HC Deb 03 February 1860 vol 156 cc517-24

Sir, I have studied how to frame the Question which I am about to put in a way which shall not be considered as expressing a querulous distrust, but rather, so far as is capable of being accomplished in a matter of this kind, something like confidence in the present Administration, and at the same time to indicate an opinion that we ought not to enter upon the discussion of the budget in the absence of that knowledge which, more than any other, is important to enable us to come to a right decision. On Monday next the House of Commons is to be called upon to give its sanction to a Treaty which is to bring us into more intimate relations with the Em- pire of France, and we are to be asked at the same time to consider those arrangements which the Chancellor of the Exchequer will produce to us with a view of meeting the vast expenses which we have been obliged to incur in consequence of the present state of Europe. The cause which makes it necessary to incur this outlay is no secret to any man; everybody is aware that it has arisen from the fact that in the present phase of the French Revolution, a vast concentration of power has taken place, and that the Emperor of the French wields the whole resources of France, not through Statesmen or Ministers, but in a way which makes it impossible to know what his intentions are, except in so far as one is able to divine them from the probable use of the great armaments which he is preparing. I sincerely believe that almost the entire of Europe, including the great country of France, fervently desires the continuance of peace; but I cannot forget that last year Europe, including then as well as now the great country of France, desired the continuance of peace with an intensity equal to that by which it is at present animated. That wish was frustrated by circumstances which are so recent that it is needless further to allude to them; but what occurred may be stated in one short sentence—Austria madly and foolishly began the war, but it was the Emperor of the French who began the quarrel. It is not for me to say whether Europe has been taught or misled by the experience of last year, but to every hon. Gentleman holding correspondence with the Continent it must be known that a general idea is prevalent that the peace of Europe is again about to be disturbed, and that schemes are on foot for altering territorial arrangements, independent of those modifications which may have to be carried out in Italy. Although there may be other grounds for these apprehensions, the anxiety that is felt is mainly due to the armaments existing throughout Europe, and it may be readily believed that the uneasiness which prevails on the Continent speedily makes itself felt in this country. It is, of course, to be observed that there may have been exaggeration as to many points which we have heard; for those who busy themselves in communicating intelligence to England are, for the most part, unfriendly to the present Government of France, and to view all the actions of the Emperor with a jaundiced eye. But it does appear to mo that it must rest in the power of Her Ma- jesty's Foreign Office to dispel this anxiety in a great measure, or, if not to dispel it, at all events to convert what is now a vague sentiment of fear into a rational, wise, and persistent vigilance. My observation of the military preparations of France enables me to make one remark, which may exercise, in one respect, a reassuring tendency. Many persons entertain the opinion that wild incursions, descents, and small expeditions of a marauding character may be attempted on our coast, and that in this manner, without any serious consequences to either country, great mischief might be effected. Now, Sir, to do justice to the present ruler of France, I do not believe that it is consistent with his policy to do anything in a small way; and, therefore, if I could be convinced that no large armaments were in preparation, I should rest assured that the peace of Europe was not about to be disturbed. Great preparations cannot be made in an hour, and cannot go on in corners, so that if I should succeed in obtaining from the noble Lord (Lord J. Russell) anything like an assurance that no vast preparations are at present going on in France, it follows that we have established a great ground of security. Unfortunately, the information which reaches me as a private individual is not of such a reassuring kind as I should hope to receive from the noble Lord. It is the practice of the French Government to make known their intention to raise new levies some time beforehand to the prefects of the departments; and I am informed that they have received notice that a levy of 140,000 men is to take place for the purpose of what is called remplacement. I am also told that the Emperor of the French has for the present refused to give the conge to some 40,000 men who, under ordinary circumstances, would have been sent to their homes some weeks since. The consequence is that by this new levy and by the retention of this large body of trained soldiers, the military forces of France will be next spring on a most formidable footing. I am assured—though this in like manner is, perhaps, an exaggeration—that the Emperor of the French will then be prepared to take the field with a force of no less than 600,000 men. In addition, I have been informed that great preparations are being urged forward for the supply of horse transports on the north coast of France. Then, if I turn from the military to the naval armaments, I find that this unfortunate battle of the dock- yards, if I may so call it, is being carried on with unceasing pertinacity: and that at the very moment when the hon. Member for Rochdale, (Mr. Cobden) was carrying on what he supposed to be a very friendly intercourse with the Emperor of the French, His Majesty was devoting his mind, with great earnestness, to a pursuit which would indicate that he was preparing for some species of conflict which would have to be decided by iron vessels. When such are the reports which reach the ears of private individuals, I think I am not doing wrong in giving the noble Lord an opportunity of correcting what I hope may turn out to be very false and exaggerated statements, thereby enabling us to enter upon the discussion on Monday with that knowledge which it is most important for us to possess of the preparations which the Emperor of the French is really making. I do not make anything like a complaint against the Emperor of the French; I merely desire the information as a dry piece of statistics, which will enable me to arrive at the conclusion that I shall next week be called upon to form more satisfactorily than any other information could possibly do; and it will be to my mind more cogent than any speech with which the matchless eloquence of the Chancellor of the Exchequer may lead him to favour us. I shall therefore conclude by asking the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether it will be consistent with the interests of the public service to communicate to the House any of the information which has reached the Foreign Office in respect to the military and naval preparations of the Emperor of the French; and if so, whether such information can be communicated before the financial statement which it is proposed to deliver on Monday?


said, he wished, before the noble Lord answered the question, to ask him whether the Treaty of Commerce had been ratified—as he supposed it had been—and whether that Treaty had been signed, as was reported, by an hon. Member of that House, who was, however, not responsible for the transaction, as not being at all connected with the Ministry. He wished also to know whether the Treaty would be laid on the table between this and Monday.


said, With respect to the first question put by the hon. Member for Dungarvon (Mr. Maguire), I can have no hesitation in stating that Mr. Drummond Hay is a gentleman of the high- est honour and character. He, with other members of his family, have been long in the service of the Crown. He has, therefore, had much experience of public life, and knows too well his duty to the Crown to take any course inconsistent with the general and avowed policy of Her Majesty's Government. From his long residence in Morocco—indeed, I believe he was born there—and his kindness to all who hold any intercourse with him, he has gained to a great degree the respect of the people of that country, not only of the Foreign Minister of the Emperor of Morocco, who was formerly a merchant, but of the wild tribes of natives who so frequently made incursions into the Spanish settlements. Having this influence, I believe that he, according to instructions from Her Majesty's Government, endeavoured to prevent the breaking out of war between Spain and Morocco. He endeavoured to prevent this war by advising every concession he thought possible, till he was told by the Moorish Minister that, whatever advice might be given, Morocco could not, consistently with the honour of the Sultan, make any further concessions. Mr. Drummond Hay did exert himself to the utmost, and used the influence he had so justly acquired to prevent the outbreak of hostilities. Since that time, it being the policy of Her Majesty's Government to be neutral in the war, his conduct has been in strict conformity with his instructions, as the representative of a neutral Power. The hon. Member has read a report from the correspondent of The Times newspaper, a very respectable gentleman, I believe; but he is in the Spanish camp, and can hear nothing but what he is told by Spaniards. They have stated various matters, which the correspondent repeats, but he says that he knows nothing of them, and admits that he has no proof of them whatever. I have not heard from Mr. Drummond Hay since he had an opportunity of seeing these statements in the newspaper, but I have not a doubt they are one and all entirely false, I do not believe that Mr. Drummond Hay has violated his duty or taken any part in the war. The Spanish Minister did on one occasion state to Mr. Buchanan that complaints had been made of the partiality of Mr. Drummond Hay; but he gave no instance of such partiality, nor any proof of it whatever. We are aware that the Spanish Government in this war has obtained the aid of British merchants, and that the Spanish army has been sup- plied with British stores and provisions. Any complaints, therefore, of a violation of neutrality might more justly be made by the Government of Morocco than by the Government of Spain. I believe that the conduct of Mr. Drummond Hay has been entirely free from blame. I do not wish to say which party in this war is right; but I cannot sympathize with the enthusiasm of the hon. Gentleman in regard to it. I do not think, because one party is Christian and the other Mahomedan, we ought to give the former all our sympathy, without reference to the causes or merits of the quarrel. I will now refer to the questions of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Bridgwater (Mr. Kinglake). He has stated much with regard to the late war in Italy, and the present state of Europe, which this is not the proper occasion to discuss, but which may hereafter come under consideration. All I can say with regard to the other part of the subject is, that we have in Paris a very able Ambassador, and a military attaché to the embassy, possessing great knowledge and experience of the French army. From neither one nor the other has Her Majesty's Government received any account of any extraordinary military preparations in France. As for the statement of 600,000 men to be in readiness for the field by the spring, there is nothing at all to corroborate it. A great number of men may be called on to serve in the French army by conscription, but it must he remembered that a general conscription takes place in the course of every year. The hon. and learned Gentleman must recollect that the peace of Zurich has not long been signed, and the Congress that was summoned for the purpose of rendering the pacification of Italy solid and durable, has not been held. It is therefore desirable, while peace is so recent and the affairs of Italy have not yet settled down, to use every means to prevent a renewal of the war, or any collision in Italy that might excite it. Her Majesty's Government has recently been engaged in efforts to secure the permanence of that peace; and I can state that everything that has been done has proved most satisfactory. We have represented to the Government of Sardinia the danger of any collision with Austria on the territory of Venetia or elsewhere; and I have to-day received an assurance from the Sardinian Government that it will do nothing tending to provoke a renewal of hostilities. On the one hand, there is rea- son to believe that France is far from desirous that there should he any renewal of the war; and the Government of the Emperor is exerting itself earnestly and unremittingly to secure the solidity and permanence of the peace. On the other hand Austria, though unwilling, as might be supposed, to acquiesce in the present state of Italy, is by no means disposed to renew the war by making any attack on the Powers in possession of the country. Without venturing to predict what will be the course of events in the next year, I may say that the present aspect of affairs is favourable; nor is there any reason to suppose that France is making the enormous military preparations my hon. Friend has referred to. With regard to the naval arsenals of France and the great activity described as prevailing in them, we all know that a great change has taken place in the character of naval warfare. It is made a matter of speculation in books and pamphlets what the character of the next naval war will be, and every one seems convinced that it will not resemble the nature of those that are past. The Government of the late King of the French, Louis Philippe, drew up a plan for increasing the strength of the French navy; every ruler of Franco, for nearly the last 100 years, has endeavoured to increase and strengthen its marine. They have all considered, naturally enough, that France ought to be a great maritime Power. There is great activity also in our own docks and armaments. Both England and France are endeavouring to be strong at sea, not with a view to any rivalry, but from a belief that each nation ought to maintain its ancient character. I cannot say, therefore, that the naval preparations of France ought to be a matter of jealousy to us. If the two nations agreed that there should be no such preparations and no strong navy, we might expect France to follow our course in that respect; but, while France determines to make herself strong at sea, and we like to have a strong navy also, I do not think it is a reason why the two nations should have any dispute with each other. In reply to the question of the hon. and gallant Member for Dungannon (Colonel Knox), I have to state that the ratifications of the treaty which he mentions will take place to-morrow (Saturday), and that a copy will be laid on the table of the House on Monday next. I may add that the persons who were employed, and who received full powers to negotiate that treaty, were Lord Cowley and Mr. Cobden.