HC Deb 12 June 1834 vol 24 cc394-8
Colonel Evans

rose to bring forward the Motion of which he had given notice on the subject of our relations with Russia. The question was one of great importance, and it required a more full discussion than in the present state of the House, and of the business of the Session, it would be likely to obtain. He was not, under these circumstances, disposed to press its full consideration on the House on this occasion. He would, therefore, without troubling the House by his remarks merely move the resolution which he had prepared, for the purpose of having it entered on the journals not intending to take the sense of the House on it. The hon. and gallant Member read the Resolution to this effect. "That, in the opinion of this House, it will be competent to his Majesty's Government, in conformity with good faith and the law of nations, to suspend, or altogether discontinue the annual payments now made by this country to Russia, should just ground appear for apprehending that the considerations distinctly laid down in the Convention of the 16th of November, 1831 (under which alone these payments can be demanded on the one hand, or justified to the British people on the other), are not faithfully, unequivocally, and com- pletely fulfilled by the court of Russia." To him it did appear, though he would not for the reasons he had stated, enter into a full discussion of the subject, that Russia had violated the conditions of the convention of November, 1831, by its dissent from the course pursued by France and England to enforce the surrender of Antwerp. That he looked upon as a violation of the convention, and certainly where a doubt existed on the question, it was hard upon the people of this country to be called upon to pay nearly 100,000l. a-year to that power, while they were at the same time paying 10,000l. a-year to those unfortunate Poles who were the victims of its tyranny. He hoped, under these circumstances, that the noble Lord would not object to this Motion.

Lord Palmerston

did not rise to dispute the proposition contained in the Resolution of the hon. and gallant Member, for he admitted, that it was not only the right but the duty of Great Britain to suspend the payments under the treaty, if it were proved that Russia had not fulfilled her part of the treaty. Beyond that point, however, he could not go with the hon. and gallant Member. He could not concur with him, that any reason had yet been afforded for suspending or refusing payment. On this ground he could not vote for the Resolution, which seemed to imply a suspicion of want of faith, as well as a condemnation of the acts of Russia, and he should meet it by moving the previous question. The hon. and gallant Member appeared to think, that the Convention had a wider scope than really belonged to it. If the House not only attended to the words of it, but would call to mind the manner in which it was framed, and the circumstances that led to it, the House would find, that it did not bear so extended an application. Before he touched upon the history of the Convention, he would state the difference between his understanding of it and that of the hon. and gallant Member. The hon. Member seemed to think, that the condition attached applied to all the affairs of Europe coming within the scope of a Treaty; but, in fact, it applied solely to the Treaty with Belgium and the Treaty of Vienna. There had been a former agreement between Great Britain and Russia—a condition of forfeiture, should there be a separation between Belgium and Holland. A separation did occur, but not in the manner contemplated by the framers of the original Convention, and hence it was thought that Great Britain could not claim of Russia a cessation of the annual payments. The Convention contemplated the separation of Belgium and Holland against the wishes of the British Government, and it contemplated also an invasion of Belgium by the armies of France. The separation took place in consequence of differences between the northern and southern provinces, and it was sanctioned not only by this Government, but by the five Powers. Great Britain concurred cordially in the necessity of separation, and was most anxious that the independence of Belgium should be secured by a Treaty between the great Powers of Europe. A new arrangement was then entered into, by which the southern was separated from the northern portion of what had before constituted one kingdom. To that arrangement, Russia was a consenting party. What pretence was there then for our withholding those payments which we had before stipulated to make? If Russia had endeavoured to prevent the independence of Belgium, or had endeavoured to unite it with France or Prussia, or any other power, then indeed England would be justified in withholding her payments under the former treaty. Had that occurred? It would be going too far to say that, upon a fair construction of the treaty in question, the English Government would be justified in declaring, that in consequence of the policy recently pursued by Russia towards Poland and Turkey, it had forfeited its claim to the payment of this money—it would be going too far to say, because Russia had pursued a policy in other parts of Europe adverse to our interest, and which might be a violation of the treaty of Vienna, therefore that the penalty of forfeiture of this money should attach to the conduct of Russia. One of the grounds which the hon. Member had stated for this Motion was, that Russia did not unite a year and a-half ago in the measures of coercion which were taken against Holland. Now, he thought that, upon no pretence of fairness could such a ground be set up as a valid reason for refusing to fulfil the present stipulation with Russia. Russia then objected to the particular mode adopted for carrying the object of the Allied powers into effect. She did not say, that she would not carry the existing treaty of 1831 into effect; she proposed other measures to carry it into effect which Great Britain and France did not consider effectual; but it did not follow because Russia refused to concur in the measures adopted by them, that, therefore, she had been guilty of bad faith on the occasion. Russia fully concurred with this country and with France as to the principle of carrying that treaty into effect—it only differed from them as to the means of effecting that object. Russia did not differ from France and England simply and individually on that occasion—she differed in conjunction with Prussia and Austria; and they differed from England and France upon fair and legitimate grounds. He was ready to admit, that if the case should arise contemplated in the resolution proposed by the hon. Gentleman, it would then be the duty of his Majesty's Government to suspend the payment of this money. But he would say, that no such case had arisen. Even if any hon. Member thought it was likely that such a case would arise, he was sure that such hon. Member would agree with him in the opinion that it would not be wise or fitting for Parliament to say beforehand that we should suspend those payments, in anticipation of Russia violating her engagements. He entertained no anticipation that Russia would violate her engagements. He was sure that it was the determination as well as the policy of Russia to fulfil its engagements in reference to Belgium. But even supposing, that such an anticipation should prove well founded, he thought that the House should yield to the executive Government the responsibility of considering what course should in that case be pursued. If it appeared that the Government then neglected its duty, and continued the payment of this money, it would be open to the hon. Member, or to any other hon. Member, to call the Ministers before Parliament; and if they did not afford a satisfactory explanation of their conduct, to call on Parliament to pronounce a censure upon them. On the present occasion, as he could not give a negative to the abstract principle laid down in the hon. Member's resolution, he would move the previous question upon it.

Colonel Davies

said, that concurring in what had fallen from the noble Lord, he would support the Amendment. In his opinion Russia had done nothing to render the stipulations under which this money was now paid forfeited. At the same time he must say, that it had always been his opinion that since the separation of Holland from Belgium, Russia had no legal right to this money. Parliament, however, and the Law Officers of the Crown had decided otherwise. Another objection in his opinion to this Motion was, that it would afford a second Parliamentary sanction to the legality of those payments.

Mr. Hume

agreed with the hon. Member, that Russia had no legal claim to this money after the separation of Belgium from Holland, though he voted at the time for the Bill under which the payments were made as a matter of policy. Of this he was certain, that Russia had not fulfilled the conditions under which those payments were guaranteed to her. He would ask the noble Lord whether the differences which existed between Belgium and Holland might not long ago have been put an end to, if Holland had not been encouraged to hold out and resist through the secret influence and machinations of Russia? The conviction on his mind was, that the influence of Russia had been chiefly, if not solely exercised, to prevent a settlement of that question. He was aware, that we were not in a position to prove this against Russia, but it was nevertheless a notorious matter, and he was of opinion that under such circumstances this country would be fully justified in withholding the payment of this money, seeing that Russia had not fulfilled the conditions according to which its payment had been stipulated. Though he could not vote for the Resolution proposed by the hon. member for Westminster, he thought it right to state his opinion on the subject.

Colonel Evans

would not press his Motion to a division. He had not brought it forward to express the slightest disapprobation of the noble Lord's policy; on the contrary—especially as regarded the Peninsula it had his highest approbation.

Previous question agreed to.