HC Deb 11 August 1836 vol 35 cc1143-9

Viscount Palmerston moved the third reading of the Greek Loan Bill.

Mr. Robinson

I wish to make a few observations on the present occasion in justification of the course I have felt it my duty to take with regard to this Bill. My complaint of the noble Lord, the Secretary for Foreign Affairs, respecting the Greek Loan is, that he must have been, for the last twelve months, aware of the situation of Greece, and the diversity of opinion existing among the three great Powers who had taken that country under their protection; but for some reason or other, which the noble Lord has not explained, the House of Commons was not called upon to express an opinion upon this subject until nearly the close of the Session. I find by the papers which the noble Lord has laid upon the table of the House, that correspondence has taken place between the noble Lord and the Ambassadors of France and Russia, Lord Durham at Petersburgh, and Lord Grenville at Paris, for several months past. And I have a right to ask the noble Lord why, considering the importance of the subject, when the noble Lord thought it necessary to ask the sanction of Parliament for guaranteeing the third instalment of the Greek Loan, why the House of Commons was not called upon to decide upon this question at an earlier period of the Session? When the noble Lord brought the Bill first forward he produced no papers, but took the vote of the House upon his own statement; and it was not until he proposed going into Committee that we were put into possession of that last series of correspondence which is now before us. And only yesterday, certain papers connected with this subject, were put into the hands of Members, though the third reading of the Bill stood for yesterday, and would, undoubtedly, have been proposed had not a Committee of Supply occupied us until an unexpectedly late hour of the night. Without any undue asperity, I am bound to say, this is not treating the House of Commons with proper respect. When we reflect how important are the considerations involved in this question—that disunion between the three great Powers respecting Greece may lead to consequences that would prove fatal to the preservation of the tranquillity of that country, the House of Commons ought to have had full time to deliberate upon the whole subject, and to have considered all the information that could have been laid upon its table, to enable them to arrive at a just decision. When this Loan was first entered into it was consented to by this House, on the ground that Russia, France, and England, concurred in their views of the policy which ought to be pursued with respect to Greece, viz., the establishment of a separate independent kingdom in that country. To effect that object these three Powers agreed to guarantee a loan of 60,000,000 francs. Now it was one thing to concur with those two other Powers for the purpose of effecting that object: it is quite another thing as the noble Lord proposes, to endeavour to effect it without the concurrence of Russia and without (as I have been informed on good authority) any concurrence on the part of France—as to the noble Lord's present proposition, I maintain that this Bill is founded upon false pretensions. The preamble states, "Whereas doubts have arisen," whether Government has power to advance the third instalment of the Greek Loan; the noble Lord comes to Parliament and asks for that power, I maintain there is no doubt upon the subject. The noble Lord knows well that he has no power whatever to guarantee this money, the Act stipulates that the Loan shall be guaranteed by this country if with the consent of France and Russia. If either of these Powers refuse their consent the power of Government ceases; the noble Lord has admitted that in his correspondence, indeed what occasion could there be for applying to Parliament at all if the noble Lord possessed the power of guaranteeing this instalment without its consent? The noble Lord has assured us that he has every reason to believe, that France at least is disposed to enter into the views of the British Government with respect to Greece; undoubtedly it would remove much of the objection, which I entertain to this measure, to know that France was ready to guarantee her portion of this instalment, because it would prove she was ready to co-operate with this country in extricating Greece from her present condition; but I have looked all over the correspondence in vain to discover any signs of a disposition on the part of France to fulfil her engagement in that respect. We have only the noble Lord's assurance. I believe that in the present situation of Greece (which the noble Lord depicted in such favourable—nay, glowing colours—much more favourably I fear than the truth would bear him out in doing) the independence of that country is not likely to be finally established in the absence of that co-operation which Russia, in common with France and England, stipulated to advance. I am persuaded that the sum which he now asks the House to guarantee, will no sooner be raised than expended, and that, within twelve months, Greece will be in as bad (or worse) a situation as she now is. I understand the situation of Greece to be at this moment deplorable in the extreme, an insurrection is prevented only by the presence of the Bavarian troops, the whole country is over-run with banditti, who defy the Government to put them down. And is it in a country like this—Russia having declined to guarantee any further pecuniary assistance—without any co-operation on the part of France, that the British Government is called upon to guarantee a further sum, in addition to the large amounts she has already guaranteed, with no security for the re-payment, either of present or past advances? I deny that, as it was stated on a former occasion, if we do not guarantee this third instalment, Greece will again fall into the state in which she was when the three Powers undertook to guarantee her independence; I deny at least that such will be the necessary consequence of our refusal. But if this coun- try guarantee the third instalment of this Loan (as I contend they ought) with the concurrence of, and in conjunction with Russia and France, these two Powers will have an interest in continuing those exertions for the maintenance of Grecian independence, which have been carried on since 1832. Can the noble Lord believe that the pecuniary assistance, which he now asks Parliament to afford to Greece, looking at her present condition, will be sufficient to meet all her exigencies? Four millions go to the expense of raising the Loan, an annual sum of nearly one million goes to the support of the widows of those who died in the struggles for liberty, so that in fact little will remain after adding the sum paid to Turkey as the price of Acarnania and Natolia. I ask the House to pause before they consent to separate ourselves from our great Allies in regard to Greece. What interest has this country in the establishment of King Otho's Government in Greece, which France and Russia does not share in common with us? I maintain, it will be difficult, if not impossible, to support the Bavarian rule in Greece, without the cooperation of Russia, and with no likelihood that France will lend us any efficient aid. Upon these grounds, I feel it my duty to move, that this Bill be read a third time this day nine months.

Lord Palmerston

said, that having at length stated on former occasions the grounds on which he asked the House to agree to this measure, he should not at this late hour of the night (half past twelve) attempt to follow the hon. Member through the many topics he had dwelt upon in the course of his long speech. He certainly had hoped, that Russia would have concurred in the proposition, and would have paid her proportion; and he had not applied to Parliament for the discretionary power the Government now asked for, till it was ascertained that Russia would not fulfil the engagement. This was only known the other day; which would probably be a sufficient answer to the objection of the hon. Member for Worcester as to Ministers not bringing the question forward at an earlier period. The delay with regard to the papers, was accounted for by the same cause, which would also shew that Ministers had no disposition unnecessarily to pursue a course different from that of France and Russia. To demonstrate that they did not wish to urge the Bill precipi- tately forward; let hon. Members remember that on asking leave to bring it in, they pledged themselves to postpone any ultimate proceedings until the papers were in the possession of Members. The hon. Member for Worcester said, that he was as anxious as the Ministers to carry this honourable object into effect; but yet, with all his generous anxiety for Greece, he refused the means of serving it. How could he make the zeal of his profession agree with the coldness of his practice? The principal charge against the Ministers was, that they separated England from France and Russia. The hon. Member's fear was, that we should act alone. It would undoubtedly be highly desirable to act in conjunction with the two other Powers, but he was not so distrustful of the means of England—of her power and moral influence—as not to hope that even without other assistance she would be able to effect that for which the hon. Gentleman professed so earnest an anxiety. It seemed to be supposed that she ought to proceed by the way of conference, but the time for such a mode of proceeding had passed by. Greece was an independent nation, and henceforward England could only assist and protect her as an ally. The hon. Member asked, would the assistance now proposed be sufficient to rescue Greece from the dangers and difficulties which threatened her? To this he answered that if the present aid were refused, it would be certain ruin, though the grant of that aid might not prevent for her future embarrassments. She required all the instalments due, to enable her to provide for her internal arrangements; and what this Bill proposed to give would be sufficient to cover the expense of those steps which had been taken by the Government to check the inroads of the bandits in the north. Of course the fulfilment of the Treaty entered into by the Crown, must depend on the support of the Parliament; but he had little doubt that if England performed her part of the contract, the French Chambers would not refuse to ratify that part of it for which the French Government had become guarantee. But, suppose that the French Government refused to make good its guarantee, that would not remove our obligation to perform our part. The argument that if we assisted Greece now, she would again fall into similar embarrassments in future was untenable. Was a drowning man not to be helped, lest he might fall into the water again next year? The argument in both cases, would be equally conclusive. He thought the cheapest mode of sending the money would be to pay it in Paris out of the proceeds of the loan, rather than to send it to Athens—to have it sent back again to Paris. With respect to the condition of Greece, he had good authority for stating that at present it was tranquil—and that the prospect of increased improvement was very considerable. He trusted, that the House, under these circumstances, would not join in the opinion of the hon. Member; and would reject his amendment by a considerable majority.

Mr. George F. Young

, notwithstanding the statement made by the noble Lord, must concur in the view of the subject taken by the hon. Member for Worcester

Amendment negatived, and Bill read a third time, and passed.