HL Deb 29 August 1831 vol 6 cc740-9

The Marquis of Londonderry rose to move, that there be laid on the Table an account of the expenses of erecting the fortresses on the frontiers of Belgium and Holland, and of the proportions in which the expense was borne by the Powers who contributed, In making this Motion, he wished to take the opportunity of putting some questions to the noble Earl opposite, on the subject of withdrawing the French troops from Belgium. The noble Earl had stated, the other night, that the French Commander in chief, Marshal Gerard, had received positive orders to withdraw the French troops from Belgium, as soon as the Dutch troops should be withdrawn within the limits of their own frontiers; and the noble Earl added, that he had no doubt, but that these orders would be executed, and that the French government would honourably perform its engagements. But he had since understood, that the noble Earl had added, in an under tone, which he did not distinctly hear himself, that some portion of the French troops might remain in the Belgian territory. In consequence of an intimation conveyed to him, that the noble Earl had added something to that effect, he had, after the adjournment of the House, applied to a noble Baron opposite, and inquired, in what sense he was to understand what the noble Earl had said, and what was the interpretation which the noble Baron put on the words of the noble Earl? By that noble Baron he was informed, that positive orders had been given to withdraw the French troops from Belgium; and he had been the more confirmed in the belief that such was the statement of the noble Earl, from a similar statement having been made by a noble Lord in the other House, viz. that the whole of the French troops were to be withdrawn from Belgium. With what amazement, then, did he afterwards learn, that Prince Leopold (for he could not be considered as king of Belgium, since he had not been as yet acknowledged by Russia, Prussia, and Austria) had requested, that a guard of ten or twelve thousand of the French troops should continue to occupy Belgium, after the Dutch troops had withdrawn. He understood, that Prince Leopold had requested, that a considerable proportion of the infantry of the French army, besides two brigades of cavalry, and eight batteries of cannon, should still remain in possession of the country. The noble Earl had spoken, on a former occasion, of what this country had a right to expect; and he would now ask the noble Earl, whether this was what the country had a right to expect, after the engagements said to have been come under by the French government, and the assurances given by the noble Earl, that these engagements would be fairly and honourably performed? For what purpose, or with what object, could these troops be retained in Belgium? Prince Leopold had not as yet been acknowledged king of Belgium by Austria, Prussia, or Russia, and he had no right to demand these troops as a body guard. Could Prince Leopold not trust Les braves Belges? and if he could not, and we were to allow the French to remain on that pretence, it was quite clear, that the Ministers of this country had been bamboozled by the arrangement. It was perfect perfidy, if Prince Leopold had called on the troops of France alone to occupy Belgium in this manner. If any troops at all were required, the French government alone ought not to have been called upon to furnish them, but the matter ought to have been referred to the Conference, and our Ministers had not done their duty at the Conference, since they had not bound Prince Leopold down as to what he ought to do in an emergency of this kind, which, as it was likely to occur, ought to have been foreseen and provided for. It ought to have been referred to the Conference here, to consider whether, in such a case, the occupying troops should be Prussian, Russian, or Austrian, or some of our own troops; for, of all the Powers, France was the last that ought to have been allowed to furnish troops for this purpose. It was evidently a subterfuge, a pretence, on the part of the French, for the purpose of having the occupation of Belgium continued by their own troops. He repeated, that the matter ought to have been settled by the Conference here, and that some previous arrangement should have been made in case of the occurrence of this emergency. He had, on a late occasion, been complimented by the noble Baron opposite (Holland) for the great satisfaction which he had expressed at the assurance that the French troops were to be withdrawn; but then, when he expressed that satisfaction, he understood, that all of them were to be withdrawn; whereas, as it now appeared, the result was totally different, since so large a body was still to be retained. He would refer the noble Baron to what had been the conduct of the Ministry of this country in 1793, during the progress of the then French Revolution, with which the noble Baron was particularly conversant—he alluded to the noble Baron, the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, or perhaps, he ought rather to say, the noble Deputy Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, or Principal Secretary, for he understood, that it was the noble Baron who directed the proceedings of the noble Lord who ostensibly held that situation. If the noble Baron would please to refer back to a debate which took place in Paris at the period to which he had adverted (the debate as to the fate of Louis 16th), he would find, that a certain Monsieur Egalité, or some other person, had said, on that occasion: "Je vote pour la mort sans phrase." So, in this case, his language was: "Je vote pour la retraite sans phrase"—a real and substantial, and not a pretended retreat—"une retraite sans phrase et sans conditiont" and then it might be hoped, that it would be sans collision. The noble Baron had complimented him on the satisfaction which he had expressed, but then, that was under the impression, that the intended retreat was such as he had described, for that was the only species of retreat with which he would be satisfied. But one word as to the fortresses. In the Protocol on their Lordships' Table, it was provided, that the negociators for the four Powers—Russia, Austria, Prussia, and Great Britain—should meet and determine which of these fortresses were to be destroyed, and, it was to be presumed, without any interference on the part of the French government. Now, however, there was reason to fear, that the cloven foot of France had been thrust into the negotiations, or was to be thrust into them, He deprecated this kind of interference, as the worst, that could be exercised or suffered. The expense of erecting these fortresses had been borne by Holland and the Allied Powers, and France had nothing to do with it, and it was only on the supposition that there was to be no interference on the part of France with respect to the disposal of these fortresses, that he could hope or expect, that any good whatever could result from the Conferences on this subject. He dwelt the more on this, as he understood, that France had required that six of the fortresses should be demolished, and that two of them should be the fortresses of Courtray and Phillipville; and there was reason to apprehend, that the French government was engaged with Prince Leopold and the Belgian government in some negociations isolés, having, for their object, the demolition of the whole of the fortresses. Complaints had sometimes been made of the inconvenience attending the line of conduct which he had lately pursued, in occasionally putting questions to Ministers on the subject of our Foreign Affairs. But, whatever might be said on that head, it was clear, that his labours, and the exertions of other noble Lords on that side of the House, had not been altogether useless, for he understood, that the noble Earl had thought proper to apply to the noble Duke (the Duke of Wellington) near him, for his opinion regarding these fortresses; and, if the noble Duke had given him his advice, and if that advice should be followed, that would satisfy him. But, in regard to the period of 1793, he would refer the noble Baron and the Ministers to a letter written by Lord Grenville, in answer to one sent him by the French Foreign Secretary, requesting some explanations. That letter was written in circumstances very similar to the present, and it would be well worth the while for Ministers to refer to it, as affording a good rule for the guidance of their own conduct at the present moment. It was an answer to a letter from M. Chauvelin, and was in these svords:— On soutient toujours la violation des traités et des droits de nos Alliés,quoiqu' on y propose une negotiation d'autant plus illusoire qu'elle est reculée. ainsi que 1'evacuation des Pays Bas par les armées Françoises, à l'epoque indeterminée, non seulement de la fin de la guerre, mais encore de la consolidation de ce que vous appellez la liberté des Belges. Je crois cependant devoir vous avertir en termes très positifs, en réponse à ce que vous meditez au sujet de nos preparatifs, que, dans les circonstances presentes, nous allons continuer à prendre toutes les mesures que nous jugerons à propos, à nous mettre en état de defendre la sureté, la tranquillité, et les droits de ce pays, à fin qu'à guarantir ceux de nos Alliás, et à mettre un frein aux vœux d'ambition et d'aggrandissement dangereux en tout tems Pour le reste de l'Europe, mais qui le sont parce devenu bien d'avantage dans celui ce qu'elles sont soutenu par la propagation de principes destructeurs de tout ordre social. Such was the letter of Lord Grenville, and he hoped the noble Earl would attend to it, and pursue a similar line of conduct. He hoped there would be no truckling in this case, as the favourite Journal of Ministers had expressed it—(he was sorry that the noble and learned Lord, the Lord Chancellor, to whom he owed a few retorts, which he was desirous of paying, was not then in his place, though, from the manner in which the Woolsack was occupied by the noble Earl (Shaftesbury), it would gain nothing in dignity by the presence of the noble and learned Lord)—but he hoped there would be no truckling in this case—that there would be no yielding to aggressive movements, or French levelling and democratical principles: and that in the course of the Conferences respecting these fortresses, no directions would be taken from France, and no interference on the part of that Power permitted. The questions, then, which he wished to put to the noble Earl were—first, whether there had been any interference on the part of France in regard to the demolition of those fortresses?—and, secondly, whether, in consequence of a request from Prince Leopold, or for any other reason, a portion of the French troops was to continue to occupy the Belgian territory, in direct contradiction to the engagements of the French government, and to the assurances of the noble Earl, who pledged himself that these engagements would be fairly and honourably performed? The noble Marquis concluded, by moving for a "Return of the total sums contributed by Great Britain for the erection of fortifications in the Netherlands, or towards the defence and incorporation of the Belgian provinces with Holland, in fulfilment of the additional Articles of the Convention between Great Britain and the Netherlands, dated 13th August, 1814; showing the total amount contributed by Great Britain, under each of the deputations contained in the first of those Articles."

Earl Grey

, knowing how hopeless it was to dissuade the noble Earl (Londonderry*) from pursuing that inconvenient *The noble Marquis sits in the House of Peers as Earl Vane, and, according to strict etiquette, Earl Grey generally gives him only his, parliamentary title. and irregular, and, as it might be, dangerous course, which he had, of late, adopted, would not appeal to the noble Earl's discretion. But, after all the irregular and inconvenient proceedings of the noble Earl, and all the variety of irregular questions which the noble Earl had put on the subject of the negotiations relative to the affairs of Belgium and Holland, he would submit to the House, whether the noble Earl had been, on any one of these occasions, more irregular than he was at present? In the first place, the noble Earl had made this Motion without any of that courtesy which it was usual to evince on these occasions, and without the slightest notice that he intended to bring forward this Motion, or to put any questions on the subject of the demolition of the fortresses, or the withdrawing of the French troops. [The Marquis of Londonderry: I gave notice of the motion on Friday]. The noble Earl says, that he gave notice of the Motion on Friday; but, if the noble Earl did, he was certainly not aware of it, and there was no intimation of it whatever in the paper of Notices and Orders of the Day. He was totally unapprised of the intention of the noble Earl to bring the Motion forward on the present occasion. To the Motion itself, however, he had no objection. But he put it to the House, whether it was proper, upon the slightest of all grounds, to be putting questions respecting negotiations and proceedings of such vast consequence, that peace or war might depend on their determination—whether it was proper, merely on the ground of loose public rumours and statements in the newspapers, or of the vain imaginations of suspicious minds, to be thus continually putting questions on matters of such importance, and on which so much depended? It was not his intention to follow the noble Earl through the variety of topics on which he had touched, for he should be guilty of a breach of his duty as a Minister of the Crown if he did so. But, as to the questions put by the noble Earl, he had only to refer him to the answers which he had given to the same questions, in substance, when the noble Earl had put them on former occasions. The noble Earl had asked, when the French troops would retire from the Belgic territory? to which he had answered, that it was not for him to say when they would retire, but had said, at the same time, that this country had a right to expect, that they would retire when the object for which they had entered Belgium should be attained—that object being the repulse of the Dutch troops from the Belgian territory. To this he added, that he relied on the honour of the French government for the due performance of their undertakings. More than this he could not say. He had stated the fact, that intelligence had reached his Majesty's Ministers, that the Marshal commanding the French troops had received orders to withdraw the troops from the Belgic territory. As to what had been doing or what had occurred since, he must decline at present saying anything whatever on that head. He did say, as the noble Earl had intimated, that it had been proposed that a part of the French troops should remain for a time. But whether the French were justified by then engagements in leaving any portion of their troops in the country after the Dutch had retired, or whether the Ministry of this country had done their duty by requiring proper engagements from the French on this head—or in insisting on the performance of those engagements when entered into, would be subjects hereafter to be considered, when their Lordships should have the whole circumstances of the case before them. He had already stated what it was which this country had a right to expect, and he had added, that he believed that the French government was disposed fairly, and honourably, and faithfully, to perform its engagements, and further he could not say. As to the negotiations on the subject of the fortresses, he must decline saying a single word on that subject at present. But he might advert to one little circumstance in reference to what the noble Earl had said respecting the fortresses: when the noble Earl spoke so confidently of the fortresses that were to be demolished, he declined mentioning the names of the whole of them; but he had pronounced the fortresses of Courtray and Phillipville to be two of them. Now it happened that at Courtray there was no fortress.

The Duke of Wellington rose to confirm one part of the statement of the noble Earl; there was no fortress at Courtray. As to himself, he had been the officer employed, by his late Majesty to superintend the erecting and maintaining of these fortresses on the part of this country, and he had continued in the discharge of that duty up to the present moment. It was, therefore, the duty of the noble Earl, as the head Minister of his present Majesty's Government, to apply to him, as the officer intrusted with the superintendance of these fortresses, and to call upon him for such information as he could give on the subject; and it was his (the Duke of Wellington's) duty to wait on the noble Earl and give all the information in his power. He had, accordingly, attended on the noble Earl, and had given all the information that he could. But it was not altogether for the sake of giving this explanation that he obtruded himself on the attention of the House at this time, He was anxious to say a few words on some other topics that had been touched upon—particularly that of the occupation of the Belgic territory by the French army. He was bound to believe, that the king of France intended to do his duty; he was bound to believe so, as he was not only upon terms of friendship, but, he might say, in alliance with our own Sovereign. But it had been said, that king Leopold had requested the king of France to leave a part of the French army in Belgium—he called him king Leopold because he was king of Belgium, and ought to be called so in that House, for he had been recognised as such by this country. But, if king Leopold had called upon the king of France to leave a part of the French army in Belgium, amounting to 10,000 or 12,000 men, that was no good ground for leaving them there, nor would the king of France be justified in complying with the request, He could not look on so large a portion of the French troops being left in possession of Belgium, in any other light than as the advanced guard of the French army; and he could not consider the withdrawing of the main body of the French troops from the Belgic territory, when so large a portion was left behind, as a fair performance of his engagements on the part of the king of France. He did not know, however, what was intended to be done on this head; but if a body of French troops should be left in Belgium, hewould say, that it was not consistent with the engagement of the king of France, nor with any principles of the Law of Nations, and he could consider it in no other light, than as an attempt to place the Belgian sovereign under subjection to the crown of France. He could not say, whether the noble Earl and his colleagues had any thing to do with the choice made of Leopold to be sovereign of Belgium, but he believed, that he might say with confidence, that it had never been intended that he should, as sovereign of Belgium, be dependant on France. King Leopold was an elected sovereign—elected by the people of Belgium, and why should he require French troops, or any foreign troops, to remain within the limits of the Belgic territory? It could not be for the exclusion of the Dutch, for the Dutch troops had retired, and Belgium was secure against their return, by the intervention of the five Powers. What, then, could he want foreign troops for, except to protect him against any re-action on the part of his own subjects, or against a revolt of his own troops? There did not appear, at present, to be any ground for calling for the aid of foreign troops to protect him against either of these contingencies. But suppose king Leopold were in danger from either of the causes which he had mentioned, still the principle of non-interference opposed the employment of any foreign troops, and was it not interference to call in the aid of foreign troops, against his own revolted subjects or troops? He had stated, on a former occasion, that considering the disposition of the people of Belgium, it would be improper to compel them to place themselves again under the sway of the king of the Netherlands, or to force any member of the House of Orange back upon them, in opposition to their own inclinations. But one tiling was clear, that if force of arms were to be employed at all to impose a sovereign on the Belgians, that force ought to be exerted, not in favour of Leopold, but in favour of the king of the Netherlands, or some other branch of the House of Orange; but the system of interference was altogether wrong, although particular circumstances might justify occasional exceptions. For instance, there might be cases in which the occupation of a country by foreign troops might be justified, as in the case of France, in which an army of occupation had remained for some time after the last war. But there the occupation was by the armies of eight Powers, and not by the army of any one Power; and care was taken, that the Powers more im- mediately bordering on France, should have no troops in that country. There were no Spanish troops, no Sardinian troops, and no Netherland troops in the army of occupation left in France. Then came the occupation of Naples by the Austrian troops, and afterwards of Spain by the French troops, against both of which this country had protested. He could not speak particularly as to the remonstrances made by this country against the occupation of Naples by the Austrians; but he might refer to the correspondence on the subject of the occupation of Spain by the French troops, and there it would be found, that this country had strongly remonstrated against it, and had intimated to the king of Spain, that if the occupation of the country by the French should be continued much longer, the British Ambassador would be withdrawn from Madrid. Then came the occupation of Portugal by our own troops in 1827, and it was well known, that that occupation ceased immediately when the necessity for it had ceased. He mentioned these things, in order to call to the recollection of the parties concerned, what had been the principles acted upon by this country and other Powers on recent occasions similar to the present. It might have been justifiable in the king of France to send French troops to Belgium, at the request of the Belgian sovereign, in order to repulse the Dutch from the country. But the moment the Dutch troops had retired, the French troops ought to remain in the country no longer.

Motion agreed to.

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