HC Deb 24 August 1860 vol 160 cc1789-800

said, lie rose to move the Adjournment of the House, in order to have an opportunity of calling attention, before the Session closed, to the long-talked of Conference of the great Powers on the subject of Savoy. The calm dignity, forbearance, and firmness manifested by Switzerland with reference to the annexation of Chablais, Faucigny, and Geneva, neither seduced by the cajolery nor shaken by the menaces of a powerful neighbour, had been such as to call forth general admiration. The neutrality of Switzerland was guaranteed, in the interests of peace, by all the great European Powers in 1815. Piedmont, too, bound herself to Switzerland by the Treaty of March 16, 1816, never to alienate the provinces in question to any third Power. But it was a manifest absurdity to suppose that any portion of a great Empire like France could really remain neutral, and consequently the possession of these provinces by such an Empire would be a standing menace to the security and independence of Switzerland. It was to guard against such a danger that provision was made in the Treaty of 1815 for the neutrality of the three Provinces. Two things were essential to the neutrality of any State—the wish and the power to be so. Now every one who studied the map of Europe would see that Switzerland was weak on the side of Savoy. A frontier easy of defence was necessary to her existence, and on that side she has no frontier that she could defend. The Powers of Europe, therefore, gave her a military and strategic frontier besides her political one. It was for the maintenance of that frontier that Switzerland appealed to the public opinion of Europe, and he hoped that the Session would not close without an assurance from the noble Lord that the Conference which had been promised would speedily be held. It was not simply a matter of treaty, but a question of natural right. They all knew that these Provinces were naturally connected with Switzerland, and that all their produce and trade found an outlet at Geneva and the Canton. It was not, therefore, a question of treaty but of natural right which had thus been aggressively taken from them. He believed that Switzerland was entitled to the thanks of Europe for the manner in which she had maintained her rights. If, in addition to great foresight, she had not acted with great prudence and moderation, it was impossible to say what would have been the consequences to Europe. It would be in the recollection of the House that when his hon. and learned Friend (Mr. Kinglake) first asked the Government whether there was any intention to annex Savoy and Nice, hardly any one believed it. They were indebted to Switzerland for first calling the attention of Europe to this act of aggression. At the time when the question was first put by his hon. Friend, he was one who placed implicit confidence in the speech at Milan of the Emperor of the French, and in the statement of Count Cavour, that Sardinia would neither cede, sell, or exchange that property which she was bound by special treaty with Switzerland to hold. He therefore scarcely gave credence to the rumour that such an act of aggression was actually in contemplation. He thought that Switzerland acted nobly in refusing to treat alone with the Emperor of the French. Switzerland, putting aside her individual interests, determined not to accept anything from the Emperor, but to stand by her rights. He trusted that those rights would be brought before a Conference of the great Powers, and he believed it would then be shown that might was not right, and that there was justice in the cause and in the policy which Switzerland had adopted. He did not wish to detain the House at that period of the Session. He would only say that the circumstances which had occurred, and the circumstances which were occurring, showed that the Government ought to be prepared for all eventualities. It was a remarkable fact that not many months ago news came from across the Channel that the Emperor of the French was already weary of Italian affairs, and that they would soon hear of great events in the East. They little thought at that time how soon the fearful massacres in Syria would follow, and how circumstances would arise which seemed to call on France to occupy that country. When they looked at affairs in Italy, they must feel how important it was that England should he prepared. He trusted that the report that Austria was about to take active measures against the rising liberties of Italy was untrue, and that it was, as they had since heard, the fixed intention of Austria to remain, unless attacked, in the Quadrilateral. He hoped that those who conducted the Italian cause would still maintain the moderation which they had hitherto exhibited, and that nothing would happen to cause them to regret the progress which Italian liberty had made, and which had given the greatest satisfaction to every Member of the House and to every one in the country. He wished to put the question of which he had given notice—"Whether definitive arrangements had been made for assembling the Conference proposed to be held at the instance of the Swiss Confederation; and, if not, whether it was the intention of Her Majesty's Government to recognize the annexation of Savoy and Nice as a valid act, forming part of the public law of Europe; also, whether any other of the five great Powers were acting in this matter in conjunction with Her Majesty's Government?"

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."


There was. Sir, I believe, an understanding that before the close of the Session some opportunity should be given to us for raising a discussion on foreign affairs, and although I cannot say, looking at the empty state of the House, that the present opportunity is a very promising one, I am anxious, if the House will so far indulge me, to address to it a few observations on the subject. I think it will be admitted, by Her Majesty's Ministers and by the House in general, that those who are accustomed to take an interest in foreign affairs have not been wanting in forbearance towards the Government, and have not been guilty of anything like undue intrusion on the time of the House, for we must remember, that the present state of affairs in Europe is one of an unusually critical kind. I cordially agree with every word which has been said by my hon. Friend the Member for Perth, with regard to the conduct of the Swiss Confederation. I am bound to say that in the earliest stage of the transaction which was the subject of my hon. Friend's speech, Switzerland perceived the danger in which she was placed. She communicated that danger at the earliest time to all those on whose friendship she was entitled to count, and from that hour to the present she has never for one moment swerved in the earnestness of her endeavour to preserve her own rights and through her own rights to protect the true interests of Europe. She has never for a moment forgotten, that vital as the question was to her, the question was one of deep importance to Europe. And, therefore, whenever pressed, whether by the menace or, as my hon. Friend termed it, by the cajolery of her powerful neighbour, she has always answered that the question, though vital to her, was also a European question, and by the great Powers of Europe her rights and interests were to be judged. It is very true that this question of the annexation of Savoy and Nice has disturbed Europe, but I must say that it is right that it should be so, for I cannot conceive anything more lamentable than that a great wrong of this description should be perpetrated to the prejudice of a weak but deserving Power such as Switzerland, and Europe should stand by acquiescing in such a transaction. My hon. Friend behind me, the gallant Member for Liskeard (Mr. B. Osborne), in the course of some discussion which took place on the question of fortifications, more than once addressed to the Government a very pregnant question. To that question he never received any answer, and I told him I did not think he would receive any answer, because the question was one which could be more conveniently answered or commented upon by an independent Member of Parliament than by a Minister of the Crown. My gallant Friend asked why it was that the Report of the Commissioners having been placed in the hands of the Government so early as the month of February, no application was made to the House to act on these recommendations until the month of July. My answer is that between the month of February and the month of July a momentous change took place in the state of European affairs. I ventured, as early as the month of February, to warn the House that when the Emperor of the French proposed to break through the public law of Europe he was doing that which would place us all in a new condition—he was doing that which effected a transition, if I may so express it, from right to might, and it became certain, in my opinion, that if he should carry out the purpose with which we were then menaced, we should hear le3s of treaties and less of negotiations, and a great deal more of fortifications, battalions, batteries, and all the implements of war. So it has turned out, and that I think is the answer to the question of my hon. Friend. The truth is, that the annexation of these countries, even if it had been assented to by England, would have been a very grave affair, but it took place contrary to the declared recommendation of England, and when it took place, I may say, in the teeth of the English Government, it became a transaction of momentous importance. It took place at a time when Parliament was sitting, and I do think that if at such a time we had remained silent we should have been guilty of a shameful abondonment of our duty; and I will do Her Majesty's Ministers the justice to say that I believe they shared in that opinion. It is natural for Ministers to dislike being interfered with. All men in possession of power naturally like to exercise it with as little extraneous advice as possible. At the same time Her Majesty's Ministers must do those who acted with me in these matters the justice to say, that not only did we do right in calling the attention of the House to them, but that we should have done wrong had we failed to take that course. I will not say that the urgency of those protests had any effect upon Her Majesty's Ministers, for I believe it is a truer and more generous view of the matter to say, that they who are Englishmen like ourselves were sharers, from the beginning, in the feelings which influenced us, and that the principles which we were venturing to inculcate—if not finally adopted by them—were inchoate in their minds and on the point of being adopted. Accordingly, when the 26th of March came we had the gratification of hearing that the Government were sharers in those opinions which we had humbly ventured to urge upon them. The purport of the famous declaration of the 26th of March was simply this,—it announced distrust of France and the determination of England not to keep aloof from other Powers. I recollect the noble Lord the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs pronounced these momentous words in a significant but low tone, hut all Europe listened to what he said, and it was not long before that important declaration produced the fruits which it was calculated to hear. At the time that declaration was made there was nothing like union throughout Germany, but no sooner was it known that England was distrustful of France and was turning to other Powers than the States of Germany not only determined among themselves that each would separately express an inclination to turn towards England, but their language among themselves was of the most simple and practical kind. They said, as long as we are disunited we are hardly worthy to proffer ourselves for an English alliance—let us be united among ourselves, let us be able to say that Germany against the foreigner will act as one, and then we shall be in a fair condition to proffer to England a German alliance. I rejoice to see that that principle was acted on at Baden and was carried to a completion the other day at Toplitz. If the existing state of things is satisfactory in comparison with that which existed before, we owe it in part to Germany, and in part to the determination of this House, one reacting, if I may so speak, on the other. If it is a subject of congratulation that Germany is now united, we are entitled to take a little pride that this House has found means in a worthy manner to cause its opinion to be once more heard with respect in Europe.

Anterior to the Treaty of Turin the situation of the Emperor of the French in Europe was one of immense weight. Germany was disunited, Russia is known at that time to have approached, at all events, to something like an understanding with France, and the alliance, or, at all events, the cordial understanding which had for some time existed between France and England had placed France in such a position that she was relieved from all anxiety with regard to her sea communications. The consequence was that, being able to wield her immense military force by land and to move as she chose by sea, France had acquired so great an ascendancy in Europe as to cause the deepest anxiety to all those who are accustomed to attribute importance to the preservation of the balance of power. The Treaty of Turin was signed:—signed, as I have said, in defiance, so to speak, of England. The result is that the Emperor of the French has these provinces which he has now gone, it is said, to visit. No doubt the Savoyard battalions and the seaboard of Nice and the adjacent country are acquisitions of great importance—no doubt, also the frontier, menacing to Italy and menacing to Germany, is a matter of deep importance; but, on the other hand, it is to be observed that in exchange for these acquisitions the friendship of England has been converted into that avowed distrust which was expressed on the 26th of March in words, and which has since boon expressed still more significantly by our armaments. Moreover, Germany, now united and alarmed, is making her preparations on her eastern frontier, and the countries more immediately bordering on France—Switzerland and Belgium—have been so thoroughly alarmed by the proceedings of the Emperor that I think we have no reason to fear anything like languid acquiesence on their part. If I am entitled to assume, as I trust I am, that the answer of the noble Lord to the second branch of my hon. Friend's question will be such as we have a right to expect,—if we are to he told, as I trust we shall he, that although England did not think fit to resist that annexation by force, yet she will nevertheless decline to recognize it, then it is very important to observe the change which is thus effected in the position of the Emperor of the French; because, whereas he was before not merely recognized fully as an equal Sovereign, if I may so express it, but the ally of England, now the recognition of his character as Emperor of that which he considers the French empire is, in a sense, qualified, for I trust we shall hear that the British Government is not prepared to do any formal act which shall amount to a recognition of this annexation. For instance, if it should happen that our Consul at Nice were to die or to resign, then I trust we may he assured that the English Government would not ask an exequatur from the Emperor of the French for any new consul in his place.

I am anxious, with the permission of the House, to say a few words on the subject of Syria. It was my fate many years ago to be a traveller in that country, and one finds that when one has become personally acquainted with a distant country one is apt to keep up one's knowledge, and, even after a great lapse of time, one's interest in it is frequently continued. In several discussions which have taken place here on this subject I have heard the noble Lord at the head of the Government taunted for the part which he took in 1840 in displacing Mehemet Ali from Syria. We have been told that Mehemet Ali was an excellent and vigorous governor who maintained order in that country, and that we did very wrong—the gallant Member for Southwark (Sir Charles Napier) made the observation, I think—when we took measures which had the effect of displacing him. It is rather singular for those who are filled with horror at the Turks and at massacres to come forward and befriend this man Mehemet Ali. I was in that country at the time when his power was in full force, and I say his reign was simply a reign of terror. He was a Turk, and a Turk of the most ferocious kind, and probably the most wicked of all the massacres which have occurred in this century was a massacre perpetrated by Mehemet Ali. He invited to a banquet at his castle all the Mamelukes of Egypt—the aristocracy of the country—the men who had been in a rude way the depositories of the governing power, and when he had them all in the courtyard of his castle he caused them all to be massacred; so that to the cruelty and bloodthirstincss of perpetrating a massacre there were added the treachery and wickedness which attach to a host who murders his own guests. Therefore we might have been spared anything like taunts for displacing such a man from the government of Syria. There has been, too, a good deal of unfairness towards the Ottoman Government in these discussions. It is impossible to overstate the poltroonery—for I believe that was, in fact, the real cause—of the wretched Turkish officers who stood by while the horrors of which we complain were being perpetrated; but if we ascend higher in the chain of causation, and ask what the causes really were, I am afraid that, instead of being able to fix the responsibility on the Turkish Government, it is to the Powers of Europe that the responsibility will, in a great degree, attach. In 1842 or 1843, and at a time when the Earl of Aberdeen held the seals of the Foreign Office, changes were pressed upon the Turkish Government in regard to the management of the Lebanon. First, the Porto was urged to appoint a separate Kaiinakan for the Druses and the Maronites, so that in point of fact, we called on the Turkish Government to allow, not an imperium in imperio,but two impend in imperio, those two imperia being embittered in their feeling towards each other by a traditional hostility. In the perverseness of our recommendations we did not stop there. We required Turkey to abstain from Slaving troops in the mountains, so that we provided not only that these hostile tribes should be perpetually confronting each other, but that the Ottoman Government should withdraw the very means by which the Druses and Maronites might be prevented from coming into conflict. Now, surely after the European Powers have taken upon themselves the responsibility of interfering in that way with the affairs of the Lebanon, they cannot very fairly turn round upon Turkey and accuse her of having permitted disturbances which, in a sense, may be traced to the advice pressed by them upon the Porte. With regard to the immediate cause of these massacres, I desire to abstain from expressing any opinion; but there are two or three circumstances which will serve as a clue, and will enable Lord Dufferin to ascertain what I may call the final cause of these disasters. If I am rightly informed, a vast quantity of rifles were not long ago distributed among the Maronites. Now I have never seen one of those rifles, but, if the information which reaches me be correct, it will turn out that they are not the rifles of commerce, but bear upon them a stamp which shows that they came from the Government stores of a European country. If that is the case, and if Lord Dufferin succeed in sending home one or two of these rifles marked with such a stamp, we shall have one clue to the cause of the disturbances. There is another clue to which I think I may venture to direct Lord Dufferin's attention. For a long time there has been published at Beyrout an Arabic newspaper. That newspaper contains articles, couched in very bitter and ferocious terms, having a tendency to incite the Christians against the Druses, and also to irritate them against the English, on account, I suppose, of the impression which certainly prevails in those countries, that the English are the friends of the Druses. I am told that this newspaper, although published at Beyrout, is printed in one of the capitals of Europe; and if that is so—if this journal is printed in a city where it could he hardly safe or possi- ble for private individuals to engage in such a manufacture without the consent of the Government—then I think we shall have another clue to the final cause of the disturbances.

With the permission of the House I am now anxious to say a few words on the subject of Italy. Sir, the public prints inform us this day—though, as it seems, the Government have received no official communication of the fact — that General Garibaldi has effected a landing in Calabria, and for a long time there has been an impression, founded upon the collapsed state of the Government of Naples, that General Garibaldi may succeed in displacing the Government, probably going much further, and, if one may use a military phrase, "rolling up" the greater part of Italy. It is also given out that when this consummation is effected movements will also he directed against Venetia. At such a moment it was natural that Austria should be very vigilant. Everybody must admit that where you see an enemy preparing to attack you you are not always bound to wait until the attack takes place. That is a maxim which prevails all over the world, but as a matter of policy of course you need not act upon it if your opponent is vastly inferior to yourself in strength. I have heard, therefore, with the greatest satisfaction, that Austria, notwithstanding reports to the contrary, has determined not to interfere with any of General Garibaldi's operations either in Naples or in the Papal States. That is a determination which places the Emperor of Austria in a most admirable position towards Europe. Considering the antecedents of Austria, I think the fact that she has arrived at such a conclusion entitles her to great praise for the moderation and wisdom which she is thus displaying. One of my principal reasons for now venturing to address the House is my desire to express an earnest hope that, beyond the acquisition of Naples and Rome, no wild attempt will be made by General Garibaldi against Venetia. I am speaking on the assumption that Franco will not interfere; and I say that if the Italians, unassisted by France, ventured to assail the great Quadrilateral which repelled the Emperor of the French, common prudence must lend us to fear that such an attempt could not be made with any fair chance of success. If it failed what would be the position of Italy? Why, Austria, bursting forth from the Quadrilateral, and claiming the right to pursue those who attacked her, would, unless some miracle prevented her, overrun with great ease the vale of Lombardy, and would reach, without any serious difficulty, the gates of Turin itself. I think, therefore, that the most ardent friends of Italy must, if they have any prudence in them, join in the hope that no attempt beyond the one I have referred to will be made by General Garibaldi. It is suggested, I know, that Venetia should be transferred to the Italian people by purchase or in some such way. There are many who look upon the possession by Austria of any territory in the north-east of Italy as the greatest possible eyesore. But the experience we have had of modern transfer by one country to another—the transfer, for example, of Savoy and Nice to France—does not make me at all desirous to see conduct of that kind imitated by the Emperor of Austria. I am bound also to say that the annexation of Savoy and Nice has brought into a new light the importance of the great Quadrilateral to Austria. Every one acquainted with military operations in that part of the world knows that the occupation of Switzerland gives to any country the power, so to speak, of rolling up all the defences on the Rhine. The occupation of Switzerland is, therefore, of the deepest importance in the event of a war between France and Germany. It is vital, indeed, because it is on the flank. Since the annexation of the neutralized provinces we are bound to see how the neutrality of Switzerland can best be maintained. The question is one which affects this country deeply, because the noble Lord the Foreign Secretary has stated that Her Majesty's Government would feel bound to maintain the neutrality and independence of Switzerland, which again so vitally affect the defence of the Rhine. But quis custodiet ipsum custo-dem? Who shall be the safeguard of this safeguard? In point of fact, I believe it will be found, in any struggle between Germany and France, that the first question which will arise will be whether the neutrality of Switzerland can or cannot be maintained, and the means by which it is to be maintained are the possession of the Quadrilateral. I am glad to see the hon. and gallant Officer opposite (Sir Frederic Smith), and I think he will confirm what I believe is the opinion of most officers, that the truest support of neutrality of Switzerland is a strong Power in the direction of the great Quadrilateral. I will only fur ther say that, having made great sacrifices in the way of armaments, I think it would be intolerable if what we are doing by our armaments should be defeated by anything like a perverse system of alliances. I am of opinion that there is no country whose interests are more compatible with those of England than France. It is true that France is a great country, and in one sense is a rival country, but the experience of the years which elapsed between the termination of the last war and 1852, show that the interests of the two countries are perfectly compatible. During the whole of that period there was hardly any dispute which was not of what I may call a dynastic character. For instance, when first after the Congress of Verona was peace threatened? It was by the Spanish marriages, and no one will say that the true interests of Franco were concerned in that affair. I repeat that the interests of England and France are quite compatible, and that all we desire is that the Government of France should be animated by principles truly and decidedly French; but when the Government neglects the true interests of France, and proceeds to seek after merely dynastic objects, then the alliance between the two countries is endangered. As long as a truly French policy is pursued, there is nothing to bring that country into conflict with England; but when it becomes a pursuit of what I may call Boapartist ideas; and when France, forgetting her true interests, suffers her Government to remain in the hands of men who pursue a tradition of the past with a view to aggrandize a particular family, then, I say, that necessarily and inevitably the two countries must be rent asunder, as it is impossible that England should follow France in such a course. I have now only to thank the House for its attention, and to express a hope that the answer of the noble Lord will be satisfactory.