LORD HENRY LENNOX
Sir, I wish to ask a Question of the First Lord of the Treasury respecting the recent election of Prince William of Denmark to the Throne of Greece. I should have preferred asking the Question of the Under Secretary for Foreign Affairs, but he has requested that I should put it to the noble Lord himself. On Monday night I put down upon the paper notice of a Question which I intended to ask of the Under Secretary for Foreign Affairs with respect to the succession to the Crown of Greece, and I also forwarded to him full details of the Question which I intended to put. During Tuesday I was at the House but I received no intimation from the hon. Gentleman that the Question would be inconvenient to the interests of the public service. I therefore rose at the usual time and put my Question. The hon Gentleman the Under Secretary for Foreign Affairs said—I am sure you will not think that I am guilty of any discourtesy in saying that the only answer which the Government can give is, that they will give no answer.Thereupon, feeling, as I admit, somewhat snubbed, I told the hon. Gentleman and the House that I would put my Question again the next day, in the hope of getting a more satisfactory answer. The hon. Gentleman, however, told me it would be 357 useless to do so, as I should receive the same answer; that there was no answer, and that it would not be for the benefit of the public service to make a statement on the subject. The hon. Gentleman was, of course, cheered by hon. Members on the Ministerial Benches, and I left the House half convinced that I had been guilty of an indiscretion. What was my astonishment and surprise, then, when I found that on the Government being addressed on the same subject in another place by a noble Lord who has no doubt far more influence than I have, the noble Earl the Secretary for Foreign Affairs at once rites in his place and gives a full detail of all that has taken place in the matter. But this is not all. Fearful lest the noble Earl had not given enough of information on the subject, up starts his Colleague the Lord President of the Council, and thereupon proceeds to supply a supposed hiatus in the speech of his Colleague. The facts were therefore these. The information, which was denied to the House of Commons in the person of one of its Members, was within forty eight hours afterwards communicated without hesitation to a noble Earl in another place. I do not regard this, in the least, as a personal question, but as a matter affecting the House itself. I ask the Question of which I have given notice on Monday, not with the wish to interfere with the election of Prince William, but because I have reason to know that the conduct of the Foreign Office has been so precipitate as to peril the very object which the Government had in view. Pleasant as it usually is to be contradicted by the noble Viscount, yet that pleasure will be denied to me in the present instance, because I am in a position to assert, that when the telegram was despatched to Mr. Elliot, asking the Assembly to offer the Crown of Greece to Prince William, it was stated that the Government did so with the authority of the King of Denmark. That statement was true; but that authority was given conditionally on the consent of Prince Christian and Prince William being also obtained. And when this telegram was despatched, not only had Prince William not given his adhesion, lint no longer ago than yesterday he was still offering innumerable objections to the negotiation. It comes, then, to this, that Her Majesty's Government had telegraphed to Mr. Elliot upon an authority which was not valid. Further, when the King of Denmark and Prince Christian learned that 358 the National Assembly of Greece had actually proceeded to the election of Prince William, they were extremely surprised at the circumstance, and Prince Christian was suddenly summoned to Copenhagen to explain to the King of Denmark as to how this matter had been brought about. Unless I am misinformed in the matter, the nomination of Prince William was merely taken as a matter of gossip, and was not supposed to assume so serious an aspect, at least for some time. It even appears that the accredited Minister of the Crown of Denmark in London has had no communication made to him as to the candidature of Prince William being upon the tapis. Under these circumstances, I now put the Question which is on the paper in my name. I should not have done so at this length were it not for the unseemly manner in which the House of Commons, through me, has been treated.
§ VISCOUNT PALMERSTON
My hon. Friend the Member for Devizes (Mr. D. Griffith) will excuse me if I do not follow him into the dissertation upon which he entered with regard to the Polish question, and the matters connected with it; but I will answer the Question which he has put upon the paper with regard to the relations now subsisting between the Court of Sweden and the Court of Russia. Her Majesty's Government are not aware that anything has interrupted the good relations between those two Governments. But, of course, the hon. Member and the House will feel that we do not stand here to answer for that which may be passing between foreign Governments. As far as we know, there is no reason to suppose that there is any unfriendly feeling between the two.
The noble Lord who has just sat down, I think, made an unfair charge against my hon. Friend the Under Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs. The noble Lord seems to have overlooked the distinction between the nature of a question and the nature of an answer. It is quite possible that a question may not be indiscreet, though it may be very indiscreet to give an answer to it. No blame attaches to the noble Lord for the question he put to my hon. Friend, but some blame would have attached to my hon. Friend if he had gone into those details which were necessarily involved in an answer to the question. Now, the noble Lord has, I think, mistaken what passed in another place, because, if he will look back to the 359 record, he will see that a noble Friend of mine in answer to the question put to him entered largely into detail, yet he was reminded afterwards by another noble Lord that he had entirely evaded giving an answer to the question put to him. That is a course which is often fit and becoming to adopt when questions are put to which it would be indiscreet to give a direct answer. And therefore the noble Lord will excuse me if I do not tell him all that has passed in regard to communications which have taken place with respect to the election of Prince William of Denmark to the Crown of Greece. But this I will tell him, that Her Majesty's Government did not act with the precipitation which he ascribes to them, and that they made no communications to the Greeks which they were not authorized to make. The actual election of Prince William at Athens was so entirely the result of the impulse of the moment that it was a surprise to the Ministers of the Greek Government. The Assembly met, and an independent Member got up suddenly and proposed that they should elect Prince William. It was known that Prince William had been mentioned as the person who might become a candidate if the con sent of all necessary parties were obtained; and the Greek Assembly were so anxious to come to a decision in reference to the accession to the throne that they elected him by acclamation—not on the proposal of Ministers, but on the Motion of an independent Member. The noble Lord will excuse me if I do not tell him the exact state of the communications now going on; but I have good reason to hope that the election which has been made by the Greek Assembly will be completed by the acceptance of Prince William and those who are answerable for his decision.
§ MR. BAILLIE COCHRANE
said, he wished to ask whether the House were to understand that the proceedings in the Greek National Assembly had not resulted from a communication made authoritatively to the Greek Government by Mr. Elliot on the 28th or 29th ult.?
§ VISCOUNT PALMERSTON
So far, certainly, that the Greek Government were informed that communications were going on with a view of ascertaining whether Prince William would consent to become a candidate.
§ MR. PEACOCKE
said, he feared that the information of a multifarious character 360 which reached the hon. Member for Devizes (Mr. Darby Griffith) was frequently drawn from newspaper paragraphs and telegrams. The true facts connected with the vessel to which reference had been made wore these. The Russian Government communicated to Her Majesty's Government that a vessel was preparing to sail from this country with assistance for the Poles. As in the case of the Alabama, Her Majesty's Government sent down, but too late to arrest the departure of the ship. A Russian frigate then received orders to sail in pursuit of her, and it happened that the Polish vessel applied for coal to the same merchant, at a port in the Baltic, to whom the frigate had previously applied. In that way information was communicated to the Polish vessel of the pursuit, and the English crew on board refused to pursue the voyage any further. A Danish crew was then shipped, and the vessel carried into a Swedish port. The Russian Government then communicated with that of Sweden, and the latter pursued the most honourable policy which they could adopt, by arresting the further progress of the vessel. So far from friendly communications between the two countries having been interrupted by the step, he believed the Russian Government regarded with most kindly feelings the course which had been pursued. With reference to the Greek question, the same discretion which the Secretary for Foreign Affairs had shown, in declining to answer the question of the Earl of Malmesbury, in another place, had not been imitated by the noble Lord the President of the Council, for he had been informed that an hour or two ago that noble Lord, in the very same place, had been obliged to explain away his statements on the subject. The real position of the case appeared to be that the King of Denmark only consented to the acceptance of the throne by Prince William in case Prince William and his father, Prince Christian, looked with favour upon the proposal. It was only a conditional acceptance by the King of Denmark, and it appeared that not only had Prince Christian and Prince William not consented, but that they imposed conditions which ought naturally to have occurred to the mind of the noble Lord the First Minister, from his experience of nearly half-a-century. The Royal family of Denmark, as Dukes of Schleswig and Holstein, being members of the Germanic Confederation, could not allow Prince 361 William to accept a throne on which other members of that Confederation had a claim. They therefore required that there should be an absolute renunciation, in the first instance, of all claims on the part of the Royal family of Bavaria. Considering the experience which the noble Lord at the head of the Government had enjoyed in diplomacy, and on the turf, there appeared to be something wrong about his training stable; for in whatever quarter he selected his favourites, whether from Coburg or Copenhagen, they showed remarkable disinclination to come up to the post.
§ Main Question put, and agreed to.