HC Deb 24 July 1840 vol 55 cc954-60

House in Committee of Supply.

Mr. M. O'Ferrall

proposed a vote of 2,000 extra men for the sea service for the ensuing ten months.

Mr. Hume

rose to object to the vote, and he did so because he did not think that any increase of the navy was necessary, and because he was of opinion that our navy was employed for purposes undeserving the character of the British empire. It had been stated, that this country had despatched a fleet to Syria to encourage and foment the insurrectionary feelings which had already been excited there, and he should like to hear whether the noble Lord the Secretary for Foreign Affairs could afford any satisfactory explanation upon the subject. He conceived, that in truth, Great Britain was now the power which, by its proceedings) prevented Mehemet Ali from obtaining peace with the Porte. He looked with great jealousy to the insidious attacks and to the unvarying progress which Russia was making against the rights of Britain. He considered the noble Lord as the person who had kept up these anti-English proceedings, and who had excited a war between the British people and foreign powers. Two millions of extra taxation were required in the course of the year to support that war, and he could not now agree to the increase of a force which had been so improperly employed. He had seen statements made in the most positive manner, that the insurrection in; Syria had been favoured by the British authorities, but he hoped that the noble Lord would give a distinct denial of the truth of those allegations, for he should hold it to be discreditable to the Government and to this empire that such should be the case. There had been a statement published on that morning in one of the newspapers, in which the noble Lord was accused of having formed a treaty with Russia, Prussia, and Austria, excluding France, to compel concessions to be made by Mehemet Ali. He thought that England ought to have taken no steps in the matter without the assistance of France, with which power Parliament was told, at the commencement of the Session, it was intended to co-operate in order to secure peace. He sincerely hoped that the noble Lord would be able to say, that there was a cordial co-operation between France and this country to secure this object, and he put it to him whether it was fit or proper that the British public should be put to so large an expense as was proposed, in order to increase our naval force, with a view to the violation of that compact which was understood to exist. He had always staled his objections upon this point, both publicly and privately, and he hoped that the noble Lord would give a satisfactory answer to the suggestions which he had made.

Viscount Palmerston

felt bound to say, that nothing could be more frank and open than the declaration by the hon. Member of the difference of opinion which existed between them upon this subject, because the hon. Member, both in public and private, had for very many months past expressed his opinion that our foreign policy was exceedingly injurious to the interests of the country; and had endeavoured to impress upon him strongly the expediency of adopting a course of a contrary description. He must be allowed to say, however, with all respect to the hon. Member, that he never felt a conviction more strongly upon any point than that the line of conduct advocated by the hon. Member, if adopted, would produce those very consequences, which the hon. Member had attributed to the steps which he had taken; and when the hon. Member said, that our policy was calculated to serve the exclusive views of Russia, and to injure the interests of England, he must be allowed to say, that he thought that if Russia was actuated by those feelings which the hon. Gentleman suggested, and if we wished to support her in the views which she entertained, we ought to adopt that very line of proceeding which the hon. Member himself had, throughout these discussions, held up as the proper and correct one, because we should render the Porte practically dependent on Russia, and we should thereby create the very mischief of which he complained. He protested strongly against the opinion of the hon. Member being generally entertained, because he thought that that opinion would be highly dangerous to peace, and injurious to the interests of Great Britain, and he hoped that such views would not be introduced by any parties who might have the power of carrying them into execution. When the hon. Member said, that the course which had been pursued had brought upon this country an expense of two millions a-year, the House must be well aware that that statement was founded on error. A great portion of the deficiency which had called for the increased taxation was the result of the hon. Member's own measure—the postage reform, and was produced also by the state of things in Canada. A very small portion of it, indeed, really belonged to the naval establishment of England, and by far the greater part of this division of the charge arose, not so much from any increase of the navy, as from the necessity to lay in stores, and other matters necessary to keep the ordinary in a state of preparation. The hon. Member, therefore, had taken an erroneous view of the financial facts, upon which he had addressed the House. As to the general question, upon which the hon. Member wished that an explanation should be given, he should submit to him and to the House, that the great powers of Europe being engaged in a complicated and difficult matter of arrangement upon this subject, it would be very inconvenient to the public interests, and as respected the great object which the five powers had alike at heart, that he should be compelled at this stage of the transaction to enter into an explanation of what was going on. He could only say, that when the matter should have arrived at that point, at which it would be proper and safe to make a communication to Parliament upon the subject, according to the established usage, the Government would not shrink from submitting their conduct to its consideration, and he was of opinion that they should succeed in convincing the hon. Member and the House, that they had not been actuated by any such intentions as those which the hon. Member had pointed out. The hon. Member had asked whether any British agents had been employed to incite insurrection? In the first place, perhaps, he might object to the use of this word with regard to the recent disturbances in Syria, because it signified an opposition to a lawful state of authority. Syria being subject to the Sultan, he did not see how its having taken up arms against an oppression which every one believed to have been of the most severe and intolerable description, could be said to fall within the description of insurrection; but he could assure the hon. Member, that British interests had nothing on earth to do with it; but that it was the natural result of causes which had preceded it, and that it was only another recurrence of that resistance which the people were sometimes compelled to oppose to a tyranny which had become intolerable. The only difference was, that upon this occasion, the resistance was far more general—far more formidable—and far more united and concerted, amongst those who made it, than was usually the case. Undoubtedly, where this state of things was known to exist, the admiral, who was stationed at Smyrna, immediately sent ships to watch the events which might occur. He felt that he had not entered into so full an explanation as the hon. Member might wish. He was undoubtedly at the command of the House, because a Minister of the Crown was at all times bound to give any information, consistently with his duty, which the House might require; but be put it to the hon. Member whether, in the present state of things, it was expedient that he should be called upon to enter into this explanation. It was well known to the hon. Gentleman, that the five powers were agreed as to the general object to be obtained. France had declared her firm determination, in a speech delivered from the Throne, to maintain the integrity and independence of the Turkish empire under its present dynasty; but it was well known, that on the minor points connected with this great question, that unanimity did not exist between the Five Powers which was desirable, but unless the House compelled him to go into a premature explanation upon that subject he thought he should best serve the interests of the public by saying no more upon this subject.

Mr. Milnes

did not think, that any grounds had been stated which could authorize the House in resisting the vote proposed; but he did wish that the noble Lord had responded more satisfactorily to the perhaps irregular demand made upon him by the hon. Member for Kilkenny. He wished that the noble Lord had been able to assure the House that all the Five Powers were now in a position of cordial co-operation. He could not but express his most earnest hope, that no policy of the noble Lord would tend to promote war in the East. He agreed, however, that in the midst of negotiations of this kind, it would not be proper for the noble Lord to enter into any further explanation than that which he had given.

Mr. Hume

could not think, that keeping up a civil war in Syria, was strengthening the Turkish empire, and he distinctly charged the British Government with having prevented the conclusion of peace on satisfactory terms. Within the last two months, the interference of our authorities at Constantinople had prevented an amicable settlement, and such measures would make Turkey dependent upon Russia. The noble Lord had charged a portion of the deficiency in the revenue to the operation of what the noble Lord was pleased to call his postage plan, but he begged to remind the noble Lord, that notwithstanding the deficiency which he admitted to have arisen from the new Post-office regulations, the revenue of the present year had amounted to 47,883l., or 600,000l. more than that of last year, and 1,500,000l. more than the average of preceding years. Again he urged upon the House to pause, and to consider the consequences that had ensued, and must hereafter ensue, from the course of policy pursued by the noble Lord in the East.

Lord John Russell

In the few words which he was about to say, was without the advantage enjoyed by the hon. Gentleman—that of having read the Morning Post. With regard to our policy on the Egyptian question, however, he must repeat that there was still between him and the hon. Gentleman the same difference of opinion that existed at the commencement of the Session. The hon. Gentleman said, that we had nothing to do but to allow amicable relations to be established between the two parts of the Turkish empire, and that the interference of this country had prevented those amicable relations from taking effect. But so far from the relations between them being amicable, they were really these:—a vassal of great power and force was attempting to impose terms upon his Sovereign, which he expected would be received by his weakness or his fears. Our interference, so far from preventing those relations from tending to an amicable result, would only tend to prevent the Sultan from throwing himself into the arms of Russia. We had already seen him in some degree before, yielding to the force opposed to him, and seeking support from the strength of Russia; and the continual interference of Russia at Constantinople, and the manifest dependence of the Porte on that power, would only lead to the result of causing the other powers of Europe to look at the preponderance of Russia with so much jealousy as to endanger the general peace. The hon. Member had also referred to France. France and this country had the same objects in view, but no doubt there had not been an agreement of views as to the best mode of attaining that object. He believed, however, that he was speaking the sentiments of his noble Friend and of the Government, when he said that they valued, quite as much as the hon. Gentleman or any one else could do, the continuance of the amicable relations between this country and France. For himself, he wished that those amicable relations might long endure, and he felt quite sure, that there were no nations on the face of the globe, whose mutual interest it was to cultivate amicable relations in a greater degree than France and England. If there ought to be any rivalry between these countries, it was only the peaceful rivalry of commerce, and emulation in the arts of peace. The hon. Gentleman had also charged it against the Government that they had fomented insurrection in Syria. It appeared, however, while there had been an insurrection every year under the Porte, there had been only three under Mehemet Ali. It would seem, therefore, that if the British Government were really bent upon getting up an insurrection in Syria, they had not used very much exertion in so doing.

Captain Pechell

called the attention of Government to the expediency of allowing the seamen who had pensions to retain them while in service.

Vote agreed to.

On the question that 21,600l. be granted for the accelerated conveyance of mails between Falmouth and Alexandria.