HL Deb 21 December 1854 vol 136 cc682-5

rose to put a question to the noble Duke the Minister of War with reference to the blockade of Russian ports. The noble Marquess was understood to complain that the measures of the Government respecting the blockade, both in the Black Sea and the Baltic, had been so ineffectual that they had only tended to enhance the price of imports to the British merchant without inflicting any injury on the trade of Russia. In some commodities 25 per cent had been added to the value, the whole of which went to the advantage of Russia. It appeared to him that, although at the commencement of the war some semi-official notice had been put out warning persons not to enter into commercial relations with Russia, up to the present no steps had been taken which were at all effectual in embarrassing its trade. He begged to ask if the Government would state whether the measures they had adopted to blockade the Russian ports had been carried into effect, and what had been the consequence of such measures?


said, he need scarcely appeal to their Lordships whether the course adopted by the noble Marquess was, under the present circumstances, one according to the practice of the House or the convenience of the public service? There were a certain class of questions relating to the administration of the various departments of the Government in which the Ministers were always prepared to answer any questions that might be put to them; though it was the custom to give either private or public intimation of their intention to put such questions; and in that case no Minister would have any right to complain of want of courtesy if merely a simple question were asked. But the noble Marquess had come down to the House and made a somewhat elaborate statement with reference to the blockade of the Baltic, and another statement of the consequences of the blockade in the Black Sea—and the whole of that without any notice whatever. It was a matter of the most delicate nature, in which the Government of this country was not morely concerned, but also with that country with which we were in alliance. In the course of last Session, a noble Lord, whom he did not then see in the House (the Marquess of Clanricarde), more than once referred to the question of the blockade of the White Sea more especially; but invariably before doing so, he gave notice of his intention to put a question, and moreover admitted at once, when he (the Duke of Newcastle) replied to him that negotiations were going on with France on the subject, that it was not a question which ought to be discussed then in the House. Now, if he (the Duke of Newcastle) did not answer the question of the noble Marquess, he readily admitted it was on the principle that he must positively decline, on behalf of himself and colleagues, to answer questions of this nature, put in that House, in which France was concerned as well as ourselves. He thought this was a fair distinction, and one to which they had a right to adhere; and that the Government were not to be called upon to give an answer there on a question like that, in which France was equally concerned with ourselves, without first having an opportunity of conferring with the Government of France, or at least with the Ambassador of France residing here. He entirely demurred to the statement which the noble Marquess had made as to the effect on the trade of Russia of the blockade in the Baltic. If the noble Marquess chose to give notice of his intention to bring the subject under the notice of the House, he would find that either himself or one of his colleagues would be prepared to go into it with him; but it was one of too serious a nature to the trade of the country, in alliance as it was with France, to be entered upon, as he might say, in the haphazard way which was proposed by the noble Marquess. As to the course which it was the intention of Her Majesty's Government to take with reference to the blockade of the Black Sea, he must decline to answer the question of the noble Marquess, but would be prepared to go into the subject if he gave notice of his intention to bring it before the House.


believed that the rule of the House was to consider all questions irregular, and that they were only admitted by way of preventing a Motion. Of course, therefore, the Government would assume that when a question was put which they thought inexpedient to answer, the noble Lord who put the question would bring his Motion for the purpose of getting an answer.


said, that although he concurred with the noble Earl in his interpretation of the rule of the House, he did not think the noble Marquess who put the question was open to the accusation of having made an elaborate statement, seeing he had only spoken altogether for three or four minutes. He was surprised to hear the noble Duke state that the question which had been put with reference to the blockade was one which he was not called upon to answer. for he (the Earl of Derby) had thought that the noble Duke had been appointed especially as Minister of War to preside over a War Department and all the operations of the war, and that a blockade was an operation of the war; therefore, if there was one Minister who should be prepared without notice to state whether or not the Government had practically enforced the blockade, that one was the Minister of War. It seemed, however, that he (the Earl of Derby) had been under a delusion all this time. The noble Duke said it was a delicate question. If it had reference entirely to the enforcement of a blockade prospectively, nothing could be more reasonable than that he should have declined to answer it without previous communication with other parties. But this was no prospective question. It had been announced over and over again on the part of Her Majesty's Government, that orders had been sent out to enforce the rigour of the blockade in the Baltic, the Black Sea, and the White Sea, and if there had been any Minister who had been more conspicuous than another in making those declarations, it was the Minister on whom such a duty would more naturally fall. The First Lord of the Admiralty had, in the last Session of Parliament, repeatedly declared that the most stringent orders had been issued to enforce a strict blockade of the Russian ports, not only in the Baltic, but the White Sea and the Black Sea, and it was by no means unreasonable now that Ministers should be asked whether their orders had been practically carried out, and what had been their effect. It did appear to him that his noble Friend ought not to be exposed to censure for having asked the question, more especially when it was materially a question of fact. They might have enforced the blockade in the Baltic without being able altogether to put a stop to Russian trade, because some portion of it might be carried on, though with considerable loss, through the neutral ports of Prussia. Yet that was the very trade which they had first attempted to put a stop to, and the trade of Archangel was not put a stop to till August. At the present moment the trade of Odessa was for all practical purposes uninterrupted, and Russian commerce went on as though no war was pending. Of course every blockade and impediment to trade were injurious to the commerce of our own country as well as to that of our enemy. There would never have been an Alma or an Inkerman if we had argued that, though in battle we might kill a good many Russians, yet we must also lose a great many Englishmen. Whether war operations caused an impediment to trade or not, they must consider whether the injury inflicted on the enemy did not counterbalance the injury we ourselves sustained.


rose to order. The noble Duke had objected to answer the question of the noble Marquess, not because he was unprepared to do so, but because it was of the highest importance that information upon so grave a subject should not be given off-hand by a Minister trusting entirely to memory, having received no previous notice of the question. This was a very important question, and could hardly have entered into the noble Marquess's mind since five o'clock, and therefore he might have given the Government a previous notice of his intention; but, having put his question without notice, the noble Duke declined to answer it, whereupon the noble Earl (the Earl of Derby) had risen, and was entering into all the facts and merits of the question in a manner which was not exactly regular.

Back to
Forward to