HC Deb 30 May 1809 vol 14 cc802-4
Mr. Marryatt

, after a few prefatory remarks, with regard to the propriety of satisfying this country and America also, as to the conduct of our government upon the subject of recent transactions, in which the commercial interest of the country and the character of its government was so deeply involved, observed, that he had understood it to have been alleged by the highest authority, that our ambassador was authorised by his instructions to conclude the arrangements which government had lately refused to ratify. In order, therefore, that parliament and the public should fully understand the case, he felt it his duty to move an Address to his majesty, praying for copies of the Notes which passed between our ambassador and the government of the United States, respecting the repeal of our Orders in Council of January and November 1807; also for copies of the Instructions transmitted to our ambassador, authorizing him to enter into a negotiation, and to conclude an arrangement upon this subject.

Mr. Secretary Cunning

observed, that although upon a former occasion, when asked, whether it was the intention of his majesty's ministers to make any communication to parliament respecting our relations with America, he answered, that it was not deemed expedient to do so pending the existing negociations with that country, he did not feel it inconsistent with the motive of that declaration, to give his assent to the present motion, which was rendered necessary by the peculiar circumstances of the case. The Notes referred to in the first part of the motion having been published in America, there could be no objection to authenticate, them by complying with the call for their production; and as to the Instructions, his majesty's government having, in that spirit of frankness and candour which marked the whole of their communication with the American government, directed those instructions to be shewn to that government, he saw no reason for with-holding them from the house, although the production of such a document was rather unusual. As the papers were not before the house, he would abstain from delivering any opinion upon them. It was known that he had no disposition to throw blame upon the individual implicated in this transaction; but as a matter of fact and truth he was bound to state, that which our ambassador would have full opportunity of explaining, namely, that he had not only not acted in consonance with his Instructions, but in direct contradiction to them: that being authorised to make certain concessions to America in return for stipulated conditions, he had thought proper to go to the full extent of the concessions, without having obtained any of the conditions. At the same time that the right hon. gent. acquiesced in this motion, he thought it right to say, that he should feel it his duty to oppose the production of the Instructions transmitted to an ambassador with respect to the affair of the Chesapeake, at least pending our present discussions with the American government.

Mr. Ponsonby

thought that as the alleged proceeding of our ambassador was so very extraordinary, it would be right, in order fully to understand and fairly to judge of the case, that any justification or attempt at justification, sent home by this ambassador, should be also laid before the house, together with the papers referred to in the motion. He was not aware that any such paper as he alluded to was in existence, but if it was, and the right hon. gent. had no very urgent reason for resisting the production of it, he should much wish to have it laid on the table, and to know whether the right hon. gent. had any objection to do so.

Mr. Secretary Canning

declined for the present decisively to answer the right hon. gent.'s question. When the papers moved for were laid before the house, the right hon. gent. would then be better qualified to decide whether any, and what further papers, were necessary.

Mr. Ponsonby and Mr. Canning mutually explained; in the course of which the latter observed, that unquestionably a dispatch had been received from our ambassador, transmitting the intelligence which gave rise to the motion.

Lord H. Petty

conceived with his right hon. friend, that it was essentially necessary to a just comprehension of the subject under consideration, that the reasons assigned by our ambassador for concluding the arrangement alluded to, should be laid before the house. He therefore hoped, that if it were consistent with his public duty the right hon. gent. would not withhold this information. Many occasions occurred in war to justify a departure from positive instructions; so in a diplomatic mission circumstances might arise to furnish a similar justification. Possibly, such was the case in this instance, and the paper required by his right hon. friend was necessary to enable the house to form a correct judgment. Indeed, it was almost indispensible, and therefore, unless it was produced, he must disapprove of an attempt to bring forward what he could not help considering as partial information.

Mr. Canning

begged not to be understood as refusing the paper required by the noble lord. He only deferred deciding upon the proposition to produce it.—In answer to a question from lord Milton, Mr. Canning stated, that the expectation to be formed as to the conduct of the American government towards our trade, must depend upon the existence of a correspondent disposition on the part of that government, to that manifested here upon the occasion which gave rise to the discussion. But in fact, what arrangement might be made by that government, must be, he observed, at present mere matter of speculation, of which any other man could form an opinion as well as himself.

The motion was then agreed to.