HC Deb 13 February 1860 vol 156 cc952-7

said, he wished to appeal to his hon. Friend behind him (Mr. Kinglake) who had a Motion on the Paper for to-morrow on a question of great interest, and as it would be most inconvenient in the present state of things to discuss the subject in Parliament, to ask him if he would be kind enough to postpone his Motion to some future period.


said, with respect to the appeal of the noble Viscount (Viscount Palmerston), he had, on the previous day, received a note from the noble Lord the Secretary for Foreign Affairs, containing an intimation similar to that just expressed. The application was based on the fact that bringing on the Motion the next day would be injurious to the public service and affect the negotiations still going on on the subject. On receiving the note, he felt it his duty to ask the noble Lord to make the application publicly in the House; and he had also communicated the facts and the course he intended to take to the right hon. Member for Buckinghamshire (Mr. Disraeli). He could not but express his regret for the decision the Government had arrived at in determining to intercept the voice of the House of Commons on this question. He believed that a calm and temperate expression of the opinion of the House of Commons would not have weakened the efforts of Her Majesty's Government, but materially have strengthened their hands. He might also be permitted, in an humble way, to express his own opinion that Her Majesty's Ministers, in the course of that discussion, would possibly have obtained a knowledge of matters of dry fact, which, as far as he could judge, they did not then possess. He ventured to say this because, if he rightly understood some of the statements made by Earl Granville in "another place," Her Majesty's Government appeared to have acted under a singular mistake, a mistake for the existence of which he could easily account, but still a mistake which might be fraught with the most momentous consequences. Since this appeal, however, had been made to him by the noble Secretary for Foreign Affairs, as a loyal subject of the Queen, it was needless to say that he must assent to the delay. On the other hand, he should have the right to expect that his Motion should be allowed to come on at such a time that it would not come on in vain. According to information which reached him not many days ago, the 20th of this month was the day fixed for the—, he wished to avoid the use of any intemperate expression, but he would say, that, according to information which he had received, the 20th of this month was the day fixed for the completion of the Act in question. The day on which the noble Lord proposed he should bring on his Motion was the 28th. This was naturally unsatisfactory to him, as it was just eight days after the date when it was reported the Act was to be complete. He should, however be prepared to accept the assurance of the noble Lord at the head of the Government that the 28th instant would not be too late a day to secure the object which he had in view in entering upon the discussion of an important question. He need hardly add that he should expect, should any circumstances in the meantime occur rendering it desirable, that a day earlier than the 28th would be selected for that discussion—for he had no doubt the House were of opinion it ought to take place before the event against which it was meant to provide had come to pass—the noble Lord would feel it to be his duty to make such communication either to him or the House as would lead to the result which both had in view.


said, it would be very satisfactory if the Government would name a day for renewing the discussion on China. February was wearing away fast; a large expedition had to be got together; and it ought to be in motion in April or May. He trusted the Government would consider well before attempting to take possession of Pekin, and would also bear in mind the dangers which would be3et the expedition if it were detained in the waters of Pekin so late as November, when the monsoon changed from the north, and rendered the winter almost Siberian in its character. The Guif of Pecheli was so acted upon by the winds that in winter it was impossible for vessels to approach the land within eight or nine miles. The expedition, under these circumstances, would be liable to have its supplies cut off, and, having to deal with a hostile and ingenious enemy, a second Cabul disaster might he the result.


said, that reverting to the subject of the cession of Savoy to France, he wished to state that his hon. Friend (Mr. Kinglake) was of course bound to yield, as he had done, to the wish of the noble Lord at the head of the Government with respect to the postponement of his Motion. It was, however, of the utmost importance that the question to which that Motion related should be discussed without delay. It was one with respect to which he, as well as his hon. Friend, had received private information of the utmost importance; and he could not help thinking, with all due deference to his noble Friend (Viscount Palmerston) that it would be for the public advantage that the House of Commons should be afforded an opportunity of giving expression to their opinions upon the subject. He must add that the noble Lord the Minister for Foreign Affairs (Lord John Russell) seemed to him to be very shy and coy in furnishing the House with information on matters connected with Foreign Affairs, and not to be disposed to act with that liberality on the point which was desirable. The Government, of course, he was aware, occupied a position as well in the case of foreign as of domestic policy which required that no ordinary amount of consideration should be extended to them; but it must, nevertheless, be borne in mind that discussions in that House, and the calm determination at which it might arrive on any particular question, were calculated to produce an effect abroad, and that being so, he should appeal to his noble Friend at the head of the Government to fix a day when the Motion of the hon. Member for Bridgwater might be proceeded with. The question of the cession of Savoy to France was one, he might add, which affected very much the future of Switzerland, and beheld in his possession letters assuring him that the treaty by which that cession was accomplished had already been signed. He had, moreover, been asked to plead the cause of Switzerland in that House, and to state on her behalf that if Savoy were made over to France the neutrality of Switzerland would be at an end—a neutrality guaranteed by the treaties of 1815, which the noble Lord the Member for Tiverton, called the charters by which the European Powers now held the territories which they possessed. If, then, the cession in question were to take place, a most scandalous and iniquitous proceeding, and one which would affect the future position of the European nations perhaps to European convulsion, would have been resorted to. He would, therefore, again entreat his noble Friend to name a day when the discussion upon the subject might be entered upon.


Sir, as other opportunity will offer to enter upon this discussion, and as the House is very naturally desirous to proceed with the Naval Estimates, I will restrict myself to the expres- sion of my concurrence in the suggestion of the hon. and gallant Admiral (Sir C. Napier) that the Victoria Cross should be conferred on Admiral Hope. It has, I admit, been almost always the practice of the Government of this country not to grant rewards for deeds of heroism which were not followed by success; but then I should remind the House that Admiral Hope had acted in the case of the encounter at the mouth of the Peiho not upon his own responsibility, but upon the authority and at the request of the British Minister, Mr. Bruce, so that he did not come within the scope of the rule by which honour was refused to unsuccessful bravery, because of the stimulus which a contrary course was supposed to afford to the undertaking of rash and disastrous enterprises. I trust, however, that in honouring Admiral Hope, the Government will not be unmindful of the almost superhuman gallantry which had been displayed by the officers and men who had served under his command. I trust, Sir, that I may be permitted again to avow that I believe the circumstances of the action of the Peiho justified the Admiral in commencing the endeavour to force the passage to enable Mr. Bruce to proceed to Pekin, and redound, on calm consideration of the fact, most signally to his honour.


said, he must express his regret that the gallant Officer who had just spoken, as well as some other distinguished members of the naval profession, should seem to think that the Government had not done justice to that most heroic officer, Admiral Hope, for his conduct at the mouth of the Peiho. He could, however, state with the utmost sincerity that the Admiralty highly appreciated that conduct, as well as the bravery of the gallant band who were under Admiral Hope's command, and the loss of many of whom the country had reason to deplore. The Admiralty, he might add, had not confined their appreciation to mere words. Admiral Hope had had several promotions placed at his disposal, in consequence of the encounter of the Peiho, and three officers had already been promoted on his recommendation. Besides those, through death vacancies, there had been four or five promotions; and the Admiral had been further informed that he was at liberty to recommend for advancement a gunner, a boatswain, three engineers, and other meritorious petty officers, to the number of six. The Admiralty also took that occasion of expressing their high sense of the gallantry of himself and the officers under him. Whether that declaration was to be made again it was for the Government to consider. The House, however, must bear in mind that there must always be some discrimination between that which was a victory and that which was not so, for the reasons alleged by the gallant Officer who had last addressed them. Undoubtedly the Government would be most glad to extend to Admiral Hope any proof of their approbation of his gallantry: but if rewards were to be bestowed on officers who, however gallant their conduct, and however well conducted their operations, did not attain success, it would lead hereafter to very great inconvenience. Imprudent officers might be led to undertake expeditions at great loss of life, with the hope of receiving those rewards. Therefore it was certainly the bounden duty of the Government to exercise the utmost discrimination in this respect; but with regard to Admiral Hope and the gallant officers under him, they had had the full approval of the Admiralty.