HL Deb 15 December 1854 vol 136 cc337-44

rose, pursuant to notice, to ask, When it is likely that the Treaty lately con- cluded between the Allied Powers and Austria may be produced, and whether Her Majesty's Government will object to lay before Parliament Copies or Extracts of the Correspondence of our Diplomatic or Consular Agents in Turkey, descriptive of or relating to the military and political Occurrences which have taken place in the Danubian Principalities since the Occupation of those Provinces by the Austrian Force? With regard to the first part of the question of which I have given notice—I mean the production of the treaty between Austria and the Allies—I can anticipate to some extent the answer which will be given to it. Undoubtedly that treaty cannot be produced until after the ratifications have been exchanged; but I hope my noble Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs will go a step beyond that answer, and will let us know, if he can, how soon the ratification is likely to be accomplished and when we are likely to see this treaty. I say this because, whatever may be our anticipations of the contents of that treaty, we must all be anxious to examine the details of a treaty which we have been encouraged, by the reference to it in the Speech from the Throne, to expect is fraught with advantages, and important advantages, to the Allied Powers. My Lords, it is true that something like a modification of these expectations has been given to the public by a leading Minister of the Crown. I apprehend, however, that in all probability the treaty will be found to be of this character;—That while Austria repeats her assurances of concurrence in our opinion, her sympathy, and perhaps to a certain degree her good wishes for the cause of the Allies, it will be found that she will not have engaged to take any one step for the prosecution of the war, and, in point of fact, that we shall still be left only with that moral support which we were told we possessed long ago. If this turns out to be the purport of the treaty, as I think it will, in point of fact we are, in respect to the German Powers, just where we were at the opening of the last Session of Parliament. At time same time, I am ready to admit that the mere signature by Austria of any treaty with the Powers at this moment engaged in hostilities with Russia may be looked upon, if not as a step in advance, at least as riveting and nailing Austria to the point to which she has advanced; and it would certainly make it more difficult (not to say impossible) that that Power should take any retrograde step—any step, I would almost say, derogatory to the personal character of the governing classes of that country, and which would prevent Austria from advancing and actively engaging in hostilities on the side of those allies with whom she is signing at present these in themselves comparatively insignificant treaties. What I wish to say upon this matter, however, has reference more to the second part of the question which I am about to ask, because, if the treaty be unfortunately of the character which I have stated I expect it is, I have no doubt the country and the Parliament of this country will go into a very close examination of all we have borne and all we have forborne for the sake of this alliance, such as it is; and if, when Parliament shall reassemble after Christmas, it is seen that Austria has taken no positive step in the way of hostilities with Russia—if we find that then, as now, her friendly and diplomatic relations with the Court of St. Petersburg continue, I say I have not the slightest doubt that there will be demanded a very rigorous examination into the negotiations going on, and into all the transactions in which Austria has been engaged, with our concurrence, during the last few months. In respect of these transactions—I mean the transactions which have been going on in the Danubian Principalities—I look upon them as the most important that have taken place in Europe, save the actual battles that have been fought, and they are closely connected with these battles, and, indeed, with the whole plan and arrangements of our expedition to the Crimea. I say that the entire position of that expedition has depended upon the transactions in the Danubian Principalities, because I defy the Government, or any man, to show me that our army would have been exposed to the hardships, the perils, and privations to which it has been exposed, if it had not been for the transactions that occurred subsequently to, if not in consequence of, the Austrian occupation of the Principalities. The dates distinctly show that to these transactions is attributable much of that flow of British blood which has taken place in the Crimea. If we doubted it before, we have it now, with the exact dates delivered to us—on official authority. We have been told that it was upon the raising of the siege of Silistria that it was finally determined to send an army to the Crimea. If I recollect rightly, it was early in June—on the 14th of June—that the Convention was signed between Austria and Turkey—and on the 23rd of June the siege of Silistria was raised. Early in July the Russians began their retreat from the Principalities, and on the 25th of that month they evacuated Bucharest. Austrian authority soon afterwards was asserted in that country, and I think it was on the 20th of August that Austrian troops marched into the Principalities, while our expedition landed in the Crimea on the 14th of September. Is it not clear that before we ventured on such an expedition at all we expected the Russians would be fully occupied in Bessarabia? Would any man in his senses have gone to attack the whole force of the enemy in the south of Russia—for that is what has happened—with such a small army as we landed in the Crimea, unless we had looked for a diversion of the enemy in some other part of the country? It is perfectly clear that the Government of this country, and the country itself, depended upon active occupation being found for the army of Prince Gortschakoff in or near Bessarabia. I say, then, that we have an account with Austria, which, if Austria still holds back, must be settled one way or another before long. I am sure that this Parliament, and this country, looking at the great military force at the command of the Austrian Government, will be most happy to see any concerted action between us and that Government, provided it act with good faith towards us. But it is not good faith to debar us from means which are in our power, to hold out to us and lure us with hopes and expectations that she will take steps which, somehow or other, she never appears ready to take. To such a course of proceeding there must come a termination; and, as the Parliament and the country must, at an early date, demand an account of this matter from Her Majesty's Government, I have taken the liberty now, not to make any substantive Motion, or to give notice of such a one, but to ask the Government if they are prepared to lay upon the table of the House the documents which will put us in possession of all the transactions, military and political, which have taken place in the Principalities.


My Lords, my noble Friend says he can anticipate the answer I should give with respect to the first part of this question; but I am happy in being able to give to that portion of the question a more satisfactory answer than he has anticipated, because I have this afternoon received news from Vienna that the treaty which has been entered into with Austria has been ratified, and I hold that treaty in my hand, and I beg to lay it at once on your Lordships' table. Having done so, I feel that it will be unnecessary for me to enter into any discussion at present upon that treaty, as a more fitting opportunity will be found when your Lordships have made yourselves acquainted with its contents. With regard to the papers referred to by the noble Marquess, I am sorry to say that since he gave notice of his Motion last night, I have not had time to look through those papers, and to see which of them can be laid before your Lordships without detriment to the public service. I can assure your Lordships that the Government are perfectly ready to give every information as to all that has taken place with reference to the occupation of the Principalities; but your Lordships will feel, and I have no doubt admit, that at the present moment there would be some inconvenience in producing the whole of the papers which bear reference to that occupation. During the recess those papers shall be looked through, and such selected and laid upon the table as I trust will give every information on the subject. My Lords, I am not about to enter into any defence of the conduct of the Austrian Government throughout the period to which the noble Marquess has alluded; but it will, perhaps, be in the recollection of the House that, during the last few days of the last Session of Parliament, in addressing your Lordships, I stated that the course which the honour, and dignity, and interests of Austria pointed out was clear, and that I saw no reason to doubt that that course would be adopted. Large voluntary contributions had been poured into the Austrian exchequer, and there was no reason to expect that the means at the disposal of that nation would not be used, or that the opportunity which existed would be lost. That such, however, has been the case to a certain extent, I am not prepared to deny; but no blame can on that account be attached to Her Majesty's Government. Your Lordships are well aware that it is out of the power of the Government to dictate to an independent State like Austria, or to compel her at any moment to declare war against a powerful enemy, who had been assembling a large force on her undefended frontier. With respect to what fell from the noble Marquess in reference to the assistance to be expected from Austria at the time of the expedition to the Crimea, I must beg to observe that the Austrian Government had proposed to Lord Raglan and Marshal St. Arnaud to undertake and concert together operations in the Principalities, and that Lord Raglan and Marshal St. Arnaud in reply, informed the Austrian Government that they already had it in contemplation to send an expedition to the Crimea, and that they must therefore decline the proposal. The Austrian Government, of course, readily admitting the right of this country to undertake any expedition it pleased, at the same time declared that by that determination they were placed in a different position, and that, as under such circumstances, they could no longer reckon on the support of the English and French armies they could not undertake to fight Russia single-handed, and that more particularly at a time when the neutrality of Prussia and the rest of Germany could not be perfectly relied on. The Austrian Government then resolved to augment their forces, and a corps d'armée occupied a position in Transylvania, and the Russians were obliged to evacuate the Principalities. I will not now go into the question of the Austrian occupation of the Principalities, because papers connected with that subject will be laid on the table, but I wish to say a few words on a topic to which the noble Marquess has alluded, as I think it right that I should state what has really been the course pursued by the Government. Before the Austrian troops entered the Principalities, it was proposed that when the convention entered into with the Porte should be signed, the Principalities should be occupied by Austrian troops. At that time the siege of Silistria was being conducted with great vigour, the issue was very doubtful, and it appeared as if there was no probability of the Turks being able to cross the Danube. The treaty was signed on the 14th June, and the siege was raised on the 24th, and then the circumstances were changed. The Turks crossed the Danube and occupied Bucharest, and Her Majesty's Government then considered that Austria had no right whatever to require the Turkish troops to evacuate Wallachia, and they consequently recommended the Turkish Government, if such a demand should be made, not to accede to it. Despatches were also sent to Lord Westmoreland and Lord Stratford de Redcliffe, stating that Her Majesty's Government did not wish to see any portion of the Turkish territory occupied by any foreign force, except by the free will and consent of the Sultan, and that, in their opinion, it should be left to the Sultan to decide whether or not it was advisable that an Austrian force should occupy the Principalities, and that all arrangements, whether of a civil or military nature, should be made by him. The Government received the fullest assurances from the Austrian Government that no exclusive occupation was intended, nor was it intended to throw any hindrance in the way of the Allies or of the Turkish forces, or in any way to prevent them pursuing the Russian troops. Notwithstanding this, it is true that hindrances have been thrown in the way of Omar Pacha. Upon that fact coming to the ears of the Government, the strongest and most energetic remonstrances were made both by the English and French Governments and by the Porte, and I am bound to admit that those remonstrances were received by the Austrian Government in a most proper spirit; and it appears that these hindrances complained of were not known to the Austrian Government until they received information of them from us. In reply to those remonstrances, we were informed that the Austrian generals in the Principalities were not acting in accordance with their instructions, but that they were acting either contrary to them or in excess of them, and fresh orders were immediately sent to them by telegraph. I believe, my Lords, that in the course of these affairs there have been faults on both sides. I believe that the Austrian generals were occupying certain districts and villages in a territory where accommodation was scarce, and where they had some difficulty in procuring provisions for their own troops. On the other hand, it seems that Omar Pacha bad no fixed plan of operations, and the Commissioners do not appear to have been men well adapted to smooth and settle a difficulty. When complaints were made upon the subject, Count Buol, to give a proof of the sincerity of the Austrian Government, proposed a mixed Commission at Vienna, to consist of himself, the Turkish Ambassador, and the English and French Ministers, which should receive reports from Omar Pacha, the English and French Consuls and the generals, and decide upon anything that might thus be brought to their notice. Her Majesty's Government agreed to the formation of such a Commission, and, indeed, they considered it so necessary that such a body should exist, to exercise a control with reference to what should occur in the Principalities during their occupation, that the maintenance of that Commission is one of the articles of the treaty which I have this evening laid on your Lordships' table. I have only to add, that one or two questions have already been referred to that Commission, and have been most properly and satisfactorily decided.