HC Deb 16 March 1860 vol 157 cc751-61

Before the noble Lord the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs answers the Question which has just been put, I shall take the liberty of asking the question of which I have given notice—namely, Whether there is any objection to lay upon the Table of the House his Answer to Lord Bloomfield's Despatch of the 3rd day of March, respecting the proposed annexation of Savoy and Nice to France. I do not desire to read Lord Bloomfield's despatch, but to point the attention of the House to the attitude which Prussia has taken in the present European crisis, as indicated in that communication. Baron Schleinitz, the Prime Minister of Prussia, stated to Lord Bloomfield that in all Germany there was but one opinion as to the character of this intended annexation; that for a time his Prussian Majesty had trusted the statement made by the Emperor in his Milan proclamation, but that he now saw the time for maintaining silence had passed. The despatch concludes by saying that the Baron had declared the policy of Prussia to be decidedly opposed to this annexation, and had given his opinion that France must now be called on to refrain from taking any further step until a conference of the Powers shall be held. I coufess I read that despatch with great pleasure, and I may be permitted to say that it indicates an intention on the part of Prussia to take a step as nearly as possible identical with that which I ventured to indicate by the Notice which I gave last week. I cannot but regard this as an overture of great importance, and one which I trust may be looked back upon in later times as the commencement of the pacification of Europe. Not only is the despatch itself significant, but the noble Lord the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs must he aware that its production and publication is also a matter of deep importance. That despatch is dated the 3rd of March; some of the papers contained in the volume of correspondence delivered to this House date down to as late a period as the 9th inst., but they do not include the answer which the noble Lord must have given to the despatch in question. I have, therefore, to ask whether it will be convenient for the noble Lord to lay that answer on the table of the House; and I trust when we see it we shall be able to say that it was a reply worthy in every way of the spirit in which this overture on the part of Prussia has been made. I have not given notice of an intention to ask the noble Lord for any general information with respect to this pending question of the annexation of Savoy and Nice, because I felt sure that without notice from any Member of Parliament he would know that any information which he might be able to give this House would be received with grateful satisfaction. On Tuesday last the noble Lord at the head of Her Majesty's Government gave us a right very strongly to hope—and I think, considering the relation between the two countries, a right also to expect—that the proposed annexation would not take place without France consulting—and seriously consulting the other Powers of Europe. I trust the noble Lord may now be able to say the expectation he then held out has not been falsified; that the rumours of the last two days are inconsistent with the truth; and that it is not the fact, in spite of all which he has said, that the Emperor of the French is proceeding to this annexation without consulting the great Powers of Europe, and that he is on the point of including in his annexation to France the districts of Chablais, Faucigny, and Genevois, contrary to the express promise which he has made, and the proof of which is to be found in the Correspondence that has been delivered to the House. I trust the information which the noble Lord may give us will be of such a character as in some degree to remove the anxiety which is at present felt.


Perhaps before the noble Lord answers the Question of my hon. Friend the Member for Bridgwater he will allow me to say that the information of what is taking place in Europe is seriously true; and to ask him whether, in addition to this despatch of Lord Bloom-field, which certainly contains intelligence of a very remarkable character, he is also aware of the danger which threatens the independence and neutrality of Switzerland. I am very loth again to trespass on the attention of the House with regard to this subject, but I feel that we have arrived at a period when it is absolutely necessary we should give utterance to some expression of opinion on this question. More than that, I believe I state the opinion not only of every Gentleman in this House, but of every man of feeling in the country, when I say that we ought to declare the sentiment by which we are all animated— that not only has an outrage been inflicted on the public mind of Europe, but that it is particularly directed against the Government of this country. We have been over and over again told there was no danger that the Emperor of the French would proceed to the extremities which he now threatens; over and over again in these despatches we find assurances that without consulting the Powers of Europe nothing whatever would be done. Now, I myself am in receipt of a telegram from Annecy, which states that these provinces Chablais and Faucigny have been so worked upon and harassed, and that the people from one end of the country to the other are so divided, that the municipalities of each district are perfectly ready to vote in favour of annexation to France—and why? Because all kinds of terrorism have been used, such as were employed in the time of the first French Revolution to excite the population—poor, innocent, primitive people, as every person knows they are, who really do not understand duplicity and art,—and to lead them to believe that if they annex themselves to France no danger will result, but that otherwise the most serious consequences will ensue. The despatch to which my hon. Friend has called attention is one of the greatest importance. He did not read any passage from it, but, if the House will allow me, I will just touch upon one expression, because it shows that the Cabinet of Prussia has taken up a dignified attitude, which I hope, and, indeed, have every reason to believe her Majesty's Government are desirous of emulating. Lord Bloomfield says in his despatch that "Baron Schleinitz appears to have stated to the French Minister that in Germany there was but one opinion of determined opposition to the project. Baron Schleinitz seems also to have observed to the French Minister that during the war the present Prussian Government had been the means of restraining the violent feeling which had been excited in Germany by the war in Italy, and had made themselves very unpopular by so doing; but that it must not be considered now, with regard to the question of Savoy, that if they remained silent at the present moment their silence meant indifference, for they should view that absorption with the greatest distrust. The noble Viscount at the head of the Government told us the other night that the war in Italy was part of the Emperor's policy for freeing that country, but it appears from this extract that the opinion in Germany about it was not so favourable. But if Prussia views this absorption with great distrust, surely this country is entitled to view it in the same light; and not only this country, but every country, is bound to give a firm and determined opposition to this policy of annexation, which, as Lord Derby well observed last night, is now commenced on the feeble pretext of danger to France from the proximity of a kingdom of 9,000,000 inhabitants,—a pretext which may be used very soon as an argument for annexing the Rhine provinces of Prussia and Belgium. Is the House aware of what is now going on on the frontiers of Belgium? There are newspapers published in the towns on the frontier—one in particular, the Journal de Mons—which advocate openly the annexation of Belgium to France, telling the people that if they could do away with the douaniers great facilities for trade and great commercial advantages would follow. This is an underhand, ungenerous policy, in which every power in Europe is directly interested, and which they ought to endeavour to curb with a vigorous and powerful hand. I cannot refrain from making some allusion to the conduct of Sardinia in this matter. The noble Viscount the other night paid a very flowing compliment to M. de Cavour, and he is a man whom I believe almost everybody believes to be a disinterested statesman and generous patriot; but on reading his despatch, no one who has watched his conduct can deny that his wish has been, not only to deceive Her Majesty's Government, but also to play a mock dignified part, which is quite unworthy of the influence he might have exercised at this moment. His expressions are really very curious. As everybody knows, he has disclaimed any engagement or any disposition to part with Savoy. In his despatch to Chevalier Nigra, his Minister at Paris, he says, The Government of His Majesty would never consent, even with a view to the greatest advantages, to cede or exchange any portion of the territory which has formed for so many ages the glorious appanage of the House of Savoy. Fine words, indeed, and if he had acted up to them, he would have had all Europe with him; but then he goes on to say, The King's Government cannot refrain from taking into consideration the changes which the events that have taken place in Italy have caused with respect to the people of Savoy and Nice. The same thing he said to Sir James Hudson. Count Cavour came to me," writes Sir James Hudson, "and repeated to me what he had stated before, that Sardinia was under no engagement to cede, sell, or exchange Savoy, or any other part of the King's dominions. But Count Cavour ends with this remarkable expression, "The question is one for Savoy, not for the rest of the kingdom," though he had not long before written that Savoy was "the most glorious appanage of the House of Savoy." I say this is not a Sardinian question, it is not a French question, it is a European question. The question is not now whether Savoy shall be incorporated with the French dominions, with whose people and whose institutions she is unacquainted; it is not whether the King of Piedmont can yield up the appanage of the House of Savoy, the inheritance of his ancestors, which has been consecrated by so many generations of honourable exploits—but it is whether, after the King of Sardinia has enjoyed ever since 1815 all the advantages which the re-annexation of Savoy conferred on him— and it must be recollected that at that period the Sardinian Monarch received from the European Powers 10,000,000 francs to fortify the country against France—Europe will allow him to cede that territory to France by a private arrangement depending on the disposition of Italy. I say such a policy is unworthy of the Government of il Re galanluomo. "Perish Savoy," said the hon. Member for Birmingham the other evening. It has perished. I hope the hon. Gentleman is satisfied. We shall have "Perish Switzerland" next, and "Perish all the liberties of Europe." The hon. Member laid it down that, after all, the map of Europe, as regarded the limitation of the States of Europe, was not worth a moment's consideration; and he turned round to me and my hon. Friend here, and asked us, "Is what you want to settle the map of Europe?" My answer is, that we do not want to settle the map of Europe, but we do not want to unsettle it. We do not want to recommend the Government to pursue a course opposed to the interests of this country; but we want to check and curb a policy on the part of France, which is daily tending to outrage public opinion, and to violate the received and acknowledged interests of Europe. When my hon. Friend and I took up this question some time ago, we were told that we exaggerated its importance to England and Europe, and that beyond a formal protest, England had nothing to do with it. Time has shown the gravity of the question. When we are told that we are advocating the interests of Savoy and Switzerland to the detriment of other more important interests, our answer is that we would scorn to advocate interests which are opposed to the general interests of mankind; and that, in advocating the cause of Savoy and Switzerland, we are, in fact, advocating the cause of Europe; and that if you allow this state of things to continue, most grave consequences will ensue to Europe. I want Her Majesty's Government to protest, in a manly, straightforward way against the conduct of France. That protest will ring far beyond the walls of this House. You will rally Prussia, Germany, nay, the whole of Europe round you; and you may, perhaps, save millions of treasure and thousands of lives by such a course. I ask this House to protest against the conduct of France. I protest against it here, and I appeal to Europe in vindication of a system which the hon. Member for Birmingham has condemned, but which has worked well for very nearly half a century. I denounce that policy in the face of this House, and I warn you that this union of Savoy with France not only affects the future interests of Savoy and Switzerland, but it is the first step, the first act of conspiracy, against the liberties of every European State.


said, that before the noble Lord, the Foreign Secretary, replied, he wished to call his attention to the memorial of certain British subjects, Protestants, resident in Spain, complaining of the law of Spain, which did not allow them to have a place of worship of their own, or to send their children to any but a Spanish school. The law of Spain declared that no foreigner should "profess" any other but the Roman Catholic religion in Spain; and there were some doubts as to what was the exact meaning of the word "profess." What the memorialists desired was, that the noble Lord should intercede—not "intervene"—to procure an arrangement by which they would be able to send their children to a school of their own, and also to have Divine service celebrated in a private house in any place where there was no Consul or representative of Her Majesty.


I will first answer the Question which has been put to me by the hon. and learned Gentleman, the Member for Launceston (Mr. Haliburton), with respect to the fortification of the Island of St. Pierre. There is no doubt that fortifications are forbidden by the Treaty of 1763, and also by that of 1783. To the latter treaty, which was concluded at a period when this country could not hold her head so high as she did in 1763, there were appended certain declarations, but I am not aware whether they apply to this subject. In the year 1856 the attention of the Foreign Office was called to this question; the facts were submitted to the law officers of the Crown, and they were asked whether the buildings existing or constructed at St. Pierre, were any infringement of our treaties with France. Their reply was, that they did not think that anything had been done which amounted to such an infringement. I have not had time to look particularly into the case; but I understand, from the Gentleman who was then Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, that the question was last year again referred to the law officers of the Crown, who were of the same opinion as their predecessors. We have not lately heard anything tending to show that any new buildings have been erected, or that anything has been done different from what had been done in the year 1856.

In reply to the Question of the hon. and learned Member for the University of Dublin (Mr. Whiteside), I have to say that we are continually appealing to the Government of Spain with a view of obtaining permission for British residents to celebrate Divine worship in their own houses, and their freedom from some very intolerant provisions of the Spanish law. The penal law of Spain declares that a person who shall celebrate Divine worship in any other than the Roman Catholic form shall be liable to banishment; there are various other provisions with respect to any number of persons more than thirty meeting for any purpose of political or religious discussion, which are of a very penal nature, and it seems to be an established practice, or perhaps the established law of Spain, that these laws shall be enforced by the clergy, who are empowered to call upon the civil officers to execute them whenever they are infringed. There was a case some time ago in which a newly-born child, of Protestant parents, which had been baptized by the medical man, who was a Roman Catholic, died and was buried in the Protestant cemetery. According to the Spanish law that child was a Roman Catholic; and the Spanish clergyman called upon the alcalde of the place to have the child disinterred and reburied in the yard of the Roman Catholic church. Mr. Buchanan exerted himself very strenuously, and at last the Spanish Government gave way, and pre- vented the priest from carrying his intentions, into effect. Another case occurred recently, in which an attempt was made to prevent some persons holding a meeting for public worship. It is not that Mr. Buchanan is at all indifferent to, or neglectful of, the question; but that any attempt to change the law of Spain would be quite hopeless. The law is very bigoted, the Government is very bigoted, and the people are more bigoted than either the law or the Government; and therefore there is but little chance of effecting any change in the law. The Government and the civil authorities have, however, no objection, upon the representations of foreign Ministers, to permit in certain cases the celebration of religious worship in private houses; and probably, if the number of children required it, a similar indulgence would be granted with regard to their education.

My hon. Friend, the Member for Bridgwater, has asked for the production of the answer to the despatch from Lord Bloom-field of the 3rd of March, with respect to Savoy. That despatch contained an account by Lord Bloomfield of a conversation between Baron Schleinitz, the Minister for Foreign Affairs of Prussia, and the French Minister; and, therefore, as containing no representation to the British Government, did not call for an answer from me. We have, however, been in continual intercourse with the Government of Prussia, and I have more than once had conversations with Count Bernstorff, the Prussian Minister in this country; and I am able to state that the Government of Prussia and ourselves are entirely agreed on the view which we take of the proposed annexation of Savoy. I do not know that I could in March say, or that it was needful to say, more than I said both in July of last year and in January of the present. We have, as is shown by the papers, expressed at Berlin and Vienna, and at St. Petersburg, our objections to the annexation of Savoy, leaving them to take what part they should think right upon this question of European interest. I cannot say that I have heard from Vienna any satisfactory account as to any steps that the Government of Austria will take upon this subject. There are reasons which Members of this House will easily imagine why Austria should not be particularly zealous in preventing a partition of Sardinia, seeing that she herself has lost, both in Lombardy and Tuscany, dominions belonging either to herself, or to members of the Royal family, through the action of the King of Sardinia. It is a month since I communicated with Vienna; and a week afterwards I made similar communications to St. Petersburg, and it certainly is a disappointment to Her Majesty's Government that, considering that so long a time has elapsed, and that annexation has, as it were, been impending during all this time, we have not received any notice or intelligence that any strong remonstrance against the annexation is intended to be made by those Governments. The language of Count Cavour has been, I think, a good deal of the character described by my hon. Friend the Member for Tamworth, because, while he continues to say, as he said some time ago, that the King of Sardinia would not cede, or sell, or exchange Savoy, he goes on in the latter part of his despatch to say that if the people of Savoy are disposed to belong to another empire, and be under another sovereign, however the King of Sardinia might regret it, he would make no objection to their obtaining their wish. Now, I certainly conceive that that is a very extraordinary and a very unnecessary declaration. We know very well that there have lately been and are countries which have felt themselves so oppressed by their Governments, or have had such different views of policy from those entertained by other Governments, that they have wished to sever their connection with their sovereigns; but we have never heard that of Savoy, nor, that I am aware of, has there till lately been any indication that the people of Savoy wished to sever their connection with, or abjure their allegiance to, the House of Savoy. It is, therefore, a singular, I should say an unprecedented thing, for a Sovereign to say, "These subjects of mine are much attached to me; I value them very much. At the same time, if they wish to dissolve their allegiance and belong to some other country, I can have no objection to their doing so." It certainly looks as if the King of Sardinia and his Minister were not very unwilling to sever the connection. Now, Sir, I must say that our position must be a good deal influenced by these different things. If the great Powers of Europe which were to be consulted; if Austria and Russia feel no great interest in this question; if Prussia and Great Britain are the only European Powers that do feel any interest in it, and if the King of Sardinia, on his part, is apparently willing to yield this territory, it certainly does become very difficult to make any opposition to that act. But, Sir, there is another matter which I am going to state to the House, because, after the questions which were asked of me by a noble Lord not now present, I think I ought to state to the House what is my impression as soon as I have received a decided impression upon the subject. There was delivered to me yesterday a despatch from M. Thouvenel to Count Persigny, laying the case of the annexation of Savoy before Her Majesty's Government for their consideration. The despatch is a very temperate one. It abjures altogether the notion of natural boundaries, and states the case as one of a special interest arising from special circumstances—namely, that the position of Italy is changed; that the position of France is thereby made worse; and that therefore this is a special case which deserves the special consideration of Europe. But, although it is stated in the despatch that this question is submitted to the wisdom and equity of Europe, I must say that, taking the whole despatch together, including the statement that it is a necessity for France and for her security that she should have this extension, she can hardly be justified in saying that the Powers of Europe are to be consulted, and that by their verdict the French Government mean to abide. I have not yet laid this despatch before my colleagues. I am telling the House at once all I know upon this subject. The Cabinet will, no doubt, consider gravely and maturely what answer shall be given. The whole of this despatch, and especially that part of it which relates to the question of Faucigny and Chablais, is one of such gravity and importance that I will not say more about it at present than that it requires the most serious consideration. As soon as I am in a position to answer it, and Her Majesty has approved the answer, I shall lose no time in laving the despatch before the House.