HC Deb 02 March 1860 vol 156 cc2166-77

I wish to put a question to Her Majesty's Government which, I think, the House will agree with me is one of considerable importance. I am afraid I shall not be able to elicit a reply from my noble Friend at the Foreign Office or my noble Friend the Prime Minister, as both of them have already addressed the House; but perhaps the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, who took considerable interest in the question the other night, or the Chancellor of the Exchequer, may reply to it. Perhaps, indeed, the Chancellor of the Exchequer may be the more proper person, for it is, as the House will see, a question of great subtlety and nicety. I am sure the House must be far from satisfied with the reply which we have received to-night from the noble Lord the Minister for Foreign Affairs. The reply which he gave is far from satisfactory, and I do but interpret the opinion of every Gentleman in this House when I say that we have all read the official announcement contained in the recent Speech of the Emperor of the French with the deepest emotion and concern, because it is now evident that the Emperor of the French is determined, in spite of this Government and in spite of Europe, to avail himself of the opportunity which the existing state of affairs presents, and to take by force Savoy. It would be unfitting to enter upon any discussion now; only I hope that an opportunity will soon be afforded, for it is one of the very greatest importance. I have been told that the discussion which took place here the other night, and especially the statement of the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, has had considerable effect in Paris; and it is reported that the Emperor of the French says that after all the sacrifices he has made to England, both politically and commercially, he finds he has gained nothing whatever, except the support of his hon. friend, Monsieur Milnes. The question, Sir, which I have to put refers to a reading in the Speech of the Emperor of the French. The House will not have failed to remark that that Speech is given differently in The Times and The Daily News from what it is in The Morning Post. Now, The Morning Post, it is currently reported, represents not only the opinions of a portion of Her Majesty's Government, hut the general bearings of the policy of the Tuileries. The sentence to which I refer reads in The Times and The Daily News as follows:—"En présence de cette transformation deI 'Italie du Nord, qui donne â un état puissant tous les passages des Alpes, il était de mon devoir, pour la sureté de nos frontieres, de re-clamer les versants Francais," &c. His Majesty goes on—"Cette revendication d'un territoire de peu d'étendue," &c. But in The Morning Post the words are "Cette reclamation," &c. Now, the difference between these two terms is most important, and I call on Her Majesty's Government to state to Parliament and the country what is the proper interpretation to be put upon those phrases of the Emperor of the French. In 1792 the French took possession of Savoy. Now, according to the one phrase France claims—revendique—that is, it asserts a claim to that which it pretends it has a right to have. I hope I make myself understood by the House. While, according to the other, France only hopes to obtain a frontier which she thinks is essential to her security. I, therefore, call the attention of the Government to this question, and I say that not one day should be allowed to pass—if the sense of the House coincides with the opinion which I entertain—without our having an opportunity of discussing this question of Savoy, which involves the handing over the liberties of many thousands of people like so many slaves to the will and pleasure of the Emperor of the French, and against the popular sentiment of the people themselves. Something of the kind was done at the end of the last century, in the partition of Poland; but I hope this will not be the case with Savoy. I know that the universal feeling in Savoy is opposed to the annexation—they look with pride and pleasure to their connection with Piedmont; but if that connection must be severed then—as it is a curious fact, however it may be accounted for, that all mountainous and secluded people have a tendency towards republicanism—they naturally desire not to be tied to the discipline of tyranny and despotism, but their desire is to join the free, liberal, and glorious country of Switzerland, their neighbour. I do not throw out this as my opinion alone, and I regret that the noble Lord was so quick in his reply to former questions, as to prevent him from giving any expression of opinions now in explanation; but I hope the House will allow him to reply. It is most important for the House to know whether France is "claiming back" what she once had in 1792, and which Europe took from her in 1815, or whether she is submitting to Europe that the formation of an immense State, containing 9,000,000 of people in Northern Italy united under one dynasty, does not make it necessary for her "to obtain possession" of a property which will give her command of the"versants" of the Alps towards France?


Before any Member of the Government answers this question, I should like to put a question to the hon. Baronet himself, and that is, what is it he proposes to do in this case? because it is merely idling away our time—not only idling away our time, but creating greater complications in a matter of this nature, if there be no policy which the House and the Government can take upon it, or which the hon. Baronet can recommend. We are not the Parliament of France—we are not the Parliament of Savoy—we are not the Parliament of Europe—but we are the Parliament of England; and, unless it can be shown that there is any direct and obvious interest which this country has in some of these foreign questions which are constantly brought before us, what an absurd spectacle do we offer to Europe and the world with these repeated discussions! What can be more extravagant than the language in which the hon. Baronet has addressed us on this question? One would suppose that, not only Europe, but England itself, was on fire; and I am afraid the hon. Baronet's language would not extinguish it, but make it more extensive, and, if possible, hotter. Let us examine the question a little. It is not a matter which we ought to view with passion. Perhaps we are all agreed that it would be much better that every State in Europe should remain content—if its condition would permit—and that there should be no attempt on the part of anybody to disturb the boundaries of any of the existing States. But that is not the state of things, nor can we expect it. At this very moment we know that our own Government, with the approbation probably of a large majority of our fellow countrymen, are consenting parties to alterations of the boundaries of several States in Italy; and it is quite possible to imagine that the right hon. Member for Bucks and his colleagues, if they had been on these benches, would have had to consent to changes which, if no disturbances had occurred, they would not at first have recommended. But hon. Gentlemen seem to suppose that because things were settled in 1815—a settlement which was merely an unsettlement of everything—that, therefore, we, as a Conservative nation, are to stand by that settlement, and resist any disturbance of it; and that after having been consenting parties to the separation of Holland from Belgium, and to that which is now going on in Italy, we are to rouse ourselves to some new exhibition of virtue on behalf of Savoy, and are to charge the Emperor of the French with some grievous treason to Europe, because he does not regard the Treaty of Vienna as the Government and the governing classes of this country do. What is the Treaty of Vienna to him but a great compact which signed for the moment the overthrow, if not the degradation, of his family. He must regard with pleasure—any man in his place must—the crumbling into ruin of a fabric which never should have been erected, and which never, by any possibility, could for a long time have subsisted. I agree with the hon. Gentleman in regretting not only that this question has been raised here, but that it should have been raised in Paris. I say that this step will produce no accession of power and no advantage to France. [Oh!] Well, if France can become more powerful by the addition of the scanty population of a mountainous region, it is more than I can exactly calculate or appreciate. I do not believe that Sardinia will be sensibly weakened or changed if the transfer takes place. I doubt extremely whether any disadvantageous circumstances will arise to the people of Savoy. But let us for one moment suppose that Franco and Sardinia are agreed —I know not if they are—but let us sup-pose they have determined to apply to the people of Savoy the principle which the Governments are now willing should be applied to the people of Central Italy. The hon. Baronet the Member for Tamworth argued on the assumption that the people of Savoy are about to be transferred by some great force from a state of blissful freedom to a state of degradation and servitude. Well, that is certainly not very complimentary to the French people, who may be quite as well pleased with their institutions as we are with ours, and who may feel satisfied with the social liberty which we have not, and may even prefer it to the political liberty which we have, I do not pretend to know more than the hon. Baronet, but I have heard from persons of high authority that the inhabitants of Savoy have not only no objection to the transfer, but would prefer to be annexed to France. We may all be sorry that it is so; but I will tell the House the reason. The best authority that I have been able to consult in this matter has assured me that the annexation of Savoy to France would go far to double the value of all the landed property in that country. I would not give much for the loyalty of other persons besides the people of Savoy, if I could promise them to Jouble the value of all the landed property in the kingdom. I am told further that the intelligent portion of the labouring classes of that province are well aware that the annexation would add greatly to the value of labour in the district. Lyons is not more than from two to three hours journey, if so much, from Chamberry; the manufacturers of Lyons, with their capital, their looms, and their industry, would instantly spread through the valleys of that province, and an immediate addition would be made to the value of everything which now exists in Savoy. Now, I don't want the Government to give the slightest countenance to this transference; I do not want them, on the other hand, to give the slightest opposition to it. The opposition, if you give it, must be futile; you cannot prevent the transference of Savoy, but you may, if you like, embroil Europe and bring England into collision with Fiance. I say, perish Savoy—though Savoy, I believe, will not perish and will not suffer—rather than we, the representatives of the people of England, should involve the Government of this country with the people and the Government of France on a matter in which we have really no interest whatever. But Savoy would not perish nor even suffer. I find, unfortunately, that the more remote a foreign question appears to be from our own interests, the more it appears to absorb the sympathies of certain Members of the House. Have we not for generations past endeavoured to settle the map of Europe? Have we not—as if it were not worth a thought—spent blood and treasure for the purpose of fixing certain boundaries, and de- claring that certain provinces and kingdoms should belong to certain families; and have we not utterly and ignominiously failed in every attempt that we have made? Let us, then, in the name of common sense, and of the interests of the people of England, judge, if we can, this question calmly and dispassionately, as a matter which really concerns only the kingdom of France, the kingdom of Sardinia, and the people of Savoy. And if these two kingdoms have agreed on the transfer, and the people of Savoy themselves are favourable to it, I say it is contrary to the interests of England, and to the honour of the English Government, to pretend to interpose against a transaction which, though I would never have recommended or promoted it, is yet, I am sure, not worth the imposition of a single tax on Englishmen, or the expenditure of a single drop of blood, for one moment to prevent.


I was glad to hear from the hon. Gentleman that this is the Parliament of England, and not of France. But I think we at least have made this discovery from the speech of the hon. Gentleman, that if this be the Parliament of England, and not of France, at any rate France is not unrepresented in our body. Suspicions may have been previously entertained throughout England as to the reasons which have induced the hon. Gentleman to show such marked attachment and to profess such unwonted affection for certain treaties and engagements which have recently formed the subject of discussion in this House; but we now know that there is no price which the hon. Gentleman is not willing to pay rather than these objects, to which he attaches so much importance, should fail of being carried into effect. The hon. Gentleman, I hope, does not speak the sentiments of Her Majesty's Government on this question. Certain I am that he does not speak the sentiments of the people of England. We now know the measure and bounds of the loyalty of the hon. Gentleman—if he gets fourpence where he used to get twopence he does not hesitate to tell us that transfers his loyalty and his allegiance. For great as is the opinion which the hon. Gentleman undoubtedly entertains of himself, I do not attribute to him such overweening vanity as to suppose that when he said there were great classes who would not hesitate to trausfer their loyalty if their incomes were doubled; he meant that he himself was above such considerations. He spoke, I doubt not, from an intimate knowledge of his own heart and sentiments; and there I leave the hon. Gentleman. But I trust the Government do not sympathize with the statement which we have heard from his lips. "Perish Savoy," says the hon. Gentleman; perish the freedom of the Press; perish Constitutional Government; perish everything which stands in the way of the realization of our treaty with France! But the hon. Gentleman went so far as to say it mattered nothing whether France annexed this or that country; for the statement which he made was general. Annex Savoy! it is natural that it should be annexed; he has received information—he does not tell us from what quarter—that the people of Savoy wish it. Annex Belgium! The hon. Gentleman, no doubt, will be able, at the proper moment to inform the House of Commons he has information in his pocket that the people of Belgium wish to be annexed. Annex the Rhenish provinces of Prussia! We shall have a similar statement from the hon. Gentleman. But, I ask, is this the language of an English Member of Parliament? Does this language represent the feelings of the people of England? Is the determination of the hon. Gentleman the determination of this House and of those who sent us here? I believe, nay, I am confident, the hon. Member stands alone in the expression of those opinions. I wish now to ask one further question of the noble Lord the Member for the City of London, which I trust he will be good enough to answer. The noble Lord, at the outset of this somewhat irregular discussion, stated very correctly that a short time ago he informed the House that he was told by the French Government the Emperor of France would not proceed to annex Savoy without consulting the great Powers of Europe. This afternoon the noble Lord read a statement of the Emperor of the French made in Paris yesterday, of which the language is as follows:—"France does not wish to proceed to this aggradizement, however small it may be, either by military occupation or provoked insurrection, or by underhand manœuvres, but by frankly explaining the question to the great Powers." The question I wish to ask is, whether, in the opinion of Her Majesty's Government, there is any divergence from the language held a fortnight ago in that which is now employed, or whether Her Majesty's Government are of opinion that when the Emperor of the French says he intends to "ex- plain" the question to the great Powers, he is still inclined to "consult" them previous to the annexation; for the House will at once see there is an important difference. If you consult a person, you may be fairly presumed to be willing to act upon the advice which you receive; but if you merely explain the motives for an act, it is not so apparent that any opportunity for advice will be given, or if it be given that it is at all likely to be followed. Therefore, I should like the noble Lord to tell us, if he can, what construction Her Majesty's Government put on the more recent language as compared with that of a fortnight ago on the same subject.


said, that this was a question of much gravity, and he would entreat the House to approach its consideration neither wholly in the spirit of the hon. Baronet the Member for Tain-worth, nor in that of his hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham. On a question of great European interest of this kind the House would not be doing justice to themselves or to their country by any personal recriminations, or by representing that any Member really had at heart any other desire than that the peace of Europe should not be disturbed. He trusted that when they came to the consideration of this question they would remember there were two elements which had been strangely left out of sight;—namely, the relation of this question to the general arrangement of Italian affairs, and the re-establishment of that great nation to which they were all looking forward with impatient and interested eyes. The question of Sardinia only came before them incidentally in relation to the great question of the nationality of Italy, and was no way essential as an Italian people to the re-establishment of an Italian nation in Europe; and he did not think any one would say that the liberation of three millions of people in Lombardy from the yoke of centuries, and their transference to a constitutional government, was not well worth the prize now sought for. In his opinion the people of Savoy had always represented the opinions of the Government of France, and had been opposed to every principle of civil and religious liberty in the Piedmontese Parliament. They had very little sympathy with the struggles in which the people of Italy were engaged, and his belief was that they would prefer to join a country which was more in accordance with their notions of religion and politics. This certainly could he done without in any degree disturbing the peace of Europe; and, supposing all other circumstances to be satisfactory, the annexation of Savoy would be no unjust compensation to France for the 50,000 lives she bad sacrificed and the millions of money she had expended in the cause of Italy. What had we done for Italy which could for a moment compare with what France had done for her? He had not approached this question as a Member representing the interests of France. He trusted none of them were representatives either of Sardinia or France, but that they only represented English interests and English honour.


I cannot allow this discussion to close without answering the question of the noble Lord (Lord John Manners), and making some observations on what has occurred in the House just now. The noble Lord asks whether I understand that the Emperor of the French means merely to explain his case for the annexation of Savoy, or whether he means to consult the Powers of Europe. Upon reading the speech of the Emperor of the French, and on hearing the explanation which the Ambassador of France has given mo to-day, I can have no doubt that it is the intention of the Emperor of the French to consult the great Powers of Europe with respect to the annexation of Savoy. And now, if the noble Lord will permit it, let us a little consider what is the position of the Emperor of the French with respect to this question. This is not a question relating solely to his own power and position, but it is a question relating to the position of France and her security in Europe. It is alleged by a great portion of the French people, and certainly alleged by statesmen attached to very different dynasties from the Emperor's, that the aggrandizement of power beyond the Alps and the addition to the kingdom of Sardinia of a considerable territory would make France worse as regards her security, and would enable the King of Sardinia, in case of war, and being engaged on the side of other Powers, so to threaten the French frontier as to make it necessary for the Sovereign of France to keep two armies, one on the side of Savoy the other on the side of Nice in order to guard against the danger of invasion. Wishing, therefore, as he and his Government state, to maintain the same security as they hitherto have had, and thinking that that security would be impaired by the creation of such a kingdom as I have mentioned, the Emperor of the French says that it is hut due to the security of France, if the consent of the people of Savoy can be obtained, to annex that country to France; but he has also stated some time ago, and I understand he states it now—and this in my opinion is the meaning of the speech which has just been pronounced —that he wishes to consult the great Powers of Europe on that very annexation. I beg the House to consider that it cannot be a matter of indifference to any ruler of France what is the opinion of Europe generally, and of the great Powers, upon his position. In this very Speech the Emperor of the French states that he is not going to annex Savoy by way of military conquest. What does that mean? It means that he is not ready to encounter the general disapprobation and distrust of Europe, but that he believes that his Government can lay such statements before the different Powers of Europe as would enable him, without reproach and with their consent, to make this annexation of Savoy. I differ from the Government of France in these sentiments. I, as belonging to one of the Powers of Europe concerned, not being in the situation of either France or Sardinia, conceive that the annexation of Savoy and the occupation of the passes of the Alps would be more threatening to Italy than the present situation of affairs is threatening to France. At the same time, I must beg to impress on the House this further consideration. The Powers of Europe are to be consulted; —but England is a Power which does not merely consist of the executive Government, but also of the Crown and the Parliament of the United Kingdom; therefore, I should be far from wishing that on this matter the Parliament of England should not hold and pronounce its opinion; but there is this to be said, that if we are to raise, as I think the hon. Member for Tamworth seemed disposed to do, angry discussions on this subject,—if we are to take mere assertions in the place of truth, and to suppose bad motives on the part of a friendly Sovereign,—I say the only effect of debates carried on in such a temper would be to excite angry feelings, not only between the executive Government of France and the Government of England, but between the people of France and the people of England; and I cannot conceive, however much the noble Lord opposite may vaunt his own patriotism as opposed to that of the hon. Member for Birmingham, that a man could render a worse service to England than endeavour to raise feelings which would necessarily lead to sentiments of suspicion and hostility on the part of both countries. It is from such feelings that ruptures arise. I have already said that I think that the Emperor of the French is wrong on this subject, and that he has proposed an annexation which he was not justified in asking for; but I say that this is a question to be fairly considered, and there can be no advantage to this country or to Europe in making it a question of anger, and not of calm consideration in respect to all the reasons that can be alleged on the one side and on the other. I have stated that the Emperor of the French had declared that after consulting with the great Powers of Europe, and obtaining likewise the consent of the people of Savoy, he wished to make this addition to his dominions,—I say "with the consent of the people of Savoy," because our Ambassador at Paris has pointedly asked that question of M. Thouvenel. M.Thouvenel being so applied to, in consequence of the Emperor's speech not mentioning the consent of the people of Savoy, with the view of its being ascertained whether the Emperor of the French had changed his determination on this point, gave the assurance that no change had taken place in that respect, and that the Emperor was as determined as before not to attempt the annexation without the consent of the people of Savoy. I must say that I heard with concern the speech of the hon. Baronet the Member for Tamworth, and I should not be conveying my impression of the discussion if I did not add that I also heard with great concern the speech of the hon. Member for Birmingham. I believe that these questions are mixed up with the general relations of the Powers of Europe to each other; that they have an important bearing on the confidence which one State is disposed to place in another; and that the independence of the different States does constitute that security in Europe without which neither trade nor commerce nor social intercourse can subsist. A great change has been brought about in Italy. That change, while it will be, I trust, for the benefit of the people of Italy, breaks off old relations, establishes new ties, and cannot be accomplished without the risk of further disturbance and of further collision between Powers which ore now to be separated by new boundaries, and which, at the same time, are animated by old hatreds and by old animosities. Sir, it appears to me that it is the duty of the English Government, and, I will add, it is the duty of the English Parliament to consider in this state of affairs how best the peace of Europe can be maintained and consolidated, to give no reason for an increase of suspicion and animosity towards us on the part of other Powers, and above all, not by premature discussion, while the papers on this subject are yet unread, come to conclusions which may be unwarranted, and to form judgments upon the conduct of foreign Sovereigns, which afterwards, when the full evidence is before you, you may find to be inconsistent with the position of this country and unfair towards the ruler of a country like France, with whom it is our interest to keep on terms of friendship and alliance.


assured the House that nothing was further from his intention than to raise angry discussions as regarded the relative positions of this country with France. He was a warm adherent of the alliance with France, and he would be the last man to sow seeds of dissensions which would endanger its further continuance. As regarded the observations of the hon. Member for Birmingham, he could only assure him that when he (Sir R. Peel) endeavoured to advocate the interests of Savoy, he had reason to believe that he was representing the opinions of a very large number of the inhabitants of that country.


I omitted to notice the question asked by the hon. Baronet as to the versions of the Emperor's speech which appear in different newspapers. We have only got a telegram, which may be incorrect, and I do not think the House can judge which is the correct version of the speech until it appears in the Moniteur, which I think will not have taken place until this morning.