HL Deb 16 March 1860 vol 157 cc707-11

My Lords, I rise to ask a question of the Government with regard to the papers laid upon the table yesterday, which respect the proposed annexation of Savoy and Nice to France; and especially with regard to the two remarkable despatches of Count Cavour, on the 3rd of March, and Earl Cowley, on the 9th of March last. In his despatch of March 3rd, Count Cavour states that he had received an assurance from the French Government of the most formal character that they would not proceed further with the annexation of Savoy, except under three conditions. The first was that no territorial changes should be effected contrary to the wishes of the people; next, that due regard should be had to the interests of Switzerland; and, lastly, that there should be a preliminary con- sulfation of the great Powers. In the same despatch Count Cavour proceeded to give himself a deliberate assurance that the Government of His Majesty the King of Sardinia would never consent, even with a view to the greatest advantages, to cede or exchange any part of the territory of Savoy without consulting the wishes of the inhabitants; and he also went on to repeat the same assurance with regard to the other two conditions. A similar assurance on the part of the French Government was given by M. Thouvenel to Lord Cowley, as appears in the despatch of Lord Cowley of March 9th. Here, then, there was a double engagement on the part of France and Sardinia, both Powers pledging themselves equally, on the one hand not to infringe by violence, nor on the other hand by collusion, the treaties of 1815. Now, this morning, my Lords, I read in a telegram what appears to be a direct contradiction on the part of both these Powers to the assurances thus given. It states that the Government of Sardinia has consented to a demand from France, the effect of which appears to be to do away with and violate all these conditions, as regards alike the promise to ascertain the wishes of the people, and to consult the views of the great Powers, on the question of annexation; for it contains these words, "The treaty will be followed by a vote of the municipalities" (not the people generally) "of the two contracting Powers, and there will be afterwards communicated to the Great Powers the nature of the new territorial arrangements." Thus two out of the conditions are abandoned; and the third, as to the regard to be paid to the interests of Switzerland, is equally thrown on one side; for we are told that by this new arrangement Sardinia cedes to France Savoy up to the Alps; so that the whole of the passes of the Alps will be in possession of France, who will also obtain the districts of Chablais and Faucigny. My Lords, I make now no comment upon this. The effect of it is too plain. But if anything further were required, it is furnished by the fact, also stated in the telegram, that the Swiss Minister at Paris has handed to M. de Thouvenel a protest against the annexation proposed on the part of France. My Lords, I ask whether the Government are in possession of any information which can at all qualify or throw light upon this most startling, and, I will add, flagrant discrepancy between words and acts—between promises and performances? My Lords, I have the more reason for asking the question because, in the despatch of the 9th of March, I find that M. de Thouvenel tells Earl Cowley that he is about to draw up ft circular despatch to be sent to the representatives of France at the Courts of the Great Powers parties to the Treaty of 1815, explaining the views of the Imperial Government. Now, that despatch will have probably been received—M. de Thouvenel expected it would be sent off on the Tuesday or Wednesday following. I ask whether it is in the hands of the Government?—if so, whether it throws any information on the subject?—and whether (as the Correspondence already produced would be incomplete without it) the Government will without any further delay lay it upon the table of the House?


asked their Lordships whether they believed that the question asked by the noble Earl was really one which ought to be addressed to Her Majesty's Government? What was the question put? He had no hesitation in saying, that if the noble Earl were a member of the Sardinian Parliament, it would be hardly fair for him to put such a question to Count Cavour. How it could have been put to Her Majesty's Government, was to him inexplicable; and the more so after the mistakes which had been made in this and the other House of Parliament in the early part of the Session in reference to telegraphic communications. The noble Earl asked him whether he could explain the discrepancies that existed between the two despatches referred to, and the telegraphic communication that appeared in the newspapers that morning. He had, once for all, to repudiate, on the part of the Government, all responsibility for those newspaper telegrams. How was it possible for him, or for any other Member of the Government or of that House, to argue upon the authenticity or correctness of telegrams that appeared in the newspapers? It would be impossible to conduct the diplomatic measures of the Government, if an attempt were made to visit the Government with the responsibility of those pieces of intelligence, and to require them to explain such discrepancies as those alluded to. That there was a great and flagrant discrepancy between the two despatches and the telegram in question, there was no doubt; but the Government know no more about the telegrams than any other Member of the House; and it was, therefore, perfectly impossible for him to explain those discrepancies. The noble Earl asked him further—and he admitted that that was a more reasonable question—whether he thought that the circular despatch of M. Thouvenel could be laid on the table? That despatch had only been received within the last twenty-four hours—it was a despatch of considerable consequence, as might be anticipated from the mode in which it was announced. No time had as yet been afforded to Her Majesty's Government for the full consideration of it. And it was, therefore, premature to ask them to lay it upon the table. He was sure that the noble Earl opposite (the Earl of Derby) and every Member of that House would admit that there was no disposition on the part of Her Majesty's Government to withhold from the Legislature and the public any communications that could properly be laid before them he did not recollect, during his experience, any instance in which, with such rapidity and alacrity, the despatches had been laid on the table of both Houses of Parliament; even, he was inclined to admit—sometimes with danger to the due course of negotiations. There were despatches before their Lordships which had arrived within the last ten days. He sympathized with the interest which noble Lords took in the subject. At the same time he urged them to exercise the utmost discretion in putting questions as rapidly as they had, and at any rate to refrain from, asking the Government to explain discrepancies which existed between Statesmen abroad, and telegrams which came to this country, and which were not authentic, until proved to be so by subsequent despatches.


said, the answer of the noble Duke was perfectly fair. The despatch referred to had only arrived a short time ago; and no noble Lord on that side of the House of any experience would wish to extract anything from the Government that would be mischievous to the public service. But, on the other hand, while he gave to the Government entire liberty to refuse to answer any question which they thought ought not to be answered, he thought that the noble Duke ought to give the noble Lords on his side of the House the liberty of putting any question to them on all points on which they desired information. His noble Friend having seen telegraphic despatches of great importance in the public prints of that morning, naturally asked whether the Government had received any information on the subject; as it was likely that the Government might have received similar telegrams from our Ministers abroad. Although the noble Duke was quite justified in refusing to answer the question, under such circumstances as he had stated, he thought that the noble Duke was rather hard upon his noble Friend in saying that he had no right to ask him such a question,