HC Deb 02 July 1875 vol 225 cc900-4

, who had a Notice upon the Paper to move for— An Address for Copies of the Instructions given by Her Majesty's Government to the Earl of Clarendon and Lord Cowley, relative to the signature of the Declaration, dated the 16th day of April 1856, annexed to the 23rd Protocol of the Conference of Paris; and, of the Correspondence which passed between Her Majesty's Government and other Governments during the year 1856, relative to the aforesaid Declaration of Paris, said, the subject was one of great importance, and the interest taken in it by the public was, he believed, on the increase. It was a matter of fact that the Crown had never ratified that act, and that Parliament had never authorized it. The sooner, therefore, Parliament was informed by whose authority the Declaration was made on the part of England the better. A great Constitutional question was involved, for what guarantee had we that similar acts would not be done at some other time? They all knew that it was the right of the people of this country to know by whose authority the Treaty of Paris was made. He therefore asked for the production of the Correspondence. Hitherto it had not been produced, and he was at a loss to know why it should not have been. A distinguished statesman had attacked the Declaration of Paris, and the Chancellor of the Exchequer had also attacked that Declaration. Lord Clarendon did not approve of the Declaration; yet he showed an inconsistency in saying they were bound to carry out the policy. An act was done in Paris on the 15th of April, 1856, which involved the dearest interests of other countries; but the act had never been ratified by Parliament, and Parliament had never directly sanctioned the act. It was said that this country had induced many other countries to take part and join in that act, but he did not believe that the people of this country had taken any part in it, and the Declaration to this moment had not been sanctioned by the Crown. The Declaration, then, was like that of a will without a signature. If the Treaty was of importance, the Prime Minister should recommend the Crown to sign it. Many of the actors of that time had passed away, and other Governments had come into prominence in Europe, so that the production of the Correspondence would not, in any manner, affect State affairs. If he were asked of what use the Correspondence would be, he would reply that this was only the initial step to a movement for the restoration of the right of search in this country. The effect of the Treaty in the late war between France and Germany was most disastrous to France, whose fleet was ineffective in consequence of it; and if this country were engaged in a war her fleet would be rendered as helpless by the operation of the Declaration as the French fleet was. France, in her war, was told that she must abide by the Treaty of Paris. He would say, in conclusion, that he knew he was precluded by a Rule of the House from formally moving for the Correspondence; but he hoped Her Majesty's Government would not make any objection to produce it.


said, that the whole policy of the Declaration of Paris had been already discussed that Session, and therefore it would have been inconvenient, and, he believed, irregular, if the hon. Gentleman had proceeded to discuss the subject at any length. The hon. Gentleman wanted to know by whose authority the Declaration of Paris had been signed. He (Mr. Bourke) had stated before that the Plenipotentiaries had full power to sign it, and he made that statement upon the authority of Lord Clarendon. A higher authority could not possibly have been produced, because Lord Clarendon was at the time not only Plenipotentiary, but also Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs; so that the fact was Lord Clarendon was both the person who gave the instructions and who carried them out. When he stated that the Plenipotentiaries had full power to sign the Declaration, he had in his mind a statement made by Lord Clarendon himself, who, in speaking on the subject in the House of Lords, used these words— Lord Cowley and myself did not hesitate—of course with the consent of Her Majesty's Government —to affix our signatures to a Declaration which changed a policy that we believed it would be impossible, as well as against the interests of England, to maintain."—[3 Hansard, cxlii. 500.] The hon. Gentleman asked who were responsible for the Declaration of Paris? Why, the Government of the day were responsible for it. He also stated that if England had refused to be bound by the Declaration of Paris, Austria and Turkey would also have refused. But Austria and Turkey were parties to that Declaration; and there was no reason to suppose that either of those nations had repented having appended their signatures to it. But it was said the Declaration had not been ratified; he could mention many other international engagements that had not been ratified. The Declaration with regard to the independence of the Islands of the Pacific and many commercial and postal conventions had not been ratified, and many other international engagements. With regard to the first part of the matter to which the hon. Gentleman had called attention, as to the Instructions given by Her Majesty's Government to the Earl of Clarendon and Lord Cowley, relative to the signature of the Declaration, dated the 16th day of April 1856, there were certain Papers produced at the time. Certain Papers were produced in 1856, and 19 years had elapsed since then. If it was undesirable to produce Papers at that time more than were produced, he thought it would be undesirable to produce them now. Another reason against Her Majesty's present Government laying them on the Table was, that the proper persons to produce Papers were the Ministers of the Crown, who were responsible for them; and the Papers alluded to were of a very confidential character. Lord Palmerston himself said, in that House, with regard to these Papers, that on account of their special character they could not be laid upon the Table of the House. After a declaration of that kind from such an authority, he was not going to take the responsibility of promising to lay them on the Table. With regard to the Correspondence which passed between Her Majesty's Government and other Governments during the year 1856, relative to the aforesaid Declaration of Paris, that Correspondence had never been produced; but he should have no objection to produce the Circular sent to various European Governments on the question of the immunity of all private property at sea, with the names of the countries which had assented to the Declaration of Paris, with the qualified assents or dissents in a tabulated form, in order to save expense. Among the three or four dissentients were the United States.


said, he thought it somewhat hard that the English people, when they asked by whom their maritime rights, which were their right arm, had been given away, should be told at the time that the Papers relating to the subject were confidential and could not be produced, and that 20 years after precisely a similar statement should be made. It might be that Lord Clarendon had declared in the House of Lords that it was with the consent of his Colleagues he had signed the Declaration in question, and nobody, indeed, could for a moment suppose that he had done so without their consent; but, then, the Papers now moved for were the written instructions to the Plenipotentiaries of England at Paris, and he maintained that those Plenipotentiaries were sent there to make peace with Russia, and were travelling out of the record when they sought to bind this country for the future by signing the Declaration. It was, under the circumstances, but natural that it should be asked how far the honour of the country had been pledged in the matter, and why such instructions had been given to those Plenipotentiaries.

Notice taken, that 40 Members were not present; House counted, and 40 Members being found present,


resumed: He regretted very much, therefore, that after a lapse of 20 years the Government did not deem it right to produce the Papers. It was quite right that this country should look with extreme jealousy to the question of honourable engagements entered into, and not rashly get out of the Declaration of Paris; but he thought he could suggest to them an escape from it without in the least compromising the national honour. There were two ways by either of which the country could get out of this Declaration. First, it never having been ratified, it could not at any rate be held as binding as a treaty duly and formally ratified. Now, if a Treaty of Peace which had been duly signed and ratified could be torn up in a time of peace, a Declaration which had not been ratified could not be more binding on the nations who were parties to it. There was another way, and perhaps a more regular and formal way, out of it, for the Declaration was, and could be, only a strongly-expressed opinion on the part of the Plenipotentiaries relative to new rules in case of war, and, unless all the other nations of the world equally signed it, the Declaration could not be binding on any of them. He believed that the Government of Switzerland and Saxony had agreed to the Declaration; but how much weight did the opinion of 30 or 40 petty inland States like these carry when compared with the United States, which had a seaboard as large as that of all Europe, and which refused to concur in the Declaration? Were the Government, moreover, quite sure that Prance, which felt the pinch of the Declaration in the last war, would not be exceedingly glad to get out of it? and if the United States still refused to join in the Declaration, and if England and Prance said they had had enough of the engagement, it ought not to be difficult to get out of it. Twenty years had been exhausted in endeavouring to induce dissenting nations to agree to it; and, therefore, it might without much strain be argued that the Declaration had become void through lapse of time. He hoped the matter would meet with attention on the part of the Government.


said, that the answer given by the Government would not be regarded as satisfactory by the country.