HL Deb 06 March 1885 vol 295 cc227-9

My Lords, with the permission of the House, I wish to mate a very short statement. Your Lordships have doubtless read in the ordinary channels of information a report of the speech made by Prince Bismarck a few days ago on the subject of the relations between Germany and this country. I feel, and I think your Lordships will feel, that it would be unbecoming, either as respects this House or the German Chancellor, of me to make anything like a lengthened reply here to what was stated in the Reichstag by Prince Bismarck; and for that reason there are several points raised by him—as to the numbers of our communications in writing, of despatches being published before delivery, and of despatches published which ought not to have been published at all—which I do not intend to touch. On these points I hope to be able to make such a statement in a regular way to Prince Bismarck that will show him that a very different colour can be given to our proceedings. But I do not think I need be quite so reticent with regard to what I stated in this House. Your Lordships will probably remember that I spoke in debate under the pressure of a severe Parliamentary attack; and what I said, to my sincere regret, has given annoyance to Prince Bismarck—I think from some misconception of the bearing of it. You will remember that in the course of his speech the noble Duke (the Duke of Richmond and Gordon), who is not now present, made a fair Parliamentary attack upon us by saying— It is shown in your own Papers that your Egyptian policy is so bad that a great foreign statesman condemns it. I met this by the retort that I had no reason to complain of Prince Bismarck's disapproval, because we had not followed the advice—I ought, perhaps, to have said opinions—which he had given to the last and present Government to take Egypt—advice which must be considered as very friendly to this country. I added that I presumed that the noble Duke did not expect us to abandon all liberty of action in foreign and Colonial policy—a thrust which, however slight, I aimed at the noble Duke, and not in the least against Prince Bismarck. Prince Bismarck, however, to my great regret, construed this as having a meaning which I can positively assert I did not attach to it. He also complained of my having incorrectly described advice, or rather opinions, which, even if true, I had no right to mention, as they had been of a most confidential character. Now, as to the words "take Egypt." I might probably have used a better phrase if I had spoken from written notes, although the words certainly apply either to an annexation or a Protectorate, or even to an occupation for the future. With regard to a breach of confidence, I should deeply regret any such act, which would be much more painful and injurious to myself than to anyone else. The accusation, of course, does not apply to what happened under the late Government, when I had no access to official sources, though receiving, together with other Leaders of the Opposition, much important information. It was assumed that what I had said as to advice given, or, more properly speaking, opinions expressed, was founded on very confidential and very friendly communications which passed in 1882, and of which the Prince gave a detailed explanation the other day. But I did not mean to refer to those private and very friendly communications which Prince Bismarck described to the Reichstag. I referred to subsequent declarations, not of a confidential character, which seemed to me to express that two years ago, whatever may be the opinion now, it was the wish and hope of the German Government that England should take upon herself to represent the interests of Europe in Egypt for the future. And I must add that I do not wish to imply that such a hope was expressed in a manner inconsistent with existing Treaties. My object in making this statement is not to defend myself. It is for the purpose of correcting misapprehensions which are inevitable when important utterances on foreign affairs are conveyed by telegraphic messages, frequently incorrect, to all the capitals of Europe. I can conceive nothing more wanting in self-respect, or in respect for the great Minister of a foreign and friendly State, than that I should have spontaneously initiated in this place any attack upon such a person as the leading Minister in Germany. Your Lordships will have noted with satisfaction the concluding words of Prince Bismarck on the future relations of the two nations—the more impressive as they were spoken at a moment of some annoyance. There seems to he a suspicion in Germany that we are not fully cognizant of the present position of that great nation. I believe, on the contrary, that there is no country in which not only politicians but all classes more fully and cheerfully appreciate the immensely important position in Europe that Germany occupies since her own union. I believe it to be in the interest of Europe that German relations should be good with this country, and that they should not be less so with France and her other neighbours. I am sure that it is more than ever in the interest of Germany and ourselves that our relations should be good at a time when we are about to meet in almost every part of the world. While both will maintain their rights, I cannot doubt that we ought to advance in a great and common work of commerce and civilization in a spirit of cordial co-operation. Your Lordships will not doubt that all my efforts will be exerted in favour of the conciliatory policy which has been sketched out by the German Chancellor.