HC Deb 03 February 1832 vol 9 cc1268-74
Lord Althorp

moved, that the House resolve itself into a Committee of Supply.

On the question being put that the Speaker do leave the Chair,

Sir Richard Vyvyan

said, that he found himself under the necessity of troubling the House for a short time previous to its entering upon the Committee, as he had a question to propose to his Majesty's Ministers which it was wholly out of his power to defer. It was, he presumed, in their recollection, that a treaty had been laid on the Table in reference to the difference between Holland and Belgium. This treaty, he begged to premise, formed the basis of the question which he had to propose. He, indeed, regretted that at the moment of its presentation a question had not been put as to its contents, which were of the utmost importance in reference to the interests of Great Britain. As, however, that had not been done, he now found himself under the necessity, for the satisfaction of the country at large, of asking for information from his Majesty's Ministers, with a view of rendering clearly intelligible the nature of any obligations to which England might be bound by the document which had been laid before the House. It might be recollected that a few nights ago the noble Lord, the head of the Foreign Department, in reply to a question put to him respecting the progress of the treaty since the period when it had been first brought before the attention of Parliament in the Speech from the Throne, had stated, that only three of the Courts named in the preamble of that treaty—namely, Great Britain, France, and Belgium, had subscribed their ratification of its articles, but that the other three Courts likewise mentioned in the preamble had as yet not done so. He did not recollect whether on the occasion to which he alluded, the noble Lord said that the ratification of those three Powers—namely, Russia, Prussia, and Austria—States, which he begged to remark, were of no small importance or consideration in the balance of power, should any change in the tranquillity of Europe take place—was expected. This information it was extremely necessary to obtain, and a request to be put in possession of it would form one of the questions which he was about to propose. As he was on the subject, he would take the opportunity of remarking, that he believed it was hitherto deemed a very unusual course to mention the names of any powers in a treaty, until those powers had made themselves parties to such treaty by their ratification. Now, on this ground, he begged to remark, that he did not approve of the conduct of his Majesty's Administration. What had they done? They had placed before Parliament a document purporting to be a treaty entered into between the five Powers and Holland and Belgium, which was, in point of fact, only a treaty entered into by the three Powers of Great Britain, France, and Belgium. Until it was fully ratified it was not a treaty of the five Powers, but was to be considered only as a treaty of the powers who had signed it. Now he would beg to show in what point of view he deemed the conduct of his Majesty's Ministers in presenting this treaty to the House impolitic. If the noble Lord thought there were no hopes of the ratification by the other three Powers—and indeed it mattered little whether the noble Lord thought so or not—was it not, he begged to ask, inexpedient to bring their names before Parlia- ment; and he would add, that it would be considered as a slight on those three Powers who had not ratified. At present he would not detain the House with any further comment on the subject, but would at once propose the questions which he desired to have answered. As to one of his questions, namely, whether hopes were entertained of the ratification by the three Powers—Russia, Prussia, and Austria, he confessed he anticipated the answer he should receive. He was sure the noble Lord would say, he expected every moment such ratification. As to the other question, he was not so confident as to what reply he was likely to receive. This was—whether it was the intention of his Majesty's Government and the French government, in the event of the king of the Netherlands acceding to the treaty which they had ratified, to guarantee to the king of the Netherlands all its articles in the same manner as they were guaranteed in the last treaty agreed upon by the five Powers? The motive which induced him to seek information on this topic arose from the allusion made in the Speech from the Throne on the first day of the present Session—an allusion which he begged to remark, had at the time much surprised him. He believed that it was altogether unusual to give notice in the Speech from the Throne of an unratified treaty. Now, the manner in which that allusion was made strongly impressed on his mind an opinion that England was to unite with the other powers to guarantee the articles of the treaty to the king of the Netherlands. The words of the Speech were 'A similar treaty has not been agreed to by the king of the Netherlands, but I trust the period is not distant when that sovereign will see the necessity of acceding to an arrangement in which the plenipotentiaries of the five Powers have unanimously concurred, and which has been framed with the most careful and impartial attention to all the interests concerned.' Now, from the tenor of this communication to Parliament he (Sir R. Vyvyan) laboured under an impression that all the articles of whatever treaty the Conference might agree to were to be guaranteed to the king of the Netherlands in the same manner as if he had signed it at first. He, therefore, deemed it expedient, if possible, to obtain some specific information on the subject, and with the intention of doing so, he would feel much obliged to the noble Lord for an answer to the queries which he had proposed—first, as to whether hopes were entertained of the eventual ratification of the treaty; and second, whether the guarantee to which he had alluded, was to be given.

Viscount Palmerston

said, that the hon. Baronet had made several remarks on an informality in the presentation of this treaty, in the preamble of which several parties were mentioned, who had not yet ratified it. The hon. Baronet would, if he gave himself the trouble, easily discover that the informality of Government, if informality it was, was not quite so unprecedented as he supposed; for he would find that in the Treaty of Vienna, which was presented to the House in 1815, Spain was mentioned as a contracting power, when, in point of fact, she did not accede to it till two years afterwards. He would not, however, rest the grounds of his defence upon precedents; for if there were no precedents, this was the peculiar case in which a precedent ought to be established. For this treaty being ratified by the King of England, was full, complete, and binding on the King of England as far as this country is concerned; and he apprehended that it was not only usual for, but incumbent, on the advisers of his Majesty to advise him to communicate to Parliament any treaty which he might contract, as soon as it was completed. It was quite impossible for him to mutilate the treaty, or to omit matters which appeared on the face of the record, because the treaty was not ratified by the other Powers. He was, therefore, obliged to accompany the presentation of the treaty with a communication that Prussia, Russia, and Austria had refused to ratify it. The hon. Baronet had asked him whether he entertained hopes that the ratifications of those Powers would arrive. He entertained the strongest hopes that they would arrive. The different distance of those Courts from the seat of the Conference placed the communications with them on a different footing. The more early communications would naturally arrive from those Courts which were nearest; but his hopes were stronger in proportion to the proximity of the Courts by whom the ratifications were to be exchanged. The hon. Baronet had also asked him whether, if a similar treaty to that which we had concluded with the king of Belgium were concluded with the king of the Netherlands, we should insert in it a guarantee like that which we had inserted in our treaty with the king of Belgium. He trusted that the House would see that he was only doing his duty in refusing to give any answer to this question, for he could not pretend to declare the intentions of Government with regard to facts which had not yet occurred.

Mr. Robinson

complained of the manner in which this treaty was drawn up. He wished to understand whether the guarantee of the five Powers was intended to apply to the payment of the Russian Dutch loan? With reference to this subject, he must beg leave to ask the noble Lord, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, whether, after all that had passed, he thought himself bound to continue the payments on account of that loan. If he received an assurance that that treaty did not want any such guarantee, he would move that no payments should be made hereafter on that account. He would not object to their going into a Committee of the whole House pro formâ: but unless he received a distinct assurance that Ministers would, at a future period, bring the whole subject of the Russian Dutch loan under the consideration of Parliament, he would never vote again one shilling of supply on any public occasion.

Viscount Palmerston

said, that he did not conceive it possible that, under the construction of this treaty, the King of England would ever be called on to pay the interest of this Russian Dutch loan.

Sir Richard Vyvyan

said, that a treaty could not be considered perfect until it was ratified—at present this treaty was not the act of six Powers, but only of three, and he thought if these three Powers still continued to press upon the king of Holland the ratification of the treaty, they would be bound to guarantee to that sovereign the due performance of its several articles.

Mr. Courtenay

said, there ought to be a note attached to the treaty, stating that it had only been partially ratified. It purported being a treaty entered into by six Powers, when, in fact, it was not so. Such a note as that he spoke of, was, if he remembered right, appended to the Treaty of Vienna.

Mr. Baring

could not well understand the necessity for the very guarded answers which the noble Lord had given in reply to the questions of the hon. Baronet. The principal of these questions was, whether Holland would be entitled to the guarantee as well and as fully as if it had at once consented to ratify the treaty which was on the Table of the House? Now, the noble Lord had said to-day, that England was taking a responsibility in guaranteeing the articles of the treaty. That might be the case, and he (Mr. Baring) was not in a situation to deny it; but if it was so, and if the noble Lord put the interpretation on the treaty which he said he did, it was the most unfortunately-worded document that was ever presented to the public. The noble Lord said, that no guarantee was implied, but he could inform him that all those who read the treaty were of opinion that a guarantee was given. Perhaps those individuals might not understand the arcana of diplomatic negotiations, but such undoubtedly was the impression. He was of opinion that the sentiments of Parliament should be taken upon the subject; and he, therefore, wished to know, if it was intended by his Majesty's Government to seek a Resolution of the House in reference to the arrangements which had been made. He would thank the noble Lord to inform him on this point, as it would obviate the necessity of further prolonging the present discussion.

Viscount Palmerston

begged to remind the House, that on the second question of the hon. Baronet, he had not given any answer, and that, therefore, those hon. Members who had just spoken argued on hypothesis. In reply to the question just put by the hon. Member, he begged to say, that it was not the intention of Government to propose any Resolution on the subject.

Mr. Robinson,

in such case, felt it his duty to read to the House an extract from the treaty, which, if it was guaranteed by England, would render the country liable to a pecuniary responsibility. The hon. Gentleman then read the third section of the 13th article, which stated that "The payment of the above-mentioned sum of 8,400,000 Netherland florins of annual interest shall take place regularly every six months, either at Brussels, or at Antwerp, in ready money, without deduction of any kind whatsoever, either at present or in future." This formed a portion of the treaty, in the 25th article of which he found the following passage: "The Courts of Great Britain, Austria, France, Prussia, and Russia, guarantee to his Majesty the king of the Belgians the execution of all the preceding articles." Now, he would be glad to know, if Great Britain could be considered as not liable to the payment of the money mentioned in the 13th article?

Viscount Palmerston

begged to remind the House that there was a material difference between guaranteeing and securing. The first of these terms only implied an agreement to use all possible means for effecting a certain object, while the latter not only included this agreement, but covenanted that, in the event of failing to effect such performance, the party securing would make good the loss sustained. If such were the meaning of the words, he could not see how England could be hereafter called upon to make good the sums of money alluded to in the 13th article.

Sir Richard Vyvyan

asked, if the noble Lord could fix any time when he could say, whether the three Powers would ratify or not?

Viscount Palmerston

submitted that he should not be called upon to speak as to his future expectations or hopes; at all events he would not do so, as he might be liable to misconception.