HC Deb 02 April 1830 vol 23 cc1234-40
Lord J. Russell

said, that he would take the present opportunity of putting a question to his Majesty's Ministers with respect to the Foreign Relations of the Country. In his Majesty's Speech from the Throne, at the meeting of Parliament in the present Session, the House had been informed that certain things were pending with reference to Greece, and that when the arrangements were complete, Parliament would be duly informed of the fact, and that the papers connected with those arrangements would be laid before the House. Nothing of the sort had as yet been done. Since this declaration, a speech of the King of France had appeared in all the public Newspapers, in which his Most Christian Majesty informs his two chambers, that the negotiation with respect to Greece had come to a close, and that a Prince had been chosen by the common consent and agreement of the Allied Powers to preside over the destinies of Greece. Although the Prince was not named in his Most Christian Majesty's speech, it was perfectly understood by every body that the allusion was to his Royal Highness Prince Leopold—and he was sure, that a choice more perfectly calculated to ensure the future happiness of Greece, and to establish permanently her pacific connexion with the rest of Europe, could not be made. But this announcement on the part of the King of France to the Chamber made him anxious to inquire of the right hon. Gentle man opposite (Mr. Peel) whether the negotiation having apparently come to a conclusion, the time hail not arrived when the right hon. Gentleman would receive a command from his Majesty to lay all the papers relating to the arrangements before the Houses of Parliament? With reference to what might be contained in these papers, it would be premature in him to offer any opinion, hut he certainly could not help calling the attention of Parliament to the subject. He was sorry to say that this very important question concerning the kingdom of Greece, as well as the foreign affairs of this country in general, received too little consideration both from Parliament and the public. He was fully aware of the very great importance of the numerous domestic questions which pressed upon the House from day to day; but at the same time he could not but recollect that the most important of all those questions—the weight of debt and taxes which pressed upon the resources and productive industry of the country—were to be attributed to a course of foreign policy which he certainly thought was ruinous, and which, in his opinion, had laid the country under difficulties from which it would require the utmost efforts to save her. He was most anxious to form an opinion upon the foreign policy of the Government of the country, by paying attention to the papers which his Majesty's Ministers might lay before Parliament. He wished, by a consideration of such papers, to decide whether his Majesty's Ministers, in the course of the negotiations that had taken place in the last two years, had pursued a course which was at once pacific, and which had maintained the character of the country? It did appear strange to the House and to the public, that so much of the Session had been allowed to pass—that the House had been called upon to sanction so many, measures, and to consider such various and important topics, without his Majesty's Ministers having laid before Parliament papers relating to the negotiation he had alluded to, and the production of which had been in a manner pledged by his Majesty's Speech from the Throne. He was the more anxious on account of a few words that had incidentally been dropt by a light hon. Gentleman opposite, in the course of the debate that had taken place the other night in voting the Navy Estimates. It appeared, by the speech to which he alluded, and which had created a great sensation throughout the country, that in July last the political atmosphere had been perfectly clear and undisturbed; but that in the August following, without any previous signs, a sudden change had taken place, and that, in point of fact, the country was on the very eve of a war. If this war had really taken place—if this war had been a war to protect Turkey from the oppression of Russia, he felt quite confident that the flames of war would have extended to the rest of Europe. This i country could not expect to be delivered from such a war but at the expense of at least three hundred millions added to the debt, independent of increased taxation, and impediments laid upon every branch of productive industry. These were the evils to which this country would have infallibly been exposed; and he was, therefore, impatient to know what had been the conduct of Government in this transaction. It would be very difficult to convince him that any necessity had existed to bring the country so near to the very verge of hostilities. He could not but avow that he had a great and general distrust in the policy of his Majesty's Government with respect to foreign States. With reference to Portugal, that distrust was founded upon reasons which he had already stated to the House, and he should be ready to support his opinions in his place when the question respecting Terceira was again brought before Parliament. With reference to Russia and Turkey, his impression was unfavourable to the policy which his Majesty's Ministers had thought it proper to adopt. He would not, however, pronounce any opinion upon the subject, as it might. possibly be changed by the papers which he supposed that Ministers would lay before the Parliament. He would own, however, that his unfavourable impression was strengthened by the delay in producing the papers. With respect to domestic affairs, he had already voted with Ministers upon several occasions. In the questions of Currency and Trade, he was ready to support the line they advocated. He had, in fact, no grounds of opposition to their domestic policy. But in their foreign policy he had not the same confidence, and he believed that respecting it many hon. Members entertained the same distrust and suspicion as himself. He therefore hoped that the papers would be laid before the House as soon as possible; but if, as the King of France had stated, there were certain negotiations not yet concluded, he allowed that the right hon. Gentleman could not produce these papers until the difficulties in the way of such a proceeding were brought to an end. Still ho begged to submit, that if these negotiations were nearly concluded, the right hon. Secretary might, perhaps, give the House some pledge that no time would be lost in laying the papers before them.

Mr. Secretary Peel

said, he could assure the noble Lord that his Majesty's Ministers were anxious to produce the papers which related to the negotiations regarding the future condition of Greece at as early a period as they could, consistently with that which must be the leading object of all statesmen—the permanent interests of this kingdom, and those likewise of that country in whose affairs we had been induced to interfere. He had the satisfaction of stating that the parties who signed the Treaty of the 6th of July, 1827, had conic to a resolution respecting the government of Greece, and the relations it was to hold with other powers; and he had also the satisfaction to say, that they were in perfect accord as to the Prince to whom the Sovereignty of that country was to be committed. On these main points, the future government of Greece, its future condition (which, he was happy to declare, was to be one of unqualified independence), and lastly, the selection of the Prince who was to preside over its destinies—on all these great points there was the most complete concord, and the most perfect unanimity between the Allied Powers who had signed the Treaty of the 6th of July. That concord had existed from the beginning, and up to this moment was uninterrupted. But there were some points of a subordinate nature, on which negotiations were still pending, and until they were brought to an end, the noble Lord himself must concur with him that it would not be for the public interest to produce the papers; he was sure, however, that at no distant moment, he should receive the commands of his Majesty to lay them before the House. He was also sure that this would be done at the earliest possible time consistent with the interests of England, and the permanent welfare of Greece. The noble Lord had stated that he approved of the domestic policy pursued by the Administration, but that he viewed the foreign policy with some suspicion and distrust. Now, he could not help thinking that the distinction arose from the circumstance that there was not the same opportunity of giving that immediate explanation respecting the course pursued by Government in the one that there was in the other. The domestic policy was in itself of necessity more clear—it was the subject of constant discussion in that House; but it was obvious that the same facility did not exist as to foreign policy. Silence was imposed upon the Ministers for a long period in many instances. If, then, on those points in which Ministers had means of explanation the noble Lord gave them his confidence, and if there were points on which they could not give an explanation, he hoped that the House would not follow the example of the noble Lord as to our foreign policy, but, on the contrary, suspend its judgment until Ministers could give a full account of their proceedings; and he entertained the utmost confidence, that when this took place, the decision would be in their favour, as well in regard of foreign policy as in that of domestic policy. The House might rest assured, that after having completed the pacification of Greece, they would neither sacrifice the permanent interests of that country nor of this; and that also the most anxious attention would be paid to that which must be as dear to them as any worldly or pecuniary interest whatsoever-he meant the high character of the British nation [cheers]

Lord J. Russell

asked if the negotiations then pending related to the affairs of Greece, or to those of the Ottoman Porte?

Mr. Secretary Peel

stated, that they were negotiations between the three Allied Powers on the one hand, and the Prince designated as Sovereign of the country on the other. The right hon. Gentleman, after a short pause, gave a further explanation of what, he said, was a very important point which he had inadvertently omitted, in replying to the questions of the noble Lord. He was unwilling to leave it in that degree of uncertainty which might seem to warrant the correctness of the noble Lord's opinion. The noble Lord said, that from something which had passed in that House, he had been led to understand that in August last we were upon the verge of a war, in order to protect Turkey from the attacks of Russia. Now he could not acquiesce in the correctness of the noble Lord's inference. He was not aware that the country was on the verge of war at the period alluded to, and still less for the purpose of protecting Turkey or Constantinople from the Russians.

Lord J. Russell

said, that he had been led to this opinion in consequence of what had fallen from the Secretary to the Admiralty respecting the hospital at Malta. In July it appeared that Government did not consider it necessary to go on with the works at this hospital; but in August an emergency of so grave a nature was stated to have arisen, that Government considered itself justified in applying certain monies to the completion of this establishment, without waiting for a vote from Parliament. From this he had naturally inferred that there was an apprehension that the fleet at Malta might be brought into immediate action. He said then that we must have been upon the verge of a war, and he was not contradicted. The right hon. Gentleman did certainly now say 'no.' But still the statement of the right hon. Secretary to the Admiralty, combined with rumours he had heard from unofficial quarters, to the effect that the Russians were informed that if they proceeded in the extension of the blockade of the Dardanelles, the consequence to them would be a war upon the part of this country—had all induced him to entertain the suspicion, and arrive at the conclusion, to which he had given utterance. It might be that these rumours were perfectly unfounded. Such, however, did not very clearly appear to be the fact; but when the papers which he was desirous of having, came before the House, the necessary information with respect to those transactions would be obtained, and we should then see how the matter stood.

Sir G. Cockburn

said, the noble Lord had mistaken the nature and tendency of the statement made by the Secretary to the Admiralty. It had been simply stated, that because in August our force in the Mediterranean had been increased from six thousand to eight thousand men, and from six to nine sail of the line, there would be a necessity for an increased accommodation in the Seamen's Hospital at Malta. Nothing had been breathed respecting the country being upon the verge of a war.

Mr. Hume

said, the statement was, that a case of emergency had arisen which warranted the Admiralty in venturing to increase the expense of the particular item in question, even without the sanction of the House. He could assure Gentlemen opposite, that among persons sitting on this side of the House the impression created, not only by what fell from the Secretary of the Admiralty, but by the observations of another right hon. Gentleman, now in his place, was, that such a danger as that described did exist last August.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

said that he had stated that applications had been made to increase the establishment of the Naval Hospital at Malta beyond its amount, when there were only six thousand men in the Mediterranean, because circumstances had induced Government to raise that force to eight thousand men, and such being the case, they necessarily required a more extensive establishment, and an augmentation was made in the Naval Hospital.

Sir J. Wrottesley

entirely acquitted the right hon. Gentleman of having given any ground for supposing that a war was impending in August; but from what fell from the Secretary to the Admiralty, he must say that the strong impression upon his mind at the time was, not only that it had been likely that the hospital would be called into action to a greater extent than usual by reason of the augmentation of force in the Mediterranean, but that it had been necessary to provide for the contingency of having a certain number of wounded men to take care of; and it struck him at the time as being rather extraordinary that a communication so important as he considered that to be, should have come from a Gentleman not in the Cabinet.

Lord Howick

observed, that the exact words made use of on such an occasion are important; and he believed he could state them pretty accurately. The right hon. Secretary said, that in the month of July the Lords of the Admiralty thought no increase in the hospital at Malta would be necessary; but that in August, there being a prospect of the fleet being called into immediate action, it was requisite to augment the hospital.

Sir G. Cockburn

said, it was stated that in July there was no intention of augmenting the establishment; but that in August, an increase having taken place in the Mediterranean fleet instead of a decrease, it was necessary to augment the hospital. Nine sail of the line were upon the station: it was impossible to tell what might be the result, but he did not say there had been a probability of war.

The conversation dropped, and the Motion for the adjournment of the House at its rising till Monday was agreed to.