HC Deb 13 July 1860 vol 159 cc1879-87

Order for Committee (Supply) read.

Motion made, and Question proposed,—"That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair."


rose pursuant to notice to move, That in order to remove one great obstacle to Peace with China, the British Plenipotentiary he instructed not to insist on the fulfilment of the third Article of the Treaty of Tien-tsin, by which His Majesty the Emperor of China agrees that the Ambassador, Minister, or other Diplomatic Agent appointed by Her Majesty the Queen of Great Britain, may reside, with his family and establishment, permanently at the capital, or may visit it occasionally, at the option of the British Government. He regretted that his Motion had been postponed to so late an hour that he feared he would scarcely be able to do justice to it. He would however simply confine himself to facts. He was perfectly convinced, and all those who had studied the Chinese question would agree with him, that if we continued to insist on the third article of the Treaty of Tien-tsin, which required a resident Ambassador at Pekin, it would not be a question merely of six or nine millions of money. This country would never remain at peace with China, for no sooner would peace be concluded than circumstances would occur to renew the war. Thus the trade and commerce of the country would be crippled for an object the value of which he could not understand, and which he thought we could only insist on now for the gratification of the national pride—he had almost said of the national vanity. The question was of such importance that it might well claim the full attention of the House. It was important on account of its magnitude, the difficulties by which it was surrounded, and the injustice with which, as he contended, we had treated the Chinese people. The Vote which had been moved showed the magnitude of the question, but that £3,800,000 by no means represented the entire amount which would be required during the present year. He firmly believed (and he had had communications with gentlemen out there)—he believed on excellent authority, that if the war were to go on, there would be a deficit of £6,000,000 more at the conclusion of the present financial year. An army stationed 1,500 miles from their supplies, in the Gulf of Petcheli, blocked up by ice in the winter and by mud in the summer—an army under such circumstances composed of French, English, Bengalese, Coolies, Sikhs, and Lascars, would have difficulties both of climate and country to contend with to afford abundant grounds for alarm. These difficulties a very great military authority considered sufficiently alarming to deter England from entering upon such a war. He had a curious passage, written by the late Emperor Napo- leon while at St. Helena, in which he discussed the possibility of a China war, and he said, I cannot imagine that any English Government would ever be mad enough to enter upon a war with a nation situated as China, for such a war could never be brought to a satisfactory conclusion, but must necessarily be attended with enormous sacrifices of blood and treasure. Then, with regard to the injustice of the war. It was lamentable as well as instructive to look back to the debates of 1840 upon the China war in which we were then engaged. At that time, now twenty years ago, the right hon. Baronet the Member for Carlisle (Sir James Graham), in a speech of powerful eloquence, and in a Motion admirably worded, pointed out the dangers the Government was incurring, and told the House that not for the next ten years, or twenty or thirty years, could we hope to have permanent peace with China if we embarked in that war. The right hon. Baronet was confirmed by many high authorities at the time, but nevertheless that opium war, which he considered a most unjust war, was begun. And what had been the result? To bring down the narrative to the treaty of Tien-tsin, he would merely revert to what had taken place. First, there was the Pottinger treaty, under which we had exacted 21,000,000 dollars as an indemnity, which was paid—and how paid? By taking silver out of the private houses of the Chinese people, the Government of China not having sufficient means at its disposal. Further, we demanded, and obtained permission to establish settlements and appoint consuls in five ports—namely, Hong Kong, Amoy, Ningpo, Foo-choo-Foo, and Shanghae. Subsequently Sir John Bowring brought us into another and if possible a still more unjust war—the war of the lorcha. The question of the lorcha was the ground put forward as the cause of that war; but the demand of Sir John Bowring to enter Canton in full uniform was the chief cause of that war; and though such an avowal of opinion rendered a man unpopular, and had lost him a seat for Lanarkshire, he must express his deliberate conviction that that war also was unjustly undertaken. And what was the result? We gained admission to Canton—we attacked the people and bombarded the city—and in the end a treaty of peace was signed. That brought him to the present war, and the extraordinary conditions now demanded, Mark how increas- ing had been our demands. At every fresh occasion the demand was greater. The jealousy and fears of the Chinese Government and people were excited, and as the right hon. Baronet had eloquently said, in 1840, when the Chinese nation looked across the Himalaya mountains, they might well tremble when they saw a great power like England, whose province India had become, ever making fresh demands. The Earl of Clarendon, in his instructions to the Earl of Elgin, told him to insist upon a resident minister at Pekin. But the Earl of Elgin saw the danger of making such a demand, and, therefore, when first he negotiated with the Chinese Government, he only demanded the execution at Canton of all treaty engagements, including the admission of British subjects to that city, and compensation for losses sustained by British subjects in consequence of the disturbances. Such was the state of the case at the commencement of the negotiation. But shortly afterwards the Earl of Elgin increased his demands; and all of a sudden insisted upon the right which formed the third Article of the Treaty of Tien-Tsin, of having a resident British Minister at Pekin. The Earl of Elgin did that in direct opposition to the advice of Count Pontiatine, the Russian Minister, and he believed also in opposition to the advice of the American Minister. How repugnant that was to the feelings and prejudices of the Chinese would be evident to every hon. Gentleman who would take the trouble to look through the blue-book on the table. He might quote page after page of earnest entreaty from the Minister appointed to negotiate on the part of the Emperor that we should not insist on that article of the treaty. The Minister pointed out to the Earl of Elgin the total ruin it would be to the Chinese Government if a resident foreign Minister was admitted to Pekin; he showed the insecurity that must accompany such a proceeding, that it was quite impossible the Government could be answerable for the safety or even the life of the ambassador, and that his residence there would be sure to give rise to serious disturbances, for which they would be blamed. Those representations made an impression on the mind of the Earl of Elgin, and he wrote to the Earl of Malmes-bury:— The concessions obtained in it from the Chinese Government are not in themselves extravagant, nor, with the exception of the im- portant principle of exterritoriality, in excess of those which commercial nations are wont freely to grant to each other, but in the eyes of the Chinese Government they amount to a revolution, and involve the surrender of some of the most cherished principles of the traditional policy of the empire. They have been extorted, therefore, from its fears. These concessions, moreover, thus extorted from the fears of the Chinese Government by British and French power, are not, in point of fact, extorted from it for the benefit of British and French subjects exclusively. Under the guarantee of most favoured nation clauses and other pretences not always so intelligible, they will, no doubt, be claimed and exercised very generally by the subjects and citizens of other Occidental nations. To insist on conditions so repugnant to the feelings of a people which our own ambassador told us were only extorted from their fears, was to declare that we would continue in a state of perpetual warfare with China. In another of the Earl of Elgin's despatches he pointed out again that the Chinese considered that the condition, if insisted on, would result in the total overthrow of their empire. In a letter containing an appeal from one of the Imperial Commissioners to the Earl of Elgin in which he said:— Inasmuch as in the treaty of peace concluded between our two nations, it is laid down that the British Minister shall either reside in permanence at the capital, or visit it occasionally, at the option of the British Government, such being the plain language of the article, it must, doubtless, be abided by; and if it be the fixed purpose of your Excellency's government that the residence (of the Minister) shall he permanent, China cannot, of course, gainsay this. The established reputation of your Excellency for justice and straightforwardness, for kind intentions and friendly feeling, make us place the fullest confidence in your assurance that when you exacted the condition referred to, you were actuated by no desire whatever to do injury to China. The permanent residence of foreign Ministers at the capital would, notwithstanding, be an injury to China in many more ways than we can find words to express. In sum, in the present critical and troublous state of our country, this incident would generate, we fear, a loss of respect for their Government in the eyes of her people; and that this would, indeed, be no slight evil it will not be necessary, we assume, to explain to your Excellency with greater detail. It is for this reason that we specially address you a second letter on this subject, and we trust that your Excellency will represent for us to Her Majesty your Sovereign the great inconvenience you feel (the exercise of the right would be) to our country, and beseech her not to decide in favour of the permanent residence at Pekin. In all these communications they might observe the clearest evidence that the Chinese Commissioners were telling the truth. He now came to the Earl of Elgin's decision, in which he yielded the point, and that was important. He says, writing to the Commissioners:— The proposal has been attentively considered by the undersigned; and he now begs to state that although he is resolved by no act or word to abate one tittle of the rights secured to his Government by treaty, it is his wish, so far as such a course is consistent with his duty, to endeavour to reconcile due consideration of the feelings of the Chinese Government with the satisfaction of the rights of his own. He is prepared, consequently, on viewing the whole of the circumstances before him, at once to communicate to Her Majesty's Government the representations that have been addressed to him by their Excellencies the Imperial Commissioners upon this important question; and humbly to submit it as his opinion that if Her Majesty's Ambassador be properly received at Pekin when the ratifications are exchanged next year, and full effect given in all other particulars to the treaty negotiated at Tientsin, it would certainly be expedient that Her Majesty's representative in China should be instructed to choose a place of residence elsewhere than at Pekin, and to make his visits to the capital either periodical, or only as frequent as the exigencies of the public service may require. But it might be said that the ratification had not been exchanged at Pekin. He was not about to enter into any discussion in reference to the lamentable occurrences in the Peiho River—but he would say that the despatch he had quoted did honour to the Earl of Elgin, and clearly showed that it would be most prejudicial to the interests of this country, as well as of China, to insist upon the article in question. Then, it might be observed that no other country than England had preferred a demand for a resident minister at Pekin. Neither France nor America had insisted upon the introduction of such an article into their treaties. He would not go into the question as to which Government—whether the present or the former—was to blame for the melancholy events which had happened in China. It was impossible that the Earl of Malmesbury could have foreseen the events which occurred off the Peiho. It was impossible for him to conceive that Mr. Bruce, sent on a mission of peace, would have declared war, without receiving instructions from home. The escort which was sent with him was to add dignity to his position, not to put it in his power to appeal to force to carry out a mission of peace. No particular Government was to blame more than another, the mischief had arisen from the predetermined system to treat the Chinese at one time as barbarians, at another as a highly civilized nation, and at all times with injustice. He regretted that the instructions which he would read to the House had been given to Mr. Bruce. In the despatch of the 29th of October, 1859, the noble Lord the Secretary for Foreign Affairs said:— You will take an early opportunity of apprising the ministers of the Emperor of China that in consequence of the attempt made to obstruct your passage to Pekin in June last, when you were proceeding thither to exchange the ratifications of the treaty of Tien-tsin, Her Majesty's Government consider that the understanding entered into between the Earl of Elgin and the Imperial Commissioners, Kweiliang and Huashana, with respect to the residence of the British minister in China, is at an end, and that it rests henceforward exclusively with Her Majesty, by the terms of Article 11 of the Treaty of Tien-tsin to decide whether or not she shall instruct Her minister to take up his abode permanently at Pekin. That showed that the stipulation was to be pressed on the Chinese, not because it was a wise or prudent one, but simply as a punishment to them for their misconduct. He had no desire to occupy the time of the House longer than was necessary, but he had by him quotation upon quotation from writers well acquainted with China, all showing that it would have been impossible to invent any demand which was more repugnant to the feelings of the people, and that if it were consented to, the Emperor of China would really not be safe. He hoped the Government would reconsider the instructions sent out to the Earl of Elgin; for if this particular article were insisted on it was certain that we should never be at peace with China. Our dealings with China had been most unfortunate, but there was now an opportunity for taking a step in the right direction, and it ought to be taken at once. No minor considerations, no absurd scruples about dignity, ought to stand in the way. To quote an expression of the noble Lord opposite, the true dignity of a nation was to do that which was right and just. Before sitting down he wished to apologize to the noble Lord opposite for having contradicted him on a former occasion. The noble Lord stated that a Chinese despatch had taken four hours to translate, which he had hurriedly contradicted at the moment. Since that time he had seen several gentlemen conversant with such matters, Mr. Oliphant among others, and they had assured him that the noble Lord was perfectly correct. The fact told in Mr. Bruce's favour, and he was anxious not to do an injustice to any one. He would not longer trespass on the time of the House, except to again urge upon the Government the duty of restoring peace between the two coun- tries, and to use every exertion to avoid a waste of blood and treasure.

Amendment proposed, To leave out from the word 'That' to the end of the Question, in order to add the words in orderto remove one great obstacle to Peace with China, the British Plenipotentiary be instructed not to insist on the fulfilment of the third Article of the Treaty of Tien-tsin, by which his Majesty the Emperor of China agrees that the Ambassador, Minister, or other Diplomatic Agent appointed by Her Majesty the Queen of Great Britain may reside, with his family and establishment, permanently at the capital, or may visit it occasionally, at the option of the British Government.' —instead thereof.


Sir, the hon. Gentleman cannot but be aware that he is making a Motion not only must unusual in form, but which interferes with the authority of the Crown. He seems altogether unmindful of the fact that the Earl of Elgin is sent out by Her Majesty. He has received his instructions from Her Majesty, and he will conduct himself according to those instructions. It is impossible, if this Motion were agreed to, that Mr. Speaker should undertake to send out instructions to the Earl of Elgin. If he really meant to attain his object, the hon. Gentleman should have moved an Address to the Crown, praying Her Majesty to give these instructions to the Earl of Elgin. If the House of Commons were to undertake to give instructions to our Ministers at foreign Courts contradictory to those which have been given by Her Majesty, the greatest confusion would be introduced into our affairs. It is quite impossible, therefore, for the hon. Gentleman to insist on his Motion. With regard to the Motion itself, it is answered in a very few words. He tells us that the Chinese look upon it as a great degradation to have a foreign Minister resident in Pekin, that the people would rise, that the Emperor of China would be lowered in the eyes of his subjects, and that it would be impossible to insist on the condition without completely ruining the authority of the Emperor. But it so happens that after the Earl of Elgin had advanced that condition and had inserted it in the Treaty of Tien-tsin, Russia, having a title to every advantage we gained, claimed the privilege of sending a Minister to Pekin. The Chinese Government did not object to his going there, they only pointed out that they wished him to go by the Overland route. He did go by the Overland route, he was received with great distinction at the Chinese frontier, he went to Pekin, and he has been resident there a great many months. Yet, the empire of China has not fallen, the Emperor of China is apparently not degraded. The' people of Pekin have had an opportunity, perhaps the first, of seeing that there are other potentates in the world besides their Emperor, other States, the sovereigns of which are not his vassals and subjects, but claim an equal rank with him. This fact has been revealed to them, and we should add nothing to the demonstration by sending a British Minister to reside at Pekin. The Earl of Elgin, with whom I have had many conversations on this point, always said that the state of the question was entirely changed now, because, as there is a Russian Minister resident at Pekin, it would be impossible for the Chinese Government to argue that they could not grant a right to Great Britain which they have granted to Russia, and which has been exercised by Russia without dispute. That being the case, the Earl of Elgin was of opinion—as were all the Members of the Cabinet—that we should insist on the condition that a British Minister should reside at Pekin, not as a punishment to the Chinese, but as a condition which had been agreed to by the Emperor himself. The option of the British Minister residing at Pekin or elsewhere was an indulgence agreed to by the Earl of Elgin after the Emperor of China had approved the treaty—it was an option to he exercised by the British Government, not by the Emperor of China. That which the hon. Gentleman says the Chinese would never agree to was actually in the Treaty of Tien-tsin, and was agreed to not only by the Ministers of the Emperor, but was confirmed by the special ratification of the Emperor himself. In the first place, it is quite impossible that this House can give instructions to our Minister contradictory to those which Her Majesty herself has given, and in the next place there is no reason why those instructions should be altered. I hope, therefore, that the House will not agree to the Motion.

Question, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question," put, and agreed to.

Main Question put, and agreed to.