HL Deb 18 July 1859 vol 154 cc1363-70

said, he had given notice to his noble Friend the President of the Council of his intention to ask a Question that evening with reference to the authenticity of an important despatch which had appeared in some of the public prints. It was stated to be a despatch written by Lord John Russell, on the 22nd June, to Lord Bloomfield, our Ambassador at Berlin. This was not the first time their Lordships had heard of this document; about a fortnight ago he quoted a speech made by Sir Charles Wood at Halifax, in which that right hon. Baronet referred to a despatch apparently resembling very much the one which was now alleged to have been sent to the Court of Prussia. When he formerly, remarking that despatch, described it as one giving strong advice to Prussia to prevent her interfering in the war then going on, he felt that in that despatch Her Majesty's Government had somewhat left that path of neutrality which he thought so desirable, and had taken on themselves the responsibility that all counsellors must undertake who give advice unasked. On that occasion the noble Duke opposite (the Duke of Newcastle), in reply said:— My noble Friend has enjoyed within the last few days a privilege which has been wanting to me—I mean leisure to read election speeches. Until, therefore, he quoted just now the speech of my right hon. Friend (Sir Charles Wood), I was not aware of the words which are said to have fallen from him, and I am not able to state whether they are accurately reported. Probably the report is perfectly accurate. If so, I can only say that the despatch which must have been alluded to does not bear the construction which my noble Friend deprecates, and that whenever the papers are laid before the House it will be found that we have not exposed ourselves to the dangers which he has very rightly pointed out. The danger which he (the Earl of Malmesbury) on that occasion pointed out to the House, and the danger to which he again desired to call attention, was—as he had just stated—that by giving counsel to Prussia, Her Majesty's Government made themselves responsible for the results which might arise, in case it were followed; because Prussia might hereafter say that the advice of Her Majesty's Government had prevented their taking the measures which they thought best for their own interests. Now, if the despatch which had appeared that day in the newspapers was correct—if that was really the despatch to which Sir Charles Wood alluded, and on which he had observed—he did think that the description which the noble Duke gave of it was not exactly a correct one, and he could not help thinking that his noble Friend could scarcely have perused it at the time he spoke. The despatch was a long one, and he thought he should hardly be justified in reading it in its entirety to the House; but he might say it was a despatch giving strong advice to the Prussian Government not to enter into the war. It argued against their doing so; it told the Prussian Government that there was no ground for their entering into the struggle; and it argued that the fortresses in the Venetian territory, which not merely the German States, but the German people looked on as the bulwark at that side of Germany, were not in reality so; that they were not necessary to the safety of Germany; that the apprehensions which they entertained were unfounded, and had not sufficient force to justify interference on their part in the war. The noble Lord in his despatch said:— The reasons adduced in favour of a war on the part of the German States thus being insufficient, very strongly resist so precipitate a course. The Prince Regent of Prussia will, in his wisdom, weigh the impolicy of exposing his country to be considered the champion of the maladministration of Italy. It cannot be necessary for the safety of Berlin and Magdeburg that the Government in Milan and Bologna should be bad. But in the eyes of the Italians, Prussia, should she appear in arms by the side of Austria, would be considered as a defender of everything Austria has committed and omitted. But not only did the noble Lord at the head of the Foreign Office enter into the political argument of the question, but he addressed arguments ad verecundiam to the Government of Prussia, calculated to weigh on the Regent's mind, and stay him from hostilities. He went on to say— You are already sufficiently informed of Her Majesty's resolve, supported by the unanimous feelings of Her people to observe a strict neutrality. Her Majesty has kept this country free from all and every obligation that would interfere with her freedom of action. Her Majesty's Government entertains the hope that Prussia will adopt a course as nearly similar as the circumstances of Germany will permit. He thought the noble Duke would now admit that this was advice given in as strong terms as one friendly Court could offer to another—that it was advice founded on arguments of different kinds, and that the despatch did bear the construction which he had suspected from the expressions of Sir Charles Wood. In his opinion the Government thereby made themselves responsible for the results, whatever they might be, which might have followed such advice if it were accepted. Peace had been happily concluded, and the time had therefore passed by when they might have become deeply responsible for the consequences of their counsel. But at the same time he thought it was requisite that their Lordships should be informed of two things—first, whether the despatch to which he had referred was authentic, and whether, being authentic, the Government had any objection to lay it on the table of the House; secondly, whether there would be any objection to state if an answer to that despatch had been received from the Prussian Government, and whether, in that event, the Government would object to state the purport of that answer to the House. Perhaps also the noble Duke would have no objection to explain his own view of the despatch, and the reply, if any, which might have been made to it. He could not help adding that he thought that Her Majesty's late Government had but done their duty in maintaining neutrality in this war; and he trusted that, though its objects might now be regarded in some sense as accomplished, Her Majesty's present advisers would not fail to maintain, with the utmost prudence, that neutral position which was still as requisite as ever. He alluded to the probability of a Congress being convoked to carry out the terms of the peace made between Austria and France. He could see no advantage to England, but, on the contrary, very great disadvantage, in entering into such a conference. He thought the subjects which would therein be discussed were not at all subjects sympathetic with the feeling of this nation and its immediate interests. They had the example of another Congress to warn them; for they were yet scarcely out of the difficulties in which they had become involved by entering with the best intentions possible, but he thought with very considerable imprudence, into the attempts to give a constitution to the Principalities. He sincerely trusted that they would not attempt a like course in Italy—that they would not attempt to meddle with the internal affairs of that country, or to give constitutions to the Duchies of Italy, to the Roman States, or to other portions of that country; for if they did they might depend on it they would be only heaping on their heads a mass of difficulties from which it would be an arduous task to extricate themselves hereafter. He made these few remarks, and hoped the Government would not object to answer the questions which he had put to them.


said, the despatch to which the noble Earl had referred was the same in substance with that sent to Berlin by his noble Friend at the head of the Foreign Office, though it had been somewhat altered by translation and re-translation. He had no objection to lay it on the table, and then their Lordships would be able to judge for themselves. He must say he had heard with great surprise the censure cast by his noble Friend on the despatch sent by Lord John Russell to 'Prussia, recommending a course of strict neutrality. There could be no difficulty in defending the course taken by his noble Friend the Foreign Secretary; but if they wanted a precedent for what had been done they had only to refer to the course which i the noble Earl himself had "chalked out" for them when he was in office, for no one could have been more earnest than the noble Earl was in his advice to Prussia to observe a strict neutrality. He would read one or two passages from despatches written by the noble Earl, some of the words of which were almost identical with those employed by the present Foreign Secretary. The first he would refer to was a despatch by the noble Earl to Sir Alexander Mallet, our Minister at Frankfort, in which he said,— Her Majesty's Government trust, however, that the answer which I immediately returned to you by telegraph may have arrived in time to prevent any such ill-advised step on the part of the Confederation, and that the protest which I have instructed you to make against its adoption, and the warning that I have desired you to give, that if Germany should at this early stage involve herself, without a treaty obligation, in the present war, she would have no assistance to expect from England, and that without such assistance her coasts would be exposed to the ravages of hostile fleets in the Baltic, will deter the Diet from adopting so precipitate a course, which would at once extend to Europe the ravages of war, which every friend of humanity must desire to see confined, if possible, to the country in which it has broken out."—p. 365. There was no form of words in which advice to be neutral could have been more strongly given than the noble Earl had here used. He then went on to say,— Her Majesty's Government know of no offence given directly by France to the States of the German Confederation as a body, and up to this time Austria has not been attacked even in her Italian dominions, and I have only to repeat that, under existing circumstances, Her Majesty's Government are resolved to maintain the severest neutrality. Such was the language of the noble Earl's despatch to the Minister accredited to the Courts of Germany. But not satisfied with this the noble Earl also addressed a circular to all Her Majesty's representatives at the German Courts recommending neutrality—but that he would not read to their Lordships. In a despatch addressed to Lord Bloomfield the noble Earl said,— As far as England is concerned, there are no immediate interests which necessitate any direct action on her part; and Her Majesty's Government feel it to be their duty to maintain a strict neutrality between the belligerents. This is also the feeling of the people of England; and it is obvious that any other course at present would tend to complications which can scarcely yet be foreseen. Her Majesty's Government, therefore, deprecate any act which would unnecessarily extend the theatre of war, and they will be prepared to take advantage of any favourable opportunity that may be afforded to them of being the medium of restoring peace."—p. 402. But his noble Friend, not satisfied with this, took a further step—he communicated with the French Government, in order that there might be no mistake whatever as to the meaning of the despatches he had sent to Germany. In a despatch to Lord Cowley, dated May 2, he said,— Upon hearing yesterday morning from Sir Alexander Malet of the intention of the Wurtemburg Minister to move to-day in the Diet that the Confederation should make common cause with Austria, I instructed Her Majesty's Minister strongly to protest against so impolitic a step, and to point out that if Germany involved herself in the war without a casus fœderis she must expect no assistance whatever from this country. Without such assistance her northern coasts would be exposed to maritime blockades and attack on the part of France, and probably on that of Russia also, and would be almost defenceless. But your Excellency, while mentioning this to Count Walewski, will observe that if the French Government really shares the desire of that of Her Majesty that the present war should, as far as possible, be localized, and not extended beyond the confines of Italy, it behoves France to discourage to the utmost all attempts to produce disturbance in Turkey."—p. 381. Now, his noble Friend at the Foreign Office had merely repeated the advice of the noble Earl opposite, and for doing so was charged with a violation of neutrality. But was it to be said that because we determined to maintain neutrality during the war, therefore we were bound to stand with our arms folded and give no advice of any kind to any foreign Government. He understood neutrality to mean that we should not enter in any way into the war, but not that we were in no circumstances to express our opinions in the way of advice to another Government. Other Governments were independent of us, and were entitled to take or reject our advice as they pleased; but giving advice in a friendly spirit could not in any way imply on the part of the Government of this country a breach of the neutrality which all so earnestly advocated.


expressed a hope that as, happily, we had nothing to do with the making of war or with the making of the most marvellous peace, so also, he hoped, advantage would he taken of our entire isolation, and that we should have nothing to do with what further might happen in Congress or otherwise.


wished to explain the difference that existed between the advice given by the late Government and that which had been given by the noble Lord now at the head of the Foreign Office. It appeared to him that there was a great difference between telling Prussia that if she entered on the war she would have no assistance from England and warning her accordingly, and going into political reasons, as Lord John Russell had done, to show why Prussia should not go into the war, and advising her not to do so. The late Government simply warned Prussia that she would not have the assistance of England; but the present Foreign Secretary advised Prussia, and be need not say that the advised sometimes came back upon the adviser.


said, that as his noble Friend the Under Secretary for Foreign Affairs had given an answer to the questions of the noble Earl, it was almost unnecessary that he should add anything. He wished, however, to refer to what had taken place in the House on a former occasion, when the noble Earl who had just spoken quoted a passage from a speech which had been delivered by Sir Charles Wood at Halifax, and expressed his apprehension that that speech afforded an indication that the Government had exceeded the bounds of neutrality in giving advice to Prussia. At that time he (the Duke of Newcastle) told the noble Earl that he felt assured such would not be found to he the character of the despatch which had been written by his noble Friend at the head of the Foreign Department, and it appeared to him to be quite evident, now that the despatch in question had been made public, that its tenor differed in no respect from that of many passages which were to be found in the despatches which had been written by the noble Earl opposite himself. He was, perhaps, not exactly correct in saying that no difference existed in the tenor of those despatches, for he thought their Lordships must perceive that some of the passages—and one especially—which had that evening been quoted by his noble Friend near him from the blue-book were of a nature not merely suggestive, but even minatory. Now, open to that remark the despatch of Lord John Russell certainly was not, since it took the simple form of advice to Prussia not to take a part in the war which would render it impossible to restrict it within the bounds of Italy.


The noble Lord has not said whether he will lay upon the table the answer to the despatch of Lord John Russell.


As the noble Earl has not given notice for any further papers, I am not prepared to say I will do more than I have already promised.


, alluding to that passage in a despatch of Lord Malmesbury which had been quoted by Lord Wodehouse, and which was to the effect that if Prussia entered into the war she must not only not hope for assistance from England, but must expect to have her coast in the Baltic liable to be ravaged by hostile fleets, observed that advice could, in his opinion, scarcely be couched in stronger terms. It would be quite a different thing if the noble Earl had simply said to Prussia, "You seem to be on the point of going to war. We give you no advice in the matter. Pray act in accordance with your own interests, but do not look forward to assistance from England." The noble Earl was not, however, contented with taking that course, but warned Prussia against the consequences of resorting to a precipitate and ill-advised policy. So far he could see no distinction between the tone which the noble Earl had adopted and that which his noble Friend the Secretary for Foreign Affairs had assumed.

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