HL Deb 24 April 1855 vol 137 cc1701-7

My Lords, I last night gave notice to my noble Friend the Secretary for Foreign Affairs, that I should this evening put some questions to him with regard to the state of the negotiations which have been hitherto going on at Vienna. My noble Friend, I am sure, will give not only myself, but every Member of this House, credit for having abstained for a considerable period from embarrassing Her Majesty's Government by any questions relating to this subject, inasmuch as I am sure we all felt the immense importance of the measures which were proceeding, and all indulged in an earnest hope that they might be concluded by an honourable and lasting peace. But, my Lords, yesterday the impression upon the public mind was that all hope in that respect had ceased, that the negotiations were broken off, and that we were now threatened with a campaign for a second time against Russia. It is my wish, therefore, to ask those questions of the noble Earl which I think are not premature; and, indeed, I find that in another place I have been anticipated by a Member of Parliament, and that the Prime Minister has announced to the House of Commons what the state of the negotiations now is. It appears by a statement made by Lord Palmerston in the other House—if I may be allowed to refer to it—that there is no longer any hope that Russia will be induced to accept certain propositions which have been made by the Western Powers, and which, as I understand, were supported by Austria. It appears from his statement, that the Western Powers, supported by Austria, proposed to negotiate on the Four Points, which your Lordships will recollect were laid down as long ago, I believe, as the 8th of August, as the basis of negotiations for procuring peace. Your Lordships will recollect that the Four Points were founded upon the following principles: The first related to the protectorate of the provinces of Wallachia and Moldavia. It was insisted upon by the Western Powers that there should be a protectorate of those provinces by the Five Powers instead of by Russia alone as heretofore. The second point was that which related to the freedom of the Danube; and the third, as explained by my noble Friend opposite and the French Minister (M. Drouyn de Lhuys), was intended to reduce the preponderance of Russia in the Black Sea. The fourth and last point involved the principle of the protection of the Christian religion and the Christians in the Ottoman Empire, by a general protectorate of the Five Powers, which should Preserve them from all interference by the Government with their religious privileges. I naturally conclude, though I do not know it to be the fact, that at Vienna the Conference began with the first point; and I will ask my noble Friend whether Russia, entering into the views of the Western lowers and of Austria, in respect to that point, agreed to it? I would also ask whether, in regard to the second point, concerning the freedom of the Danube, my noble Friend met with any difficulties on that from Russia? I understand from the speech of the Prime Minister, to which I alluded, that it was on the third point that the negotiations were broken off. It appears from the noble Lord's statement, as reported, that the propositions made to Russia consisted of two alternatives—that the Plenipotentiaries of England, France, Austria, and Turkey proposed to the representative of Russia that the mode of reducing the preponderance in the Black Sea should be either that the amount of the Russian naval force in the Black Sea should henceforth be limited by treaty, or that the Black Sea should be declared an entirely neutral sea, and all ships of war should be excluded from it, so that it should be a sea of commerce only. Those are the two alternatives which were offered to the Russian Government, and Russia refused both, and made no counter-propositions whatever. Now, the propositions having been made and refused, we are unavoidably involved in what may perhaps be a war for many years. But I must be allowed to say that, though I deeply regret that some means have not been found for insuring an honourable and lasting peace for this country, that regret is very much diminished when I look at the terms of the proposition, such as they have been represented. With respect to the second alternative—that of making the Black Sea a sea of general neutrality without any armed vessels in it, except such as are necessary to guard commerce from pirates, that is, perhaps, a proposition of rather too Utopian a view, but still it is preferable, and has a better chance of success with respect to our wishes hereafter than the first alternative. I cannot conceive that the first alternative proceeded either from my noble Friend opposite or the noble Lord at the head of Her Majesty's Government. I cannot but think that it was an Austrian proposition. That alternative recommended a limitation of the Russian fleet in the Black Sea. If that proposition were made simply and nakedly, as stated in the course of my noble Friend's speech, I cannot understand what possible guarantee we could have had for the observance of that arrangement. If it had been accompanied by a proposition that each of the Five Powers should have a certain limited number of ships in the Black Sea as well as Russia, then I can conceive that the treaty might have proved effective; but I cannot conceive any material guarantee which my noble Friend could have for the continuance of the peace or the observance of the treaty. Even supposing that we limited by treaty the number of vessels which Russia should have at Sebastopol and other ports in the Black Sea, does any one believe that Russia would in the course of a few years abide by the restriction, or refrain from increasing the number of her line-of-battle ships to which she was limited? She would gradually and surely exceed that number; and if our Consuls reported either to the French Government, their own Government, or to the other protective Powers that there was such a breach of the treaty, do you believe that after a few years the country would consider it a casus belli? I do not believe it would; and, therefore, I think you would have no security whatever for the observance of the treaty. It is not on bare suspicion that I say this. Look at the former conduct of Russia with respect to the Danube, the throwing open of the mouths of which was secured by an analogous treaty. But this country did not make the breach of that treaty by her a casus belli. Therefore, so far as these propositions have been made, if they have been made in the naked form represented, without any other conditions attached, I see no reason to regret that Russia did not accept them. I do not enter into the question whether the preponderance of Russia ought or not to be diminished; but I say that eventually it would not have been diminished if she had acceded to this proposition. There is another question which I should like to ask my noble Friend. On the 8th of August, when the Four Points were laid down, Prussia was to be one of the protecting Powers for the provinces of Wallachia and Moldavia. Now, my Lords, considering what the conduct of Prussia has been, which your Lordships heard so well described by my noble and learned Friend behind me (Lord Lyndhurst), the other night, I should like to ask my noble Friend at the head of Foreign Affairs, whether it is now contemplated that Prussia should be included as one of the protecting Powers of the provinces? Because, considering the animus which Prussia has shown during the whole of these important events, it seems clear that, whenever those provinces might find fault with an oppressor, we should be sure to have the vote of Prussia against us. I beg, therefore, to ask my noble Friend whether it is intended that Prussia shall be one of the protective Powers of the Danubian provinces? I think also, my Lords, I am justified in asking my noble Friend whether he does not propose to lay before the House, as soon as possible, much more extended information than he is likely to give in answer to my questions this evening? Your Lordships will recollect that we have had no official correspondence placed before us since the beginning of 1853; neither have we received from my noble Friend any positive information as to the state of the negotiations which have been going on. We have abstained from asking questions on the subject, and he has abstained, with proper official reserve, from laying on the table any documentary evidence as to what has taken place. I think the country has a right to know, now that these negotiations have ceased, and we are going to enter into an expensive, and probably protracted campaign, exactly what we are going to fight for, and what the Government consider the sine qua non in return for the expenditure of so much blood and treasure?


My Lords, I fully admit—and I beg to offer my best acknowledgments, not only to my noble friend, but to your Lordships generally, for the forbearance to which my noble friend has alluded, and the desire manifested not to interfere with the negotiations that have been going on for some time past with a view to the establishment of an honourable and lasting peace. I am perfectly ready to admit that my noble friend is by no means premature in asking for the information which he has this night sought. Indeed, bad my noble friend not put the question he has, I should have felt it my duty to state to the House the condition at which these negotiations have now arrived. It is perfectly true that the conferences have been adjourned sine die in consequence of the rejection by the Russian plenipotentiary of the proposition for restricting the Russian fleet within the Black Sea within limits which were thought consistent with the safety of Turkey, and also for rendering that sea a neutral sea and one for commercial purposes only. My noble friend has thought right to state, and he has stated to your Lordships correctly, the character of the four points which were the basis of these negotiations. These points were frankly, as was said, accepted by the Russian Government, and the third point contained a proposition for limiting the preponderance of Russia in the Black Sea. My noble friend is also right in his assumption that these points were discussed in the order in which he has described them—that to the first and second points Russia acceded, and that they were finally determined. When the third point came under discussion the representatives of the Allied Powers, in order to prove that they had no wish to humiliate Russia, but, on the contrary, desired to consult her dignity, proposed to the Russian representatives themselves to take the initiative as to the means by which they would give effect to the principle of that proposition. The Russian plenipotentiaries acknowledged the courtesy of the proceeding, but asked for time to refer to their Government. That time was given, but in the meanwhile, and for obvious reasons, we declined to go on with the discussion of the fourth point which it was proposed to us that we should do. The answer front St. Petersburg arrived, and it was that the Russian Government had no proposition to make. The allied representatives on the following day brought forward their proposals, and the Russian plenipotentiaries asked forty-eight hours to consider them. That time was also given, and on Saturday last they absolutely rejected the proposals both as to limitation in, and exclusion from, the Black Sea. Whether that rejection of the proposals by the Russian plenipotentiaries was justified by argument I am unable to say, because this meeting took place only on Saturday last, and as we have information of the fact simply by the telegraph, that is all the information we can give at the present moment, except that my noble friend Lord John Russell left Vienna yesterday. With respect to the other point to which my noble friend has alluded—namely, the position which Prussia has occupied in the course of these negotiations, I can only say that the position which Prussia has occupied snce the time to which he referred, and which she continues to occupy, entirely excluded her from the Conference, and therefore from all the arrangements that might have been made. With respect to other points to which my noble friend has referred, as to the consequences, for example, that might be expected from the limitation of the power of Russia in the Black Sea, and the matter in which Russia would be bound by stipulations, I think that at this moment it would not be convenient to refer to them, nor until your Lordships are fully in possession of all the information to which you are entitled, and which, I assure you, the Government will be most ready to furnish.


said, there was one point on which the noble Earl had not given the House any information—he meant as to the position in which Austria was placed at the present moment. She was placed very much in the position of parties in the other House occasionally, who were ready to play the game either mt one side or the other as circumstances might dictate. Her position was, indeed, one of great eminence, dignity, and power having placed herself in possession of two great provinces, with her armies on the frontier of Russia, and in which she might hold language that would enable her to receive the support of France as against Russia on the one side and the support of Russia as against France and England on the other. The country was looking with the deepest anxiety to this point, and he should be glad to know what information the Government now had with respect to the prospects of the war in connection with the part to be played by that great and important Power?


I am afraid I cannot give a very distinct answer to the question which my noble friend has put. Your Lordships are well aware of what are the terms of the treaty to which Austria agreed on the 2nd of December last with Her Majesty's Government and the Government of the Emperor of the French, and I have no reason to think that Austria will depart from the terms of that agreement. I can only say that on Friday last, Austria appears to have held precisely the same language as the representatives of England, France, and Turkey to the Russian plenipotentiaries, and your Lordships will remember that it is only on peace not being made on the bases laid down in the treaty that Austria is to be called on to concert measures for carrying those stipulations into execution. That time has not yet arrived, and therefore it is quite impossible for me to say what precise course Austria will take.

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