HL Deb 08 April 1881 vol 260 cc995-1007

, in rising to call attention to the recent Correspondence upon Turkey, and to move for the despatches which explain the withdrawal of Sir Henry Layard from the Embassy at Constantinople, said: My Lords, the Notice I have to bring on to-night relates chiefly to the foreign policy of Her Majesty's Government, of which much appears in the Correspondence I refer to. It has been deferred during the absence of the noble Earl the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs. But it is not so much directed against him as might be possibly imagined. We are too much inclined in ordinary language to connect the Secretary of State exclusively with everything which occurs in foreign policy, as if he was an autocrat who swayed it. It is forgotten to how many other forces he may be possibly accountable. It might, indeed, be easily perceived by referring to a volume which a Member of this House has recently produced, the diary of the late Lord Ellenborough. It is there seen how little influence on foreign policy even so eminent and gifted a Secretary of State as the late Lord Dudley usually exerted. In one capital of Europe, at this moment, the whole diplomatic world would laugh at the idea of the Secretary of State having any great responsibility for the affairs of his Department. My Lords, the Blue Books relate to a variety of subjects—Ottoman finance, the Montenegrin Frontier, and the condition of Eastern Roumelia—from which important lessons are derivable. On the condition of Eastern Roumelia it is important for anyone to see what Colonel Wilson has written in No. 19 of 1880, page 139. But the only despatch I need refer to more particularly is that which bears directly on the Motion. It is in No. 7 of 1880, page 8. It is a despatch from Lord Granville to Sir Henry Layard expressing the greatest satisfaction with his conduct, notifying that leave of absence has been granted to him, and that Mr. Goschen has been appointed on a special mission. None of the Blue Books explain his final disappearance. None of them point out in what manner the original intention, as announced by the despatch which is before us, was abandoned. On my part, there is no prejudice against Mr. Goschen, whose financial services in Egypt, in common with many persons, I appreciate. I happen to have no acquaintance with Sir Henry Layard, who, as regards this proceeding, is entirely irresponsible. He is the only one, in a long series, who have held his recent post, from Lord Stratford de Radcliffe downwards, to whom I have not had the opportunity of listening upon the Eastern Question. Now, on these grounds, the recall of Sir Henry Layard, against the positive design the Government had indicated, seemed to be impolitic. His particular connection with the East as an explorer, or discoverer of Nineveh, is too well known to be stated. Having been sent out as Ambassador just before the war of 1877, he was in full possession of the labyrinth which followed it. If he was not actively engaged in reviving the Ottoman Assemblies—a point the Government professed to aim at—he watched their infancy, he had proclaimed their importance, and when the Russian Army reached San Stefano he had been a witness of their downfall. He had considerable access to the Palace and the Sultan. In other capitals the functions of Ambassadors may be restricted to persuasion; in Constantinople it must be frequently extended to direction. Direction is impossible, without experience and knowledge, together with the tact, assurance, or, at least, authority which spring from them. It has become a maxim at Constantinople, which I have often heard there, that until he is acclimatized to its intrigues and passions by a residence of months the best diplomatist is scarcely capable of acting. Sir Henry Layard is withdrawn, not to make way for anyone whose past experience or local knowledge might prepare him; but for a Member of the Legislature beyond the sphere of the profession, who must have found himself a novice in the capital which lie approached, and who, therefore, needed a preparatory interval, although immediate action was required of him. An arrangement of the kind can hardly be defended, unless its consequences have been fortunate. It seems to me to have been followed by a series of errors of which one may be adverted to at present. The principle has been habitually laid down by Her Majesty's Government that we ought to insist on the Treaty of Berlin in all its parts being faithfully and literally executed. The principle, although a specious one, before we acquiesce in it, requires much consideration. In the first place, the Treaty of Berlin was unavoidably connected with, and emanated from, the victories of Russia. It contained many things which the other European Powers, had they stood as they did in 1856, would never have admitted. It cannot, therefore, be urged that its total and immediate execution was an object of Great Britain. But while the Treaty of Berlin contained much which Russia valued or exulted in, it contained a good deal which she reluctantly assented to. A Government which constantly insisted on the execution of the Treaty found itself in the anomalous position of acting with Russia and against her simultaneously. The only escape was to aim merely at the execution of the Articles with which Russia found her interest identified, or merely at the execution of the Articles by which her progress was in some degree restricted. The former course appears to have been chosen, as regards the whole transaction of the Montenegrin Frontier. No power but Russia had the slightest interest in the aggrandizement of Montenegro, which had long been virtually dependent on her. It was brought about, however, by a Naval demonstration which involved considerable hazard, and in spite of the Albanian resistance which threw considerable doubt upon its policy and justice. The Conference at Berlin is much harder to defend, however, than the Naval demonstration. In the course of the Session the Prime Minister is stated to have offered an extraordinary plea for it. It is that he only followed the French initiative in joining it. Since 1870, on grounds too numerous to mention, the French initiative has not been altogether the directing force which any prudent guide of foreign policy would look to. A Minister who openly declares that, on a subject of that kind, he is controlled by the initiative of France, has said a harder thing against himself than he is likely from any other quarter to encounter. The result of the Berlin Conference has been to implant in the Athenian Government the absolute delusion that they possess a legal title to a territorial concession without exchange or purchase, or any other form of sacrifice to win it. That it is an absolute delusion the French Secretary of State himself has laboured to establish in a series of despatches I recently adverted to, which it would well become the Foreign Office fully to produce, as they may all be copied from the French official volume. But, although it is an absolute delusion, the King of Greece, in his Royal Speech to Parliament, was led by his Advisers to endorse it; the Prime Minister of Greece habitually endorses it; it forms the basis of Athenian Manifestoes; it has forced the mediating Powers into the most open contradiction as regards the many Frontiers they have traced, the various opinions they have sanctioned. My Lords, although it is an absolute delusion, it is much to be feared that the Government have patronized it, or, if they have not patronized, done nothing to rebuke it, and left to France the undivided labour of contending with it. If, indeed, the Berlin Conference had been the means of drawing Germany towards us, the result might have atoned for many inconveniences. But you have only to consult the German Press, you have only to breathe the atmosphere of Berlin—which it occurred to me to do during November and December—to form an opposite conclusion. At no previous time has the Ministerial position of Great Britain been more obnoxious to that capital. The explanation may present itself. In 1879 its ruling forces were led into a new system and detached themselves from Russia. The celebrated journey of Prince Bismarck to Vienna is thought to have begun, at least it marks, the epoch I refer to. It was hard for the ruling powers of Berlin to detach themselves from Russia. There were certain risks to be incurred and certain prepossessions to be sacrificed. But it was harder to find that they had alienated Russia—to some extent at least—when Russia was doomed in a short time to be sustained, encouraged, fostered by Great Britain. In 1877 the deepest penetration could not have enabled them to realize such a contingency. It is quite true, no doubt, that both of these proceedings have been sheltered as the action of an European concert. The imposing term of European concert has been so much resorted to of late, that it becomes desirable to look into its actual significance. An European concert to oppose the interest and aim of nearly every European State is, in itself, a paradoxical conception. The European concert we are asked to bow to, as a mystic force, does not work for the revival of the Ottoman Assemblies which it might easily have compassed. It does not work for the establishment of a more firm, more civilized, and more invulnerable power on the Bosphorus than any which the head of the Mahometan religion can present there. It does not endeavour to arrange upon the Pruth a barrier against the enterprizes which have three times within about 50 years exposed Constantinople to the march of an invader. It does not seek the balance of power. It is literally founded on its ruin, or at least on its abeyance. It is a concert for transferring to the scale of overbearing force as many Kingdoms and Republics as can be persuaded to adhere to it. It is arrayed not against that which it is desirable to check, but against that which it is desirable to strengthen and uphold, so long as no equivalent is found for it. Under its auspices the Law of Nations is defied, and territorial encroachment insolently aimed at. Aspiring to usurp the name and speak with the authority of Europe, it excludes from its circle not only such well-known States as Belgium and Holland, but all the Scandinavian Kingdoms, and the whole Iberian Peninsula. It wholly overlooks the principle of 1856, that the Sublime Porte was to be incorporated in the system of the Continent. It tends to reduce that Empire to a lower depth than it had reached before of both humiliation and insolvency. It is viewed with conscientious shame and ill-concealed aversion by nearly all the Powers which technically form it. But to put it in its proper light, and to suggest the mode in which it ought to be regarded, we should reflect a moment on the way in which a concert so arranged would have affected modern history had it been allowed to supersede the higher and the nobler forms of combination which have usually existed. During the half century which followed Ottoman success in 1453, it would have declared its confidence in the Mahometan dominion, and helped the warlike Sultans of that age by fire and sword to reach the Adriatic. It would have been the faithful instrument of Austria and Spain when, under Charles V. and his successors, they became a menace to the Continent. As soon as that ascendancy subsided at Westphalia in 1648, during another century it would have allied itself with France and those who ruled her, have fed upon their promises, confided in their virtue, and ministered to their supremacy. If that idol, under such preserving adoration, had ever passed away, this form of concert would have found its present object of subserviency. Had it prevailed 300 years, instead of being invented by the present occupant of Downing Street, Europe must have fallen under the general dominion which it is the leading aim of foreign policy to obviate. My Lords, this type of European concert has lately had a signal illustration in the Memoirs of Prince Metternich, who, in strict accuracy, may be regarded as its founder, and from whom the present Leader of the Government appears to have derived it. These Memoirs are accessible to everyone. In them we watch with the assistance of the master who directed it, the operation of the system at Troppau, at Laybach, at Verona. It arrayed itself, as now, against the States which were not able to resist it. Its aim, however, was more limited than modern fashion has bestowed upon it. It required weaker States to guard their institutions from reform. It did not call upon them to give up their territory at the dictation of a rival. In this connection there are many topics which I abandon for the present. Let me conclude, as I began, by absolving the noble Earl the Secretary of State from any great responsibility. Nothing has occurred which might not have been anticipated and predicted from the sinister form the Government assumed after the General Election. If these despatches are withheld, the recall of Sir Henry Layard will hardly seem to have the vindication which it calls for. If they are produced, the Motion cannot be considered as an useless one. Moved, That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty for Copies of the despatches which explain the withdrawal of Sir Henry Layard from the Embassy at Constantinople. —(The Lord Stratheden and Campbell.)


thought that, in having discouraged discussion on this subject, his noble Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs had not acted with his usual prudence, because a more outspoken expression of Parliamentary opinion on it might have been of considerable advantage in preventing the painful impression which now prevailed in respect of the differences between Turkey and Greece. He apprehended that it would be difficult to find in diplomatic history any precedent for what had occurred at the Berlin Conference, and, since it was held, in regard to the Greek Question. It would be difficult to find any other instance in which a Conference of the Powers was summoned for the purpose of considering and determining a certain question, and in which, an arrangement having been come to by that Conference, quite a different arrangement was subsequently proposed by the Powers. The change in the complexion of this question between Turkey and Greece had produced alarm in the minds of those who felt an interest in the peace of Europe and in the future of the Hellenes. Two courses had been open to the Powers. They might by force have compelled Turkey to submit, which, though it would have been hard and unjust, yet would have been consistent with the determination come to at the Conference, and it would have prevented the possibility of Turkey remaining under any delusion. On the other hand, they might have designed a new Frontier, and announced that their decision was to be final; but neither of those courses had been adopted. He looked with dismay on the present state of feeling in Europe. The Greeks were armed to the teeth, and declared themselves ready to accept any sacrifice in the pursuit of their objects; and he would ask their Lordships to realize what those sacrifices might be. It was not too much to say that the Throne of the King of Greece tottered in the balance, and that civil strife would soon be added to foreign complications.


My Lords, I regret that the noble Lord opposite has brought forward his Motion at a time when, to use the words of a noble Lord, chairman at a public meeting, the question of peace or war rests, as it were, on a razor's edge. It would be better to leave the case in the hands of the Plenipotentiaries who are trying to agree. But the noble Lord has alluded to the time of Charles V., and has touched on the European concert; while the great scheme of Henry IV. of France, and our Queen Elizabeth, devised a reduction of armaments, with a police of all nations. The injustice of that scheme consisted in this—that while scheming to weaken the great combined power of Spain and Austria—they were one at that time, in the reign of Philip, late husband of "Bloody Mary"—it tended to secure compensation to them, for losses in Europe, by a partition of territory in the East, to be wrested from the so-called Infidels; but peace was the only opportunity for arriving at truth. In the Memoirs of the noble Lord's (Lord Stratheden and Campbell's) father, there was an interesting account of his late Royal Highness the Duke of Gloucester, who, when in action—his men were firing too soon—threw himself before them to check them. England, as a herald between combatants, might prevent war; while, if she acted as a partizan, she would find the Turks, as at Sistovo (1791), very slow in their concessions, if not determined on war. There was no doubt that the Conference had, at first, demanded too much, as was proved by their subsequent moderation, which he (Lord Denman) hoped might lead to peace.


said, that his noble Friend who spoke second on this question complained that he did not give sufficient encouragement for the discussion of foreign subjects in their Lordships' House. He must say that if he had had to discourage such discussions, his efforts in that direction had not had much effect on the bashful and retiring nature of his two noble Friends. One of his noble Friends had been kind enough towards himself personally not to hold him responsible for the foreign policy of the Government, and referred to the statement concerning Lord Dudley in the Memoirs of Lord Ellenborough to show that such responsibility was not properly chargeable to the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs. Now, he was by no means unconscious of his own imperfections; but he must accept the responsibility of the foreign policy of Her Majesty's Government, though, of course, he shared that responsibility with the Prime Minister and his other Colleagues. Certainly, Lord Dudley, of all Foreign Ministers, was the one who was the least efficient in that Office. Lord Ellen- borough claims in his Memoir a great share of the work of the Foreign Office; but it was notorious at the time that Mr. Huskisson transacted nearly the whole business of the Foreign Office. He did not, however, mean to deny the wit and cleverness of Lord Dudley; and he felt that if he had only one-half of that cleverness he might have done what he had been unable to do—have followed the arguments of the noble Lords who had spoken first and third in the discussion. His noble Friend wanted him to give more encouragement to the discussion of foreign affairs. He could only say that if, at the proper time, the noble Marquess opposite (the Marquess of Salisbury), or the noble Earl (the Earl of Beaconsfield), the cause of whose absence from that House they all deplored, wished to bring forward the subject, he would be most ready to afford an opportunity for its full discussion; but the noble Lord (Lord Houghton), in order to show in what a judicious way foreign affairs might be treated in the House, selected for a discussion on the Greek Question the very clay after they knew that an unanimous Note had been presented of a most important character, on the part of the Powers of Europe, in the hope of maintaining peace, and of arriving at a satisfactory settlement—a Note which the Greek Government had to consider, and which he hoped that Government would consider with that statesmanlike self-control which ought to distinguish a nation so brilliantly intellectual, with whom English sympathies were so much in accord. He must entirely decline to follow his noble Friend (Lord Stratheden and Campbell) into the subject he had raised. His noble Friend had taken a course which was inconvenient not only to the person filling the Office of Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, but to their Lordships' House. He first put on the Paper a Notice of the vaguest character. On seeing it he took the liberty of addressing to his noble Friend a private note asking him to give him more definite information as to the scope of his Notice. On that his noble Friend courteously changed his Notice, and he now expressed his wish for information on the subject of the withdrawal of Sir Henry Layard from Constantinople. Now, he doubted whether, except in the case of very grievous errors, it was desirable to discuss in Parliament the qualifications of Ambassadors employed under the Crown; but, at the same time, as his noble Friend desired information on the subject, he would state very shortly the state of things as regarded the recall of Sir Henry Layard. Sir Henry Layard was appointed special Ambassador at Constantinople some three years before the late Government went out of Office. He was appointed in lieu of Sir Henry Elliot, who first remained Ambassador, was then put on half-pay, and ultimately transferred to another post. Sir Henry Layard was a man of great ability and great knowledge of the East and Eastern Affairs. He had served with energy and ability the late Government; and he had executed instructions which, whether right or wrong, were known at the time not to be in accordance with the opinions of the Party to which he (Earl Granville) belonged. Besides that, Sir Henry Layard had eventually written a remarkable despatch, in which he showed how ineffectually he had worked to attain certain objects desired by the then Government—sometimes approaching the Porte in language almost of menace, and sometimes in language of persuasion. Sir Henry Layard declared that he had exhausted all the power he possessed; and that at the time he wrote that despatch the English Government had no influence over the Porto. The present Government, when they came into power, thought, under all the circumstances, it would be desirable to make a change. A special Embassy had some advantages and some disadvantages; but the Government had adopted a policy of great difficulty, that of obtaining the fulfilment of the remaining conditions of the Berlin Treaty, and they thought it desirable to give some significance to their change of policy. They, therefore, appointed Mr. Goschen special Ambassador. He did not think they could have selected a better man to succeed Sir Henry Layard, or one who could have more fully justified the trust put in him than Mr. Goschen. And there was a great advantage in having a man so intimately acquainted with the opinions of the Government to carry out that policy. With regard to Sir Henry Layard following the precedent of his Predecessor they placed him on leave, and after a short time put him on half-pay, exactly follow- ing previous precedents in the matter. No doubt it was hard on Sir Henry Layard, who was at the same time without employment and without pension; but it was felt to be impossible to pay two Ambassadors at the same time.


said, he agreed with the noble Earl that this was not precisely the moment at which it was expedient to discuss the matters which had been brought forward. He regretted what appeared to him hasty action on the part of the Conference of Berlin, and the impression that had got abroad that there was meant to be a more positive policy and one to be sustained by more energetic action than was really in the mind of the Government by which that Conference was guided. But, reserving to himself the full right of discussing these questions hereafter in detail, ho did not think it was in accordance with the precedents their Lordships had followed, or that it would be for the public service, or for the promotion of what they all desired to see attained—the peace of Europe—that they should go further now into matters which wore very delicate, and which had most probably reached the most delicate stage of negotiation. One word he would wish to add. The choice of Diplomatic Agents it was absolutely necessary to leave to the Government of the time. He was not aware of all the reasons which had induced Her Majesty's Government to prefer the services of Mr. Goschen to those of Sir Henry Layard. He would only say that Sir Henry Layard had served the Government of the Queen, so far as ho had an opportunity of observing, with great energy, self-devotion, and ability; and he had claims on the public which the noble Earl opposite, he was sure, would be the last not to acknowledge. But the Government must be allowed to carry on their own policy in their own way, which was the right of every Government, and the responsibility for which they would not try to diminish.


said, that the late Lord Stratford de Redcliffe had stated that Greece had no rights and no claims. What, then, was to be gained by upsetting the Ottoman Empire and diminishing the influence of England in the Mediterranean for such a nation as Greece? The Prime Minister, by his Mid Lothian speeches, had encouraged both the Greeks and the Boers. But he seemed to have forgotten his former phrases. Since the right hon. Gentleman's mind had been taken from foreign affairs, and entirely engaged on the Land Law (Ireland) Bill, counsels of moderation had at last appeared to have made some way at the Foreign Office.


said, that as his noble Friend (Earl Granville) had stated if some responsible person on the other side, well acquainted with foreign affairs, brought forward this important subject for discussion at a proper time, it would be discussed by persons well qualified to give an opinion upon it. But at present it was important that there should be no question on the subject; and if Members of the Government did not prolong the debate, it was not because they admitted, in the slightest degree, the representations made by the four noble Lords. If the whole question was discussed, the Government would be able to show their Lordships that the course they had pursued, in accord with the Great Powers of Europe, could not be disposed of in a few speeches.


said, he hoped noble Lords would not suppose that if he and other noble Lords did not take part in this debate they had not got the strongest possible opinion of the impropriety of pressing this matter. He only rose for the purpose of expressing his own opinion, and he was sure he spoke for many others, that they thought it extremely undesirable to do anything which might interfere with or impede the negotiations now in progress. He hoped they would not prolong this debate. Nobody knew the mischief which might result from doing so.


would not detain the House; but, as his noble Friend beneath (Lord Houghton) could not speak again, he felt bound to answer some of the reflections which the noble Earl the Secretary of State had tried to cast upon him. Had the language of his noble Friend been calculated to promote hostilities between Greece and the Sublime Porte, such reflections might be justified. His language tended altogether in the opposite direction. In exact proportion as the false interpretation of the Berlin Conference was rectified; in exact proportion as the Greek ambition was dis- countenanced; in exact proportion as the Law of Nations was asserted to correct it, the hope and chance of an adjustment was augmented. His noble Friend had, therefore, been promoting the very object of the Government. If he was, besides, possessed of special information, he was bound to use it in the interest of peace, as he had done on this occasion. The noble Earl the Secretary of State bad endeavoured to persuade the House that some irregularity attended this proceeding. On his (Lord Stratheden and Campbell's) part there had been no irregularity whatever. He had given Notice to call attention to certain Correspondence a fortnight before the day selected for discussion. The Notice had never been changed at all; it had only been completed, in accord with the most established usage, by a Motion being attached to it. It bad been then repeatedly postponed during the absence of the noble Earl, and at the request of Her Majesty's Government. But the noble Earl had made another observation, which was even more remarkable. He had complained that all discussion of foreign policy was inconvenient at that moment to the Government. In that case, why did he not avert it? He might immediately have done so. During the last five years, neither under the late Government, nor the existing one, had he (Lord Stratheden and Campbell) ever hesitated to suspend a Motion when the Secretary of State declared negotiations would be hindered by it. But when the noble Earl accepted the debate he could not properly complain of it. Considering how much forbearance had been shown during his absence, and how on every point his wishes had been followed, in hazarding censorious remarks, the noble Earl had not displayed the prudence or the taste for which he used to be conspicuous. There was nothing further to reply to. He had maintained that the withdrawal of Sir Henry Layard wantonly destroyed an efficient agency for British objects in the Ottoman Dominion; that the withdrawal was an error; and that it had soon been followed by errors greater than itself.

Motion agreed to.