HL Deb 26 March 1885 vol 296 cc630-9

, in rising to call attention to the meeting of the three Emperors at Skiernievice, in September, 1884; and move an humble Address to the Crown for any diplomatic correspondence which exists from Her Majesty's Representatives abroad as to the new concert or alliance between the Courts of Germany, of Austria, and of Russia, said: My Lords, it will not, I think, be difficult to show that the Notice I have given, although going back to an occurrence of the autumn, bears upon the difficulties which cause anxiety at present. But noble Lords may first inquire where is Skiernievice? It is certainly among the places on which geography is rather mute, till history has discovered them. Who ever heard of Königgratz before 1866? Who knew anything of Sedan before 1870, except as a town where a peculiar kind of chair was manufactured or invented? It is difficult to find Skiernievice on actual maps. It will be easy upon future ones. It appears to be distant about an hour and a-half by railway from Warsaw, on the Southern journey to Cracow and to Vienna. My Lords, the Conference at Skiernievice was not the first event which intimated the re-union of Austria, Germany, and Russia. Last year the Royal Speech at Berlin partially acknowledged it. On the 4th of April, when the subject was referred to in this House, the noble Earl the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs (Earl Granville) declined to question its existence. What took place at Skiernievice gave it a degree of form, of pomp, and of publicity which had not previously existed. It also showed, by vivid details I pass over for compression, that Russia was the power to direct, as she has often been the power to achieve, this kind of combination. The three Ministers of the respective States assisted, and had long interviews together. The Chancellor of the German Empire, who is never present at unmeaning ceremonials, by joining it himself declared its substance and reality. The choice of the locality in Poland was not insignificant. These facts will hardly be disputed or viewed differently; but it may still be asked on what account an open and accentuated union of the kind ought to be regarded with extraordinary interest?

It cannot be denied, of course, that these august Personages are entitled to assemble when and where they may think proper. It may be granted, that each, regarded as an individual, has special titles to regard, sympathy, or approbation in Great Britain. It is true also that domestic circumstances and traditionary habits explain a disposition upon their part to recall from time to time the Treaty of September 14, 1815, by which their brotherhood was constituted. But there are important grounds on which their formally avowed re-union always tends to apprehension among men who reason closely as to international affairs.

The system has been invariably hostile to the objects of Great Britain. If it were not, why should Mr. Canning, when acting for Lord Liverpool and the Conservatives from 1822 to 1827, have been immersed in struggles to resist it? If it were not, why should Lord Palmerston, when acting for the Liberals from 1830 to 1841, have been in no less animated and perpetual collision with it? Whatever page you open of their Correspondence is nearly certain to betray the attitude I have referred to. But, going beyond the range of our interests, the system involves too vast a preponderance of military power to be consistent with the general security. These Empires united can maintain 1,500,000 men, at least, for any object they determine on. Their Fleets are far from inconsiderable; they are reckoned to include 77 iron-plated vessels. I before remarked that the union has been generally brought about by Russia for her objects. It owed its birth to Catherine II. It was reorganized in 1815 by Alexander I. and Madame Krudener. The life of Madame Krudener, by Capefigne, explains the subject with authority and detail. Although I will not recall the history of the system, as I did last year, two illustrations which belong to our time may be remembered. In 1847, against the vehement remonstrances of other Powers, it annihilated the independence of Cracow, which dated from the Congress of Vienna. In 1877 it culminated in the late invasion of the Ottoman Empire, the fall of its Assemblies, and the revival of the arbitrary power which weighs upon it at this moment. The union will be always dangerous to Sweden on the one side, to the Porte upon the other. Its effect inevitably is to create a distance between Great Britain and the German Empire. The German Empire cannot lean at once to Russia and Great Britain, even if the latter Powers are drawn together by the momentary ardour of a Government. Governments are variable; nations go back to their orbit. But when Germany and Great Britain are estranged, the latter is left alone and unsupported to contend with France in a variety of quarters. The France of M. Jules Ferry may be irreproachable; but who can guarantee the coming form or future disposition of that country? These may be mentioned as the standing inconveniences of the alliance now in question. But noble Lords who have been in the Consular or Diplomatic Service of the Crown may be aware of many which escape me.

It is, however, oven more important to consider the results or consequences which have followed the revival of this memorable system since the beginning of last year, when it became visible on the horizon. Russia has advanced to Merv, and, later on, to Sarakhs. Herat is seriously threatened. There is no doubt whatever that the posts retained are within the Afghan Frontier. The possibility of having to defend Afghanistan by arms has now become the daily topic of the journalist. A world of controversy between Great Britain and Germany, which did not formerly exist, has sprung into activity. The Chancellor of the German Empire has felt bound, in the Assembly at Berlin, to reprimand the Foreign Office. The Foreign Office, to say nothing of elaborate apologies in this House, has deemed it proper to send written explanations to the House of Commons. A Treaty with Portugal about the Congo has been abandoned, because too many Powers determined to oppose it. A Con- ference in London was dispersed, because it was in vain endeavoured to render it subordinate to any object of Great Britain. These are the fruits which, within a twelvemonth, the new alliance seems to have created.

It is, therefore, a vital matter to consider in what manner it originated. I rely on the indulgence of the House while dwelling for a moment on this topic. It is beyond my power to do it justice. It must be remembered that in 1879, under the direction of Prince Bismarck, the alliance vanished altogether. Well might enlightened politicians at that time have exclaimed that fate bestowed what hope could scarcely realize or dream of. In 1880 the dreaded union was remote. Germany and Austria were both emancipated from the influence of Russia. What happened to revive it?

My Lords, if I touch upon domestic incidents, it is only because some of them have been a potent factor in European history, and are thus immediately connected with the Notice I have given. The General Election overthrew Lord Beaconsfield. A Liberal majority was formed, of which the noble Earl the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs and a noble Marquess who for six years had acted with him in the House of Commons were the accepted and indisputable Leaders. The two were not identified with Russia in any marked degree, although it would be incorrect to say that they had shown peculiar vigilance in watching her encroachments. It is, however, true that when a great occasion took place at St. James's Hall in 1876 to form a Russian Party they were both conspicuously absent. There was nothing, on the whole, to prevent a strict co-operation upon their part with the line which Germany and Austria had adopted. It was essential to the foreign policy of the United Kingdom that they should, according to the programme held out for upwards of five years when Lord Beaconsfield retired, themselves fill up the vacancy created. What followed? To the dismay of Europe beyond the Russian Frontier, in oblivion of engagements and of usages, with no political necessity or popular demand to justify so violent a measure, the noble Earl and noble Marquess took upon themselves to reinstate the Leader who had abdicated for them. I mention it historically, and not in any spirit of invective. But that distinguished per- son had become the open and indefatigable advocate of Russia over a series of events well known to your Lordships. In the March of 1880, he had more signally proclaimed his allegiance. He was forced by the two noble Lords, who had the whole position in their hands, into what many felt to be disastrous, but what all saw to be at least uncalled for and unnecessary, eminence. Lot me remind the House in what manner a new Holy Alliance inevitably followed so astonishing an incident.

My Lords, when, in 1879, the authorities at Berlin broke up the Alliance of the Three Powers, which had maintained itself since 1870, without secret or official knowledge we may see that they did so at no little hazard, at no inconsiderable sacrifice. Ever since the death of the Czarina Elizabeth, which gave its last turn to the Seven Years' War, Russia has perpetually aimed at influence in Berlin. Military orders have been lavished, favours have been multiplied, diplomacy has been exhausted, to obtain it. Beyond that, the two capitals, although separate 1,000 miles, from no great centre intervening, seem to be next door to one another. There is a steady flow of thought and intercourse between them. Ties of blood have interwoven the two dynasties. The Czar Nicholas alluded to them with solemnity and even pathos on his deathbed. The two Powers have been intimately blended by the struggle with the First Napoleon. The fall of Poland has increased their solidarity. In 1870 Russia was thought to have placed German arms under important obligations. It is, of course, remembered that she was once a formidable enemy of Prussia. In spite of all these weighty and alluring grounds for permanent connection, in 1879 a new conclusion was arrived at, a new departure happened. At that time the support of this country in the higher path adopted might be counted on. Great Britain was not under the control of Russia. Nor was there any reason to suppose that the lapse of power from Conservatives to Liberals, if destined to occur, would bring Great Britain under such an influence. By Liberals the Crimean War had been sustained. By Liberals the Treaties of 1856 had been established. The two Leaders of the Party had the aspect I have spoken of already. The startling event it has been requisite to glance at placed our country in alignment with the Power which Germany had quitted. But still no prompt retaliation was adopted, and no vindictive step was taken. A protest came, indeed, from Austria. Otherwise a locus pœnitentia was afforded. A First Minister, who has been Russian in his language, may not be Russian in his policy. Or if he is, his Colleagues may be led to throw off an irregular usurping yoke to which they have submitted in a moment of despondency or weakness. Unfortunately, a series of transactions closed all hope, all possibility of that kind. Its last and most emphatic phase appeared at Copenhagen. Is it not rational to think that the German Empire may be led to disregard the vast inheritance of Peter the Great, and the agglomerations which have followed; but not to poise itself against the power of the Czar and that of the United Kingdom both together? Is it not just to reason that the German Empire may be drawn to independence of the greatest Military Power of the world; but not when the greatest Naval Power of the world is flung into the same compartment of the balance? In the meanwhile, M. de Giers—it is not a reproach, but, on the contrary, a tribute—has been an indefatigable agent. No wonder he was listened to, when he could urge that he was only leading the German Empire from a path on which its just and indispensable support had been capriciously annihilated. The evil first betrayed itself at Dantzig. It grew apace. It was matured at Skiernievice. It is invincible until you take away the cause which has produced it.

But if we consider how the new alliance was produced, we see at once how it may gradually be terminated. A Russian flag must cease to hover over Downing Street and Whitehall. But I do not ask your Lordships to be sanguine. The effect may not be instantaneous. You cannot blot out Skiernievice from the annals of diplomacy. It would ill become the Rulers in Berlin, whom we have driven to the arms of Russia, to shake off the embrace the very moment that it ceases to be essential to their safety. They must be faithful to propriety; they must be jealous of appearances; they must be loyal to engagements. But when it is no longer dangerous and imprudent to revert to it, new incidents may soon arise to re-establish the policy of 1879, which we have blindly forced them to surrender. In the case supposed, events may happen to release both Germany and Austria from the new Alliance, they have incurred no reproach and no responsibility in joining. My Lords, it is common out-of-doors to ask—in very unreflecting quarters — why the German Empire is so much less friendly to Great Britain than it used to be; as if no provocation had been offered; as if no outrage had arisen; as if the wanton resolution to unite with Russia in 1880; as if the persisting march along a Russian line for five years subsequent, was Dot, after the event of 1879, a cause of unavoidable estrangement?

It may be asked, perhaps, in reference to the Motion I submit, is any information wanted? My Lords, a description of what occurred at Skiernievice and the impression it produced from the Consul General at Warsaw would be, in a high degree, appropriate. For an event of this kind we ought not to be dependent wholly upon special correspondents, however graphic and industrious. It would also be desirable to know from our Representative at Buda-Pesth in what manner the new union is regarded in Hungarian assemblies which have so great an influence over the policy of Austria. M. Tisza, the Hungarian First Minister, endeavoured to persuade the world on one occasion that Russia has been absorbed by Germany and Austria, instead of reaching her original ascendancy. Can that opinion be corroborated? Of all revelations the most precious, if we could have it, would be the judgment of the late Lord Ampthill as to the re-union of the Emperors. It is true his lamented death took place on the 26th of August, and the conference began on the 15th of September; but for many months he must have been prepared for such a demonstration. Few in the House would disagree with me as to the gravity with which he would be heard or read upon a subject of this character. His long residence at Berlin of nearly 15 years had made him not only a Representative of the Queen, but an accepted member of the German Empire. His photograph may be seen in shop windows of its capital. He is remem- bered by the lowest as well as by the highest circles of society. His mental power was esteemed where the standard of mental power may well be deemed a high and an exacting one. The most discordant elements united in regarding him with confidence and favour. He joined, more than any other man, the solidity of a Professor to the accomplishment and tact of a Diplomatist. Having often seen him at his post, I am in some degree a witness. If an Ambassador could have maintained the German Empire on the path embraced in 1879, he would have been qualified to do so. But no Ambassador could overcome the motives to abandon it, which I have touched upon this evening. His parting counsels may be in some degree elicited.

There is one objection against which the Notice ought, perhaps, to be defended. It is thought by some that Egypt ought alone to occupy the House when foreign policy is mooted. I cannot acquiesce in that opinion. Egypt is but a corner of the area in which important problems are arising. We forget sometimes that Egypt is in Africa. But, setting that aside, does anyone suppose that the united force of Austria, Germany, and Russia has no influence on what may pass between Khartoum and Alexandria? Remember there are two Powers who would drive you out of Egypt altogether, if at liberty to do so. France would drive you out; because, according to traditions from the beginning of the century and the First Napoleon, they claim ascendancy over that region. The Sublime Porte would drive you out; because it is the Suzerain authority, and because Great Britain went there without a mandate from the Sultan. The gigantic combination I have brought before the House to-night may render either of these Powers irresistible by merely whispering behind it.

Another objection is that, as the Conference at Skiernievice happened in September, it might have been discussed while this House was sitting in the autumn. No doubt, the facts were then, as much as now, in evidence before us. No doubt, the same considerations on the tendency of such an union might have been submitted. But at that time it was not possible, as now it is, to indicate the mode by which the danger may be obviated. To speak on the Holy Alliance, unless you have some counsel to suggest, would be as puerile a labour as to debate upon tyrannicide, the freedom of the Press, the death of Charles I., or any large and long-exhausted topic, on which our minds in younger days may have been exercised. In October and November it was thought that the existing Ministerial arrangements were essential to a particular transaction—a particular solution on an internal topic generally aimed at. They are essential to nothing now except the aggravated prospect of a war with Russia, and the obvious inability to guide it. They are essential to nothing now except the deeper risk, the more complete humiliation of the Empire. I beg to make the Motion of which I have given Notice.

Moved, "That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty for any diplomatic correspondence which exists from Her Majesty's Representatives abroad as to the new concert or alliance between the Courts of Germany, of Austria, and of Russia."—[The Lord Stratheden and Campbell.)


My Lords, I am exceedingly sorry that my noble Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs (Earl Granville) is not present, having been called to Windsor; and I am more sorry because he would have been able, from his great knowledge of foreign affairs, to have followed the noble Lord through the very intricate maze of considerations upon the subject which he has unfolded. I was unable to follow the noble Lord, and the House will pardon me if I do not make a speech upon foreign affairs generally, and enter upon the theme of the speech of the noble Lord, which covered events from the Treaty of the second partition of Poland down to the Treaty of San Stefano.


said, he had referred to such events last year, but not on this occasion.


Then I am still more at a loss, because I thought the noble Lord's speech had reference to the Holy Alliance; but whatever that may be, I have very little to say upon the Motion. Her Majesty's Government have no official knowledge of what passed between the three Sovereigns; but they are perfectly willing to accept the non-official statement which has appeared, that the object of the meeting was for the purpose of showing the union which exists between the three Great Powers, and talking over politics generally; but that there was no Treaty between the three Sovereigns, and no intention on the part of the Sovereigns there assembled to do anything which would be inimical, but rather to do that which would be favourable, to the peace of Europe. Beyond that I cannot say anything about that meeting. Then as regards Papers, there are none which can be produced. There are a few of a confidential character, but they cannot be produced.


My Lords, I think it is to be regretted that the noble Lord brought forward his Motion at a time when the noble Earl the Secretary of State is not present, for I have no doubt the noble Earl would have given more consideration to it; but, at the same time, I do not think we can discuss it with advantage in his absence, and, perhaps, the present state of affairs does not lend itself to a discussion such as the noble Lord invites.


said, that if no Correspondence on the subject was available for being presented, the Motion might be withdrawn without any impropriety. As to the remark of the noble Marquess opposite (the Marquess of Salisbury), he ought to mention that he had gone on, in the absence of the noble Earl the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, with the express concurrence of the Government.

Motion (by leave of the House) withdrawn.