HL Deb 31 January 1856 vol 140 cc5-9

THE QUEEN'S Speech having been reported by The LORD CHANCELLOR,

THE EARL OF GOSFORD rose, and said: My Lords, in rising to move that an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, in reply to Her Majesty's most gracious Speech from the Throne, I feel deeply the necessity of requesting from your Lordships the utmost possible amount of that forbearance and indulgence usually accorded to those addressing your Lordships on occasions similar to the present. On my part, it shall be my endeavour to trespass on your Lordships' time as briefly as may be consistent with the importance of the subject before me; and, at all events, I trust I shall be able to avoid all allusions or expressions which might tend in the slightest degree to excite anything like annoyance or irritation. But a short time ago, the duty which I am endeavouring, however imperfectly, to perform, would have been comparatively light and easy. It would then have been no difficult matter, nor would it have required any great powers of persuasion, to induce your Lordships to accede to the fullest, the most vigorous, and, to the enemy, the most destructive prosecution of the war. Few in your Lordships' House, and fewer still out of it, would have been found opposed to such a course. For myself, if I may be permitted to trouble your Lordships with so unimportant a matter as an expression of my opinion, I have no hesitation in saying that such would have been most congenial to my own feelings; for of the justice and of the necessity of the war in which we are engaged, I have never for one moment entertained the slightest doubt or misgiving. It is not necessary, neither do I wish, to enter into anything like a consideration of the origin of this war. There are some, who, I am aware, hold the opinion, that, under a different course of policy, this war would have been avoided. In that opinion I cannot concur. I admit that perchance there was the possibility that it might have been postponed for a time: for a short time I believe it would have been, but then only to a moment less opportune to ourselves, and more advantageous to the enemy. But I had little difficulty in reconciling myself to the prosecution of a war which was not merely rendered justifiable and necessary, but which was actually forced upon us by the aggressive ambition of Russia. I will go one step further, and avow that I was looking with something like joyful anticipation to the probable results of the campaign of 1856. But the scene has changed. With my feelings strongly enlisted on the side of a vigorous prosecution of the war, I find myself somewhat suddenly—and I am bound to add, somewhat reluctantly—transformed into an advocate for peace. Every reasonable man—every reasonable Christian man—must in his heart prefer a state of peace to a state of war. But the main justification of all war, and particularly of the war in which we are now engaged, is that by a vigorous prosecution of it we shall obtain a sound and substantial peace. But we have not yet arrived at the moment in which it can be said with any truth that peace is either essential or necessary for our interests. Far from it. We are only at this moment beginning to shake off the rust and stiffness of forty years of comparative inaction. We are only just beginning to find ourselves capable of carrying on this war vigorously and efficiently. Our immense resources are only just beginning to tell. The condition of our army generally—never I trust to be again neglected in time of peace—was never in a greater state of efficiency for the purposes of war. The enormous power of our navy, augmented by all the modern appliances of science, and comprising vessels of every class suited to the peculiar appliances of the war, was never in a more efficient or powerful condition than at the present moment. The great successes already achieved, and the prospect of achieving successes still greater—all these render it but natural that there should be in the minds of many, not merely some disinclination from peace, but that there should be some strong and anxious desire to press our power to the utmost in order to reduce our adversary to the lowest state of distress. Under these circumstances, engaged with an adversary who, we have reason to believe, is crippled in resources both in men and money—an adversary who views probably with feelings of apprehension the prospects of the ensuing cam- paign—under those circumstances it is not surprising that there should be some reluctance in this country to peace. Yet, my Lords, sympathising as I do most fully with these feelings, I am bound to ask myself, and to ask your Lordships, whether we are at liberty to indulge in such feelings unreservedly and without limitation—whether we are at liberty to refuse pacific overtures coming from another quarter? There may be considerations and circumstances tending to change our course, tending to render our further perseverance in this war not merely impolitic, but actually unjustifiable. I will omit all considerations of the further loss of treasure and sacrifice of life; but there is one main consideration which I feel confident will weigh with your Lordships and with the country. The objects of this war are pure and simple enough; and if without the intervention of another campaign we can safely, substantially, and, humanly speaking, with some chance of permanency, attain these objects, our duty then becomes clear. All other considerations must give way, and we shall be bound at once to give our best endeavours to the attainment of such important objects. But, my Lords, let me not be misunderstood. I have already stated that I have become somewhat reluctantly an advocate of peace. I am so only conditionally, that we shall be able to come to an agreement on terms safe and honourable to ourselves and to our Allies—terms not only calculated to effect the objects of this war, so far as the aggressions of Russia upon Turkey may be concerned, but such further and additional terms as will stay the policy of Russia in other quarters—terms which our successes entitle us to require. They must be, moreover, terms offering a fair prospect of permanent peace, terms precise and so express as to leave no loophole for evasion on the part of our antagonist, and I will say, also, terms which when so expressed our antagonist must assent to irrevocably and unmistakably in our own sense. Thus far as an advocate of peace I may be willing to go; but I can go no further. Failing such terms as these, I would say we should give up all attempts at negotiation, and would recommend that, again addressing ourselves to action, we should endeavour by further warlike operations to accomplish the just objects we have in view.

I feel that some apology is necessary to your Lordships for having occupied your time on a matter which after all relates merely to my own opinions on this subject; but I assure your Lordships that I will not trespass on your time at any length in adverting, which I shall now do, to the other topics of Her Majesty's gracious Speech. First and foremost, I find a reasonable congratulation expressed on the great feature of the last campaign—the capture of Sebastopol. Well bestowed, indeed, is the praise accorded by Her Majesty to those brave men to whose persevering constancy and daring bravery this great achievement is to be attributed. If we have succeeded in destroying the enemy's great stronghold in the south, the treaty with Sweden appears to me a matter of scarcely minor importance; for by its means we have, in a bloodless but effectual manner, successfully checkmated the enemy in the north. There is one topic in Her Majesty's Speech, on which I might be inclined to trespass longer on your Lordships' time, were it not that I find it stated so explicitly that in conducting these negotiations care will be taken not to lose sight of the objects for which the war was undertaken, and that Her Majesty will deem it right in no degree to relax her naval and military preparations until a satisfactory treaty of peace shall have been concluded. I hope, my Lords, that due effect will be given by Her Majesty's Government to that statement. My Lords, the surest way of obtaining such a peace as we desire is to speak out boldly, and to show that there will be no relaxation in our efforts until we have obtained the objects which has rendered this war a war of necessity.

My Lords, it is unnecessary for me to do more than to allude to that part of Her Majesty's Speech, in which Her Majesty says— I rely with confidence on the manly spirit and enlightened patriotism of my loyal subjects for a continuance of that support which they have so nobly afforded Me; and they may be assured that I shall not call upon them for exertions beyond what may be required by a due regard for the great interests, the honour, and the dignity of the empire.

My Lords, I feel confident that so long as we have justice on our side, so long the good sense and the patriotism of the people of this country will resist all delusions that may be put forward to lead them into opposition to this just and patriotic war.

My Lords, in the midst of war, and the pressure arising from without, it will be a matter of satisfaction to your Lordships to find that time is still left for the consideration of internal and domestic matters. It must be a matter of great satisfaction to us to find that our attention is called to the difference which exists in some important particulars between the commercial laws of Scotland and those of the other parts of the United Kingdom, which has occasioned considerable inconvenience to the persons of this country who are engaged in trade, and that a measure will be submitted to us for remedying this evil. I find also that a measure will be proposed on a matter of great importance, for improving the laws relating to partnership by simplifying those laws, and thus rendering more easy the employment of capital in commerce. I find also that commercial shipping is to be relieved from local duos and passing tolls, which it is stated have been the subject of much complaint. It is also a matter of great satisfaction to find that other important measures are to be introduced for improving the laws of the country.

My Lords, I do not know that there is more of Her Majesty's Speech which calls for observation from me. This I may say that my earnest hope is that the negotiations begun may be brought to a safe and solid conclusion. I confess I am greatly relieved from apprehension on this subject by the confidence that I have in the noble Lord at the head of Her Majesty's Government, and in the noble Lord to whom I believe the conduct of these negotiations is to be entrusted. If I had entertained the slightest misgivings as to the straightforwardness and honesty of the intentions of these noble Lords, or as to their determination to pursue a patriotic course, I should not have been here to address these observations to your Lordships. The noble Earl concluded by movingThat an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty in answer to Her Majesty's most gracious Speech from the Throne.

The following is a copy of the Address agreed to:—