HC Deb 14 June 1867 vol 187 cc1910-26

said, he rose to call attention to the treaty relative to the Grand Duchy of Luxemburg, and to the correspondence respecting that Treaty which had been presented to both Houses of Parliament, and to ask the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs Questions as to the extent of the obligation to which this country had been pledged. Some of the stipulations of the Treaty of Luxemburg appeared to be directly at variance with the principles of non-intervention supposed of late years to regulate our foreign policy. He did not mean by non-intervention absolute political isolation, but the principle that we should not fight other men's battles, or enter into any political alliances which were not absolutely necessary for our own safety. The guarantees entered into by this country for the independence of Belgium and of Turkey stood on very different ground from that given recently with respect to Luxemburg. Nobody could contend that the possession of Luxemburg, either by France or Germany, would menace or disturb our interests. The guarantee was given on the distinct ground that without such guarantee war would have ensued between France and Prussia. This seemed to him intervention in its most insidious and dangerous form. Press this doctrine to its legitimate consequences, and within a given time every spot of debatable land in Europe would have its independence and neutrality secured by a guarantee to which we should be made parties. To prevent war breaking out we might thus be called on to give guarantees in respect of the Southern Tyrol or Northern Schleswig or of any other province lying between two powerful neighbours who threatened to disturb the peace of Europe. At the time when a war with America seemed likely, we might have felt grateful to the Emperor of the French for stepping forward with a guarantee affecting Montreal and the Canadian Lakes; but would his own subjects have been pleased? He was surprised at the enthusiasm which the conduct of the noble Lord (Lord Stanley) in the Conference had elicited. He thought the noble Lord himself must be still more surprised at it, because he had always been supposed to be the advocate of neutrality. In this instance we had been over-generous, and had discounted our future prosperity for the present tranquillity of Europe. This was not statesmanship; it was mere "hand-to-mouth" policy. The noble Lord bad stated that the case of Luxemburg was a very special one, and that the guarantee to which he was a party only limited an existing guarantee. He was surprised when he heard the noble Lord make that statement, because he had not been aware of any general guarantee with respect to Luxemburg. It would also have been strange if Count Bismarck, who was to have gone to war if he did not obtain a guarantee, should have been satisfied with an agreement which only limited a guarantee already existing. The noble Lord referred to the Treaty of 1839, which repeated the terms of the Treaty of 1831. The guarantee contained in the Treaty of 1831 was simply one on the part of the five Powers guaranteeing the independence and neutrality of Belgium on the one hand, and on the other, that while Belgium was being re-constituted no further sacrifice of territory should be required of the King of the Netherlands. It was admitted at the time that the five Powers had no authority to deal with the question of Luxemburg, which was one completely under the control of the Diet, it was left in the position in which it stood by the Treaty of Vienna. Lord Palmerston, in reply to a Question put to him on the subject, stated that to be the position of the matter as regarded the guarantee of the Treaty of 1831, repeated in the Treaty of 1839. He could not therefore understand why the noble Lord (Lord Stanley) entertained this delusion on the subject. In the Conference the noble Lord obtained no recognition of his view as to an existing guarantee, though Count Bismarck, for the purposes of Prussia, was quite ready to encourage the noble Lord's delusion. British Ministers abroad did not entertain it. In a despatch from Lord Loftus it was stated that Count Bismarck wanted something more than a moral engagement on the part of the Powers. He asked for a European guarantee. The King of Prussia did not care for a moral guarantee. The noble Lord (Lord Loftus) had proposed a collective guarantee, by which each party would have been bound not to attack Luxemburg; but none of the parties would have been bound to defend it, except in the improbable case of its being attacked by some European Power not a party to the treaty—which could only have been some small Power—or by, perhaps, the Emperor of China. But the guarantee proposed by the noble Lord was not adopted as he had submitted it. If Luxemburg had been attacked, it would, until the present year, have had the help of the whole Confederation, and would never have needed assistance. But what was our position now? He found from the correspondence; that Count Bismarck had always insisted on having something definite decided upon before he withdrew the German garrison. Count Bismarck explained his view of the guarantee, and the noble Lord (Lord Stanley) had never contradicted it; therefore the noble Lord must be supposed to have given his assent. An important addition was made; to it on the part of Prussia, and it was adopted in its amended form. The word "neutrality" might have a large sense or a very limited sense. According to M. Moustier, the Foreign Minister of France, the "neutrality" of Luxemburg might not be inconsistent with the passage of troops through the Duchy. The noble Lord appeared to have admitted that a violation of the treaty would be constituted if an army marched through the territory; but a glance at the map would show that it was almost impossible that war could be waged between France and Germany without an army passing through the Luxemburg territory. If therefore we were to take Count Bismarck's view of our obligations, we should be bound to go to war. Nothing had done so much harm to the English name as a certain recklessness in undertaking obligations and a great discretion in fulfilling them. Lord Palmerston managed to get through the Conference which created Belgium without involving us in any sort of obligation which might lead us to war in respect of Luxemburg. Our obligations should be clearly defined, so that we might know what our responsibilities were. He was opposed to all these collective general guarantees and alliances; they did more harm than good, and instead of preventing war, tended to make local questions European questions. There were special reasons why we should have nothing to do with these European questions. Our insular position constituted us the natural peacemakers of Europe; and we ought to continue untrammelled by any obligations which would bind us to take part with one side or the other. Even supposing that England might be brought to raise armies and find treasure for a war to prevent a Dutch province from becoming German or French, was it likely that our colonies would incur the risks of war for such an object?


said, he found it difficult to follow the speech of the hon. Gentleman, who, while complaining of the course taken by his noble Friend (Lord Stanley), maintained that we were the natural peacemakers of Europe. The latter assertion had never been better exemplified than by the late proceedings. That a Continental war was not raging at the present moment was owing to the admirable judgment and discretion of the noble Lord. The hon. Gentleman complained of the noble Lord having interfered. If he referred to the despatches, especially to those of Lord Augustus Loftus, he would find that he was requested by every one of the Great Powers to come forward with his influence to prevent such a calamity as a war on the Continent. He understood the hon. Gentleman to object to the guarantee which had been given by the noble Lord. If the hon. Gentleman referred to the draft of the original articles drawn up by the noble Lord he would see that the noble Lord had adopted almost the words of the Treaty of 1839 with respect to Belgium. Those words were— Belgium, within the limits specified hereinafter, shall form an independent and perpetual neutral State. It shall be bound to observe such neutrality towards other States. In the draft treaty proposed by his noble Friend there was an article almost verbatim the same— The Grand Duchy of Luxemburg, within the limits determined by the Act annexed to the Treaties of the 19th of April, 1839, under the guarantee of the Courts of Great Britain, Austria, France, Prussia, and Russia, shall henceforth form a perpetually neutral State. It shall be bound to observe the same neutrality towards all other States. If the hon. Gentleman referred to the despatch of the noble Lord to Earl Cowley on the 27th of April, he would find that after the noble Lord bad informed Count Bernstorff that Her Majesty's Government could not consent to take part in a Conference, except on an assurance from both parties that they would abide by its results— Count Bernstorff expressed his full conviction of the intention of England to act impartially in this matter; but he had no instructions that enabled him to say whether the condition which I had treated as indispensable could be complied with by his Government or not. A little later Count Bernstorff returned, and read to me the following telegram which he had just received:—'Count Wimpffen announces to Count Bismarck that the French Government has declared to Prince Metternich that they accept Conference on basis of neutralization of Luxemburg. Count Bismarck has replied that Prussia will do the same, and Count Bismarck expects an invitation; and that Prussia is prepared to concede the evacuation and the raising of the fortress, if the Conference expresses as the result of its discussions the wish that she should do so, and at the same time gives an European guarantee for the neutrality of Luxemburg, such as now exists in the case of Belgium.' That was exactly what was in the original treaty. The hon. Gentleman thought everything turned upon the term "collective guarantee;" but if the negotiations had fallen through because that term was not accepted, the result would have been most unfortunate. The term could not be of such very great importance. The Foreign Office had simply used the terms of the treaty drawn up in 1839. At the period at which those Conferences were held there was very great danger of war breaking out on the Continent, and it was owing to the wise and moderate counsels of the noble Lord that so great a calamity had been averted. He was therefore surprised at the speech of the hon. Gentleman. He was expressing the opinion of the House and of the country in congratulating the noble Lord most sincerely on the results of his efforts on the present occasion.


said, he agreed generally with the remarks of the last speaker. He willingly bore testimony to the frank and open manner in which the noble Lord had informed the House of the proceedings he was taking; but what he wished to refer to was the Constitutional question involved in allowing a Secretary of State to act according to his discretion. If they happened to have a Minister more reticent, and in whom they had less confidence, they might be involved in complications out of which there was no release but war. When the power was wholly vested in that House, did they think it would tolerate the Secretary of State saying, Meâ virtute me involvo, and wrapping himself up in his own authority, under the name of the Prerogative of the Crown? It would be somewhat ridiculous for the House to call in question the wisdom of forming obligations after they had been entered into.


said, that lest his silence should be construed into approval of the conduct of the noble Lord the Foreign Secretary and of the Government, he rose to enter his protest against that conduct involving us in a guarantee of foreign territory. He was surprised at the conduct of the noble Lord. A few years ago, in a speech to his constituents, he declared himself in a most decided manner against all interference in Continental affairs, and against our being involved in the Eastern question. The noble Lord had abandoned the opinions he then held, and had signalized his holding of office by direct interference in Continental affairs. Did the noble Lord wish the House to understand that if the neutrality of Luxemburg were violated, this country was bound to interfere by force of arms? If that were so, what became of the power of the House to regulate the granting of supplies to the Crown? If it were in the power of every Government, without consulting the House, to enter upon engagements which necessitated the granting of supplies, in what manner did the House control the public expenditure? Was it the noble Lord's view that if Luxemburg were violated next month it would be as much as ever in the power of the House to refuse supplies for war? If it were in their power, what became of this guarantee? If it were not what became of the power of the House to regulate the public expenditure?


The hon. Member who spoke last has risen, as he says, for the purpose of expressing his disapproval of my conduct—which nobody questions his right to do—and for the purpose of putting two Questions to me. One of those Questions is whether this country is bound to interfere by force of arms in the event of any attack being made upon Luxemburg; the other is, what in that case becomes of the right which belongs to the House to grant or refuse supplies for the purpose of making war? It seems to me that the latter Question answers the former. Nobody doubts that this House has power to grant or refuse supplies at its discretion. If it can do that it is quite clear that this House is in the last resort the sole judge whether wars are to be made or not. That is a Constitutional principle; it does not require an hon. Member to call on any Minister to affirm it; it therefore disposes of the hon. Gentleman's first query—namely, whether the House has had taken away from it its freedom of action in the event of a quarrel arising respecting this matter of Luxemburg. My hon. Friend (Mr. Darby Griffith), for the courtesy of whose speech I beg to offer him my acknowledgments, complains that this treaty has been made by the Government in the first instance, and that the House has only the power of discussing it when the country is pledged to the obligations thereby incurred. All I can say is that that is the Constitution under which we live, the power of making treaties is vested in the Executive upon their responsibility. If I may judge from my own feelings, so far from trying to strain that responsibility a Minister will always desire to be supported by the knowledge that the opinion of the House is in his favour. But that opinion cannot always be formally taken. Negotiations are often urgent in point of time, and will not await the convenience of our Parliamentary debates, that was the case in the present instance. I come to the remarks of my hon. Friend who introduced this subject. Nothing can be more reasonable than the Questions he has put to me. I do not agree in his criticism, which seems to be founded upon delusion; but I entirely sympathize with the feeling by which that criticism and those Questions were dictated. I do not at all dispute the general doctrine he has laid down. I feel as strongly as any one can do, the expediency of diminishing rather than of increasing the diplomatic liabilities of this country. That is a doctrine I have always advocated in and out of this House. Far from being surprised at the objections taken by hon. Gentlemen in this matter of Luxemburg, I feel some surprise and some gratification that their objections should not have been more serious, and their questions more numerous and searching. That they have not been is evidence, as far as it goes, that the House and the public so far as they have the facts before them—and I have kept back nothing—have appreciated the difficulty and the gravity of the situation. They have appreciated also the necessity—for it was that under which we acted—and the very slight difference in the position of England as regards Luxemburg which has, in reality, been effected by the treaty of last month. First of all, as regards the gravity of the position. I may say, now that the matter is over, that when proposals were first made for a Conference there was in my mind—and I believe in the minds of others that were concerned in the matter—very little hope that the Conference would be successful, and that war could be averted. France had attempted to purchase Luxemburg from the King of Holland, alleging that the German right to garrison the fortress had ceased with the dissolution of the old Confederation. The negotiations entered into for that purpose were objected to by Prussia, and it was finally put an end to by the King of Holland withdrawing the consent he had given to the arrangement. To that withdrawal the French Government made no objection; but they contended that, circumstanced as Germany now was, with all its power concentrated in the hands of Prussia, with a powerful military Empire established on their frontier, which might be formidably aggressive, whereas the old Confederation which it had superseded had no power but of defence—and if we may judge from what has passed, not much power even for that purpose—the French Government contended that the occupation of Luxemburg by Prussia would be a dangerous menace to their frontier, and insisted on Prussia withdrawing their garrison. To that demand on the part of France Prussia's answer, in the first instance, was a positive refusal. It was quite clear that matters could not remain on that footing. In both countries the feeling of jealousy and irritability was every day increasing. Then rose the question as to the possibility of mediation by neutral Powers, and out of that discussion came the suggestion of a Conference. I need not say that the only possible interest we had in the matter was to maintain the peace of Europe. We had no wish to give a triumph to France over Prussia, or to Prussia over France. We only wanted to keep the peace, and it was known to everybody that we had no other interest. If we carried any weight in the negotiations, I ascribe it mainly to the fact that everybody knew we wanted nothing for ourselves. It was obvious, however, that if neither party would give way, the proposal for a Conference and for mediation was entirely useless. I declined, therefore, to go into Conference till an assurance was given that held out to us a reasonable prospect of coming to terms. The French Government had already made a concession; they had disclaimed all desire for the annexation of a terrritory which they had very recently had every reason to consider as already acquired by them. Obviously the next move must be on the part of Prussia. The next step must be the withdrawal of their garrison; and at length, after much difficulty, they consented to abandon their right of garrison on condition of the neutralization of the territory under an European guarantee. Every Power concerned except England came at once into the arrangement. I am not ashamed to say that though I did not, and though I do not believe that by that step the real liability of England was at all increased, yet the very name and idea of a new guarantee was a thing so utterly distasteful to me — so utterly contrary to all the theories of foreign policy which my Colleagues and I had laid down for ourselves — that for two or three days I hesitated before giving my assent on the part of the British Government to the arrangement. In giving it at last I acted under a feeling of doubt and anxiety such as I never felt upon any other public question. But let the House consider what was the alternative. It is not a matter of argument or probability, it is a matter of absolute certainty, that if we had stood out upon that point, and consequently the project of a collective European guarantee had fallen through, the Conference must have been broken off, and a rupture would have ensued. Prussia would have withdrawn the concession she had offered, and at the time at which I am speaking the French and Prussian armies would have been face to face. Let the House recollect what a war of that kind would be. It is true that in the first instance only France and Prussia would have been engaged. But no man of ordinary observation can doubt that before long at least two other Powers—at least Austria and Italy—would have been drawn into the conflict. When 130,000,000 or 140,000,000 of men are engaged in a war of that kind, who will undertake to say what would be the result upon the state of Europe or the world? What might have followed in the East is probably better left to the imagination of the House. One thing at any rate is probable, that both Holland and Belgium might, in the changes of such a conflict, have ceased to exist. Even if England had been able to keep out of it, which of course we should have desired, it might have been difficult, especially if Belgium had been attacked; but even if we had we should have suffered severely in our trade. But we should have suffered also in another way to which I attach some importance. The parties concerned would have said, and would have said with a considerable degree of plausibility, "You are the real authors of this war." They would have said, "Everybody else had agreed, an arrangement was come to, you had only to give an engagement which did not bind yon to much, you had only to hold up your hand to stop this war, and you declined to do it." Heaven knows what deep designs and machinations would have been imputed to us, or how it would have been said that our object was, as it always had been, to build up our national prosperity on the ruin of the rest of the world. I only mention this because if anybody thinks seriously of the responsibility which he supposes we have incurred by this engagement, I do not complain of it, I do not at all dispute his right to look at the matter from that point of view; but I want him to look at the other side of the question, to see that the responsibility is not all upon one side, to consider what would have been the amount and nature of the responsibility we should have incurred if we had come to an opposite decision, if we had refused to come into these terms, and if the consequences which I believe to have been inevitable had followed thereupon. The question may be pot. "After all have you succeeded in your object?—have you avoided a war?—have you removed all the difficulties?—was not the Luxemburg question a mere symptom of the disease, not the disease itself? Is not the jealousy and irritation between the two countries such that a new quarrel may break out any day?" These are questions which may fairly be asked, and which I will answer to the best of my power. It is impossible to speak with absolute certainty upon such matters. But speaking to the best of my judgment, I do not believe that there are now, or are likely to be, any causes in operation which should make a war between France and Prussia inevitable. I will go further than that, and say that I do not see that such a war is probable. In a matter of this kind to gain time is to gain a great deal. Everybody can understand that the circumstances of the last twelve months may have created much jealousy and irritation. Every month you gain diminishes that jealousy and that ill-feeling. It gives time for momentary irritation to subside. It makes future differences less a matter of feeling and more a matter of reason. If you look at it as a matter of reason, there are a hundred reasons why France and Prussia should remain at peace, and not one why they should go to war. What has Prussia to gain by war? Certainly not military reputation; she possesses that in a higher degree than at any former period of her history. Not accession of territory. Nobody supposes she desires to take possession of any French provinces. Not German unity. German unity—a great and desirable object—is for all practical purposes secured already. What Prussia really wants is time and repose to enable her to secure her acquisitions, to consolidate the territory which she has obtained, to assimilate the laws and institutions of her newly-gained provinces, and to fuse the whole of that newly-acquired country into one homogeneous whole. All that war could do for Prussia would be to give an opportunity for plots and conspiracies of a reactionary character, for attempts at insurrections, for attempts, although I believe they would be unsuccessful, to undo what has been done. On the other hand, what has France to gain by war? Suppose that war unsuccessful, it humiliates a sensitive nation, and it endangers a dynasty. If successful, what is the result? At the very best it achieves at an enormous cost a barren conquest. Nobody supposes that the French Government desires a large or important acquisition of German territory. The Emperor of the French has had something to do with Venetia, and has not the slightest desire, we may feel sure of that, to acquire a Venetia of his own. As to Luxemburg, or some petty "rectification of frontier," as the phrase is, that is not wanted as a matter of security. France, with 600,000 soldiers available, and many more whom it is in her power to raise if required, stands in need of no additional defences. As to the value of any such strip of territory, I need not say that three months' expenditure of a European war would buy the fee simple of it. But setting aside the speculative part of the question, I think I can say as a fact, from all that I hear and know, that the relations of France and Prussia, which at the time of the Conference were certainly not satisfactory, have since that date been steadily improving. That both the French Government and the French people earnestly desire peace I not only believe, but know. I believe that the same feeling exists generally in Prussia, and, indeed, I should say that from the first there has been much less of mutual animosity than there has been of mutual suspicion and distrust. I do not believe that either Government or country wished to attack the other; but there was on both sides a feeling that they might be attacked, and that kind of mistrust and jealousy which naturally arises under those circumstances. All that is passing tends to the removal of that feeling of mistrust. Though it is, of course, impossible to predict the future, I am of opinion that peace will not now be interrupted. I now come to the other part of the question — how far the liability of England is altered by these new arrangements. Before this question arose there were many persons in this country who were wholly unaware that England had entered into any guarantee relating to Luxemburg, and who therefore believed that we were perfectly free. We were not, however, placed in that fortunate position. I must repeat, notwithstanding the denial of the hon. Member for Middlesex, that we had in 1839 given a guarantee of the possession of Luxemburg by Holland in terms plain, clear, and unconditional. Article 1 of that treaty between the five Powers, on the one hand, and Belgium, on the other, declares the annexed articles of the same validity as if textually inserted in this Act, and thus placed under the guarantee of the Powers. The same words were inserted in the treaty between Holland and Belgium. The second of those annexed articles, after defining the limits of the territory of Luxemburg, declares in express terms that this territory shall continue to belong to the Grand Duke, and that it is placed under the guarantee of the Great Powers. The first article had equally defined the territory which was to belong to Belgium. England was one of the signatories of that treaty, and thereby guaranteed the possession of Luxemburg to the Grand Duke. That guarantee has always been recognised; it was appealed to in the beginning of these negotiations, and though no action was taken upon it, I do not understand that any attempt was made to dispute its validity. The hon. Member says that though I mentioned this guarantee repeatedly, I was not supported in referring to it by the authority of any of even our own Ministers abroad. I never asked their opinion on the subject, I had no occasion to do so. The hon. Gentleman also quoted an opinion of Lord Palmerston. Not knowing the context, I cannot agree upon the words cited; but as far as I could follow them, they seemed to have nothing to do with the point in dispute. All that we have done in the treaty of last month was to extend the guarantee which had been given before to the neutralization as well as to the possession of the territory in question. So far, no doubt, there is an increase in the responsibility incurred. On the other hand, the House must bear in mind that whereas the place, the possession of which was guaranteed, was formerly a strong fortress in the military occupation of a foreign Power, it is now a place deprived of fortifications, without a garrison, and therefore destitute of nearly all its value as an object of rivalry in the event of war. Suppose, for argument's sake, that Prussia had at any time desired to possess herself of this territory, who was to prevent her? She actually held it; yet we had guaranteed its possession to the Grand Duke. Further, the guarantee now given is collective only. That is an important distinction. It means this, that in the event of a violation of neutrality all the Powers who have signed the treaty may be called upon for their collective action. No one of those Powers is liable to be called upon to act singly or separately. It is a case, so to speak, of "limited liability." We are bound in honour—you cannot place a legal construction upon it—to see in concert with others that these arrangements are maintained. But if the other Powers join with us, it is certain that there will be no violation of neutrality. If they, situated exactly as we are, decline to join, we are not bound single-handed to make up the deficiencies of the rest. Such a guarantee has obviously rather the character of a moral sanction to the arrangements which it defends than that of a contingent liability to make war. It would, no doubt, give a right to make war, but it would not necessarily impose the obligation. That would be a question to consider when the occasion arose. As the hon. Member put the question, the House would be the judge as to whether such an extreme course was desirable or not. It is not for me to say—though I think I could pretty well answer the question — what in such a case the House would do. Take an instance from what we have done already. We have guaranteed Switzerland; but if all Europe combined against Switzerland, although we might regret it, we should hardly feel bound to go to war with all the world for the protection of Switzerland. We were parties to the arrangements which were made about Poland; they were broken, but we did not go to war. I only name those cases as showing that it does not necessarily and inevitably follow that you are bound to maintain the guarantee under all circumstances by force of arms. If any body says, "That is one reason the more why guarantees should not be lightly given," my answer is, that the guarantee was not lightly given; the necessity was urgent—the advantage, not only to Europe, but to England, was great. I hold, and have endeavoured to show, that the balance of advantage was decidedly in favour of the course taken. If you were fairly to argue any question of foreign or domestic policy, I do not know whether you could say more than that.


said, that nothing could be more manly, frank, and, in some respects, more satisfactory than the speech of the noble Lord. There was one point upon which there could be no difference of opinion, and that was that the course adopted by the noble Lord had saved Europe from war. There was also a most serious lesson to be learnt from what had taken place. That was that by the intervention of England in foreign affairs the greatest evils might on some occasions be avoided—evils not only to the nations engaged in war but to this country itself. However much they on that (the Opposition) side of the House might say that we were bound to abstain from interfering, situated as England was it was almost impossible for her to abstain from intervention altogether. Our commerce was so cosmopolitan, it had spread its roots so far beyond our own soil, that it was impossible to lay down the doctrine that under all circumstances we must hold aloof. It might well be the case that the certain evils which must result to England from a Continental war would be greater than the contingent evils which a guarantee might involve. The noble Lord had not come down to explain away the force of the treaty or guarantee, but had with great frankness admitted that he had hesitated for two or three days before agreeing to it. In entering into the guarantee England paid a certain price to prevent a European war, but that had been done in the interest not of Europe only but of humanity. The reference to Poland was perhaps unfortunate, because the course adopted towards that country had not conduced to our national honour. With regard to the recent treaty, while preventing a European war we had paid a price for attaining that object. In the solemn renewal of the guarantee of 1839—which had been so entirely forgotten by English statesmen that even the noble Lord himself said he had been unaware of its existence—we had incurred a more distinct and onerous liability. Had the Grand Duke ceded Luxemburg to France with the consent of the Great Powers that guarantee would have lapsed, and we should have been rid of a disagreeable liability. Instead of so getting rid of the old liability, we had incurred a new one. He hoped that this would not be forgotten, like its predecessor. The importance of this act ought not to be overlooked. He trusted—they all did—that England would never be called upon to pay the price at which she had succeeded in averting a war. The noble Lord had well pointed out that it was a collective guarantee, and that it was highly improbable that we should ever suffer in consequence of being a party to it. While he did not wish to disguise his sense of the importance of the undertaking, he was also willing to admit that the object in view was one of the highest importance, and that it had been fully obtained.


said, that the right hon. Gentleman's speech was rather antagonistic to the policy which Parliament and the country had generally accepted — namely, that of non-intervention except in cases where our honour or interest was at stake. He wished to offer his humble tribute of approbation to his noble Friend for the course he had pursued. He thought it the exact course which an English Minister ought to have adopted. The noble Lord was right in hesitating to extend to Luxemburg the guarantee we had already entered into with reference to Belgium; but he was equally right in ultimately giving that guarantee. Had we not been entangled in obligations of this kind, he would have been perfectly justified in refusing. But, being entangled with the neutrality of Belgium, he was clearly justified in securing the preservation of peace through virtually extending the territory of Belgium by so many square miles. He wished that the Conference had also directed its efforts towards a general disarmament. Prussia was at present the only Power which had armed its entire population. Though this, when its population was only 19,000,000, appeared a simple measure of defence, it presented, now that its population was 23,000,000, and now that it controlled the military forces of 37,000,000, an aspect of defiance. Such a course was not in the long run attended with advantage. It simply compelled other States to follow the example. We already saw France, Russia, and Austria following in the wake. A measure of general disarmament would have been fittingly inaugurated by England, which from its insular position had nothing either to gain or lose by it. Could hundreds of thousands of the youth of Europe have been restored to industrial occupations, thus increasing the prosperity of every country of Europe, the result would have been one worthy of diplomacy and worthy of the character and reputation of his noble Friend.


said, he thought that the noble Lord had exercised a wise discretion in abstaining from bringing before the Conference a proposal for a general disarmament. The noble Lord had settled a most difficult question, in the opinion of the House and of the whole country, with admirable temper and ability. He would only have complicated matters if he had introduced — however desirable it might be in itself—a scheme of general disarmament, and had rend lectures to other Powers upon the subject. He was glad that the unanimous opinion of Parliament had found expression respecting the management of foreign affairs by the noble Lord—a management which was equally beneficial to the interests of Europe and creditable to the tact and ability of the noble Lord himself.


said, he desired to bear his testimony to the admirable tact, temper, and judgment shown by the noble Lord in the recent negotiations. He had saved Europe from the most terrible perils, and had given proof that he would be equal to the duties of his important post in any emergency which might arise. Circumstances might arise in which the interference of England would be necessary. The conduct of the noble Lord inspired them with confidence that, in such an event, the interests of the country might be safely committed to his charge. The Eastern question was one that must soon occupy their attention, and they could now entertain the hope that it would be settled without the terrible effusion of blood that, under unfavourable circumstances, must ensue. He agreed with the hon. Gentleman who had expressed the opinion that it would have been most inopportune if the noble Lord had proposed a general disarmament to the Conference. The situation of Prussia was so new that it was hardly possible to form an opinion upon her policy of arming her population; but he believed that the union of Germany was one step towards the pacification of Europe, and that Prussia, satisfied with the position she had achieved, would be willing to listen to councils of prudence. In other quarters of Europe there were indications of progress in the right direction; in one great element in the future peace of the Continent would be the feeling of confidence which prevailed in every quarter of the world in the foreign policy of the noble Lord.

Question put, and agreed to.

SUPPLY considered in Committee.

House resumed.

Committee report Progress; to sit again upon Monday next.