HC Deb 29 June 1863 vol 171 cc1663-5

said, he was far from being satisfied with the answer that had been given by his hon. Friend the Under Secretary of State respecting the answer to the notes recently sent to St. Petersburg. The hon. Gentleman had stated, no doubt quite accurately, that the Government was not aware that any answer had been received, and that no such answer had been communicated to his Department. It was, however, generally believed that an answer was received in London on Saturday, and it was considered remarkable that the Government should have allowed forty-eight hours to elapse without having ascertained whether any such answer had arrived at the Russian Embassy. As the close of the Session was approaching, he wished to point out to the House the danger they were in of finding themselves in a similar position to that in which they were placed in the same month ten years ago. In June 1863 they found themselves in the same relations towards Russia as in June 1853, with this difference—that then they were negotiating in favour of Turkey, and now they were negotiating in favour of Poland. But the negotiating Powers were the same. Russia, on the one hand, France and England on the other, and Austria playing her own game between them. Austria played her game successfully in 1853, when she managed to protract negotiations through the Parliamentary Session, which closed before the House could have the discussion for which his hon. Friend the Under Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs then so vehemently pressed, and for which the Government was in vain asked to fix a day. The Queen, in proroguing Parliament, was advised to say that there were the best prospects of the maintenance of peace, and when Parliament met again it found there was a state of war. What had been the course now? The negotiations had been pro longed throughout the whole of the Session by the instrumentality of Austria The Russian answer to the notes of the three Powers was received in May, and it was seven weeks before the replies of England and France were sent off, because it appeared from the public papers that they had to wait six or seven weeks for the reply of Austria, and even after that the friends of Austria in this country managed to obtain a further postponement of discussion. But the analogy between the two periods was not yet complete. Every one remembered the Vienna note, and the famous four points, which were accepted by Russia and rejected by Turkey, because the latter discovered in them a trap, which France and England also perceived when pointed out by Turkey. But Russia, having accepted the four points, insisted that the Powers should enforce their acceptance upon the Porte, and then it turned out that Russia had accepted these points upon a construction of her own—one different to that adopted by France and England; and it also turned out that Austria, who was professedly acting with the Western Powers, had all the time a secret understanding with Russia. At the present time, Austria proposed, not four, but six points; and it was generally believed and stated in journals of high authority abroad, that while professedly acting with France and England, Austria had separate communications with Russia. It was also said that Russia was about to accept the six points, and, if so, she would only accept them again in a dishonest sense; but if she did accept them, she would call upon England and France to enforce their acceptance upon the Poles. The move would be a dexterous and safe one for Russia, but it would be an embarrassing one for England. We should be placed in a twofold difficulty—first, of assuring the assent of the Poles to those conditions; and next, of guaranteeing the faithful observance of them by Russia. He did not believe that Parliament would sanction such obligations; but the present situation confirmed the truth of what he had often maintained, that Parliamentary discussion should precede, and not follow, negotiation; and if that rule had been acted on, the Ministry would have been saved from rushing headlong into a quagmire by following an Austrian will-o'-the-wisp. They might be placed in a discreditable and embarrassing position, and it was necessary Parliament should have time to discuss the matter and to extricate themselves. He believed that a peaceful and safe extrication was possible if they acted with promptness and determination, and insisted that no more time should be lost in waiting for papers or the printing of documents. They had papers enough if they were earnest and determined to do their duty; and therefore, with the warning of 1853 before them, he hoped they would not allow the Session to close without having had a full and satisfactory discussion; and they should also insist that not a day should be lost before the answer of Russia to the notes should be communicated to the House, which should set its face against any further endeavours of postponement, that cannot be otherwise than degrading to Parliament and damaging to the interests of the country. I conclusion, he wished to give notice that he would ask the Under Secretary, on the following day, to state distinctly whether the Government had ascertained whether any answer had arrived in London to the notes of the three Powers communicating the six points to Russia.