HL Deb 29 June 1863 vol 171 cc1611-4

My Lords, I desire to make an appeal to my noble Friend (the Marquess of Clanricarde) who has given notice of his intention to move for certain papers connected with the affairs of Poland. The first two—the Circular Note of Lord Castlereagh to the Plenipotentiaries of the Congress of Vienna, dated 12th January 1815, and the reply to that Note of Prince Metternich and Baron Wessemberg, of the 21st of January 1815—are contained in the papers which I laid on the table by command the other night. The third, the note of Prince Talleyrand to Prince Metternich upon Poland, dated 19th December 1814, is printed in the State papers, and was not included in those documents. If my noble Friend likes to move for it, it can be presented, and will then be regularly before the House. I have understood this morning that it is the intention of my noble Friend to raise a debate upon this question. I must ask him not to bring on that discussion at the present moment, because I feel convinced that it would be likely to be very injurious to the public interest, and that it would certainly seriously aggravate the responsibility of those who are charged with the management of public affairs. The present state of the matter is this:—Notes, or rather despatches, have been presented at St. Petersburg by the Ambassadors of England, France, and Austria. Those despatches were only presented to Prince Gortschakoff on Friday or Saturday last—I think on Saturday. Princh Gortschakoff said that he would take the orders of the Emperor; but no opinion has yet been expressed by the Russian Government. Now, I cannot but think that under these circumstances a discussion in this House might seriously prejudice the consideration of the proposals of the three Governments, and I hope that my noble Friend will wait at least until we bear further from St. Petersburg. If his object is to prevent any action on the part of Her Majesty's Government, there is no action which is likely to be taken until a reply is received, and therefore my noble Friend will run no risk of allowing the Government to adopt any measure of which the House is not informed. Of course, my noble Friend is aware, that when the reply is received, it will immediately be produced.


My Lords, I shall cheerfully and gladly comply with the request of my noble Friend, and I shall not think of saying anything at all upon the subject to which he refers. When the proper time comes, I shall ask leave to withdraw the Motion. I must say that I use the word "gladly" advisedly. My noble Friend and Her Majesty's Government must feel that independent Members of Parliament are now relieved from that responsibility which I, for one, think rested on them, to notice the propositions which have been stated in Parliament to have been made to the Russian Government, together with the intimation given in the other House of Parliament that no injury would arise to the public service from a discussion of these propositions. I should have thought, if the House had been silent after what I have now stated had taken place, we should be held in honour and good faith to have considered ourselves more or less bound by that silence hereafter. I can assure my noble Friend that no man could more gladly leave the question in the hands of my noble Friend and of the noble Lord at the head of the Government than I do. But I do think that the position of the Government, after what has occurred, is so very novel that the question must be discussed. Feeling relieved from all responsibility in the matter, I shall most gladly withdraw my Motion.


My Lords, I cannot at all object to the course which the noble Marquess has pursued. I think that after the request made to him by the noble Earl it was impossible that he should take any other course than that of postponing the discussion which was intended to be brought on this evening. At the same time, I have a very strong impression, that if injury would be done to the public service by a discussion in this House, there might have been as much chance of injury being caused by a debate in the other House of Parliament. It would be a great convenience if the principal Members connected with the management of Foreign Affairs in the two Houses had some little concert with each other as to what is and what is not likely to be injurious to the public service; because the noble Earl must be aware that a Motion was made for the purpose of postponing a discussion on Poland in the House of Commons on the ground that it might be prejudicial to the public service, when up gets the Prime Minister, informs the House that there is not the slightest chance that difficulty will be caused by entering upon the discussion, actually himself votes against the postponement of the discussion and for continuing it; and, being left in a minority, and the question not coming on, goes so far as to take the unusual course of explaining in the House all the propositions which are at this moment waiting the consideration of the Emperor of Russia. In this House I suppose we must accept the authority of the noble Earl, and therefore we must suppose that this is a subject which it is very dangerous to the public interests to discuss in the House of Lords; while, upon the authority of the Prime Minister, it is one which the House of Commons may discuss with perfect impunity and without the slightest danger to the public service. I confess, I am at a loss to reconcile the different views taken by these two high authorities. In this House we are bound by the authority of the noble Earl; but, at the same time, I must be allowed to say that I entirely concur with the view taken by the noble Marquess, that if we keep silence on this occasion, it is at the request of the Government, and we are relieved from responsibility for any course which may be taken, or for not having objected to that course at an earlier period. I will not enter upon the question; but I cannot help saying that the circumstances of the present time appear to me to be likely to be productive of so much embarrassment, likely to lead to so much difficulty, and so little likely to tend to any useful result or to any satisfactory conclusion of this great difficulty, that I do not think this House would have done its duty if it had kept entire silence, except on the especial invitation and at the request of the Secretary of State, who is himself mainly responsible for the conduct of the business.


I take entirely upon myself the responsibility of asking my noble Friend not to bring on his Motion, and he may, if he thinks it necessary, at a future time plead my having requested him to do so on my own responsibility, being charged with the special direction of Foreign Affairs. I do not think it at all necessary to defend the course taken by the noble Lord at the head of the Government in another place. It might not be inexpedient to allow that discussion to come on in the House of Commons a week or ten days ago, but it may be very inexpedient that it should come on here tonight. I do not think that it is absolutely necessary, that if one Minister says a thing one week, another Minister should say the same thing the next week under different circumstances.


The difference in the course pursued by the two noble Lords may be reconciled in this way. It may be that it is thought much more attention is paid to anything which passes in your Lordships' House than in the other House of Parliament.


I hope that is the proper interpretation to be put upon the matter, and that it is not supposed your Lordships are so wanting in discretion that you cannot he trusted to discuss a question with which the House of Commons might be safely permitted to deal.

On the Orders of the Day being read, the Notice of Motion was accordingly withdrawn.

House adjourned at half past Seven o'clock, till To-morrrow, half past Ten o'clock.