HL Deb 21 April 1864 vol 174 cc1417-9

My Lords, before your Lordships adjourn. I wish to ask the noble Earl the Secretary for Foreign Affairs a Question, of which I have given him notice. Your Lordships are aware that the meeting of the Conference was fixed for yesterday, and you are aware, perhaps, that owing to the absence of the representative of the minor German States, the representatives of Austria and Prussia did not attend. Consequently, one day was lost, and one day at such a moment is of great importance. I understand that the Conference is postponed until next Monday, and your Lordships will bear in mind that this is not the first postponement. The Conference was originally fixed for the 12th, and then postponed until the 20th; now, again, it is postponed till Monday. It was distinctly understood that one of the first steps of the Conference would be to require a suspension of hostilities between the belligerents; but I am sorry to say that there are reasons which it may be very easy to understand, which may induce Austria, and especially Prussia, not to desire an armistice. I wish to ask the noble Earl whether, in the event of a further postponement, any steps will be taken at once to secure such an armistice, as will entirely prevent an indefinite postponement of the Conference combined with a continuation of hostilities against Denmark. I have seen it stated that it is the intention of the Prussians to despatch the troops which have been in the intrenchments of Duppel to invade Jutland; and I have heard also, though I hope this is not on good authority, though it has appeared in some of the German newspapers, that this occupation is for the purpose of making Denmark pay the expenses of the war. Under the circumstances, it is most desirable to know what probability there is of an armistice being agreed to.


With regard to the meeting of the Conference, I have to state that the German Diet having been requested to appoint a plenipotentiary, they appointed Baron von Beust, who holds the different offices of President of the Council. Home Minister, and Foreign Minister, in Saxony. It was necessary for him to make arrangements for the discharge of the business of these offices during his absence from Dresden, and consequently it was found that he would not be here till Monday. When the Conference met here yesterday, it was found that the Austrian and Prussian Ministers had strict injunctions not to attend the Conference until the representative of the Federal Diet was present. Into the noble Earl's question, in reference to the armistice, I must decline to enter; but I may say, perhaps, that when the Conference meets, as I trust it will on Monday, it will, no doubt, take all these matters into its serious consideration. It is obvious, however, that there can be little hope of any successful termination being arrived at, if Members of both Houses daily put questions as to what the Ministers of the Crown will do in certain cases.


Under the circumstances which are about to take place—I say about to take place, because the Conference only stands adjourned— I entirely approve the noble Earl's discretion. I think he is quite right; but, for my own part, I hope the noble Earl and the Government will be on their guard against a repetition of these postponements. It is impossible not to see the probable consequence of these postponements. It is evident that certain parties may make use of these postponements to come before the Conference in a better position than that which they occupy at the present moment. Therefore, I trust that the Government and the noble Lord will apply their best attention to noting accurately the excuses which may be made in the event of any further postponement being attempted. In the present instance, looking to the distance to be travelled, and generally the course taken by the gentlemen to whom the noble Earl has alluded, I cannot help being extremely suspicious as to the validity of his excuse.


My Lords, I am glad to observe that both sides of the House acknowledge the propriety of, as far as possible, avoiding discussion in the present circumstances of the case. I have no reason to doubt that the noble Earl the Foreign Secretary has already had in his mind the observations made by the noble Lord opposite. At the same time, it appears to me that very great value ought to be attached to what has fallen from my noble Friend. It is a satisfaction to those in a position to observe what is passing, that the attention of both sides of the House is directed to the course pursued by some of the Powers. There are circumstances connected with the progress of affairs which appear to me to justify a close observation of the proceedings of Austria and Prussia. It is impossible for any one to read the accounts which have transpired of what has taken place with regard to Sönder-borg—the continuance of hostilities in a cruel and murderous spirit, and the apparent intention of extending hostilities to all the principal fortresses of Denmark and throughout Jutland—without recognizing the very great importance that attaches to the disposition shown in the beginning of the Conference. As it is, I can only hope that its progress may be accelerated, and that it may have a happy ending.


The noble Earl was no doubt justified in asking a question as to when the Conference is to meet. In regard to the other observations which have been made, it is, however, only just to all parties to remember, that when Austria and Prussia had expressed their willingness to enter into the Conference, the Court of Denmark desired that I would not press for an immediate answer to my invitation, because great excitement then prevailed at Copenhagen, and it was desirable to wait till the matter could be more calmly and coolly considered. Consequently, I did not press for an answer at the time; and on communicating the reason of the delay to the Courts of Berlin and Vienna no objection was raised.