HC Deb 24 February 1823 vol 8 cc239-41
Sir R. Wilson,

in rising to present a petition from the inhabitants of the parish of St. Saviour's, Southwark, begged to state to the House, that he had no concern whatever in originating the petition. It was a spontaneous act of men, who had never been backward to complain of whatever appeared to them to be injurious to national honour or to European liberty. They were not men of words, but would follow up what they said by actions. The petition prayed, that the Foreign Enlistment bill might be repealed. He would not enlarge upon the prayer of the petition. But he could not avoid calling the attention of the House to the degree to which that new infringement of international law had been stigmatised, at the time when it was introduced. It had been so, not only by the mass of the people, but by those brave defenders of their country, who were ever ready to support the cause of freedom, and the best interests of man. He could not help congratulating the House and the country upon the favourable aspect of the policy of this country, and be hoped that those manly and liberal professions would be amply fulfilled. At the present most important juncture, it would require both caution and firmness on the part of this country; and he would add that, if the obnoxious measure were not repealed, it would counteract, in no small degree, those liberal principles.

Mr. Hobhouse

begged to second the prayer of the petition, and at the same time to congratulate the House and the country upon the first step which had been taken, by rescinding the orders in council, to place England in a proper light in the eyes of Europe. It was a step absolutely necessary for the welfare of this country, and for the independence of the nations of the continent. For his own part, be thought, that nothing short of a war would satisfy the present infatuated government of France. He was convinced of the absolute necessity of repealing the Foreign Enlistment bill, the Alien bill, and all those other measures which had tended to connect this country with that impious league which, under the name of the Holy Alliance, had been formed against the happiness of mankind. When the Foreign Enlistment bill was pro- posed to the House, the late noble secret tars for foreign affairs had stated, that was at the express instigation of Old Spain. What reason then, could be more powerful in favour of its repeal, than the interests of that same Old Spain?—What could be more just than to listen again to the representations of that power, at whose request this measure had been adopted? He hoped the House would not hesitate to repeal these bills, and to show the Bourbons of France the determination this country had taken. It was with fear and trembling that he suffered the opinion to escape his lips, that war was inevitable. There was nothing more easy than to get into a war; but the difficulty of coming out of it with honour, and without committing the interests of the country, was too formidable not to be considered with alarm. He would not say one word that might seem to urge so perilous a measure; but he was sure, that if ministers were driven into it, they would be heartily backed by the whole country. He could not help thanking the ministers for the prudence they had hitherto displayed on this occasion. They should have his warmest praise (if praise from him were worth having) for the conduct they had hitherto pursued. He would be understood to speak of the present, and not the late ministry; for if the same language had been held at Troppan and Laybach, as he had reason to believe had been held at Verona, we should not now have been placed in the emergency of having to choose between the consideration of those difficulties and dangers which beset them at home, and the maintenance of the independence of Europe and the liberties of mankind at large. He was induced to mention this subject at the present moment, in consequence of the vile insinuations contained in a production, which, in other times, would have been called a treasury pamphlet. He knew, however, that this was no treasury pamphlet: it was called "The Crisis of Spain," and presumed to tell the people of England to be afraid of the line of policy which France might take. And for what reason should we be afraid of France? It could never be forgotten, that we had beaten France and Frenchmen before, on the same ground and for the same cause. This notable pamphlet bid us also tremble at what Austria might do. What had we to dread from Austria? Let Austria look to herself; for if England did but hold up her finger, all Italy would be in arms. Austria, indeed, was not in a condition to deter this country from pursuing that line of conduct which was alike dictated by justice and sound policy.

Mr. Secretary Canning

said, that the hon. gentleman who had just sat down, had done ministers the honour to compliment them upon their conduct; and, among the good qualities which he had attributed to them, he had praised them for their prudence. He felt strongly, that that prudence forbad, at the present moment, any discussion on the subject, and he rose chiefly for the purpose of repressing any further discussion on a point which had originated accidentally. He should, however, act unfairly to that government of which he was so recent a member, if he did not reject any praise which was bestowed upon it, at the expense of those by whom it had formerly been composed. He was compelled in mere justice to say, that upon his entering the office which he had the honour to fill, he found the principles on which the government were acting, reduced into writing; and this state paper formed what he might be allowed to call the political creed of the ministers. Upon the execution of the principles there laid down, and upon that alone, was founded any claim he might have to credit from the House. With respect to the other topics which had been brought before the House, he felt he ought not to allow himself to be led into any discussion relating to them. Besides the general reasons which forbad any further debate while the smallest hope remained of compassing that pacific result in which the interests of Europe were so deeply concerned, there were some material circumstances which, at the present moment, made such debate particularly inexpedient. Before he sat down, he felt compelled to say that, in pursuing that policy for which the hon. gentleman had given them credit, his majesty's ministers had been aided by the forbearance—he would not say the unexpected forbearance—of the House.

Ordered to lie on the table.