HC Deb 19 March 1878 vol 238 cc1593-4

asked the Under Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, "Whether he can state to the House, for the information of the Country, when the proposed Congress at Berlin is likely to assemble; whether he can state, following the precedents given by Ministers in this House (as, for instance, prior to the Conference at Geneva and to the Congress at Paris), who are to be the Plenipotentiaries representing the Powers of Europe taking part in that Congress; and, whether the news circulating from Berlin is correct, that, of the Powers to be represented at the Congress, Austria, Prance, Germany, Russia, and Turkey are to be represented as First Plenipotentiaries by their Minister for Foreign Affairs; and, if this be so, to explain why the Foreign Office has chosen the English Envoy to the French Republic to represent Great Britain?


In reply to the first part of the Question of my right hon. Friend the Member for Tamworth, I have to state and to remind the House that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer a few days ago stated the conditions on which Her Majesty's Government were prepared to enter a Conference or Congress. Well, if an agreement is arrived at with respect to these conditions, the Conference will probably meet about the end of the month. With respect to the next part of the Question of my right hon. Friend, I have to state that the Powers, with the exception of England, will be represented by their respective Chancellors or Ministers for Foreign Affairs. [Sir ROBERT PEEL: And Ministers for Foreign Affairs.] The right hon. Baronet will recollect that Prince Bismarck is Chancellor, and not Minister for Foreign Affairs, and I believe that is the title also of Count Andrassy. Her Majesty's Government have made an exception for this country as regards themselves, and they have done this for the reasons stated the other day in "another place"—that is, because our system of administration is wholly different from that of Continental States. A Minister of Foreign Affairs in this country, I need not remind the right hon. Baronet, is a Member of a Cabinet collectively responsible to Parliament for all the affairs of the Government, and cannot act on his sole authority; and if he enters a Congress of that kind, and leaves his Colleagues to settle what his instructions are to be from time to time, he abdicates his functions as Minister for Foreign Affairs, and becomes a mere agent to carry out the instructions of the Cabinet, instead of remaining at home and being a Member of the Cabinet which has to decide what should be done, and with which he should be jointly responsible. Her Majesty's Government, therefore, adhere to the announcement made in the other House of Parliament by the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs.