HC Deb 10 May 1861 vol 162 cc1858-70

Order of the Day for going into Committee of Supply read.

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


said, that in rising, according to notice, to call the attention of the House to the affairs of Austria and Italy, his intention was to afford to the Government an opportunity of giving to Parliament some indication of the policy they were now pursuing, and were likely in future to pursue, rather than to excite any angry recriminations between the partizans of hostile States. The most impartial persons would, he thought, admit that it was neither possible to defend all the acts of the Italian Governments which had been overthrown, nor to defend all the acts of that country which had been the instruments of their subversion. He must say he had risen from the perusal of the despatches which had been laid on the Table with an opinion by no means unfavourable to the policy of our Foreign Secretary, who had, on the whole, more or less, fairly adhered to the principle of nonintervention which he had laid down as the rule of our relations with Italy. He could have wished, however, that the noble Lord had more strongly condemned the invasion of Naples by Sardinia—conduct as much a violation of that principle of non-intervention as an invasion of Piedmont by Austria could possibly be. From what he had himself seen in Italy last autumn, he thought the noble Lord had done wisely in advocating a system of duality as more likely to prove beneficial to that peninsula than a system of unity. He found the greatest jealousy prevaling between the North and the South of that country, great clashing of interests, conflicting opinions, the most marked distinction between the habits, customs, races, and, he might add, language of the people. He witnessed the entry of King Victor Emmanuel into Naples, and the enthusiasm displayed upon that occasion, and for a Neapolitan population it was not excessive, was much less for the monarch than for Garibaldi, who sat by his side. He further knew that the Piedmontese troops within a fortnight of their entry into Naples were everywhere complaining that they were received by the Neapolitans rather as conquerors and aliens than as liberators and allies. It was not surprising that in Italy there should exist considerable jealousy of the supremacy of Piedmont, and some aversion to Turin as the metropolis, when it was found that the very first despatch written by the Italian Minister of Foreign Affairs to the Minister in this country respecting the proclamation of the King of Italy, was written in the French instead of the Italian language. He did not think that hon. Members could approve the means by which Piedmont had brought about the unity of Italy. Hon. Members no doubt supposed that that union had been brought about by the ardent patriotism of the Italian people; whereas, had they been at Florence or Naples they would have known that that result had been brought about by corruption which would have done honour to a contest for Sudbury or St. Albans, and which quite justified the expression which had been used in the French Chamber, that Piedmont did far more to promote the cause of Italian unity by putting her hand into her pocket than by laying it upon her sword. But however that might be, he did not wish now to revive the discussion as to whether union or dualism would be best for Italy, because a practical Government must recognize accomplished facts, and, looking to what had been done, he thought that it was for the best interests of England, of Europe, and of Austria herself that the union and independence of Italy should be secured. It was true that Austria retained possession of Venetia; but, in his opinion, that province was a source of weakness rather than of strength to the Austrian Empire. In peace it was a festering sore eating into the finances of Austria, and in time of war its people were a hostile population menacing her flank. He might be reminded of the strength of the Quadrilateral; but any military man knew that a general who should for strategical, and not political purposes, invade Austria on the side of Italy, would be fit for a lunatic asylum. Austria was not menaced from Italy, because as regarded war the Germans were a superior race to the Italians. Her hereditary enemy was France, and where Austria was vulnerable was upon the Rhine and Danube, and if a French army were to menace Vienna the troops must be immediately withdrawn from the fortresses of the Quadrilateral, and removed to the field upon which the decisive battle was to be fought. If the Austrians were defeated in the plains of the Danube, and Vienna fell into the hands of the enemy, these fortresses would fall, as military men term it, "by position," and any troops that might be in them would become prisoners of war without striking a blow. The only purpose which the possession of the Quadrilateral by Austria could serve was to act as a menace to Italy; but he believed that there was nothing so fatal to the interests of Austria as the maintenance of such an attitude towards that country. As long as the fortresses of the Quadrilateral frowned upon the independence of Italy so long would the King of Italy be reduced to the condition of a mere Prefect of France. If, on the other hand, that menace were withdrawn there was every reason why France and Italy should be on the worst terms, because they both had large seaboards on the Mediterranean, and consequently there would be great rivalry between them for supremacy in that sea. If Austria retired within her natural boundaries, the Alps, she would, in case of a war with France, have her flank protected by a neutral Power, instead of having it menaced by 20,000,000 Italians. He made these observations in no spirit of hostility to Austria, because he believed that a powerful and united Austria was necessary to the best interests of England. Austria had had recently but a scant measure of justice dealt out to her by the people and press of this country. She was for more than a quarter of a century our faithful ally in withstanding the aggressive designs of the First Napoleon, and it was in the wars which she then carried on, that she had incurred the greater portion of that debt by which she was now weighed down. Austria was, indeed, our natural ally. There were many persons who had feelings and prejudices against Austria; but when material interests were at stake, sentiment must yield to geography, and he believed that if war broke out again in Europe England and Austria would be found fighting side by side. It was often said that Austria was a despotic Power. But that was no longer the case. Austria now possessed a Constitution as free as that under which we lived, and had recently given to her provinces an autonomy and independence which would only be paralleled on the other side of the Atlantic in the Constitution which lately existed in the now dis-United States. Those provinces would now enjoy a far larger amount of autonomy and self-government than we gave to Scotland or Wales, and much more independence than we were willing to grant to Ireland. For federal and imperial purposes Austria now possessed a Constitution fashioned after the likeness of our own. She had a Lower Chamber elected by the Diets of the Empire, which were in their turn elected by a suffrage which not even the hon. Member for Birmingham (Mr. Bright) would call illiberal, because every man who paid five florins, about 9s., in taxation, had a' right to rote. In addition she was to have an hereditary Upper Chamber and an hereditary Sovereign. The Hungarians objected to this, and wished to have separate Ministers for finance, war, and he believed foreign affairs. If Austria granted these demands she might as well dismember her empire. If we made such concessions we should not only repeal the union, we should re-establish the heptarchy. Austria ought to be encouraged and cheered on in the path of constitutional reform on which she had entered, rather than checked and arrested in her progress by having made upon her demands with which it was impossible that she should comply. It was with particular satisfaction that he at this moment pointed to the existence in Austria of an hereditary Upper Chamber founded upon a territorial class, because recent events had shown that an independent territorial class was the safest breakwater against both the tyranny of despotism and the disorders of democracy. It was not the power of every country to possess an hereditary Upper Chamber, because some countries had not within them the essential element, an independent territorial class. Italy possessed that advantage, but had not availed herself of it. In the States of the Church and in Lombardy there was a law of primogeniture, and consequently a territorial class; but M. Cavour had declared that he would introduce the Code of Piedmont and under it the forced division of property into every portion of Italy which was annexed to that kingdom. Already he had endeavoured to introduce it into Lombardy; but the attempt was so unpopular that he had been forced to desist from his efforts. Under the Constitution of 1812—commonly called Lord William Bentinck's Constitution—the forced division of property did not exist in Sicily; but when the Bourbons were restored they re-established that law, because they were unwilling that an independent territorial class should stand between a servile people and their leaden sway. If he had any fault to find with the despatches of the noble Lord, it was that he did not find in them a single word of protest against the decision of M. Cavour to introduce the forced division of property throughout Italy. He felt strongly upon this subject. He thought that it was the duty and the mission of England to proclaim the doctrine of primogeniture throughout Europe, in contradistinction to that of the forced division of the soil, because in every country in which there was a forced division of property we found sympathy with the institutions and greatness of France, while, where a law of primogeniture existed, there we found sympathy with England, with her institutions and with her greatness. In moving for these papers he could assure the noble Lord that he did not wish to cast the smallest reflection upon his foreign policy, because he believed that, upon the whole, that policy deserved the approbation of his countrymen, that the honour of England was safe in his hands, and that his displacement from office at the present moment would be a most untoward event.

Amendment proposed, To leave out from the word 'That' to the end of the Question, in order to add the words 'an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, that She will be graciously pleased to give directions that there be laid before this House, Copies of any Papers or Despatches which have been received from our Ambassador at Vienna, detailing or describing the nature of the Constitution lately granted by the Emperor of Austria to the various Provinces and Subjects of his Empire.'

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


said, it was not his intention to follow the hon. Gentleman throughout his statement. In reference to the case of Austria it was evident that her internal affairs were so rapidly approaching a crisis that the well-founded opinions of to-day might be scattered to the winds by the events of the morrow: he would, therefore, confine his remarks to the general question of the independence and unity of Italy, and the future pros- pects of the Italian peninsula. He believed that nine out of ten Members of that House, and of thinking persons in this country, were anxious to see a united and independent Italy. But he was not one of those who could view with satisfaction the dismemberment of the Austrian empire. He believed it was the interest of all continental nations, and especially of this country, that a powerful State should exist in the centre of Europe—a State, not merely powerful in the affections and good dispositions of its subjects, but also powerful in the administration of good government. Austria, it was said, was now going in that direction, and so far it ought to possess our warmest sympathies. But the retention of Venice did not strengthen Austria. The case of Venetia was not like that of Hungary. The Venetians were Italians, and they alone of all Italians were now under the domination of a foreign and oppressive Government. It could not be supposed that the Venetians would be content with this state of things. They felt as the men of Kent or Sussex might be supposed to feel if they alone of all Englishmen were subject to a government alien in race, in manners, and in language. Under those circumstances Austria could not hope to maintain a hold upon the affections of the inhabitants of Venetia, who would assuredly, on some day or another, emancipate themselves from her thraldom. He mentioned these things for the sake of Austria herself, which must feel her power more or less crippled so long as such a state of things was allowed to continue. She was at an immense expense, both as regarded money and men, in order to maintain her position in this discontented province, and it must be for her own interest, both as regarded Italy, and as it regarded her position in Europe, that she should withdraw from her Italian province. But even if Austria withdrew from Venetia there was another obstacle to complete Italian unity—the delicate subject of the occupation of Rome by the French troops. The affairs of Rome were complicated by considerations other than those which affected the nationality of Venetia. The position of the Pope as spiritual head of the Catholic Church had immensely complicated the affairs of Italy, in consequence of the occupation of that capital by the French army. Opinions, he believed, were rapidly gaining ground amongst the Roman Catholics that the Pope would be best able to discharge the duties of his spiritual office by being relieved of his temporal authority. To the French Emperor and the French people generally the Italians owed a deep debt of gratitude, and it was in his power to assist them to the possession of their ancient capital, and so complete the work he had begun. He did not think it was too much to say that without the intervention of the Emperor of the French the power of the Italian people to obtain their liberty would have been utterly hopeless; now, on the other hand, by refusing to accede to the reasonable demands of the people of Italy the Emperor was gradually destroying his own influence upon the affairs of the Continent generally. The withdrawal of the French troops from Rome appeared to him (Mr. St. Aubyn) to be the only step that could obviate the disasters of a long and bloody war, that could strengthen the Imperial policy and ensure the peace of the civilized world. He regretted that the Motion of the hon. Gentleman opposite was not one that was calculated to elicit a strong feeling on the part of the House of Commons. It was possible that a Resolution of the House of Commons might have some little influence upon that arm that was directing the movements of so many men around the capital of Rome. It was not the less important and necessary, when a question of vital importance was brought before the House, that they should give expression to their views. He regretted the hon. Gentleman had not taken the opinion of the House upon the Italian question. He trusted, however, that during the debate sufficient evidence would be given to prove the real opinions, not only of this House, but of the country generally, on this important subject of Italian affairs.


said, he should not have intruded himself if he had not heard some very strong opinions expressed by the two hon. Gentlemen who had preceded him; but he thought that neither Austria nor the Pope were likely to feel very grateful for the good advice tendered them by the hon. Gentleman opposite and his hon. Friend—the one of whom advised Austria to cede Venetia and the other the Pope to retire from Rome. His (Mr. Cochrane's) views, and he believed those of the noble Lord the Secretary for Foreign Affairs, who, a few nights ago, insisted on the importance of keeping Austria strong, were that she should continue to possess the important province of Venetia. He did not regret that this sub- ject had been brought forward. The Italian question had not been properly discussed hitherto, but it had been brought forward on occasions only to be made a question bearing upon the conduct of the Pope and the King of Naples. He said the question ought to be, What was the interest of England in the foreign policy of Her Majesty's Government? He, for one, did not think that our foreign policy was such as to promote the interests of England on the Continent. Our position with regard to the Continent was an exceptional and an extraordinary one. We had at that moment literally not one ally in Europe. We had estranged ourselves from France by our ridiculous fears of invasion from that quarter. We had estranged Austria and all our old allies by our unnecessary interference in the internal affairs of other countries. And at the present moment Her Majesty's Government were arming the whole country from dread of the only Power which we professed to have as an ally. He was struck by the observations of the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary for the Home Department yesterday, and he was desirous of seeing how the principle which that right hon. Gentleman then enunciated was to be carried out by Her Majesty's Government. Those observations arose on the question of the war in America. The right hon. Gentleman said it was in the contemplation of the Government to issue a Proclamation for the purpose of cautioning all Her Majesty's subjects from interfering in the hostilities that were going on between the Northern and Southern States of America, and that in that Proclamation the general principle of our laws would be laid down—that principle being that no British subject should enter the service of any foreign Power or engage in any hostilities carried on between foreign States. This was an admirable principle. But had this admirable principle been always applied? He thought he had heard of a foreign legion being recruited for service in the Neapolitan States. He thought he had heard that an office had been opened in Westminster in order to recruit a legion for Garibaldi. He asked whether, if the principle laid down in the speech of the right hon. Gentleman was a sound and proper principle, why it was not consistently carried out? He asked whether it was straightforward and consistent to allow recruiting to go forward in this country to assist an ambitious Power in an aggression upon an old ally? Prussia, too, was a most faithful ally, which had rendered us the most important services in 1814. Without referring to the merits of the case of Captain Macdonald, he thought it was to be regretted that the noble Viscount at the head of the Government should have made such observations against the Government of Prussia as he had done the other night—observations which had excited the strongest feelings of disapprobation in Prussia towards the Government of this country. They had heard statements made about the peaceable state of Italy. The telegrams, however, which arrived every morning from that part of the Continent informed us that there existed now in Italy all the elements of disorganization. The noble Lord the Secretary for Foreign Affairs had in his memorable despatch of October last laid down the principle that if a majority of the people chose they might change their form of Government. [Lord JOHN RUSSELL: Nothing of the kind.] The noble Lord might not have used those precise words, but he said that each nation was the best judge of the form of Government to which it was to be subject [Cheers]. He (Mr. Cochrane) regretted that cheer, because it struck at the root of all constitutional order. Why, then, was not that principle applied to the Ionian Islands, the inhabitants of which almost unanimously desired to get rid of British authority? The noble Lord stated the other night that there had been no disturbances in the Ionian Islands.


said, the hon. Gentleman was out of order in referring to a past debate on the Ionian Islands on a Motion for copies of despatches relating to the Austrian Constitution.


said, he was merely referring to the case of the Ionian Islands as an illustration of the argument of nationality. Although the noble Lord stated there had not been any disturbances in the Ionian Islands, the newspapers of that morning mentioned the fact of some serious disturbances having occurred in Zante. Referring to the despatch of the noble Lord, he thought that the policy therein laid down was calculated to prejudice English interests on the Continent instead of creating respect for our power and our institutions.


I wish to make some observations upon the speech of the hon. Member who has brought forward this subject. I do not think it would be advisable to produce the despatches to which he referred. They are despatches not entering accurately, or with much of remark, into the present constitution of the Austrian Empire. Of course there are among them official papers, but those papers have appeared in the Vienna Gazette; they have been copied into the newspapers of this country, and, on the whole, I do not think I should be justified in producing these papers to Parliament. Undoubtedly it is a matter of great interest to this House and the country, but at the same time it is a matter the primary decision respecting which must rest with the Government of the Emperor of Austria. The Emperor of Austria has changed the institutions of his country, and has given his people a constitution, founded upon free principles. He has very lately declared the entire religious freedom of his Protestant subjects—a question upon which I had ventured more than once to remark that the Protestants of the Empire were entitled to greater consideration than they then received. With regard to the general constitution which he has given to the empire, it is, as the hon. Gentleman very fairly says, founded upon the principles of the United States' Senate. There are separate local bodies of representatives in Bohemia and in various other provinces, and each of these bodies sends members to the governing body—the Reichsrath. How this system will answer it is beyond our power to say. At all events, we cannot but rejoice that the principles of representative government are recognized, and that the representatives of the people are called together, and that to them will be submitted questions affecting the taxes and expenditure. We cannot but see in those provisions the germs of free representative government. And I hope there is no man so prejudiced against Austria as not to desire to see the Emperor and his people proceed together in the path of free representative institutions. But this grant of a constitution to Austria raises other questions which are of a very difficult nature. It is to be observed, with regard to the recent constitutions which have been created on the continent, that, while they give great satisfaction to the nation at large, in those States which are composed of people of different races and nationalities you do not excite the people against the Government, but you give greater scope to those popular feelings of jealousy, and perhaps of dislike which prevail among those races. Thus, in regard to Poland, since Alexander I. established a constitution in that country, there has been a strong feeling on the part of the Russian subjects of His Majesty against further concessions and further liberty being granted to Poland; and in the same way we find that the Liberal press of Vienna is quite against making further concessions to Hungary, The dissensions, therefore, which have occurred are not owing to attempts on the part of the Sovereign to coerce or act tyrannically towards his subjects, as to the efforts of the several national parties against each other. The Emperor of Austria, I believe, has intended to act fairly towards Hungary; but the people of Hungary are, as I think, very naturally attached to the ancient principles of their constitution. I quite agree with the hon. Gentleman that if the constitution of 1848, with a Foreign Minister, a War Minister, and a Finance Minister to Hungary, were effectually carried out, it would lead to the dismemberment of the Austrian Empire. What one must wish is that the principles of that ancient constitution may he observed, and that the Emperor as King of Hungary may be able to reconcile the desires of the people of Hungary for the continuance of their ancient national constitution with the unity of the Empire at large. It is a question of the utmost importance, requiring for its solution the wisdom of statesmen who thoroughly know those countries, and it would be very presumptuous, therefore, for any foreign Government to say in what way those great problems should be solved. All we can do is to show our sympathy both for the Sovereign of Austria, who is endeavouring to effect those great improvements, and for the people of Austria and the people of Hungary, and to express our heartfelt wish that they may be able to overcome these difficulties, and to give fresh stability to that ancient Empire of Austria and that ancient kingdom of Hungary by whose side we fought, not yesterday, or the day before, but throughout many of the troubles of old times. On the subject of Venetia I cannot venture to pronounce a positive and dogmatic opinion; but I must say that the inclination of my mind very much agrees with the opinion expressed by the hon. Member for Maldon (Mr. Peacocke). For a long period the empire of Austria had attached to it those provinces which now form the kingdom of Belgium, and the Austrian statesmen found that a great burden was imposed upon them by provinces so far removed from the seat of Government, in which there were fortresses which they were obliged to defend at very heavy cost whenever war took place between France and her neighbours. Any one looking at the diplomatic correspondence of that time will see that Austrian statesmen were always anxious to get rid of that burden; and at last, after the defeats which they sustained in Italy in 1796, they made what I have no doubt they thought a very beneficial arrangement, giving up the Low Countries altogether, and obtaining in their place the provinces on the Adriatic which had belonged to the Venetian Republic. I must say that I do not think that was a well-considered or well-principled arrangement. The Venetian Republic, which had never been an enemy of Austria, and which had been faithfully neutral in that war, was absolutely destroyed, and Austria obtained what was no less a burden to her than the Belgian provinces had been. The people of Venetia are not well affected towards Austria, and the attempts made by her to conciliate them seem always to have failed. The attempt now made to obtain representatives from Venetia to be sent to Vienna have failed also from that national feeling which prevails in Venetia, and which we are told would make it unsafe for anybody to go from Venice to Vienna. That is a most unsafe tenure for any governing Power to have of its provinces. I must say, at the same time, that the accusations against Austria on this subject are often very incorrect. This House and the English public have lately read a very able despatch from Count Cavour on the subject of the formation of the kingdom of Italy and the conduct of that kingdom towards Austria; and hon. Gentlemen will probably have observed in that despatch an assertion of Count Cavour that for a long time there has been a state of siege in Venice. But the Austrian Ambassador brought me a despatch the other day from Count Rechberg, in which he says that a short time after the Treaty of Villafranca the state of siege was raised, and has never since existed in the province at all. He denies, also, some other assertions; but, although those assertions may be inexact, and although many of the charges of tyranny against the Austrian Government are not true, it is quite true that there are continual attempts in Venice to show their dislike and disaffection towards Austria, and that those attempts are punished by the Austrian Government. There seems, unfortunately for Austria, such a disaffection in Venice towards the Austrian Government that, in my opinion, Venetia can never form part of the strength of the Austrian Empire; nor, as long as Venetia forms part of the Austrian Empire, can it be said that Austria and Italy, or even Germany and Italy, can ever be on those terms of amity which are so desirable for the maintenance of the balance of power in Europe. How that problem is to be solved I know not; but he would be no true friend of Austria who would tell her that the provinces of Venetia formed part of her strength, or that she ought to waste her military power or impose heavy burdens on her people for the sake of maintaining them. I speak of these things, not as matters of internal concern, but as matters which affect the general interests of Europe. I trust, with Count Cavour, the day may come when this question may be settled without war by a general agreement between Austria, Italy, and the Powers of Europe. We have yet to hear what the Austrian Chamber of Deputies—what their House of Commons—may think with respect to these questions; what they may think as to the heavy taxes which the Austrian people have to pay, how these taxes will be best distributed, and what amount of army they should maintain. All these are questions for the representatives of the Austrian people to settle with their Government, and it is for them to consider in what way the empire can best be served. I have already stated that I do not think that, although there is no secret about the matter, it would be desirable to produce the papers asked for, and which relate so entirely to the internal affairs of Austria. I will only repeat, whatever reproaches I may bring upon myself of being an old-fashioned politician holding obsolete notions, I have undoubtedly formed and do entertain the strongest desire for the prosperity and the reviving strength of the empire of Austria.


said, he would withdraw his Motion.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.