§ MR. W. E. FORSTER,
in rising to move the following Amendment:—That this House, having been informed in Her Majesty's Gracious Speech that the conditions on which Her Majesty's neutrality is founded had not been infringed by either belligerent engaged in the war in the East of Europe, and having since received no information sufficient to justify a departure from the policy of neutrality and peace, sees no reason for adding to the burthens of the people by voting unnecessary Supplies.said: Sir, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, in bringing forward his Motion for a Vote of Credit, or a Supplementary-Estimate, stated at the commencement of his speech that, although it was almost the most important proposition which ever had been made in his time, yet just for the reason that it was so important, he would not detain the House with any prefatory remarks. I would wish to follow his example in that respect, and will not detain the House with any other prefatory remark than that neither I nor those who think with me would refuse any appeal from the Government for aid or pecuniary support in any matters affecting our relations with foreign Powers, unless we felt it our duty to do so, not merely as guardians of the interests of our constituents, but as men who have at heart, as much as the Government themselves and any of their supporters, the protection of the interests of the country and the fulfilment of its duties to foreign Powers. I think the Chancellor of the Exchequer can hardly have intended to say that this Vote was necessary, and I think it will not be difficult to show that the demand, and the manner in which it is made, is unprecedented, and that it establishes a precedent as unconstitutional as it is dangerous. But I admit my chief motive in moving this Amendment is my belief that the purpose of this Vote and the grounds on which this purpose is 730 based are those against which I feel it my duty to protest, and to ask those who concur with me to join in that protest. But before discussing those grounds let me say a very few words upon the Vote itself. My Amendment shows that we think the Government gives no "reason for adding to the burthens of the people by voting unnecessary Supplies." Undoubtedly it is our duty to have good reason for adding to those burdens; but do not let it be supposed that we should abstain from such addition, or that our constituents would wish us to abstain from it, or would pardon us from abstaining from it, if we saw the necessity for such a step. It is true that trade is depressed and that the industrial taxpayer is less able than usual to bear fresh and pressing burdens; but if the Government could make out its case for these £6,000,000, then, notwithstanding I the depression of trade, I am sure our constituents—and I speak as fully for an industrial constituency as any other —would earnestly desire not only to vote that, but any other sum of money that may be required. But the Government has also its duty. It is our duty to give the money when it is wanted; but it is their duty to tell us, in the first | place, how much they want, and in the second what they intend to do with it. Now, the Government has neither told us how much money they want, nor in what manner they intend to spend it. On the contrary, though they ask £6,000,000, they tell us they have no Estimate, and, indeed, they acknowledge that the sum hardly can—that it cannot be expended "within the time for which alone they ask it—that is, before the 3lst of next month. And if they were pressed to say what they intend to do with this Vote of Credit the only answer they will give us is that they will flourish it as a piece of paper in the face of the Representatives of the great Powers at some Conference which they expect speedily to be called. I challenge the Chancellor of the Exchequer to produce a precedent for the course he has taken. Other hon. Members more versed in financial affairs will follow me to attack this unprecedented Vote; but let me say that if money is thus to be granted, the House of Commons will lose one of its dearest and most valuable and most cherished privileges—the privilege—and it is very difficult to maintain it—of 731 voting no money without such control as can be given by Estimates at once complete and precise. We oppose the Vote now in order to oblige the Government to tell us how and why it is to be spent. Here we have an Estimate—but I never read an Estimate like it before. It is this—The Estimate speaks of asum required beyond the ordinary Grants of Parliament, towards defraying the Expenses which may he incurred, during the year ending on the 31st day of March 1878, in increasing the efficiency of the Naval and Military Services at the present crisis of the War between Russia and Turkey.Now, I challenge the Chancellor of the Exchequer to produce another Estimate similar to this. Much has been said about the action of the late Government with regard to the Vote of Credit in 1870. I was a Member of that Cabinet, and was jointly responsible for that Vote, and I fully believe that we were right to ask for it. The Vote of 1870, however, was no precedent for this Vote, for it was then clearly stated how much money would be required, in what way it would be spent, and for what purpose. There was also this difference between the position of the Government and of Parliament then from what it is now. We took that Vote at the close of a lengthened Session. The Government now asks for this Vote for an uncertain sum, which they know not whether they will spend, just when they have summoned Parliament together to keep it informed of their action and in order that it may be ready to assist them. But," with regard to the Vote of 1870, it was moved as a Vote of £2,000,000, and was taken chieflyto further increase the Land Forces by a number not exceeding 20,000 Men (All Ranks), to be maintained for the Service of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, during the year ending the 31st day of March 1871.That was not a Vote to flourish about in the face of anybody. It was a Vote for which we asked Parliament, because we felt that there was a necessity for it. It was for 20,000 men; we stated exactly what we wanted, and my argument would not apply at all if we had got from the Government an exact statement of what they want this money for. My right hon. Friend the Member for Greenwich, then Prime Minister, stated precisely the object of that Vote. On the 8th of August he said— 732On Saturday, the 30th of July, the Government made a proposal to France and Prussia severally in identical terms, and that proposal was that an engagement should be contracted by this country with each of them, whether under the name of a Treaty or whatever other designation might be given to the agreement, to this effect—that if the armies of either one of the belligerents should, in the course of the operations of the war, violate the neutrality of Belgium, as secured by the terms of the Treaty of 1839, this country should co-operate with the other belligerent in defence of that neutrality by arms."—[3 Hansard, cciii. 1700.]Nothing, then, could have been clearer than the object of that Vote; and it is in vain to quote it as a precedent for this one, because you do not say that you intend to add to your number of men—I think you say you do not intend to add to your men—or to your ships, or to your stores; and we do not know for what precise purpose or action you want it. We may know what speeches you mean to make to other Powers if you have this money, but we do not know what action you mean to take. The House ought to be jealous of the way in which the Estimate has been introduced.; because, although it is on the face of it a sham Estimate, yet I am by no means sure that it will entirely remain a sham. I think that an Estimate for more money for the Services of the country than is acknowledged by the Chancellor of the Exchequer to be wanted or likely to be used, is a great temptation to extravagance, and it is exceedingly probable that the result of passing this Vote will be that the Chancellor of the Exchequer will lose that control over the purse strings which I am sure he wishes to exercise, and will find it extremely difficult to prevent more money being used by the Services than he desires. We are told that some of this money is already spent. If that be so, let the Chancellor of the Exchequer come forward and tell us, and he will not find the House ungenerous or wanting in sympathy with the Government in their present circumstances. Leaving these financial, but to my mind most important considerations, I come to the political meaning of this Vote. And here I would take the House back to the first day of the Session. What did the Government advise Her Majesty to tell us in Her Gracious Speech? Her Majesty informed us of three things— first, that neither of the belligerents in this war had infringed the conditions on 733 Which her neutrality is founded; secondly, that she believed that both of the belligerents were desirous to respect those conditions; and, thirdly, that, as long as those conditions were not infringed, her attitude would continue the same. Now, we know that, although we have not been informed that those conditions have been infringed, yet Her Majesty's attitude would not have remained the same unless, in consequence of a most fortunate mistake, the order which was sent out to the Meet last Wednesday had been speedily countermanded. Her Majesty's Speech goes on to say—I cannot conceal from Myself that, should hostilities be unfortunately prolonged, some unexpected occurrence may render it incumbent on Me to adopt measures of precaution. Such measures could not he effectually taken without adequate preparation, and I trust to the liberality of My Parliament to supply the means which may be required for that purpose.Now it will be recollected that in the debate on the Address, there was considerable doubt among hon. Members, I think on both sides of the House, as to the meaning of this important paragraph. Some supposed that the appeal to the liberality of Parliament was to be made immediately, in order that measures of precaution might at once be taken to guard against an occurrence which might come, though it was not expected. Others thought that this was merely a warning to Parliament that something might happen that would necessitate the taking of those measures. It was very difficult thoroughly to understand that paragraph, and there was general wonder that in that most important passage of the Queen's Speech there should be this ambiguity. That, however, has, I think, been explained; for, looking at what has transpired within the last 10 days, I think it is not an unfair inference that that ambiguity arose from the difficulty felt by the Cabinet in deciding precisely what they should do, and that there was a compromise between the two sections of the Cabinet, of whose differences we have lately heard so much. But the Chancellor of the Exchequer was appealed to to explain that ambiguity and he gave a re-assuring explanation. He declared that no immediate appeal would be made, that no additional supplies would then be asked for; and he referred to the terms of peace which were about to 734 be proposed by Russia as the unexpected occurrence which might require an appeal to be made to the House. [The CHANCELLOR of the EXCHEQUER dissented.] The right hon. Gentleman shakes his head. His words were—It is necessary, therefore, that we should maintain an attitude of watchfulness and reserve until we Bee and know what it is that they (the Russians) are prepared to demand. The answer cannot be very much longer unknown to us, and when we know it we snail see more clearly where we are.He pointed to the terms of Russia as being the occurrence in consequence of which it was possible the demand might be made. Well, since then the occurrence, whether expected or unexpected, has come to pass which the Chancellor of the Exchequer stated that the Government would wait for before they took measures of precaution. But what is the information that has been received or the occurrence that has taken place? I say, taking the Speech and the explanation given by the Government together, the natural interpretation of this Vote of Credit, and the one that will be put upon it in this country and abroad is, that the Government ask for this money because they consider these terms unsatisfactory. And that interpretation is confirmed rather than contradicted by the manner in which the Chancellor of the Exchequer dwelt on those terms, and described them; and that explanation has been clung to with the desperate tenacity of drowning men by the war party in Constantinople. The first six proposals do not, in my mind, in any way directly affect British interests. The first of them is this—Within the limits of nationality, not less than those of the Conference, Bulgaria to be an autonomous Principality with a national Christian Government, a native Militia, and no Turkish troops except at certain places to be fixed.There are some hon. Members, no doubt, who are sorry that that has been asked for by Russia; but, for my part, I am not sorry. Any attempt on the part of the Government or their supporters to pass a War Vote, or to get us into any warlike action to protest against this first, and perhaps most important, of these conditions would, believe, be disavowed by the enormo majority of the country. ["No, no!"] 735 I only wish that those who say "No" could put this matter in issue before the country. The next term is theindependence of Montenegro, with an increase of territory corresponding to the military status quo, the frontier to be de6ided hereafter.Now, is there in that, I would ask, anything likely to affect English interests, or anything endangered that Englishmen would protect? We have then the "independence of Roumania, with a sufficient territorial indemnity;" and although there may be some difference as to the conduct of Roumania, I do not suppose any hon. Member thinks this is a condition on account of which we should go to war with Russia. I am glad to learn that Roumanian nationality has distinguished itself, and that by their promise in the late war the Roumanians may be depended upon as patriots fighting for their country. The next term is the "independence of Servia."["Oh, oh!"] I am aware that Servia is not popular, but I think those who thus express their views might with advantage have studied the history of that country, in order to see what were the influences of past generations which have produced the feeling in Servia that may have led to some infraction of Treaties, an infraction which I am not defending, but in which hon. Members who complain of it might have joined had their ancestors had the same experience as the ancestors of these Servians had. However, even though Servia may be unpopular with hon. Gentlemen opposite, in any case I do not imagine this condition would be deemed sufficient to justify a War Vote. The next term, I am glad to find, is "autonomous administration, sufficiently guaranteed, to Bosnia and Herzegovina;" and the next, "similar reforms for the other Christian Provinces of Turkey in Europe." I rejoice to find that the terms asked for by Russia will give some hope to the inhabitants of Thessaly and Epirus, and that there will be some chance for the Greeks and Christians in the Turkish Empire to be freed from the terrible hardships to which they have lately been subject. Now, taking these terms, which are undoubtedly the most important—so far, at least, as Turkey is concerned—they do not, as it seems to me, so affect English interests that we should agree to a War Vote of £6,000,000. Next in order is the indemnity claimed by Russia for the expenses of the war, 736 "in a pecuniary, territorial, or other form, to be decided hereafter." I do not think myself there is anything in that item which calls for a special attitude on our part for a War Vote. It is very probable, I suppose, that the condition points to an indemnity in Armenia, and to such an indemnity I have never understood the Government to say that they were opposed, although that they should do so may be the wish of many of their supporters. Indeed, I have observed with great satisfaction that from the time the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary for the Home Department made his celebrated speech up to the present time—and I have carefully looked through all Lord Derby's despatches—there has been no attempt whatever on the part of the Government to pledge this country against Russia obtaining an indemnity in Armenia. Not that I wish the territory of Russia to be increased, and I will say, once for all, that I am as much opposed to the Russian form and manner of government as any hon. Member whom I see before me; but, however bad may be their government, it is my firm belief that if an appeal were made to the inhabitants of Armenia, they would themselves, by an overwhelming majority, declare that, with all its faults, they would prefer it to the Government of Turkey. Upon this question of indemnity I would add that if there be anything in that shape demanded by Russia which would be injurious to English interests, Parliament is not going to separate directly—let the Government come forward when such a demand is made, and prove it to be so, and Parliament will respond to the appeal. But I now come to that which is, I have no doubt, in the minds of many hon. Gentlemen the most important of these items, and I myself am prepared to admit that it is the most important as far as England is concerned —I allude to the last, the "ulterior understanding for safeguarding the rights and interests of Russia in the Straits." Now that is a very natural demand for Russia to make upon Turkey. [Laughter.] Does any hon. Gentleman think it is not a natural demand? It is not an absolute demand, and I am not telling hon. Gentlemen that it is a demand which we should allow to be enforced without any remark on our side; but no one, I think, could expect that 737 war would close, and that Russia should have obtained a great triumph, without, her saying to Turkey—"We expect to have our power in the Black Sea, and our power to take our ships out of that sea, placed in a different position so far as you are concerned." I forget by what Minister it has been said, but it has been said, that this demand by Russia was a matter which ought to have been avoided; that it would be greatly to the interest of England to avoid the result that Russia should ask Turkey for another arrangement with regard to the Straits of the Dardanelles. That would not be a reasonable position for the Government to take up now, for I am of opinion that from the moment Russia was allowed to carry on the war by herself, you were bound by the logical result that, if she conquered Turkey, she would ask, so far as her relations with the latter country were involved, to make her own terms, and to appeal to us and the other Powers for their sanction only so far as related to our and their interests. If you did not look forward to that result, another line of conduct should have been taken—indeed, I believe some of your supporters wished it to betaken—namely, that Russia should not have been allowed to go to war with Turkey. But having adopted the line you did, in which you have the overwhelming support of the enormous majority of the country, you must put up with the consequences; and there is, it appears to me, nothing to surprise us in Russia making this demand. If there had been any wish to induce Turkey to continue fighting—I do not charge the Government with such a wish, but many individuals have entertained it—because we should not like to see such an arrangement made directly between her and Russia, that, I contend, would have been most unreasonable and cruel to Turkey; and I must at once admit that I was glad to hear the Chancellor of the Exchequer state that "we could not ask the Turks now to continue the war." I was sorry, however, to hear that word "now" used. We ought never to have asked the Turks at any moment to continue the war for one moment. [The CHANCELLOR of the EXCHEQUER: We never did.] There remains, however, the fact that our interests as a naval Power are concerned in this question of the Straits; and let me suppose that Russia, having made 738 this demand on Turkey, intended to defy the other Powers of Europe, or to defy us, in that case the Government might have made out a case for an appeal to us for aid. But there is no such attempt whatever, for the very next despatch, which follows these terms of peace, reads as follows (it is from the Earl of Derby to Lord Augustus Loftus, and is dated from the Foreign Office, January 25):—My Lord,—Count Schouvaloff read to me to-day the following extract of a telegram from Prince Gortchakow: '"We repeat the assurance that we do not intend to settle by ourselves (isolement) European questions having reference to the peace which is to be made (se rattachant a lapaix).'We were informed, and no doubt the other Powers, that the Russian Government admitted that the arrangement made by Treaty in 1856, and confirmed by Treaty in 1871, was an arrangement which could not be altered without the sanction of the other Powers. It is possible, however, that Russia may propose, instead of the present arrangements with regard to the Straits, that they should be open to the ships of war of all the Powers. I am not saying anything in favour of such a proposition; but it is not one which, I contend, ought to be received with hostility, or one which we should refuse to admit to be a matter of European consideration, to be decided on by the Powers who were parties to the Treaty of 1871. I will go further and say that if the Government have good grounds for believing that Russia means to make the unfair and unreasonable proposal of procuring for herself a passage through the Straits without allowing us or other Powers to have also the same right of passage, then I think the Government would be joined in protesting against such a proposal by an immense majority of hon. Members on both sides of the House. We have, however, no reason whatever to suppose that Russia has made any such proposal; and here I must ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer to be so kind as to answer me this Question. I was very much surprised when we got the Papers on Tuesday morning to read the last despatch—the despatch from Lord Derby to Lord Augustuas Loftus, dated the 28th of January, in which occur these words—The Russian Ambassador called on me late this afternoon, and read me an extract from a 739 telegram which he had received from Prince Gortchakoff, authorizing him to affirm categorically that the Russian Government consider the passage of ships of war through the Dardanelles as an European question, which they do not intend to settle by themselves (resoudre isolement).I was surprised to read this despatch.— not because of its tenour, but because the Chancellor of the Exchequer made no allusion to it. [The CHANCELLOR of the EXCHEQUER: I had not seen it when I spoke.] I am very glad to hear that explanation, because I am sure that it was impossible that the Chancellor of the Exchequer could have received that despatch and not have read it to us. I think it contains very important information, and ought to re-assure the minds of some hon. Gentlemen opposite. I will not detain the House any longer on the Russian terms. To me there is nothing in these terms that requires us to arm, or justifies an appeal for a War Vote, and I think that our arming or our passing a War Vote would be misinterpreted, not merely in this country, but in every capital of Europe; and especially at Constantinople, in Bulgaria, and in the other Christian Provinces of Turkey it would be supposed that we were arming against the fact of the terms of peace. It would be taken to mean resistance to Russia, and that, to my mind, is a very strong reason why we should not pass the Vote on any ground yet adduced by the Government. Now, has anything else happened since the opening of Parliament or has there been any other information which the Government has been able to give us which would justify this appeal for a special Vote? I know there is a great feeling of surprise at the delay in the armistice. Nothing can be more extraordinary than the despatch produced by the Government this morning, from which it appears that, although the telegraph is open between Constantinople and Adrianople, the Porte cannot give any information whatever with regard to the proceedings of its own Ambassadors. That is a most extraordinary and most unintelligible circumstance. But the unintelligible part of it is the conduct, not of Russia, but of Turkey. ["Oh, oh!"] Well, I think hon. Gentlemen must admit that if any other Power were in that situation—if it had sent its Ambassadors so long ago as the 23rd instant on the most important business that could concern a 740 country, and yet had got no answer from them up to the present time, they would admit that the circumstance was extraordinary and unintelligible. There are two interpretations which might be put upon this delay, and hon. Members may take which they like. They may say that the Russians, who proposed the terms of peace, are delaying the acceptance of them for purposes of their own. How they could do so, I do not precisely see. They proposed the terms of peace and they are waiting for their acceptance. It may be that the Turks are hesitating about accepting them. I do not for a moment deny that they are very hard terms for Turkey, but they are such terms as Lord Derby warned Musurus Pasha Turkey might have to accept, and which she ought to have contemplated when she went to war. It is quite possible, I repeat, that Turkey is hesitating; and I do not admit that there is no danger that that hesitation may be increased by the proceedings of the Government. I am not going to quote the opinion of newspapers. We have got into a region in which we have to consider the opinions of Members of the House of Commons under the guidance of their constituents; but one newspaper, The Daily Telegraph, which is constantly receiving information from Turkey, stated the day before yesterday, upon the authority of its correspondent in Constantinople, that the Turkish Government had sent counter proposals. That may, or may not be true; anyhow, I need not further refer to it. All I wish to say is this—if the Government have any information, or can produce any further information before the close of this debate, as to the delay either in the signing of peace or in the signing of the armistice, or, if any fact has passed since the opening of the Session which, in their opinion, injures English interests and justifies their calling upon us to give them Supplies, let them state it. As yet it has not been stated, and to do the Chancellor of the Exchequer justice, he does not base this appeal upon anything that has passed since the opening of the Session. He said—We are asked why are you asking for this money, and what are you going to do with it? We asked for this money, not necessarily that it, or the greater part of it, may be expended at all; but we desire to be armed by you as we go into these negotiations; we desire to go 741 armed with this Vote, which is not only a Vote of Credit, but a Vote of Confidence.In his explanatory speech he said—We do not ask for this Vote of £6,000,000 to be expended upon this or upon that; we ask it in order that we may be able to go into Conference and negotiation with the force of England at our back.The grounds upon which the Chancellor of the Exchequer puts the matter are these—first, that the Vote will give weight to the Government in the coming negotiations; and, second, that the Government think they have a right to ask for a Vote of Confidence. Now, take the first argument, as regards the weight of England in the approaching Conference. I can understand the Parliamentary ground on which the Chancellor of the Exchequer rests his appeal. It does enable him to obtain the support of all the Supporters of the Government, whether they may be more or less inclined to what may be called a war policy. By a Vote, which appears to be a War Vote, the Chancellor of the Exchequer may hope to conciliate his War Friends, and at the same time by telling his Peace Friends that the money will not be spent, he may conciliate them. I observe, however, that he has not entirely conciliated his War Friends. The hon. and gallant Member for Gravesend (Captain Pirn) has put an Amendment on the Paper, which I must confess goes, with sailor-like simplicity, to the real matter in hand; and which, if the Government thought it necessary to propose a Vote at all, was the sort of Vote they ought to have proposed. He asks the House to declare that—The assurances of the Czar are being deliberately evaded by the proposed Terms of Peace and the advance of the Russian Army, and that the time has now arrived when immediate action on the part of Great Britain is an absolute necessity;and asks the House to—Request Her Majesty's Government to lay upon the Table forthwith the Estimates for placing the Navy and Army upon a war footing.That is intelligible, and it would have been understood throughout Europe, and would have given rise to no misunderstanding. But whether the Government have conciliated their War Supporters or not by the manner in which they have made this proposal, I appeal to them and to the House generally whether it is a 742 proposal which is fair to the House or calculated to uphold the dignity of the country. The next question is, we are told that this sham Estimate—for there is no intention of making it a real Estimate—is to give weight to this country in the approaching Conference. We have heard some talk of the humiliation of England by the papers which have urged the Government to a war policy which they could not undertake; but there would, indeed, be humiliation if this House felt that a paper Vote of this kind was necessary. I think it is only the present Prime Minister to whom the idea that a piece of paper would give weight to the Government' could have occurred. I would not have thought it possible for him if he had not told us that he would check the encroachments of Russia by an empty title. Why, every Power that meets there well knows that England would give £6,000,000 or £60,000,000 if necessary. But let the Government, let their Delegates, let their Ambassadors, if there be no Conference, and especially let their Ambassador at Constantinople, know that there are vast numbers of Englishmen who, while they are willing to give £6,000,000 or £60,000,000 to support the Government in a just cause, will not give £6,000 for an unjust and unnecessary war; or to induce the Government, by unnecessary suspicion, to make the restoration of European peace more difficult. I now come to the Vote of Confidence. The right hon. Member for Tamworth (Sir Robert Peel), who saw that it was not a very wise ground upon which the Government put it, came forward the other night and said that the Chancellor of the Exchequer did not mean a Vote of Confidence as generally understood. I think, however, the Chancellor of the Exchequer will admit that what they do mean is this—that, in asking for this Vote of Credit, which is also a Vote of Confidence, they ask us for confidence in the immediate future, founded upon the recent past. I put it to the Supporters of the Government—I put it to the House—is there anything in the recent past, is there anything in the recent conduct of the Ministers which tends to increase our confidence in the Government? If there be, what is the particular action of Her Majesty's Government that has inspired that confidence? Have we confidence in Her Majesty's Govern- 743 ment because of the order they sent out last Wednesday—an order which might very possibly have plunged the country into war? Or have we confidence in them because they countermanded that order the next day in consequence of their Ambassador at Constantinople having made a mistake, but a most fortunate mistake, his having made which, for the first time for many weeks, made me glad that my old friend Mr. Layard was our Representative at that capital? I congratulate the Government, and I am sure they must congratulate themselves, on that order having been countermanded, because after having read the despatches they must be convinced that it was given recklessly and hastily, under a mistaken impression as to the conduct of the Russian Government. ["No, no!"] Hon. Gentlemen may say "No, no;" but, at any rate, at that time the Government had not the despatches before them. They must also congratulate themselves on the mistake, because it was fortunate in another respect—namely, that it enabled the Government to retain the services of their Minister who has conducted our foreign affairs, and in whom I say, without fear of contradiction, the country has more confidence than it places in the other Members of Her Majesty's Government. ["No, no!"] Some hon. Members opposite say "No, no," and that induces me again to ask this question—is there anything in the recent conduct of Her Majesty's Government that induces us to place confidence in them for the immediate future? In whom are we to have confidence—in which Member of the Government? Are we to have confidence in the Prime Minister? ["Hear, hear!"] Are we to have confidence in the Prime Minister who persuaded his Colleagues—and I have no doubt that he is very proud of having persuaded them—to commit this act, which is now acknowledged to have been hasty, of sending the Fleet to the Dardanelles? Are we to have confidence in the Foreign Secretary who tendered his resignation on the order being given, but came back to the Government when it was countermanded? I have no doubt that it is hoped by some hon. Members on that side of the House, as well as by many on this side, that the threatened resignation of the noble Lord so far frightened the Prime Minister that his presence in the Cabinet may 744 be taken as affording us some security for the conduct of the Government in the future. All I can say is, that looking back at the occurrences of the last 10 days, I am surprised that the Government are asking even their own Supporters for a Vote of Confidence. As regards ourselves, most certainly I can see no reason in anything that has happened since Parliament met to give us increased confidence in the Government. The Foreign Secretary, it is true, came back to the Government when he found that he had got his way; but the Colonial Secretary did not come back, and I daresay the Supporters of the Government would now no longer have confidence in that Minister of whom they were so proud. For my own part, I am willing at once to admit that the resignation of Lord Carnarvon has greatly diminished our confidence in Her Majesty's Government. His presence in the Cabinet was, to our minds, the greatest security we had that peace would be maintained, and was a guarantee against the repetition of the reckless acts which the Government have committed within the last 10 days. After reading or hearing his explanation, I think it is impossible for the country to overrate the debt which they owe to Lord Carnarvon. It was by his speech three or four weeks ago that he reassured the country, and, I have no doubt, checked and prevented actions which would have alarmed the country; and I think I am not wrong in stating that it is clear that not once only, but two or three times, the noble Lord has stood between Her Majesty's Government and what we consider would have been a most dangerous policy. Therefore, you must not be surprised that the resignation of Lord Carnarvon—which will, at all events, be a great loss to his special Department in consequence of the excellent manner in which he has conducted the affairs of the Colonies— has not rendered us more likely to assent to this Vote of Credit in answer to the Government appeal. Now, in his speech on Monday last, the Chancellor of the Exchequer was very hypothetical. He then stated that he would not give us the source of the rumours to which he alluded, but he told us the substance of many rumours that had come to his knowledge, which might or might not be true; and he gave us many explana- 745 tions of them, and set before us many possibilities. Will the House, therefore, allow me to give one hypothetical explanation with regard to this Vote?— but, although hypothetical, I think it as likely to be true as the hypotheses of the right hon. Gentleman—as that, for example, of a Russian Prince in Bulgaria. Why do Her Majesty's Government ask us for this Vote? It is not a very natural Vote for them to move in existing circumstances; but it was very natural for them to give Notice of it last Thursday, when they had given orders to the Fleet to enter the Dardanelles. It was very possible that the Russians might look upon that step as a breach of our neutrality, which it really was; and, therefore, it was quite natural, and a very logical conclusion for Her Majesty's Government to give Notice of this Motion. But when that order to the Fleet to proceed to the Dardanelles was countermanded, the Motion for this Vote of Credit became unnecessary, and it should have been dropped. The real fact was, however, the Government had so often and constantly changed its policy that the uncertainty of its policy had made it the puzzle, not to say the laughing-stock, of Europe. Seeing this, they wore determined that there was one resolution at least to which they would stick; that they thought, in the first instance, the money would be wanted, yet when they found by the change of policy and countermanding the order under the pressure of Lord Derby's resignation, they no longer wanted the money, they would not at the same time countermand the order to their own Supporters, and they said—"Though it is true that when we asked for this money we wanted it, and that we no longer do so, yet we still ask for it, because we will now call it a Vote of Confidence." There is another reason why we, on our own part, are unable to respond to this appeal of the Government. It is not merely that we are uncertain as to the policy of the Government in the past, but it is also this—that we are uncertain whether the conduct of the Government may not, oven in the next week, be reckless and dangerous as it was reckless and dangerous last week. And we have every reason to believe that, if any other similar reckless act be done, it will be done suddenly, without the slightest warning, although the Members of the House of 746 Commons have been called together three weeks earlier than usual, in order, as it was said, that the Government might take them into its confidence and keep them constantly informed as to the state of affairs. And yet we have not received that confidence. Talk of an unexpected occurrence, who could have expected that when the Chancellor of the Exchequer came down on that Thursday and gave his Notice—who could have imagined that at that time the Foreign Secretary and the Colonial Secretary had determined to leave the Cabinet on account of the order given to the Fleet to enter the Dardanelles? But let us look for a moment into the grounds on which it is said the order given to the Fleet was based. They were two, nay, three in number. The first was that there was a misunderstanding of the terms of peace. It was supposed that the Czar was going to settle alone with the Sultan questions affecting our interests. Then the order was given for two purposes— one was to protect life and property in Constantinople, and the other to keep open the waterway of the Dardanelles. Now, if the object had been merely the first, and the Government had real reason to suppose that there was real danger to life and property in Constantinople, or that there was going to be a massacre of the Christians, we should not have been surprised at their action. As the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Birmingham (Mr. Bright) stated, it would have been natural in that case that the Powers should have been informed that it was for that purpose, and that purpose alone, that the Fleet had received its orders, and no objection would have been raised by other Powers. But the Fleet was going there for another purpose. What was the meaning of keeping the waterway of the Dardanelles open? I shall be followed, no doubt by international lawyers, and therefore I will not say much on this point; but I think it will be proved that this attempt to keep the waterway open, whatever grounds there were for it, was a breach of neutrality. Some hon. Gentlemen, I suppose, think we are parties to a Treaty now in force in regard to the Straits. I believe that to be a mistake. The Articles of the Treaties of 1856 and 1871, with respect to the Dardanelles, do not at this moment in any way apply to the navigation of the 747 Straits. They applied merely to Turkey when she was at peace, and Turkey being now no longer at peace the words have at this moment no meaning or effect. We return, then, to the condition of a neutral in any war that may break out, and it is an acknowledged principle of international law by expounders of that science, that for a neutral to go into the territory of one belligerent, and to take possession of such territory, in order to keep out the other belligerent, and then to say it will keep open the waterway—a vague phrase, but which must mean that it will prevent the other belligerent from going into it—is in itself a breach of neutrality. But before I leave this subject, let me ask the Government one question. The Chancellor of the Exchequer in his speech gave as a reason for the order that was sent out, that the Russians were advancing with great rapidity on Gallipoli. Now, I want to know whether the Government have received any explanation from Mr. Layard bearing on the despatch mentioned in No. 30, and dated January 23. Mr. Layard says—"I have communicated the substance of your telegram of the 4th instant to the Porte." That telegram was the assurance which we had sent to the Porte and which we had received from the Russian Government. It stated—That Her Majesty's Government are glad to receive the pledge thus given by the Russian Government that they have no intention of directing their military operations on Gallipoli unless Turkish regular troops should concentrate there.Her Majesty's Government state that one great cause of their alarm was that they thought the Russian Government was going to take possession of Gallipoli. They asked the Russian Government not to do so, and the Russian Government gave them a satisfactory assurance, saying that they would only go there if they were obliged as belligerents to go there because the Turkish regular troops were there. Mr. Layard goes on—In reply, I am informed that there are now only three battalions at Gallipoli to maintain order and to prevent the Mussulman population from taking flight, and that more troops will not he sent there if I am authorized by Her Majesty's Government to communicate officially to the Porte in their name the pledge given by Prince Gortchakoff.What I ask is this—Did the Govern- 748 ment allow Mr. Layard to communicate this pledge? If they did, what has been the consequence of it? If Russia said she would not send her troops to Gallipoli unless the Turks concentrated their regular forces there, and if the Turks assured us they would not thus concentrate their forces, what was the ground of the fear of the Government? If, on the other hand, Her Majesty's Government did not allow Mr. Layard to communicate this officially to the Porte, we should be glad to have some information. There is one other ground, and it is the last ground, on which the Chancellor of the Exchequer based his proposal. It is the question whether we are or are not to go to this Conference armed with the strength of a united nation, and whether we are or are not to speak with the voice of England as that voice ought to be heard. By all means let the Government go into the Conference with the voice of England as a united nation. I think they can do so with the voice of a united Parliament speaking as the representatives of a united nation. There are English interests involved in this question— English interests which, though they may be special, are not selfish interests. There is the interest of preserving our communications with our Indian Empire. There is the interest of preserving our road through the Suez Canal, and our right to send not only merchant ships, but also ships of war through the Canal at any time, and with that right the power and the right to send our troops across the Isthmus of Suez by railway if any misfortune should happen to the Canal. There is this interest with regard to Egypt; and with respect to it, I believe the country is unanimous to one man in supporting the Government. I am only speaking on behalf of myself, for I have no right to speak for others; but I think that is the belief of the majority of the Members of this House and of a large majority in the country. Another English interest, on which I believe the country would be almost unanimous, is that we are to be treated in the Black Sea on equal terms with Russia and the other Great Powers; but that is not a selfish interest, it involves also the interests of civilization. Our special English interests are not selfish ones, but there are other interests which, though they are not special, are 749 yet English. First, there is the question of the permanent possession of Constantinople. Here, again, do not let it be supposed that I am speaking for anyone but myself, though I believe I am speaking what is the opinion of most of the Members of the Liberal Party as well as of the country generally. I am not one of those who would endeavour to prevent the Russians from permanently possessing Constantinople, as a purely English interest. It has not been so stated by Her Majesty's Government, and I believe, on the contrary, that it is much more an Austrian interest, and as much a German, or French, or Italian interest. Again, I do not think the Government ought to be supported in any attempt by force to prevent the temporary occupation by Russia of Constantinople. I think that if we had intended to take that ground we should have done so originally, and have told Russia she must not go to war. If two countries do engage in war, it is not reasonable to expect that one belligerent will stay short of such successes as will force the other to give way, when the conquering belligerent is about to reap all the advantages it had sought to gain by the war. But I do most fully admit that the Government ought to be supported in taking their part in the European concert to carry out the European object of preventing the permanent possession of Constantinople by the Russians, if that is threatened, which I do not believe it is. But, in that case, and if the Government feel it is their duty to take part in such concert, surely they ought to give us all the information they possibly can with regard to our relations with the other Great Powers of Europe upon this question; and as yet they have given us hardly a scrap of such information. Then there is also another interest which is also not the less an English interest because it is not our special interest. That is the good government or better government of the people of Turkey —the interest of the freedom of the Christian subjects of the Porte from the cruel bondage and the senseless tyranny which, until it ceases, makes that European peace impossible which, as the Earl of Derby rightly stated, is the chief interest of England. Let the Prime Minister and his Colleagues go into the Conference declaring that we are in favour of these interests, and I 750 know of no other interests connected with this question which they need very strongly advocate. Let them declare in favour of these interests, and they will need no sham Vote of Confidence, but they will have the enthusiastic support of a united people, and there will be an end of Party differences. Not having received any information from the Government which proves that this Vote of Confidence is necessary, fearing, on the other hand, that it will and must be interpreted as an attempt to lessen the advantages which the Christian populations may gain by this war, and fearing that it must be interpreted as a check to the aspirations of the rising Christian nationalities, and that it will be a means through which some, at least, of their chains will remain unbroken, I feel that I have no course to adopt but to move the Amendment of which I have given Notice, and to call upon all those who agree with me to vote for it.
To leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words, "this House, having been informed in Her Majesty's Gracious Speech that the conditions on which Her Majesty's neutrality is founded had not been infringed by either belligerent engaged in the war in the East of Europe, and having since received no information sufficient to justify a departure from the policy of neutrality and peace, sees no reason for adding to the burthens of the people by voting unnecessary Supplies,"—(Mr. William Edward Forster,)
§ Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."
MR. ASSHETON CROSS
Mr. Speaker—The vagueness and the ambiguity of the speech we have just heard lead me to see in it the most patriotic statement as to what the right hon. Gentleman would do if British interests were attacked; and, at the same time, he almost imputed to the Government that they were betraying those interests by asking for this Vote. That is one of the most extraordinary statements I ever heard. There are sentiments he has uttered and words he has used which I have heard over and over again in the country, which if I were answering them in the country I should certainly say were not borne out by the facts, and which, as far as Parliamentary language 751 allows me to do, I must beg emphatically and distinctly to deny. But the whole gist of the right hon. Gentleman's speech is to create an impression in this House and out of it that there is a war party—"war-mongers,"I think, as we are called by an hon. Gentleman; to lead the House and the country in general to believe that because we felt it to be our duty to come down to the House and ask it to give us this Vote in Supply, we are doing it for the purpose, when we have got it, of going to war without the sanction of this House. I say, as far as Parliamentary language will allow me to say so, that is utterly untrue. But not content with holding out the Government in that light, in which he wants to make us appear extremely warlike—determined to go to war at all hazards—he has gone out of his way to make accusations against my noble Friend at the head of the Government, which are such as during the considerable time I have sat in this House I never before heard from any hon. Member, and such as I, for one, hope never to hear again. What the right hon. Gentleman meant, by what no doubt he thought would be picked up as a catchword through the country was, that this is a "sham estimate," and what he meant by that, I presume, is to attribute to the Prime Minister that he asked the Government to consent to come down to the House and formally to make a proposition such as we have made; but that nothing at all should be meant by it—that it was held up as a piece of show— a mere thing to dazzle the eyes; and he compares it with a measure, which at the time was also attacked, brought in by the Prime Minister, relating to the settlement of the Imperial Crown in India. I hope when the House comes to consider this question more seriously they will be better able to judge how far those observations of the right hon. Gentleman are born out, or how far, in their opinion, he is justified in having ever made them at all. The right hon. Gentleman, fixing upon a word that fell from my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer the other evening—although it was entirely explained five minutes after it was spoken—still tried to persuade the House that by this Vote we are asking for a general Vote of Confidence in the Government.
§ MR. W. E. FORSTER
I think it will be admitted that I said I understood the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer to state that it was not a Vote of general Confidence in the policy of the Ministry; but that I thought it was a Vote asking for confidence in the immediate action of the Government, based on their recent conduct.
MR. ASSHETON CROSS
My answer to that is, that after the explanation that was given, that it was not a Vote of general Confidence, the remark of the right hon. Gentleman ought never to have been made. The time will come, but not when great national subjects are before us, when that question may be put before the House by the right hon. Gentleman, and the answer will then be given. That is not the question now. The question placed before the House the other night by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer is as clear as can be. We ask for this Vote. In our opinion, it is necessary for the purposes of the country. We should not have come down to ask it at your hands if we had not come deliberately to that conclusion. As responsible Ministers of the Crown, what we ask is that you will place it in our hands, relying upon us that we should not use it unnecessarily—should not use it for purposes for which it was not absolutely required. That being so, I must ask for a few moments the attention of the House while I explain what I mean by saying that there has been a general wish on the part of right hon. Gentlemen sitting opposite to hold us up as a war Party. I must for one moment go back, if the House will allow me, as far as the 6th of May last year. On the 6th of May Lord Derby wrote that despatch which has practically been the charter of the policy of the Government from that day to this. I will just relate, for the information of the House, the terms of the despatch, merely premising that the outbreak of the war having been communicated to us on the 24th April, on the 30th April we issued the declaration of neutrality, and on the 6th May we wrote this despatch— 753Her Majesty's Government do not propose again to enter on the justice or necessity of the present war. They have already expressed their views, and further discussion would be unavailing.Then, here comes the first landmark, as I ventured to call it in my speech of last Session—They have respected the obligations which a state of war imposes upon them, and they have lost no time in issuing a proclamation of neutrality. They have from the first warned the Porte that they must not look to England for assistance, as they are determined to carry impartially into effect the pledge of neutrality so long as Turkish interests alone are involved.Well, now for the second landmark—At the same time they think it right that there should be no misunderstanding as to their position and intentions. If the war in progress should unfortunately spread, interests may be in peril which they are equally bound and determined to defend, and it is most desirable that they should make it clear what those interests are.Guided by those landmarks, from the 6th May up to the present day Her Majesty's Government have always acted. They have never swerved either from one or the other, and they are of the same opinion now as they were on the 6th May, that that is the policy which, so long as the war lasts, they are hound to observe. Now, I admit, and I believe the whole country admits, that this position which the Government has taken up—the position of neutrals, when there is a great war raging between States with which we are friendly—is one of great difficulty. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Greenwich (Mr. Gladstone), at the time when the war was raging between France and Germany, made use of this observation—We have considered the duty of neutrals, and we have done our best thus far to fulfil them. The duties of a neutral are not easy— they are duties which the most sanguine of statesmen and the most sanguine of Governments can hardly hope to fulfil in such a manner as not to give offence to one side or the other, and probably to both.I quite agree with those remarks. I say again, we have never swerved from the policy we laid down in our despatch of the 6th of May. Is there any man in this House who will say that we have given encouragement to Turkey? Is there any man in this House who will say that we have in any form or shape 754 deceived Turkey? I will not go back to the warning which we gave her at the time. When Parliament was summoned earlier than usual, Lord Derby, writing to Mr. Layard, said—In view of the reports which are likely to be current in this country, Her Majesty's Government think it desirable that you should be aware that this unusually early meeting of Parliament does not imply any intention on their part to depart from the policy of conditional neutrality which they have announced.Well, on a later date, on the 21st December, there is a report of a conversation that took place between Lord Derby and the Turkish Ambassador—His Excellency referred more than once to the possibility of an intervention, and I thought it right to repeat the warning—namely, that no intervention was to be expected, but that Her Majesty's Government would adhere to the conditions of neutrality which they had laid down.Then, on the 7th January of the present year, in the course of further conversation, Lord Derby took occasion to remind the Turkish Ambassador that our language had never varied from the beginning of the war to the present time—I thought it right once more to repeat this warning, in order that no false hopes might be raised.And not later ago than the 12th January Lord Derby writes to Mr. Layard—The Sultan asks whether he can expect any assistance; I fear not, for I told him from the beginning we were not prepared to give any material assistance, and as the Russians have now offered mediation, it would not avail.Now, I ask this House, I ask the country, whether there can be a clearer course adopted by any Government than that which we followed? And yet right hon. Gentlemen, not in the Assembly of this House, but elsewhere, have not hesitated to accuse us of having been false to our promises contained in the despatch of the 6th May. [Mr. GOSCHEN: No, no!] The right hon. Gentleman says "No, no." Has he read the speech supposed to have been delivered yesterday afternoon not very far from the City of London?
MR. ASSHETON GROSS
But I refer to speeches that have been delivered outside this House; and even 755 in the speech we have just heard, although broken promises were not perhaps said in so many words, there was contained the substance of such an accusation. If the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Goschen) be right, it amounts to this—that right hon. Gentlemen use language outside which they dare not use in this House. Although, as I have said, such language was not used in the speech just delivered, still the substance of that accusation ran through it from beginning to end. To leave that, I shall now refer to what fell from the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Gladstone) at Oxford. He accused us of not knowing our own minds; but I ask whether the despatches from which I have quoted prove that? He further said that we have spoken with two voices, and that we poured forth from the same fountain sweet waters and bitter waters. I grant at once that in our despatches there is bitter enough water for the Turkish Government. But I defy you to find one drop of sweet. Well, then, to proceed further, I ask, have we ever on the other hand deceived Russia? On the contrary, we have from first to last warned her where our interests lay, and that they would be defended. In the despatch which we wrote later, on 13th December, 1877, when the war seemed to have taken a different turn, we wrote in the strongest way to Russia, telling her that Her Majesty's Government would hold herself free to take whatever course was necessary for the protection of British interests; but that we sincerely trusted and confidently believed that any such necessity would be averted by a mutual understanding between the two Governments. So that whether you turn to Turkey or whether you turn to Russia you will find no act or despatch of the Government in which we have swerved from the despatch of 6th May. I ask, also, whether we ever deceived the country? We told the country in the Queen's Most Gracious Speech that so long as the conditions of our neutrality were not violated, so long would that neutrality be adhered to. But, on the other hand, I say in the speeches which have been made throughout the country there has been a "lying spirit" abroad, and in the Resolution before the House there is an evil spirit lurking, although at first sight somewhat difficult to discover.
MR. ASSHETON CROSS
I should be very sorry; but I say this without fear of contradiction, that the policy of these speeches has been to hold out to Turkey that we were going in the long run to assist her. Well, what they have tried to persuade the country is that we have been dishonest in the despatches we have written and in the words we have spoken. I deny that the despatches contain any ground for such statements; but I will not rest it on that—I will show the absurdity of the charge. If we had any lurking wish to depart from the policy of the 6th of May, when we might have acted and with effect at the time that the Turkish Armies seemed likely, at all events for some time, to hold their own against Russia, we should have been not merely dishonest but simply fools had we waited until the Turks were thoroughly and absolutely beaten, and then come forward to help them. Surely, if there is anything in the stern logic of facts, it must prove that the determination of the Government was a very honest determination and one they meant to go upon? The right hon. Gentleman has never in his speech, as far as I am aware, pointed out a single complaint made by the Government of either Russia or Turkey that we have violated our neutrality. I am not aware of any despatch making any such complaint, and I think that if the two Governments in this case—which, I venture to say, is a peculiar case— acquiesce in our attitude; when, after a long and bloody struggle, the position of a country like England is not complained of, we need not trouble ourselves very much as to the complaints coming from the right hon. Gentleman. Now, Sir, the right hon. Gentleman alluded to the orders given to the Fleet, which orders he characterized as a reckless act —["Hear, hear!"]—as recklessly issued. ["Hear, hear!"] Hon. Members may say "Hear, hear," but they do not understand the circumstances—and as recklessly recalled. The right hon. Gentleman should clearly understand one of the vital reasons for which the Fleet was recalled, but he did not allude to it in his Speech. It was quite evident, as the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer stated, that at that time 757 there were very serious apprehensions as to the state of affairs with regard to the terms of peace. No one knew in the least what were the terms of peace. The Russians were still advancing in every direction. There was a panic amongst all the populations of the south-east of Europe, and we had a very large number of British subjects—much larger than the right hon. Gentleman and the House know—resident in Constantinople. He quarrels with the orders given to the Fleet to sail at once up the Dardanelles. Lot me read what they were—"Sail at once for the Dardanelles, and proceed with the Fleet now with you to Constantinople." The first order given said—Abstain from taking any part in the contest between Russia and Turkey, but the waterway of the Straits is to be kept open, and in the event of tumult at Constantinople you are to protect life and property of British subjects.I do not see that by these orders there was any wish for a breach of neutrality. Under these orders, if the Russian Government had their ships coming up the Dardanelles, and the British Fleet under Admiral Hornby had attacked them, he would, in my opinion, have broken the orders given him. [An hon. MEMBER: now about the waterway?] Keep the waterway open! Do you think that we mean that we were going to send up our Fleet to Constantinople to protect our subjects and have the entrance to the Dardanelles shut against us; and if we have subjects in Constantinople and there is panic and probable fear of massacre that we are to have the gate shut in our face? I say we had a perfect right to see that the waterway was kept open in order that our ships might go up and down. I will not argue the question further; but will the right hon. Gentleman remember, when he speaks of breaches of neutrality, what occurred in the year 1853, when it was doubtful whether war had been declared or not? I am glad, by the way, that he has at last come to see some value in Treaties, because the year before last we were told that we might tear them up. The right hon. Gentleman says that we have broken that Treaty. I say we have not. Let me remind him of what took place in 1853. In September it is recorded that in consequence of the alarming state of affairs at Constantinople, the British and French Am- 758 bassadors determined to send two war steamers up the Dardanelles, at a time when no official intelligence of this fact had reached the Government, and Lord Clarendon addressed a despatch to Lord Stratford de Redcliffe to the effect that, in ordinary circumstances, as long as the Sultan did not declare war against Russia, we must scrupulously adhere to the Treaty of 1841; but after it appeared that the lives and property of British subjects were in danger, it was clear that the Treaty regulating the entering into the Straits had no longer any binding force. I do not know why, if the waterway is to be closed, and if British subjects are exposed to danger, we should not go to rescue them in 1878 as much as in 1853, or that when the ships go there we should not take care that they get back safe. The right hon. Gentleman referred also to the second order to the Admiral to withdraw the Fleet, which he calls a "lucky chance." I must demur to that expression. That second order which we were very glad to issue was sent in consequence of a telegram received from Mr. Layard, the last part of which had the greatest weight with us. It was not simply that he had got, or thought he had got the bases of peace; but that he was told that the Turkish Plenipotentiaries had gone to the Russian headquarters and had been instructed to accept the terms—an entirely different thing. If the Turkish Plenipotentiaries were instructed to accept the bases of peace, then all panic would go, and there was no possibility of danger. The situation was changed, the necessity of sending the Fleet was gone, and the Government at once withdrew the order for the entry into the Dardanelles. I do not know that we are to be blamed for that action. I do not know that we are to be told that our policy in that respect was uncertain. I say it was not uncertain. The Fleet was sent up for an express purpose, and the moment the cause of that purpose ceased the Fleet came back. The right hon. Gentleman twitted the Government with having been actuated by a double motive—not only to recall the Fleet, but also to recall their Foreign Secretary. That statement is wholly without foundation and ought not to go uncontradicted.
The House will pardon me if I now consider what was the change that oc- 759 curred so suddenly in the position of the belligerents. Everyone knows that on December 10 Plevna fell, and that on the 12th the Sultan made an appeal to all the Powers of Europe. That appeal was not responded to, and on Christmas Day the Sultan stated that we might ask Russia if she would entertain the question of an armistice, and asked us to make on his behalf overtures of peace to Russia. It was said at Oxford, without the slightest foundation, that the cause of the delay was the action of the British Government. After some misunderstanding as to whether there should be an armistice, the Russians, saying there should be bases of peace before the. armistice, and that the arrangements should be made between the military commanders, on the 5th of January I find that Lord Augustus Loftus writes to Lord Derby from St. Petersburg, that the Russian military commanders "had been instructed to state the conditions on which an armistice would be agreed to." These words are important; and I venture to say that anyone who read that despatch would have come to the conclusion that we did —namely, that the Russian commanders then had in their pockets the terms which Russia was prepared to agree to. No other meaning could possibly be attached to that despatch. Well, on the 9th of January Mr. Layard telegraphed that an order had at once been sent to the Turkish commanders to address themselves to the Russian Head-Quarters. What could be more speedy than that? On the same day we have another telegram from Turkey saying that the Turkish commanders have also addressed themselves to the Russian commanders in Roumelia as well as to the Grand Duke Nicholas, and they reply that they know nothing of an armistice and have no instructions. Having received the intimation we did on the 5th, we heard afterwards, with some astonishment, that the Russian commanders had no instructions and the Russians were still advancing. Well, the explanation of the delay of those terms reaching Constantinople was that they were of such vital importance, and so very secret, that they could not possibly be sent by telegraph, or in cipher, but must go by special messenger, and would probably arrive in eight or 10 days from the 3rd of January at this place, and in Armenia 760 in 15 days; all that time the Russian commanders were advancing. But one must presume from the great care they had taken about these bases, which were so precious that they could not be sent by telegraph, that they must, at all events, have been conditions which had been thoroughly well weighed and settled by the Russian Government. There could be no doubt that they must have been drawn up and settled with great forethought. Here was our first difficulty, and I defy anyone to say that the delay in regard to these terms was caused in any manner or in any form either by the Turks or by Her Majesty's Government. But we come to the next scene. We find that the Emperor of Russia is told on the 15th of January that the two Turkish Plenipotentiaries have gone with full instructions to the Imperial Head-Quarters to negotiate an armistice and a peace. We hear on the 21st that a telegram has been received by the Porte from its Plenipotentiaries stating that they are at the Russian Head-Quarters. They had got there then, at all events. Then we find that on the 24th nothing had been heard about those gentlemen or of what had happened to them. Persons connected with the delegates who had gone there had privately telegraphed to their families saying they were quite well; but no one knew what had become of the bases of peace, or why they were not signed. The delegates had the fullest instructions to accept them, and the Sultan says that he cannot make out why it is they have not signed them. But the Russians are still advancing. I want to call the attention of the House for one moment to the position of the Russian Forces at particular dates. We will take the 3rd of January, when the Russian Government was told that these delegates were going on their mission. At that time the Russians had got possession of Sofia and were marching southwards. On the 24th we learn that the Turkish Plenipotentiaries had been instructed to accept these terms of peace positively; and I think the telegram was sent at 2 o'clock in the afternoon of the previous day. Well, on the 25th, we learn that Suleiman Pasha had been defeated, and the Russians were at Adrianople, and had marched as far as one-third of the distance from that place to Constantinople. [Mr. BRIGHT: The Russian Army?] 761 There was quite enough of the Russian Army there to frighten the Turks. On the 30th of January (yesterday) they had got to Demotika, and were advancing in the direction of the Narrow Straits. They were within 60 miles of Constantinople. So we find that the slower the progress of these negotiations, the more rapid is the advance of the Russians. Where the Russians may be at this moment we do not know; but I presume that if they are going on at the same rate of speed as they were doing when we last heard of them, they are considerably nearer Constantinople than they were. ["Hear, hear!"] That may be very agreeable news to some hon. Gentlemen opposite, but it is not quite fair to the Turks, and, as I said before, there has been no delay on the part of the Turks, and no interference on the part of Her Majesty's Government. On the 29th of January, Lord Derby, writing to Lord Augustus Loftus, says—The Russian Ambassador informs me that, according to the telegraphic reports he has received, no news of the conclusion of the armis-tice has yet reached St. Petersburg. Prince Gortchakoff, his Excellency states, is surprised at this, and attributes it either to the distance or to an interruption of the field telegraph. Prince Gortchakoff also denies the rumour that the preliminaries of peace are to be signed at Sebas-topol, and affirms that they will be concluded at Adrianople.Lord Augustus Loftus answers this by telegraph on the 30th of January—I was this morning informed by Prince Gortchakoff that neither the Emperor nor the Russian Government had received any intelligence from Head-Quarters since the 26th inst. Prince Gortchakoff could not explain the cause, except that portions of the telegraph were defective. The movements of the Grand Duke Nicholas, who was to arrive at Adrianople at the earliest, may have had the effect of delaying the negotiations.Why, the Grand Duke Nicholas was the man whom the Turks were told to go to three weeks ago. The cause of the delay, therefore, was neither with the Turks nor with Her Majesty's Government. But the right hon. Gentleman hinted that the Turks may have gone back on the terms, and he asked for information on that subject. We have this telegram from Mr. Layard, dated the 27th of January—With reference to your telegram of yesterday, stating that you had been informed by Count Schouvaloff that the Turkish delegates 762 objected to the first article of the bases of peace relating to Bulgaria, and to the second part of the fourth article, respecting reforms in the Christian Provinces—they had taken the whole ad referendum — I learn that, although the plenipotentiaries did make resistance to the first article of the bases of peace relating to Bulgaria, and to the second part of the fourth article respecting the Christian Provinces, none of the articles whatever were taken ad referendum, but the whole were accepted under the last instructions sent by the Porte.So that if there has been delay, it has been through the movements of the Grand Duke Nicholas. But all this time Russia is still advancing. The Emperor, I know, pledges his word of honour that he will not go to Constantinople, except for strategical reasons. Now, I want to put a question to the right hon. Gentleman. When the bases are sent by Russia, when Russia knows that the bases are accepted by Turkey, where is the strategical reason for advancing on Constantinople? Another difficulty has arisen. I will now consider the change that has occurred not in the position of the belligerents, but in that of the neutral Great Powers. I suppose we shall all agree that no change in the last Treaty is to be made without the assent of those Powers which signed the Treaty. I will now read the Protocol of the Treaty of London of 1871, in order to refresh the memory of right hon. Gentlemen opposite. It is as follows:—The Plenipotentiaries of North Germany, Austria and Hungary, Great Britain, Italy, Russia, and Turkey, assembled to-day in conference, recognize it as an essential principle of the law of nations that no Power can liberate itself from the engagements of the Treaty or modify the stipulations thereof unless with the consent of the Contracting Powers by means of an amicable arrangement.Let us take that as one of the bases on which we are to go, and when we are dealing with these matters let it be understood that Treaties to which we are parties are not to be altered without our consent. That, as was stated by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer the other evening, is the view of one other Power at least besides England, if not of more than one. The first thing, I may add, which we had to do was to try and find out what were the bases of peace. They were, however, kept secret, and so matters went on until my noble Friend the Secretary for Foreign Affairs (the Earl of Derby) 763 pressed the Russian Ambassador here on the subject. Lord Derby wrote as follows to Lord Augustus Loftus on the 21st of January:—In a private communication made to me by the Russian Ambassador to-day, his Excellency told me that as he saw false reports propagated by certain journals as to supposed Russian demands for Russian vessels of war in the Dardanelles and Bosphorus, he thought it right to inform me that in the bases of peace sent to the Grand Duke Nicholas no mention was made of either of those Straits.That is the only information we have, and it is remarkable that up to the present day we have no official communication giving the terms of peace. But a certain Wednesday has been alluded to, when certain important events were supposed to have happened. On the Thursday the Notice was given by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and within 12 hours—certainly within 24 hours—of the time the Notice was given, we first got knowledge of these bases, and this information was given to us as a private memorandum, though we were allowed to make use of it, and lay it on the Table of the House. In some important particulars this memorandum does not agree with the statement which we have heard from Mr. Layard. First, we hear from the conversation of Count Schouvaloff with Lord Derby, that the bases contain nothing about the Straits. Next, we find, from Count Schouvaloffs written but private communication, that there is to be an ulterior understanding about the Straits; but nothing is said by Count Schouvaloff as to whom the understanding is to be between. It is reserved for us to hear from Constantinople that the understanding is to be between the Sultan and the Emperor of Russia. We then hear from Prince Gortchakoff that he agrees that there is rather a vagueness in the matter of the Straits, and that he does not see much use in having it at all. The second remarkable circumstance is that there is an ulterior understanding; and the third, that the ulterior understanding is between the Emperor of Russia and the Sultan; and then, after all, this matter is so vague that he will not be sorry if it is altogether suppressed, but it is not suppressed. It seems to me to be altogether a very marvellous affair —this question of the Straits. Had not the Russian Government, I would ask, 764 better make up their minds about it? Then, as to a military occupation; we have heard of that, but it has not been defined; next we hear it is likely some fortress will have to be given up, but there is no definite information on that point either; and the House will also remember that, as we hear nothing at all about the bases until the Notice is given by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer, so we hear nothing about the vagueness of the article as to the Straits and the willingness of the Russian Ambassador to suppress it until the very night when the Vote was presented by my right hon. Friend. [An hon. MEMBER: Quote the despatch.] The despatch is as follows:—In reply to my inquiries, Prince Gortchakoff stated this morning that the last article communicated by Count Schouvaloff, referring to an ulterior understanding, was vague and unnecessary, and saw no objection to suppress it altogether. I am allowed to state categorically to your Lordship that Russia considers the question of the Straits an European question.[Cries of" Hear, hear!"from the Opposition.] It is all well to say "Hear, hear!" for how could it be otherwise after your Protocol of 1871? Is that all you have got to say for your friends the Russians? ["Oh, oh!"] I will withdraw that observation if it is objected to. ["No, No!"] I merely want to avoid saying anything that will offend anyone. I say that if that is all that can be said for the Russians in this matter I must say that little contents you, and that you are thankful for small mercies. I want to know, are you quite certain that you are acquainted with all the bases yet? I want to know why it is, if these bases have been offered and accepted, they have not been produced to the Governments of Europe? The question is—what are we to do under these circumstances? We have no explanation as to how it came to pass that the preliminaries of peace were not settled long ago? We find that the Russians are advancing, and there is not the slightest reason for their advancing towards Constantinople one inch after these bases of peace have been set forth. I am not going, after what fell from my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer the other night, to argue upon the question of the bases; but I will say this—that these bases of peace do present matters of the gravest possible character, affecting a 765 part of Europe in which the Powers of Europe have so long had a deep interest. We are asked in these circumstances which British interest we have particularly to guard? There is this, I would answer, among others, which is certainly worthy of consideration. It arises out of the question which was present to the mind of the Emperor of Russia when he first entered into this war. He declared it to be his object to effect a settlement of the troubles in the East of Europe which should be "complete, effeotual, and surely guaranteed," in order that he might not be under the necessity of going to war again. Now that is a British interest of a most vital kind; and is it not for us to see that in the settlement of this question the peace which may be made is "complete, effectual, and surely guaranteed?" And if, in the opinion of this country, a peace should be concluded which was not likely to lead to these results, but which would still leave smouldering embers behind, which might at any moment be fanned into a flame, that is a matter, I apprehend, upon which we should be heard, and our views forcibly expressed. What may be the mode, whether by Conference or consultation, in which the questions at issue are to be brought before the Powers of Europe, I know not. The Emperor of Russia has never stated, so far as we know, whether it is to be by Conference or consultation, or how. All we need care about is that we shall have a bond fide voice in the settlement which may be effected, and that we shall see not merely that those interests mentioned in Lord Derby's despatch are preserved; but that a long, a lasting, and a certain peace shall be concluded. I sincerely hope that by any such settlement the position of the unfortunate Christian population may be ameliorated. It will take years and years to efface the effects of this horrible war—a war that has inflicted untold misery upon the unhappy country in which it has been waged during the last 18 months. There is another matter which is of vital importance. In all the Treaties which you have had on this matter for a long series of years, you have treated Turkey as a powerful State that ought to be maintained. Now, in consequence of this war, in what state is the Porte left? [Cries of" Hear, hear!"from the Opposition.'] It is a very easy question to 766 Say "Hear, hear!" but it is a very difficult question to settle; because you have now, in all human probability, a different state of things. It is very easy to pull down, but it is not so easy to build up; but we say that when you come to deal with this part of Europe, the voice of England must be heard, if the voice of England is to be heard, we must speak as a united nation, and you must get rid of the notion that is in your minds that there is a determined Party in the Government that want to go to war. What the Government want to do is to secure a lasting peace, and the sole object of the Vote which they ask you to pass tonight is that we may appear in such a condition that the voice of England may be heard for the purpose of securing that end. The right hon. Gentleman has referred to the action of one of our Colleagues, who is no longer a Member of the Government; but, I would like to remind the House of certain words which that noble Lord used in the solemn letter which he addressed to the Prime Minister, and which was read in "another place." In that letter the noble Earl said—Further, a Vote of Credit, or an increase in the military or naval estimates, is a measure which I consider useful as a means of strengthening our diplomacy at this moment.I should not have quoted these words if the right hon. Gentleman had not insisted that there was some difference on this question between Lord Carnarvon and the Government, and I think it right that the House should be reminded that in the opinion of the noble Earl the effect of this Vote would be to give strength to the hands of the Ministers. As I said before, England has no selfish objects to gain, and no cause to fear. She has no ambition in this matter. Her sole object is to secure the peace of Europe on a permanent and satisfactory basis. But, when you find the interests of this country so nearly endangered, and so nearly threatened, then we feel bound to say it is time that Europe should acknowledge that England must have a voice in the final settlement of the question. I cannot believe—I will not believe it till I see it—that the right hon. Gentleman will ever put this Resolution to the House. I do not believe that this Resolution will meet with any better fate than the celebrated Ir-resolutions of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for 767 Greewich of last Session; but, if he does go to a division, I feel convinced that this House will, by an enormous majority, give the Vote which the Government asks. They know that the Government does not want to go to war. It shall be known throughout the country that that is not their object. In spite of everything that has been said, the sole object of this Vote is to secure, and that as speedily as possible, a complete, satisfactory, and lasting peace.
§ SIR WILFRID LAWSON
observed that the right hon. Gentleman had several times declared in solemn tones that the Russians were advancing, and he (Sir Wilfrid Lawson) felt almost as much alarm as if the hon. Member for North Warwickshire (Mr. Newdegate) had told them that the Jesuits were in the cellars beneath. He did not think it was right of the Home Secretary to speak of "your Russian friends," and he (Sir Wilfrid Lawson) wished to discuss the question as an Englishman. The right hon. Gentleman was also unjust in charging the Mover of the Amendment with vagueness and ambiguity, for he (Sir Wilfrid Lawson) had never heard the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bradford less vague or less ambiguous. He did not want to judge the Government harshly, and when the Blue Book appeared last year he did not think that there was any justification for bringing a railing accusation against them. They were not finding any great fault with any despatch of the Government. What they found fault with was the despatch of the Fleet the other day. They thought that the Government was going on in a manner entirely satisfactory, and the calm produced by the despatches and speeches of the noble Earl (the Earl of Derby) and others was only broken by a warlike cry from the Prime Minister in the midst of the Aldermen of the City. For the mock heroics of the Postmaster General nobody cared; but Parliament had been summoned in a manner which excited the greatest alarm. This was, no doubt, another of the humourous proceedings of the Prime Minister; but what was sport to him was death to the Turks. He charged the Government with betraying the Turks by luring them on with false hopes and expectations. Then came the speech of Lord Carnarvon, which acted like oil upon the troubled 768 waters; and he (Sir Wilfrid Lawson) was so pleased with it, that he found himself stumping the country, moving resolutions in favour of the Government, and shouting for "Salisbury and common sense," and "Northcote and neutrality." The Chancellor of the Exchequer had inspired them with confidence when he told them so solemnly on the first day of the Session that no money should be spent till they had the terms of peace before them. That confidence was not justified, and it was a most extraordinary time to ask for a Vote of Confidence just when Lord Carnarvon, in whom they had confidence, had resigned his position in the Cabinet. He (Sir Wilfrid Lawson) would say distinctly he had no confidence in the Government. A right hon. Gentleman on the Ministerial benches opposite, when interrupted in his speech, said—"I cannot say two things at once," but that is just what they had to complain the Government had been doing. He supposed that the reasons for this Vote would be fully discussed before it was agreed to; but it seemed to him that hitherto no satisfactory reason had been offered in its favour. It was said that one of the grounds for asking for it was to enable British interests to be protected. He also desired to see British interests protected; but he could not understand how it could be contended that the establishment of freedom and of good government where they did not formerly exist could be in any way opposed to British interests. There was a curious kind of political controversy which had been raised of late, and which consisted in calling those who did not take the War Party side unpatriotic, and one morning paper—The Morning Post —had committed almost a breach of privilege in saying they believed "the agents of Russia" intended to prolong the debate as long as they could, in order that Russia might have time to effect her purposes before this country could interfere. What right had any man to accuse those who were opposed to this Vote of being Russian agents? That man who did so was hitting below the belt and fighting foul, whether he be a costermonger or a noble Duke. He thought such a style of controversy had better be dropped in that House. He had at first distrusted Russia, and did not believe she had really any noble ob- 769 ject in view; but he never felt so warm towards Russia as he did when he listened to the Chancellor of the Exchequer's speech, which showed how straightforwardly Russia had conducted the negotiations. He remembered the words—Our country claims our fealty,We grant it so; but thenBefore man made us citizensGreat Nature made us men.—and he should be ashamed of England if she did not rejoice to see freedom spread. Who could object to the autonomy of Bulgaria? Lord Derby himself, in a speech he made some time ago, stated that the very thing which Russia now proposed was necessary in the interests of liberty and peace. He believed that hon. Gentlemen on the other side of the House would be just as pleased as those of the Liberal side to see good and just government extended to all parts of the world. The right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer in his speech on Monday said—"It is a question whether we are or are not to go into that Conference armed with the strength of a united nation." The right hon. Gentleman who followed him (Mr. Bright) said—"That means you are to go into the Conference with shotted guns and revolvers." There, however, the right hon. Gentleman was mistaken; and it was clear he had not looked into the Estimate, or he would have seen that the money was to be expended upon surgical instruments. Fancy going into the Conference armed with surgical instruments. They might disguise it as best they could; but there was no disguising the fact that the Motion, if it meant anything, was a War Vote. The speech of the Chancellor of the Exchequer was of such a tone that he wondered he did not conclude it by saying—We don't want to fight, but by jingo if we do, We've got the ships, we've got the men, and we've got the money too.They could, indeed, raise in the City any quantity of money they wanted for any object, however foolish. The right hon. Gentleman thought he could go into the Conference with greater weight if he went with the money in his pocket. Such an idea was vulgar. If a man shook a naked sword in his (Sir Wilfrid Lawson's) face, he would call him a 770 barbarian; if he shook his fist in his face, he would call him a bully; but if he shook his purse in his face, he would call him a snob; and they would be called the snobs of Europe if they did as the Government asked them. If they put £6,000,000 on the Estimates because there was a crisis in the war between Russia and Turkey, it meant war and nothing else, and it was insulting their common sense to say that it meant anything else. Those who wished for the money were in a majority, and he believed they had some valuable allies on this occasion—a contingent had been sent from the sister country. That was very disinterested on their part, for they had heard hon. Gentlemen say how unjustly Ireland was taxed, and yet they were going to vote their share of the £6,000,000. The hon. Member for Cavan (Mr. Biggar), whom he saw sitting on the Government benches, made a speech in which he said England would soon have to fight someone in order to show that she could fight; and that was certainly a better argument in favour of the Vote than any they had heard from the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer or the Home Secretary. He hoped the money would not be voted without a Dissolution and an appeal to the country. He did not like a Dissolution any more than others, and with reference to a special subject in which he was interested, the longer a Dissolution was put off the better, for every year he grew stronger. Neither was he anxious that the right hon. Gentlemen opposite should go out of Office yet; he wanted them to go through the fiery furnace a little longer, and come out better and purer than they were; but he did say that in this matter they ought to go by the opinion of the country, and he denied that it was in favour of such a step. If he looked at the Perth election he found that the man against this Vote got 2,200 votes, whilst the one in favour of it got but 855 votes. The Standard said the result was certainly not anticipated. He presumed it was one of the "unexpected occurrences" of which they had heard so much. Then at Leith, the candidate who was against the money being voted was returned by three to one, whilst the poor man in favour of it only got 888 votes; and he would not have got so many if he had not stated in the 771 middle of the day that he would not vote for it. He next turned to Greenock, and there he found a most excellent and respectable Tory beaten by three to one, and saying afterwards that the conduct of the Government, and the news which had come out during the election, had greatly damaged his chances. Then the public meetings had pronounced against this Vote all over the country except Sheffield. But who represented that town? An hon. and learned Member who had passed his life in fighting everybody and everything; and it was not surprising, therefore, that the fighting spirit existed at Sheffield. There was a meeting yesterday in London, at which the hon. Member for Bristol (Mr. Morley) was present. Ruffians invaded the place, broke the windows, and smashed the furniture, and what had become of the hon. Member for Bristol he did not know. [An hon. MEMBER: He is here!] He congratulated the House on the escape of the hon. Member for Bristol; but that meeting had given the strongest evidence that the country was against this Vote, for it dared not trust to the force of reason, and statements of facts were met by broken chairs. Whether it was done by Conservative working men or members of Constitutional associations he did not know; but rumour said that both were concerned. No doubt the House had ability enough to discuss this question; but still it existed as representing the opinions of the country; and what opinion was there in 1874 on the Eastern Question. There was more talk then of opening the public-houses than of opening the Black Sea; and nobody then spoke of the Straits of the Dardanelles, though there was some talk of the Straits of Malacca. Before this money was taken an appeal, therefore, ought to be made to the country, and he challenged the Government to take that Constitutional course. If they would not accept that challenge, there were men enough below the Gangway to avail themselves of the Forms of the House to resist to the utmost a policy which he believed was the most senseless and the most mischievous he had ever known.
§ MR. HARDCASTLE
said, the hon. Baronet who had just sat down had managed to extract amusement even from this subject; but the position of 772 the country was, in his (Mr. Hardcastle's) opinion, too grave for levity. It was recorded that when the shadow went back on the sundial of Ahaz, the King of Babylon sent to inquire of the wonder done in the land, and there was not less curiosity now for an explanation of the startling retrogression exhibited by a section of the Liberal Party. If there was one word which expressed the complete negation of every principle professed by that Party, that word was "Russia." What were the Liberal watchwords? Personal liberty, religious equality, representative government; but in Russia, for personal liberty, were Siberian deportations; for religious equality, Dissent was penal; for representative government, military despotism. Whence, then, their sympathy with Russia—was it because hon. Gentlemen had sacrificed another cherished principle—the right of private judgment —-and were blindly following a Leader, who had played so conspicuous a part in favour of Russia for the last 18 months? They had all read the right hon. Gentleman's speech at Oxford yesterday, which showed that he had brought this great question to a mere personal issue. This is what he said—It is all very well for the Prime Minister, who has got a Cabinet and Departments, and Secretaries and Ambassadors, and a majority in the House of Lords, and a majority in the House of Commons. These are the means through which his will can take effect, hut I have none of these things.Just as if the whole matter was a personal contest between these two eminent men. The right hon. Gentleman then went on—My purpose, I will tell you fairly, has been, with extremely inadequate means, and in a very mean and poor degree, but still to the best of my power for the last 18 months, day and night, week by week, month by month, to counterwork as well as I could what I believe to be the purpose of Lord Beaconsfield.He trusted that in this contest of giants the weal of the country would not be lost sight of; and he was sorry that so many hon. Members on the other side of the House still backed the right hon. Gentleman. He had observed during the last 15 years a singular concurrence between the personal affronts and the public policy of the right hon Gentleman, once the darling of the clergy, "Oxford's noblest son." In 1863 he lost the 773 confidence of Churchmen and his seat for the University. What followed? Leaving Oxford, as he said, unmuzzled, soon his teeth were at the throat of the Irish Church. Transferring his favour from the Anglican to the Roman Church, he next suffered affront at the hands of his new friends. In 1873, Cardinal Manning tripped him up on the Irish University Bill; and, in the pamphlets on "Vatican Decrees," followed the bitterest attack ever made on the Papacy. But, again, his Party had become insubordinate, and they, too, must feel the weight of his arm. An elaborate manifesto, secretly prepared without the knowledge of a single Member of his Cabinet, fell like a bombshell upon his rebellious followers, and the Dissolution of 1874 shattered the Liberal ranks. "Nemo me impune lacessit" was the right hon. Gentleman's motto; but once more the country, appealed to, rejected him with scorn, and British interests are denounced as selfish, and the right hon. Gentleman cast all his influence into the scale of that great Power which was the most formidable rival of his country, and a standing menace to the liberties of Europe. The Government had been denounced for asking for the Vote; but he (Mr. Hard-castle) thought the circumstances of the times were such as to call for a patriotic response to the request of the Government for a sum of money sufficient to put the moderate armaments of the country in a state of preparation for any emergency that might arise. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Birmingham (Mr. John Bright) had condemned the Government for going to a peaceful Conference with shotted cannons and loaded revolvers. But that right hon. Gentleman forgot that all the other great Powers who would be at the Conference were armed far more than ourselves, and that if our word there was to be of any weight we must have the power to back it up. Would the right hon. Gentleman have them go into the Conference merely with broad-brimmed hats and umbrellas? He considered that the Government, in entering the Conference so prepared that they could speak with power and effect, were pursuing a wise and patriotic course. The contest lay between freedom on the one hand, and enormous military power on the other; he believed that the heart of the country was with the Government 774 in the course they had taken, and he, for one, would support them.
§ MR. LAING
said, the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary reminded him of the saying—"No case, abuse the plaintiff's attorney." He had listened with extreme pain to the greater part of that speech, and to the almost passionate appeals which the right hon. Gentleman had made to excite heated feeling on the grave subject before the House. Still more was he pained by the tone taken by the right hon. Gentleman with regard to a friendly Power with whom we were still on relations of neutrality. Russia was a great historic Empire like our own—a country which had stood shoulder to shoulder with us in the greatest war of modern times, and with whom our greatest statesmen, from Chatham downwards, had cultivated amicable relations. If they were to have a difference with Russia, it would be unworthy a great country like England not to conduct the controversy in a noble and chivalrous, he would not say a gentleman-like spirit, instead of in a nagging and suspicious spirit which would disgrace a metropolitan vestry. It was quite evident there had been a change of front in the attitude of Her Majesty's Government towards Russia. The policy of the Government was defined in Lord Derby's despatch of the 6th of May. It was a policy of strict neutrality subject only to two or three specified conditions. Had any one of those conditions, with which they were all familiar, been violated? It was unnecessary for him, after the withering sarcasm of the noble Lords (Lords Salisbury and Derby), to refer to the scare as to a possible Russian invasion of India. Then as to Egypt, could anyone seriously say that our position in reference to the Suez Canal was in any way endangered? How far Her Majesty's Government had observed a policy of impartial neutrality as regarded Egypt he would not inquire. Russia had undertaken not to carry on warlike operations in Europe, but had our Government given the Khedive any advice not to squander the money he had borrowed in England in taking part in a war in which he had no concern? With respect to Constantinople, they had that distinct assurance of the Czar that the permanent occupation of that city was not contemplated by him. 775 Then with respect to the question of the Dardanelles, they had distinct pledges that that would not be settled by any exclusive arrangement between Russia and Turkey. He therefore maintained that all the points covered by the despatch of the 6th of May were out of danger. They were not touched. He now came to the Vote, and he wanted to know what were the points which had arisen since to alter the situation. He found the reason was that new and totally different terms had been imported into what was called "the charter" of the 6th of May. In the first place, they had this new term—that even the approach of the Russians in the course of military operations to Gallipoli and Constantinople was a thing so wrong in itself, or so injurious to English interests, that it should be prevented. They had not listened to appeals in the case of Paris, and why should they listen to appeals in the case of the Turkish capital? Was Constantinople so sacred that they were going to quarrel with one of the greatest Powers of Europe, and sacrifice many thousands of British lives, in order to save it from the Russians—not from their permanent occupation of it, but from their coming in sight of it, or occupying it as a mere military operation? Yet upon this point they had taken what had been well called the reckless step which had driven their own Foreign Minister from the Cabinet—the order given to the Fleet on Wednesday last. The right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary talked of that as if it was the most commonplace, ordinary thing in the world. He told them that they went there without any offence to Russia, or any one else. Could they make the House believe that Lord Derby resigned his seat in the Cabinet if the measure was one of that small and commonplace character? They knew that it was a breach of neutrality, as Prince Gortchakoff put it in his despatch. Looking at the Papers he found strong grounds for hesitating to grant this Vote. They heard a great deal about British interests, but to talk vaguely of "British interests," as Lord Beaconsfield did, was to treat men as children. What were British interests? Show him an undoubted interest that was assailed and he would not hesitate a moment. Tell him that an enemy was marching on Herat, for instance, and he should be as ready to vote their last shilling as any 776 bellicose Gentleman on the other side. But he was not going to vote any money unless he knew the reason why. He had disposed of India and Egypt. He did not suppose anyone would say they were in danger. The only reasonable thing remaining was that Russia might get possession of Constantinople and the command of the Dardanelles. This was a considerable interest for us; it was a vital one for Austria, and for Germany it was important. But if Austria or Germany were not alarmed, and if they were satisfied with the assurances which the Emperor had given against the permanent occupation of Constantinople and with regard to the Dardanelles, it was strange England was not satisfied. No doubt Turkey had answered the object they had in view in leaving Constantinople in the hands of a considerable, independent Power; but the continuance of that state of things had become impossible. The decay of Turkey rendered her powerless to suppress chronic revolt; her institutions and religion rendered reform impossible; and the English conscience was awakened to the sin and disgrace of supporting her. Stronger than any consideration of policy or interest was the deep conviction of what was right. That mainly compelled us to abolish the slave trade, and in this case deterred us from upholding the degrading barbarism of a Power which had devastated Provinces that flourished under Roman and Byzantine rule as much as if they Lad experienced a great geological change. They had been withered by the burning blast or the icy breath of Turkish misrule until their condition justified the boast that the grass ceased to grow where the Turkish horse trod. Yet for the Power and the rule which had produced these results it was proposed to obtain "the most favourable terms," which meant the least favourable for the oppressed subjects. As a strong and independent Government it had collapsed beyond revival by the blind rejection of our advice; and could it be our interest to bolster up the remains of this wretched and decrepit Empire instead of basing our British interests on something more permanent and enduring? Why, when the Treaty of Adrianople was signed in 1828, the Duke of Wellington said it was a pity the Russians had not gone a little further, upset the Turkish Government 777 altogether, and established a Byzantine Kingdom under the guarantee of the Great Powers, so as to close the Eastern Question—a solution which he believed to be desirable now. Russia could be kept from Constantinople only by either a strong, independent Power, or by a State placed, like Belgium, under the guarantee of the Powers. If this Vote were granted, and if the Question were now settled in the spirit of the Home Secretary's speech, we should leave it in the best position for the supposed design of Russia. We should disappoint the reasonable hopes of the Christians, and make them regard England as their enemy and look to Russia as their patron and possible deliverer in a future war. The better course would be to render the States independent and strong, giving them separate nationalities, complete frontiers, and Christian rulers, for then they would have the greatest possible security against Russia. Greece, being independent, had not been vehemently Russian, while Servia and Roumania had looked to Russia for complete emancipation. Russian Armies could march through vassal States, but not through those that were independent. Prom any point of view, it was our interest to create States as antonomous and extensive as possible. If the Kingdom of Greece were extended and made a sort of Southern Belgium, and obliged, under a guarantee of the Great Powers, to keep open the passage of the Dardanelles to ships of commerce or of war, that would be a solution of the difficulty of all others the most beneficial for English interests. It was for a totally different object that this Vote was required. At the best, it was wanted to obtain favourable terms for Turkey; at the worst, to drift us into war with Russia. It was impossible to believe in the unanimity of a Cabinet two Members of which had tendered their resignations; and it was impossible to forget that there remained in the Cabinet the Minister who, immediately after receiving the pacific assurances of the Emperor of Russia, made the Guildhall speech, which, in plain English, threatened Russia if she meddled with Turkey. When Lord Beaconsfield uttered his famous speech at Guildhall, it was impossible to suppose that he was unfavourable to a repetition of the Crimean War. The Prime Minister had once 778 educated his Party into household suffrage, and he might again educate them into a repetition of the Crimean War. Lord Carnarvon had told the country that he had been severely taken to task by Lord Beaconsfield in the Cabinet for the expressions he had used, and why? Because he was too pacific. How could the noble Lord expect us to feel confidence in the Cabinet when such things as this were going on, or when they were told there was unanimity in the Cabinet at the time when two of its Members had tendered their resignations? He acquitted the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer of any intentional deceit in the statement he had made—the right hon Gentleman was a man of transparent honesty; but he believed he had been mesmerised by some influence in the Cabinet, and when he reflected on the past he would seriously regret it. The House were asked to give this Vote to show their patriotic feeling, and in order that Ministers might go on with their negotiations with the whole country united at their back. But, looking to the fact of their sending the Fleet to Constantinople and their driving Lord Carnarvon from the Cabinet, he distinctly declared that the Government had not the confidence of the House or the country. If they doubted the fact, let them appeal to the country, and they would suffer a most disastrous defeat. The many meetings which had recently been held proved this to demonstration. There would be an immense and overwhelming majority against their policy, which, he thought, would prove as discreditable to British honour as it was disastrous for British interests.
§ SIR JOHN HAY
said, he was surprised that the hon. Member for Orkney (Mr. Laing), in spite of the distinct and clear statement of the Home Secretary, had insinuated that the policy of the Government was a war policy. This Vote was asked, not for the purpose of war, but to place our armaments in a proper condition in case others should declare war against us, or make war on our interests. Looking to what had occurred recently, he thought if there was anything to blame in the policy of the Government, it was the recall of the Fleet. The Fleet had been sent to Constantinople, not to take part in the war, but to ensure the safety and honour of the numerous British subjects in Con- 779 stantinople and its neighbourhood who trusted to the protection of England. He had been informed that there were over 30,000 British subjects in Constantinople and its neighbourhood, whose lives and honour would be at the mercy of the Russian Army and the Turkish insurrectionists if the Russians took possession of that capital. He did not blame the Grand Duke Nicholas for trying to crown a great campaign by entering the enemy's capital; but that was no reason why the Government should not take steps for the safety of British subjects. He could not believe, if the Russian Army did take possession of Constantinople, that they would fail to make such changes as would be extremely unsatisfactory to every other European Power. He suspected that in the Mosque of St. Sofia a Te Deum would be sung for the Russian victories, and once the Russian flag was hoisted there it would cost this country more than these £6,000,000, and a vast quantity of blood, as well as treasure, to guard the entrance to the Black Sea and to protect the rights of England in the East. The Chancellor of the Exchequer was challenged to say what he would do with the £6,000,000. No doubt the House was dissatisfied at voting this money blindly. But would it be wise to declare to the enemy, if we had an enemy, what our weakness was? The object of warlike preparations was to defeat an enemy, and when Europe was armed to the teeth it was necessary for us to protect ourselves against all comers. At present there was scarcely a gun on our fortifications, though, thanks to the exertions of last year, both guns and carriages were ready. That was one thing to which the money might be applied. But there was another, although it might not be popular with the House. They did not yet know all the terms of peace. The Turkish Fleet was a large one, and let them suppose that one of the terms was that that Fleet should be handed over to Russia in part payment of the war indemnity. There would then be 17 of the finest ships afloat handed over in the Black Sea to a Power sufficiently great already. Would that be satisfactory? Would it not be a proper application of the money to pay it over to Turkey on condition that the Turkish Fleet should be transferred to Her Majesty's Government? He hoped the 780 Government would consider that suggestion. He was surprised at the course taken by Her Majesty's Opposition; for what occurred in 1870? In that year it was the duty of the Government then in office to come to this House and ask for £2,000,000 for the purpose of defence. There was no idea of going to war, and no one challenged them with that intention. Everyone supported them except the "wise men" alluded to by the hon. Member for Carlisle (Sir Wilfrid Lawson). What was the course taken by the present Prime Minister? Did he, through jealousy of his great antagonist, when the interests of the country were at stake, think it proper to offer a vexatious opposition? He would give the words used by Mr. Disraeli on that occasion, and he could wish that the noble Marquess the Leader of the Opposition were present to hear them, and that by-and-by he would use language as patriotic and distinct. On the 1st of August, 1870, Mr. Disraeli said—I think the House will agree with me that, excellent as is the policy of neutrality, the policy of neutrality which cannot on the right occasion speak with authority to the belligerents is really a policy not entitled to respect. The first object of a policy of neutrality is, no doubt, to protect our fellow-subjects from the calamity of war. The second object of a policy of neutrality is to be able on the right occasion—on an occasion such as may be produced by the equal fortunes in the field of the belligerents, or by the over whelming success of one of them, or by any one of a thousand accidents—to be able to counsel the belligerents and bring about the restoration of peace; because while you impress on the parties the importance of such a result, you show them at the same time that you have the power to enforce, if necessary, the adoption of the course you recommend…Let the Government of this country feel that the House of Commons, without respect to person or Party, is prepared to give them a hearty support."— [3 Mansard, cciii. 1292–1293.]Those were the words of a statesman and a patriot, and an example which the Opposition would do well to follow.
§ MR. ERNEST NOEL
said, the right hon. and gallant Admiral the Member for Stamford (Sir John Hay) had told them the Government asked for this Vote because it might be necessary to buy the Turkish Fleet. He hoped the Chancellor of the Exchequer, before the close of the debate, would inform the House whether the Government had any such intention, for he did not think it likely they would entertain such a proposal without consulting the House upon 781 the subject. The Home Secretary had told them there was no such thing as a war Party in the Cabinet, and that it was a "lying spirit" in the country which told them that there was; and yet the greater part of his speech was devoted to telling them how they ought to meet the insidious advances of Russia. A speech more in favour of war than that of the right hon. Gentleman could not be imagined. The Chancellor of the Exchequer, in a speech he made the other night, said he wished the Government to enter the Council Chamber of Europe backed by a united people. He believed there was not one hon. Gentleman in that House who did not agree with that sentiment. For his own part, he wished to disclaim any desire to embarrass the Government, or in any way to prevent it entering on the Conference as the representative of a united and a free people. In the presence of foreign complications, when the nation had to meet the other nations of Europe, there could be no graver fault than for a Member animated by any Party feeling to oppose the Government. The honour of England was as dear to hon. Gentlemen sitting on those (the Opposition) benches as to anyone sitting on those opposite; and he trusted there was no one in that House so unworthy of the traditions of Great Britain as to be unwilling forspend any money and any blood in defending her interests; but he did regret the apparent determination of Her Majesty's Government to refrain from announcing any definite policy, and therefore to enter the Conference unsupported by a united people. He gathered from the Home Secretary that they had no intention and no desire to unite this House; but that they intended to rely on their majority in the House, a majority he would at once grant to be a large one. While the Government felt secure in the possession of a majority, which, however, had been obtained under far different circumstances, they were indifferent to all the imputations of want of patriotism which were heaped on the Opposition for its appeals to Government to save the country from a disgraceful as it would be a disastrous war. The right hon. Gentleman would not tell them a word of what his policy was, and when they applied for information concerning it and the bases of peace, they were answered with hints so ambiguous 782 that they might mean anything or nothing. But he heard the right hon. Gentleman say it would be a mistake if we allowed Turkey to be dismembered. [The CHANCELLOR of the EXCHEQUER: I never said so.] He was delighted to hear the right hon. Gentleman repudiate such an idea; but what the House and the country wanted to know was, whether Her Majesty's Government did or did not consider the dismemberment of the Turkish Empire, such as the first article of the proposed terms would effect, as a measure this nation was entitled to resist by force of arms? The Home Secretary had omitted to state in the slightest degree what the Government considered it was entitled to demand when it should go into the anticipated Conference. All they had heard from him was simply this, that Russia was steadily advancing on Constantinople. The Porte had. had 20 years breathing time, but had done absolutely nothing in the way of reform; for liberty of any kind was unknown to its subject Christian populations. The House was asked for money to be used for the purpose, for anything they knew, of rivet-ting again the cruel fetters with which for centuries the Turk had bound the Christian peoples of Eastern Europe; so that once more the Turkish flag would float over the city of cities on the Bos-phorus and over the towns and cities they had so long made desolate. He would never give a vote to embarrass the Government; but he trusted that the Chancellor of the Exchequer would place before the House some more clear and satisfactory reasons for this Motion.
§ MR. BERESFORD HOPE
Long as I have been a Member, this is the first time in which I have taken part in a foreign debate. The question which I now ask myself is the one which has been so fairly stated by the right hon. Member for Bradford (Mr. W. E. Forster)—"Has the conduct of the Government in the immediate past been such as to justify me in giving my confidence to it in the immediate future?" My position, abstractedly speaking, as to this question is that of one who considers that the interests of humanity, of religion, of Christianity, ought to stand before all Party considerations whatsoever; who regards honour as paramount, and who believes that the secret of England continuing great and prosperous 783 among the nations lies in her holding to the principle of sound diplomacy— namely, courteous and pacific distrust all round—of France, of Austria, of Russia, or, it may be, of America; coupled with prudent readiness to co-operate with whatever other State owns a similar distrust — the motive power being all along zeal for the national welfare. I claim now to address you as one who never felt any love for Turkey, and never was moved by special dread or special admiration of Russia; but one who has above all things felt that a Christian nation ought not to compass the pursuit of its own interests under the cloak of simulated zeal for the welfare of Christendom. With these convictions, I now ask myself, before I dare to vote, whether the Government has approved itself a traitor to the cause of peace and a recreant to Christianity? That is the question that has been very recklessly tossed upon the floor of England, and which has this very day been debated—as those who look at the evening papers may see—at an influential meeting of ministers of the Gospel held in some room in the more eastern part of London. I denounce the Ultramontane arrogance which dares to bind those who feel for the cause of Christianity only to show their feeling in one prescribed way. Those who would not, in face of the intricate complications of this most wretched war, absolutely shut their eyes to all but the one patented class of considerations, have been taunted as enemies of philanthropy, obstructives to civilization, and recreants from the faith. Really, some men are so unimaginative, that because they lament, as all right-minded persons must do, that blackest epoch in the chronicle of the world, when some four, or rather five hundred years back, the dissensions, the selfishness, the crimes, and sins of Christian Europe opened the door of its fairest Provinces in the South-east to the barbaric hordes of Turkish invaders, they can therefore only compass one narrow solution of the far-reaching question, and one skin-deep remedy for the malignant disease. They may have minds to apprehend Constantinople as the headquarters of a Russian Pro-Consul, but they cannot forecast in some coming time Constantinople as the regenerated seat of a free and independent Christian State. This is my hope, and this my dream—a day-dream perhaps—but a dream surely 784 of good omen, and not to be lightly put on one side. If it points to a policy which is in any degree worthy to be pursued, it will not be reached by way of gushing and impulsive philanthropy. I do not, above all things, believe that this or any good result can be attained by that monotonous and senseless vituperation of the Government on every occasion which has characterized so many recent speeches in many places, and of which the upshot is to land its authors on the dilemma of either accusing the Government of want of common sense or else of common honesty. We have had an instance of that form of argument to-night. The Home Secretary may rise and say, as he has done—"It shall not be war, it shall be peace;" yet this does not prevent other hon. Members from getting up, and arguing that when the Minister names peace he means war. When I see a pertinacious policy of never taking things for the best, of always hunting up small discrepancies, and dwelling upon any rhetorical phrase, or epigrammatic, or obscure, or mystical sentence that may be uttered by some accomplished orator, treasuring such sayings up and repeating them, regardless of changed circumstances; while manly speeches like that of the Home Secretary to-night, and that with which he re-assured the country last Session, are put on one side as if they were not intended to bear a meaning, I confess that I am indignant at the invincible prejudice and unfairness of the proceeding. I will borrow an illustration from another question, which, perhaps, next to the Eastern Question most exercises our minds. People of my way of thinking have often expressed surprise, if not disgust, at the sentiments which have fallen from holy mouths, and have contended that being a Dissenter should notinvolve being a charterted libertine in speech, and the answer has regularly been —"You make a great mistake when you charge the Dissenters with this or that offensive remark; it is not the Dissenters, but the 'political Dissenters' who have said it, and you must not believe that these are the same as the Dissenters. The Dissenters pure and simple are humble - minded, simple, unworldly men." Well, I follow that cue, and I say that there are two Parties now— there is the "peace Party," and there is the "political peace Party." I am, 785 myself, a Member of the peace Party. I believe the policy of that Party to be to seek peace, and to ensure it by all the legitimate methods of a wide statesmanship, and I believe the Chiefs of that Party to be the present Cabinet. I believe, on the contrary, that the aim of the political peace party is to put the sacred name of peace forward as a stalking-horse in order to turn the Tory Government out. As a peace man' I oppose the political peace Policy. Have we not seen within the last few days the climax of that policy, when a statesman, whose eloquence and long-proved services to the nation have endeared him to this House and the country, and whose name will live in history, forestalling, in a fierce attack upon the Government, the speech that should have been made here, revelling in words which proved his intention of shaking off the salutary restraints which govern the form of our debates, and boastfully claiming to be an agitator? Prom the agitator, into which he then dropped, I appeal to the statesman whom we have so long known, and I protest against the trick of interposing such smoky lenses between the clear question and the genuine judgment of the nation. In making this protest, above all, I appeal to the place where that speech was delivered. The charge against us, as I may premise, is that we are too scrupulous of musty Treaties; and now that the Turk has shown himself—as I believe, and as I dare to say in any assembly, he is—utterly unworthy of the position into which the lamentable mischances of nearly 500 years have foisted him in Europe; now that the continuous misgovernment of his subjects, and the prevalence of those ineffable abominations which stamp his social and political life—hitherto familiar to students, but neglected by the generality—have flashed upon the popular imagination, never to be effaced, the charge against us, as far as I can make out, is that having been fully awakened to the real state of things, we yet feel as men of honour that there are Treaties, there are engagements, there are promises made— not to the Turk merely, but to collective Europe—which must be kept between man and man, even if one man may be a Christian and the other may be a Turk! That is the sum total of the charge against us—that is the bill of 786 indictment which Liberal rhetoric brings against the Tory Party. But what are the time and place of this arraignment? The place and the time is the canonization, last night, of the new patron Saint of the Liberal Party. From the temple in which Saint Palmerston was canonized does that voice come. The high priest of the new worship it is who warns us that the slightest imputation of upholding the Ottoman Empire for selfish English purposes, the slightest imputation of thwarting or resisting Russian aggression for selfish English interests, is the unpardonable sin. And that in the name of Palmerston! That was the sermon preached on the occasion when all the great Chiefs of the Liberal Party were assembled together to do honour to the great memory of Palmerston! Whatever other merits they may have, that of a long memory, at least, cannot be attributed to the guides and mentors of Liberalism. Is it their charge against us that we uphold the Turkish Empire as Palmerston did? They cannot urge that. Is the charge against us that we are defiant towards Russia, even as Palmerston was? They have not the face to say that. All they can say is that we have been rather slow in having our eyes opened to learn the lesson of Turkish vice and imbecility. We may be rather slow; but you should not be hard upon us, for has not your own philosopher told us that we are the "stupid Party?" So, if we are the "stupid Party," is it not very much to our credit that we have learned so much as we have, and in so short a time? These things may be very well to laugh at; but they show a state of feeling which is really much too critical for trifling. It is a time when Englishmen ought to be united together as one man in the great necessity of guiding Europe, as a whole, in the arduous struggle of keeping peace; and, while not forgetting justice, of promoting salutary reforms and spreading Christian civilization in Turkey, yet not doing it rudely, brutally, or in contradiction of national faith. At such a time every little slip, every little vacillation, it may be, of the Ministry—and Ministers are but men, and they would be more than men if they did not vacillate occasionally in such troublous times—is garnered and treasured up with a bitter delight in finding fault, a fussy and malicious ingenuity, which must greatly weaken 787 the influence of England. What will be the result of your policy? I trust the division after this debate will give the Government such a majority that it may proceed—armiger — strong, and girded with those weapons of defence which mark a State occasion, into the Conference. If the division leaves them barely victorious, or even in a small minority, where do we stand? Either they go to the Conference weak and they are not listened to, or the Government will go out and you come in. Do you think that you will have secured the confidence and support of the Conservative Party in England for that policy which you may then propose; and if you have not secured it, will you go as a united people to claim any hearing or enforce any respect? Do you believe that you can so completely change the feeling of the people, or so completely reverse the verdict of the General Election in 1874, that you will have the strength to represent England as a united nation in the great Congress of European nations? Your policy is simply that, in your hurry to prove the Government incompetent, and place yourselves in the empty saddle, you dare play fast and loose with the credit and the power of the nation, not only in this House, but in the much more important Senatus of Europe. We may there be found to be impotent, and purposely; but if so, I say that it is this agitation, this unprincipled agitation—["No, no!"]—I repeat my words, for I am not accustomed to deal in ambiguous phrases—this unprincipled and unpatriotic agitation which will be to blame for this miscarriage. Why is it that you have brought your political peace Party into this state of bellicose irritation? It comes of your ambiguous and deceptive use of language. You are always producing a lot of truisms, all excessively true in themselves, all untrue as shuffled about and substituted for each other. At one time you say—"Men of peace, war is hateful;" so it is. Another time you say—"Men of peace, an unjust war is hateful;" so it is. And another time you say—"Men of peace, war in favour of anti-Christianity, and against Christianity, is hateful;" so it is. Thus, you have these three distinct formulas—all true in different relations—and you are always ready to darken debate by substituting one for the other; and the glamour of your 788 confusion has dazed the popular sight. Then you throw into the scale your theories about British interests. There was a time when the imputation of caring for British interests would not have been cast in the teeth of public men in any public assembly as if it were a very great crime. At present it is dangerous to talk of British interests— the constant care of every former British Minister—of Pitt, of Fox, of Peel, of Palmerston, of Clarendon — without this odious charge of selfishness being ready on the tongue of the glib orator. "Oh," it is said, "if you say this, and don't say that, you will encourage the Turk in his mad resistance; and, thanks to you, so much bloodshed and suffering will take place." Well, if that is the case, it would be truly deplorable, and no one would deplore it more than I. No 12 men would deplore it more than the 12 men in whose hands the destinies of this country are at present placed. But, as we have heard the Leader of this House and the Home Secretary assert, that never by word uttered in despatch, or by word of mouth, has any reasonable encouragement been given to the Turk to hold out. That has been said, but you will not believe it. You say the Ministry have not the honesty or capacity to frame a statement in plain English which carries its own meaning with it. You cannot get out of that. As to these men, you argue, whose utterances to a fairly average Christian people might possibly carry a plain meaning, they have not conveyed it to the Turk. The Turk, as you all know, for you are never tired of hammering on that strain, is very stupid. He is very prejudiced, very ignorant, and very fanatical; and, at the same time, he has a considerable amount of hard, brutal courage. Well, with this most unmanageable savage, with his superficial varnish of external civilization, how are you so to adjust your utterances, what new language are you to discover, so that his stupidity shall just take in your meaning — nothing more and nothing less. How are you to phrase your despatches so as to be intelligible and convincing to the Turk, and yet neither enigmatic nor offensive to Christendom? Mind, I am taking the Turk at your own appraisement, and it is no answer to say because he is a Turk and is very stupid, you must deal 789 with him as you. deal with no other people. I have shown the impossibility of complying with such an instruction. Can the Government have its separate voice for every nation, inaudible elsewhere? Can you set up any series of telephones, with one end in London, and the others at each of the European capitals? Every despatch which you publish, sent to any other capital, is read at Constantinople; and every despatch to Constantinople is, under the same circumstances, the property of all the capitals. So to assert that, in condescension to the savage prejudice and the unmanageable stupidity of the Turk, the language you use to him must not be the common phraseology of all European Foreign Offices, is to bring diplomacy and government to a dead-lock. I must apologize to the House for having kept it so long with the views of an independent Member; but, convinced as I am, that many excellent thinking people throughout the country have been led very much astray by the reckless assertions or the astute misrepresentations made by self-appointed teachers, I feel that it is a duty to explain to them the reason of my vote.
§ MR. JOHN BRIGHT
Mr. Speaker, the question before the House is not by any means a new one. It is one which, as we have found and shall find, will allow room for great latitude of speech; and I think that, before this debate closes, it is quite likely that much more may be said than has been said, and that it will fill more than one large volume. But, notwithstanding this, I think the question, as it is placed before us in the Amendment which has been moved, is brought really into a small compass, and it probably will be more convenient to the House, and much more pleasant to myself, that I should confine myself within this small compass, and not ramble over the whole of the Eastern Question, as we have been considering it for months past. Unless rumours— which are unhappy and much to be regretted—are true, I suppose we may consider that this calamitous war is now near its conclusion, and that, as has happened at the end of every war, conditions of peace will have to be discussed. Now, I have no intention at all to-night of making any Party attack upon the Government. I know not that any successful 790 attack could be made if we were minded, according to the view of the last speaker, merely to turn out the Government and to put ourselves in. I doubt very much whether any such event is at present possible, or is likely soon to be possible. Still, without attacking the Government, I think one may be at liberty to say—and I suspect they will admit there is truth in it—that during the course of these transactions they have shown on several occasions a good deal of indecision of conduct, and that they have made not a few considerable blunders. I know they say—for we have heard it to-night from the Home Secretary—that we have charged them—I suppose he will say falsely, because he says there has been a "lying spirit" among us—with speaking with or in two voices to the country. The right hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well that he has been one of the voices, and that he has very often been quoted in favour of a policy not hostile to the general views of this side of the House. And if there have not been two voices, how comes it that in every portion of the Kingdom there has been a fixed belief—not because any of us told them that it was so, but because men read your speeches as well as ourselves, and they came to the inevitable conclusion—that there were two voices speaking in the Cabinet? Do you mean to say, in the face of this Assembly, that the speeches at Aylesbury and the Guildhall were the same as the speeches of Lord Salisbury and Lord Carnarvon—the same as the speeches of Lord Derby? You know that if you said that, you would say what was not true; and that which we know to be the fact in respect of these speeches is known to all the readers— counted by millions now, happily—in the United Kingdom who have read these speeches in the newspapers. But still I do not expect—and right hon. Gentlemen opposite may give me credit for this, because I have had very little experience myself—I do not expect that Ministers are to pursue a career for four or five years without being guilty of indecision and without making blunders. The Government that preceded the Gentlemen opposite made a good many blunders; but they were small in comparison with yours. I dare say those blunders account in some degree for the fact that they have now to sit upon this 791 bench instead of upon that. But, admitting—as we must all admit—that Governments are guilty of indecision and make blunders, still I think it is a matter on which we may congratulate ourselves that in the difficult position in which we have found ourselves during the last two years—and especially during the last 12 months—the Government has actually abstained from plunging the country into war. I gather from this that the experience of 1854–1856 has not been lost. It has not been lost upon the people of the three Kingdoms; it has not been lost upon Parliament; it has not been lost upon those who now occupy the position of Ministers of the Crown. Notwithstanding, therefore, indiscreet speeches, and some acts that may be called in question, war has been avoided. There has not been a single ship that I know of that has been added to the Navy in consequence of these events, and no troops have been added to the number of the land forces. And I will admit further on behalf of the Government, that, notwithstanding the indiscretions of which I have spoken, I will accept the statement of the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for the Home Department, and say that I believe the Cabinet, as a whole, has not been only willing to preserve peace, but that it has been anxious above all things that this country should escape war. There is some credit to be allowed to Gentlemen opposite—I mean those that are in office, for that. They have had much provocation from some of their supporters in this House, and still more from those who profess to speak for them and to them in the Press. It is something that they have not been involved in what I may call the raving lunacy of The Pall Mall Gazette, and, if I may be excused the alliteration, the delirium tremens of The Daily Telegraph. Coming to the question directly before the House, I say it is strange that when the war is over, or nearly over; that when peace is in view, and, as we think, almost within our grasp; when men in this country are breathing more freely, and when England and Europe are glad—I say it does appear to me strange beyond all example, that at this precise moment the very first positive menace of warlike preparation should be offered by the Government to the adoption of this House. What is our position with 792 regard to this question of forces? Millions are voted in this House from Session to Session, and few men know how much is voted; but in the last Session of Parliament, within the last 12 months, a sum of not less than £26,000,000 sterling was voted for military and naval expenses. £26,000,000 sterling! When the Duke of Wellington and Sir Robert Peel were in office in the year 1835—a little more than 40 years ago— the whole expenditure of the Army and Navy, I believe, was only about £11,000,000. This year it amounts— and it has amounted for several years past—to £25,000,000 or £26,000,000. I should say it was not unreasonable for me to assert to the House that that seems enough. If we are not intending war, if war is not probable, if no nation is attempting to invade or molest us, war being now impossible, surely a Vote of £26,000,000 in a year is enough for this civilized and Christian country in this Christian age. And we are told—with a repetition of phrase that I am sorry to say looks as if the Secretary of State for the Home Department was not quite sure that we could credit it—that there is not the smallest intention of war on the part of the Government. The war is near its end; it would be madness to endeavour to prolong it; but why should it be now promulgated to all Europe that England is at last preparing to draw her sword, it may be—though I hope it is not—to throw it into the scale at the precise moment when the warring nations are returning their swords to their scabbards? No, it is not to go into war; that would be sheer madness. If the Government had intended war on behalf of Turkey, of course they would have joined in the struggle when the Turk had 300,000 or 400,000 men in the field; but now, when all or nearly all his armies are destroyed, or captured, or scattered, it would be an act, not of wickedness only, but of lunacy unmistakeable, to think of entering upon a struggle with Russia, with an Ally vanquished, humbled, prostrate, as our only Ally would be—that is, the Sultan of Turkey. But the proposition is—and I should have thought it an incredible one before I read it—that, seeing that certain negotiations are expected, we ought to make ourselves, by sea and land, more powerful than we are at present, in order that the terms of peace may not be injurious 793 to us; but may, I presume, also be made as beneficial as possible to the Sultan of Turkey and to his Government. It is generally understood, I believe, that the parties to a war are, and ought to be, the parties to fix the terms of peace. When France and Sardinia were at war with Austria the terms of peace were fixed by them. Europe did not interfere. Lom-bardy was annexed to Sardinia, and by arrangement between the Emperor of the French and the King of Sardinia— the Monarch who the other day descended from his throne to the tomb— Savoy and Nice were annexed to France. But at that time Lord John Russell, then Foreign Secretary, was represented as going to all the Courts of Europe— excepting, of course, those of France and Sardinia—entreating the Powers to join him to prevent any transfer of Savoy and Nice from one Power to another. The Powers paid no attention to him. Lord John Russell was obliged to go back to the Foreign Office. The arrangement was made, and Europe, so far as I know, had no reason to regret. What happened, again, when France and Germany went to war seven years ago? Then we had—I believe all Europe had —a considerable ground of complaint, and that was that at the conclusion of the war certain Provinces were taken from France and annexed to Germany. I do not say that France had any just ground of complaint; because if she had conquered Germany and captured Berlin, she would have taken Provinces from Germany and carried the boundaries of her territories to, or perhaps beyond, the Rhine. But all Europe had a right to complain because Germany insisted upon terms of peace which left a burning resentment in the mind of the French nation which may—I hope it will not—probably lead to desolating wars in the future. At that time Europe might have complained, might have had a Congress, and might have insisted upon other terms; but she did not do it. She allowed the belligerents to make their own terms of peace. On this point I wish to call the attention of the House to a curious paragraph in a work of great interest which I have lately read—I mean a volume of the work which Her Majesty the Queen has permitted Mr. Theodore Martin to publish for the instruction and the advantage of the people—and than which I have not for a long time read any book with 794 greater interest. In that book there is a paragraph which refers to the then approaching Conference at Paris, held for the purpose of settling the terms of peace at the end of the Crimean War. The King of Prussia wished very much that he should have a delegate at that Conference; and the Prince Consort, I think in writing to the King of Belgium, his uncle, said, in effect, that it would be a mischievous principle, and at the same time setting a bad precedent, to allow any Power or any person to be represented at the Conference, or to take part in the game, who had not laid down his stake. He therefore objected strongly—though his objection was not persisted in—that Prussia should come to the Conference at Paris. I merely mention these things for the purpose of showing that, in the main, it is historically true that in late years in our own experience the parties to a war have been permitted to arrange their own differences in their own manner, and to fix such terms of peace as suit them both—of course always allowing that any other Power, if anything is done which is adverse to its interests, or which is in molestation of its territory, has a right to complain, and if it thinks its case grievous enough, I presume it has a right to declare war. I am not about to argue that there is any impropriety in the sitting of a European Council or Conference, or in this country taking any share in that Conference. It seems to me quite probable—and I have no objection to it—that there are points in the settlement of the now-terminating war on which it is necessary for the good of Europe in future, for the good of Russia, and for the good of Turkey, that the Powers of Europe should consult, and settle that which seems most likely to produce a just and durable peace. But then comes the question, which will be much canvassed both in this House and out of it—I mean the question of what are, or are to be, the terms of peace which are exciting so much agitation. [An hon. MEMBER: That is what we want to know.] Yes; you want to know. If you do not know, it was not necessary to go into such an elaborate description of them, and to say so much against them? If you do know them, then they are subjects for our consideration. We know this, at any rate, I think 795 sufficiently well to take it into our view, that one of the main points connected with the Treaty must be to some extent to liberate the Christian, and I think also to liberate the Moslem, population of what are called the Christian Provinces of Turkey in Europe. Does any man in this House—does the hon. Gentleman who has spoken about preparing for war—I should like to ask him and any hon. Gentlemen who agree with him, if there can be any; I should like to ask them whether they would be willing that this war should close and a Treaty of peace should be made, and that the condition of the population of the Christian Provinces of Turkey should remain exactly what it was before the war? No, surely not. Why did you send one of your ablest Ministers to Constantinople to meet in Conference Representatives from other Powers but for the very purpose that something might be done to liberate from Turkish tyranny and oppression the Christian population of those Provinces? What was it that excited the whole of Great Britain—and I hope it excited, to some extent also, the mind of Ireland—about 18 months ago? Why, surely it was the condition of this population; and if there ever was one thing in this world on which the people of this country had made up its mind, it was that as far as their influence went the Christian population of those Provinces should be as speedily as possible delivered from the tyranny under which they groaned. It is that very wish which has sustained the interest of the people of England in this great question from that hour to this; and what the people believe further is this—that the more persons are free, and the more entirely they are free, the better will it be, of course, for the population of those Provinces; the better will it be for all the regions in that part of Europe, and the better for all of us; because the more remote will be the chance of any future war connected with that portion of the globe. You had a war in 1856. If, at the conclusion of that war, the terms of peace had been wider and better—if the Christian populations of those Provinces had then been saved—the war which has been waged for the last nine months would, in all human probability, have been unnecessary, and would have been avoided. I could not help the other night, in 796 listening to the speech of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, lamenting the tone in which he referred to this question. He spoke of it as if it were one in which the interests of England were adverse to the feelings of those populations. ["No, no!"] The right hon. Gentleman denies that his language was open to that construction. But what he lamented was, not that a few of the Bulgarians were to be free, but that so many were to be free. If he did not say that, the English language is something that I have yet to learn. He told us that if" the new Bulgaria were to be formed, it would be like a line drawn down this side of England and that side of England." Well, so much the worse for his case, or for the case of the Turks, if it be necessary to take so large a slice out of Turkey. But I say that for England by its influence to bring about a peace which would liberate a portion of the population, and condemn another portion to perpetual wrong, that would be a policy which the Government dare not openly defend in this House, and which the people of England would never, in my opinion, consent to. While I am on this point I will make another observation. I say that the tone and manner and language of the right hon. Gentleman the other night on this subject was not, in my opinion, such as was quite worthy of an English Minister. ["Oh, oh!"] Yes, I have observed that English Ministers, for a very long time past, have generally in their speeches in this House expressed sympathy with the suffering, and an expectation and a hope that freedom might be extended to those who were oppressed and enslaved. [An hon. MEMBER: Poland.] That is perfectly true with regard to Poland. When I was a boy, everybody in England, as far as I can remember hearing or reading, lamented the calamities which had befallen Poland. Lines come to my mind which have rested there from that time to the present moment. They refer to a battle-field—Where Poland sees her gallant sonsHer first, her best, her bravest ones,On the cold earth all gory lie,For Poland breathe a prayer and die.Sir, surely I am saying nothing offensive to the character of anyone when I say that we expect from every English statesman—I hope we may expect it if he 797 belongs to the Party opposite, and I am sure we shall never miss it if he belongs to this Party—that in his speeches in this House and in his statesmanship he shall have regard to the sufferings of the oppressed, be they black or be they white, in every region of the globe. I say that to-night the speech of the Secretary of State for the Home Department partook of the same fault. Most of the Members now present heard his speech—a speech which will not give the satisfaction of the one delivered last Session. Throughout the whole of the description which the right hon. Gentleman gave of the difficulties and delays attending the negotiations he was continually, with dramatic action, conveying the impression to the House that somebody was amusing the Turkish Delegates and Commissioners, while the armies of the Czar were marching on to the accomplishment of something which we had reason to believe might possibly not be within the intentions of the Russian Government. We are even told that these unfortunate Turkish Commissioners are scarcely to be found. They can telegraph to their wives in Constantinople—that seems to be a government that they comprehend; but we have the information—I am not sure that it does not come from the English Ambassador at Constantinople—that although the Government there has telegraphed to them several times during the last few days, they not only can get no answer from them with regard to the progress of the negotiations, but not even an answer as to whether they are still in existence. And to say, without knowing more than that, that the Russians are delaying the negotiations for purposes that they will not avow, is, I think, that which a Minister of this country is not wise in saying of a Sovereign and a Government which the Queen in her Speech from the Throne described as a friendly Ally. Now, Sir, no man in this country laments more than I do, or has grieved more than I have, over the lamentable calamities and bloodshed of this war. I know not that they are greater than those that have happened in other wars; but now we have from day to day, through the wonderful omnipresence of the Press, almost every transaction performed, as it were, before our eyes. But whatever be those calamities, however great this suffering, however much this 798 bloodshed, however much the cry of agony has gone up to Heaven during these last months from those ensanguined fields, let us not reject, if it is offered to us, whatever compensation can possibly be given to the people who have endured or survived these sufferings. I should say that the more terrible has been the cost of the war, the more our hearts have been stirred by listening to those details, the more we should rejoice if by the power and statesmanship of Russia, by the consent of the Powers of Europe, a larger and larger area of European territory be included in that great salvation from Turkish rule. Well, I venture to hope—and in expressing the hope to the House and to Her Majesty's Ministers, I speak the mind of the people of England, of Scotland, and I might appeal to hon. Gentlemen from Ireland whether I do not speak the mind of the people of Ireland also—that if the £6,000,000 be granted by the House they may not be used to strengthen the hands of the Government to hinder or lessen the freedom which is intended to be bestowed upon certain Provinces of the Turkish Empire. For if it were so used, what would be the political result? It would teach them all for ever, so long as that page of history was read by the children of those Provinces, to nourish, not a hatred only, but a contempt for free England, and throw them more and more into the arms of Russia, whom you so much suspect. Then as to another branch of this question of the terms. It is one which refers to territory and indemnity. I say nothing about territory. I believe it is generally understood that there is no proposal, nor likely to be one, to take any territory in Europe and put it under the dominion of the Russian Czar. With regard to Asia, I will say nothing except this—that we have no special interest in that quarter. ["Oh!"] Well, if we have, all I know is that it has been forgotten by the Ministers who have made speeches and written despatches. There is one point as to the indemnity which is a matter, I think, of importance—of course, of great importance to Turkey, and of some importance to Russia. If the indemnity insisted on by Russia be very large—and it need not be very large in figures to be very large in burden to a country prostrate as Turkey is—it would be a great hardship to the people of Turkey, and 799 would prevent, or might prevent, any restoration of even the poor prosperity that has heretofore existed in that country. If I were the Delegate or Commissioner from this country to the Council—if there be a Council—I should strongly urge upon the Russian Government that the penalty, or indemnity, should be one of extreme moderation. I think that is a point that might be urged; because all Europe is interested in the restoration of the prosperity of the people who have suffered so much during the war. I will only refer to one other question, and it is one which has been constantly discussed—namely, that relating to the Straits. Now really, when so much has been said—and as I think ungenerously said—with regard to what Russia has done in this matter, the House will permit me to read a Paper which was laid before us this evening, but which has not yet been circulated. It is a telegraphic despatch from Lord Augustus Loffcus to Lord Derby, dated St. Petersburg, January 30. [Mr. ASSHETON CROSS: I read the entire of it.] Perhaps hon. Gentlemen opposite would like to hear it again. He says—In reply to my inquiry, Prince Gortchakoff stated this morning that the last article of the peace conditions communicated by Count Schouvaloff, referring to the ulterior understanding with regard to the Straits, was vague and unnecessary. He said he had no objection to suppress it altogether. He denied that it referred to an understanding between Russia and Turkey alone, and he authorised me to state most categorically to your Lordship that Russia considered the question of the Straits as a European question that could only be settled in concert with the European Powers.There is here, also, another confirmation of the same thing; and therefore I think it would be desirable in any hon. Gentleman opposite who speaks in the debate not to allude to that particular point. It is one which may well be taken into consideration at the Conference to be held. Europe has some interest in this matter. Russia and Turkey have much the same interest in it. All are interested in the freedom of the Straits to ships of commerce; and we owe it to Russia that the Straits, having been closed to Russian ships for 300 years, were opened to commercial ships of all the world only about a century ago. Russia is now in a very different position from what she was in then. She is in possession of, I suppose, nearly half the shores of the 800 Black Sea. She has ports there, and I think at least one naval arsenal. How is she circumstanced at the other extremity of her Empire? Her capital is on the Baltic, and the Baltic is closed half the year by frost, while the Straits are always closed to her ships of war. I put it to any hon. Gentleman opposite, I put it to the very patriotic sailor Member who has given Notice of an Amendment (Captain Pirn)—["Oh!"]—well, hon. Gentlemen cannot say that that is an offensive term to use of one who is so fond of the Service as the hon. Member is—but I ask him or anyone elseholding his opinions whether he thinks it just, or endurable, or possible, that a nation of 80,000,000 of people can be subjected continually to this enclosed or isolated state, shut out from the North Sea by frost half of the year, and shut out from the Mediterranean, and, therefore, from all other seas—not because they wish it; not, I believe, because Turkey wishes it; not because the other Powers of Europe, I suspect, wish it; but mainly because this country wishes it? What a condition it is, that if a Russian vessel homeward bound arrives in Europe at a time of frost, she cannot enter the Baltic; and if she comes to the Mediterranean, she is not allowed to pass the Straits and go to any Russian port in the Black Sea. That is not the state of things that England, and Englishmen, and English sailors, and English patriots would be willing to consent to. I say there is great injustice and great offence to the Russian nation in this exclusion; but it is a fair and reasonable and proper question for the consideration of the Powers assembled in Conference. I have no doubt the Conference will do justice in the case, and I believe the English Government, when the question is fairly discussed, and a proper arrangement made, will find it their duty, and not contrary to their interests, to consent to such a change as may be required. You know that Prance has Cherbourg in the Channel, and Toulon in the Mediterranean. Italy, too, has a Fleet. Turkey may hesitate, but what if Turkey should consent? We have asserted the right of Turkey to close the Straits, because she owns the territory on either side. I doubt very much whether that be a right she could fairly assert. She could much more fairly assert a right to shut you out of the Suez Canal. That Canal has 801 been built by the labour of her subjects and paid for to a considerable extent by the money of her vassal Governor of Egypt, and she has far more right— though a right she never would attempt to exercise—to prohibit us or anybody else from passing through the Canal on the way to India—-I am speaking of ships of war—than she has to say that ships of war shall not pass through the Bosphorus and the Dardanelles. It might be so arranged that not more than one, or two, or three ships should ever be between the two seas at the same time. Notice might be given that a ship has passed out into the Mediterranean before another ship enters the Straits. You have the block system on your railways—why not have the block system in the Straits? The difficulty would then be at an end; and I believe hereafter that the whole difficulty of the Eastern Question as regards this country politically would be at an end also. Well, then, my view is that there is nothing in those terms to excite or to alarm us. Hon. Gentlemen opposite, I am sure, taking them individually, would say that they are just as much for peace as I am. They know that peace is the great interest of every country. They do not wish out of a mean, and it may be in some cases an ignorant, jealousy of Russia to do injustice to Russia. They do not wish to support perpetually the grinding and odious tyranny which they know has been exercised by Turkey upon the largest portion of her population. Well, if you examine these terms you will find there is nothing in them that ought to excite or alarm you. There is nothing to urge you to show yourselves ignorant and selfish, or animated by a discreditable jealousy of Russia—nothing to justify any menace to Russia or to other Powers who may enter the Conference, by the passing of the Vote which the Government has submitted to the House. Let us consider for a moment what we are doing. We often boast—we sometimes boast too much—of the greatness of our great Empire. We say—it is often in rhetorical leading articles said, and some times in speeches—that the sceptre of our Queen rules over 300,000,000 of the population of the globe. To this vast and countless multitude, we, assembled in this House—we, from this Chamber, speak to all of them. They hear our voice. Every decree, every Resolution, 802 every act of this House, maybe felt over nearly half the world. Knowing, then, that we affect the nearest and dearest interests of such vast multitudes and so many millions, am I wrong in saying that no language can describe, no measure gauge the magnitude and burden of the responsibilities of this country, and of this Government, and of this House? At the present moment, what do we know of what is going on in various parts of this Empire? In South Africa there is a war, a war it may be with savage tribes, but still not of small consequence; which, I see from the Papers to-night, is said to be presenting darker features by every succeeding mail—a war which, according to the statement of the hon. Gentleman who represents the Colonial Office here, requires troops and artillery to be sent out by succeeding ships. If we turn to another and a more distant portion of the Empire—to the Northern parts of India—we find there troops crossing the Northern frontier seeking a fresh post, fortifying a fresh position, and suspicion and alarm are spreading throughout large tracts of that portion of Asia which lies conterminous with our Northern Indian frontier. I ask this House, then, is not this warring enough for us? Is it not worth our while to consider this question calmly, without passion, and without unworthy jealousy or suspicion? I ask hon. Gentlemen to consider what is the condition—the growing and saddening condition—of not a little of our home population; and I would point out to the Government that in this matter I think they have done—unintentionally, I am quite sure-—a great injustice to our home population. They have not been with the public clear enough, firm enough, decisive enough, consistent enough. They have not had these virtues—their speeches of to-day being in one direction and those of to-morrow in another direction. ["No, no!"] lam grieved to have to say it, but I know it to be true. I know, also, that there is scarcely a single market in the United Kingdom connected with any of the great interests of the country that has not been disturbed and agitated — and when, as I know well enough, there is a deep anxiety amongst employers of labour in almost all the industries of the country, and an increasing suffering amongst the labourers, I say that the Government should be extremely 803 careful that not one single word is said by it, not one single act done that can shake confidence in business and can bring an increase of the troubles, the inevitable troubles, with which for a time we are likely to be surrounded. Well, I say that all this tells me that this matter of the Eastern Question, and the matter of this particular Vote, are things we ought to look at calmly, deliberately, and conscientiously, without jealousy and without prejudice; and if we take that course, if the Government will take that course, I believe they will find themselves supported honestly and fairly by both sides of the House. I want us to shake off this miserable nightmare which has so long oppressed us, and for ever to cease pursuing a phantom which I am quite satisfied we never shall overtake. I would declare this—the Government of this country ought to declare it—the time is not far distant, I believe, when they will declare it; I think it is now pretty much the mind of the people of England-—that we have no interest in any longer taking any step whatever to maintain the Ottoman rule in Europe— that we have no interest in cherishing a perpetual animosity with Russia. There are two policies before us—the old policy which, if we leave it to our children, will be a legacy of future wars; the new policy, which I contend for, and which I preach, and which if we adopt, we shall leave to our country, not a legacy of war, but a legacy of peace, and a growing and lasting friendship with one of the greatest Empires of the globe.
§ VISCOUNT SANDON
Sir, I think the House will agree that, a short time ago, the position of a Member of the Government in rising to speak upon this great Eastern Question was one of no slight difficulty owing to the meaning and importance which some hon. Gentlemen opposite attached to every word we uttered. If at one time a Minister in a clear, distinct, categorical, unimpassioned, dry and cold manner calls attention to the daily progress of negotiations, he is told, because the catalogue of events seems to tell against one of the combatants, that he is taking a side. On the other hand, if we come forward and say, with the assurance of our own convictions, that we are men of peace, we are then told that, though no one can suppose it possible, we are guilty of deceit; that we are under some 804 strange mesmeric influence, and are fated to deceive the country. That was the position of a Member of the Government until the right hon. Member for Birmingham rose and said he had no doubt that Her Majesty's Government had for two years, in times of great difficulty, preserved the peace of Europe. [Mr. BRIGHT: No, the peace of this country.] Of course, that is much better; and he believes that now Her Majesty's Government are anxious, above all things, to escape war. Therefore, we are now no longer to be taunted with being a war Party. You would not believe our own assertion, but you will believe that of the right hon. Member for Birmingham, who is, surely, a witness far above suspicion. In speaking of what he called the blunders of the Government, the right hon. Gentleman did not quote a single despatch to prove the very grave offences imputed; but he referred to the streets, to rumours, to certain newspapers, and to the feeling of the country as showing that the Government, after all, had been in favour of war. The right hon. Gentleman left the matter in some confusion. I prefer, however, to adopt his first assertion— that we have done our best to preserve peace for the country, and for two years have succeeded. The right hon. Gentleman thought it too horrible to contemplate the Government plunging the country into difficulty if not into war, at a time when, as he said, all Europe was glad at the prospect of peace. The use of the word "glad" was rather surprising; for anyone who contemplates the diplomatic condition of Europe just now must see that it is in a state of apprehension as bad almost as the calamity of war. Then the right hon. Gentleman wandered back, as he had often wandered back, to the days of Wellington and Peel, and compared the Estimates of those halcyon days with those of late years; but the right hon. Member must have forgotten that since then nations have increased their armies from tens to hundreds of thousands, that every weapon of war costs a hundredfold more, that instead of one man-of-war costing, as in those days, £100,000, high class vessels cost more than £500,000, and that the missile now fired at every discharge is about the size of the former guns themselves. Is it fair to compare the Estimates of the time of Wellington and 805 Peel with the Estimates of the present day? He says—"The war is closing; why prolong it? Why throw our sword into the scale when other nations are sheathing theirs?" It is the one thing we are trying to avoid. We are asking you to sanction such military preparation as shall enable us to throw our sword into the scale of peace. The right hon. Gentleman tells us it is usual for the parties to a war to settle the terms of peace among themselves; but he seems to have forgotten that certain Treaties exist. He forgets the Treaty of 1856, the parties to which engage to respect the independence and territorial integrity of the Turkish Empire, guarantee in common the observance of the engagement, and say that they will consider any act tending to its violation a question of general interest. He forgets the Treaty of 1871, by which the Powers recognize the principle that no Power can liberate itself from a Treaty without the consent of the contracting parties; and he has the hardihood to tell us that the parties to this war ought to settle for themselves the terms of peace, although in the conditions of the proposed peace there is hardly one which does not affect the Articles of the Treaty of 1856 which relate to the independence and territorial integrity of the Ottoman Empire. Mind, I am not for one moment speaking of the importance or otherwise of maintaining the Articles of the Treaty; but it is one of the most monstrous propositions a public man could advance to say that Russia and Turkey should settle the terms of peace between themselves without consulting any of the other Powers by which the Treaty of Paris was contracted. Then the right hon. Gentleman warned us against the danger of disseminating the principles of war. Had any other country a greater interest in maintaining the principles of peace? The whole conduct of England in her diplomacy in the East has been to avoid a desolating war. The right hon. Gentleman went on to say that this £6,000,000 should not be used to lessen the freedom of the Provinces of Turkey. But what right, I want to know, had the right hon. Gentleman to throw out that imputation? He proceeded to discuss the various terms of the conditions of peace, but surely at the present moment it is of great importance that we should not 806 discuss the different isolated points when a Congress will have to sit upon them. One point will hang upon others, and though harmless in itself it may be hurtful in combination; and, to say the least, it is a grave imprudence to forestall the action of the Congress, or to say that such and such a point is not approved by the majority of the English people. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bradford (Mr. W. E. Forster) made a speech which convinced me that he felt very uncertain as to the position which he adopted. He began intending to make a strong attack upon the Government. He denounced this Vote as unconstitutional, and therefore to be opposed. Yet he seemed to contradict himself in the most outrageous manner. He said this great subsidy of £6,000,000 was surely a temptation to extravagance; but as he went on he said it was quite clear they could not spend it, and, therefore, the proposal was a sham. Surely these are contradictory proposals—which of the two statements will the right hon. Gentleman abide by? The right hon. Gentleman then took the terms of peace one by one and examined them bit by bit; whereas they should be considered as a whole, and, viewed in that aspect, the demands of Russia would entirely change the condition of the south-east of Europe. I must protest against what I thought a great indiscretion on the right hon. Gentleman's part when he committed himself to the statement that he could see no objection to a temporary occupation of Constantinople. Surely it was most unwise for one in the right hon. Gentleman's position to make such an admission. It should be remembered that it is often impossible to state all the reasons of your action; it is often matter of the highest prudence both in the interests of peace and of the civilized world that you should hold your tongue. I feel myself this is not one of those moments when we should indulge in mutual recrimination, or talk of missed opportunities in times gone by; this is a moment when every Englishman who cares for his country should be prepared to drop all this sort of thing. The present position is far too grave for that—as grave as any country can well be placed in, and our speeches should be set in a tone becoming the situation. The great point before us is whether the House will consent to give this subsidy to Her 807 Majesty's Government. The position should be looked at closely as a whole. The great Eastern Question has been the apprehension and, I might say, the torment of Europe for many a long year. The more you look at this question the more you will be struck by what is going on. Europe is at this moment one vast camp. Every Power has for the last few years been arming to the teeth, and the soldiers are counted by tens of thousands, where before they were only numbered by thousands. England herself is quite content with her old position; she does not desire any conquests, and has no selfish interests to serve; but we cannot shut our eyes to the fact that there are movements going on in Europe which are cause for serious apprehension. Surely, then, the whole strength of the country ought to be placed at the back of the Government, in order that they may be prepared for any emergency, and enabled to meet any difficulty that may occur by sea or by land. We are told that this will be interpreted as a War Vote. We are told that if these £6,000,000 be granted it will be misinterpreted by the Christians of Turkey as intended to check their rising aspirations. Now, I venture to say, of all the Powers in the world, we are the least likely to be misapprehended in that way; for though we have not by violent excitement or appeals to arms sought to assist the Christians in times past, we have done what is ten times more valuable—through our agents in every part of the Turkish Empire we have consistently supported and defended the Christians of all creeds and kinds. There is no fear that this will be misinterpreted as a war Vote by them. Then it is said it will be misinterpreted by Turkey; but, surely, no one in Turkey can imagine because this Vote is passed that we are going at the eleventh hour to rescue her from the fate which she has brought upon herself. Then we are told that it will be misrepresented by Europe. Remember what happened upon the breaking out of the Crimean War. England was then misrepresented because she did not show by any overt act or say by the language of her responsible Ministers that her interests should not be trifled with or her honour impugned. Remember the misrepresentation at the time of the Crimean War, and, if you fear any now, fear 808 much more the serious misrepresentation you may incur if by any fatal combination of those on the opposite side of the House—which I do not for a moment believe—the interests of England be put in peril. I know that many opposite are actuated by the same feelings as ourselves, and I assure them that should this Vote be refused, there will then arise a most serious misrepresentation of English feeling and English intention which would mislead the whole of Europe and might precipitate it into war. For my own part, ardently devoted as I am to peace, and earnestly as I desire it, I say if you want to preserve peace, not only at this moment, but to lay down such terms as will be settled by the general consent of Europe, and make that peace lasting and endurable, the real course is to pass this Vote, and in passing it you will be passing what may be truly called the most peaceful Vote this country has ever passed.
§ MR. HERSCHELL
said, that because hon. Gentlemen on that (the Opposition) side of the House insisted that this country should not be dragged into this conflict, but should continue in a course of neutrality and peace, they were taunted with being unpatriotic and Russian— that they were lovers of Russia, and cared more for that country than for their own land. Such language had been heard over and over again, and it was language of gross misrepresentation, which it was difficult to submit to in silence and with patience. Because they were not always crying out about protecting British interests they did not feel less for those interests, or were less determined to protect them. When a man was always protesting his honesty, those who heard him were more likely to button up their pockets. He believed they were as patriotic and cared as much for British interests as Gentlemen on the other side, and would be as willing to make every sacrifice to maintain those interests. The great cause of difference between them was how those interests could be best protected, and how best they could carry out the principle of neutrality. But there were two ways of carrying out neutrality—one was always bringing us to the verge of war, and one was constant in its desire for maintaining peace. He did not charge the Government with saying one thing and meaning another, but he did charge them with trying to 809 carry out one policy in a double-headed sort of manner, and with trying to satisfy those who were in favour of war without displeasing those who were in favour of peace. The result was, that they were meeting with the difficulties usually encountered by those who were trying to serve two masters. They knew what had happened recently when two Members of the Cabinet resigned. The policy which the Government had desired to carry out had been pursued in a manner which had been likely to lead to disaster. That was the difficulty which many of them felt when the Government said—"leave everything to us," because they did not know that the trust would be well used. In the despatch of the Fleet to the Dardanelles, there was that double-headed policy of which he complained. To those who desired peace it was represented that it was only intended to secure the lives and the property of British subjects in Constantinople, whereas to those who desired war it was represented as being a grand step towards the protection of British interests. The former had been stated to be the case by the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary. But wore Lord Derby and Lord Carnarvon so forgetful of common humanity, that they were willing to separate themselves from the Cabinet rather than to consent to the lives and property of British subjects at Constantinople being rendered secure? He thought that could not for a moment be contended. And what was the meaning of the last line in the instructions to the Fleet—"Keep your destination absolutely secret." Surely it would have been better to have let all the world know that our Fleet was being sent upon an errand of mercy, and we could scarcely attribute to Russia the utter barbarism of endeavouring to prevent us protecting our fellow-subjects from massacre. The suggestion that the Fleet was to keep the waterway open meant that any re-sistence that it met with was to be overcome, and that meant that we might find ourselves at war at any moment. Moreover, the Prime Minister had admitted that the departure of the Fleet had for its object the protection of British interests, and the House also knew what that meant. In these circumstances, he did not wonder that two Members of the Cabinet had tendered their resignation. The noble Lord who had just spoken 810 said that the subject of the bases of peace was not ripe for discussion. But there was nothing unfair in the criticism of the Opposition on that subject, having regard to the speech of the Home Secretary, the foundation of whose argument was that we should prepare for war. There were two ways of dealing with those bases of peace He did not say that you should place implicit reliance in Russia any more than any other Power; but he (Mr. Herschell) strongly deprecated the insinuation conveyed—not by word, but by tone and manner—by the Chancellor of the Exchequer in reading the bases of peace, that the assurances of Russian statesmen were not to be believed in this country. By laying down conditions, the Government had pledged themselves not to interfere unless those conditions were broken; but he would ask which of those conditions had been broken or threatened? He deprecated an unseemly jealousy of Russia. If this Empire were in peril, we should all be united in the determination to expend our treasure and life blood in maintaining our position in the world; but there was nothing inconsistent with that determination in relying on our strength and refusing to be constantly on the watch here and there against Russia. He did not make light of the differences between Russia and England, but he saw no reason why there should not be peace between them. Russia, it was true, was a great military despotism, but this very war would probably result in great reforms being made, and in her becoming a mighty and free nation. If they had been asked to vote that money because they were on the brink of war, or because they wished to make preparations for war, he could have understood it; and if the country was satisfied that it would be a just war there would be great readiness in granting the supplies. But we were told that the money was not wanted for war, but to give us strength in a coming Conference. Now, he did not believe that we should be a bit stronger in the Conference by the voting of those £6,000,000. We should be strong there if we were a united people; but it was not the way to make us a united people to force such a proposal on the House as that, or to use such language as had been held on that subject. We should be strong in the 811 Conference if we went there not to urge our own selfish views only, but to consider the general interests of Europe. Then we should not stand alone, but would have the support of other Powers. But if we were only to look to English interests and to care nothing for those of other countries, then we should be weak, whether the House voted £6,000,000 or £60,000,000. In conclusion, he should record his vote against the proposal, because its only effect would be to encourage those who wanted to urge on the Government to more warlike steps; and because, if the House granted that Supply, it might be taken as the approval, he would not say of a war policy, but of a policy dangerously tending in the direction of war.
§ MR. GREENE
said, that what he wished all along was that this country should preserve a strict neutrality, and that justice should be done to both sides. The logical conclusion to draw from the bag-and-baggage policy was that England should go to war. He challenged the Liberal party to produce even a single precedent in which the Conservative Party had ever opposed the Government of the day in difficult circumstances like the present. He appealed to the conduct of the Conservatives in 1854, during the Alabama dispute, and at the time of the Franco-German War. He contrasted the speeches made by the Liberals during the Recess with those they had delivered in the House, and said the right hon. Member for Bradford (Mr. W. E. Forster) reminded him of the Egyptian chariots when their wheels were taken off—he dragged heavily. He could fancy the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition Party crying to be delivered from his Friends. It had been charged against the Conservatives that they wished for war in order to provide employment for their sons. For himself, he was thankful he had only one son, and he was glad to say he was able to provide for him—but if he could not he would prefer putting him to a carpenter's, or some such trade, rather than send him out to be shot at for 6s. a day. Talk about the feeling of the country, and about public meetings, he should like to have the opinion of the hon. Member for Sheffield about these meetings. He would be able to tell the House whether some of these meetings were 812 not packed meetings. By the admission of the right hon. Member for Birmingham (Mr. John Bright) the Government had kept England out of the war up to the present time, and he (Mr. Greene) ventured to assert that in the despatches of the noble Lord the Foreign Secretary not a line could be found indicative of a desire to depart from peace. It was true the Cabinet had resolved to ask for a Vote of Credit, but no man in his senses could think that £6,000,000 would be of any earthly use if they had made up their minds to go to war. It had been said that disunion existed in the Cabinet. Great credit was due to the head of the Government, who was the main spirit of the Cabinet; but he would ask how was it possible for any number of men to meet together amongst whom there was not some division, although they had decided upon a certain course of action? The Government desired to obtain the confidence of the House, and he would ask whether it was not desirable that the Government should place themselves in a position to be ready for any emergency that might arise? Some Members of the Liberal Party had been recently making speeches which were unworthy of them, and he was surprised that they could now come to the House of Commons, and look like injured innocents while they asked how they could be to blame for opposing the Vote? If the Conservatives wanted to do the Liberals an unkind act it could not be more effectually done than by letting them into office in the present crisis, inasmuch as they were absolutely without a policy. Their great Agitator had been making a speech at Oxford. He (Mr. Greene) thanked the right hon. Gentleman when he read that speech, because he knew it would give at least 20 additional votes to the Government. Unfortunately, a namesake of his was present at the meeting, and he felt bound to say that he was ashamed that any man of the name of Greene should have been found in such company. As for the Opposition generally, they had no policy; and he believed they heartily wished themselves out of their present difficulty. If their object was to get the Government out of office and get themselves in, all he could say was that they must show a little more honesty than they had 813 hitherto done. He felt almost certain that the Opposition would not force a division at the termination of this debate; but, even if they did, not more than about seven wise men would be found going with them into the Lobby. In conclusion, he must say he did not think he had ever passed a duller evening.
§ Motion agreed to.
§ Debate adjourned till To-morrow.