HC Deb 12 July 1861 vol 164 cc809-16

said, he rose to call the attention of the House to the Correspondence on the Affairs of Denmark, Schleswig and Holstein of 1860 and 1861. The hon. Baronet said he thought that England was called upon to interfere in the dispute as a mediating Power, and that we were in a much more advantageous position than France and other Powers for bringing about a peaceful solution. The hon. Baronet, whose statement was very imperfectly heard, referred at some length to the occurrences of 1849 and 1850, and said that the German Bund had undertaken to obtain for the Duchies the rights and privileges for which they had taken up arms, and that in 1852 the King of Denmark had engaged to maintain a separate national existence for Holstein, and equal rights for the Danish and German population of the kingdom. These promises had been openly and systematically broken, and the consequence was that there had been excited in Germany a strong feeling which might induce the German nation generally to take up arms to restore to Schleswig and Holstein those rights which they claimed to be entitled to. The hon. Gentleman then proceeded to read extracts from communications of Mr. Ward, who was now Consul-General at Hamburg, and whom he characterized as a most able and trustworthy public servant; of Mr. Howard, and others, to show that a considerable degree of oppression was exercised by the Danish Government towards the German inhabitants of Schleswig and Holstein. He had himself met with clergymen who had been compelled to leave their congregations because they refused to Danicize the German inhibitants of the Duchies. The German inhabitants of Schleswig were not permitted to approach the throne with a respectful statement of their grievances. It was stated that the Treaty of London was not binding; perhaps the noble Lord, if he made any reply to these observations, would give his opinion on that subject. The Treaty of London, he believed, was abrogated, so far as respected this country and France towards Russia, by the fact that war had intervened. The effect of that treaty was most hostile to Germany. It would bring a Russian prince to the throne of Denmark after the death of the present monarch. That would be very injurious to the small German interests, and he could not conceive that it would be beneficial to us. He was quite aware that the subject he had introduced to the notice of the House was not very interesting to many Members, but he could not help regarding it as one of the utmost importance, and he begged to thank them for the patience with which they had listened to the extracts he had read.


said, he was glad that, after having kept the question suspended for some time before the House, the hon. Baronet had at length brought it on for discussion. He could not quarrel with the hon. Baronet for the view he took of the question, but the (Lord Harry Vane) thought it would be desirable that the House should not be led away by partial statements. He did not intend to defend the Government of Denmark in the conduct which they had pursued towards Schleswig; but looking at the matter generally, he thought the House would come to a different conclusion from that arrived at by the hon. Baronet. The hon. Baronet seemed to be under the impression that the Treaty of London had been abrogated, and that it was no longer of any force or validity, because of the war which had since taken place between England and Russia. But the hon. Baronet was in error. Russia was only one of the parties to the treaty, and the subsequent war could not cancel it. Besides, there was an ancient treaty, dated in 1720, between France, England, and Germany, which was in force, and which guaranteed Schleswig and Holstein as part of the possessions of the throne of Denmark. Much might be said about the succession to the crown of Denmark. But it was thought at the time when there was a probability that the succession to Schleswig and Holstein might become doubtful, that it would be better it should be settled; and seeing that Denmark was but a small State and held the keys of the Baltic, it was, in his opinion, wisely decided by the great Powers, that the succession to Denmark and the Duchies should descend to the same Monarch rather than that Schleswig and Holstein should be separated from Denmark. The question of Schleswig and the question of Holstein were totally distinct. Holstein had, no doubt, been a part of the German Empire up to the time of its termination in 1806. But since 1815 the Duchy had been in the position it now occupied, and the rights of Denmark over Holstein were very limited. As regarded Schleswig the case was very different, and the difficulties between that Duchy and Denmark had arisen in consequence of a large German population having become inhabitants of the Duchy. There were in the Duchy two parties, which were to a certain extent hostile to each other, and unhappily nothing but time would entirely remedy all the complaints made, and smooth down the feelings which existed among the people. The Danish Government had lately shown a disposition to remedy all complaints which were well founded, and quite ready to do full and equal justice to both nationalities. In his opinion the best course to pursue would be for Denmark to allow the autonomy of Holstein, and for the Government to fix a certain sum as the contribution of the Duchy towards the general expenses of the kingdom. He also thought it right that new laws binding Holstein should be submitted to the Holstein Diet before being put into force. No Danish statesman would consent that Schleswig should be disunited from Denmark—

Notice taken, that Forty Members were not present; House counted, and Forty Members being present

The noble Lord proceeded:—When he was interrupted he was calling the attention of the House to the management of the finances of Denmark and Holstein, and he thought the only true mode would be to stipulate that there should be a vote of a certain sum by the Diet of Holstein for the general expenses of the Government, and that all votes required over and above that should be specially submitted to the Diet of Holstein. No doubt there was a very strong feeling on the question, both in North and South Germany. But the Germans were bound to respect in others the feeling of nationality that animated themselves. They were bound to respect the Scandinavian feeling, that was not confined to Denmark; Sweden had expressed its readiness, under certain circumstances, to come to the aid of Denmark. It was impolitic on the part of Germany to raise a question that might hereafter bring down an intervention with which she would find it difficult to contend. It was most desirable that some definitive measures should be taken to settle this question. He hoped the Foreign Secretary would be able to tell them that a disposition existed on the part of Germany to accept proposals for a settlement, but it could only be effected by Germany respecting the rights of Denmark.


said, he did not believe there was any part of Germany in which more liberty was enjoyed than in the Duchy of Holstein. All that had been said about the language to be used in schools and churches and the restrictions on private education no longer applied. The state of things that had been complained of had been done away with. He believed the Danish Government felt that it had been wrong to permit such a state of things to exist. Denmark wished to obtain the good offices of England, and was ready to grant the Duchies a liberal Constitution; but the great difficulty in the way of a settlement was the contribution of Holstein. He believed it might be necessary to separate the Customs' duties of Holstein and the Duchy of Schleswig. The people of Denmark were strongly impressed with the necessity of free trade; but in Holstein, as in the greater part of Germany, the feeling was of an opposite kind, and it might be necessary to establish a line of Customs on the Eider. As for personal freedom in the Duchy of Holstein it was complete. Such a thing as a permission to travel or a passport had been unknown for nine or ten years. He earnestly hoped that the good offices of the Government might be successful.


wished to ask a question as to the extent to which the Government held this country bound by the treaty of 1852. It was incomprehensible to him how any Government of this country should ever have entered into a treaty, the main effect of which was to open the way for the speedy accession of the Imperial family of Russia to the throne of Denmark. The possession of Denmark by Russia, and the command of the North Sea and the entrance to the Baltic by that Power, would be dangerous to the interests of this country. But under colour of a treaty for preventing a separation between Denmark Proper and the Duchies of Holstien and Schleswig, we had become parties to an arrangement by which nineteen heirs, standing between the present King of Denmark and the Emperor of Russia, were to be cut off from the right of succession, and only four left, with a limitation too, to heirs male exclusively, which made the failure of the intermediate heirs much more likely to happen. As to the Duchies, the succession was limited to males, while by the Lex Regia, intoduced into Denmark in the course of last century, the succession to the Kingdom of Denmark was thrown open to females. On the death, therefore, of the present King and his uncle, neither of whom had heirs male, there would have been a separation of the Duchies and the Kingdom. The simple way of preventing this would have been by doing at once what has been done since the treaty—namely, repeating the Lex Regia in Denmark. But this would not have suited the views of Russia, and so an agreement was come to between the Emperor and the King of Denmark by which the Prince of Ghuhsburg should be declared heir both of the Duchies and the Kingdom, disinheriting no less than nineteen intermediate heirs, and thereafter he himself was connected only by females, limiting the succession in future to heir male, and rendering much more probable the early extinction of his line, and the opening up of the succession to the Emperor of Russia. The consent of the States of Denmark had, after much resistance, been obtained to this scheme, but hitherto those of the Duchies had steadfastly refused to sanction it. Now the question he wished to put to the noble Lord, the Secretary for Foreign Affairs was this:—Did the Government consider that this country was by the treaty of 1852, bound, under all circumstances, on the death of the King of Denmark and his uncle, to recognize the Prince of Ghuhs- burg as Sovereign of Denmark and the Duchies, or was the obligation of the treaty simply this—that if the succession should be lawfully and constitutionally changed by the competent authorities in Denmark and the Duchies, this country would recognize their act to this effect, and not promote the cause of any of the disinherited heirs against the will of the nation? To illustrate what he meant he would suppose that before the death of George IV., he and the other Sovereigns of Europe had entered into a treaty for securing the succession to the throne of Britain as well as to that of Hanover, of the Duke of Cumberland to the exclusion of our present Queen. Such a treaty might be merely an engagement to recognize his succession provided the Legislature of this country should lawfully have adopted it, or it might be a combination to force on the people and Legislature of this country, the heir male in preference to the heir female. Now, he wished to know whether the Government considered this treaty of 1852 to be of the former or the latter character and import? It was a question of the highest moment to the future well-being of this country and to the cause of liberty in Europe, and he trusted that the noble Lord would be able to give a satisfactory answer.


The House will perhaps allow me, although I have already addressed it, to answer the appeal that has been made to me by the hon. Member for Buckingham and other hon. Members. In doing so it is not my intention either to enter into the arguments as to the rights of the different parties, or of the Germanic Confederation, or of the King of Denmark, or to point out the terms on which I think the existing differences might be terminated. I will confine myself to stating what I consider to be the present state of the question which the hon. Baronet has brought under our notice. I have myself been very anxious with respect to the question of Federal execution. The House is aware that the Germanic Confederation came to certain resolutions, to the effect that if the King of Denmark would not submit to certain propositions within a given time Federal execution would take place. I have been anxious on that subject, because it is one of such a delicate nature, and the passions of men are so much excited, that I could not but fear that it would endanger the peace in those provinces, and that it might eventually cause disturbance in the interior of the country. However, I am glad to hear that it is likely that the King of Denmark will make propositions, either to the Germanic Confederation, or to Austria and Russia, by which it is hoped that Federal execution may be postponed for the present year, and negotiations may be entered on. Now, what those negotiations or what the terms to be proposed by the King may be, I am not able to say, but I think it is perfectly fair and just, the Germanic Confederation having declared that a certain requirement should be complied with by the King, that His Majesty should, on his side, either announce his intention to comply, or give reasons why those requirements cannot be fairly placed before him as conditions to which he ought to subscribe. I conceive that those negotiations may end in a solution of the whole question. The subject is one on which a good deal of correspondence has taken place between the different Powers of Europe. All I can hope at present is that at least some time may be allowed for negotiations, and that Frederal execution may not immediately take place. Certainly the subject is one on which I think every State in Europe is entitled to take an interest. With regard to the question of my hon. Friend who last spoke (Mr. Dunlop) I shall not undertake to state on a hypothetical case what might be the interpretation of the treaty signed in 1852, in the negotiation of which I had no part, and the terms of which I have not accurately in my mind now; but, as to the general purpose and scope of that treaty, I may observe that it is quite different from what my hon. Friend apprehends it to be. I believe it was supposed that if different titles could be set up to the Danish monarchy on the death of the present Sovereign, in that case Russia might revive her claim as against other claimants, and that, if she did, she would not be likely to fare the worst among the contending parties. Therefore, it was thought desirable by other Powers of Europe—Russia assenting to the arrangement—that the Danish monarchy should pass in a certain direction, in order that the ambitious hopes of the various claimants—Russia included—might be terminated, and that Denmark might be preserved as one kingdom. No one can tell what may be the effect of that treaty at the time of the death of the King of Denmark. It is binding on the Powers that signed it. It is binding in this way: If the Emperor of Russia, on the death of the King of Denmark, should claim to add Holstein to his dominions, all the other Powers would be entitled to allege that Russia had signed a certain treaty by which she was precluded from putting in that claim. I cannot give any further answer. It is a treaty which is not cancelled. It is in vigour and in force, and it is a treaty to which Great Britain is a party. I will not now enter further into the subject, but will only say that it is not desirable to give any Correspondence at the present moment.