HC Deb 21 May 1855 vol 138 cc836-61

Sir, I observe that the right hon. Member for Manchester (Mr. M. Gibson) has placed upon the Votes of the House a question tending to lead to a precipitate decision, which may involve the most momentous consequences to the country and the whole of Europe. I wish, before the question is entered upon, to make an inquiry of the noble Lord at the head of the Government, inasmuch as upon his answer must depend my own course, and probably that of some other gentlemen in the House, on the Motion about to be submitted to their decision. I find upon page 73 of the papers of the Vienna Conferences, a protocol of the 21st of April, at which my noble Friend (Lord John Russell) was present, the following paragraph:— Count Buol does not consider the different modes of solution as exhausted, and considers it as especially the task of Austria to look for means of accommodation. He hopes, therefore, that the conference will meet again as soon as any of its members shall have any new proposition to make. The questions I wish to ask are these—Does the noble Lord consider or not that the different modes of solution are exhausted, or does he consider it, and does Austria still consider it, to be her task to look for means of accommodation, and is the conference completely dissolved, or is it in a such a state that any of its members may make any new propositions to the allied Powers?


Sir, I have no difficulty whatever in answering the questions of my right hon. Friend. Her Majesty's Government certainly do not consider all the modes of solution of the question at issue as exhausted. We do consider that Austria is still charged, by her own voluntary assumption and the consent of the allies, with the task of endeavouring to discover means of bringing about an accommodation between the contending parties; and the conference, although at present suspended, is not finally closed; and if any proposal were made worthy of the country, or which was considered likely to lead to a satisfactory result, that conference would be ready to be reassembled. I can only add, that it would be considered by Her Majesty's Government to be their duty to give their most favourable consideration to any proposals which might come to them from or through Austria, with a view to a safe, honourable, and satisfactory termination of the contest. At the same time I trust it is unnecessary for me to say that Her Majesty's Government would equally feel it their duty not to consent to any arrangement which did not sufficiently satisfy the honour of the country, and which did not substantially accomplish those motives for which the war was commenced.


Sir, it appears to me with reference to the question of my right hon. Friend (Mr. S. Herbert) that the answer of the noble Lord justifies me in making an appeal to the right hon. Member for Manchester. The passage which was quoted by my right hon. Friend was from the record of a conference held at Vienna on the 21st of April. Since that conference was held, a further conference took place on the 26th of April. At that further conference a second Russian proposal was tendered, and that second proposal was met by the representatives of Austria and France by the recital of various strong objections, but at the same time—if I rightly understand the record—with a declaration that it contained materials for further discussion, and the elements of a possible settlement. On the part of the only representative of England present at that conference it was met by the declaration that his instructions were exhausted. Under those circumstances, Sir, it appears to me that the right hon. Member for Manchester was entirely justified in the supposition, so far as England was concerned, and in reference to the proposals which had been laid before the Conferences of Vienna, that those conferences and negotiations had absolutely terminated. No doubt, Sir, it is a matter of the utmost delicacy and difficulty for this House to form a judgment, in circumstances so critical, at what point it is their duty to respect and leave in tact the functions of the Executive Government, and where the functions of the Government terminate and its own function of pronouncing judgment on the conduct of that Government begins.


Sir, I rise to order.


If the hon. and learned Gentleman insists upon it, I will conclude with a Motion.


Very good. In that case I shall not interrupt the right hon. Gentleman.


I was going to say, Sir, that as it appears upon the record as it stands before the House, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Manchester was perfectly warranted in I believing that there was, so far, so much at least of an absolute termination to the negotiation upon the basis before us, that the time had arrived when he might justly appeal to the House for its judgment upon the subject. I concurred, I confess, in that opinion; I did feel, I believe along with him, that if the House had permitted the papers which have been laid upon the table of the House to remain there without an expression of opinion upon its own part, the inference drawn out of doors would justly be, from the silence of the House, that it concurred in what had taken place, and made itself virtually a party to the declaration of the British Plenipotentiary on the 26th of April, that his instructions were exhausted, which of course, if it stood alone, would mean that the discussions of the conference were at an end, and that there was no prospect of a settlement being arrived at by what had already passed between the Powers assembled. We have already heard, and it is unnecessary for me again to repeat, the answers just made by the noble Lord at the head of the Government to my right hon. Friend (Mr. S. Herbert); but it is plain that those answers leave the case in a position different from that in which it would have stood had it rested on the declaration of the Earl of Westmoreland on the 26th of April, that his instructions were exhausted. I will not enter now upon a discussion of the declaration of the noble Lord, that no proposals incompatible with the honour of the Government or the country will be accepted or entertained by the Government; but I for one feel very deeply the responsibility of interfering with the proceedings of Her Majesty's Government in matters of negotiation which are still open, and I do not think that I over-interpret what has fallen from my noble Friend when I say that these negotiations are still open, and that these negotiations do afford, in the opinion of the Powers, or some of them, the materials of a satisfactory settlement. There is no reason why advantage should not be taken of those proposals for the purpose of seeing what could be made of them. Convinced as I am that the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. M. Gibson) has no other object in view but the restoration of peace to this country upon honourable terms—convinced as I am that he entirely disclaims all motives of party, all disposition to disturb the Government, or to weaken its plans in the proceedings it has been or may be carrying on, I venture with great respect, having no title I am sure to assume such a function, to put it before his consideration whether he would not exercise a wise discretion in refraining from asking the House of Commons at the present moment for any definitive judgment on the subject of the negotiations that are virtually still in progress, and whether it would not be fairer to all parties and all opinions, as well as more conducive to all the objects which every patriot must have at heart, if he would forego the occasion he claimed, and which had been offered to him under circumstances materially different, and exercise his own discretion at a future period, when these circumstances may call for an appeal to the House upon the question, to make a Motion of this description, or any Motion at all upon the subject—at all events, whether it would not be better to leave the matter in the hands of the Government, in order that they may not be embarrassed by our discussion in this place, which would certainly have an embarrassing and weakening effect on the Government—to leave them free from any difficulty of that kind to conduct to its legitimate conclusion the task they have taken in hand. Sir, I beg leave, with reference to what I have stated, to move that this House do now adjourn.


Sir, I take this opportunity of stating, having no knowledge of what course the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Manchester is about to take in consequence of the appeal that has just been made to him by my right hon. Friend—I wish to state that should he think it his duty to persist in bringing forward his Motion, I shall consider it my duty to move the previous question as an Amendment to it.


Sir, I stand in somewhat a different position from the right hon. Member for South Wiltshire, inasmuch as I had engaged to second the Motion of my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, and came down to the House with a perfect intention of fulfilling my engagement. But, after what has fallen from the right hon. Member for the University of Oxford (Mr. Gladstone), I put it to my right hon. Friend whether it would be wise, or in the interest of that peace which my right hon. Friend has so deeply at heart, to press his Motion on the present occasion. It is quite obvious the question would now be discussed under very great difficulties; as those who approved of the Motion must feel diffident about pressing it now, when they find that negotiations are still actually going on. I think that my right hon. Friend will only exercise a wise discretion in postponing his Motion; and if negotiations should, unhappily, ultimately fail, he can take another opportunity.


I have seldom witnessed, Sir, in this House a scene like that which is now enacting. At the first blush it appeared to me that if the extraordinary, and as I believe most impolitic, request of the two right hon. Gentlemen who have so suddenly risen this evening is to be acceded to, the House of Commons and the country have a right to demand a much more explicit declaration from the head of the Government than has yet been made as to really what position the country is now placed in with respect to recent negotiations, than that which the noble Lord and his colleagues apparently seem to consider amply sufficient to satisfy the demands of the two right hon. Gentlemen. Now, Sir, what is the state of the case? The noble Lord tells us that he believes he can venture to say that he supposes that it is not impossible that peace may be obtained—that all the means of resolving a difficult political problem have not been exhausted by those distinguished men who have devoted their abilities to the service of the Sovereign and the country. But has the noble Lord stated any circumstances which may induce us, as representatives of the people, to suppose that there are any grounds by which we may guide our conduct at a moment so critical as the present in order to justify a strange forbearance from expressing our opinion upon public affairs? The noble Lord has done nothing of the kind. "While there is life there is hope;" that appears to be the policy of Her Majesty's Government. I am sure, Sir, I am the last man in this House who would strictly define the limits to which forbearance might reach in the conduct of Parliament or of the Opposition while preparations for war or negotiations for peace were taking place. I think it our duty to place in the Government a very wide confidence under such circumstances. Had the noble Lord come to us when the unsuccessful plenipotentiary made his re-appearance in this House, and said "Although my baffled colleague has returned to resume his duties as Secretary of State, I have the satisfaction of informing Parliament that the means of solution of this difficult problem are by no means exhausted, and that I have reason to believe we may yet succeed in accomplishing a solution; and, therefore, I trust to the generous confidence of Parliament and to the patriotic spirit of the country not to press me to lay upon the table the records of the hitherto unsuccessful negotiation;" then, I say, the noble Lord might have appealed, and not in vain, to the forbearance of Parliament. But what, Sir, has been the conduct of the noble Lord? The noble Lord has placed upon the table of Parliament the records of negotiations which have been undertaken by his colleague and by other representatives of Her Majesty, under instructions which they had formally in those very papers acknowledged to be exhausted. Now, Sir, I ask for what were these papers placed upon the table? Surely, to elicit the opinion of Parliament upon the conduct of the negotiations, and to ascertain the precise position in which our country is now placed. I said then, as I now repeat, that it would have been well if the noble Lord, following the authority of precedents, had been himself the leader in eliciting the opinion of Parliament under the circumstances. But the noble Lord forbore to fulfil his duty, and an independent Member of this House, a gentleman not connected with the Government, exercising his legitimate and, as I think, very proper duty, gives notice that he will propose, instead of the Minister, an Address to Her Majesty expressing the opinion of Parliament upon those papers. Did the noble Lord rise then and say, "I have, perhaps with too much readiness, placed these State papers upon the table, but do not, under any consideration, press the opinion of Parliament upon these negotiations, because the means of solution are by no means utterly exhausted"? The noble Lord said not a word of the kind. He gave no discouragement to the motion of the right hon. Gentleman, but, on the contrary, the noble Lord disturbed the natural order of the business of the House, and facilitated the course which the right hon. Gentleman proposed to take; and when the whole country is expectant —when this room is filled as it has seldom been filled for years, then the noble Lord having himself given a day to the right hon. Gentleman—having himself created the occasion and framed the opportunity—then the noble Lord, by some mysterious and sinister means, as rapid and unexpected as that wire which now communicates from Balaklava to Downing Street, and which passes the gangway as unseen as that Electric Telegraph passes from the Black Sea to the Danube, contrives that his wishes should be repressed from an unexpected but influential quarter. And now, when we are assembled to give an opinion upon these unsuccessful negotiations, the records of which have been lying for a considerable period upon our table, and in reference to which a Privy Councillor has given a notice to which the noble Lord has given precedence, then the noble Lord rises, and without the communication of any particulars, and without any unequivocal statement that there is any chance of negotiations being carried on, but with a vague declaration, which he would have been justified in making if there never were a less favourable prospect of bringing affairs to a happy conclusion, expects that, in silence—without a murmur, and without a protest—this great discussion should not be allowed to proceed. I am not aware, Sir, what course the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Manchester (Mr. M. Gibson) is going to take; but, judging from the remarkable promptitude with which the noble Lord, who was going to do him the honour to second his motion, responded to what I have described as the most unreasonable suggestion of the two right hon. Gentlemen the Members for South Wiltshire (Mr. S. Herbert) and for the University of Oxford (Mr. Gladstone) judging, I say, by that extraordinary promptitude, one is almost afraid that the proposer as well as the seconder of the Motion has fallen into a position, much more convenient than honourable to the individuals and to the Ministers. But, Sir, is there nothing to consider in this matter but the convenience of the Ministers? What, I should like to know, is the country to think of this exhibition? The country will surely require some information, some rational explanation why, when negotiations have been carried on until they have arrived at a termination of failure, when their records have been placed upon the table of Parliament, when a right hon. Gentleman has given notice to ask the opinion of Parliament upon these negotiations, when the Minister rises, and only rises to facilitate that discussion, and yields the highest possible favour to a private Member, namely, a Government day, in order to take the opinion of Parliament—the country will at least expect that the Minister should make a declaration, clear, unequivocal, and explicit, to show that we are not trifled with under those circumstances. But if we renounce, as a Parliament, one of the highest, one of the most solemn and urgent duties a House of Commons can perform, which is to express its opinion upon negotiations that have failed in accomplishing their object, let it be shown that we have done it upon great and sufficient grounds, and in a manner and spirit which, whatever may be the condition of the Ministry or of their official or non-official supporters, will at least leave the House or Commons in a clear and honourable light before the country.


Sir, in reply to what has fallen from the right hon. Gentleman, I am prepared to maintain that the course which I have taken in regard to the proceedings of the House upon this matter has been uniform and consistent. The right hon. Gentleman upon a former occasion called upon me to lay upon the table of the House the proceedings of the Conference of Vienna. I told him that I would do so. I think the House and the country were entitled to have those proceedings in their hands. Those proceedings the right hon. Gentleman is pleased to call the records of an unsuccessful and failing negotiation. Sir, they are the records of a negotiation conducted with the greatest ability by my noble Friend (Lord John Russell); and if they have not resulted in a termination favourable to the objects of peace, the fault has not lain with my noble Friend, the fault has not lain with Her Majesty's Government, the fault has not lain with our ally the Emperor of the French, the fault has not lain with our ally to a certain degree I may say—that is as far as moral and political sentiment goes—I say that the fault has not lain with the Government of Austria, but the fault has really rested with the Government of Russia, to whom we are opposed. But the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Disraeli) then called upon me to do that which he said had been done on similar occasions, namely, to come down with a Message from the Crown for a Vote of Parliament approving of the course that had been taken. What was the answer I made to the right hon. Gentleman? The House doubtless recollects that answer. It refutes the charges the right hon. Gentleman has just brought forward again. I said I will not do any such thing, because it would be shutting a door against any possible negotiations, and destroying all hopes of peace. I said I will not shut that door, and therefore the charge the right hon. Gentleman now brings against me of not having held uniform language is not founded upon the actual course I have pursued. I stated then that which I state now, namely, that I do not renounce hopes of a satisfactory result from future negotiations, and that I will not take a step which would close a door to negotiation, or render any negotiation for the present impossible. But then the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Buckinghamshire) says that I did not discourage the right hon. Member for Manchester (Mr. M. Gibson) who is about to make his Motion. But, Sir, the House surely recollects I was asked a question by the hon. Gentleman the colleague of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Manchester, who asked me whether the time had arrived when the House might fairly enter into a discussion on the negotiations. I said that the hon. Member must exercise his own discretion, but that I thought such a course would be a most inconvenient one in the present state of affairs. I said that it would be attended by public inconvenience, but that it was not my intention to dictate to the hon. Member or to any other person the course he should pursue. I thought the hon. Member (Mr. Bright) would abstain from pressing his question on the consideration of the House in the present position of things; but the right hon. Gentleman the other Member for Manchester did nevertheless think it right to put his notice on the paper. What was the course then I thought it my duty to pursue? Should I, on the part of the Government, back out from the discussion? Should I endeavour to stave it off by technical delays, saying that this day would be inconvenient, or the next day would be inconvenient? No, Sir; I felt it the duty of the Government boldly to face the right hon. Gentleman; and though I disapproved of his Motion, and though I thought and still think it was a most ill-judged Motion, and one calculated to lead to a discussion which must be injurious to the interests of the country, if the right hon. Gentleman thought otherwise, I said, "Here we are; I will give you an early day for the purpose;" and now I have come down here ready to meet the right hon. Gentleman face to face upon the terms of his Motion, if he thinks right to make it, and to give it a positive and direct negative. Well, Sir, I say the course I assume is perfectly plain and simple, and there is nothing that requires illustration. We laid before Parliament the documents it was entitled to have. I would not take the step the right hon. Gentleman urged me to take because I thought it would be shutting a door upon future negotiations. I stated to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Manchester that I thought it would be extremely inconvenient for the public interest—not for the inconvenience of Members of the Government, for I place the matter on higher grounds—that it would be prejudicial to the interests of the country with a view to future negotiations, that we should be called upon at the present moment to discuss and come to a decision upon the terms which had been offered and refused, and upon the terms which might have been proposed. I went into those distinctions in my answer to the right hon. Gentleman, and I said that I thought there would be an inconvenience, and I think so still. Whether the Motion of the right hon. Gentleman is met, as my right hon. Friend the Member for South Wiltshire intends, by moving the previous question, or by a direct negative, as the Government are prepared to move, I think in either case the discussion must be prejudicial to the interests of the public. But the discussion is forced upon Her Majesty's Government, and we are ready and prepared to meet it. I was asked a question founded upon passages in one of the protocols. I answered those questions; but if I am called upon by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Buckinghamshire to enter into an explanation of what passed between the Government of Her Majesty and those of France and Austria, I say I will not be led into explanations and discussions of confidential communications, the effect of which must be to render such communications for the future impossible, or, at all events, not beneficial for the purposes for which they are carried on. I say the House may or may not think fit to continue to give their trust and confidence to Her Majesty's Government in the conduct of public affairs; it is for them to judge; but this I will say, whatever Government may enjoy the confidence of this House, I think this House would commit a great mistake, and would be doing a great injury to the public service, if they were to take out of the hands of the Government, whatever it may be, the conduct of matters which can only be carried on by the Government. If the House of Commons take upon itself to do that which the Motion indicates, namely, to prescribe to the Executive Government how it is to carry on negotiations, what conditions it is to ask for, what conditions it may press, and what conditions give up—if this House, I say, take upon itself the power of carrying on negotiations, I assert that they will be doing a greater injury, and be departing more dangerously from the true principles of the constitution than I think any great number of Gentlemen in this House will be inclined to submit to. I say, therefore, that negotiations of this nature can only be carried on by an Executive Government; but, if they are to be called upon from day to day to state what is the last proposal made, and what is proposed to be done, and what has been done during the last week or ten days, the functions of Government must cease. I say you must give a certain amount of confidence to any Government that may exist for the day. If you think this Government unworthy and undeserving of your confidence, say so distinctly and plainly, and we shall know distinctly what it is our duty to do. But so long as you do not do so, so long as this House is content to leave the Executive Government in its place, I say it is the duty of this House, and that it is necessary for the interests of the country that you should not interfere in this manner in the details of a negotiation, that you should wait until the final result is known, and then, if you are displeased, you can censure the Government if you like, or express your opinion as you please. But you never will arrive at a successful end of the negotiations if this House is to undertake, as the Motion is calculated to effect, the practical and detailed direction of important negotiations.


I wish, Sir, to say that I think there has been a little over-excitement on both sides of the table about this matter. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Buckinghamshire need not be over much exasperated at any course that may be taken to-night; for he must know very well that the object of my right hon. Friend and Colleague is one which is not supposed to harmonise entirely with the views commonly expressed by the majority of his followers, and therefore is at liberty to judge what is best in the interest of the object which we have at heart, and which I take to be the establishment of a satisfactory peace. Now, the House will not suppose that I have any object in view other than that I have taken for the last twelve months on these questions. Some time since I put a question to the noble Lord at the head of the Government, to which he has referred to-night, and I was anxious, then, to have from him something more explicit than he had given us as to whether negotiations were being carried on or not; and when I said carrying on, I meant not that the negotiations were exhausted, for if they were exhausted we should be at war for ever; nor did I want to know exactly if the Allied Powers were willing to receive offers from Russia, if they were sufficiently submissive—that we also know very well—nor did we want to know if Austria were engaged in doing a great many things other than those which this country and Government have been asking her to do for a long time past. What I wanted to know, Sir, was this, for I wished to embarrass the Government as little as possible; and, indeed, I would be willing to bargain not to speak in this House for the next fifteen years if the noble Lord would undertake to bring the negotiation to a successful termination in the month of June. My object is very well understood; but I wish the noble Lord at the head of the Government to tell us whether the conferences or negotiations are under that form and under those circumstances that take them out of that ordinary state of things always existing during a state of war, in which each side is willing to receive from the other; whether the conferences lately held may be said to be still alive, and whether the noble Lord the Member for the City of London, or the Earl of Westmoreland, or anybody else, is in communication, and in such a manner as to afford some probability or hope that peace is not absolutely distant. Will the noble Lord allow me to observe that it is not Austria alone which makes the observation which was quoted by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Wiltshire (Mr. S. Herbert), and which I quoted, namely, that there were the elements of a satisfactory settlement in the propositions of Russia, but the French Minister for Foreign Affairs at Vienna also gave expression to a similar opinion. Well, if that be so, what I want to do is to impress upon the House, and especially upon the noble Lord at the head of the Government, that, there being an opportunity of re-establishing peace on honourable terms, that opportunity should not be allowed to slip; and if the noble Lord give, as he has partially given, an assurance of that kind to the House, I should be as anxious to abstain from urging my right hon. Colleague to proceed with his Motion as I should be anxious to abstain myself under similar circumstances. The question being, what is most advantageous to the interests of those Members of this House who wish the war to be brought to a close, and who think that there is something in the late propositions upon which a satisfactory peace might be settled, it appears to me that the right hon. Gentleman my colleague has that only to consider, and not what may be the objects of those who may either feel, as I do, not very friendly to the Government, or who are anxious to prolong the war. The noble Lord the Member for South Durham (Lord H. Vane), who was about to second the Motion of my right hon. Colleague, and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the University of Oxford (Mr. Gladstone), if I understood what he said correctly, intended to vote in favour of that proposition. It becomes a question when those who take such views, and are anxious for the passing of these Resolutions, believing that the passing of these Resolutions by this House would be productive of great and important results—when they urge my right hon. Colleague to withdraw his Motion, he is placed in that difficulty which we have seen many Members of this House of late placed in, that I am afraid to urge anything with regard to it; but if anybody will say that it will be subservient to the cause of peace, I will myself urge him to withdraw his motion; but, inasmuch as the statements that have been made appear to me to be vague, I shall urge my right hon. Friend by no means to suspend indefinitely the Motion which he has proposed for to-night, and I take it for granted that some time during the week, after the Whitsuntide holidays, the noble Lord will be able to tell us whether there is a probability of the conference coming to a satisfactory conclusion. I am sure that there is a large party in the country anxious to have this question thorougly debated in this House, and who think that they will get from the debate a little more truth than they have hitherto got from Her Majesty's Government on this important subject, and a great deal more truth than they have got from the public newspapers during the last twelve months. I shall be very well satisfied if the Motion goes on, and, under the circumstances, I shall be equally satisfied if it be postponed.


Sir, after the speech of the noble Lord at the head of the Government, I think it is pretty clear that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Manchester is bound to go on with his Motion. The noble Lord the Member for South Durham kindly informed the House that he had intended to second the Motion of the right hon. Gentleman, but that circumstances have now changed. Now, after the speech of the noble Lord at the head of the Government, I ask him if the circumstances have changed? The noble Lord has said that when the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. M. Gibson) proposed to bring these Resolutions before the House he felt it would be impolitic so to do, and that he is of the same opinion now; but he has not given the House to understand that any circumstance has happened to place the question in a different position from that in which it was when the right hon. Gentleman laid the Resolutions on the table. What is the last Resolution of the right hon. Gentleman? It is— And to express to Her Majesty, that it is the opinion of this House that the propositions made by the Government of Russia, for giving effect to the principle of the said Third Article, contain elements for renewed negotiation, and may offer the means of obtaining an honourable and satisfactory peace. The noble Lord says, the Government are open to receive any propositions that may lead to a satisfactory peace. I ask, if that is not the condition in which every Government has been at every moment of every war that was ever carried on? Are we not at all times anxious for peace? Is not the noble Lord at the head of the Government at all times in a position to receive any propositions which may afford a probability of an honourable peace? What has happened, then, which should induce the noble Lord the Member for South Durham, who had come down to the House with a determination to second the Motion of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Manchester, to ask him to withdraw that Motion? I will tell the noble Lord why I urge my right hon. Friend to bring this question before the House. I believe I speak the voice of the country, when I say, that the people of this country have no confidence in the noble Lord and the Government of which he is at the head, and that they are anxious for an honourable peace, but are distrustful, because there is a feeling abroad that a large portion of the Cabinet is at this moment anxious for peace at any price. It is because I am not anxious for peace at any price, but for an honourable peace, and for no other peace than an honourable peace, that I ask the House to insist upon a discussion of the Resolutions of the right hon. Gentleman. The right hon. Gentleman has put himself in a position in which the House has a right to call on him to bring forward the propositions he has placed on the paper—he has thrust himself into the matter; other gentlemen would have come forward if he had not forestalled them, and the House is now, therefore, in a condition to say to him—We demand of you to bring forward these propositions, because we, like you, are desirous of an honourable peace; but we, not like you, are desirous, not of a peace at any price, but only of an honourable peace.


Sir, it seems to me of great importance in deciding the question whether the discussion on the Motion of the right hon. Member for Manchester is or is not to be postponed that we should clearly understand whether negotiations are now actually taking place or not, and that there is a prospect of a peace being concluded. It appears to me also essential to know distinctly whether the First Lord of the Treasury is willing to entertain any propositions that may be made by any of the five powers assembled at Vienna, or whether the propositions which are to be made are restricted solely to the powers of France and England. I ask this, because the date at which the noble Lord the Member for London said that he had exhausted his instructions was not on the 26th of April, has stated by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Wiltshire (Mr. S. Herbert) but, as I think, the 21st of April, before Russia had made her last proposition. It therefore seems to me that the noble Lord received instructions from Her Majesty's Government that, whatever propositions Russia might make, they were not to be entertained, but that he was to come back to England. This is a point which I wish to have cleared up before the House decides whether the discussion is to be postponed or not?


Whether, Sir, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Manchester will or will not bring on his Motion to-night, is a matter which must be left entirely to his own discretion. Upon that point the Government have no advice to give him. All we can say is, that we shall be ready to meet that Motion if it should be made, and prepared to acquiesce in its postponement if that is the course upon the adoption of which the right hon. Gentleman means to decide. The hon. and learned Gentleman, the Member for Sheffield (Mr. Roebuck) has said that the declaration which has been made by my noble Friend at the head of the Government with reference to the subject of these negotiations amounts to nothing more than what might be said at any moment of any war, namely, that the Government were ready to entertain new propositions for peace. Now that is not precisely the position of affairs as they stand at the present moment. What that position is we are bound, so far as we can do so consistently with the confidential nature of the communications which have taken place, to state to the House. In the first place, I think it right to fill up certain omissions which have necessarily been made in the protocols, which are mere summaries of conferences which lasted sometimes as long as four hours and a half. At the last conference at which I had the honour of assisting, Count Buol, after a long discussion had taken place, said that he did not think the discussion in which we were engaged was likely to lead to any decisive result; that the belligerent powers were not likely to come to an agreement, and that, therefore, it was his opinion that the conferences had better terminate. He, however, added, that although no solution of the question at issue had been arrived at, he did not think the means of accommodation were exhausted, and that as every member of the conference had a right to bring forward propositions, he hoped that at an early day the conferences would be resumed for the purpose of taking into consideration any propositions which might be submitted for discussion. To that observation I replied that, "Although the means of accommodation might not have been exhausted, yet that my instructions were exhausted; and that I, therefore, hoped Count Buol would not fix an early day—or, indeed, fix any particular day—for the re-opening of the conferences, as I should be unprovided with any instructions which would enable me to enter into the discussion of any propositions which might be brought under our notice." That is a course which is not without precedent even in the progress of the present negotiations; because during the time that the Russian plenipotentiary was awaiting instructions from St. Petersburg the conferences had been adjourned from time to time, and no day had been fixed upon which they were to be resumed. The fact was, they were postponed until the time when Prince Gortchakoff declared that he was ready to act upon the instructions which he had received from his Government. There was a subsequent meeting of the conference—a fact which shows very clearly that negotiations were not altogether broken off—at the request of the Russian plenipotentiary, and then the French plenipotentiary, following out what I had before stated, very clearly set forth the reasons why his instructions were exhausted. He said "With reference to the new proposition which had been made by the Russian plenipotentiary, that he had at the last conference declared that his instructions were exhausted since Russia had rejected the propositions which had been made to her in every form whatsoever." The substance of these instructions was contained in a proposition for neutralising the power of Russia in the Black Sea. That proposition was rejected, and we did not feel bound to accept the proposals of the Russian plenipotentiary. Baron de Bourqueney concurred in that opinion. The Earl of Westmorland made the same declaration; and, therefore, when the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the University of Oxford (Mr. Gladstone) says that the British plenipotentiaries differed from those of France, he was entirely mistaken. The two French and the two British plenipotentiaries made a similar declaration. They said that, as the propositions of Russia contained the principle of closing the Dardanelles, and not the principle of entirely opening the Straits to all powers, they did not see in these propositions the elements of accommodation. Count Buol, however, declared that not only the elements, but even the basis of accommodation were not contained in the proposal of the Russian plenipotentiary. The conferences were, therefore, adjourned, and no day was fixed for their being resumed. The Austrian Government, however, have declared, through Count Buol, that in their opinion the means of accommodation were not exhausted; and I must say that throughout the negotiations at Vienna, the representatives of Austria signified their agreement with the Western powers, and not their concurrence in the propositions made by Russia. Any difference that may have prevailed arose from the circumstance that while the plenipotentiaries of France and England were not prepared to listen to any terms that did not contain the foundation of a durable and a solid peace, the representatives of Austria, upon the other hand, were most unwilling to put forward ony propositions in such a manner as must immediately involve their country in the dangers and the miseries of war, without being perfectly certain that the means of accommodation were finally exhausted. That fact made, of course, some difference in the spirit in which the different propositions were submitted. With respect to the opinions of the representatives of Austria, however, and the support which they gave us, I have only to say that we could not possibly receive greater support at their hands. Now it is not only difficult, but almost impossible, to give any precise answer as to the propositions of peace, that, if they come at all must come from a Foreign Government, and not from our own or that of our immediate ally. But my opinion is, that, whether such propositions lead to peace or not—because upon that question I feel myself incompetent to decide—the Austrian Government will, before those conferences finally close, make some propositions to the members of the conference, and that those propositions must have one of two results. Either they will be rejected by one, or perhaps by both the belligerent powers, and then the conferences will be broken up—and then it will be competent for any hon. Member to ask the House to pronounce an opinion upon those negotiations; or negotiations will again be resumed, and there will then be a better prospect than there has yet been of peace following as a result. I do not think I can at present say more than I have already done. It has been said that the speech made by my noble friend at the head of the Government is vague. If it be so, it is because there is nothing definite or precise in the situation. The question of these negotiations is in itself undefined. The state of things theretofore differs most materially from the supposition which was made by the hon. and learned Member for Sheffield—that any time during a war a proposition for peace might be made to one party by the other. There has been a conference assembled for the purpose of considering the terms of peace. The belligerent powers have not concurred in those terms. The negotiations have hitherto failed; but they are merely suspended, and not closed. I do not know that I can add anything to this statement. I leave entirely to the discretion of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Manchester what course he will take with reference to his motion. If he should bring it forward, the Government, as my noble Friend has stated, will be prepared to meet it with a direct negative.


Sir, I do not think that the noble Lord has stated to the House any facts whatever, or that he has added anything to the observations which have fallen from the noble Lord at the head of the Government, which can guide the House, in arriving at a decision as to whether the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Manchester ought, or ought not, to persevere in his Motion. I do not believe that there exists upon either side of the House a disposition to press the Government unfairly. The question is one of too much importance to admit of the display of party feeling. But if the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Manchester is to be deterred from persevering in his Motion, I think we have a right to receive from Her Majesty's Ministers some more explicit declaration than we have yet had, as to whether negotiations for peace are, or are not, still pending. The noble Lord the Member for London (Lord John Russell) has thrown no light upon this question. I think some difficulty has arisen in consequence of—and no small confusion has been created by—the fact that those negotiations have taken place at the Court of a neutral Power, and that our representatives are still, therefore, remaining at Vienna, although our plenipotentiary has returned. The Government have laid upon the table the protocols of the negotiations which have taken place. The usual course under such circumstances is for Parliament to pronounce upon those protocols; and I confess I can see no reason why the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Manchester should refrain from persevering in his Motion, unless Her Majesty's Ministers are prepared to inform the House that negotiations are still pending and the conferences still open. I think we have a right to ask for more explicit information than any which we have received upon this point. It is impossible that any hon. Member could have listened to the discussion which has taken place this evening without coming to the conclusion that the Government are a consenting party to the adoption of either of the two courses which have during the discussion been indicated with reference to the Motion of the right hon. Gentleman opposite. One right hon. Gentleman has advised the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Manchester to abstain from pressing his Motion to-night; the noble Lord who was to have seconded the Motion concurs in that suggestion; while another right hon. Gentleman has stated that if the right hon. Member for Manchester should persevere in bringing forward his Motion, he should move the previous question. It seems to me, therefore, that this House has many grounds for supposing that Her Majesty's Ministers are desirous that one or the other of these two courses should be taken. The noble Lord at the head of the Government says that he has come down prepared to meet the Motion with a direct negative. If that be the desire of the noble Lord, why has he not requested the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Wiltshire (Mr. S. Herbert) not to seek to put off the discussion by moving "the previous question"? I think the conduct of the noble Lord is entirely at variance with the course which he took upon a former occasion. The noble Lord himself fixed a day for the discussion upon the Motion of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Manchester, that the House of Commons might thus be afforded an opportunity of pronouncing an opinion upon the negotiations which have lately taken place at Vienna. It now appears, however, that the noble Lord and the Government are desirous—without any change of circumstances which could have justified the alteration in their views—that this discussion should be postponed. I certainly think that Her Majesty's Ministers have a right to expect that we should not prematurely press upon them a question of this character; but if the noble Lord is right in saying that he is prepared to meet the Motion with a direct negative—if, as is the case, our plenipotentiary has returned from Vienna, and if the conferences have been closed, I see no reason why, with those protocols upon the table of the House, and in the absence of any further explanation from Her Majesty's Ministers, we should not proceed to discuss the Motion which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Manchester has announced it to be his intention to bring forward this evening.


I do not rise, Sir, to make any statement, but merely to answer two specific questions which have been addressed to the Government by the right hon. Baronet who has just spoken. The right hon. Baronet has asked whether the conferences are closed. He has assumed, rather than asked, that the plenipotentiaries have withdrawn. I thought it was clearly to be inferred from the statement of my noble Friend the Secretary of State for the Colonies that the conferences are not closed. The conferences, as he stated, are in the same position as when, at the request of the Russian plenipotentiaries, they were adjourned without any day being fixed for their resumption, and any propositions may be entertained by the members of those conferences who still remained at Vienna. In that respect the plenipotentiaries have not withdrawn. It is true that my noble Friend (Lord John Russell), who was associated with Lord Westmorland, has returned to this country, and that M. Drouyn de Lhuys, who was associated with Baron de Bourqueney, has also left Vienna; but Lord Westmorland, as the British plenipotentiary, and Baron de Bourqueney, as the French plenipotentiary, have full powers to act. The elements of the conferences still remain, and any day the members can be summoned to discuss new propositions. The right hon. Gentleman (Sir J. Pakington) also assumes that the Government is anxious, for its own convenience, to evade this discussion. That statement has been explicitly denied already by my noble Friend (Lord Palmerston), and the only reason suggested for the postponement of the discussion is, that in the present state of affairs at Vienna it may be prejudicial to the public interests. It is for the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Manchester to decide what course shall be taken; but, whether the discussion proceeds or not, the Government is prepared to meet it. Reasons have been stated by several hon. Members why they think it better the Motion should be postponed, and the Government is quite content to leave the decision in the hands of the House.


Sir, I think Her Majesty's Government have thrown a heavy responsibility on me, but as I have undertaken to bring forward the Motion for the Address of which I have given notice, I feel bound to endure it. My hon. and learned Friend (Mr. Roebuck) says that I have upon this occasion thrust myself forward. He says that he wishes to have an honourable peace, but that others will have a peace at any price. I do not know on what authority the hon. and learned Member makes that assertion, or why he and his Friends should arrogate to themselves the exclusive appreciation of the feelings and honour and dignity of the country. Sir, I do not yield to him or to any man in this House in my desire to support the dignity and honour of the country. I am not the man to stand up in my place in this House and advocate a course which is inconsistent with the safety of the country, or inconsistent with its honour and dignity. Her Majesty's Government, I think, ought to have anticipated this discussion when they laid the protocols on the table. I consider that, when Her Majesty's Government placed before the Houses of Legislature the records of the proceedings of the recent conferences, they ought at once to have invited the opinion of Parliament on the course which they had pursued. When the papers were produced, I felt myself at liberty, under these circumstances, to move the Address of which I have given notice, with the view of submitting that opinion to the consideration of the House. Sir, I admit the difficulty of the position, now that Government tells us that the conferences are not at an end, and that before the conferences are finally concluded, the Austrian Government has undertaken to produce some plan for bringing about an understanding between the belligerent Powers, that the Austrian Government will, before the conclusion of the conferences, submit a plan to the Governments of France and England. Hearing also from Her Majesty's Government that, under these circumstances, they will not feel themselves at liberty to discuss with frankness and without reserve the various proposals which have been made, I admit that I feel I should not be serving the object which I have in view, or serving the public interests, if I were to persevere in my Motion, more especially when the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Wiltshire (Mr. Sidney Herbert) tells me that he will meet it by moving the previous question, so that the division will not be taken on the merits of my proposition, but will be taken on the preliminary consideration as to whether it is convenient, after the statement made by Her Majesty's Government, that these propositions should be made at all. I shall not abandon the Motion. I ask Her Majesty's Government how long these conferences are to last? If the conferences are to go on from day to day to the end of the Session, they undoubtedly will have gained the advantage of getting rid of this discussion on the policy which they have adopted altogether. I, therefore, give notice that, although compelled, as I feel I am, after the appeal which has been made to me to postpone this Motion to-night, I shall take the earliest opportunity after Whitsuntide of again submitting the question to the consideration of the House.


said, he had a strong opinion relative to the mock proceeding—to which he could apply no other epithet—that had just been going on. The nation was watching the proceedings of that House with breathless anxiety, and during the last week it was impossible to go into any part of the country, or into any society, without being asked what the House of Commons were going to do upon the Motion of the right hon. Member for Manchester? The country was aware that the Conferences of Vienna were brought to a close, and the Government had not said a word to show that they were resumed, that anything serious had been taken into consideration, or that there was any rational ground for supposing that any proposition would be made. The Motion was now postponed indefinitely, and the result would be a feeling of deep disgust that the House had been so far wanting in its duty. It would be thought that the Government were more intent upon negotiations than upon the effectual carrying on of the war. He thought that any Ministry who were willing to carry on negotiations for peace upon terms less favourable than those proposed by the Western Powers at Vienna would be insensible to the honour and greatness of this country, and unworthy of the support of that House. The enemy would never believe the Government were in earnest in carrying on the war while they showed this intense desire for peace. He could not help expressing his indignation at this solemn farce—a concerted scheme, which must have been got up between the Government and the hon. Members below the gangway. For himself he disapproved the course that had been taken, and would never give his support to any Ministry that would not take steps to retrieve and maintain the honour and dignity of the country.


said, it was clear that the course which the House ought to pursue depended on the fact whether it was true or not that the conferences were closed. If Austria was about to produce propositions which might or might not be accepted, it was clearly a legitimate excuse for the House not to enter upon this discussion at the present moment, and, in his opinion, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Manchester had exercised a wise discretion in the course which he had taken. He (Sir H. Willoughby), however, trusted that the doubt would be cleared up as to whether any propositions were to be expected from Austria.


said, he believed that Austria, although acting in good faith, would never agree to make an aggressive war against Russia, which she could not do without dismembering the Austrian empire. He thought that the war had been entered into without due consideration, and in ignorance of the power of the Russian Empire; but he trusted that every means would be adopted to establish a permanent and honourable peace.


said, he had all along thought that the notice of Motion given by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Manchester was inopportune, and dangerous to the best interests of the country; but he thought the discussion of that evening would be even still more mischievous and dangerous, because it would tend to create a belief in the minds of the Russian authorities that a desire existed among the representatives of the people of this country for peace at any price. It was useless to be making declarations in favour of peace. Every man was for peace; but the more they encouraged statements in deprecation of war, and protestations in favour of peace, the more distant they drove peace from their borders. It should be recollected that, when Members spoke in that House, they spoke not to themselves or to this country alone, but to Europe; and what would be the understanding of Russia with regard to this debate? Would its inference not be, that the House of Commons was now showing the first symptoms of retreat, and was ready to withdraw pusillanimously from the contest in which we were engaged? What, he would ask, would our French allies think? Would they not suppose that we were preparing to give up the struggle on which, in alliance with them, we had entered? If the Government thought these discussions afforded an indication of the feelings of the country they were egregiously mistaken; and if they were ready anyhow, and by means of any negotiations, to accept terms of peace, they would follow a course most disastrous to the honour and dignity of this country. The objects of the Western Powers and of Russia were diametrically opposite in principle, and an honourable peace could not be secured till the great object of the former was gained by a check being put to the preponderance of Russia in the Black Sea. He repeated that, in these circumstances, the more professions we made in favour of peace the more distant we should make it. A negotiation was like a bargain—the more you wanted to sell the less the customer wanted to buy, and the less you wanted to sell the more eager he would be to buy. Now, he would ask if, when in the very agony of this struggle, a Motion like that of the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. M. Gibson) supported by those who are for peace at any price, was brought forward, was it not giving encouragement to Russia to persist? We entered into this war to lower the arrogant pretensions of Russia, and if France and England were to retreat from it at this moment, if the truth were spoken, so far from the power of Russia being diminished it must rather be confessed that the powers of her assailants had been reduced—whether from mismanagement or from some other cause he would not now wait to inquire. So far from the proponderance of Russia being diminished by a peace made at the present moment, it would be materially increased. He was a friend of peace. Constitutionally he hated discord of any kind; but, nevertheless, he trusted the House would not allow the tone of the present discussion to prevail with them in the terms to which they might be disposed to listen from Russia. If Austria was disposed to make suggestions, and made such as could be accepted with honour by this country, no one would rejoice more than himself; but if the Government showed by their statements in that House that they were ready to accept terms from every quarter and at all times, and in every possible way, it would in the end put peace more distant from our shores—unless, indeed, such a peace as would be dishonourable and disastrous to the country.


said, he certainly could not congratulate the Government on the dignity of their position, but he did not rise to prolong the debate. He wished to know whether it was intended that night to take Supply, which stood last on the paper.


said, there would be no objection to move that the House go into Committee of Supply for the purpose of enabling any Gentleman to bring on a Motion; but after the understanding he had had with several hon. Members he should not feel justified in proposing that the House actually go into a Committee of Supply that night.


said, he would take that opportunity of asking the hon. Gentleman whether there would be any Committee of Supply before the holidays?


said, there was no probability of the House going into Committee of Supply before the holidays, although an Order of the Day for that purpose had been put down for Thursday next, that being the day on which it was expected the hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Layard) would avail himself of the opportunity of bringing forward his Motion on the State of the Nation.


said, was he to understand, then, that there would be really no Committee of Supply on Thursday, but that a Motion would be made for going into Committee, in order that an opportunity might be afforded to the hon. Member for Aylesbury to bring forward an important Motion, a notice of which stood on the paper for that day?


said, the case was as the right hon. Gentleman had stated. The Order for a Committee of Supply was usually placed on the paper for Monday, and then adjourned from Monday to Wednesday, and then again to Friday; but on this particular occasion, by Order of the House, the Committee of Supply was fixed for Thursday instead of Friday, to enable the hon. Member for Aylesbury to bring forward his Motion.

The Motion for the adjournment of the House was then withdrawn.