HC Deb 06 August 1840 vol 55 cc1366-78
Mr. Hume,

on rising to call the attention of the House to the relations of this country with France, as regarded the affairs of Egypt and Syria, said that every one knew in what a critical position our situation was as respected France and Russia; but what he was anxious at present to do was, to remove the effect of what had fallen from the noble Secretary for the Colonies on the last occasion. The noble Lord had excepted to the use he then made of the word "insurrection," as applied to the Druses, and denied that British interference had anything to do with that rising. Now the truth was, that the noble Lord very much forgot what was the real state of the case, because there were papers on the table of the House which showed that British authorities had interfered, as he had complained. Besides a despatch of the noble Lord to Colonel Campbell, which justified this assertion, there was another despatch which he held in his hand, and which was from Mr. Mandeville, the British resident at Constantinople in the absence of Lord Ponsonby, to Ibrahim Pacha, bearing date March 29th, 1833, which fully corroborated his assertion. His words were— The Sultan has deigned to concede to his Highness Mehemet Ali the government of the whole of Syria. His position was this—that the authority of Mehemet Ali had subsisted in Egypt and Syria for the last eight years; that it had been established by the admission both of the British and French Courts; that the British authorities and agents in the Levant had acted on that conviction, and therefore the noble Lord was not right in saying that the authority of Mehemet Ali was not fully established there. In reply to an intimation from Mehemet Ali that he would declare himself independent of the Porte, Colonel Campbell said— I replied to him that he should remain contented with the status quo, as settled at Kintayah, and trust to the great Powers for any arrangement for the future. In this state of facts he (Mr Hume) thought that he had made out his original statement that Mehemet Ali was de facto governor of Syria. But, however that might be, he held in his hand a letter which stated that the insurrection was entirely at an end. It appeared from this letter, written by M. Arago, the nephew of the philosopher, that this rising, which they had been told was to create a revolution, had proceeded from about 1,500 men, and that in quelling it every desire was manifested to spare the effusion of blood. With respect to the war into which it appeared that Great Britain was about to be hurried, without knowing what might be the results, he might mention that he had just seen a naval officer who had arrived in the Alecto from Beyrout, and had told him that Captain Napier, of the Powerful, had said that if he had arrived in time he would have interfered to prevent the event. He hoped the noble Lord would be able to contradict this, because he could not believe that any officer would have so interfered, of his own account, in the present state of our relations with France as regarded this subject. His question then was, whether a convention between England, Prussia, Austria, and Russia, had been signed, and whether there was any objection to laying a copy before the House previous to its adjournment? If the convention had been signed, he must say he could not conceive any policy more disastrous to England. One of the greatest evils under Lord Castlereagh's administration was the system of interference with foreign Powers, and it would be recollected that when Mr. Canning was called to power he declared that the policy of Great Britain should be nonintervention. The same principle was one of the three principles on which Earl Grey came into office. Now, his objection to the present proceeding of the British Government was, that they were thereby joining the holy alliance of the despots of Europe, a name now so odious, and that they were retiring from the alliance with France, the only constitutional Government among the great powers, for the sake of forwarding Russian objects, as he contended. He hoped the noble Lord would be able to deny the orders which had been said to have been given to the British fleet, and which, if acted upon, would risk immediate hostilities. To Lord Ponsonby, and to him alone, we owed, in his opinion, the whole of this risk. From the expenses which France had been at, war appeared to him to be imminent. Government appeared to him to be playing the part of Russia. He trusted the noble Lord would do nothing that would have the effect of promoting the views of Russia, or advancing her progress into Asia Minor. Mehemet Ali had offered to restore all that he had conquered elsewhere, with the exception of Syria; and he asked the noble Lord to confine the war within Syria. We had postponed a peace through our agent at Constantinople. He protested against the House closing without having some further explanation on the subject. He hoped that if hostilities took place either with Mehemet Ali or with France, that Parliament would be called together, without delay, before the country was involved in war. He begged to move: That a humble Address be laid before her Majesty, praying her to lay before the House a copy of the Convention entered into by the four great Powers of Europe.

Viscount Palmerston

said, that his hon. Friend, entertaining the opinions on this subject which he did, very sincerely and honestly no doubt, it was impossible for him to have expressed himself more calmly or dispassionately. He entertained opinions on this subject as sincere and honest as those of his hon. Friend, but directly the reverse, and where parties had examined a subject, and entertained such essentially different opinions on that subject, of course, they could only leave it to future events, and to the result, to see which was the correct opinion. As strongly as his hon. Friend believed, that the proceedings that had taken place, and that the convention which had been entered into between this country and other great powers on the subject of Turkey would promote what his hon. Friend believed to be the selfish interests of Russia, so firmly was he convinced, that it would lead to a directly opposite result. Before he began to notice the observations of his hon. Friend, he would just contradict a statement which had been made with regard to the Russian expedition having reached Khiva. He could assure his hon. Friend, that he might be as certain as that he was at present in that House that the Russian expedition did not reach Khiva; but that on its advance, met with so many difficulties, that it was obliged to return to the sea of Aral. The report, therefore, which had been spread in Asia, and whether it had been done by Russian agents or not, for some purpose or other, he would not stop to inquire, was certainly unfounded. The next point his hon. Friend adverted to was the possession of Syria. His hon. Friend, on a former occasion, stated that although he did not recollect the precise period of the negotiations when this took place, his hon. Friend was satisfied that England had offered to guarantee to Meheraet Ali the possession of Syria: he denied his hon. Friend's assertion at the time, and he now repeated his denial. His hon. Friend now stated that Mr. Mandeville, our minister to Turkey, at the period of the advance of the Egyptian army in Asia Minor, recommended Mehetnet Ali to be content with Syria, and that he consented to this after negotiations. Now, there was nothing in the proceedings of Mr. Mandeville to justify any assumption on the part of his hon. Friend, that the British Government or its representative was prepared to recommend Turkey to give up Syria; on the contrary, the documents from which his hon. Friend had quoted, would, if he had referred to another part of them, have shown that this opinion was not entertained; for in one of the despatches of Mr. Mandeville, in that volume, dated April 14, he stated, that he had had a conversation with Admiral Roussin on the subject of Mehemet Ali and Syria, in which he had assured that Minister, that so far from there being any probable intention of this Government being induced to consent to the cession of Syria, it was a matter with respect to which there could be no doubt as to the opinion of her Majesty's Government, and as to their determination on that point. It was, therefore, clear, that the person representing England in Turkey, could not have given anything like an assent to the cession of Syria. His hon. Friend, however, asserted, that Mr. Mandeville recommended Mehemet Ali, or rather Ibrahim, who was advancing at the head of his army, to be content with Syria; certain, however, it was that it was after that advice, or after the advance of the Russian force through the Bosphorus, he did content himself with the possession of that province. His hon. Friend had spoken as if Egypt was regarded by this country as an independent state; whereas our consul-general in Egypt acted and was appointed under an exequater from the Sultan as sovereign of Egypt and Turkey; therefore, it was the Sultan and not Mehemet Ali, who was regarded by this country as the Sovereign of Egypt. The revolt, then, as it had been termed, in Syria, took place against the local authorities now in possession of t the country, and was not a revolt against the Sovereign. He could also assure his hon. Friend, that whatever might have been the causes of the revolt, it was in no way caused by the instigation of British authorities, or by British officers. Lord Ponsonby, soon after the news of it reached him, sent his dragoman, Mr. Wood, to Beyrout, to report on what was occurring there. He went there in June, and on his arrival on the coast, he very: properly did not land at Beyrout, for by I doing so he would have exposed himself to insult and danger, as the Egyptian army i was committing; every kind of atrocity and outrage in that place and in the country; but he went elsewhere to get every information that he could on the subject, and after a short time he returned to Constantinople. His hon. Friend said, that the insurrection had been entirely put down, and that Captain Napier had avowed to some one on that coast that he was instructed to take part in it, and to render assistance. Now, with regard to the fact, he could assure his hon. Friend that he had been, altogether misinformed; for although Captain Napier had been ordered to that spot, it had been done only with the view of protecting British property and interests. He had not had instructions sent out to him from home, but that gallant officer had been directed by Sir Robert Stopford, or, in his absence, by Sir John Louis, to proceed to that place, to protect British interests. It was true that benig there, Captain Napier did address himself to the Egyptian commander, and urged him to put a stop to that scene of devastation, of crime, and of outrage, occasioned by the troops under his command. He stated that, without saying whether the instructions of those who had risen for the Sultan were right or wrong, the commander of the Egyptian forces could not be justified in carrying on his proceedings against these people with so much barbarity; and he added, that if a stop was not put to these proceedings, he would inform Mehemet Ali of the acts of atrocity and outrage that had been committed in his name, by which the whole country was destroyed, and thousands of women and children, who could have taken no part in the rising, were made to perish. The answer of the commander of the Egyptian army was that it was the insurgents that had set fire to and destroyed the neighbouring villages and crops; but he had the satisfaction to believe that the urgent recommendations of Captain Napier had been the means of putting a stop to scenes of this horrible nature. His hon. Friend asked for a copy of the convention that had been entered into with the other great powers; that a convention had been entered into was certain, but it was not fulfilled, until it was ratified and exchanged by each of the powers that was a party to it, and until this was done it was impossible that the document could be made public, or that it could be laid before Parliament. It had not yet been ratified or exchanged, but he had not the slightest doubt that it would be exchanged, but it was impossible for him to tell what the objects of the convention would be until this was done. Whenever the convention was ratified and exchanged, there could be no objection, on the contrary, there would be every desire to lay it on the Table. His hon. Friend stated, that he or the Government had abandoned the alliance with France, and had embarked with the Holy Alliance in the pursuit of interests hostile to those of England, and which could only promote the advantage or interest of one of the five powers, who were parties to the convention, viz., Russia. Now, he could give a most complete and entire contradiction to the conclusion drawn by his hon. Friend. He denied, that there was any disposition on the part of the Government of this country to abandon the alliance or intimate connection which existed with France, and to which he had always attached the greatest importance, knowing, as he did, how beneficial it was to the two countries, and how essential it was for the preservation of the peace of Europe; and although upon this particular subject there had been some, he trusted unimportant differences — for no doubt, there had been some difference of opinion—for that power did not assist in the late convention; yet he spoke with hope and confidence that he did not believe that this could operate on the good feelings which existed between the two countries, and that it would not interfere with those long-enduring and lasting interests which should connect France and England together, and that it could not lead to a permanent hostile feeling between two great nations which had so many interests in common; on the contrary, so far from any abandonment of France, he could repeat what had been stated elsewhere, that he was happy to say that in these proceedings no concealment had been practised towards France. No exertion had been wanted on the part of this country, or of the other parties to the convention, to bring that nation to adopt something like an unison of views with the other powers on the subject during the negotiations for the last twelve months. For, with respect to the maintenance of the integrity of Turkey under the existing destiny, there never existed any difference between France and the other powers. The French government declared in the most positive manner, that it was as anxious for the maintenance of the Turkish empire in its integrity. In the month of July, last year, France joined in declaring, with the other four powers, that it considered the maintenance of the present dynasty in Turkey essential to the peace of Europe, and that it was determined, with the other powers, to prevent any dismemberment of that empire. Again, the King of the French, in the speech from the throne to the two chambers, at the commencement of the present year, declared that:— Our policy is always to secure the preservation and integrity of the Ottoman Empire, whose existence is so essential to the preservation of the general peace. Our efforts have at least succeeded in stopping those hostilities in the East which we had wished to have prevented; and whatever may be the complications which may result from the diversity of interest, I hope that the agreement of the Great Powers will soon end in an equitable and pacific conclusion.'' On this point, there was no more difference between the two Governments than there was between his hon. Friend and himself. There was undoubtedly a difference of opinion as to the tendency of particular measures to contribute to the end which both nations had in view, and the result of events would show which was in the right. When two great countries agreed in the great and leading principles of a particular policy, he could not believe that any divergence as to the mode of carrying out that policy, or their objects, could lead to any permanent difference. His hon. Friend said, that the object of the convention was to weaken and divide Turkey. He could not understand by what process of reasoning his hon. Friend arrived at this conclusion, or how he could suppose that the restoring Syria to the direct authority of the Sultan could have the effect of weakening and dismembering the Turkish empire and destroying its power. He certainly thought that the adoption of the suggestions of his hon. Friend would tend that way, for his hon. Friend would at once give to Mehemet Ali the hereditary government of Egypt and of Syria. By giving him Syria, he would have the constant means of access to some of the most vulnerable parts of the Turkish empire, for the line of separation that was proposed to be drawn would leave open some most important provinces to constant attack. If his hon Friend looked to the documents on this subject, from which he had quoted, he would find amongst the latest papers a letter from Colonel Hodges, in which he stated:— The Pacha said that he would persist in retaining Syria, and in the object that he had of making himself independent.'' Now, if this was not a dismemberment of the Turkish empire, he did not know what was. Colonel Hodges then went on to say:— Your Lordship will see that Mehemet Ali is using every exertion in his power to endeavour to effect the object with reference to which he is so anxious. He therefore contended that the direct tendency of the policy advocated by his hon. Friend would be the dismemberment of the Turkish empire; for he would place one third of it under the government of the most bitter enemy to the Porte. Turkey, weakened in this way, and so many of her richest provinces taken from her, and transferred to her formidable rival, would be almost at the constant mercy of the latter. In a case of emergency she could not call upon France, nor could she demand any aid from England, according to the policy of his hon. Friend, of nonintervention; she must then resort to Russia, and by that means they would place the Sultan in a state of weakness and exhaustion, under the protection of that power of which his hon. Friend was so jea- lous: and this must be at a price most dangerous to the peace of Europe. If Russia, then, entertained the project which his hon. Friend said that she did, his policy would be the most dangerous that could be adopted for the promotion of it. His hon. Friend had asked what had become of the treaty of Unkiar Skelessi? He could tell his hon. Friend that Russia had stated that other powers had mistaken her intentions with respect to that treaty, and that in signing it she had not been actuated by any selfish or exclusive views, and she would consent if the other powers of Europe would join with her, and take the position she held with reference to this treaty between herself and Turkey, that she would not renew it, as she did not wish to have any exclusive control in the matter. Therefore, the distinct policy of her Majesty's Government and the other powers led to a clear understanding, that the separate treaty between Russia and Turkey should expire, and should not be renewed. As to what his hon. Friend had alluded to with respect to the holy alliance, he could only say that his hon. Friend entertained a most unfounded impression on the subject. What on earth had the holy alliance to do with this treaty, which had been entered into for a specific purpose? The treaty, also, was not with the same parties that contracted the holy alliance, for England was no party to that alliance, and France of that day, although not directly a party to it, was by no means adverse to it. It was the anxious desire of the five powers (for he might include Turkey in the number), that France should be induced to join in the proceedings that had taken place, for it must be obvious that it was most desirable that France should give the weight of its moral influence to the alliance, and thus secure the peace of Europe beyond all doubt. It was with the deepest regret, then, that her Majesty's Government found that it could not obtain the consent of France to the proceedings that had recently taken place. But in all the communications with, the government of France since that time, there was no foundation for the impression which had been attempted to be spread in certain places; and, above all, in France, as to certain hostile intentions existing with respect to the arrangements which had been come to by the other powers. He most sincerely hoped, and believed that any mere differences as to the carrying out the same object would not lead to any interference with the peace and harmony which existed between the two countries. France was a great and powerful nation—France had great interests of her own to advance in peace, and she was governed by men who were too wise rashly and wantonly, and without just cause, to convert Europe into one general scene of war, and thus put a stop to the general peace which now so happily existed. There was nothing in the engagements which had been entered into, which ought to give rise, even in the view of the most jealous mind, to a supposition that any hostile feeling was entertained towards France. And he could assure the House, that in the whole of our proceedings, nothing had been done in any way inimical to the interests of France, and if she did not embark in the same course of policy with us in carrying out the common object, he trusted that the enlightened government of France would not embark in a hostile career as alluded to by his hon. Friend. He would only add, that as the treaty had not been ratified, it could not be produced; but, when that was done, he could assure his hon. Friend there would be no delay in laying it en the table; and when the convention was published, and her Majesty's ministers were enabled to lay before the House the negotiations that had been carried on, and the reasons which had influenced them, and the motives which impelled them in the course which they had thought it to be their duty to pursue on this subject, he felt assured—he had almost said, that his hon. Friend would be convinced—that not only England but Europe at large would admit that the line of policy that had been adopted and carried out was the best calculated to put a stop to those unhappy scenes in the Levant, which, if allowed to continue, must be destructive to the peace of Europe.

Mr. Leader

was sure, that the House must be gratified that his hon. Friend had brought forward this motion, for the explanation of the noble Lord must have given some satisfaction even to his hon. Friend. For his own part, he was willing to admit, that it was of a much more satisfactory nature than he expected to hear. He was sorry to find, that the exclusion of France from the negotiations on this subject had led to the manifestation of such a feeling of bitter hostility amongst the French on account of the ill-treatment which they believed they had experienced from this country on this subject. Looking into the French papers, there appeared to be a general feeling of bitterness and disappointment, and a belief, that their honour had been insulted, and that in these proceedings the noble Lord had sacrificed them to the other great powers of Europe. If this feeling was allowed to continue it must lead to the very worst consequences. The noble Lord would allow him to ask whether in the course of their proceedings or negotiations, there had been no concealment, as he had heard from several quarters, and it appeared to be the general feeling in France, that there had been a want of official courtesy towards France in the mode in which these negotiations were carried on. It was stated, that when the convention was signed, the Minister of France in this country did not even know the day. The noble Lord had stated, that France did not take any part towards the conclusion of these negotiations, but when the convention was agreed to by the other powers, and when the negotiations were brought to a close, it had been stated that France should either have an opportunity of assenting to it, or that, at any rate, the French Ambassador should have had an opportunity of giving the reasons which induced France not to assent to it. It was broadly asserted in the French papers that no intimation whatever was given to France on the subject. He might be told that this was a mere matter of form in the negotiations, but unfortunately the French were very nice and touchy on points of honour in matters of this kind, and certainly they could not be blamed for having a nice sense of honour, and there was, in addition to this, a feeling that this country wished to act against them or over-reach them in this matter. He sincerely hoped, that there was no ground for any feeling of the kind, for the newspapers in France exercised a much greater influence over the minds of the people than they did in this country. That strong feeling did not seem to be manifested against the other three powers, Prussia, Austria, or Russia, but was entirely directed against England, for France imagined that there had been something like a breach of confidence in the proceedings, after she had been for the last ten years on such terms of amity with this country. It should be remembered that France and England were the foremost and most enlightened Governments in Europe, for in them alone was there anything like liberal government or institutions, and, united, these two great countries could secure the peace of Europe: but in this matter France unfortunately imagined that this country had left or abandoned her, to court the alliance of the other powers. Whatever advantages the noble Lord imagined might be obtained in the East by these negotiations, they were as nothing in comparison to the evils that would arise from the breach of the alliance between England and France. He would only add, that he sincerely hoped that this was not the first step towards a change of policy on the part of this country. He hoped that there was no feeling in the present Government, and he hoped that there would be no such feeling in any Tory Government that might succeed it, that there was a too liberal feeling growing up in France for an intimate alliance with this country, and that, therefore, it was expedient to unite with other governments more disposed to these views. He hoped that the noble Lord would distinctly state that no affront whatever was intended to France in any steps of this negotiation, and he must add, that for his own part he did not believe that either the noble Lord or any one else could commit such a blunder.

Viscount Palmerston

said, that although it was not exactly in order, he trusted that the House would allow him to make one or two observations in consequence of what had fallen from the hon. Gentleman who had just sat down. He could assure the hon. Member, and he could assure the House, that there was no want of courtesy whatever towards France in the manner in which these negotiations had been carried on. During the course of the last ten months, it was the desire of all the powers to act in concert to secure the important object with respect to which they were all agreed, but it turned out, after a short time, that there was such a difference of opinion between France and the other powers as to the measures which should be adopted to insure the result which all desired, that they could not act together with any probability of arriving at a conclusion. On this being found to be the case a communication was made to France that if this difficulty continued, and the other four powers came to an understanding on the subject, that must not be a matter of surprise to her. In the course of the negotiations which were then carried on with the view of arriving at a general conclusion, a projet was drawn up on our side which was presented to France, which was answered by a contre projet on her part. Thus there was one plan furnished on our side, and another on the part of France. We then offered a middle course to which France stated, that she could not agree. Again, between two and three months before the convention was signed, a communication was made to her on this subject, and it was distinctly stated to be the extreme to which the other powers were prepared to go. After two months' deliberation she gave pointed and conclusive reasons why she could not be a party to this arrangement. The four powers then determined, in accordance with the regulation already made with France, that they would join in carrying the arrangement into effect, and notice of the same was given to the French Minister two days after it was completed. In the case of the convention made between France and England alone, in reference to Belgium, notice of the same was not communicated to the other powers till some time after.

Motion withdrawn.