HL Deb 18 March 1875 vol 223 cc11-4

My Lords, I am glad to find that, in putting the Question of which I have given Notice, I do not stand between the House and any further business, although I shall depart but little from the reserve which I have hitherto maintained upon the topic. If I depart from it at all, it is because we are on the verge of an adjournment for Easter, while something might be done during that period beyond the power of revoking. The two inquiries I have to make, like those which came from me before, and like that which came from my noble Friend, the former President of the Board of Trade, imply no censure of the Government, and involve it in no difficulty. They are, whether the Correspondence of Austria, the German Empire, and Russia, with the Porte, which has appeared, I believe, in many journals, and, certainly, in The Observer of March 7th, is authentic in its substance; and, if so, whether the Ottoman despatch has yet received an answer? Material and relevant as these questions evidently are, at the same time the Government are not positively bound to give them a reply. They are at liberty to state, that the three Powers did not transmit to them the identic Note which has led to so much movement in the capitals of Europe, and, therefore, that they cannot speak upon the point of authenticity. They are at liberty to state that they are also uninformed, whether or not, the Ottoman despatch has met with a rejoinder. It certainly was not the business of the Government to answer a paper so thoroughly in accordance with British views and objects, that they might rather have inspired it. But if the Government adopt this language, the world at large must draw, I think, two inferences. They must infer that the three Powers have united as to Eastern policy without admitting to their confidence the other signatories of 1856; that they have put an arbitrary, one cannot term it a disinterested, interpretation on the Treaty without any reference to France, to Italy, or to Great Britain. They must infer, also, that their answer to the Ottoman despatch, if it exists, was far from a conclusive one, because had it been conclusive, it would hardly be suppressed. Exaggerated modesty has never been a quality to which the three Powers have aspired, although since 1815 their union has had a moral as well as a political complexion. Let me not be thought, however, should the Ottoman despatch be still unanswered, to reflect a moment on their silence. An identic answer, to be concerted in three capitals, might well require a longer period than that which has elapsed; and their silence, if it still remains, is the best and most hopeful incident of the transaction. It is the single point on which one might be willing to extol them. I should now sit down were I not anxious to put an end to an impression that the few steps which I have taken on the subject have been conceived in a mode or spirit hostile to the Foreign Office. The impression is not likely to exist in this House, or beyond rather distant quarters, in which it is supposed, that all Governments are harassed, more or less, by all interrogations. My Lords, according to the view which I have formed on this occurrence, the Government, by no fault of their own, almost unaided, almost single-handed, are engaged in a struggle with the very elements which taxed the lofty mind of Mr. Canning from 1822 to 1827, and, at a rather later period, exercised the courage and acumen for which Lord Palmerston was so well known amongst us. In that struggle it seems to me they cannot do without the distinct and concentrated sympathy of Parliament and of the country. Questions of this kind, although they may not be sufficient—and they are not—have, at least, a tendency to draw that sympathy towards them. I am so convinced, by many previous circumstances, that the noble Earl the Secretary of State has fundamentally the same ideas and objects as myself on Eastern policy, that I would give any proof of friendly disposition to the Foreign Office, except that of pointing to a specific course by which the difficulty, they acknowledge, would be remedied. To point to a specific course I know would be beyond the scope of any one, unless he were surrounded by every diplomatist who can contribute to unravel, and acquainted with every despatch which throws a light upon the subject. But although I would not presume to indicate a course to be pursued, it is a different thing to touch a moment on a course which ought to be avoided, while at the same time there may be some temptation to fall into it. My Lords, I venture to engage the Government to avoid what I regret to term the bad example of 1870, of which the details and the stages are well known to them. I venture to engage them, should some new blow impend upon the Treaty of 1856, not to smooth the way for it, not to throw a veil of decency around it, not to extricate from difficulty those who have prepared it, not to be the instruments and seconders of a triumph they may be unable to avert, not to protest first, in order, to be accessories later. The suggestion which I make is not indeed a brilliant, but entirely a negative one. I ask the Government to keep their dignity unsullied; and, should an European loss be unavoidable, to leave its whole accountability, its whole embarrassment, its whole reproach, to those who have created it.


I certainly never for a moment thought that my noble Friend asked his Question in any unfriendly spirit. I think he had a right to put the Question, and I am quite ready to answer it. Now, as to the first part of it, I have to reply that the Correspondence to which my noble Friend refers is authentic—I mean substantially authentic—because there are one or two inaccuracies, apparently of translation. But these are not important, and do not in any way affect the general authenticity of the Correspondence. As to the second part of the Question, I have to say that I am not aware that any answer has been given to the despatch referred to, either by the three Powers collectively or by any one of them singly. If any answer had been given in an official form, I have very little doubt that I should have been made aware of it. I do not think it would be convenient that I should go into an explanatory statement of the position in which we stand. A few weeks ago, in answer to my noble Friend, I stated what were the material facts of the case as they stood at that moment, and nothing has occurred to alter the circumstances since that time. My noble Friend need not be afraid that we shall depart from the construction we have put on our Treaty engagements. Our view on that point was deliberately adopted by us, and we have no intention to abandon it. At the same time, I must point out that where the interpretation of Treaties is in question, we cannot enforce our views on other Powers. We can only adhere to them ourselves. I shall be able to produce the Papers within the next few weeks, and if the noble Lord wishes a discussion on the subject, it will be perhaps more convenient for him to raise it when he has all the materials before him.

House adjourned at Six o'clock, till To-morrow, half past Ten o'clock.