The Marquis of Chandos
took that opportunity to ask the noble Lord opposite (Lord Althorp), a question respecting a very extraordinary statement contained in the Speech of the King of the French, which had that day been received. In that Speech his Majesty was made to declare, that "the King of the Belgians will not be a member of the German Confederation. The fortresses erected to threaten France, and not to protect Belgium, will be demolished." He wished to know whether the Government of this country had been a party to the negotiation for the destruction of these fortresses, or whether the declarations contained in that Speech were to be taken as from an accredited source?
§ Lord Althorp
said, although that was not the precise moment when a question of such a nature should have been put to him—the proceeding being one 272 which was, according to the rules of Debate, generally taken on going into a Committee of Supply—yet he had no objection to give an answer to the question of the noble Lord; but in so doing, he hoped the House would pardon him if he entered a little more into details than the mere fact of giving an answer might seem to require. The question of the disposal of the fortresses, it should be recollected, was not in his department: but he would, nevertheless, state all, consistent with not divulging the present state of the negotiations, which he knew on the subject. It must be admitted by every one, that unless the extensive fortifications erected as barriers against the attacks of the French on the side of Belgium, were properly garrisoned, they would be of no avail for the purposes for which they were kept up. Now, in the present state of Belgium, and under the government now placed over that country, it could not be expected that the Belgian would submit to the expense of maintaining a sufficient number of native troops to garrison these fortresses; and it was impossible to suppose, that the stipulations of the Treaty of 1815 could now be maintained so as to allow these fortresses to be still garrisoned by the troops of the different Powers who were interested in their maintenance The question then was, whether it could be considered advantageous to any party to keep up such a line of frontier fortresses, with garrisons necessarily reduced so low, that in case of war, France could easily, if she made a rapid movement, seize and make them the base of her operations, so that instead of being a protection, they would prove a means of assaulting Belgium. In this view of the case it did not appear, that the keeping up of these fortresses was of so much importance as it had formerly been considered—and there was certainly now an agreement entered into, on the settlement of the affairs of Belgium, that a portion of these fortresses should be dismantled. It did appear to them, if Europe required a guarantee against the attacks of France, that the acknowledgment of the perfect neutrality of Belgium by France, in conjunction with all the great Powers, would be much more likely to secure their object than the keeping up a few weakly-garrisoned fortresses. He admitted, that all guarantees, unless the interests of nations were bound up in their support, must be 273 considered as little better than waste paper; but in this case he believed it would be found that the interests of all parties would be consulted by the arrangement. He was sure it would be for the interests of England and the other Powers of Europe, that Belgium should be a neutral State; and it must be the interest of France to feel that a part of her frontier was secure against the attacks of an enemy. With these views the Government had acted in the course of the negotiations, and although the result had been disclosed a little more suddenly than usual on such occasions, still he had no hesitation in stating at once, that the communication made by the King of the French was fully warranted, and that, a part of these frontier fortresses were to be demolished.
§ Mr. George Robinson
observed, that this then, was the termination of all the arrangements made at the conclusion of the war. The Government of this country had expended all the sums it had received by way of indemnity from France on the repair of their fortresses, while the other Powers of Europe received their share to be applied to their own expenses, and yet he would venture to say, that the present Government of this country had not stipulated for the repayment of a single shilling of the money from France, now that France was to receive all the benefit arising from the dismantling. As far as the guarantee was concerned, he would say, that events would probably show, it was not worth more than so much waste paper.
§ Lord Althorp
reminded the hon. Member, that the present Government was not answerable for the expenditure of which he complained.