§ Viscount Goderich
, in moving the second reading of the Bill, proceeded to state the circumstances under which the obligation on the part of this country was contracted. The 905 king of the Netherlands had stipulated to make some return to the Allies for the sacrifices they had made in his behalf, and the benefits he had received at their hands; and these, so far as payments in money were concerned, the Allies had agreed to hand over to his imperial majesty. The king of the Netherlands accordingly, by the Treaty of 1815, to which Great Britain was a party, bound himself to pay to the house of Hope, in conjunction with this country, certain sums of money due to it by the emperor of Russia; and likewise, bound himself, in conjunction with this country, to make a series of payments to Russia, which was to cease in case the Belgian territories should be severed from or pass away from the dominion of the house of Orange. The word in the French was soustraites, but it had been translated by the words he had just used. But in addition to the treaty, there were two secret articles—by one of which it was provided, that if any portion of the Belgian territories was permanently severed or passed away from the dominion of Holland, an equivalent portion of the obligation to which this country was a party should cease and determine; and by a second article it was provided, that if any temporary severance should take place by the violence of an enemy, the payment should not cease until the severance which had taken place should have continued for a period of twelve months. The events, however, which took place in 1830 altered some of the circumstances belonging to this arrangement. After these events, it was undoubtedly true, that the specific terms of the original contract did not strictly and legally apply, because a severance had actually taken place, and the Belgian provinces had passed away from the dominion of the house of Orange. At the same time, it was quite obvious that, in December, 1830, nothing had occurred which should have prevented them from paying the amount of debt then due. He thought, too, that the same reasoning applied to the similar payment made in 1831. But, then, undoubtedly an event had afterwards taken place, which materially altered the situation of affairs. They had then to consider how far the original circumstances of the Treaty were in force, the king of Belgium having been acknowledged by England, and consequently a severance of the Belgian territories from Holland having de 906 facto taken place. It was then felt, that at the end of twelve months, according to the literal construction of the Treaty, his Britannic majesty would have been entitled to claim that the payment to Russia should cease. And this it was, that led to the Convention of November, 1831, in which this country undertook to continue the payment, although the legal conditions of the original bargain had ceased to be binding upon it. His Majesty's servants had felt, that in equity and good faith, they were bound to continue their; payments under all the circumstances they had, therefore, recommended that new obligation in November, 1831; but the Convention was not then ratified. Now, however, it was ratified, and was consequently binding on both parties; and, therefore, his Majesty's Ministers came to Parliament with this Bill, the second reading of which he then, without troubling their Lordships with further observations, begged leave to move.
§ The Duke of Wellington
said, he understood the noble Lord to maintain, that by the Treaty of 1815, the emperor of Russia had up to this period a legal claim to those payments.
§ Viscount Goderich
meant to say, that he thought the legal title of the emperor of Russia good, and he had no doubt whatever as to his equitable title which went further than his legal title; but, as some doubts existed elsewhere, it became necessary to have an explicit understanding between England and Russia upon the point.
§ The Duke of Wellington
said, the first question which they had to consider was, whether all the payments up to the last were strictly legal? He agreed with the noble Viscount in his statement of the circumstances which led to these payments, but he did not agree with the noble Viscount in thinking, as was to be inferred from his speech, that, up to the last hour, there was a legal right to make those payments to the emperor of Russia. He denied that, up to the last moment, Russia had a legal right to the payments agreed upon under the Treaty of 1815. In his opinion, it was doubtful if the right existed in December, 1830. At that period, both the King of England and the emperor of Russia had agreed that Belgium should be independent of Holland; and if it were to be so, surely Belgium must have passed away, according to the terms of the treaty, 907 from the dominion of Holland. Well, at a later period, there came to be this transaction: Prince Leopold was acknowledged by this country as king of Belgium, and his Majesty had been even pleased to send an Ambassador to attend him, which established the point beyond doubt or dispute, that Prince Leopold was, according to the law of England, king of Belgium. From that moment Belgium had passed away, and was severed from Holland. Under these circumstances, the question was, not whether his Majesty was under a moral obligation to continue these payments, but whether the law of England authorized and enabled his Majesty's Ministers to pay the money? This was to be decided in the first instance. He fully admitted the claim of Russia; but he maintained, that the case which had arisen was an omitted case. The Act, consequently, did not, and could not, apply to it, and, therefore. Government could not have paid the money according to law. The Ministers might have been right to pay the money. He would not dispute that: but, having so paid it, they ought to have comedown to Parliament and asked for a Bill of Indemnity. The noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack had, on a former occasion, argued with some ingenuity that Government, which had consented to the separation of Belgium, had no right to profit by its own act, and refuse the payments to the emperor of Russia, as his Imperial Majesty had not then signed or ratified the treaty of separation; but that circumstance, however it might be used in favour of the emperor of Russia's claim, did not, by any means, give the necessary legal authority to Ministers. It might be an act of injustice to the emperor of Russia that he should not be paid, but, however that was, the Government, having no legal authority, were bound at once to come before Parliament for the necessary powers. This was a position from which all the eloquence of the noble and learned Lord could not shake him; and he would always maintain that Ministers neglected their duty when they omitted to come to Parliament for authority before they made any further payments under the Treaty of 1815. To clear up the matter, he would ask, if we were bound to pay, was not the king of the Netherlands equally bound to pay? Did not both parties stand precisely on the same ground? But that monarch said, it was au omitted case—that he was 908 not bound by the treaty—and that he would not pay. Under all these circumstances, he thought that Ministers, in proposing this measure, should have explained to Parliament the particular system on which they were acting—should have given a statement of the objects they had in view, and the means they had of carrying them into execution. It was impossible to consider the measure now brought forward, without adverting to the manner in which the system pursued by his Majesty's Ministers was carried on, and what that system was. He understood that the king of the Netherlands was called on and menaced, in case of his not complying with that call, to sign a treaty for the separation of the greater part of his territories from the dominion of the House of Orange, and for various arrangements which he conceived would be most injurious to the interests of his ancient kingdom and of his family; and that this had come to pass, not in consequence of any mediation or arbitration which he himself asked for, but by the command of five sovereigns, imposed upon him contrary to his inclination, and, as he believed, to the interests of his country and his family. Now, this was one of our most ancient allies, in favour of whom we had expended our blood and treasure, that was thus treated by his Majesty's servants. If their Lordships would look to the whole course of the transaction, they would see that the king of the Netherlands was pressed to the signing of this treaty, so disagreeable to him, not by the Five Powers in the same degree, but by two of those Powers, one of which was England. The other three, although they desired the execution of the treaty, yet adopted some reserve; and, while they wished his majesty to sign, were desirous of witnessing the modification of certain objectionable points. Yet the other two Powers were determined, it would seem, to enforce the treaty as it stood, even at the expense of war. They threatened the king of the Netherlands with war, unless they should attain their objects—unless they could obtain the submission of the king to the treaty, in a form which he considered inconsistent with the welfare and independence of his ancient dominions. He regretted to say, that it was the Councils of this country which were most inimical to the king of the Netherlands. By the treaty it was provided that the king of Holland should open the 909 navigation of his canals in communication with the Scheldt, the Meuse, and the Rhine. Now he had seen the details of the negotiations (and if the noble Lord would produce the documents, their Lordships would see that what he would state was a fact), that France and the Powers of the Rhine felt no disposition to press the king of the Netherlands on a point which he considered essential to his interests—a point, moreover, which was surrounded with great difficulty—one in which Great Britain had no interest, and from which even Belgium could derive no benefit, because she could not navigate the Rhine, without the permission of the powers of the Rhine, unless by paying the duties demanded from strangers. Besides, there were other things demanded from the king which it was hard to grant, but which he did not, nevertheless, refuse—such as the ceding of certain of the ancient territories of his house, the conceding the right of fishing, and other things. The king of the Netherlands was not disposed to agree to all the things demanded, but he was willing to make every concession consistent with his own reason and the independence of his country. But he was, notwithstanding, to be forced to sign a treaty, which was, on all hands, admitted to be objectionable—to need correction and revision—in the first instance, and then he was to trust to the chance of having it afterwards modified to meet his wishes by the Powers which forced him to sign it. Their Lordships must see, therefore, connected as this Convention was with the system of foreign policy pursued by the Government that they ought not to be called upon to decide concerning it till they were in possession of full information. They were entitled to some explanation upon a subject so important. Ministers were bound to explain the grounds of their anomalous system of foreign policy, before Parliament agreed to intrust them with a single shilling of the public money to promote the object of that policy. That policy was entirely framed in subservience to the new alliance which Ministers had, from their accession to office, so sedulously cultivated with revolutionary France, and which he solemnly warned them against, as fraught with peril to the best interests of this country. To it was owing the present lamentable condition of our two most ancient allies, Portugal and Holland. What but it had led to an outrageous attack upon the navy of 910 Portugal, under the very walls of the Portuguese capital, by the French fleet? And what but it had lately occasioned an hostile invasion of that country, the bloody consequences of which who could see the end? And thus it was that we were treating our ancient ally, on whose soil we had expended so much of our best blood, and with which was inseparably associated the recollection of some of the brightest periods of our national glory. But it was not only Portugal that our pernicious policy was thus calculated to infect with anarchy and civil war; its injurious consequences, he feared, would extend to our other ancient ally—Holland. Let the House consider for a moment the present critical situation of that country. Supposing, in the first place, that the mere threats of England and France should not avail to induce Holland to evacuate Antwerp, were those two countries prepared to, of themselves, enforce that evacuation? Was France to march an army for that purpose, and was this country to aid with a naval armament? And if so, how would this hostile interference affect our relations with the other three parties to the separation? Then look at the consequences of our French alliance, so far as the feelings of our allies were concerned, and, through them, our influence. Would France have ventured—he might say, without offence, dared—to take possession of Ancona in the manner in which she had done, but for her belief that her conduct would command, at least, the negative co-operation of this country? He would ask their Lordships, then, whether, under such circumstances, and with all these facts before their eyes, they would adopt this measure, blindfolded as it were, and without any statement whatever of what was the intention of his Majesty's Government with respect to the new line of policy that was to be followed? He trusted that noble Lords opposite would see that they owed some statement on all these points to both Houses of Parliament, before they ought to seek to carry this measure through their Lordships' House. He (the Duke of Wellington) was desirous of the most friendly feeling being maintained between this country and France, and he was aware of the necessity that this country should maintain those amicable feelings, if it was intended or desired to keep and preserve the peace of Europe. He confessed that he should have wished, before the treaty was brought forward, or 911 this Act of Parliament was proceeded in, that his Majesty's Ministers had brought the affairs of Holland to a conclusion, and that they would have been enabled to state something to their Lordships as to what was the system they intended to pursue, or what was their general plan of foreign policy. As the case stood, however, he should not give any opposition to this Act of Parliament; at the same time, he did not think the preamble of the Bill accurately stated what it ought to state, or that it was drawn up in a manner at all satisfactory to Russia. So far as his feeling was, he should have been glad if it had been drawn up in a different manner, but he should not object to the Bill.
§ Viscount Goderich
said, that undoubtedly if he thought, by asking their Lordships to consent to the second reading of this Bill, he was calling upon them to sanction this treaty, or to prevent their Lordships from bringing forward any Motion with reference to the foreign policy of this country, he should not be one to press it. But, in asking this second reading, he was not endeavouring to pledge the House. If he sought to do that, he should concur with the noble Duke in thinking that it would be a most improper course for him to pursue without giving their Lordships much further information. But he contended, that this Bill had nothing to do with, and was independent of, all those considerations which the noble Duke had urged. The Bill was independent of all those topics, either with regard to Belgium, or to the foreign policy of the country generally, to which the noble Duke had alluded. The noble Duke had admitted, that his Majesty's Government were bound to pay the money, and, therefore, he (Lord Goderich) did not see any reason why he should be bound, in asking their Lordships to assent to this Bill, to give an explanation of the foreign policy of his Majesty's Government generally. He would only allude to one point which had been urged against his Majesty's Government, namely, with reference to what the Government had done with respect to payments, and that it was the duty of the Government to have come to Parliament for a Bill of Indemnity before any payments were made, because it was said, in point of law, the Government were not bound to make them. Now he could not help thinking that the Government, supposing, as they did, they were bound to 912 make the payment, ought to be slow in calling for Bills of Indemnity, except in case they had been compelled from necessity to make it, or that they had acceded in error to the payment; and, therefore, if they did not think that in making the payment they violated the law, it was not for them to seek for any Bill of Indemnity.
§ The Duke of Wellington
could not but say, that what he complained of was, that their Lordships should be called upon to pass an Act of Parliament, which went to recognize, or agree to, any treaty connected with Belgium, and, indeed, the whole question of the foreign policy of his Majesty's Ministers, without having any case or sufficient information laid before their Lordships.
§ Lord Wynford
expressed his surprise at hearing it assumed by the noble Viscount, that the question of legality had been admitted and settled by the proceeding some time before in their Lordships' House. No such decision was come to upon that occasion. What he then proposed to the House was, that the question of legality should be submitted to the Judges; and that proposition was met by a noble and learned friend of his saying, that it was not a case in which their Lordships, in his opinion, ought to make such a reference, and upon that objection the Motion was lost. But this was no decision in favour of the legality of the payment. So far from it, that his noble and learned friend, the very highest legal authority in the country, declared it as his opinion, and expressed his confidence, that the other fifteen Judges would concur in it, that there was no doubt of the illegality of the payment. He was, therefore, confirmed by his noble and learned friend in his view of the case, and still more by the refusal of the Government to send it to the Judges for their opinion. But after this, for the noble Lord to talk of the question of legality having been settled in the affirmative by the decision of that House, was to speak in total forgetfulness of all that passed in it upon the occasion. On this question he entertained a different opinion from that of the noble Duke who sat below him (the Duke of Wellington). That noble Duke seemed to think that the emperor of Russia had a claim upon this country, and, after what that noble Duke had said, he (Lord Wynford) thought that some claim did exist, but it should be remembered that the noble Duke had a 913 knowledge of facts, which he could not with propriety communicate, but which ought to be stated to the House, on which he formed his own opinion. But without this information, he (Lord Wynford) could not agree to saddle the country with the payment of this money. It was incumbent upon His Majesty's Government to have given this information to the House before calling on their Lordships to make these payments, and their Lordships ought to have this information, before they could be justified in paying the debts of others, when the country would not perhaps (if things were pursued as they had been) be able to pay its own. With the revenues sinking, as they were, and without any hope of alteration, the country had a right to expect that some grounds at least should be laid for the payment of this money. As to the legality of the payment, he could not think that any man could hesitate to dispute its legality, and when it was remembered that Belgium was separated from Holland, that a King for Belgium had been selected by this country, that a minister was sent out to its court, and its minister received in the court of this country, it was impossible for any man to say, looking at the face of the treaty itself, that the two countries were not severed. There was no evidence to warrant the payment of this money, and he for one could not consent to this Bill. If the amount was not payable under the Treaty of 1815, it was not payable now, unless there had arisen some new circumstances with reference to Russia which were unknown to their Lordships. Let it be shown that the payment was strictly legal, and then let the payment be made, even if it was to the ruin of this country, and let that country end its career with honour at least. This was not shown, and the payment of so much of the public money at a time of so great distress could not be justified. It had been urged, that the exertions of Russia entitled that country to some compensation, but he would remind their Lordships, that, at the time of the treaty, the situation of Europe was very different from what it was at present. Belgium was then in the hands of a power which had ever been favourable to Great Britain, and the terms of the treaty contained the word, which, singularly enough, was precisely the same in its import to the words "passed away," or "severed from." The word was "soustraites." Now it could not be denied that Belgium had 914 passed away from Holland; and that it had been subsequently severed could not be denied, when it was indisputable that the French army had prevented Holland from taking possession of Brussels. That fact proved that a complete separation had taken place, and therefore he contended that the event contemplated in this treaty had happened, and that such being the case, the payments under it ought to cease. It was a maxim of national law, not to be disputed, that in construing treaties, no words could be added, nor could any be substracted, but the construction of them must depend upon the words they contain. But his (Lord Wynford's) position was not mere wild conjecture, for what had been the language of Lord Castlereagh, by whom the treaty was made? That noble Lord had said, on a former occasion, in the House of Commons, that it had been the object of the then Government "to give the greatest Power in Europe an interest in the conservation of the independence of Holland;"* and the noble Lord had also added, "It was said that Russia might again act, as from circumstances she was compelled to do last war, and in that case the payments by Holland would cease. If that period should arrive, our payments would also be suspended, as they would if by any circumstances the Netherlands should be separated from Holland."† The very words of the treaty, in addition to this, clearly manifested the understanding of all the contracting parties, and as regarded Holland, England, and Russia, such was their construction of the treaty. The noble and learned Lord here at some length cited the opinions of Baron Wolff with respect to the position he had taken as to the construction of treaties, and described that writer as one of the most eminent authors upon international law, and the noble and learned Lord quoted some of his writings, in confirmation of his own position, with reference to the strict rule in the construction of treaties. The noble and learned Lord then proceeded to remark, that Holland had refused to make the payments to which she was made liable under the terms of the treaty, and, therefore, he was at a loss to conjecture on what grounds England could be expected to make them. Holland had ever been attached to this* Hansard (first series) vol. xxxi, p. 746.† Ibid.915 country, even during the American war, and had always been as zealous of her honour as had this country. Whatever respect he might feel for the opinions of others, he should act upon his own conviction with respect to this question, and as no ground had been laid on which to support this payment, he, for one, should vote against this Bill. Without that information which it was the duty of the Government to lay before their Lordships, he would not consent to wring from starving thousands in this country the means of a payment which they were not bound to make. No grounds had been shown to justify Parliament putting their hands into the pockets of the people, and he therefore could not give his consent to the second reading of the Bill.
§ The Duke of Wellington
said, that as his noble friend who had just sat down had alluded to his (the Duke of Wellington's) reasons for offering no opposition to this Bill, he would venture to address a few words to their Lordships in addition to the observations he had already made. He had thought that the noble Viscount (Lord Goderich) and himself had entered sufficiently into the nature of the claim to make it clear to their Lordships. The claims of the Emperor of Russia were now, he considered, historical; no man could doubt them; and at the same time the treaties of peace down to the treaty of 1815, all recognized those claims. The claim had been recognized in the treaty between England, Holland, and Russia, and by the act of Parliament passed in 1816; and nothing could be more clear than that Russia was entitled to payment for services rendered to Holland during the war. The noble and learned Lord had said, and said truly, that this service was requited by the Treaty of 1815, and that the Emperor of Russia had accepted payment under it; and such being the case, there could be no doubt that if the territory of Belgium had passed away from Holland in the manner recognized by the treaty, the King of Holland must put up with the loss. He (the Duke of Wellington) had always thought the treaty of 1815 one of the greatest proofs of the consummate diplomatic skill of Lord Castlereagh, who had secured to this country by means of it extraordinary advantages. In relation to the question before the House, he must say, that the two countries (Holland and Belgium) having been 916 separated principally in consequence of acts of this country, he did not say whether those acts were right or wrong, but the fact being so, the question immediately arose, "Had not the emperor of Russia a good claim for payment at our hands?" He thought it was clear that such a claim existed. No doubt what had occurred in relation to Holland and Belgium was" a case omitted" in the treaty, but that did not alter the claim of payment on behalf of Russia, which, as he had before stated, was recognised by all the treaties from 1814 downwards.
§ Lord Wynford
admitted that, if the separation had been effected by England, then we were in honour bound to pay the money.
The Lord Chancellor
observed, that he would trouble their Lordships with but a few words; indeed much of his noble and learned friend's argument had been answered by the noble Duke's short, but powerful reply. His noble and learned friend put the question, and justly, on the construction of the Treaty of 1815. The question was whether that treaty continued to be binding after recent events. He perfectly agreed with his noble and learned friend, that where the terms on the face of the treaty were unambiguous and undeniable, no one had a right to go beyond them. But a question arose on that point. If no doubt existed on the subject, then he allowed that it would not be right to resort to any consideration of the construction intended by the parties who made the treaty. But if there were great doubts on that point, then, even according to his noble and learned friend's own principle, they were obliged, agreeably to the opinions of Grotius and Vattel, to consider what were the intentions and views of the parties who made the treaty. The expressions of the treaty under notice, whether considered in the French or in the English, were clear. In English they were "severed or passed from;" in French, they were still stronger. The reflected verb, se soustraire was not used, but the phrase was seraient soustraites, and therefore the words did not express "until they had withdrawn themselves," but until they should be withdrawn." Even "severed" must mean severed by somebody; and "passed from" must mean to some other power. The case was undoubtedly casus omissus, but then it was one of those in which the exception confirmed 917 the rule. The question could not be better understood than by supposing that a person who was to receive an annuity of one hundred pounds a year on the event of his not going abroad, had yet been forced by those who granted the annuity, to go abroad against his will, and still claimed the payment of the annuity. It could not, under such circumstances, be contended for an instant, that the payment of the annuity was avoided by the going abroad. The noble and learned Lord had quoted the speech of Lord Castlereagh, on the subject, in which, according to the noble and learned Lord, it was intended that the payments were to cease "if by any circumstance the Netherlands should be separated from Holland:"* but look at the next page of the speech, and it would be seen, that Lord Castlereagh explained his meaning in that passage thus—"as I have said, this payment would only be continued so long as the Netherlands were separated from France, and would cease if the family of the House of Orange should unfortunately be displaced."† It was evident, then, that in the minds of the framers of the treaty, the condition of the payment was the keeping the Netherlands out of the hands of France, the purpose indeed, for which the treaty was concluded, and not the continued sovereignty of the House of Orange over Belgium, the point for which the noble and learned Lord had contended. He argued, that in compliance with the spirit, nay, the letter of the treaty, we were bound to continue our payments to Russia till a severance took place between Belgium and Holland, which should throw the former into the hands of France. Let their Lordships observe, also, that (as stated by the noble Duke) the consideration for which Russia was to receive payment, had actually been performed previously to the date of the treaty, and the noble Duke very justly observed, that Lord Castlereagh merited much praise for having, over and above what we had already received, obtained some further terms in the way of binding up Russia in our policy towards the Netherlands. But if credit were due to Lord Castlereagh for his diplomatic skill on that occasion, it must be admitted that some credit was also due to those, who,* Hansard (first series) vol. xxxi, p. 748.† Ibid. p. 749.918 thinking there were strong, equitable claims on the part of Russia to have these payments continued (looking only to the legal and technical construction of it) even after the obligation of the treaty had terminated, and even after the entire separation of Belgium from Holland had been promulgated,—some credit was due to those who had obtained something beyond the consideration for which the money was originally agreed to be paid. By the second article of the new Convention, Russia continued to bind herself to do nothing contrary to the arrangements agreed upon for the independence and neutrality of Belgium; and that, at all events, she would do nothing without a full communication with this country, and without her formal assent. The noble and learned Lord said, that Holland did not consider itself bound to pay its proportion to Russia. But see the difference between the situation of Holland and England. By its separation from the Netherlands, Holland lost pro tanto the means of making good its payments. We lost nothing by the separation. Besides (a still more important consideration) we were consenting, he had almost said assisting, parties to the separation. Not so the King of Holland who might therefore infer, that although we were bound to make payments to Russia, he was not, considering the material difference that subsisted between the two cases. England having done something to effect the separation, should not avail herself of her own wrong (so to speak) to avoid making payment. If she did, she would be acting like the dishonest granter of an annuity, before mentioned, who should spirit the annuitant out of the country, and then refuse to pay the stipulated sum, on the ground that the annuitant had "gone abroad" and so violated the condition of the stipend. But it had been said "If the payments were legal in January, why not legal in June?" The answer was, because of the Convention which had been ratified in the interim. It was asked, "Why was not this Convention mentioned or laid before Parliament sooner?" For this simple reason, that, consistently with all diplomatic usage, a treaty could not be submitted to Parliament until ratified; and that it would have been most unbecoming if, with a view to meet a factious opposition, Ministers had deviated from the reasonable course of such negotiations, by quoting or producing an in- 919 complete Convention. Then it had been said, "What occasion for this new Convention? Does not the framing of it show that the payments under the old treaty were illegal?" Did the noble and learned Lord never hear of a declaratory Act in cases where doubts had arisen? Might not Russia have said, "Doubts may arise as to the payments after the conclusion of a treaty of separation, let us have a new Convention." The whole arrangement was in effect precisely in conformity with with the spirit of the Treaty of 1815, which looked to the necessity of preventing Belgium from being united to France, and as such it was considered. He would not conclude his observations without alluding to the expression of an opinion which had dropped from the noble Duke, an opinion which he had not heard for the first time, that it was the duty of this country to cultivate the friendship of France, but that the best way to do so, was not to form alliances with her. He agreed with the noble Duke on the propriety of cultivating the friendship of France, but as to the question of abstaining from alliances, it was an abstract proposition, which he neither affirmed nor denied, as there were many circumstances connected with it which must be argued according to the position in which they were placed. Reverting to the question of the Russian-Dutch Loan, he might observe, that Ministers did not order payments to be made, without taking the advice of the law officers of the Crown, and obtaining the sanction of their opinion as to the legality of the act. Not only had the law officers, appointed by his Majesty's present Ministers, agreed as to the propriety of the payments, but their opinion had been strengthened by the concurrence of the highest law officers of the Crown in questions of this kind he meant the King's Advocate a gentleman who held office under the late Government, and did not agree in politics with the present. In that opinion, on the fullest and most careful consideration of the entire case, he (the Lord Chancellor) felt himself bound to concur.
§ The Earl of Aberdeen
said, that the noble and learned Lord who had just sat down, seemed to have forgotten to refer to the Act of Parliament. He had confined himself to the obligations existing in the treaty, and had totally forgotten to allude to that which alone authorised them to 920 make payments. He admitted, that his Majesty's Government might very properly take into view the circumstances influencing the execution of that treaty, but they were bound to proceed upon the strict letter of the Act of Parliament. If the opinion of the law officers of the Crown, to which the noble and learned Lord alluded was, that the payment was legal under the Act of Parliament, and upon the equitable construction of the treaty, before their Lordships knew what value to attach to that opinion, they must see upon what grounds and from what documents it was formed; because, as far as the words of the Act of Parliament were concerned, it was utterly impossible that any man could doubt the payment to be illegal. He did not blame his Majesty's government for making the payment; it was possible that circumstances might have rendered that desirable or even necessary; but it was impossible for their Lordships to know, without seeing the grounds on which that opinion was formed, whether or not it furnished any authority for the acts of the Government. If the noble and learned Lord had good reasons for maintaining the legality of the payment under the existing obligation of the treaty, he did not very clearly see what necessity there was for this new Convention into which his Majesty's Government had entered. The noble and learned Lord had said doubts might have arisen which it might be desirable to dispel, and asked, had their Lordships never heard of a declaratory act? But the nature of this Convention was totally different; it proceeded on the assumption that the obligation had ceased; its object was not to dispel doubts, but to construct a new engagement. Amongst other reasons which he had for objecting to it in the form in which it appeared, was this, that the preamble founded all the proceedings on delusion and erroneous statements, which, he could prove in one minute. The preamble to the Convention stated,—'That in referring to the object of the above-mentioned Convention, of the 19th of May, 1815, it appears that that object was to afford to Great Britain a guarantee that Russia would, on all questions concerning Belgium, identify her policy with that which the Court of London had deemed the best adapted for the maintenance of a just balance of power in Europe.' Now, on what did his Majesty's 921 Government found that assertion? Where could their Lordships find any such obligation? Not a vestige of it was to be found in any of the treaties which regulate the union of Holland and Belgium. The Convention which stipulated the payments proved that it was a gratuitous, an entirely gratuitous assumption on the part of the framers of this Convention. In the fifth article of the Treaty of May 19,1815, it was provided, that the payments shall be continued even if the contracting parties be engaged in war. It was perfectly clear, that the course pursued by Russia could not possibly be in accordance with that taken by this country, if this country were actually at war with Russia; no, the single condition by which was secured the continuance of the payment, had for its object the continuance of the union of Holland and Belgium; even war was not to free us from the obligation, so long as that union subsisted. But to say that the engagements of Russia were to follow the course of this country in all that respected the balance of power in Europe, was merely an assertion for which there was no shadow of a foundation in fact. The noble Lord had described very truly the circumstances in which the engagement was undertaken, and had observed, that the event which had occurred, the species of severance which had taken place, was an omitted case in the treaty. Omitted it certainly was, and he admitted, that if Lord Castlereagh, in negotiating the treaty, had been asked the object of this Article when it was drawn up, he would undoubtedly have answered, that it was intended and directed against France, against the hostile aggression of some state. It was also perfectly natural that parties stipulating in this manner, should not provide for the event which had occurred, namely the successful revolt of part of their own subjects. But suppose there had been established a provision for such an event, and that Lord Castlereagh had been asked how would the engagement stand then? There was not the least doubt, that he would in such case have said, that, "provided the separation takes place, we shall be freed from any such engagement, whether it arise from the invasion of a hostile force, or the successful revolt of rebellious subjects." He had good reason to know that explanations did take place at the time with reference, not to the occurrence 922 of a successful revolt, but to the possibility of this country continuing its payments to Russia after Holland should have been relieved from them, and that the opinion and declaration of Lord Castlereagh was, that we should in such case, follow the example of Holland. But, he considered it of no consequence in the discussion of this matter, whether the countries were severed by internal or external violence; the real omitted case in the treaty was that which had actually occurred, the consent, assistance and active support of England towards effecting the separation. If Russia at the time of signing the treaty, had said to us, "suppose you change your policy, and instead of continuing this union, endeavour to separate the states composing it," there is no doubt in the world that Lord Castlereagh would have consented in such a case to continue the payments, for the possibility never could have entered into his imagination of this country becoming a party to the separation. He admitted, then, that the present case was a casus omissus, it was one which Lord Castlereagh never contemplated, and it was one which gave Russia a claim, which this country could not refuse. There was one important part of the question which the noble Lord had omitted altogether. Had the treaty been between Russia and this country only, the matter would have been simple enough. But the treaty was a tripartite treaty, and the most important obligations had been contracted with Holland, for Holland had begun by giving to this country a very valuable inducement to take upon us a proportion of the Russian debt. He wanted, then, to know what communication had taken place with Holland, and in what condition she would feel herself to be with reference to this country? If, as the noble and learned Lord said, the original treaty was still in force, then Holland also would be bound by it, and it should not have been put an end to without her participation. It was evident to him, that the two treaties relating to the subject should be taken together. By that of August, 1814, Great Britain took upon herself an expenditure, which was not to exceed three millions sterling, for the establishment of the kingdom of the Netherlands, but the former treaty had been not only for the establishment but for the defence. It must be recollected that this was not a gratuitous agreement 923 on the part of this country. Holland, in consideration of these undertakings, ceded to his Britannic Majesty the Cape of Good Hope with its dependencies, Demerara and Berbice, and it was now plain, that Holland would have been much better off had no such engagement been concluded. It was an engagement intended for her benefit, but it had been made to operate materially to her injury. Holland, but for this engagement would have been entitled to reclaim her colonies, and by the separation from Belgium she would have been freed from her debt. It might, perhaps, be said, and it would be quite consistent with the spirit of hostility to Holland which now seemed to actuate his Majesty's Councils, that we held the colonies of Holland by the right of conquest, but nevertheless it would not be true. The right of conquest was not the right of permanent possession until confirmed by a treaty of peace. And upon this principle we had acted towards Holland, considering always that the right of possession was in her. The question, then, with respect to these payments was as to the right of Holland rather than the right of Russia. It was said, that we owed the money, and were therefore bound to pay it to somebody, and therefore he supposed it was, that Ministers thought they could not be wrong in paying it to Russia. Here arose a very delicate question, however, as to the rights of Holland. We were not yet at war with Holland, and between her and ourselves the treaty was still in full force. When it was said that the colonies of Holland were held by the right of conquest, it was forgotten in what circumstances and from what power we took them. They were not taken from Holland, but from France, for with Holland we had never been at war. This argument, then, of the right of conquest proved nothing but the hostile spirit of his Majesty's Ministers towards Holland at the present moment. At the conclusion of the war, a distinguished nobleman, who still lived in the respect of the country, although he had withdrawn himself from the discussions of that House, said that, in the 'character of umpire, which Great Britain would assume, we ought generally to be guided by the strictest impartiality; but if there be an exception to this rule—if there be one part of the Continent occupied by France to which we might be justified in looking with peculiar interest, with 924 something like paternal concern—it would be for the re-establishment of the independence of Holland. Amongst all the powers sacrificed to the inordinate ambition of Buonaparte, I know of none, Holland excepted, that can truly assert they fell victims to their alliance with Great Britain. In the hour of danger, threatened by an overwhelming force, Holland looked to this country for aid, and could any assistance have availed, this nation, I am convinced, would have made any sacrifice to have saved its falling friend.'* This was the opinion of Lord Grenville. But it had now become an obsolete and antiquated prejudice. Nothing was now heard of the duty and policy of supporting Holland. The necessity of war with that country had become the fashionable doctrine. He could only say that, if they were to go to that extremity it would be the most extraordinary and incredible result of a negotiation which the world had yet witnessed. If the noble Lords opposite did go to war with Holland it would be a matter of great curiosity to see their declaration of war. Upon what colourable pretence could such a war be defended? Was it that the king of the Netherlands refused to surrender rights which he believed to be essential to his independence? Was this a ground for war, and to be alleged by Ministers professing to act upon the principles of nonintervention? If so, all idea of justice in the transactions of nations was at an end, and no people would have any other security for their rights than the power of defending them. If there should be war with Holland, the real cause of it would be, that the Conference of London had come to two contradictory decisions, both of which it had declared final and irrevocable. It might be said, that when he spoke of war, he used strong language. Noble Lords would disclaim all idea of war. They did not mean to strike a blow against Holland, but only to exercise a little gentle coercion. He would tell them, however, that if they blockaded the Scheldt, they were at war with Holland as much as if they blockaded Amsterdam. The step would be irretrievable, and would lead to consequences which noble Lords would do well to consider; for they might rely upon it that the Dutch were a people who would carry on war, not in our way,* Hansard (first series) vol. xxvii. p. 16.925 but in their own. We might, indeed, begin this war in conjunction with France, but before the end of the game, he should be greatly deceived if the parties should not be found to have changed sides. And what would be the object of blockading the Scheldt? What but to place Antwerp in the power of France? The position of the Prince now on the throne of Belgium, without referring to his affections or sympathies, was sufficient proof that this must be the effect of such a measure. He so deeply lamented the intrigue which placed Leopold upon that throne, that there was no Prince in Europe, not even the Duc de Nemours, whom he would not rather have seen in that situation; for then there would have been no motive to estrange this country from its natural and advantageous alliance with Holland. It had been the opinion of the greatest Statesmen of this country, and of Mr. Pitt among the number, that the union of Holland and Belgium was most desirable, because it was impossible that they could be separate and independent. The Netherlands had been deprived of their material defence by the destruction of the frontier fortresses, and in lieu of this had been substituted a paper guarantee of neutrality, which was not of the least value, as there could be no doubt that the Powers who extended this guarantee to the neutrality of Belgium would, in any emergency, pursue what they might consider their present interest. It had always been the policy of this country to keep Belgium independent of France, and this anxiety for the independence of Belgium was for the sake of Holland. But now they had given a guarantee of neutrality, and had destroyed the frontier fortresses. With respect to the loan, it appeared to him that the payments should either have been continued provisionally, while waiting the course of events, or, what would have been still better, that they should have been suspended, with the view, if the equitable construction of the treaty seemed to require it, of entering into a new treaty. He would not attempt to follow the history of the negotiations which had been carried on with reference to the affairs of the Netherlands, but the point to which they had at last arrived, seemed to be this—that they were about to resort to the ultima ratio. He had already expressed the opinion, that the king of the Netherlands never would, and if he would be could 926 not, submit to the Articles proposed to him by the Conference. Impressed strongly with this opinion, he had tried some time ago, but in vain, to persuade his Majesty's Ministers to procure from the Conference a modification of the twenty-four Articles. And how did the matter stand now? His Majesty's Ministers had been compelled in substance, although not in form, to abandon the Articles. They had been compelled to say to the king of the Netherlands, in effect, "sign the twenty-four Articles, and you need not believe that you have signed more than twenty-one of them." This Conference assumed a tyrannical dominion, not only over right and justice, but over common-sense. The king of the Netherlands was to sign the Articles, but the execution of them was to be suspended until he had concluded an agreement with the king of Belgium to his own entire satisfaction. The five Powers found themselves in a difficulty, in consequence of their own impolitic, arbitrary, and unjust proceedings, and they proposed to get rid of it by transferring the whole matter still in negotiation to the two Powers principally interested, Holland and Belgium, He was convinced that the king of the Netherlands never would sign those Articles, and if he did, that he would from that moment lose the affections of his subjects, which, to the present moment, he retained and deserved. The resistance of the king of the Netherlands was not a mere capricious and obstinate resistance. He refused to sign the Articles because he felt that their execution would be incompatible with his independence. He need adduce no stronger proof of this than the recent offer of Holland to allow to the Belgians the navigation of her waters, and the right of transit upon her roads, subject only to such municipal regulations as, within her own territory, and in the exercise of her independence, she had a right to establish. By accepting this offer all the objects of the Articles would have been substantially acquired. And yet for the idle purpose of compelling Holland to undergo the ceremony of signing a treaty already divested of its meaning, the dispute was kept open. And this was the situation in which noble Lords presumed to talk of going to war with Holland. It was impossible that this country should permit it. He could not consider the treaty with respect to the Russian-Dutch loan as an 927 isolated transaction; it formed part of a system to which another treaty laid on the Table some time ago also belonged: he alluded to the treaty for the abolition of the frontier fortresses of the Netherlands. He considered it a most extraordinary proceeding on the part of his Majesty's Government to throw upon the Table, without a word of explanation, a treaty which subverted the whole system of policy by which the councils of this country had been directed for 150 years. Holland had been the chief contributor to the erection of these fortresses, and had she no right to be consulted upon the question of their demolition? Was she not entitled to a voice upon the subject? He considered the conduct which had been pursued towards Holland a flagrant outrage upon justice. He strongly objected also to the remaining arrangements. Belgium had to maintain the fortresses which were yet permitted to exist, but nobody was to have any right of inspection. How then was this agreement to be enforced? And what prospect was there, considering the new and close relation which was about to be formed between the king of Belgium and the king of France, that these fortresses would be any effective barrier against that country. He would not follow the whole series of protocols in this protracted negotiation at the present hour, and constituted as the House then was, but at a proper opportunity he should have no difficulty in showing, that the whole of the proceedings had been one continued violation of commonsense.
§ The Bill read a second time, and ordered to be committed.