THE EARL OF CARNARVON
—My Lords, the other evening the noble Earl the Foreign Secretary deprecated discus- 689 sion on the subject of Polish affairs. With regard to the Question which I am about to ask the noble Earl, if I thought that Question, however important it may he, would tend in any way to embarrass Her Majesty's Government in dealing with so grave a subject, I should not put it on this occasion; but the Question I wish to ask this evening, though relating to Polish affairs, is one which cannot, as I conceive, exercise any prejudicial bearing whatever, as far as Her Majesty's Government is concerned, on the negotiations in which they are engaged. I feel very great sympathy, for my own part, with the Polish nation in their present struggle; and I feel, what I think every reasonable man must feel, that there is the deepest danger to the other States of Europe in the continuance of the present state of affairs, arising from the circumstances now in progress in Poland. At the same time, I am of opinion that even this evil is less to be dreaded than the wanton and gratuitous intervention of Prussia, or rather of the Prussian Government. When hostilities unfortunately break out in a country, it is the natural duty and the natural wish, I should say, of every professedly neutral power, not only to abstain from intervention, but, as far as possible, to reduce the scope of the hostilities. Unfortunately, the Prussian Government have not thought fit to adopt this policy. I do not think it at all necessary to enter into an argument upon the internal affairs of Prussia. If Prussia chose to change the fair prospects of her earlier career, to abolish her Parliament, to put down her press, and to suppress all free expression of thought—if she chose, in fact, to merge her constitutional monarchy into the coarse form of a military despotism—we have no right to criticise such acts. She is the mistress of her own actions, and must be responsible for them. But when her policy carries her beyond the limits of her own country, when her action is carried across her own frontier, then it affects the relations of other countries, and we, like every other nation in Europe, being affected by that policy, it is our right and our duty to speak out. It is undeniable, as well from the papers which have been laid before Parliament as from common report, that there exists a convention between the Governments of Prussia and Russia. In pursuance of that convention, as far as we can judge from the reports in the newspapers, Russian troops, when beaten by the Polish insurgents, have crossed the frontier and taken shelter in Prussia, have there 690 been recruited with food and arms, and have been sent back with all the facilities which the Prussian Government could give them. On the other hand, when Polish insurgents were defeated and driven across the frontier, they appear to have been immediately captured and handed over to the Russian authorities. Nay, more than that, we have evidence in the papers presented to Parliament that Poles entering Prussia from the south, intending generously to devote their lives to their country, have been arrested by the Prussian authorities and handed over to the Russians to be dealt with as the latter might think fit. I have looked through the papers laid on the table with every wish to satisfy myself as to the state of the case, and I must say that the bearings on this particular point, as to the nature, significance, and precise terms of this convention, are wholly unintelligible to me. I will take the language which is held by the different parties to the correspondence. There are no less than five parties—two contracting parties, Russia and Prussia; and three others materially concerned—namely, Austria, France, and England. I will take, in the first instance, the statement made on the one hand by the Russian and on the other by the Prussian Government. There is no denial of the existence of the document, but these two parties call it by different names. The Prussian Government call it a "Convention," the Russian Government say it is not a convention, but simply an "Engagement." The Prussian Government say that this convention or engagement was pressed upon them by Russia. The Russian Government, on the other hand, as far as we can judge from those papers, seem to have been hardly so eager to enforce it as the Prussian Government; and we have, curiously enough, a reference to part of the draught of the convention having been drawn up, not by the Russian, but by the Prussian negotiators. When our Minister pressed for some information on the subject, the Prussian Minister expressed himself perfectly willing to give the information, to place the text in our hand, if it were not for the objection raised by Russia. When our Minister goes to the Russian Government, he is told that they would be delighted to hand it over; but objections have been raised in another quarter. What that quarter is, the Russian Minister does not say; but we may draw our own conclusion on that point. The Prussian Minister, M. von Bismarck, objected to producing the convention, saying that the ra- 691 tifications had not been exchanged, and that, consequently, it was an incomplete and informal document, and as such ought not to pass into the hands of another Power. But, as Sir Andrew Buchanan, the English Minister at Berlin, pointed out, this document being a convention between Russia and Pussia, depends for its validity on the will and pleasure of the contracting parties. When we push the matter a little further, one of the contracting parties says that the object of the convention is simply to provide for a safe transit of the Russians across the frontier, when pursued by the Poles. The other goes beyond that, and says, it is for the purpose of enabling the Prussians to apprehend and give up insurgents. There is this difference when you come to deal with the parties concerned. But you find just as wide a difference in the views of Austria, who was the first Power with whom it was proposed to enter into a convention. Austria was, no doubt, placed in a difficult position. It was difficult for her, perhaps, to speak her mind; but she refused to have any part in it. France speaks with greater force. She tells you that this is a very grave question; that Prussia, by entering into a convention, forfeits her neutrality, extends the area of hostilities, and makes an incident in Polish affairs a grave question of European policy. We now come to the opinion of the Government of this country, as expressed by my noble Friend the Foreign Secretary. What is the view he takes on this subject? On the 2nd of March he writes to our representative at Berlin in language clear and forcible. He tells Sir Andrew Buchanan that it was the duty of Prussia to observe neutrality, but that in acceding to this convention she has departed from neutrality. On the some day the noble Earl appears to have received at the Foreign Office a despatch from Berlin, in which Sir Andrew Buchanan tells him that M. von Bismarck has had a conversation with him, and that in his opinion the convention is informal and incomplete. Three days afterwards the noble Ear writes to Lord Cowley that the importance of the convention is gradually diminishing, and nine days afterwards he writes to Sir Andrew Buchanan that the convention is a dead letter, and that he need not trouble himself to ask for any copy of it. That despatch went forth on the 11th of March. On the 14th the despatch of the noble Earl was crossed by a letter from Sir Andrew Buchanan, who said, "I do not 692 believe that either Government has declared the convention to be null." He then adds the expression of his opinion that that convention is not cancelled, but is to be acted on during the remainder of the war. Subsequently, on the 31st, you have the account of a debate in the Prussian Chambers, in which this convention is spoken of as still existing—admitted to be still existing by the Prussian Minister, and denounced by the Prussian Deputies in the strongest possible manner. Now, I do not care to dwell upon the inconsistencies and contradictions of the Prussian Government on this subject. I do not care to impute to Prussia equivocation or falsification of the facts; but I do say, that if Prussia had desired to appear in the eyes of Europe as equivocating, contradicting, and using an official mystification in this matter, it would have been impossible for her to adopt a course which would have answered that end more completely. My Lords, that closes the first stage in these proceedings; but there comes a second stage, and a very important one it is. On the 27th of February, Sir Andrew Buchanan goes to the Prussian Prime Minister at Berlin, and asks for an explanation of the nature and provisions of this convention, requesting that he might see the text. M. von Bismarck answers in the manner I have already described, but says, that though he cannot place the text of the convention in his hands, he is quite willing to read it to him. Accordingly he reads a paper which, to use Sir Andrew Buchanan's own words, M. von Bismarck represents to be the convention in question. Eight days afterwards—namely, on the 2nd of March—Sir Andrew Buchanan returns, and asks M. von Bismarck one of the most singular questions which was ever asked by one diplomatist of another—namely, whether the paper which M. von Bismarck had represented as being the convention, was in fact the whole, or was only a part of that convention. It was a very singular question; but I think the answer was still more singular; for it appears that Count Bismarck then stated, that that paper was neither the whole nor a part of the convention, but was simply the draught as proposed by Prussia. However, in order to put an end to all doubt, M. von Bismarck proposed to read the actual convention, as it was signed at St. Petersburg, and he read it accordingly. Now, here should have been the solution of every doubt on the subject; and if no other view came out in those papers, I confess 693 that I should have been perfectly satisfied with such an explanation from the Prime Minister of any country. But a little further on comes a most remarkable despatch from Lord Napier, our Ambassador at St. Petersburg, in which he describes a conversation he has had with the Duke of Montebello, the French Ambassador, who says he has seen the convention, and that allusion is made in it to a secret article. That despatch is only an extract. The secret article is spoken of as being to a certain extent known, and one to which previous reference has been made; but I find no explanation whatever of it, except in one single isolated passage. Now, I do think it is time to ask, not only whether this is the only secret article, or whether there are more—not merely what is the meaning of all this official mystification, but what can be the bearing of a paper which requires a secret article at all? Secret articles are not usually appended to State papers which are declared over and over again by the contracting parties to be devoid of all political significance. But when there has been a good deal of obscurity and reserve, it is sometimes convenient and important to inquire into the grounds of necessity which justify such a transaction. Sometimes it is possible to infer the nature of transactions from the necessities of the case. Now, what are the grounds of necessity here? Could the convention have been necessary in any sense either for Russia or Prussia? You have in these papers the Cartel Convention of 1857, under which Russia has a full and absolute right to the extradition of all offenders, whether political or criminal M. von Bismarck himself—no slight authority on such a subject—tells you that this convention is so elastic as to comprise every species of offence. I should have thought that that was enough to satisfy Russia, if she merely wished to obtain the surrender of political offenders; and I should have thought, that if Prussia were merely ambitious to fulfil the duties of the high police of her neighbour, such a convention would have satisfied her. But against whom, or for what object, was the new convention entered into? No one will tell me that these unhappy Poles could have meditated carrying the war into the territories of Prussia. Was it rebellion, then? Was it the fear of insurrection? Why, we never heard a whisper of anything like disquiet or political disturbance in the Polish territories of Prussia. Was it, again, any do- 694 mestic pressure or any national sentiment which urged Prussia on? Why, we have in these papers the Report of a very stirring debate in the Prussian Chamber, in which the convention is denounced In far stronger language than I would venture to use before your Lordships. Well, then, there is but a single reason which I can imagine after having employed this exhaustive process. Incredible as it may seem, this convention must owe its existence to the jealousy of Prussia—to her fear, to a vague and indefinite dread of anything like constitutional life arising on the other side of her frontier. I dissociate the action of the Prussian people from that of their Government, and I shall not consent, without much larger evidence than that now supplied to us, to believe that the mind and feeling of Prussia are enlisted in the course taken by her Government. But the Prussian Government think it possible, that out of the present wreck and chaos in Poland, and out of the bloody strife now going on there, may arise some freer principles of government, some more liberal constitution than that which Poland has for a long time enjoyed; and this, I believe, is the phantom which has so scared them—this is the ghost which M. von Bismarck has conjured up, and is now endeavouring to lay. My Lords, surely it is a most unworthy policy to grudge this measure of freedom and this new constitution to Poland. More than that, it is unnecessary and unwise to do so, because by such conduct Prussia isolates herself, and drives back the sympathies of those nations who have been her best allies in former years. In such a policy she goes back, not by years, but almost by generations, and gives up entirely the prize for which she has been so long struggling—the leadership of Germany. More than this, I think it will be admitted that such a policy is not only unworthy, unnecessary, and unwise, but that it is eminently unsafe. Are Prussian statesmen positively so blind, are their eyes so judicially darkened, that they cannot see the excessive danger of the course they are now pursuing, and are not aware of that which any child can discern—how nicely balanced and how critical affairs now are in Europe? Is it possible for them to fancy that they can act while others hereafter will sit still, and that the mischievous precedent of intervention will not he exercised some day by some other Power? In one word, to put it in the strongest form, do they think that their western frontier is so secure that they can 695 venture to trifle with their own fortunes and the peace of Europe? It would be well if Prussian statesmen had solved these questions clearly and distinctly in their own minds before they ventured upon this dangerous course. I have made these observations because I feel, that if I allowed this time to pass by, the opportunity might be lost of calling attention to this questionable and unsatisfactory transaction. I have endeavoured to keep clear of all questions which are in; any way involved in the negotiations now being carried on by the Government, and I shall conclude by asking the noble Earl the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, Whether he can add any further Information respecting the Nature and Provisions of the recent Convention concluded between the Governments of Russia and Prussia beyond that contained in the Correspondence respecting the Insurrection in Poland laid before Parliament?
§ EARL RUSSELL
My noble Friend has certainly avoided any question which, could at all embarrass Her Majesty's Government in the; negotiations now going on with respect to Poland; and with regard to the particular Question which my noble Friend has put to me, I cannot say that I can add anything to the present information to be derived from the papers which have been laid before Parliament. The noble Earl says, very truly, that what was represented as a convention at Berlin was represented at St. Petersburg as a mere military arrangement; that what was represented at Berlin as done at the request of the Russian Government, was represented at St. Petersburg as having been done at the request of Prussia. In short, there has been a kind of contradiction, a kind of obscurity, with regard to this convention. What, however, appeared to Her Majesty's Government, and I believe to the Government of France, to be the most important part of this convention or military arrangement, whichever it may be termed, was this:—It was believed that if Russian troops entered upon Prussian territory—that is into Posen or Silesia—they would be there at liberty to carry on hostilities against the Polish insurgents whom they were pursuing. Now, we find that Count Bismarck denies that any authority is given for that purpose, and says that the convention in that respect is a dead letter; and he states that no instructions have been given to the Prussian authorities, without 696 whose sanction Russian troops could not go in pursuit of the insurgents, or carry on hostilities in Prussia. That being the state of the case, I certainly said that the importance of that convention was very much diminished, and Count Bismarck repeated that it was a dead letter. That, however, does not appear to be the case. The noble Earl made some general observations at the commencement of his speech with which I cannot but agree. Here was an insurrection broken out in Russian Poland, with the motives and provocations of which the Prussian Government had nothing to do. It certainly appeared to Her Majesty's Government that the wise course for Prussia to pursue was to take every precaution; to preserve tranquillity on her own frontiers among her own subjects in Prussian Poland, and to adopt such measures of conciliation on the one hand, and military vigilance on the other, as would prevent the insurrection from spreading into the Polish provinces of Prussia. Such was very much the policy pursued by Austria; but it has certainly not been the general policy pursued by Prussia. Prussia has considered that the insurrection in Russian Poland was a danger to Prussian Poland; and, without going the extreme length of allowing Russian troops to pursue the Poles on her own territory, she has done everything in her power that was not quite open to the charge of being a breach of neutrality to assist Russia. That being the state of the case, I think it is very bad policy on the part of Prussia, and a policy which at one time seemed likely to involve disagreeable negotiations with France and England.
said, that although reluctant to take any part in the discussion, he would not have his silence construed into the slightest approbation of the conduct of Prussia. He agreed with all parties in this country, and all on the Continent, except the Government of Prussia, in reprobating the conduct of Russia towards Poland. Viewing with reprobation that conduct, and trusting that it would not produce any effects inconsistent with the peace of Europe, he must express his astonishment and his sorrow for the conduct of Prussia in regard to her own subjects and her own constitution. He believed that the Prussian people had the sympathy of all Europe, except, perhaps, the army of Prussia, in their present position with regard to the Crown.
THE EARL OF CARNARVON
My noble Friend has said nothing as to the secret article. I should be glad to know, whether he can give us any information as to the nature of that secret article, and whether he will lay upon the table any despatches, or parts of despatches, relating to it?
§ EARL RUSSELL
Some mention has been made of a secret article, but we have not such information as we can rely upon, and which we could produce to the House, based upon any satisfactory authority.
§ House adjourned at Six o'clock, till To-morrow, a quarter before Five o'clock.