quarter opposite, it has come from that behind me. Sir, I agree with some of the observations of my hon. Friend the Member for Waterford (Mr. Osborne); but I agree also with some that fell from the hon. Member for East Surrey (Mr. Buxton). The object of this country and every country should be peace; but when war is necessary, I am not, as my hon. Friend said, for a war on homœopathic principles. Neither is war a thing that can be limited or restrained. "It slips"—to use a phrase now historical—"through one's fingers;" and if our soldiers were being shot down by Chassepôts on shore, I doubt whether our sailors would preserve strict neutrality on the ocean. But let me point out that which I did not myself know until the new Treaty was just read to us. It merely engages us to defend the soil of Belgium—this is true—but it does not engage us not to do anything more. In all other respects we are as free as if it had never been signed, and this refutes many of the arguments which ought otherwise to have been urged against it. I will not deny that it is still open to objections. But, in great affairs we must look at great effects and overlook minor questions of doubt and controversy. The main effect to produce at the moment when this Treaty was entered into was to convince Europe and the world that we were keenly alive to our honour and were determined to stand by our engagements. That effect this Treaty did produce, and therefore, without being critical as to its provisions, I think it entitles Her Majesty's Government to the thanks of its friends and the confidence of the country. But events pass so rapidly in these telegraphic times that our care at this moment need not be so much to preserve Belgium from France, as to preserve France from the consequences of the rash enterprize into which it so heedlessly and so needlessly entered. And this, Sir, seems to me the moment when I may say that we are not wholly to forget that the Ruler of that country—whatever his faults, wrong, I grant you, in provoking this disastrous conflict—has been, nevertheless, for many years our firm and friendly ally, that he has stood by our side on the field of battle, that he has sat by our side in the great Councils of Europe, and that during his reign France and England have lived in closer terms of amity and intimacy than at any former period. I say this, because, as I never worshipped him in his prosperity, I can respect him in his adversity. But, apart from all questions of persons—whoever may rule over a neighbouring people—let us not forget that the land which is now, not unjustly, menaced by the sword of an invader, is the land to whose graceful civilization Europe is so much indebted. Thus, Sir, whilst it is far from my wish or advice that we should intermeddle inopportunely in this quarrel, I cannot help saying that if an occasion should arrive, at which, with the consent of both parties, my right hon. Friend at the head of Her Majesty's Government should be able, by a friendly mediation, to arrest the horrors of war in a country so eminent in the arts of peace, and save from the still greater horrors of tumult and revolution a capital that is the pride and ornament of the whole world, he will achieve a task as glorious as any that ever illustrated a Minister of England.
It is not often that I venture to say anything in praise of the Government, because they ordinarily receive plenty of praise from hon. Members sitting behind them; but as an independent Member, sitting below the Gangway, I must say I think this is a proposition in respect to which, as an economist, I ought to express my heartfelt gratitude for the course which the Government have taken. Even if there had been no Treaty of 1831 or of 1839, I hold that it would have been the duty of England to sustain the neutrality and independence of Belgium. Anyone with even a superficial knowledge of political events could not but feel sure the absorption by France of that model and, I must say, beloved kingdom—because, from the admirable manner in which it is governed, it appeals to our best and warmest feelings—must cause an annual addition of £10,000,000 to our War Estimates; and even then we should be in perpetual apprehension as long as a neighbouring nation was living under the personal rule of any one man. I deeply regret that the right hon. Gentleman (Sir Henry Lytton Bulwer) who spoke last has made the remarks he did, with reference to our Government interfering with the object of bringing about peace between the combatants. I think that this is a very grave matter; and, although a friendly mediation may, sooner or later, be acceptable, I doubt whether it would be wise to proffer or tender it until it is asked for. The right hon. Gentleman has said that France has been our consistent and hearty ally for some years; and this provokes a remark which I should not otherwise have made. Now, it must be recollected that there is also something to be set down on the other side of the account. It was through France that we engaged in the Crimean War—["No, no!"]—it was for French interests that we embarked in the Russian War—it was, undoubtedly, for the sustentation of the Napoleonic dynasty that we were led into it. Again, who was it that instigated the British Government so insidiously and persistently to acknowledge the independence of the Southern States of America? Was it not the Monarch who was so much lauded by the right hon. Gentleman? May I remind the right hon. Gentleman that it was the same Monarch that projected the Mexican Expedition, in which we were at first allied; and it was only when we saw the personal ends which he had in view that we retired, and retired with honour, from that disastrous expedition. I only mention this because, while I feel that it is very desirable we should have amicable relations with foreign potentates, yet I think it is possible to be too intimate with them, and I do not wish that we should be so very intimate as to be thereby led into future entanglements. As to the course which the Government has adopted, I think it is wise, prudent, and circumspect to a degree for which it deserves the highest praise, expressly limiting, as it does, the operation of this Supplementary Treaty, as I may call it, to the attainment of the object this country has in view, and I firmly believe it will secure the independence and neutrality of Belgium. The hon. Member for Waterford (Mr. Osborne) asks how it will be if it should happen that both of the belligerents should violate the neutrality of Belgium. Now, it is but justice to say that the Belgians have had no apprehension whatever from Prussia; in all the diplomatic correspondence which has passed there is no reference to Prussia as a Power from which Belgium has hitherto had any cause to fear. The Belgian lamb has only been—alas, too often— frightened by the French wolf. No instance whatever can you find in which any allusion is officially made to the aggrandizement of Prussia at the expense of Belgium. There were apprehensions in many quarters that the British Government would not rise to the height of the occasion. I rejoice it has risen to the full height of the present emergency, and I confidently rely that it will secure the object this country has at heart—namely, the neutrality and independence of Belgium. I do not belong to that party which thinks England has but one duty, and that is to take care only of herself. I deny that such an exclusive and selfish policy would even effect what is wished by those who advocate it. I hold, and I believe the Government rightly recognizes, with Edmund Burke, that to a people who have once been proud and great, and great because they were proud, the decay of national spirit would be the most terrible of all revolutions.
Sir, I must express my opinion that anyone speaking in the House of Commons now ought be careful of what he says; and I think it a very foolish thing to do what my hon. Friend the Member for Brighton (Mr. White) has just done—to go into matters which are much better left alone. I am perfectly satisfied that the English nation sympathizes with both belligerents. I am sure it is sorry they have gone to war, and that it hopes England may be kept out of hostilities. There was one subject on which this country did feel anxiety—I mean the subject of Belgium. The First Minister of the Crown, in his wisdom, did not think it right to give us such an explanation as would reassure the mind of the country; but since that time he has reconsidered the point—[Mr. GLADSTONE: "No."]—and we now know that we are going to act on Treaties we entered into, and that we intend to maintain the neutrality of Belgium. I will not allude to the new Treaty now on the Table of the House, further than to say that I think it would have been better to adhere to the Treaty of 1839. I think if the Government had stated boldly that we adhered to the Treaty of 1839, and intended to maintain the neutrality of Belgium, that would have been sufficient. The country would have known what was meant by that, and would have been ready and willing to fulfil its obligations. All I hope now is, that we shall not be called on to go to war for Belgium. I trust the neutrality of that kingdom will be preserved, and that the war between France and Prussia will soon be at an end. If the First Minister of the Crown should have any hand in putting an end to it, we shall meet him here with great pleasure next Session.
I should like, Sir, to know whether Belgium herself approves this Treaty; and whether Austria and Russia have given their consent to this preliminary Treaty, and if not, in what position we shall find ourselves as regards the other neutral Powers joined in the guarantee of 1839? I feel myself unable to give an opinion on this Supplemental Treaty. It would require stronger arguments than we have heard to-day to prove that the Treaty of 1839 needed any substitute; and I think it would have been for the public interest if the Government had not prorogued Parliament till ample time had been given for the communication of this Treaty, and for the House and the country to consider it. A good deal has been said about the unadvisability of expressing any feeling of sympathy for one side or the other; but it was impossible to avoid it, because no one can shut his eyes to the fact that the object of the war on one side was the safety of a dynasty, and on the other the consolidation—the building up of Germany. In that latter object I take, and the people of England must take, a great interest; but we are very little interested in the safety of the Imperial dynasty. I hope the First Minister of the Crown will be able to answer these questions, with the view of clearing up points that seem to require explanation.
As far as I understand, my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Waterford (Mr. Osborne) has complained that we have destroyed the Treaty of 1839 by this instrument. As I pay so much attention to everything that falls from him, I thought that by some mistake I must have read the instrument inaccurately; but I have read it again, and I find that by one of the Articles contained in it the Treaty of 1839 is expressly recognized. But there is one omission I made in the matter which I will take the present opportunity to supply. The House, I think, have clearly understood that this instrument expresses an arrangement between this country and France; but an instrument has been signed between this country and the North German Confederation precisely the same in its terms, except that where the name of the Emperor of the French is read in one instrument, the name of the German Confederation is read in the other, and vice vensâ. I have listened with much interest to the conversation which has occurred, and I think we have no reason to be dissatisfied at the manner in which, speaking generally, this Treaty has been received. My hon. Friend the Member for Brighton (Mr. White) speaking, as he says, from below the Gangway, is quite right in thinking that his approval of the course the Government have taken is gratifying to us, on account of the evidently independent course of action which he always pursues in this House. The hon. and gallant Gentleman opposite (Colonel Barttelot) has expressed a different opinion from ours on the great question of policy, and he asks whether we should not have done well to limit ourselves to the Treaty of 1839. We differ entirely on that subject from the hon. and gallant Gentleman; but we cannot complain of the manner in which he has expressed his opinion and recognized the intentions of the Government. From Gentlemen who sit behind me we have had more positive and unequivocal expressions of approval than fell from the hon. and gallant Gentleman. The only person who strongly objects to the course taken by the Government is my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Waterford; and I do not in the least object to his frank method of stating whatever he feels in opposition to our proceedings in a matter of so much consequence, though I do think it necessary to notice some of his objections. In the first place, he denounces this Treaty as an example of the mischiefs of secret diplomacy. He thinks that if the Treaty had been submitted to the House it would not have been agreed to. My hon. and gallant Friend is a man much, enamoured of public diplomacy. He remembers, no doubt, that three weeks ago the Due de Gramont went to the Legislative Body of France and made an announcement as to the policy which the French Government would pursue with respect to Prussia. The result of that example of public diplomacy no doubt greatly encouraged my hon. and gallant Friend. Then we have a specimen in the speech of my hon. and gallant Friend of the kind of public diplomacy which we should have in this case if his hopes and desires were realized. He says that if Belgium were in the hands of a hostile Power the liberties of this country would not be worth 24 hours' purchase. I protest against that statement. With all my heart and soul I protest against it. A statement more exaggerated, a statement more extravagant, I never heard fall from the lips of any Member in this House. [Mr. OSBORNE: Napoleon said it.] Whatever my hon. and gallant Friend's accurate acquaintance with the correspondence of Napoleon may induce him to say, I may be permitted to observe that I am not prepared to take my impression of the character, of the strength, of the dignity, of the duty, or of the danger of this country from that correspondence. I will avail myself of this opportunity of expressing my opinion, if I may presume to give it, that too much has been said by my hon. and gallant Friend and others of the specially distinct, separate, and exclusive interest which this country has in the maintenance of the neutrality of Belgium. What is our interest in maintaining the neutrality of Belgium? It is the same as that of every great Power in Europe. It is contrary to the interest of Europe that there should be unmeasured aggrandizement. Our interest is no more involved in the aggrandizement supposed in this particular case than is the interest of the other Powers. That it is a real interest, a substantial interest, I do not deny; but I protest against the attempt to attach to it the exclusive character which I never know carried into the region of caricature to such a degree as it has been by my hon. and gallant Friend. What is the immediate moral effect of those exaggerated statements of the separate interest of England? The immediate moral effect of them is this—that every effort we make on behalf of Belgium on other grounds than those of intorest—as well as on grounds of interest, goes forth to the world as a separate and selfish scheme of ours; and that which we believe to be entitled to the dignity and credit of an effort on behalf of the general peace, stability, and interest of Europe actually contracts a taint of selfishness in the eyes of other nations because of the manner in which the subject of Belgian neutrality is too frequently treated in this House. If I may be allowed to speak of the motives which have actuated Her Majesty's Government in the matter, I would say that while we have recognized the interest of England, we have never looked upon it as the sole motive, or even as the greatest of those considerations which have urged us forward. There is, I admit, the obligation of the Treaty. It is not necessary, nor would time permit me, to enter into the complicated question of the nature of the obligations of that Treaty; but I am not able to subscribe to the doctrine of those who have held in this House what plainly amounts to an assertion, that the simple fact of the existence of a guarantee is binding on every party to it irrespectively altogether of the particular position in which it may find itself at the time when the occasion for acting on the guarantee arises. The great authorities upon foreign policy to whom I have been accustomed to listen—such as Lord Aberdeen and Lord Palmerston—never, to my knowledge, took that rigid and, if I may venture to say so, that impracticable view of a guarantee. The circumstance that there is already an existing guarantee in force is of necessity an important fact, and a weighty element in the case, to which we are bound to give full and ample consideration. There is also this further consideration, the force of which we must all feel most deeply, and that is the common interest against the unmeasured aggrandizement of any Power whatever. But there is one other motive, which I shall place at the head of all, that attaches peculiarly to the preservation of the independence of Belgium. What is that country? It is a country containing 4,000,000 or 5,000,000 of people, with much of an historic past, and imbued with a sentiment of nationality and a spirit of independence as warm and as genuine as that which beats in the hearts of the proudest and most powerful nations. By the regulation of its internal concerns, amid the shocks of revolution, Belgium, through all the crises of the age, has set to Europe an example of a good and stable government gracefully associated with the widest possible extension of the liberty of the people. Looking at a country such as that, is there any man who hears me who does not feel that if, in order to satisfy a greedy appetite for aggrandizement, coming whence it may, Belgium were absorbed, the day that witnessed that absorption would hear the knell of public right and public law in Europe? But we have an interest in the independence of Belgium which is wider than that—which is wider than that which we may have in the literal operation of the guarantee. It is found in the answer to the question whether, under the circumstances of the case, this country, endowed as it is with influence and power, would quietly stand by and witness the perpetration of the direst crime that ever stained the pages of history, and thus become participators in the sin? And now let me deal with the observations of the hon. Member for Waterford. The hon. Member asks—What if both these Powers with whom we are making this Treaty should combine against the independence of Belgium? Well, all I can say is that we rely on the faith of these parties. But if there be danger of their combining against that independence now, unquestionably there was much more danger in the position of affairs that was revealed to our astonished eyes a fortnight ago, and before these later engagements were contracted. I do not undertake to define the character of that position which, as I have said, was more dangerous a fortnight ago. I feel confident that it would be hasty to suppose that those great States would, under any circumstances, have become parties to the actual contemplation and execution of a proposal such as that which was made the subject of communication between persons of great importance on behalf of their respective States. That was the state of facts with which we had to deal. It was the combination, and not the opposition, of the two Powers which we had to fear, and I contend—and we shall be ready on every proper occasion to argue—that there is no measure so well adapted to meet the peculiar character of such an occasion as that which we have proposed. It is said that the Treaty of 1839 would have sufficed, and that we ought to have announced our determination to abide by it. But if we were disposed at once to act upon the guarantee contained in that Treaty, what state of circumstances does it contemplate? It contemplates the invasion of the frontiers of Belgium and the violation of the neutrality of that country by some other Power. That is the only case in which we could have been called upon to act under the Treaty of 1839, and that is the only case in which we can be called upon to act under the Treaty now before the House. But in what, then, lies the difference between the two Treaties? It is in this—that, in accordance with our obligations, we should have had to act under the Treaty of 1839 without any stipulated assurance of being supported from any quarter whatever against any combination, however formidable; whereas by the Treaty now formally before Parliament, under the conditions laid down in it, we secure powerful support in the event of our having to act—a support with respect to which we may well say that if brings the object in view within the sphere of the practicable and attainable, instead of leaving it within the sphere of what might have been desirable, but which might have been most difficult, under all the circumstances, to have realized. The hon. Member says that by entering into this engagement we have destroyed the Treaty of 1839. But if he will carefully consider the terms of this instrument he will see that there is nothing in them calculated to bear out that statement. It is perfectly true that this is a cumulative Treaty, added to the Treaty of 1839, as the right hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Disraeli), with perfect precision, described it. Upon that ground I very much agree with the general opinion he expressed; but, at the same time, peculiar circumstances call for a departure from general rules, and the circumstances are most peculiar under which we have thought it right to adopt the method of proceeding which we have actually done. The Treaty of 1839 loses nothing of its force even during the existence of this present Treaty. There is no derogation from it whatever. The Treaty of 1839 includes terms which are expressly included in the present instrument, lest by any chance it should be said that, in consequence of the existence of this instrument, the Treaty of 1839 had been injured or impaired. That would have been a mere opinion; but it is an opinion which we thought fit to provide against. The hon. Member has said that this is a most peculiar method of bringing a Treaty before the House I admit it. There is no doubt at all that it is so. But it is not easy to say what circumstances there are that will justify the breaking up of general rules in a matter so delicate and important as the making of communications to Parliament upon political negotiations of great interest. The rule which has been uniformly followed in this country is this—that no Treaty is communicated to Parliament unless it becomes binding; and it does not become absolutely binding upon the signatories until it has been ratified; and, by the law and usage of all civilized countries, ratification requires certain forms to be gone through which cannot be concluded in a moment. Under these circumstances, we had only this choice—whether we should be contented to present a Treaty to Parliament without the usual forms having been gone through, or whether we should break down the rule which we think it is, on the whole, most desirable to observe, and we thought it best to adopt the course we have followed in the matter. The hon. Member for Wakefield (Mr. Somerset Beaumont) has asked whether this Treaty has been concluded with the sanction of Belgium. My answer is that I do not doubt the relevancy of that inquiry, but that the Treaty has not been concluded with the sanction of Belgium, for we have advisedly refrained from any attempt to make Belgium a party to the engagement. In the first place, Belgium was not a party to the Treaty of 1839. But that is a matter of secondary importance. What we had to consider was, what was the most prudent, the best, and the safest course for us to pursue in the interest of Belgium. Independently of Belgium, we had no right to assume that either of the parties would agree to it, and we had also to contemplate the case in which one party might agree to it and the other might not. If we had attempted to make Belgium a party we should have run the risk of putting her in a very false position in the event of one of the parties not agreeing to the proposal. It was, therefore, from no want of respect or friendly feeling towards Belgium, but simply from prudential considerations, that we abstained from bringing that country within the circle of these negotiations. The hon. Member has also asked whether Austria and Russia have been consulted upon the subject of the Treaty, but upon that point I have nothing to add to what I communicated to the House the other day. Both those parties have been invited—as Her Majesty has been advised to announce from the Throne—to accede to the Treaty, and I said on Monday that the reception of the Treaty as far as those Powers were concerned had been generally favourable. I have no reason to alter that statement; but, on the part of Russia, a question has arisen with regard to which I cannot quite say how it may eventually close, especially from the circumstance that the Emperor and his chief advisers upon foreign affairs do not happen to be in the same place. That question, so raised, is whether it might be wise to give a wider scope to any engagements of this kind; but if there is any hesitation on this point, it is not of a kind which indicates an objection of principle, but, on the contrary, one which shows a disposition to make every possible effort in favour of the Treaty. We are in full communication with friendly and neutral Powers on the subject of maintaining neutrality, and upon every side the very best dispositions prevail. There is the greatest inclination to abstain from all officious intermeddling between two Powers who, from their vast means and resources, are perfectly competent for the conduct of their own affairs; and there is not a less strong and decided desire on the part of every Power to take every step at the present moment that can contribute to restrict and circumscribe the area of the war, and to be ready, without having lost or forfeited the confidence of either belligerent, to avail itself of the first opportunity that may present itself to contribute towards establishing a peace which shall be honourable, and which shall present the promise of being permanent. That is the general state of the case, with regard to which I do not, in the least degree, question the right of any hon. Member behind me to form his own judgment. I cannot help expressing the opinion that, allowing for all the difficulties of the case, and the rapidity with which it was necessary to conduct these operations, we have done all that appeared to be essential in the matter; and the country may foci assured that the conduct which we have pursued in relation to this matter has not been unworthy of the high responsibility with which we are intrusted.
Prorogation Of The Parliament
Message to attend The LORDS COMMISSIONERS.
The House went;—and the ROYAL ASSENT was given to several Bills.
And afterwards Her Majesty's Most Gracious Speech was delivered to both Houses of Parliament by The LORD CHANCELLOR, in pursuance of Her Majesty's Commands.
Then a Commission for proroguing the Parliament was read.
My Lords, and Gentlemen,
By virtue of Her Majesty's Commission, under the Great Seal, to us and other Lords directed, and now read, we do, in Her Majesty's Name, and in obedience to Her Commands, prorogue this Parliament to Thursday the 27th day of October next, to be then here holden; and this Parliament is accordingly prorogued to Thursday the 27th day of October next.