HC Deb 10 May 1833 vol 17 cc1101-4
Mr. Hume

rose to ask a question of Lord Palmerston relative to the affairs of the East, which were, in his opinion, quite as important, if not more important, than the affairs of the West, which they had just been discussing. He conceived that it was doubtful whether the policy which Great Britain bad pursued with regard to Turkey bad not been detrimental to her real interests. There was in it an apparent want of judgment, and a real mismanagement, for which it was difficult, if not impossible, to account. If there was anything more than another against which the House should be anxious to guard, it was against the occurrence of war in Europe and against the giving to Russia that preponderance in the East which she had now obtained by the mismanagement of the British Government. He called the attention of the House to this subject, because year after year, cm his objecting to the large establishments which we had been keeping up in the Mediterranean, he had been told, that it was owing to the necessity under which we laboured of maintaining a large force in that quarter to guard our interests. The question on which be now sought to obtain public information was this—why at the hour of need, when a British force might have been of use, had the capital of Turkey been left a prey to the Russians why had there been even no ambassador of England there? And why had there been no fleet in the Dardanelles, to give efficacy to the remonstrances which he might have had occasion to make? Whilst we were publicly avowing that we concurred with France in her desire to maintain peace, it was strange that we should leave the Ministers of France to resist by themselves the importunities of the Russian embassy to obtain for their master military possession of Constantinople. That was an effect for which the noble Lord must be answerable, if, from his want of attention, it should turn out that that support which was necessary to give effect to the remonstrances of the French embassy at Constantinople had not been afforded in an emergency which, if it bad occurred a few years ago, must have involved Europe in war. The emergency to which he alluded was the appearance of a Russian fleet, and also of a Russian army, at Constantinople. The question which he wished to put to the noble Lord was, had we any ambassador at Constantinople at present, or had we not? He held at that moment a report in his hand, which showed that for the fourteen years immediately preceding the year 1830 the diplomacy of the country bad cost us annually from 300,000l. to 400,000l. a-year. He had been told over and over again, that this was necessary to guard our interests abroad; but now, when Constantinople was in danger of falling into the hands of the victorious Egyptians, there was no British diplomatist resident in Constantinople, to sup-port or assist the remonstrances of the French embassy. He would again repeat his question—"Who is the ambassador from the Court of England to the Porte? And if there is any such person, why is he not at his post?" His object was to got an answer to that question; and in order to do so, he should move that there be laid upon the Table of the House the names of all persons appointed as ambassadors, or as Ministers plenipotentiaries, or as secretaries of embassy, to Constantinople since January, 1827, stating the dates of their appointments, and the amount of their salaries; stating, also, how long each of them had resided in Turkey since his appointment to his office. He should not press this Motion to a division; all be wanted was, to give the noble Lord an opportunity of making a satisfactory explanation upon these points to the House and to the country.

Viscount Palmerston

said, that he had no objection to grant the return for which the hon. member for Middlesex had moved. He would tell the hon. Member, however, without waiting for the paper, that Sir Robert Gordon, who was ambassador to the Porte at the period first mentioned by the hon. Member, had returned home early in last year; that Sir Stratford Canning, who was to have succeeded him, had been sent on an important mission, which it was for the interest of Great Britain to have arranged as speedily as possible; and that Lord Ponsonby, who had succeeded him, had been sent out to Constantinople, was now there, and would have been there sooner had it not been for some difficulty which had arisen as to the means of transport. There had been how ever, during all that period at Constantinople a secretary of embassy, who bad acted with great judgment und discretion, and whose conduct had met the entire approbation of the Government at home. He could not help saying, that he stood at that moment in a position unusual for a member of any Cabinet; for, after having been exposed to the lash of the hon. member for Essex, for his perpetual intermeddling with the affairs of other states, after having been visited with his castigation for mediating in one place, and for arbitrating in another, he was now exposed to the shafts of the hon. member for Middlesex, who thought that he had not interfered sufficiently in the affairs of Turkey. There was, it was true, some slight difference in the two charges brought against him. His Majesty's Government was blamed, in one of them, for interfering in matters at their own doors, which involved in them the safety of the Empire, and was blamed in the other for not interfering in matters which occurred at the other extremity of Europe, which however important they might be, were not quite so important to us as the affairs of Holland. But the hon. member for Middlesex was not justified in condemning his Majesty's Government, for not having interfered in the affairs of Turkey. The hon. Member had asked, where was our ambassador, and where was our fleet? He would answer the question. Our ambassador was on the read. Well; but the secretary of legation was at his post. When the hon. Member asked where was our fleet, he was inclined to ask where would it have been if the hon. Member's motion for cutting off 7,000 men from the number of men voted in the Navy Estimates had been carried? So reduced, how our fleet could have executed any plans either of arbitration or of mediation, he was at a loss to comprehend. He assured the House that the Government bad not been inattentive to the events which had occurred in the east of Europe. Those events had received the most anxious attention of the Cabinet, and this country, it would appear hereafter, had not neglected to take steps in conjunction with its allies, to ward against the danger which those events menaced. Whenever the Government should be at liberty to enter into the necessary explanation of the steps which it had taken, in concert with its allies, he was certain that the House would be of opinion that it had not been unmindful of the duty which it owed to the country, and of the character which that country enjoyed among the nations at large.

Mr. Baring

said, that though there was an apparent inconsistency in the assertion, it might still be true, that his Majesty's Government had interfered too much in one place and too little in another. There was no reason, on the face of circumstances, to suppose, that the noble Lord had neglected his duty as to Turkey; but when such important events as every man had anticipated for some time were on the eve of taking place,—when Russia was sending her fleet and her armies to Constantinople,—and when the French were dictating to the Sultan what he ought to do, it was not, even upon the showing of the noble Lord himself, satisfactory to be informed that one of our ambassadors was on the read to Constantinople, and that another was on the read from it. The progress and the probable result of the Egyptian invasion had been known and anticipated for months; and as yet there had been no satisfactory explanation offered why we had no minister to represent us at Constantinople.

Viscount Palmerston

Lord Ponsonby was kept at Naples for a month, because the frigate which was to convey him from Naples to Constantinople was wind-bound for that time, and not able to reach the bay of Naples.