HL Deb 04 July 1867 vol 188 cc966-79

I rise, my Lords, for the purpose of asking Her Majesty's Government the Question of which I gave notice some days ago, and which has been inevitably postponed in consequence of the absence, through illness, of the noble Earl the First Lord of the Treasury, who has come down here to-day, I trust at no inconvenience to himself. I do not desire to challenge any convenient ambiguity in diplomatic instructions; but it is because there are certain words in the second article of the Treaty respecting the Grand Duchy of Luxemburg which seem to me calculated to raise a doubt to disturb the public opinion of Europe, to destroy the pacific character of the Treaty, and to be irreconcilable with the declaration of the Foreign Minister in the House of Commons, that I venture to put this Question. When on the 7th of May last my Lord Stanley presided at the Conference of the Powers on this subject, he brought forward a proposal to the effect that the Grand Duchy of Luxemburg should be a neutral State, and that the contracting parties should engage to secure that neutrality. Now, this was a very solemn, and honourable engagement which we and the other parties to the Treaty were asked to enter into. The Prussian Government, however, was not content, but asked for something more, and the "something more" which they proposed was the sanction of the collective guarantee of the European Powers. That was therefore intended to be something different from, and an increase of, the former obligation which Lord Stanley had proposed. At first Lord Stanley objected to the new proposal; but after consultation with the Cabinet he agreed to it. Now, what is the practical effect of that guarantee to be when any necessity for action arises? Whether that action is to be of a material or a moral character must from the very nature of things depend on the circumstances which arise. On that point I do not desire that our obligations should be more strictly defined than they are now. But the interpretation placed upon the Treaty the other day was to the effect that if any one of the signataries defied that Treaty and violated the neutrality of the State of Luxemburg, it would by that very act render the Treaty absolutely null, and discharge all the other parties from their obligations. Now, it is perfectly clear that the only parties against whom this Treaty was directed were signataries to it. It was not Spain, or Greece, or Denmark, or Sweden that were the objects of this Treaty as being likely to violate the neutrality of Luxemburg. The Duchy of Luxemburg has, on account of its peculiar local position, acquired an importance which its natural extent and character among the States of Europe would not justify. In the eyes of Prussia the neutrality of Luxemburg means the integrity of Belgium; while in the eyes of France the neutrality of Luxemburg means the integrity of Holland. Thus grave questions are involved in what is apparently a small and trivial matter. To use the expressive words of the Professor of International Law in the University of Oxford, If the default of one of the parties to this Treaty does discharge all other parties from their obligations, then the sole case in which assistance can be invoked is a case in which that assistance is impossible. It appears to me that if the object of the Treaty is nullified by the very act to prevent which it was entered into, you convert into a vague ceremony what was intended to be a solemn act and a responsible obligation. And now one word on what passed in "another place" in reference to this subject. Lord Stanley stated that in assenting to the Treaty he had done so with more doubt and anxiety than he had ever felt on any public question. The weight of those words is to my mind very much increased by the character of the noble Lord, who is not a man to indulge in exaggerated statements or even in strong language—these are therefore very grave words. I believe that by the words of the Treaty the parties are bound to resist any aggression whether it proceeds from one of the signataries or not. If the aggressor is a signatary, he adds to the aggression a violation of the Treaty. Lord Stanley used the words "limited liability" in reference to this question; but I will leave it to your Lordships to say whether limited liability may not involve a very serious responsibility. The Question which I have given notice to put to the noble Earl is the more important, because I am aware that there is political agitation going on both in France and Prussia with respect to this subject. It would be a most dangerous thing for any one in that or the other House of Parliament to give colour to that agitation, and I hope that no interpretation will be given to the Treaty which would convert a sense of security in Europe into one of confusion and alarm. I therefore ask the First Lord of the Treasury, What is the construction which Her Majesty's Government place on the words "collective guarantee" (garantie collective) in the Treaty of the 11th of May, 1867, relative to the Grand Duchy of Luxemburg?


My Lords, I regret that in consequence of an attack of illness, from which I am still suffering slightly, I have been obliged to put the noble Lord to the inconvenience of postponing more than once a question to which he appears to attach considerable importance. In the first place, I may be permitted to say, although I am ready to repeat the explanation I have already given of this Treaty, but which does not appear to be satisfactory to the noble Lord, that, whatever the interpretation which I may put on particular words of the Treaty, or whatever the interpretation which Her Majesty's Government may put on it, such interpretation cannot affect the International Law by which the terms of all treaties are construed. I, for one, am very unwilling, as I always have been, to underrate or do away with any responsibility which this country may have incurred. Still less would it be my desire that we should shrink from carrying that responsibility out as far as the means of this country would go, and as far as we are bound by the terms of any treaty into which we may enter. In my reference to the Treaty brought under our notice by the noble Lord, I hope he will not understand me as speaking of moral obligations, but of the technical obligations imposed by the Treaty. To the latter only the noble Lord's question has reference, and to them alone shall I apply myself in my answer. I am not much skilled in the ways of diplomatists, but I believe that if there be one thing more clear than another it is the distinction between a collective guarantee and a separate and several guarantee. A several guarantee binds each of the parties to do its utmost individually to enforce the observance of the guarantee. A collective guarantee is one which is binding on all the parties collectively; but which, if any difference of opinion should arise, no one of them can be called upon to take upon itself the task of vindication by force of arms. The guarantee is collective, and depends upon the union of all the parties signing it; and no one of those parties is bound to take upon itself the duty of enforcing the fulfilment of the guarantee. The noble Lord expressed some surprise that with my noble Relative's views of the limited nature of the guarantee contained in the Treaty of the 11th of May he should have said in "another place" that he never had consented to any measure with greater reluctance than that which he had felt in regard of the guarantee embodied in this Treaty. My Lords, I think it is not very difficult to see why my noble Relative should have entertained that reluctance. It was not till the first day of the meeting of the Conference my noble Relative had an opportunity of knowing the extent of the guarantee expected by Prussia; and what has passed this evening shows that he was not unreasonable in his apprehensions that, however cautious the wording of the guarantee might be, in the opinion of some we might be supposed to have entered into engagements more extensive than those which we had actually undertaken, and be by them held guilty of a breach of faith if we did not carry our responsibility to a greater extent than the terms of the Treaty warranted. I must now call your Lordships' attention to the precise circumstances under which this guarantee was asked for and given. It is quite true that, in the first place, Prussia laid down as one of the bases on which she would enter into the Conference that she should receive a European guarantee for the neutrality of Luxemburg. My noble Relative, in the project of a treaty which he prepared for the Conference, did not use the word "guarantee;" but in reference to the Article declaring that the Grand Duchy of Luxemburg should thenceforth form a perpetually independent State proposed the words "the high contracting parties engage to respect the principle of neutrality stipulated by the present Article." Prussia did not think that went far enough; for the Protocol states— The Plenipotentiary of Prussia says that he has in general no objection to make to the project of treaty presented by Lord Stanley, but that he remarks in it a departure from the programme on the basis of which his Government had accepted the invitation to the Conference; that is to say, the European guarantee of the neutrality of the Grand Duchy of Luxemburg; that, however, as all the Powers represented in the Conference have admitted and accepted that programme, he thinks himself justified in hoping that this omission will be supplied in the discussion of Article II. The Plenipotentiaries of Austria, France, the Netherlands, and Russia, confirm the statement of the Plenipotentiary of Prussia that the Powers had accepted as the basis of negotiation the neutrality of Luxemburg under a collective guarantee. Lord Stanley points out that in virtue of the Treaties of the 19th of April, 1839, the Grand Duchy of Luxemburg is already placed under an European guarantee. As to the terms which, in the project of treaty which he has had the honour of communicating to the Conference, refer to the neutrality to be established for the Grand Duchy of Luxemburg, they are identical with those which declare the neutrality of Belgium in Article VII. of the Annex to the treaty signed in London on the 19th of April, 1839, between Austria, France, Great Britain, Prussia, and Russia on the one part, and the Netherlands on the other part. Count de Bernstorff points out that the Treaty of 1839, although it places the territory of Luxemburg under the guarantee of the Powers, does not guarantee its neutrality. Now, the difference between this guarantee and that given to Belgium is very important; and he expresses the hope of seeing the same guarantee given by the Powers to the neutrality of Luxemburg as is enjoyed by that of Belgium. It is thereupon agreed between the Plenipotentiaries to proceed to an examination of the project of treaty, article by article. To add at the end of the Article the words:—'That principle is and remains placed under the sanction of the collective (or common) guarantee of the Powers signing parties to the present treaty, with the exception of Belgium, which is itself a neutral State.' Baron de Brunnow says that he is authorized by his Court to assent entirely to the principle of placing the neutrality of the Grand Duchy of Luxemburg under a collective guarantee. He hopes that this principle will be admitted and adopted unanimously as the best pledge that can be offered for the maintenance of peace in Europe. Count Apponyi declares that his Government has also accepted the guaranteed neutrality of Luxemburg as the basis of negotiation. And what does the Plenipotentiary for France say?— Prince de la Tour d'Auvergne says that, as far as he is concerned, he has no special instructions respecting the question of a collective guarantee; but that he must agree that this guarantee has hitherto been put forward as the compliment of the neutralization of the Grand Duchy of Luxemburg; and, although, in fact, the engagement which the Powers take to respect the neutrality of Luxemburg has, in his opinion, under the circumstances a value almost equal to that of a formal guarantee, he cannot deny that the Prussian Ambassador is justified in his observations. I wish the noble Lord, when in asking for an interpretation of the Treaty, had been kind enough to inform us what is his interpretation of the guarantee. I think it would be desirable to know what, in the view of the noble Lord, is the true signification of a collective guarantee, signed by several Powers; because if, as seems to be the noble Lord's inference, each of the parties to such a guarantee is not only bound itself to respect the treaty, but also to enforce individually its maintenance by all the other Powers who were parties to the treaty, I think the French Plenipotentiary would hardly have said the two terms were so similar that one was nearly equal to the other. Let me give your Lordships one or two instances of separate guarantees and of collective guarantees. The first I will take is a very remarkable case—that with regard to the neutrality of Belgium. In the year 1831 a Conference of the five Great Powers laid down twenty-five Articles, which were to determine the relations between Belgium and Holland, and which were to form the basis of a treaty between those two countries. The Powers who were parties to that Conference of 1831 bound themselves to uphold, not collectively, but severally and individually, the integrity of the treaty. That was a separate and individual guarantee. But, notwithstanding, in 1832, when Belgium, who had not been put in possession of the territory assigned to her by that treaty, called on the Powers parties to the Conference to enforce her rights, Prussia, Russia, and Austria declined to interfere by force of arms for that purpose; while, on the other hand, France and England, taking a stricter view of the obligations imposed upon them by the treaty, proceeded to enforce it by combined naval and military operations. In the same treaty there was comprised a guarantee for the possession of Luxemburg by the King of Holland, not in his capacity as King of Holland, but as Grand Duke of Luxemburg. In 1839, after a treaty had been made between Belgium and Holland embodying the main provisions of the Treaty of 1831, a separate one was entered into between the five Powers and Belgium, in which the obligations of the former Treaty of 1831 were repeated and renewed, and the five Powers bound themselves separately to maintain the integrity of Belgium, its neutrality and independence. The Prussian Minister must have been perfectly well aware of the terms of that treaty by which the five Powers, acting individually, guaranteed the independence of Belgium; yet if he thought the one kind of guarantee equal to the other, I want to know why he should have studiously altered the words and asked not for a separate and several guarantee, but for a collective guarantee by the Great Powers for the integrity and independence of Luxemburg? With regard to the difference between a collective and a several guarantee, I may refer to another case in illustration of what I have said. In 1856 an agreement was signed by seven great Powers — Great Britain, Austria, France, Prussia, Russia, Sardinia, and Turkey—with regard to the independence of Turkey, and these are the terms in which that guarantee is given. The several Potentates— Declare the Sublime Porte admitted to participate in the advantages of the public law and system (concert) of Europe. Their Majesties engage,"—and I wish you particularly to observe this—"each on his part, to respect the independence and the territorial integrity of the Ottoman Empire; guarantee in common the strict observance of that engagement, and will, in consequence, consider any act tending to its violation as a question of general interest. The engagement "each on his part" and "guarantee in common" are precisely the terms introduced into the Treaty of May, 1867, on the request of the Prussian Minister, and the security his Government desired to obtain. Are these treaties, then, to be deemed binding on all the Powers, signataries of the treaty, not only individually to respect, but collectively, individually, and separately to guarantee and enforce the neutrality of Luxemburg? I think the answer to that question is given by a treaty signed only fifteen days after that from which I have just quoted; I refer to the tripartite treaty signed between Great Britain, Austria, and France, having for its object the very same purpose as the former treaty—the integrity and independence of the territories of Turkey. Now, if that was secured by the treaty among the seven Powers, signed only a fortnight before, and if that engagement was binding, as I understood the noble Lord contends, upon each of the Powers separately, I say there was no occasion for the second treaty whatever. The very existence of the second treaty admits the insufficiency of its predecessor, and is couched in these terms— The high contracting parties guarantee, jointly and severally, the independence and the integrity of the Ottoman Empire, recorded in the treaty concluded at Paris on the 30th of March, 1856. By this separate treaty the three Powers separately and individually guarantee the same thing which a fortnight before had been collectively guaranteed by the seven Powers. The three Powers found it necessary to sign a treaty which should express an obligation upon each, because the previous treaty was not binding separately and severally upon all the signatory Powers. The treaty goes on to say— Any infraction of the stipulations of the said treaty will be considered by the Powers signing the present treaty as casus belli. They will come to an understanding with the Sublime Porte as to the measures which have become necessary, and will without delay determine among themselves as to the employment of their military and naval forces. It is impossible more clearly to appreciate the distinction between a collective guarantee and a several guarantee than by considering the cause, wording, and effect of these two treaties, signed within a fortnight of each other. If the noble Lord (Lord Houghton) is not satisfied with my view of this treaty—namely, that the integrity and neutrality of Luxemburg rests upon the collective voice and upon the honour of all the Powers who are signataries to it, I should wish that he gives us his interpretation of its effect, and to what extent it is binding upon us. I will put a case to him. Suppose that Prussia with a view of making war on France, or France with a view of making war upon Prussia, were to enter the territory of Luxemburg—thereby, of course, violating its neutrality by the mere passage of an army, for I am not dealing with the question of occupation or possession, but of violating the neutrality of Luxemburg by passing an army through it — does the noble Lord mean to say that all the guaranteeing Powers in this Treaty of 1867, or each singly, would be bound by the obligations thrown on them by this treaty to go to war against the Power—whichever it might be—which entered Luxemburg with an army? Would Prussia desire this interpretation of the treaty? Suppose, in anticipation of any invasion by France, Prussia thought it necessary to make defensive advances into Luxemburg, would Prussia contend that all the other Powers would be thereby bound to take part with France in a war against her for the purpose of vindicating the neutrality of Luxemburg? And supposing, in a case, that Russia and Austria held aloof from the fulfilment of their portion of the guarantee in the event of any case for interference arising, does the noble Lord for a moment contend that England—situated as she is, and absolutely unable to put a sufficient military force on the Continent for preserving this neutrality—has contracted the obligation of enforcing the guarantee which she gave in common with all the other Powers of Europe? Such a construction is contrary to all the rules of interpretation, and far beyond what this country should undertake or carry through. Suppose, again, that France and Prussia, for the purpose of coming to a contest, should simultaneously violate the neutrality, in what position would the other Powers be? Should the remaining guarantors or England alone immediately begin a sort of triangular duel, to prevent the violation of the treaty by Powers who had already violated it? It is evident the conditions of the treaty must be construed with a regard to what is reasonable and practicable; and I say again that by a collective guarantee it is well understood that while in honour all the Powers who are parties to it severally engage to maintain, for their own part, a strict respect for the territory for which neutrality is guaranteed; and although, undoubtedly, any one Power has a perfect right to declare a casus belli if she think fit because of the violation of the guarantee, yet a single Power is not bound to take up the cudgels for all the other Powers with whom she gave a collective guarantee. I can give no further interpretation of the treaty than this—that as far as the honour of England is concerned she will be bound to respect the neutrality of Luxemburg; and I expect that all the other Powers will equally respect it; but she is not bound to take upon herself the Quixotic duty, in the case of a violation of the neutrality of Luxemburg by one of the other Powers, of interfering to prevent its violation — because we have only undertaken to guarantee it in common with all the other great Powers of Europe. The integrity of the neutrality of Luxemburg must not rest upon the force of arms of any particular one of the guaranteeing Powers; but upon the honour of all the guaranteeing Powers together, upon the general obligation taken in the face of Europe by all the signatary Powers; and if the neutrality should be violated by any one of them, then I say it is not a case of obligation, but a case of discretion with each of the other signatary Powers as to how far they should singly or collectively take upon themselves to vindicate the neutrality guaranteed.


My Lords, I think it very unfortunate that in so short a time after a treaty has been signed there should be a discussion in Parliament as to its precise meaning, and as to how far England is bound by it. It is particularly unfortunate in this instance, because we know that the explanations given by the noble Lord, reported as they have been in the newspapers and otherwise, have created a very unpleasant feeling in Prussia, and that it is commonly said there that it is no use to sign a treaty with England, because England will find a means of escaping from the obligations imposed on her by it. That is a very unfortunate state of things; and I think it also very unnecessary to discuss with regard to the treaty, as the noble Earl has done, what this country is bound to do in a variety of supposed cases. It is hardly possible to suppose a case which shall be exactly what will occur, and I would much rather be contented with the arrangement made. I should have thought that the declaration on the part of all the Powers was sufficient security for the peace of Europe, and I could not be surprised that the French Ambassador should say, on the part of France, "We regard the engagement as very little more than a promise to respect the principles of neutrality as stipulated in the present treaty;" — because supposing all the powers to respect that principle of neutrality, or supposing France and Prussia to respect it, there is very little danger of interference being required. With regard to the technical interpretation of the treaty, I am inclined not to dispute that given by the noble Earl. There can be no better instance by which to interpret the treaty than that to which the noble Earl has referred. The treaty with regard to the integrity of the Ottoman Empire was, I remember, the result of discussions which took place at the time. The declaration of Russia always was that she was herself ready to respect the integrity of Turkey, and that she had no intention or wish to violate it; but that she was not inclined to agree to a stipulation that in case that integrity was violated by Persia or any other neighbouring Power to Turkey, Russia should be bound at once to interfere by force of arms to maintain the integrity of Turkey.


Will the noble Earl permit me to say that Russia's declaration was that she would not only for herself respect the integrity of Turkey, but that she should join in a collective guarantee for that object, and that collective guarantee was drawn up in the precise terms introduced into this Treaty of 1856?


It was for that reason that I said I am not disposed to deny the technical obligation as stated by the noble Earl. The Government of Russia declared, no doubt, that she agreed to a collective guarantee in the form proposed, and that she did not feel bound by that guarantee to interfere by force of arms if Turkey should be attacked. But I think the noble Earl did much in the early part of his statement to do away with any doubts or fears we might before have entertained upon the subject. The noble Earl seemed to imply that because there was no individual guarantee, there was no individual obligation; but he considered that a moral obligation would rest upon this country which might have to be met. Now, with regard to this it strikes me that if there is a moral obligation, that moral obligation must entirely depend for its execution upon the circumstances which at any future time may exist. If one of those two Powers, France or Prussia, were to violate the neutrality of Luxemburg, and the Power which objected and protested against that violation were to appeal to the other Powers, I should myself consider that there would be a moral obligation upon those Powers to call upon the Power so violating the neutrality to withdraw from its position, and to enforce that appeal if necessary by resorting to arms. That appears to be the meaning of a moral obligation, and that such is the meaning is, I think, obvious from the circumstances referred to by my noble Friend (Lord Houghton). I understand that the Secretary for Foreign Affairs stated in the other House that it was with the greatest doubt, hesitation, and reluctance that he acceded to the proposal of the Prussian Government. The Prussian Government were not content with the proposal originally made, and insisted with great pertinacity on the collective guarantee, and it was upon these representations that Lord Stanley, with much hesitation, agreed to this collective guarantee. Yet for some time we have been told, this House has been told, and Europe has been told, that this article, which was demanded with so much pertinacity by one Government, and assented to with, so much reluctance by another, was no more than waste paper, and that if one of these Powers violated this neutrality it was immediately at an end. If this were all, the article would be something less than the engagement respecting the neutrality of the Duchy that already existed. I expect and hope, that the article may be respected, and that the stipulations will be observed by all the parties to the treaty. I do not myself believe that either France or Prussia have any intention of violating their engagements with regard to Luxemburg; but I think it would be a very unfortunate thing if this country were to be led into a mistaken notion of the nature of the obligation incurred under the treaty, and thus be led so to act as to create the impression that we were willing to incur obligations without the intention of fulfilling them when the time arrived for our so doing, I hope that no such occasion may arise; but if it does arise, I trust that whatever may at the time be found to be the moral obligation of this country will be punctually and faithfully performed.


said, that the term, a "collective guarantee," appeared to be a misnomer for the treaty to which we had recently been parties. From what had been stated it did not seem to be anything more than an honourable arrangement by which each Power was bound by its own honour to respect its stipulations, but was bound in no other way. He trusted that the construction put upon the treaty by his noble Friend (Earl Russell) was not the one put upon it by the Prime Minister, and that we had not really incurred any such moral obligation as that to which his noble Friend had alluded.


addressed a few observations to the House which were inaudible.


said, that the answer which the noble Earl (the Earl of Derby) had given some few weeks since to a Question which he had put upon the Paper referring to this subject had created some sensation. The noble Earl, in answering his Question, had not referred to what would have to be done supposing the treaty were violated by one of the contracting Powers, and the remainder called conjointly upon England to fulfil the stipulations entered into. In that case he (the Duke of Argyll) believed that the natural interpretation of the treaty would be that we were not only morally, but also legally bound to act with the other Powers. That was not the interpretation put upon it by the Government, and that was so far satisfactory, because they hoped that the present Government might never be called upon to take action in any way in consequence of the treaty; but we had no security that any future Administration would put the same interpretation upon it—they would, of course, put their own interpretation upon it, and act as circumstances required.


thought that these discussions were very greatly to be regretted. He could only express a hope that after the explanation which had been given by the noble Earl at the head of the Government the subject would not be pressed any further, because he felt persuaded that these constant discussions were calculated to do harm, and could only lead to difficulty and misunderstanding.


said, that guarantees seldom led to serious consequences where there was perfect good faith and good-will on all sides; but he protested against the House discussing a question of the breach of a guarantee until a breach appeared likely to take place. He was quite certain that in case of the treaty being in danger, there would be a Conference of all the parties to the treaty, and as the consequences of Austria not agreeing to a Conference had been so serious to her, and to many States of Germany, and aggression had been justified on the ground of the refusal to join one, he believed that all would prefer a Conference to disunion. He thought the guarantee perfectly safe, and believed that it was as advantageous to Holland as in the case of the Quadruple Alliance, in which the contracting parties bound themselves to "protect and guarantee all the dominions, jurisdictions, &c., which the Lords, the States-General, possessed against all persons whatsoever."


, in reply, thought it would be exceedingly presumptuous in him to accept the challenge of the noble Earl opposite and place his interpretation on the treaty, and the guarantee entered into under it. Much must, of course, be left to the good sense and good feeling of the Powers of Europe; but he accepted the interpretation of the noble Earl (Earl Russell) and of the noble Duke who followed him—that if the neutrality of Luxemburg was invaded by one of the signataries to the treaty, and we were called upon by the other signataries to cease amicable relations with the aggressor, we should be bound in honour to answer that appeal. That, he believed, was the sense in which, in this country and abroad, the treaty would be generally understood.