HC Deb 27 February 1871 vol 204 cc941-4

I wish to ask some Questions of the Prime Minister, of which circumstances prevented me from giving any other than a private Notice to him. I am given to understand that the state of affairs is such that it is desirable I should confine myself to putting the Questions. I wish to ask my right hon. Friend, Whether it is true, as stated in The Times of this morning, that peace has been agreed on at Versailles as between the Prussian Government and the French Plenipotentiaries, and, if so, whether the terms are correctly stated; the terms being these — France is to yield to Germany Alsace and Lorraine, including the fortified town of Metz, and to pay a further indemnity of £200,000,000? If that indemnity is correct, I wish to ask my right hon. Friend, whether other parts of France than the Provinces that have been ceded are to be occupied by the German troops until that debt is discharged? I wish further to ask the right hon. Gentleman, whether Her Majesty's Government, to use his own words, has been watchful, and has endeavoured, in concert with other neutral Powers, to moderate these terms, and, if not in concert with other neutral Powers, whether instructions in this sense have been given to Mr. Odo Russell? I am informed that the triumphal entry of German troops into Paris has been adjourned until Wednesday next. We have at the head quarters of the German Army at this moment a special envoy and two military attachés one a general officer and the other a captain of dragoons, both distinguished officers of Her Majesty's Service. I wish to ask my right hon. Friend, whether orders have been sent to these Military Officers, should the head quarters of the German Army be transferred by this triumphal entry to Paris itself, not to take part with or accompany the German troops during their triumphal entry into Paris?


Sir, I will answer the Questions of my hon. Friend as distinctly as present circumstances will permit. I will begin by thanking my hon. Friend for the considerate course he has pursued in confining himself at the present moment to putting these inquiries, without entering upon a discussion which I think would have been premature. As regards the first Question of my hon. Friend, with respect to the conditions of peace, the German Ambassador was kind enough to communicate to Lord Granville and myself this morning authentic intelligence that the preliminaries of peace have been signed; but that, I believe, is the only knowledge of which we are officially in possession at the present hour. Therefore, I am not in a condition to give my hon. Friend any further information on this subject. With respect to the second and third Questions—namely, whether the Government has made any effort in concert with neutral Powers to moderate the terms of peace, and whether instructions have been sent in this sense to Mr. Odo Russell—my hon. Friend has referred to a declaration made by myself in the House of Commons that we should carefully watch for any opportunities that might offer of being useful. With regard to these two Questions, I have to say that we have not been unmindful of that declaration; but I must beg my hon. Friend to be content with that answer. We shall not lose a moment, I can assure him, in laying before the House all the information which will place them in full possession of such steps as we have thought it our duty to take. But that information will not be complete until we have received from France communications of which we are in expectation, but which have not yet had time to arrive. I trust that in a very short period we shall be able to lay on the Table of the House Papers which will convey information on the subject. With respect to the fourth Question—whether orders have been sent to the military attachés at the head quarters of the German Army not to accompany German troops in any triumphal entry into Paris—there is no reason why it should not be answered at once. The general rule which is laid down in the instructions of the Foreign Office with respect to the line of conduct to be pursued by our agents abroad in cases of celebrations, which are commonly of a religious kind, is this—it is dated 1860. The instruction refers to celebrations of military success in foreign countries. It contains these words— Her Majesty's Government are of opinion that the attendance of neutrals at these celebrations of successes gained in war is not desirable. That is not the whole of the language, but that is the practical effect of it. Of course, in general, this applies to diplomatic agents, and cases of military agents would not absolutely and primâ facie fall into the same category. At the same time, Her Majesty's Government are of opinion that substantially the same rule ought to be observed; and, having no other desire than that of acting both according to the letter and according to the spirit of neutral obligations, they have directed General Walker and Captain Hozier not to accompany any triumphal entry into Paris. There is a precedent which I think is applicable to the case; for in the year 1859, at the close of the war waged by the Emperor Napoleon with Italy, Colonel Claremont had been attaché to the Italian Army, and he was directed not to enter Paris with the French Army in triumphal procession. If it was thought right that Colonel Claremont should not accompany any triumphal procession of the French Army into its own capital, I think it is manifest that it would be improper to allow any of our officers to accompany a triumphal procession of a foreign Army into that capital.