HL Deb 28 March 1859 vol 153 cc904-9

I wish to ask the noble Lord the Secretary for Foreign Affairs a question of which I have privately given him notice, whether he will feel it to be inconsistent with his duty to give the House, and through the House the country, some information as to the present state of affairs in Europe, and of the results of Lord Cowley's recent mission to Vienna? I did not place any notice of my intention on the paper, because I am fully prepared not to press the inquiry if I have any reason to believe that it will be productive of any injurious effect. The noble Earl knows that I am not impelled by mere curiosity, and that I am not capable of wishing that he should make any communication that would be prejudicial to the cause of peace, which we all have at heart. But my noble Friend must be aware of the great anxiety which exists in this country upon the subject, an anxiety which is increased by the conflicting rumours circulated from day to day in the public press. My noble Friend must be aware that now for nearly the space of three months, in consequence of the differences between France and Austria, great loss and injury have been sustained; that commercial transactions have been interrupted, and that confidence abroad has been entirely destroyed. There are people who would almost prefer the worst certainty to the continuance of this paralyzing uncertainty. The noble Earl knows that for some time past hopes that peace will be preserved have been entertained by commercial men; and I can believe the possibility of it, for they look in vain for any sufficient cause why peace should be disturbed. But it is idle to suppose that war has not been seriously contemplated; and it would be still more idle to suppose that war, once commenced, would be restricted to any particular country, or confined within any prescribed limits. It would be contrary to all past experience if the neighbouring nations remained pacific or indifferent in the event of a war between France and Austria. Against such a war, or I would rather say against such an unprovoked European convulsion, the public opinion of Europe has been expressed with a unanimity which I believe to be unprecedented. England, neutral and eminently pacific in her policy, in close and friendly alliance with France and with Austria, sincerely desirous that all practical remedies may be applied to the evils which exist, has been in a position to render service to all parties during this crisis. My Lords, I am willing to believe that Her Majesty's Government have, to the best of their ability, fairly and honourably taken advantage of this opportunity. I augured well of Lord Cowley's mission to Vienna, because I was sure that he would not have been sent there by Her Majesty's Government, and that he himself would not have undertaken the mission, unless there appeared a fair prospect of success; and I was sure that whatever could be effected by sagacity, tact, and judgment would be accomplished by Lord Cowley. I do not pretend to be better informed than other people with respect to the mission of Lord Cowley, but, like all others who read the newspapers, I cannot pretend to be ignorant of it. In every part of the world in which business of importance is transacted, able men are indefatigable in collecting facts and reporting them to the English newspapers. They ascertain and sift the facts, and report them with remarkable accuracy. From these reports I have gathered that Lord Cowley had no full powers, that he was not charged with any particular negotiation, but was to hold at Vienna precisely the same language as at Paris, to ascertain what were in fact the differences between France and Austria, and to endeavour, as far as possible, on the part of Her Majesty's Government, to reconcile those differences and bring about a satisfactory settlement. If I am right in this conjecture, I think that those instructions to Lord Cowley were judicious, and that Her Majesty's Government acted wisely in not committing themselves to any distinct proposal, and thereby impairing their position of usefulness. I allude to Lord Cowley's instructions, because my noble Friend will bear in mind that the public in reality know nothing of Lord Cowley's mission, beyond the statement of the fact that he was on the road to Vienna, made by the Chancellor of the Exchequer some weeks ago in answer to a speech of Lord Palmerston. It is possible that my noble Friend will not now think it necessary to maintain the same reserve as was maintained at that time by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. The friendly object of Lord Cowley's mission appears to have been fully appreciated, and he is believed to have brought back assurances which are important and satisfactory. The Emperor of Austria, I believe, has expressed his earnest desire to come to a friendly understanding with France upon all existing differences between them. he has professed his willingness to withdraw the Austrian army from the Pope's territories at the same time with the French army. He has declared that he does not intend and never has intended to invade Piedmont; and, further, that he is prepared, not only in conjunction with France but with the other great European Powers, to make such representations to the Supreme Pontiff, as may lead to a better government of the Pope's territories. Now, if Lord Cowley was able to make these communications, I think it is important that the fact should he affirmed by my noble Friend; because it is impossible that such assurances should not have been met in a corresponding spirit by the Emperor of the French. The reason and humanity of the French Emperor, and his deference to the unmistakable opinion and unanimous wishes of the French people, forbid that he should come to any other conclusion. If Austria has agreed to a Congress, we may infer that she is prepared to make some concession to the public opinion of Europe. In her present condition, with her vast military preparations, and relying as she docs on the spirit and patriotism of Germany, she can well afford to do so without the slightest taint upon her honour or the smallest danger to her interests. Then, my Lords, I think we may feel confident that the peace of Europe will not be disturbed, because every shadow of a pretext for war will then have been removed. I do not think it necessary to say any more at the present time. I purposely avoid alluding to the questions which have to be brought before the Congress or to that cessation of military preparations and possible disarmament which ought to be a preliminary to the meeting of the Congress, and I will not conclude by putting any precise question to my noble Friend, because I have no doubt that he is desirous of allaying anxiety by giving to this House such information as his sense of public duty will permit him to give respecting Lord Cowley's mission.


My Lords, I must begin by thanking my noble Friend for the discretion which he has exercised in putting this question and for the considerate manner in which he has sought that information which your Lordships are naturally anxious to obtain. I am perfectly ready to give as much of that information as I can without trenching upon those questions which it may perhaps be better to avoid at the present moment, and which it would be premature to discuss at the present conjuncture. Your Lordships will recollect that at the end of last month Lord Cowley went to Vienna. Before he left Paris he obtained the entire assent and approbation of the French Government to the mission he was to undertake, and he left Paris perfectly intimate with all the ideas and views of the French Government with respect to what is called the Italian question. He came to London, but he did not receive any instructions of an official character from Her Majesty's Government. He arrived in London and received from Her Majesty's Government, as my noble Friend very properly intimates, no instructions of an official character. He was only to ascertain from the Austrian Government what points they considered in the same light as the French, and in what way he might by the good offices of this country, assist in restoring those relations between France and Austria which were unfortunately in so critical a position. He proceeded to Vienna and there acted with all that sagacity and tact which my noble Friend has so justly ascribed to him, and which Lord Cowley has never failed to manifest in any public mission on which he has been employed. He was received by the Austrian Government with the utmost frankness and cordiality; and that frankness and cordiality pervaded all the communications which he had with that Government during his residence at Vienna. My Lords, he there did ascertain that there were points on which, by the good offices of England, the French and Austrian Governments might be induced to agree, and that there were points on which Count Buol declared himself ready to enter into communication with Her Majesty's Government, and with that of France with the view of removing those dangers which threatened Italy and Europe and of restor- ing the certainty of peace. Having thus accomplished what I must describe as a very useful and promising mission, Lord Cowley returned to Paris. On his arrival there on the 16th of this month he found that, during his absence, the French and Russian Government had entered into communication with each other, and that, with the consent and approbation of France, Russia intended to recommend to the Five great Powers of Europe a Congress to consider and settle these matters. On the 18th of this month Her Majesty's Government received from the French Ambassador here, official information that such was the intention of Russia; and Her Majesty's Government, on the next day, announced to the Russian Government at St. Petersburg their willingness, if such offer were made, to accept it, upon certain conditions, which were enumerated to the Russian Government. They therefore anticipated the official proposal which the Russian Government has since made. On the 23rd, Baron Brunow called upon me to announce, that not only had the Russian Government made this proposal as between the Five great Powers, but that the Russian Government bad also accepted the conditions submitted by Her Majesty's Government. Since that time each of the Five Great Powers has consented to the Congress. But, although they are entirely agreed on the fact that there should be a Congress to discuss the affairs of Italy, and to accomplish a solution of the present critical complications, they are not yet agreed on the details of the subject and the composition of the Congress. Speaking, however, upon the information which I at present possess, I entertain no doubt, that in a short time, a perfect understanding will be come to on the matter. I do not scruple to say, that Her Majesty's Government are of opinion, considering that the subjects which are about to be discussed in that Congress, are intimately connected with the political and social happiness of the Italian people, that those States of Italy should, one and all, have an opportunity given to them of expressing their opinion, in some way or other, upon the subjects which will be there discussed. Our object will naturally be, not to impose—either upon the question of Reform or on any other point—any conditions upon the Italian States and people, but to recommend to them what we consider for their own benefit and for the safety of Europe. It may be some source of satisfaction to your Lordships to know that though the disarmament, which I should heartily wish to see take place immediately as preliminary to the Congress, is not yet decided on, yet that both Austria and Piedmont have formally made a declaration that they will not attack one another, and that they will abstain from hostilities. Therefore, unless some untoward and almost impossible accident should occur, we may hope that peace will not be broken, and that the Congress, which will probably assemble at the end of next month, will eventuate in those results which your Lordships and all Europe desire.