HC Deb 17 March 1864 vol 174 cc286-9

I have to make an appeal to my hon. Friend the Member for Liskeard, who has given notice that to-morrow evening he will call attention to the affairs of Denmark. The papers bringing down the history of the question to the latest period will be delivered only to-day. As I am able to tell my hon. Friend that negotiations are still pending, it is the opinion of myself and of my noble Friend at the head of the Foreign Office, that there would be considerable inconvenience to the public service if the matter were brought under discussion in the House before that question is finally decided. I would submit to my hon. Friend, therefore, whether it would not be better that he should postpone what he has to say upon the subject until the other papers are in the hands of hon. Members, and until after the recess. In making this appeal I must again repeat that in my own opinion, and in that of my noble Friend, it would be inconvenient, and, indeed, injurious to the public interests, that the discussion should take place with the imperfect knowledge which the House has of the transactions which have taken place.


Of course, I am always anxious to forward the in- terests of the public service, and on this occasion I place myself entirely in the hands of the House. Entertaining however, as I do, a very strong conviction that this House ought not to separate for a recess of three weeks in the present juncture of affairs in Denmark without some discussion, and some definite expression of the views of the Government as to what their proposed action is to be, I can hardly think that the House will be of opinion that the noble Lord has assigned sufficient reasons for me to give way to him. If I understand the noble Lord rightly, he grounds his request on the fact that conferences are about to ensue. On that point I take a very different opinion, perhaps, from some hon. Members. I cannot but regard these conferences, which failed when coupled with an armistice, but appear to be coming off now without one, to be very much in the nature of a Parliamentary manœuvre, more for the amusement of the people who live on the banks of the Thames than for the advantage of those in the neighbourhood of the Eider. Holding that view, dissenting totally from the policy pursued by the noble Lord's Government to the unfortunate inhabitants of the Duchy of Schleswig Holstein, and believing that these people have been sacrificed by an iniquitous and unjust treaty conducted by the noble Lord at the head of the Government, unless I am moved by other hon. Gentlemen, I do not feel inclined to give way on this occasion. If I am told by the noble Lord that he has very good reason to suppose that by the mystery which is being used he will promote, not a temporary and patched-up peace but a permanent peace, then I think I might conscientiously give way; but as at present advised, unless I hear some strong reasons to the contrary, I do not think sufficient motives have been assigned why this debate should not come on, or why some more definite explanation of the views of the Government should not be given. But, as I said before, I am in the hands of the House, and if hon. Gentlemen on both sides are of opinion that I am bound in honour to withdraw, I shall cheerfully consent to whatever course they choose to point out to me.


The hon. Member asks me whether we expect to be able to arrange a permanent peace. Of course, our desire is to make an arrangement that should be permanent, but as the arrangement, whatever it may be, depends, not upon us only, but also upon the other Governments who will be parties to the Conference, I can only state what the views and wishes of Her Majesty's Government are. It is impossible that I can say what the result of the proposed negotiations may be.


Will the noble Lord state what is the basis of the Conference?


I have already stated that we have not yet got an official answer from the Danish Government. Of course, therefore, it is impossible to say what basis may be adopted. Until we get a formal answer from Denmark, we must remain in the same state in which we have been for the last week.


My own opinion is, that it is much to be regretted that the early period at which Easter falls this year, and what I think is the very bad custom which we have fallen into of late years of having very long holydays at Easter, render it necessary that Parliament should adjourn at the present moment. It is highly expedient that a discussion should take place upon the recent negotiations conducted by Her Majesty's Government; but what we have to decide to-night is, whether it is more convenient that a discussion should take place with ample information or with scanty information. Now, I do not myself think that on the last night of our meeting — that is, tomorrow—we could really do full justice to the subject. It must be, comparatively speaking, a brief debate. Many hon. Gentlemen who are anxious to address the House would not have an opportunity of speaking, and probably it would end without an expression of opinion on the part of the House of any decided character upon any definite point. What would happen then? We should have to recommence our discussions after the recess on a greater scale; and if that be the case, is it not better that we should not to-morrow begin an imperfect debate, but should at the earliest convenient opportunity commence the discussion with the advantage of that information for which I myself have asked before, and which it is desirable should be in the hands of hon. Members? The negotiations, though spread over a considerable period, are all connected together, and it is of great importance that we should have a clear conception of the motives and views with which Her Majesty's Government have favoured this plan of a Conference. That it is impossible we can have to-morrow, and although I am always unwilling to interfere between hon. Members and the opportunities they have obtained, still I think, considering the position of the hon. Member for Liskeard, the importance of the subject, and the very brief space of time that can be given to the discussion, that on the whole it would be better if the hon. Member did not proceed with his Motion to-morrow.


said, he trusted that if the hon. Member withdrew his Motion he would secure a very early day after the recess for bringing it forward, again.


said, he believed a Motion was to be brought forward in another place to-morrow on the subject. However, as he had put himself into the hands of the House, he would bow to their decision.

Main Question put, and agreed to.