HL Deb 14 December 1847 vol 95 cc1062-5

rose to put a question to Her Majesty's Government respecting the proposed mediation of the Five Powers in the affairs of Switzerland. The federal compact of the cantons of Switzerland was agreed to in the year 1815, and it now formed the basis of their government. By it the sovereign independence of each canton was guaranteed; each canton was to be represented in the Central Diet; the Central Diet was to be a legislative body, and its acts carried out by the whole Confederation. Each canton had a great council and a small council, the great acting as a legislative body, and the smaller as the executive. Each of these councils sent a deputy to the General Diet; and by the federal compact all affairs relating to the foreign relations of the country, or anything dangerous to the general peace of the Swiss Confederation, were to be left solely and entirely to the decision of the Central Government. There could be no doubt that for many years a party had existed in Switzerland, called the Radical party, who objected to a portion of the compact, and by whom there had been much agitation, in order to obtain a modification of it. At one time, indeed, the Diet was inclined to adopt some alteration. A league of five cantons was formed, with the avowed intention of opposing the federal compact; but the combination being illegal, it was afterwards dissolved. During the time these struggles were going on between the Radicals on one side, who wished to alter the federal compact, and the Conservatives who wished to maintain it, certain parties, who were no doubt connected with the Jesuits, raised up a kind of religious contest. The Jesuits of Friburg, who had been unmolested by the Diet, thought proper to interfere in poli- ties, by endeavouring to obtain a majority in the general council of the canton of Valais. In that attempt they succeeded in some degree. The Diet, as well as the general councils of several cantons, thought the general peace of the Confederation was in danger from this interference. Still the ramifications of the agitation extended, and the Diet called upon the general council of one of the cantons to which they had spread to put down the agitation. The Diet proceeded in every point according to the constitution. Lucerne, however, in conjunction with six other cantons, formed a confederation which was called the Sonderbund. This confederation was infinitely more illegal than the last, because it was in direct opposition to the 5th and 6th Articles of the Federal Compact, which stated that if any difference arose between the cantons they should abstain from all acts of violence, above all from the use of arms, and conform to the decision of the Diet; also that the different cantons should not form compacts between themselves, or raise arms for war. Under these circumstances, the Diet proceeded to consider what was to be done with the Sonderbund. They first invited it to abandon the Confederation, and separate from the League; also to banish the Jesuits, as having been the cause of the disturbances. The Diet alleged that the Jesuits had made this commotion among the Swiss Confederation; but they did not declare that the Jesuits should be banished. According to the constitution of Switzerland, the Diet having decreed this, it became the duty of the Vohort to execute the decree. The cantons, however, instead of complying with the request, proceeded to arms. They recalled their deputy from the Diet, and took measures for hostilities. They formed themselves into independent governments, and assumed powers and authorities which, according to the federal compact, had been originally given solely to the Diet. The Vorort, therefore, determined to proceed to arms to put down the illegal combination. They put forth enormous power, so enormous that the Sonderbund, like Falstaff, thought discretion was the better part of valour, for, instead of fighting, as they had professed to do, the campaign was over within a week. The Jesuits had previously gone off with the whole of the revenue, leaving the people of Lucerne to fight the battle as they best could. Under these circumstances, the great Powers thought their authority would be required, and France and Austria proposed an intervention. Mediation was proposed by the remainder of the Five Powers. A note was consequently delivered, after the dissolution of the Sonderbund, on the part of the Three Powers, proposing a conference; and it appeared that at the conference a representative of the Sonderbund was to appear on exactly the same footing, and to be viewed in the same light, as the representative of the Diet. This was to acknowledge rebellion—to acknowledge the legality of the body that had given rise to these disturbances. Previously to the commencement of hostilities it might have been advisable to have had a communication with the Sonderbund, to see whether that body might send a representative to the conference to negotiate peace; but there was no Sonderbund in existence now, and therefore he wished to know whether it was intended to adhere to the terms of the conference by which a representative of the extinct Sonderbund was to be present at the conference. The question he had therefore to ask was, whether or not this country had joined in the proposal that a conference should now be held at which a representative of the Sonderbund should be present?


said, he would give a very brief answer to the question put by the noble Earl. Undoubtedly, although this country had never proposed to establish a conference of mediation in the affairs of Switzerland, still, when it was proposed by other Powers for this country to be a party to such a conference, his noble Friend at the head of the Foreign Department did consent, under certain limitations—the effect of which limitations would have been to prevent us from being involved in anything like hostility, still more in anything like an armed interference in the affairs of Switzerland—to be a party in a conference for the purpose of tendering to all the parties, in conjunction with the other Powers, our mediation in settling the affairs of that country. When, however, it was found that there were no longer two parties in the field, then mediation, or rather proposals for mediation, terminated altogether. Since then, without any porticipation in the proceedings of other Powers, or any active intervention in the affairs of Switzerland, Sir Stratford Canning, who was well acquainted with the affairs of that country, had been instructed to place himself, when passing through Switzerland, in communication with the authorities there, and to tender to them that advice which they might be disposed to receive from him.

House adjourned.