HL Deb 27 January 1860 vol 156 cc214-9

inquired of Her Majesty's Government, pursuant to notice, whether they have received any Information as to the Negotiation stated by the Ministerial Journals in Paris to exist between France and Sardinia for the Annexation of the Duchy of Savoy and the County of Nice to the Dominions of the Emperor of the French? As he had stated when he gave his notice, it was not his intention to call the attention of their Lordships to the political effects of the annexation of Savoy and Nice to the French Empire, or to the probable consequences of an arrangement which was in direct violation of a treaty which England and the other Powers of Europe were bound to maintain; but he wished to state why he thought the question had now reached a point which rendered it necessary that the Government should be asked what was the present state of their information on the subject. His question, it would he observed, was founded upon a statement which had appeared in the French newspapers, and he might be told that he ought to be able to adduce some higher authority than one or two journals in Paris. When he recollected, however, that we had recently been subjected to a succession of surprises, and that the policy of some other countries had been changed in conformity with—he would not say in obedience to—the suggestions of newspaper paragraphs and anonymous pamphlets, he submitted that he was entitled to call the attention of their Lordships to the annexation of Savoy and Nice to the Empire of Franco, even though lie based his remarks upon articles in French newspapers. The statements to which he had alluded had appeared in the two principal and habitual organs of the French Government. It was first published in Le Pays, the most careful and prudent of the Ministerial journals; but what had chiefly attracted the attention of Europe was its circulation in the columns of L'Indépendance Beige, a Brussels paper in the enjoyment of Imperial favour, and possessing, perhaps, the most general circulation of any European journal. Subsequently it reappeared under the shape of a manifesto in La Patrie, the most adventurous of all the Imperial organs, a journal which had even been chided for being in too great a hurry to publish certain matters to the world. Nevertheless, what was stated by La Patrie was pretty sure to be near the truth. Last autumn Le Pays announced that it was the intention of the Emperor to adhere strictly to the programme which he had laid down for himself in the engagements taken at Villafranca, La Patrie threw some doubt upon that statement, and La Patrie was undoubtedly the more correct of the two. Such was the journal which published the manifesto to which he wished to call the attention of their Lordships, and which was transferred to L'ln-dependance Beige on the 22nd instant. This article said that France was now determined by counsel, by her soldiers, and by sacrifices of every kind to substitute for the hereditary arrangements of Vienna the truthful policy of nationalities; and the writer went on to say that it was evident the day was drawing nigh when the superstructure raised by diplomatists must disappear before the power of logic and the course of events. He was not aware that there had been any diplomatic declaration to this effect, but the dangers contingent upon the adoption of such a principle by the powerful Government of a great nation were much greater than any which could arise from the annexation of the Duchy of Savoy. Could it for a moment be imgined that England had no interest in the assertion of such a doctrine? Why, let us look at our own possessions, scattered over the face of the globe, and then see how far we could recognize the principle of nationality. How could England stand this test? How would it apply in the Mediterranean, or the Ionian Islands? How affect Gibraltar? How might it be brought to bear on Aden or the Empire of India, or our dependencies in another hemisphere? Why, if such were to be admitted as a valid ground there would not be a single country in Europe the foundation of whose title would not be shaken. Such a doctrine would be quite subversive of those treaties and of that order and regularity which forty years' peace had brought about. Russia, indeed, prided herself upon her nationality. Nor, as regarded Poland, did he think they could collect the scattered remnants of a national existence. The restoration of Poland to nationality would almost remind one of Mr. Canning's expression regarding the repeal of the legislative union with Ireland: "Repeal the union—restore the heptarchy." Well, then, as to Prussia and this doctrine of nationality—sec how it worked from Posen to Aix-la-Chapelle. Again, witness its application to Austria. And here he must say that he looked upon the stability of Austria as one of the main elements of European security; and he wished that some one who had the same conviction, and had more opportunity of making his opinion known in the proper quarter, would urge how important it was to grant what was just and reasonable in the demands of Hungary. He hoped and believed that, as regarded her Hungarian dominions, the loyalty of the Hungarian people was not yet shaken. Another of these journals eulogised the disinterested motives of France, and urged the desirableness and expediency of annexing the County of Nice, for which the writer said the reasons were more satisfactory and conclusive than even in the case of Savoy. The two did not, in fact, stand upon the same footing; for the truth was that Nice was far more Italian than even Piedmont itself. Nor could he at all perceive any reason there existed for confounding Nice with Savoy. All who were acquainted with the politics of Europe knew that the Indépendence Beige was a paper which was in direct communication with the French Government, and had a Paris correspondent who received his inspiration from the Foreign Office. In the resumé politique of that journal there had appeared a statement from its Paris correspondent, stating that it was understood that the desire of England to see the extension of Piedmont to the Marches, and her satisfaction with the commercial treaty just negotiated, would lead her to observe a strict neutrality while the Duchy of Savoy and the County of Nice were consulted as to their desire to be united to France. He did not believe that his noble Friends opposite would be actuated by any such motives, or would form their decision upon any grounds but those of their public duty; but he should like to ask his noble Friend what was the state of these negotiations. He could not suppose that the answer would be that the Government knew nothing upon the subject, because, after the publication of the article to which he had referred, the natural course would be for our Minister in Paris to communicate with the Minister of Foreign Affairs, and obtain from him a categorical explanation of its meaning. This was the course which he adopted with the nine Ministers with whom during six years he had to deal. It was that which he pursued with regard to the Swiss matter during the last few months of the reign of Louis Philippe, when he obtained from M. Guizot the most full and ready explanations; and also with reference to the expected invasion of Savoy by the Provisional Government in the year 1848, when M. Lamartine admitted to him that the disposition of the people was opposed to annexation with France; and he did not at all suppose that our present Government would have any difficulty in obtaining explanations from a Government with whom it was on such close and intimate relations. It might be worth while, for their Lordships and Englishmen generally, when they were anxious to apply those admirable constitutional principles which they valued so much at home to other States, to recollect that that country, which had not enjoyed a liberal system of government, but only the form of government under which it had lived for centuries, was so averse to part with its institutions in the year 1848, that it actually rose unassisted to resist any invasion by a French revolutionary force; and that in consequence of the introduction of that which we called the model system of Government, of late years established in Sardinia, the loyal feeling of that ancient appanage of the House of Savoy had become so weakened that the whole population was now positively stated in all these journals to be desirous of parting with the blessings of that constitutional monarchy, which we so much lauded and of uniting itself to the imperial regime of France. It was to be hoped, therefore, that our countrymen, who were apt to be led by a generous impulse into advocating the adoption in other countries of the principles of Government which they so justly prized for themselves, would pause and consider whether they were so sure that they understood the real sentiments of the people in whose behalf they spoke. He would be very glad if the noble Earl opposite could state that Her Majesty's Government had ascertained that no ground existed for imputing to the French Government any such intention as had been ascribed to it. If, however, the answer given to his question should be, that the Government were at present unable to afford any information to Parliament on the subject, of course that discussion must now close, though he trusted it would not close for ever; indeed, if the question were not brought before their Lordships by some Member of the distinguished political party behind him (the Opposition), he should take the liberty as an independent Peer, unconnected with any party, to introduce it to the notice of the House himself. The noble Marquess concluded by asking whether Her Majesty's Government had received any information as to the negotiations stated by the Ministerial journals in Paris to exist between France and Sardinia for the annexation of the Duchy of Savoy and the County of Nice to the dominions of the Emperor of the French?


—My Lords, I regret very much that I was not in my place yesterday when the noble Marquess gave notice of his Question. But, on inquiring of my Colleagues, I was informed of the nature of that notice, and also of the fact that the noble Marquess had announced his intention to put the Question without raising any discussion in this House. I was, therefore, not quite prepared for his very long and interesting speech, entering into the political literature, the geography, and the different nationalities of Europe, opening up also some of the most important principles of politics and of international law which it is possible to conceive, and ending with agreeable personal reminiscences and autobiographical details of what happened to him during his embassy at Paris. I do not think it necessary to follow the noble Marquess at equal length, and I must likewise decline to give him an answer in either of the formulas which he was kind enough to suggest to me. I shall content myself with simply replying to the Question which he has placed on the paper. Her Majesty's Government have received no information "as to the negotiation stated by the Ministerial journals in Paris to exist between Franco and Sardinia for the annexation of the Duchy of Savoy and the County of Nice to the dominions of the Emperor of the French." At the same time I think it right to add, that the Government of France has been long acquainted with the opinions of Her Majesty's Government as to any such arrangement; and I can assure the noble Marquess on one point—namely, that it is perfectly ridiculous to suppose that the successful negotiation of any commercial treaty, intended for the interest of both countries, could ever have the slightest influence upon Her Majesty's Government in regard to the expression in the firmest, and at the same time most friendly manner, of any opinions they may have on any great European question.

House adjourned at a quarter past Six o'clock, to Monday next, Eleven o'clock.