HC Deb 12 March 1860 vol 157 cc343-54

said, that the House would remember that the noble Lord opposite, the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, had on a former occasion stated that notwithstanding the somewhat ambiguous language contained in the speech of the Emperor of the French, it was still the opinion of Her Majesty's Government that it was his intention to consult the great Powers of Europe previously to annexing Savoy to France. In consequence of certain statements which had since appeared in the semi-official French press he was anxious to repeat the Question he had formerly asked of the noble Lord, Whether, since the expression of opinion to which he had referred, he had received any further information from Paris as to the intention of his Imperial Majesty to consult the great Powers of Europe upon the subject?


replied that her Majesty's Government had instructed the English Ambassador in Paris to ask the French Government in what manner and in what form the great Powers would be consulted. He had ascertained that M. Thouvenel had prepared a despatch on the subject, which he would probably be able to send by the next day (Tuesday) or Wednesday, to the Ambassadors of the different Powers of Europe. As regarded the effect of that communication, he could only say that he hoped the opinion of the great Powers of Europe would have due weight with the Government of the Emperor.


said, as there was misapprehension as to the course of business for Monday next—for which day he understood the Motion of the hon. Member for Bridgwater (Mr. Kinglake) respecting Savoy as well as the second reading of the Reform Bill was fixed—it would be convenient if the Government would state what was to be the order of proceeding on that day.


said, that no engagement had been entered into between the Government and his hon. Friend the Member for Bridgwater, that his Motion relative to Savoy should come on upon the 19th, and it was his (Lord J. Russell's) intention to move the second reading of the Reform Bill on that evening.


I wish to know whether the Government are prepared to fix the discussion on the subject of the annexation of Savoy for any Government night. I may be permitted to remind the House of the circumstances under which I ask this question. When the discussion on the Commercial Treaty was pending, and when several questions were from time to time put to the Government with respect to Savoy, the noble Lord the Secretary for Foreign Affairs took occasion to say that the continued interruptions thus created were extremely inconvenient, and appealed to the House to decide whether it would not be much better to set apart some particular night for a fair and open discussion of the question, referring by way of illustration to the discussion which occurred in "another place." Well, in deference to that suggestion, I was induced by several friends, on whose judgment I rely, to give notice of a Motion on the subject, and I must appeal to the noble Lord whether we have not fairly performed our part of that honourable understanding. It was open to any one logically to import observations on the Savoy and Nice question into the discussion of the Commercial Treaty, but that was avoided. I did not address myself to the subject, and almost all who are interested in the question likewise abstained. I must, therefore, say I think we have something like a fair claim on the Government to assist us in fixing a day for this discussion. The noble Lord will also recollect that I had my Motion on the paper, giving me precedence of the Government, and I must say I feel great regret that on that day I was prevented from bringing the subject before the House, because the information I have received shows that time is in this matter absolutely vital. Only this morning I received intelligence that the Savoy deputies to the Sardinian Parliament had met at Chambery with the view of proceeding to Paris to do homage for Savoy to the Emperor of the French. I do not know whether intelligence of the same kind has reached the noble Lord, but there is no doubt that time is of the deepest importance in this matter, and 1, for one, will not accept the responsibility of being the cause of any delay. That responsibility must rest strictly with Her Majesty's Government, unless as soon as possible we have this question discussed.


said, the hon. Gentleman not having concluded with a Motion, his proceeding was extremely irregular.


I beg to move the adjournment of the House.


seconded the Motion.


As the hon. Gentleman has made a statement, perhaps I may be permitted to make a statement likewise. My hon. Friend will recollect that what I asked on the occasion to which he has alluded was, not only that this discussion with respect to Savoy and Nice should not be mixed up with the discussion of the Commercial Treaty, but I told him that such discussions would be injurious to the public interest. I thought the hon. Gentleman had yielded to that suggestion. That was my opinion then and it is certainly my opinion at the present time. We have had a discussion on the question of Savoy and Nice, upon which the hon. Baronet the Member for Tarn worth (Sir It. Peel) made a very eloquent speech, which produced a great impression in this House, and I think that the feeling of the House upon the subject could not be doubted. But it was to be considered whether there should be any defi- nite Motion upon the subject. The discussion in the other House of Parliament, to which I alluded, was not a discussion that ended, or was intended to end, in any definite Resolution, or any proposal that the Government should take a different course from that which had been taken. As I then suggested when hon. Gentlemen spoke on the other side of the House, I ask again what is to be the meaning of a Motion in case it is made? If it is merely to express the opinion of the House, I am afraid that speeches will be made that will have the effect of producing irritation and exasperation. So far from being useful, I said that I thought such a Motion would have a very detrimental effect upon the public interests. There is a party in this House who, on the contrary, think that the question of the annexation of Savoy, however it may be brought about, even if it is with the consent of the King of Sardinia—if it has the consent either generally or partially of the people of Savoy, and if not actually opposed by the other Great Powers of Europe—still think it the duty of this country to resist it, and to go to war on the subject. Why, then, I say let them bring forward a Motion stating their grounds for that opinion. If my hon. Friend is of that opinion, it will not be difficult to obtain a day for that discussion. It is of great importance that it should not be long delayed; but to have discussions in which to express the opinion of the House with regard to Savoy which has been already sufficiently expressed would not be useful, and I think it is unnecessary in the present state of affairs.


Sir, I must say there is a great fallacy in the observations of the noble Lord, which, indeed, has pervaded all his remarks on this subject from the beginning. The noble Lord always assumes that the only conduct that ought to be questioned by the House of Commons is the conduct of the Emperor of the French. That, no doubt, is a matter of great importance; but I have yet to learn that it is not the right and the duty of the House of Commons upon questions of high policy to express its opinions. There is another portion of this subject, which opens a question of equal interest to the country —that is, the conduct of Her Majesty's Government. We want a discussion of this question of Savoy, that we may clearly understand that the course of Her Majesty's Government with respect to the whole of this matter, which now so much agitates Europe, is clear before the House and the country. The noble Lord, therefore, only begs the question when he assumes that it is merely the conduct of the Emperor of the French which we criticize and call in question. We want to know how far his policy has been favoured or occasioned by the conduct of Her Majesty's Government. That ought to be made clear to us, and with that view I agree that a discussion should take place in this House on the subject. It is quite natural that the hon. Member for Bridgwater, who takes so much interest in this question, should bring it forward. It may be he only wishes to bring it forward to express an opinion as to the policy pursued by the Emperor of the French; but I believe that there is another part of the question, in which the House of Commons and the country naturally take a very deep interest, as to the course taken by Her Majesty's Government, although I am not prepared to give a definite opinion of it in the present state of affairs. The conduct of the Government on the question of Savoy, however, does appear involved in great mystery, and requires much explanation. The noble Lord made no answer to the statement I made the other night—that the noble Lord, being perfectly aware, as the papers show, for many months of the policy of the Emperor of the French, has pursued that course in Italy which rendered that policy unavoidable. He has offered no explanation to us how, at the commencement of this year, he proposed four points for the settlement of Italy, and, as it appears, concealed from the four Powers that he was cognizant, if those terms were accepted, a Sardinian province would be annexed to France. The House of Commons, I must again say, has considerable desire to have that question discussed, even more than the conduct of the French Emperor.


I am not disposed to dispute the statement of the right hon. Gentleman that there are two distinct propositions involved—two branches of the subject connected with Savoy—one in so far as the course of the transaction bears on the French Government and the Emperor of the French; the other branch is the degree in which it bears on the conduct of Her Majesty's Government. Now, my noble Friend stated—and I think has stated in a manner which no man in this House would be disposed to controvert— that this House having distinctly and clearly expressed its opinion on the policy and project of the annexation of Savoy to France, it was not desirable to repeat discussions on that subject from week to week, involving angry animadversions on the conduct of the French Emperor, and —I cannot forbear saying—personalities in regard to him not very useful or tending to the public interests, when stated in this House with regard to the Sovereign of a foreign country with whom we are on terms of friendly alliance. My noble Friend stated that, the question having been discussed, no good could arise from weekly repetitions of such discussions. I am decidedly of that opinion. But, on the other hand, a great deal of evil will arise —first, in regard to the issue of the matter in question; and, secondly, in regard to the relations in which the two Governments are to stand to each other. And, therefore, if the object of those who wish, to renew the subject is simply again to express an opinion disapproving the project entertained by the French Government, I think my noble Friend has given ample reasons why it is not expedient that the House should take that course. If, on the other hand, the right hon. Gentleman opposite thinks that the other branch of the subject requires to be brought under the consideration of Parliament—if he, or any other hon. Member, is prepared to propose to the House a vote of censure upon Her Majesty's Government for the conduct they have pursued in regard to Savoy, that undoubtedly is a most legitimate Motion to propose to the House, and most proper for those who think that our conduct is deserving of censure. I can only assure the right hon. Gentleman, and any other hon. Members, who may concur in that opinion, that we shall be perfectly prepared to meet that discussion whenever it shall be brought forward. Therefore, I think it ought to be clearly explained whether those who wish to bring this subject of Savoy again before the House, do so with a view to renew expressions of censure on the Government of France, or to ask the House to concur in a vote of censure on Her Majesty's Government. I doubt whether my hon. Friend, the Member for Bridgwater, who has charged himself with this subject, has the latter object in view; but if the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Disraeli) entertains the opinion he has insinuated, that Her Majesty's Government have failed in their duty in regard to this matter, I say it is legitimate to make a Motion on that subject; but the Motion should be made precisely and clearly on the subject, expressing censure on the Government, and hon. Members should not content themselves with expressing their opinion that the Government was deserving of censure in a debate on a Motion which does not bear on the conduct of the Government, but on the conduct of an allied and friendly Government.


My right hon. Friend has been very much misrepresented by the noble Lord. He has not indicated any intention of moving a vote of censure; he merely stated that certain questions which he had asked of the Government on a former occasion not having been answered, he felt entitled to call on the Government for explanations as to the line of conduct which they had pursued on this subject. I think the noble Viscount cannot deny that the circumstances are such as fully justify hon. Members on this side of the House in requiring from the Government some explanation on certain points involved in their proceedings, especially on that point to which my right hon. Friend adverted—namely, that, although the noble Lord does not appear to have made any remonstrance or expressed the opinion of Her Majesty's Government upon this subject till the month of December, it is clear that Her Majesty's Government must for a considerable period previous to that have possessed a knowledge of the intentions of the French Emperor, with respect to Savoy. As far as I remember what has passed in this House on this question the conduct of the Government is hardly fair towards the hon. Member for Bridgwater. The noble Lord appealed to that hon. Gentleman the other night to postpone his Motion, because to proceed with it on the day fixed would be injurious to the public service. The hon. Member readily acceded to that proposal. At the same time the noble Lord the Secretary of State expressed an opinion that, looking to the great importance which attached to the intentions of the Emperor of the French with respect to the annexation of Savoy, it was most desirable that a discussion should take place, not only in this House, but in the other House of Parliament. I certainly am at a loss to know what there is in the events that have lately taken place to induce the noble Lord now to change his opinion on that point.


I must say that if I correctly caught the remarks of the noble Lord at the head of the Foreign Office, I think they are calculated to alarm the House and the country at the present state of affairs. This is not simply a question between the noble Lord and the hon. and learned Member for Bridgwater. No doubt the Government have a heavy responsibility pressing upon them. A heavy responsibility also presses on the hon. and learned Member for Bridgwater, who has given notice to bring forward a subject which has excited great interest not only in this House and out of it, but also abroad. I for one am content to leave the question in my hon. and learned Friend's hands, not merely because he has first occupied the ground, but because he has shown much knowledge and much earnestness upon it; and I am satisfied that no other hon. Member, from his general character and ability, could do more justice to it. But there is a great responsibility resting upon this House itself. In the course of this Session we have allowed ourselves to be kept, in regard to our relations with foreign countries in every part of the globe, in a state of ignorance almost unexampled. On this very question of Savoy papers have been laid on the table most scanty and meagre in their character; and on one very important point on which we require information—namely, as to the communications between our Government and the Governments of Russia, Prussia, and Austria, we are not told a single word. Yet it is by their communications with these Powers that in the event our Government must be judged; and the question we have to consider is whether the Administration of this country has in this crisis been placed in the hands of statesmen who have shown themselves equal to their position. I repeat, the statement of the noble Lord the Foreign Secretary gives me great alarm, because he says there is one party in this House who think that if Sardinia is willing to do so, and no difficulty is raised abroad, Savoy ought to be given up.


No; I said that if there were a party who thought we ought to go to war even if Sardinia were prepared to give up Savoy, they should come forward with a Motion to that effect.


That I heard distinctly; but I also understood the noble Lord to say there was one party who thought if it was matter of arrangement abroad, and Sardinia was ready to give it up, Savoy might then be given up; but that there was another party who would have us go to war. I understood the noble Lord to classify us all with one or other of those two parties. In that case I would ask, to which of those par-ties do Her Majesty's Ministers belong? The noble Lord is averse to war and on that point I believe that every hon. Member in this House agrees with him. But the whole question is this:—What is the policy that leads to war? Is it a policy of firmness? Because I cannot but recollect an occasion when divided counsels, leading to compromises and tending to weakness, did drift us into a most disastrous war; and I know there are people who think that a policy of more explicitness and firmness might have obviated that war. I am afraid there may be something of the same kind going on at the present moment. I am not sure that the counsels of the Cabinet are all at one; and I must say the tone of both the noble Lords to-night fills me with a good deal of apprehension. The hon. and learned Member for Bridgwater, on the other hand, has up to this point kept himself entirely right. He has evinced on this question great earnestness, but also great moderation, and has completely vindicated himself from any charge of undue precipitation. But he has a responsible duty to discharge. It is for him to consider, after the answer he has received to-night, what course he shall pursue. The matter is one on which he must be a good deal guided by the judgment of the House, but he must not be deterred by the fear of being left in a minority. This is a question on which he may feel that the opinions of the nation would not be represented in this House, and it is to the opinions of the nation he must look in the course that he may take. He has told us more than once that time is pressing—that events are marching to their accomplishment. The information received to-day confirms that impression; and I hope, therefore, that he will choose his opportunity and invite the judgment of this House—whose opinion, more than that of any other body in this country, or abroad, is urgently demanded—to determine whether or not, by a firm and vigorous display of what are the real sentiments of England, we may not do more to preserve the peace of Europe and our own honour than by a policy of timidity or vacillation.


I do not think my right hon. Friend (Mr. Horsman) has a right to say that Her Majesty's Government have been chary in the information they have afforded to the House in regard to their foreign policy. I confess that on almost all subjects of foreign policy it appears to me the House has already been put in possession of information as rapidly following its receipt by the Government themselves as the time requisite for the production of the papers would permit. With respect to the apprehension expressed by my right hon. Friend lest there should be divided counsels in the Government, I, of course, entirely ascribe his fears on that head to the friendly interest he takes in our perfect harmony. The best opportunity, however, for trying that question will be when we come to the full discussion of the conduct of the Government, when it will sufficiently appear whether we have been united in our views or not. It is very desirable that we should clearly understand the position of the Government with regard to the intended Motion of the hon. and learned Member for Bridgwater. My noble Friend (Viscount Palmerston) has given his opinion, not of the inexpediency of all discussions relating to Savoy, but only of the inexpediency of discussions that are indecisive in their character, and which, referring to the conduct of the French Government, tend rather to irritation than to any practical or substantive result. The motive of my noble Friend at the head of the Government in dividing the question into two parts was, I think, to draw that distinction, and to lay down, on the one hand, that we could not be parties—especially by giving a Government day for the purpose, particularly while we have other very pressing subjects calling for our attention—to prolonging and renewing that class of discussions relating to Savoy to which I have adverted. But, on the other hand, he stated that if there be any disposition to censure Her Majesty's Government, there can be no doubt it is quite competent and quite just that any hon. Member of this House should take an opportunity of proposing a Motion to that effect. And the spirit of that observation was obviously this,—that if there be any disposition to discuss in any form, whether by asking for explanations or by proposing a censure, the proceedings of the Government, to no discussion of that nature, or aimed at that object, will Her Majesty's Government make any objection whatever. As my noble Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs is precluded by the forms of the House from again addressing to he authorizes me to say that as he understands there is a desire, without moving a vote of censure, to call for more detailed explanations from the Government, he will take the earliest opportunity, in producing papers to-morrow relating to Italy, to make a statement with regard to the course that has been pursued.


I must say that the observations made by the noble Lord (Viscount Palmerston) only tend to divert the attention of the House from the real and very serious subject before us, because the noble Lord addresses himself to this question as if there was a desire on the part of those who sit on this side of the House to cast a censure on the conduct of the Government. The real point of the case is this—that at the present moment we do not actually know what the conduct of the Government has been; and I beg to point out to the House that only four or five days have elapsed since the noble Lord the Secretary of State, far from holding his present opinion, expressed his belief that it was of the utmost importance there should be a discussion on this subject. And, not only so, but he spoke as if a discussion in this House was not sufficient, for he said he hoped the opinion of Parliament would be expressed on this question. Surely it is of the last importance that upon a subject like this there should be a full expression of the opinion of the House of Commons? What has been the language of the noble Lord himself with respect to this question of the annexation of Savoy? He has stated in his despatches that it will spread distrust and suspicion throughout Europe, and has reminded the French Government that it probably, or possibly, implies on the part of the Emperor of France the adoption of a policy which has already been most fatal to the fortunes of his family. If this is so, surely it is of the greatest importance that we should now be able to strengthen the hands of the Government in what I believe to be the course which they are disposed to adopt—namely, that of expressing their strong and emphatic disapproval of the course which has been adopted by France. Then there is another matter. In "another place" it has been stated that communications of a certain kind have passed between the noble Lord and the Governments of Russia, Prussia, and Aus- tria. Surely it is of great importance that we should know what hose communications have been, and whatever may be the conduct of those Governments, of this I feel certain, that the position of the noble Lord with respect to them will be greatly strengthened if it is known that there has been a decided expression of opinion on the part of this House. It is not at present desired to pass any vote of censure upon the Government, but we desire to be so fully acquainted with all the circumstances and with the policy of the Government, that if need be we can give them the full support of a vote of this House.

Motion made, and Question, That this House do now adjourn, put, and negatived.