HL Deb 08 July 1880 vol 253 cc1866-76

in rising, according to Notice, to call the attention of the House to the speeches delivered by the right hon. W. E. Gladstone, respectively at Hawarden on Tuesday, 16th January; at Frome on Monday, 22nd January; at Taunton on Saturday,27th January, 1877; and to move for a Return of the number of killed and wounded in the late War between Russia and the Porte, said: My Lords, before going on further with this Notice, I should wish to guard myself by mentioning that a precedent exists for adverting in this House to some events in the career of a Prime Minister who hap- pens to be sitting in the other. It occurred in 1827, as regards Mr. Canning. The authority on whom the precedent depends is much too high indeed for anyone to emulate, at least, who sits upon these Benches. But it is not less conclusive upon that account, as regards what falls within the Rules and Usages of Parliament. If no precedent existed, an unusal course might he admitted in an unexampled situation. My Lords, events are so rapidly forgotten when some new conflict which appeals to Parliamentary opinion has arisen, or when new forms of legislation are before us, that events, however recent, startling, and familiar, may escape the apprehension which they call for. When, in March and April, the General Election overthrew the Government appealing to it, the Leaders of the Opposition at that time in the two Houses might have been expected to replace it according to the practice generally followed, unless someone else was called upon by the Sovereign before them. Although no one else was called on by the Sovereign before them, they were not destined to replace it. A distinguished individual, who had openly and systematically renounced all intention of coining back to Office, and acted in a manner little suited to any other prospect, was suddenly precipitated into Downing Street. The return from Elba was not more contradictory or violent. But that was not the limit of the wonder. Although Ministerial explanations in the two Houses of Parliament have attended nearly every crisis we have gone through during the last 20 or 30 years, none of any sort were given in the debates on the Address, either by the new Prime Minister, or those who had submitted to his movement. It seemed to be assumed that the perpetual and inherent order of the British Constitution secured the post of First Lord of the Treasury and Chancellor of the Exchequer to a person who had formally withdrawn from the Leadership of the Party which had gained success, and which was thus required to organize a Government. Under these circumstances, those who, before the usurpation happened, pledged themselves to the opinion that it would be a national reproach and national calamity, may be expected, While the Session is going on, to take whatever course appears to them to have even a distant tendency to shorten it. It will be easy to explain on what grounds the speeches mentioned in the Notice are more properly an object of remark than others more habitually referred to at this moment. The others more habitually referred to were delivered by a candidate. Whoever finds himself in that position must speak, whether he likes it or not, and is not, therefore, a free agent. If what he says is full of much inaccuracy and extravagance, he may remark that it was only meant for the electors, and passed without his wish or sanction to the general community. Even if his language alienates Crowned Heads and puts Ambassadors in difficulty, he may insist that it was the only manner of working on some 200 minds of a peculiar cast essential to his victory. There is no such plea for speeches which can have had no aim restricted to the audience who were present. The case becomes much stronger when these speeches are delivered a few weeks before Parliament assembles; when a legitimate arena is on the point of being re-opened; when it is most unusual for an influential person or former statesman to be seen on the platform; when he can have no aim except to move the public or inflame it; and, apparently, by language he desires to screen from the criticizm of the Legislature. So much consideration is due, however, to the absent, that it might be unjust to advert even to these speeches, however little sheltered by their origin, unless you traced the line of conduct which their author had pursued on the transaction they refer to. A few words, however, would suffice for such a purpose, which many noble Lords, if they are inaccurate, can rectify. It seems to me to be accepted amongst the best observers of diplomacy that the present Prime Minister's own conduct in 1870 did much to revive the dangers of the Eastern Question. However, that may be, in 1874 they certainly appeared in the shape of an alliance between three well-known Powers, highly menacing to the results which the Crimean War had laboured in gloom, not unrelieved by splendour, to establish. There was not an effort upon his part to check or to discourage that alliance, although it worked under a banner against which Liberal opinion, by long tradition, had arrayed itself. Those who did determine to oppose it met with every species of em- barrassment which he, or his immediate friends, were capable of offering. I can prove that, much too circumstantially, to anyone who questions me. At last, in two years, he came forward, not to breathe a whisper against that formidable system, but to inflame the world against the Empire which it tended to disorganize. It is true that Empire, on many grounds, deserved to be reproached. But the British public were already too much inclined to look with passion on its errors. An incendiary appeared, when a fireman was wanted. His next effort was to form a Party, who would act as the supporters and accomplices of Russia, in defiance of all the lessons which history had originated and foreign policy had settled. It led to some results which are not properly appreciated, besides the obvious one of lending aid where much resistance was demanded. To form a Russian Party is a certain manner of eliciting an anti-Russian Party in the country. The upshot is, that even with that State our relations are embittered by the conduct which professes to improve them. The proposition of confiding in, and co-operating with, a quarter there have been so many reasons for interpreting as adverse to our objects, brings down the weapons which had gone into disuse, and kindles animosity which slumbered. Such a pamphlet as that of Mr. Austin's, which presented, in a burning form, the course of an aggressive Power against all the States it had attacked, would never have existed, unless the right hon. Gentleman had rashly held up the aggressive Power as an object of our sympathy. His step was both misleading to Great Britain, unjust to Europe, and discrediting to Russia. We now have reached the speeches of January, 1877. The charge against them is, that they were fraught with arguments to bring on the invasion which quickly followed their delivery. It is not my intention to give many extracts, because their tenour may be seized without a process so invidious; and because we only have reporters for their language, although, in such a case, they are pretty certain to be accurate. They consist in unlimited denunciation of everything to be found within the territory of the Sultan; invective against the Treaties of 1856; and then, to crown the whole, an anathema against the Ottoman Assemblies, which are described As "an imposture, or something worse than an imposture." Now, my Lords, by far the strongest barrier to the invasion consisted in the Ottoman Assemblies, which were sitting at the moment. While a reforming body was at work against abuses—and seen by all the world to be so—it required no ordinary stretch of humanitarian pretension in any foreign Army to interfere with their proceedings and anticipate their labours. If they could not be suppressed, and the right hon. Gentleman had no power to suppress them, to blacken them, which fell within the range of his unscrupulous activity, was the very course required by the invader. The invader thoroughly commended it. But these speeches had a further influence. They led the Czar to think that he might count on the Party which initiated the War of 1854 as his supporters in the very enterprize which they had formerly defeated. It is now better known to what extent the counsels at St. Petersburg were balanced. We see to which step an overwhelming weight was added. The War began. The next step of the right hon. Gentleman, in defiance of the political connection he had just been leading, was to engage the House of Commons by Resolutions, if he could, to uphold and sanction the aggression. His defeat, indeed, was signal. He but unmasked the aim with which the speeches I refer to had been uttered. When Russian forces reached San Stefano, he was not disposed to sanction any measure for counteracting or retarding them. The Fleet hung back under his auspices. Unless in a sinister moment he had resolved to force himself into power, when he might well rejoice in the attainment of impunity, not a word of retrospective blame would fall upon him from any Member of the Legislature. His own irregular ambition forces it upon us. It is only by reviving circumstances which might have passed into oblivion, that our present risks can be appreciated. It ought to be remembered, therefore, that when the fate of Constantinople trembled; when every object gained by the Crimean War was threatened with extinction; when the Ottoman Assemblies were dispersed; when the Grand Duke was endeavouring to force his body-guard upon the Sultan; when Russia might, at any moment, have become the mistress of the Dardanelles; when Parlia- ment was agitated, night by night, upon the subject, the right hon. Gentleman was so distinctly seen to have promoted this unhappy situation, that his house and life were in considerable jeopardy. In this extraordinary juncture there was nothing to deceive the masses who assailed him. Their vehemence was founded on their knowledge. They were inflamed, because they were enlightened. They saw the peril of Constantinople to involve humiliation of their country. They knew the right hon. Gentleman to be the author of the one and of the other. Reflection of this kind on what occurred two years ago would be, no doubt, uncalled for and objectionable, unless I was enabled at once to point to its connection with the difficulties which surround us. Let it be granted that every idea of retribution or of justice should be thrown out in estimating or in contemplating Ministers. Let it be granted that utility or prudence is the only rule in their selection.


rose to Order. He saw nothing whatever in the Motion that bore on the condition of the East. The noble Lord was moving for a Return of the killed and wounded in the War between Russia and Turkey.


If the noble Lord will listen to my observations, he will find they have a direct bearing on the Motion. The course which I have traced, the speeches I advert to, are the immediate source of the effects which now embarrass and endanger. Russia is encouraged in every form of restless aspiration by the conviction—it may be pushed too far—that she has in Downing Street a firm ally to be depended on. The condition of Armenia—well known to the House—suggests a pretext for advancing from the recent acquisitions, Kars and Batoum, to the Gulf of Scanderoon. In this way the Mediterranean is commanded, and results arise almost equivalent to those the tenure of Constantinople would occasion. It is not easy for the most industrious thinkers upon Eastern policy to invent a barrier to any such encroachment. The reform of local institutions would, of course, annihilate its pretext. But it is vain to take away the pretext, when you offer the temptation which resides in the official power of the right hon. Gentleman. By that circumstance, the elements which form the chronic hazard of the Ottoman Dominion have gained an impulse never previously communicated. Greece is led to think that she may enter on aggression with connivance. The Prince of Montenegro knows that he will win the favour of Great Britain by the very conduct which she formerly retarded. The Prince of Bulgaria has learnt, without the forms of a despatch, that he may now, with little prospect of rebuke, encourage Russian officers who flood over his territory, or sow disorder from the Balkans to Adrianople, or claim the independence which the other Vassals have arrived at, or enter into any other controversy, with the Sultan. Austria and Germany, having recently withdrawn from the embrace of Russia, are convinced by the language I have pointed to that the sooner they return to it the more Great Britain will applaud them. If Mr. Goschen is instructed to demand the revival of the Ottoman Assemblies—which he is in a subordinate despatch—the Russian Embassy, who must oppose it to the utmost, have only to explain to the Sultan—his ear may be too open to the counsel—that the Leader of the British Cabinet has held them up to execration; that his real opinion was declared in 1877; that the conversion is as simulated as the anathema was final. Until some change occurs it is difficult to see in what manner the least advance to safety in these questions can be hoped for. It may be said that these remarks, however just, are useless for their purpose. It is not, indeed, within the range of facts or arguments to modify a Government. But facts and arguments are not entirely thrown away, if many groups are seen to have a just dissatisfaction with something recently and unexpectedly and violently forced upon them. I need not touch on those who have been faithful to the opinions of the late Lord Palmerston, by which, in 1856, our policy was guided. They cannot have a stronger duty than to close the usurpation Which weighs upon them at this moment, and which of all men Lord Palmerston would have most strenuously resisted. But many noble Lords who sit upon the Treasury Bench are equally entitled to regret it, since it identifies them with language which they never held, with conduct which they may have frequently, however ineffectually, deprecated. But it exposes to far more mani- fest injustice the Government which terminated at the General Election. To what arraignment were they open? It was that they had feebly contended with the new Holy Alliance. The right hon. Gentleman never once aspired to resist it. It was that they had insufficiently restrained, or not succeeded in averting, the hostilities which followed. The right hon. Gentleman did his utmost to precipitate them. It was, again, that they allowed the Treaties of 1856 to languish in abeyance. The right hon. Gentleman had defied them altogether. It was, again, that at Berlin they sanctioned perilous concessions. The right hon. Gentleman would have sent them to the Congress without a tithe of the inadequate authority they exercised. If the verdict of the General Election against the late Government was just—as I maintain, having endeavoured to promote it—it has led to a conclusion utterly untenable in reason as well as fraught with inconveniences to Europe and perils to Great Britain. The present moment seems to me to be well chosen for a Notice of this kind, because two objects had to be considered. One was to allow the effervescence of Mid Lothian to pass over; the other to prevent society from being too long habituated to the Government in the form which it has assumed, and also to prevent complete oblivion of the facts which show that form to be much more than inadmissible. A task so painful ought to be as long as possible delayed. But, in a short time, the lassitude of Parliament commences. The moment it sets in, everything seems more tolerable than exertion to correct it. If no sort of protest is initiated before that time arrives, we may be led to accede to the present state of things as a stroke of fate, or an incurable disorder. Some noble Lords who share these views may urge that a Motion against the actual formation of the Government would have been a more legitimate proceeding. But there were several objections to it. If carried in this House, it might be counter-balanced in the other. It would involve debate and controversy with the noble Lord upon the Treasury Bench, which I am far from wishing to encounter. As it is, they are not bound to justify the right hon. Gentleman or acquiesce in the opinions I have stated. The Motion, I submit, may be accepted without a judgment one way or the other. It is for a Return which two Embassies can furnish, which has much historical importance at this moment, and which, when it is borne in mind how much the right hon. Gentleman was the promoter of the recent War, enables us to trace at least a portion of his great responsibility. The course I have pursued involves considerable hazard, because in this House the right hon. Gentleman can look to Prelates he has nominated, Peers he has created, men in Office he has chosen. It seems to me, however, to be a law which runs through history, that unless someone is prepared to sacrifice himself, usurped dominion and irregular authority, however fatal, cannot easily be limited. On what grounds their limitation is required in the present instance need not further be insisted on. It is the first step to that repose on Eastern matters to which, after its long fatigues, the country is entitled. The noble Lord concluded by moving for the Return of which he had given Notice.

Moved, "That there be laid before this House, Return of the numbers of killed and wounded in the late War between Russia and the Porte."—(The Lord Stratheden and Campbell.)


My Lords, I own I feel some difficulty in dealing with the speech which we have just heard, and in knowing what point the noble Lord opposite (Lord Stratheden and Campbell) wishes me to reply to. On the 19th of last month the Notice which stands in the noble Lord's name attracted my attention on the Papers of your Lordships' House. I saw by it that the noble Lord proposed on the Monday following to call attention to speeches delivered by Mr. Gladstone three years ago. I came down on that day in the hope that I should be able to learn the drift of the noble Lord's argument, but learnt from the Clerk at the Table that the Motion was postponed till the Monday after. Well, I came down on that day, and was again informed that there had been a further postponement. I make no complaint of that for myself, because it is my duty to come down every day; but complaints have been made by other Peers who may come clown, or not come down, according to the bill of fare on your Lordships' Minutes, and I must say that I think it is inconvenient that the noble Lord should postpone his Notices from time to time in the manner he frequently does. I gather, on the whole, that the remarks of my noble Friend were not intended to be complimentary to Mr. Gladstone; but he has paid my right hon. Friend a great and unusual compliment. He has referred to a precedent of a Peer answering a speech made in the other House of Parliament. I presume he means Lord Grey's famous attack on Mr. Canning. I would, however, remind the noble Lord that when that attack was made, Mr. Canning, who was Prime Minister, was acting and speaking in a manner of which Lord Grey did not approve; but the noble Lord has been making an address here on speeches spoken three years ago and when Mr. Gladstone was not in Office, and it would, I think, be difficult to find a precedent of any Peer, who, having neglected speeches made by a man three years ago, who, of whatever eminence, was not in Office at the time, now made them a subject of a long speech in your Lordships' House. The noble Lord concludes with a Motion for a Return which he thinks, and probably it would be, of great interest, but to the production of which I am afraid I cannot concede. How is it possible that the Foreign Office could give a list of the killed and wounded in a campaign in which we had no share, which lasted for a considerable period, extended over wide territories in Asia and Europe, and was conducted by two belligerents, one of whom, however brave in the field, is not renowned for the accuracy of her statistics? I am sorry, therefore, to say it is not in the power of the Government to furnish the information for which the noble Lord moves.


said, that it was satisfactory to find that the noble Earl the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs (Earl Granville) had not much to say against the Notice, except that it ought to have come on 10 days sooner than it had done. He (Lord Stratheden and Campbell) hardly hoped for such a tribute to its necessity. If he had adverted to speeches delivered so long ago as 1877, it had been sufficiently explained for what public object he had done so. The Return might be obtained at once by communicating with the Ottoman and Russian Embassies in London. But if the noble Earl objected to such a burden, as too much enhancing those his foreign policy occasioned, he would not divide the House, as the Return was not essential to the purpose he had aimed at.

Motion (by leave of the House) withdrawn.