HC Deb 06 April 1815 vol 30 cc349-53
Lord Castlereagh

presented the following Message from his royal highness the Prince Regent:


"The Prince Regent, acting in the name and on the behalf of his Majesty, thinks it right to inform the House of Commons, that the events which have recently occurred in France, in direct contravention of the engagements concluded with the allied Powers at Paris in the course of the last year, and which threaten consequences highly dangerous to the tranquillity and independence of Europe, have induced his Royal Highness to give directions for the augmentation of his Majesty's land and sea forces.

"The Prince Regent has likewise deemed it incumbent upon him to lose no time in entering into communications with his Majesty's allies for the purpose of forming such a concert as may most effectually provide for the general and permanent security of Europe.

"And his Royal Highness confidently relies on the support of the House of Commons in all measures which may be necessary for the accomplishment of this important object."

The Message was ordered to be taken into consideration to-morrow.—After some time had elapsed,

Mr. Whitbread

rose and observed, that had he been present at the time the Message was presented (which, by the way, was brought forward at a much more early period than public business was usually expected), he should have objected to the motion fixing the consideration of it for to-morrow. Upon a question of such magnitude and importance, more time ought, in his opinion, to be afforded, in order to prepare the House for its consideration, especially where the object of the Message was not clearly expressed,—where, in fact, it was couched in such equivocal, such indefinite terms, that it was difficult to understand the views of those with whom it originated. Besides, as the debate upon such a subject was likely to be long, while the subject itself naturally called for some previous examination, he should rather have thought that it would be more convenient and proper to appoint Monday than tomorrow. On these grounds he should to-morrow move a postponement of the discussion until Monday. But preliminary to that discussion, he had two questions to put to the noble lord: fusty Whether it was true, as had been promulgated from a sort of half authority, that a secret understanding had been entered into, or a secret article concluded, between all the parties to the Treaty of Paris (excepting France, of course), pledging those powers to maintain the House of Bourbon upon the throne of France? and secondly, Whether the noble lord would think it consistent with his duty to communicate the terms of the treaty proposed at Chatillon, upon which the allies were then willing to conclude peace with France? If the noble lord should not be disposed to accede to this communication, it would be for the House to decide whether it would not be expedient to demand such communication, which he (Mr. W.) thought highly material to the due consideration of the subject referred to in the Regent's Message.

Lord Castlereagh

said, that as to the first observation of the hon. gentleman, he did not present his Royal Highness's Message till half past four o'clock, which, from his previous intimation, he could not deem as too early an hour for the introduction of such a subject. Then, as to the day fixed for the consideration of the Message, he was rather surprised at the hon. gentleman's observation, because it would be recollected that, on a former day, he distinctly stated his purpose of proposing such an arrangement in describing the coarse of business for the week, and with a view to this arrangement he moved the postponement of the American question from this day to Tuesday, in order, as the Message was meant to be considered on Friday, that the House might not be occupied by debate on two successive days. But, independently of this consideration, it would be quite inconsistent with the usual practice of Parliament to postpone the consideration of a Message from the Throne: an early consideration was, indeed, due in deference to the Throne, and was there- fore never delayed. With respect to the hon. gentleman's questions: first, No secret article, understanding, or engagement of the nature alluded to by the hon. gentleman had ever existed between the allies; and as to the second question, he apprehended that the House would not be disposed to delay the consideration of the Prince Regent's Message, or to postpone the expression of its opinion upon the present exigency, until all the papers connected with the negociations at Chatillon should be laid on the table, and until the hon. gentleman should have an opportunity of considering these papers. Upon these grounds, he trusted the House would not feel it necessary to revise its decision for taking the Message into consideration to-morrow.

Mr. Whitbread

expressed himself particularly glad to hear that no such secret article or understanding existed, as that to which he referred. But as to the treaty proposed at Chatillon, he thought it material that the House should have some information upon that subject, before it entered into the consideration of the Regent's Message. It was a mistake to suppose that he required the production of all the papers connected with the negotiations at Chatillon. A short extract would be quite sufficient, describing the terms upon which the allies were at that time willing to conclude peace with France; and without such a communication he could not think the House prepared to discuss the subject of the Message. The delay of a single day with a view to obtain and to consider such an important fact, he could not suppose in any degree disrespectful to his Royal. Highness, or inconsistent with the deference which that House owed to a communication from the Throne. The House had, indeed, been led to expect, from the intimation of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, that the Message would have been brought down on Wednesday, and thus one intervening day would have been allowed for its consideration, before the House would be called upon to decide; but the noble lord from his superior knowledge of tactics thought proper to postpone the presentation of the Message until this day, thus precluding the possibility of due consideration. The hon. gentleman disclaimed any intention of disrespect to his Royal Highness in thus pressing for some delay; adding, that although, he had no hope of persuading the House to change the order upon this subject for Monday, he had little doubt that, from the length to which such debates usually extended, it would become necessary for convenience, to adjourn the discussion from to-morrow to Monday.

Lord Castlereagh

said, that when the House came to the discussion he would give such explanation respecting the propositions at Chatillon as was proper, or as had any connexion with the subject of the Prince Regent's Message. With respect to the presentation of this Message, it was to be considered that the Lords did not meet, until Wednesday, and that some previous intimation was due to that House, as to the intention to make a communication of this nature, which was usually presented to both Houses at the same time. Now as to questions generally, he felt it necessary to observe, that it would be well if gentlemen proposing to put any questions, would either previously apprize ministers of their intention, or else that those gentlemen should wait until the ministers were in their, places.

Mr. Whitbread.

What then were we to do, when the noble lord was at Vienna?

Mr. Ponsonby

began by declaring, that he was not at all aware, that the Prince Regent's Message would have been presented so early, or he should have been in his place sooner. But he hoped that the House would, upon the subject of that Message, allow him to trespass on its indulgence for a few moments, although, there was no motion under, consideration. The Message, he observed, was composed of two parts:—first, his Royal Highness told the House that be was preparing to augment our forces by sea and land, in consequence of the recent events in France; and, secondly, his Royal Highness stated, that he would act in concert with our-allies. In thus proceeding, his Royal Highness had, in his opinion, been advised to do that which was wise and proper; for it was wise in his Royal Highness to have the country in a slate of adequate preparation for any emergency, and proper to preserve an intimate communication and concert with his allies. But beyond those two points he did not wish to express any opinion, nor did he think the House ripe at present to give any farther decision. As to the use to, be made of the force which his Royal Highness was preparing, that would remain for consideration; but upon the two points to which he had referred, he however others might differ from him, was ready to say that his Royal Highness had been rightly advised. Beyond those points, however, he was not prepared to go. He would not enter into any premature discussion. He was neither prepared to say that his Royal Highness and his allies should plunge into a slate of war, nor that security was to be found in a state of peace. He need not say that his wish was that the latter should be found attainable, but he felt it impossible at present to offer any opinion upon those points. He could, however, readily say, that his disposition was to rote for a suitable Address in answer to the Prince Regent's Message, provided that Address contained nothing to pledge his future conduct. From the full declaration of his opinion, when adequately informed, he should never be found to shrink; but he would never declare premature opinions, or engage in premature discussions. Therefore, he would abstain from such opinions and discussions in this instance. He would be glad to vote for the Address of to-morrow, and he hoped that but a short discussion would take place upon it. In his judgment, it was decidedly wise to consider and provide against any new difficulties or dangers likely to arise out of the present state and prospects of France; and therefore he highly approved of the preparation which the Regent's Message announced; but as to the use which Government might ultimately make of that preparation he should not hold himself bound to support it by any vote which he was at present disposed to give. He therefore wished the Address of to-morrow might be so drawn up as to meet his views. The right hon. gentleman concluded with expressing his anxious hope that it might not be found inconsistent with the safety of Europe to preserve a state of peace, and to avoid the calamities of war.

Lord Castlereagh

said, that without anticipating the discussion of to-morrow, he could assure the right hon. gentleman that it was not proposed by the Address in contemplation to pledge his opinion, or that of the House, as to the future conduct of his Majesty's government. With respect to that conduct, or the use that might be made of the force in preparation, and whether the ultimate end should be war or peace, must depend upon the issue of circumstances to be determined on their own merits.