HC Deb 10 April 1823 vol 8 cc801-2
Colonel Davies,

seeing the right hon. secretary for foreign affairs in his place, wished to ask him, whether, when he should on Monday next lay upon the table of the house certain documents, it was his intention to enter into a general statement of the foreign policy of the government? If he were right in supposing that that was the intention of the right hon. secretary, the members on his side of the House would be placed in this embarrassing situation, that they must either combat the statement of the right hon. secretary, without having had access to the documents upon which it would be founded, or allow it to go forth to the world uncontradicted. He thought the fairest course for ministers to pursue would be, to lay the documents on the table on Monday, and to fix upon some subsequent day for the statement which the right hon. secretary had promised to make.

Mr. Secretary Canning

replied, that the hon. member was perfectly right in supposing that it was his intention, when he should on Monday next, in obedience to the commands of his majesty, lay certain documents on the table of the House, to state the general outline of the policy which the British government had pursued with respect to the late transactions on the continent. But far from thinking that he would by so doing place the house under any embarrassment, he was of opinion that he was adopting the course which would be most convenient. The present case was not one of an ordinary character. It was not a usual practice of government, to lay documents on the table of the House, upon which they did not intend to call for some proceeding; but, in the present instance, it was intended to depart from the customary usage. That, however, would not preclude any member from adopting what course he might think expedient with respect to the papers. In most cases in which documents relative to negotiations had been laid before parliament, the negotiations had terminated in a declaration of war; and, on all such occasions, government had availed itself of the opportunity of stating to parliament, what had been the course of policy which had led to the issuing of the declaration of war. The late negotiations, however, had not so terminated, and the statement which he intended to make was merely meant to supply the place of a declaration of the government. In what he should state on Monday, he should not anticipate any contested question, or call for any premature approbation of the conduct of ministers. He should deliver a plain unvarnished tale, and leave it open for any member either to contest the fidelity of his statement or to combat the policy of government. In the course which he proposed to pursue, there was a great convenience to the House, and particularly to the hon. members opposite, if they should desire to express their disapprobation of the conduct which had been pursued by the government.