§ SIR ROBERT PEEL
Sir, I can hardly expect the House at this late hour (twelve o'clock) to give its attention to the subject which stands on the paper with my name attached to it. At the same time, I venture to crave its indulgence for a few moments, while I refer to that topic. I was quite willing, Sir, to give way to my hon. Friend (Mr. Tite), because I always regard him as a patron saint of architecture. He so impressed me to-night with the idea of wings and structures without rears or fronts, that I am inclined to look on Italian-Gothic, as if I may so describe it, the Cherubim style. Having made that passing allusion to my hon. Friend, I am anxious to refer to the Question of which I have given notice, and which is one of great importance. Judging merely from the small superficial area involved, it may, perhaps, be viewed as of very limited moment, compared with the great territorial adjustments which have been taking place on the Continent. But, at the same time, it affects considerations which in my humble judgment are most important in their bearing upon the interests of Europe, and which, unless the negotiations are conducted in a spirit of fairness and of conciliation between the two principal Powers concerned, will, I am afraid, involve Europe in a very grave crisis. We have not yet heard anything from the Government upon this subject, though, no doubt, this morning's papers have informed us that the negotiations for the transfer of Luxembourg to France was at an end. I hope that may be the case; though, of course, until we hear what remarks the noble Lord (Lord Stanley) may make upon the subject, we shall be in the dark upon the point. But I am afraid that, even if this be the case, it will only tend to increase the perplexities of France, and will only tend to make still more patent the evils of that harassing policy which has placed her in so humiliating a position in the eyes of Europe. This morning's papers have stated that the negotiations for the annexation or the cession of Luxembourg to France are at an end. But it was only the other day that we were informed that Ministers, or at least ex-Ministers, do not read the newspapers. If I recollect right, it was only the other day that the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Gladstone) informed us that he had not seen in the newspapers an 1249 account, which occupied two or three columns of The Times, of a meeting which all the world was talking about, which he held at his own house, with some advanced Reformers; I do not know who. [A laugh.] At any rate, then, we hear that ex-Ministers do not read the newspapers. I therefore now ask the noble Lord to give us some information as to whether or not it is the case that there has been a proposal emanating either from France or from Holland—I presume it did not emanate from Prussia—to sell about 200,000 inhabitants of Luxembourg—180,000 of whom are Germans—to France, at the rate of 500 francs, or about £20 per head. That is part of the policy of the Emperor of the French. That policy has failed for the last seven or eight years. It is impossible to understand what he aims at. I cannot for a moment conceive that he tries to humble France in the eyes of Europe—such an idea would be absurd. Twice during a very short time he has told Europe of the gratification with which he has attempted to upset the treaty Vienna. From the very moment when having deceived Lord Cowley and all Europe, he stood with Victor Emmanuel on the summit of the Alps, and proclaimed the annexation of the two Provinces of Savoy and Nice, he has committed a series of blunders, which have involved him in the perplexing position in which he now stands. I do not know whether the noble Lord (Lord Stanley) will be able to give us any explanation as to the negotiations that have taken place in this mattter, and as to the frankness of France in such negotiations. I, in common with the House generally, have every confidence in the ability of the noble Lord, and in the course he may think fit to adopt in his administration of our Foreign Affairs at this moment. I heard a high compliment paid him the other evening by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. It would have sounded better had it come from some other person than a Colleague. Still, I fully endorse that expression of esteem. But I wish to impress upon the noble Lord that for some years he and the party with which he was acting were constantly saying that the policy of Lord Palmerston and of Lord Russell was more and more isolating this country from the affairs of Europe. I do not wish to see this country indiscreetly meddling upon every occasion in European affairs; but sometimes I think that it is scarcely wise that we should be isolating ourselves to the degree which I fear is becoming so 1250 conspicuous in regard to our relations with foreign nations. I hope that the noble Lord, in the debate that we shall certainly have in the course of next week, when the whole question of our foreign policy must be brought before the House and the country in reference to the dispute with Spain—will give us some better assurance upon this point than we received the other day in "another place." The country was then informed by a noble Duke that upon notice having been given of a Motion to be made in this House he had telegraphed two hours before the debate took place to St. Petersburg to know whether it was true that Russia had ceded an extent of territory, amounting to 300,000 square miles, to the United States. The Government of the day and the Minister for Foreign affairs knew nothing about it. That circumstance shows how much our policy of isolation has tended to disassociate this country from the nations of Europe. I hope the noble Lord will not accuse me of taking a liberty in pointing this out to him, because I think nothing can be worse and nothing more injurious than that this system of our standing apart from other European nations should be carried out to too great an extent. I have made these observations with the view of eliciting from the noble Lord whether the breaking off of the negotiations for the annexation of Luxembourg by France is owing to any representations which have been made by Her Majesty's Government. I hope that such is the case. I hope sincerely that the noble Lord, with that excellent good sense that distinguishes him, has pointed out to the Emperor of the French and to the King of Holland—to the latter particularly—that this shabby traffiking in the sale of people will not do. I hope the noble Lord has pointed this out to them, and that he will be able to tell us that he has recommended them to let the matter drop through. Not that it will drop through altogether, I am afraid. I cannot conceive any question more likely to involve Europe, and certainly England, in a war than the question of a cession of this kind, which is one to which certainly Prussia would never willingly agree. Although we are sometimes indifferent to certain rectifications of frontiers, we should, nevertheless, scarcely be likely to assent to a transfer of territory that will affect Belgium and other States of Europe. Is it likely that Russia, as one of the five parties to the Treaty of 1831, that sepa- 1251 rated Belgium from Holland, would view this annexation with indifference. There is, however, no doubt whatever that this barter—this sale—was contemplated. The noble Lord admitted the other day, in his reply to an hon. Gentleman below the gangway, that there was no doubt communications had passed between the Governments of France and Holland with reference to the possible transfer of this territory. But the matter does not rest solely upon the statement of the noble Lord. By a singular coincidence, on the same day that the noble Lord made that statement in this House, Count Bismarck, in the North German Parliament, in reply to a question, stated, that so far back as October last, the subject had been raised. The King of Holland had at that time questioned the Prussian Ambassador, whether his country would be prepared to yield the occupation of Luxembourg. Count Bismarck further stated that while he was willing to respect the susceptibilities of France, Holland must take upon itself the entire responsibility of every transaction in the matter. That is the only answer we should have expected from Count Bismarck. There, however, appears officially in the Constitutionnel a statement that clearly shows the aim of the Government of France in making this demand. Only a short time after the battle of Sadowa, France asked for an enlargement of territory. That demand was peremptorily refused, to the evident annoyance of the Emperor of the French, though be bore it with an appearance of chivalrous disregard. But, now that he asks the King of Prussia to consent to this cession, an article appears in the Constitutionnel, the official journal of France, and which is therefore supposed to have been inserted by authority. It says—France has no desire to threaten the interests of Germany, or to bring her honour into question. France has no warlike tendencies, but has solely a deep sense of what is just and equitable. Now, it would be neither just nor equitable that Prussia, after having achieved her great conquests without obstacles, should watch jealously the smallest acquisition that may be desired by her neighbours—not in the interest of ambition but of security.We know well enough what the Emperor of the French had in view, or, perhaps, I should rather say, what the writer of the article had in view, when he says that he tried to get Luxembourg, "not in the interest of ambition, but of security." It is this. During the Revolution of France one of the greatest men—perhaps the 1252 greatest military man in the early period of that revolution, Carnot, was intrusted with the drawing up of the military arrangements on that side of the Moselle. He says, in his memoirs, that the holding of Luxembourg is a matter of vital importance to France. Carnot says—Le seul point d'appui pour attaquer la France est de la coté de Moselle.Therefore we have the authority of Carnot, which has evidently influenced the Emperor, that the holding of Luxembourg is a matter of the first importance for France for defensive or offensive operations against Germany. When this proposed cession was mentioned, it caused even greater dissatisfaction to Europe than that of Savoy and Nice. That there have been strong manifestations in Germany cannot be denied. Even Bavaria has strongly protested against this threatened action on the part of Holland. In the official journal of Prussia it was stated that in the event of war on account of Luxembourg Italy and Prussia would act together, and the King of Italy would look forward to that war in order to recover Savoy and Nice. When statements like these are made in official and semi-official journals of Prussia and France, there is evidently some deep-laid scheme at the bottom, which I hope the noble Lord will bear in mind so as to prevent serious convulsions in the state of Europe. If the noble Lord will look to the Treaty of Vienna in 1815 and the Treaty of 1831, he will find it laid down that when by the Treaty of 1815 Luxembourg was ceded to Holland, it was in exchange for some part of Nassau, but on the distinct understanding that Luxembourg should be continued as part of the Germanic Confederation. When in 1831 Lord Palmerston and, I think, Talleyrand, and other statesmen were engaged in drawing up the treaty, it was distinctly laid down that Luxembourg should not go to Belgium, but should remain with Holland, and continue part of the Germanic Confederation. If hon. Members will read the admirable memoir of Earl Grey and the correspondence on the Reform question of 1831 they will find this question alluded to. In the first speech of the King of the Belgians on opening the Chambers in 1831 he expressed the dissatisfaction which he and the Belgian people felt at not having Luxembourg. Earl Grey resented that speech, and an intimation was sent to the King of the Belgians that he must withdraw any expectations as to the occu- 1253 pation of Luxembourg by Belgium. This is a matter of the deepest and most pressing moment to the peace of Europe. If the attempts of France are in any way encouraged or connived at by the Government of this country, it will lead to serious complications into which we shall most undoubtedly be drawn. I trust that the Government of Her Majesty have endeavoured to impress upon the Governments of Holland and France the inexpediency and the danger of pressing forward questions of this kind, knowing, as they must do, that Prussia, with all its power, and with one of the most capable Ministers that ever guided the destinies of a people at its head, will resent that irruption into a pure German population. Of course, this country has no direct interest in trifling territorial adjustment. We only want to see France great in the power of her arts and commerce. But it is this continuous agitation—this disregard of treaties, which is the primary cause of the uneasiness that exists in Europe. I hope that the reply of the noble Lord has been such as to enhance the position and influence of this country abroad.
Although this question of Luxembourg may be in its ultimate result one of great importance; and although the mere stirring of it up during the last ten days has agitated Europe in no inconsiderable degree, yet the facts, which the right hon. Gentleman has accurately stated, he in a very narrow compass. And, although he has made some remarks to which I cannot agree, and said one or two things which I regret were said, still I am glad he has given me the opportunity of stating, so far as I am able, what has passed in this matter. Every one knows that the French Government have desired to possess this territory of Luxembourg. It is also pretty generally known that the King of Holland was ready to part, on certain conditions, with the interest he had in it. I must remind the House that this is a matter for the King of Holland rather than for the Dutch Government. The territory is detached from that Government, and it is only connected with Holland by the tie of a common Sovereign. I am bound to say, in the interest of truth, that, so far as I am aware, the Dutch Government and the Dutch people do not regard this outlying territory as of any importance to them, or as adding to the strength, security, and prosperity of their country. But it is not 1254 the fact that the King of Holland was ever ready to part with this territory unconditionally. As I am informed there were various stipulations which he proposed, and on which he insisted as indispensable to the transfer, if it took place. One of them was, that he should receive certain compensation; but whether that compensation was intended to take a direct pecuniary form I have no information. Another stipulation which I feel bound to mention after the remarks of the right hon. Gentleman, on which the King of Holland insisted, was, that the wishes of the people of Luxembourg should be consulted, The third, and, for practical purposes, the most important of all, was, that the consent of the Great Powers should be obtained—and especially the consent of Prussia. Now, Sir, Prussia, as the House is aware, possesses and claims to possess by special treaty the right of garrison in the fortress of Luxembourg; and both on that account and as a neighbour—and particularly as the head of the Confederated States of Germany—Prussia has a deeper and closer interest in this matter than any other European Power. When the matter came to the knowledge of the Prussian Government a communication was made by it to the other Powers which signed the Treaty of April, 1839. That treaty regulates the relations of Belgium and Holland, and guarantees Luxembourg to the King of Holland. One of these communications was addressed to Baron Beust, and another to Her Majesty's Government; and the latter was received by me on Sunday last. The right hon. Gentleman speaks of this negotiation as of an old date. [Sir ROBERT PEEL: Last October.] I do not know what may have passed in secret; but all I can say is that no information reached Her Majesty's Government as to the transfer being in contemplation until about ten days ago. The Questions that were put to me by the Prussian Government were in substance two. One was, whether the British Government would endeavour to dissuade the King of Holland from going on with the negotiations supposed to be in progress; and the other was, what construction was put by the British Government upon the guarantee contained in the Treaty of 1839. As to the second of these Questions, I could not undertake to give a definite reply at once, for this reason—that it was obviously very desirable, if any representation or action were required to be 1255 taken on the Treaty of 1839, that such representation should not be the act of any single Power, but should be made in concert with the other Powers by whom that treaty was signed, and who equally with us were responsible. But I did not conceal a doubt (and I might use a stronger word) which existed in my mind as to whether the guarantee given by that Treaty of 1839 was one of a character to apply to the present case. And for this reason. That guarantee was undoubtedly intended to defend the interest of the King of Holland in his capacity of Grand Duke of Luxembourg, and to maintain the integrity of the territory. But, of course, if the King of Holland voluntarily surrendered his interest in Luxembourg, and was a consenting party to the arrangements made, his interest as contemplated by the guarantee ceased to be in question, and the matter which remained was a totally different one, between France on the one hand and Germany on the other. Now, neither by that treaty nor at any other time were we pledged to defend the integrity of the German Empire. Germany united, as she is now, and I am glad that she is so—united to an extent which has never before occurred, is perfectly capable of providing for her own defence. I do not think it would be easy to argue, although the right hon. Baronet's reasoning seems to point in that direction, that it is the duty of England to interfere to prevent a transaction which might result in some small aggrandizement on the part of France, when the Government and the people of this country have seen with entire acquiescence, and even, I believe, with approval, the enormous aggrandizement which has accrued to Germany, or rather to Prussia, as the head of the German States, within the last twelve months as the result of the late war. As regards the question whether we should dissuade the King of Holland from proceeding with this negotiation, my answer was that we had been informed—and subsequent intelligence has verified the presumption on which I acted—that the consent of the King of Holland was from the first made conditional on the consent of Prussia and on that of the people of Luxembourg. What may be the feeling of the people of Luxembourg I cannot undertake to say. But from the first I had a strong idea that the consent of Prussia would never be obtained. If these conditions were not fulfilled, the transaction fell to the ground. If the 1256 people of Luxembourg offered no objection, and if Prussia—the Power most interested in the proposal—gave her consent, it cannot be said that it was the duty of the British Government to interpose. That is the answer I gave provisionally on the part of Her Majesty's Government. There was no time for more detailed consideration, and there was no need for further expression of opinion on my part. As the House knows, yesterday information was received, not indeed at the time of an official or of an absolutely certain character, but which, nevertheless, bore marks of authenticity, and which I believed to be true, stating that the cession of Luxembourg had been relinquished by the King of Holland. I have had that statement confirmed by the representative of the King of the Netherlands, who called upon me this afternoon and authorized me to make that statement as coming from his Government. I think that is the end of the question as far as Holland is concerned. Whether or not it will put a final end to other questions which may arise out of it is impossible to say. If, however, they should be revived, they will be revived in a different form and under entirely different circumstances. It was in the late case supposed that the King of Holland was a consenting party to the transfer. That state of things is now entirely altered, and I do not, of course, pretend to say what will arise out of the new state of things which has arisen in consequence of his refusal. I have now related all the material facts, and I have done so more in detail than I otherwise should have done because every communication which I have received on the subject having been confidential, I am unable to lay the documents upon the table. But the House may rely upon it that I have given the whole facts of the case as they came before me. Further consideration has confirmed me in the conviction—a conviction in which the House will, I think, share—that we were right in declining to involve ourselves further in a transaction which might be, and still may be, productive of very serious consequences. No interest of ours was either directly or indirectly involved, and we stood absolutely free and unfettered. Sir, that is the whole case as far as it has gone. Something was said by the right hon. Baronet as to the security of Belgium. The security of Belgium is an entirely different matter. Upon that question we are involved in a guarantee solemnly and deliberately entered into. But the 1257 question as to the security of Belgium did not in the slightest degree arise during the course of the present transactions. I dealt with the subject as it arose, and I do not think that it is worth our while to go out of our way to anticipate difficulties which have not arisen and which probably never will arise.
§ SIR ROBERT PEEL
The noble Lord has omitted to answer one Question I put. I asked whether the relinquishment of the cession of Luxembourg was in any way owing to the representations of Her Majesty's Government. The noble Lord said that the Powers had agreed to make some joint representation. [Lord STANLEY: No, no!] Pardon me. Russia has made a representation to the Government of France. I wish to know from the noble Lord whether Her Majesty's Government have made any representation to France or to Holland, with a view of inducing either or both of those Powers to relinquish this projected cession?
I thought I had already answered that Question. With regard to any Russian protest against the transaction in question, I heard of it for the first time from the right hon. Baronet. No information has reached the Foreign Office of any action of that kind having been taken by the Russian Government. As to the abandonment of the cession of this province being due to any remonstrance on the part of the British Government, I thought I had stated that considering the cession proposed by the King of Holland was conditional, both upon the consent of the people of Luxembourg and of Prussia, and considering from the first that that consent on the part of Prussia was not given, and did not seem likely to be given, l did not feel myself called upon to make any remonstrance on the part of the British Government. The abandonment, therefore, of the project, if it be abandoned, is certainly not due to any action on the part of Her Majesty's Government.
§ Motion, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Committee deferred till Monday next.