HC Deb 22 February 1864 vol 173 cc862-88

Sir, I wish to make an inquiry of Her Majesty's Government as to our relations with Denmark, but I do not see the noble Lord (Viscount Palmerston) in his place; and if I pursue the inquiry for a moment, it is because it is not the first time we have been so unfortunate, at this critical period of public business, and I almost despair of seeing the noble Lord in his place when information can be given to us. In reference to the Question asked just now by the noble Lord the Member for Stamford (Lord Robert Cecil), I must say that I do not think that the Government are acting considerately and fairly to the House of Commons in this matter. The first night of the Session I called the attention of the House to the remarkable circumstance that no papers were presented or promised on the all-absorbing subject of the hour, and the most important topic in the Speech of the Lords Commissioners. The noble Lord at the head of the Government seemed to be somewhat irritated that any com- ment should be made on that subject. He said the reason why the papers were not promised in the Speech was that the Ministers had a desire not to lengthen the Speech, but that, of course, the papers would be produced, and that it was not necessary to inform the House of what every Member had a right to expect. Well, it was a very curious thing, of which we were not aware at that moment, that almost at the same time another account was given in another place by the noble Earl the Foreign Secretary on the same subject, which did not at all agree with the explanation of the noble Lord at the head of the Government; for when in another place surprise was expressed on the first night of the Session at the absence of any papers on Denmark, the Secretary of State explained the matter in this way—he said that the negotiations had most unexpectedly terminated; he gave the House to understand that Her Majesty's Government had no anticipation that they would have so terminated, and that consequently no preparation had been made for the production of the papers; and the impression in another place was, that there was no prospect of the papers being shortly produced. Then, when frequent appeals were made to the Under Secretary of State, all that we could obtain from the hon. Gentleman was to deprecate the pressure and to lament the great task which had been put upon him, of having to prepare and print papers extending to 600 pages; and to-night he says that the quantity of the papers will astonish and satisfy the House. Sir, allow me to remind the House that before the Crimean war the House met on the 31st of January, and that on the 2nd of February, papers laid on the table the first night were not only printed, but distributed, and were in the hands of Members. And what were those papers? They were in two parts, one consisting of 400 pages, the other of 378, being, according to the estimate of the Under Secretary of State a much more considerable mass of papers than those which are now to be laid before the House. They were presented on the first night of the Session, and in three days they were in the hands of every Member. Moreover, in that case the negotiations were not finished at the time, for it was not till the 27th of March following that her Majesty announced that negotiations had fruitlessly terminated, and that war was about to be declared. Under those circumstances, the House had the advantage of the great mass of papers prepared for them while the negotiations were pending, and while the opinion of the House could be brought to bear in a manner calculated to influence events. Therefore the position taken in another place that papers ought not to be produced till the negotiations are terminated, is not correct in principle or warranted by precedent. Take another case, which occurred in the present Parliament. What happened after the termination of the negotiations which preceded the Italian war? Why, the moment the new Parliament was formed, I presented the papers to the House. We had, it is true, no opportunity of considering them, for immediately afterwards the noble Lord (Earl Russell) sanctioned and supported a vote of want of confidence, principally on account of our management of foreign affairs. He was successful in his Motion, he succeeded us in office, and took his seat on that (the Ministerial) bench, and about a week afterwards he, with great frankness, announced that he was pursuing precisely the same policy with his predecessors. However, I must say that the noble Lord persisted in that policy for a very brief space. For the last four years he has pursued a line peculiar to himself, and I congratulate the noble Lord on having established a name which bears terror to no country except his own. As regards the papers in question, I think, so far as precedent is concerned, so far as the benefit of the public service is concerned, it is clear that, according to the habit of Parliament and those rules and principles of common sense which exert more powerful influence in the House than even Standing Orders, it is clear that this is the first occasion of equal importance that the House has been left so entirely in the dark. Negotiations have been going on in this case for weeks and months and years, just as those which formerly took place relating to the differences between the Latin and Greek Churches; yet, in the latter case, the noble Lord, on the 2nd February, 1855, laid the papers on the table. But, left as we are in this forlorn condition, having sat here for several weeks, and with the possibility of shortly meeting our constituents, we are unable to give them the slightest idea of what has happened. In addition to this, much has happened in the interval which might have afforded the Government opportunities of imparting very important and interesting information to the House of Commons, which would have thrown some light on the state of Europe. The other night an hon. Gentleman rose and asked a question of importance as to the relations between Germany and Denmark. The noble Lord at the head of the Government answered the question, but incidentally; and, by-the-bye, he informed the House that Her Majesty's Government had agreed to mediate between the contending parties; that they had proposed an armistice; and that they had made the proposition under circumstances which they regarded as favourable to its acceptance. He intimated with delicacy, but with no great amount of precision, an expectation that Austria at least would take a sensible view of the case. Now, let the House pause and consider the importance of that announcement. There are the Ministers who, year after year, have contended in this House, that it is most unwise to propose a mediation between contending States, if there is no chance of that mediation being accepted. You all know—both sides of the House are aware—of the instance to which I allude; and, although I do not wish to introduce a name and a subject which might excite unnecessary controversy, still we are all aware that, year after year, this great maxim of statecraft has been impressed upon the House by the noble Lord and his Colleagues. What was the natural inference, then, which the House drew on the occasion? They said, "If these Ministers who will not sanction mediation between contending States, except with a probability of success, have agreed to mediate between Denmark and Germany, it is quite clear that they expect that the result of their mediation will be successful." That was the natural conclusion to which the House came; and every Member went home almost with a conviction that there was a chance of seeing some conciliatory and honourable termination of these great and deplorable disasters. A few days afterwards there was an authentic rumour— at least a telegram which bore the appearance of authenticity—that these negotiations had failed, that Her Majesty's Government had attempted to mediate, had proposed an armistice, and that the result had not been satisfactory. Still, it was only a rumour. I came down to the House to give an opportunity to the noble Lord to offer those explanations which every one in the House, and every one in the country, awaited with the greatest anxiety. Every one expected that a Minister, and a Prime Minister, who had made that communication to the House on Friday, with these rumours circulated and credited in every part of the metropolis, would follow it up as was his duty to do, and come forward in his place and enlighten and guide public opinion. But the noble Lord was not here. I appealed to the noble Lord's Colleagues. I asked Her Majesty's Government, I asked every Member of the Cabinet, who on such a subject one would imagine to be sufficiently well informed and impressed with a sense of their common responsibility, and would have been only too ready to satisfy the natural desire of the House and of the nation. There was a dead silence. At last, the Under Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, who appears to do all the work of the Government, rose, and with becoming modesty, asked permission to announce to the House that Her Majesty's Government had made another diplomatic failure. All the information he gave was limited to that result. The House did not want to be assured of the want of success of Her Majesty's Government, and of the disappointment which they and the country necessarily felt; but they did want some light to be thrown upon the subject—they wanted to know the reasons which had induced the Prime Minister—the Prime Minister who is so opposed to mediation unless there is a great probability of success, and who would not venture to propose an armistice unless assured beforehand that it would be assented to—to lead the House to believe that one of the invading Powers, at the very moment when he gave the notification, was apparently animated by more rational and more conciliatory sentiments than we had given her credit for —one would have thought that the noble Lord would have made it a matter of special public duty to have come forward and entered into the necessary explanations. But the noble Lord was not here. And what followed? Some little time after that an hon. Gentleman asked another question about this subject of Denmark and Germany, respecting which the House of Commons are, I believe, the least informed of any public body in Europe. And the noble Lord, replying to an inquiry whether Jutland had been invaded, gave an answer in that vein which, in the good old times used to be called "King Cambyses' vein," but which latterly has become peculiarly the property of the noble Lord; and certainly the noble Lord uttered some words which in old times would have alarmed Europe and animated the House of Commons, but which in the present instance were received with that depression and despondency which now usually accompany such expressions on the part of the noble Lord, because experience has proved to us that they generally herald the humiliation of our country. There was a pang of anguish throughout the country when they heard that Jutland was invaded. Everybody felt that that was too much—every one said that that was the last drop in the cup. It was mentioned only yesterday that there was an authentic rumour—I credited it myself—that the Prussians had repented of their conduct, and had relinquished the position which they had taken up in Jutland. They found that they had made a mistake—and they said so. That is the report. The Prussians found that they had made a mistake in going into Jutland—as if they had not made a great many mistakes in the invasion before—and that they had retreated from that portion of the old continental kingdom of Denmark. I believe they had not heard the noble Lord's words at the time—probably if they had they would have remained there. But Monday comes after an anxious Sunday, and we naturally wish to know, is there any truth in that account which has now reached us, that the Prussians have retreated from the ill-advised position which they had taken up?—because, after all, the chances of a general war may very much depend upon incidents of that kind. The noble Lord is again absent, and we are again without any one to guide us on this subject. It is not, therefore, merely with regard to these papers that the House of Commons has been scurvily treated, but in these repeated instances where information and explanation might have been, and ought to have been given to us, the House of Commons is equally treated with carelessness and disrespect. What I want to know from Her Majesty's Ministers—and I hope I shall get an answer although the noble Lord does not present himself—is, on what ground did they rest their hope that the offer of mediation would be accepted by the contending parties—by which of the contending parties was it refused—was it refused by the Danes or by the Germans— was it refused by both of the invading Powers? These are all questions of the utmost interest and importance to which we have a right to expect an answer from the Government. On what ground did the noble Lord think that Austria was about to adopt a rational and conciliatory course towards Europe? Is it or is it not true that Prussia invaded Jutland and then receded from the position she had assumed? We want light, we want knowledge, on these subjects from Her Majesty's Ministers. It is our duty to make these inquiries. It is our right to receive this information. Is the House of Commons to go on in this way upon a subject which now engrosses all the interest and passion of Europe—a subject with respect to which men on the Royal Exchange are talking as much as of all the matters of their business—for their business greatly depends on the course of public policy in these matters; I say that the place where the most information ought to be given—the most authentic information—is the House of Commons; and yet this is the place where we obtain the least information and the least authentic information. I ask the House to consider their position — how much it touches their honour in the country. Suppose you were sent to your constituencies to morrow—I put that inquiry before you because there are frequent rumours that such an event may not be far distant—how would you meet your constituents? Suppose a man in the crowd to say "How about Denmark?" what answer could you give? This touches the honour and the interest of the House of Commons. I want to put the House — not merely the Gentlemen on this side, but the House generally—in their right position. It may be a matter of perfect indifference to her Majesty's Government that they are the derision of every Court in Europe, but we do not want to be the laughing-stock of our constituents. And, therefore, we must make an effort to put an end to this highly unsatisfactory state of affairs. We must take some means by which we can obtain authentic information—by which these papers may be placed on the table—and by which we may obtain some explanation of the negotiations which Her Majesty's Government have commenced and conducted unsuccessfully without any communications being made to Parliament, and which must unquestionably, in their character and con- duct, greatly affect the course of future events.


Sir, I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman is wise in the tone in which he has referred to the absence of my noble Friend from the House; because most certainly, if in the annals of this country, there has been any man who ever occupied the dignified position of my noble Friend, and who by unsparing sacrifices of his own comfort, with even more serious risk to health, has been ready at all times to place himself on this bench, whenever he could serve the House of Commons, that man has been my noble Friend. It may, perhaps, have occurred to the impartial auditors of the speech of the right hon. Gentleman, that it is a matter of some difficulty to know what the object of that speech has been. The right hon. Gentleman, a master of political fireworks, has no difficulty in producing at a moment's notice any amount of display. But these are matters of grave consideration, and those who speak like my noble Friend at the head of the Government, or like my hon. Friend near me (Mr. Layard) the able representative of the Foreign Department in this House, are bound to consider that their business is not so much to inquire how they may say smart things for the satisfaction of those who sit behind them, but how they can hold language which is most compatible with the dignity of the country, and least calculated to compromise it in the eyes of foreign nations in seasons of difficulty. I therefore, Sir, renounce all efforts to follow the right hon. Gentleman in his brilliant career, but, endeavouring to extract from his speech the few practical points to which it referred, I would reply to them as follows: — The real substratum of the speech is the non-production of the papers. It is the fact that the papers relating to Danish affairs were not ready for production at the opening of Parliament. That was explained by my noble Friend (Earl Russell) in another place, and the fact that they were not ready for immediate production, was accounted for by the undoubted and uniform rule of the Department with regard to negotiations which have not yet reached an issue; and, at the same time, my noble Friend and my hon. Friend near me (Mr. Layard) expressing their regret for the inconvenience to which the House was put, promised that the preparation of those papers should be accelerated with all the despatch at the command of the Foreign Office. Beyond that expression of regret and that promise, I do not know what it was in their power to do. And when the right hon. Gentleman refers to the case of papers relating to the negotiations preceding the Crimean war, he refers to matters hardly relevant to the point. In the interesting and difficult question relating to the present unhappy collision between Germany and Denmark, or rather the present unhappy aggression of Austria and Prussia upon Denmark, Great Britain has been a friendly bystander. In the negotiations antecedent to the Crimean war Great Britain was a principal, and was one of the two great Powers engaged in carrying that matter to an issue, which ended in hostilities, conducted on a gigantic scale. The right hon. Gentleman, says my noble Friend (Earl Russell) assumed the character of a mediator, and that in that character he made the suggestion of an armistice between the contending parties. It is quite true the suggestion of an armistice was made, but not true that it was made in the character of a mediator. It was necessary to give effect, I will not say to the arguments, but to the taunts of the right hon. Gentleman, that he should himself invent that circumstance, in order to give point to his remarks, because it enabled him to say that that which was done in the character of mediator must have been done with a likely probability of success; and now says the right hon. Gentleman, I will point out how it has not succeeded. But the fact is that the suggestion was not made in the character of a mediator at all. It was a suggestion entitled to attention. It was done in a friendly spirit, and in co-operation with other Powers, animated by a like spirit; and whether a proposal of that nature, judicious in itself, be acceptable to the passions of the contending parties or not, it is my belief that it will be appreciated by the country. Finally, the right hon. Gentleman complains that Her Majesty's Government have not given him information on the undoubtedly very interesting and important question, whether the Prussian forces have or have not evacuated Jutland. The simple reason for that is that Her Majesty's Government do not happen to possess the information. The right hon. Gentleman is not generally behind the age, but he appears to forget the fundamental difference which has been brought about in the position of the Government in reference to the receipt of foreign intelligence since the introduction of the electric telegraph; and that information not altogether correct, and sometimes altogether incorrect, or of a most erroneous character, is constantly conveyed to the public on most important points by the newspapers before the despatches addressed to the Prime Minister or Foreign Minister have arrived. With respect to the evacuation of Jutland Her Majesty's Government have had communications, but not of so clear and conclusive a character as to justify them in stating anything to the House on the subject; and I think the House will be of opinion that they would grossly depart from their duty if, in their anxiety to convey early information to the House, they neglected, first of all, to satisfy themselves of its correctness.


Sir, the explanation just given by the right hon. Gentleman only adds another to the list of confusions already produced by the different interpretations given of the same transactions, not only by Ministers sitting in different Houses of Parliament, but by Ministers sitting on the same bench. As we at present understand the right hon. Gentleman, when Parliament met the Government was engaged in negotiations which promised to be lengthy, and had made up their minds not to give the Danish Papers to Parliament until these lengthy negotiations had terminated. But when we interrogated the noble Lord at the head of the Government on the first night of the Session as to the probable time when the Danish Papers would appear, he gave us no hint that they would he delayed till the termination of the current negotiations. He told us they would appear as soon as they could be got ready; and there was every reason to believe that it was simply owing to a delay in the office where they were printed that they were not produced. I dare say, when the noble Lord returns to the House we shall have yet another version of this mysterious question. The right hon. Gentleman tells us that England was only a friendly bystander in the course of these negotiations. These words exactly hit the reason why we are so anxious to get at these papers. We want to know if England has been nothing but a friendly bystander. In the course of the winter certain Correspondence appeared in "the ordinary channels of information"—in fact, all the information we have received has been through the medium of the newspapers—between Earl Russell and the Saxon Minister (Von Beust). I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman will say that the letter of Earl Russell was strictly that of a friendly bystander; but not only was that Correspondence with Saxony, but with other German Courts, and we were told that some of it was conceived in a very lively and spirited manner. What we want to know is, whether the Correspondence with Bavaria, Wurtemburg, and, possibly, with Austria and Prussia, was conceived in the spirit of a friendly bystander, as the noble Lord understands that character? We want to know if the same kind of language has been exchanged between England and these Courts as in the case of Saxony? There is another point of the character of friendly bystander on which some explanation is due to the House, and respecting which we are anxious to get these papers —what sort of pledges, real or implied, have we given to Denmark in the course of this friendly bystanding? What have we urged Denmark to do, which she has done on our advice? We have heard something of the recommendation to vacate Holstein, given by the British Government to Denmark. We do not know whether that recommendation was made— it has been carefully kept from us. But it is no unimportant point. With Denmark, time was everything. If she could have lengthened out the war, the elements, which were against her, would have become more favourable to her, and other allies in other directions would have sprung up to prevent her being left alone as she now is; that hypocritical Power, which, with one foot on Venetia and another upon Hungary, turns northward and calls herself the champion of nationalities, if time had been allowed to Denmark, would have been taught the danger of the course she was running. You could not have done Denmark a more fatal injury than in advising any concession which tended to shorten the campaign. Did Denmark consent to evacuate Holstein on the advice of Her Majesty's Government; and, if so, how far is the honour of England compromised by reason of the misfortunes which have since fallen on Denmark? Other rumours have reached us, with respect to which the House is bound to know the truth or the falsehood. It is said, that when Sweden was willing to assist a country belonging to the same blood as herself, our advice was interposed, and that delay was urged. We have a right to know how far the doctrine of being a friendly bystander should be carried. The right hon. Gentleman says we are merely a friendly bystander. Does he remember the pledge given by the noble Lord at the head of the Government in his place last year? Does he know that not only in England but in Europe the question is asked, "Is Denmark alone?" The noble Lord told us that if the German Confederation crossed the Eider and took Schleswig, they would find that Denmark was not alone. That pledge is well known. It is well known what language we have used to Denmark —how we have pressed our advice upon her—how she has yielded to our entreaties. It is well known how British diplomacy is valued in every German Court. It is well known what our diplomacy is— how we try by mere words to frighten those whose policy we mean to stop, and with what impatient scorn all our menaces have been thrust aside. The recollection of the conduct of the Government in the case of Poland—the recollection of words without deeds to follow them, has produced towards us the most bitter contempt in every Court in Europe. These matters are interesting to the House of Commons. We do not desire merely to read lengthy papers of historical interest. We want to know how far the honour of England has been pledged—how far it has been slurred by threats employed, or hopes held out which have not been followed by deeds— how far our principles have been compromised by promises of assistance, which have not been realized. And, therefore, we have a right to demand that at the earliest period every possible information shall be laid before us.


Sir, it seems to me that if the intelligent foreigner who is sometimes supposed to sit under our gallery be in the House on the present occasion, he would be much puzzled to discover that this was the British House of Commons; for it would seem to him, as it appears to a great many people in the country, that a more docile set of Englishmen never sat upon these benches. Why, Sir, what are we about to do at the present moment? War is raging in the north of Europe, and men are losing their lives by thousands. The Government has explained to-night — or rather it has not explained, for when the Chancellor of the Exchequer taunted the right hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Disraeli) with being a great master of fireworks, his fireworks at least threw some light on the subject; whereas the Chancellor of the Exchequer, answering for the Government, succeeded in doing a thing which I thought almost impossible — namely, in making more confused the question of Schleswig-Holstein—for whether we are at this instant mediators for Denmark, or a friendly bystander between the two parties, I defy any Member of the House to understand. The question I want to put is this—In what position does this House stand at the present moment? War is raging in America—war is raging in Denmark—there is a report that Denmark Proper has been attacked by Prussia:— And how is the House of Commons treated? What information have we as to the policy of the Government—as to their past policy and present intentions? Why, Sir, not a single paper of importance has been laid upon the table from which we can obtain information. And if, as has been said, time was of the greatest importance to the Danes, it appears to me that, in this instance, time is of the greatest importance to Her Majesty's Ministers, and that they are determined not to give this information, but to wait for the chapter of accidents—possibly, as is said by Sir Abel Handy in the play, "until the fire goes out of itself." That is the position of the Government; and what is the position of the House? Here we come sneaking to our places day by day, having nothing to do when we are in our places on home policy, and asking questions on the foreign policy of this country; and the House has never yet had an answer what that foreign policy is. While our friendly allies were being butchered, the British Government is looking on as a cool bystander, taking no measures, as far as the House of Commons knows, to afford assistance; and while the First Minister of the Crown in his place uses language of intimidation and menace, this country is reduced to this position, that in every foreign print shop an Englishman is represented a subject of ridicule; and then the Government comes down complacently—at least, I dare say, in a few minutes the noble Lord the Secretary for the Admiralty will come down— and move a vote of a reduction in the navy, while, if there be any truth in the appearance of things, or any meaning in the threats of the Prime Minister, we ought at least to be preparing for a continental war. Well, Sir, I say if this be a House of Commons with common spirit, do not let us be satisfied with merely getting up and using language, as the Chancellor of the Exchequer very properly says, throwing up harmless fireworks, but let us have a vote. Now, Sir, I feel so strongly the humiliating position in which this House is placed, that if I meet with any encouragement, I will move a vote which shall test whether these are real or artificial fireworks, and perhaps clear up the fog which hangs on the Treasury Bench. I say, Sir, that we have no business to vote these Navy Estimates, with a reduction of 5,000 men and boys—we have no business to come to the consideration of this vital subject, until we know the position of the country with regard to Germany and Denmark. Therefore, if I meet with common support—unless, indeed, my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade will get up and give some explanation of the Schleswig-Holstein question, which he is said to be so peculiarly master of; unless that happens, I shall move that these Navy Estimates be postponed until the papers relating to the Schleswig-Holstein and German question be laid on the table of the House. I move that the consideration of the Navy Estimates be postponed to this day three weeks.


seconded the Motion.

Amendment proposed, To leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "the Consideration of the Navy Estimates be postponed till this day three weeks,"—(Mr. Osborne,) —instead thereof.


I am also anxious for a postponement of the Estimates, but not to quite so remote a day as the hon. Gentleman opposite, and on different grounds. Only a week has been allowed for the consideration of the Estimates and the three volumes of explanations which accompanied them, and it is impossible for Members to do justice to them in that time. These papers have been drawn up in a most masterly manner, and they deserve to be studied with care. There are one or two questions of importance involved in the Estimates, which also demand attention. I think a short postponement should take place, to enable the House of Commons to understand what they are voting about. ["Oh!" "Divide!"]


I have to say, in answer to the hon. and gallant Member, that the Government have adopted only the same course as last year, and Members will have exactly the same time to consider the Estimates. If the hon. and gallant Gentleman, however, wishes the House first to read up all the pamphlets he speaks of, it is impossible to say when the Estimates will come on.


I hope the House will not be drawn off the question. I quite understand the dexterity of the noble Lord; but the Navy Estimates are not now the question. The question is, whether or not we are to know anything about Denmark; and, more than that, the position of the Government is in question. If the Ministers are placed in a minority on this occasion, hon. Members can imagine what the consequences must be. [An hon. MEMBER: Nothing at all.] Well, it seems to me quite clear, that if the Amendment of the hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. B. Osborne) were carried, it would mean that the House of Commons had no confidence in the Government, as regarded its foreign policy. As far as I am personally concerned, that is my opinion, and any Gentleman in the House who shares in the view, and has courage in his heart, ought to vote in favour of the Amendment.


Sir, if there be any fog near to my hon. Friend, or anywhere else, it is desirable that it should be dispelled before the House gives a vote. The construction put upon that vote by the hon. and learned Member for Sheffield (Mr. Roebuck) I am not prepared to say is an untrue construction. It is certainly a fundamental, though an ordinary part of the business of the country that is standing for discussion to-night—namely, that we should go into Committee of Supply to consider of the Navy Estimates. My hon. Friend (Mr. B. Osborne) has taken a step perhaps the strongest any gentleman could take by a directly hostile Motion against the Government, without any notice whatever. My hon. Friend, who rallies us upon our state of darkness, appears to me to be hardly in the clearest condition of understanding himself, when on a sudden he undertook to propose this Motion. There are no new facts before the House. The position in which my hon. Friend now finds himself is this, that the papers relating to the Danish negotiations have not been produced. That was a fact perfectly within the knowledge of my hon. Friend at the time when notice was given that Her Majesty's Government would, propose to-night to proceed with the ordinary business of the country; and if my hon. Friend was of opinion that the non-production of the Danish papers at a particular time was a reason why we should not proceed with the ordinary business of the country, it was competent to him to have given notice to challenge that course of proceeding. Perhaps my hon. Friend may say that he wishes to declare his want of confidence in the foreign policy of the Government, and the hon. and learned Member for Sheffield, with perfect frankness and fairness, has placed the Motion on that ground; but again I return to my point, and say it was due to my hon. Friend himself, Her Majesty's Government, and to the House of Commons, if a Motion was to be taken impeaching the foreign policy of the Government, and declaring a want of confidence in that foreign policy on the part of this House, that notice should have been given; and, therefore, when I meet the taunts of my hon. Friend, about our state of darkness, with expressing a doubt that his own mind had not been in the clearest state when he made his proposal, it is because I think the proposal he has made is not consistent with the rules or proceedings of Parliament, and if he entertain seriously that intention, he ought to have allowed hon. Members to be aware of it. If my hon. Friend is disposed to give notice of such a Motion, or if the hon. and learned Gentleman opposite (Mr. Roebuck) feels that disposition, I can only say, that no person will be more ready to join issue on the subject than those who compose Her Majesty's Government.


I wish to say a word of explanation. It is totally impossible for me, or for any other Member of the House, to know what is the foreign policy of the Government until the papers are presented. ["Order!"] I shall certainly go on with my Amendment.


Sir, the House is placed in a position of a critical kind ["Hear!"] Although the hon. Gentleman opposite may think it extremely amusing, I doubt whether those whom he sits next to are of that opinion. I have never concealed of late my opinions on the foreign policy of Her Majesty's Government; and I should never hesitate, if any issue were placed before me, of giving my opinion, and acting on that opinion by my vote. But I certainly do think that it is of the greatest importance that the country should not say, whatever that decision may be, that the decision was arrived at by a surprise. It appears to me of the utmost importance that there should be fair notice of the intention of the House, and that a verdict should not be taken without such notice, especially in the absence of the head of the Government. It is perfectly open for the hon. Member, and the hon. and learned Member for Sheffield, to give notice of any Motion they like. They act quite independently of myself and my friends, and if they do not give notice of any Motion, I cannot doubt, in the present state of Europe, that an opportunity will be afforded to the House of Commons, unless they relinquish all their rights and obligations, of expressing their opinion, and that soon, on the foreign policy of the Government. I cannot conceive that this opportunity will not be afforded; generally speaking, we have information before us upon which the opinion of the House can be taken on the conduct of the Government. Papers are laid on the table of the House in all matters of negotiation, and they form the case of the Government, and it is to the advantage of a Government that papers should be produced. This year, we have been placed in a position that we have never been placed in before. We have not that information given to us which, as we have always hitherto supposed, it was for the advantage of the Government should be offered to the House; and, therefore, I am not surprised at the temper and disposition of the House under such circumstances. The Government must feel, I think, after to-night, that it is absolutely necessary, in order to meet the difficulties of this case, no longer to offer apologies which ad nauseam have been administered to the House. I cannot doubt that the papers will be on the table of the House immediately. When they are on the table it seems impossible that the House can refrain from giving a verdict one way or the other upon them. I entreat the House calmly to consider the position in which it is now placed. It is possible that an advantage might be gained over the Government; but assuming that, will it be satisfactory to us to-morrow to reflect that a verdict against the Government has been gained upon their foreign policy, without any notice, and in the absence of the Chief Minister of the Crown? I hope soon to see the Chief Minister of the Crown amongst us. The right hon. Gentleman seemed to intimate what was the cause of the absence of the noble Lord. It has not reached me by the usual means of social information, that the absence of the noble Lord was caused by indisposition. [Sir GEORGE GREY: Yes, it is!] I very much regret it, because under all circumstances the presence of the noble Lord is a source of satisfaction, but it would have been easy to have intimated it to the House. Upon that point I will not say another word; but it is an additional reason why the House should not come to a decision upon a vote which is accepted by the Government as a verdict upon their foreign policy. I condemn that policy, not merely with regard to Denmark and Germany only. I think it a deplorable and disastrous policy, calculated to reduce the influence and lower the character of the country. But the House of Commons should come to its conclusion after ample discussion, after an appeal to authentic documents, which would give solemnity and force to a decision of Parliament. That verdict ought not to be obtained by surprise, without discussion, and which it seems the present disposition of the House to do; and I trust the hon. Gentleman (the Member for Liskeard) who, in a very spirited manner, made the proposition, will, on reflection, feel that it will not only be without benefit to the conduct of public business, but that if he persists he will really prevent that very result which he most desires, namely, that the foreign policy of the Government should be fairly considered, and deliberately decided upon.


There is nothing which the Government can desire more than that the deliberate opinion of the House of Commons, and through the House of the country, should be expressed upon their foreign policy. At the same time, I entirely agree with the right hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Disraeli) that for the House to come to a vote upon that policy until the papers have been produced would be unworthy of the House. My hon. Friend the Under Secretary for Foreign Affairs has already stated more than once that the papers will be laid before the House at the earliest possible moment. When they have been laid on the table it will be open to the hon. Member for Liskeard, or any other hon. Member, after proper notice, to take the opinion of the House on the foreign policy of the Government. I have only to add with respect to my noble Friend at the head of the Government, that on calling on him this morning I found him suffering from a severe cold; and, in addition, he had a slight attack of the gout. He told me that he intended, if possible, to come down to the House to-night, but that he was going to see his physician, and that his presence here would depend upon the report he received. As he has not taken his seat, I am afraid that he has been forbidden to come down this evening.


If the Motion before us is pressed to a division, it is as well we should know what we are voting about. The hon. Member for Liskeard (Mr. Osborne), whatever I may think of his proposition, has given a very sensible explanation of it. He says it is not for us to come to a vote on the Navy Estimates, which involves the amount of our naval force, without knowing more clearly than we do at present, whether this country is likely to be plunged in war or not. But the hon. and learned Member for Sheffield (Mr. Roebuck) in his speech, and others by assent, have put an altogether different construction on the Motion of my hon. Friend. The hon. and learned Gentleman says it is to be taken as a vote of want of confidence in the Government. Be it so; but let it be understood that such is not the intention of the hon. Member for Liskeard. With the sense which hon. Gentlemen opposite wish to put upon this vote, it may be right and quite consistent with Parliamentary practice that proper notice should be given, and that a subject so important should be debated in the deliberate manner which it deserves; but that is a perfectly different thing from the Motion of my hon. Friend. If that Motion is withdrawn, the Navy Estimates will be proceeded with as a matter of course; the proposed reduction will probably be made; and so the decision of the House will be taken precisely on those points as to which my hon. Friend says we ought to have further information.


I am not prepared to go into a vote of want of confidence at the present moment, but it is fair on the part of the hon. Member for Liskeard to say, "You ought not to pass the Navy Estimates before you know the foreign policy of the Government." I would, therefore, suggest that Ministers themselves, seeing the temper of the House, should put off the Navy Estimates for a short time.


Sir, I think the House was on the point of being misled by the suggestion of the hon. and learned Member for Sheffield. He is a gentleman who has so serene a confidence in the accuracy of his own judgment, that he does very frequently in this House state a very foolish proposition with a degree of solemnity that really gives it for the moment something like judicial importance. I think the hon. and learned Gentleman is entirely in error in assuming that this is a Motion on the foreign policy of the Government. I understand my hon. Friend to found his Motion expressly on this— that we do not know the foreign policy of the Government. I understand him to say, it is not fit for us to be called upon to vote the Navy Estimates at the moment when we do not know what our navy is to do or to leave undone. I understand him to urge upon the House that Her Majesty's Ministers, or some of them, have been indulging in language of a somewhat menacing kind, and I think it was his view that if the language of the Government was to be menacing, the acts of the Government ought to have some sort of correspondence with it. Therefore I think my hon. Friend did what was quite natural, when he came to the determination that we ought not to come to a decision on the Navy Estimates until we know what the foreign policy of the Government is. I, therefore, entirely repudiate the construction which the hon. and learned Member for Sheffield ascribes to this Motion. That interpretation having been put upon it, it was natural for the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer, with the high spirit of a Government finding itself challenged, to say that the Government accepted the interpretation; but I say the interpretation was wrong, and I trust my hon. Friend will not act on the supposition that we are going into an inquiry as to what the foreign policy is. I think, however, that in the absence of the noble Lord, and especially that that absence is owing to a cause which we must all regret—on that consideration only, I hope the hon. Member for Liskeard will consent to withdraw his Motion.


The hon. and gallant Member for Liskeard (Mr. B. Osborne) has stated that he did not make his Motion with the object of damaging the Government, but that his only desire was to get the Danish papers before voting the Navy Estimates. What, however, would be the effect of his Motion? If he is beaten, no other Motion can be proposed to-night as an Amendment on going into Committee of Supply, and the Secretary of the Admiralty will instantly go into the Estimates. If, on the other hand, he is successful, there necessarily occurs a deadlock. There is most likely a dissolution of Parliament; in which case we shall not get any papers for at least a month; or, if we do, we shall not be able to discuss them. If Parliament is not dissolved, but there is merely a change of Government, it will take a fortnight to make the necessary arrangements; and when at the end of that time the new Government are asked what their policy with respect to Denmark is, they will probably say, "We have so recently come in that we cannot tell what our policy is." How would that advance our business? The object of the hon. Member would in any case be completely frustrated. The same thing would happen which happened when I first came into Parliament in 1859; there was an important debate, which turned, as the right hon. Member for Bucks has said, on a question of foreign policy, and yet nobody could get the papers on Italy until the debate was half over. Therefore I do not think that the hon. Member would fare any better with the new Government than he does now with the old one. The hon. Member for Liskeard moves his Resolution because the noble Lord the Secretary of the Admiralty is about to propose a reduction of the Navy Estimates. Probably the hon. Gentleman would like to move them himself, even though he had to propose an increase. Jealousy is the fons et origo mali. But what is the good of saying that we should postpone the Navy Estimates until we have seen the Danish papers, and know whether we are likely to go to war or not. What difference can it make? If we were about to commence hostilities how can you vote more for the navy? When the Crown has asked for certain supplies, and the Estimates have been laid on the table, they cannot be increased by a vote of this House. The hon. Gentleman, therefore, can in no way attain his object by his Amendment. Therefore I trust that the hon. Gentleman will take the advice of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Buckinghamshire, and not press his Motion to a division.


Sir, I present myself in a character which I hope will recommend me to the House, as it has been favoured by the Government—that of a friendly bystander. The position appears to be somewhat critical. The hon. and learned Gentleman (Mr. Roebuck) has put an interpretation upon the Motion made by my hon. Friend the Member for Liskeard, which has been accepted by Her Majesty's Government, but which my hon. Friend disclaims. We know that when Gentlemen have made up their minds to put a particular meaning to the words or acts of another man, it is very hard to disabuse them of the idea. It seems to me that what fell from my hon. Friend was supported by common sense and sound argument. It is only rational that before we proceed to vote the sums and the force required for Her Majesty's navy we should have some sort of understanding as to what that navy is likely to be called upon to do. I will not enter upon the confused ground of foreign politics, but it is obvious to every one that demands may be made upon the navy greater than those which we contemplate having to meet at the present moment. Therefore, as a friendly bystander, I want to throw out a suggestion, which I hope will be accepted by the noble Lord, the Secretary of the Admiralty, and my hon. Friend. It is that the consideration of the Naval Estimates should be postponed for to-night. We have been assured by the hon. Gentleman the Under Secretary for Foreign Affairs, that all haste is being made with the Danish Papers, and he has gone so far as to say, that if it is the wish of the House he will produce them in portions. I think that course would be acceptable to the House, because we should then get an inkling of what was going on, and should be able to form some opinion. If the noble Lord the Secretary of the Admiralty would postpone the introduction of the Estimates for a short time—say for a week—perhaps the Under Secretary would by that time be able to let us have some of the papers; and upon that understanding I have no doubt that my hon. Friend will agree to withdraw his Motion, which appears to have put us all into a little confusion, and some of us into a great fright.


It seems to me that the House is placed in a very unwelcome predicament. We have, in the most abject way, asked for papers, which the Government say it is not prepared to give. Under these circumstances, if the hon. Member for Liskeard goes to a division I shall support him. I hope that I am honest enough not to desire that the Government should be condemned unheard; but with all due respect to the hon. and learned Member for Sheffield, I think that he has put a wrong construction upon the Motion. The question which he has suggested is not the one before the House. There is an important question to come on this evening, and that is, whether the navy should be reduced. I readily confess that I do not like the present Government; I am not sure that I shall approve their foreign policy; but what I do dislike is, that when they cannot get credit for their foreign policy, they should attempt to get credit with the country for an economical budget, which may, perhaps, ultimately occasion a large increase of expenditure.


I am inclined to think that the Motion of my hon. Friend rather tends to place us in a false position. Whatever may be the merits of the policy of the Government—and I do not pretend to say whether they have dealt rightly or wrongly with the Banish question—whatever may be the merits of that question, it is still clear that we want a navy, and must vote means to pay for it. But if the Motion of my hon. Friend is carried, it postpones the whole question of providing a navy for an indefinite period. ["A week!"] My hon. Friend said three weeks; but, whatever may be the time, if you look at the effect of his Motion it comes to this, that the House must decide upon the foreign policy of the Government before they are to decide whether we shall have a navy or not. ["No, no!"] That is the real state of the case. My hon. Friend proposes, and hon. Members opposite accept the challenge, to decide by a formal vote upon the foreign policy of the Government before proceeding to vote the Navy Estimates at all. ["No, no!"] I wish the hon. Member would get up and say whether he believes in the value of the proposed reduction of the navy. I, for one, look upon it as a mere plausible delusion. Every Member of this House knows that if the country decided upon going to war we should have any amount of navy and army. It is a mere delusion for the House to suppose that it is promised anything by this reduction of half a million of money in the army and navy. We all know that the Prime Minister would come down to the House and ask for a Vote of £10,000,000, if necessary, to go to war, and the House would vote it if it thought right. Therefore, it is merely putting the issue upon a false and narrow basis to say, that because half a million is struck off the Navy Estimates, therefore the Naval Estimates are to be postponed until we have pronounced a verdict of acquittal or condemnation on the Government and its foreign policy. I hardly think that the House would be acting in a manner worthy of its dignity if it placed the question on such a narrow issue. Whenever the Danish question is proposed, the House will be bound to pronounce an opinion; but in the mean time I think that it would only damage itself in the eyes of the country by resting the question on so trifling an issue.


I am afraid that if the consideration of the Estimates is postponed, this House will appear to assume something of a threatening position towards the Powers of Europe. Such a proceeding will be as much as to say that we think there is no remote probability of our being called upon to increase our Estimates for the purpose of going to war; and that the House considers there is a more proximate probability of war than I hope there is. I think that it would be very undesirable that such an impression should be created by a deliberate vote of the House.


I should be very sorry to see the consideration of the Estimates postponed for three weeks, but I hope that the suggestion of the noble Lord opposite will be acceded to. These papers have been coming day by day for the last seven or eight days, and, looking at them however casually, it is impossible for any man to give the most cursory consideration to them in the course of that evening. I hope that their postponement for a week will meet the support of those Gentlemen who cry up economy in this House, because we cannot now investigate the items as we ought to do, and if we do not do that to-night we shall be put off to the discussion on the separate Votes, when the Government will have it all its own way.


I must observe, that we have yet had no discussion on the Danish papers which have been presented. I hope that the House will consent to postpone the consideration of the Estimates for a week, in order that we may, in the meantime, have a discussion upon the papers which are before us. I take this opportunity of asking the House to support me in requesting the Government to give us all the information which they possess upon this subject, more especially the Report of our Vice Consul, who was sent into the Duchies specially to inquire into their condition.


I would suggest that the best course which the hon. Member for Liskeard could take with a view to prevent the Estimates coming on to-night, would be to withdraw his Motion. The noble. Lord who has charge of the Estimates has promised, that if they cannot be brought forward before Nine o'clock he will not proceed with them to-night. Now, there are a great many Notices on the paper, and it is clear that if this Motion is withdrawn we shall not get to the Estimates to-night.


I have gone over the Estimates, and compared them with those of the past year, and I find that upon the reduced scale our navy is equal to those of the whole world besides.


I think that the suggestion of the hon. Member for Knaresborough (Mr. Collins), that the hon. Gentleman should withdraw his Motion, is a very sensible one. The noble Lord has said that he will not bring on the Navy Estimates after Nine o'clock. There is Malta Dockyard to be discussed. That is, I think, quite certain to occupy the House from this time until Nine o'clock, if it does not take a good deal longer. We shall then have time to see the Danish papers, which, no doubt, will be produced, and it will save all parties that which would be a very disagreeable thing, asking the Government to postpone the Estimates because we do not know whether or not a war is going to take place. It will get rid of that difficulty; and, therefore, if the hon. Gentleman withdraws his Motion, he will, I think, do a very sensible thing.

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

The House divided:—Ayes 220; Noes 47: Majority 173.

Acton, Sir J. D. Ewart, W.
Agnew, Sir A. Ewart, J. C.
Annesley, Hon. Col. H. Fellowes, E.
Aytoun, R. S. Fermoy, Lord
Bagwell, J. Finlay, A. S.
Baillie, H. J. Fitzroy, Lord F. J.
Baines, E. Fleming, T. W.
Baring, H. B. Foley, H. W.
Baring, rt. hn. Sir F.T. Forster, W. O.
Baring, T. Fortescue, hon. F. D.
Baring, T. G. Fortescue, C. S.
Barrow, W. H. Fraser, Sir W. A.
Barttelot, Colonel French, Colonel
Bathurst, A. A. Gard, R. S.
Baxter, W. E. Gavin, Major
Bazley, T. Gibson, rt. hon. T. M.
Beach, W. W. B. Gilpin, C.
Beale, S. Gladstone, rt. hon. W.
Beaumont, W. B. Glynn, G. C.
Bellew, R. M. Glynn, G. G.
Bentinck, G. W. P. Goddard, A. L.
Berkeley, hon. C. P. F. Goldsmid, Sir F. H.
Biddulph, Colonel Goschen, G. J.
Black,A. Gower, G. W. G. L.
Blencowe, J. G. Gregson, S.
Bonham-Carter, J. Grenfell, H. R.
Bowyer, Sir G. Gray, Captain
Bridges, Sir B. W. Grey, rt. hon. Sir G.
Briscoe, J. I. Gurney, S.
Browne, Lord J. T. Hadfield, G.
Bruce, H. A. Hanbury, R.
Buchanan, W. Hankey, T.
Buller, Sir A.W. Hardcastle, J. A.
Burrell, Sir P. Hartington, Marquess of
Bury, Viscount Hassard, M.
Butler, C. S. Heathcote, Sir W.
Buxton, C. Henley, rt. hon. J. W.
Caird, J. Henley, Lord
Calthorpe, hon. F. H. W. G. Hervey, Lord A.
Hodgkinson, G.
Cardwell, rt. hon. E. Hodgson, K. D.
Carnegie, hon. C. Howard, hon. C. W. G.
Castlerosse, Viscount Hutt, rt. hon. W.
Cave, S. Ingham, R.
Chapman, J. Jervoise, Sir J. C.
Clay, J. Johnstone, Sir J.
Clifford, C. C. Kekewich, S. T.
Close, M. C. Kinglake, A. W.
Colebrooke, Sir T. E. Kinglake, J. A.
Collier, Sir R. P. Kinnaird, hon. A. F.
Colthurst, Sir G. C. Knatchbull - Hugessen, E.
Cowper, rt. hon. W. F
Crawford, E. H. J. Laird, J.
Crawford, R. W. Layard, A. H.
Dalglish, R. Lanigan, J.
Davie, Sir H. R. F. Lawson, W.
Davie, Col. F. Leatham, E. A.
Denman, hon. G. Lefevre, G. J. S.
Dering, Sir E. C. Lee, W.
Dillwyn, L. L. Legh, Major C.
Dodson, J. G. Lennox, Lord G. G.
Du Cane, C. Lewis, H.
Duff, M. E. G. Lindsay, W. S.
Dundas, F. Lloyd, T.
Dundas, rt. hon. Sir D. Locke, J.
Du Pre, C. G. Lowe, rt. hon. R.
Dutton, hon. R. H. Mackie, J.
Egerton, E. C. Mackinnon, W. A. (Lyming)
Ellice, E.
Enfield, Viscount Mackinnon, W.A.(Rye.)
Evans, T. W. Malins, R.
Manners, Lord G J. Russell, A.
Marshall, W. Salomons, Mr. Ald.
Martin, J. Scholefield, W.
Massey, W. N. Sclater-Booth, G.
Mildmay, H. F. Scott, Sir W.
Miller, W. Scourfield, J. H.
Moffatt, G. Selwyn, C. J.
Moncreiff, rt. hon. J. Seymour, A.
Montagu, Lord R. Sheridan, R. B.
Montgomery, Sir G. Smith, J. B.
Morris, D. Smith, A.
Morrison, W. Smith, J. A.
Naas, Lord Smyth, Colonel
Neate, C. Smollett, P. B.
Nicol, W. Stanhope, J. B,
North, F. Stansfeld, J.
O'Brien, Sir P. Sykes, Colonel W. H.
Ogilvy, Sir J. Tite, W.
O'Loghlen, Sir C. M. Tracy, hon. C.R.D.H.
Packe, Colonel Turner, C.
Paget, C. Vansittart, W.
Paget, Lord A. Verney, Sir H.
Paget, Lord C. Villiers, rt. hon. C. P.
Palmer, Sir R. Vyse, Colonel
Paull, H. Walcott, Admiral
Peacocke, G. M. W. Walpole, rt. hon. S. H.
Peel, rt. hon. Sir R. Walsh, Sir J.
Peel, rt. hon. F. Walter, J.
Peel, J. Warner, E.
Peto, Sir S. M. Watkins, Colonel L.
Pilkington, J. Weguelin, T. M.
Pinney, Colonel Westhead, J. P. Brown-
Pollard-Urquhart, W. Whitbread, S.
Ponsonby, hon. A. White, J.
Potter, E. Willoughby, Sir H.
Powell, J. J. Wood, rt. hon. Sir C.
Pritchard, J. Woodd, B. T.
Proby, Lord Wrightson, W. B.
Pugh, D.
Robertson, H. TELLERS.
Rolt, J. Mr. Brand
Rothschild, Bn. M. de Sir W. Dunbar.
Russell, H.
Beaumont, S. A. Jolliffe, rt. hon. Sir W.
Cargill, W. W. Knox, Colonel
Cecil, Lord R. Langton, W. H. G.
Clifton, Sir R. J. Leader, N. P.
Cox, W. Lennox, Lord H. G.
Damer, S. D. Long, R. P.
Dickson, Colonel Lonfield, R.
Doveton, F. Lygon, hon. F.
Elphinstone, Sir J. D. Malcolm, J. W.
Fane, Colonel J. W. Manners, right hon. Lord J.
Farquhar, Sir M.
Ferrand, W. Morritt, W. J. S.
Getty, S. G. North, Colonel
Gore, J. R. O. Parker, Major W.
Greene, J. Roebuck, J. A.
Greville, Colonel F. Smith, Sir F.
Grey de Wilton, Visct. Somes, J.
Griffith, C. D. Stracey, Sir H.
Haliburton, T. C. Sullivan, M.
Hamilton, Lord C. Talbot, hon. W. C.
Hamilton, I. T. Thynne, Lord H.
Harvey, R. B. Verner, E. W.
Hennessy, J. P.
Hopwood, J. T. TELLERS.
Horsfall, T. B. Mr. Osborne
Ingestre, Viscount Sir John Hay.