HL Deb 28 March 1878 vol 239 cc100-5

My Lords, it is my duty to take the earliest opportunity of stating to your Lordships that I have ceased to hold the office of Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, or, to speak with more verbal accuracy, that my resignation of that office has been tendered to and accepted by Her Majesty, and I only continue to hold it till the appointment of a Successor shall relieve me from its duties. My Lords, as a general rule, it is equally the right and the duty of a Minister who retires from office to explain, usually in some considerable detail, to Parliament, the character and nature of the differences which have arisen between him and his colleagues, in order that he may justify himself from the imputation of having taken what in any circumstances is a grave and important step on light or inadequate grounds. My Lords, I regret that, under present circumstances, it is not possible, or, at least, desirable, for me to follow that customary and convenient rule. My Lords, I have received from Her Majesty and from my noble Friend at the head of the Government full permission to use my own discretion in the matter; but your Lordships will easily understand that in the present state of our foreign relations there are many things which require to be considered and decided upon by those who are responsible for the conduct of public affairs which it is not in the interest of the State should be made public at the time when the decision upon them is taken. My Lords, the Cabinet have arrived at certain conclusions which no doubt are of a grave and important character. In the measures which they propose I have not been able to concur. My Lords, to prevent needless alarm from any words of mine, let me say at once that I do not consider that those measures necessarily or inevitably tend to bring about a state of war. I give those with whom I have acted entire credit for desiring as much as I desire the maintenance of the peace of Europe. We agree as to the end, but unhappily, we differ as to the means; and I cannot, in the exercise of my deliberate judgment—however willing and anxious I may be to submit that judgment to what I know to be in many respects the better opinion of my Colleagues—I cannot consider the measures upon which they have decided as being prudent in the interests of European peace, or as being necessary for the safety of the country, or as being warranted by the state of matters abroad. My Lords, when the concurrence of Parliament is asked for those measures of which I have spoken, I shall be ready, if necessary, to vindicate the opinion which I have entertained; but, until then, I consider I am bound by public duty to speak only in the most general terms, leaving it to those who are responsible for the management of public affairs the choice of the time and the manner in which they will think it their duty to bring them before your Lordships. My Lords, there is one possible misconstruction of my conduct against which I think it is desirable I should guard. It might possibly be inferred, from the time at which I speak and the nature of what I have said, that I have dissented from the view taken by the Cabinet of the conditions on which England ought to go into the Congress. I am bound to say that is not the case. I deeply regret the obstacles which have sprung up—sprung up without any expectation on our part that they would arise—in the way of that Congress being called together; but the fault, in my judgment, does not rest with the Government of this country, and the dispute in which we are engaged is not one of form or of words, but one, I conceive, involving a very substantial reality. My Lords, in my opinion, it would be of very little use for England to go into a Congress unless we were assured that the discussion which is there to take place is to be one of a real and not of an illusory character; and if we had to choose between two unsatisfactory alternatives, I am bound to say I think that, in the interests of European peace, it would be the less misfortune of the two that the Congress should not meet at all, rather than that having met, and insuperable difficulties having arisen at the outset of its sitting, it should break up without any result having been arrived at. My Lords, I did not rise to argue this point. I have referred to it merely to prevent the idea going abroad that it was on that question of the Congress that the Cabinet and I have been unable to agree. My Lords, I need not tell your Lordships—and least of all need I tell my noble Friend at the head of the Government—that no personal motives have influenced or could influence me in the step which I have felt compelled to take. Every personal motive and every private feeling influenced me in the opposite direction. My Lords, no man would willingly break, even for a time, political and personal ties of long standing; and in the public life of the present day there are few political and personal ties closer or of older date than those which unite me with my noble Friend. My Lords, I will say more. I have always held that in minor matters a public man is not merely justified in making a considerable sacrifice of his personal opinions, but is often bound by duty to make such sacrifice, because without it Party organization and collective action would become impossible; but, my Lords, when questions of European interests are at stake—when the matters in discussion are really matters involving the issue of peace or war—I am sure your Lordships will feel, as I do, that those are not matters in regard of which it is possible for any man actuated by a sense of public duty to allow himself to be influenced by considerations of personal respect and regard. In that respect, at least, I know that I am of one mind with my noble Friend at the head of the Government. My Lords, I end as I began, by saying that I am compelled at present to speak only in these general terms. I must reserve for a later date, if it becomes necessary, any further explanation of the course which I have pursued.


My Lords, as your Lordships have just heard, the Queen has lost to-day the services of one of the ablest of Her Counsellors. Those only who have served with my noble Friend can sufficiently appreciate his capacity for affairs, the penetrating power of his intelligence, and the judicial impartiality of his general conduct. My Lords, I have served with my noble Friend in public life for more than a quarter of a century, and during that long period the cares of public life have been mitigated by the consolations of private friendship. A quarter of a century is a long period in the life of any man; and I can truly say that, so far as the relations between myself and my noble Friend are concerned, those years have passed without a cloud. My noble Friend has to-night, with prudence and perfect taste, avoided entering into the particular reasons that have induced him to take a step which on his part is so momentous, and which to the country must be of interest and importance. My Lords, I shall be quite willing to refrain from entering into those topics myself until the period when they may be legitimately considered by your Lordships; but I have learnt that so much public mischief may occur from unnecessary mystery in these matters, that I feel it my duty to-day to say that in consequence of our belief that the Congress would not meet, for reasons which it is now unnecessary to touch upon—especially as my noble Friend, with a becoming candour, has admitted that upon this subject there was no difference of opinion between him and his late Colleagues—it became matter of consideration for Her Majesty's Government, at a period like the present, when the balance of power in the Mediterranean is so disturbed, and when the hopes of rectifying that balance by the meeting of the Congress seem altogether to have ceased, to decide what steps should be taken in order to countervail or resist the mischiefs which were impending. It is, therefore, in the interests of peace, and for the due protection of the rights of Her Empire, that we have thought it our duty to advise Her Majesty to avail herself of those powers which she has of calling on the services of Her Reserved Forces. With that view a Message will be laid before Parliament according to the provisions of the Statute in the case. My Lords, I felt it my duty to make this announcement; and when the occasion—which, of course, is near—occurs, your Lordships will have the opportunity of considering the whole question of the policy and of the conduct of Her Majesty's Government. That we shall not be supported on that occasion by the abilities of my noble Friend who has been so long my companion, I deeply deplore. These wrenches of feeling are among the most terrible trials of public life; but we may draw from them at least one noble and consolatory inference—that the sense of duty in our public men is so great that they can bear even these painful trials. My Lords, I have felt of late that the political ties between myself and my noble Friend must soon terminate; but I believed they would terminate in a very different and a more natural manner—that I should myself disappear from the scene, and that he would remain in the maturity of manhood, with his great talents and experience, to take that leading part in public affairs for which he is so well qualified. We have lost his services. I, personally, of all his Colleagues, suffer most severely in that respect; but I am sustained by the feeling at the present moment that I am conscious and confident that the policy which we have recommended Her Majesty to adopt is one which will tend to the maintenance of her Empire, to the freedom of Europe, and to the greatness and security of this country.


was understood to express his regret at the absence of his noble Friend (Earl Granville) during the important statements which their Lordships had just heard. He was sure his noble Friend would much regret the accidental circumstance which had caused him to be absent on the occasion. For himself, he would only express the great respect which he sincerely felt for the noble Earl the Foreign Secretary, and his great regret at the announcement; he regarded it as very grave, and only hoped it might not even prove to be calamitous. Meanwhile, he would follow the example which the noble Earl had set, and abstain from discussing a subject on which they were as yet so imperfectly informed.