HC Deb 03 May 1847 vol 92 cc312-27

On the question that the Speaker do leave the Chair, for the House to go into Committee of Supply,


rose to move— For a Return of all monies paid by Great Britain on account of the interest of the Greek Loan up to the 1st day of January, 1847. On a former occasion he had expressed his deep regret that he felt it necessary to make any allusion to the influence which France exerted over the affairs of Greece. So far from following the example of Lord Aberdeen and England, with respect to Greece, M. Guizot, on the 12th of January, 1846, said— There are treaties upon which, I will not say the interests, but the ideas of France and of England are not the same. Their policy differs. I do not wish to say that it is divided. In Greece, for example, at this moment, we have ideas different from those of the English Government. I regret it; but so it is. Well, we follow our ideas; we give to Greece our counsels; a support conformable to our ideas. That was what was said last year; but in the course of the last week similar language was used in the report of a Committee to the Chamber of Deputies, on the subject of payment of the interest of the loan for Greece:— As to the attitude to be assumed by France, in presence of events which are being accomplished in Greece, it has appeared to your committee that it ought not, cannot, be for a moment doubtful. Whatever may be the eventualities which futurity reserves for the Greek nation, the French nation ought, without ceasing, to watch over the preservation of its rights and interests, to continue with firmness and perseverance the generous mission which it has undertaken. We confide willingly in the foresight, the energy, the devotedness of the King's Government to a cause which has never ceased to be French, and which possesses the rare privilege of being placed out of the sphere of and above all parties. We are convinced that everything has been done, in a proper time and place, which events suggested or prudence permitted; neither can we doubt the French Cabinet is ready to accomplish all the duties imposed on it by the late events. The only thing which your commission can and will do, is publicly to give a warm and complete approbation of the policy of France as practised in Greece. Your committee expresses its ardent and unanimous desire, that this policy may be continued in the same spirit, on the same principle, and with equal prudence and resolution. It is by preserving the honourable and disinterested character of our diplomatic action, by concentrating all our skill in the fairness and moderation of our proceedings, and in serving Greece for her own sake, without any regard to personal advantage, that we shall maintain our legitimate influence in that country. It is thus that France will assure the definitive triumph of that sacred cause on which it has lavished so freely its sympathies, its blood, and its treasure. The committee approves the Greek Loan Bill. It recommends the Government to show itself prudent and reserved, and expresses an opinion that it would not be consistent with the honour of France either to make a demand or to utter a menace, at a moment when a country, in accord with its Sovereign, seconded by a saga- cious and skilful Ministry, responds most worthily to the expectations of its real friends. He had endeavoured to show on a former occasion with what justice such terms could be applied to a Ministry of which M. Coletti was the head, and of which M. Poniropoulos was the Finance Minister. We had the gratification of knowing that, since that time, in deference to the opinions expressed in the Greek Chambers, this unworthy Finance Minister had been obliged to resign his post, though we were told also that France gave its entire confidence to a Ministry so constituted as that of M. Coletti. He had only to add, with reference to this point, that it was generally understood in Athens that M. Piscatory, the French Minister, and the French Consul, had both thought proper to exercise an avowed influence, not only upon individual Members of the Greek Chambers, but upon the business about to be transacted there. He had no wish whatever to cast the slightest censure on the past diplomacy of this country, or to ask the noble Lord the Secretary for Foreign Affairs to take the slightest step of hostility either against the kingdom of Greece or King Otho. He should leave the matter entirely to the noble Lord's discretion. He rejoiced to think that the wise and energetic policy of our Minister at Athens had received the support of the noble Lord. He did not ask for force or menace; but he did ask the House for an expression of opinion as firm and determined as that to which the French Chamber of Deputies had come, that England should support her Ministers in whatever part of the world they might be, when they conducted themselves with firmness and conscientiousness, and with a due regard to the liberties of the nation in the midst of which they exercised their functions. He asked the House to express an opinion in favour of the independence of that country whose freedom we inaugurated, and whose independence we guaranteed. Before he sat down, he must add, that M. Guizot, in speaking of the report which was the result of the commission to which he had already referred, expressed himself in these remarkable terms in the course of last week:— The sentiments and the intentions expressed in the report of your commission are those which the Government of the King has followed, and will continue to follow as the rule of its conduct. From this declaration of M. Guizot, it was clear that France was determined to perse- vere in her injurious and meddling course of policy, against which he felt bound to protest. The noble Lord concluded by moving for a return in the terms stated above.


Sir, I beg to say, in the first place, that I have no objection to the production of the papers for which the noble Lord has moved; but I will appeal to his courtesy to withdraw his Motion at the present moment, as it might lead to an interference with other important business; but, in the course of the evening, the required papers may be ordered. Sir, with regard to the general view which the noble Lord has taken of the affairs of Greece, I concur with him almost entirely. The House will be aware that the independence of Greece was achieved by the interposition of England, of France, and of Russia; an interposition which was exercised after a struggle of five or six years between the Greek nation and the Turkish Government; an interposition, too, wrung, I may say, from the Government of the day by the feelings of the public, not of this country only, but of the people of almost every civilized nation in Europe. Sir, the object of that interposition was to place a nation—endeared to every land by ancient recollections—by the achievements of their forefathers, and by the position which in more modern times the country occupied—its object was to put that people in a condition of independence, and thereby of comfort, of happiness, of increasing prosperity, and advancing civilization. For that end it was thought by the Powers concerned, that the constitution of a monarchy was more favourable to the development of national industry and the advancement of national prosperity than that of a republic—a form of government which would have made the supreme power constantly an object of struggle and contest between rival political parties, supported as they would be by different foreign Powers. I am, however, obliged to confess that hitherto at least the benevolent intentions of the Three Powers which I have mentioned have not been realized—at all events to the extent desired. For it is true, and too true, that the internal condition of Greece is far from that which the well-wishers of the Greek nation could desire to see. It is, I am afraid, too true that the Government now existing in Greece is carried on a principle of peculation by those employed under the Crown, and of corruption practised towards and upon those who ought to be the protectors and the guardians of the public interests. It is too true that acts of the greatest atrocity are from time to time committed by persons in the employment of the Government; that torture—torture barbarous in its character, and applied in a manner which I really would not shock the feelings of the House by explaining—it is too true that such torture is from time to time inflicted upon the unoffending inhabitants, for the purpose of compelling disclosures either of the places of refuge of criminals, or of conscripts who have fled from their ranks; and I may, indeed, state, that in one instance torture was inflicted upon a person who, being an Ionian, was therefore, if not a British subject, at least under the protection of Britain. All this is unfortunately perfectly true. Besides, we have it upon the confession of the Minister responsible for the matter to which that confession related—I mean the late Minister of Finance—that the revenue is embezzled in its progress to the Exchequer; and that it is misapplied afterwards in its disbursement and appropriation for the public service. It was stated in open Parliament, by the Minister of Finance, that whereas a great part of the revenue of Greece is derived from contributions in kind—contributions of grain, for instance—that in one district, from which, on an average of years, 180,000 kilos of grain had been paid into the Treasury, that last year not more than 8,000 kilos were levied. It was confessed, in short, that the sources of the revenue were embezzled for the profit of the agents employed to collect it; but the excuse was, that those agents were forced, said the Minister of Finance, to promote the interests of Members of Parliament with constituencies whom they misrepresented. It was proved, also, that documents which had been laid before Parliament, as proofs of the amount of revenue received, had been falsified; and it was charged, and I believe admitted, that that falsification took place in order to conceal the actual amount of revenue received, because it was said that if the whole amount of revenue realized had been publicly acknowledged, it would have been found that a surplus of income over expenditure existed, in spite of all embezzlements, and that such surplus would have been claimed by the Three Powers who guaranteed the loan, and the money thus taken out of the country; whereas, by the falsification of vouchers, the sum in question was allowed to remain for the benefit of the Exchequer. Now, Sir, although the British Government, in connexion with the Governments of France and Russia, guranteed the independence of the Greek State, yet I do not hold that that guarantee gives to any of the guaranteeing parties any right to interfere in the internal administration of the State of Greece, beyond the right of requiring that the engagements by which Greece binds herself to pay the interest of the loan advanced to her shall be faithfully observed. However we may deplore the general maladministration of Greece, and however much we may lament that the Greek people, instead of enjoying that prosperity which we intended and wished to have been their lot when they were erected into an independent nation, have fallen into the condition in which they now exist—however much we may lament these untoward circumstances, still it is not for England nor the other two guaranteeing Powers to prescribe to the Greek Sovereign who shall be his Ministers, or to the Greek Ministers what shall be the measures of their administration. In 1832 a treaty was concluded by which the Three Powers undertook to guarantee the interest and a sinking fund on the loan of 60 millions of francs, to be raised for the service of the Greek State. Each of the three contracting Powers was to guarantee separately one-third of the 60 millions in question. The share, therefore, for which we are liable, including the interest and one per cent as a sinking fund, is for twenty millions of francs, raised, as I have said, for the service of the State of Greece. But, in order to provide against the charge of that interest and that sinking fund being unecessarily thrown upon the contracting Powers, care was taken, in wording the treaty, to stipulate that the first purpose to which the revenue should be applied, the first burden to be attended to in fact, should be the interest and sinking fund in question. These were to be paid up in the first instance; and the representatives of the Three Powers at Athens, it was further agreed, should be charged with the duty of watching over the due execution of this engagement. I lament to say, however, that this part of the agreement has been entirely overlooked or absolutely set at nought; and the returns moved for by the noble Lord will show that between the year 1843 and the present time, an amount little short of 200,000l. has been advanced by this country. Now, if the poverty of the Greek State had been such that it had really no means of paying the interest on its debt, or at all events without such a pressure as would have rendered all attempts at improvement impossible, then I have no doubt that with the same kind and generous feelings which led the people of this country to sanction the measures taken for the establishment, the maintenance, and the development of the Greek State, they would have been led to see without repining even so large an application of the public money, for a purpose in which indeed England had no direct interest, and from which she could expect no direct profit. But if, on the other hand, it should appear that these charges have been unnecessarily thrown upon us—if it should appear that this nation is to be called on to pay, as it has been only last year, 46,000l. for the mere purpose of enabling a Greek Administration to carry on a system of peculation and corruption; if it should appear that we have been thus saddled, unnecessarily saddled, with pecuniary burdens, not for any real interests of Greece, but for the mere object of keeping a certain set of men in power; then, Sir, I conceive that it does become the duty of those who may be charged with the interests of this country to make due application to the Greek Government to pay its own interest on its own loan. I am sure that the generous and kindly feelings which this House and this country must ever entertain towards a nation beginning its existence and struggling with many difficulties, would lead them to approve of the conduct of a Government in not pressing for immediate repayment of the whole arrears which I have mentioned; but still I think that Her Majesty's Government, in calling upon the Government of Greece to repay the last instalment of 23,000l. due in March last, and to make provision for the future payment of each instalment as each becomes due—I am sure, I say, that public opinion in this country will come to the decision that Her Majesty's Ministers in exercising this discretion cannot be charged with showing less indulgence than was fairly due to friendly feeling for a young and protected State. Sir, as I said before, in the justice of the other portions of the noble Lord's remarks I generally agree; but I am quite sure that he, and those who think with him, must feel they referred to matters which, however interesting they may be to every well-wisher of Greece, and every friend of European civilization, are still subjects with regard to which the British Government would not have sufficient ground to stand upon, were it to attempt to prescribe to the Sovereign of Greece who shall be his Ministers, and to dictate to the Minister what shall be his measures. With regard to that part of the speech of the noble Lord which treated of the contest of foreign influences—which has gone on too much in Greece—all I can say is this, that as far as the English Government is concerned we have no peculiar party, no peculiar preponderating influence in Greece. I cannot, indeed, understand the meaning of the terms English, French, and Russian parties in Greece. What possible object can either England, or France, or Russia, have to aim at in Greece? All I can say is, that I can and do assure the House that if a Minister of Greece—be his name what it may—were to send a blank piece of paper with his signature at the bottom of it, and say, "Write, write above my name any conditions you please, guaranteeing to England any advantages, either political, or naval, or military, or commercial, which you may wish—do this, and my signature is there to vouch for their performance and realization;" this would be our only answer—the only answer which a Minister for Foreign Affairs could make—"Take back your paper and put it into the fire. We want nothing of you, but that you should govern your country as we hoped to see it governed; and as we attempt to govern our own—make the Greek nation happy, prosperous, and contented. This is all we want—this, and that you will pay the interest on that portion of your debt which we have guaranteed, and for which we are liable." Such is our feeling upon the subject; and as our imaginations have never been able to picture to themselves any English interest to be served by having in Greece a set of men calling themselves the British party, I am equally at a loss to understand what is that great value which it seems is attached in France to the maintenance in Greece of an Administration said to represent French interests. I cannot see what French object is to be accomplished thereby. But if the French Government think it is for the advantage of France, and the French people think it is a triumph to them that a Greek Minister should be at the head of what they call a French party, then, all I can say is this, that so long as that Minister fulfils his duty, so long as he discharges those conditions to which I have alluded, there is not, I believe, any man in this country entertaining those feelings of jealousy towards France which would lead him to make any effort to disturb our neighbours, in the possession of that to which they seem to attach an interest, and from which it is impossible to conceive that anything prejudicial to us will arise. All we wish is, that peace should be well preserved; and considering the part which we took in the emancipation of Greece—considering the labour and efforts, both by negotiation and other means, which successive Administrations have exerted for the purpose of securing Grecian independence and Grecian prosperity—then I think that it is natural, and not only natural, but a duty, on the part of the Government of England, to employ any good offices which may be in its power, consistently with a due respect for the independence of Greece, to make use of, for the purpose of assisting her in the following out of the career which, as an independent State, she is destined to run. I say, then, as the organ of Her Majesty's Government on this occasion, and I can solemnly assure the House, that the only wish of the Government is, that Greece should be well governed. We may have our opinions as to the capacity of different statesmen in Greece so to govern their country; but be it governed ill, or be it governed well, however much we may lament the one or rejoice over the other, we have no intention to dictate. We trust that the representations which we have made will induce the Government of Greece to fulfil the obligations which it has contracted with England; and we trust also that the smaller matters in which persons under British protection may have reasons for complaint, will be duly and justly considered by the Greek Government. But though, as far as friendly advice may go, we shall be ready to give it, our interference must be limited to the accomplishment of the objects which I have stated; and we utterly disclaim having any views connected with Greece, for the accomplishment of which we should wish to create a British party, separated in its feelings from the party called Greek. And here let me do justice to those distinguished men in Greece who constitute what is called the "British party." I say that I am quite convinced that the only sense in which they can be called the "British party" is this—that they believe that the British Government wishes sincerely and honestly to promote the welfare of their country; and I am persuaded that there is not one amongst them who, if we were to ask for anything injurious to his country—inimical to her interests, or derogatory to her honour, who would not repudiate the title of "British party," and say and prove that he was Greek and Greek alone. I again say, that I shall be most ready to agree to the Motion of the noble Lord, and later in the evening to produce the papers for which he has moved.


agreed with the noble Viscount (Viscount Palmerston) in the opinion that no amount of maladministration would justify this country in interfering in the internal concerns of another; and also that, where the right to interfere in the case of a given country existed, such right could not extend so as to violate the independence of the Sovereign in the choice of his Ministers. A particular wrong was to be redressed, or a particular right to be conceded; but the specific means of doing either must be left to the internal organs of the country. So again, in the present case, whatever the amount of peculation might be among the inferiors in the Greek Government, or of corruption among the superiors, or of torture in the administration of the law, or of tyranny in every department, the English Government had no more right to interfere because of these things, than they had to interfere in the government of Timbuctoo or Tonquin. The right of England to interfere with Greece was very different. There were three countries with respect to which England had an equitable right to interfere—Sardinia, in the case of the Vaudois, Russia in the case of Poland, Greece in respect to the loan. But these cases might be discussed without offence to those who were still the allies of England. He could not but regret that a tone so different from that which was adopted in that House had been adopted elsewhere. Though we might say that we did not desire to have a Russian, or a French, or an English party in Greece, he could not but feel that there was on one side of Europe a predominant Power, which now, for nearly a century and a half, had been looking wistfully on Greece—not Greece as it existed now in its freedom, but upon the whole Turkish empire. If there was a Power against which it was absolutely necessary at any time to guard, it was certainly not against France or England that Greece ought to be watchful; and he should have been much better pleased to find the power of England united with that of France, if it were necessary to have a distinct interest between the Three Powers. He should like to see the interests of Eng- land and France united as one in protecting Greece against what might be called something like an hereditary desire on the part of Russia to possess herself of all the region which was now comprehended under the term Greece, and to which Russia was united by the prevailing bond of religious union. But whatever might be the difference of opinion on the part of the two representative bodies alluded to, he was most anxious that nothing should be said or done in either Chamber, here or in France, which might provoke hostilities between the Powers concerned in the affairs of Greece. Nor did he dread it. And when he said that, he did not mean dreading it, as in fear of the result; but that he did not dread the occurrence of such an event if the noble Lord at the head of the Foreign Office would maintain the language of firmness which he had adopted in that House; and if he would be pleased to state that England required no interference whatever in the affairs of Greece, except such as might enable Greece to discharge her bonâ fide obligations to this country. Greece had a claim upon us, not from her own classical associations, not even for her gallant and glorious conduct during the war of independence, but he ventured to claim for her the support, sympathy, and applause of Europe, on account of the bloodless revolution which she effected in 1843. Before resuming his seat, he would advert in a few words to the manner in which England had already interfered, in the person of one of her most distinguished diplomatists—he meant Sir Edward Lyons, the representative of the Power of England at Athens. Already had he interfered, though not beyond the bounds of strict duty, but in a manner that justified all the applause which successive Administrations had felt it to be their duty and privilege to bestow upon that Minister. He wished, therefore, that the noble Lord, and Her Majesty's Minister at the Court of Athens, should be encouraged by the opinion of that House to pursue the same line of conduct which they had hitherto adopted. He believed that perseverance in that course would at last attain its object and reward, in the general improvement of Greece. Of this, also, he was sure, that this country would deprecate war, or the adoption of any measure which would lead to war. A great country like this, having no selfish object in view, would be sustained completely in the course which might be necessary for the vindication of its rights. If this course were persevered in, he believed the result would be that Greece would be made capable of discharging her debt. That debt he valued not for its pecuniary amount; but he did value its payment as an evidence to the world that Greece had at length become worthy of the care and cost of her adoption. Because Greece could not pay the debt whilst she was misgoverned, he should hail the payment of that debt as the most grateful testimony that could be formed of the good government of Greece.


was quite sure that the House and the country would be perfectly satisfied with the noble Lord's explanation of the views and conduct of Her Majesty's Government; but he could not altogether subscribe to the limitation which the noble Lord had put to the interest which the House ought to take in the affairs of Greece. He understood from the speech of the noble Lord, that not only had the most horrible tortures been inflicted in this constitutional country of Greece, but they had been inflicted upon a man who, though not exactly an English subject, was under the protection of England. And, therefore, he thought that it was not only the payment of the loan or the interest of the loan that Parliament ought to require, but that it ought also to express its hope that the statesmen of Greece would be able in a very short time to bring the government of that country into a state more in accordance with civilization than that which prevailed there now.


said, the debate would not be without its weight on the good government of Greece. He felt that the interest of England was intimately associated with the liberties of that country. It was his fortune, about a quarter of a century ago, to be one of those charged to communicate to the late Mr. Canning, then Prime Minister of England, the state of feeling that existed in the Peloponnesus; and he ventured to tell that great and illustrious statesman that the dream which he had indulged in when a boy might, perhaps, be realized by him as Prime Minister; and it was the good fortune of that great man to lay the foundation out of which he anticipated the realization of the independence of Greece. The hon. Member then adduced some particulars to show that in the face of all the misgovernment which had afflicted Greece, considerable progress had been made in the development of some of her resources. No reference was made to Greece when a Sovereign was chosen for Greece; there was no inquiry whether the individual who was imposed upon that country almost as an absolute despot, was qualified for that station; and in every respect that choice was unfortunate. At the very outset he made the greatest mistake—he had attempted to introduce a barbarian court and barbarian manners, and to disconnect himself from the people over whom he had been appointed to reign. Were not the Greeks worthy and desirous of good government? There never was a revolution more honourable to a nation than that of 1843; but what was the effect of it? The leader was driven into banishment, notwithstanding the services which he had rendered to his country, and although he had saved the life of King Otho. The modern Greeks had not lost all the great qualities of their ancestors. Through centuries they still inherited great intellectual qualities, great desire of improvement, great eloquence, great powers; and he would only ask the House to compare Greece and Spain at the present time. In Greece there had been and were fierce struggles, as fierce and exciting as those which had been carried on in Spain; but in Greece there had been no effusion of blood—and he would venture to say that there were no Greeks who did not desire a pacific and constitutional Government. It appeared to him that England did not discharge her duty if she did not exercise her influence to relieve Greece from the thraldom to which she was now subject. He did not mean by violence—it was not by violence that England exerted the most powerful or beneficent influence; but well he knew that the word of England was all-powerful, and if spoken by the noble Lord on this occasion would have the best effect; and Greeks would know that the happier and the better governed they were, the more satisfaction would be felt by the Parliament and people of England.


said, that he was sure that the statement of the noble Lord would give great satisfaction in Greece; and he agreed with the noble Lord in saying that he could not see any legitimate interest which France or England could have in obtaining an ascendancy in the councils of Greece—but he was afraid that the French were more imaginative. In the Chamber of Deputies there were early symptoms of a more lively imagination on that subject; and they found that corresponding effects showed themselves in Greece. However, the declaration of the noble Lord would have the desirable effect of convincing Europe that England had no desire except to secure the real stability of a Government in Greece, which should not be influenced by French interest or English interest, but should be devoted exclusively to Greek interests.


wished to know from the noble Secretary for Foreign Affairs whether he had any objection to state what remonstrance he had made against the acts of tyranny and oppression to which he had referred? Those acts were a disgrace to any civilized nation; and it was impossible for this country to look on at such a state of things without using the strongest possible protest against their continuance. He understood the noble Lord to say that he had not interfered as to the appointment of Ministers by Greece. The noble Lord's statement was a complete answer to the fears and alarms which existed in France on that subject; and he hoped it would have the salutary effect of strengthening that concert which ought to exist between France and England as to the affairs of Greece. He should conclude, then, by asking what measures the noble Lord had taken in order to represent to the Government of Greece the necessity of changing the conduct which they had pursued?


I have already stated that, with regard to the financial disorders in Greece, the application made by our Government to repay the last instalment of the loan is in fact a remonstrance against the disordered state of the finances; and indeed I may state, what perhaps the House will recollect, that last year a similar application was made by the noble Lord who preceded me in the office which I have now the honour to hold. With regard to acts of torture, it happened, as I stated, that an Ionian was subjected to treatment which did render it incumbent on our Government to make representations to the Greek Government; and that case naturally drew forth the opinion which the Government entertained as to the prevalence of that system in Greece. With regard to that state of things, for which, fortunately, we have no word in the English language—I mean the brigandage, or system of general robbery which has prevailed in Greece, cases have occurred in which British subjects were unfortunately the victims; and our representations on those cases have also afforded an opportunity of drawing the attention of the Greek Government to the lawlessness and violence which prevailed in different parts of Greece.


thought, that France and England being both sponsors for the nationality of Greece, might, without any compromise of opinion on litigated questions, unite, cordially unite, in one joint protest against the cruelties and acts of torture permitted, if not actually perpetrated, by the Government of Greece—else that debate would be without fruit or practical benefit to the cause of humanity and civilization. If those two great nations could at least co-operate in a cause dear to their interests, it would do more to appease dissension in Greece than any course which could be devised; it would demonstrate to the inhabitants of that distracted country a union of purpose, in what vitally concerned order and good government.

Motion withdrawn.