HL Deb 06 August 1855 vol 139 cc1857-66

Order of the Day for the House to be put into a Committee read.

Moved, That the House do now resolve itself into a Committee upon the said Bill,


said, he would take that opportunity of saying a few words. There could be no doubt that if the war on our part was just and necessary, it was right and proper to afford to our ally, Turkey, any assistance which she might require and we could bestow. Before, however, assenting to a measure of that description, their Lordships should be satisfied that it had not been in the power of the Government to obtain a satisfactory and honourable peace. Without going into a complete discussion of the proceedings at the Vienna Conferences, he wished to draw their attention to some things that had taken place there, in order to show to their Lordships—what he was strongly convinced of—that Russia never was sincere in entering upon those conferences, nor was she sincere in carrying them on, except for the purpose of carrying her own objects, and had never any intention to abide by anything she might admit in discussion. At the end of 1854, or the beginning of the present year, the Four Points were agreed to, the third point being that the treaty of 1841 should be reconsidered, for the double object of admitting Turkey into the European family, and for putting an end to the preponderance of Russia in the Black Sea. Russia admitted her preponderance, and that it should be put an end to. When the first conference was held those terms were very judiciously stated, and Prince Gortchakoff thanked Count Buol for having placed them so fairly. The main question for the conference was in what way the preponderance of Russia in the Black Sea should be put an end to. Upon that occasion Prince Gortchakoff took care to put in a salvo, a sort of proviso which did not sound alarmingly at the time, but which had produced some extraordinary consequences—namely, that Russia would agree to nothing that would compromise her honour. The allies, of course, had no desire to inflict any dishonour upon Russia, but were only desirous of arriving at some means of putting an end to the preponderance of Russia in the Black Sea. When the conferences began the first point was settled, and the second point was also settled, except as to one matter. It was proposed that England and France should be at liberty to have one or two small vessels of war to watch the mouth of the Danube, and see that the navigation was unimpeded, according to treaty. Prince Gortchakoff, however, would not enter upon any proposition to admit foreign flags into the Black Sea until the third point bad been considered. Then came the third point—the first part of which regarded the admission of Turkey into the European family. That was agreed to, and it was considered by the three Powers, that Russia had agreed to guarantee the integrity of the Turkish territory; but Prince Gortchakoff entered a protest reserving to Russia the right of considering whether she would go to war to defend Turkey or not. Then came the question of how the preponderance of Russia in the Black Sea was to be terminated. It was proposed that Russia should take the initiative; but Prince Gortchakoff refused, and after some discussion Turkey was desired to take the initiative. Turkey, however, very properly replied that she was bound by treaty to do what her allies did. The Russian Plenipotentiaries desired time to refer to St. Petersburg, which was allowed, and a delay of some three weeks followed. He (Lord St. Leonards) would ask the House to consider the effect of that delay upon the army before Sebastopol. Nothing was so calculated to damp the ardour of soldiers when besieging a town or operating in the field as to know that peace was being treated for and would probably be concluded by negotiation. The delay, however, answered the purpose of Russia, and he could not consider that the demand for that delay was, on her part, a fair demand. It took upon that occasion some three weeks to communicate with St. Petersburg; but soon after, upon another occasion, Prince Gortchakoff was able to communicate from Vienna to St. Petersburg and receive a reply from St. Petersburg in a very short space of time. In point of fact, Prince Gortschakoff had, when invited to do so, the power to take the initiative, because Count Nesselrode, in a summary of the proceedings of the conferences shortly after they were closed, stated that the Emperor Nicholas, admitting the rights of Turkey over the Straits, was prepared to agree to admit the fleets of all nations into the Black Sea, provided that the Russian fleet was permitted to pass into the Mediterranean, and that the Emperor Alexander had declared that the determination of the Emperor Nicholas should be strictly adhered to. Could any one, then, believe that the knowledge of that resolution was not taken by Prince Gortchakoff to Vienna? But after the delay had been gained, Prince Gortchakoff announced on the 21st of March that he was ready to resume the negotiations, and then stated that Russia would not take the initiative. He however, made two important declarations—first, that Russia would not assent to any stipulation which should infringe her rights of sovereignty within her own territory; and next, that she would not submit by treaty or other means, to any limitation of the number of her vessels in the Black Sea. Now, it appeared to him (Lord St. Leonards) that the moment had then come for putting an end to the conferences; for the object being to terminate the preponderance of Russia in the Black Sea, that Power refused to consent to any arrangement affecting her territory or the number of her ships in the Black Sea. Russia would not agree to any limitation of her forces in the Black Sea, and said that it was necessary for the balance of power in Europe that Russia should have a considerable force in that sea. She made two counter propositions, one for opening and the other for closing the Black Sea. He would not discuss whether it was wise or not to reject those propositions; but when the conferences were closed Prince Gortchakoff made the important declaration, that in the eyes of the Russian Government, a formidable fleet of Russian vessels in the Black Sea was necessary to the support of the Ottoman Empire. In the conference the Russian Minister said a "considerable force," but he wound up his declaration afterwards by saying a formidable naval force in the Black Sea was essential to the protection of the Porte. No doubt it was essential to the carrying out of the views of Russia, but how it should be essential to the liberties of Europe or the safety of Turkey exceeded anything which the ingenuity or sagacity of man could discover. He had not been unobservant of the proceedings at Vienna, and the conduct of the Government in reference to those negotiations. He knew it had been said that in the face of Germany we had appeared to have thrown away the opportunity of making peace. But while he regretted Lord John Russell should have expressed his concurrence in the Austrian proposition, he was of opinion that the Government acted rightly in rejecting it. With respect too to the subsequent suggestion made by Austria that Russia and Turkey should meet and agree to a limitation of their naval forces in the Black Sea, and then communicate the proposed arrangement to the conference, he conceived the Government had acted wisely in the course they had taken, for the propositions were in reality nothing more than those which the Russian Government had rejected in the strongest terms at the conferences. It was forcibly expressed by M. Drouyn de Lhuys, when he said the Russian Government not only refused to guarantee the territory of Turkey, but refused, in the most peremptory manner, to submit to any sort of limitation of her naval forces, even in the form of a treaty between her and Turkey. But even if Russia had accepted the suggestion, it was utterly impossible this country could be deluded into a second conference upon a point which, when it had served the purpose of delay, would undoubtedly have come to nothing. As regarded the general question, he had himself arrived at the most satisfactory conclusion that the war was just and necessary, and that they were bound to prosecute it to a successful issue; and he could not understand any man who had concurred in entering upon the war wishing to put an end to it at a moment like the present, when the Russian fleet could not show a single flag in the Baltic or the Black Sea, when successes had been achieved in the Sea of Azoff, which might be repeated in other quarters, and when the gallantry of our own countrymen and of our allies in the attack of Sevastopol was more conspicuous than the gallantry of the Russians who defended it—gallant as unquestionably that defence had been. With respect to the Bill before the House, he regarded it as no longer a guarantee, but a loan. He could not but regard it as impolitic to take a special pledge from Turkey of the Egyptian tribute and the Customs of Smyrna. By the Convention we became, with France, assignees of that tribute, and if the interest upon the loan were not paid it would be our duty to enforce the payment. But supposing we went to Egypt and insisted upon the payment to us of the tribute. Would not the Pacha of Egypt ask us why we put ourselves in the place of his Sultan, and demanded property that never belonged to us? The security of the Customs of Smyrna was open to the same objection. What were we to do supposing the interest were not paid? Were we to take possession of the Custom House of Smyrna? If we did not, the money would go into the Exchequer of Turkey, and would be lost to us. Turkey might pay the interest for the next year or two, but it was impossible to suppose that Turkey could answer the obligations of this Convention in the time to come. He strongly recommended the Government to get rid of these pledges of the Egyptian tribute and the Customs of Smyrna. He regretted also that the translation of the Convention, as given in the Bill, had been so inaccurately made. As soon as there appeared to be some doubt as to the meaning of the French words "solidaire" and "solidairement," he had referred to a dictionary compiled 150 years ago, by Richelet, an avocat, where he found the words thus translated— Solidaire.—Terme de pratique. Il se dit des obligations que passent plusieurs personnes ensemble, lorsque chacune promet de payer la somme totale. In solidum. Solidairement.—Terme de pratique. D'une maniére solidaire. L'un pour l'autre. In universum. In solidum." But by the translation of the Convention the obligation had been made a joint obligation, and not a joint and several obligation. Thus in the first article of the Convention Her Majesty bound Herself "jointly with the Emperor of the French and severally," but the words "with the Emperor of the French" were not repeated after "severally." So that, in plain language, the Queen gave a guarantee for the whole loan jointly with the Emperor of the French, and severally by herself, while the Emperor of the French only bound himself jointly with the Queen. The words ought to have been that the Queen bound herself jointly and severally with the Emperor of the French, and that the Emperor of the French bound himself jointly and severally with the Queen. [The LORD CHANCELLOR remarked that the Convention could not now be altered.] The form of the Convention itself was correct enough—what he complained of was that it was a mistranslation. Let one of the young gentlemen of the Foreign Office translate it properly and all would be right. As the Convention stood, it allowed the creditor in the case of nonpayment by France, to compel this country to pay the entire sum. Since this Bill had been before the Lower House, the noble Earl and the French Ambassador had signed a declaration which he thought would surprise many Members of that House. The Convention contained a great deal to lead to the inference that England meant to provide the whole amount in the first instance, in case Turkey failed to make good her payments, but she was not bound by any obligation to that effect. Since, however, the time when this Bill was first introduced an agreement, amounting in its nature to a contract, had been entered into between the English and French Governments, to the effect that, in the event of Turkey not remitting the sum for the dividends, England would provide the whole, and upon an account being furnished, France would immediately remit her portion of the sum. Now, according to his experience, there were no debts which were so unwillingly paid as those for which any person had become surety, and this was particularly the case when the surety was a joint one, and one of the sureties had paid his moiety, and claimed from his co-surety the payment of his portion of the liability. While, however, he said this, he wished to guard himself from entertaining for a single moment the idea that he entertained the slightest doubt as to the loyalty and good faith of the French Government in this matter—his remarks were solely directed to the nature of the contract. There was another point to which he wished to call the noble Earl's attention. Turkey was to remit to this country the half-yearly interest of the loan upon two given days, and he would suggest that the money should be made payable in England on subsequent days, or else a fund would have to be provided in the first instance for its payment before the arrival of the remittance from Turkey. He would have preferred a subsidy to Turkey, and would certainly not have been a party either to a loan or a guarantee. It would, in his opinion, have been much better to have received the money, and disposed of it under the control of the Government of this country, solely in relieving the military difficulties of the army, obtaining some efficient control over the Turkish army, in equipping the soldiers, providing them with proper rations, and in taking care that they were properly officered, and so directed as that the Turkish army should have been able to set at defiance any attack of the Russians on Kars or Erzeroum.


Although, perhaps, a considerable portion of my noble and learned Friend's speech would have been more correctly delivered upon the Motion for the second reading of the Bill, I certainly think he need make no apology for his address to your Lordships. My noble and learned Friend has, with great clearness, gone through the protocols and proceedings of the Conference at Vienna; he has summed up those proceedings, and has pronounced on them a judgment which will, I am sure, have a great effect on the public mind. But there is one point of his speech upon which I think it necessary to make a few remarks. This point had reference to the ill effect which one portion of the proceedings of the Conferences of Vienna had upon the army in the Crimea. My noble and learned Friend said that one of the propositions with respect to the third point and the preponderance of Russia in the Black Sea had been sent to St. Petersburg, and that a delay of eighteen days had taken place in the proceedings, by which delay, as my noble and learned Friend thinks, a prejudicial effect was produced upon the military operations before Sebastopol, as it was impossible for the generals there to act with ardour and vigour when they knew that negotiations for peace were going on. But that observation would apply equally to any part of the conferences. The object of those conferences was to lead to peace; but foreseeing that the knowledge of these negotiations might have some effect upon—that they might to a certain extent paralyse—the exertions of our armies, the English and French Governments stated to Lord Raglan and General Canrobert that the conferences were held at the especial invitation of Austria, because they thought it was their duty to omit no chance of arriving at a peaceful solution, but that they had no reliance that the negotiations would end in peace, and they urged both the generals, not only not to relax, but to increase their efforts, because they believed nothing would more tend to a successful and peaceful solution of the question than successful operations of the army in the Crimea. Therefore, although this delay may have taken place, I have not the least idea or belief that it had any such effect as my noble and learned Friend supposes. My noble and learned Friend, also, expressed his regret that my noble Friend (Lord John Russell) should have so far lent himself at Vienna to certain propositions which he laid before Her Majesty's Government that an opinion was created in Europe, particularly in Germany, that we had rejected terms which we ought to have accepted. Now, there has been a good deal of misrepresentation with regard to my noble Friend's conduct. He certainly went to Vienna, and his conduct throughout the negotiations proved that he was heartily desirous of a safe and honourable peace. As he was leaving Vienna these propositions were made to him, and it would have been unjust on his part if he had refused to bring them under the notice of Her Majesty's Government. He thought that Her Majesty's Government ought to have the opportunity of fairly considering something that was different from what they had themselves proposed, and from what he had been instructed to propose; and as there was stated to be some chance of Russia acceding to the terms, it was the duty of the noble Lord to let his Government have the opportunity of deciding upon the merits of the propositions. My noble Friend accordingly laid the propositions before Her Majesty's Government, and, after a communication with the French Government, Her Majesty's Government and the French Government concurred in reasons which induced them to consider that those propositions ought not to be accepted. I cannot, therefore, conceive how the conduct of the noble Lord can have given rise to the unfair imputations which have been cast upon it in this matter. I am glad to hear that the noble and learned Lord considers the war just and necessary, and that, consequently, it must be carried on with vigour, and I quite agree with him that it would be a very short-sighted policy not to do what we can to enable the Turkish army to be turned to the best account. Unless the Turkish army is properly equipped, fed, and paid, it cannot render us the assistance we require. The noble and learned Lord appears to think a subsidy would have been a better mode of affording pecuniary aid to Turkey, and I am far from dissenting from what fell from him and from the noble Earl (the Earl of Ellenborough) the other night on this subject. I think the principle of a subsidy may be defended, and I am not prepared to say that if this war last long we may not feel ourselves compelled to have recourse to it, however repugnant it may seem to the people of this country. But we were not in a position to adopt that principle in this instance. The Turkish Government came to us, and said— We have the means and the intentions of paying both the principal and the interest of the loan we are compelled to raise for the common cause; but if England and France will go sureties for us, we shall obtain the money we want upon easier and better terms, and to that extent shall be more able to aid in conducting the war with energy. With such assurances from Turkey, could we have said, "We do not believe in your; alleged means of paying the debt, and we shall, therefore, insist on your accepting the money as a present," thereby imposing a burden on the people of this country? Obviously we could not. As to the noble and learned Lord's legal objections to the details of this guarantee, the obligations it constitutes no doubt might possibly be evaded; but then there never was a treaty or other engagement entered into between different nations that did not depend for its fulfilment upon the honour and good faith of those who were bound by it; and certainly, looking at the terms and objects of this Convention, it seems to me to be about as plain and straightforward an arrangement as could well be devised. True, it was considered at the Foreign Office that the use of the word solidairement was nothing more than a repetition of the meaning of conjointement—the two phrases being thought equivalent to "jointly and conjointly;" but it should be remembered that it is neither the Convention nor this Bill, but the bond entered into, that will give the creditor his claim; and that the same instrument will define the extent of the responsibility of the debtor and the remedy against him.


explained that he had not said that he was in favour of a subsidy, but that he preferred a direct subsidy to a guarantee that would end in a subsidy. No doubt the bond would give the creditor his security.


was sorry, after the very candid and open speech of the noble and learned Lord, to be obliged to express an opinion somewhat different from his on a merely technical point. No doubt the translation of this Convention had been incorrect; but in a contract of this nature, whether the two nations engage themselves jointly, or jointly and severally, is a matter absolutely unimportant. In the case of a contract between private individuals, it was an advantage to the creditor to be able to sue the persons indebted to him either jointly, or any one of them severally; but the analogy between that case and the case of two States was not perfect, but only partial. No suit could really take place against nations jointly or severally; and the rights of two nations depended entirely on what was the engagement between them. In the case of a default, the bondholder could only apply to one of the two Governments, and, after liquidating his claim, that Government would have a right to apply to the other for a moiety of the money.


had not been in the habit of dealing with contracts of this kind between nations; but he knew that the French Government, in drawing this treaty, had drawn it according to the strict forms of law, and in this instance our Government had mistranslated the Convention.

Motion agreed to; House in Committee accordingly; Bill reported without Amendment; and to be read 3a To-morrow.