HC Deb 21 July 1854 vol 135 cc520-5

Order for Committee read.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair."


said, that, if the noble Lord (Lord D. Stuart) persisted in pressing this Motion, he should move that the Bill be committed that day three months. The Bill related to a subject upon which considerable difference of opinion existed among Members of that House, and much discussion would consequently arise in the Committee. He therefore trusted the noble Lord would withdraw his proposal.


said, he was quite prepared to vote for his noble Friend's Bill. He thought its principle good, being entirely in accordance with the existing law, which prohibited advances of money directly to an enemy for carrying on war against this country. The Bill provided against indirect advances, stamping them with reprobation. How far it would be practically efficient he was not prepared to say, but, at any rate, it constituted a moral demonstration exceedingly proper for the Parliament to make. The hon. Gentleman (Mr. T. Hankey) said he objected to the principle of the Bill, and that was an objec- tion which could be urged at another stage, and it would be inconvenient, regard being had to the Resolution of the House of Lords with reference to the second readings of Bills, to postpone this measure from day to day. He therefore trusted that the House would at once go into Committee upon the Bill.


said, he conceived that, if the present Bill was a proper measure of public policy, the Government ought to have introduced it, and informed the House of its provisions. This was a Bill to interfere, not with advances to the Emperor of Russia, contrary, as the noble Lord had said, to law, for the purpose of carrying on war against this country, but with persons living in this country in respect to their ordinary transactions. The noble Lord had not explained one single provision of the Bill, he only said that it was a moral demonstration. That moral demonstration had already been made by the notices from the different Consuls, published in newspapers, declaring that any persons taking a share in a loan issued by the Russian Government since the declaration of war would be guilty of high treason in adhering to the enemies of the country. That being so, he submitted to the House that to proceed with the Bill for the purpose of obtaining a further moral demonstration was unnecessary. He should like to hear the opinion of the hon. Secretary of the Treasury upon the provisions of the Bill. The hon. Gentleman was quite competent to give an opinion upon a question of this kind, and he (Mr. Gibson) had read a very able article upon the subject in the Economist newspaper, which he recommended every Gentleman in that House, and especially the noble Lord the Home Secretary, to peruse, for he did not think the noble Lord had read anything in reference to this matter, not even the Bill itself. He should like, he repeated, to hear the opinion of the hon. Secretary to the Treasury as to whether he thought the Bill calculated to do any good, or to prevent the Emperor of Russia in the slightest degree from carrying on war against this country. He did submit that if it were an important measure of public policy, it was not treating the House with respect for the noble Lord the Member for Marylebone, who introduced the Bill, to abstain from explaining the objects of the Bill.


said, he was quite willing, in accordance with the wish of his right hon. Friend, to explain the objects of the Bill. His right hon. Friend had stated, with perfect truth, that the law at present was, that if any British subject should assist in making a loan to the Emperor of Russia during the war he would be guilty of high treason. But it was of no use to make such an enactment if persons were allowed to buy or sell scrip of any loan guaranteed by the Russian Government. A contractor of a loan did not himself supply the whole of the money, nor anything like it; but he sold what was called scrip to other persons, who, in fact, were the parties who supplied the money to the borrowing Government. Now, if any person could sell or buy scrip with impunity, it would be very easy for Russia to obtain a loan. By enacting, however, that it should be unlawful for any British subject to deal with those securities, the effect would be to check these loans, for the contractors, knowing that fact, would not touch a loan under such circumstances, and a great difficulty would be thus thrown in the way of Russia raising money by that mode. He apprehended that one of the great difficulties with which Russia had to contend was in obtaining money. She required money for maintaining her army, for the purposes of corruption, and for exciting rebellion in other countries. It was probable, if such a Bill as this should be made law in this country, that a similar measure would be adopted in France. England and France were the only countries, with the exception of Holland, that were rich enough to lend money; it would be exceedingly difficult, therefore, for Russia to obtain a loan. He should have thought that this mode of dealing with Russia would have been one which would have recommended itself to the peace party to which the right hon. Member for Manchester (Mr. M. Gibson) belonged, because it was a mode of encountering Russia which was bloodless, You sacrificed no life, you shed no blood, but you prevented Russia from carrying on the war. The House would remember the memorable speech of the hon. Member for the West Riding (Mr. Cobden), in which he spoke of crumpling up Russia like a sheet of paper. All he (Lord D. Stuart) asked him now to do was to crumple up the scrip of Russia. His hon. Friend the Member for the West Riding had told him that, if he were present in the House when this Bill was brought forward, he would give it his support. He believed the Bill to be a good Bill, and calculated to effect the purpose he had in view, and he hoped the House would permit it to pass through Committee.


said, as his right hon. Friend (Mr. Milner Gibson) had appealed to him unexpectedly upon this subject, he could not refrain addressing a few observations to the House. His right hon. Friend had referred to certain sources of enlightenment to which he had had access, but as the nature of those sources were not known to him (Mr. Wilson) his right hon. Friend possessed an advantage of which he could not boast. When, some two years ago, the hon. Member for the West Riding (Mr. Cobden) made the speech which had been alluded to by the noble Lord (Lord Stuart), he very much agreed with him as to the crippling of the power of Russia by crumpling Russia up. He did not, however, agree with the noble Lord the Secretary of State for the Home Department, that they would be crippling Russia by any Act passed in that House, to the effect of the one now before them. He believed, on the contrary, that they would be exposing themselves to the contemptuous remarks of all persons connected with the money markets of Europe, who knew practically the operations of these loans. An Act to deter certain parties from taking part in these loans might be very easily evaded by employing agents at Holland and elsewhere. The Emperor of Russia himself held a very large quantity of stock, created anterior to the war; therefore it would only be for the English capitalist to buy that stock directly from the Emperor of Russia, in order to contribute to the Russian exchequer. But suppose they were to interdict this particular part of the Russian debt from being dealt with in the English market, it was clear they might thereby reduce the price of the stock in the market; but that would only be giving a premium to the capitalists in other countries to buy it up. The English capitalist would hold the Russian anterior debt, and the Dutch would hold the new debt, and all that would be done in the market would be simply a transfer of stock. He was bound to state that he thought any legislation of this kind, so far from accomplishing its object, was calculated to bring the House into disrespect, and was discreditable to the Legislature.


said, he would suggest that the noble Lord the Member for Marylebone should postpone the discussion to another day, as it was quite obvious the subject must undergo a serious debate. If the argument of the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Wilson) was worth anything, then the law was wrong which made it high treason to contribute directly to the aid of the Russian exchequer. This Bill appeared to him to be simply intended to give effect to what was now the unquestioned law in cases in which that law might now be evaded.


said, he objected to the Bill on the ground that it was entirely useless. If that fact were not known before, it must be quite evident, after the convincing speech of the hon. Member for Westbury (Mr. Wilson). The effect of the Bill would be to injure our own subjects, without being in any way detrimental to Russia. In passing this Bill our conduct would resemble that of the Irishman, who, being offended with a bank, revenged himself by burning its notes which he had in his possession. At any rate it was impossible to go on with the Bill after such a difference of opinion had prevailed respecting it between the Secretary for the Home Department and the Secretary for the Treasury. It was necessary for the Government to have a conference on the Bill before they invited the House to pass it. The measure was called a moral demonstration; but the Emperor of Russia was not a man to care much about moral demonstrations. The Bill was only another of the many claptraps which were palmed off upon the people of this country with reference to this question. The noble Lord the Member for Marylebone had what was called "a bee in his bonnet" with regard to Russia, and thought everything fair that was directed against that Power. The noble Lord was a supporter of the noble Home Secretary, and the latter, with the fidelity which he always showed to those who supported him —and for which he (Mr. Bright) admired him—felt it necessary, without having examined the Bill, or believing that it would be of the least service, to ask the House to pass it. The measure would only raise a smile on the countenance of the Emperor of Russia, if, under existing circumstances, he could force a smile.


said, he was inclined to believe that the Bill was only moonshine; but it involved considerations of great importance, with which the Government alone ought to deal. The Government, however, now stood in a rather inconvenient position as regarded the measure; for while the noble Lord the Home Secretary, on the one hand, called upon the House to pass it on grounds of high policy, the hon. Gentleman the Secretary of the Treasury had condemned it in the strongest terms. Under these circumstances, it was impossible to proceed with the Bill at present and it should be postponed until the Government had come to a decision upon it.


said, he also thought that further proceedings in respect to the Bill should be postponed until the Government had held a conference upon the difference of opinion manifested by the Home Secretary and the Secretary for the Treasury. This brief discussion, important in many respects, had elicited a remarkable admission from the hon. Member for Manchester (Mr. Bright), namely, that moral demonstrations, were useless, and that it was time something substantial should be done.


said, he must express his disapprobation of the Bill, and should move, as an Amendment, that it be committed on that day three months.

Amendment proposed, to leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "this House will, upon this day three months, resolve itself into the said Committee," instead thereof. Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."


said, that in defending the Bill, he must admit that, after what had passed, it was necessary to postpone it, and he therefore moved that the debate be adjourned to Monday.

Motion agreed to.

Debate adjourned till Monday next.

The House adjourned at a quarter after Two o'clock.