HL Deb 23 March 1885 vol 296 cc196-8

said, that he desired, in pursuance of private Notice he had given to the noble Earl the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, to put a Question to him re- garding certain articles which had appeared in The Times newspaper, and which seemed to him to deserve some comment. Their Lordships generally and the noble Marquess the Leader of the Opposition (the Marquess of Salisbury) had hitherto refrained from pressing Her Majesty's Government with any Questions calculated to embarrass them in the present critical state of the delicate negotiations between this country and Russia in relation to Afghanistan. He would prefer to follow the example which had thus been set, and also to refrain from making any comments upon those negotiations, had it not been left for The Times to rush in where angels feared to tread. It was the custom in foreign countries to have organs in the Press which were regarded as official or semi-official. For instance, The North German Gazette was the authoritative organ of Prince Bismarck at Berlin, and The Journal des Débats was the organ of M. Ferry at Paris; and just as it was an ineradicable opinion abroad that the Lord Mayor was, next to the Prime Minister, the most important person in the Government, so also it had always been believed that The Times was the semi-official organ of the Government of the day. We could hardly complain that these misconceptions should be so prevalent; but he regarded it as an advantage in many ways, one of which was that his communication to the noble Earl of his intention to ask a Question on the subject gave the noble Earl the opportunity of, once for all, authoritatively denying that there was any inspiration in the articles in The Times newspaper. The tone of these articles was extremely remarkable, one which would suggest to a reader that they might be official despatches from the Secretary of State to Ministers abroad containing instructions as to the policy of the Government. Their Lordships were aware that this assumption of authority was nothing more than what Lord Beaconsfield would describe as the pretentiousness of irresponsible frivolity. He, therefore, thought their Lordships would admit that it was desirable it should be publicly known that whatever the foreign policy of Her Majesty's Government was—whether wise or unwise—it was initiated and inaugurated within the walls of the Foreign Office, and that in England the Government did not employ even the respectable columns of The Times newspaper for official or semi-official announcements of that policy.


I believe that the noble Duke (the Duke of Marlborough) is quite right in saying that what appears in The Times is of great interest on the Continent, and there is no doubt that the feeling there is rather of a double character; and it is thought either that The Times represents the views of the existing Government, or that it represents the public opinion of the country. I cannot, however, imagine how, in any way, any English or foreign reader of the articles, either respecting the policy of the Foreign Office or the conduct of the individual who unworthily is at the head of it at this moment, would think I had any share in inspiring those articles, or that I could have contributed to them. To do so would be to suppose me guilty of a Machiavellian device; and even if I had had the talent I should not have done so, unless I was to act on the principle of Sheridan, who, in order to lay the ground open for a defence of himself, after having written a most brilliant attack upon himself, entirely forgot to answer it. Be that as it may, I think it would be inconvenient, and a novel precedent for me to establish, that I should be called upon to express either agreement with or dissent from either the whole or part of any articles that appear in the public Press. At the same time, I entirely sympathize with what I understand to be the spirit in which the noble Duke has put the Question— namely, that while Her Majesty's Government adhere firmly to the policy which they think the interests and the obligations of this country require, they agree that they should not omit any opportunity of coming to a friendly agreement satisfactory and honourable to all the parties concerned.