HC Deb 19 May 1828 vol 19 cc774-9
Sir Robert Wilson

on rising to put the questions of which he had given notice, respecting the State of our Relations with Foreign Powers, observed, that, upon several preceding occasions, he had felt it his duty to address questions to his majesty's government on the subject of our foreign transactions. In doing so he was not influenced by any wish to embarrass the government, to invite them to any premature disclosure, or to express any opinion of disapprobation against the motives or conduct of that government. On the contrary, he might once for all say, that so far from entertaining any views unfriendly to the present administration, he considered them, without reference to the circumstances which attended their appointment, as possessing more power to do good, and less likelihood to be counteracted in the endeavours to do so, than any other govern- ment that could be found in the present state of parties. When he had addressed a question to the secretary for the Home Department on a former occasion, he did not press him for an answer, because there was nothing in the aspect of affairs at that period which assumed a character so decisive as was to be inferred from recent events. Since then, however, important events had arisen, and were proceeding with such apparent velocity to their consummation, as to demand imperiously the attention of ministers. The last time he had addressed his question to the right hon. gentleman, the Ottoman government had published that extraordinary manifesto which, while it breathed a spirit of the most aggravated hostility against Russia, did not disturb the existing relations between her and that power. The right hon. gentleman had then stated, that no change had taken place in the diplomatic relations of England and Russia. At the same time he did not admit that any change had taken place in the relations between Russia and the Ottoman Porte. But since then, war had been declared by Russia; and not only had war been declared, but her forces had been put in motion—they had crossed the Pruth, and were now probably on the other side of the Danube, advancing upon Constantinople. There was, he believed, a general opinion, that Constantinople itself would be carried with little difficulty. But, if it was to be assailed by Russia alone, and assailed only upon that side to which her operations seemed to be confined, he thought it could not be reduced without considerable difficulty. He therefore did not apprehend that the movement was attended with so much certainty on the part of Russia, or so much peril on that of Constantinople, as was commonly imagined. There was, however, enough in the circumstances he had already mentioned to justify him in asking, what were the relations at present existing between this country and Russia? There was another point which seemed to him to require some explanation also. It was now evident that France, one of the parties to the treaty of London, had not only taken measures for raising eight-millions of francs, as a loan to Greece,—had not only appointed a consul-general to Greece, with the consent of this country, but had called out the remnant of the conscriptions of 1825, 1826, and 1827 amounting in all to about ninety thousand men, for the avowed purpose of placing herself in a situation to take advantage of the new circumstances which might arise. Those facts did not only rest upon the messages to the chambers, but were stated in the speech of the French minister. That minister, after alluding to the declaration of Russia, proceeded to state, that "important modifications in foreign affairs had made it his duty to calculate all contingencies—to call the attention of the king and his council to the possible consequences of a new situation, and to show that at all events their first care should be to place their military force on a footing of relative equality with those of other powers." The speech went on to state, that, "though they could not deny Russia the right of enforcing its treaties with the Porte, yet, without desiring to exaggerate the consequences of that separate action, it must be felt, that the respective situations of the powers, with regard to Turkey, required from them some explanation on the mode of carrying into execution the treaty which was common to them all. But further, the speech went on to declare, that "France, for its part, could not behold with indifference the protracted misfortunes of the Greeks, to whom this intervention of the three great powers had given a right to entertain better prospects; and that the solicitude of the king, in concert with the wishes so often and so strongly expressed in the chambers, would take care that measures be taken to relieve at least so much misery." It was impossible to read this language without feeling that it conveyed a tone, if not of inculpation, at all events of uneasiness and regret: as if England were capable of shrinking from her engagements, or confining herself to mere verbal flourishes on the part of the suffering Greeks, who were exposed to such unmerited misery. If England were capable of adopting such a course, he should consider it one of the greatest calamities that could befall her; for no policy could be more unfortunate than that of giving France just ground for withdrawing herself upon that question. The ultimate effect would be, to throw France into the arms of Russia, and to enable them at any time to endanger the balance of power as regulated at the treaty of Vienna; it would be to throw this country into a situation to receive affronts, the resenting or not resenting of which would be equally disastrous, He did not appeal to the right hon. gentleman with any view of advising a mad crusade, in conjunction with France, on behalf of the Greeks. All he desired was, that some relief should be afforded to enable them to maintain four thousand or five thousand men in active service,—a force which, under the present circumstances, would not only enable the Greek government to drive the Ottomans from the Morea, but to put down the anarchists, who, at all periods of the contest, had done the greatest mischief to their cause. Under the aspect which affairs had now assumed, the Greek cause had become the dyke, on the rapid movement of whose waters the preservation of the European system, and the general interests of civilization, were likely to depend. France had done much to conciliate the good will of this country. She had not only manifested a friendly spirit towards England, but seemed willing to exchange the pursuit of military glory for the more substantial benefit of civic virtues,—a course which, if she persisted in, would render her not only one of the greatest but one of the freest governments in the universe. Under these circumstances, he was anxious to put the question, whether the British government intended, in conjunction with France and Russia, to take steps for the speedy performance of those engagements to which they were bound by the treaty of London?—There was one more point to which he felt it necessary to allude. It distressed him to think that any thing he might say could for a moment be conceived to attach any blame to the brave men who had distinguished themselves in the battle of Navarino, by seeming to doubt whether that battle had been followed up by all the conclusive advantages of which it was susceptible. If the ports of the Morea could have been blockaded after the battle of Navarino—he did not mean to say that they could—but if they could have been blockaded, the removal of many thousand Greeks into Egypt, where they were consigned to the most disgusting treatment, would have been avoided. He was prevented by delicacy from stating to the House the fate to which the unfortunate women and children transported from Greece into Egypt were exposed, according to accounts which he had received. He put this question in the spirit of information, not of reproof, and should conclude with repeating the three questions, to which he hoped for answers from the right hon. gentleman. The first was, whether the British government still adhered to the treaty of the 6th of July? The second was whether they proposed to combine with France in operations for the speedy fulfilment of the object of that treaty,—supposing Russia, of course, to be a party? and the third was, whether they had received any information from the naval commanders in the Mediterranean, to account for not having blockaded the ports of the Morea after the battle of Navarino?

Mr. Secretary Peel

said, if he abstained from any comments on the variety of observations with which the hon. gentleman had prefaced his particular questions, he trusted that no inference of any kind would be drawn from his silence. He trusted it would be sufficient for him to allude to the inconvenience which must arise from the partial discussion of such important matters, in the absence of that full information which alone could enable the House to decide upon the conduct of the government. If he did not enter into any detailed answer to the different questions, he trusted they would not interpret his conduct into any unwillingness on his part to defend every step which had been taken by his majesty's government in those transactions, but that they would consider prudence alone as the motive which dictated caution upon all the topics, and absolute silence upon some of them.—With respect to the particular questions now put, all the answer he could give, consistently with his duty was this,—that from the moment the treaty of the 6th of July was signed, there had been on the part of the advisers of the Crown, a sincere desire scrupulously to fulfil its engagements. He thought he might also say, that it was the opinion of the government, considering the length of the struggle between Greece and Turkey, that the interests of humanity, as well as of England and Europe, required that an end should be put to the contest as soon as possible, and a permanent arrangement effected, as to the relations in which Turkey and Greece should hereafter stand towards each other. England was prepared to fulfil all her engagements, and in common with her allies to concert the means of carrying the treaty into execution. It was now notorious to the world, that events had materially changed the relations in which one of the parties stood towards Turkey. It was notorious that war had been declared by Russia, upon grounds appertaining to her own condition. That declaration had not changed the disposition of the three parties respectively towards Greece: it had not released the parties from their engagements; but, by altering the character of one of the powers into that of a belligerent towards Turkey, it involved important considerations, as to the means by which the treaty was to be carried into effect. Into those considerations he, for the present, should not enter. When the period arrived, he should be prepared to show that the conduct pursued by his majesty's ministers was, in all respects, reconcileable with the maintenance of good faith, and the fulfilment of our engagement with respect to Turkey and Greece. As to the second question, it was their wish to avoid, as far as possible, the principle of interfering with the internal concerns of other countries, and to limit their operations to the precise objects of the treaty. With respect to the question about blockading the ports of the Morea, he should only say, that instructions had been immediately issued by the government, directing that arrangements should be made for carrying the blockade into effect, and that explanations were required, and information had been received upon that subject, the result of which he must be excused from entering into at present. He hoped that, if he had not given a full answer to all the questions, the House would attribute his silence to a sense of public duty, and not to any wish to avoid explanation when the proper time for making it should arrive.