HL Deb 02 June 1854 vol 133 cc1225-30

wished to put a question to Her Majesty's Government, arising out of a Report of what took place last night in another place, and relating, in his opinion, to a matter of the very greatest political and national importance. He had read that afternoon, to his great surprise, that the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Admiralty had publicly stated that the Government had come to the determination that there was to be this year no blockade of the port of Archangel. It seemed to hint that, if they really had any chance of bringing the war in which they were engaged to a speedy and satisfactory termination, it must be mainly by the force of the fleets and the pressure which we could apply by their means to all parts of the Russian empire, and not by merely military operations, however brilliant. The question of blockade, then, was almost the most important that the attention of the Government could be directed to. On the 22nd of last month it was declared that information, though not official, had been received that an effective blockade had been established in the Baltic; but he was informed that letters had arrived from St. Petersburgh and Riga, stating, that up to the 25th ultimo there were free ingress and egress there for vessels. However, it had been announced by the Government that there was to be an efficient blockade in the Black Sea and Baltic; but the blockade of Archangel was a matter of quite as much importance and comparatively easy of execution. It was generally understood that three of our ships of war had recently sailed to the White Sea, and he considered that they had gone to establish the blockade of Archangel, because three ships of war were amply sufficient for the purpose, the Russians having no force there, and the entrance to the port being extremely narrow. It was true that there was another port of Russian commerce in the White Sea—the port of Onega—but that was only used for the export of timber; whereas, from Archangel was exported all the produce of the northern provinces of Russia, and of a wonderfully fertile territory. It would be easy, then, in this quarter to apply a very important pressure so as to cause the Russian population to manifest to their Government that they felt in a very sensible manlier the inconveniences of the present war. He was told about a fortnight ago that information had been sent to Dutch merchants at Amsterdam of the determination of our Government not to blockade Archangel; but he did not believe that any such determination had been come to by the Government or had been announced. But this was certain, because it was known to the whole commercial world, that a great many ships had been chartered by Dutch merchants for Archangel to bring away Russian produce. This, then, would be carrying on war not against Russia, but against British merchants, for while Russian merchants would thus be able to dispose of their produce, and we should be able to get all that we wanted from Holland, the English merchants would be the only parties debarred from the advantages of the trade. He had heard it said, that it would be hard to prevent the people of Holland from getting' their usual supply of rye from the northern ports of Russia; but if we did not do so, we should be giving to Russia an advantage which no belligerent ever before gave to another. Be-ides that, by so acting we should be giving to Holland and Germany a direct inducement for desiring, not a cessation of the war, but its continuance. This was certainly a very mistaken policy. This country must make the war felt by its inconveniences, for it was by that means only we should eventually, put a stop to it; for he had no hesitation in affirming as a certainty that, when the Russian population felt the war to be such an evil as it was in the power of this country to make it to them, they would find means to enforce peace upon their Government much sooner than it would ever be established by feats of arms, however brilliant. He trusted, therefore, that he should be told that there was no determination whatever on the part of the Government not to blockade Archangel, but that the utmost power of the country would be brought to bear to damage and impede in every possible way the trade of Russia. He had doubts whether it would not he wise to prohibit altogether the entrance into this country of Russian produce, such as tallow and hemp, which he understood was easily distinguished from the corresponding produce of other countries. This would cause a pressure on the Russian population which they would feel very sensibly.


Your Lordships will feel that there is considerable inconvenience in putting questions of this kind without sufficient previous notice; and the inconvenience is greatly inereasel when the question put has referem e to what passed in the other House of Parliament. I have a right somewhat to complain that my noble Friend should have put the question under the peculiar circumstances of the case. I hold in my hand a note addressed to me by him, and dated "four o'clock," which, from accident, was not delivered to me until I arrived in this House. Under these circumstances, I informed my noble Friend that I had been unable to communicate with my right hon. Friend the First Lord of the Admiralty the other House, and consequently had not been able to ascertain what had really fallen from him. I am, therefore, totally unable to answer my noble Friend's question as to what statement was made in the other House, except from my knowledge of the policy and determination of the Government. I do not complain of the question being put to me by my noble Friend on the ground of inconvenience to the Government, because, as I have often said, there are, in matters of this importance, higher and greater interests than the convenience of the Government. It is of great importance that the public should be accurately informed of the real state of the case, and they are liable to be prejudiced in forming an opinion from the fact of a question being put to the Government to which circumstances render it impossible to give a distinct and categorical answer. I have not had any opportunity of communicating with my right hon. Friend, but I have no doubt that what he said was that Archangel was not at present blockaded. In all probability, the person who put the question to my right hon. Friend was ignorant of the usual course pursued in cases of blockade, or was actuated by the desire of having his name placed in the newspapers as having put a question to the Government on the subject, or he might have answered the question himself, because no blockade is instituted unless a notification has appeared in the Gazette, and therefore the hon. Member might have spared himself the trouble of putting a question to my right hon. Friend. My right hon. Friend, I have no doubt, stated that Archangel was not blockaded, and, although I have not been able to learn from himself the extent to which his answer went, he may have added that it had been determined in conjunction with the French Government, for reasons which I cannot, consistently with my duty, explain, not at present to blockade Archangel. How long that determination may continue is a different matter, and I am sure that I shall be excused from giving an answer upon that point. The question has been maturely considered, and, after that mature and careful consideration, Her Majesty's Government and the Government of Franc arrived at a mutual decision not at present to institute the blockade of Archangel; and I trust that my noble Friend will feel assured that that mutual decision was not arrived at upon light grounds. With regard to the future, I can only say that, if it should be determined to institute a blockade, a notification will appear in the proper form in the Gazette. I may also add, that my noble Friend may rely that no blockade will be instituted by the present Government, or, I hope, by any Government, other than an effective blockade, and that there is not the slightest intention, on the part of the Government, of instituting what are commonly called mere paper blockades.


thought that, on the principle laid down by the noble Duke, that no blockade could be instituted unless a notification had previously appeared in the Gazette, it would be impossible to carry on war. He maintained that if any Admiral, instructed to carry on a war, found it conducive to the success of any operation to blockade any particular port, he had a perfect right to do so, although the port might be so situated that it would take a month or two months before a notice could appear in the Gazette. [The EARL of ABERDEEN: Hear, hear!] He was glad to perceive that he had not been mistaken, hut he had certainly understood the noble Mike to say that a notice must appear in the Gazette before a port was blockaded. He must own, that having heard that it was not the intention of the Government to order at present the blockade of Archangel, he deeply regretted such an announcement. He did not ask—indeed he was not entitled to ask—the reasons for such a resolution, but he regretted that any reasons existed to prevent the Government adopting every method for annoying the enemy. To confine the war to one point, and to leave the rest of Russia the power of carrying on its trade, was not calculated to procure a speedy peace, and to act upon such a system was injurious to the country, and also, in his opinion, to the cause of humanity. To procure the advantage of a speedy peace the war ought to be carried on effectively and energetically, and there ought not to be polite notes exchanged between Admirals commanding ships and governors of cities, saying that such and such parts of a city would be spared and that such and such prisoners would be given up. It ought to be left to the judgment of the Admirals in what manner they should carry out the instructions they received, but those instructions ought to be to do as much harm as possible to the enemy.


The noble Lord has, I think, entirely misapprehended what fell from my noble Friend (the Duke of Newcastle) with regard to the validity of a blockade. The case is this, that there is no doubt that any Admiral may establish a blockade in any part of the world in which he may find himself carrying on war; but what is essential is, that, as soon as any blockade comes to the knowledge of the Government, they are hound to insert due notification of it in the Gazette, or, if they fail to do so, they render themselves liable to demands for indemnity on the part of those persons who may have suffered loss, or who have been put to inconvenience through ignorance of the existence of such a blockade. With regard to the apprehensions of the noble Lord as to the manner in which the war is to be carried on, he may set himself at rest—he may depend that no war was ever undertaken which was carried on with niece vigour or with more determination than this will be, as far as our power admits of it, without, however, acting upon any such horrible notions as firing upon all parts of a town, even upon the hospitals—without any such proceedings nothing will be left undone by the Government to arrive at that conclusion which will best be produced by the vigorous conduct of the war.


Perhaps, as it is most desirable that it should not appear to the public that different answers are given to the same question in this and in the other House of Parliament, the noble Earl will permit me to say a few words before proceeding to another subject. I stated, when I answered the question of my noble Friend, that I had not been able to have any communication with my right hon. Friend who made the statement in the other House on die subject to which the question referred; but I have since been in communication with my right hon. Friend, and I find that what I have already stated this evening was in entire conformity with the facts of the case. My right hon. Friend did not say that it had been determined that there should be no blockade of Archangel, but what he stated was, that it was decided that for the present there should be no blockade; that that determination had been arrived at after communication with the French Government, and that no alteration would be come to except by the same means.