§ On the Order of the Day for the House to go into Committee of Supply,246
§ MR. DISRAELI
Sir, I wish, before the House goes into Committee of Supply, to make some inquiries of Her Majesty's Government with respect to our relations with France. It is the most important subject of modern politics. We have now, Sir, for nearly forty years, had the blessing of peace between Great Britain and France. During that interval the social relations of the two countries have become various and multiplied. Our commercial transactions during that interval have gradually, progressively, and considerably increased; and at the right opportunity, and under favourable circumstances, no doubt, with enlightened legislation, those commercial transactions are susceptible of considerable and perhaps indefinite development. There are no two countries which may be esteemed first-class Powers between whom all questions of high policy are so identical. It is somewhat strange, when we have so many guarantees for a permanent good understanding between the two countries, so many securities for that peace which we desire—when the past, by the long interval of tranquillity that has occurred, proves that practically these are sources of security which are valid and efficient—it is extremely strange and startling that, under such circumstances, an idea should seem to have entered into almost every man's brain, and an expression into every man's mouth, that we are on the eve of a rupture with that country. I don't think it unreasonable, therefore, that, on going into Committee of Supply, when we are about to vote large sums to sustain the armaments of the country, I should make some inquiries of Her Majesty's Government on a subject of such absorbing interest, and offer a few remarks to the House with respect to it before they go into Committee. All must feel that on such a topic it is of the highest importance that no false opinion should take possession of the public mind; because in a free country opinion is one of the securities of peace, as it is also sometimes one of the causes of war; and it is by discussion, which is the life and soul of a society like ours, that we arrive at the truth on subjects which often, to the danger and peril of the community, become perplexed and obscure.
I know, Sir, there are persons in both countries—persons born and bred probably during the last great struggle—who are of opinion that there is a natural hostility between the French and the English nations. They are persons who may probably be 247 placed in the same category with those who think, or used to think, that five per cent is the natural rate of interest. But at the same time they are persons influenced in many instances by very sincere and patriotic feelings, and their opinions, though they may be inveterate prejudices, are not to be despised at a conjuncture like the present. I know, Sir, that to persons influenced by such a conviction, it is in vain to appeal by any of those economical considerations which are often mentioned in the present day. I know it is in vain to impress on them that, in an age favourable to industry, ancient and civilised communities are diverted from thoughts of war. I know it is in vain to appeal to the higher impulse of that philanthropy which many of us believe in such communities, in societies under such conditions of great antiquity and advanced civilisation, to be mitigating the heart of nations. But, Sir, I think it right to appeal to stern facts, which cannot be disputed—to the past con-duet of men, which, according to the theories of these individuals, is the best test of what their future behaviour will be; and I must say I do not see that the history of the past justifies the too prevalent opinion that between England and France there is a natural rivalry and hostility. I know very well, Sir, that if you go back to ancient history—or rather to the ancient history of the two countries—that you may appeal to Cressy and Poictiers, and to Agincourt, and believe there has always been a struggle between the two countries, and that that struggle has always redounded to the glory of England. But it should be remembered that these were not wars so much between France and England as between the King of France and the King of England as a French prince—that the latter was fighting for his provinces of Picardy or Aquitaine—and that, in fact, it was not a struggle between the two nations. I take it for granted that, in considering this point, our history need not go back to a more distant period than to that happy hour when the keys of Calais were fortunately delivered over for ever to the care of a French monarch; and, when we take that view, which is the real point of our modern history, as one that should guide us on this subject, we shall observe that the most sagacious Sovereigns and the most eminent statesmen of England, almost without exception, have held that the French alliance, or a cordial understanding with the French nation, should be 248 the corner-stone of our diplomatic system and the key-note of our foreign policy. No one can deny that both Queen Elizabeth and the Lord Protector looked to that alliance as the basis of their foreign connexions. No one can deny that there was one subject on which even the brilliant Bolingbroke and the sagacious Walpole agreed—and that was the great importance of cultivating an alliance or good understanding with France. At a later date, the most eminent of the statesmen of this century, Mr. Pitt, formed his system on this principle, and entered public life to establish a policy which, both for political considerations and commercial objects, mainly depended on an alliance and good understanding with the French nation. And, therefore, Sir, it is not true that there has been at all times, or at most times, a want of sympathy in England with the French people; but, on the contrary, the reverse is the truth; and the alliance and good understanding that has prevailed between us have, in my opinion, been a source of great advantage to both countries, and has advanced the civilisation of Europe. Even what has occurred in our time proves, I think, the truth that the natural tendency of the influences that regulate both countries is to peace; because the fact that, after such extraordinary events as the European revolutions at the end of the last and beginning of this century, the great struggle that occurred, and the great characters that figured in it—the fact that all should terminate in a peace of so permanent a character as that which has prevailed, proves the tendency of all those causes which influence the conduct of both nations, and which lead to peace, from a conviction of its advantage to both countries. I will not, therefore, dwell further upon this point, except to express my protest against the dogma which, I am sorry to see, has been revived of late, not merely in England, although it is too prevalent in this country, that there is a feeling of natural hostility between the nations of Great Britain and France.
Sir, there arc undoubtedly more novel and more important causes to which may be imputed the present unfortunate opinion that is prevalent on the subject of our relations with France; and the first, and the most important unquestionably, may be found in the increase of the armaments of this country. There are many who say whatever may be the assertions of statesmen, whatever may be the public declarations of persons in 249 authority, whatever may be the judgment formed by sensible and unimpassioned men of the circumstances of the hour, no one can deny the stern conclusion that the Government of this country feels the responsibility devolving upon it of increasing its armaments; and with what object can it be increasing its armaments unless it is from a fear of some imminent and impending danger from a foreign foe, and, if from a foreign foe, of course the nearest and the most warlike of those that can be our enemies? Now, Sir, there is a great deal very plausible on the face of this position; nevertheless the real truth is, that there is not in the circumstance of those armaments the slightest foundation for the belief that they have been occasioned by recent transactions in France, or by the appearance of any particular characters who have taken a leading part in the transactions of that country. The origin of the increase of our armaments for the defence of this country is of a date much more remote than the incidents which are appealed to as the cause of those increased armaments. The origin of increasing and completing the defences of this country finds itself in those great changes which have occurred in most of the affairs of life, which have principally been occasioned by the application of science to the business of life, and which application of science has not, among many circumstances and subjects, spared the art of war. Those who from their position were responsible for the defence of this country, who from their character and their talents were best calculated to observe the great changes that in this respect were occurring, long and many years ago called the attention of the Executive Government of this country to that important subject. But we all know, especially in free and popular communities, that the few are sensible of the necessity of change before the multitude are convinced of that necessity, and that it is extremely difficult to bring the great body of a community to agree to a change, of the necessity of which they are not convinced. And the Government of this country many years ago attempted to adapt the position of the country, with respect to its means of defence, more to the present resources for that object which now prevail; but they found, of course, extreme difficulty in obtaining the assistance of the House of Commons for this object, when increased expenditure was a necessary condition of the change; and therefore for 250 a long time the efforts were few and feeble, although the convictions of the Cabinet of the day were deep and earnest upon the subject. Well, Sir, there then happened, some ten years ago, during the Government of Sir Robert Peel, a very unexpected incident, that startled even the two nations themselves at the possibility of a war occurring between the two countries. The cause was almost a contemptible cause when we think of the stake at issue; but there is no doubt, without now inquiring into the peculiar circumstances which brought the crisis to such a fine position, that for a short time the possibility of war between England and France was not entirely out of question. Well, Sir, the Government of that day—ten years ago—took advantage, of course, of the public mind being somewhat startled and alarmed upon the subject, and endeavoured, even when the immediate danger had passed, to lead the public mind to the consideration of the important question which never slept in the Councils of the Cabinet; and there were some efforts, and not contemptible efforts, by the Government of Sir Robert Peel at least, to commence a new system with regard to the public defences of the country. The people of this country learnt for the first time that a great revolution had occurred in the art of war, that that revolution had deprived them of their ancient and, as it were, natural sources of defence, and they began generally to entertain the idea that they must adopt other means for their defence. So far the question advanced; but, as the fulfilment of what was necessary was, of course, attended with large and increased expenditure, and as there was a natural objection always 'to increasing our expenditure for the sake of armaments, in the House of Commons, the question, though it became, so far as the country was concerned, from that time a question that never entirely slept, yet advanced but slowly—there was controversy still whether the country was sufficiently defended or not, whether the ancient means were so completely superseded as they were represented to be—there still was a lingering superstition in reference to "the wooden walls of Old England." Suddenly we had a series of revolutions on the Continent, a period of great alarm and of great disturbance. The people of this country were at last convinced that the dream of perpetual tranquillity and of continual improvement might be closed. That was a time when again 251 an opportunity was offered to the Government of the day to lead the popular opinion in the direction which it wished, so far as the defence of the country was concerned. The words of one of the greatest of our men were then prevalent round every hearth, and public opinion at last assumed the form of an earnest desire to complete the defences of the country. I have no doubt, Sir, that whatever Government existed, they would loyally and completely have fulfilled that which was necessary to be done. It fell to the lot of the late Government to meet the requirements in this respect of England. I claim no merit for the late Government more than that to which they are fairly entitled in having earnestly endeavoured in this respect to do their duty. When they acceded to office the question of the national defences was ripe. No doubt, if the Government of the noble Lord (Lord John Russell) had continued in office, they would have done all that was required; it fell to us, however, to fulfil that duty, and briefly I would place before the House what we did in that respect. During the time that we were responsible for the administration of affairs with regard to the national defences, we established a militia upon a popular principle—a principle which at the time was much derided, but which, notwithstanding the opposition that we received, we adhered to, and which has succeeded in producing a body that commands, so far as a new force of that character can, the confidence, and, I may say, the respect of the country. Sir, we secondly placed the artillery of the country—that important arm—in an efficient state. Thirdly, we introduced measures, or we prepared arrangements, which would have completely, and will completely, fortify the arsenals of the country, and some important posts upon the coast. Fourthly, we increased our Navy by a proposition which, when carried into effect, will add to it 5,000 sailors and 1,500 marines; and, fifthly, we made arrangements which I have no doubt will be well completed by our successors, which would have established, or rather will establish, the national garrison in the form of a Channel fleet, an efficient Channel fleet of fifteen or sixteen sail of the line, with an adequate number of frigates and smaller vessels, and which, when those plans are completed—and I trust they will be speedily completed—will allow a Channel fleet of that force to rendezvous at a very short notice from three or four ports. Into that fleet will be intro- 252 duced all those modern improvements of scientific machinery which now are available. These, Sir, were the plans which we thought it our duty to submit to the approbation of Parliament, and which received the approbation of Parliament—plans which, in our opinion, when completed, will fulfil all that is necessary for the defence of the country. I was very glad to hear from the noble Lord the Secretary of State on the first night of our meeting, that Her Majesty's Ministers do not propose any increase of the Army. That was a subject which we felt it our duty well to consider, and it certainly was our opinion that no such increase was necessary. I have noticed these points in some detail, because it must be remembered that one of the principal grounds for believing that the friendly relations of France and England are about to be broken, is the increase of the armaments of this country. Myself, however humbly, in a certain degree responsible for that increase, I wish to take this opportunity of pointing out the fallacy of that conclusion. Whoever might sit upon the throne of France, whether it be a Bourbon or a Bonaparte, whatever might have been the form of government, however disturbed or however tranquil the state of Europe, those who were responsible for the administration of affairs in this country—I care not from what party or from what section they might be selected—would sooner or later have felt it their duty to place the country in a state of defence; that duty arising from the great change which has taken place in the art of war, and the means by which offensive or defensive operations are now conducted. In the circumstance, therefore, that England has increased its armaments for self-defence, I find no reason for a moment to think that there is any authority for the too prevalent belief to which I have alluded.
Sir, there is one other cause, also of a novel character, which has been alleged—which is daily alleged—for the belief in this impending rupture, and which no doubt is extremely prevalent and influential; and that is the troubled state of France during latter years—troubles which have terminated in the revival of what I think is fallaciously styled a military dynasty. Now, there can be no doubt that the founder of the dynasty that now prevails in France was one of the greatest conquerors not only of modern, but of all ages; hut it does not follow—and history, indeed, con- 253 tradicts the position—that the descendants of a conqueror are necessarily his rivals. Generally speaking, those who follow a conqueror are inclined to peaceable pursuits; and when we find that the present Emperor of the French, who in a certain sense must he said to owe his throne to his connexion with a great conqueror, is not even by profession a military man, we find a circumstance which rather enforces the truth of the observation that I have made. But then it is said that there is in France a military Government, and that that country is at this moment regulated by the army. But there is a great error also, I apprehend, if history is to guide us, in assuming that, because a country is governed by an army, that army must be extremely anxious to conquer other countries. When armies are anxious for conquest, it is because their position at home is uneasy, because their authority is not recognised, and because their power is not felt. It is the army returning from conquest that attempts to obtain supreme power in the State; hut if an army finds that it does possess supreme power, you very rarely find that restless desire for foreign aggression which is supposed to be the inevitable characteristic of a military force. Now, there is one remarkable characteristic of the present military Government in France, that that Government has not been occasioned by the ambition of the army, but by the solicitation of classes of civilians, of largo bodies of the industrial population, who, frightened, whether rightly or wrongly, by a state of disturbance, and as they supposed, of menacing anarchy, turned to the only disciplined body at command which they thought could secure order. I am led, therefore, to the belief that in the circumstance that there is a dynasty founded by a conqueror, but which is not a warlike dynasty, and that France is governed by the army, not in consequence of the military ambition of the troops, but in consequence of the disquietude of the citizens—there is no reason for that great anxiety which is now prevalent.
I know. Sir, there is another cause, notwithstanding, which may occasion extreme embarrassment and dispute. Although I think I have shown to the House—if that were indeed necessary—that the increase of our armaments has nut been occasioned by anything but the inevitable necessity of placing this country in a state of safety and defence, and not by any changes in foreign coun- 254 tries, and although I hope I have shown the House some cause to believe that the late of affairs in France does not necessarily, as some suppose, lead to military aggression, yet, Sir, I admit that there me reasons at this moment which should make men uneasy, and that there are causes of misconception between the two nations which cannot be watched too narrowly, and which, if neglected, may lead to disastrous consequences; and I proceed now to advert to them. There is no doubt that there is a considerable prejudice in this country against the present ruler of France—I say it without reserve—for two reasons, It is understood that in acceding to power he has terminated what we esteem a Parliamentary constitution, and that he has abrogated the liberty of the press. I wish to put the case—I think it best to put the case as fairly as I can before the House, as the object of these observations is to put an end to what I think, what I hope, is a very mistaken feeling, and to elicit from Her Majesty's Government explanations which I trust will substantiate that belief on my side. I have no doubt—we know—there is a prejudice against the present ruler of France on these two grounds. It is unnecessary for me to say that it is not probable I shall ever say or do anything which would tend to depreciate the influence or to diminish the power of Parliament or the press. My greatest; honour is to he a Member of this House. in which all my thoughts and feelings are concentred; and as for the press, I am myself a "gentleman of the press," and bear no other scutcheon. I know well the circumstances under which we have obtained in this country the invaluable blessing of a free press It is only a century and a half ago since we got rid of the censorship; and when we had got rid of the censorship we bad a law of libel, which, for nearly a century, rendered that freedom of that press a most perilous privilege. Until Mr. Fox's great Act upon the law of libel, no public writer could have been said to be safe in this country. I mention that to remind the House how very recent is the date of our real enjoyment of the press in this country, because we are mainly indebted to Mr. Fox for that great privilege; and the House will recollect that during the interval—not a very long interval, little more than half a century—that liberty of the press has been often modified, often interfered with, by British Ministers; and that modification 255 and that interference have always been sanctioned by British Parliaments. I hope we live in happier times than those which preceded us in that respect. I hope we have arrived at a conclusion in this country that, if the press is free, it should enjoy a complete freedom; that the best protection against the excesses of the press is the spirit of discussion, which is the principle upon which our society at present depends; and I think that all parties in this country have come to the conclusion that the liberty of the press is the most valuable of our public privileges, because, in fact, it secures and guarantees the enjoyment of all the rest; but, at the same time, it is always advisable, when we make observations on the conduct of foreign nations, that we should be perfectly satisfied that the circumstances in those countries to which we are applying the opinions prevalent in our own, are identical with the circumstances in which we ourselves are placed. Now, Sir, with all my love of the liberty of the press, with all my confidence that we have arrived at a state of society in England which will prevent any Minister at any time ever again attempting to interfere with that liberty of the press, I am still conscious that we enjoy it in this country on certain conditions which do not, in my opinion, prevail in other countries; namely, of a long-established order, a habit of freedom of discussion, and, above all, an absence of all those circumstances and of all those causes, many of which are disturbing society in other countries. Now, I will take a case as an example. Suppose that in England at this moment we had the greatest of all political evils—let us suppose that, instead of our happy settlement, we had a disputed succession? Let us suppose that we had a young Charles Stuart, for example, at this moment at Breda, or a young Oliver Cromwell at Bordeaux, publishing their manifestoes and sending their missives to powerful parties of their adherents in this country. We may even suppose other contingencies. Let us suppose that we had had, in the course of a few years, great revolutions in this country—that the form of our government had been changed—that our free and famous monarchy had been subverted, and that a centralised republic had been established by an energetic minority—that that minority had been insupportable, and that the army had been called in by the people generally to guard them from the excesses which they had expe- 256 rienced. Do you think that, under any of these circumstances, you would be quite sure of enjoying the same liberty of the press which you enjoy at this moment? Do you think that in the midst of revolutions, with a disputed succession, secret societies, and military rule, you would be quite certain of having your newspaper at your breakfast table every morning? Sir, these are considerations which ought to guide us when we are giving an opinion upon the conduct of rulers of other nations. There is no doubt the circumstance that the present ruler of France has stopped that liberty of the press which we so much prize, has occasioned great odium against him in this country, and has arrayed the feelings of the powerful press of England against the French Government. I myself speak upon this subject with no other feeling towards the Emperor of the French than that feeling of respect which we ought all to entertain for any Sovereign whom Her Gracious Majesty has recognised and admitted into the fraternity of monarehs. I am not ashamed or afraid to say that I, for one, deplore what has occurred, and sympathise with the fallen. Some years ago I had occasion frequently to visit France. I found that country then under the mild sway of a constitutional monarch—of a prince who, from temper as well as from policy, was humane and beneficent. I know, Sir, that at that time the press was free. I know that at that time the Parliament of France was in existence, and distinguished by its eloquence and by a dialectic power that probably even this, our own House of Commons, has never surpassed. I know that under these circumstances France arrived at a pitch of material prosperity which it had never before reached. I know also that, after a reign of unbroken prosperity of long duration, when he was aged, when he was in sorrow, and when he was suffering under overwhelming indisposition, this same prince was rudely expelled from his capital, and was denounced as a poltroon by all the journals of England because he did not command his troops to fire upon his people. Well, Sir, other Powers and other Princes have since occupied his seat, who have asserted their authority in a very different way, and are denounced by the same organs as tyrants because they did order their troops to fire upon the people. I said, Sir, that I deplore the past and sympathise with the fallen. I think every man has a right to have his feelings 257 upon these subjects; but what is the moral I presume to draw from these circumstances? It is this—that it is extremely difficult to form an opinion upon French polities; and that so long as the French people are exact in their commercial transactions, and friendly in their political relations, it is just as well that we should not interfere with their management of their domestic concerns. [Loud cheers.] I am glad to find that the House is of the opinion which I have ventured to express upon this important subject. I do not say that it is not perfectly the privilege of the English press, or of any foreign press, to make any observations they may please upon the conduct of foreign rulers, and upon the conduct of foreign nations. It is an affair of discretion; it is an affair of public wisdom. Our constitution has intrusted the writers in public journals with the privilege of expressing their opinions; they have a very responsible position; they must consider what is the tendency, and what may be the consequences, of their acts; they have a right, however, to act, and no British Minister, and no foreign Potentate, can question the power which they exercise.
Well, Sir, what was the feeling of the Government of the noble Lord opposite (Lord John Russell) upon the subject to which I am alluding? It is important to know what was the feeling, and what were the opinions, of the noble Lord when he himself was at the head of the Government. It is a pleasure to turn to Hansard, not to twit and taunt an hon. Gentleman with some quotation which may impugn his consistency, but to refer to a statement of views becoming a person filling the noble Lord's exalted position, and expressed with all that propriety and terseness of language which distinguish him. This was the declaration of the noble Lord in 1852, about a year ago, almost immediately before he quitted office. These expressions were delivered in another Parliament; there are many Gentlemen present who did not listen to them; they are peculiarly apposite to the present moment. An acquaintance with the opinions of a great Minister at such a period must be interesting to all, and therefore I shall make no excuse for bringing before the House the views which the noble Lord then professed, and which I most sincerely believe he now entertains. "This, however," said the noble Lord, on the 3rd of February, 1852— 258I am bound to say, that the President of France, with the largo means of information which he possesses, has no doubt taken that course from a consideration of the state of the country, and that the course which he has taken is that best fitted to secure the welfare of the country over which he rules. Let me restate what I have said upon this subject.The House will observe that the noble Lord spoke with perfect calmness. It was not a speech in reply. it was a speech delivered on the first night of the Session. It was a statement well matured and voluntarily made, and, that he may not be mistaken, the noble Lord begs permission of the House to give a summary of his views, and to restate them. "Let me restate," said the noble Lord, "what I have said upon this subject—I staled I could not give my approbation to the conduct of the President; but I have no reason to doubt, and everything which I have heard confirms that opinion, that in the opinion of the President of France the three things which I have mentioned—namely, putting an end to the French constitution, preventing the elections of 1852, and the abolition of the Parliamentary constitution, were ail measures conducive, and perhaps essential to the welfare of France. But I have something to state further, because I confess that I have seen with very great regret the language which has been used by some portion of the press of this country with respect to the President of France and the affairs of that country. I remember something as a boy, and I have read more, of that which occurred during the peace of Amiens, which rendered that peace of so short a duration, and which involved these two great nations in the most bloody hostilities which ever mangled the face of Europe. I believe that temperate discussion, temperate negotiation between the two countries, might have averted the calamity of war with England, but that the language of the press at that time was such as greatly to embitter all negotiation, and to prevent the continuance of that peace. Sir, I should deeply regret if the press of this country at the present time were to take a similar course. We have indeed the great advantage over the time to which I refer, which is, that the first Consul of france, great as were his abilities, was totally ignorant of the means and of the constitution of this country; the present President of france has that advantage over his uncle, that he is perfectly aware how much liberty—nay, how much licence of discussion prevails in this country, and that the fiercest and most unmeasured invectives of the press do not imply any feeling of hostility cither on the part of the Government or on the part of the nation. I am. convinced of this, that there never was a time in which it was more essential that these two great countries should preserve relations of peace and amity with each other. There never was a time when the peace of Europe would more contribute to the cause of civilisation and happiness. I am convinced also, from every assurance that I have had, that the ruler of France, the present President of that country, is desirous of keeping upon those terms of amity with this country; and it shall never he any fault of ours, while, connected 259 with the Government of the country, if those terms of peace and amity are not continued unimpaired. I have said this more especially because it certainly will be our duty, as has been intimated in Her Majesty's Speech, to propose some increase in the estimates of the present year. When the proper time comes—when the measures are submitted—it will be shown, I trust to the satisfaction of the House, that those measures do not increase the armament of the country, and are, in fact, nothing more than what every nation on the Continent, and even the United States, think it necessary to take for their own national defence. It is impossible not to see that with the great changes which have taken place in the world, that, with the other arts, the art of war has also greatly improved, and that it was necessary, even in the case of possibility of war, that we should not be without those means of defence which that improved art of war has provided. But really, to hear or read some of the letters—some of the language used by some portions of the press, one would imagine that these two great nations, so wealthy, so similar in enlightenment, were going to butcher one another merely to try what would be the effect of percussion shells and needle guns. That feeling is, I am confident, but partial and limited, for I am convinced that the solid and deliberate opinions of this country is in favour of the continuance of the most permanent and solid peace, and which I think is the greatest blessing which the nations of Europe can enjoy."—[3 Hansard, cxix. 100.]I preferred, instead of giving my own representations of what the noble Lord said, appealing to his own terse and perspicuous language. Sounder sentiments, more clearly expressed, I have never listened to; and I beg the House to understand why I am pressing this important declaration upon their attention at this moment. It is, because this is the speech of the noble Lord when he was at the head of a Government, and I am anxious to ascertain to-night whether his opinions since he has taken a distinguished, but subordinate, part in a Government headed by another, may be modified, and whether we may count upon a unanimous similarity of opinion on the part of his Colleagues. There can be no doubt upon the subject of our relations with France: at the beginning of 1852 there was a perfect unison of opinion between the noble Lord and his then Colleagues, because in the other House the country was favoured on the same night with a declaration of opinion on this important subject, made by another person, who was for a long time a Member of this House and of Her Majesty's Government, but who no longer occupies either of those positions—a noble Lord who, whatever may be the difference of our political opinions, for his great abilities, his great capacity for public labour, and his unimpeachable in- 260 tegrity, will always in this House be mentioned and remembered with honour—I mean my Lord Grey. I will not apologise to the House for reading an extract—it is the last I shall read—from the speech of Lord Grey, because I am sure that on this important occasion, when it is of the utmost advantage that accurate ideas upon this subject should prevail, the House will be glad to learn what Lord Grey, who cannot be doubted as a lover of public liberty, thought of the situation of France a year ago, for it may be a very efficient guide to us as to his opinions of the state of France at this moment. Lord Grey said—I have the pleasure of being able to express my unqualified concurrence in, I believe, every word which the noble Earl who preceded me (the Earl of Derby) uttered. I entirely agree with him as to its being the duty of this country, as a country and a nation, and the duty of each individual in his individual capacity, to abstain from any interference in the internal politics of that great and powerful nation which lies so near to us. I, like the noble Lord, observe with the deepest concern, and, I may say, with the indignation which the noble Earl has expressed, the tone which has been taken by a large portion of the newspaper press of this country. I think that the denunciation of the person at the head of the Government of France, coupled with those more than exaggerated—I will say, untrue—representations of the defenceless condition of this country, do not only savour of imprudence, but of something worse than imprudence; and I rejoice that the noble Earl, in the position which he occupies, has come forward to assert, in the emphatic manner in which it has been done, his utter repudiation of language such as I have described. And I do trust that when, with the full assurance that I have the concurrence of my Colleagues, I join in that repudiation, and when I am convinced every one of your Lordships will echo the same sentiment, I do believe and hope that the mischief, the incalculable evil, which might otherwise have resulted from language thus held by a great part of the newspaper press of this country, will to a great extent be neutralised, and that it will be understood in foreign countries that, however those newspapers may express the opinions and the feeling's of those who write in them, they do not express the opinions or the feelings of any great and powerful party in this country, or in the Houses of Parliament."—[3 Hansard, cxix, 40.]Now, the House will observe that Lord Grey, on that occasion, entirely coincided in opinion with the noble Lord who was then at the head of Her Majesty's Government in this House. I think it will be observed that, on that occasion Lord Grey answered for the complete agreement of his Colleagues as to the evil, not of public characters, but of anonymous writers in the press, denouncing the ruler of France. We are clear, therefore, that on 261 that occasion the whole of the Colleagues of the noble Lord in his Government were of opinion that, however lawful and legitimate the criticisms and strictures of the press of England might be, these denunciations of the Emperor of the French were seriously to he deprecated; and that there was a most anxious desire and determination on the part of the noble Lord and his Government to maintain between this country and France the most friendly relations. Well, Sir, that was the state of affairs between the two countries a year ago. Perhaps I may be permitted to say, that during the period that we occupied office nothing took place that at all impaired that cordial understanding between the two countries which I may say we inherited from our predecessors, I know well, Sir, that there are some gentlemen—some in this House—who, though they may highly esteem a friendly understanding between this country and other Powers, are apt to speak in a tone of great disparagement of the duties and the influence of diplomacy, and do not attribute to such intimate connexion any great, or permanent, or advantageous influence on the general course of human events. I can only say, Sir—I feel it my duty to say—that during the period, however brief, in which we occupied a responsible position as regards the Administration of this country, we found a cordial understanding with France to be of great advantage to the welfare of the world—that on several occasions we found that cordial understanding coming to our aid to maintain peace, to advance civilisation, and to promote the general welfare of mankind. I do not wish to take refuge in vague declamation; but of course upon such a subject I am bound to exercise considerable reserve. I shall not now pretend to give to the House a catalogue of all the instances in which we found the advantage of that cordial understanding and sincere co-operation on the part of France; but I noted down last night some instances which I think I am justified in stating to the House, and I shall place them before you with the conviction that, when unbiased and unprejudiced persons consider the transactions to which they refer, and the brief interval in which all these transactions—which are only a part of the transactions that did occur—took place, they will see the great importance of the considerations that I am endeavouring now to impress upon them. Lot me then mention some instances, to which I can with- 262 out impropriety allude, in which during the time that we occupied office we found the advantage of having a cordial understanding with our neighbours. There was a misunderstanding between France and Switzerland on a subject which disquieted Europe, and which many supposed at one moment might greatly disturb the peaceful relations of the world. Our advice was accepted in that case. Our good offices were tendered and accepted, and that cloud was completely dispelled. Take another case—the case in which France joined with us in the negotiation for the opening of the South American rivers. That was an operation tending to increase the commercial relations of the world, and to advance that cause of progress which all are so anxious to foster. Then there was the case of Prussia and Neufehatel, when a violent course might have been anticipated on the part of Prussia against Neufchatel; but the united representations of France and England, made in the most friendly spirit to the enlightened monarch who governs Prussia, led to the happy termination of that affair. A fourth instance is one in which France joined with us in pressing upon the United States the tripartite renunciation of Cuba. It is true we did not succeed in the immediate object of that interference; but the moral effect of the step has been very considerable, and at least indicated, on the part of France, a total absence of that anxiety to keep alive subjects and opportunities of public embroilment which has been so liberally imputed to her. We succeeded, also, in cordial union with France, in preventing the war which was about to break out in Hayti. But I will take another case—because it is greatly to the reputation and honour of France—I am not forgetting, I assure the House, a proper reserve in alluding to these subjects; I will take the case when the peaceful relations of the Levant were threatened last year, with regard to the tanzimat in Egypt, which was instituted last year by the Sultan of Turkey. We had entirely failed diplomatically in inducing the Sultan to modify that tanzimat. Now, although it has always been the traditional policy of France to encourage the independent conduct of the Pacha of Egypt, and not to be too apt to aid in terminating disputes between that Prince and the Porte; yet when affairs assumed an aspect which seemed to threaten a disturbance in the Levant, we appealed to the cordial feeling 263 of France; she joined with us, and, by our united influence, the tanzimat was modified, and the question in dispute was amicably arranged, I might state another instance. I might appeal to the conduct of France in reference to the revision of the Greek Succession Treaty, which secured to the Greeks the fulfilment of their constitutional law. I might also appeal to the conduct of France and to her cordial co-operation with England, though against some of her apparent interests, in preventing the disturbances which threatened the new regency of Tunis. I have stated eight instances in which the cordial union of France assisted us in preventing great evils, not only to this country, but to the world generally; but remember that during all this time, while all this was taking place, much to the credit of the noble Lord who then presided over the Foreign Office (the Earl of Malmesbury), and who has had such scanty justice done him, but to whoso indefatigable application and determined energy this country is much indebted—remember that all this time, while the French Government were quietly, tranquilly, and diplomatically, working with our Government for these great objects of public benefit and advantage—that French Government was painted as corsairs and banditti, watching to attack our coasts without the slightest provocation and without the slightest warning. Well, then, I have shown that the cordial understanding between England and France was the great principle, so far as our foreign policy was concerned, of the Government of the noble Lord opposite, and of the Government of Lord Derby. I doubt not, especially considering the much more protracted term of the noble Lord's Government, he experienced from that cordial understanding far greater benefits than even the Government of Lord Derby; but we shall always remember that the conduct of France, while we were in office, was conduct which entitled that nation to the respect, sympathy, and good feeling of the people of this country.
Now, Sir, in the portion of the speech of the noble Lord opposite, which I just read, the House perhaps noticed one of those fine observations which often distinguish the remarks of the noble Lord. The noble Lord pointed out to the House the advantage which the Emperor of the French has over his illustrious relative, in the fact that, instead of being ignorant of the laws and constitution of 264 this country, he, from long residence here, is familiar with our language, our habits, and our customs. No doubt, Sir, that is a most beneficial circumstance in the position of the present Emperor of the French; he has lived long in England, he has known English society in various classes, his education has not been deficient in the most important element, adversity, and it is not likely that he would misconceive, however much he might be annoyed at, the character of the English press. No doubt, the present Emperor of the French must have been perfectly aware that the attacks of the press on him were attacks for which neither the Government nor the nation, as a nation, is responsible; and if he has—as I should suppose it is pretty well known that he has, both from official notification and other sources—expressed indignation and annoyance at those attacks, it must have been because he was of opinion that when they became known to his subjects at home, the latter might not form of the circumstances so accurate an opinion as himself. It is, indeed, not likely, when those attacks are made on his country, his subjects and himself, that those who read them abroad could comprehend—what few but Englishmen can comprehend—the exact relations between the readers and writers of public journals in this country. Therefore, I am not surprised that he felt alarm and indignation at these attacks, though I agree with the noble Lord, that a person who had resided so long in England as the present Emperor of France, could not for a moment misconceive the authority of the statements in question. Bearing that in mind, I ask the House to permit mo to pursue my inquiry, and ask what is the feeling of the present Government, of which the noble Lord the Member for the City of London is a Member, on the subject of the relations between England and France? We know well what were the feelings of the Government of the noble Lord on this subject when the noble Lord was at the head of the Administration, and we also know well, both from the statement I have made, and from the reference to past transactions which I have offered to the House, what were the feelings of Lord Derby and his Colleagues on this important matter. But I now wish to ascertain—for, after all, that is the most important question—what upon this subject are the views, opinions, and sentiments of the Government of my Lord Aberdeen? Sir, soon after the formation of that Government, a 265 declaration of opinion on this subject was made by one of its most eminent Members, the First Lord of the Admiralty. The First Lord of the Admiralty, a most experienced statesman, found himself, by his acceptance of office, and by a return to those councils he had previously adorned, in one of the most responsible positions in which an English Minister at the formation of a Government can find himself—upon the hustings, before his constituents, in the face of the whole country, with the people watching for the expression of his opinions, in order that they might form some idea of the policy of the new Government, and, I may say, with the whole of Europe, not less anxious as to the result, listening to him. What, then, was the statement of the right hon. Gentleman with respect to the state of affairs in France? The right hon. Gentleman described the ruler of France, and he also described those whom he ruled, in one of those pithy sentences which no one prepares with more due elaboration. In the same sentence the right hon. Gentleman contrived to give the character not only of the Emperor of the French, but of the French themselves. He described the Emperor of the French as a despot who had trampled on the rights and liberties of forty millions of men. [Loud cheers.] Nothing demonstrates the evil of making such declarations more than hearing them cheered in the manner the House has just witnessed. Well, according to the right hon. Gentleman, one of the most distinguished Members of the Cabinet of Lord Aberdeen—which Cabinet, we hoped, was to maintain that cordial understanding with France which was the cardinal point of the policy of the Government of the noble Lord opposite and of the Government of Lord Derby—the present ruler of France is a despot, who has trampled on the rights and liberties of forty millions of human beings. Therefore the French people, according to the right hon. Gentleman, arc a nation of slaves; and a despot and slaves are those with whom we are to have a cordial understanding, in order to prevent those dangers and to secure those blessings which, by a reference to those proceedings which I have already detailed, are the consequences of having a cordial understanding with France. Well, if I had to form an opinion of the policy of the Cabinet from the first declaration made by so eminent a Member of it as the First Lord of the Admiralty, I should certainly be induced to suppose that some great 266 change was about to occur. How are we to account for such a declaration? I will not be so impertinent as to suppose it was an indiscretion. An indiscretion from "All the talents?"—impossible! Can it, then, be design? I will not misrepresent the right hon. Gentleman—I will not commit the mistake I made the other day; I understand from what the noble Lord opposite then stated that you may call the French slaves if you are speaking illustratively of politics in general; but you must not call the Emperor of France a tyrant) or his subjects slaves, if you are formally treating of the foreign relations of the country. Now, I frankly admit that the right hon. Gentleman was not treating of the foreign relations of the country; he was only offering arguments against extended suffrage and vote by ballot—arguments, by the way, which I trust have had a due influence on the mind of the President of the Board of Works (Sir William Molesworth). The right hon. Gentleman made some significant observations on the subject. I do not allude to his promise of obtaining a large measure of Parliamentary reform, because on the hustings there must be allowed some licence on such subjects, though there can be no doubt that whatever liberties you may take with your constituents, a Councillor of Her Majesty ought at least to be careful when he speaks of a foreign Potentate. I must therefore assume, until in the pursuit of my investigation I can arrive at a different conclusion, I must assume for the moment that this was a declaration made without design. The present Government tell us that they have no principles—at least not at present. Some people arc uncharitable enough to suppose that they have not got a party; but, in Heaven's name, why are they Ministers, if they have not got discretion? That is the great quality on which I had thought this Cabinet was established. Vast experience, administrative adroitness—safe men, who never would blunder—men who might not only take the Government without a principle and without a party, but to whom the country ought to be grateful for taking it under such circumstances; yet, at the very first outset, we find one of the most experienced of these eminent statesmen acting in the teeth of the declarations of the noble Lord opposite, and of Lord Grey, made in 1852; and holding up to public scorn and indignation the ruler and the people, a good and cordial understanding 267 with whom are the cardinal points of all sound statesmanship.
Well, Sir, another Minister has also given his opinion on the politics of France. Parliament had not resumed its sittings before two of these experienced men had expressed publicly sentiments which startled the country, which alarmed Europe, and which were apologised for, in one instance, by the noble Lord opposite. I am not going now to say a single word on the observations of the President of the Board of Control (Sir Charles Wood) as regards their offensive character to the Emperor of the French. The right hon. Gentleman has explained in a letter that he may have said unpremeditatedly that the Emperor of the French "gagged the press of France, that he gagged the press of Brussels, and that he hates our press because it speaks the truth, and he cannot gag it;" but still he did not mean to say anything at all offensive to the Emperor. I know the right hon. Gentleman is in the habit of saying very offensive things without meaning it. I know he has outraged the feelings of many individuals without the slightest intention of doing so; and, therefore, in reference to so peculiar an organisation, I can only say that that is a very awkward accomplishment. But this speech at Halifax, in which the discreet President of the Board of Control followed the experienced First Lord of the Admiralty with a wonderful harmony of conduct and sympathy of sentiment, contained far more important allegations than the personal words to which the letter of the right hon. President of the Board of Control referred the other day. What does the right hon. Gentleman mean by the press of Belgium being gagged? I do not know whether hon. Gentlemen opposite are aware of the position of Belgium; whether they know that it is an independent country, governed by one whom I may fairly describe as the wisest and most accomplished of living princes? What a description is given of the position of the King of the Belgians, to say nothing of the Belgian people, when a Minister of Queen Victoria publicly announces to Europe that the King of the Belgians is in a state more humiliating than the slaves, who, according to the statement of the First Lord of the Admiralty, are the subjects of the Emperor of France, and that he permits the press of his country to be gagged by a foreign Power? Now, what are the facts? Is 268 the press of Belgium gagged? Is the Prince, in whom England must always take an interest irrespective of his great talents and accomplishments, is he in the humiliating position of having his press gagged? Let us look into the facts of this important case, and let us see whether they have been correctly stated by the President of the Board of Control, who, from his position, ought to be acquainted with some of them. Belgium is a country the independence and neutrality of which are guaranteed by treaties to which England is a party, and that independence and neutrality are not to be impeached or violated without England interfering with other Powers to vindicate the rights and establish the authority of that country. There is no slight question at stake in this matter; because, if the press of Belgium be gagged by a foreign Power, where is the independence of that country? and when and at what hour may not England be called on, in conformity with treaties which cannot be evaded, to emancipate Belgium from this thraldom? I recommend hon. Gentlemen to take that point into consideration, in consequence of the statement made on the high authority of a gentleman fresh from Cabinet Councils, who must therefore he supposed to have a complete and accurate idea of the state of Europe. There was this difference between the press of England and that of Belgium in reference to French affairs, that the newspapers published in Brussels against the Emperor of the French were printed in the language of his countrymen, and that they openly incited to and recommended the assassination of the ruler of France. Of course, under these circumstances, it is not remarkable that the ruler of France complained of such flagrant outrages. It is impossible to say, if no redress had been given or offered, what might not have been the consequences. It is very possible that Belgium might have become involved in invasion, because no protection against such outrages towards a neighbouring sovereign could be given. It is also very possible that the great Powers might not have conceived it to be their duty, under the circumstances, to assist in the rescue of that country. But see the embroilment of Europe that might then have arisen. Perhaps England alone would have been left as the champion of Belgium, because it is not likely that we should have deserted our neighbours, whose independence we 269 are bound to maintain. What then did the King of the Belgians do? He acted like a wise and able Sovereign. He did not submit to his press being gagged; he made no humiliating concessions; but he felt that the appeal made to him was a just appeal, that the outrage was an unjustifiable outrage; and he went to his own free Parliament, and said that it was an intolerable grievance that a neighbouring Prince should be held up to assassination by newspapers in Belgium, and in the language read by his own subjects; and he appealed to that Parliament to do what was proper. And what was the course of the free Parliament of Belgium? I believe without a dissentient voice, certainly without any important opposition, they passed a law declaring that papers in the French language, or in any language, should not be published in Belgium that recommended the assassination of neighbouring princes; and thus in the most efficient and the most constitutional manner that consummate Sovereign terminated a difficulty which threatened his country in a way most honourable to all parties. And yet it was not a newspaper, it was not one of those vile prints that counsel assassination, that made the statement that the press of Belgium is gagged, but a Councillor of Queen Victoria, an experienced statesman, a statesman selected to sit in the Councils of the Government (where there is no regard to the principles of the Gentlemen who compose it, as that is a question of second-rate importance)—selected to take office on account of his admirable discretion, his unfailing judgment, and the certainty that under no circumstances he would say or do anything that could commit his Colleagues. I observe that on the day when the right hon. Gentleman made his speech at Halifax, the Cabinet met and sat four hours. Now, when a Cabinet sits four hours, the subjects considered must be weighty. The right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer smiles, as if the Cabinet was sitting on the income tax. Oh, no! I am sure the Cabinet could not have been sitting upon the income tax. It is fully avowed and frankly acknowledged that all questions of domestic interest are to be suspended—adjourned to the Greek Kalends, for aught we know—and, therefore, it is clear it could not have been about any question of domestic policy the Queen's servants met that day and sat so long. It is not, therefore too rash a supposition to imagine that 270 something connected with the foreign relations of the country may have occupied their thoughts. It is not difficult even—this of course is only conjecture—to conceive the subject which attracted their attention; for the newspapers were teeming with accounts of the arrival of Government messengers with despatches from the Turkish Empire, a portion of which was at the time greatly disturbed. That problem which has perplexed the minds and occupied the anxious thoughts of statesmen for more than half a century—the state of the Turkish Empire—was probably the subject under the consideration of Her Majesty's Ministers. Every one knows how much is at stake in the solution of that problem. It is a question not only of the peace of Europe, but of the civilisation of the world. And how have English statesmen hitherto dealt with it? In what manner have they attempted to grapple with the difficulties of this ever-reverting subject of perplexity and peril? Only in one way. They have recognised but one means by which a temperate, wise and successful issue could be insured. And what is that? A cordial understanding with France. The traditionary policy of that great empire has led it always to feel that it must not sacrifice a high principle of State for any temporary success, or any petty and partial acquisition which it might be able to secure. So long as France and England thoroughly understand each other on this great question, the peace of the world and the interests of civilisation and humanity are not in peril. I will assume, then, the Turkish question to have been the subject of the Cabinet Council of four hours, and I cannot well conceive any subject more worthy of such prolonged deliberation. I can conceive Her Majesty's Ministers quitting the Council Chamber deep in thought and fully impressed with the almost awful responsibilty of their decision upon that policy; and I can also conceive the feeling of these same Ministers when next morning they read the speech at Halifax, and found that their absent Colleague had designated in terms of ignominy the sovereign Power with whom they were to act as an ally, and treated—as I will presently show—the nation he rules over as the lowest, in point of civilisation, that can well be conceived. As regards the First Lord of the Admiralty (Sir James Graham), he has had a great deal of experience, to be sure, but then he has been a long time in opposition, and something 271 might be said for him in the way of excuse on that account, if, indeed, so great a personage can condescend to an excuse. The right hon. Baronet might say, or some one might say for him, "Well, I have been a good many years without attending Cabinet Councils. This occurred before any new Cabinet Councils were summoned. I was unexpectedly called to power—without any previous arrangement or understanding, of course. I had not yet attended the Councils of Her Majesty's servants when I went to the hustings. It is a strange thing that I should have made such a business of it; but still these things will happen." But what was the position of the President of the Board of Control? He was hardly out of office but he was in again. He had been in office for five or six years, and a hardish time he had of it, no doubt; but, nevertheless, he agreed again to lend his gravity to the Councils of his Royal mistress. He was so properly anxious that the people of this country should have none but discreet men to administer their affairs, that without making any stipulations as to the policy or principles of the Government, he became a Minister again, and attended twenty Cabinet Councils before he went down to make the Halifax demonstration; and yet, with this renovated sense of responsibility—knowing how much depended on everything said by a Minister under these circumstances—the right hon. Gentleman, fresh from Cabinet Councils—knowing all the questions at issue, goes to his constituents, describes the ruler of the French in language which I have more than once referred to, and will not now repeat, and then proceeds, in a passage which I have not yet read to the House, to give the people of Halifax some idea of the conduct of the Emperor's subjects. The right hon. Gentleman feels it necessary to vindicate the increased expenditure of the country to his constituents, and he shows them, as it was not difficult to do, that this expenditure had been incurred solely for self-defence. But then the right hon. Gentleman goes on to illustrate the importance of these defensive measures, "for," says he, "I do not think there will be a regular war with the French, but I tell you what you will have; you will have bodies of 5,000 men suddenly thrown upon your coast, and how would you like that? How would your wives and daughters be treated?" This is a description of the bravest, the most polished, and most ingenious nation of Christendom by one of Her Majesty's 272 Ministers. Now, I shall not express my own opinion of this definition or description of the French nation by the President of the Board of Control; but I will quote the words of a great Whig Minister, whose memory must be respected by every Gentleman on the opposite bench. I was going to say by every Member of the Government, but that, perhaps, would be going too far. In the debate which took place in the House of Lords on Mr. Pitt's commercial treaty with France in 1787, Lord Stormont, I think it was, opposing the treaty, put forward, as one of his arguments, that it would he dangerous for British merchants to invest so much money in France, because in the case of a war the French Government would seize upon all their capital; whereupon Lord Shelburne—who now bore the honoured name of Lans-downe—ridiculed such sentiments, saying, "One would suppose, in listening to the noble Lord, that he imagines the French nation to be corsairs and bandits of Tunis and Morocco." Well, that is what I say to the President of the Board of Control. The Halifax hypothesis is, that without declaring war, and in utter violation of all the rules which govern civilised nations, the French will land bands of men on our coasts, to commit the desecrating enormities hinted at; and I say that the man who conceives this to be possible, must imagine the bravest, the most ingenious, and the most polished people in the world to be no better than corsairs of Tunis and Morocco; and yet, after having said all these things, the right hon. Gentleman writes a letter to the leader of the House of Commons—mind I am not touching on his apology to the ruler of France—I have omitted all that from consideration tonight—I do not think much of the apology—I can't say I think it a handsome one—but let that pass; I am looking to the principles involved, and the great interests at stake, in the speeches and statements of a Cabinet Minister. In this letter the right hon. Gentleman says, quite in his own vein, "I cannot conceive that an English Minister"—mind, this is written; it is an important State paper, a letter to the leader of the House of Commons, to be read to the Senate of England—"I connot conceive that an English Minister is to be precluded from adverting to what he conceives to be the state of things on the Continent." Well, I will match that sentence for style against any sentence that was ever written; it is, indeed, worthy of the 273 position which the right hon. Gentleman occupied. He is apologising to an Emperor. fox an insult to a nation, and then he tells us that he is not conscious that an English Minister should he precluded from adverting to what he conceives to be the state of things on the Continent. My opinion is, that an English Minister should not open his mouth on any subject, and certainly not upon what the President of the Board of Control calls "the state of things on the Continent," without a grave sense of responsibility. And, moreover, I think that if, under the circumstances, the President of the Board of Control felt it his duty to advert to what he supposed to be the state of things on the Continent, he ought, as a Minister, to have been courteous in expression and conciliatory in language. But I cannot admit the principle that an English Minister shall take part in the most secret deliberations of the greatest kingdom of the world, and then leave the Cabinet to babble on a hustings all that he has heard. What Cabinet Ministers understand to be the state of things on the Continent is a great secret of State. We have no right to ask them to divulge it in this House, much less in the Odd Fellows' Hall at Halifax. Well, I have advanced so far in this argument that we have arrived, as regards the sentiments of Her Majesty's Ministers on the all-important question of our relations with France, at a very unsatisfactory point. Though there might be no doubt as to the policy of the noble Lord opposite when he was Chief Minister—though there could be no doubt of the policy of Lord Derby when he was Chief Minister—as regards our relations with that country, hitherto, if we are to he guided by what has transpired in the speeches of two Members of the Cabinet, there is very grave doubt as to what the policy of the present Cabinet of the Earl of Aberdeen is to be. I think that it is not only a legitimate subject of investigation and inquiry, hut that it is our absolute duty to obtain from the present Cabinet, if it be possible, something more satisfactory upon this all-important subject. For, be it observed, that the Emperor of the French, with all his English experience, cannot for a moment look upon the declarations I have quoted as only the declarations of private individuals. They are not anonymous or unauthorised declarations; and in his mind they may rightly be esteemed as national declarations being expressions of opinion by Members of Her Majesty's Government. They must be 274 viewed, therefore, in a very different light to opinions expressed, and legitimately expressed, by the public journals of the country. But there are additional and peculiar reasons why we should make this inquiry at the present time. When the present Government took office, the head of the Government offered what is called a programme of his policy in another place—a programme so vigorous and lucid, in the opinion of the noble Lord opposite, that he considered it quite exhausted the subject, that it left no topic untouched, and no doubt upon any topic in the mind of any individual; and, therefore, the noble Lord said that he would not presume to add anything. Now, there was a declaration in that programme upon the foreign policy of the Government. I beg to call the attention of the House to that very important declaration. Remember who made it; remember it was made not only by the Prime Minister of England, but by one who had filled the highest offices of the State, and especially had been more than once, and for a considerable period, Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs. Therefore, although a Minister is bound to know something of everything, the House will observe that upon this topic the noble Chief Minister was bound to know everything. It is a subject of which he is preeminently master. Let us, then, recall to our recollection the statement in this satisfactory programme made by the Earl of Aberdeen. Lord Aberdeen did not dwell upon the subject of foreign affairs at any great length, but what he did say was succinct and precise. He said it was unnecessary to dilate on the topic, because the system and principles on which the foreign policy of this country had been conducted during the last thirty years were the same. Sir, I confess I listened to that declaration with some astonishment. I could not hut recall to mind the tempestuous debates which only three years ago resounded in this House on the subject of our foreign policy. I could not forget that the system and principles of the foreign policy then pursued, and which had been pursued for years by the Government presided over by the noble Lord the Member for London, had been described as unbecoming to the dignity of England, and perilous to the peace of Europe. I could not but remember that this was the language used by one of his Colleagues in this coalition Ministry. I could not but recollect that Lord Aberdeen himself had used, with reference to the then foreign policy and the princi- 275 ples on which it was conducted, an epithet rarely admitted into Parliamentary debate for he stigmatised them as "abominable."—I could not but recollect also that the great indictment of the foreign policy of the then Government was opened in this House with elaborate care and vehement invective by the right hon. Baronet now First Lord of the Admiralty (Sir James Graham). I therefore was somewhat surprised when I found that for thirty years there had been no difference in the principles on which the foreign policy of the country had been carried on. I could not but recollect, too, that the noble Lord the Member for London denounced the principal instigator of those debates as one who did not take the foremost part in them, as he ought to have done, and as being in league with foreign conspirators for the most disgraceful object which it was possible for a British statesman, if it could be proved, to pursue. I could not but remember the glowing and fervid eloquence with which the noble Lord vindicated his noble Friend the then Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs (Viscount Palmerston), and still a Secretary of State, when, commending him as a truly English Minister, he added, "He is not a Minister of Austria, he is not a Minister of Russia, he is not a Minister of France." Who, then, was the Minister of Austria, Russia, and France? Who sat for that portrait? It is the portrait of the present Prime Minister of England, drawn by his leader of the House of Commons; and he has paid the artist for his performance by degrading him from the post of which he was worthy. Is the recollection of these facts—is the statement made in this panegyrised programme of the noble Lord—is the indiscretion or the design of the two Cabinet Ministers whose conduct we have been considering, reasons why we should suppose that all is satisfactory on this all-important subject? I give the noble Lord opposite credit for a sincere adhesion to sentiments of cordiality towards France; I make no doubt he is as deeply and profoundly convinced of the soundness of that policy as when he delivered to the mind of this country those reassuring words to which I have referred. But, alas, the noble Lord is no longer Prime Minister of England; and therefore I must have a more formal assurance, or at least the country will require it, now that the position of the noble Lord is somewhat changed. I think, therefore, the House will agree with me that I am taking no unfair or factious course. [Cheers.] I hope that hon. Gentlemen 276 will favour us with their idea of faction, if they think that on the most important subject that interests the English people, I am not justified in asking for a frank explanation of the views of Ministers. Why, Sir, here is a document which has been put into my hands since I came into the House, and to which I would not have alluded—it disturbs the argument I would have pursued—had it not been for the indiscreet movement of hon. Gentlemen opposite, who seem to insinuate that the observations I am making with a view to elicit information are unnecessary. Do you think so? They shall hear what is the opinion of the merchants, bankers, and traders of the city of London on the subject. The document I hold in my hand is an invitation to a meeting of those classes "who feel called upon at this time publicly to express their deep concern at witnessing the endeavours continually made to create and perpetuate feelings of distrust, ill-will, and hostility between the inhabitants of the two great nations of England and France." I therefore recommend some of the hon. Members who attempted to disturb my observations—if they should not favour us with their opinions to-night—to go to the London Tavern and tell the merchants, bankers, and traders of England that they are exhibiting a factious feeling towards the Government, because they feel alarmed and disquieted as to their commercial transactions. Sir, I will not be deterred from asking the question I am about to put. I say we have a right to ask Ministers to declare upon what system our foreign policy is to be conducted. Let them explain the mysterious paragraph in Lord Aberdeen's programme, which they say is so satisfactory. Is their system to be one of "liberal energy," or "antiquated imbecility?" That is the real question. When the noble Viscount opposite, who was then Foreign Secretary, was vindicating himself from attacks, he took credit for the liberal energy of his policy, and described the principles recommended by his present chief as being a system of "antiquated imbecility." Now I think it of the most importance that, we should clearly know whether the foreign policy of this country is to be carried on on principles of liberal energy or on principles of antiquated imbecility. But, Sir, I have shown to the House that already two Cabinet Ministers have acted in a manner quite opposed to the declaration of 1852. I have shown that the programme of the First Minister does not in any way-remove the difficulties with which we are 277 environed, and that it is utterly inconsistent with the facts of the case according to a, large number of the Members of the present Cabinet. If the principles on which the foreign policy of this country is carried on have never changed, how can the First Lord of the Admiralty, how-can the Chancellor of the Exchequer, vindicate the course that they then took, the resolutions that they then supported, the sentiments that they then expressed? I think they will find it a very difficult task. There is even now still a further reason why I must press for some explanation from the Government on this head. I repeat that in the sentiments of the noble Lord I have implicit confidence on this subject. I have no doubt that the noble Lord is profoundly convinced of the justice and truth of the sentiments that he expressed in 1852. Whatever the noble Lord says when he opens his lips on such a subject, and particularly when he does so as Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, is entitled to our highest consideration. But how long is the noble Lord going to remain Secretary of State? I am not speaking from rumour: I ask and it is a legitimate question in a debate on the foreign policy of the Government—why did the noble Lord accept the important post which he now occupies? Was it because his opinions on the French connexion were well known? Well, is he going to leave the post because his Cabinet, or the majority of his Cabinet, does not agree with those opinions? This, therefore, is clearly a subject on which some explanation is due to the House. Sir, I know I may be met, but I hardly thick I shall be met, by the allegation that I have no right to suppose the noble Lord is about to quit the office he is so competent to occupy. I said, I did not speak from rumour on this point. and I will now state to the House the authority on which I said so. It is a paragraph in a paper—a journal. a hope, notwithstanding the conduct of the journals which some of us have criticised, it will not be undervalued on that account. It is, to borrow an expression from our neighbours, "communicated," and it appears in a journal of great respectability. It appears in a paragraph in large letter, in the most prominent place, and commences with the significant words, "We are authorised to state"—in fact, it is redolent of Downing-strcet, and no doubt came from it. The first paragraph—for there have been four of them—informs us that the arrange- 278 ments, which were not quite made when the Cabinet was formed, are now pretty well settled; the noble Lord the Member for London is to continue leader of the House of Commons, hut is to relinquish the office of Secretary of State, and he will probably not assume any other office. I have not the paragraphs here, but I read them yesterday, and I can state pretty nearly the substance of them—all "from authority." The paragraph I have just read to the House was a very strange announcement, no doubt; but then came the second paragraph. We understood from the first that the noble Lord had accepted office as Secretary of State provisionally only; that he was to be leader of the House of Commons, and to hold no office. People were rather surprised at this; so then there came forth another paragraph, which was "authorised to state" that all this was a mistake—that the noble Lord was certainly not to remain Secretary of State, but he was to have some office where there was nothing to do, somewhere in the neighbourhood of Waterloo Bridge. In fact, the only place the description met was that of the toll-gatherer of that unfortunate investment. Well, Sir, this paragraph was not at all satisfactory. The noble Lord, whatever our various political opinions, is rather a favourite of the people of England, and they did not consider that was exactly the treatment to which a man of his position was entitled. There was a general murmur. So out came another paragraph, in which it was stated "on authority" that all the other paragraphs were erroneous—that it was true the noble Lord was going to resign the office of Secretary of State, but he was certainly to continue leader of the House of Commons, and that he was to have a room—a small room, I think it was described—allowed him in the office of his successor. But the climax was reached when a fourth and rather an angry paragraph, written, it seemed, with some feeling of personal indignation at what had already been published, appeared, in which it was stated that nothing could be more erroneous or premature than the previous announcements that the noble Lord was to continue leader of the House of Commons; that he was not to have a small room at the Foreign Office, but that he was to have a room at the Council Office, and even to be allowed two clerks. Sir, I protest against this system of shutting up great men in small rooms, and of binding to the 279 triumphal chariot wheels of administrative ability all the fame and genius of the Whig party. I think I have a right to ask the noble Lord frankly, "Are you Secretary of State, or are you not?" If he is Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, he will no doubt, on the subject we are treating to-night, afford us very satisfactory information; but if he is Secretary of State now, but is not to be Secretary of State to-morrow, I think the declarations of the noble Lord, on a question of foreign policy, will be much depreciated in the value which we would otherwise attach to them. Sir, considering the conduct of the First Lord of the Admiralty conduct which I will not describe, for to say that it was the result of design would be offensive, and to say that it was indiscreet would, as I observed before, be impertinent—considering the conduct of the President of the Board of Control, which, be it designed or indiscreet, or anything else, is of no matter—for no epithets can rescue him from the position he occupies—considering the programme of the First Minister, which contradicts all our most recent experience and confounds all our convictions—considering the mysterious circumstances which attend the present occupation of the post of Secretary of State by the noble Lord the Member for London—I think I have a right to ask for what has not yet been accorded us—some clear explanations from the Government with respect to the relations which exist between this country and France.
Sir, there is one other reason why I am bound to pursue this inquiry at the present moment, and I find that reason in the present state of parties in this House. It is a peculiar state of things—it is quite unprecedented—it is well deserving of the attention of hon. Members who sit in that quarter of the House [the benches below the gangway on the Ministerial side.] We have at this moment a Conservative Ministry, and a Conservative Opposition. Where the great Liberal party is, I pretend not to know. Where are the Whigs, with their great tradition—two centuries of Parliamentary lustre, and deeds of noble patriotism? There is no one to answer. Where are the youthful energies of Radicalism—its buoyant expectations—its sanguine hopes? Awakened, I fear, from the first dream of that ardent inexperience which finds itself at the same moment used and discarded—used without compunction, and not discarded with too much decency. Where are the Radicals? Is 280 there a man in the House who declares himself to be a Radical? [A VOICE: Yes I] Oh, no! you would be afraid of being caught and changed into a Conservative Minister. Well, how has this curious state of things been brought about? What is the machinery by which it has been effected—the secret system that has brought on this portentous political calamity? I believe I must go to that inexhaustible magazine of political device, the First Lord of the Admiralty, to explain the present state of affairs. The House may recollect that some two years ago, when I had the honour of addressing them on a subject of some importance, that the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Admiralty afforded us, as is his wont, one of those political creeds in which his speeches abound; and the right hon. Gentleman on that occasion, in order that there might be no mistake—in order that the House and the country should be alike undeceived, and that they should not have any false expectations from him—especially the Conservative or Protectionist party—said, in a manner the most decided, that his political creed was this: "I take my stand upon progress." Well, Sir, I thought at the time that progress was an odd thing to take one's stand upon. I thought at the time that a statesman who took his stand upon progress might find he had got a very slippery foundation. I thought at the time, though the right hon. Gentleman weighs his words, that this was a piece of rhetorical slip-slop. But I apologise for the momentary suspicion. I take the earliest opportunity of expressing to the right hon. Gentleman my sincere regret that I had for a moment supposed he could make an inadvertent observation. I find that it was a system perfectly matured, and now brought into action, of which the right hon. Gentleman spoke. For we have now got a Ministry of "progress," and every one stands still. We never hear the word "reform" now; it is no longer a Ministry of reform: it is a Ministry of progress, every member of which agrees to do nothing. All difficult questions are suspended. All questions which cannot be agreed upon are open questions. Now, Sir, I don't want to be unreasonable, but I think there ought to be some limit to this system of open questions. It is a system which has hitherto prevailed only partially in this country, and which never has prevailed with any advantage to it. Let us, at least, fix some limit to it. Let Parliamentary reform, let the ballot, be 281 open questions if you please; let every institution in Church and State be open questions; but, at least, let your answer to me to-night prove that, among your open questions, you are not going to make an open question of the peace of Europe.
§ LORD JOHN RUSSELL
Sir, if the right hon. Gentleman wished to obtain an explanation from Government with respect to the state of its foreign policy, he might have confined his observations to a very small portion of that which he has addressed to the House; for the statement I made the other night, that we were on terms of intimate friendship with France, and that we were acting in concert with France, with the view of maintaining the peace of Europe, might almost have sufficed for a Member of this House who was anxious to obtain some assurance on that important question. The right hon. Gentleman, when he sat on this side of the House, observed, with respect to a change which was proposed to be made in some administrative department, with respect to economy as regards the conduct of public business in a public office, that if that question was introduced into the House, he was afraid it would unfortunately be made a party question. Well, Sir, that would have been a misfortune, and, there is no doubt, if such were the case, and if questions with respect to how many clerks were to be in one office, and as to whether there should be two or three clerks in another office, had been made party questions, it would have said very little for the patriotism of the House; but, at least, the evil, though somewhat scandalous, would not have been very calamitous. But, Sir, when the right hon. Gentleman tries to make a party question of our foreign policy—when he tries to throw suspicion on the intentions of Government towards our nearest neighbour—when he tries to sow dissension between two of the most powerful countries of Europe—then, indeed, he makes a party question a calamity, and in bringing forward such a question in the spirit manifested in his speech, takes a part which becomes a mind deeply imbued with faction.
Sir, I said the other night, and I repeat it now, that the Government of this country is on terms of amity with the French Government. I was happy to hear the right hon. Gentleman say that matters connected with the domestic policy of France were matters of concern for them, and not for us, and that we were not to 282 interfere in their domestic concerns. Well indeed would it have been if these sentiments had prevailed in this House in February, 1793. I cannot help reflecting what torrents of blood might have been spared, and what millions of treasure might have been saved, if it had been then laid down as a principle by all parties in this House that we should not interfere in the domestic concerns of neighbouring countries. But what other explanation is it the right hon. Gentleman requires? The right hon. Gentleman alluded to a speech of mine in February, 1852. To all the sentiments of that speech I subscribe entirely at this moment. There is one misreport certainly of that speech to which I may as well allude. I am supposed to have said that the measures adopted by the President were no doubt for the welfare of France. What I stated was, that no doubt the President considered the measures he had taken were for the welfare of France. I did not deny that it may be necessary in certain cases, even in the most enlightened countries, to take all power out of the hands of the people, and the ruler of France no doubt might have thought it was necessary to do so at that period. Whether it was or was not necessary was a question on which, I of course, did not pass an opinion, and on which I do not pass an opinion now.
I thought it was a lamentable sight, during the last five years, to see France throw off a monarchy under which she had been peaceful and prosperous, and place herself under a republic so strangely constituted that it seemed as if all its elements were framed to make war on each other; and that that intestine war could only have been brought to a termination by surrendering the most valuable powers a people could exercise; that, indeed, has been a melancholy spectacle. But I hoped that the talented and ingenious people, who in 1789 began the reform of their constitution, might have arrived by this time at that which is the most desirable and important of all national blessings, and I still believe they will find the means, when the spirit of that extreme democracy has subsided, by which their Government can be improved, and that we shall still see them enjoying those institutions, not exactly similar to ours, but as nearly so as is suited to the character of the people, which are calculated to bring to perfection and reward the exercise of peaceful industry and the attainments of superior talent, In that 283 spirit, therefore, I looked on the events which have taken place in France with every desire to suppose that the ruler of that country was intent on putting an end to anarchy and disorder, and on perfecting such a Government as would give to the people peace and tranquillity.
It happened that the Government which followed us, which was the Government of the Earl of Derby, had another question to consider of very grave importance, namely, the recognition of the Imperial dignity in the person of the ruler of France—the recognition of a dynasty almost—certainly the recognition of a Prince under the title of Emperor, and in the name of Napoleon III.
It was natural that the Powers of Europe, with the recollection in their minds of what had occurred from 1804 to 1814, should have wished to obtain some assurance that the Government about to be constituted should adopt the international acts of the Governments which had preceded it; but the Government of this country, by the advice of the Earl of Derby and the Earl of Malmesbury, took that security which they thought necessary, and, when they had obtained that security, at once acknowledged the Emperor of France by the title of Napoleon III. They did not wait till the other Powers had come to a similar decision. They did not wait until other Powers had come to a similar conclusion, and my belief is, they did well and wisely in that decision. I have examined the correspondence which took place on the occasion, and the conclusion to which I came certainly is that the Earl of Malmesbury, in that correspondence, while he showed the utmost conciliation, at the same time maintained the dignity of this country. Therefore I am not going to blame the Government which preceded us for any step it took on that occasion. No doubt that early recognition tended to conciliate the Government of France; and, therefore, when we entered into office we found the basis laid for the most amicable relations with France.
I believe, as I have often stated in this House, that a good understanding in this country with France is of the greatest value to the promotion of the happiness of both countries and to the peace of Europe. And not with France alone, because I think a conciliatory policy should be adopted towards all the Powers of Europe; and, as far as I can see, all these Powers are disposed so to shape their conduct as to 284 maintain peace in Europe. Upon that great question to which the right hon. Gentleman has alluded, namely, the question of Turkey, it is no doubt most desirable to act with a good understanding with France. But at the same time I think it is the duty of this country, disinterested as it is upon that question, to preserve that attitude which can enable it to give friendly advice to all those States among whom a difference may arise; to maintain the kingdom of Turkey from any aggression, and at the same time to accomplish that by negotiation and by friendly counsel. Sir, that end will, I trust, he accomplished.
The right hon. Gentleman has alluded—and I think most unnecessarily—to speeches that have been made at the hustings by two of my right hon. Colleagues. Now, I ask for what purpose did he do so? If those speeches raised any doubt in his mind, was it not enough for the right hon. Gentleman to ask what were the real intentions of the Government towards France? What purpose could these allusions answer but that of exciting irritation between us and a neighbouring country, and thereby producing a suspicion which might not otherwise have been created? And yet this is from a right hon. Gentleman who in the early part of his speech declared he had nothing so much at heart as a cordial understanding between the two countries. My right hon. Friends have spoken on the hustings with regard to what they thought of the Government of France, and they have spoken in a manner which no doubt may he objected to; but in so speaking they did not intend to disturb our friendly relations with that country. They had not time at the moment to draw on their memory or to make reference to commonplace books to enable them to make speeches to their constituents, and therefore incautious words may have dropped from them; but this I will answer for, that nothing was further from their intention and thoughts than disturbing the good understanding that prevails between this country and France. The right hon. Gentleman passed on, as he had a right to do, to the domestic state of our affairs; but before I proceed to refer to his observations on that point, I must allude to the statement of the right hon. Gentleman, that the Earl of Aberdeen said nothing more than this: that the foreign politics of this country would be conducted in the same manner as they had been for the last thirty years. The 285 right hon. Gentleman entirely omitted reference to the fact that the Earl of Aberdeen went on to make some observations which, as he has neglected to give them, I will read to the House, as they are sentiments with which I entirely concur, and contain in themselves sufficient to make known the general opinions of the Government with regard to foreign affairs. My noble Friend said, with respect to the policy of this country—It has been marked by a respect due to all independent States, a desire to abstain as much as possible from the internal affairs of other countries, an assertion of our own honour and interests, and, above all an earnest desire to secure the general peace of Europe by all such means as were practicable, and at our disposal. I do not say that differences may not have existed, or that sympathies may not have been excited, on behalf of certain States in their endeavours to promote constitutional reforms and to obtain constitutional government; but the principle of our policy had always been to respect the independence, the entire independence, of other States, great or small, and not to interfere in their internal concerns. That will continue to he the case, and I trust that we shall still retain the friendship and good will of all foreign countries, whatever the nature of their government or constitution."—[3 Hansard, exxiii. 1724]That, Sir, was a clear announcement of the policy of the Government, that, whatever might be our wishes for the liberty of other countries, we should not think it fitting to interfere with their internal government or constitution. Sir, I believe that by so conducting ourselves, and by maintaining peaceable relations with foreign Governments, we shall better advance the civilisation of mankind, than by any active interference to force upon them our own form of institutions. But the right hon. Gentleman wont on, and, venturing upon what i think was somewhat dangerous ground for him, he said that there was a want of principle in the present Government. The present Administration is formed of men who, in the great contest which was carried on for ten years, and which was carried on most perseveringly until the beginning of last year by a great party, have agreed upon the general principles of commerce and finance which have at length finally triumphed. That was the great ground of contest during this period, and those who sit in the present Cabinet have always been found upon the same side with respect to these questions. But, as to the right hon. Gentleman opposite, after contending from 1842 to 1846 in favour of free trade, and from 1846 to 1852 in favour of protection, what was the course pursued 286 by his party in 1852? First, we had a declaration on the part of the leader of that party very clearly and decidedly in favour of protection. Then there was the formation of a Ministry in which no man could say what was the principle adopted. One man represented the Government as favourable to protection, another represented them as favourable to free trade; and the head of that Government, the Earl of Derby, declared that his opinion was to be formed not by his study of commerce or finance—not by the writings of political economists—not by his own observation, or his own very considerable abilities, but by the votes of 1,000,000 electors in the United Kingdom, who were to make his opinions and to form his policy; and yet the organ of that Government in the House of Commons comes forward and twits us now for being without principles and being without principles in forming a Ministry! The fact is, Sir, that that party to which the right hon. Gentleman belongs—and I must again remind him of it—have gone wrong very much because they would never take the advice which I ventured to give them. In 1841 I told them they never would get anything better than an 8s. duty. They would not accept of that. In 1845 I told them that if they would take a 6s. duty and get something taken off the burdens of which they complained, it would probably be the last time upon which they could make so advantageous a compact. They would not hear of such a suggestion. But in 1849 I told them that if they would then give up protection and adhere to their general principles with regard to the Crown and with regard to constituted authority, they would always be a very large and powerful party in this country, having great influence upon the deliberations of the country, and that they could not fail very soon to make a great impression upon the counsels of the Ministry. Well, Sir, they would not take that advice. How much better their situation would have been now if they had taken it! They probably would have been Ministers at this hour if they had done so. They would have stood upon their general principles a most compact party, as we found them to be last year, and we should not have seen them having to go through that discreditable period of their history, when they turned from one opinion to another, all declaring themselves for protection on the eve of taking office, then doubtful whether to be for it or not, and at last voting 287 in a mass in favour of a free-trade Resolution; whereas they might otherwise have possessed power both now and for some years to come. I don't know whether I ought to give them any more advice, they have made such bad use of that I have before given them, or rather no use at all; but still I would venture to say, that while out of office, without abandoning any of their own principles, standing firmly by the principles which they have long held, and not caring at the moment whether those principles were successful or not, they yet should not come forward to make themselves too active in displaying their hostility to that which makes efforts for the peace and welfare of the country. They may depend upon it, although the right hon. Gentleman thinks the reforms that we have proposed are not sufficient, and that we ought to have produced much larger reforms—they may depend upon it that, after the contentions and struggles of last year, whatever may be the progress which we propose, the country would gladly see a short time at least of peaceable progress, without any of these great convulsive struggles of parties; and I am convinced that those who say they will not submit to such conditions, and that they will be restless in the present state of things, and even will take advantage of phrases which may inadvertently be dropped, in order to produce uneasiness in our foreign affairs, will not gain to themselves the confidence of the country.
The right hon. Gentleman has alluded to me and to the position which at present I have the honour to hold. I occupy that position from the full conviction which I entertain that it is really the desire of the country, that although one man may be a Whig and another a Conservative Liberal, those divisions ought not to prevent a Ministry being formed which shall connect as many men as possible together who can agree in their principles, and who are capable of carrying on the Administration of the country. Sir, anything that I can do, in whatever capacity in office, belonging to the Government or not belonging to the Government, in order to carry that wish of the country into effect, it will be my desire to do. If I may mention myself, there are two questions of internal policy upon which I take a greater interest than any other. They are the question of the education of the people, and the question of a further amendment in the representation of the people. I cannot be pushed on 288 to either bring forward myself, or to urge others to bring forward, measures upon those subjects which I think are either out of time, or are such as will not be likely to meet with a successful issue. I believe, in the present state of the country, it is desirable that measures of that kind should be fully weighed, and carefully and deliberately introduced. I believe that in adopting these sentiments I am not differing from either the great majority of this House, or the great mass of the people; and, if I can contribute to measures such as those being prepared, and ultimately carried, and if in the meantime I can contribute anything to the stability of a Ministry which, I believe, is formed of men both honestly intent upon the good of the country and capable of carrying into effect wise measures with due deliberation, it will be my pride and glory to have done so.
§ MR. COBDEN
said, that with regard to the first object stated by the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Disraeli), the maintenance of friendly relations with France, that was a practical question, and one in which the country was deeply concerned. The right hon. Gentleman had laboured to show that he believed in the friendly feeling of France towards this country—but we could not shut our eyes to the fact that there was a very different feeling out of doors, and the tone of the press generally, and certainly the unanimous tone of the London press was characterised by great distrust of the present Government of France. The right hon. Gentleman said that he did not share in any apprehension of the Government of France; but when he was in power a few months ago he proposed a large increase of our armaments, and he now tried to show that that increase was not made with reference to the feeling of the country towards France, but in continuance of a system rendered necessary by changes which had taken place in steam navigation. But the right hon. Gentleman must permit him to recall to his recollection that he did not propose any increase in steam machinery, but an increase of men; whereas the advance of steam navigation did not imply the necessity for an increase of men, but directly the contrary; and therefore the right hon. Gentleman had certainly, though perhaps unconsciously, given an impulse to the feeling of the country of distrust against France. He (Mr. Cobden) must, therefore, say, that while the late Government preached peace towards France, their conduct was not con- 289 sistent with their professions. Different Governments stated that they did not share in any apprehension of France which might be felt; and while they censured the press for exciting it, they did what was ten times more insulting to Prance What was anything which was spoken or written compared to large warlike preparations, such as the building of twelve screw steam line-of-battle ships, and the securing a large contingent of steam vessels? Those wore the things that really endangered our relations with France; and it was not newspaper articles, so much as preparations like those, which kept up the excitement of the public mind.
The right hon. Gentleman had talked much of the great service which diplomacy had done to the country, and how, during the time that he was in power, our Ambassador at Paris had arranged with France the settlement of questions relating to Switzerland, to the opening of the navigation of the South American rivers, and to the affairs of Cuba. Now, he (Mr. Cobden) would suggest a new employment for diplomacy; and he believed that if the hon. Gentleman opposite would adopt the plan, it would greatly assist him in building up a party. Would it not be advisable to employ diplomacy in trying to put an end to the warlike preparations in the two countries? Our Ambassador at Paris had been employed in arranging questions relating to Buenos Ayres and! Cuba, and if he had been successful in negotiating matters of such delicacy as those, could he not come to an understanding with the French Government on the subject of the large rival preparations in the naval department of the two countries? Could not the diplomatists on both sides exchange a note on that subject? He (Mr. Cobden) would engage to frame a note in five minutes which would answer the purpose. Could it not be asked if the Government of France would be willing to put an end to the increase of her armaments, and that we would put an end to our preparations? Was then; anything impracticable in such a proposition? If such a note was responded to, would it not go far to change the feeling that now exists between the two countries? It must not be assumed by either the late or the present Government that there was a feeling on this subject out of doors such as they themselves entertained. There was a letter from a gentleman, a clergyman, who often wrote letters, and sometimes signed his 290 name, and sometimes signed himself, "S. G. O." He said—When burglars are about, we examine the scullery and cellar windows, we try the fastenings of our doors, hang up hells to warn us, get dogs and police to watch for us, and go to bed in confidence that we are so prepared against an attack that few are likely to attempt it.He was speaking of our French neighbours, a nation not less civilised than ourselves; and he spoke of them as burglars, and talked of guarding doors against them and their attacks. Such feelings wore encouraged by going on with warlike preparations. We had no cause of quarrel with France, there was no question about Tahiti, no Syrian question between the two countries. and yet we went on preparing armaments as if we expected some sudden attack from France; and people seemed agreed to consider that the French were burglars and corsairs. If it came to the test it would perhaps be found there were as many burglars and criminals in this country as in France. He did not see why diplomacy should not be employed in this question as well as in the differences between the United States and Cuba. That was a very delicate question, and if we could trust France on that question, why could she not be trusted in negotiations which would tend to rid this country of alarm, and put an end to warlike preparations? He was charged with fanatical notions with regard to the reduction of armaments; but he would put his feelings as an advocate of the peace question on very moderate grounds. He would give his confidence to any Government which would endeavour to put this matter on a proper footing with France. He did not say any Government that should succeed, but any that would make the attempt. All he would ask the Government—any Government—was, to send a note to the French Government, asking an explanation, and proffering an arrangement, by which this rivalry in the increase of irritating armaments should be stopped; and then, if France did not respond to England in the same tone—if she refused—if she hesitated—and it was made apparent that there was something clandestine at work, which restrained the French Government from profiting by the frank demeanour of England—then he would cease his criticisms on the estimates, and would be ready to vote, if necessary, 100,000,000l to defend the country from invasion. Put, until this attempt was made, they could have no jus- 291 tiflcation for this absurd and purposeless competition. There was no prospect apparently of putting a stop to the rivalry by any other means than those he had suggested. If England launched a Wellington to-day, France itself would slip a Napoleon off the stocks to-morrow: and, after the most gigantic and ruinous exertions, each nation found itself, in relative power, just where it had been before. What he said was this, do not go on in this way, constantly augmenting your naval and military forces. He asked Ministers of State to learn the simple elements of arithmetic. Say that France now stood to England as ten to fifteen. Well, take one-third off each, and the two countries would stand in the same relative proportion. Now from the present Government the country had a right to expect such a proceeding, in the way of policy, as that he had proposed. The Earl of Aberdeen, in a speech, some years ago, had declared his opinion that these great preparations for war, in times of peace, were calculated to lead to the perpetual risk of hostilities. In that opinion of the Earl of Aberdeen he entirely shared, for obviously these vast armaments had this effect—a class, a party, were raised up and sustained whose prejudices (he would not refer to their interests) were of a kind to induce them to keep up that international irritation which so often ended in open war. From the Earl of Aberdeen, therefore, the country had a right to expect that he would not allow his premiership to pass away without signalising his sway by an attempt at an agreement with France upon this question of armaments.
Hon. Gentlemen were not aware of the extent to which the warlike preparations of England were exciting the jealousy of the French public. We feared a French invasion with much less justice than the French feared an English invasion, for England had invaded France. The French Government recollected what they had suffered in previous years from our fleets, and they felt that a deep responsibility was thrown upon them to increase their own armaments. The Journal des Débats, one of the most pacific of the French journals, always favourable to the English alliance and friendly to free trade, said upon the 22nd of January—While the English journals are every day citing, as a proof of the warlike disposition of our Government, the extraordinary armaments which they allege to be going on in our ports, and the pretended increase In the number of our screw 292 steamships, we observe that in England they are busily augmenting their Navy, and making considerable additions to their armaments. We are tempted to believe that the English press, in declaiming so much about these imaginary doings in France, have no other object but to divert attention from the very serious preparations going on in that country.The tone of our press elicited the following remarks in the Constitutionnel of Feb. 7:—When we see with what miserable gossip the terrors of the English people are excited, we are astonished that their good sense can be so easily imposed upon. Nothing is too absurd with some of their journals for increasing this ludicrous panic. The sight of an armed brig in the distance, or even the appearance of a foreign fishing-boat on the horizon, is instantly metamorphosed by the invasionist newspapers into another Armada; and the English people, resolute and energetic as they are, who with their own unaided strength could hold their island home against the united forces of the whole Continent, are credulous enough for the moment to be imposed upon by these hobgoblin stories.He had tried to ascertain whether anything was going on in France to justify this alarm. The noble Lord (Lord John Russell) said there was not, and that nothing was done but what France, as a great maritime Power, was entitled to do. But that statement was totally at variance with the tone of the newspapers for the last two or three months. We were told of all sorts of surprises that awaited us. A Belfast paper, for example, gave the following statement from an Edinburgh correspondent:—We have received from an Edinburgh correspondent a letter, dated the 29th ult., in which it is stated that, during the last week, a French steamer has been cruising off Berwick, and every night the men are engaged in taking soundings of the Tweed, while during the day artists are employed in making sketches of the coast.—Our contemporary adds, that this steamer, having completed its mission at Berwick, has gone to Newcastle on a similar errand.There had been another sinister rumour about a contract offered to Napier, the great Clyde shipbuilder, by the French Government, of Mr. Napier's refusing it, after consulting the English Government, and of the English Government compensating Mr. Napier by as great an order for English ships. Then there was another intimidating paragraph going about, telling us how the French soldiers at Rome were grumbling at not being taken back to France, in order that they might have their share of the plunder on the sack of London upon the invasion. This was the sort of thing the press was full of; and 293 yet the Government had not said a word to contradict it. There was a terrible story of the English Government having asked for returns from all the railways as to how much materiel and how many men they could carry to the coast, or from one part of the country to the other in a given time. Tilbury Fort was said to be about to be put in a state of defence—in fact, the press was now saying precisely what was said before the war of 1793, except that no one whispered French emissaries were poisoning the New River, Were these stories still to go uncontradicted? He did not blame the present Government specially—the late Government was just as silent; and if what the noble Lord said of the French Government was correct, this silence was unjustifiable. In point of fact the newspapers which were in the interest of the Government were about the worst. And what was the inference? The papers worked the public feeling and the public passion up to a certain pitch; and the Government followed up all this wild talk which the noble Lord said had no foundation whatever by an increase of our armaments. Which conduct was the most censurable—that of the assailed press, or that of the assailing Members of the Government? Clearly the Government was the most to blame.
The newspapers were not the only "incendiaries." He would not refer to the Ministerial speeches quoted by the right hon. Gentleman opposite; but he would refer to what the Earl of Hare wood, a lord lieutenant, had said to the West Hiding militia. "I tell you," said his Lordship, "the time is coming when everybody throughout this realm will have reason to be thankful that you have come forward to defend our hearths and homes." Now this species of talk had a foundation, or it had not; and if it had not, the Government should put a slop to it, and show a practical example. Now, the party opposite were just now in want of a principle; and he would venture to address a word in the way of suggestion to those hon. Gentlemen. He would not speak in the democratic sense at all; for we had had the so-called leaders of democracy and the so-called organs of democracy joining in the panic, and calling out for more soldiers and more taxes. The sweet innocents! If they set up for democratic leaders, he could only tell them that they did not know their business when they demanded more soldiers. He would speak to hon. Gentle- 294 men opposite in a sense to which they would not be likely to take exception. There were some new social elements at work in the present day which rendered it very important to hon. Gentlemen opposite—the "country party"—that they should insist that Government should pursue a course of frugality and economy. He was not referring to the results of free trade; he had no more to say about that but that they must reconcile themselves to calculating on that as the permanent system. He was referring to a novel feature in this age of ours—he meant the tendency of the people to emigrate—to leave this country. That was a new fact in which the gentlemen with the broadest acres were most deeply interested. There were countries now rising up in effective rivalry with us. There was Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and, above all, the United States—each competing under highly favourable circumstances as contrasted with our own, for the population of Great Britain. There could be no mistake about the fact; and what he might call the emigrating tendency of the country, was to be estimated by the circumstances that the extraordinary emigration which was going on at this moment, was going on at a moment of immense commercial prosperity at homo. Now let them suppose the reverse of this happy condition of the country. He was not going to throw discredit on free trade, by allowing that we could ever possibly have again such periods of distress as we had had under protection. But still there were causes that might, under certain not improbable conditions, produce depression and discouragement in this country; and from what they now saw they might calculate what then would be the flight, he might so call it, to more favoured lands. Supposing that that emigration should be to an extent to lessen palpably and inconveniently the number of shoulders which bore the present burden of taxation, who would feel the concentrated pressure? Those who could not emigrate—the landowners; they would be left in mortgage for the public burdens. Was he not then right in suggesting that the country party was deeply interested in securing a frugal administration, an economical and good government? And yet the House of Commons was lavishing money in what was called "defence" as if it was dirt rather than gold. We had been spending from 15,000,000l to 16,000,000l. a year for the last, fifteen years for warlike prepara- 295 tions; and yet after all we were crying out that the country was entirely defenceless. What a disadvantage this placed us at as compared with the United States! The Federal Government of the United States cost 9,000,000l.—that was for the whole State machinery—while the cost of the different Governments of the separate States was altogether only 4,000,000l. more; so that for 13,000,000l. per annum 24,000,000 of people carried on the States and the Federal Governments, paid every outgoing, and the interest on the whole debt. Why, our defensive armaments merely cost more; and yet we were not content with that. Again, let England be compared with New Zealand, with Australia, or with Canada—countries without debt, almost without taxes—and it was impossible not to see that "patriotism" would not keep men in England if some change did not take place in our system. Yet Government after Government was going on spending more and more money year after year, as if there was no end of the wealth to be drained. He might be told that all this was "defence," and was, therefore, in the light of an insurance. Well, if necessary, the question was at an end. But the question was—was there no other way of making sure? As he had said, prove to him that there was no other way, and he would hold his tongue—he would vote ten times the money if necessary. His way, which he thought still surer, was to come to an arrangement with France. It might be said that France was suffering proportionately as much as we were—that this rivalry—this insurance—cost France from 3,000,000l. to 4,000,000l. a year. He would not deny this; and he would apply his warning to France as well as to England; and he would tell all the old countries that while those new countries were demanding men and capital, they must put their houses in order. Was there any difficulty in doing what he asked the English Government to do? He maintained that there was not. Let it be observed that he was not making this proposition for the first time. He brought forward a Motion, about two years ago, proposing such an arrangement with France as he had now again suggested. That proposition was then considered so reasonable that it was not met by an absolute refusal, but by the "previous question" being moved. In fact, nothing could be said at all logical or tenable against such a proffer to France. 296 He asked again, where was the obstacle? There was none. But again, the Government would refuse to do so reasonable a thing; and he could not hope that the House would compel the Government. He went, then, to the country; and he did trust that such a pressure would be brought on that House as would force this question to an issue. This he would say distinctly—speaking as an advocate of peace, and glad to tie the badge of "a member of the peace party" to his buttonhole—that he would give his confidence to no Government which would not attempt to come to such an arrangement with France as he had spoken of. He would not hold them responsible for succeeding. But if they would not make the attempt, then he would suspect them of being under an influence not to be mentioned in that House; and to such a Government he would not give his confidence as an Englishman.
§ SIR JAMES GRAHAM
I am extremely sorry to hear the hon. Gentleman the Member for the West Riding say he would disapprove of the policy of the Government, unless they address a distinct demand to France, and probably to the rest of Europe, and to America, that they should disarm—
§ MR. COBDEN
I thought I was not liable to be misunderstood. I said to stop the increase of this rivalry; and I need not do more than refer to my Motion three or four years ago, the words of which I do not wish to alter.
§ SIR JAMES GRAHAM
Not having had an opportunity of referring to the words of the hon. Gentleman's Motion, I will take the correction as he suggests, and say if the Government is not to enjoy his confidence—I don't say unless we call upon the other Powers to disarm, but unless we make a proposal to them to disarm—the condition which he imposes is all but hopeless. If such a proposal is to be made, I am quite sure that my hon. Friend will write an excellent note setting forth that request; yet my opinion is deeply seated that whatever might be the excellence of such a note, it would not be attended with the success which he anticipates. At all events, when we recollect the slight occasions which may give rise to unexpected hostilities, and the effects of such outbreaks if we are not armed, I cannot neglect the opportunity of making every preparation which the state of our relations with foreign Powers, in my humble judgment, may require. Having said thus much, I will add that there is 297 no Member of this House more attached to peace, and more desirous by every effort to insure economy in the administration of public affairs, than I ever have been and still am. But, Sir, I must avow that, being a friend of peace, and entertaining the opinion which I do that it is most desirable that our armaments, necssarily expensive, should not be pushed to any extreme, and should be discontinued if it were possible, I deeply regret the course which the right hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Disraeli) has pursued on the present occasion. It is his boast that he is the leader of the largest party in this House; and I have waited with some anxiety to see if any Member on the opposite side of the House of that large party would sustain the position which the right hon. Gentleman has taken up. I have waited, but I have yet heard no Gentleman on the opposite side maintain that position. The right hon. Gentleman has lately occupied a high position in the councils of his Sovereign, and he knows the delicacy of the question which he has agitated this evening. I am bound to believe that he has taken this course in the spirit of peace, and that peace may possibly be his object; but if it be, I think he is running great risk of defeating that object. I should not have risen on this occasion if the right hon. Gen-Gentleman had not adverted at considerable length, and—I say it with pain—with great bitterness, to words which he says have fallen from me. He says it would be impertinent to suppose that I had spoken inadvertently on that occasion; the right hon. Gentleman adds that I spoke advisedly, and after much preparation. The right hon. Gentleman himself is a great master of words. I should say, also, that he speaks after much previous thought, and certainly not without considerable preparation. What were the objects which he announced at the commencement of his speech, and what were those which seemed alone to actuate him before its close? I was astonished at the approaches he began at so great a distance to compass so small an object. I was amazed to see his heavy artillery dragged up so high a hill for the purpose of carrying so small a position, and to hear him begin with Poictiers and Agincourt, and end with the hustings at Carlisle and the Cloth Hall at Halifax. I may be permitted to remind the right hon. Gentleman that even very cautious speakers, and very able speakers too, are sometimes guilty 298 of great inadvertence. The present Parliament remembers when a Minister of the Crown and a leader of the House of Commons had, on a solemn occasion, a duty imposed upon him, no less than that of making a funeral oration in memory of the Duke of Wellington. I can conceive no greater occasion, and it was an occasion on which the ablest speaker might have premeditated. Now what was the case? Our allies had seized this opportunity of sending from every Court of Europe representatives on that solemn occasion, to mark their respect for the memory of our departed hero. They were assembled here to take part in the solemn ceremony, around the grave of the illustrious warrior; and the right hon. Gentleman, then a Minister of the Crown and leader in this House, on that occasion pronounced a fit oration to the memory of the departed Duke; and, if I am not much mistaken, in that speech, our allies, being assembled hero on such an occasion, and for such a purpose, were designated as our "scandalous and discomfited allies." An expression so used by the right hon. Gentleman could not, I think, have been altogether unpremeditated, and yet it was not happy. What was the next characteristic of that address? I think there was another passage in that speech which was a withered branch plucked from the funeral wreath of a French general, wherewith the right hon. Gentleman sought to decorate the urn of our immortal Wellington. Now, the right hon. Gentleman, who, I should say, was an "accustomed" speaker, should bear these things in mind, and when he remembers the speech to which I refer, he may, I think, exercise some charity towards those who on the hustings may perhaps have used an unguarded expression. But am I prepared to admit that I did say what he states I said? The right hon. Gentleman says the press is his escutcheon. I must also say that the leaders in the Morning Herald are his "supporters," and that his "standard-bearer" is to be found in the editor of an evening journal. The right hon. Gentleman asked a question with respect to the speech of my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Control; but he did not ask me what were the words I used on the occasion to which he referred, and, in consequence of this omission, he has inadvertently ascribed to me words which I did not use. I never called the Emperor of France a despot or a tyrant, much less 299 did I call the people of France slaves, or use any opprobrious expressions with regard to them. I will state to the House exactly what I did say. I was addressing a popular assembly who were friendly to the extension of the franchise, and I denounced the bribery which I believed had taken place at the late election. I went on to tell them that I thought they ought to remember how great was the liberty they happily enjoyed—that on the whole I did not think there was any country in Europe in which liberty was more secure than in this country—and that, although I could not support universal suffrage or secret voting, I thought every man whose station rendered him independent, and not likely to he led away or seduced, was a person well qualified to vote. I also said, beware of those who tell you that your liberties are insecure without universal suffrage and the ballot. I added, there is a nation close to your shores which possesses universal suffrage and the ballot; and so far from calling that nation by any opprobrious epithet, or using any contumelious expression in reference to them, I have a distinct recollection of using the words I am now about to state—namely, that in a nation, a most polished nation, celebrated in arms, in arts, in literature, and in science, the liberties of the people were prostrate in the dust at the feet of a single man. That was the expression I used on the occasion. I think the right hon. Gentleman has said that the people of this country hate coalitions. I think the people of this country hate mystification. They like the truth, they like to hear it spoken, and they dare to speak it themselves. But if any language used by me is unworthy of a British Minister, or such as would be held by this House to be inconsistent with that character, then I am not worthy to sit on these benches. Let the House say so, and I am ready to bow to their decision. But I must be allowed to add, that, although willing and anxious to maintain the most friendly relations with France, and though desirous that not one word should fall from me to excite their enmity, still, if I am not, either on the hustings or in this House, to say that which my heart dictates, and my mind and conscience approve, then certainly I am not fit to be a Minister, or to sit in the House of Commons. I am still, however, a member of a free community, which loves the truth, and dares to defend it, and which is still the guardian of this 300 happy country, which, after all, is the last refuge of the liberties of Europe.
§ MR. MILNER GIBSON
said, he regretted the reply given by the right hon. Gentleman who had just spoken to the proposal of the hon. Member for the West Riding (Mr. Cobden), to bring about, in conjunction with France, a reduction of armaments. The right hon. Gentleman, who was supposed to represent the policy of Sir Robert Peel, might read with benefit what Sir Robert Peel had said on this point in 1841. It was as follows:—Is not the time come when the powerful countries of Europe should reduce those military armaments which they have so sedulously raised? Is not the time come when they should be prepared to declare that there is no use in such overgrown establishments? What is the advantage of one Power greatly increasing its Army and Navy? Does it not see that, if it possesses such increase for self-protection and defence, the other Powers will follow its example? The consequence of this state must be that no increase of relative strength will accrue to any one Power, but there must be universal consumption of the resources of every country in military preparations. They are in fact depriving peace of half its advantages, and anticipating the energies of war whenever they may be required. I do not mean to advocate any romantic notion of each nation trusting with security the professions of its neighbours; but if each country were to commune with itself and ask—What is at present the danger of foreign invasion, compared to the danger of producing dissatisfaction and discontent, and curtailing the comforts of the people by undue taxation? the answer must be this—That the danger of aggression is infinitely less than the danger of those sufferings to which the present exorbitant expenditure must give rise. The interest of Europe is not that any one country should exercise a peculiar influence; but the true interest of Europe is, to come to some one common accord, so as to enable every country to reduce those military armaments which belong-to a state of war rather than of peace. I do wish that the councils of every country (or that the public voice and mind, if the councils did not), would willingly propagate such a doctrine.There could be no doubt, whatever might be said to the contrary, that the increasing armaments of England had relation to alleged augmentations in France. Nobody, he believed, denied that systematic endeavours had been made to alarm the public mind in this country, so as to get a more ready assent to our military and naval preparations; and the only fault he found with Government hitherto was, that they did not make use of their high position and authority to put an end to interested and ignorant clamours, and restore equanimity to the public mind. It was a bottomless pit this increase of defences and of armaments. Who could tell when they had at- 301 rived at the point of security and self-defence? The reason that was given in France for the necessity of increase in that country was, that England had set the example. In proof of this he would read an extract from the Paris correspondent of the Morning Chronicle. The Paris correspondent of the Morning Chronicle, in a letter from that city, dated the 5th of December, states—That great excitement has been created in the Ministerial circles in France, by the announcement of the intention of our Government to strengthen our national defences, by increasing the Navy. He says that M. Ducos, the Imperial Minister of Marine, called together a number of the deputies representing Brest, Toulon, and other ports, and informed them that the military prepations which were taking place in England, imposed upon France the duty of greatly increasing the means of a powerful defensive attitude. The French Minister of Marine is reported to have said, in addressing the assembled deputies—'England had not only made a large increase to her navy and marines, and organised her militia, but she was, at the present moment, raising defences on her coast; and what showed that these operations were directed against France was, that she was fortifying the Channel Islands, which were within a few miles of the French coast, and rendering them much stronger than they ever had been before. Moreover, she was making a formidable and impregnable harbour for ships of war at Alderney, within a few miles of the French naval port of Cherbourg. It was impossible that France could accept this state of things. He therefore thought it necessary to inform them that the French Government thought it advisisable to put her seaports in a state of defence, in order that France might be prepared for whatever might occur. He declared that France would follow England step by step in whatever she might do. If England raised an additional naval force, France would do the same. It was absolutely necessary that France should follow the example of England in increasing her steam force. This increase of her steam navy was forced upon France by the conduct of England.'Let him remind hon. Gentlemen on the other side of the House that unless they applied the surplus revenue in abolishing taxes that would enable important branches of industry to be developed, their labourers would leave this country, wages in agricultural districts would be materially increased, and the difficulty of competing with foreigners in the production of corn would be greatly enhanced. Then, in an economical point of view, the question was one that affected everybody. The emigration that was going on was becoming a point of great importance to the employers of labour in this country, and to hon. Gentlemen opposite as well as to others. The landed proprietors were deeply interested in endeavouring to stay the tide 302 of emigration, by applying the surplus of income over expenditure to the repeal of those taxes which prevented the employment of labour in this country. It was against this unlimited and indefinite increase of armaments that he was now speaking. He knew it was the custom of those who opposed their views to misrepresent them and say they were advocates for the abolition of all armaments and of non-resistance, and all that kind of thing. That was a very obvious ruse on the part of those who opposed them. But what they contended against was this indefinite increase of armaments, one country rivalling another, without any prospect of arriving at any conclusion. He therefore hoped that the First Lord of the Admiralty would reconsider his determination not to make any even the slightest attempt to bring about this mutual arrangement, especially as between France and England, between which countries it was a question as to the enormous increase of the Navy. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Buckinghamshire (Mr. Disraeli), had added a great deal of other matter of a political character to his speech, not bearing at all on the relations between this country and France. He entirely agreed with those who, in reference to the relations between England and France, condemned language of irritation, and this constant commenting upon the mode in which France should be governed. It was the conceit of Englishmen that they believed that no country could be happy or prosperous unless it had English institutions. Some went so far as to make it necessary that they should have the English religion as well as English institutions; and he had no doubt he could find gentlemen who would tell them that unless the precise views of some parochial vestry were introduced into a foreign country, all the people in that country were slaves and their rulers tyrants. He did not enter into these views. He wished that those high in authority, instead of making irritating speeches against forms of government abroad, would rather encourage a feeling in favour of liberty at home. He wanted to see more attention paid to our domestic liberties, and though it might be a cheap way of obtaining popularity by declaiming about tyranny in the antipodes, or despotism in seme foreign country, he thought it would be better if these declaimers would have confidence in the people at home to trust them with more political power. But 303 he had observed that some of those who were ardent on the platform in declaiming in favour of liberty abroad, were extremely timid at any proposal to give the people more power at home. He thought it was somewhat disengenuous to press these arguments about France and different countries as arguments against the adoption of the ballot in this country. He thought they had very little to do with what would be the effect of the ballot in this country. Now with regard to the liberal party, the right hon. Gentlemen (Mr. Disraeli) had chosen to insinuate that they had a Conservative Government and a Conservative Opposition, and that those who were called Radicals wore merged into a species of Conservatism. He could only say, for one, that he never was a party entering into combinations either to support or to oppose any existing Government, and he should decline to express any opinion upon Her Majesty's present Administration until he saw their measures of reform. He thought that if it were true that four hours of a Cabinet Council were occupied on the Turkish Empire, they would have been better employed in considering the provisions of the English Reform Bill; and although he admitted that there might be reasons for postponement known only to? those in power, he should have wished that the measure should have been introduced at least this Session, in order that it might have fairly come under the consideration of the country previous to its being brought forward in the Session of 1854. He gave credit to the Government for good intentions with regard to this measure of reform, because, knowing their great experience and ability, he was sure that they would not bring in any measure upon such a subject that would not be of that comprehensive character that would be calculated at least to settle that question for some fair period of time. He hoped, also, that the Government, having, as they had heard of late, so much approved of the freedom of the press, would not forget that, although we did enjoy considerable liberty in this country in reference to our newspapers and our public press, that we fell short, nevertheless, of entire and absolute freedom. He hoped that these expressions of feeling in reference to the liberty of the press might at least be taken as forerunners on the part of the Government that they would emancipate the press in this country, untax it, and give to the people of England the 304 benefit of a full, free, and cheap dissemination of knowledge. He was sanguine that the Government would undertake that, as part of their public policy, because they had expressed themselves favourable to the cause of education, and he could conceive no auxiliary so powerful to the cause of education as a cheap and a free press, diffusing through all classes of the community cheap and useful information. With these opinions he would conclude, and would simply say, in reference to the insinuations of the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Disraeli), that, although he might choose to say they had a Conservative Government, and a Conservative Opposition, he would find that the Members who represented the independent and intelligent Liberals of this country would be true to their principles, though they might not be induced to embark in any needless or vexatious opposition to the Government.
§ MR. BAILLIE
said, he would not follow the example of the noble Lord the Member for London (Lord John Russell), who attempted to divert the present discussion into one of free trade. They were met on the present occasion for the purpose of voting away the public money, and a fair opportunity arose for obtaining information on various points from the Government. If ever such a course could be found justifiable, it would be so on the present occasion, when they considered the peculiar circumstances under which the Administration had been formed—when they considered that it was composed of men who had differed all their lives on nearly all the great questions that had been discussed in Parliament—and when they considered that the House and the country had a right to full and ample information with respect to the views and intentions of the Government. The first question to which he should advert was that of Parliamentary reform, and what they had to expect, regarding it, from the present Ministers. They all knew what were the opinions of the noble Lord the Member for London, who last year brought forward a measure on this subject, and he had stated that evening that those opinions remained unchanged. They had also been informed what were the present opinions of the right hon. Baronet the Member for Carlisle (Sir J. Graham) on the subject. In a speech which he had delivered to his constituents previously to the late general election, and which therefore might be presumed to be considered as 305 his political confession of faith, undoubtedly he presented himself in the fore most ranks of the advanced reformers of the day. But what were the opinions of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the University of Oxford (Mr. Gladstone) on that subject? Did he agree with the opinions put forth by the right hon. Baronet? So far from it—unless public rumour was much less authentic in this case than he believed it to be—no sooner did the right hon. Gentleman receive the confession of faith from Carlisle, than, in concert with all his political friends, he proceeded to disclaim a participation in all the Radicalism and new-born zeal of the right hon. Baronet. But if those differences of opinion had since ceased, then it was due to the people of England, always jealous of the honour of public men, that they should be informed whether the right hon. Baronet would descend from that Radical mountain upon which he had placed himself to the Conservative plain of the right hon. Gentleman, or whether the latter would raise himself to the same lofty elevation as the right hon. Baronet. It was due to the respectable constituency of the University of Oxford that they should be informed whether henceforth they were to be dragged in the foremost ranks of the advanced Reformers of the day, and fight shoulder to shoulder with Chartists and Radicals. Then there was another question, not less important, and that was the religious question. What were the opinions of the chief Members of the Government as to carrying out the policy which dictated the Ecclesiastical Titles Bill? They all remembered the debates upon that subject, and the manner in which the policy of that measure was denounced by the right hon. Gentleman and the right hon. Baronet. Did not the several Members of the Government entertain irreconcilable opinions on that subject? He certainly was one who thought that Parliament was sincere upon that occasion. It never occurred to him at that time that they were engaged in a great political mummery; and he never expected to find, nor did he think the right hon. Gentleman was prepared to carry out, that policy, although he now sat in the same Administration as the noble author of the measure. But those were not the only Members of the Government among whom there appeared to be differences of opinion irreconcilable. There was the hon. and learned Gentleman the late Member for Athlone (Mr. Keogh)—a very impor- 306 tant personage—the leader of the priest-party in Ireland—and Her Majesty's Solicitor General for that portion of the United Kingdom. He had taken care not only to say what were his own opinions, but what were the terms upon which he would consent to serve or support an Administration. The hon. and learned Gentleman made a speech to his constituents in October last, upon the occasion of a banquet given to him to celebrate his return to Parliament, and, after the health of "Our Sovereign Lord the Pope," was drunk, the hon. and learned Gentleman announced himself an advocate for universal suffrage, vote by ballot, and Sharman Crawford's Bill, and a determined enemy of the sacrilegious house of Russell. Having laid down these elementary articles of his political creed, he went on to say—If any Pcelite in the House joined a Whig Administration he would be their unmitigated, untiring, indefatigable opponent. He would not support any party who would not make it the first of their political measures to repeal the Ecclesiastical Titles Bill—he would not join any party who would not go much further than that—he would have nothing to do with any party that would not consent to remove from all Catholics in that country the intolerable burden of sustaining a church establishment with which they were not in communion.Let it not be supposed that he blamed that bold, straightforward, and honest expression of opinion on the part of the hon. and learned Gentleman. Far from it; all he wished to know was this—those being the opinions and declarations of the Solicitor General for Ireland, were they prepared to subscribe to them? Would the right hon. Baronet (Sir J. Graham), who joined the hon. and learned Gentleman in denouncing the policy of the Ecclesiastical Titles Bill in that House, assist him in repealing it; or, having now taken a seat on the Treasury bench, would he now, in his turn, be prepared to bow to the decision of the country? Would the noble Lord the Member for London be prepared to assist the hon. and learned Gentleman in removing from the Roman Catholics of Ireland what the hon. and learned Gentleman termed the intolerable burden of sustaining a Church Establishment with which they were not in communion? These were questions upon which the feelings of the people of England had been deeply roused, and they must be answered. They had been told that the people of England loved not coalitions, and least of all would they tolerate a coalition 307 which endangered the existence of those laws which, rightly or wrongly, they had been taught by the noble Lord to believe were necessary for the maintenance and security of the Protestant institutions of the realm. There were some hon. Gentlemen in that House who never lost an opportunity of reminding them they were the friends and associates of the late Sir Robert Peel. It would require all their own high character and all the lustre they could borrow from the glory that surrounded the name of Sir Robert Peel, to convince the people of this country that the coalition they had formed would not be effected by the sacrifice of those principles which Sir Robert Peel always advocated. And when the Prime Minister told them he knew no difference between a Liberal and a Conservative—that it was a distinction without a difference—such language betrayed an absence of political belief and a sacrifice of principle which struck at the root of all constitutional government. Such language might have been convenient to a Minister about to form a coalition composed of different political creeds and different religious denominations, but such language could not fail to destroy in the people of this country all faith in public honour and in public men.
§ LORD DUDLEY STUART
said, he felt indebted to the right hon. Member for Buckinghamshire (Mr. Disraeli) for having occasioned this debate, as it had produced from both sides of the House the most earnest declaration of a desire to keep on good terms with the Government and nation of France; and that he considered to be of the utmost possible importance to the welfare of Europe and of the world. The right hon. Gentleman had made observations upon expressions that had fallen from Members of the present Government, and had stated opinions on the conduct of the press censuring the ruler of Prance. He (Lord D. Stuart) thought the press would not have executed its high functions if it had omitted to comment upon what was passing in the neighbouring country, and he did not at the time regard with any degree of disapprobation the complaints of the press or its observations. He thought it was no wonder, when they saw a man obtain supreme power by belying all his professions which he had made up to the last moment, that the press should censure conduct like that. At the same time he fully admitted that this country had nothing to do with the internal affairs of France. 308 If that nation were willing to succumb to an absolute Government, that was their concern, and we had no business to interfere with it. But he did not mean that the press or the statesmen of this country ought to be silent on such a subject. They had a right to express their candid opinion, and that expression of opinion ought not to prevent a good understanding between this country and France, which he trusted would always continue. He had always believed that our nearest neighbour was likely to be our best ally, and he concurred with what the noble Lord the Member for London had said—that it was his opinion and belief, that, although the people of France might he contented to surrender their liberties for a time, yet, enlightened and advanced as they were in all that elevated man, and accustomed as they had been for a number of years to the enjoyment of free institutions, they would not long be deprived of those institutions, but by some means or other—he hoped by peaceable means—and without violent revolutions, they would reacquire those free institutions without which he believed no country could long continue to be happy. He had heard with great pleasure, both from the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Disraeli) and the noble Lord (Lord John Russell), the recognition of the great importance to be attached to maintaining the independence of the Turkish Government. The contest with Montenegro had been referred to, and he agreed in what the noble Lord had said, that if they wished to see that problem solved, the way was to agree with France in the measures to be adopted. He hoped, therefore, the two Governments would remain as they had been, united together on all those thorny questions that arose in the Levant, and especially as to maintaining the independence of Turkey.
§ Order for Committee read.
said, he thought they were not only proceeding contrary to rule, hut contrary to common sense. They were about to vote between 6,000,000l. and 7,000,000l. for the naval expenses of the country, and they ought, before they did so, to know by what means that sum was to be paid. It was important, because in December last, when the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Buckinghamshire proposed going into Committee to reduce certain duties, objection was taken by the present Chancellor of the Exchequer, who said they could not reduce a single tax 309 unless they knew the means of making it up, and that, unless the income tax was renewed, there would he no means of allowing the reduction of a farthing. He (Mr. Hume) had great doubt whether they were warranted, as the income tax would expire in April next, in voting estimates before that day, unless the House should have affirmed the continuance of that tax. He understood that the income tax was to he proposed after the recess, and if the opinions of the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer, of the noble Lord the leader of that House, and of the President of the Board of Control, had not changed within two short months, then it was quite evident that there would be no modification of that tax. But he (Mr. Hume) was of opinion that unless that tax should he modified according to the wants and desires of the country, in order to do away with its injustice, the House would not re-enact it. In what a position would the Government then he placed? There was now a surplus of 2,500,000l. in round numbers; but if the income tax should not be renewed, there would be a deficiency of 3,000,000l. Why, then, should the House not have before them the present views of the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer upon the subject? On the 6th of December last, when the late Chancellor of the Exchequer proposed to go into Committee on the subject of the tea duties, the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Gladstone) said he apprehended that, with regard to any reduction of those duties, no preliminary Committee was necessary, but that the then Chancellor of the Exchequer would introduce a Bill for that purpose without any previous proceedings. The right hon. Gentleman then proceeded to say:—Now, the opinion which I venture respectfully to state to the House is, that such is by no means a regular, an advantageous, or, I would almost venture to say, a constitutional, order of proceeding. And, without pressing the right hon. Gentleman for any declaration of opinion at the present moment, I am desirous to state to the House, and to him especially, the grounds on which I venture to found that statement. They are partly of a general and partly of a special nature. We are going to make provision for the financial year that commences on the 5th of April, 1853. Now, when we are considering the provision for that year, the first thing which necessarily strikes the mind of every man is, that on the 5th of April the income tax, from which we derive more than one-tenth of our gross revenue, will have ceased, legally, to exist; and I put it strongly to the House and to the Government that the first duty of this House, in reference to the provision for that year 310 must necessarily be to consider what course we are to pursue with regard to the income tax."—[3 Hansard, cxxiii. 982.]Now, what he (Mr. Hume) would say was, that what was good for the goose was good for the gander. What the right hon. Gentleman, on the 6th of December, said ought to be done by the late Government, ought certainly, under precisely similar circumstances, to be done by the present Government. What said the noble Lord; (Lord J. Russell) on the same occasion? The noble Lord said—I think, however, that there is great force in what the right hon. Member for the University of Oxford (Mr. Gladstone) said as to the necessity of taking both the income tax and the house tax before we are asked to concur in any Resolution with respect to the relief of taxes."—[3 Hansard, cxxiii. 990.]But was that all? The present President of the Board of Control (Sir C. Wood) said—He thought the most convenient course would be to go into Committee of Ways and Means, when a Resolution might be proposed for the maintenance of the income tax, or the increase of the house tax."—[3 Hansard, cxxiii. 994.]Here, then, were three great authorities objecting to the course which the late Chancellor of the Exchequer proposed to pursue. He (Mr. Hume), therefore, now wished to know why the income tax should not be at once brought forward? It was a question of the utmost importance to the country as to how that tax was to be levied; and was it not a fit and proper question to be mooted, acting upon the principle laid down by the right hon. Gentleman himself so lately as the 6th of December last? Why should not the present Government carry their own principles into effect? He knew of no reason, unless it was that when hon. Gentlemen crossed the floor of that House they left their principles behind them, and were prepared to adopt two modes of conduct according as it happened that they were in or out of office, He objected to the House voting any money until they knew whether the income tax was to be continued or not; and whether, if brought forward, it was to be proposed without alteration or modification. Instead of bringing it forward now, after it had been two years under consideration, they proposed to postpone it till after Easter, when the Act would have expired. He did not think the House of Commons would concur in re-enacting a measure fraught with such injustice. And if the income tax should not be renewed, 311 would not the Government experience great difficulty in laying on new taxes, which would nevertheless be the only alternative? He wished to have an answer to that question, otherwise he should move that the debate be adjourned.
§ VISCOUNT PALMERSTON
said, he hoped the hon. Gentleman would not press his Motion to a division. His right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer had already stated that the time must shortly come when he must make his financial statement, and then it would be his duty to state what were the intentions of the Government with respect to the income tax.
said, he was perfectly aware of the anomalous situation in which the Government were placed, but the House had been told by the Government that the income tax was to be renewed, and that it could not be altered. He thought, therefore, that he was justified in moving that the debate be adjourned.
§ MR. SPEAKER
said, the hon. Member could not move the adjournment of the debate; he must move that the Committee of Supply be postponed.
§ Question put, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair."
§ The House divided:—Ayes 164; Noes 28: Majority 136.