HL Deb 25 January 1878 vol 237 cc435-54

My Lords, perhaps the noble Earl at the head of the Government will permit me to ask him a Question respecting the rumours which have reached the House as to the movements of the Fleet. I do not attach too much importance to rumours, because there are some rumours which are false as well as rumours which are true. Still, I think it right to ask the noble Earl the Prime Minister, If he will feel it his duty to state in his place in Parliament whether orders have been given to the Mediterranean Fleet to move to the Dardanelles; and, if so, what further orders have been given to the Admiral?


My Lords, Her Majesty's Government not having received any information respecting the negotiations between the belligerents, and the Russian forces were making considerable advances in a direction where British interests were deeply involved, and as we had been informed by the Sultan that there was no security for life and property in Constantinople owing to the state of disorder and disorganization there—Her Majesty's Government thought it their duty to order the Fleet from the Bay of Smyrna to proceed to the mouth of the Dardanelles, and if the Admiral did not receive orders there contrary to the first direction, to proceed thence through the Dardanelles to Constantinople. At the same time that we came to that resolution we prepared a telegraphic despatch to the Powers, including, of course, Russia and the Porte, stating that in the course we were pursuing there was not the slightest deviation from the policy of neutrality which we had from the first maintained, and had always announced that it was our hope and intention to maintain. The intention of sending the Fleet in that direction was that it should defend the lives and properties of British subjects in Constantinople, and take care of British interests in the Straits. The same communication was also made to the Admiral. But since we came to the resolution to take these steps we have become acquainted with the conditions—the proposed conditions—of peace, and having those conditions of peace be-fore us we are of opinion that they furnish a basis for an armistice; and therefore we have given directions to the Admiral to remain in Besika Bay and not to enter into the Straits; and we have not thought it our duty, under these circumstances, to circulate throughout Europe the telegraphic despatches to which I have referred.


My Lords, I feel it my duty, and a painful one, to ask your Lordships' indulgence for a short time while I make a personal explanation. My Lords, I have found it my duty to tender my humble resignation of the office with which Her Majesty has been pleased to honour mo, and that resignation has been accepted; therefore, I only hold office until my successor is appointed, and speak from my accustomed seat on this bench. What the noble Earl the Prime Minister has just stated, affects of course the explanation which I wish to make to your Lordships; but I do not think it modifies materially anything I am about to say.

My Lords, explanations of this sort are painful to make. It is necessary, on the one hand, for a Minister to say enough to justify himself in the course which he feels it his duty to adopt; and, on the other hand, it is equally incumbent on him not only to avoid saying anything that can embarrass Her Majesty's Government at a period of critical negotiations, but as far as is possible to say nothing that can give reasonable offence, or that seems to impute unnecessary blame to those who have been his Colleagues and his Friends. My Lords, in the peculiar position in which I am placed, I am precluded from entering into one important branch of that self-justification, because, looking to the critical nature of present or possible negotiations, I do not consider it right to say a single word with regard to those communications of a confidential character which have passed between Her Majesty's Government and foreign nations. If, therefore, the course of my conduct, as now explained by me, seems incomplete, I shall be content to accept the burden and responsibility of that incompleteness.

There are two reasons which have induced me to adopt the step I have taken—first, the order that was given for the Fleet to proceed to the Dardanelles, on which I will say a few words presently; secondly, and taken in conjunction with this order, the Vote for an extraordinary sum which my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer has given Notice of moving on Monday. My Lords, I will not anticipate anything my right hon. Friend may state, nor do I desire to attempt to controvert the arguments which he may then use. I will only say this — In common with everyone else, I understood my right hon. Friend, on the first night of this Session, to say that he would not make any money proposals on the part of the Government until the conditions of peace were received, or unless those conditions were unsatisfactory. My Lords, at the time that my right hon. Friend gave that Notice in the House of Commons the conditions of peace were not in the hands of Her Majesty's Government, and they could not have known whether they were satisfactory or unsatisfactory. I am glad now to hear from the noble Earl the Prime Minister that the conditions are in the hands of the Government, and the expression of his opinion that they indicate, at all events, a satisfactory basis. It was always my expectation that by delaying the order to the Fleet for a few hours the Government would have been satisfied that even from their own point of view that order was unnecessary.

With these observations I will now endeavour to' make my own position clear by referring to one or two matters which have passed with relation to myself. I have no desire to go back to past differences which may have existed on the subject of the Eastern War. In every Cabinet there must be differences. It is impossible to place 10 or 12 men round a table to discuss so grave and complicated a subject without a variety of opinions; but in order to justify my own conduct, it is necessary to refer to matters with which I have been personally concerned. On the 2nd of this month, as some of your Lordships may remember, I addressed a reply to a deputation which waited upon me in reference to certain questions, in which I spoke of the war and the general attitude of Her Majesty's Government. My Lords, I do not desire to repeat what I stated upon that occasion; it is sufficient for my purpose to say that on the following day a Cabinet Council was held, and —I have Her Majesty's gracious permission for any statement that I may think it necessary to make on the subject—on that day, in the Cabinet, the noble Earl the Prime Minister thought himself at liberty to condemn very severely the language that I had used. My Lords, I need not re-state the terms of that controversy on either side; I took time to consider the course that it was my duty to take; and then, in a memorandum which I had drawn up, but with which I think it unnecessary to trouble the House, I recapitulated what had passed, and having vindicated the position I had taken, I re-affirmed, in the hearing of my Colleagues, and without any contradiction, the propositions that I had then laid down. The noble Earl the Prime Minister was good enough to ask me for a copy of it, and so this matter ended; but no public or private disavowal was uttered or hinted at with regard to what I then said. I have therefore felt myself justified, and I still feel myself justified, in believing that, when no such disavowal was uttered, I had not misrepresented the opinion of Her Majesty's Government at the time.

My Lords, the next episode to which I must allude occurred about a fortnight later. On the 12th of January the question was discussed in the Cabinet as to whether it was desirable to send the Fleet into the Dardanelles, and I expressed a very decided opinion against it. No decision, as I understood, was then come to, but on the 15th the discussion was renewed, and it was then decided to move the Fleet into the Dar- danelles. My Lords, I entertained the strongest objection to that course, both with reference to the time at which it was proposed to adopt the measure, and to the proceeding itself; and on the following day I wrote to the Prime Minister requesting him to submit my resignation to the Queen as soon as the Meet should sail. Meanwhile circumstances seem to have occurred to change his mind, and on the following day I learned that the order to the Fleet was cancelled. In order to make this clear I will read the following letter which I addressed to the Prime Minister:— 16, Bruton Street, January 18. My dear Lord,—On Monday last, the 14th instant [this should he Tuesday, 15th], I wrote to you requesting you to he good enough to submit my resignation to the Queen as soon as the order for moving the Fleet to the Dardanelles should be given. I afterwards received a message from you through Mr. M. Corry, to the effect that subsequent telegrams had induced you to change your mind, and on attending the Cabinet on Tuesday [Wednesday, 16th], the following day—as I did to prevent any rumours which might be injurious to the Government arising—I understood that they, as well as you, saw reason to abandon the course which had been agreed upon. I am very glad that so sound a decision has been come to, whatever the reasons upon which it may have been founded; but, looking to the fact that my resignation, though provisional, is in your hands, and to the serious nature of such a fact, I think it is my duty to state, in a manner which cannot be mistaken, what I conceive to be my position. When at the last Cabinet held I stated the course which I had taken in placing my conditional resignation in your hands, no opinion was expressed or comment made by you or, as far as I remember, by any other Member of the Cabinet, and therefore it is the more necessary that there should be no room for misapprehension as to my past or present action. I have no desire to separate myself from Colleagues with whom I have acted on terms of great personal regard and goodwill. I am sensible of the public inconvenience which would arise from discord or open difference of opinion at this moment, and I am ready now, as I hope I have been on former occasions, to modify or concede my views on doubtful points in detail to secure a general harmony of action among the Members of the Government. But I have been led to consider carefully the events of the last few weeks with respect to the divergences of opinion which have unfortunately developed themselves amongst us, and I cannot conceal from myself that those differences have been very considerable on a question where it is of the utmost importance to the country that the Government should be one and undivided. Taking, therefore, all this into account, I avail myself of this opportunity to place clearly on paper the opinion—even though you and my Colleagues are already familiar with it—that I am not prepared in present circumstances, or in circumstances similar to them, to agree to any armed intervention, or any course of a similar nature. I see no reason as yet why the questions at issue should pass out of the sphere of diplomacy. Further, the Vote of Credit or increase in the Army and Navy Estimates, whichever it may be, is a measure which I consider useful as a means of strengthening our diplomacy at this juncture; but I do not contemplate the application of any aid granted by Parliament to the purposes of a foreign expedition unless circumstances should change in a manner and to a degree wholly beyond my present anticipations. The anxiety which I own to have felt on this subject has been greatly relieved by the explicit language of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, in which he explained that the Government would not, until it was clear that the Russian conditions are unsatisfactory, make any proposals for the increase of armaments. Relying, therefore, upon this as a trustworthy exposition of the views of the Government, I feel that I may for the present content myself with the statement which I have endeavoured to express as clearly as possible in reference to my own position. But it remains for you to consider whether this view, which is satisfactory to me, and on which my continuance in office depends, is also satisfactory to you and my Colleagues. I shall be glad to hear from you at your convenience, and meanwhile I remain, my dear Lord, Yours faithfully, CARNARVON. To this, my Lords, the noble Earl the Prime Minister replied in a courteous and friendly letter, with which, unless he desires it, I shall not trouble the House. It was marked private, but it concluded with the following words:— I shall not, therefore, submit your resignation to Her Majesty. Such a step would deprive mo of a Colleague I value, and at any rate should be reserved for a period when there is an important difference between us, which at present does not seem to be the case. My letter was written on the 18th, as was also the Prime Minister's answer on the same day—the day after the meeting of Parliament. I thought, therefore, I might safely conclude that the proposal to send the Fleet into Turkish waters was abandoned; but on the 23rd the proposal was made in the Cabinet to send the Fleet not only within the Dardanelles, but to Constantinople, and after discussion it was decided that the Fleet should be sent there. Your Lordships will, I think, agree that I had then but one course to pursue. I had endeavoured to state in as clear a manner as I could in my letter that such a course would necessitate my resignation, and I accordingly wrote the following letter:— Bruton Street, January 24, 1878. Dear Lord Beaconsfield,—The Cabinet yesterday afternoon decided to give immediate instructions to the Admiral to take the Fleet up to Constantinople, and to invite the House of Commons to grant a largo sum to the Government for the increase of armaments. My objections to such a course were fully stated a short time since with reference to a similar proposal, and my resignation was tendered if, as seemed then probable, the proposal should be definitely adopted. For various reasons it was not adopted, but now that it has been renewed and accepted by the Cabinet—believing, as I do, that circumstances have not so changed in the interval as to render it necessary—I see no alternative, though with deepest personal regret in separating myself from my Colleagues, but to request you to submit to the Queen my humble resignation of the office with which Her Majesty has been pleased to honour me. I remain, dear Lord Beaconsfield, Yours very faithfully, CARNARVON. That letter was written yesterday, and to-day I received a letter from the Prime Minister, of which the following is the first and the only paragraph I need read:— 10 Downing Street, January 24, 1878. Dear Lord Carnarvon,—I have the honour to inform you that the Queen has accepted your resignation of the office of Secretary of State, and has been graciously pleased to grant to you Her Majesty's permission to make any statement of what passed in the Privy Council which you may think necessary to elucidate your conduct. Meanwhile, however, as the noble Earl has informed us this evening, an order has been sent to the Admiral to countermand the sailing of the Fleet to Constantinople. Your Lordships will thus observe that three times within three weeks it has been my misfortune to be at material variance on a matter of the highest importance with my Colleagues; and that twice during that interval I have felt myself constrained to place my resignation in the hands of the Prime Minister on this particular subject. Twice the order which has been given for the Fleet to proceed to Constantinople has been cancelled, but—it is essential to observe—not because we had come to an agreement of principle, but owing to some more or less fortunate accident which interposed at the last moment.

I rejoice at the soundness of the decision not to send the Fleet into Turkish waters. I am also glad that if I have the misfortune to separate myself from my Colleagues, it will be from a difference of feeling, and even of principle, rather than in consequence of any direct act which they have taken, and which I must have condemned; but what I have stated to your Lordships shows that there have been for a considerable time wide divergences of opinion as to the principles upon which our policy should be conducted. My object, therefore, in making this statement has been twofold—first, to show your Lordships that I have not been guilty of caprice or precipitation in now tendering my resignation; and, in the next place, I think it just to acquit the noble Earl the Prime Minister of having hastily snatched at my resignation when offered to him. He has, looking to the wide differences of opinion subsisting between us, treated my opposition with forbearance.

My Lords, as the question of the moving of the Fleet is no longer at issue, it relieves me from the necessity of fully arguing the point; and I will, therefore, only say that my objection to the moving of the Fleet, whatever explanations or declarations of neutrality might accompany it, is based upon a variety of grounds. I say nothing of the strategical demerits and risks of the scheme if it was to be considered from a military point of view; but politically it seemed to me to lead to a wide departure from that neutrality to which we had pledged ourselves, and the conditions of which we declared at the meeting of Parliament neither of the belligerents had infringed; and as far as I could see, no circumstances had arisen between the 17th of January and the 23rd when this decision was taken, to induce the Government to vary its conduct in so essential a matter. I also thought that the time at which this movement was proposed was unfortunately chosen. It was a time in the midst of negotiations that had now reached their most critical point; when intervention on our part was liable to every sort of misconstruction; when it might encourage Turkey fatally as regards her own interests; when it might not unnaturally be construed as a menace to Russia, and when it might embarrass the Porte itself in the conduct of its negotiations, imposing thereby on us a responsibility which, from an honourable point of view, it would be hard to bear. I also thought it was an unwise policy to place the English Fleet in a position where at any moment the contingencies of war might provoke a collision that might lead us into difficulties which no one could foresee or measure.

My Lords, it seems to me that, in adopting such a course, we were exchanging our former attitude of observation for an attitude of menace; that we were exchanging the position of a neutral for the position of a belligerent; that we were making a distinct step in the direction of war. We could enter the Dardanelles only as allies or as opponents of the Porte. If we enter with the consent of the Sultan, we enter, disguise it as we may, as allies intervening at the last moment between him and his enemy; and if we enter without his consent, the position would become an almost absurd one, because we should be setting at naught those Treaties which we have professed it our object to uphold. I believe the policy which, up to this time, has been adopted by my noble Friend the Secretary for Foreign Affairs, has been wise and consistent. We have avoided the use of threats upon the one hand, and of promises upon the other. We have spoken plainly to both belligerents -—firmly to Russia, clearly to Turkey; we have endeavoured to define, or rather to specify, the points of British interests which might become affected in the progress of the war; and we have, above all, declared our intention to observe a strict, though, of course, a conditional neutrality. We have also said, in the clearest language, that we shall deem it our duty to assert our voice in the final settlement of the question so far as it affects British interests. I do not swerve in the slightest degree from any of these propositions; and till we know that it is the intention of one of the belligerents to do that which he has over and over again declared that there is no intention of doing, I am slow, as a matter of international courtesy and of sound diplomacy, to assume that these assurances have been deliberately false.

My Lords, if the House will permit me, I desire to take this opportunity to refer to a matter which is connected with the present question, and on which I have apparently become exposed to some misconception. To the deputation to which I alluded, I was, by a singular mistake, supposed to have spoken of the Crimean War as an "insane" war. I never thought or said anything of the kind. What I did say was that England and Russia had drifted, to use an expression which has become historical, into that war; that I did not think anyone could now look back with satisfaction upon it, and that I did not believe anyone, whether Englishman or Russian, was insane enough deliberately to desire a repetition of it. That statement was a very different one from what is imputed to me.

I am the last to forget all that has touched the feelings, the pride, the sorrow, the sympathies of persons and families in the Crimean War. It was my fortune when quite a young man to go over the battle-fields with one who played a most distinguished part in the war, the late Lord Lyons; and no lapse of time has effaced from my memory the scenes where English courage was illustrated from the soldier who fought at Inkerman to the lady who in her devotion tended the sick and wounded in the hospitals of Scutari. It was a page of European history filled with British achievements; but wars are not to be measured by heroic deeds and the death-roll of those who have fallen; and now, after 20 years, we may reasonably ask what have been the political value and the results of that war. I confess, even though I may be in a minority, I fail to see the political value of those results, and I point to the present war in the East as the evidence of that opinion.

My Lords, it is with much regret that I have come to the decision to separate myself from my Colleagues. There are some amongst them to whom I am bound not merely by ties of political alliance, but by bonds of almost life-long friendship; and your Lordships will believe me it is not without an acute feeling of pain that I have brought myself to such a separation. A Cabinet must in the nature of things be maintained on a principle of "give and take;" it differs in this from no other body of men constituted for a particular object. I know, therefore, that in every Cabinet there will be many questions on which its Members must agree to differ; but there are also questions in which the lives and welfare of others are so deeply involved, that a Minister dare not waive his convictions at whatever cost or sacrifice to himself. Such has been the case here. I will not say whether I have been right or wrong. I must leave that to the judgment of others. Nor do I blame my Colleagues for the course they have adopted, and the views they have maintained. I am sensible of the forbearance which I have received at their hands, and I take this opportunity of expressing the hope that I have never pressed my own unwelcome doctrines on them with undue earnestness.

I have foreseen for some time that this issue must come. We have been travelling on the road together until we have reached a spot at which the path diverges; but I venture with all deference to them to say that I have consistently held on to the right path, although they naturally will contend that I have turned aside. But this is a matter in which everyone must be guided by his own conscience, and by a sense of his own personal honour; and this I know, that when a man walks in that light, his countrymen will not be stern to mark his errors of judgment. One thing further I must say—that it is of the highest importance at this moment that Her Majesty's Government should be united, and if my departure removes one of the obstacles to harmony, my resignation will at least have had one good effect. It is not fair that one individual should constantly check the action of many; nor is it right that he himself should be drawn on by a desire for compromise to approve of measures in which he cannot agree.

As regards the office with which Her Majesty has been pleased to honour me, it would be affectation on my part to say that I do not regret to leave it. I regret to leave many questions incomplete and unsettled. I beyond measure regret to leave it when clouds, for the time at least, are gathering over one of the most important Dependencies of the. Empire. I could well have wished to meet those difficulties, and to have endeavoured to overcome them. At the same time, I can look back with satisfaction to much which has passed within the last four years. I have been fortunate in four years of not uneventful administration; I have been fortunate in the able men, both within and without the Colonial Office, who have given me their time, and labour, and skill; I have been fortunate in the friends who have helped me by their counsel, and fortunate also in the generous support of political opponents. The least that I can do is to place at the disposal of my Successor any experience I may have gathered; and if I can do anything to smooth his path and remove difficulties, I need not say that every assistance in my power shall be rendered to Her Majesty's Government, so far as I may, with the utmost cheerfulness and unreserve.


My Lords, it is not my intention to follow the noble Earl through all his observations; but I must say that I am at a loss to comprehend the sufficient reason for his quitting the Councils of Her Majesty's Government. My noble Friend informed the House that this is not the first occasion on which he has thought it his duty to tender his resignation; and he did me no more than justice when he expressed his opinion that there was no eagerness on my part to accept it. He told us to-night that he was prepared, and is still prepared, to support an increase in our Naval and Military armaments; but he says that in proposing that Her Majesty's Fleet should go into Turkish waters for purposes which I do not wish to conceal—though I may not dwell on them at length on this occasion—we have deviated from the policy which we have hitherto pursued; and that although that action on our part was accompanied by a renewed declaration of our neutrality he could not believe that the declaration would be credited. My Lords, this appears to me really to be a case of much simplicity. The charter of our policy with regard to Eastern Europe is the despatch of May. And what is the despatch of May? A declaration of neutrality on our part—neutrality conditional on the due observance of British interests, which were chiefly, though not entirely, indicated in that despatch. Among the points enumerated in that despatch as points to which our attention would be directed were the city of Constantinople, the Treaties respecting the Straits, and the position of the Dardanelles. These were specifically mentioned. In that despatch we declared, in language of the utmost courtesy, but, at the same time, in language which could not be mistaken, which has not been mistaken, and which cannot be mistaken in any negotiations and communications with Foreign Powers, that the occupation of the city of Constantinople would not be viewed by us with indifference; that the existing Treaty regulations as to the navigation of the Straits were what we wished to maintain; and we referred to the Dardanelles as a point the condition of which, and the circumstances under which it was held, were of the highest interest to this country. Well, my Lords, what has been the object which we have had before us in recommending Her Majesty to send the Meet, under certain circumstances, into Turkish waters? It has been to guard and maintain those interests so specifically mentioned in the despatch to which I have referred. Why, is it to believed—as it would be believed unless we acted—that that despatch consisted only of words? It was well considered; and, when we assented to it, I myself, and I believe all my Colleagues, were resolved, although prepared to observe a strict neutrality, that if that neutrality were violated with respect to any of those points we should do our best in fulfilment of our duty to our Sovereign and to the country to maintain the policy which we had laid down so distinctly, and which had received general approval. There are other points in that despatch. There was an important reference to Egypt. In respect of that it has been said that we referred to points which could hardly enter into controversy. If those who make those observations—and they are very common observations—had had the experience which I and my Colleagues have had on the subject of Egypt during the last year; if they had had to listen to all the propositions, bold, perilous, and even unprincipled, which have been made on that subject, they would find that we have only done our duty as prudent counsellors in the despatch of last May. And we have succeeded in our object—in guarding Egypt from invasion, and in preventing it being brought into this controversy, although the Khedive, as a vassal of the Porte, has felt it his duty to support his Suzerain in the struggle. I can only repeat what I said in the House on the first night of the Session, and what was expressed with equal precision by my noble Friend the noble Marquess (the Marquess of Salisbury), that our policy has never changed from the beginning, and that there never has been the slightest division in the Cabinet respecting it. There never has been an occasion when any Member of the Cabinet stated an opinion that it was our duty to deviate from that policy. How that policy should be carried into effect is a question open to discussion, and one on which naturally there must be difference of opinion; but as to the great principle of the policy—namely, the neutrality of this country, a neutrality which was to be strictly observed, provided its observance did not injure the national interests which it was our duty to guard—there has been no deviation of opinion at any time or under any circumstances. I deeply regret that my noble Friend should have thought that the mode in which we attempted to vindicate the national interests in reference to Constantinople, the Straits, and the Dardanelles was such as should deprive us of his valuable services and companionship; but I must vindicate myself and my Colleagues when I say that we were not conscious that in the advice which we gave to the Sovereign to send the Fleet into Turkish waters we were doing anything but supporting that policy which we had frankly expounded to this and the other House of Parliament, which Parliament had adopted frankly, and which the country has contentedly, up to this moment, upheld us in maintaining. It is a source of great disappointment to me that the noble Earl should have felt it necessary to make the statement he has addressed to your Lordships to-night. I would candidly put it to the House, if we have entered into an engagement with Parliament and the country that we should defend certain British interests—and among these prevent a change in the occupation of Constantinople, the present arrangement respecting the Straits, and the position of the Dardanelles—the interests which I believe are accepted by the country as of the highest importance to England—would the country be satisfied in the present state of affairs if they found Her Majesty's Government doing nothing? There may be an opinion that the measures which we have taken may not have been adequate — it may be thought that they may not have been those most adapted to the circumstances; but, so far as I understood my noble Friend, he objects to any action whatever. My Lords, I shall be perfectly prepared, when the proper opportunity arrives, to vindicate those measures. I believe that in the circumstances they were the best to be adopted. And that course, we thought, would have—and it has had—a salutary effect. Although I deeply regret that proposing these measures should have deprived me of such a Colleague as the noble Earl, I must tell the House frankly that they are part of the consistent policy of Her Majesty's Government; that we are resolved to pursue the policy which we originally announced, and that we are prepared to observe that neutrality which we have loudly proclaimed, and which has been generally accepted. But if neutrality depends on holding that the great interests of the country are not to be maintained and vindicated, then I am no longer in favour of neutrality, but in favour of the interests of the country and the honour of the Sovereign.


My Lords, I rise, not for the purpose of continuing the discussion, which can have no object, but simply to ask certain Questions of which I have already given Notice this afternoon to the noble Earl. Some of those Questions have been answered by what has taken place in the House already. I wish to know whether it is true that an armistice has been signed; and, if so, at what date? I also wish to know whether Her Majesty's Government have received information as to the nature of the terms of the armistice?—if one has been agreed to. There is another point on which I also desire information. I wish to know whether Her Majesty's Government intend to make any real statement in this House, and to lay Papers on the Table, or will give your Lordships any real information as to the state of things which has lately arisen, and that which at present exists? There are two other Questions of which I have given the noble Earl Notice. One is, whether it is true, as rumoured, that warlike instructions have lately been given to the Commander of the Fleet? I have been anticipated on that subject by the noble Earl below the Gangway (the Earl of Sandwich), who asked the Question, and by the Answer given by the First Lord of the Treasury. The last Question of which I gave Notice was, whether the rumour is true that one or more Members of Her Majesty's Government had tendered their resignation? With regard to a portion of that Question an Answer has been given. It has been given in the very clear statement of the noble Earl (the Earl of Carnarvon), which, although the First Lord of the Treasury said he could not understand it, I imagine the country at large will understand and appreciate. My Lords, I am not going to follow the noble Earl the Prime Minister in his remarks. I will leave it to the calm judgment of the country whether the ordering of the Fleet to the Dardanelles, of which we have been informed for the first time this evening, was or was not, under the circumstances, a breach of neutrality, which was not in any way communicated to Parliament when we met a week ago, and which was certainly not consistent with the language held by the Government on that occasion. We have not had any statement made to the House up to this moment as to what are the dangers to British interests which have occurred, and which necessitated on the 23rd of this month the decision to take so grave, so important a step as the the ordering of the Fleet to enter the Dardanelles. With regard to this question, the country will judge between the two noble Earls who have addressed us. The Question of which I gave Notice, as to whether one or more Members of Her Majesty's Government have resigned, has been partly answered; and therefore the only Question which I desire to have answered—if the noble Earl is at liberty to answer it—is whether or not, as has been stated, any other resignation has been tendered? I trust the noble Earl will not think that any public inconvenience will arise from his replying to that Question.


I will, as far as I can, answer the Questions which the noble Earl has put to me. There are three Questions respecting the armistice. The noble Earl wishes to know the date of the armistice, the date of the signature of the armistice, and he wishes for information as to the terms of the armistice, and whether they can be communicated to the House. Now, so far as Her Majesty's Government are informed, no such instrument is in existence. We know of no armistice; and therefore, of course, it is impossible that we can give the noble Earl the information which he desires. Again, the noble Earl wishes to know whether an opportunity will be given for a general discussion, and whether Papers, as a basis for such discussion, will be laid upon the Table of this House. The noble Earl has had great experience in public affairs, and he knows that there are few things more difficult than to supply Parliament with information on diplomatic matters where the production of Papers are required for such a purpose. In this country, where we are used to publicity, in every possible mode, and in all forms and fashions, everybody expects to be well informed on the conduct of public affairs, and to be supplied with any information which he may desire. But that is not the temper of the Government of every country; and I am sorry to say that there is a growing reluctance on the part of foreign Governments to communicate with the Government of Her Majesty, except on the condition that the terms of their despatches and propositions should not be placed in that peculiar form of literature known on the Continent under the name of "Blue Books." And, therefore, when it sometimes happens that information is not given to the House, the noble Earl will understand it arises from no wish on the part of the Government to refuse information on diplomatic subjects. All I can promise is that such Papers as we can place on the Table of the House shall be placed there as soon as possible. I think the noble Earl then proceeded to remark upon the breach of neutrality which would have occurred if the British Fleet had entered into Turkish waters. I do not think this is a convenient occasion to enter into a discussion of that subject — a subject, no doubt, well worthy of debate. I and my Colleagues will be prepared to vindicate our course if that issue is fairly brought before the House. But the noble Earl is, I must say, completely in error in supposing that when we met a week ago, and I and my noble Friend near me (the Marquess of Salisbury) addressed the House on this subject, we were concealing from your Lordships any matter connected with this incident of the Fleet entering into Turkish waters. The fact is, it was only decided upon last Wednesday, and this is Friday—only two days ago; and therefore we are free from that charge which the noble Earl very properly, as the Leader of the Opposition, has made against us. There is one remark in the speech of the noble Earl, in reference to that of the noble Earl the late Secretary for the Colonies, that I wish to correct. The noble Earl said I had stated that I could not understand my noble Friend's remarks. That would have been a very discourteous observation for me to have made, particularly in the ease of one who is so skilful and practised an orator as the noble Earl. I perfectly comprehended what he said; but I did not comprehend that he had made out a sufficient case for the resignation of his office, and I am still of that opinion. The noble Earl, while deploring also, I believe, the resignation of the noble Lord, wished to know whether any other of my Colleagues had resigned, or what Members of the Government had resigned. I need not say that I myself am still in a responsible position; but with regard to any other of my Colleagues, I may say it has always been considered a valuable and highly-cherished privilege for a Minister who felt it his duty to retire from the Councils of his Sovereign to claim the right of himself first declaring it to the House of Parliament in which he sits, and upon that privilege I will not trench.


One Answer which the noble Earl has given appears to me singularly unsatisfactory—I allude to the way in which the noble Earl answered my Question as to the terms of the armistice. The noble Earl said he did not know there was such a document, and therefore he could not say whether it had been signed.


We do not know of an armistice; we have no knowledge of anything of the kind.


Has the noble Earl no knowledge of the general terms of the armistice? Was it in ignorance of its terms that the Government countermanded the order for the movement of the Fleet?—or was it in consequence of the terms of peace?


The armistice and the terms of the projected Treaty of Peace are two very different things. I mentioned, in answer to the noble Earl (the Earl of Sandwich), at the beginning of this evening, that we are now acquainted with the terms and conditions of peace, without the slightest reference to the armistice. I repeat that we have no knowledge whatever that any armistice has been negotiated; nor can we in any way suppose what is the form of the armistice or what are its conditions. It was only a few hours after we addressed the House last evening that we received—but not officially received—information of what may be looked upon, I suppose, as the proposed conditions of peace; but of the armistice we know nothing.


I will not quarrel with the noble Earl as to the difference between an armistice and terms of peace which have been agreed upon. What the country wishes to know is, what are the bases of peace which have been agreed upon between Turkey and Russia and which have induced Her Majesty's Government to countermand the ordering of the Fleet to the Dardanelles?


I really have no authentic information on the subject which I could place before the House. We know what we believe to be the proposals of the Russian Government, but we have no information with respect to the Porte. The information we have has not been given to us officially, but confidentially; and, though I was extremely anxious to let the House have such information as we do possess, I wrote to the quarter from which that information had been confidentially obtained, and asked permission to communicate it to the House, but I have not obtained permission. I have a note in my hand, but that note does not give me that permission; and without such permission it is not in my power to communicate to the House what we understand are the proposals of the Russian Government.


said, that the command of the Fleet could not be in more skilful hands than at present; but he feared the Fleet had been ordered to a dangerous anchorage in Besika Bay, and he hoped that a large discretion had been given to Admiral Horn by to withdraw to another position if necessary. He was sorry to hear the disparaging observations which had been made by the noble Earl opposite (Earl Granville) as to the Fleet proceeding to Gallipoli. Would the noble Earl be better pleased to see the Russian Armies than the British Fleet there? He could not conceive a fact which would be more degrading and humiliating to this country than the presence of a Russian force at Gallipoli would be. That would be to allow the door to be shut in our face, and it would make naval or military operations out of the question. If we were in possession of Gallipoli, we would have secured one of the padlocks of the Straits, and might regard with comparative indifference the possession of the other padlock by any other Power, and it would diminish very much the importance to Russia even of the possession of Constantinople itself. He could not imagine, if nature had intended to make a place which could be safely held by a naval force, a better place than Gallipoli. It was the Gibraltar of the East, and the Power in possession of it would be pretty well master of the situation.