HL Deb 09 August 1877 vol 236 cc667-8

, who had placed on the Paper the following Notice:— To call the attention of the House to the Eastern Question, and to the despatch addressed by the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs to Count Schouvaloff of the 6th of May last relative to the defence of English Interests in connection with the present War, said: My Lords, it is my duty to inform your Lordships that it is not my intention to introduce the discussion on the Eastern affairs, of which I have given Notice. Some apology is due to your Lordships, for having at this late period of the Session proposed to raise a debate on a subject of such vital importance to this country; but, my Lords, it did appear to me and to other Members of your Lordships' House, that it would be well that Parliament should not be prorogued without an opportunity being afforded to this House for some expression of opinion on that momentous question. My Lords, it remains for me to say that, having received an intimation from my noble Friend at the head of Her Majesty's Government that a discussion in Parliament on the Eastern Question at this time might seriously embarrass public affairs, I have not hesitated to decline to proceed with the discussion.


My Lords, it would be only common courtesy on my part to express my sense of the forbearance of my noble Friend in meeting the suggestion I have made to him. Certainly it is the opinion of the Government that at this moment a discussion on the state of affairs in the East would not be advantageous to the public service, and might, indeed, have an injurious tendency. My Lords, I know very well that the view taken of our policy by my noble Friend would have been impartial and animated by a desire to do justice to Her Majesty's Government, and I can assure him that we appreciate his motives in the course he has pursued. With regard to our policy, I will only say that having been clearly expressed it has been consistently maintained. Without entering into an unnecessary discussion, I may remind your Lordships that when this cruel and destructive war began Her Majesty's Government announced that they would adopt a policy of strict, but conditional, neutrality. The condition was that the interests of the country should not be imperilled. Your Lordships well know from the Papers that have been laid upon the Table that subsequently to that declaration a communication was made to the Russian Government which more precisely defined what in our opinion "British interests" were held to consist of; and that to this communication Her Majesty's Government received a rep]y which I think I am authorized in describing as conciliatory and friendly. The Government have no reason to doubt that Russia will in an honourable manner observe the conditions which were the subject of that correspondence; but however that may be, in any case the maintenance of those conditions is the policy of Her Majesty's Government.


quite agreed that, after the appeal made by the noble Earl at the head of the Government, his noble Friend could not persevere in calling attention to the subject. He regretted, however, that an opportunity should have been lost of re-asserting those principles of sound policy which had protected for nearly 200 years our rights in the East which were now endangered. It only remained for him to say, with profound deference, that the responsibility for the neglect of this opportunity must rest with the Government.