HC Deb 17 February 1860 vol 156 cc1230-3

The principal object I have in view in asking the question of which I have given notice on the Motion for adjournment is to obtain what we failed in obtaining on a previous occasion from the Government—namely, a clear, distinct, and straightforward answer. The subject is one of deep interest to the country, and in order that I may adhere strictly to the rules of the House it will, perhaps, be kind enough to allow me to put to it an hypothetical case. Allow me to suppose that on a very recent occasion some hon. Member of this House put the question I now propose to put to the noble Lord at the head of the administration to a distinguished Member of the present Government, and received an answer something to the following effect:—"That as to whether the rejection of the treaty would produce any disturbance in our friendly relations, why the hon. Gentleman and every other Member of the House is quite as capable of forming an opinion as we are; that any threat or intimation of that kind has been made is utterly untrue, but as to what effect any angry speeches in the House of Commons against France, followed by a rejection of the Treaty might have, hon. Members can judge for themselves." I confess, if I had been in the position of the hon. Member who I suppose as having put that question, I should have heard the answer with considerable surprise. In the first place, it appears somewhat singular that a distinguished Member of the Government, entrusted with the foreign relations of the country, should have failed to have told any other Member of Her Majesty's Government what, in his opinion, might be the result of the discussion of this most important question, and that the Government of which he is a Member should not have anticipated the possible result of such discussion, and were not prepared to say what in their opinion that result would be. I confess if I had received such an answer I should certainly, having failed to obtain a direct answer from one Member of the Government, have taken the course of applying to the head of that Government, in the hope of obtaining a more distinct reply. I will leave the House to judge how far I have drawn on my imagination in putting this supposititious case. In my opinion the whole thing lies in a nut-shell. We have been told that the Commercial Treaty with France was a treaty which had been ratified, subject to the sanction of the House of Commons. On this only one interpretation can be put, that we are left to deal with the subject unfettered by any other consideration than the expediency of the Treaty itself. It is true that nothing to the contrary has been said in the House, but we are constantly hearing whispers in the lobby that we should be very careful how we deal with any of the details of the treaty, because any rejection on our part of its details might disturb our amicable relations with France? If that is the real meaning of the noble Lord, I can only look upon it as a positive insult to the House and the country. I cannot, however, bring myself to believe that the Government have not anticipated that the Treaty may not be accepted by the House, and that it has foreseen and provided for all possible consequences. I wish, therefore, to ask the First Lord of the Treasury whether any understanding has been come to between the Governments of France and this country in the event of the Commercial Treaty not being sanctioned by Parliament?


I will endeavour to give the hon. Gentleman as plain an answer to his question as I can; and it will be very simple, as might naturally be expected. The Treaty was concluded between the Governments of France and England, as appears by a distinct Article in the Treaty, subject to the approval of Parliament. We may, perhaps, have been too sanguine in our expectation of the success of a measure which we deemed to be of great importance to the public interest, both as regards the development of our own commercial resources and as regards the natural and, we trust, the sure consequences that will result from the cementing more closely and thoroughly a good understanding between the two nations; but, confiding in the good sense of this House and the country, and anticipating that their verdict would be in conformity with our judgment, our hope, and our expectation, it is needless to say that we have not deemed it to be our duty to provide by any understanding with France for the failure of our just expectations. My answer, therefore, is that no such understanding has been come to, because we did not anticipate a failure of the proposals which we have made. Although there may be those who, like the hon. Gentleman, disapprove the treaty—and we don't, of course, challenge or question the judgment which any person or set of persons may pass upon it —our sanguine expectation is that the judgment of the country and of Parliament in the aggregate will be in favour of our proposals. Perhaps, while I am on my legs, I may be permitted to state that, as we are to commence the discussion of the Budget on Monday, it would be most convenient for the public service and for the despatch of business if the debate were to be allowed to go on day by day without being postponed by the intervention of any other business, which would be likely to occupy the House for any time.