HC Deb 01 May 1811 vol 19 cc783-5

The copy of the Sicilian Treaty, communicated to the House on the 10th of June, 1803, by Mr. Secretary Canning, having been referred to the Committee of Supply, the House resolved itself into the Committee, when

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

moved, "That a sum not exceeding 400,000l., be granted to his Majesty, to enable him to make good the provisions of the said Treaty."

Mr. Whitbread

said, that he did not rise with any expectation of inducing the Committee to dissent from the motion of the right hon. gent.; or, indeed, with any wish to repeat the arguments which he had urged on a former occasion against this grant to his Sicilian, Majesty, at the same time he thought it his duty to state, that notwithstanding the present elation of the public mind with respect to foreign relations, it was the duty of parliament strictly to watch the course of our proceedings with respect to those relations; and more strictly, perhaps, from the very circumstance of the existing elation. He was also of opinion, that it Was highly desirable, at the time when we were subsidising Sicily, and taking that island under the protection of British arms (even were it allowed that it was for a British object), that parliament should know that the application of the money which they granted for these purposes, and that efforts should be made to remedy, if possible, some of those diseases in the Sicilian government, which, if not cured, would inevitably destroy that government itself; for he was persuaded, that a more profligate government, or a more oppressed people than the Sicilian, not only did not exist, but never had existed Having said thus much, he would abstain from taking the sense of the Committee on the present proposition; but he would take this, the earliest opportunity that had been afforded him, of expressing his regret that he was not in his place on Friday, when the Thanks of the House were voted to lord Wellington. His absence was occasioned by avocations of a public nature, to which his attention was indispensable. In such circumstances alone should he ever seek for a justification of his absence from parliament, while he had the honour of a seat there; for, whether the attendance of other members was constant or lax, whether the benches Were full or empty, he should always consider himself bound to resist every engagement of pleasure, and every engagement which could be avoided of business, for the purpose of attending his parliamentary duty. He repeated, however, that he particularly regretted the necessity of his absence on Friday, as he should have concurred most cheerfully and most cordially in the vote of that day. He should have been enabled to bestow praise even on ministers—a praise which they had never before received from him—for their selection of a general whose conduct had so fully justified the confidence that had been re-posed in him. He should also have been happy on that occasion to state, that, not Withstanding the doubts which had formerly existed' in his mind, arising from his ignorance of the particulars of lord Wellington's proceedings in Portugal, notwithstanding the hesitation which those doubts had occasioned, notwithstanding he had fancied that some parts of those proceedings were questionable, now that the whole was developed, and proved to be the combinations of a masterly plan, be most willingly acknowledged the noble lord's great talents, and paid him the just tribute of his admiration. He would even have followed the example of a young and eloquent member of that House, although without allowing the premises on which that hon. member founded his remark; without admitting that any of the envy of lord Wellington's military talents, to which that hon. member alluded, existed in the House or the country, he would still say with him, that, "Invidiam gloria superavit." Al the same time, and notwithstanding the splendour of recent events, ministers ought to conduct themselves with the moderation which became success, and never to lose sight of the principle—a principle which he had ever maintained, and which he should over maintain—that the only legitimate object, of every war, and of this above all other wars—an object which ought to be the nearest and the dearest to government, in the present oppressed state of the country and the world—was peace. Every endeavour ought to be made to render the late successes available to that end. How this could best be done was not for him to consider; but it was his sincere feeling, that it was a contemplation which ought ever to be uppermost in the minds of government.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

was-persuaded, that having agreed to a similar vote on a former occasion, the Committee would not be disposed to withhold from Sicily the proposed assistance during the continuance of the war, and its attendant distresses. He could not forbear expressing his deep regret at the sentiments uttered by the hon. gent. with respect to Sicily. If any one thing could render it more difficult than another to render British arms serviceable in defence of the country, it was to set the government and the people of that country in opposition to each other. Such language, therefore, as that used by the hon. gent, was little calculated to promote the general cause The object of the subsidy to Sicily, and of British protection, namely, that of keeping Sicily independent of France, had hitherto been completely attained; and he deprecated every mode of conduct by which the success of that object might be endangered.—Adverting to the observations made by the hon. gent, on the vote of the House on Friday last, he declared his satisfaction at the sentiments which the hon. gent, had expressed, and which were, as honourable to himself, as they were to the object of his applause. The approbation of the hon. gent, was more unreserved than could have been expected, even from his liberality; and he was happy in the testimony which the hon. gent. bore to the judgment of ministers in their choice of lord Wellington. As to the general observation that government ought to look to peace as the legitimate object of war, he certainly concurred in it; and, as a general sentiment he hoped it was entertained as cordially by one set of men in that House as by another. But if the hon. gent. meant to say, that at the present period the country might reasonably expect an immediate termination of hostilities, then he must observe, that, looking to all the circumstances in which Great Britain and Europe were placed, he could not entertain such an expectation. Undoubtedly, the only rational object of any war was the honourable termination of it; but that, under the circumstances to which he had already alluded, there appeared to be any great prospect of the probability of obtaining such a peace as might be at once useful and honourable to the country, was a statement of the truth to which he could by no means accede.

Mr. Whitbread

explained. On the best consideration which he could give to the subject, he thought it most important that the British parliament should not shut their eyes to the true character and situation of the Sicilian government and people, that they should not pretend to believe that the government was not profligate, or the people not oppressed; and that they should not pretend to believe, that to abstain from proclaiming these evils was the best way to correct them. He held it the bounden duty of a member of parliament when voting the public money for such purposes as the present, explicitly to state his sentiments. The right hon. gent. had been pleased to suppose, that he (Mr. W.) believed the recent events might lead to a speedy peace. He had said no such thing. At the same time he could not allow that to say the legitimate object of every war was peace, was a common-place observation, unworthy of being uttered, There were times when this nation appeared to lose sight of that object. In flamed to increasing hostility by the incitements of their rulers, it was not common place nor useless, to say to the people, "Be moderate in the midst of your success." Whenever this country obtained any advantage in the contest, immoderate and enthusiastic anticipations were entertained of destroying the power of France, and of overturning the throne of the emperor of that nation. Whether, peace' could, or could not, be obtained, he would' not pretend to say; but this he would say, that, until the trial was made, no one conld know what might be effected. The French government, under the pressure of necessity, might be induced to listen to propositions which they had before rejected. There had been many opportunities in the course of the war, when the Emperor of France might, in his opinion, have been successfully approached with overtures of peace. It might be a visionary prospect; but he could not help thinking, that the present was a most auspicious moment; and that it ought not to be allowed to pass without some pacific effort on the part of the British government.

Mr. W. Smith

was of opinion, that notorious as was the state of the government in Sicily, it was wisdom and policy to urge on that government such a reformation as might be carried into execution without tumult, and as might convince the Sicilians that the British were the friends equally of the Sicilian government and of the Sicilian people. He regretted, that during the occupation of Sicily by British troops, no representation of the nature which he recommended had been made to the Sicilian government, either by our commanders or by our envoys. He should be happy were such a representation made and acceded to, because he was persuaded that the reformation of the Sicilian government would render the defence of the island much more easy, and would enable the British troops to accomplish that to which under the present circumstances, double their number would scarcely be adequate. He was aware that some small inconvenience might result from the public statement of these circumstances in Parliament, but there were cases in which, it became necessary to balance inconveniences: and in his opinion, the inconvenience of re- maining silent on this subject would have been incomparably greater than the inconvenience of speaking out upon it.

Sir T. Turton,

although he allowed that if we were in Sicily, merely as subordinate allies, we should have no right to interpose with the government, yet thought, that since we had assumed the defence of that island, as principals, we ought to endeavour, to produce the wished for reform. However unpopular the sentiment might be, he roust declare, that the moment of success was that in which we ought to treat with an enemy. It was, in his opinion, imperative on government to see whether the enemy would not surrender the great obstacle to negociation, by leaving Spain independent. He was not one of those who would wish to lay the country at the foot of France, and crave peace on any terms; but he would say to her, "Give up that object, the subjugation of Spain, and we are ready to treat with

The Resolution was then agreed to.