HC Deb 03 June 1878 vol 240 cc1076-82

Sir, I may, perhaps, take this opportunity of making a statement to the House which will, I think, be of general interest. Papers have already been laid upon the Table by my hon. Friend the Under Secretary for Foreign Affairs which, as they are short and interesting, I may, perhaps, be permitted to read to the House. They are a communication from the German Ambassador to my noble Friend Lord Salisbury, and Lord Salisbury's reply. The communication from the German Ambassador is as follows:— London, June 3, 1878. THE Undersigned, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of His Majesty the Emperor of Germany, King of Prussia, has the honour, by order of his Government, to convey to the knowledge of his Excellency the Marquis of Salisbury, Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs of Her Majesty the Queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, Empress of India, the following communication:— In confirmation with the initiative taken by the Austro-Hungarian Cabinet, the Government of His Majesty the Emperor of Germany has the honour to propose to the Powers signatories of the Treaties of 1856 and 1871 to meet in Congress, at Berlin, to discuss there the stipulations of the Preliminary Treaty of San Stefano concluded between Russia and Turkey. The Government of His Majesty, in giving this invitation to the Government of Her Britannic Majesty, understands that in accepting it, the Government of Her Britannic Majesty consents to admit the free discussion of the whole contents of the Treaty of San Stefano, and that it is ready to participate therein. In the event of the acceptance of all the Powers invited, the Government of His Majesty proposes to fix the meeting of the Congress for the 13th of this month. The Undersigned, in bringing the above to the knowledge of his Excellency the Marquis of Salisbury, has the honour to beg his Excellency to be good enough to acquaint him as soon as possible with the reply of the British Government. The Undersigned, &c. (Signed) MUNSTER. The reply of the Marquess of Salisbury to that communication is as follows::— THE Undersigned, Her Majesty's Principal Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, has the honour to acknowledge the receipt of his Excellency Count Minister's note of this day, inviting Her Majesty's Government to take part in a Congress at Berlin for a discussion of the stipulations of the Preliminary Treaty concluded at San Stefano between Russia and Turkey. The Undersigned, taking act of his Excellency's verbal intimation that the invitation has been sent in the same terms to the other Powers signatories of the Treaty of Paris, and understanding that those Powers in accepting this invitation assent to the terms stated in his Excellency's note, has the honour to inform his Excellency that Her Majesty's Government will be ready to take part in the Congress at the date mentioned. The Undersigned, &c. (Signed) SALISBURY. The Congress will take place, therefore, at Berlin, on the 13th instant, and Her Majesty's Government will be represented by my noble Friend Lord Beaconsfield, by Lord Salisbury, and by Lord Odo Russell, Her Majesty's Ambassador at Berlin. Sir, I am sure the House will anticipate that in making this communication, and in referring to this act of the German Government, I should say a single word to express the horror with which not only the House but the whole country has heard of the recent criminal attack upon the Emperor of Germany, and to express at the same time our earnest hope that no serious consequences may result. In spite of His Majesty's advanced age, his well-known mental and bodily vigour give us hope that the consequences will be less serious than might have been anticipated. Perhaps it may be of interest to the House, if my hon. Friend the Under Secretary for Foreign Affairs were allowed to read the latest telegrams which we have received with reference to the Emperor.


The first telegram we received this morning was from Lord Odo Russell. It was dated 10.30 A.M., and was as follows:— The Emperor has slept at intervals fairly well. The doctors are satisfied with His Majesty's general state this morning. Owing to the kindness of the German Ambassador, I am able also to read a telegram received about an hour ago, which he has been good enough to send down to me, and which I have his permission so to read to the House. It is as follows:— BERLIN, 2.5. His Majesty was struck by 30 pellets in the cheek, arms, head, and back. Eighteen pellets struck his helmet. The pain yesterday was very great. No one of the wounds is dangerous in it self. His Majesty is calm and quiet, and has shown great self-possession throughout. Sleep at night is good, thank God! On the whole, His Majesty's state is satisfactory. We have also received from Lord Odo Russell another telegram, which, appears to be a little later than those that I have just read:— The Emperor continues to be without fever. The ice placed on His Majesty's arm and shoulder has relieved the burning pain of the wounds. Some grains of shot are still inside the wrist and cannot yet be extracted, but there is no inflammation.


Sir, I am quite sure the whole House will re-echo the expressions which have fallen from the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer as to the horror and detestation which have been excited among us by the attempt upon the Emperor of Germany's life, and will heartily join in expressions of sympathy with His Imperial Majesty and with His people. I am equally sure we shall all rejoice to hear that the consequences are not more serious than, under the circumstances, might have been anticipated. But, Sir, perhaps the House will also allow me to take this opportunity, as I may not have another opportunity before the Holidays, of making one observation in reference to the first part of the right hon. Gentleman's statement—I mean that in reference to the Representatives of this country at the approaching Congress. As far as I know, the course proposed to be taken by the Government is altogether without precedent, though that fact probably has not produced a great impression on the minds of hon. Members opposite, who have lately, as it appears to me, developed a remarkable indifference to established precedents in these matters. I must say that the arrangements which have been just announced appear to call for serious consideration, and that they are to my mind a matter for regret. If, Sir, the object of the Congress is to be simply—


The noble Lord is now entering upon matter of debate, and I am bound to ask him whether he proposes to conclude with a Motion?


Sir, under the circumstances I had hoped the House would have allowed me to make a few remarks without it being necessary for me to conclude with a Motion, as I did not intend to detain the House longer than two or three minutes. However, to put myself in Order, I will conclude by moving the adjournment of the House. I was about to say that if the object of the Congress is simply to ratify conclusions which have been already arrived at, then I cannot imagine why the two chief Officers of the State should have thought it necessary to absent themselves from their duties in this country merely in order to take part in deliberations of that character. If, on the other hand, the Congress is to meet in order to deliberate upon and to decide upon questions of the most momentous importance, then, I think, it is very much to be regretted that the Representatives of Her Majesty's Government at the Congress will be deprived of the assistance they might otherwise obtain from the counsels of the Cabinet at home. Sir, I have been accustomed to believe that we are governed, not by one or two men, however eminent, but by Her Majesty's Ministers, acting together after due consultation and deliberation. But, in these circumstances, it seems to me that it will be quite impossible for the Cabinet at home to exercise any influence whatever on the decision which may be arrived at or agreed to by the Representatives of this country at the Congress. It may, perhaps, be said that the Plenipotentiaries will join the Congress at Berlin in order to support a policy which has been decided upon and determined by Her Majesty's Ministers at home. But, Sir, it is possible, and, indeed, it is very probable, that on an occasion of this sort unforeseen occurrences of the greatest gravity and importance may arise, and it will be impossible, in such circumstances, that Plenipotentiaries can receive the support which, in other circumstances, they might receive from the Cabinet at home. It may, again, be said that the conclusions to which they may pledge the country will require the ratification of the Government at home. I am sure, however, that the House will see the immense difference which exists between a Cabinet exercising an influence on the deliberations of the Congress while they were in progress, and taking the responsibility upon itself of either rejecting or considerably altering the decisions already arrived at. I cannot imagine for a moment that it will be denied that the part which this country is to take in these deliberations—in the settlement of a policy which may affect the present and future policy of this country for a great number of years to come—I say I cannot imagine that it will be contended for a moment that these events will be in the hands of any but the two Plenipotentiaries who are sent to the Congress. On the other hand, it is impossible to conceive that the Cabinet, sitting at home and deprived of the assistance of two of its chief Members, can exercise any real or beneficial influence over the deliberations of the Plenipotentiaries at Berlin. Nor do I think this arrangement will be any more satisfactory to this House when it is considered that neither of the Plenipotentiaries who have been selected has a seat in this House. Therefore, those Members of the Cabinet who might be most able to form an opinion as to the feeling of the House of Commons on these important matters will not be able to make their opinion known. Sir, I would not have taken this course, but for the fact that the very short time which will elapse before the Congress meets rendered it possible that another opportunity would not be afforded to me of calling attention to the subject. I hope the House will excuse me for having made these remarks.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—(The Marquess of Hartington.)


Sir, I do not know that it would be convenient that I should enter into a discussion upon this subject. Still, I may say that the whole of the proceedings and the whole of the policy which is involved in the meeting of the Congress have been the subject of long and most anxious deliberation on the part of Her Majesty's Government. We have in the fullest manner discussed among ourselves all the questions which are likely to arise, and there is so complete an understanding of those questions that we do not anticipate those disadvantages to which the noble Lord has referred. Undoubtedly, the question of the representation of this country at the Congress was one of considerable delicacy and difficulty, and it has been the cause of anxious deliberations on the part of Her Majesty's Government; but, upon a full consideration of all the circumstances, we found the balance of reasoning to be in favour of the course which has been adopted. The Congress will be attended by the Prime Ministers and Foreign Secretaries of the principal Powers concerned. The Prime Minister of Germany, the Prime Minister of Austria, and, in all probability, if his health permits, the Prime Minister of Russia, the Foreign Minister of France, and the Foreign Minister of Italy, will be the Representatives of those Powers at the Congress. It has, on the whole, appeared to Her Majesty's Government, that by requesting the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary to act as the Representatives of England, we were taking the course which was best calculated to arrive at a speedy and satisfactory conclusion of a matter which is not now in its infancy, but which has been considerably advanced.


said, he desired to suggest to the Chancellor of the Exchequer the adoption of a course which an individual Member of the House was scarcely competent to propose; but which, he thought, would come with good grace from the Leader of that House. He would suggest that the Chancellor of the Exchequer should consider whether there was any precedent that would justify an expression on the part of the House of its abhorrence and detestation of the second attempt which had been recently made to assassinate a Sovereign who had been doing so much for the peace of Europe, as his Imperial Majesty the Emperor of Germany, by convening a Congress in his own capital. He (Mr. Newdegate) was quite sure that if the right hon. Gentleman found that his doing this would be in accordance with precedent, he would consult and represent the feeling of the House by affording an opportunity for expressing the feelings of abhorrence which were excited by this second attempt to take a life so valuable to the world.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.