§ The MARQUESS of LANSDOWNE
wished to make an appeal to the noble Lord opposite (Lord Stanley) on the subject of a Motion which stood in that noble Lord's name for calling the attention of their Lordships to the present state of the negotiations with respect to the affairs of Greece. He wished to put it to the noble Lord whether he really thought that, pending negotiations of which the result was not yet known, any advantage would arise from the discussion of the subject at the present moment. He put it to the noble Lord whether he considered that any public object would be served by discussing over their Lordships' table, without any prospect of coming to a conclusion, matters which the French Minister, Mr. Drouyn de Lhuys, and the English Minister, Mr. Wyse, must be discussing with M. Londos, the Greek Minister, over another table at Athens. If the noble Lord should, notwithstanding this appeal, determine to go into the whole question of Greece, he must, from a sense of duty, decline to follow him into any of his general considerations. At the same time, he was not at all indisposed to answer any question which the noble Baron might be pleased to put to him as to any matter of fact which had occurred, or might be alleged to have occurred, in that country. There were undoubtedly certain matters of fact on which it was natural that the noble Lord should seek for information; and on such matters of fact he should be happy to give the noble Lord all the information in his power.
The appeal which the noble Marquess has just made to me at the very last moment undoubtedly places me in a situation of no ordinary embarrassment, because on the one hand there are circumstances and facts, only recently made public, which require at the present moment, and without delay, explanation from Her Majesty's Government; and there are also occurrences which seem to have a serious aspect, and which threaten to add another element of difficulty to the complication in which we are now placed by the ill-judged, and, I think, unfortunate 945 conduct of Her Majesty's Ministers. But, on the other hand, it is impossible that I should not be sensible to the appeal which the noble Marquess, standing as he does in a situation of high official responsibility, has made to me respecting the possible injury to the public service, and, above all, to that great and primary object of which we are all desirous—I mean the amicable settlement of these disputes, which, beginning from a very slight and trivial cause, have been permitted to arrive at a magnitude by which they seriously threaten the peace of Europe. It is impossible that I should not feel sensible to such an appeal so made to me; for though I shall not now express any opinion on the conduct of our Ministers towards Greece, I am still desirous to offer my own view to the House of the papers which are now on the table, and which contain, as I think, very imperfect information. But after the appeal of the noble Marquess, however I may desire to offer my observations on those papers at this time to the House, I am sure that the noble Marquess will not misunderstand me, and will not attribute it to any hesitation on my part, or to any want of confidence in the strength of my case, if I now confine myself strictly within the limits which he has laid down, and abstain from offering any opinion on the conduct of the Government, or on the contents of the papers now upon the table; and I am sure that he will not consider me as precluded from bringing all those papers on a future day under the consideration of Parliament. I shall with this understanding conform strictly to the line prescribed by the noble Marquess, and shall confine my observations to those matters of fact on which he considers it to be his duty, and professes his readiness, to give me a direct answer. Your Lordships will recollect that when on the first or second day of the present Session I put a question to Her Majesty's Ministers on the affairs of Greece, it was announced to me that the French Government, in a spirit of sincerity which I don't dispute, had offered to us its good offices—for I must not say its mediation—and that our Government had willingly accepted them. I understood that that declaration was accompanied with a positive announcement that hostilities, or, if not hostilities, all measures of an aggressive character on the part of the British fleet, would from that time cease and discontinue. I understood from the noble Marquess that our acts of reprisal were to be confined to ves- 946 sels of war in the service of the Government of Greece. I have since learnt with great regret that that limitation has been so far set at nought that every little fishing boat and every petty mercantile craft has been placed by us under strict surveillance, greatly to the detriment of their owners, and very little to our credit and reputation. But the noble Marquess further stated, and he was understood to have made such statement both by the French and by the Russion Government, that these hostilities should, from the moment of the acceptance of the mediation of France, immediately cease. In documents, which have not indeed been laid upon the table, but which are nevertheless open to all your Lordships—documents which, though not authentic, are not very likely to be erroneous—in those documents, I find it stated, on the faith of a letter which appears to have been written on the 28th of last February, that on the 5th of the same month a conversation took place between the French Minister in England and the noble Viscount now at the head of Foreign Affairs, and that in that conversation the noble Viscount promised that instructions should be instantly forwarded to Sir T. Wyse, the British Minister at Athens, for the suspension of all coercive measures against Greece; and I find it stated in a letter written by M. Thouvenel, the French Minister at Athens, to M. Londos, the Greek Minister, that on receiving the news of our proceedings from Athens, "the French Government immediately despatched M. Drouyn de Lhuys to London as Envoy Extraordinary; and Lord Palmerston, at the very first interview with him, accepted the proposals which he had been instructed to make. After the delivery of an official note, in which the Ambassador of the Republic, who had come to a formal understanding to that effect with the Principal Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, offered the good offices and mediation of Prance, the English Ambassador in Paris communicated to the French Minister of Foreign Affairs, M. le General La Hitte, the actual text of the instructions which were to be despatched to Sir T. Wyse by the courier of the 8th of February. If their arrival at Athens has been delayed, it can only arise from some cause entirely independent of Lord Palmerston's will, for he had declared most positively, on the 5th of this month, to M. Drouyn de Lhuys, that he would immediately send an order to suspend the coercive measures employed 947 against Greece." Now, on the 19th of February there arrived a courier at Athens, bringing to Sir T. Wysea private letter from Lord Palmerston, announcing the acceptance of the good offices of France by the British Government, and stating that instructions would be sent to him upon the subject. On the 20th of February there arrived at Athens despatches from the English and French Governments; the despatch from England being under the date of the 8th of February. Pursuant to the declaration made by the noble Marquess in this House, pursuant to the declaration made by Lord Palmerston to M. Drouyn de Lhuys, and pursuant to the declaration made by the Marquess of Norman by, the English Ambassador at Paris, to General La Hitte, the French Minister for Foreign Affairs, it was only to be expected as a matter of course, that the packet of the 8th of February would carry out despatches to Sir T. Wyse, containing absolute instructions to him to put an immediate end to hostilities against Greece. The courier did indeed bring despatches from Lord Palmerston to Sir T. Wyse; but the only statement in those despatches was, that the British Government approved the course which Sir T. Wyse had taken. The despatches, moreover, made no reference to the acceptance of the good offices of France; and the consequence was, that from the period when those despatches were received, namely, the 19th of February up to the 1st of March, as far as we know, the British fleet has been placed in what I must call an unworthy situation, namely, that of being compelled to stop merchantmen and to obstruct the commerce of a weak but maritime State, and to inflict injuries on persons who had no interest whatever in the matters in dispute. I read in a letter which has been received from the correspondent of the Times at Athens, dated the 28th of February, the following paragraph:—In the meantime, the Greek Government show no disposition to make any advances towards a settlement. Numbers of Greek ships have hoisted the Russian flag, which they are allowed to do by the consuls of the Czar. Trade, however, has been entirely paralysed by the blockade, and the price of provisions in all the seaports, and here at Athens, has risen to a height hitherto unknown. There are few merchants of any wealth at Athens or the Piræus, but the number of shipowners is considerable; and, even amongst the humbler classes, their chief means of livelihood is derived from shares in small coasting vessels. Upon these latter, and upon even the fishermen, the blockade has fallen heaviest. Since 948 the 18th of last January their means of existance have failed, and some of them are already suffering severe privations. Food has risen to famine prices, and death from starvation threatens the poor, whilst the ruin of the better classes seems imminent.This, I say, is a state of things which appears to me to have arisen unnecessarily, contrary to the assurance of the noble Marquess in this House, contrary to the assurance of Lord Viscount Palmerston, contrary to the assurance of the English Ambassador at Paris to the French Minister of Foreign Affairs, and contrary to the just expectations of the French Government, which interfered in so friendly a spirit. This state of things has been allowed to go on for ten or eleven days, although the British Government might have put a stop immediately to the cruel and unnecessary hardships which were thus inflicted on innocent people, simply because our Minister for Foreign Affairs was not sufficiently at leisure to pen a despatch. This transaction, in my opinion, requires explanation; and, confining myself entirely to the delay, I now ask what was the cause of it? I call, also, attention to this fact, that a recent despatch has not yet been laid on the table, which communicates to our Government a despatch from Count Nesselrode to Baron Brunow, written in a most conciliatory tone, though without withdrawing any part of the despatch of the previous day. I beg the noble Marquess to hear in mind that that despatch, with the conciliatory tone in which it is written, was founded on the assurance that after the acceptance of the good offices of France, Lord Palmerston would relax the extreme severity of his measures and operations, and would consent to a suspension of hostilities. It is clear, from what has passed, that the Government of France expected the immediate abandonment of these hostile proceedings—it is clear that the Government of Russia also expected it; and it is notorious that the people of England also expected it; and, though M. Thouvenel states that it is possible that the non-arrival of the necessary instructions "had arisen from some cause entirely independent of Lord Palmerston's will," who declared on the 5th of February that he would immediately send orders to suspend coercive measures, I shall learn with no less surprise than satisfaction, that, although his despatches were sent out at the earliest period—at the first opportunity, yet, by some unavoidable accident, the packet did not 949 convey the instructions to Sir T. Wise which were the most important of all, namely, the instructions for the suspension of hostilities. I will not enter further into this subject. It is my earnest desire that these hasty and unfortunate proceedings, springing from causes slight and trivial in themselves, may not interrupt the good understanding now so happily prevailing between the three great Powers—I mean France, Russia, and England—a good understanding which is so essential to the peace and tranquillity of the world. It is also my earnest desire that we should recollect in future in all our transactions with Greece, and more especially in such as partake of a territoral character, not so much that we are the protectors of the Ionian Islands as the co-guarantees with France and Russia of the independence of Greece; and that it is for the benefit of Europe and the world that Greece should not look up to one Power more than another as her sole protector, but to the friendly union of the three, which would also be the best guarantee of the peace of the world. He would now ask the noble Marquess if he could furnish any information as to the unfortunate and incomprehensible delay in sending the order to suspend hostilities; and he would postpone the general question to another period, reserving to himself a discretion as to whether he would again bring the subject under the notice of their Lordships.
§ The MARQUESS of LANSDOWNE
felt bound to acknowledge the readiness with which the noble Lord had admitted, on the grounds put forward, the inexpediency of entering at large into the discussion of the transactions which had taken place in Greece; and he also felt bound to admit that the noble Lord had carefully and accurately kept within those limits with regard to which he (the Marquess of Lansdowne) should feel happy, as it was also his duty, to afford information. He would now proceed to answer the questions of the noble Lord, and he was glad to have an opportunity of doing so. There was not an individual sharing in the councils of Her Majesty who did not feel that, when any means presented themselves likely to put an end to the proceedings to which attention had been drawn, not a moment should be lost in applying them. He would not on this occasion discuss whether those means were justifiable or not, but he thought that all men must agree that it was desirable to terminate such proceedings as soon as possible, and from that moment not a day or 950 an hour was lost in taking the most effectual means for that purpose. He would now, as minutely as he could, refer to those points alluded to by the noble Lord, and upon which he thought the noble Lord had been somewhat misinformed. It was quite true that the first intimation which his noble Friend the Secretary for Foreign Affairs received of the willingness on the part of Franco to mediate or interpose its good offices in connexion with these transactions, was received in conversation on the 5th of February, and was not the subject of formal communication. On the contrary, when his noble Friend asked the Ambassador of France whether he could consider the offer on the part of France as formal, he replied that he was not authorised to make the offer in form, and must await further communication with his Government. It would have been possible, upon this, for his noble Friend the Secretary for Foreign Affairs to have suspended all action; his noble Friend might possibly, he would not say probably, have said that he would wait to see in what form the offer should be made by the French Government; but so anxious was his noble Friend to put an end to the state of things disturbing that portion of Europe, that, without waiting for a formal proposition, on the very day of his interview with the French Ambassador, he wrote a private letter to Sir T. Wyse, informing him that there would be an offer of intervention, and that it would probably be successful. That letter was sent on the 5th. On the 7th, the French Government made a formal offer; it reached this country immediately, and a day did not elapse before formal instructions were sent out to Sir T. Wyse; so that in neither the one case nor the other did twenty-four hours elapse in the transmission of those instructions it was so desirable Sir T. Wyse should receive. Nay more, when the formal instructions were sent—the official acceptance was dated on the 12th of February, and it was necessary to draw them up for the formal approbation of Her Majesty; but when this was obtained, in order to provide against delay, the instructions were sent, not by one channel, but by two—by way of Naples on the 15th, and Paris and Marseilles on the 16th. By one of those accidents, inseparable from the transmission of communications to distant parts, the despatch of the 16th arrived before that of the 15th; but they both arrived at such a time that the instructions might be carried out on 951 the 1st of March; so that twenty-three days only elapsed from the time of the intimation from the French Government before all hostile proceedings were suspended. In the meantime, Sir T. Wyse acted upon the intimation contained in the private letter of Lord Palmerston, without waiting for his formal instructions, as he thought he was bound in honesty and strict policy to do; for he found that, upon the 24th of February, before the receipt of formal instructions, Sir W. Parker had ceased to make reprisals; and upon the 1st of March he discontinued the embargo upon the formal instructions which he had received. As he collected from the noble Lord, he complained of the instructions having been withheld, and the delay with respect to acting upon them. The French Government were, however, perfectly satisfied upon that subject, and were, he believed, convinced that no time had been lost in giving effect to these instructions, the object of which was to put an end to the state of things of which Sir T. Wyse complained, except so far as regarded the detention of vessels which had been previously taken, and which, acting upon his instructions, Sir W. Parker retained as security for, and could only release after, the final adjustment of the claims, which he hoped would be speedily accomplished through the good offices and mediation of France. With respect to the amount of these reprisals, he could only assure the noble Lord—feeling anxious as he did that those reprisals should not be found to have occurred to an extent beyond the objects for which they were effected—that these reprisals had been limited only to that sum which was considered necessary, in order to cover the amount of the demand which had been made upon the Greek Government. He confessed, that nothing afflicted him more than that in this transaction any injury should have been inflicted upon commerce, or that any of its operations should have been interfered with by the necessity of the case. He could, however, state that no vessel of the mercantile marine had been interfered with until it was found that the public vessels detained did not amount in value to such sum as would cover the amount of the claim made. When it was found that the value of the vessels taken amounted in value to the claim made, it was not the intention of Sir W. Parker—had he not received additional instructions to take no more—to continue to take more vessels 952 than would answer the object which he had in view, namely, that of having security for the amount of the demand. He believed that it would be found, in the end, that no real grievance had been suffered by any of the ships which had been taken by Sir W. Parker. He considered that Sir W. Parker had shown a very laudable anxiety not to interfere unnecessarily with the commerce of the country, and although a great many vessels had been detained, still the whole of them had not exceeded in value the sum which it was his duty to claim, and the security for which it was his duty to retain until the affair had been fully and finally settled. He trusted that he had fully satisfied their Lordships that, in point of delay, no time had been lost in depriving these proceedings of any character of inconvenience or harshness, consistently with the objects which the Government had in view; and he heartily joined with the noble Lord in trusting that the affair might be amicably arranged, without involving considerations which would create further disturbances between Powers now at peace, who would, he trusted, be convinced—if they were not so already—that Great Britain had no other object in the proceeding but that of doing justice to what they considered the just claims of one of our own subjects. With respect to those documents to which the noble Lord had particularly alluded as having found their way before the public, without having been laid upon the table of their Lordships' House, they had found their way to the public by means into which he was not then able to enter, but which could only have been so made public by the unpardonable negligence, to say the least of it, of some person—he was not prepared to say by whose negligence—but whoever that functionary might be who had so far neglected his duties, he (the Marquess of Lansdowne) had not the least doubt but that he would be subjected to some inquiry upon the part of that Power whose confidence had been so abused, and whose authority was so great that he felt certain it would disdain to have recourse to any imperfect publication of such a nature as that which had been referred to, and especially pending these negotiations of a public and important character, which would be equally inconsistent with the convenience of the negotiation and the dignity of the party concerned.
requested the noble Marquess to allow him to question him on 953 one point of the speech which he had just made. He understood the noble Marquess to say that, in consequence of the despatch containing a formal offer of her good offices not having been received from France till the 7th of February, and in consequence of the instructions for Sir T. Wyse not having been then prepared or submitted for approbation to Her Majesty, a delay from the 8th to the 15th of February took place, but that on the latter day the instructions were sent out. The noble Marquess had also stated, that previous to the receipt of those instructions, Sir W. Parker and Sir T. Wyse had proceeded to act on the private letter addressed to the latter Gentleman by Lord Palmerston. Now, the private letter of his Lordship was said to be written on the 5th of February, and the formal official letter was said to be written on the 8th of the same month. The noble Marquess had told their Lordships that those letters had been received in Greece on the 18th or 19th of February. If so, why were not hostilities stopped sooner? He could not of course doubt the facts as mentioned by the noble Marquess. He saw it stated in a letter from the correspondent of the Times at Athens, dated February 28, that "the blockade on that day still continued in full force; that the number of Greek ships captured by the British squadron was now considerable; and that their value was certainly greater than the sum demanded by England." Again, on the 1st of March, the correspondent of the same paper wrote that "the blockade still continued, and with as great vigour as ever." These statements were so completely at variance with that made by the noble Marquess with respect to the time of the suspension of hostilities, that he was perfectly at a loss to reconcile them. What he wanted, therefore, to know, was how the 24th of February came to be fixed upon for the suspension? Private instructions had been received on the 19th, the public despatch was received on the 1st of March, and yet it was upon the 24th of February—not upon the receipt of the private letter previously sent, nor upon the receipt of the public despatch, which did not arrive till afterwards—that, according to the statement of the noble Marquess, the suspension of hostilities took place, but which, according to the public journals, was not until the 1st of March. He was not able to reconcile these discrepancies; perhaps the noble Marquess could satisfy the House upon the subject.
§ The MARQUESS of LANSDOWNE
thought that the apparent contradiction could be easily explained. Sir W. Parker, writing upon the 24th of February, stated that he had since the 18th—he did not say upon what day he had received the letter—but that since the 18th he had discontinued the blockade. It was quite impossible for him to have done so earlier than he did, and he had not the least doubt that Sir W. Parker, acting upon his instructions, and the private information which he had received, was prepared to take the first opportunity of suspending the blockade. He did not discontinue the embargo till the 1st of March, but the system of taking the vessels was discontinued before that time.
fully concurred in the wish expressed upon both sides of their Lordships' House, that the unhappy differences which had sprung up might speedily and entirely be done away with through the good offices of France.
§ Subject at an end.