HC Deb 14 July 1853 vol 129 cc203-5

Sir, it may be in the recollection of the House, that a few days since I put a question to the noble Lord the Member for London, relative to a circular despatch signed by Count Nesselrode, which had then just reached the metropolis. To that question I now wish to refer. I think I mentioned that the despatch stated that the occupation of the Turkish waters by the combined fleets of England and France, was deemed by Russia a naval occupation analogous in its character to the military occupation of the principalities by the Russian armies. I also mentioned that in that despatch it was further stated that, when that complete satisfaction should be granted by the Porte to Russia, which was the due of the latter Power, and when the pressure alleged to have been exercised by the two maritime Powers in the port alluded to should have ceased, then the Emperor of Russia would withdraw his forces into his own limits. The noble Lord on that occasion very properly felt it his duty to question the truth of the first allegation to which I directed his attention, namely, that the presence of the combined fleets in the Turkish waters was a naval occupation of the Turkish dominions, and said, with respect to the second point., his impression was that I was not warranted in the interpretation I put upon the words of the despatch having reference to it. It has since been stated in another place by a Colleague of the noble Lord, that the latter observation of the noble Lord was made inadvertently—a circumstance which can readily be pardoned, since the document had been only just received, and I had had no opportunity until I entered the House of calling the noble Lord's attention to it. It is not, however, for the purpose of adverting to that slight mistake that I have now risen. But the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs took the opportunity of publicly declaring the determination of Her Majesty's Ministers not to accede to the conditions which were expressed in so peremptory a manner by the Court of St. Petersburgh in the circular despatch, and not for a moment in their management of these important proceedings admit, as a primary condition, that the combined fleets of England and France should leave the port at which they are anchored. The question I wish to address to the noble Lord is this: assuming, as I do, that these negotiations are now only formally and not virtually pursued, and that they have arrived at what is called a dead lock, and believing that it would be of great advantage to the public interests that a discussion should take place on this important question in both Houses of Parliament, I wish to know whether the noble Lord has any objection to fix a day when the hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Layard) can bring this subject under the consideration of the House of Commons?


I must, Sir, in the first instance, refer to the answer which I gave to the right hon. Gentleman on a former day. The right hon. Gentleman's question on that occasion referred to a circular despatch of the Russian Government, which had then only recently reached this country. I had only had the opportunity of reading it in a newspaper in a very cursory manner, and I certainly had not made myself completely master of its contents. I, therefore, answered that, in my opinion, the right hon. Gentleman had not put a correct interpretation on that part of the document which said that the Russian troops would be removed from the principalities when the pressure caused by the presence of the combined fleets in the Turkish waters should be taken off. I said, I could not believe that Russia intended to make that the condition of the evacuation of the principalities. I did so not only because I did not perceive that the proposition was quite distinctly laid down in the document, but also because I did not think it possible that two things so totally unlike and dissimilar in character could be compared with each other, or that the Russian Government could conceive itself justified in demanding that the English and French fleets should leave the Turkish waters before its troops should evacuate the principalities. I entertained this opinion because, in the one case, the English and French fleets were in the waters of an allied Power—were there not for the purpose of putting any pressure on that Power—not for the purpose of injuring it any way, but only in order that they might be ready in case of need—in case that Power should feel obliged to call for their assistance, and in case of the invasion of its territories. In the other case, the actual occupation of the principalities by the Russian troops, is an act which bears no similarity or comparison to the action of the combined fleets, and therefore I naturally supposed that a person of the experience and sagacity of Count Nesselrode would not have affixed his signature to a document declaring to all the world that the Russian Government made the removal of the combined fleets the condition of its evacuation of the principalities. That is my explanation of the answer which I gave to the right hon. Gentleman; but at the same time I must now admit that the words of the circular despatch bear on the face of them the interpretation which the right hon. Gentleman put on them. With respect to the question which the right hon. Gentleman has just asked me, I have to state that he is mistaken in supposing the negotiations on this subject have come to a dead lock. On the contrary, both the English and the French Governments have considered that there are propositions which might be acceded to both by Russia and Turkey, and which would be the means of obtaining a pacific termination of these unfortunate differences. Whether or not these hopes will be justified, we cannot know immediately. Some time must elapse before we can learn from St. Petersburgh what is the view taken by the Russian Government of any mode of settlement which either England, or France, or Austria may arrive at; and while matters are in this state of negotiation, I think it is not desirable that discussion on the subject should take place.