HC Deb 25 August 1848 vol 101 cc562-7

On the question that towards making good the supply the Commissioners of the Treasury be authorised to raise 2,000,000l. sterling, either by the issue of Exchequer-bills, or by the creation of Consolidated 3 per cent Annuities, or Reduced 3 per cent Annuities,


observed that when the Chancellor of the Exchequer, in the course of his statement, painted in rather gloomy colours the situation of the country, he not only referred to the bad harvests we had experienced, but especially to the disordered state of Europe; and one of the reasons assigned by the right hon. Gentleman for the disadvantages under which this country at present laboured was the blockade in the Baltic, which he spoke of as likely to last for a considerable time. That blockade, as was well known, occasioned great loss, and inconvenience, and injury to our merchants. He had before called the attention of the noble Lord and of the House to this subject, and especially to the fact that, when the blockade was renewed, it was renewed under much more stringent and severe conditions. He had formerly inquired whether Her Majesty's Government meant to fulfil a guarantee which this country had given to Denmark for the possession of Schleswig, and he quoted the treaty, which was very decided in its language, and which appeared to him scarcely to admit of doubt. The noble Lord (Lord Palmerston), however, said that it was possible the guarantee was not so very decided, and he hinted at two or three modes of interpretation which might leave it open to this country to free itself from the force of that guarantee. But since he brought the question of the guarantee before the House, the whole of the diplomatic correspondence which took place between the English Secretary of State (Lord Stanhope) and our Ministers at the Court of Copenhagen (Lord Polwarth and Lord Carteret), which had been found in the State Paper Office, had been published by a learned Dane, and the nature of the guarantee was no longer a matter of doubt. It was a guarantee which this country was as much bound to fulfil as it was bound to pay the interest of the national debt. He believed, that if when he (Mr. Disraeli) called attention to the subject, the noble Lord had acknowledged the weight of that guarantee, and had taken a decided course, they might have avoided some of the great inconveniences and injuries they had experienced. The noble Lord had boasted, the other night, of the good understanding which existed between Her Majesty's Government and the powerful Government of France. Now France had acknowledged the force of the guarantee of 1720; and he (Mr. Disraeli) thought the noble Lord could not do anything more sensible or just than to act in concert with that Government with reference to this guarantee, and by taking a decided course to terminate the vexatious blockade which the English merchants could no longer endure. The noble Lord had on a former occasion made a statement which gave an impression that the armistice which had originally been agreed to would be carried into effect by the Prussian Government; but he had since admitted that the hopes and expectations he had permitted the commercial world to indulge in, had not been realised. As the Chancellor of the Exchequer had so specifically alluded to the blockade, a good opportunity was afforded to the noble Lord to give the House some information on the subject. He wished to know what was the present state of the question; whether the armistice was going to be fulfilled; whether any arrangement had been made between Prussia and the German Confederation which would allow Prussia to act independently; whether Prussia could act independently; what was the nature of the relations subsisting between the Court of St. James and the Court of Berlin; and whether there was any probability of a termination of the blockade of the ports of the Baltic and the North Sea?


did not undervalue the importance of the subject to which the hon. Gentleman had called attention; but he was sure both the hon. Gentleman and the House would feel that, although it might be right on proper occasions for Ministers in that House to give full explanations with regard to matters in which the British Government alone was concerned, yet that it might not be altogether competent or proper for them to afford full explanations with respect to transactions between other Governments, in which transactions the English Government was only incidentally concerned. He must certainly admit that he had been very much disappointed with regard to the armistice. On several occasions he had held out to the House hopes and expectations which had not been realised; but he could assure the House that this had not arisen from any want of activity or earnestness on the part of Her Majesty's Government. The transaction in question was one in which many parties were concerned—the Danish Government, the Prussian Government, and the Government, varying from day to day in its character, at Frankfort, beginning with a Diet, passing into a National Assembly, and ending in a Vicar-General of the empire. The question had thus been embarrassed and complicated by the varying disposition and character of the Central German authority. If he were to go into details, he would have to explain the transactions which had taken place between the German authorities at Frankfort and the Government of Prussia; and he did not think, if he entered into those details, that he would advance the object they all had in view—a satisfactory solution of the Schleswig-Holstein question. He might, however, state generally, what he believed was in substance pretty well known, that the terms of an armistice between the Government of Prussia and the Danish Government were substantially agreed upon; that those terms were considered by the Prussian Government to require the assent of the Frankfort authority; and that that Frankfort authority had coupled the ratification with certain conditions which had for a time created delay and difficulty. He still hoped, however, that there might be, on the part of all concerned, a sufficient sense of the absolute necessity and paramount importance of bringing about, without further delay, a satisfactory settlement of the armistice, and, as resulting from it, a settlement of the Schleswig question. With regard to the guarantee of England, what he had endeavoured to point out on a former occasion was, that the present position of matters could not bring that guarantee into operation. In the first place, England was at present acting in some degree in the capacity of a mediator; and Her Majesty's Government could not combine the functions of a mediator with those of a party in the cause, which they would do if they undertook to act in pursuance of their guarantee. In the next place, the question at issue was not whether Schleswig was to be wrested from the King-Duke to whom it belonged, it was a question complicated in its nature, but of a different kind—namely, what should be the internal administration of Schleswig—whether it should he, as the Danish Government wished it to be, a constitution combined with that of Denmark, or as the German party wished, a constitution combined with the Duchy of Holstein? It was not therefore a question of conquest, or of the forcibly wresting of a territory from a sovereign, but of the internal organisation and administration of the duchy. He trusted, however, that the good sense which he hoped animated all the parties concerned, would lead to a satisfactory settlement of the question without bringing into operation the guarantee, the existence of which he did not deny, but which, in his opinion, did not at present bear upon the practical question at issue.


said, the noble Lord had informed them that, under his advice, the Crown of England had accepted the office of mediator. This being the case, he (Mr. Disraeli) wished to know how it was that, during that mediation more than 40,000 men, being different contingents of the Gorman empire, had arrived at the seat of war—a circumstance which had led to the renewal of hostilities and to the revival of the blockade? He thought that, the moment such a hostile demonstration took place, the noble Lord was perfectly free to drop his position as a mediator, and to enforce the stringent character of the guarantee.


Undoubtedly, if Her Majesty's Government had thought fit to declare war against Ger- many, it would have been perfectly easy to say that they would cease to be mediators, and would become belligerents; but that was not a course which it was deemed advisable to adopt. They accepted the mediation at the request of Denmark, and with the consent of the other party; and so long as they saw any prospect of settling the question amicably by negotiation, he thought that was the best course to pursue.


happened to be one of a deputation from Manchester who waited upon the noble Lord (Viscount Palmerston) some months ago upon this subject. They stated the vast importance to them of the trade with the Baltic and Hamburgh, and they urged the noble Lord to act the part of the mediator, and not to change this character for that of belligerent; and the noble Lord would best meet the wishes of the manufacturing community if he could with honour maintain his present pacific posture of mediator. Now, as to the vote before the House, this was, after all, a little loan; disguise it as they might, call it selling stock or issuing Exchequer-bills, still they were going to add to the permanent debt of the empire. But they would not act thus as individuals; individuals, if they had not the money to spend, would retrench, and diminish their expenditure. A reduction of 800,000l. had been made since framing the estimates; was it not possible to retrench a little more, rather than increase our debt? He measured the strength of this empire more by our finances than by our armaments or number of ships; and he must maintain that if we added 2,000,000l. more to our permanent debt, then, in spite of all our military and naval force, we should present ourselves in a crippled position before the world. Nor was he sure that the Chancellor had told the House the whole case for the next year in regard to expenditure; and that all these marchings and countermarchings in Ireland, all these encampments and increased fortifications, would not end in a very heavy bill being brought in next spring. It was very well to say that the Caffre war was a casual expense that would not occur again; but we had an Irish war and an Irish famine staring us in the face. But if we spent all we could get, and ran into debt besides, we should always be finding some casualty arising and telling against us. The Chancellor of the Exchequer stated that he was insolvent, and yet he could make loans to Trinidad, to Tobago, New Zealand, and to the gentry of Ireland to improve their estates. We were just running the career which other nations had run, and which in the case of another nation we should condemn, but to which, in our own case, we seemed blind, and ready to treat England as if it had a charmed existence. That majority of the House, which in the spring refused a reduction in our armaments, and passed a vote authorising the expenditure, was bound to resolve to raise the money—to raise it during this Session, and to raise it by an additional tax, whatever discontent it might create.

Resolution agreed to.

House resumed.

House adjourned at a quarter to Two o'clock.