§ The Earl of Aberdeen
Although I must generally apologise to the noble Earl, for proposing questions to him with regard to the foreign policy of the country, yet I feel that I am not called upon to do so at present, as I cannot recollect any public transaction, where the national interests were concerned, which more immediately demanded an explanation than that which I am now about to bring under your Lordships' notice. Your Lordships are aware that an expedition has sailed, or is about to sail, from a port in France to the coast of Italy. The extent of that equipment, and the object for which it is destined, are variously stated; and I wish to ask the noble Earl if he is enabled to state officially the objects and intentions of the French government in fitting out this expedition; or has it been undertaken with the consent or the sanction of his Majesty's Government?
§ Earl Grey
I do not believe, my Lords, it is usual for the Minister of the Crown to be called on for explanations on subjects similar to that to which the noble Earl now directs his inquiry; and I believe it has not been the custom of those who have preceded me in the situation which I have the honour to hold, to give the explanation which the noble Earl calls for. All that I can say, my Lords, is, that a communication has been made to his Majesty's Government of the intention of the French government to direct an expedition to the coast of Italy.
§ The Earl of Aberdeen
My Lords, I must say, that the answer of the noble Earl infinitely surprises me, for, as you will perceive, it is altogether incompatible with the praises which that noble Earl has so often lavished on the frankness, openness, and liberal faith of the present government of France. Not to have given at once the fullest explanation of the extent of the expedition, and the objects which it was destined to accomplish, is scarcely worthy of the confiding disposition which the noble Earl has so often alleged the French government to manifest towards this country. The character of the expedition is so extraordinary, that I am not astonished to find that it has excited suspicion in every quarter; and I am at a loss to know why the noble Earl has been treated with so much reserve, and why the little information which he seems to have received has been communicated in a manner so little worthy of that warm attach- 726 ment and close union of which the noble Earl so often boasts, as prevailing at present between this country and France, and which he has so lately solemnized in the presence of that great personage, the Lord Mayor of London. My Lords, after this I cannot but congratulate the House on the termination of the ridiculous farce of non-intervention. It is quite clear that the farce of non-intervention has gone by, and that we shall hear no more of it. It is not a year ago since the noble Earl gave a definition of non-intervention, and certainly the most despotic government in Europe could not object to that explanation of the term. But what, my Lords, did it amount to? Why, that intervention was not permitted unless in cases where the security or great interests of a state were immediately affected by what was going on in a neighbouring country. This certainly was the understanding of the phrase universally adopted; but, my Lords, you are aware that the difficulty lies not in the principle, but in its application; and I trust that the result of the present proceedings will be, to induce the noble Earl never to allow the French government to constitute itself the judge of that which the interests or the honour of England require; and I further trust, that the principles will be clearly maintained and understood by every power in Europe, so that each state shall have the right to interfere in the affairs of its neighbours, when it is necessary to do so for its own safety, or the preservation of its great interests. The intervention of the noble Earl depends as Seldon said, of the equity of the Court of Chancery on the length of the foot of the noble Earl. I ask the noble Earl to look at the present case, and to say if it is in accordance with his practice, not with his definition of nonintervention? A revolt takes place in some of the Papal states—the Austrian government, afraid of damage being done to some of its own possessions, and invited by the Papal authority, sends a force into those states for the purpose of restoring tranquillity. That may be right, or it may be wrong; but Austria constitutes itself sole judge in its own case, and it is only to that government that we can apply for an explanation, if we desire to know the principle on which it is acting. But what does the French Ministry do? Oh, it says to the Papal government, "Austria has gone to protect you; so will we, too." But what I wish to know is, has the Papal 727 government called on France, as it has on Austria, for assistance? and why is it that the French troops are directed to a point where no disturbances have prevailed, and where tranquillity has existed up to the present moment?—where, I say, tranquillity has prevailed up to the present moment, but where, I fear, it will not exist, after the arrival of the French troops, or I am much deceived in my anticipations. My Lords, what can that French force do in the quarter to which it has been directed? Nothing, but to foment revolt, and excite insubordination; or what other consequences can attend the appearance of the tri-coloured flag in Italy, contrary to the known wishes of its government? My Lords, I know that the tri-coloured flag has been devoted in France to purposes of triumph and of glory, but I know that, out of France, it is every where viewed with suspicion, and that it has been looked upon as the standard of revolution and disorder. I ask you, my Lords, to consider for a moment what are the consequences which may arise from this forced intervention of France? If a French force goes to the coast of Italy contrary to the wishes of the Papal government, it will be necessary for the neighbouring states to look about them, and the king of Sardinia, in particular, must take measures to secure his territory from the effects of such an interference. Indeed, my Lord, such an interference as the present is almost without parallel in the history of modern Europe, and it is worthy of the best days of the republic, when France sent an expedition to Egypt, under the pretence of aiding the Sultan, and to deliver him from the Beys. It is, you must allow, my Lords, an instance of the most barefaced intervention; and whatever be our opinions about it, it appears to me to be a subject well worthy of the watchfulness of his Majesty's Government; and it is one upon which we had a right to expect more explicit information, as few circumstances, in the present day, are more calculated to excite suspicion and distrust in every part of Europe.
§ Earl Grey
My Lords, I must say the course pursued by the noble Earl is not a little extraordinary. He puts a question to me on a point on which it is not customary to demand an explanation, and I give him the best answer that I feel authorised to give, in the discharge of my public duty; but the noble Earl is not satisfied with that, and rises again to create a discussion on an assumption of facts, which, perhaps, 728 he will find hereafter is unfounded, if he has reserved for himself the means of obtaining better information than that which he seems to be now possessed of. But, my Lords, I will not, by anything the noble Earl has said, be tempted to go into a discussion whether the interference of France is justifiable or not, or whether it will lead to the conclusions which the noble Earl, has imagined, though, perhaps, the result may show that these conclusions will altogether fail, like many others to which the noble Earl stands pledged. All I can say, my Lords, in answer to the question, I have already said; and however much the noble Earl may taunt me about the close union which subsists between this country and France, and the declaration which I have made of reliance on the faith and fair dealing of the French government, I have only to avow that I still retain the same opinions, and I believe the cultivation of a good understanding with the government of that country is at the present period more than ever desirable. Yes, my Lords, more than ever desirable for the preservation of the general peace, which, I trust, all the exertions of the noble Earl will not be successful enough, to disturb. Whatever inconsistency the noble Earl may think he sees in the interference of France, I will frankly state, as I have done before, that the conduct of the French government on the occasion gives me no reason to alter the opinion I have already expressed of my belief in its honour and good faith. My Lords, the noble Earl has called me to task for some supposed discrepancy between my practice and the definition of non-intervention which I have heretofore given; but, my Lords, the principle of intervention, as I have stated it, rests upon grounds which I have over and over again explained. I stated it as a general rule, but I never said that there should be no exceptions. My Lords, what I laid down was this: whenever the circumstances of another state, or the occurrences which take place in a neighbouring country, are such as threaten the safety or the interests of a state, the right of intervention is given even on the principle of self-preservation. That is the only ground which can be taken by any man who pretends to any thing like the character of a statesman. The noble Lord charges me with unfairly withholding the communication which may have taken place between his Majesty's Government and the French ministry. I do not think 729 it consistent with my duty and responsibility to say more than that the intention of the French government to send an armed force to the coast of Italy has been communicated to us. That does not satisfy the noble Lord: but I ask him, what would he himself do in similar circumstances? Would he give me, were our situations changed, any other answer than that which I give him? Surely it is not long since a much larger expedition—more important in all its parts, and likely to be much more so in its consequences than this—sailed from a port in the south of France for the coast of Africa, with the consent of his Majesty's Government. I do not recollect that any person asked the noble Earl, under what circumstances the consent of his Majesty's Government was then given; nor do I recollect that the noble Lord came forward with any explanation on the subject. No such communication was demanded; but I am sure, if it had been, the noble Earl would have said that he acted on his own responsibility, and, at the proper time for explanation, it would not be withheld. Here then, my Lords, as far as I am concerned, I will put an end to this conversation, confident that though the noble Earl has endeavoured to pervert the case by an assumption of facts for which he has no warrant, and with which he cannot possibly be acquainted, he will not succeed in creating an impression in the country to the prejudice of the present Administration.
The Marquis of Londonderr
, although he could scarcely expect from the noble Earl explanations so complete and satisfactory as those he had thought proper to give with respect to the foreign policy of the country to the Lord Mayor and the Lady Mayoress, at a recent public feast in the city, would yet, with all humility, venture to ask the noble Earl a question or two. He must, at the same time, take leave to say, that all our ancient allies and foreign governments in general, had reason to complain of the strong leaning of the present Administration to France and French interests. This was a new order of things which he much deplored. The question he was about to put, arose in a great measure out of papers which had been laid on the Table, with reference to the ratification of the treaty relating to Holland and Belgium. He very much wished to understand whether the noble Earl expected that the ratification of the treaty respecting Belgium would travel faster, 730 when it was known to the other powers of Europe that the policy of Great Britain was unfolded to the new conseil politique of the noble Earl at the east end of the town, while the noble Earl refused explanations in that House? Did the noble Earl think that the king of Holland, when he saw the course the noble Earl was pursuing, would be the more ready to accede to the arrangements which the British Government had made on his behalf? He thought a fearful crisis had arrived, notwithstanding the noble Earl, in the enjoyment of civic hospitality, and in the indulgence of his predilection for Lord Mayor's feasts, might conceal it from himself. If the noble Earl maintained and vaunted upon all occasions his partiality to France, and his disregard of the magnanimous allies who had carried us through the fearful but glorious contest in which we had been engaged, he believed the peace of Europe would be disturbed, sooner than the noble Earl had given the Lord Mayor and Lady Mayoress to understand. He wished to ask the noble Earl if he had received any intelligence which led him to believe that the ratifications of the treaty relating to Belgium, were likely to be soon exchanged, and also whether any arrangement had been concluded with respect to the Belgic fortresses?
§ Earl Grey
would not now allude to what he had said elsewhere. His sentiments with respect to France had been stated in that House; but he must repel the imputation that his anxiety to cultivate mutual feelings of confidence and good-will between England and France was attended by any neglect of the former allies, the magnanimous allies, as the noble Marquis said, and he did not dispute the propriety of the epithet, of this country. He was disposed to maintain a good understanding, and he would state, what, perhaps, might be a disappointment to the noble Marquis, that a good understanding did prevail between this country and the other powers of Europe. With respect to the ratification of the treaty for the settlement of the Netherlands, he could state nothing positive; he would only say, that his Majesty's Government had a right to expect, and that his own confident belief was, that the ratifications would be given. As to further explanations, when the time arrived in which they could with propriety be demanded, he should be prepared to give them.
The conversation dropped.