Belgium and payments to Russia

1832-07-16 - Robert Peel


The noble lord said that the payment to Russia was made for services done and performed by Russia, which were notorious, and which required no explanation. But did the House remember the pathetic appeal of the Solicitor-General? 'Oh!' said the Solicitor-General, 'if you had seen what I have seen, if you had had access to the pile of documents I have waded through, you would have no hesitation in granting the money.' When the House asked for a sight of these convincing documents, the noble lord got up and quoted to them Hansard's Parliamentary Debates and the Reports of Lord Castlereagh's and Lord Liverpool's speeches. He never could believe that the documents so pathetically alluded to by the Solicitor-General were two speeches of Lord Liverpool and Lord Londonderry to which every human being had access in that most excellent work. If the noble lords wished to convince the House that they had acted correctly in this transaction, let them produce the official document on which their judgement professed to be founded. It was vain for them to rely upon a majority of forty-six, vain for them to call a motion for information factious. The only sufficient answer would be the production of the documents. But the noble lord said it was extremely clear that the money was to be paid to Russia for past services performed; why, then, did the noble lord require a new convention? The preamble of the second convention certainly referred to the first, and it expressly recited it, but nothing whatever could be found in it about the past services of Russia. It stated the consideration to be the adhesion of Russia to the general arrangements of the Congress of Vienna. If it were true that the original payment to Russia was made on account of services rendered to the general cause of Europe and sacrifices made by Russia, why did the second convention allege that the equivalent which England was to receive from Russia in return for the continued payments was this, that Russia would not contract any new engagement respecting Belgium, without a previous agreement with His Britannic Majesty, and his formal assent? Where, then, was the justification of the assertion that the two treaties were founded upon the same consideration? The Government gave to the House conflicting documents. The one corresponded not with the other. The noble lord contended that the money was due to Russia for old services. Then why the new condition in the second convention? The preamble bound Russia, in consideration of the continuance of the payment, to identify her policy with that of England with respect to Holland. That, he contended, was entirely a new condition, and how could it be maintained that, if the money was fairly due to Russia for former services performed, it was now just to impose upon Russia, as a condition of payment, that she should change her policy with regard to Holland so often as the policy of this country was changed? The question has been repeatedly asked, was this money to be ultimately paid or not? He would say this: unquestionably it was to be paid, if the country was bound to its payment by good faith. He would not tarnish the fair fame of the country for any sum whatever, upon any occasion, but more especially upon an occasion on which England had received a valuable consideration. When we incurred this responsibility on the behalf of Holland, we received from that country the colonies of the Cape of Good Hope, Demerara, Essequibo, and Berbice; we still retained those colonies, they were valuable possessions, and therefore we were the more strictly bound not to shrink from any equitable obligation we had incurred. He agreed with his hon. friends that the money might be due from England; but to whom ought it to be paid? He could by no means admit that the first convention justified the second as a matter of course; but still there might be circumstances, not at present known to the House, which would still call for the continued payment to Russia, and authorize the new convention: but what those circumstances were, the House had a right to know before it was called upon to ratify the convention. The noble lord said, this country was bound to continue the payment to Russia by the good faith that Power had evinced. It appeared that, when the separation was about to take place between Holland and Belgium, Russia said, 'I am ready to fulfil the treaty; my troops shall march upon Belgium, to continue the incorporation.' 'Oh! no,' said England, 'our policy is altered; we wish the separation to take place.' 'Very well,' was the reply of Russia, 'continue to me the payment, and I am ready to subscribe to your policy with respect to Holland and Belgium.' Such might be the fact; but, if it were, it ought to be established. The documents proving that to be the case ought to be in the possession of the House before it was called upon to ratify the treaty. The King might make a new treaty under a new system of policy, but it was for the House to say, in a case in which the payment of money was concerned, whether it would enable the King to execute such a treaty.

If it were proved that this country had induced Russia, by a promise of the continuance of the payment, to act in the manner she had done, that gave rise to a new case, and a new convention was necessary, the policy of which depended upon many mixed considerations. He had said, he was not free from doubts as to whom the money ought to be paid. An hon. member [Mr. Gisborne], who had argued the question ably, had said that Holland was badly used; but the same hon. member contended that England was exonerated from making the payment to Holland on account of the unjust and impolitic conduct of that country to Belgium. That argument appeared to him most unsatisfactory. The hon. member admitted that Holland had a right to refuse to pay her part of the loan to Russia. Let him suppose that the whole of the loan had been payable by Holland, and that that country had retained possession of the colonies she had given up to this country; how then would the case stand? If Holland was justified in refusing to pay a portion of the loan, surely she would, in the case he was supposing, be equally justified in refusing to pay the whole; and, therefore, if this country had not been put in possession of the Dutch colonies, Holland would have retained her colonies and would have no debt to pay. But England had the colonies, and to what Power then, according to the reasoning of the hon. member, ought England to make the payment of her portion of the loan? Surely to Holland. It might be very convenient, for ensuring Russian acquiescence, to make the payment to Russia, but certainly, according to the reasoning of the hon. member, it was anything but just. But he never would admit that Holland had behaved with harshness or injustice to Belgium, or that the revolt was justifiable by the conduct of Holland. The revolution in Belgium followed as a consequence from the revolution in France. If the French Revolution had not occurred, they would have heard nothing of the separation of Belgium from Holland; and we had no pretext in the misconduct of Holland for exonerating ourselves from our pecuniary obligations to that country. He wished not to enter upon the question of the policy pursued by His Majesty's Government with respect to Belgium; but he could not help smiling when he heard an hon. member contend that to place Prince Leopold on the throne of Belgium was a matter of great advantage to this country; because, forsooth, that prince had formerly been allied to a daughter of the King of England.

What did the hon. member think of the alliance which the King of Belgium was now about to form? If a matrimonial alliance, that had now ceased fifteen years, was to have so powerful an influence over King Leopold's politics, what did the hon. member think would be the effect of a marriage with one of the daughters of the King of the French? If the former connexion had made Leopold an English prince, would not the new connexion make him a French prince, and would not all the advantages of placing him on the throne, which were expected to belong to England, in reality belong to France? He implored the Government not to drive the House to a premature discussion of those matters. The payment could not rest upon the old convention, but must depend upon the new, mixed up with considerations arising out of the old. The Government had been rescued from a vote of censure, and might, therefore, without difficulty, consent to a postponement of the question. He asked not for an indefinite postponement, but as long a one as the duration of the session would authorize. A premature discussion on Belgian affairs was open to great objection. It was true that the five Powers had agreed to the separation, and had recognized King Leopold, but it was also true that none of the necessary arrangements were yet completed. The last article of the convention clearly proved that the period for decision on the merits of that convention had not yet arrived. It assigned, as the reason of the convention, the preservation of the peace of Europe. How did they know the peace of Europe would be preserved? He hoped to God it might, but, under the present circumstances, it was utterly impossible to affirm that it would. He wished not to enter upon that question; he wished not to say a word upon the conduct of this country with respect to Belgium. On the contrary, he, and those who acted with him, had carefully, upon all occasions, abstained from provoking debate on the question of Belgium. He had strong feelings upon the subject, but he had been unwilling to enter into a premature discussion. These negotiations were drawing to their close, and whether they would end for good or evil the march of time would soon disclose. Holland had been told that by July 20 she must concur in the treaty, or force would be employed to compel her assent; and with such a declaration was it decent or wise to call upon the Parliament to ratify the convention now before the House? He had no doubt as to what the conduct of Russia would be; he had no doubt that she would keep her engagements to England respecting Belgium: but why should they be called upon to sanction the new convention until the negotiations now pending, as to the future relations between Holland and Belgium, were brought to a close. There were rumours that a French and English fleet were to be united for the purpose of constraining Holland to submit to the treaty. He trusted such was not the case; but, if it were, it was most unfair, in such a state of affairs, to compel a decision by the House of Commons as to the policy of a new pecuniary engagement to Russia. With respect to the alleged conduct of Russia to Poland, he was glad to find that all agreed in thinking that that subject had no connexion with the present. He had heard some statements in the House respecting the conduct of Russia to the Poles, and he believed many of them to be unfounded in fact. It had been stated that thousands of children had been torn from their parents, and banished into Siberia; he had expressed his disbelief of that assertion, and he had since been informed, on good authority, that those children were orphans--made orphans, he regretted to say, by the calamities of war--and that they had been placed in Russian schools, not for the purpose of separating them from their parents, for they had none, but for the purpose of providing for them in their helplessness, and giving them education. So viewed, that which, under another aspect, appeared an act of gross cruelty, might be a humane proceeding. He was thankful to the House for the attention with which it had heard him, at so late an hour, and concluded by entreating the Government not to drive the House to a division. If it obtained another small majority, that majority would not convince the country that the conduct of Ministers had been justifiable.