§ SIR BULWER LYTTON
Sir, seeing the noble Lord at the head of the Government in his place, I will take this opportunity of putting a question to him; and I think that the importance of the subject will justify me in making one or two very brief remarks, which shall be strictly explanatory of the question I am about to put. The House will, perhaps, recollect that some time ago I postponed a Motion of which I had given notice with regard to the disputes on the subject of Central America; and I did so in order that an answer might first be received from the United States to a proposal which we were given to understand had been made by Her Majesty's Government to submit those disputes to arbitration. Since then, very grave events have occurred and although I would fain believe, in the absence of official information, that our Minister has not been dismissed from Washington; yet at all events it is clear that the Government of which General Walker is the representative and the dictator has been recognised by the United States; and also that General Walker is on the point of annexing to the territory of Nicaragua the territory of Mosquito—a territory which our Government holds that it is pledged to protect from external aggression. Sir, I have it on very good authority, that the Government of the United States have sent a vessel of War to Nicaragua, though I hope it is only for the purpose of observation, and not with a view to assist those adventurers who, after the recognition of General Walker, would, no doubt, flock by hundreds and thousands to his standard in order to assist him in his threatened invasion of the Mosquito territory. Now, Sir, I think that these circumstances entail an awful responsibility upon the Governments of both nations—nations between whom war would be the greatest of all conceivable calamities, except indeed the loss of honour. Certainly, Sir, by no act of mine would I force on a discussion which might be considered premature or indiscreet, and thereby add to the elements of irritation which already exist. I shall therefore continue to postpone my Motion upon a question which has now unhappily 1088 become aggravated, and more extended in its character. The question that, in the meanwhile I would wish to ask the noble Lord is this—seeing that the Parliamentary discussion, and the advantage that might have resulted from it, have been delayed for the express purpose of obtaining an answer from the United States Government, to a conciliatory proposition on the part of Her Majesty's Government—seeing, too, that at the time I urged upon Her Majesty's Government the expediency of obtaining that answer as soon as possible, because I foresaw, as we must all have foreseen, the possibility that diplomatic negotiations might be suspended—I wish to ask whether in the interval of four or five weeks which has since elapsed, any steps have been taken on the part of Her Majesty's Government to press for and obtain that reply?
§ MR. ROEBUCK
Sir, I am sorry to interpose between the hon. Gentleman's question and the noble Lords reply, but I believe that it is of the utmost possible importance that not only the public of England but that of America should understand what really are the feelings of this House and of the country with regard to the question which is now pending. Sir, I believe it is of the greatest importance that all the world should know—
§ MR. DISRAELI
I understand that, though my hon. Friend the Member for Hertfordshire wished to address a question to the noble Lord, he would not take advantage of the opportunity which the Motion for the adjournment of the House would have given him, lest it should lead to a debate. Of course if a debate is to be permitted, other hon. Gentlemen as well as myself will wish to express their opinions as well as the hon. and learned member for Sheffield. Under these circumstances, I shall await with the greatest interest the answer of the noble Lord.
§ MR. ROEBUCK
I have to assure the House that I was under the impression that the adjournment of the House had been moved, and I beg to apologise for interposing.
§ VISCOUNT PALMERSTON
Sir, I am unable to give a definite answer to the particular question which the hon. Baronet 1089 (Sir B. Lytton) has put to me as to what particular steps have been taken during the last three weeks to obtain from the American Government an answer to the proposition of Her Majesty's Government for arbitration in respect to the Central American matter, but I can say this—that the American Government have been made fully aware that the offer is made and pressed on them to accept or decline, as they may think best. I do not know, in that short period, that my noble Friend at the head of the Foreign Department has thought it necessary to press specially for an answer upon that particular subject, as another question of more practical moment was pending between the two Governments. With respect to the general tenour of what has fallen from the hon. Baronet, I may say that in the present state of things between the two Governments I do think, if my opinion is asked for, or if it be deemed desirable that the opinion of the Government should be expressed—I say, without hesitation, that I think the interests of the country and the prospect of maintaining permanent amicable relations between this country and the United States would be promoted by a continuance of that forbearance—that judicious forbearance—which the House has hitherto exhibited in regard to these questions. Upon other occasions of a somewhat similar nature, when questions of importance were pending in relation to the last war—both at the commencement of the war and when negotiations were pending which finally led to its conclusion—I think the House acted in a manner most honourable to itself and most creditable to its judgment in abstaining from throwing any possible difficulty in the way of the Government by provoking premature discussion upon the subjects then in dispute. The questions now pending are certainly, I confess, of a very grave character; but I hope, and sincerely hope—and I hope not without good reason—that those discussions may terminate without any interruption of the peaceful relations of the two countries. Where there is no real cause for collision, it is to be hoped that good sense on both sides of the water may prevent any unnecessary collision; but, certainly, discussion in this House, which must be productive of a conflict of opinions—some too much on one side and some too much on the other—cannot, in my opinion, fail to tend to injurious results. As I am 1090 quite sure the hon. Baronet, in putting his question, had in mind the answer which I gave to a question yesterday, I may be permitted to allude to it. In reply to a question, whether Mr. Crampton had retired from Washington, I stated yesterday that we had, indirectly, information that such had been the case. I find from my noble Friend at the head of the Foreign Department that the information came by a Cunard packet, which sailed from Halifax on the 22nd ultimo. Since that—yesterday evening—a packet has arrived from New York, which left that place on the 24th, and which does not bring any confirmation of the Report brought by the former packet. We are, therefore, not in possession of any official information on that subject.