HC Deb 08 July 1859 vol 154 cc892-4

A question of some importance has been raised with regard to the responsibility which the Government is said to have incurred in giving advice to foreign Governments; and it has been said not only that we ought not to advise other States to refrain from increasing their armaments—the fact being that we have given no advice of the kind—but that we ought nut to counsel those States to remain at peace, and to refrain from extending the ravages of war. Now, I find the following advice given by the Earl of Malmesbury to the Confederation. It is contained in a despatch to Sir A. Malet, dated May 1, 1859: — I have received your telegram of this day, by which it appears that a Motion will probably be made to-morrow in the Diet, calling upon the Confederation, without any casus fœderis, to make common cause with Austria. Her Majesty's Government trust, however, that the answer which I immediately returned to you by telegraph may have arrived in time to prevent any such ill-advised step on the part of the Confederation, and that the protest which I have instructed you to make against its adoption, and the warning that I have desired you to give, that if Germany should at this early stage involve herself, without a treaty obligation, in the present war, she would have no assistance to expect from England, and that without such assistance her coasts would be exposed to the ravages of hostile fleets in the Baltic, will deter the Diet from adopting so precipitate a course, which would at once extend to Europe the ravages of war, which every friend of humanity must desire to see confined, if possible, to the country in which it has broken out. Now I do not object to this language, but to state that the Earl of Malmesbury had never given advice to any foreign Power to maintain an attitude of neutrality, and not to enter into war, is certainly not to put a fair interpretation on the language which that noble Earl has used. I do not think I have employed language so strong as that which was directed to the German Confederation requesting it not to take part in the present contest in Italy, and warning the German States that if they did so the coasts of the Baltic would be ravaged by a foreign Power.


The advice which the Earl of Malmesbury gave in this despatch is very frequently given by him in the course of the papers which have been laid before the House, and in none of them more strongly than in that from which I last quoted. He there says— Her Majesty's Government strongly declare that Germany should not be influenced in arriving at a decision then under the consideration of the Diet, by any hope of succour from this country. Now, that is stronger language than any which the noble Lord opposite has quoted; but I apprehend from the language used by the noble Lord himself, that he has written a despatch to the Court of Prussia, in which he has recommended to that Court the adoption of a certain line of policy. That, hon. Members will perceive, is a very different thing from giving Prussia to understand, that if she entered into war, she must not expect the assistance of England. The course which the noble Lord has taken, in short, I do not conceive to be consistent with the observance of a strict and impartial neutrality; while all that the Earl of Malmesbury did, was to impress upon Prussia the conviction that if she engaged in hostilities, she must do so on her own responsibility.


The despatch of the Earl of Malmesbury which has been quoted by my noble Friend clearly does not confine itself to an intimation to Prussia, that if she went to war she must not count upon the support of England, but tells her she must reckon on something else—namely, the ravage of her coasts in the Baltic. The charge which was made against my noble Friend in the early part of this discussion was, that he had given advice to the German Powers. On the other hand, he admitted that he had simply given advice to Prussia, dissuading her from entering into the war which was then being waged in Italy; but the charges made being that my noble Friend had given advice to the German Powers, he proves from the blue-books that the Earl of Malmesbury did not merely give advice to the Diet to abstain from war, but pointed out the course it ought to pursue, and warned it of the dangers which would arise if it pursued a different line of policy from that which the late Government had shadowed out. The late Government protested against the steps which the Diet was going to take, and I do not find fault with them for having done so. I think they acted wisely in the course which in that respect they pursued, but then it is going too far to turn round upon us because we have, although only in a modified degree, adopted a similar policy. If there can be any charge against us, it is on the score that we have not protested against the conduct of the German Powers. Of all men, the late Ministry are the last persons who ought to have found fault with our proceedings this particular.


The noble Lord who has just spoken seems to labour under the impression, that in warning Prussia against ravages in the Baltic, we were speaking of the possible policy of England.


observed, that nothing could more completely breathe a spirit of neutrality than the language which the Earl of Malmesbury had employed.