HL Deb 16 March 1832 vol 11 cc302-15
The Duke of Wellington

rose, pursuant to notice, to call for certain documents, with a view to prove the inaccuracy of some statements in the late exposition of M. Perier, in the Chamber of Deputies, relative to the settlement of the affairs of Belgium after the late revolution. If these statements had appeared in the shape of ordinary newspaper representations or remarks, he should not have thought such a ground sufficient for giving their Lordships any trouble on the subject. But this was not an ordinary newspaper statement. It was an elaborate speech and exposition, delivered by the high authority of the French President of the Council, containing an account of the proceedings of the French and other governments relative to the settlement of the affairs of Belgium; and he felt himself bound to say, that in that exposition there were some erroneous, and even false, representations, in which the Government of this country was nearly concerned. He thought it due to the honour of the Government of his Majesty, and to that of the governments of his Allies, to address a few words to their Lordships on the subject, and to call for documents which would show whether the imputations of M. Perier were deserved or not. He would begin by calling their Lordships' attention to some passages of the speech on which he meant to comment; and the first was as follows:— The revolution of Belgium broke out at the close of September, 1830; but such was, at that moment, the general conviction of all persons as to the advantages of maintaining peace, and, consequently, the respect due to treaties, that no one, at first, thought of seizing that revolution as an advanced position against the European system, nor of making use of it as an arm, menacing alike peace and the treaties on which it is based. Perhaps the French government could then discover some embarrassment. But the rapid march of events, and the sympathies suddenly awakened in favour of Belgium, the considerations of neighbourhood, and the interests of frontiers, decided the government of the king to support the Belgian revolution, always by laying aside previously all idea of ambition, and, consequently avoiding all grounds of collision with the other powers. This was the means of rendering this protection efficacious to Belgium; it was an opportunity of explaining fairly to Europe the true spirit of the revolution of July in its exterior relations. France of July was about to establish her diplomacy; upon this first step depended the nature of her relations with the other governments and people; in this was comprehended her futurity of peace or war. Well, then, gentlemen, the conduct of government at that epoch, in affording a pacific but efficacious support to the Belgians, was approved of by the country, salutary for Belgium, and decisive for the system of peace. Let us not lose sight of this point of departure, since the policy of government has had a continual reference to it, and because it could not, at the present moment, be consistently reproached for its fidelity to principles which had been unanimously recognized. Such was the well-understood interest of the revolution of July, in its material as well as its moral relations; for if a war party had existed at that time, which—regardless of the horror of a revolution, whose moderation was its force—should have called for invasion and conquest, what could it have required, what would it have been able to accomplish, in the then military situation of France, after the dissolution of the royal guard, the dismissal of the Swiss, the division of our forces in Algiers and in Greece, and, lastly, the desertion organized by the spirit of party, and the employment of extraordinary troops in the west and south? The most declared advocates of war would then have been compelled to acknowledge (all other considerations out of the question) that the state of the army rendered this line of conduct absolutely necessary, even though a more enlightened policy had not pointed out the prudence of it. But, as it was, the government did not hesitate to declare, that it would regard as an act of hostility against itself the entry of foreign troops into Belgium. The promptitude of this declaration, and the firmness with which the established principle was defended, have been, I affirm without hesitation, the salvation of Belgium, and the foundation of her independence. No man could read through that speech, nor, indeed, read any part of it, without seeing that, although M. Perier was, perhaps, deserving of the applause which was bestowed upon him, as being anxious to stay the revolutionary doctrines propagated by other French governments, yet it was calculated to promote that morbid desire of conquest and aggrandizement, which, for the last forty years, had been so characteristic a feature of the history of France. There could be no other inference drawn from it; and the disclaimer of the noble Earl of all design, on the part of France, to violate peace, could not weaken its impression, strengthened as it was by the passage which was intended as an apology for the expedition to Ancona, and still more by the tone in which M. Perier spoke of the close union between the French and English Governments. That union was spoken of as a matter of "necessity" to England, as a mere question of "efficacy" to France; and that, too, in the teeth of the emphatic language of the noble Earl opposite, as to the mutual conviction of the two nations of the necessity of this friendly understanding. Now, he entertained as strong an opinion as the noble Earl himself of the advantages, nay, necessity, of a close union between the English and French governments, in order to maintain the general peace; but this conviction was second to his anxiety to preserve the honour and interests of England untarnished. While he told the noble Earl that his anxiety for a good understanding between the two countries was second only to his anxiety for the honour of the King's Government, he would also tell him that if he hoped to preserve the peace of Europe by the cordial co-operation of France, he must not unite himself to that country singly, but in participation with the other great Powers of the continent. Let him take warning and counsel from the Ancona affair, which was but a comparatively trifling instance of a spirit evinced more and more by the events of every day, which was pregnant with disadvantage, if not dishonour, to this country. When he said that M. Perier's speech tended to promote the morbid desire of the French for conquest and aggrandizement, he begged it clearly to be understood that no man was more anxious than he was to promote peace and union between France and England—that no man entertained a higher estimate of the immense resources, whether for peace or war, of the French people—that no man thought higher of their ability to avail themselves of their immense resources—that, in a word, no man was more ready to testify to the fact, that perhaps no nation on the earth excelled, if, indeed, it equalled, France, in the possession of those virtues, talents, and resources, which were calculated to render a people truly great and prosperous at home, and formidable and respected abroad. In these qualities, he repeated, France was, perhaps, more favoured than any other country on the earth: but because she was so, he thought it the more bounden duty of an English Minister to preserve with jealous care the honour and interests of this country from French encroachment. Having made these general observations to prevent misunderstanding as to the motives with which he brought forward his Motion, he would at once proceed to call their attention to the objectionable paragraph of M. Perier's speech which he had just read to them. He had stated that from that speech it would appear that the revolution of Belgium was the work of the French government. A simple statement of facts would show that this was not the case. The revolution of France occurred, as they all knew, in July, 1830. As soon as its consequence was duly announced to the British Government, of which he was then a member, no time was lost in recognizing Louis Phillippe as king of the French—that is, in recognizing the principle of the revolution, and of preserving the friendly understanding between the two countries entire. The change of the dynasty was fully and promptly acknowledged, and Louis Phillippe was admitted fully into all the treaties in force between the two countries, as also a party to all the treaties between this country and the other States of Europe. England took the lead among the other Powers in recommending the adoption of this friendly policy, and under the auspices of this Government, the French government of Louis Phillippe was recognized as a party to every existing obligation. This was important to bear in mind, for Louis Phillippe being admitted a party to these treaties, was necessarily bound by them; so that if, by his subsequent conduct, it appeared that there was any departure from their provisions, it followed that he had violated the terms on which his sovereignty was recognized. Now, he contended, that if M. Perier's version of the conduct of the French government with respect to Belgium were the true one, Louis Phillippe had violated a condition of his recognition; for among the treaties to which he was admitted, and by which he was bound, was one preserv- ing the integrity of the kingdom of the Netherlands. He need hardly remind them, that by the Treaty of Peace of 1814, Belgium was made over to the king of Holland, and he need hardly remind them also that the king of France was an important party to that treaty. The man, therefore, who represented the king of the French as "encouraging and promoting" the Revolution of Belgium represented that monarch as a violator of a solemn compact. He admitted that the king of the French had not violated that compact; but he appealed to their Lordships whether the statement which he had read did not in so many words represent him to have broken it. He repeated that the words of M. Perier were neither more nor less than a charge against his master of having violated a treaty to which he was a party; but he again repeated, that the error was M. Perier's only. The papers for which he would move, would place this beyond a doubt, for they would make it evident that from the first moment of the breaking out of the Belgian Revolution in August, 1830, to the last moment of his quitting office, the French government had faithfully observed the treaty to which the five great Powers were parties, and which amalgamated Holland and Belgium, and that it had, in fact, acted the very reverse of what M. Perier had represented. One of these papers would show that the French Foreign Secretary had, at the very outset, disclaimed all interference with the affairs of Belgium; so far from interfering or promoting the Belgian Revolution, the French government, on three different occasions, voluntarily, without the remotest solicitation on the part of the British Government, declared their willingness to co-operate in preventing its consequences. First, when the Prince of Orange entered Brussels; they repeated their declaration when that prince left that place; and, last of all, when Prince Frederick made that attack on Brussels, in which he unfortunately failed. Indeed, the French government of the time rendered itself obnoxious to the mouvement party by their conduct towards their brother revolutionists in the Netherlands, and, in the words of M. Perier, felt itself consequently much embarrassed. Nor was this all, The French government not only did not encourage the Belgian Revolution, but zealously offered to co-operate with the other Powers in preventing the separation of Belgium from the sovereignty of the House of Orange. It expressed its anxiety to devise some means or another by which Belgium could be restored to the king of Holland, and was among the last of the parties to the Treaty of 1814, to despair of being able to effect that object. He spoke confidently on this head, having been then himself in office; and he had reason to know, that even after he had left office, the French government had expressed to the British Minister its anxiety to attempt again the restoration of the sovereignty of the House of Orange. There was to this effect a letter, of which the noble Earl and the French Ambassador could not be ignorant, written as well as he recollected, in the month of February. Without it, however, there were sufficient documents to prove that the allegations of M. Perier were wholly unfounded, and that France, so far from encouraging the Belgian Revolution, had done its utmost to avert its consequences. He was aware that the independence of Belgium was assumed as a preliminary condition, under the Conferences held for the settlement of the affairs of the Netherlands, under the direction of his noble friend (the Earl of Aberdeen) who was then Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs; but this was not until the failure of Prince Frederick's attack on Brussels had demonstrated the impossibility of preserving the union of Belgium and Holland. It was true—and this was the only transaction which could afford the slightest colouring to M. Perier's statement—that at that Conference the French Ambassador represented his government as opposed to all foreign interference by means of force, in the settlement of the Belgian question; and it was also true, that this communication was made before a despatch from the Hague requested our military aid to effect the reconquest of the Belgian provinces by the king of the Netherlands. That aid the British Government at once refused, convinced that the peace of Europe could not he preserved, if other nations interfered with arms in the affairs of Belgium. But, in stating this, he most distinctly denied the assumption of M. Perier—namely, that other nations had evinced an intention of interfering by force. The British Government had no such intention, nor had any of the other Powers; and he would add, that the French Government knew that such was the fact. There was another cir- cumstance which he considered very material in reference to these transactions, and one which, in a remarkable degree, evinced the feeling of the French government throughout the transaction—namely, that the French Minister admitted at once that Luxembourg stood on a different footing, inasmuch as it was part of the German Confederation; and while he objected to the sending of troops into Belgium, he did not resist the despatch of an expedition to Luxembourg, should it be deemed necessary. It was known that the restoration of the House of Orange by a military force was impracticable, after the Dutch troops had been driven from Brussels. With these facts before their Lordships, he thought they must be of opinion that this was a case into which Parliament ought to inquire, by calling for the production of papers; and as a precedent for his Motion, he begged to refer the noble Earl to a proceeding of the same kind, in which he was himself concerned, when he procured the production of a document to set right the conduct of this country in relation to a passage in the speech of the king of the French. He only required that that precedent should be followed in the present instance. He trusted he had succeeded in making evident to their Lordships the positions for which he had been contending—namely, that the existing government of France was bound by the treaties into which former governments had entered: that under the influence of such a consideration, the king of the French had, during the time he had specified, avoided any encouragement of the Belgian Revolution, and that the conduct of the then Government of this country was in perfect conformity with the principles it professed. For the better and more indisputable establishment of these truths, he hoped the noble Earl would agree to the production of the papers which he now wished to be produced; he would move, "That an humble Address be presented to his Majesty, to request his Majesty to give directions that the following papers may be laid before this House:— Copies or Extracts of the following despatches from the Earl of Aberdeen to Lord. Stuart de Rothsay, G.C.B., his Majesty's Ambassador at Paris:—

Dated Sept. 5, 1830. No. 50
Sept. 28 53, with the inclosures.
Oct. 3 55
Oct. 15 58
Oct. 22 61, with 4 inclosures.
Oct. 22 62
Oct. 24 63
Oct. 26 65, with 2 inclosures."
Copies or Extracts of the following despatches from Lord Stuart de Rothsay, G.C. B., to the Earl of Aberdeen:—
Dated Aug. 30, 1830 No. 456
Aug. 31 462
Sept. 3 467, extract.
Sept. 6 476
Sept. 10 486
Sept. 13 482
Sept. 17 497, extract.
Sept. 20 508
Sept. 24 518
Oct. 1 527
Oct. 4 533
Oct. 8 540
Oct. 11 545
Oct. 15 552, extract.
Oct. 19 566
Oct. 25 576
Oct. 25 579
Oct. 25 580, extract.
Oct. 29 583
Nov. 6 609
Nov. 8 612
Nov. 8 613"

Earl Grey

trusted that his objecting to the Motion of the noble Duke would not lead to the conclusion to which the noble Duke's observations tended,—namely, that the honour and interests of the country had been compromised by the statement of the French minister. He did not object to the statement which the noble Duke had made of the conduct of his Administration with respect to the settlement of Belgium,—on the contrary, he did not hesitate to bear his testimony in confirmation of it; and he trusted that the correctness of that statement being thus admitted by him, the noble Duke would not press his Motion, as the papers to which he had referred could not be produced at this moment without detriment to the public service. He had heard much of the noble Duke's speech with satisfaction, and to the principle laid down by the noble Duke as that which should regulate the general policy of this country towards France, he gave his ready assent. The noble Duke had acknowledged the necessity of a good understanding between the two countries to the preservation of the peace of Europe. He entirely concurred with him, and he also agreed with him that that good understanding should ever be strictly consistent with the honour and interest of this country. It had been his (Earl Grey's) language on many occasions in that House, that the first object of an English Minister was the careful guardianship of the hopes and interests of England, and in repeating that sentiment then, he would add, that it was on it he based the necessity of a close union between France and this country. If it could be shown that his official conduct at all compromised the honour and interests of the country, he would (but not till then) acknowledge himself obnoxious to the censure of Parliament and the public. He was confident that such was not the case, and that the warnings of the noble Duke—which he received in good part—were unnecessary. The noble Duke warned him against the consequences of attempting to preserve the peace of Europe by a separate union with France. He agreed with the noble Duke, and had only to observe, that all the other powers of Europe were parties and participators in the friendly understanding between the English and French Governments. With respect to the specific ground on which the noble Duke had founded his Motion, he begged leave to remind the noble Duke, that, while he admitted with him the high authority of M. Perier, and the consequent importance of his views and opinions on political transactions affecting the peace of Europe, it was irregular to found any Motion on any alleged statement of those views and opinions which might appear in the public prints, and which had not been officially communicated to the King's Government. If every statement made in either Chamber were thus to be adopted as the ground of a discussion on its subject matter, it was evident that great inconvenience, if not actually unpleasant consequences, must be the result. The probable accuracy or inaccuracy of the alleged report formed no part of the question. The noble Duke had indulged in some severe remarks on a newspaper version of M. Perier's sentiments. He could not be expected to follow the noble Duke, for, supposing that he entirely agreed with the noble Duke as to the justice of his censures, he stood in that singular position relative to M. Perier, that he could not, consistently with courtesy and the usages of office, indulge in harsh comments. But he would admit to the noble Duke, that a careful examination of the correspondence; to which he had referred warranted the noble Duke's interpretation of the actual conduct of the French government with reference to Belgium; and, as a consequence, he would admit that the interpretation of M. Perier was not correct. This was delicate ground, and he would not trench further upon it, the rather as he had no official reason to presume that the sentiments attributed to M. Perier in a newspaper speech were those of the French government. If the French government declared that it had provoked and encouraged the Belgian revolution, there could be no doubt that the noble Duke's' inference was unanswerable, namely, that, in doing so, the French government had violated a solemn treaty. But he doubted whether the words attributed to M. Perier warranted such an interpretation, and he was inclined to believe that all the speaker meant was, that the French government had acted on the principle of preventing the armed interference of other powers. Be that as it might, he implicitly subscribed to the statement of facts given by the noble Duke. The French government, as the noble Duke had stated, so far from encouraging the Belgian revolution, had expressly disclaimed all interference in it, and had co-operated with the other powers in endeavouring to effect a re-union of Holland and Belgium. The conduct of the British Government at the time—if it was not presumption in him to offer his testimony to the noble Duke,—was entitled to his fullest approbation. The noble Duke could not be more anxious than he was to disclaim interference on the part, not only of this country but of France, in exciting the Belgian revolution, and in denying that any statement on the part of the French government to the other powers was a threat against an intended interference by force on their part. No such interference was intended—no such threat was therefore warranted. Throughout the whole of the correspondence, although a strong dislike of foreign interference had been expressed, there had been nothing which would warrant the term "menace" being applied to any part of the conduct of the British Government. Under these circumstances, and having thus done justice to the course which had been pursued, he trusted that some alteration would be made in the Motion of the noble Duke with respect to the papers he had moved for. In addition to this, he must observe, that the statement of the French minister had been extremely general, and that it went solely to this—that the prompt and energetic interposition of the French government had effectually prevented any thing like foreign interference. It would be admitted, he thought, that if there had been a war in Belgium, it would have been scarcely possible for France to avoid becoming a party in it. He would then put this case merely hypothetically—namely, it might have been possible that representations had been made to other powers on the continent of the impossibility which the French government felt themselves under of remaining indifferent, in case of the occupation of Belgium by any one of these powers, and that this representation might have been attended with the effect stated by the French minister. He put this case totally as a hypothetic one, but also as one which, if correct, would be an additional argument against the necessity of the present Motion, as the declaration of the French minister, if intended against this country particularly, was not such as could be so understood in any assembly. Were this Motion, then, to be persevered in, it was probable that still further disclosures would be required with respect to other powers. With regard to the particular papers required by the noble Duke, he, in consequence of the noble Duke's application, had looked through the whole of the papers connected with this correspondence, and he would repeat, that the noble Duke was borne out by that correspondence in his statement of every thing which had occurred while he was at the head of his Majesty's Government. He hoped that this would satisfy the noble Duke; but, besides this, he must say, that, in the production of these papers there was much to create danger, and he (Earl Grey) was also sure that there were many papers amongst them which the noble Duke would not desire to see made public. In fact, this was proved by the noble Duke's not asking for all the papers, but, instead of them desiring extracts, thereby admitting that there were some which ought not to be made public. Some of them affected individuals, whose names or whose conduct could not be touched upon. Furthermore, although the Motion was only directed to what had occurred during the period the noble Duke had been in office, it should be borne in mind that what had taken place then, was only the commencement of a long and arduous course of negotiation, which had not as yet been brought to a conclusion, and with respect to which, under all the circumstances, no disclosures could with safety be made; nor, indeed, had any Government, in any similar case, been ever called upon to make disclosures. These were shortly his reasons for not wishing to accede to the present Motion. But the noble Duke had said, that he (Earl Grey) had adopted a similar course on the occasion of the speech of the king of the French, by coming down with a statement of what had occurred. Upon that occasion, he (Earl Grey) had taken his Majesty's pleasure, and had laid before the House the convention which had been entered into, and the protocols of the Plenipotentiaries. That, however, was a case totally different from the present. The speech was not that of a minister in one of the Chambers, but an authentic document, being the speech of the French king from the throne, and made not merely to France, but to all Europe. On that occasion, he (Earl Grey) had thought it fitting that such a statement so made should be set right in the eye of the public. That also referred but to one circumstance, whereas the present Motion had reference to a detailed correspondence which it would be inconvenient to lay before the public. He would also say, that this speech of the French minister did not need such a Motion as the present, and there was a precedent in his (Earl Grey's) own conduct which would show how he had acted. For instance, a statement had been made by a French minister, in the Chamber of Deputies, of what he (Earl Grey) had said in that House, which was in direct contradiction of what he actually did say. This alone ought to be a proof of the inconvenience of resorting to such motions as the present. He had said in that House, in the course of his speech, that it would have been the desire of this country to replace the House of Orange on the throne of Belgium, as being most conducive at the time to the peace of Europe. But he (Earl Grey) did not feel it necessary, on account of the misrepresentation in the Chamber of Deputies, to come down and make it the subject of a motion or even an explanation. He had done this too, on the authority of the noble Duke himself, when a noble Earl (Earl Vane) at the Table had attacked him in his usual strain, with reference to some expressions used by General Sebastiani. The noble Duke had then supported him, (Earl Grey) by saying, that reference should never be made to speeches, but to authentic documents, by which alone governments were to be judged. The noble Duke, then, he thought, might be satisfied with this acknowledgment, and he might be sure that the character of his Government was maintained, as there was now the distinct declaration that no armed intervention, or other proceeding, inconsistent with professions of non-interference, had been projected by the Government of this country during the noble Duke's Government. Having said thus much, he trusted that the noble Duke would not feel it necessary to press his Motion any further.

The Duke of Wellington

said, that if he were not satisfied, which he was, he assured the noble Earl that his declaration that to produce these papers would be inconvenient to his Majesty's Government, would alone be enough to induce him to withdraw his Motion, and he would, therefore, with the leave of the House, do so. At the same time he must address a few words to the House. It was certainly true, that the speech to which he had alluded, was but the speech of a minister in one of the chambers, but it was also true, that it had appeared in a manner and in a shape in which no speech of any Minister of this country had ever before been circulated. When the noble Earl had come down with the documents respecting the French king's speech, it was true he had done so by the King's command, but there was also another answer to that speech in a letter written by the Prince of Orange, on his leaving this country in the month of January. Having said thus much as to the documents, he would now say one word as to any threat having been held out in any quarter. On looking over all the correspondence of the time, it would be seen that this Government had been not only on terms of friendship with the French ministry, but also with the ministers of all the Allies in Europe; and if there had been any intention hostile to France, or any jealousy felt in France of such an intention, the Government here must have known it. But he (the Duke of Wellington) had no recollection of any intention on the part of any of the Powers to interfere in the Belgian revolution, or of any intention, or intimation of an inten- tion, on the part of France, to resist them. He would only add, that he was pleased at what had taken place during the discussion, and he begged leave to withdraw his Motion.