HL Deb 07 July 1853 vol 128 cc1348-57

I wish to put a question to my noble Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs. Of the importance of the question I am about to take the liberty of asking, I have no doubt; of the importance of the subject to which that question relates, no person can have a doubt I beg to premise my question by stating, as my noble Friend knows, that I have had no communication whatever, directly or indirectly, with him upon this subject—I have had no communication, direct or indirect, upon the subject, with my noble Friend at the head of Her Majesty's Government. As to putting the question, as well as to the subject of the question, I have bad no communication with any of my noble Friends amongst Her Majesty's Ministers. I put the question entirely apart from them, but I put it under a deep conviction of the importance of the question in the present crisis of affairs; My Lords, a notice stands upon our books in the name of my noble Friend the noble Marquess opposite (the Marquess of Clanricarde), which, if made to-morrow, as the notice implies; must needs bring on a discussion of all (for there can he no limit fixed to such a discussion) that relates to the present posture of affairs in the east of Europe. I know that that Motion is in safe hands, whether I regard the motives of my noble Friend in bringing it forward, or the sound discretion under the control of which he is sure to act; but my question is this—whether my noble Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs thinks that in the present posture of affairs, no inconvenience—I might even Say mischief—may possibly arise—I may almost say may probably arise—from such a discussion at this period? If—which Heaven forbid!—all negotiation is at an end, and a rupture is inevitable, then no inconvenience can take place from the discussion. If—which Hea- ven grant!—negotiations are in such a state, and the posture of affairs is such, as almost to have attained the point of success, and the difficulty and embarrassment are at an end, then neither mischief nor inconvenience can arise: but if neither of those questions can be answered in the affirmative, then I put it to my noble Friend the noble Marquess, and I appeal to his discretion, whether it would not be well to abstain from making this Motion, for the present at least.


My Lords, it is perfectly correct, as my noble and learned Friend has just stated, that he did not communicate with me, nor, to the best of my knowledge, with any of my noble Friends near me, about the question which he has now put. The first notice I had of the intention of the noble and learned Lord was, when he just now beckoned to me, from which I thought he was about to put some question relative to our foreign relations. My Lords, in answer to my noble and learned Friend's question upon the very grave Subject that now agitates the public mind, with regard to which my noble Friend (the Marquess of Clanricard) has given notice of a Motion for tomorrow, I certainly Cannot say that there would he neither mischief nor inconvenience in a full discussion of that subject at present. Unfortunately, I cannot say that negotiations have arrived at that point, or that this matter is so near a settlement, as to render a discussion upon it comparatively unimportant. But I do say that negotiations are going on; that we most earnestly hope that there may be a peaceful solution of the question and that I am sure your Lordships would be the last persons in the kingdom to do anything to interfere with that settlement. I entirely agree with my noble and learned Friend that this question cannot be in safer bands than in those of my noble Friend the noble Marquess near me. I am, indeed, indebted to my noble Friend already for having once or twice put off this Motion of which he has given notice, and that lie, as well as my noble Friend opposite, has been content With Such answers as I was enabled to give Upon this Subject; and I felt that after the great delay that has taken place in bringing this question to a solution—considering, too, the very grave interests that are connected With it, and the very natural anxiety which exists, not only in your Lordships' House, but throughout the Country, to possess all the information which Her Majesty's Government could safely give—I felt, my Lords, that I ought not again to ask my noble Friend to withdraw his Motion; but I reserved to myself, in reply to him, to say nothing more than my sense of public duty allowed—more than which neither he nor your Lordships would require. I therefore did not make any application to my noble Friend to postpone his Motion, holding myself ready to meet him to-morrow. As, however, I am upon my legs, I will take this opportunity of asking my noble Friend whether he will object at least to postpone the Motion until Monday next? It is not with reference to the difficulties of the subject itself that I ask him to do this. I do not mean that from the danger of discussion, or the amount of what I should have to say upon the subject, I should ask my noble Friend to postpone his Motion until Monday next. I do not believe that the nature of things or the state of things will vary between to-morrow and Monday next. My reason for asking is, that I think it would be convenient to have this discussion in both Houses at the same time; and my noble Friend Lord John Russell is so extremely unwell that it would be impossible for him to be in the House of Commons to-morrow. My noble Friend, however, hopes to be present on Monday, and to that day, therefore, I would ask the noble Marquess to postpone his Motion. I think I can rely on the judgment and discretion of my noble Friend upon that occasion; and I am sure he will not bring forward then anything prejudicial to the pub-lie service, or, least of all, that he will not bring forward anything likely to impede the progress of the negotiations now going forward.


My Lords, it is to be expected that Her Majesty's Government must be desirous of taking the earliest opportunity, consistent with its views of the public interests, to make a statement to the House of all the transactions that have taken place, and, if necessary, to ask for the opinion of Parliament on their conduct—if necessary, to ask for the suport of Parliament in the acts they are inclined to adopt; and if that be a fair conclusion to arrive at with respect to their proceedings, I really think the noble Marquess would only exercise a sound discretion, and have in view the public convenience, if he deferred, not only until Monday, but generally, without fixing at present any day, the Motion of which he has given notice for to-morrow. I am myself so strongly impressed with a sense of the expediency of that postponement, that it had been my intention to communicate to the noble Marquess my wish that he would generally postpone that Motion. I should have done so, because I cannot think it would be desirable that any statement should proceed from the noble Marquess, however temperate that statement might be, when it would be perfectly impossible for Her Majesty's Government to make any other than a partial and lame statement respecting the transactions in question. Such a statement would not, tinder any circumstances, he satisfactory to your Lordships; and if they were to go beyond that statement, and disclose matters, for the convenience of debate, which ought at present to be kept concealed, public mischief, and not public advantage, would be caused from the discussion being forced upon us. That opinion which is stated in the last paragraph of the Motion which the noble Marquess intends to propose—"that Her Majesty may confidently rely upon the zeal and affection of this House for their cordial concurrence and support in maintaining the faith of treaties to which this country is a party, and in preserving those territorial and political arrangements upon which depend the general peace of Europe, the security of commerce, and the national independence of our ancient allies"—it may be very proper for us at some future period to declare, it may be very right for us to say, that, at some future period; there is, however, judgment in not merely saying the right thing, but in saying the right thing at the right time; and that time certainly appears not yet to have arrived. I will suggest to the noble Marquess that he should take into consideration whether in reality it will be for the public advantage that either on to-morrow or on Monday this discussion should be forced upon the House—the question being one of the most difficult and important character, on which it is perfectly impossible for Her Majesty's Ministers, consistent with their duty, to make a full disclosure of the transactions that have taken place.


Before the noble Marquess proceeds to give an answer to the appeal that has been made to him, I trust I may be permitted, on a question of this importance, to say a few words. The noble Marquess opposite, in giving the notice which stands on the paper in his name, though he may, of course, have mentioned the matter to his private and personal friends, did so, I think I may say, I without consulting with any political party, and without reference to any political support he might receive from one side or the other. As has been stated by the noble Earl the Secretary of State for Foreign. Affairs, I, as well as he, came down to the House without receiving any intimation that the question was to be brought forward by the noble and learned Lord near me, and I was unaware of his intention, until he stated, to my surprise, that he was about to bring this question under your Lordships' consideration. I was aware that it was the intention of my noble Friend who has just sat down, to make some suggestion in reference to the Motion; and I now desire to express my entire concurrence in the views expressed by my noble Friend and the noble Earl opposite. I beg to express my hope, also, that the noble Marquess will be content, notwithstanding the natural anxiety which he and the country must feel for the solution-God grant it may be the pacific solution!—of the question to withdraw his Motion, and that he will be satisfied to leave the responsibility of the question where it must rest—on the Government—and that he will not embarrass them and the affairs of the country by calling upon them to make declarations that may be inconsistent with the advantage of the public service, or, on the other hand, bring on a partial discussion, in which it would be impossible, on their part, to enter fully into the question. I rise, not so much to express my concurrence in the view of my noble Friend who last addressed your Lordships, as to express a hope that if this course which we suggest shall be taken in this House, it will be also deemed expedient that a similar course should be taken in the other House of Parliament. I think my noble Friend the Secretary of State of Foreign Affairs has rested his request for a postponement till Monday on the ground that a similar postponement has taken place in the House of Commons; and I am sure your Lordships, and the Members of the other House of Parliament, are equally aware of this—that it would not be proper to have one House of Parliament altogether silent in the discussion of foreign affairs, while in the other House there should be a partial statement, made by an individual Member, which will be either answered imperfectly, or not answered at all. The course that will be pursued by the hon. Gentleman who has given that notice of Motion in the other House, must rest with himself alone; but as the noble Earl has made an appeal to the noble Marquess, and as I cannot make a similar appeal to the hon. Gentleman in the other House, I have merely to say, that whenever the question is discussed it should be discussed fully, and whenever it is discussed in one House, a simultaneous discussion, under circumstances exactly similar, should take place in the other House of Parliament.


If I rightly understood the reply of the noble Earl the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs to the question put to him by the noble and learn I ed Lord (Lord Brougham), he distinctly stated, that it was out of his power to deny that a discussion upon this subject at this moment would not be unattended with mischief and inconvenience. Now, I think after that declaration from the noble Earl the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, the propriety of postponing the discussion must be obvious to every one. And I cannot think that any scruple which my noble Friend (the Earl of Clarendon) may have in asking that this Motion may be postponed because he has before made a similar request—I cannot think, I say, that any scruple of that kind ought for a moment to stand in the way of my noble Friend endeavouring to prevent this discussion coming on until such a time as, in his judgment, knowing when it may safely take place, it may be brought on. That it should ultimately take place—that a subject of such deep importance should be discussed, and fully discussed, in both Houses, is, I think, obviously necessary; but, on the other hand, even those who have no other means of information on the subject than can be obtained from the public papers, can hardly doubt that, at the present moment, a discussion upon this subject in both Houses of Parliament can hardly fail to be attended with some risk of increasing existing irritation, and diminishing the chances, which I trust are still great, of preventing any unfortunate breach in the peace of the world.


May I beg that my noble Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs will repeat the expressions he has used respecting the inconvenience of proceeding with my Motion? I did not understand his observations in the same sense as my noble Friend near me.


In answer to my noble Friend, I hare to state that I repeated, or intended to repeat, the words of my noble and learned Friend opposite. I said I could not deny that there might be mischief and inconvenience in bringing on a full discussion of this subject at the present time; but that I did not think it right to ask my noble Friend to put off his Motion again, because I would reserve to myself the right to say nothing in reply which I thought would be detrimental to the public service.


My Lords, I deeply feel the responsibility that is thrown upon me—a responsibility that is the greater, because, as the noble Earl opposite has rightly said, I certainly consulted no Member of this House, much less any party in this House, with respect to this question, or the Motion I might make, or as to any part that might be taken by leading Members of this House thereupon. After what has been said by my noble Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, I cannot of course think of proceeding with my Motion. When I am told on authority that I incur a risk, even the slightest, of increasing the difficulty of this critical moment, or that I incur any risk, no matter how slight, of causing inconvenience and mischief at such a moment—I cannot for an instant hesitate to stop in the course which I thought it would be advisable to adopt. At the same time I may be permitted, without at all discussing the question, to say that there seems to have been, amongst some noble Lords who have spoken, a misapprehension of the Motion which I thought it was my duty to place on the notice paper. Into the whole of the question as regards this House, I certainly did not intend nor wish to enter, because an important part of that question, when it comes to be fully discussed, must be the conduct of Her Majesty's Government. I certainly did not think that I could in any way arraign or touch them by insinuation or supposition, much less could I attempt to laud them, until all the papers connected with the subject were laid before your Lordships. But what appeared to me was this—that in the present state of affairs (there being certain circumstances public and patent to the whole world) an expression of opinion by the British Parliament at this moment could not fail to have a very great effect on the course of events. With your Lordships' permission, I am willing to withdraw the notice on your Lordships' table; but you must understand clearly and distinctly that I do so only on the supposition, and with the anticipation, that the Motion of which notice has been given in the other House of Parliament will likewise be postponed. I certainly have thought, and notwithstanding what has been said my opinion remains unchanged, that at this critical moment an expression of opinion by the two Houses of Parliament, and of the feeling which I am sure must animate them, and, from what I see by the organs of publie opinion, I can confidently say does animate every man in this country, in Parliament and out of Parliament—an expression of the firmness which, I trust (and which I do not wish to insinuate the slightest doubt of), is to be found in Her Majesty's Councils—I say the expression of such a feeling and such an opinion at this moment, it did seem to me, would not be without particular weight, not in increasing hostility, but in averting that which appears to me, if vigorous steps are not taken to prevent it, may lead to a general and tremendous war, such as, thank God! has not been witnessed since 1814. These were the views with which I thought it right to ask your Lordships to consider the circumstances of the case as it now stands, not with reference to details with which we are unacquainted, but with reference to all those great facts that have been published to the world by authority, and on which no doubt can be entertained by any assembly, or by any individual. In the discussion of those facts. I believe, no material difference would be found to exist; but, lest I should incur even the possible risk of causing difficulty, I do not hesitate as to taking the course which it is my duty to take, and, with your Lordships' permission, I will withdraw my notice of Motion.


Before this question entirely passes away, I am desirous—not to provoke any further discussion, hut in order to place before the public the fullest information that can be obtained—to ask the Members of Her Majesty's Government, and more especially the noble Earl the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, whether the document—an unauthorised copy of which I hold in my hand—is believed by them to be authentic, or if it has been or is in the possession of Her Majesty's Government? It is dated from Peterhoff on the 14th, otherwise the 26th of June, 1853. It says— It is known to our faithful subjects that the defence of our faith has always been the sacred duty of our ancestors. From the day it pleased the Almighty to place us on the throne of our fathers the maintenance of the holy obligations with which it is inseparably connected has been the object of our- constant care and attention; these, acting on the groundwork of the famous treaty of Kainardji, which subsequent solemn treaties with the Ottoman Porte have fully confirmed, have ever been directed towards upholding the rights of our Church. Having stated the circumstances which appeared contrary to the faith of treaties to the great Powers with which Russia was in relation, the document concluded with these remarkable words:— But if, through stubbornness and blindness, it desires the contrary, then, calling God to our aid, we shall leave Him to decide between us, and, with a full assurance in the arm of the Almighty, we shall"— these were words very remarkable— go forth to fight for the Orthodox faith. That is, your Lordships will agree with me, a most remarkable document, and I am desirous—and I believe your Lordships will be desirous with me—of knowing whether Her Majesty's Government hag reason, from anything that has been communicated to them, to think that document really proceeded from the quarter whence it seems to be dated?


In answer to my noble Friend, I have only to say, we have received that document from Her Majesty's Minister at St. Petersburg; that it was furnished without comment, simply as having been published on the day on which it was sent to us by post. We have no further information on the subject. I believe that in the translation which appeared there were some faults, not of much importance, but one of them struck me as the noble Earl read the concluding sentence now, in which he read—"We shall go forth to tight for the orthodox faith." The words should be, "We shall go forth to fight in defence of the orthodox Church." There is not much difference, but the latter words are nearest the sense. In other points the translation was tolerably correct.


said, he was under the impression that his noble Friend (the Earl Fitzwilliam) was about to remark to their Lordships on the main question, otherwise he would have wished to have addressed a few words to the House in reference to it; but as now it had been agreed to post pone its further consideration, he should not attempt to return to it. He must say, however, that their Lordships ought to be assured by Her Majesty's Government that, as far as in them lay, they will endeavour to effect a similar postponement of the discussion on Monday next in the other House; for it could be no compliment to their Lordships to be suspected of not having sufficient discretion to carry on such a debate, while it was declared that it was quite open to the House of Commons fully to enter upon it. He therefore must say, that he thought they ought to have the confident assurance of Her Majesty's Government that, as far as they had power to do so, they would use their exertions to bring about a similar postponement in the other House of Parliament to that which the noble Marquess opposite had this evening consented.


It is quite impossible for the Government to give instructions with respect to the order of business in the House of Commons. All we can do is, to exercise any influence we possess to do our utmost to prevent the discussion.


And also to assure us that if the efforts of Government fail, your Lordships shall not be debarred from the same right of discussion as the other House. The Government may not be able to prevent the Motion coming on; and, if so, I am, I confess, one of those who think the inconvenience might be less by a discussion in this House also.

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